Friday, 29 January 2016

The New Kadampa Tradition, Chinese Government Funding, and the Reddit ban

Censorship was so much easier before books became electronic

It's a common tactic of many religions, and sects within religions, to attempt to censor all criticism of themselves, and by extension to stifle all competing world views.  The motivation for this censorship is the religions' inability to defend their doctrines against both rational criticism, and criticism from equally irrational but doctrinally different religions and sects ('infidels' and 'heretics').

Fortunately, most forms of Buddhism have never needed to eliminate dissenting views by persecution, as the Buddha himself set the example of encouraging free enquiry.

Buddhism has always encouraged a free market place of ideas and vigorous philosophical debate, since one of the best ways to understand the strengths of a  philosophy is to attempt to refute it.  

Enlightenment Values
It was only with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that anything like this freedom to criticise and debate religion became tolerated in the West. Prior to that, heretics were burnt at the stake.

Kadampa Thoughtcriminals and Unpersons
However, recently, in a regression from both the enlightened views of the Buddha and the enlightenment values of western philosophy, Reddit has placed a complete ban on any reference to the Buddhist New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).

The enlightenment ideal of a free marketplace of ideas defended the freedom to choose, or the freedom to express one's opinions even if those opinions might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and it stressed the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

Censorship is an attempt to remove material from the public domain, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, censors are an insidious threat to freedom of speech and choice.

If you can't burn it, ban it

Why target the NKT?

The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is a highly successful branch of Mahayana Buddhism that has developed a modern presentation of the Madhyamaka teachings, designed to be accessible to ordinary people living in the 21st century.

The NKT's success and its modernising approach may have attracted the jealousy and disapproval of some of the more hidebound reactionaries within the Buddhist establishment, and because they are not able to refute Kadampa Teachings, they may have decided to censor them with a clumsy attempt to impose internet gagging wherever they have the influence to do so.

The 'justification' for their censorship is based on completely unfounded rumors that the NKT is funded by the Chinese government. In fact, the New Kadampa Tradition is an international nonprofit organization registered in England as a charitable company (Registered charity No.1015054, registered company No. 2758093), so any such Chinese financial support would be very apparent in the accounts, which under English law must be publicly accessible.   Needless to say, the Redditors have been unable to uncover any evidence of Chinese sponsorship.

Poisoning the well
But even if the Chinese government were financing the NKT, this would still be an unjustifiable reason for censorship. If there's something wrong with the NKT's teachings, why can't the Redditors bring them into the open and refute them?   

This logical fallacy of banning freedom of expression because the unwelcome information originates from an unpopular source is known as 'poisoning the well'.  

Following this line of reasoning, one might equally ban all space exploration, satnavs and communications satellites, because the rocket technology on which they depend was financed and developed by the Nazis .

'Poisoning the well' is a generalised version of the ad hominem debating scam of avoiding discussing issues by launching diversionary smear attacks against the opponents.

Kadampa Buddhism - Forbidden knowledge?

Seeking to ban knowledge has always been risky, because unless the censors can impose a complete Orwellian information blackout, including concealing the very fact that censorship has occurred (as with the notorious superinjunctions which forbid any publication that an injunction has been applied), they risk increasing the public's interest in the ideas they are attempting to stifle. This, of course, goes back to the myth of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. 

Most people have never liked to have information deliberately withheld from them, especially by self-appointed busybodies and thought-police who think they know what's best for everyone else.


In the eighteenth century, the Pope inadvertantly increased the sales of many heretical books in Europe (particularly those of the Enlightenment philosophers and scientists) by placing them on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

In the nineteenth century, a big sales pitch for books and theatrical productions in America was that they had been 'banned in Boston' .


In the 21st century, the internet has made the censors' job even more likely to be counterproductive. The computer scientist John Gilmore, said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." But it can go much further and turn into the censor's worst nightmare by making the censored information go viral.  This has become known as  'The Streisand Effect', after one of the first highly publicized attempts to gag the internet.



Why is Reddit so keen to censor rather than debate Kadampa Buddhism?
If the Reddit hierarchy don't like Kadampa Buddhism, why don't they refute it, rather than risk exciting people's curiosity by attempts at censorship?  

Why don't they bring Kadampa teachings out into the open, discuss them and disprove them?   Is it that, like the compilers of the Index Librorum, the Redditors lack the intellectual capabilities and logical reasoning powers to refute their opposing views, or is it that the NKT's Madhyamaka philosophy is logically irrefutable? 

So what would it take for the Redditors to refute Kadampa Buddhism?    They need to prove that the underlying Madhyamaka philosophy is false, which requires them to refute at least one of the following tenets:

[1] The Madhyamaka is a process philosophy (a, b), in contrast to most classical Western philosophies which are substantialist.   Madhyamaka philosophy regards processes, rather than things and substances, as being the fundamental basis of reality.  It states that all functioning phenomena (agents capable of producing other phenomena) are impermanent, and ultimately have the nature of processes rather than things.  The Madhyamaka accepts that some permanent phenomena exist, but these are non-functional

[2]  Since all objects and substances are susceptible to change, it follows that they have no stable, permanent internal identity that makes them what they are  (a, b, c).  They are said to be 'empty of inherent existence', and derive their identity purely from interactions with other phenomena (a).

[3] Consequently, our normal thought processes of thinking that things exist 'from their own side' are at best only working approximations to reality ('conventional truths'), and at worst delusions (a, b)

[4]  Hence the Madhyamaka's process-view of physical reality leads to a rejection of materialism
(a, b ) in the sense that material things are not ontologically fundamental, but are all reducible to temporary stages of physical processes.   All particles are processes ( a, b, c) .

[5]  Furthermore, although having no problems with the 'mechanistic'  processes of physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences, Madhyamaka regards the laws of physics as being an incomplete description of reality (a, b, c) and incapable of offering any explanation for some mental processes, such as 'mental designation' ('intentionality' or 'aboutness') and qualitative experience (a, b).  Thus as well as rejecting materialism, Madhyamaka philosophy also rejects physicalism (a).

[6] Minds are non-physical processes which interact with the neurological processes in the brain, and are correlated with them, but not identical with them (a, b).  Minds are drawn to objects of attachment, including repeated associations with the bodies of different sentient beings, human and animal (a, b, c, d), and this cycle of biological rebirth into suffering is known as samsara. 

By gaining an understanding the impermanent and delusory appearance of objects of attachment we loosen the grip of samsara, and by realising the true nature of phenomena our minds can ultimately escape from being endlessly captured and recycled by successive biological organisms - see Buddhist Philosophy

Since these tenets are difficult and perhaps impossible to refute, the only option open to the Redditors is to censor them.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Sentience, suffering, and the futile quest for homeostasis

The first priority of all living organisms is to maintain a steady state, known as homeostasis - the regulated stability of structures, organs and internal systems that allows life to continue.

All living things need to protect and maintain a minimum functioning structure to survive.    An animal deprived of functioning limbs, or a plant deprived of leaves, will soon die. 

Metabolic homeostasis

In addition, all organisms need to regulate a complex set of interacting metabolic chemical reactions. 

From the simplest unicellular organisms to the most complex plants and animals, internal processes operate to keep conditions within tight limits to allow these reactions to proceed. Homeostatic processes act at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the organ, as well as for the organism as a whole.  
Maintenance of homeostasis requires a continuing input of energy in the form of food for animals, and sunlight for plants.   If the energy needed to maintain homeostasis exceeds the energy input, the organism will die once its reserves are exhausted.  In terms of energy expenditure, you’ve got to keep running just to stay still.

In addition to maintaining structural integrity and metabolic stability, a juvenile organism will have a secondary priority to grow, and an adult organism a secondary priority to reproduce.  But without homeostasis, these secondary aims cannot be achieved.

Conscious and unconscious homeostasis.
Non-sentient organisms, such as plants and bacteria, maintain homeostasis by purely mechanistic processes, using automatic feedback in the same way that a centrifugal governor mechanism maintains a steady speed for a steam engine.    Even in sentient animals, many homeostatic processes are unconscious, and we have no awareness of their operations.

Automatic feedback mechanism

But the game completely changes when sentience comes into the picture.  Two non-mechanistic factors come into play - qualia and intentionality - which allow far more adaptive homeostatic control strategies than purely automatic feedback loops.

Qualia (singular quale) are qualitative experiences including experiences of suffering such as  thirst, hunger, fear, pain and so on.

Intentionality is the property of being ‘about’ something, of having 'an intentional object'.

So the quale of thirst forces the mind to become obsessively intentional about water, the quale of hunger forces the mind to become similarly intentional about food, and the qualia of  pain and fear force the mind to become intentional about avoiding the causes of these unpleasant sensations (objects of aversion).

Did sentience evolve, or was it co-opted?
Now the interesting thing is that neither qualia nor intentionality are physical phenomena (as was first pointed out by the Victorian physicist John Tyndall 140 years ago).  Neither are they in any sense mechanistic phenomena.

Consequently, there is no known process by which sentience could have arisen by Darwinian evolution.  Evolution can account for the physical structure of the bodies of sentient beings and their automatic homeostatic control mechanisms, but it cannot bridge the explanatory gap between the physical and the mental.

As Thomas Nagel argues, the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is incomplete, because it cannot adequately explain the appearance of consciousness.

So if sentient minds haven’t evolved, have they nevertheless been co-opted by evolutionary processes to improve the homeostatic behavior of animals?
Suffering, unpleasant though it may be for the individual, has survival and evolutionary advantages for the species. 

To quote Richard Dawkins:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."

Mental states such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness and pleasure are qualitative subjective experiences, which carry strong immediate meanings, and do not exist in automata - mechanistic systems such as relay networks or computers.

It is for this reason that complex animals have evolved neural structures which attract and capture minds. Fundamentally, it is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals. The physical body enters into a symbiotic relationship with a non-physical mind.

In Buddhist philosophy, the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has existed since beginningless time, and which will be drawn into another body once the present one has died. But reflecting on Richard Dawkins' description of the horrors of Samsara, it's surprising that sentient minds allow themselves to be co-opted by biological systems again and again. Maybe they've got no choice, maybe they're deluded, or maybe they just don't know how to get out.

The brain is a device which has evolved to delude the mind.
It could also be argued that in addition to biochemical and physiological mechanisms for maintaining homeostasis, evolution has also given sentient beings a psychological homeostatic mechanism by constructing the illusion of a stable self, which can and must be maintained.

This false sense of a stable self is, of course, a delusion, though from the evolutionary point of view, a very useful one.

Survival advantages of sentience
In evolutionary terms, any adaptation or feature must have some selective benefit for the organism that possesses it. Obviously, a physical body equipped with sentience will have an improved chance of surviving to propagate its genes over any mindless competitor which is not deterred by pain or motivated by pleasure.

But what does the mind gain from this symbiotic association?   Usually little or nothing. 

When the life of the biological partner comes to an end, the mind has to endure the sufferings of death and then leave its home, being unable to take anything with it. It must then enter the unstable hallucinatory state of the bardo,  and perhaps soon after find a new body

Or even worse, if it doesn't find a new body quickly, it may stay in a nightmarish state of karmically induced hallucinations - a perpetual bad trip that lasts indefinitely: 'for in that sleep of death what dreams may come...'.

Parasitic body, parasitized mind?

In Buddhist terminology these minds are wanderers or migrators in samsara (the realms of suffering and delusions). The mind is non-evolved and non-evolving, at least not by the normal processes of natural selection. The body uses the mind for its own purposes, not vice versa as we may like to imagine.

So, perhaps the relationship between mind and body is more one of parasitism than symbiosis. The biological body gets a better chance to propagate itself.  But the mind has to endure dukkha -  the ever-changing experiences of craving, suffering and attachment, that the body imposes upon it in order to force it to do what is necessary for survival, competition and reproduction.

Homeostasis is a mug's game
Since maintaining homeostasis is like running to keep still, sooner or later the body's systems will wear out, with the inevitable results that the Buddha observed on his ride outside the palace...

The Four Sights

See also Buddhist Philosophy

and Can you debiologize yourself?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Reddit bans all mention of New Kadampa Tradition

In a censorship purge that could have been inspired by George Orwell's 1984, the thought-police at Reddit, the self-styled 'front page of the internet', have banned all mention of the New Kadampa Tradition. 

 As they explain: 'Any content that is directly related to and in support of the NKT will be considered to be political propaganda for Eastasia and swiftly removed. 

There will be no ungoodthinkfulness towards Big Brother or favorable reference to unBuddhas. 

An exception to this might be in the case of a prole requiring re-education. Explanatory expositions of what is going on are tolerable provided they toe the party line. Support of the NKT will be viewed as a post with a political agenda, intercepted and sent down the memory hole.'  (Translated from the original doublespeak at the  Ministry of Truth

The following are also destined for Reddit's memory hole:

Unperson Number 1



In addition, all you impressionable proles who are incapable of thinking for yourselves are forbidden from accessing the following Eastasian propaganda from your telescreens:

Tell that to Reddit


Friday, 27 November 2015

Why are our minds repeatedly trapped in the bodies of animals and humans?

Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny

Why are the minds of samsaric beings repeatedly drawn into the bodies of animals and humans?  If the mind is capable of existing independently of the body, then why doesn't it do so?   What drives it to biological rebirth? 

Why can't we debiologize ourselves once and for all?
If there is a path to enlightenment which leads out of this continual cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, why doesn't everybody take it?   If we all have Buddha nature, why do we always end up in such a mess? Why do we seem to take a perverse delight in spiritual self-harm?

The reason for this endless cycle of suffering is that we always have 'something on our mind'; and that something is karma.  The true nature of our mind is clarity, but that clarity is obscured, distorted and weighed down by the imprints of millions of nasty, brutish and usually violently short lifetimes. 

Our minds are deluded into thinking that happiness can be found in samsara, and though it has never worked in the past, this time we'll finally get it right. So after death we are drawn into another rebirth in the biological realms.

Fortunately, we can accomplish a karmic detox of all this accumulated delusional crap, and bring about long-term mental peace and clarity, leading to release from samsaric rebirth for ourselves and others.

More at Buddhist Philosophy

Friday, 20 November 2015

Meditation, Downward Causation, Neuroplasticity and the Quantum Zeno Effect.

Recent research has shown that Buddhist meditation can not only affect long-term behavior, but can actually alter the structure of the brain (1, 2, 34).

So how does something as non-physical as the attention developed during meditation affect physical structures of the brain?  According to the mechanistic materialist worldview, this sort of 'downward-causation' (mind over matter) shouldn't happen.  To a materialist, mental activities result from physical processes, not vice versa.

One possible mechanism for downward causation has been suggested by physicist Henry Stapp, who proposed that the Quantum Zeno Effect  allows the observer to hold patterns of energy states in a stable condition where they would normally, if left unobserved, decay randomly .  

The Quantum Zeno effect (also known as the Turing paradox) is a situation in which an unstable quantum system, if observed continuously, will never decay. One can "freeze" the evolution of the system by measuring it frequently enough in its known initial state. 

A watched quantum state never changes

The prolonged processes of attention in Buddhist meditation are good candidates for the kind of mental activities that could affect the physical state of microscopic brain structures.

Related Articles

Buddhism, Quantum Physics and Mind

Quantum Buddhism

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Tonglen Meditation - Mutually Assured Destruction of Bad Karma

Meditation environment

To perform this meditation it helps to be in a suitable environment and maintain a correct posture.

Suitable Environment
Find somewhere crowded, noisy, hot, stressful and generally frustrating.  A packed commuter train or bus is ideal.

Correct Posture
Check whether you're sitting comfortably. If so, you're doing it wrong. Get up off your ass, hang on the strap and let someone who needs it have your seat.

The correct frame of mind
Concentrate on your own frustration, stress, boredom, discomfort and low-level hostility to the passengers around you who are swaying and bumping into you and crowding you in.   Visualize these negative feelings as a cloud of acrid black smoke swirling around your heart.

Next, imagine all your fellow passengers are experiencing the same hassles. 

On an in-breath, breathe in all their irritations as black smoke which mixes with and annihilates your own swirling black smoke in a burst of white light.

The light purifies and calms your body and mind.  Imagine the irritation of yourself and the irritation of others as antimatter meeting matter in a burst of mutually assured destruction, producing vast amounts of pure positive energy. 

As you breathe out, imagine this pure white energy radiating out into the hearts of all those around you, remaining in the form of a globe of white light, an abiding centre of calmness and clarity in their hearts.

Karmic supernova
Now repeat the procedure, but this time the energy release is going to be HUGE, like a karmic supernova.

Imagine all the problems and sufferings of your fellow passengers: sickness, pain, sick relatives, financial worries, work problems, loneliness, insecurity, fear, relationship breakdowns, legal hassles, mental illness, addictions and so on.    Then reflect that you yourself have the negative karma to experience all this, and much worse, for life after life.   This negative karma  swirls around your heart like a thick cloud of hot, acrid, black smoke.   

On the in-breath, breathe in all these present and future sufferings of your fellow passengers in the form of black smoke, which mixes with, and annihilates, the negative karma at your heart in an ENORMOUS release of energy in the form pure white light. This reaction utterly destroys the sufferings of others and your own bad karma like matter meeting antimatter.

On the out breath, imagine that this colossal burst of purifying energy radiates in all directions through everyone around you, cleansing all their negative karma, and their potential for future sufferings, and sweeping it all away, utterly destroying it never to be seen again.

Finally, dedicate any merit you may have created from this meditation to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

More meditations

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What is truth?

Philosophy is the search for truth, which is founded on the premise that there is at least one true statement that can be made about life, the universe and everything.

But how can we prove that there exists at least one true statement? 

Well, consider the negation of ‘There is at least one true statement.’

That negation is ‘All statements are false.’

But if all statements are false, then ‘All statements are false’, being a statement, must also be false.  So at least one statement must be true.  

So we have proved that ‘There is at least one true statement’ by reference to another statement.  Which means that the foundational statement of philosophy is not inherently existent, but is dependent for its veracity upon its relationship to another statement.

But the statement which it depends upon has no inherent existence either, because it’s false.

Very odd.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Islamic supremacists force Buddhism out of US schools curriculum.

From Breitbart

Aggressive Islamic supremacists and stealth jihadists with links to terror organizations are subverting American school curricula by enforcing Islamocentric standards in social studies, to the exclusion of Buddhism and other religions.

"All major religions – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam – were briefly summarized in the old standards. Students were introduced to the complexity of the various cultures in the world at an “age appropriate” level of detail.

In contrast, only Islam is given detailed attention in the new standards. In fact, as Breitbart News reported previously, 13 percent of the learning objectives of the current standards (10 out of 75) are devoted to instructing students on both the tenets and history of Islam."   Read it all

See also Islam will destroy Buddhism

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Mindfulness may get UK Government cash

By Abi Jackson in The Northern Echo

"... I'm in a small room off Westminster Hall in London's Houses of Parliament, along with a few other journalists, mental health charity bods and various MPs - all also sitting, eyes closed, hands on laps and breathing deeply, as Rebecca Crane of Bangor University's Centre for Mindfulness guides us through.

Never in a million years would I have imagined I'd be indulging in a spot of deep breathing in Westminster, with a panel of MPs - and yet here we are. And do you know what? It feels good.

We're here for the launch of the Mindful Nation UK interim report. The Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, co-chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, Labour MP Chris Ruane and Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt and in collaboration with The Mindfulness Initiative - which brings together a number of leaders in the field and key mindfulness training and research centres; Oxford, Exeter, Bangor and Sussex, as well as the Mental Health Foundation - have spent the last eight months looking at the benefits of mindfulness, evidence backing up these benefits, and how it might be incorporated across a range of UK services and institutions, mainly education, healthcare, work and criminal justice.

The hope, in a nutshell, is for the Government to recognise the importance of wellbeing in society, the role mindfulness could play, how this could follow through into policy, and how those holding the budget-strings could give it some funding..."

"... One of the things we need to think about is how this works long-term, not just short-term, which is what governments tend to think about, and that is pays to focus on prevention rather than cure," he says. "Nearly all these interventions require spending by one department, and will see gains elsewhere, and that's the bit we need to crack."

A pound spent on mental health, he notes, is "at the margin, hugely more productive than a pound spent on physical health", and yet that isn't reflected in the current system..."

"...For example, mindfulness in schools may or may not have a significant immediate impact on exam results - one of the key things currently used to measure success in education - but it could hugely improve harmony in classrooms, behavioural problems, stress among teachers, sickness rates, self-esteem - the list could go on and on. These things will then have a positive snowball effect through years to come, including, ultimately, less strain on the NHS and welfare budgets..."     Read it all   

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Mindfulness at risk of being 'turned into a free market commodity'

From The Guardian
by Harriet Sherwood

"The mindfulness movement is in danger of being turned into a commodity, “a product to be bought and sold on the free market”, a Buddhist Society conference was told.

“People are becoming professionally mindful,” Steven Stanley, a social psychologist at Cardiff University, told an audience of Buddhists and secular mindfulness practitioners on Wednesday.

It was possible to make a living from mindfulness, with growing opportunities for research, teaching and speaking, he said, adding that it is becoming an “increasingly professionalised domain” with a tendency towards standardised instruction.

The conference, Mindfulness: Secular, Religious, Both or Neither?, heard that more than 500 scientific papers on mindfulness were being published every year, and that more than two dozen UK universities now offer mindfulness courses. Global corporations such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and American Express have introduced mindfulness training for their staff.

However, amid the extraordinary growth of the secular mindfulness movement, there was rising concern about lack of regulation of the training of meditation teachers, the conference heard..."

"...An all-party group of MPs last week urged the government to fund the training of 1,200 new mindfulness teachers over the next five years to meet sharply rising demand for the technique in both the public and private sectors. This number of teachers would cover 15% of the 580,000 adults at risk of recurrent depression every year, said their report, Mindful Nation UK.

“The training of teachers is critical,” it added. “There is considerable and justifiable concern about the quality of teachers and how to ensure integrity.”

An estimated 2,200 mindfulness teachers have been trained to minimum standards over the past 10 years, but only about 700 were both active and had professional clinical training that qualified them to teach mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to people with depression, said the report..."

Read it all here


Friday, 16 October 2015

Iraq's leading Shia cleric declares jihad against Buddhists

Never mind the spelling - it's the thought that counts

From Jihadwatch

'During a recent televised interview with Grand Ayatollah Ahmad al-Baghdadi, the leading Shia cleric of Iraq made clear why Islam and the rest of the world can never peacefully coexist.'

"...As for the polytheists [Hindus, Buddhists, etc.] we allow them to choose between Islam and war!  This is not the opinion of Ahmad al-Husseini al-Baghdadi, but the opinion of all five schools of jurisprudence [four Sunni and one Shia]."

Read it all here  


See also Islam will destroy Buddhism

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Buddhism, David Hume and the Delusion of the Self

In this modern era of instant global communications, it's easy to forget just how difficult the transmission of ideas was in earlier times.  Indeed, the present global free marketplace of ideas has only become universal since the widespread adoption of the internet, so nowadays totalitarian regimes and repressive ideologies can no longer keep people in the dark.

Alison Gopnik gives a fascinating account of her investigations of how Tibetan Buddhist ideas about 'the self' reached and influenced the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume, despite the obstacles of geography, and censorship by the Vatican's thought-police.

It's easy to see why the Vatican tried to suppress Buddhist philosophy: the process view of the mind seems, at first sight, to totally contradict Catholic dogma on the immortal soul.    This willful ignorance of Buddhism among Catholic philosophers has continued into modern times, with some of the more traditional ones making fools of themselves among a modern and better informed audience.

Read Alison Gopnik's article here

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Mind-Bending History Of Buddhism And Psychedelics

Opening the doors of perception?  Go ask Alice

by Carolyn Gregoire

In the Huffington Post

"The history of Buddhism and of psychedelics in American culture follow a surprisingly similar trajectory from the 1950s through the present-day.

But perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise, given that they share a common aim: the liberation of the mind.

Many of the thinkers who turned to Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies in the 1960s -- including Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg and Ram Dass -- were influenced in some way by their experiences with LSD and other psychedelic drugs.

American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield said that LSD, "prepares the mind for Buddhism," while Allan Watts described both practices as being part of a comprehensive philosophical quest.

Now, more than 60 years later, we're seeing a resurgence of popular interest in Buddhism -- with mindfulness meditation now firmly entrenched in the cultural mainstream -- and also in psychedelics, which are being investigated as therapeutic agents for mental health issues including depression, anxiety and addiction.

The intersection of these practices raises a number of questions: Are psychedelics an obstruction to a Dharma practice, or a helpful accompaniment? Are mind-altering substances a legitimate means of personal transformation..."    Read it all here  


See also Can you trust your brain?

and  Buddhism, Shamanism and the use of Hallucinogens   

Monday, 28 September 2015

Why Materialism is Crap

Catholic philosopher Ed Feser has published an excellent critique of materialism at the Claremont Review.

The points he makes are valid from a conventional and substantialist viewpoint, though a Buddhist might additionally question whether the very concept of materialism is fundamentally deluded and incoherent (perhaps, in the final analysis there are no such things as things - see later section of this post). 

Some quotes from Feser's article...

"Contemporary materialists ... routinely denounce Cartesian dualism, Descartes’s famous bifurcation of the world into mind and matter—or more precisely, into res cogitans or “thinking substance,” and res extensa or “extended substance.” And they do so in the name of science. Yet they remain essentially committed to Descartes’s conception of the material world; indeed, modern science would not have been possible without it. What they forget is that the res cogitans they deplore was necessitated by the res extensa they maintain. Hold onto the latter and you are implicitly committed to the former, whether you like it or not. This is the source of the perpetual failure of materialists to come up with explanations of consciousness, meaning, and morality that are convincing."

"To understand the problem requires going back ... to the beginning. Like Francis Bacon, Descartes wanted to make of modern science an instrument by which we might predict and control natural phenomena and develop new technologies. What he saw more clearly than Bacon was that mathematics was the key to realizing this aim. Hence he adopted a purely quantitative conception of the natural world, treating matter as entirely definable in terms of the geometrical property of extension or spatial dimension. Descartes’s successors would put less emphasis on extension, specifically. But the idea that what is material is what you can capture in the language of mathematics is still with us, as a glance at any physics textbook will show.

Now, where does this leave the qualitative aspects of the world of our experience—colors and sounds, tastes and smells, heat and cold, pain and pleasure? Where does it leave the meanings and purposes we see in the world around us, and the thoughts and choices we find within ourselves? Descartes embraced the obvious implications of the exhaustively “mathematicized” notion of matter he had introduced into Western thought, which the scientific revolution took and ran with. If matter is purely quantitative, and the qualitative features of reality cannot be reduced to the quantitative, then they cannot be material. And if these features don’t really exist in the material world but do exist in the mind’s experience of that world, then the mind itself must not be material.

Hence, Cartesian dualism was by no means a desperate rearguard action against the scientific revolution; on the contrary, it was the logical outcome of the scientific revolution. Matter, on the scientific conception, is comprised of colorless, soundless, odorless, tasteless, meaningless particles in fields of force, governed by mathematical laws which describe how these particles happen to behave, but no purposes for the sake of which they behave. To be sure, we might, when doing physics, redefine certain qualitative features in terms of some quantifiable doppelgänger. Color, for example, can be redefined in terms of a surface’s reflection of light of certain wavelengths. Sound can be redefined in terms of compression waves in the air. But these redefinitions, which even a blind or deaf person can understand, do not capture the way red looks, the way an explosion sounds, and so forth. Color, sound, odor, and taste as we perceive them can—given the scientist’s essentially Cartesian conception of matter—exist only in the conscious experiences of an immaterial mind or res cogitans. Meaning can exist only in this immaterial mind’s thoughts. Purpose can exist only in its volitions."

"...having followed Descartes in defining matter in so thoroughly “mathematicized” a way that irreducibly qualitative features, meanings, and purposes are excluded from it, modern science itself effectively closes off the possibility of a scientific explanation of these features. Thus while materialists are right to complain that Cartesian dualism leaves mind-body interaction obscure, dualists are right to complain that purported materialist explanations in fact ignore, or even implicitly deny, the existence of mind."

"Cartesians and materialists alike are correct to regard modern science as having given us a very penetrating grasp of part of the natural order, namely the part susceptible of analysis in purely quantitative terms. Where they both go wrong is in supposing that modern science gives us the whole of that order."

"It is the way modern science characterizes matter, and not particular gaps in current scientific knowledge as described by Wilson, that leaves us stuck with Descartes’s dualism. Given this characterization, we may find ever more detailed correlations between the mental and the physical, but we will never be able to reduce the mental to the physical. Two celebrated recent books by philosophers—Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (2011) and Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos (2012)—see the problem more clearly than Wilson and other contemporary scientists tend to. Rosenberg’s mad but intellectually honest solution is to conclude that if matter as physics conceives of it is all that exists, mind must really be an illusion. Nagel’s sane but no less intellectually honest solution is to conclude that since mind and matter both exist but mind cannot be assimilated to matter as conceived of by physics, it follows that physics does not give us a complete account of matter. There must in Nagel’s view be more to matter than physics reveals, some additional ingredient that could account for the origin of consciousness, meaning, and value." 
  Read it all here  

The Buddhist critique of Cartesianism

While not disagreeing with Ed Feser's analysis of the implications of Cartesian philosophy, as carried to its illogical conclusions by eliminative materialists, a Buddhist might question the ontological primacy of both res cogitans and res extensa, on the grounds that the underlying nature of reality is process and change, rather than stable entities. 

Buddhists divide all processes into two categories -  mental processes ('nama')  and physical/mechanistic processes ('rupa').  Hence nama is the dynamic equivalent of res cogitans, and rupa is the dynamic equivalent of res extensa.

Parallelling Feser's analysis, Buddhists believe that although mental processes and physical processes interact, mental processes are not reducible to physical processes.

According to Buddhism, the basis of reality consists of ever-changing processes rather than static ‘things’ or substances.  If any ‘thing’ is analysed in enough depth, and observed over a long enough timescale, it can be seen to be a stage of a dynamic process, rather than a static, stable thing-in-itself. 

This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself a process (a continuing  expansion from the Big Bang), and so all that it contains are subprocesses of the whole.

Mechanistic processes (which include anything that can be modelled by algorithms) explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics.

In contrast, mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic or algorithmic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or 'aboutness' (the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs).    For a more detailed discussion see Buddhist Philosophy  

Friday, 21 August 2015

Quantum Physics - excellent TV program by Jim Al-Khalili

Einstein's Nightmare by Jim Al-Khalili on BBC 4.  Do we create reality? Fascinating TV program on quantum physics

This is the most readily understandable and accessible treatment of 'quantum weirdness' I've seen.   

Please note that this TV program will be unavailable after mid September.  Watch it soon, then check out Quantum Buddhism, Buddhism, Quantum Physics and Mind  and Buddhist Particle Physics.