My Response to DT Strain

The following is a my response to comments by DT Strain, the Executive Director of the Spiritual Naturalist Society, to my article “Introduction to Bodhidaoism” at http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/introduction-to-bodhidaoism/

DT Strain:

This was very interesting to read Jay – thanks for sharing. As you know, these four traditions form the basis of my own practice and I’ve spent the last 12 years studying their overlap so this comes as very fascinating to me. I’ve made some comments and thoughts about some elements of what you’ve written below:

Jay Forrest:

Thank you for your comments, I appreciate an honest assessment of what I have written. Let me respond to your comments and thoughts as best I can. Since you have decided to publicly post these on the Spiritual Naturalist Society website, I have taken the liberty to respond on my own website. I respect the Society and consider you a friend, but my response will pull no punches.

Since this is the most you have ever commented on anything I have written, and the only negative criticism you have ever given publicly, I have taken a lot of care and consideration in responding.

Karma & Rebirth:

DT Strain:

I accept karma and rebirth, and find them to be instrumental conceptions within a naturalistic practice. Rather than saying they are not true or real, I think instead the issue is overzealous or overstated claims and conclusions about the *nature* of karma and rebirth. Buddhism has within it, the provisions to be humble in approach to these dogmas such that the following interpretations could fit with such a person being fully legitimate to consider themselves Buddhist and not merely Buddhist-ish.
http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/a-naturalistic-approach-to-buddhist-karma-rebirth/

Jay Forrest:

You say that you “accept karma and rebirth,” but do you accept Buddhism’s view of them? According to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, karma refers “to the doctrines of action and its corresponding ‘ripening’ or ‘fruition’, according to which virtuous deeds of body, speech, and mind produce happiness in the future (in this life or subsequent lives), while nonvirtuous deeds lead instead to suffering.” And it says that rebirth is “a beginningless process in which a mental continuum takes different (usually) physical forms lifetime after lifetime within the six realms of samsara.” But since you don’t believe or accept “subsequent lives,” you don’t believe the Buddhist’s view of karma and rebirth. They are your own views.

The fact is, as David L. McMahan explains, “What many Americans and Europeans often understand by the term ‘Buddhism,’ however, is actually a modern hybrid tradition with roots in the European Enlightenment no less than the Buddha’s enlightenment, in Romanticism and transcendentalism as much as the Pali Canon, and in the clash of Asian cultures and colonial powers as much as in mindfulness and meditation” (The Making of Buddhist Modernism 2008, 5). Bernard Faure says, “In their effort to modernize, Buddhists have sought to emphasize the compatibility of Buddhism with modern-day science, discreetly failing to comment on any areas of disagreement” (Unmasking Buddhism 2009, 104).

The truth is, as B. Alan Wallace explains, “The metaphysical views of materialism are in fundamental conflict with the Buddhist worldview regarding the nature of the mind; if materialism were correct, then the Buddha’s claims of having direct knowledge of past lives, karma, and nirvana would be invalid” (Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic 2012, 18). And by materialism, he means naturalism. And just for clarification, he is skeptical, not of Buddhism, but of “the faith of the Church Scientific” (127).

You can’t just claim “humility” and then substitute your own interpretation. If you are going to reinterpret karma and rebirth to fit philosophical naturalism, then be honest about it. And in the article you link to, you say, “Karma is actually the act itself.” But the Buddha said, “Intention, I tell you, is kamma (Skt. Karma). Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect” (AN 6.63). Is the Buddha right or are you?

The issue is not, in my opinion, about “overzealous or overstated claims,” but about Westerners who struggle with the ideas of karma and rebirth. They can’t accept the traditional and orthodox interpretation, and so secularize and naturalize it to fit modern science. And that is fine, if they are honest about modifying the Buddha’s teaching on karma and rebirth. But are you really a Buddhist if you don’t actually believe what the Buddha taught?

Stoic God:

DT Strain:

As you mentioned, Stoicisms ‘God’ can very easily be taken in a naturalistic sense and, in fact, was by even many ancient philosophers who were criticized by non-Stoics in their day as ‘theists in name only’. Therefore, such conceptions are not an ‘update’, ‘exception’ or ‘alteration’ of Stoic orthodoxy, but right at home.

Jay Forrest:

In Lawrence C. Becker’s book, A New Stoicism, he rightly says that “one thing that cannot remain intact is ancient Stoic cosmology and the theology derived from it” (2017, xiii). The Stoics believed in Providence and, as Becker explains, claimed that “the cosmos as a whole was a rational, purposive being” (28). This personal and rational part of their conception of God or the Universe has to be “updated” (if we are talking about neo-Stoicism) or rejected (if we are talking about Bodhidaoism).

Sage:

DT Strain:

As a Stoic, I prefer the ‘Sage’ label be reserved for the ‘perfect example’, even if it never exists in nature. I think there is much utility in the model. And so, even the likes of Epictetus I would not claim to know is a Sage.

In any case, it seems strange to call Socrates the foremost Sage in Stoicism. Stoicism was developed after him, along with many other of the Socratic schools. Therefore, while his immense wisdom inspired the many later developed systems of Stoicism, he himself was not truly a Stoic. Perhaps the founder, Zeno, or even Epictetus would be a better option. Even the much-read Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were not the best examples of a Stoic it seems to me. But, perhaps in your less perfect use of the term that is still ok.

But if the effort to reserve Sagehood for the deceased is meant to be some kind of protection, I’m not sure it has any real capacity for such. Cults of personality or authoritarianism can spring up over the words of a figure long-since dead, just as easily as they can a living person. What is important, rather, are the principles of rational inquiry, healthy skepticism, and first-person experience to protect against such worship or blind acceptance. With these in place, the living status of any fellow teacher/learner becomes irrelevant.

Jay Forrest:

You say that you “prefer the ‘Sage’ label be reserved for the ‘perfect example’, even if it never exists in nature.” Since we are talking about preferences here. As a Bodhidaoist, I prefer to have models that I can actually follow, actually emulate, real people who lived real lives and overcame real obstacles. Perfect and unreal models can lead people into perfectionism. There is a danger in raising the bar so high that no one can attain it. But it is not an either-or proposition, Bodhidaoists have both an ideal and real world examples. To me, that is a bonus.

I find it strange that you think it is “strange to call Socrates the foremost Sage in Stoicism.” As Rene Brouwer points out, in The Stoic Sage: The Early Stoics on Wisdom, Sagehood and Socrates, “Zeno did refer to Socrates as a sage” (164). And as John Sellars states, “the early Stoics would have considered themselves to be continuing a Socratic tradition” (The Art of Living 2009, 59). “There is a very real sense, then, in which one might define the goal of Stoic philosophy… as the task of becoming like Socrates” (63). Notice, not becoming like Zeno or another Stoic. In fact, “According to the Epicurean Philodemus, some Stoics actually wanted to be called ‘Socratics’” (59). So saying, “The foremost sage of Stoicism is Socrates,” is not strange at all. Again Sellars says, “If only one or two sages ever existed, then Socrates is almost always cited as one of them” (63).

Reserving Sagehood for the deceased does have real capacity to protect the teacher, the student, and the model. It protects the teacher from abuse of authority and pride. It protects the student from abdicating the responsibility for his or her own spiritual life. And it protects the model from pretend Sages, who at the end of life are seen for what they really are. But just like any teaching, this rule’s real capacity is contingent upon its implementation. Exceptions to the rule prove the need for the rule. Anyway, you can’t really object, since your Sages “never exists in nature.” You remove them from the “living” as well. I just require that one’s whole life be the standard, not just a part of it.

Categorizing People:

DT Strain:

On the other end, I wonder if too much attention to categorizing people, especially as muggles, might lead us into the unfortunate self-fulfilling prophesy of them never being reached or helped. Or, that it might create unwholesome feelings of us/them, superiority, etc. It seems more helpful to me to simple ‘love all beings’ and consider dialogue and interaction in the Taoist sense, meaning everyone may or may not be ready for certain talk at certain times, and there is no telling where a planted seed may sprout.

Jay Forrest:

I don’t believe that I give “too much attention to categorizing people.” There are spiritual people and unspiritual people. That is a fact, and we can squabble over names and words. You call yourself a “Spiritual Naturalist,” which makes everyone else not a Spiritual Naturalist. This “might create unwholesome feelings of us/them, superiority, etc.” The issue is not with making distinctions, we all do, the issue is to make sure we do so with love and respect to all equally.

You single out my use of “muggles” in this regard. Yet, Buddhism, Christianity, and every spiritual system has a name for people not interested in spirituality or wisdom. I think “muggle” is an improvement over “fool.” It is shorthand for “a person not interested in awakening.” They exist whether or not you have a name for them.

The Supernatural:

DT Strain:

On the supernatural, I don’t believe we can conclude “there is no supernatural” just because a connection to it and the rest of the closed system of Nature has never been discovered – or even that it may not exist. Place these arguments into symbolic logic and it will be quite clear that is an invalid conclusion. It is rather merely that, if it hasn’t been discovered (and especially if a connection doesn’t exist) then there is simply no way to make meaningful claims about it and therefore no reason to include it in our practice or concerns.

Jay Forrest:

There are two problems with what you said about not believing “we can conclude ‘there is no supernatural’.” Naturalism is, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, “the belief that the natural world, as explained by scientific laws, is all that exists and that there is no supernatural or spiritual creation, control, or significance.” Notice that naturalism is the belief that “there is no supernatural.”

Now in order for that belief to be rational, there has to be good reasons to believe it. In fact, it is the good reasons that led me to the conclusion. You make a mistake, because you confuse the possible with the probable. Very few things are certain, so almost all of our judgments are based on probability. If I say that “there are no pink elephants,” no one would argue with me. Yet that statement is just as invalid if, and only if, you are asking for absolute certainty. I can’t know that pink elephants don’t exist or haven’t existed somewhere in time or somewhere in the universe.

But the minute we move out of the abstract world of unknowable absolute certainty into the real world, the world of probability, “there are no pink elephants” is true. Likewise, “there is no supernatural” is true, in the sense that, since I am not omniscient and don’t know everything, and therefore absolute certainty is both unrealistic and unattainable, I can say that it is highly probable that “there is no supernatural.” But it is only in religious questions, where vested interests are at stake, does this argument ever come up. In almost every other area probability is accepted. It is only when God or the supernatural come up is the standard raised to un-human levels.

“There is no supernatural” is a logical conclusion based on the evidence. If I can’t make that conclusion, then I can’t make any conclusion. If we can’t make conclusions based on the evidence, then nothing is true or false. You have reached absolute relativism. If, however, evidence matters, then we can say, “there is no supernatural” because there is no justifiable evidence for the supernatural.

The second is the pragmatic reality of the excluded middle. You must either live as if the supernatural exists or live as if it doesn’t. There is not middle position. Now since you must make a decision, I think you should make the decision based on the best available evidence. Because this decision is based on evidence, it is a conclusion. So not only can you conclude “there is no supernatural,” you must, otherwise you are not a naturalist. You may like taking a neutral position, but you can’t live it.

Non-Institutional:

DT Strain:

I think it is healthy and appropriate not to have authoritative ‘gurus’ or innerrant messengers. But to not have a Sangha (spiritual community) seems extreme and potentially harmful. We are all responsible for our own practice to be sure, but we all need one another, as we are all both teacher and learner. The opportunity to help one another along is important to individual practice. We help one another through dialogue, support, encouragement, and by checking one another. Without that, it is easy for a practitioner to become stalled or fall into private dogma at best, or lose sight of reality at worst. There is no reason a spiritual community or Sangha cannot be one of equals. While there may need to be ‘logistical leaders’ in the sense of people responsible for managing facilities or whatnot, this should not be confused with ‘doctrinal leaders’ in the sense of feeding truth to others to ingest. A true spiritual community should encourage everyone to give and take wisdom as is right for them and by their own views and decision.

Jay Forrest:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and it has made all the difference” (Robert Frost). Bodhidaoism is a road less traveled, the path of the solitary practitioner. It is not for everyone. Bodhidaoism is, to reappropriate Scott Cunningham’s words, “designed for the solitary practitioner, since finding others with similar interests is difficult, especially in rural areas” (Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner 2000, xvi). Bodhidaoism is for those who don’t “need” community, but are happy if they find it, even if it is just online.

I am a loner by nature, and to say that the solitary or eremitic path is “extreme and potentially harmful” is to perpetuate a stereotype of the loner. “The mob thinks we are maladjusted,” writes Anneli Rufus. “Of course we are adjusted just fine, not to their frequency. They take it personally” (Party of One 2003, xvi). But the truth is, as she points out, “The loner is a force for good: all the stronger and purer for being concentrated in a single, solitary human being” (43-44). She lists many examples.

“Eremitical life is an expression of spirituality, not religion,” writes Paul and Karen Karper Fredette (Consider the Ravens: On Contemporary Hermit Life 2011, 32). The fact that solitaries are necessary “is proven by the fact that they exist in all religious traditions” (27). Plotinus speaks for all mystics, “Life is the flight of the alone to the alone.” The Buddha said, “If, while on your way, you meet no one your equal or better, steadily continue on your way alone. There is no fellowship with fools” (Dhammapada 61). Krishnamurt rightly pointed out, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

How can it be “harmful” to teach a spiritual path for the loner? Solitude is a spiritual discipline, not a spiritual disease. Just because a person is not part of a community, does mean that we can’t “help one another along.” And an online community does not really know one another, and that makes “checking one another” impossible. And Jonestown and Waco are evidence enough, a communities is no safeguard from people losing “sight of reality.”

“Not ____-ist”:

DT Strain:

It is interesting that we both have gravitated toward a practice that meshes Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. But where you seem to have envisionsed the product as an alternative to its inspirations, I tend to look on it as greater inclusion. It is the ‘and’ logical operator as opposed to the ‘not’ operator. I consider myself a Stoic and a Buddhist and a Taoist and a Humanist. Each of these traditions is vast, dynamic, and highly varied from person to person, region to region, culture to culture. It seems to me that the ‘takes’ of each of them necessary for them to consistently overlap without contradiction, each fit comfortably within all of these traditions such that the pracititoner has every justification to take on any of these terms without qualification or preceding adjective.

This does not mean that new labels for particular ‘cocktails’ or recipes of traditions aren’t necessary too, but I see no reason for them to be exclusive. That would seem to gravitate too much of our dialogue toward the topic of “what I am not”, and the remaining deficit of focus on “what I am” would seem to have real and deleterious effects.

Jay Forrest:

It is inaccurate to characterize my use of Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism in Bodhidaoism “as an alternative to its inspirations.” Rather, it is the critical examination of those “inspirations” and an exclusion of those without sufficient warrant. It is not that I am not sympathetic to your “greater inclusion” approach, I just think it would be dishonest for me to naturalize and secularize these traditions and pass them off as Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism. More factually, they should be called Secular Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, and Neo-Stoicism.

Much of my own issue with modern interpretations of Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism is that it is more eisegesis than exegesis. That is, many untrained in hermeneutics read “into” the texts of Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism their preconceived ideas, rather than trying to bring “out” the meaning of the text within the historical, cultural, and linguistical context in which it was written. In other words, many untrained readers mistake what it means to them, for what the text actually meant when it was penned. I reject the Postmodern idea that any view is a legitimate view.

So Bodhidaoism is an attempt to do justice to each tradition within the tradition itself. It does not attempt to downplay or reinterpret aspects of a tradition just because they are supernatural or paranormal. These aspects are there if people are honest about it. I leave these traditions untouched by my philosophical naturalism and scientific literacy. I study them as they are, not how I wish they would be. That is why Bodhidaoism is not Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, or Humanism. It is both inclusive and exclusive; inclusive of insights that are in harmony with naturalism, and exclusive of those that are not.

The negative “what I am not” and the positive “what I am” are two sides of the same coin. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin, likewise there is no such thing as a one-sided label. To make both sides explicit is part of making the picture clear.

Closing

Jay Forrest:

I regret the timing of your comments. As people will soon find out, I recently resigned as the Educational Director of the Spiritual Naturalist Society. My last day will be October 19th. My article (Oct 5, 2017) and your comments (Oct 7, 2017) came before I put in my two week notice (Oct 9, 2017). I did not read them until October 14th. They have no bearing on my departure.

But this exchange will likely give the wrong impression that I left because of internal disagreements. I just want to clarify that this is not the case. I resigned because of time constraints and my desire to focus of developing Bodhidaoism. I just want to be clear that I am still a proud member of the Spiritual Naturalist Society, I see real value in a big umbrella approach to Spiritual Naturalism.

Evaluating Wisdom Traditions

By wisdom tradition, I am including both religious and philosophical belief systems and practices. It should be obvious that not all wisdom traditions are true. The simple fact that they contradict each other is evidence enough of that. But the harder question is, how do you know what to accept and what to reject within a wisdom tradition. I want to answer that question now.

The simple answer is that it requires reason and skepticism. Reason helps to to think clearly and logically. But reason can be hijacked by blind acceptance of authority and tradition. That is why we need a healthy dose of skepticism. A questioning attitude is required to keep reason on the right track. We are aiming for truth, not the support of dogma.

Now in order to evaluate the beliefs and practices of a wisdom tradition, we need a criterion, a rule or test by which to judge them. Since our aim to to know the truth to the best of our ability, we must base our criterion on the available evidence.

Naturalism

Every belief and practice is seen through the filter of one’s particular worldview. It is impossible to not see things from a point of view. To think, we must think with a worldview. The worldview of Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. The bottom line of naturalism is that only the natural world exists, either as a single universe or a multiverse. This conclusion is based on substantial evidence that we will not discuss here.

Since Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism, that means that we believe that only the natural world exists. Because this is our guiding principle, that means that, when evaluating another wisdom tradition, our first question should be, “Is the belief or practice naturalistic?”

I specifically picked Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism as the four main traditions because they are more naturalistic than other wisdom traditions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are among the least naturalistic, and therefore were not chosen. But Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are not completely naturalistic. Therefore their beliefs and practices need to be carefully evaluated.

Take Buddhism for example. Buddhism talks a lot about gods and ghosts, rebirth, multi-life karma, after death Nirvana, and the six realms. All of this is supernatural, not naturalistic. Philosophical Taoism also drifts into supernaturalism sometimes when dealing with the Tao. And Religious Taoism jumps right into the supernatural, making Laozi a god, and adding many other gods and demons. Even Stoicism gets off track with some of their beliefs about God and Providence. None of this is really in harmony with philosophical naturalism. So we reject all of this.

Evidence

Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism because the evidence for the supernatural is non-existent. By evidence I mean empirical evidence, and inferences based on it. By empirical I mean that the evidence is based on experiment and observation, that is, science. Science tells us what exists. There is no better or reliable method of objective knowledge. Any belief or practice that contradicts science is wrong.

But science does not tell us about the subjective experience of the mind. This is the realm of introspection and reason. This is where the wisdom traditions come in. They help us form a spirituality, but which I mean the expanding and deepening of awareness of our union with reality. It is this subjective world that is the hardest to navigate. We begin with the scientific study of the brain and behavior, and move to introspection and intersubjectivity, which means evaluating experiences among many people. To these we add the tests of logical consistency, explanatory power, practical usefulness, and beneficial results.

So in evaluating a belief or practice we begin with science as the best evidence, then move to psychology and neuroscience, then to philosophy, and finally to spirituality (religion). Notice we move from the most objective evidence to the most subjective. Every belief or practice should go through this evaluation. Then we can assess the strength of the evidence for the belief or practice. Some beliefs or practices can be accepted, others rejected, and some we need to suspend judgment on until the evidence is sufficient.

Naturalized

As I have already indicated, Buddhism’s doctrine of rebirth, as it stands, cannot be accepted. We have no evidence that people are reincarnated. In fact, the evidence is against it. The mind is what the brain does, once the brain stops, the mind disappears. But does that mean that there are no insights in the rebirth teaching?

If a belief or practice is not naturalistic, the question becomes do we reject the belief or practice, or can we naturalize it? That is, can the belief or practice be reinterpreted to be naturalistic? We should try to naturalize a belief or practice for the sole reason that it may reveal a hidden truth.

Again, let’s look at rebirth. Is there any way that a part of us continues on after we die? The answer is yes, we continue in our DNA. The Buddha knew nothing of DNA, so maybe the fact that traits are passed down led him to believe that karma was true, and hence, rebirth. But this is not a very helpful interpretation for us.

Another reinterpretation is that our lives leave a lasting impact on the people and things we touch. We influence many lives, for good and ill, and this influence lives on after we die. We call this our legacy. Here is a more helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

One last reinterpretation, which is actually taught by meditation teachers, is that each day we are reborn. Everyday is the beginning of a new life. We are free to make today what we want. This is another helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

So if a belief or practice is not naturalistic, try to reinterpret the belief or practice into a naturalistic belief or practice. If you cannot naturalize it, or a naturalized version is not helpful, abandon it. There are plenty of beliefs and practices that are aligned with Bodhidaoism.

Coherence

Coherence, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is “the quality of being logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible.” Not all the beliefs and practices of other wisdom traditions will be coherent within Bodhidaoism. A belief or practice should only be accepted if it cohere with Bodhidaoism. If a belief or practice does not fit in the Bodhidaoism system of beliefs, then it should not be forced to fit.

All the beliefs and practices of Bodhidaoism are suppose to be logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible. If they are not, then we have a problem. That problem needs to be solved, whether by modifying the belief or practice, or by rejecting it.

Likes and Dislikes

One of the criterion that is not included is our own personal likes and dislikes. Just because you like an idea doesn’t make it true. Likewise, just because you don’t like an idea doesn’t make it false. We are aiming at a worldview that matches reality, not creating a fantasy land.

This is the problem with the New Age movement. People shop the spiritual market place looking for little trinkets to add to their spiritual shelf. This is why they run from one guru to another, from one spiritual practice to another. They are looking for comfort, not truth. They want the next spiritual high, not the hard and painful road to self-transformation. They want better lives, not to become better people.

Awakening to Reality as it truly is, is not necessarily a pleasant experience. But what do we want, the truth or fantasy? Bodhidaoism is not the path for those interested in illusions and feel-good highs. It is for philosophers, lovers of wisdom, people who want to know the truth as best we humans can. That means that we follow the evidence, not whims and wants.

The Four Disciplines

There are four disciplines that Bodhidaoism draws on for evidence and guidance. They are science, psychology, philosophy, and religion. I have listed them in the order of authority. Science is our most sure means of knowing the objective world. Psychology, and its various sub-branches, are the next surest means of knowing about the brain, behavior, and to a lesser extend the mind. Philosophy comes in as a close third to psychology, because a lot of psychology is philosophy. And last is religion, which is so diverse and contradictory that finding stable ground is hard.

Remember that Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. That means that the more naturalistic a religion is, the better and more evidence based are its conclusions. This means that Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are better are at reflecting the real world than Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But there are aspects of these, and other religions as well, that may offer insights into our relationship with nature, humans, and the universe.

Science

Science is, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2014), “systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.” As I have said, science is our most reliable means of knowing the objective world. Who can deny its success in explain the world? As Carl Sagan explains, “One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error correcting machinery at its heart” (1996, 27).

There are two major branches of hard science, the natural sciences and the formal sciences. The natural sciences include cosmology, geology, chemistry, and biology. The formal sciences include mathematics and logic. This is the source for our surest evidence about the world.

Psychology

Psychology is, according to the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016), “the study of the mind and behavior.” It includes psychology proper, and I would also include the other social sciences as well. This would include economics, political science, human geography, demography, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, jurisprudence, history, and linguistics.

The problem with psychology is that is part science and part philosophy of mind. And the parts are not always even. Freudian psychoanalysis has been largely discredited as a valid psychotherapeutic system. Most scholars agree that psychology is an infant science that is still struggling to become a full fledged science. Part of the reason is because psychology is trying to study the subjective mind. This is beyond objective observation and experimentation.

From a psychological perspective, phenomenology is an important help “in which mental events should be studied and described in their own terms,” to quote the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016). In other words, it attempts to understand the workings of the mind from the inside. In this sense, it has some similarities to Buddhism.

It should be noted that both Buddhism and Stoicism have had a major impact on psychology, being the inspiration for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This goes to demonstrate the psychological insights of both Buddhism and Stoicism. This is one of the reasons that these wisdom traditions are important to Bodhidaoism.

Philosophy

Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom.” Seneca said it best, “Philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom” (Letters 89.4-5; Long 1984, 160). It used to be about the art of living, but has become more specialized and disconnected from the world. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy gives the best modern definition, “philosophy is roughly the critical, normally systematic, study of an unlimited range of ideas and issues” (1999, xxix).

Only philosophy and religion give a person an overall view of reality and life. A worldview, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary (1999), is “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” We need this to even function in the world. All people have one, but most are not aware of theirs. Most have a religious worldview, formed and shaped by a religion, usually Christianity in the United States.

The difference between religion and philosophy is that philosophy is more naturalistic and critical. It questions everything, sometimes to an extreme. Science grew out of philosophy, and was for centuries known as natural philosophy. Philosophy, then, is the birthplace of science. Until science answers a question, philosophy is out next best place to find answers.

Religion

Religion is defined by Daniel C. Dennett as, “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought” (2006, 9). It is this supernatural aspect is one of the things that corrupts the conclusions of any religion. The more the supernatural is present, the less reliable is the religion.

Another thing that corrupts the usefulness of any religion is the submission to authority. The founder said it, they believe it, and that settles it. Contrary evidence is either ignored, rejected, or reinterpreted to fit what they already believe. The founders authority condemns them to live at the level of the founders knowledge. Since most religions were founded before the age of modern science, these religions are old and out of date.

That means that anyone dealing with a religion must approach it with a critical eye. You must sort out the wheat from the chaff. We can see many trying to do this through secularizing their religion. We see this in Humanistic Judaism, Secular Christianity, Secular Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, Humanistic Paganism, and many others. This secularized version provide helpful insights into what a religion can offer once the supernatural is eliminated.

Bodhidaoism is not a religion, it has no social system and avows no belief in supernatural agents of any kind. It is a philosophy, a way of looking at the world through the eyes of science and philosophical naturalism. If religion was humankind’s first attempt at understanding the world, then Bodhidaoism is the updated version.

References

Dennett, Daniel C. (2006) Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin.
Sagan, Carl. (1996) The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.

How to Develop a Worldview

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a worldview as, “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” Everyone has a worldview, a philosophy of life, but few are conscious of it. This is because a worldview is like a pair of glasses, it is something we look through, not something we look at.

Most people don’t consciously choose their worldview, rather it is inherited through one’s family, peers, or culture. The problem is that not all worldviews are equally true or promote human flourishing. And people stubbornly refuse to change their worldview, even when it is no longer working for them. This is especially true of people raised in a strong religious family or culture.

But some people do become aware that their worldview does not match up with reality and decide to change. The problem for many of us is that all ancient worldviews were born before modern science, so their picture of the universe and humankind is inaccurate. Humanism is the only popular and modern worldview that is honest with what science has revealed about the Cosmos. But Humanism generally lacks a spiritual dimension. Spiritual Naturalism, also a newer worldview, has done better, but it is more of an umbrella term covering many traditions attempts to secularize and modernize (such as Secular Buddhism and Humanistic Paganism).

So how does one go about developing a worldview of their own. What does one need to think about and what issues does one need to work through? I will warn you that it will not be easy. It is was easy everyone would be doing it. You will need a knowledge of science, psychology, religion, and philosophy to begin with. The deeper your knowledge of these areas the better. Let’s call your worldview by your first name. Mine would be Jayism.

Epistemology

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. How do you know that what you believe is true? You must first answer the question of what truth is. There are three popular conceptions of truth, the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, and the pragmatic theory. You have to decide which one is the right one. You also have to decide how the other theories relate to it.

You also have to decide whether truth is subjective, objective, or something else. If you say that truth is subjective, then no one is right or wrong. If it is objective, then you have to determine how it can be outside the human mind. Where in the outside world is truth located? Animals don’t know the truth. And if it is something else, what is it? And is truth even possible?

You will also have to decide what knowledge is. Is it justified true belief? Then you have to answer the Gettier problem. When we say that we know something is true, are we speaking of how sure we are (which is subjective) or how right we are (which is objective). How do these relate to knowledge.

Then you will also have to deal with the issue of justification. By what standard do you just the truth or falsehood of a claim? Do you base it on evidence? If so, then which evidence? Most people choose their beliefs based on what they like. Is is the path to truth or deception?

Should we trust science or not? Is their divinely inspired revelations or not? Do spirits of the dead or ascended master communicate through mediums? Where does personal experience fit into one’ theory of knowledge?

Metaphysics‎

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with what exists and how the universe came to be. Does God exist? If so, what kind of God? Is there one God or many gods? Is this God transcendent, immanent, or both? Is the universe God, or did God create the universe? Are their angels, demons, heaven, hell, or other supernatural beings?

If you don’t believe in God, is the universe eternal or did it have a beginning? Is there only one universe or is there a multiverse? Is the universe sacred, or is nothing sacred? What is the universe made of? Is it matter, energy, information, or something else?

Anthropology

Where did life come from? Where we created by God or did we evolve from apes? If you accept evolution, was it a natural process or did God have a hand in it?

What is culture and what influence does it play in personal beliefs and practices? What is society and what influence does it have? How much is nature and how much is nurture?

What is human language and what affect does it play in shaping our thoughts and beliefs?

Psychology

What is a human being? Do they have souls? Do they have spirits? What is the mind? Is the mind what the brain does, or is it some spiritual essence? If we have a soul, when does it enter the body? At conception, at birth, or at the age of accountability?

What is temperament, personality, and character? Where is it located? Is it in the intellect, the will, the emotions? What are emotions or thoughts or choices?

Human Dilemma

Animals don’t need worldviews, why do humans seek meaning in life? What is wrong with humans that we suffering, kill others, harm others, and are generally unhappy? What went wrong? When did it go wrong? And what is the cause or causes of these problems.

Ethics

How should we live our lives? What are the rules of right behaviour? How do we become better people? What does it even mean to be better people?

Should we love our neighbor as ourselves, or should we look out for our own best interests? Is goodness dependent on the consequences of our acts, or does it deal with intention? What’s the difference between hot cognition and cold cognition, and how does this relate to virtues

Do we have any responsibility towards animals and other living things? Should we treat the earth with respect, or should we use its resources in whatever way makes us the most money?

Does happiness (eudaimonia) have any connection to virtues and right living? If so how?

Spirituality

Is there such a thing as spirituality? Can you be spiritual but not religious? What is spiritual awakening?

Does your spirituality include acceptance, mindfulness, and the seeking of inner peace? What do these even mean?

Do you believe in mystical and the mystic way (Purgative, Illuminative, Unitive). Are mystical experiences real, or are the just mental? If there are just mental, do they tells us anything about the real objective world?

Do you believe in spiritual direction, churches, memberships, clergy, or religious orders? What kind of organization should your worldview promote? Or do you believe in the sole practitioner and go it alone?

Spiritual Practices

If you believe in spirituality, what spiritual practices do you think will help you live out your worldview? Let me list a bunch: Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Sabbath, Secrecy, Submission, Reading, Prayer, Friendship, Service, Meditation, Study, Simplicity, Confession, ,Guidance, Celebration, Frugality, Chastity, Sacrifice, Giving, Stewardship, Journaling, Accountability, Spiritual Direction, Affirmation, Fellowship, Chanting, Concentration, Lovingkindness Meditation, Tonglin, Body Scan, Mantras, Mindfulness of Breathing, Mindfulness of one’s Posture, Mindfulness of one’s Physical Activities, Mindfulness of the Parts of the Body, Aspirations, Rites of Passage, Shinrin Yoku, Physical Exercise, Self-Compassion, Tantra, Visualization, Self-Dialog, and Walking Meditation.

How will you determine which ones are good, and which ones are helpful? Which spiritual traditions will you borrow from? How will you customize them to your needs?

Conclusion

Developing your own worldview is difficult to begin with, but if you want to make one that is in harmony with the real world and systematically coherent, you have quite a challenge on your hands. Most people find it easier to take a ready made worldview and customize it. I think this is the best route for most people.

But then there are people like me. I tried to customize two religions, Christianity and Buddhism. But after I was done, I didn’t feel like I could really call myself Christian or Buddhist. I know call myself a Spiritual Naturalist, but that it too general. It says enough to separate me from other religions and philosophies, but not enough to really get at what I believe.

I have spent 34 years studying philosophy, religion, psychology, and science, and only now feel confident enough to develop my own worldview, which I call Bodhidaoism. I have answered all the questions I have asked above, and I have carefully came to my own conclusions. It is in hopes of helping others, that I share my own worldview with you.

The Four Wisdom Traditions

There are four wisdom traditions that Bodhidaoism draws on for inspiration. They are Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. You will see that I list them in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance. Although Bodhidaoism takes its name from Buddhism (Bodhi) and Taoism (daoism), Stoicism and Humanism are just as important. I felt that listing them in chronological order was better than listing them in alphabetical order.

It should also be noted that just because I list only four wisdom traditions, I do not mean to imply that other traditions have nothing to say. Since I was educated in Christianity and sense the West is steeped in Judeo-Christian culture, it would be naive to think that it has no influence on me. Furthermore, I have also studied other spiritual traditions such as Neo-Paganism and Gnosticism, and they have insights to offer as well. My primary concern is to be true to my commitment to science and naturalism.

Buddhism (5th Century BCE)

Buddhism was started by a man named Siddhartha Gautama. Most scholars place him in the 5th century BCE. Scholars believe he was born in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu (near modern day Nepal), which was the capital of Shakya. His father was the ruler and stories tell of his attempt to shelter young Siddhartha from the harsh realities of life – old age, sickness, and death.

But he left his family on a quest for awakening and studied meditation from two Hindu masters, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. Although they helped him reach advanced states of tranquility, he did not find the awakening he sought. He then tried years of strict asceticism. This ended up to be more of a hindrance than a help, and he felt that a middle way between asceticism and indulgence was wiser.

It wasn’t until he was 35 years old that he discovered vipassana or insight meditation and experienced awakening. After this he gained the title of the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one.” Vipassana is a way of spiritual transformation through the non-attached observation of body, feelings, and mind states. It is commonly referred to today as mindfulness meditation. It is a method of learning how the mind causes its own unhappiness and how to stop it from doing this.

The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering which is clinging, the end of suffering, and the Eightfold Noble Path leading to the end of suffering. The Eightfold Noble Path includes Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. He also the three characteristics of existence: not-self, impermanence, and suffering.

Taoism (4th Century BCE)

The term “Taoism” is the older Wade-Giles method of rendering Mandarin Chinese into English. The newer and officially recognized method by the People’s Republic of China, is the Pinyin or Hanyu Pinyin system. In Pinyin it is “Daoism” instead of “Taoism.” However, most people in the West still know it as Taoism, and so I use that to speak of it. But note that I use the new Pinyin system in Bodhidaoism.

Unlike Buddhism, Taoism was not started by a single person. It began as a movement. Until recently, the Tao Te Ching was the oldest surviving writing of this movement. It was said to have been written by a man named Laozi (which literally means “old master”). But most scholars reject this. It is more likely that the Tao Te Ching is an anthology originating in late 4th century BCE.

Taoism can be divided between Philosophical Taoism (Tao Chia) and Religious Taoism (Tao Chiao). Some scholars object to this division, but it does represent a clear distinction between the naturalistic sense of early Taoism and the supernatural leanings of later Taoism. Taoism became an organized religion in 142 C.E. when Zhang Daoling founded the Way of the Celestial Masters. He claims to have received spiritual communications from the deified Laozi. To me, this was a corruption of the philosophy of Taoism and renders Taoism after this of limited worth.

Philosophical Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Way (Tao) of Nature. Taoism teaches the practice of wu wei, or effortless action, which is similar to Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow. It also encourages naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity. The Three Treasures of Taoism are compassion, frugality, and humility.

Stoicism (3rd Century BCE)

Stoicism began with a man named Zeno of Citium, who taught in Athens from about 300 BCE. It took its name from the Stoa Poikile or “the painted porch” where Zeno taught. Stories about Zeno say that he was a merchant. After surviving a shipwreck, he wandered into a bookshop in Athens and was read some writings about Socrates. When he asked how to find such a man as Socrates, he was directed to the Cynic Crates of Thebes. He studied many other philosophies until he started his own school.

The history of Stoicism can be divided into three phases, the Early, Middle, and Late Stoa. Unfortunately, only fragments survive from the Early and Middle Stoa. It is from the Late Stoa that we have Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics looked at philosophy as the art of living, not as an academic exercise or limited to intellectual puzzles. Philosophy was a way of life that affected every part one’s activities and relationships.

Stoicism aimed to provide a philosophy of life, a worldview, which would give a person a unified account of the world. It teaching was usually divided into three branches: logic, physics and ethics. It is its ethical teachings that are important today. It was based on four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. It laid great emphasis on reason and the need to live in agreement with Nature. It also taught people how to achieve happiness (Eudaimonia) through spiritual exercises. It was a very successful school, becoming the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

Humanism (20th Century CE)

Humanism is a modern philosophical and ethical system. Although the term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century, it was not until 1929 that modern Humanism began. At that time, Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York. The advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. In 1930 Charles Francis Potter and his wife Clara Cook Potter published Humanism: A New Religion.

The Humanist Manifesto was published in 1933 and marks the official beginning of Humanism as an organized movement. It says that, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.”
In the years that followed, Humanism took a turn towards dropping its original religious language and became more secular. It was itself “coming to terms with new conditions.” In its latest statement, the Humanist Manifesto III, it says that, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Humanism emphasizes ethics and looking to science rather than revelation to understand the world.

The Four Compared

It is interesting that the four wisdom traditions tend to be more complementary than contradictory. Many have noticed the similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism. And who can deny the similarities between Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The odd man out is Humanism. Humanism would deny the God of Stoicism, especially in the providence that they claimed for Deity. Humanism would also reject Buddhism’s claims of rebirth and cosmic karma. There are also aspects of Taoism, especially Religious Taoism that Humanism would reject.

But I contend that Humanism is right to reject them. “The time has come for…. Religions the world over [to come] to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.” But Humanism has been to reactionary, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It tends to be too human centered and neglects or denies the spiritual aspects of human existence. You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to know that there is a spiritual aspect to human existence, a need to connect with reality and find meaning and happiness.

Buddhism and Stoicism deal with becoming better and happier people. Buddhism does this by developing consciousness, Stoicism does it by developing reason. Humanism and Taoism deal with our relationship with reality. Humanism does it by a rational and scientific approach to the objective world, Taoism does it by personal and spiritual approach to the subjective world. Humanism is the yang, Taoism is the yin, but together they bring us into reality as it truly is.

Christianity has shaped the language and the social structure we live it. Paganism has shaped our superstitions and imagination. Both have positives and negatives from a Bodhidaoist perspective. There is no creator God or magical beings. But they influence us, our thinking and our lagangage. The keys is to become aware of these influences and be wise in dealing with them. Rejecting some, accepting some, and modifying others. Bodhidaoism is not a closed system, but is open to revision and modification as we receive further light. Evidence is our final authority.