Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Owen Flanagan, Ph.D. - Bourgeois Buddhists: Do Americans Miss the Point of Buddhism?

I've read a couple of Owen Flanagan's books and find myself in general disagreement with him on a variety of things, not least of which is free will (see The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World). I have not read his new book, The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, but I'll probably give it a shot. Even though I often disagree with him, he challenges me to see through his perspective. That's always useful, especially when it can change my thinking.

This article from Huffington Post examines his sense that Westerners, i.e., residents of the U.S., are misunderstanding the meaning and message of Buddhism. He asks, and answers:
What kind of Buddhists are American Buddhists? Buddhism is first and foremost a complex philosophy about the nature of reality, the self and morality. Philosophically what is interesting is the connection between understanding that I am no self and that I have reason to be maximally compassionate and loving to all sentient beings. Do most American Buddhists know about the philosophy or enact the moral message of Buddhism?

In my experience the answers are "no."
I probably agree with him - but I'd have to read the book to know for sure. He tends to build subtle arguments sometimes, at least around philosophical issues.

Bourgeois Buddhists: Do Americans Miss the Point of Buddhism?

Owen Flanagan, Ph.D. - James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

Last month when my new book, "The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized" (MIT, 2011) was published, I was deep in the jungle among the Achuar, an indigenous people living on two million acres of primary rain forest in southeastern Ecuador and northeastern Peru. The Achuar had not been contacted until the 1970s, and they are -- despite the thirst for the oil on their lands -- committed to living harmoniously and sustainably with nature. Nowadays the Achuar say -- but only as an afterthought, a courtesy, and perhaps only to well-off Westerners like me -- that they are "Catholic." But there are no churches. There are numerous shaman. The Achuar interpret their dreams every morning in order to plan their days. They shape shift. They use hallucinogens to see their futures. And many men have multiple wives.
I was raised as a Catholic, so I was amused and perplexed by this odd and ill-fitting appendage to a noble form of life. In what sense of "Catholic" are the Achuar people Catholic? Are they Catholics (as many as 40%, are Evangelical Christians, but even they say they are Catholic) primarily because they have learned to say that the spirit of the rain forest, arutum, is the spirit of Jesus Christ? The question generalizes: What beliefs or practices are enough to make one a bona fide member of any spiritual tradition?
Read the whole article.

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