Bohemian Buddhist Review

A New Buddhist Path by David Loy -- Part I

Loy's subtitle is "Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World," and if that trifecta doesn't grab you, you might as well stop reading now.
I think the title really should be "A New/Old Buddhist Path" because what Loy does is look at many old Buddhist ideas from a refreshingly new and informed perspective; modern physics, philosophy, and developmental psychology all get added into the mix, which certainly wasn't possible in the Buddha's time, and it's a salutary combination. He's always worth reading in my book (who could forget "Money Sex War Karma"?).
"A New Buddhist Path" is broken down into three main sections. The first is on the deconstruction of the self (Path), the second on the reconstruction of one's motivations (Story), and the third on integration (Challenge). One of my favorite quotes from the  middle section is "Evolution . . . is the creation myth of our age," but don't say it to a Darwinist, unless you add Robert Thurman's witticism about Buddhism being an evolutionary sport.
I was frankly surprised at one of Loy's main tenets, that we sentient beings could be the way the universe gets to experience itself. While I enjoy the images this conjures (perhaps this is the reason for mango ice cream?), it seems outside the purview of Buddhism in a way.
" . . . for the Buddhist tradition to fulfill its liberative potential -- not only to promote individual awakening more successfully [it also needs] to help us address eco and social challenges that cannot be evaded." Loy is aiming for a true blending of the immanent and transcendent. 
We're asked to re-examine what we think the catch-all phrase "transformation of consciousness" really means. Hint: moving from "me" to "we."  
Transcendence and immanence may both "miss the point," as Loy says. "Buddhist enlightenment is not simply a more mindful adaptation to our unfortunate existential condition, nor is it attaining some other dimension that is distinct from and therefore indifferent to the world."
Loy has a way of putting things that really penetrates our defenses, and makes us think deeply about ourselves and our lives. "The solution to our festering sense of lack [which everyone has to some degree] is deconstructing and reconstructing the sense of self, so that it doesn't feel separate." (As a writer, I can only admire that profoundly evocative phrase "our festering sense of lack.")
In order to address our numerous crises, we need to see "the underlying defective story about who we are, what the world is, and our role within it." This is where Loy goes deep into re-examining the myths that run us and how compatible the evolving worldview is with Buddhism's most important teachings. Yet he points out that this new story "also challenges Buddhism to distinguish its essential viewpoint from Iron Age mythologies that need to be reconsidered today."
Buddhism has already made major inroads into Western society, from compassionate hospice care for the dying to mindfulness meditation for the stressed-out to prison rehabilitation work and neuroscientific studies on higher brain function, and it has much more to offer in terms of our very perception of reality, or misperception. 
Once we dissolve our attachment to the way "things ought to be," we're free to find new answers to the problems that plague us. We're all still living in an old dream -- of infinite growth, infinite resources, unlimited expansion. And this dream will kill us unless we wake up in time.
This is where Loy diverts somewhat from the standard Buddhist line, at least in my view. Raking through the red-hot coals of social Darwinism, Ayn Rand's poisonously self-centered philosophy, and capitalistic consumerism, Loy is on his way to a new view of humanity's purpose. And -- surprise! -- it isn't about competitive shopping. It's about our real place in the universe, and the universe's real place in us. 
"For religions to remain relevant today, they must stop denying or minimizing or ignoring evolution . . . Buddhism has no problem with evolution, which is consistent with its own emphasis on impermanence and insubstantiality . . . As Buddhism emphasizes, everything is interdependent, arising and passing away according to [causes and] conditions."
This is where our misperception of reality comes in. According to the newest thinking of quantum physics, which is quite in keeping with Buddhist tenets, the universe is neither random (old science) nor predetermined (old religion) but constantly evolving. Instead of the dualistic paradigm of mind vs. matter, let's posit a middle way: a universe that's creative, displaying "an intelligent dance between organism and environment," a universe that is evolution itself and is constantly self-organizing." With ourselves playing major roles in the dukkha drama.
Where Loy is going -- backed up by much of the cutting-edge thinking of quantum scientists and evolutionary biologists -- is that the universe is self-aware. And that we are the chosen agents of its self-awareness. (Perennial Philosophy, anyone?) 
Then Loy poses the Question of Questions from a Buddhist perspective. "Can my subjective desire to awaken be understood in a . . . non-dual way [since according to the Buddha, there is not and never has been a "self" in the way we normally consider things] as the urge of the universe itself to become self-aware, in me and as me?"
It beguiles me to see Loy coming back and around to the Perennial Philosophy. It's a lovely and appropos merging of ancient metaphysics and new science. As modern physics is proving, there is no real substantiality anywhere. Materialists haven't quite gotten around to agreeing with this -- hence the ginormously expensive search for "the God particle" -- nor would they be particularly likely to appreciate that this very same insubstantiality, called emptiness or "unlimited potentiality" in Loy's term, applies to us -- our minds and bodies -- as well as all other elements in the known universe.
To be continued in Part II