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Owen J. Flanagan
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If we are material beings living in a material world--and all thescientific evidence suggests that we are--then we must find existential meaning, ifthere is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the naturalrather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious)inclinations are attracted to Buddhism--almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene.But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva's Brain, Buddhism is hardlynaturalistic. Atheistic when it comes to a creator god, Buddhism is otherwiseopulently polytheistic, with spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits.Its beliefs include karma, rebirth, nirvana, and nonphysical states of mind. What isa nonreligious, materially grounded spiritual seeker to do? In The Bodhisattva'sBrain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to subtract the "hocus pocus"from Buddhism and discover a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that couldpoint us to one path of human flourishing. "Buddhism naturalized," asFlanagan constructs it, contains a metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics; it is afully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest ofknowledge. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhismempirically, but Flanagan's naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brainscan showing happiness patterns. Buddhism naturalized offers instead a tool forachieving happiness and human flourishing--a way of conceiving of the humanpredicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in amaterial world.
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