Calling myself a Buddhist, it turns out, was only the beginning. Buddhism was there for me in this dark time, not only as a way of focusing prayer, and certainly not merely as the resource for a hypothetical chaplain. The Buddhist ideas that taught me so much before were still there and a great comfort. And there was more still: I have now begun to practise Buddhism as I see it, on a far deeper level than I ever had before. Continue reading
I mentioned last time that in dealing with my wife’s cancer, I had started praying to Mañjuśrī, just as I had done (and written about here) five years ago in another period of my life that involved emotional difficulties – though considerably less difficult than this.
But that previous time had posed me an intellectual challenge as well, for I didn’t believe Mañjuśrī existed, as a sentient being capable of answering prayers. And while I may be calling myself a Buddhist now, what I said then still holds true: “I don’t think there is actually somebody out there who accumulated enough good karma to become a celestial being who redirects good karma down to the rest of us for our benefit.” Can it make any sense to pray to something you don’t believe in?
As it turned out, the question bothers me a lot less now than it once had. Continue reading
Last fall in my house we had some serious bad news: my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. (There have been a number of ways in which I have hoped to emulate Ken Wilber, but this sure wasn’t one of them.) The good news is it was not a particularly severe variety as cancers go; with proper treatment it would not be life-threatening. But those treatments have been rough, with an extended recovery period.
It has, as you may imagine, been a difficult time for both of us. I am happy to say that things are much better than they were, but the hard times are not yet over. My wife’s story is hers to tell, and she has told it magnificently. On my side, something major has happened that I did not expect: for the first time, I have come to consider myself a Buddhist. Continue reading
My paid work at BU involves supporting many educational technologies, but especially ePortfolios: websites that showcase personal learning and make it visible. As a demonstration for others to see, I’ve created an extensive portfolio about myself, displaying my scholarly and professional history. If you’re interested in my background, feel free to have a look. You’ll probably be able to learn more about me than you ever wanted to know.
A few years ago I told what I thought of at the time as the story of my philosophy: how I left a utilitarian worldview and came to discover Buddhism in Thailand at age 21. I realize now that there’s something important missing from that story, and you can see it in the final paragraph of the second piece:
And yet, all the Western philosophy that I’d learned before didn’t just go away. I’d learned important, powerful, beautiful things that seemed true – and often seemed opposite to the Buddhism I’d found myself in. Is there a way to reconcile the two? One way or another, that question has been central to my life ever since.
That was the right ending: since then I have indeed been preoccupied with reconciling Buddhism and the Western philosophy I’d already learned. But if you only read those two pieces, you would come away with the impression that the Western philosophy I had learned, and would try to reconcile, consisted primarily of utilitarianism. And that would be completely wrong. Continue reading
I mentioned two weeks ago that there were two reasons I didn’t think my dissertation would become a book. The previous week I focused on the practical and political reason: I believe in free open access, and now that I’m not on the faculty track I can put my money where my mouth is.
The other reason, which is far more interesting to me, has to do with the dissertation’s content. I think back to when I was proposing a first inchoate version of the project, perhaps ten years ago or so now, knowing I wanted it to involve some amount of constructive dialogue between the ideas of Śāntideva and of Martha Nussbaum. Robert Gimello, on my committee at the time, said to me that he didn’t think that this would be an appropriate project for a dissertation. Not because those questions were inappropriate for a scholar to ask; indeed, he approved of them. Rather, he thought, that project seemed like a twenty-year project, much larger than a dissertation. For the dissertation I should buckle down and just try to understand Śāntideva himself.
I didn’t follow Gimello’s advice, and I’m glad I didn’t. Continue reading
It was about five and a half years ago now that my dissertation on Śāntideva was approved and I could receive my PhD. Most doctoral graduates try very hard to turn their dissertations into a published or at least publishable book. I can say with some confidence that that will not happen.
There are two key reasons for this, and I’ll address the second next week. The first, which I will discuss here, is practical and political. I have removed myself from the meatgrinder that is the faculty job market, and that fact creates new possibilities for me. My dissertation has been available free online here to you the readers ever since Love of All Wisdom began. I sent a link to the blog to a friend and colleague of mine; as soon as he received it, he sent me a Google instant message full of shock: “You posted your entire dissertation! Aren’t you interested in publishing it as a book?” His surprise was understandable. What publisher would want to sell a book whose contents are available for free? By making my diss free and easily available, it would seem, I had just made it that much harder to get on the traditional path: get your diss published, get tenure. Continue reading
This post will be a little less philosophical, strictly speaking at least, than is usual here. Readers have found my autobiographical explorations interesting in the past, and I hope this will be similarly so.
I recently returned from India, to have a traditional Indian wedding ceremony. (I’ve been married for two and a half years, but my Indian friends and relatives could not attend that ceremony, nor did it have Indian gods presiding over it.) It’s an unfortunate irony that I have been able to get to India much less frequently ever since I started studying it. My previous trip was at the beginning of 2005; it had been eight years between that trip and the one I just returned from, whereas in my childhood the years between trips were no more than three. And I’m very glad to have had this trip, for it made quite a different impression on me from the previous ones. Continue reading
I’m back from a trip to see my family in India, and have an Indian wedding ceremony. It was wonderful to see everyone there, and it also got me thinking.
When I wrote recently about my Indian background, I put some emphasis on how having an Indian background could be misleading in trying to understand Indian philosophy. It had taken me longer to see that Indian philosophy has an integrity orientation because after living in modern India, I’d spent a long time thinking of India as having an intimacy orientation.
But in my excitement over that realization, I think I’d forgotten that I’d held an intimacy view of India for a reason. Continue reading
As my doctoral studies were in Indian philosophy and my ethnic background is part Indian, I was often asked whether my studies had to do with exploring my own heritage. The answer is basically no.
As I noted in telling my story, I came to the study of Asian philosophy through Thai Buddhism, which is not at all part of my ethnic background. I learned Sanskrit and Pali because it seemed to me that most of what was philosophically interesting in Thai Buddhism had come from its Indian heritage – even though Buddhism in India had all but died out.
If I ever thought my heritage would play a major role in the process, such thoughts stopped in my first-year Sanskrit class. My teacher, Stephanie Jamison, was explaining the rules of caste in traditional dharmaśāstra (ethical-legal texts), and how the brahmins were the ones expected to do all the thinking. I wondered whether I counted as a brahmin by this standard, so I asked: how would they count the offspring of a brahmin and an outsider, a yavana?
She answered: caste mixing is always viewed as an evil, so the offspring of any mix would be counted as the lower of the two – at the very best. In other words, according to the Laws of Manu, I’m a white boy. (If not an outright abomination.) Continue reading