This week’s post is a slightly abridged version of a paper I wrote eleven years ago for Robert Gimello’s class on Buddhist meditation traditions. I’m posting it now for a couple of reasons: because I still enjoy its punchy rhetoric, because it’s a useful corrective to Wilberian and similar perspectives that assume “religion” is fundamentally about mystical experience, and because I think it’s likely to be relevant to posts I want to make in the months ahead. I also still agree with it to at least some extent, but I am not entirely sure what that extent is, and that is something I hope to be sorting through.
In his chapter “What would Buddhaghosa have made of the Cloud of Unknowing?”1, Ninian Smart argues that “there are phenomenological similarities between the differing practices despite the contrast in language and style between Buddhaghosa and the author of the anonymous 14th-century Christian text The Cloud of Unknowing.” Although Smart never defines “phenomenological”, I believe from the context of the article that he uses the term to refer to similarities of experience, and specifically mystical experience.
To what extent does Smart’s chapter succeed in its project? Continue reading