In The Philosopher's Magazine (1st Quarter 2013 issue) Julian Baggini leads off "The best books of 2012". He recommends Owen Flanagan's The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized in such brilliant prose that I simply had no choice but to buy a copy at once. Baggini's complete review simply reads:
Most philosophers are bright and well read. A handful has genuine insight. Very few are able to look at an ancient religious tradition and be both scathing about its supernatural excesses and sympathetic to its real wisdom. Hardly any can write clearly, rigorously and with vim and humour. A minority say things of importance to people outside the profession. Take these groups and arrange them in a Venn Diagram. Owen Flanagan sits in the very lonely space where they all overlap.
Such piquant praise! And as Flanagan himself writes in his book's Introduction:
Imagine Buddhism without rebirth and without a karmic system that guarantees justice ultimately will be served, without nirvana, without bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves, without Buddha worlds, without nonphysical states of mind, without any deities, without heaven and hell realms, without oracles, and without lamas who are reincarnations of lamas. What would be left? My answer is that what would remain would be an interesting and defensible philosophical theory with a metaphysics, a theory about what there is and how it is, an epistemology, a theory about how we come to know what we can know, and an ethics, a theory about virtue and vice and how best to live. This philosophical theory is worthy of attention by analytical philosophers and scientific naturalists because it is deep. ...
That's a fascinating vision. It echoes Stephen Batchelor (Buddhism Without Beliefs), Jon Kabat-Zinn, and others who try to cleave away silly mysticism and inspect the facets of what gem remains. Can the rest of Bodhisattva's Brain continue as powerfully? Will Flanagan succeed in his offer that, "... Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, delivers what Buddhism, possibly uniquely among the world's live spiritual traditions, promises to offer: no false promises, no positive illusions, no delusions." What's left for those who, again in his words, "Just say no to the supernatural."? We shall see ...
(cf. Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), ...) - ^z - 2013-04-20