I've finished The Web of Meaning, by Jeremy Lent, a book with the subtitle, "Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe."
It's a lengthy book, 382 pages, that I enjoyed. My first post about it was "Marvelous mystery lies in the complexity of the world."
Lent wrote a related previous book, The Patterning Instinct. Both books discuss Eastern and Western religions in a well-informed manner. In 2017 I talked about The Patterning Instinct in "Indian and Greek thought are both dualistic. Chinese thought isn't."
In these passages Lent explains how ancient India embraced a form of dualism that differed in some respects from that of the Greeks, but still was based on the same sorts of splits found in Christianity.
...So if someone is looking for oneness, it won't be found in either Greek or Indian thought, which are both thoroughly dualistic.
Pleasingly -- because I'm attracted to Chinese thought, especially in the guise of Taoism (and Tai Chi, basically Taoism expressed as movement, which I've been practicing for 13 years), Lent is big on the Chinese way of looking upon the world, which he admires as being in tune with modern scientific thought and a naturalistic approach to oneness.
In his new book, Lent is still big on Chinese philosophy. Along with Buddhism and indigenous traditions (Native American and others), this is what is meant by "traditional wisdom" in his subtitle.
What he's after is an integration of what divides us in science, religion, philosophy, and other areas of human life. I heartily agree with Lent that any belief system which finds meaning in some realm apart from our world and this universe -- which is what Indian religions and Christianity have in common -- isn't going to heal the splits that plague us.
Taoism and Buddhism have a lot in common with modern systems thinking. Since I completed the course work for a doctorate in Systems Science back in the 1970's before I became a Ph.D. dropout, I resonated with the many examples of how systems concepts reflect the reality of how reality works.
Here's some quotes from The Web of Meaning along these lines.
Reciprocal causality is a lot like the Buddhist notions of dependent origination and emptiness. Reality isn't top-down causation, as religions would have us believe, with God at the top.
We've seen that reciprocal causality is a defining element of integrated, self-organizing systems -- the system as a whole affects the parts, while the parts affect the whole. The relationship between mind and body is similarly reciprocal. While the mind affects the body, different aspects of the body are simultaneously affecting the mind.
...As we've seen, a hallmark of living systems is reciprocal causality: interacting parts create the system, while the system as a whole affects how the parts interact.
Purpose doesn't come from outside the universe or outside of life. Life is its own purpose.
When a bacterium in a tank senses sugar is more concentrated in a certain direction, it will turn around, rotate its flagella like a propeller and swim toward what it wants. It's driven by the same sense of purpose that has urged life forward in an unbroken flow from the days of the first protocells: a desire to resist the Second Law of Thermodynamics, to ingest nutrients, metabolize them, regenerate its parts and pass its particular form of negentropy on to the next generation.
We're back to Weber's First Law of Desire: 'Everything that lives wants more of life. Organisms are beings whose own existence means something to them.'
...As we've seen, life is a self-constructed process. There is no programmer writing a program, no architect drawing up a blueprint. The organism is the weaver of its own fabric. It sculpts itself according to its own inner sense of purpose, which it inherited ultimately -- like all of us -- from the first autocatylytic cells: the drive to resist the Second Law of Thermodynamics and generate a temporary vortex of self-created order in the universe.
Consciousness is material, but this doesn't make it any less sacred.
Some people, viewing consciousness as something sacred, might object to the idea that it could theoretically be measured through scientific instruments. My personal opinion is that, rather than diminishing the sacred quality of consciousness, it opens a pathway that bridges the sacred and the scientific.
In modern gewu, as in Neo-Confucianism -- and in contrast to Western dualism -- there is no inherent distinction between the spiritual and the material. It's the miraculous ways in which the material world self-organizes that create the conditions for all that is sacred and meaningful in the universe.
Emergent phenomena show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that at higher levels of organization newness emerges that can't be predicted by looking at more basic elements.
There is, as we've seen, a vast category of things -- life, mind, consciousness, music, cognition and rainbows, to mention just a few -- that are emergent phenomena, existing only as a result of complex, dynamic interactions between different entities. Meaning also belongs in this category.
In the same way that we can enact a rainbow by gazing into the rain, we enact meaning by the way in which we attune to the connective rhythms of the universe. Like music being played, like the refracted sunlight in the rain, the meaning potential is always there -- its just waiting for us to tune into the right wavelength and engage with it.
...Just as music is an emergent phenomenon arising between a player and listener attuning through patterns of vibrations, so meaning is an emergent phenomenon enacted by a conscious entity as it relates an experience to other experiences.
Death is a problem for us only insofar as we have a limited view of ourselves as an isolated being.
At a deeper level, our identity as living beings can extend to embrace all of life. In the Western tradition, with personhood confined to conceptual consciousness, the existential fear of death has historically been alleviated by the belief in an eternal soul that remains intact after the demise of the body.
But much of this fear is the result of experiencing a self-identity separate from the rest of life. To the extent that we, as temporary eddies of consciousness, can recognize our unity with the entire stream of life of which we're a tiny part, there is less to fear from our own death.
As part of the unfolding cascade of negative entropy that has evolved in all its magnificence on Earth, we have never died for over three billion years. From this expanded perspective, as long as there is life, there is no such thing as death.
The Tao Te Ching hints at this deep insight when it proclaims, 'One who knows how to nourish life... has no place of death.'