There's very little religious supernaturalism in them, a big reason why they appeal to me. I'm fine with philosophical Buddhism, which by and large is compatible with modern scientific understandings of reality.
Once we get into rebirth, omniscience, and additional other-worldly stuff, though, I part company with Buddhism.
Newland makes a few references to "liberation from cyclic existence" and other religious'y aspects of Buddhism, but I just put a question mark in the page margin when I come across such mentions and move on.
To his core theme, emptiness.
The normal meaning of that word is an absence. Same applies in Buddhism.
What we need to do to become enlightened as to the nature of reality is give up the notion that anything (including us) exists permanently, fixedly, unchangingly, independently.
Yes, we are real. A chair is real. Dogs are real. Everything in everyday existence is real. There isn't any reality beyond the conventional world, no hidden realms of existence in some far-off heaven or spiritual realm.
Our problem isn't that we aren't in touch with ultimate reality.
Our problem is that we fail to see it as it is -- empty of inherent existence. Actually, everything is interconnected, interdependent, interwoven. But we wrongly consider that things (including the human self) possess their own inherent nature.
In the book I'm reading now, Newland writes:
The Great Vehicle tenet systems teach that the subtle and profound emptiness realized on the bodhisattva path is an ultimate truth. This ultimate truth is a negative phenomenon -- the mere absence of a certain type of self (i.e., a certain kind of existence) in phenomena.
The various Great Vehicle systems disagree about the kind of existence that emptiness negates. The Mind Only system, for example, says that emptiness is the absence of a difference of entity between an object and the mind apprehending it, while the Middle Way Consequence system says that emptiness is the absence of inherent existence.
Still, however they define it, Great Vehicle tenet systems agree that the subtle emptiness is (1) an ultimate truth, and (2) a quality present in all phenomena. That is, everything that exists (including emptiness itself) is devoid of whatever type of existence emptiness negates.
Back in my mystical meditation days -- which lasted over thirty years -- I was super-fond of the term ultimate reality. But then I viewed ultimate reality, or ultimate truth, as something positive that could be known.
So it's been a refreshing eye-opener to get exposed to a fuller and clearer explanation of how Buddhism views emptiness as ultimate truth. I really like the idea that what separates us from ultimate truth is the presence of a false notion: inherent existence.
Which Newland defines as "the existence of something by the power of its own intrinsic or essential character."
This is how soul, God, and other supernatural entities are viewed by most religions. And how everyday existence is viewed by almost everybody in the world. Meaning, we see things -- like a table and chairs -- as possessing inherent existence rather than being brought into being by dependent arising.
Which Newland defines as:
The core teaching that "in dependence upon this, that arises," which is the heart of the Dharma. Since there is nothing that exists in and of itself, all existents are dependent arisings.
Reality, then, is "synonym for emptiness, the ultimate truth." And Newland says emptiness is...
The sheer nonexistence of intrinsic nature. For example, the table's emptiness is the table's lack of existence by way of an intrinsic nature.
For me, the beauty of this Buddhist philosophy is that it negates the search for a True Self.
In the Indian philosophy I previously embraced, but have now discarded, there was the notion of coverings of mind and matter that obscured the primal soul-consciousness of who we really are. Supposedly these coverings could be removed through spiritual practice, meditation, and God's/Guru's grace.
Mahayana Buddhism seems much closer to the truth. Here's a few more Newland definitions.
self -- sometimes refers to the person -- that is, to something that does conventionally exist. However, often refers to a reified nature that does not exist at all but is wrongly superimposed on persons and other things.
selflessness -- the nonexistence of a reified nature that ignorance wrongly superimposes on persons and other things. In Prasangika Madhyamaka, the nonexistence of intrinsic nature in a person or other existing things.
Suffering, distress, unhappiness, and ignorance arise from adding an "extra" on to things that exist: unchangingness, permanence, independence. We worry about not knowing our True Self when, actually, the truth is that we don't have a self.
Including emptiness, because emptiness isn't something that exists; it is the absence of inherent existence.
So what we need to be fulfilled isn't something; it is giving up a belief in "things," understanding that, as Newland puts it, "there is nothing that is truly or ultimately existent."