Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Feb 19, 2010 4:22 am

Zavk, I also value your 'rambles' but I'll interrupt with something closer to the OP:

Jill Bolte-Taylor was a neuro-anatomist who had a stroke and experienced some pretty strange things in the course of it. She eventually recovered from it well enough to describe some of them in this amazing talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Fri Feb 19, 2010 4:31 am

I'm glad you find it interesting too, Kim. I've been meaning to post again but I want to be mindful of the materials that I put in a public domain, given how I will be using these materials in my own work. BTW, www.ted.com is a fantastic site! Highly recommended! :twothumbsup:
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Fri Feb 19, 2010 6:38 am

OK, picking up from where I left off: I mentioned that the rise to cultural dominance of the 'science' of psychology in the 20th century solidified the notion of individualist spirituality and even opened up the space for the development of capitalist spirituality. Again, I will draw heavily on Carrette and King's work (see reference in previous post). But I would like to clarify some matters first with regards to 'psychology'.

------------------------------------

I'm starting with the premise that psychology cannot be unambiguously considered a 'science'. I think this is widely acknowledged, because if you simply look at the wiki entry, you'd see that it actually draws from different disciplines, from philosophy to anthropology to sociology. Yet, as a general category of knowledge, it asserts a kind of cultural dominance that certain sciences have. I would suggest that this is because of psychology's ideological links with capitalism.

Now, I have to stress here that I am NOT suggesting that there is some secret agenda behind psychology or that some mastermind is 'manipulating' psychology. Nor am I trivialising the real psychological problems facing individuals and societies. Nor am I denying the benefits of psychology--I have benefited from psychology myself when I experienced a bout of depression some years ago.

In saying that psychology has ideological links with capitalism, I am merely pointing out that as a broad category of knowledge, psychology does not exist in a vacuum. It is conditioned by the historical, social, and political contexts in which it operates. And arguably, the rise to cultural dominance of psychology in the 20th century occurred in a North American context. It is in this context that psychology produced a very powerful way of thinking about the individual, a notion of the 'self' that dovetails with capitalism.

To better illustrate what I'm saying, we could borrow the reasoning behind the Buddhist teachings about the khandas or aggregates. Let's think of psychology as an aggregate. And likewise, let's think of the early 20th North American context as composing of two aggregates, one political the other economic: liberalism and capitalism. So if we think about the interplay of these aggregates:

    (Psychology: emphasis on individuation, self-actualisation, etc)

    +

    (Liberalism: emphasis on individual rights, minimal government intervention, etc)

    +

    (Capitalism: emphasis on free market, private ownership, etc)

    =

    A notion of a 'self' defined by freedom of choice--and this freedom of choice is overwhelmingly oriented in consumerist terms. Hence, a very powerful model of an individualist, self-contained, CONSUMING SELF emerges out of the interplay of these aggregates. Under the conditions of these aggregates, the 'self' is reduced to a consuming unit rather than as a dynamic part of wider society.

------------------------------------

Again, I want to point out that I'm looking at psychology as a broad category of knowledge--as a powerful way of thinking about ourselves that is widely accepted in developed societies, even by people who do not expertise in psychology. Hence, I fully acknowledge that this may not apply to developing societies. I also fully acknowledge that there are various strands within psychology that may in fact challenge this model of the self-contained individual.

Nevertheless, as a kind of broad framework or aggregate, it is not unreasonable to say that psychological knowledge has contributed to this notion of the self, and that this notion of the self is linked to capitalist ideologies.

To illustrate the compatibility between psychology and captialism, we could think of Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations who first recognised the value of psychoanalytic insights in the shaping of public opinion. For example, the 'bacon and eggs' breakfast was popularised by Bernays, such that it now becomes so 'natural': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_breakfast

Again, I want to stress that I am not suggesting the Bernay's was some kind of mastermind. This is merely to illustrate the interplay of the two aggregates of psychology and capitalism, to illustrate how certain conditions allowed for a partnership between psychology and capitalism--and conditions being conditions belong to no one; there is no 'mastermind' manipulating these conditions.


OK, I've written too much as usual. But with this out of the way, we can begin to look at how psychology helped to solidify individualist/consumerist spirituality.

To be continued...
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Wed Feb 24, 2010 5:26 am

Right, the psychologisation of religious experience....

Carrette and King (see previous posts) regard William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) as a major influence on the development of individualist/capitalist spirituality. James' attempts to read religious experience in terms of inner psychical processes would influence later psychological thinking. He wrote:

I propose to ignore the institutional branch entirely ... and to confine myself as far as I can to personal religion pure and simple. Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.


Note here that James openly acknowledged the 'arbitrary' nature of his analysis. He was merely trying to find an effective way of describing subjective religious experience. Later figures, however, extrapolated from his interpretation a moral-political claim. For example, in The Individual and His Religion (1950), Gordon Allport described religion as 'immature' and privatised spirituality as 'mature and healthy'. What was for James a question of analysis had become for Allport a question of pathology.

Another influential figure is, of course, Abraham Maslow. He popularised such ideas as ‘self-actualisation’, ‘peak-experience’, and ‘Being-cognition’ which would greatly shaped individualist spirituality. Being mindful that Maslow was writing in post-WWII America (a period of economic boom for the country), Carrette and King suggest that his ideas echoed the privileges of a wealthy culture. They even suggest that his famous 'hierarchy of needs' was more a hierarchy of 'capitalist wants' (p. 76).

Now, I must stress here that I am not dismissing the usefulness of Maslow's work. His ideas may be useful for many people. Nor am I demonising people who happen to be born into a wealthy culture. What I am highlighting here is that Maslow's ideas about spiritual development should not be taken for granted. The 'hierarchy of needs' is not a transcendent model of human development that can be universally applied to all. If it resonates well with individuals in developed capitalist societies, it is because it derives from (and therefore suits) the environment in which those individuals are situated. It is not difficult to see how Maslow's ideas suited a capitalist environment. His ideas have been widely adopted by businesses for their motivational qualities. And Maslow himself, after spending time in a Silicon Valley company, even remarked approvingly how effective his ideas were for corporate culture. There are, however, implications to conceptualising spirituality in this manner and in linking spiritual development to such goals.

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, spirituality is at the top; it comes after individuals have attained a certain level of material security. But if we think about those societies that have produced many religious traditions and spiritualities--countries like India for example--it becomes clear that spirituality need not develop out of or come after material security. In fact, in countries like India, spirituality has developed in spite of poverty and suffering. In fact, we might even argue that the spiritualities in India developed in response to the lack of material security.

If we take such psychological readings of spirituality as a given--as THE way to interpret spirituality--it becomes easy to misperceive that spiritual development and material gain are intrinsically linked. It becomes easy to misperceive that spiritual and material gain are oriented towards the same 'finishing line', so to speak. But this clearly not the case if we consider the history of spirituality and also consider the case in societies that are not wealthy or materially advanced. The most pernicious effect of taking for granted the idea that spiritual development and material gain go hand-in-hand is that it becomes easy to overlook, if not encourage, the underlying tendency of craving. It becomes easy to misperceive self-centredness as spiritual development. As far as Buddhism goes, this is a surefire recipe for suffering.

OK, will give specific examples of individualist/capitalist models of spirituality and also discuss how they misappropriate Buddhist ideas in the next post.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby appicchato » Wed Feb 24, 2010 6:32 am

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:42 am

zavk wrote:Right, the psychologisation of religious experience....
... James' attempts to read religious experience in terms of inner psychical processes would influence later psychological thinking. He wrote:

I propose to ignore the institutional branch entirely ... and to confine myself as far as I can to personal religion pure and simple. Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.


Note here that James openly acknowledged the 'arbitrary' nature of his analysis. He was merely trying to find an effective way of describing subjective religious experience. Later figures, however, extrapolated from his interpretation a moral-political claim...

Another influential figure is, of course, Abraham Maslow. ...
According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, spirituality is at the top; it comes after individuals have attained a certain level of material security. But if we think about those societies that have produced many religious traditions and spiritualities--countries like India for example--it becomes clear that spirituality need not develop out of or come after material security. In fact, in countries like India, spirituality has developed in spite of poverty and suffering. In fact, we might even argue that the spiritualities in India developed in response to the lack of material security.

If we take such psychological readings of spirituality as a given--as THE way to interpret spirituality--it becomes easy to misperceive that spiritual development and material gain are intrinsically linked. It becomes easy to misperceive that spiritual and material gain are oriented towards the same 'finishing line', so to speak. But this clearly not the case if we consider the history of spirituality and also consider the case in societies that are not wealthy or materially advanced. The most pernicious effect of taking for granted the idea that spiritual development and material gain go hand-in-hand is that it becomes easy to overlook, if not encourage, the underlying tendency of craving. It becomes easy to misperceive self-centredness as spiritual development. As far as Buddhism goes, this is a surefire recipe for suffering.

Hi, Zavk,
Thanks for the latest instalment.
As a baby-boomer with a long-standing interest in these areas, I came across Maslow years ago and pretty much took his 'hierarchy of needs' as commonsense. It's good to see it critically examined.
I do think you need to discriminate, though, between errors which are built into his world picture and errors which are simply not in conflict with it. I think the link between spirituality and material gain is one of the latter, not the former. After all, the hippies were anti-consumerist but still loved Maslow and his fellow-travellers. (It has been a long time - does Esalen fit in here?) It really isn't so much 'the idea that spiritual development and material gain go hand-in-hand' as the idea that you need a certain amount of confidence in your food and shelter before you can spend much time on religion.
That thought, in turn, weakens (though it doesn't destroy) your contrast between India and the West: any society with reasonable stability and a tiny food surplus can devote that surplus to religion/spirituality, the arts and/or learning, which is exactly what we see from ancient Greece across to China and Japan.
Getting a bit speculative here (shoot me down if you like): if that surplus really is tiny, most people have very little time for religion or learning, and supporting a learned elite (which they then become dependent upon for knowledge and spiritual direction) may be the best use of scarce resources. Bingo! 'Religion' (in your definition), not individual spirituality.
:thinking:

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:52 am



Interesting, Ven. But my first reaction whenever I read such things (as the journalist notes too), 'To what end?'
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Wed Feb 24, 2010 12:28 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:As a baby-boomer with a long-standing interest in these areas, I came across Maslow years ago and pretty much took his 'hierarchy of needs' as commonsense. It's good to see it critically examined.
I do think you need to discriminate, though, between errors which are built into his world picture and errors which are simply not in conflict with it. I think the link between spirituality and material gain is one of the latter, not the former.


Hi Kim

It's almost bed time for me so hopefully I've read your post correctly.

I'm certainly in no position to comment on the errors in Maslow's ideas, given I have not studied his work. In fact, I'm sure his work is rigorous and that his ideas are internally consistent. What I am suggesting is that if Maslow's ideas resonate with individuals--if they seem commonsensical to us--they are not inherently so. This is not to say that his ideas are wrong as such, but simply that their truth status is enabled by certain conditions. And to that extent, I think it is useful to be mindful of what provided the conditions for his ideas and what his ideas in turn condition (regardless of whether he meant for them to have those effects or not).

I should also clarify that I am not suggesting that Maslow linked spiritual development to material gain. I had skipped over some bits of Carrette and King's arguments. But I was trying to keep the post from becoming too long. What I was highlighting (drawing on Carrette and King's argument) is that Maslow's ideas opened up the way for, contributed to the conditions for spiritual development to be associated with material/individualist gain. I point out Maslow not because he single handedly caused the trend to happen, but because his work created 'reverberations' that allowed for 'spirituality' to be oriented in individualist and consumerist terms. These reverberations can be identified in various New Age and self-help discourses, for example.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby appicchato » Wed Feb 24, 2010 2:39 pm

zavk wrote:'To what end?'


By the looks of things, not a good one... :popcorn:
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Feb 24, 2010 10:08 pm

zavk wrote:Hi Kim
It's almost bed time for me so hopefully I've read your post correctly...

Well, you responded well to the first part of my post :smile: although 'if [Maslow's ideas] seem commonsensical to us--they are not inherently so. This is not to say that his ideas are wrong as such, but simply that their truth status is enabled by certain conditions,' does read like a late-night construction.

Any comment on the remainder of my post?

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:06 am

Hi Kim

Yes, I did read the second part of your post. But it was late and I wanted to give myself more time to ponder on it before responding. You wrote:

Kim O'Hara wrote:It really isn't so much 'the idea that spiritual development and material gain go hand-in-hand' as the idea that you need a certain amount of confidence in your food and shelter before you can spend much time on religion.
That thought, in turn, weakens (though it doesn't destroy) your contrast between India and the West: any society with reasonable stability and a tiny food surplus can devote that surplus to religion/spirituality, the arts and/or learning, which is exactly what we see from ancient Greece across to China and Japan.
Getting a bit speculative here (shoot me down if you like): if that surplus really is tiny, most people have very little time for religion or learning, and supporting a learned elite (which they then become dependent upon for knowledge and spiritual direction) may be the best use of scarce resources. Bingo! 'Religion' (in your definition), not individual spirituality.


As I see it, you are clarifying the logic behind Maslow's idea. What you have written does make sense, and it's more or less how I've understood the general principles of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But what struck me about this explanation is the way that the notion of 'surplus'--which also posits profit/loss--is woven into his ideas as an axiom. This is not unique to Maslow, of course. This evaluative framework of profit-loss-surplus is something that most modern folks take as a given, as common sense.

Nevertheless the question remains: Why should this be so? Why should this framework of profit-loss-surplus be so readily taken as a given? Why does it seem so commensensical?

In a way, it is 'common sense' because it appears to reflect the conditions that we live in; profit-loss-surplus reflects the conditions of the modern world. Sure, I don't deny that. But is not too hard to see that the conditions of the modern world are recent developments. To this extent, this framework is also a recent development. If is commonsensical it is only so under modern conditions. This framework of profit-loss-surplus is enabled by the development of such conditions as industrialisation, the modern liberal state, and capitalism--and these conditions only developed in the past 200-300 years. So to this extent, while it may seem reasonable to us modern folks to think of religion/spirituality in ancient Greece, China, Japan, etc, in terms of 'surplus', I suspect that such an explanation would be quite strange to them.

This is what I was pointing to when I say that 'if [Maslow's ideas] seem commonsensical to us--they are not inherently so. This is not to say that his ideas are wrong as such, but simply that their truth status is enabled by certain conditions'.

This is not some abstract argument. It can be observed fairly easily if we consider how in pre-modern times it was commonsensical for people to accept the rule of the king as a given, as common sense, because it was supposedly 'Heaven's Will'. But with changing conditions--with the scientific revolution, the decline of the Church, with widespread literacy, etc--it became commonsensical to stress the rights of the individual. The 'truth status' of the king became implausible. Or we could also consider how not too long ago, it was commonsensical to see homosexuality as an abnormality--indeed, in pevious centuries homosexuals were locked away in asylums to be treated. But with changing conditions, this idea of 'homosexuality=abnormality' lost its 'truth status'.

Coming back to Maslow... Given how Maslow was writing in a post-WWII context, the framework of profit-loss-surplus worked its way into his ideas as a given. This framework is reinforced by 'the hierarchy of needs'. Whether he deliberately chose to reinforce this framework or not is besides the point. Maslow is situated within particular socio-cultural conditions, and the assumptions that exist under those conditions will influence his work, to some degree or another. And when his work is adopted by others who are situated within the same conditions, the framework of profit-loss-surplus is then further reinforced and continues to be taken as a given.

So I do not deny that Maslow's idea's makes sense. But what I'm trying to point out is that certain frameworks (of profit-loss-surplus, for instance) are carried forward in his ideas. This framework is not self-evident but historically conditioned. There are wider implications if we simply take this framework as a given, as a kind of transcendent principle, because it is not. One of the implication is that it becomes easy to associate spirituality with personal profit, as some people do even if Maslow did not intend for it to be so.

What I'm trying to draw attention to with these posts (and hopefully it becomes clearer when I post specific examples later) is how the framework of profit-loss-gain has in recent history been continuously taken for granted, and as a result, 'spirituality' in contemporary times has been pigeonholed into this framework. More precisely, I wish to ask, 'What are the implications when 'spirituality' is narrowly defined in such terms?'
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:54 am

zavk wrote:Hi Kim
You wrote:

Kim O'Hara wrote:It really isn't so much 'the idea that spiritual development and material gain go hand-in-hand' as the idea that you need a certain amount of confidence in your food and shelter before you can spend much time on religion.
...

As I see it, you are clarifying the logic behind Maslow's idea. What you have written does make sense, and it's more or less how I've understood the general principles of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But what struck me about this explanation is the way that the notion of 'surplus'--which also posits profit/loss--is woven into his ideas as an axiom. This is not unique to Maslow, of course. This evaluative framework of profit-loss-surplus is something that most modern folks take as a given, as common sense.

Thanks, zavk.
The bits I have bolded mark the point at which we diverge. I'm not sure if I'm misreading you, or vice versa, but when you conflate 'surplus' with 'profit and loss' (which to me means capitalism), you are not talking about the situation I was talking about.
My point applies to any society from hunter-gatherers up to and including feudal-style subsistence farming societies and poor capitalist societies. It's not about profit at all, just about having enough to eat that some people can sometimes afford time to do things other than produce food.
If I understand you correctly, you're more concerned with the effects of rich-western-society consumerism.
And Maslow? I think his position was more like mine (though it has been so long that I'm not sure), even if it has been misinterpreted into justifying what worries you.

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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:38 am

Hi Kim

The reason I associate 'surplus' with 'profit' and 'loss' is because of a particular philosophical view I take on the nature of language/meaning/sense-making/conceptuality. As I see it, the very notion of 'surplus' already presupposes the notion of 'deficit'. 'Surplus' has no meaning without its opposite 'deficit'. Given the view I have on language/conceptuality, I'm also inclined to think that our contemporary understanding of 'surplus' cannot be easily disassociated from wider understandings of profit and loss in contemporary societies. But that's just one particular point of view; it is certainly contestable.

In any case, yes, it appears that our views diverge at a certain point. I do not agree that Maslow's explanation--i.e. that spiritual development is best pursued after attaining a certain level of material security--can be used to unambiguously account for all situations. For me, his model of human development is a product of our modern historical circumstances. And to that extent, I do agree that it does offer a compelling and cogent argument. But at the same time, for reasons I've stated above, I prefer not to universalise his argument.

I should be clear, though, that I'm not saying that basic material security was irrelevant to pre-modern people (they obviously needed food and shelter to survive!); I'm just saying that the linking of material security with spiritual development cannot be easily applied to pre-modern contexts.

Thanks for your feedback.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:26 am

Just quickly -- did Maslow say ' that spiritual development is best pursued after attaining a certain level of material security,' as you say, or, ' that spiritual development cannot be pursued before attaining a certain level of material security', as I have always understood?
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:47 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Just quickly -- did Maslow say ' that spiritual development is best pursued after attaining a certain level of material security,' as you say, or, ' that spiritual development cannot be pursued before attaining a certain level of material security', as I have always understood?
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Hmmm.. I've always interpreted his argument as the former--that spiritual development will be hampered unless one has a certain level of material comfort. But you're right, it could very well be the latter.

Just had a quick look on wikipedia... In the section 'Criticism', apparently the idea of a hierarchy has been called into question. There is also apparently an essay by sociologist Geert Hofstede entitled, 'The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept', which argues about that the ethnocentricity of the concept. So it appears this is one of those issues that is debatable--which probably is a good thing, because that's how 'theory' should be.

In any case, what I'm concerned about is not so much the intricacies of his theory but to be mindful of the ethical and political consequences that result when his ideas are applied this way or that way.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:17 am

Had a quick look at Hofstede's article. He argues that

... the ordering of needs in Maslow's hierarchy represents a value choice--Maslow's value choice. This choice was based on his mid-twentieth century US middle class values. First, Maslow's hierarchy reflects individualistic values, putting self-actualization and autonomy on top. Values prevalent in collective cultures, such as "harmony" or "family support", do not even appear in the hierarchy. Second, the cultural map of Figure 2 [in the article] suggests even if just the needs Maslow used in his hierarchy are considered--the needs will have to be ordered differently in different culture areas (p. 396).


I haven't studied Maslow's work as Hofstede had. But I agree with him. I want to stress that this is not to demonize Maslow or to dismiss individuals who find his ideas useful. It is simply to draw attention to the fact that certain values and assumptions are interwoven into his ideas. And because these values and assumptions are culturally specific, his ideas about the quality of life cannot be used as a universal standard to account for human development everywhere. (Having said that, it does offer a good account of my experience--but then I live in an advanced capitalist society and have middle-class aspirations, even though I do not necessarily have the means to meet those aspirations. :embarassed: )

For me, I am interested in how these values and assumptions (deriving from the logic of individualism and US middle class culture) have, through the influence of Maslow's work, come to define contemporary understanding of spirituality (in which Buddhism is implicated). Will try to post examples tonight.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:33 am

Hi Ed

zavk wrote:For me, I am interested in how these values and assumptions (deriving from the logic of individualism and US middle class culture) have, through the influence of Maslow's work, come to define contemporary understanding of spirituality (in which Buddhism is implicated). Will try to post examples tonight.


Nice!
It might be worth mentioning, and I am sure you know this, Maslow was a management theorist. So I think its interesting that Maslows ideas, originally developed for organisational development, have been adopted as some sort of near-universal meme in western social culture.
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby zavk » Thu Feb 25, 2010 10:03 am

Hi Ben

Yeah... Given that in the past thirty years or so (especially after the collapse of the Iron Curtain) neo-liberalism has become the overriding global political economic order--one in which corporate interests dominate more and more areas of life--it is perhaps not surprising that organisational ideas have become so important.

----------------------

Anyway, here is an some example of individualist/consumerist spirituality that misappropriates Buddhist ideas.

Carrette and King look at the example of Stephen Russell aka The Barefoot Doctor, self-help guru who draws on Taoist/Buddhist/Shamanist/Humanist outlooks. They quote the back cover of Russell's book Liberation: The Perfect Holistic Antidote to Stress, Depression and Other Unhealthy States of Mind:

Freedom is found within. Your shackles are your own internal struggle—your angst and anguish, your worries about money, your frustrations, your greed, your self-limiting thoughts, and your fears keep you from being free. But if you're willing to take a chance, to go out on a limb and download this text onto your inner hard-drive[, you hold the key to liberation in your hand.


What Russell says about anger, worries, etc, is not wholly incompatible with the Buddhist teaching about the need to become aware of and let go of unwholesome mindstates. Russell continues to offer more Buddhist-inspired wisdom about the primacy of the mind in shaping our experience:

People treat you according to what you unconsciously project from within. If you're feeling oppressed by others, someone in particular, a group or the world in general, it is because you are oppressing yourself and projecting the resulting oppressive energy on them. As soon as you stop oppressing yourself, others will stop oppressing or stop appearing to oppress you. When you stop oppressing yourself, no matter how oppressive the situation you may currently find yourself in, you will no longer feel oppressed by it (quoted in Carrette and King, p. 106)


Russell appears to be offering sound spiritual advice: one should not encourage unwholesome, one should be kind to oneself. These ideas are all evident in Buddhism. But what he DOES NOT mention is the teaching about not-self. In fact, he teaches something opposite when he suggest that readers recite this daily mantra:

I am free to do whatever I choose. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.


He ignores the bits about not-self and craving, and reorientates Buddhist teachings about the self in individualist terms. Here, we see how he turns the teachings about the self into a single-minded pursuit of 'wants':

...do what you can do get what you want, while watching from within the inner dialogue that goes on incessantly about what, who, where and you want what you want and what it feels like once you've got it, while reminding yourself it is all theatre, and behind all the longing, for no matter what or whom, is the longing to be home, to be at peace with yourself (quoted in Carrette and King, p. 112).


Buddhism does teach that our experience of the world is an illusion, but this is something else altogether. Slavoj Zizek, a prominent political philosopher, has made the following criticism about so-called 'Western Buddhism's'. He argues that Buddhism's meditative stance:

enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always with-draw


Now, he has obviously misunderstood Buddhism. But IF we read his argument as a criticism not so much of Buddhism but of misappropriations of Buddhism (like Russell, for instance), then he is actually making a good point--in fact, he raises an important cautionary note.

Now to finish this post with one final piece of wisdom from Russell:

Competitiveness is what fuels evolution, let alone a free market economy. And it would be misguided to see it as a Western disease. Having trained for 30-odd years in Chinese martial arts, I can tell you that no one is as competitive as the Orientals. The difference is that, under the influence of Taoism and Buddhism, learned to use their competitive energy with things that count. Hence it would be unlikely to find three Triad members seeing who can last longer in the sauna in Gerrard Street. They'd rather use the energy to see who can win most money at cards after they have showered off (quoted in Carrette and King, p. 113)


:shock:
With metta,
zavk
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:10 pm

Hi, Zavk,
Does Stephen Russell peddle his hokum as 'Buddhism' or as his own invention?
If the latter, abusing him for misrepresenting Buddhism is a bit unfair, even if calling his stuff 'junky pop psychology' is, IMO, fair.
At this point in the conversation I have lost a sense of where you're going ... my turn to admit tiredness :zzz:
I'll come back refreshed.

:namaste:
Kim
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Re: Links to Spirituality Found in the Brain

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:38 pm

To be fair Russell does not peddle his Feng Shui twaddle as Buddhism. He does peddle it however as Daoism. Complete with his own range of joss sticks and other Feng Shui goods. And of course as Daoism outside of its Chinese origins seems to mean exactly what any given " pracitioner " of it decides it is, it would be hard to disprove that he is teaching Daoism. Its all mist and octagonal mirrors...
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