Saturday, 21 February 2015

Buddhism reduces religious intolerance - even among non-Buddhists.

Monotheistic intolerance

From The Pacific Standard

by Tom Jacobs

"Love Religion, but Hate Intolerance? Try Buddhism

New research finds that, unlike those of monotheistic faiths, Buddhist concepts do not inspire prejudice toward outsiders.

Does religion do more harm than good? Considerable research suggests the answer depends upon the type of “good” you are considering. Many studies have linked religiosity with mental and physical health, as well as a stronger tendency to help those around you. Others have found it inspires prejudice against perceived outsiders.

A newly published paper reports this trade-off may not be universal. It finds calling to mind concepts of one major world religion—Buddhism—boosts both selfless behavior and tolerance of people we perceive as unlike ourselves.

Reminders of Buddhist beliefs “activate both universal pro-sociality and, to some extent (given the role of individual differences), tolerance of people holding other religious beliefs or belonging to other ethnic groups,” writes a research team led by psychologist Magali Clobert, a visiting postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.
“After being primed with Buddhist words, participants reported lower explicit negative attitudes toward all kinds of out-groups.”

In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Clobert and her colleagues concede that the mention of mantras or meditation don’t impact everyone in the same way. Indeed, they have little if any effect on people with strong authoritarian tendencies.

But for the rest of us, having Buddhist ideas on the brain appears to not only evoke caring, but also reduce prejudice. This dynamic was found in three experiments featuring, respectively, people raised in a Christian society, people raised in a Buddhist culture, and Western converts to Buddhism... more

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Chaplain's Corner - Rev. Scott Kershner

From  The Crusader

'When I was a junior in college, I left southern Minnesota and studied for a semester in Thailand.

The study of Buddhism there changed the course of my life forever. I had been raised as a Christian, but had not reflected much about what that meant to me. My encounter with Buddhism opened expansive, life-giving questions. What did it mean to be selfless? Is that possible? What did it mean to live in community? What is freedom? What is prayer? I found there was much to admire and learn from in Buddhism. I couldn't have named it then, but I had begun to gain what is called "appreciative knowledge".

In fact, what I discovered was that Buddhism helped me return to the Christian faith of my family and cultural background with fresh eyes. After I returned, I found, to my great surprise, that the faith tradition under my own feet was deep and life-giving soil if I would give my roots some time to grow. Thus began my journey of return to Christian faith and eventually my ordination as a Lutheran pastor.

Our spiritual lives can be greatly enriched by encounters with other traditions. As we see human lives and admire teachings in traditions and cultures other than our own, we develop appreciative knowledge, and our lives are forever enriched. For the gift the Buddhist tradition has been to me, I can only say: Thanks be to God.'



Thursday, 12 February 2015

Family Values - Christians and Buddhists meet in Bodh Gaya

Interfaith Meeting in Bodh Gaya

From Vatican Radio  

"Fifteen delegates from the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and fifteen representatives of the three main Buddhist denominations - Theravada, Vajrayana, and Mayahana - met at Bodh Gaya, a Buddhist site in Bihar (India), on Wednesday  to discuss the family, understood both as the "basic cell of society," as well as the expression of "global solidarity" between the different religions. After the gathering, set to end on Friday, the Vatican delegates will travel to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) for a similar event with Hindu and Muslim spiritual leaders.

Mgr Felix Machado, bishop of Vasai, president of the Office for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) and of the Office for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), is present at the event along with Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, apostolic nuncio to India. "Both of our religious traditions and cultural experiences affirm the beauty of the family," the prelate told AsiaNews. "By reflecting on this, our leaders can examine and propose ways to support and revitalise family life in order to make human society prosper."

"The aim of our bilateral dialogue is to support each other in the work of strengthening the family, the basic unit of society, the nation and global solidarity," Mgr Machado added. The issue of "The family and children does not touch only Catholics," he explained. "In almost all cultures of the world, and in most religions, concerns have been raised about attacks against the institution of the family."

Spiritual leaders are expected to focus in particular on the difficult situations in which many children find themselves. "My thoughts," said the Bishop of Vasai, "go to those born out of wedlock who experience depression or develop long term psychosomatic disorders that result from divorce; not to mention the children victim of human trafficking or abuse." In view of this, "We intend to look for new ways to help our children."

Bodh Gaya is a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex and the Bodhi tree. Here, according to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha."



Historical Sites Recall When Kazakhstan Was Buddhist


By Michelle Witte in Kazakhstan Tourism on 9 February

'ASTANA – Kazakhstan today is a mostly Muslim country, but the Silk Road that crossed it was an important conduit for religions, including Buddhism, and some of Kazakhstan’s historic carvings and monuments are neither Muslim nor animist, but homages to Buddhas, bodhisattvas and the monks who carried their teachings from India and China across the Eurasian landmass.

Buddhism gained a large following in Central Asia between the second century B.C. up to the coming of Islam to the region around the eighth century, and many of the Turkic peoples living in Kazakhstan adopted it. Though now the Buddhist population of Kazakhstan is small – only about 0.5 percent of the population as of 2007 – the country has the largest number of Buddhists in Central Asia. It is also dotted with remnants of its Buddhist past, particularly in the Zhetysu (“seven rivers”) area of modern-day southeastern Kazakhstan, which includes today’s Almaty oblast and historically extended into Kyrgyzstan.

Within that area are the Tamgaly-Tas (“Stones with Signs”), one of Kazakhstan’s most popular tourist destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage site...'    Full article

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Meditation helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Meditation can help ward off Alzheimer’s disease by keeping the mind younger for longer

From the Daily Express

"Research appears to show those practising the technique can boost the grey matter in their brains.

Scientists believe this could lead to a new tool to combat the growing rate of mental illness in an ageing population.

We can start to lose some functional abilities from as early as our mid-20s.

But tests appear to show the process is slowed up by contemplation.

Dr Florian Kurth, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said his team was surprised by the difference in brain volume among participants who had meditated for years and those who had not...."   FULL ARTICLE

This example of 'mind over matter', where thought processes affect the structure of the brain (rather than vice versa), demonstrates the mysterious phenomenon of 'downward causation', which really shouldn't happen if the mind is just an epiphenomenon or emergent property of the brain. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Disembodied minds and consciousness without the brain

Does the mind need the brain in order to function?  Can there be such things as disembodied minds?  Can minds exist without matter?

According to Buddhist process philosophy, there is no logical reason why not...

Process Philosophy and the Mind
Process philosophers claim that processes, rather than things or substances, are at the basis of reality.  There are no basic building blocks of the world, because when those potential building blocks are examined in sufficient detail, they are all found to be processes rather than things  (they are dynamic wave-functions which only behave as particles under specially constrained circumstances).

Similarly, minds are not ‘things’, they are processes.  Buddhist meditators claim that the mind is a continuous process which is subtly conscious even in the deepest dreamless sleep. According to Buddhist teachings, the mind is also conscious after death (‘for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…’)

Two Types of Process - Mechanistic and Mental

According to process philosophy, there are two types of processes in the universe - mechanistic and mental. This view is known as ‘process dualism’ and should be carefully distinguished from Cartesian ‘substance dualism’, which believes in a body which is inhabited by a soul.

Mechanistic processes are those that can be modelled by a Turing machine, or combination of Turing machines (such as the instruction-set of a computer). Mechanistic processes include all the laws of physics (see the Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle), plus any algorithms you care to mention, whether they correspond to anything physical or not.

Mental processes are those that cannot be modelled by Turing machines or computers, and consist of subjective phenomena known as ‘qualia’ (qualitative experiences such suffering and pleasure) and ‘intentionality’ (meaning, attention, ‘aboutness’ and semantics),  plus possibly also some intuitive mathematical perceptions such as Gödel’s Theorem).

The Hard Problem
Although mechanistic and mental processes interact in the brain and are obviously closely correlated, there is no known mechanism (and maybe there is no possible mechanism)  for physical events in the brain to produce mental events (this mystery is known in the trade as ‘The Explanatory Gap and/or ‘The Hard Problem’). 

Buddhist philosophers claim that the mind is a permanently active process rather than a passive recipient of neural events, and has to actively observe changes of neural states to turn them into mental experiences.  The mind is said to ‘go to’ its object.

This is given credence by the fact that although is seems impossible to envisage any mechanism for the neural events to produce mental events, the converse is not the case.   A plausible (though admittedly controversial) mechanism known as the Quantum Zeno Effect has been proposed for interfacing mental attention (an aspect of intentionality) with neural firings. 

So, in any contest for ontological primacy between the mental and the physical, it could be that the mental has a slight advantage. But anyway, let's not go there in this particular post.   Let's just accept that mental and physical processes are different but equal, though both types have ontological primacy over 'things', substances and material appearances (which are all reducible to processes).

Disembodied Physical Processes.
Nowadays we know that disembodied processes can exist and operate in the physical world. These are processes with no need for supporting matter, medium or substrates. They are standalone processes that do their things with no visible means of support.  

The first such disembodied process was identified in 1887 by Michaelson and Morley, who proved that the luminiferous (‘light-bearing’) aether simply did not exist.   This came as a shock to the Victorians.  After all, light was known to be a process of oscillating waves, and waves had to propagate through some sort of medium like the waves on the sea, or sound waves through the air.   

The acceptance of independently functioning processes caused a major rethink of classical physics and led to the Theory of Relativity.

Another  even worse surprise came when it was found that particles of matter, when examined carefully at a small enough scale, also behaved as waves, and interfered with each other and even with themselves.  But waves travelling through what?  They couldn’t possibly be propagating through matter, because they were matter!

Consequently, all notions of matter being a fundamental aspect of the world disappeared from physics by mid twentieth century, and process metaphysics ruled supreme.

Equal Opportunities for Mental Processes!

So, if physical processes can operate in the complete absence of any material basis, substrate, medium or means of support, then why shouldn’t mental processes be able to do the same?  I appreciate this is an argument from analogy, with the use of Occam's razor ("entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity") to cut down the superfluous ontological apparatus of an unnecessary substrate, but it does demonstrate that there’s no logical reason that mental processes need to be embodied in matter (e.g. brains) in order to continue to function.  Indeed, recent evidence suggests that mental activity may continue when the brain has shut down.    

If the brain shuts down permanently, then the mental continuum (the root mind) may have to wander off and find another brain to associate with.    As the Buddhist philosopher and computer pioneer Alan Turing said  "When the body dies, the 'mechanism' of the body holding the spirit is gone, and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later, perhaps immediately."