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Contemporary Philosophy of Mind and Buddhist Thought



Recent years have seen a growing interest in Buddhist thought as a potential source of alternative conceptions of the nature of the mind and the relation between the mental and the physical. This article considers and assesses three different models of what contemporary philosophy of mind can learn from Buddhist thought. One model, advocated by Alan Wallace, holds that we can learn from Buddhist meditation that both individual consciousness and the physical world itself emerge from a deeper, “primordial” consciousness. A second model, supported by Owen Flanagan, maintains that we should accept from Buddhist thought only what is compatible with physicalism, and thus draws from Buddhism only insights into moral psychology and spirituality. Evan Thompson has developed a third, phenomenological approach, which derives from Buddhism a non-dualistic account of the relation between the mental and the physical, dissolving the “explanatory gap” between them. I suggest that all of these models face significant challenges, and propose a different model derived from the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna, which shows the potential to resolve some of the challenges facing contemporary theories of consciousness.