A few years ago I wondered how a naturalized Buddhism could avoid advocating suicide. If our goal is the cessation of suffering, and death is not the beginning of a new birth but a simple ending, shouldn’t death itself be our goal? I didn’t go very far with this argument, in part because I didn’t identify as a Buddhist at the time – there was a certain way in which not being a Buddhist made it not my problem. But now I am a Buddhist. And an excellent recent chapter by Jan Westerhoff, in Jake Davis’s fine new edited volume on Buddhist ethics, brings the point back into uncomfortable focus. Continue reading
I’m continuing to examine Justin Whitaker‘s interpretation of Pali Buddhist ethics as Kantian moral law. I argued last time that the concept of dhamma does not serve in these texts as a universal, trans-human moral law. Here I want to take a similar look at the concept of kamma – better known in English as karma.
Justin claims that for Kant “the Moral Law is universal, concerned with all (rational) beings, and is holistic in its conception of morality as a guarantor to a just realm of ends (supported by the moral argument for belief in God).” (47) I think this interpretation of Kant is missing something in that Kant does not view the moral argument as demonstrating that there actually is a guarantee of cosmic justice, only that we must act as if there is (it is a regulative ideal). But I’ll leave that aside here because I want to focus on the comparison to Buddhism. Continue reading
My friend Stephen Harris recently posted an interesting article on the question of whether Śāntideva’s ethics is “overdemanding”. I appreciate the article’s methodological approach. It engages Śāntideva’s ethics with the categories of analytical moral philosophy while moving beyond the relatively fruitless attempt to classify it: not “is Śāntideva’s ethics consequentialist?” but “is Śāntideva’s ethics vulnerable to the charges made against consequentialism?” The latter approach is more important because it allows engagement with Śāntideva’s ideas: asking the question “to what extent is Śāntideva right?” Continue reading
Buddhist practice of various sorts has helped me greatly in trying to deal with the frustrations of cancer care. I wrote already of the role of prayer to Mañjuśrī and Buddhist reading. Now I’d like to say more about what I learned from that reading – and how these practices all fit together. Continue reading
A while ago I referred to Śāntideva’s thought as “ethics without morality” – a deliberately provocative formulation based on Shyam Ranganathan’s eccentric definition of morality as that which conduces to anger. (I don’t agree with Shyam’s definition myself, but putting matters in those terms for the sake of argument helps us to make an interesting and important point.) The idea for Śāntideva is that because everything has a cause, no one is truly to blame for their actions, and therefore we should not get angry at them.
Mark Siderits, in a 2008 article in Sophia, has called this view “Buddhist paleo-compatibilism”: “compatibilism” meaning roughly that while Śāntideva thinks it morally significant that everything has a cause, he still thinks it appropriate to blame people for bad actions.
I don’t think that that is what Śāntideva means, based on a reading of the Sanskrit text of Bodhicaryāvatāra chapter six. I think Siderits reads a great deal into verse 32 that is not actually there, and that is at odds with Śāntideva’s explicit argument in verses 22-33. But I won’t expand on that particular point here, because overall I find the detailed textual argument less interesting than the more general constructive argument. Continue reading
This is the first time I have featured a guest post on Love of All Wisdom. Jeffery Long, a professor of religion and Asian studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, sent me this response after I had written my own piece on the topic. I disagree with a few of Jeff’s ideas, most notably the free employment of the term “Hindu”, but some disagreement is always to be expected among philosophers and humanists. I thought the piece merited prompt online publication and I found it to be in broad sympathy with the aims of this blog, so I am presenting it to readers here. I haven’t configured the site to allow others to add content, for the moment at least, so the “official” byline currently lists me as the author. But readers should be clear that this is Jeff’s work, not mine, and all credit and copyright belong to him. Enjoy. – Amod Lele
The first thing a respondent to Deepak Sarma’s essay, “White Hindu Converts: Mimicry or Mockery?”, needs to do is acknowledge the essential core of experiential truth and the genuine pain at its heart. Racism against brown-skinned persons is real and pervasive in North America. Being married now for over seventeen years to a Bengali, I cannot help but be aware of it. Sometimes this racism is overt and brutal, as in the case when, shortly after 9/11, a fellow customer at a gas station pointed to my wife and asked aggressively, “Is she from Afghanistan?” At other times it is more subtle, and perhaps even unknown to its perpetrators, such as when my wife speaks in a faculty meeting at the college where we both work only to have her words met with blank stares and confusion, while I later make basically the same comment and am told what a brilliant and insightful observation I have made. Continue reading
I admire Maria Heim‘s research on gift-giving in classical India. There’s one point that I think her work misses, however – a topic I had intended to cover in my dissertation on Śāntideva but never had room for. It’s not a constructive philosophical point – I’m not taking any ideas of my own from the ideas I discuss here – but it’s helpful to think about in order to understand philosophies like Śāntideva’s that I do draw significantly from. (And it will be relevant to next week’s post.) Continue reading
One of the first posts I made on this blog examined Dale Wright‘s methodological approach of naturalized karma. This is a way of continuing to use the concept of karma, and thereby remaining more closely in dialogue with classical Buddhist (and Jain and brahmanical) texts – without relying on the supernatural connections usually implied by the concept, especially rebirth. (By “karma” here I refer above all to the referents of Sanskrit pāpa and especially puṇya, best translated respectively as “bad karma” and “good karma”.) I’d like to explore this idea in more detail here.
Wright’s basic approach is to read karma as meaning something like an Aristotelian virtue ethic: good actions are rewarded with a good, flourishing life, in this life irrespective of future ones (and bad ones correspondingly punished). This much is not a Yavanayāna innovation; plenty of Buddhist texts make it clear that good action is rewarded in this life as well as in future ones. Continue reading
Classical Indian Buddhist texts rely a great deal on two concepts: puṇya (Pali puñña) and pāpa. The former is good, something to pursue; the latter is bad, something to avoid. They have something to do with our actions and their results: punya comes out of our good actions and brings good results for us, pāpa comes out of our bad actions and brings bad results. We find these concepts all over the place in pretty much any Indian Buddhist text we might pick up. Next week I’ll explore in more detail what they are and how we might best think about them. This week I want to start with something more basic: how should we translate them into English? Absolutely not, I would argue, with the two words that Buddhism scholars most commonly use for them: namely “merit” and “sin” respectively. Continue reading
Today’s post follows up on those from two and three weeks ago, and there’ll be another one next week. I intend the four posts, taken together, to make a statement about the continuing importance of the idea of God: why, in the face of the very real problem of suffering and the scientific ability to easily do without God as an explanation of life’s apparent design, God is still hard to do away with. I mean this on an intellectual and philosophical level, not merely an emotional one; it is not just that we need to bother with God because so many people out have some neurological need for him, but that there yet remain ways in which God helps us to make sense of reality.
I’m going to begin this week not with God, but with Buddhism. Continue reading