The dilemma of mind in contemporary Buddhism : some British testimony
Progress in neuroscience over the last half-century casts doubt on the religious intuition that the mind is a non-material entity. Without some dialogue between religion and science in order to resolve differences of fact and value, the dilemma of the competing plausibility of scientific and religious mind-theories may diminish the social acceptance of science and the social relevance of religion. In order to identify whether meaningful discussion about neuroscience is taking place in the 'convert' British Buddhist community, I conducted qualitative interviews with ten people who have leadership responsibilities. Little formal discussion was reported within organisations, but there was some response to neuroscience at the level of personal attitude. Briefly, that response is of resistance to the neuroscientific view, and a corresponding prioritisation of subjective experience, which is felt to be more reliable than theoretical explanations that can only be believed, or findings that can only be empirically known. The existential certainty of experience is preferred to the uncertainty of explanation. Interpreting the interview findings, I argue that explanation forms an unavoidable part of experience, providing guidance from the past for the creation of anticipated futures, but that incautious spatial modelling in linguistic explanation reinforces the notion an internal objective self by treating the mind as a containing entity. From the standpoint of the Buddhist attitude of 'right view', the scientific assertion of the materiality of mind is immaterial in two senses. Firstly, there can be no right motivation for schism over views as opposed to acts. Secondly, minds depend upon both physical and abstract property-relations across the brain-world barrier. The mind is constituted as a relationally holistic process, and is preoccupied by approximation to real and ideal homeostasis. Realisation of the relationally holistic origination of mind depends on the adoption of a meditative attitude of attention to the world, and is likely to motivate a contemporary Buddhist attitude of social engagement with the world.