Neuroscience’s slow drift towards Buddhism

Neuroscience’s steady movement towards early Buddhist-like views is interesting to watch, though the argument for nihilism in this video still seems anecdotal and atheism-dogmatic to me:

(video)

Selfless virtue

Developing virtues/merits for selfish reasons (e.g., for the karmic, physical, or social benefits) still contains a degree of unvirtuousness (i.e., a delusion of self). In my opinion, the point of being virtuous (and of Buddhism in general) is to completely cleanse this samsaric mind-body complex of whatever is obstructing it from becoming nirvanic, not to seek a nice future/rebirth in samsara.

Heaven might be so luxurious and pleasurable that beings there never think about nirvana or about making more merit, and, according to the seed-and-fruit concept from early Buddhism (i.e., that one instance of karma causes/conditions only one outcome), once the merit that is supporting a heavenly life runs out, one’s next rebirth may not be heavenly.

The swarm of self

According to early-to-medieval Buddhism, as I understand, the self and (probably) world are like swarms/flocks of bees, birds, or fish: each particle more-or-less doing its part for some larger purpose with more-or-less thought, each particle itself a swarm of smaller particles — momentary configurations of some basic, common-to-everything, connected-but-separate flashes (not stable points) of energy, with the swarm’s complexity having slowly aggregated/evolved over billions of years. A feeling of a stable self emerges from the swarm, but it is an illusion. Swarms of food, water, air, thoughts from other people or objects, etc. are constantly affecting or replacing parts of oneself. These are several ways in which ancient Buddhism was/is similar to modern physics, biology, and complex adaptive system theories.

“All composite things are impermanent. Strive for liberation [from this state of existence] with diligence” (the Buddha’s final words, my translation from Pali).

Self-destruction

You don’t have to argue with very angry, greedy/lustful, selfish/deluded, etc. people. Their own actions will destroy them (a Thai saying, which I am paraphrasing).

My love, let’s go eat some dressed-up corpses, then get drug-addicted together

Food and sex are much less interesting, if you remove the dressed-up, very charged/evocative, taboo, and drug/addiction-like popular cultures that surround them. They are just bodily functions than can be pleasurable, painful, or neutral. The idea of “making love” through something that is addictive seems rather twisted to me, as is decorating or heavily seasoning food, which involves dressing up dead plants or animals.

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states

Mental states usually have multiple opposing states that can counteract them if cultivated/focused-upon. Below are examples.

Like with any medicine, one must be careful not to indulge in any mental state too extremely, or it can become a kind of poison, blindness, or delusion. For example, taking a positive attitude to everything can cause one to miss, or be taken advantage of by, the negative aspects of life (e.g., scammers, thieves, things falling apart, etc.), but taking a negative attitude to everything can lead to anxiety and depression. The Buddha once taught people to meditate on death and decay, and that led several monks to become so disgusted with their bodies that they “sought an assassin” (see Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s footnote on SN 35.88). Therefore, he switched to recommending meditation on the breath (anapanasati), which is more mentally neutral.

Siddhartha heard the musician say, “If the string is too tight, it will snap. If it is too loose, it will not play” (from the traditional Buddhist enlightenment story). A Middle Way is best.

  • For anger: thinking about (or asking) how the object of your anger might have come to be the way it is (e.g., social or natural forces, history, chance, etc.), forgiveness, generosity, patience, tolerance, etc.
  • Anxiety/fear: internal and external detachment/watchfulness/listening, letting go of attachment to outcomes, remembering that the self is just an impermanent construct, etc.
  • Arrogance/ego/narcissism: remembering your impermanence and fragile humanity, acknowledging things you’ve lost/forgotten or that you can’t know/see, having experiences where either nature or people don’t care who you are (riding the bus in plain clothes or a disguise if you are famous, doing a manual labor job, going far away from civilization with minimal supplies, etc.)
  • Depression (an umbrella term for many states): identifying and counteracting the specific state(s) involved (e.g., grief, hopelessness, fatigue, physical discomfort or weakness, etc.)
  • Greed: slowing down and doing less, generosity, remembering the impermanence of all things, remembering that one can’t ever fully own/control either oneself or external things, etc.
  • Laziness: aspiration, belief/trust/faith, effort, flexibility (see also the “eight antidotes“)
  • Lust: asking the attractive person to cover themselves, looking closely at the attractive person until you can see past their facade of makeup/jewelry/clothing, seeing people as just variations on a theme (a little bigger or smaller here or there), reducing people’s bodies to their components (skin, muscles, bones, organs, glands, etc.), disgust at the dirty or infected things inside everyone’s bodies (rotting plants/animals, feces, urine, bile, mucus, viruses/bacteria, small cancers, etc.), imagining the person as the rotting corpse they will inevitably become or looking at images/videos of rotting or burning corpses on the Internet, etc.

Many of these things involve remembering impermanence or that the self is a construct of many components. If there is no stable self, there is no one who can always feel anything. If you can change for the worse, you can change for the better.