Showing posts with label Materialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Materialism. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mind Only Teachings and Naturalism

My (current, tentative) understanding of this deep issue is that all mind-only teachings imply a perspective, which is generally not shared by most sentient beings. Why? Because part of the very process of individuation is the creation of the distinction of self and other. If you read developmental psychology, this happens in very early childhood, and is of course thereafter deeply ingrained in everything we think about the world. That is the origin of the 'self-and-other' division, which from a somatic perspective is completely necessary. But then it later forms the basis for the constant arising of 'me, mine, myself' and the consequent sense of division and otherness from everything around us.

Now, 'natural philosophy' takes this condition as its starting point; it assumes the reality of self-and-other, subject-and-object. And again, for the purposes of natural philosophy, which is concerned with analysing and mastering the forces of nature, that is a natural thing to do, there is nothing inherently the matter with doing that. But it looses sight of the crucial fact that reality is actually not something we're other to. There really is no such division, because there really is nobody standing outside of or apart from experience. Reality is actually totality, it is not actually divided between self-and-other, that division is first and foremost a reflex or a habit of thought. It is a necessary aspect of being in the world from the viewpoint of survival, but it is also an existential plight.

The most influential philosophy of mind in the West is representative realism of the kind developed by the British empirical philosophers. Long story short, this assumes the reality of the object or objective realm, of which the mind generates a facsimile, image or likeness. Then the understanding seems to be, that this image or likeness is continually enhanced by the progress of empiricism, which discloses more and more about reality and through which we gradually build up a more complete understanding. But the problem here is that the amount of scientific knowledge is already so vast that no one individual will ever know more than a narrow speciality. And there's also the 'fact-value' issue, which is that scientific analysis only deals with what is quantifiable, that it assumes that the objective realm is devoid of meaning, and so on. That is the origin of the whole materialist attitude in a nutshell; I have noticed that most people with a scientific materialist attitude (which is the predominant outlook in the secular west) assume that the phenomenal domain that is the object of scientific analysis, comprises the whole of reality; that is very much the empiricist understanding.

So - what the mind-only teaching is reminding us of, is that all we ever know of the world, even when mediated by scientific instruments, is still ultimately vikalpa. It is incorporated into our cognitive apparatus and then we make judgements about it. Obviously through scientific methodology humans have been able to realise great material power, but from the viewpoint of 'being in the word' that in itself is not necessarily beneficial (i.e. you have to put it to good use, and so on.) But the point I'm driving at, is that mind-only teachings come from those who really have seen through or beyond the 'illusion of otherness', they themselves understand the way the mind generates judgements which it then takes to be reality itself. So they have a different perspective or stand-point. And until we actually get to that stand-point - till we go 'through the looking glass' ourselves - we won't really understand what they're saying.

That is my current, tentative understanding of it.  (For a very good comparison of Western idealist and Buddhist philosophy, have a look at Schopenhauer and Buddhism, Peter Abelson. It discusses many similar points. This blog post cross posted at DharmaWheel.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Secular but Not Materialist

After years of debates, reading, and meditation, I think I have decided that I am actually 'secular Buddhist' - but one that accepts the reality of re-birth, and who rejects the scientific materialism of Western culture. (Of course, as their rejection of re-birth is the main 'tenet of faith' of secular Buddhism, that puts me in the odd but somehow customary position of differing with all sides in the debate.)

I have also decided that whilst I am not atheist, I don't believe that God exists. But this is because, insofar as God is real, God is beyond existence, meaning, transcendent (as per this essay.) However, 'what is beyond' can also show up within existence, which is the meaning of 'transcendent yet immanent'. So 'what exists' is only one aspect of 'what is real', as I have explained in some of the earlier posts on this board. (To understand it, you have to understand metaphysics, and hardly anyone does, in my experience.) 

But generally, I don't say too much about God. 

I mainly agree with Buddhist philosophy, but overall, the approach I like best is that of the mid-20th century universalistic intepreters - Suzuki, Conze, Murti, Schterbatsky and others of that ilk.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Coming to a conclusion

Anyone who has taken time to read anything on this blog will know that it is critical of the atheist books of Dawkins and the like. But I am beginning to understand that I really have nothing to worry about.

Am I 'a believer'? I would say 'no'. I have done many hard yards reading, reflecting and debating religious and philosophical ideas, and I consider the types of religious ideas I favour to be rational, although they do also point to something beyond the limits of discursive thought.  But - consider this asymmetry in the case of the argument of atheism v religious beliefs. If atheism is correct, ultimately it means nothing - because nothing means anything. If atheist beliefs are correct, and humans are the accidental by-product of a purely physical phenomenon, then, at death, it is all over, and our life has counted for whatever those around us, and those who remember us, have said it does. The memory will go on, for as long as the memory lasts in the minds of other people, but ultimately it will count for nothing. And that is all.

I have a perfect statement of this from one of the diehard atheists I debated on the Philosophy Forum:

'life' is a specific emergent level of molecular-structured thermodynamic complexity that "happened" insofar as -- "because" -- there weren't conditions which prevented it. Same reason snowflakes "happen". In other words, the universe consists in entropy-driven transformations wherein complex phenomena like (terrestrial) "life" arises & goes extinct along a segment of the slope down from minimal entropy (order) to maximal entropy (disorder); the universe is always-already "dead" but becomes a little less-so ever-so-momentarily at different stages of its (cosmic) decomposition.
 'Always already dead'. How could you live with that idea hanging over your head your whole life?

If, on the other hand, human life is sacred, and the human spirit is an expression of the spirit of the Universe, then such an idea provides a framework within which the narratives of religion are indeed meaningful. And, finally, it means that the idea of eternal life has meaning - there is a way to understand the meaning of this idea, which science itself can never offer, as distinct from the idea of 'eternal death'  above.

So it is a very unequal contest. On the one side, we have those who say that humans are something that scientists can definitively understand, analyze and predict. On the other side, we have those who say that humans are the expression of the intelligence that underlies the whole of creation: an unfathomable mystery, a source of endless creativity and amazement, and completely beyond the fathoming of scientific expertise. The game of life is a matter of coming to realize what amazing beings we actually are - which is a profound, difficult and demanding endeavour, but one worth embarking on, one which gives meaning to everything.

Tell me - which vision do you prefer?

I have debated this argument for three years on public forums, and I have not encountered any arguments which make me believe my fundamental approach is in error. It seems that if my case is true, then the subject ought to be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. And to do that, is the practice of the spiritual path, which this blog is a reflection on.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another Eagleton Review

Ripper of a read about the new Terry Eagleton book Reason, Faith and Revolution, which tears strips off Dawkins and Hitchens, whom he collectively dubs 'Ditchkens'. He says that their critique of Christianity is like lecturing on the Second World War on the basis of watching re-runs of Hogan's Heroes. He also gets stuck into the 'religious right' whom he says - and I have always thought this - have no understanding and no real faith in any meaningful sense. Their clinging to their comic-book image of Jesus and weeping about being born again usually indicates a deep well of venality, hypocrisy and willful ignorance, which lies behind a lot of mainstream religiosity in the US. Ironic that none of his targets are well-enough educated to understand him.

He depicts Dawkins as a "tweedy, cloistered Oxford don sneering at the credulous nature of the common people" and Hitchens as "a bootlicking neocon propagandist and secular jihadist".


Another columnist in the New York Times reviews this book fairly favourably, and asks whether the tone of exasperation and anger that sometimes permeates Eagleton's writings on the topic is caused by his "having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins", concluding, "I know just how he feels."

As for anger, it is a trap. One of the characteristics of modernity is the proliferation, and range, of opinions floating around the cybersphere. I mean, how could they ever think that? There are people with beliefs of all kinds and to be fair, others may think that the things I take for granted are quite outlandish.

So an important spiritual discipline is to restrain one's feelings of anger and annoyance at the various divergent and contradictory opinions that people have. This is not to agree with them, but it is not to get too involved in the feeling of 'righteous umbrage' which certainly informs almost every sentence that the 'new atheists' pen.

To which end I hereby declare that as part of my regular morning meditation, I will henceforth direct a special wish for well-being and happiness to those with whom I disagree, and in particular, those who think all spirituality is meaningless, personified by Messrs Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett.

May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace.