What work does x-buddhism claim to accomplish? Does it claim to do the work of, for instance, science? religion? philosophy? psychology? medicine? Or is it perhaps sui generis—a singularity in the world of knowledge, a dharmic lapis philosophorum?
In contemporary North America, the question is being posed in the broad terms of the science-religion distinction. I think that the current x-buddhism debates—those between the scientistically exultant/secularly liberal forms, on the one side, and the spiritually exuberant/conservatively orthodox forms, on the other—are primarily debates about the relative merits of science and religion. Secondarily, of course, the debate is about where Buddhism properly fits in. Once that’s established, one can proffer what s/he thinks x-buddhism does, what it accomplishes (e.g., it illuminates the world “as it is;” it reduces stress; it constructs a worldview; it heals; it eradicates craving; it enables “deep joy” and “real happiness;” it enlightens; it ensures favorable rebirth; it ensnares in an deceptively ideological web; it liberates, etc., etc.).
Another way of understanding current x-buddhism debates is that they concern the relative value of immanence-oriented and transcendence-oriented systems of thought. Science is an instance of the former, and religion, the latter—right?
To spur us on to further thought about these matters, I present you with a provocative essay by Adam S. Miller. It is provocative on several counts. First, with the backing of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, it insists on an inversion of values whereby science is seen as surveyor of the transcendent, as “a third-person exposition of the [distantly or minutely] unavailable.” Religion, contrary to our habitual way of thinking about it, names, in this account, a relentless thrust toward immanence; it is “a first-person phenomenology of the obvious.” Read the rest of this entry »