Sunday, December 04, 2011

John Horgan's back...

I appreciate Barbara's response to John Horgan's latest "scientific" article on Buddhism.  She's right in her point that Horgan's not actually critiquing what those of us who are Buddhists in the West would recognize as Buddhism.  But I'd like to go a bit further into the details of what Horgan's actually writing here.

Eventually, I stopped attending my Zen sessions (for reasons that I describe in detail elsewhere). One problem was that meditation never really tamed my monkey mind. During my last class, I fixated on a classmate who kept craning his neck and grunting and asking our teacher unbearably pretentious questions. I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here? By that time, I also had serious intellectual qualms about Buddhism. I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than Catholicism, my childhood faith.
If I am reading this correctly (and I read his other link way back when) Mr. Horgan doesn't bowl, because he doesn't consistently get 300,  he doesn't play chess because he's not a grandmaster who's mastered the entire "book" of chess, get the picture.  What Mr. Horgan doesn't seem to have one jot of appreciation for, is that it might be a good idea to try to cultivate a skill at which, prior to the endeavor, one absolutely, completely, and totally sucks.  A guy like me, who's been at it for 20 years, deeply appreciates the irony of this paragraph: Mr. Horgan's classmate is none other than himself.   That is, Mr. Horgan doesn't seem to "get" that his experience of his classmate, and his loathing of himself for loathing the classmate are all products of his own mind, at least not in a deep enough sense. His being in that Zen setting exposed this aspect of Mr. Horgan to Mr. Horgan, and rather than address the issue where it was (i.e., Mr. Horgan's mind itself), Mr. Horgan decided it was Buddhism that was to "blame" for his thoughts of loathing, and lack of equanimity. 

Barbara's already, mentioned Horgan's misappropriation of Buddhism.  Horgan's discussion of the doctrine of no-self,  anatta, is closer to an apt description than  his colossal swings and misses at himself and karma. 

And,  I will admit that if it didn't cause misgivings about the whole Buddha left his wife and child thing, there'd be something wrong with you - and frankly, yes, I've heard all the arguments pro and contra, but the reason I'm a Buddhist has to do not with the historical Buddha, but with where my suffering has originated.   It has nothing to do with the historical Buddha's issues, nor does it have anything to do with Chogyam Trungpa's issues, or Barbara O'Brien's or John Horgan's, except insofar as their issues can help me transcend the suffering of all beings.   That is to say, their issues are not where I need to apply skill.  And I don't have to leave my wife and kid to try to alleviate their suffering (but perhaps history is silent as to whether Mrs. Siddhartha breathed a sigh of relief at Gautama's skedaddling.)

Mr. Horgan's writing when not about Buddhism is often interesting, and grounded in science. But since subjects like Buddhism and psychology deal with human experience and the acquisition of effective behavior, to the extent that science deals with the objective and measurable aspects of this science will have good answers for it, but the subjective bits...well...if it's not observable and measurable...

But Mr. Horgan? Barbara's right. And you could benefit from a good look at yourself.

1 comment:

Bushido said...

Brilliant summing-up and riposte. Thank you!

I posted a link to your blog on Tricycle