Deeply Funny?

(Image: Tom Motley when he’s all spiffed up.) It is a little known fact, even among our philosophically sophisticated readers, that Heidegger argued for the supremacy of German humor. Because German jokes have the most precise underlying structure, he argued, German humor would rule the earth for a thousand years. (Sorry if you’ve already heard […]

Alan Watts on Buddhist and Christian Mythographies

Watch on YouTube. I liked the meta-discussion that kicked off the second PEL naturalized Buddhism episode, specifically on what knowledge we gain by assessing the supernatural “rules” contained within “religious” Buddhism. Even after rejecting a supernaturalist stance, there’s value in reviewing the form of life revealed within Buddhism’s supernatural tenets. In that spirit, I enjoyed Boddhisatva’s Brain most for its […]

What Does Depth Mean in Buddhism?

I’m writing this as an open letter to the DharmaRealm guys, but am hoping to garner some responses to this question from Buddhism fans of various stripes. To say someone is “deep” typically means that the person thinks long and hard about philosophical problems. It’s not a term that philosophers themselves tend to use about […]

Stephen Batchelor and Treatment of Magic on Buddhist Podcasts

In preparation for our Flanagan discussions, I listened to several episodes of both The Secular Buddhist and Buddhist Geeks. I still don’t feel like I’ve really at bottom decided what I think of either of them, but both have articulate hosts and interview lots of people apparently big in the Western Buddhist community (I can’t […]

More Voices on Buddhism and Science

If the dialogue between Buddhism and American intellectuals like Owen Flanagan is part of a fashionable trend, then it has to be one of the longest lasting fads in history. Henry David Thoreau published the Lotus Sutra in the first issue of The Dial in 1844. William James was absorbing Transcendentalist ideas at the family […]

Zen and the Brain

Watch on Vimeo One way to naturalize Buddhism is to discern the moral lessons it might offer after shedding its metaphysics. Another way is to scrutinize the physiological effects of its practices. As Owen Flanagan explained on PEL’s first “naturalized Buddhism” episode, not all Buddhist sects practice meditation. But of course, many do, particularly within the […]

Some Questions on Buddhism and Science

Check out this video: Buddhism and Science: A Brief History from The Berkley Center. Often reading Buddhism into science and vice-versa can be very misleading. This talk by Thupten Jinpa is in dialogue with David Lopez’s excellent book, Buddhism and Science: A Guide For the Perplexed. Dr. Jinpa pretty much states the historical Tibetan relationship […]

No Self, but a Subject?

At one time in Savatthi, the venerable Radha seated himself and asked of the Blessed Lord Buddha: “Anatta, anatta I hear said, Venerable. What, pray tell, does Anatta mean?” “Just this, Radha, form is not the self (anatta), sensations are not the self (anatta), perceptions are not the self (anatta), assemblages are not the self (anatta), […]

Flanagan on Buddhist Eudaimonia

So just what is the good life, according to Buddhism, according to Flanagan, according to this post I’m writing right now? (…According to the inner, private language that my attempts to write are meant to reflect, according to the reality as perceived which my inner words are attempting to express, according to the reality itself […]

Spirituality Without Religion? (James and Flanagan)

In the same way that Owen Flanagan wants to naturalize Buddhism by stripping its hocus-pocus, William James focused his attention on personal religious experience rather than the “smells and bells” of traditional institutions. As biographer Robert Richardson puts it, “much of what one usually thinks of as religion James rejects at the start”. James says […]

Now Taking Questions for Owen Flanagan on Buddhism and Science

We are currently scheduled to talk with Owen Flanagan about his book The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized. I’ll put up the formal “topic announcement” when I have a better idea what the discussion will focus on (i.e. after we actually interview him). For now, anyone who is already familiar with the book, or his work, […]

Topic for #53/#54: Buddhism and Science with Guest Owen Flanagan

In episode 53, the full four-man PEL crew spoke with Duke University’s Owen Flanagan, mostly about his book The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized, which has a number of aims: -To argue that supernatural beliefs can be removed (or “tamed”) from Buddhism and still leave an elaborate enterprise relevant to modern life. -To put Buddhist conceptions […]

Buddhism Naturalized?

Owen Flanagan

Given our recent exploration of moral theory, the excitement around our announcement of a Euthyphro episode and my own current interest in Buddhist thought, I guess it was inevitable that I would stumble across and then buy this book.  Or perhaps it was that Mark mentioned it in an email which I had overlooked.  In […]

Two Books about Zero

Following up on yesterday’s post about nothingness, here are two books, one by a scientist and another by a mathematician, about the origination and subsequent history of the mathematical notion of zero: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,by Charles Seife, and The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero,by Robert Kaplan. I’ve not […]

Alan Watts on Nothingness

I got a call for some Alan Watts in our Buddhism discussion, so here’s one of many clips of his from youtube that touches on a theme discussed on the episode (i.e. nothingness and the interdependence of opposite, plus a quick statement without much explanation of Big Self) and which has some good background music […]

B.S. about Jesus and Buddhism

Could Jesus have been taken to India as a child and taught Buddhism? Hmmm? Hmmm? Here’s something that apparently showed on the BBC at some point: Watch on youtube. OK, some silly speculation here (and more amusingly told in Christoper Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal),but a few points of comparison […]

Nagarjuna on Ultimate Truth (Yet More Westerhoff)

I will end my Westerhoff/Nagarjuna coverage with one more selection from right at the end of Westerhoff’s book: According to the Madhyamaka view of truth, there can be no such thing as ultimate truth, a theory describing how things really are, independent of our interests and conceptual resources employed in describing it. All one is […]

Nagarjuna on the Thing-in-Itself (More Westerhoff)

Our Nagarjuna episode seemed to conclude that ultimate reality is beyond our ability to speak about it. The objects of our experience are a shared fiction, and the most we can do with language is to show that they’re fictional; even the terms we use to accomplish this (like emptiness) are themselves constructs, serving only […]

Westerhoff on Nagarjuna on Metaphysically Basic Entities

One of the topics we didn’t really get into on the podcast, and which in our Buddhism reading I actually found the most interesting, is the metaphysics of basic elements of the world. Nagarjuna argues that reality has no ultimate foundation, and in the episode we discussed that in terms of the possibility of Cartesian […]

Buddhism and the “Ecological Self”

Alan Sponberg, in this article from the Western Buddhist Review, gives a nuanced picture of the Buddhist view of self, affirming the no-self view described on the podcast while arguing that the unity of sentient life under samsara provides a foundation for environmental ethics: Rather than reifying the prevailing sense of an autonomous self-interested individual […]

Dig that Funky Lotus Sutra!

I referred on the podcast to the over-the-top theatrics of the Lotus Sutra, and also that Nagarjuna’s “verses” were just that: verses meant to be memorized and sung. Well, here on youtube we have a recording of the Lotus Sutra (I have no idea how much of it; surely not the whole thing) memorized and […]

Nagarjuna speaks!

This cheeseball video (which I refer to in the podcast as the source of my pronunciations of “Nagarjuna” and “Madhyamika”) reveals that Nagarjuna had a midwestern accent and some goofy iMovie effects at his disposal. He likes using the same font as Avatar, too. And is that a ney flute I hear? Hell, yeah! My […]

Episode 27: Nagarjuna on Buddhist “Emptiness” (Citizens Only)


Primarily discussing “Reasoning: The Sixty Stanzas” and “Emptiness: The Seventy Stanzas,” by the 2nd century Indian Buddhist Nagarjuna. Is the world of our experience ultimately real? If not, does it have something metaphysically basic underlying it? For Nagarjuna, the answers are “no” and “no… well… not that we can talk about.” With guest Erik Douglas.

End song: “Nothing in this World” by by Mark Lint.

Buddhist Psychotherapy?

Having recorded our discussion on Buddhism but still feeling obligated here to plumb the depths of the web further for Freud-related material, I did a search for “Buddhist Psychotherapy” and came up with this site (part of “the complementary health information service at”) that demonstrates that, as Wes said, all of your talking cures […]