I must really be entering the churchless deep end. Which is great! I enjoy diving into the depths of reality, rather than swimming around in the shallows of religious and philosophical concepts.
For a long time I've enjoyed reading Buddhist books, so long as they aren't overly traditional. But now even edgy writings like "Rebel Buddha" seem too dogmatic to me. How can this quote be justified?
Is mind the brain or a by-product of the brain? Is it chemicals and neurotransmitters lighting up pathways in the brain that spark sensation, thought, and feeling, and lead up to the brilliance of consciousness? That's basically the materialist view of neuroscience, which sees mind as a function of the brain.
From a Buddhist point of view, however, mind and body are separate entities. While the brain and its functions undoubtedly do give rise to certain coarse levels of mental phenomena, mind in its more subtle and ultimate sense is not material or necessarily tied to any physical base.
Well, those are nice thoughts. The author, Dzogchen Ponlop, won't be kicked out of the Buddhist Club for sticking with the standard party line. But it isn't very rebellious of him to accept some Buddhist dogma that doesn't have any demonstrable evidence standing behind it other than wishful thinking.
As I've noted before, a simple experiment will prove Ponlop wrong. Let Buddhist leaders select the most advanced, enlightened, meditation-expert among them. Then have this guy (or, unlikely, gal) be administered anesthesia that knocks him out.
Will his mind still be conscious? Will he be able to demonstrate that his "subtle and ultimate" form of mind is still operating, because it isn't material or tied to his physical brain? I seriously doubt it.
In some respects Buddhism is pleasingly in line with modern neuroscience. For example, both posit that we humans lack a "self" as that is usually understood: something permanent, likely non-material, different from the goings-on of the brain.
But when Buddhists revert to pre-scientific understanding of the brain/mind, I part company with them. The Buddha, assuming such a person actually existed, seems to have come to some wise observations about human nature.
However, he had an extremely primitive knowledge (zero, essentially) of how the brain works. Unfortunately, this ignorance seems to be shared by quite a few contemporary Buddhist writers/teachers, who can compose an entire book without a single mention of basic neuroscientific facts.
I'm also turned off by how serious Buddhism tends to be. Practices to be followed. Discipline to be adhered to. Lineages to be respected. Mindfulness to be attended to.
Nothing wrong with all this.
I just get to wondering, lighten up, Buddhists; don't take this "end of suffering" thing so damn seriously. For people who don't believe they have a self, they sure can sound very pre-occupied with the condition of the self that they don't have.
Doesn't have to be this way. I'm a fan of Three Laughers at Tiger Ravine. That story shows that Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian precepts can be taken lightly.
On the whole, though, I seem to be on the trajectory described by Richard Carrier in his "From Taoist to Infidel."
I was a happy Taoist for many years... But I had never stopped my private readings in the sciences, and it did not take long for me to realize that everything I had experienced through Taoism had a natural explanation.
At the same time, the more I studied my religious text the more I came to disagree with certain parts of it. Since the One True Religion could not be faulty even in part, this brought me to realize that Taoism was not sacred or divine, but just an outpouring of very admirable and ingenious, but ultimately fallible human wisdom. That did not diminish its merit, but it did lead me to think outside the box.
More and more I found I agreed with Confucians against the Taoists, but still sided with the Taoists against the Confucians on other issues, and in the dance of thesis and antithesis I came to my own synthesis, which can now be described as a science-based secular humanism rooted in a metaphysical naturalism.
More and more I found brilliant wisdom in Western philosophers like Epicurus or Seneca, or Ayer or Hume, and so my worldview became more ecclectic and for that reason more perfect: by drawing the best from many points of view, I was purging myself of the faults of relying on only one.