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Introduction to Bodhidaoism

I. What is Bodhidaoism

1. The Definition of Bodhidaoism

Bodhidaoism is a personal non-religious worldview, built upon the foundations of philosophical naturalism and current scientific consensus, which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism into a coherent and evidence-based philosophical system. Bodhidaoism was created by philosopher and author Jay N. Forrest in 2017.

Bodhidaoism is derived from the Pali word bodhi, meaning “awakening” and the Chinese word dao, meaning “way”. So Bodhidaoism is the way of awakening. Awakening to what? Awakening to reality, the way things really are. Subjectively, it means awakening to the reality of our own mind, discovering how it creates its own unhappiness. And objectively, it means awakening to the reality of the Cosmos, understanding what is real and what is not.

2. The Explanation of Bodhidaoism

Bodhidaoism is a non-religious worldview. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2016) defines a worldview as, “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” Everyone has a worldview, it is the perspective from which one thinks. Like a pair of glasses, worldviews are things that we look through not look at.

By saying that Bodhidaoism is non-religious, we mean that it does not accept the existence of God or gods, nor any other supernatural things. In this sense it is like Humanism, being more a philosophy of life.

Bodhidaoism is build on the foundation of naturalism. Naturalism is the conclusion, based on the evidence, that the natural world is a closed system and that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. Therefore there is no support for supernatural explanations. Questions about what exists are basically scientific questions, rather than philosophical or religious questions. The particular form of naturalism adopted by Bodhidaoism is called Dualistic Naturalism. Naturalism holds that the Cosmos is one “harmonious and orderly system” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary). Dualistic means that this unity is manifested in duality. Taoism and the idea of the Yin and Yang is a good example of Dualistic Naturalism.

Bodhidaoism is also built on the foundation of current scientific consensus. Most religious systems get into trouble because they ignore or contradict science. Bodhidaoism is designed not just in harmony with science, but is built on it. Science is our best means of knowledge, and therefore, any worldview worthy of acceptance in the the modern world should be based on our best means of knowledge.

Bodhidaoism combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. Building upon the foundation of naturalism and science, we flesh out our worldview by combining it with the best insights of other systems. There are four that stand out, namely Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism.

Each has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, Buddhism has many valid insights into the mind and the importance of meditation, but it also includes such unscientific doctrines as karma and rebirth. Taoism has many valid insights into the nature of reality, a reality that is a unity manifested in duality. This is seen in the yin yang symbol. But Taoism also ended up incorporating ideas of immortality and deities. Stoicism is the philosophical inspiration for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the most evidence-based psychotherapies. But Stoicism believes in God, though it tends towards Pantheism. And Humanism, while denying the supernatural, affirms humanity’s “ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity” (Humanist Manifesto III). But it neglects the spiritual dimension of human experience.

Bodhidaoism takes all of these elements and tries to put them into a coherent and evidence-based philosophical system. The aim is to produce a modern-day worldview or philosophy of life. Coherence means that there are no contradictions in its system of beliefs. Saying that it is evidence-based means that beliefs are chosen, not by mere whim or personal bias, but by an honest assessment of the available evidence.

II. Muggles, Philosophers, and Sages

In most spiritual traditions you have a distinction between the wise and the fool. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says, “If, while on your way you meet no one your equal or better, steadily continue on your way alone. There is no fellowship with fools” (Fronsdal 2008, 17). The Bible says, “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14 NIV).

But in Bodhidaoism, I view this distinction as too harsh and too extreme. Things are rarely that black and white. Furthermore, calling someone a fool is overly harsh and gives the impression that there is no hope for the fool. It also paints the wise in too good of a light. There a very few that I would actually call wise. Rather, reality is more nuanced. There are the very unwise, the unwise, the slightly wise, the fairly wise, and the sage.

This is why I prefer dividing up people into muggles, philosophers, and sages. John Sellars draws a similar distinction, when he says that, “In between these two classes of the foolish majority and the rare sage, there is a third group, those who are ‘making progress’ (2009, 63). He calls this third group “lovers of wisdom.” A philosopher is literally a lover of wisdom. So if we change fool into muggle, you find my threefold division. But since I use these words differently from Sellars and common use, let me explain.

1. Muggles

The Online Etymology Dictionary (2010) tells us that the word muggle is “of unknown origin.” But it does note that it was used in 1926 to refer to “marijuana, a joint,” and was “apparently originally a New Orleans word.” But it was J. K. Rowling who popularized it. As the English Oxford Living Dictionaries (2017) explain, the word muggle was “used in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling to mean ‘a person without magical powers’.” It is now informally used to refer to “A person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.”

Bodhidaoism is the path of awakening. You are either on the path to awakening or you are not. There is no third option. If you are not on the path of awakening you are a muggle, you are uninterested and uninformed about the need for awakening. A muggle is someone who is uninterested and uninvolved in the process of awakening, and therefore, does not love and seek wisdom.

So there is a difference between a fool and a muggle. A fool, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2014) is “a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.; silly or stupid person; simpleton.” A muggle, on the other hand, may be smart and informed. A muggle may be intelligent, but is uninterested and uninvolved in awakening to the true nature of reality. The problem is not knowledge but vision. They don’t need more knowledge, they need new eyes.

Morpheus, from the movie The Matrix, probably said it best, “Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” Muggles ignore that feeling. They are not interested in discovering how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

The practical benefit of distinguishing muggles from those on the path of awakening is spelled out by the quote of the Buddha we referred to earlier, “If, while on your way you meet no one your equal or better, steadily continue on your way alone. There is no fellowship with muggles.” Muggles can be a distraction from the journey to awakening. They are interested in things that are unimportant and have views that are unenlightened. The Buddha said, “The deluded, imaging trivial things to be vital to life, follow their vain fancies and never attain the highest knowledge” (Easwaran 2007, 106).

2. Philosophers

Philosophy is the “love of wisdom,” a love that consumes one’s life in the pursuit of the beloved. Originally, remarks Pierre Hadot, “philosophy was a way of life” (1995, 265). This idea is, in the words of Jules Evans, “quite far from the contemporary academic model of philosophy, where students are taught a theory and then tested in that theory” (2012, 11). “Philosophy,” explains Pierre Hadot, “was a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual’s way of being” (1995, 265). In Bodhidaoism, that radical conversion is from being unaware and indifferent, to the pursuit of the wisdom to awakening to reality as it truly is. This is the life goal of the philosopher.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2016), the word philosopher in Greek is philosophos, meaning a “lover of wisdom.”. This love of wisdom includes the pursuit of wisdom. Many philosophers today fall short of this ideal. They are philomathes, not philosophers. Philomathes are a lover of learning and studying, not necessarily lovers of wisdom. They may be smart, but they are not wise.

In Bodhidaoism there are two kinds of philosophers, students and teachers. Both are lovers of wisdom who pursue a way of life that is conducive to gaining and apply wisdom. You are a muggle until you actually try to live wisely. Philosophers are not wise men and women, they are men and woman trying to live wiser day by day. They are imperfect and inconsistent. They may mistakes, But they are always learning and growing, becoming more aware and less judgmental. They are learning to be mindful and live in the present moment.

3. Sages

So what is a sage? The Chinese word is shen ren, referring to a person “of the highest virtue and respected, of great wisdom, has reached the highest and most perfect state of the human person, it sometimes specifically refers to Confucius” (Pattberg 2011, 67). But remember that Confucius was not recognized as a sage until after his death.

In Bodhidaoism, no one living is a recognized sage. A sage is like a Catholic Saint, only recognized as such after their death. There is a reason for this. Calling a living person a sage places them above others, grants them an authority they may or may not deserve, and induces people to stop questioning them. This is a dangerous place both for the sage and the student. We should learn from all, but cling to none.

If sages are so dangerous, why have them at all? For the same reason they are found in Stoicism. As Donald Robertson explains, “This concept of someone perfectly wise and good gives the aspiring Stoic direction, structure, and consistency in her practice” (2013, 112). However, the Stoics went too far in making the sage perfect beyond reality. The fact is that the ideal sage was “a fiction” that they “were doubtful” ever existed “in the flesh” (Robertson 2013, 112).

In Bodhidaoism, the sage is not perfect but very advanced and led an exemplary life. Each sage has faults and imperfections. The four most influential wisdom traditions on the formation of Bodhidaoism are Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. The foremost sage of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The foremost sage of Taoism is Laozi. The foremost sage of Stoicism is Socrates. And the foremost sage of Humanism is Confucius. More modern sages might include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama.

III. What Makes You Not a Bodhidaoist

Since Bodhidaoism is a new worldview in the making, it might be helpful to say what it isn’t. Sometimes explaining what something is not helps people get a better picture of what it is. To this end, let me explain what makes a person not a Bodhidaoist.

1. No Supernatural

A Bodhidaoist does not believe in the supernatural. Since there is no evidence for God, angels, heavens, and hells, a Bodhidaoist doesn’t believe in them. A Bodhidaoist holds that we should have good reasons for what we believe, especially in important matters such as what reality basically is.

Bodhidaoism is built upon the foundations of philosophical naturalism and current scientific consensus. Naturalism is the belief that the natural world is a closed system and that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. Naturalism is based on the evidence of the sciences. We have asked nature thousands of questions, in the form of experiments, and nature has never given us a supernatural answer. The logical reason that this would be the case is because there is no supernatural.

But Bodhidaoism is not dogmatic about this. You can’t prove that the supernatural doesn’t exist, because you can’t generally prove a negative. So Bodhidaoists don’t claim that the we know for certain that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but only that there are no good reasons to believe in it. So Bodhidaoists are nontheists rather than atheists. Nontheists withhold belief in God, while atheists claim that there is no God. (Most atheists are actually nontheists).

From a Bodhidaoist perspective, it is wrong to believe in the supernatural because we have no good reasons to believe in the supernatural. The natural world, on the other hand, we have ample evidence for. Our best and most reliable means of knowing the natural world is science. This is why Bodhidaoists are committed to the sciences.

2. Non-Institutional

A Bodhidaoist is not a member of a Bodhidaoist institution. Bodhidaoism has no priests, monks, nuns, churches, Sanghas, congregations, schools, or official leaders. It is private path and a personal spirituality that is completely the responsibility of the individual to practice and cultivate.

The problem with clergy and institutions is that they reduce or remove the responsibility of the individual. They are not all bad, they do offer a sense of community and belonging. They offer opportunities for learning, companionship, united effort, and cooperation. But Bodhidaoism is for the sole practitioner. Bodhidaoists, if they meet together, do so informally and as equal partners in waking up. They have no leaders, for all learn from each other.

In Bodhidaoism we recognize a threefold division of people according to their spiritual development. There are muggles who are not interested or engaged in the path of awakening, philosophers who are on the path of awakening, and the sage who has died, but who was far advanced on the path of awakening. We accept no living person as a sage.

3. Not Buddhists

Bodhidaoists are not Buddhists. We reject the Buddha’s teaching of rebirth, karma, and the six realms. It is not fair to Buddhists for us to hijack their label, even if we qualify it by calling it secular. As long as the label Buddhist is in it, all we teach will be judged by whether or not it is consistent with what the Buddha taught. We refuse to be put in the Buddhist box and recognize truth in other wisdom traditions besides Buddhism.

Although Bodhidaoism is not a form of Buddhism, it is greatly indebted to the teachings of the Buddha and the many Buddhist teachers that came after him. There is no doubt that the Buddha was one of the greatest psychologists of all time. But he was ignorant of modern science, and therefore mistaken about the nature of the world. Since we are not Buddhists, we have no obligation to defend his metaphysical positions.

4. Not Taoists

Bodhidaoists are not Taoists (Daoists). Taoism has many insight about living in harmony with the way (Tao) of nature. It gives us insights into unselfconscious spontaneous action or flow (wu wei). It teaches us about naturalness and virtue. But its most important teaching for Bodhidaoism is the yin (subjective) and yang (objective) aspect of our reality.

Dualist Naturalism is the view that there is one reality, the cosmos, but that it is manifested in dualities. As Alan Watts explains, “Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery – the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets – is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together” (2002, 10).

One of the important distinctions for any philosophy of life is the inside and outside of us humans. For us, the inside is the subjective world of the mind, and the outside is the objective world of the senses. This is something Existentialism emphasized.

We are also open to a pantheism restricted to the natural world. There is a sense that Nature is sacred for Bodhidaoists, and hence, one could say that the universe is divine. But terminology is an issue for many people, so I do not insist on calling Bodhidaoism a pantheistic belief. But it definitely leans in that direction.

But Taoism turned the Tao into a religion with beliefs in gods and immortality. So just like Buddhism, we reject the label Taoists and are not restricted to just one wisdom tradition.

5. Not Stoics

Stoicism has many similarities to Buddhism. At times, it almost seems as if Stoicism is a Western version of Buddhism. But the influence of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is also evident.

Bodhidaoism is not a form of Stoicism, but owes a debt to it. The whole idea of philosophy as a way of life, the idea of followers being call philosophers, and the importance of self-cultivation is drawn from Stoicism. Stoicism is one of Bodhidaoism’s main connections to the Western tradition. It is what helps bridge the gap between the East (Buddhism and Taoism) and the West (Stoicism and Humanism).

6. Not Humanists

Bodhidaoism could be considered a form of Humanism. Looking at the Humanist Manifesto III, let’s compare them. Just like Humanism, Bodhidaoism is a “progressive philosophy of life.” And just like Humanism, Bodhidaoism is “without theism and other supernatural beliefs.” But as Humanism aspires to “the greater good of humanity,” Bodhidaoism aims for the greater good of all living things. Here our commitment to the environment is explicit.

But rather than say that Bodhidaoism is a form of Humanism, it would be more accurate to say that it is a form of Spiritual Naturalism. Our ultimate concern is not the human race, but nature as a whole. We believe that being human-centered is part of the problem for our current environmental crisis. We must get past our self-centeredness and see the interconnected nature of reality.

7. Not a Closed System

Bodhidaoism is not a closed system that is set in stone. It is open to modification and revision, based upon the best evidence we have. Things that would be fatal to Bodhidaoism are supernaturalism and the denial of awakening.

Because Bodhidaoism is not a closed system, it is open to personal interpretation and modification. It is a personal philosophy of life that is to be customized to each person’s own journey and personality. You could consider it an open source philosophy. Saying it is “open source” means that it is something people can modify and share.

Bodhidaoism is not only committed to the physical sciences, it is also interested in neuroscience, psychology, and psychotherapy, especially Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Humanistic Psychology, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, EcoTherapy, and Positive Psychology. It seeks to incorporate the best that these and others disciplines provide. Besides Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism, Bodhidaoism also is influenced by Confucianism, Phenomenology, Charvaka, Existentialism, Pragmatism, and EcoSpirituality. We are also open to insights gleaned from secularized versions of supernatural traditions such as Christianity, Paganism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Hesychasm, Hermeticism, Sufism, Mysticism, and Native American traditions.

8. No Scripture

Bodhidaoism has no Bible and holds no writing as Scripture. Eventually I want to write a book bringing all my thoughts together, but the book will serve as a guide, not a bible. It’s only authority is what you give it. Question everything and everyone, follow the evidence. Be your own refuge. You alone are fully responsible for your life.

9. Not a Religion

Daniel Dennett’s working definition of religions is, “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought” (2006, 9).

First, Bodhidaoism is not a social system and has no social structures. Second, there is a rejection of the supernatural in all forms. Bodhidaoism is a philosophy of life based upon science, reason, and subjective experience.

Bodhidaoism is a spiritual philosophy not a religious system. One meaning of the word spirit is consciousness. So by spiritual I mean the expansion or deepening of awareness of union and communion with nature.

10. Not Scientism

Scientism is “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation” (Merriam-Webster.com). Science and spirituality deal with two separate arenas. Science deals with the objective world out there, spirituality deals with the subjective world of consciousness, the world within.

Jean-Paul Sartre says concerning Existentialism, “subjectivity must be our point of departure” (2007, 20). He says that, “Any theory that considers man outside of this moment of self-awareness is, at the outset, a theory that suppresses the truth” (2007, 40). All searching for the truth is done by persons, persons who are subjective. Science is great when dealing with things, but it is psychology and spirituality that deals with persons. We need both in balance, like the yin and yang of Taoism.

11. You Might Be a Bodhidaoist

If you believe that the natural world is all that exists, and you believe that there is a lot of unnecessary unhappiness in the world, and you believe that many wisdom traditions point us towards waking up to a life of lovingkindness, compassion and inner peace, then you might be a Bodhidaoist.

Many people prefer to work within a tradition and try to reform it. There is nothing wrong with that. Some people want to join an organized religion, and that is fine. But there are some of us who feel it is time to try something new. A path of one. Bodhidaoism is that new path.

If you believe in the basic principles of Bodhidaoism and engage in some spiritual practice of awakening, then you can call yourself a Bodhidaoist. If not, then find a path that fits you better. Bodhidaoism is not the way, it is a way. It is simply a way that learns from all, but clings to none.

IV. The Four Wisdom Traditions

There are four wisdom traditions that Bodhidaoism draws on for inspiration. They are Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. You will see that I list them in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance. Although Bodhidaoism takes its name from Buddhism (Bodhi) and Taoism (daoism), Stoicism and Humanism are just as important. I felt that listing them in chronological order was better than listing them in alphabetical order.

It should also be noted that just because I list only four wisdom traditions, I do not mean to imply that other traditions have nothing to say. Since I was educated in Christianity and sense the West is steeped in Judeo-Christian culture, it would be naive to think that it has no influence on me. Furthermore, I have also studied other spiritual traditions such as Neo-Paganism and Gnosticism, and they have insights to offer as well. My primary concern is to be true to my commitment to science and naturalism.

1. Buddhism (5th Century BCE)

Buddhism was started by a man named Siddhartha Gautama. Most scholars place him in the 5th century BCE. Scholars believe he was born in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu (near modern day Nepal), which was the capital of Shakya. His father was the ruler and stories tell of his attempt to shelter young Siddhartha from the harsh realities of life – old age, sickness, and death.

But he left his family on a quest for awakening and studied meditation from two Hindu masters, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. Although they helped him reach advanced states of tranquility, he did not find the awakening he sought. He then tried years of strict asceticism. This ended up to be more of a hindrance than a help, and he felt that a middle way between asceticism and indulgence was wiser.

It wasn’t until he was 35 years old that he discovered vipassana or insight meditation and experienced awakening. After this he gained the title of the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one.” Vipassana is a way of spiritual transformation through the non-attached observation of body, feelings, and mind states. It is commonly referred to today as mindfulness meditation. It is a method of learning how the mind causes its own unhappiness and how to stop it from doing this.

The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering which is clinging, the end of suffering, and the Eightfold Noble Path leading to the end of suffering. The Eightfold Noble Path includes Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. He also the three characteristics of existence: not-self, impermanence, and suffering.

2. Taoism (4th Century BCE)

The term “Taoism” is the older Wade-Giles method of rendering Mandarin Chinese into English. The newer and officially recognized method by the People’s Republic of China, is the Pinyin or Hanyu Pinyin system. In Pinyin it is “Daoism” instead of “Taoism.” However, most people in the West still know it as Taoism, and so I use that to speak of it. But note that I use the new Pinyin system in Bodhidaoism.

Unlike Buddhism, Taoism was not started by a single person. It began as a movement. Until recently, the Tao Te Ching was the oldest surviving writing of this movement. It was said to have been written by a man named Laozi (which literally means “old master”). But most scholars reject this. It is more likely that the Tao Te Ching is an anthology originating in late 4th century BCE.

Taoism can be divided between Philosophical Taoism (Tao Chia) and Religious Taoism (Tao Chiao). Some scholars object to this division, but it does represent a clear distinction between the naturalistic sense of early Taoism and the supernatural leanings of later Taoism. Taoism became an organized religion in 142 C.E. when Zhang Daoling founded the Way of the Celestial Masters. He claims to have received spiritual communications from the deified Laozi. To me, this was a corruption of the philosophy of Taoism and renders Taoism after this of limited worth.

Philosophical Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Way (Tao) of Nature. Taoism teaches the practice of wu wei, or effortless action, which is similar to Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow. It also encourages naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity. The Three Treasures of Taoism are compassion, frugality, and humility.

3. Stoicism (3rd Century BCE)

Stoicism began with a man named Zeno of Citium, who taught in Athens from about 300 BCE. It took its name from the Stoa Poikile or “the painted porch” where Zeno taught. Stories about Zeno say that he was a merchant. After surviving a shipwreck, he wandered into a bookshop in Athens and was read some writings about Socrates. When he asked how to find such a man as Socrates, he was directed to the Cynic Crates of Thebes. He studied many other philosophies until he started his own school.

The history of Stoicism can be divided into three phases, the Early, Middle, and Late Stoa. Unfortunately, only fragments survive from the Early and Middle Stoa. It is from the Late Stoa that we have Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics looked at philosophy as the art of living, not as an academic exercise or limited to intellectual puzzles. Philosophy was a way of life that affected every part one’s activities and relationships.

Stoicism aimed to provide a philosophy of life, a worldview, which would give a person a unified account of the world. It teaching was usually divided into three branches: logic, physics and ethics. It is its ethical teachings that are important today. It was based on four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. It laid great emphasis on reason and the need to live in agreement with Nature. It also taught people how to achieve happiness (Eudaimonia) through spiritual exercises. It was a very successful school, becoming the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

4. Humanism (20th Century CE)

Humanism is a modern philosophical and ethical system. Although the term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century, it was not until 1929 that modern Humanism began. At that time, Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York. The advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. In 1930 Charles Francis Potter and his wife Clara Cook Potter published Humanism: A New Religion.

The Humanist Manifesto was published in 1933 and marks the official beginning of Humanism as an organized movement. It says that, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.”

In the years that followed, Humanism took a turn towards dropping its original religious language and became more secular. It was itself “coming to terms with new conditions.” In its latest statement, the Humanist Manifesto III, it says that, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Humanism emphasizes ethics and looking to science rather than revelation to understand the world.

5. The Four Compared

It is interesting that the four wisdom traditions tend to be more complementary than contradictory. Many have noticed the similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism. And who can deny the similarities between Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The odd man out is Humanism. Humanism would deny the God of Stoicism, especially in the providence that they claimed for Deity. Humanism would also reject Buddhism’s claims of rebirth and cosmic karma. There are also aspects of Taoism, especially Religious Taoism that Humanism would reject.

But I contend that Humanism is right to reject them. “The time has come for…. Religions the world over [to come] to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.” But Humanism has been to reactionary, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It tends to be too human centered and neglects or denies the spiritual aspects of human existence. You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to know that there is a spiritual aspect to human existence, a need to connect with reality and find meaning and happiness.

Buddhism and Stoicism deal with becoming better and happier people. Buddhism does this by developing consciousness, Stoicism does it by developing reason. Humanism and Taoism deal with our relationship with reality. Humanism does it by a rational and scientific approach to the objective world, Taoism does it by personal and spiritual approach to the subjective world. Humanism is the yang, Taoism is the yin, but together they bring us into reality as it truly is.

Christianity has shaped the language and the social structure we live it. Paganism has shaped our superstitions and imagination. Both have positives and negatives from a Bodhidaoist perspective. There is no creator God or magical beings. But they influence us, our thinking and our lagangage. The keys is to become aware of these influences and be wise in dealing with them. Rejecting some, accepting some, and modifying others. Bodhidaoism is not a closed system, but is open to revision and modification as we receive further light. Evidence is our final authority.

V. The Four Disciplines

There are four disciplines that Bodhidaoism draws on for evidence and guidance. They are science, psychology, philosophy, and religion. I have listed them in the order of authority. Science is our most sure means of knowing the objective world. Psychology, and its various sub-branches, are the next surest means of knowing about the brain, behavior, and to a lesser extend the mind. Philosophy comes in as a close third to psychology, because a lot of psychology is philosophy. And last is religion, which is so diverse and contradictory that finding stable ground is hard.

Remember that Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. That means that the more naturalistic a religion is, the better and more evidence based are its conclusions. This means that Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are better are at reflecting the real world than Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But there are aspects of these, and other religions as well, that may offer insights into our relationship with nature, humans, and the universe.

1. Science

Science is, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2014), “systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.” As I have said, science is our most reliable means of knowing the objective world. Who can deny its success in explain the world? As Carl Sagan explains, “One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error correcting machinery at its heart” (1996, 27).

There are two major branches of hard science, the natural sciences and the formal sciences. The natural sciences include cosmology, geology, chemistry, and biology. The formal sciences include mathematics and logic. This is the source for our surest evidence about the world.

2. Psychology

Psychology is, according to the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016), “the study of the mind and behavior.” It includes psychology proper, and I would also include the other social sciences as well. This would include economics, political science, human geography, demography, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, jurisprudence, history, and linguistics.

The problem with psychology is that is part science and part philosophy of mind. And the parts are not always even. Freudian psychoanalysis has been largely discredited as a valid psychotherapeutic system. Most scholars agree that psychology is an infant science that is still struggling to become a full fledged science. Part of the reason is because psychology is trying to study the subjective mind. This is beyond objective observation and experimentation.

From a psychological perspective, phenomenology is an important help “in which mental events should be studied and described in their own terms,” to quote the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016). In other words, it attempts to understand the workings of the mind from the inside. In this sense, it has some similarities to Buddhism.

It should be noted that both Buddhism and Stoicism have had a major impact on psychology, being the inspiration for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This goes to demonstrate the psychological insights of both Buddhism and Stoicism. This is one of the reasons that these wisdom traditions are important to Bodhidaoism.

3. Philosophy

Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom.” Seneca said it best, “Philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom” (Letters 89.4-5; Long 1984, 160). It used to be about the art of living, but has become more specialized and disconnected from the world. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (1999) gives the best modern definition in its Preface, “philosophy is roughly the critical, normally systematic, study of an unlimited range of ideas and issues.”

Only philosophy and religion give a person an overall view of reality and life. A worldview, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary (1999), is “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” We need this to even function in the world. All people have one, but most are not aware of theirs. Most have a religious worldview, formed and shaped by a religion, usually Christianity in the United States.

The difference between religion and philosophy is that philosophy is more naturalistic and critical. It questions everything, sometimes to an extreme. Science grew out of philosophy, and was for centuries known as natural philosophy. Philosophy, then, is the birthplace of science. Until science answers a question, philosophy is out next best place to find answers.

4. Religion

Religion is defined by Daniel C. Dennett as, “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought” (2006, 9). It is this supernatural aspect is one of the things that corrupts the conclusions of any religion. The more the supernatural is present, the less reliable is the religion.

Another thing that corrupts the usefulness of any religion is the submission to authority. The founder said it, they believe it, and that settles it. Contrary evidence is either ignored, rejected, or reinterpreted to fit what they already believe. The founders authority condemns them to live at the level of the founders knowledge. Since most religions were founded before the age of modern science, these religions are old and out of date.

That means that anyone dealing with a religion must approach it with a critical eye. You must sort out the wheat from the chaff. We can see many trying to do this through secularizing their religion. We see this in Humanistic Judaism, Secular Christianity, Secular Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, Humanistic Paganism, and many others. This secularized version provide helpful insights into what a religion can offer once the supernatural is eliminated.

Bodhidaoism is not a religion, it has no social system and avows no belief in supernatural agents of any kind. It is a philosophy, a way of looking at the world through the eyes of science and philosophical naturalism. If religion was humankind’s first attempt at understanding the world, then Bodhidaoism is the updated version.

VI. Evaluating Wisdom Traditions

By wisdom tradition, I am including both religious and philosophical belief systems and practices. It should be obvious that not all wisdom traditions are true. The simple fact that they contradict each other is evidence enough of that. But the harder question is, how do you know what to accept and what to reject within a wisdom tradition. I want to answer that question now.

The simple answer is that it requires reason and skepticism. Reason helps to to think clearly and logically. But reason can be hijacked by blind acceptance of authority and tradition. That is why we need a healthy dose of skepticism. A questioning attitude is required to keep reason on the right track. We are aiming for truth, not the support of dogma.

Now in order to evaluate the beliefs and practices of a wisdom tradition, we need a criterion, a rule or test by which to judge them. Since our aim to to know the truth to the best of our ability, we must base our criterion on the available evidence.

1. Naturalism

Every belief and practice is seen through the filter of one’s particular worldview. It is impossible to not see things from a point of view. To think, we must think with a worldview. The worldview of Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. The bottom line of naturalism is that only the natural world exists, either as a single universe or a multiverse. This conclusion is based on substantial evidence that we will not discuss here.

Since Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism, that means that we believe that only the natural world exists. Because this is our guiding principle, that means that, when evaluating another wisdom tradition, our first question should be, “Is the belief or practice naturalistic?”

I specifically picked Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism as the four main traditions because they are more naturalistic than other wisdom traditions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are among the least naturalistic, and therefore were not chosen. But Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are not completely naturalistic. Therefore their beliefs and practices need to be carefully evaluated.

Take Buddhism for example. Buddhism talks a lot about gods and ghosts, rebirth, multi-life karma, after death Nirvana, and the six realms. All of this is supernatural, not naturalistic. Philosophical Taoism also drifts into supernaturalism sometimes when dealing with the Tao. And Religious Taoism jumps right into the supernatural, making Laozi a god, and adding many other gods and demons. Even Stoicism gets off track with some of their beliefs about God and Providence. None of this is really in harmony with philosophical naturalism. So we reject all of this.

2. Evidence

Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism because the evidence for the supernatural is non-existent. By evidence I mean empirical evidence, and inferences based on it. By empirical I mean that the evidence is based on experiment and observation, that is, science. Science tells us what exists. There is no better or reliable method of objective knowledge. Any belief or practice that contradicts science is wrong.

But science does not tell us about the subjective experience of the mind. This is the realm of introspection and reason. This is where the wisdom traditions come in. They help us form a spirituality, but which I mean the expanding and deepening of awareness of our union with reality. It is this subjective world that is the hardest to navigate. We begin with the scientific study of the brain and behavior, and move to introspection and intersubjectivity, which means evaluating experiences among many people. To these we add the tests of logical consistency, explanatory power, practical usefulness, and beneficial results.

So in evaluating a belief or practice we begin with science as the best evidence, then move to psychology and neuroscience, then to philosophy, and finally to spirituality (religion). Notice we move from the most objective evidence to the most subjective. Every belief or practice should go through this evaluation. Then we can assess the strength of the evidence for the belief or practice. Some beliefs or practices can be accepted, others rejected, and some we need to suspend judgment on until the evidence is sufficient.

3. Naturalized

As I have already indicated, Buddhism’s doctrine of rebirth, as it stands, cannot be accepted. We have no evidence that people are reincarnated. In fact, the evidence is against it. The mind is what the brain does, once the brain stops, the mind disappears. But does that mean that there are no insights in the rebirth teaching?

If a belief or practice is not naturalistic, the question becomes do we reject the belief or practice, or can we naturalize it? That is, can the belief or practice be reinterpreted to be naturalistic? We should try to naturalize a belief or practice for the sole reason that it may reveal a hidden truth.

Again, let’s look at rebirth. Is there any way that a part of us continues on after we die? The answer is yes, we continue in our DNA. The Buddha knew nothing of DNA, so maybe the fact that traits are passed down led him to believe that karma was true, and hence, rebirth. But this is not a very helpful interpretation for us.

Another reinterpretation is that our lives leave a lasting impact on the people and things we touch. We influence many lives, for good and ill, and this influence lives on after we die. We call this our legacy. Here is a more helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

One last reinterpretation, which is actually taught by meditation teachers, is that each day we are reborn. Everyday is the beginning of a new life. We are free to make today what we want. This is another helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

So if a belief or practice is not naturalistic, try to reinterpret the belief or practice into a naturalistic belief or practice. If you cannot naturalize it, or a naturalized version is not helpful, abandon it. There are plenty of beliefs and practices that are aligned with Bodhidaoism.

4. Coherence

Coherence, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2014), is “the quality of being logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible.” Not all the beliefs and practices of other wisdom traditions will be coherent within Bodhidaoism. A belief or practice should only be accepted if it cohere with Bodhidaoism. If a belief or practice does not fit in the Bodhidaoism system of beliefs, then it should not be forced to fit.

All the beliefs and practices of Bodhidaoism are suppose to be logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible. If they are not, then we have a problem. That problem needs to be solved, whether by modifying the belief or practice, or by rejecting it.

5. Likes and Dislikes

One of the criterion that is not included is our own personal likes and dislikes. Just because you like an idea doesn’t make it true. Likewise, just because you don’t like an idea doesn’t make it false. We are aiming at a worldview that matches reality, not creating a fantasy land.

This is the problem with the New Age movement. People shop the spiritual market place looking for little trinkets to add to their spiritual shelf. This is why they run from one guru to another, from one spiritual practice to another. They are looking for comfort, not truth. They want the next spiritual high, not the hard and painful road to self-transformation. They want better lives, not to become better people.

Awakening to Reality as it truly is, is not necessarily a pleasant experience. But what do we want, the truth or fantasy? Bodhidaoism is not the path for those interested in illusions and feel-good highs. It is for philosophers, lovers of wisdom, people who want to know the truth as best we humans can. That means that we follow the evidence, not whims and wants.

VII. How to Become a Bodhidaoist

Since Bodhidaoism is not a religion, there are no churches or temples to join. Therefore becoming a Bodhidaoist is simply a matter of belief. In other words, if you believe the basic principles of Bodhidaoism, you can call yourself a Bodhidaoist. It is that simple.

 

Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

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The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

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References

• American Humanist Association. (2003) “Humanist Manifesto III” https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/manifesto3/
• Dennett, Daniel C. (2006). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin Books.
• Evans, Jules. (2012) Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems. Novato, CA: New World Library.
• Fronsdal, Gil. (2008) The Dhammapada: Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
• Hadot, Pierre. (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Arnold I. Davidson, ed. Michael Chase, tr. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
• Long, A. A. and D. N. Sedley. (2003) The Hellenistic Philosophers: Volume 1 Translations of the Principle Sources, with Philosophical Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press.
• Pattberg, Thorsten. (2011) Holy Confucius! Some Observations in Translating sheng(ren) in The Analects. New York: LoD Press.
• Robertson, Donald. (2013) Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
• Sagan, Carl. (1996) The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.
• Sartre, Jean-Paul. (2007) Existentialism Is a Humanism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
• Sellars, John. (2009) The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy, Second Edition. London: Bristol Classical Press.
• Watts, Alan. (2002) The Tao of Philosophy. Mark Watts, ed. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing.

3 Comments

  1. This jibes with my worldview. Thanks for such a clear articulation.

  2. This was very interesting to read Jay – thanks for sharing. As you know, these four traditions form the basis of my own practice and I’ve spent the last 12 years studying their overlap so this comes as very fascinating to me. I’ve made some comments and thoughts about some elements of what you’ve written below:

    Karma & Rebirth:

    I accept karma and rebirth, and find them to be instrumental conceptions within a naturalistic practice. Rather than saying they are not true or real, I think instead the issue is overzealous or overstated claims and conclusions about the *nature* of karma and rebirth. Buddhism has within it, the provisions to be humble in approach to these dogmas such that the following interpretations could fit with such a person being fully legitimate to consider themselves Buddhist and not merely Buddhist-ish.

    http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/a-naturalistic-approach-to-buddhist-karma-rebirth/

    Stoic God:

    As you mentioned, Stoicisms ‘God’ can very easily be taken in a naturalistic sense and, in fact, was by even many ancient philosophers who were criticized by non-Stoics in their day as ‘theists in name only’. Therefore, such conceptions are not an ‘update’, ‘exception’ or ‘alteration’ of Stoic orthodoxy, but right at home.

    Sage:

    As a Stoic, I prefer the ‘Sage’ label be reserved for the ‘perfect example’, even if it never exists in nature. I think there is much utility in the model. And so, even the likes of Epictetus I would not claim to know is a Sage.

    In any case, it seems strange to call Socrates the foremost Sage in Stoicism. Stoicism was developed after him, along with many other of the Socratic schools. Therefore, while his immense wisdom inspired the many later developed systems of Stoicism, he himself was not truly a Stoic. Perhaps the founder, Zeno, or even Epictetus would be a better option. Even the much-read Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were not the best examples of a Stoic it seems to me. But, perhaps in your less perfect use of the term that is still ok.

    But if the effort to reserve Sagehood for the deceased is meant to be some kind of protection, I’m not sure it has any real capacity for such. Cults of personality or authoritarianism can spring up over the words of a figure long-since dead, just as easily as they can a living person. What is important, rather, are the principles of rational inquiry, healthy skepticism, and first-person experience to protect against such worship or blind acceptance. With these in place, the living status of any fellow teacher/learner becomes irrelevant.

    On the other end, I wonder if too much attention to categorizing people, especially as muggles, might lead us into the unfortunate self-fulfilling prophesy of them never being reached or helped. Or, that it might create unwholesome feelings of us/them, superiority, etc. It seems more helpful to me to simple ‘love all beings’ and consider dialogue and interaction in the Taoist sense, meaning everyone may or may not be ready for certain talk at certain times, and there is no telling where a planted seed may sprout.

    The Supernatural:

    On the supernatural, I don’t believe we can conclude “there is no supernatural” just because a connection to it and the rest of the closed system of Nature has never been discovered – or even that it may not exist. Place these arguments into symbolic logic and it will be quite clear that is an invalid conclusion. It is rather merely that, if it hasn’t been discovered (and especially if a connection doesn’t exist) then there is simply no way to make meaningful claims about it and therefore no reason to include it in our practice or concerns.

    Non-Institutional:

    I think it is healthy and appropriate not to have authoritative ‘gurus’ or innerrant messengers. But to not have a Sangha (spiritual community) seems extreme and potentially harmful. We are all responsible for our own practice to be sure, but we all need one another, as we are all both teacher and learner. The opportunity to help one another along is important to individual practice. We help one another through dialogue, support, encouragement, and by checking one another. Without that, it is easy for a practitioner to become stalled or fall into private dogma at best, or lose sight of reality at worst. There is no reason a spiritual community or Sangha cannot be one of equals. While there may need to be ‘logistical leaders’ in the sense of people responsible for managing facilities or whatnot, this should not be confused with ‘doctrinal leaders’ in the sense of feeding truth to others to ingest. A true spiritual community should encourage everyone to give and take wisdom as is right for them and by their own views and decision.

    “Not ____-ist”:

    It is interesting that we both have gravitated toward a practice that meshes Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. But where you seem to have envisionsed the product as an alternative to its inspirations, I tend to look on it as greater inclusion. It is the ‘and’ logical operator as opposed to the ‘not’ operator. I consider myself a Stoic and a Buddhist and a Taoist and a Humanist. Each of these traditions is vast, dynamic, and highly varied from person to person, region to region, culture to culture. It seems to me that the ‘takes’ of each of them necessary for them to consistently overlap without contradiction, each fit comfortably within all of these traditions such that the pracititoner has every justification to take on any of these terms without qualification or preceding adjective.

    This does not mean that new labels for particular ‘cocktails’ or recipes of traditions aren’t necessary too, but I see no reason for them to be exclusive. That would seem to gravitate too much of our dialogue toward the topic of “what I am not”, and the remaining deficit of focus on “what I am” would seem to have real and deleterious effects.

    Notes:

    It’s wonderful to read of an approach to combining these favorites of mine other than my own work – thanks for sharing! Incidentally, I created a number of materials related to the combination of these traditions and posted the handouts in our Archives back then SNS started. Here are the links in case they are any use to anyone. See “Local Chapter Resources” near the bottom of the page…

    http://spiritualnaturalistsociety.org/community/local-group-center/

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