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In The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized , Owen Flanagan, a distinguished philosopher at Duke, argues that Buddhism matters not just for practical reasons, but for philosophical ones. Subtract the "hocus-pocus" about reincarnation, karma, and "bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves," and you'll find a rigorous, clear-eyed account of the universe and our place in it — an account, in fact, designed to satisfy even the most ardent modern-day materialist. Buddhism matters, in other words, because it's actually right.

Naturalize Buddhism, and you're left with a basically materialist, deterministic view of the world. If it existed, the "Buddhist Credo," Flanagan writes, would be something like: "I believe that everything is impermanent, that everything (including my state of mind) is subject to the principles of cause and effect, and that given that I am among the things-that-there-are, I am impermanent and subject to the laws of cause and effect." Physicists, biologists, philosophers, and neuroscientists would agree; today, it's a scientific fact that human beings live in a material, determined world, and are themselves determined and material.

In the Western tradition, materialism and determinism have been cause for despair. Buddhism is useful, Flanagan argues, precisely because it's undaunted by them: It actually takes this world-view as its starting-point, and then goes on to ask moral questions about how we ought to behave in an impermanent, materialist, determined universe. In fact, in the Buddhist world, materialism and determinism can be morally informative. You have to work pretty hard, through meditation and study, to accept the materialist reality. But, once you have accepted it, you understand that you aren't as important or permanent as you think you are — that, in a fundamental sense, your self or soul doesn't really exist in any lasting way. (That's a conclusion, incidentally, shared by Western philosophers like John Locke and Derek Parfit.) This, in turn, suggests a moral idea: that satisfying your own personal needs and wants shouldn't be your number-one priority. Instead, you should focus on projects that benefit everyone, and work to become more kind and generous to your fellow human beings.

The real value of Buddhism, Flanagan thinks, is that it finds moral meaning in our material world. That, he points out, makes our Western obsession with "happy" Buddhists seem pretty shallow by comparison. Buddhism isn't about being happy, but about seeing the world as it is, and figuring out how to respond to the facts responsibly. Our Western moral systems, upended by the Scientific Revolution, are still figuring out how to do that — but, for Buddhists, there was never anything to upend. In fact, Flanagan argues, Buddhist tradition records 2,500 years worth of "experiments in living" with materialism. In philosophical, spiritual, and practical ways, it shows the way to a morally meaningful materialism: towards a way of life in which recognizing the truth — "that I am a selfless person metaphysically" — can reveal "that I have reason to be less selfish morally."
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Buddhism is in vogue in the West, and has been for a long time. Partly, it's that Buddhism seems "spiritual" without being too religious; it's also that Buddhist practices, especially meditation,
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Dude, you have quickly become my favorite person on Google+.
 
I've often had similar feelings about Tao (if you subtract out the spiritual stuff), that it is basically a holistic, unadultered view of the universe, where every model we use to describe it, is merely just a description, and cannot capture it as it is (Map is not the Territory). One you view yourself as just a bunch of molecules, that came from the heart of a star, and that the categories between you and your body, the earth, the solar system, and the entire cosmos, are really just your way of dividing up the universe and labeling it, then the conflict of free will vs determinism goes away.

There's an excellent short story on this "Is God a Taoist?" by Smullyan: http://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/writing/prose/text/godTaoist.html
 
That's pretty much my take on Yoga philosophy as well. Not too surprising considering the co-development of Yoga and Buddhism.
 
I've heard enough of this book now that I'm going to order it. Just have to get through Neal Stephenson's Reamde first ...
 
And I ended up purchasing it; kinda spendy even in the Kindle edition, but it's as if it were written to order for my interests.
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