As I said in my previous post (My #1 problem with Steve Hagen's 'The Grand Delusion"), the teachings of a ninth-century Zen master, Huang Po, shouldn't be given more credence than modern neuroscience.
After all, Huang Po, along with everybody else in those pre-scientific times, had no understanding of how the brain works. Naturally people knew how their mind seemed to work, but seeming is a long way from actuality.
This is why Huang Po could claim that conception is totally different from perception. Now it is known that both conception and perception are founded on complex goings-on in the brain and are anything but simple.
But those processes are hidden from view, so it seems that perception is akin to a mirror accurately reflecting what is before it. Actually, perception involves predictions by the brain based on past experiences and sometimes can't be trusted -- mirages and illusions being examples of this.
That said, I like how Buddhism is so non-religious, arguably it isn't even a religion. Sure, many Buddhists view it that way, as Stephen Bachelor writes in his appealing book, "Buddhism Without Beliefs."
If you go to Asia and visit a wat (Thailand) or gompa (Tibet), you will enter something that looks very much like an abbey, a church, or cathedral, being run by people who look like monks or priests, displaying objects that look like icons, which are enshrined in alcoves that look like chapels and revered by people who look like worshippers.
If you talk to one of the people who look like monks, you will learn that he has a view of the world that seems very much like a belief system, revealed a long time ago by someone else who is revered like a god, after whose death saintly individuals have interpreted the revelations in ways like theology. There have been schisms and reforms, and these have given rise to institutions that are just like churches.
Buddhism, it would seem, is a religion.
Or, is it?
Well, it depends. Keep all that Bachelor describes above and you have a religion. Discard it, and you have a philosophy of life aimed at reducing anguish, which Bachelor prefers to the usual English word, suffering.
I like how Buddhism is in line with modern neuroscience in how it denies the existence of an enduring self or soul. I also like how Buddhism reflects modern science in its notions of interdependency and ceaseless change, referred to by the potentially misleading term of emptiness.
The way I see it, Buddhism, along with any other philosophy or approach to living, must continually evolve as fresh ideas and new facts about the world are known.
There's a parallel here between the view of the United States Constitution as a living document, or as a writing that should be interpreted through the views of those who wrote the Constitution in the late 1700s, otherwise known as originalism. An essay in the Atlantic on this subject concludes with a great line.
The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.
This is how I feel about Buddhism revering outmoded views of pre-scientific Buddhists. It makes no sense to have the philosophy of Buddhism "locked in the ice of a world far from our own." Stephen Bachelor writes:
An agnostic Buddhist would not regard the dharma as a source of "answers" to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death. He would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc.
An agnostic Buddhist is not a "believer" with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense is not "religious."
...The extent to which dharma practice has been institutionalized as a religion can be gauged by the number of consolatory elements that have crept in: for example, assurances of a better afterlife if you perform virtuous deeds or recite mantras or chant the name of a Buddha.