Jump to content
BANGKOK
Sign in to follow this  
rikpa

Favorite Buddhist Books (not Suttas) And Reference Websites

Recommended Posts

I am still a novice. I found the book by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso entitled an introduction to Buddism an invaluable help.

You can see other works by him at lost more helpful aids at www,tharpa.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know if it will interest anyone in here but I've just come across this 'book' written by someone who ordained as a novice in India - sort of a version of 'What the Buddha never taught'. Unfortunately it can only be read online - pity there isn't a downloadable version for Kindlers.

http://www.buddhanet.net/cmdsg/go1-1.htm#Contents

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

simple....copy and paste each page into a text file with Open Office or Word and then convert it to pdf.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

:rolleyes:

Thanks! I'll take a look.

As something I once read said (can't remember exactly where):

There are only two kinds of teachings.

The first one is a teaching that upon study and reflection you find to be true and therefore valid.

The second one is a teaching that upon study and refletion you find to be false and therefore invalid.

Both types of teachings are therefore equally valuable and useful.

:)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just downloaded this to my Kindle. Haven't yet had a chance to read it.

The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha's Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness

by Noah Levine

Reviews

“It offers a fresh look at mercy, a term not frequently used in Buddhism; includes an extensive commentary on the Metta Sutta; gives the lowdown on personal and romantic love; and explores cosmology and the three personality types according to traditional Buddhist thought.” (Shambhala Sun )

“You can feel it in the very sentences - Levine’s earnest drive to share what he’s learned, to bring us along into the open heart of revolution. This is a terrific new take on the old teachings - and I believe him. I want to join.” (Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones )

“A passionate and timely appeal to overcome self-centredness through love and compassion, combined with eminently practical meditations to help you do so.” (Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist )

“The Heart of the Revolution is refreshing, relevant and to the point. A great manual for developing love and compassion in these difficult times.” (Martine Batchelor, Author of Let Go and The Spirit of the Buddha )

Description

Noah Levine has become the voice of the next generation of American Buddhism. In The Heart of the Revolution, he invites us on a journey to discover the loving heart. Despite being an acclaimed Buddhist teacher, Levine doubted whether he could ever release the anger deep within. After many years he finally realized the truth of this essential Buddhist belief—compassion is a natural quality of the heart that is often lying dormant, waiting to be uncovered. Levine now reveals the tools that helped him embrace his true Buddha nature. The practices he describes in this book are not a quick fix but a map to a hidden treasure. Free yourself from the unnecessary suffering of life and join the rebellion fueled not by hatred but by forgiveness, compassion, and kindness.

http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Revolution-Teachings-Forgiveness-Compassion/dp/0061711241/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316289123&sr=1-1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just downloaded this to my Kindle. Haven't yet had a chance to read it.

The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha's Radical Teachings on Forgiveness, Compassion, and Kindness

by Noah Levine

Reviews

“It offers a fresh look at mercy, a term not frequently used in Buddhism; includes an extensive commentary on the Metta Sutta; gives the lowdown on personal and romantic love; and explores cosmology and the three personality types according to traditional Buddhist thought.” (Shambhala Sun )

“You can feel it in the very sentences - Levine’s earnest drive to share what he’s learned, to bring us along into the open heart of revolution. This is a terrific new take on the old teachings - and I believe him. I want to join.” (Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones )

“A passionate and timely appeal to overcome self-centredness through love and compassion, combined with eminently practical meditations to help you do so.” (Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist )

“The Heart of the Revolution is refreshing, relevant and to the point. A great manual for developing love and compassion in these difficult times.” (Martine Batchelor, Author of Let Go and The Spirit of the Buddha )

Description

Noah Levine has become the voice of the next generation of American Buddhism. In The Heart of the Revolution, he invites us on a journey to discover the loving heart. Despite being an acclaimed Buddhist teacher, Levine doubted whether he could ever release the anger deep within. After many years he finally realized the truth of this essential Buddhist belief—compassion is a natural quality of the heart that is often lying dormant, waiting to be uncovered. Levine now reveals the tools that helped him embrace his true Buddha nature. The practices he describes in this book are not a quick fix but a map to a hidden treasure. Free yourself from the unnecessary suffering of life and join the rebellion fueled not by hatred but by forgiveness, compassion, and kindness.

http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Revolution-Teachings-Forgiveness-Compassion/dp/0061711241/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316289123&sr=1-1

Please let us know what you think after you've read the book.

The comments on Amazon are certainly enticing, and Noah Levine is such an extraordinary character. His experience makes me think of Conrad Hensley, a character in Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full" (1998), who has a serious anger management problem and winds up in jail, where he discovers the teaching of Epictetus and becomes a practising Stoic. Not being particularly compassionate by nature, he is moved the Stoics' sense of duty towards others to behave in compassionate ways.

In Hensley's case "compassion" flows from wisdom and duty. I'm not sure what it flows from in Noah Levine's case. The blurbs speak as though he has reinvented himself from being an angry, hate-filled person to one who is compassionate, but I'd be interested to know how that works.

I would have thought there were two ways to move from anger to compassion. On the one hand, a person is essentially compassionate, but has been distracted and deluded by things that make him angry. On the other hand, one might be a hostile and angry person who sees the delusion in anger and the wisdom of compassion. In neither case though has compassion replaced anger. In the first instance, compassion was always there, but masked. In the second, anger has been overcome by wisdom, not "compassion".

Reading the comments on Amazon from the reviewer who heard Noah Levine read from his book accompanied by tears, etc., my impression is of a man who is emotionally disturbed. This is clear from his early history of rejection, hostility and incarceration, and may well explain his dramatic shift to the opposite. Nevertheless, perhaps there is beneficial emotional disturbance, not just the deluded, distorting and destructive kind. And emotional disturbance can be, I suspect frequently is, connected with high intelligence. Noah Levine, to me, appears to combine emotional instability with the insight that feeds wisdom. But I'll wait to hear more from Sabaijai before reading the book.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This looks interesting. I could find only one review.

The Dhamma Man

by Vilas Sarang

http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/category/Fiction/The_Dhamma_Man_9780143414650.aspx

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/the-dhamma-man-an-easy-yet-captivating-read/185851-40-101.html

Listed under fiction. Perhaps along the lines of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha.

TheDhammaMan.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, by Owen Flanagan; Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen by James H Austin – review

Buddhism has never been more popular in the west. A sceptic's view makes fascinating reading, while a how-to guide makes the usual exaggerated claims

Julian Baggini

The Observer, Sunday 23 October 2011

Despite the long-term decline in the west in churchgoing, people's yearning for some kind of transcendence appears as strong as ever, echoed in the common refrain: "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." Buddhism seems well placed to capitalise on this pent-up demand in the spiritual market. It appears to promise all the goodness of religion without the harmful supernatural additives. Even better, scientists in white coats are increasingly being wheeled out to show that it is clinically proven to increase happiness, improve attention and reduce stress. Add a charismatic CEO in the form of the Dalai Lama and you have a brand set not so much to conquer the world as win it over with loving kindness.

But is Buddhism really as amenable to the modern mind as it is claimed? More specifically, asks philosopher Owen Flanagan in his brilliant The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, can Buddhism be made compatible with a view that posits the existence of nothing other than the natural world, in which objects can be moved by gravitational forces but not karmic ones? Refreshingly, Flanagan accepts that such "naturalised" Buddhism would not be "authentic", not only because, like all religions, it comes in numerous variants anyway, but because historically it has just been too infused with "mind-numbing and wishful hocus pocus". But if you subtract this "superstition and magical thinking", are you left with a valuable, truthful set of practices and beliefs?

What makes this book so important is not so much its cautiously affirmative answer but how it is justified. To make his case, Flanagan has to address issues concerning the nature of self, what recent neurological research tells us about human wellbeing, and what it means to be happy and live a good life. Much has been written about all of these in recent years and almost all of it is confused, misleading, simplistic or all three. Anyone looking for an antidote to this sloppiness will find it in Flanagan, who brings much needed clarity, insight and sophistication to the debate. Flanagan explains why excitable claims that Buddhist practice makes us happy, wealthier and wiser are premature and that research to date is extremely limited both in its sample size and in what conclusions it justifies.

Such sober scepticism cast a dark shadow over my reading of Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen . In essence it is a how-to guide for Zen meditation, and as such it does its job pretty efficiently. But James H Austin makes just the kind of exaggerated claims that Flanagan deflates. We are told time and again how Buddhist meditation brings incredible mental clarity and insight, but if that's true, why aren't more top scientists and intellectuals Buddhists? The obvious point that is not perceived with much clarity at all by Buddhism's proponents is that only certain types of seeing, if any at all, are improved by meditation, mostly concerning the impermanent nature of self.

The other vice Austin betrays is the liberal use of neurological research where it is inconclusive or irrelevant. Given that no one doubts meditation changes your mental state, pointing out that fMRI scans reveal changes in the brain too is hardly revelatory. This kind of stating the obvious reaches its apotheosis when Austin points to the startling discovery that in research into mindfulness meditation, which is largely about directing attention, data "tend to point" to brain areas that are – guess what – "related to the regulation of attention". To be fair, as I held the book at such moments, the wisdom of another of Austin's repeated recommendations hit me with remarkable clarity: I ought to learn to let go.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/23/buddhism-bodhisattva-flanagan-meditating-austin?newsfeed=true

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From a review:

THE WAY OF THE WHITE CLOUDS

Lama Anagarika Govinda

The Way of the White Clouds is the remarkable narrative of a pilgrimage which could not be made today. In 1948, Lama Anagarika Govinda made a journey into Tibet before its invasion by the Chinese. His extraordinary descriptions of the landscape, monasteries and people of Tibet are unforgettable, and his sensitive explorations of the spiritual traditions of Tibet and the travels he made within his own being are both magical and extremely helpful. As a book for discovering what Tibet was really like before enormous change swept through it, and what Tibetan spirituality is all about, The Way of the White Clouds has no equal.

From the book:

The Way of the White Clouds

To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one's distance;

to understand its form, one must move around it;

to experience its moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset,

at noon and at midnight, in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm,

in summer and in winter and in all the other seasons.

He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain,

a life that is as intense and varied as that of a human being.

LAMA GOVINDA

THE WAY OF THE WHITE CLOUDS

--I first read it in the early 70's ... it still is my favorite and I still have my original copy. Jazzbo

--------------------------

Just that poem alone would be worth the cost of the book....whatever it was.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, by Owen Flanagan; Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen by James H Austin – review

Buddhism has never been more popular in the west. A sceptic's view makes fascinating reading, while a how-to guide makes the usual exaggerated claims

Julian Baggini

The Observer, Sunday 23 October 2011

Despite the long-term decline in the west in churchgoing, people's yearning for some kind of transcendence appears as strong as ever, echoed in the common refrain: "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." Buddhism seems well placed to capitalise on this pent-up demand in the spiritual market. It appears to promise all the goodness of religion without the harmful supernatural additives. Even better, scientists in white coats are increasingly being wheeled out to show that it is clinically proven to increase happiness, improve attention and reduce stress. Add a charismatic CEO in the form of the Dalai Lama and you have a brand set not so much to conquer the world as win it over with loving kindness.

But is Buddhism really as amenable to the modern mind as it is claimed? More specifically, asks philosopher Owen Flanagan in his brilliant The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, can Buddhism be made compatible with a view that posits the existence of nothing other than the natural world, in which objects can be moved by gravitational forces but not karmic ones? Refreshingly, Flanagan accepts that such "naturalised" Buddhism would not be "authentic", not only because, like all religions, it comes in numerous variants anyway, but because historically it has just been too infused with "mind-numbing and wishful hocus pocus". But if you subtract this "superstition and magical thinking", are you left with a valuable, truthful set of practices and beliefs?

What makes this book so important is not so much its cautiously affirmative answer but how it is justified. To make his case, Flanagan has to address issues concerning the nature of self, what recent neurological research tells us about human wellbeing, and what it means to be happy and live a good life. Much has been written about all of these in recent years and almost all of it is confused, misleading, simplistic or all three. Anyone looking for an antidote to this sloppiness will find it in Flanagan, who brings much needed clarity, insight and sophistication to the debate. Flanagan explains why excitable claims that Buddhist practice makes us happy, wealthier and wiser are premature and that research to date is extremely limited both in its sample size and in what conclusions it justifies.

Such sober scepticism cast a dark shadow over my reading of Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen . In essence it is a how-to guide for Zen meditation, and as such it does its job pretty efficiently. But James H Austin makes just the kind of exaggerated claims that Flanagan deflates. We are told time and again how Buddhist meditation brings incredible mental clarity and insight, but if that's true, why aren't more top scientists and intellectuals Buddhists? The obvious point that is not perceived with much clarity at all by Buddhism's proponents is that only certain types of seeing, if any at all, are improved by meditation, mostly concerning the impermanent nature of self.

The other vice Austin betrays is the liberal use of neurological research where it is inconclusive or irrelevant. Given that no one doubts meditation changes your mental state, pointing out that fMRI scans reveal changes in the brain too is hardly revelatory. This kind of stating the obvious reaches its apotheosis when Austin points to the startling discovery that in research into mindfulness meditation, which is largely about directing attention, data "tend to point" to brain areas that are – guess what – "related to the regulation of attention". To be fair, as I held the book at such moments, the wisdom of another of Austin's repeated recommendations hit me with remarkable clarity: I ought to learn to let go.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/23/buddhism-bodhisattva-flanagan-meditating-austin?newsfeed=true

Another view on the book.

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/11/07/buddhism-naturalized/

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, by Owen Flanagan; Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen by James H Austin – review

Buddhism has never been more popular in the west. A sceptic's view makes fascinating reading, while a how-to guide makes the usual exaggerated claims

Julian Baggini

The Observer, Sunday 23 October 2011

Despite the long-term decline in the west in churchgoing, people's yearning for some kind of transcendence appears as strong as ever, echoed in the common refrain: "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." Buddhism seems well placed to capitalise on this pent-up demand in the spiritual market. It appears to promise all the goodness of religion without the harmful supernatural additives. Even better, scientists in white coats are increasingly being wheeled out to show that it is clinically proven to increase happiness, improve attention and reduce stress. Add a charismatic CEO in the form of the Dalai Lama and you have a brand set not so much to conquer the world as win it over with loving kindness.

But is Buddhism really as amenable to the modern mind as it is claimed? More specifically, asks philosopher Owen Flanagan in his brilliant The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, can Buddhism be made compatible with a view that posits the existence of nothing other than the natural world, in which objects can be moved by gravitational forces but not karmic ones? Refreshingly, Flanagan accepts that such "naturalised" Buddhism would not be "authentic", not only because, like all religions, it comes in numerous variants anyway, but because historically it has just been too infused with "mind-numbing and wishful hocus pocus". But if you subtract this "superstition and magical thinking", are you left with a valuable, truthful set of practices and beliefs?

What makes this book so important is not so much its cautiously affirmative answer but how it is justified. To make his case, Flanagan has to address issues concerning the nature of self, what recent neurological research tells us about human wellbeing, and what it means to be happy and live a good life. Much has been written about all of these in recent years and almost all of it is confused, misleading, simplistic or all three. Anyone looking for an antidote to this sloppiness will find it in Flanagan, who brings much needed clarity, insight and sophistication to the debate. Flanagan explains why excitable claims that Buddhist practice makes us happy, wealthier and wiser are premature and that research to date is extremely limited both in its sample size and in what conclusions it justifies.

Such sober scepticism cast a dark shadow over my reading of Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen . In essence it is a how-to guide for Zen meditation, and as such it does its job pretty efficiently. But James H Austin makes just the kind of exaggerated claims that Flanagan deflates. We are told time and again how Buddhist meditation brings incredible mental clarity and insight, but if that's true, why aren't more top scientists and intellectuals Buddhists? The obvious point that is not perceived with much clarity at all by Buddhism's proponents is that only certain types of seeing, if any at all, are improved by meditation, mostly concerning the impermanent nature of self.

The other vice Austin betrays is the liberal use of neurological research where it is inconclusive or irrelevant. Given that no one doubts meditation changes your mental state, pointing out that fMRI scans reveal changes in the brain too is hardly revelatory. This kind of stating the obvious reaches its apotheosis when Austin points to the startling discovery that in research into mindfulness meditation, which is largely about directing attention, data "tend to point" to brain areas that are – guess what – "related to the regulation of attention". To be fair, as I held the book at such moments, the wisdom of another of Austin's repeated recommendations hit me with remarkable clarity: I ought to learn to let go.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/23/buddhism-bodhisattva-flanagan-meditating-austin?newsfeed=true

Another view on the book.

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/11/07/buddhism-naturalized/

Thanks sabaijai.

I'm 43% of the way through this book, according to my Kindle - in fact about two-thirds as the text stops at 69% and the rest is footnotes and bibliography.

I think it's a very clear and well-written book. I shall post some notes on it when I've finished (in a few days - it's not a page-turner for me).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Would love to read your comments. Knowing it's available on Kindle, I might download it myself. Kindle has really upped my literary intake ;) in a good way.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The recently published and stunningly expensive book "The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand" covers just about everything one needs to know about Thai Buddhism:

"In my new book, "The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand" (Columbia University Press, 2011), I go beyond studies of Buddhist meditation, ethics, and philosophy in order to provide a historical background to many of today's Thai Buddhist practices. I provide a detailed, but hopefully accessible, analysis of the amulet trade, the use of protective tattoos, the rise of Thai horror films, the chanting of protective incantations, the popularity of ghost stories and the work of well-known Buddhist monks, saints and magicians.

Even though Thai Buddhism presents itself (and has been so designated by foreign scholars and Western Buddhist enthusiasts) as normative, traditional and exceedingly well-behaved, I argue throughout that rather than hidden aspects of an otherwise orthodox and peaceful Thai Buddhism, these magical and protective rituals and stories are part of the Thai religious mainstream. If we are going to talk in useful ways about Thai culture, if we are going to learn from the various Thai ways of being Buddhist, then it is more accurate to look at what complex technologies people actually employ to solve problems -- the practical (and sometimes seemingly impractical) technologies of astrology, healing, protection, prognostication, precepts, and the like. In this way, I hope to offer a solid background to what a visitor to Thailand, whether she is a scholar of Buddhism or an engaged tourist, will actually see, smell, and hear in a monastery -- even if what we witness makes us want to run it the opposite direction."

Source.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Art of Disappearing

Buddha’s Path to Lasting Joy

Ajahn Brahm,

Whether mere bumps in the road or genuine crises, we live in a world of unwanted events that no willpower can prevent. In The Art of Disappearing, Ajahn Brahm helps us learn to abandon the headwind of false expectations and follow instead the Buddha’s path of understanding. Releasing our attachment to past and future, to self and other, we can directly experience the natural state of serenity underlying all our thoughts and discover the bliss of the present moment. In that space, we learn what it is to disappear. Ajahn Brahm, an unparalleled guide to the bliss of meditation, makes the journey as fun as it is rewarding. The Art of Disappearing, comprised of a series of teachings Ajahn Brahm gave to the monks of Bodhinyana Monastery, where he serves as abbot, offers a unique glimpse into the mind of one of contemporary Buddhism’s most engaging figures.

http://www.wisdompub...Action=&image=1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, by Owen Flanagan; Meditating Selflessly: Practical Neural Zen by James H Austin – review

Buddhism has never been more popular in the west. A sceptic's view makes fascinating reading, while a how-to guide makes the usual exaggerated claims

Julian Baggini

The Observer, Sunday 23 October 2011

Despite the long-term decline in the west in churchgoing, people's yearning for some kind of transcendence appears as strong as ever, echoed in the common refrain: "I'm not religious but I am spiritual." Buddhism seems well placed to capitalise on this pent-up demand in the spiritual market. It appears to promise all the goodness of religion without the harmful supernatural additives. Even better, scientists in white coats are increasingly being wheeled out to show that it is clinically proven to increase happiness, improve attention and reduce stress. Add a charismatic CEO in the form of the Dalai Lama and you have a brand set not so much to conquer the world as win it over with loving kindness.

Source: http://www.guardian....n?newsfeed=true

Here is another, more in=depth and intriguing review from Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Reviewed byChristian Coseru, College of Charleston

Owen Flanagan's The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized is an oddly captivating book, part reportage and part philosophical manifesto, delivered as an impassioned series of vignettes. The "oddity" of the book stems largely from what it sets out to accomplish (and how): a critical account of what has by now become the burgeoning enterprise of neuroscientific research on the effects of Buddhist forms of meditation on health and well-being, and of the widely shared but -- on Flanagan's account -- unsupported view that the brains of highly trained Buddhists reveal their owners to be unusually happy. The neuroscientific data, he argues, is inconclusive. Buddhism provides at best a modus vivendi that shares many features with the Aristotelian model of virtue ethics and, as such, is less special than some of its more ardent proponents would have it. It does not mean, however, that Buddhism does not offer something unique and special; it just isn't what those who champion the science of happiness think it is.

Flanagan is among the first philosophers (along with Patricia Churchland, Charles Taylor, and Elliot Sober) to participate in the Mind and Life series of scientific encounters between the Dalai Lama and groups of prominent scientists that began over two decades ago. The book could also be read as a personal philosophical odyssey chronicling the various theoretical and scientific spinoffs from the eighth Mind and Life conference, in Dharamsala, India in 2000, which Flanagan attended. That meeting, which was intended both as a contribution to understanding the role of emotions in a cross-cultural perspective and as an important step in reclaiming affective cognition for neuroscience and psychology, arguably marked a turning point in the exchange between Buddhism and science. Where the immediately preceding dialogues had sought to draw parallels between Buddhism and quantum physics, domains of investigation that diverge considerably, the eighth conference aimed to find in the sciences of the mind a natural ally (for Buddhism), given that both share a common interest in exploring the potential of human cognition. To this exploration, it was claimed, Buddhism brings a first person phenomenological perspective that the science of cognition has only recently began to develop (or adopt from the Western phenomenological tradition). To be sure, mapping mental states onto brain functions, even with the aid of skilled meditators, is still a complex and controversial undertaking. But the discovery of the brain's neuroplasticity lends credibility to the view that cultivating positive mental and emotional states can have lasting effects on any individual, regardless of her cultural, biological and psychological makeup.

The Bodhisattva's Brain will serve advocates and critics of a Buddhist type of moral psychology alike by its sorting through and critically examining research that claims to describe, categorize, and measure the wide variety of mental and bodily states associated with Buddhist forms of moral and meditative cultivation. In many ways, this work continues a project that Flanagan began in his last book, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (MIT Press, 2007), where he asked the hard question of whether there could be a scientific inquiry into what is the best way to live that "need not be reductive, eliminativist, or disenchanting" (36). There, Flanagan drew mainly from such contemporary moral thinkers as Amartya Sen, John Rawls, and Martha Nussbaum, as well as from the relevant empirical literature on subjective well-being by Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, Joshua Green, and Jonathan Haidt, among others, laying down a path that sought to straddle evolutionary biology and cultural history.

In The Bodhisattva's Brain, Flanagan draws from (and takes issue with) neuroscientific studies on the positive effects of meditative practice, particularly associated with the work of Richard Davidson, John Kabat-Zinn, Antoine Lutz, and Giuseppe Pagnoni. Such studies, which have shown that there are significant and unusual oscillatory patterns in the brains of highly trained meditators, might be read as suggesting a strong link between various meditative states and psychological well-being. Flanagan resurrects an old idea (first articulated by Nathan Katz in a 1978 paper on "Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism") that one ought to be suspicious of claims that certain first-person methods reveal something fundamental about the nature of mind: methods determine outcomes, and one effectively experiences whatever one has trained oneself to experience. There is no universal condition of genuine happiness whose neural signature in the brain would establish it as such. Buddhists, Aristotelians, utilitarians, hedonists, and Trappist monks presumably all operate with different notions of what it means to flourish, and for Flanagan such variance ought to -- at least in principle -- thwart any efforts to establish a neural basis for such flourishing.

Despite this apparent skepticism about the possibility of closing the explanatory gap between science and experience anytime soon, the book does advance a naturalist account of mental causation, which assumes (or at least insists that we ought to assume) that mental states are neurally realized. Flanagan is mindful that "even the best scientific work does not yet reveal how even simple conscious percepts, seeing a red patch, seeing a particularly bent paper clip, are realized" (87). But there is an obvious tension in Flanagan's naturalism project. On the one hand, he declaims that "neutrality of the metaphysics of mind is not a live option" (90) (regardless of whether one is an identity theorist, that is, takes mental states to be identical with their neural correlates, or adopts the "weaker" neural correlates view, which states that mental states correlate with brain events, but are not reducible to the latter). On the other hand, he does not hesitate to remark that "subjectively experienced states" may perhaps "have sui generis properties that are nonphysical" (52). By expressing hope that the identity theory may at least work for basic sensations, while at the same time shying away from epiphenomenalism, Flanagan could be offering us a more moderate version of naturalism. Readers will be left wondering why, then, he would claim that the best explanation for why, say, "intentions to act . . . are causally efficacious" is because "they are neural events" (65).

Flanagan brings to his critique a wonderfully wry and keenly acute sense of observation, as he reports (both from the far-flung centers of Buddhism in Asia and the neo-Buddhist communities of cosmopolitan America) what goes on in the name of Buddhist flourishing or, to use his idiosyncratic superscripting aimed at tagging the specific use of the term, eudaimoniaBuddha. As a participant in the activities of the Mind and Life Institute, Flanagan is also privy to what those, like the Dalai Lama and his entourage (who both embody and represent one specific tradition of Buddhist theory and practice), say behind closed doors, so to speak. That is, he knows that even some of Buddhism's best known representatives are keenly aware that Buddhism might perhaps be an unfinished project and that some of its doctrines should in fact be revised to take into account the findings of cognitive science. In the first part of the book, Flanagan offers a blueprint for how this revisionary process might unfold, as well as what it would entail: abandoning the notion of rebirth, striving for more conceptual clarity, conceding that all mental states have neural correlates, and framing a neo-compatibilist account of the relation between freedom and responsibility.

Are Buddhists happier that the rest of us, and is this happinessBuddha in any way different from, say, happinessNorth Atlantic Liberal 21st Century or being-in-a-good-moodAmerican? Furthermore, how does this happiness differ (as it must) from the sense of well-being that comes from doing the right thing, or from having successfully cultivated virtues such as courage, forbearance, or compassion? Most importantly, what is flourishing, Buddhist style, and what would become of the Buddhist account of how such flourishing is achieved if this practical philosophy of enlightenment were to be naturalized? By venturing answers to these and many related questions Flanagan gives us "a work of advocacy for something that doesn't yet have any traction, at most a tenuous foothold" (4) but that he thinks ought to exist, namely "Buddhism naturalized": a Buddhism that is compatible with neurophysicalism (the view that mental states and brain states are in fact identical) and is conceived as a "eudaimonistic virtue theory" (143).

Flanagan is less concerned, it seems, with what the traditional Buddhist way of life feels like first-personally, and more with what a socially engaged, psychologically savvy Buddhism without beliefs has to offer those who think that science gives the only answers worth considering about the origins, development, and function of human affect and cognition. Along the way, Flanagan advances an alternative and, by his own admission, highly opinionated, anachronistic, and ethnocentric reading of Buddhist philosophy that is free of what he takes to be the "arcane, superstitious, and metaphysically muddled religion or philosophy" (117) one encounters in presentations of Buddhism by Western philosophers. One might wonder who exactly these philosophers are, since with the exception of those few Western philosophers who are also eminent scholars of Buddhist philosophy, and on whose work Flanagan heavily relies (Jay Garfield and Mark Siderits, among others, come to mind), the vast majority of those writing on Buddhist philosophy are religious-studies scholars, cultural historians, and philologists.

Of course, Flanagan is aware that most of what goes on in the name of Buddhist philosophy today is a new form of scholasticism, where exegesis typically trumps philosophical argument, and reverence for tradition and its representative figures take the place of critical reflection. But he should have done more to foreground contributions that are philosophically rigorous from other kinds of engagement with the Buddhist tradition. He does cite a few relevant authoritative texts (The Middle Length and Long Discourses of the Buddha, Nāgārjuna's Verses on the Heart of the Middle Way, and Śāntideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva) as well as seminal works of Buddhist scholarship. But his main interlocutors seem to be the Dalai Lama and those who, like him, worry that naturalism strips Buddhism (and Buddhist phenomenology in particular) of its claim that it can offer an account of what it is like to see the mind clearly and to analyze its contents accurately.

Most of the book is dedicated to showing, step by step, how a Buddhist metaphysics of morals actually evolves from the embodied patterns of conduct that characterize the Buddhist way of being-in-the-world. As Flanagan rightly observes, being in certain states of mind such as calmness and serenity might dispose one to be more caring toward others, but those feelings are not constitutive of what it means to have (or have embodied) equanimity (upekha) (108). Rather, equanimity is constitutive of a certain way of being-in-the-world that reflects the ethos of the bodhisattva (whose boundless compassion for all sentient beings is anchored in an enlightened perspective about the nature of things); it is not the product of naturally occurring states of mind.

This observation seems to answer, at least in part, one specific question about the epistemic role that phenomenology (including Buddhist phenomenology) plays vis-à-vis the project of naturalism: studied and methodical descriptions of experience do reveal something universal about what certain mental states are like. Indeed, Flanagan is inclined to concede that phenomenology might actually work as a reliable method for the descriptive analysis of experience. But, he asks, "Does phenomenology reveal anything more . . . than how the mind seems first-personally?" (81) For the naturalist the answer is obvious: phenomenology cannot reveal to us certain hard facts about the nature and function of cognition; for instance, that color perception is mostly foveal or that, due to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through, there is a blind spot in a certain region of our perceptual field.

For proponents of the view that the mind is best studied by a combination of first- and third-person methods, however, such findings are both empirically relevant and phenomenologically constraining. Although we have known about the existence of the blind spot since 1666, when it was first discovered by the French Roman Catholic priest and scientist Edme Mariotte, it is only relatively recently, and as a result of careful phenomenological observation, that we have identified the phenomenon of perceptual completion. As a phenomenon, perceptual completion doesn't just mask the blind spot; it also reveals that one's perceptual field has a specific intentional structure. And this intentional structure has not been found, as yet, to be reducible. Flanagan, however, takes issue with the Buddhist claim that there might be aspects of the mind that are not reducible to their neural correlates. He sees such a claim, which the Dalai Lama in effect has made on several occasions, as tantamount to endorsing some kind of substance dualism. Nevertheless, he does concede that on a more charitable reading the Dalai Lama might simply be resisting the reductive move, rather than claiming that there aren't any neural correlates for some specific states of mind (such as those of pure awareness).

Furthermore, claims of this sort, we are told, are nothing but ancillary beliefs internal to Buddhism that lack any argument or justification (85). But such curt assessment as Flanagan advances does no justice to the rich tradition of philosophical debate in Buddhism between proponents of the reflective or other-illumination conception of consciousness and those who defend the view that the mind is naturally self-illuminating. For the first group, which includes philosophers of the Madhyamaka ("Middle Way") school of thought, but also Naiyāyikas ("philosophical logicians"), self-awareness is the product of a second-order cognition that takes the first cognition as its object, a view akin to higher order representationalist views of consciousness such as have been defended by D. M. Armstrong, W. G. Lycan, and David Rosenthal. The second group takes consciousness to be inherently self-revealing, and includes the Yogācāra ("Practice of Yoga") philosophers, the Buddhist epistemologists, most of the major thinkers in the Western phenomenological tradition, and a growing number of contemporary analytic philosophers. Far from lacking in argument, the self-luminosity view of consciousness has been vigorously debated and defended by Buddhist philosophers (and it is on this tradition of debate that the Dalai Lama rests his claim). Experience, claims the Buddhist reflexivist who follows Dharmakīrti's account of consciousness, fundamentally involves the simultaneous awareness of an object and of its first-personal mode of givenness. Otherwise, object-cognition without self-cognition and self-cognition without object-cognition would be indistinguishable. Contemporary philosophers have defended variants of this position, but one is not going to learn about its long pedigree in the Buddhist philosophical literature from Flanagan's book.

This point of criticism should not detract from the fact that the book does deliver on its promise of offering, under the guise of comparative neurophilosophy, a "philosophical theory that is worthy of attention by analytic philosophers" (3). The project of naturalizing Buddhism, it seems, accomplishes this aim by offering, first, an account of Buddhist philosophy that is scientifically informed and, second, a cautionary tale about why brain science alone cannot reveal the causes and constituents of human flourishing. Those who are skeptical that Buddhism has anything to contribute to current debates in philosophy might become more responsive if they were to learn, for instance, that Abhidharma -- a large body of literature concerned with examining the doctrinal foundations of Buddhism -- is essentially a "masterpiece of phenomenology, an early exercise in analytic existentialism . . . and . . . arguably the best taxonomy of conscious-mental-state types ever produced" (104). Flanagan is to be commended for making a strong and compelling case for why such a comprehensive taxonomy of the mental domain is deserving of more attention from philosophers.

Throughout the book one often comes across statements to the effect that "Buddhism is a distinctive normative theory" (20) or that "Buddhist psychology is overly normative" (103), which I take it are meant to serve as reminders that we are dealing here with a well-developed account of moral psychology. Critics might argue that categorizing mental states into wholesome and unwholesome blurs the distinction between psychology and ethics. Flanagan offers a principled answer: if normativity works for psychiatry, abnormal psychology, and structural engineering (the latter's principles allow us, after all, to build bridges and buildings that last) (104), why not for Buddhist psychology, given its overriding concerns with identifying and countering unwholesome mental states, and cultivating wholesome ones.

It is primarily this synthesis of normativity and causal explanation that makes Buddhism special. If for Aristotelian flourishing comes from living a life of virtue (understood as human reason embodied), Buddhist moral concerns and aspirations for freedom are informed by such metaphysical principles as the no-self view (which Flanagan interprets in terms of psychological continuity and connectedness), the impermanence of all phenomena, and interdependent arising. EudaimoniaBuddha and eudaimoniaAristotle are different, though perhaps complementary, experiments in living. By stressing the difference between these and many other ways of being-in-the-world, Flanagan is not championing the sort of ethical relativism one typically associates with Gilbert Harman or David B. Wong. Rather, he hopes to launch an inquiry and invite a new way of philosophizing that moves beyond comparative approaches, which seeks to locate points of convergence and contrast between different theories in the hope of casting each one in sharper relief. It also claims to encompass the fusion approach to philosophy, championed by Mark Siderits and consisting in the mixing and matching of philosophical ideas with the aim of identifying and (hopefully) solving genuinely universal problems. Flanagan calls his new mode of doing philosophy "cosmopolitan" and describes it as "the exercise of reading and living and speaking across different traditions" in a way that is "open, non-committal, and energized by an ironic or skeptical attitude about all the forms of life being expressed" (2). Such an approach, claims Flanagan, allows one to ask the sort of questions that other approaches would seldom entertain: Which ways of thinking and being and living are better or worse than others? And, if some are better or at least as comprehensive as others, ought they not to receive more attention from philosophers than they hitherto have?

For Flanagan comparative neurophilosophy, an outline and defense of which is offered in the first part of the book, conclusively demonstrates that Buddhism has something valuable to offer philosophers working at the intersection of moral psychology, phenomenology, and metaethics. In the second part of the book, aptly titled "Buddhism as natural philosophy," Flanagan explains why Buddhism should be so appealing to philosophers. It offers a metaphysics anchored in such robust principles as impermanence, no-self, and the ubiquity of causation, an epistemology that is thoroughly empiricist, and an ethics that prizes compassion, while at the same time claiming "that there are logical connections between these three" (206). A philosopher working at the intersection of multiple "spaces of meaning" would find that these logical connections open up new possibilities for enhancing, refining, and expanding the range of philosophical arguments and possibilities.

The Bodhisattva's Brain is an engaging and intellectually daring foray into cross-cultural philosophy, despite occasionally (and ironically for a work that makes a plea against armchair philosophizing) slipping into the sort of presumptive argumentation typical of over generalized treatments of Buddhist philosophy. Even so, the book will most likely win praise among contemporary philosophers, Buddhist scholars, and cognitive scientists alike for its bold and uncompromising stance on what is and is not worth keeping of this venerable tradition of philosophical inquiry, moral cultivation, and existential transformation.

http://ndpr.nd.edu/n...sm-naturalized/

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...