Packaging Buddhism

Buddhism-SuperstitiousAround the world, Buddhism-on-the-ground is vastly composed of superstitions, rituals and customs aimed at improving fortune for this life – especially for the “believer” themself and for their loved ones or their clan. Only a very tiny of Buddhists in this world meditate.

Robert Wright begins his first lecture in his free Buddhismm course telling us that he is focusing on a very narrow part of Buddhism — not only is he only interested in rational, non-superstitious, meditative Buddhism, but also he only wants to explore those aspects that are testable. He defines the Buddhism he wants to explore.  This is an important step toward clarity — I wish more did this.  But we must realize, this is not a Buddhism that most Buddhist believers would recognize.

Like Buddhism, “Religion” must be defined to have a meaningful conversation about it.  Wright does this to — he likes Williams James’ definition of religion:

“a belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”
— William James

Remember, this is just one of many definitions of religion– and like all definers, Wright has a purpose for choosing this one. Wright wants a Naturalistic Buddhism (non-superstititious) that sees “the truth about the structure of reality” and thus allows us to “align ourselves to Moral Truth”.

“Structure of Reality” & “Moral Truth” are two ambitious goals for Wright. And I feel they are mistaken. Will some types of meditation benefit some people. Sure, but how much? And are the benefits hyped with idealism that have drawbacks? I suspect so.

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15 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “Packaging Buddhism

  1. Does this Buddhism defined above struggles against Mara or the evil? The path that Buddha elaborately defined eradicates Evil.

  2. Earnest

    I am predicting big problems from the Hawthorne Effect and sample size issues. Great idea but doomed from the start. Too bad, it would be nice to get “real” data from this kind of concept, but sadly likely impossible to investigate properly.

  3. Earnest

    Good day to you paarsurrey, please return when you have a clue what we are talking about.

  4. @Earnest: I am looking forward to the research he sites. But I think the generalizations may end up problematic. I will have to wait and see. I agree with you about paarsurrey.

  5. @Earnest:03/28/2014 at 4:12 pm
    Please correct me if I have understood wrongly.

  6. @ Paarsurrey,
    Instead of Earnest correcting you, why don’t you briefly summarize this short post to show that you know what it says and THEN tell us how you feel your comment related to that?

  7. I give para-wise comments below:

    [Around the world, Buddhism-on-the-ground is vastly composed of superstitions, rituals and customs aimed at improving fortune for this life – especially for the “believer” themself and for their loved ones or their clan. Only a very tiny of Buddhists in this world meditate.]

    Paarsurrey : This is not following Buddha; he was not superstitious; this shows the deteriorated state of the Buddhists being afar from the teachings of Buddha.

    [Robert Wright begins his first lecture in his free Buddhismm course telling us that he is focusing on a very narrow part of Buddhism — not only is he only interested in rational, non-superstitious, meditative Buddhism, but also he only wants to explore those aspects that are testable. He defines the Buddhism he wants to explore. This is an important step toward clarity — I wish more did this. But we must realize, this is not a Buddhism that most Buddhist believers would recognize.]

    Paarsurrey :Sure this is not Buddhism. Then why name it after Buddha

    [Like Buddhism, “Religion” must be defined to have a meaningful conversation about it. Wright does this to — he likes Williams James’ definition of religion:]
    [“a belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”
    – William James]

    Paarsurrey: It could be right; if by “unseen order, he means the attributes of the One-True-God which work in an order and a system and sure He is unseen.

    [Remember, this is just one of many definitions of religion– and like all definers, Wright has a purpose for choosing this one. Wright wants a Naturalistic Buddhism (non-superstititious) that sees “the truth about the structure of reality” and thus allows us to “align ourselves to Moral Truth”.]

    Paarsurrey : Yes religion should not be based on superstitions.

    [“Structure of Reality” & “Moral Truth” are two ambitious goals for Wright. And I feel they are mistaken. Will some types of meditation benefit some people. Sure, but how much? And are the benefits hyped with idealism that have drawbacks? I suspect so.]

    Paarsurrey :This is getting into unnecessary complicated terminology; religion is in simple terms.

    Regards

  8. amanimal

    Metta-mucil – LOL … OLOL, I’m glad I ignored your advice and came back for a look. This post in particular reminded me that I’ve yet to read ‘The Evolution of God’, though I have read the extensive online excerpts.

    I explored Buddhism when younger, meditating 2x/day for 2+ years at one point – an experience I benefit from still. I’m also reminded that I should force myself to read James. My excuse is that I often have trouble apprehending the prose of older works. This applies to Hume and many others as well I’m afraid.

    I like the ‘Resonating Quotes’ feature too. One I find thought-provoking is:

    “Our brains and nervous systems constitute a belief-generating machine, a system that evolved to assure not truth, logic, and reason, but survival.” – James Alcock, ‘The Belief Engine’

    I look forward to further exploring and future posts – Mark

  9. @Sabio and others:
    Regarding meditation, let me say my 5c worth opinion. Although it has been `discovered’ by Hinduism, Buddhism (etc.), it appears that it does have benefits for the human brain. There have been testable results and, somehow, it makes sense. But it has nothing to do with anything metaphysical. Likewise, showing compassion is a good thing. And caring for a neighbor is also good. (The problem is when the neighbor does not care for you…)

    So, yes, good things have come from `religions’, but this is unavoidable. Social systems which have been around for long must result into something positive. In the case of `eastern’ religions, meditation is a positive outcome.

    A course on Buddhism which looks at these aspects is something to look for, and, had I the time, I’d watch the videos too. I must say I appreciate this posting.

    From your diagram above, Sabio, it appears that `meditative’ is disjoint from `rational’. Why so? Does it not make sense to mediate? If it results into positive changes then it is rational, isn’t it?

    Here is a reference which I looked at some time ago:
    Mindfulness Can Improve Your Attention and Health (Scientific American, Vol. 24, Issue 1.)

  10. @ Amanimal,

    Glad you liked the humor, quotes and things.

    @ Takis,
    There are many articles out there on the effects and benefits of meditation. But it is like weight lifting — sure, it makes you stronger, but what is happening to the rest or your mind, your ideas and your relationships. Meditation guarantees not cross-platform benefits.

    My diagram is poor. They are two different views of Buddhism:
    Ritual vs Meditative
    and
    Superstitious vs Rational

    It is a percentage thing

  11. @Sabio: You say
    But it is like weight lifting — sure, it makes you stronger, but what is happening to the rest or your mind, your ideas and your relationships. Meditation guarantees not cross-platform benefits.

    I’m not quite sure I understand. Are you saying that
    (A) meditation may provide some benefits for some things but not for others,
    ot that
    (B) meditation may provide some benefits for some things but may also be harmful.

  12. @Takis,
    Hmmm, if I have time in the coming days, I may do a short post to illustrate. It is an idea I have often and have never clearly written about it. Thanks for inspiring me.
    Yes, I am saying (B) — with qualifications for which only a post will suffice.

  13. @Sabio: Interesting. I haven’t heard of the negative aspects of meditation, that’s why I thought to ask. I am talking about meditation in moderation, of course. Because if we speak of someone who meditates 20 hours a week, say, then I can see that this might be a problem.

    P.S. No, I do not meditate.

  14. Earnest

    Do hunter-gatherers meditate? Does it count that they exist in singleminded intensity, awaiting the approach of the prey?

    The ascetic deliberately denies themselves their bodily needs, and we call that meditation. Is that what you are getting at Sabio? That meditation is the purview of the elites of the tribe? Because the silent starving meditating ascetic would not last long near an otherwise-healthy starving tiger. Clearly not successful behavior unless a worker/warrior class keeps the tiger at bay to allow the meditation to proceed undisturbed.

  15. My point is that most Buddhisms in the world are superstitious and don’t meditate. I am not valorizing “meditation”, I am just trying to say that many Westerners falsely understand Buddhism-on-the-ground around the planet — they idealize it.

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