The study of persons is psychology;
Psychology is a science;
Therefore, the study of persons is a science.
I am sure this subject is a great deal more complicated than that. I studied Psych at the University of Sydney which at the time was entrenched in a form of behaviourism (a.k.a. "pulling habits out of rats" .) Being spiritually inclined, I wouldn't have a bar of it. B.F. Skinner became my pet hate (along with Freddie Ayer). Needless to say, I did not do well in psych, although I did meet a nice girl there, to whom I am still married 27 years later, so I got something out of it.
But my general feeling about the so-called science of psychology is that its only worthwhile exponents are those intelligent and sympathetic individuals who are able to use scientific rigor to develop a theory and organise their thoughts on the subject. I refer to writers such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow (who of course I loved), Erich Fromm (ditto), Erik Erikkson, and a few others. All those dreadful men in white coats, Skinner, Watson, and the like, strapping the human psyche into the procrustean bed of analytical statistics, are rather like a de-fanged version of concentration camp medical attendants in my view.
Later I edited the Australian edition of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology for several years. This has now morphed into the Integral movement, and I am out of touch with them. But they did capture the indispensable dimension of spirituality in their profile of the psyche, without which there is no foundation for the discipline at all in my view.
This led on to a mention of Buddhism, and a reference to an interesting article by Sam Harris:
Shambhala Sun - Killing the Buddha
In message #79 of the thread on the BBC message board:
BBC - MESSAGE BOARDS - Radio 4 - Richard Dawkins' Fundamentalism - Conversation
I identified what I took (and still take) to be a non sequitur
in Harris's argument.
The conversation was cut short, and I haven't had the opportunity to pursue the argument any further; however, I remain very interested in the form which a "progressive, non-dogmatic understanding of the mind" might take.
In message #39 of that thread, I had written:
and, to the first part of that sentence, someone had immediately replied:
The conversation appeared to be moving into an interesting and fruitful area, which is why it was so frustrating that it was cut off [is that the root meaning of "frustrated"? - I forget], prompting me to look for a philosophical forum where I could discuss this issue, in particular (as well as others, of course).
In message #68 of the thread, I had written:
That was before I ran into what I considered to be the non sequitur
of Harris assuming that there could be a "scientific
account of the contemplative path" (my emphasis) which would "utterly transcend its religious associations".
The syllogism I invented here earlier reminded me of the fallacy I believed to exist in what Harris was saying.
But I was already thinking of referring to that article, and the conversation on the BBC message board, to give a slightly clearer idea of what kind of interest I have in philosophy.
I haven't re-read Harris's article, and it's possible that I'm misrepresenting it, or otherwise indulging in some logical fallacy of my own.
Anyway, I will probably start a thread about this issue in one of the other forums here.
I glanced at the Harris article. I can't differ with his endorsement of Buddhism, but as always his anti-religious zeal eclipses whatever usefulness he might otherwise have.
The question of whether Buddhism is 'a religion' or not is a large one, and won't be settled in a few posts, but here are some observations.
I agree with Harris that the principles of Buddhism can actually be applied scientifically, but with a very important qualification. In this case, we are the subject of the discipline; we are that which we seek to know. This is different to the normal model of 'science' because obviously it means getting involved and seeing what happens in your own experience, so clearly there is a subjective element which is foreign to the Western conception of 'objective science'. Given that, however, it can be viewed as an experimental method, with observable results, supported by a theory and a comprehensive literature.
I have undertaken one of the 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreats which are offered by S.N. Goenka, free of charge, at centres in many countries. Great care is taken to differentiate this training from 'organised religion' and 'dogma'. Participants are encouraged to apply themselves to the practice and observe the results. It is an extremely arduous course, and the timetable they recommend for your daily practice is also pretty demanding. I will own up that I am not able to observe their recommended 'two-hour-per-day' regimen, but I nevertheless do practice regularly and there definitely are benefits.
There are many studies being done in various centres about the benefits of meditation, Buddhist and other, which do generally return positive and measurable results. But Buddhism does not have a monopoly on it. There is an approach in all the traditions called the Scientia Sacra, the Sacred Science. Westerners will usually dismiss the idea out of hand, but if you dig into the literature it is amazingly rich. Bookmark Sacred Science, by Thomas J McFarlane
. and also the catalog of The home page of World Wisdom - Perennial Philosophy and the World's Great Spiritual Traditions
As regards Buddhism, religion and 'killing the Buddha'. That last is from a Zen saying - 'if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him'. It is thought that Zen is deliberately antinomian and eschews dogmatism and ritual. That said, however, if you visit the pre-eminent Zen center in the U.S., the San Francisco Zen Centre, as I did last October, you will find that the daily schedule runs around a routine of meditation, liturgy, chanting, bowing and worship from 5 in the morning till 10 at night, 7 days a week. Within this context
, Zen is indeed skeptical, anti-dogmatic and non-reliant on rites and ritual.
But I do agree that Buddhism is the least 'religious' of the traditions in that it is based on practice, experience, insight, conduct, and other practical principles which need to be understood and applied. Goenka's approach is generally secular, pragmatic and certainly non-devotional. Most 'Western Buddhists' could be characterized as having an outlook of secular spirituality. IN Western Buddhism, the Tibetan schools tend to be the most ritualised, and the Zen and Thai schools put more emphasis on sitting practice. But Buddhism generally has avoided this dreadful tension between belief vs skepticism, faith vs science and so on which has developed in the Western world.