I have noted that those modern Westerners who learn from South Asian philosophy are usually looking for Ascent while those who learn from East Asian are usually looking for intimacy. Given that my own doctorate was specialized in South Asia, with little East Asian component despite my eventual focus on Buddhism, you might easily guess what my own orientation has been on this score – and you’d be right. I’ve often insisted on correcting those who portray Buddhism as an intimacy-oriented tradition – not just to set the historical record straight, but because I think it’s important to emphasize the value of integrity. When I was thinking in terms of three ways of life, the integrity-oriented “ascetic” and “libertine” approaches, for all their contrasts with each other, both appealed to me far more than the intimacy-oriented “traditionalism”.
But then in recent months and years I’ve been reading significantly more East Asian thought myself – and I’ve also been a bit startled to find myself leaning more toward an intimacy orientation. Continue reading