A comparison of Tibetan Buddhism and Western Neuroscience is no easy task. DeCharms analyses matters such as perception, cognition, awareness, and thought from two different perspectives, a comparison set not with the purpose of outlying similarities and differences but rather to establish what can be learn from each other. The aim is not to provide decisive and definitive answers but rather to open new ways of thinking about the mind. Considering the differences in methodology, concepts, assumptions, and purpose, besides the embedded flaws and limitations of both Buddhism and Neuroscience (a philosophical and scientific approach), the vastness and extent of this matter is quite complex. DeCharms states that Abhidharma is metaphysical, science is mechanistic, which means that even if the laws within the two systems are similar, they operate over very different domains of experience and should not be taken to be describing the same aspects of reality. This book covers an area of perennial debate and uncertainties, based on the inevitable realization that the only tool available to analyse the cognitive process is the cognitive process itself! Quite challenging reading and certainly will leave the reader with a lot more questions than answers.
This is not an easy book to read, and it does not leave the reader satisfied that a cohesive whole has been delivered. Yet that is also the strength of the book. DeCharms has used his knowledge of neuroscience (and an obvious understanding of the basics of Tibetan Buddhism) to interview some of the great teachers of Tibetan mind analysis about the detailed differences between their understanding of mind and that of western science. The result is not an answer but a series of questions calling for further exploration. For those who seek a first understanding of either side of the comparison, this book will be disappointingly unenlightening. For those with some understanding of one or both sides, it offers tantalizing vistas and the opportunity for new insights.