Degrees of naturalization

A naturalized Buddhist tantra would, by definition, have nothing supernatural about it.

That seems straightforward; but actually there are degrees of naturalization. Dropping claims of supernatural powers and beings and realms is just the start. For example, many “alternative healing” systems make no explicitly supernatural claims, but couldn’t work through natural causes.

Here’s a possible spectrum:

  1. Include explicitly supernatural claims
  2. Eliminate explicitly supernatural claims
  3. Eliminate elements for which no natural understanding seems feasible
  4. Eliminate elements for which there is inadequate empirical evidence
  5. Find specific, empirically justified explanations for the remaining elements
  6. Understand practices well enough to re-engineer them to be more reliable and effective

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Epistemology and enlightenment

“How do you know the Buddha was enlightened?” asked the ogress in “Eating an entire epistemologist.”

Here are some similar questions:

  • What is enlightenment?
  • Is there such a thing?
  • How can we find out?
  • What is it good for?
  • Why should we care?
  • Who is enlightened?
  • How can you tell?

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Translating the meditation research

There isn’t nearly enough time in life for all the useful things you could do. I always have far more fantasy projects going than real ones. In moments of undirected creativity or sudden enthusiasm, I tinker with the fantasies. I take notes, draw sketches, rant about them to friends. Most stay fantasies;  after years of gestation, some burst into reality.

Naljorma gZa’tsal and I have a shared fantasy project: explaining current neuroscience research on meditation in a way that could be useful to meditators.

This research is wildly exciting because it confirms that meditation actually works the way it is supposed to. Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal… For example, I’ve been meditating for decades, and it has certainly seemed to me that it works as advertised.

The problem is, it’s extremely easy to fool yourself about things like this. Many of my friends have spend decades practicing “alternative therapies,” and are totally confident—based on experience—that they work. I’m totally confident that they don’t work. There are so many ways to convince yourself something is working that doesn’t—unless you can actually measure it.

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