I continue my argument from last time dissenting from Maria Heim and Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad’s interpretation of Buddhaghosa. I turn to a second passage that Heim and Ram-Prasad use – incorrectly, in my view – to claim Buddhaghosa is not trying to take a position on the way things actually are. They note correctly that Buddhaghosa contrasts those who see correctly, one one hand, with those who “resort to views” (the diṭṭhigata) on the other. But what does this distinction mean, exactly? Continue reading
A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a guest lecture on Buddhism to David Decosimo‘s class at the Boston University School of Theology. The students were a delight to teach – smart, actively engaged, asking many questions. One student’s question in particular stuck with me after the session. She had started to ask a long set of multiple questions, and then distilled it down to what she referred to as a simple question: “How would you describe the relation between Buddhism and science?”
My first response was: “That is not a simple question!” There is so much to say about it that there are now books written not merely on the actual relationship between Buddhism and science, but on the very idea of a relationship between Buddhism and science. I gave a relatively rambling answer. But after leaving the classroom it occurred to me that there was a relatively simple answer that I could have given – one that would have put a large part of the question’s complexity aside, but focused on something of particular relevance to students of Christian theology. Continue reading
In his interesting recent Buddhism and Political Theory, Matthew Moore sums up current scholarly work on Buddhist ethics noting “There are several major debates ongoing in the field, particularly whether early Buddhist ethics are better understood as consequentialist or a version of virtue ethics (almost no one argues for deontology)…” (113)
My friend and fellow blogger Justin Whitaker is a major part of the “almost”. I once described him as a “voice in the wilderness” for interpreting Buddhist ethics in terms of Kantian deontology. But I was delighted to hear that he has recently completed his dissertation, in a way that should make that voice a little louder. And I was happy to have a chance to read it.
To say that I am delighted that the work exists is not, of course, to say that I agree with it. Continue reading
We think these days a lot about Buddhist ethics, which often involves some thought about Buddhist politics. We tend to think a lot less about Buddhist aesthetics.
Now there’s an obvious explanation that could be given for this: the Buddhist dhamma teaches that worldly pleasures mire us in suffering. So aesthetics, insofar as it deals with pleasurable phenomena like art, is something Buddhists should avoid. In response I give you this:
The key reason I have turned to MacIntyrean tradition-based inquiry is to make progress on the ethical inquiries that have proved very difficult to resolve. So far, too many of those inquiries have turned out to be cliffhangers. But by taking the approach I have, of identifying the collection of Aristotle, Buddha, Hume and perhaps historicism as at some level the best story so far, it is now possible for me to move closer to concrete conclusions of at least an early and preliminary kind.
I see this point as I reexamine a particular cliffhanger from last year. I posted a four–post series on human rights, and yet by the final post I had still not advanced a substantive theory about them. I said we need reasons for rights, but was not willing to say anything about what those reasons are. Continue reading
I have long had an ambition which, I am slowly realizing, is unlikely to be fulfilled. It is an ambition suggested in this blog’s title: the idea of putting together all the major philosophical traditions of the world into a full synthesis. Ken Wilber’s work has to date been the most valiant attempt anyone has made to fulfill that ambition. But I have argued in many ways that this attempt has failed. It must fail, in the perennialist form Wilber’s work takes: to claim that all the world’s wisdom (or “religious”) traditions are basically saying the same thing. That claim makes the attempt at putting the traditions together much easier. It is also false. 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
Readers may have noticed my expressing a certain ambiguity with respect to the new Buddhist movements I call Yavanayāna. I have often defended their value as legitimate traditions in their own right, but I have also repeatedly criticized them for their political activism, their embrace of “interdependence”, their reluctance to admit the significance of sectarian differences. Moreover, my ground for criticism in these cases is that they misrepresent traditional and especially early Buddhism. Some readers might well wonder whether there is a problem here: whether I am criticizing their innovation only when it is convenient to do so, which is to say only when I agree with it.
In response I would stress that I am not against innovation as such. Continue reading
ascent/descent, dharmaśāstra, Dōgen, Gospel of Luke, intimacy/integrity, Jan Nattier, Jātakas, Jesus, Joel Kotkin, Pali suttas, Patrick Deneen, Patrick Olivelle, Śāntideva, Siddhattha Gotama (Buddha), Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra, vinaya
A while ago I wrote about how Indian traditions upset conventional assumptions about family and community being essential to premodern tradition and culture. There, I was responding to a piece by Patrick Deneen, which drew only on Western traditions. As a result, Deneen’s piece had a narrowness of focus, but within that focus it was able to attain some accuracy. Not so for a recent report by urban geographer Joel Kotkin, entitled The Rise of Post-Familialism. Continue reading
Continuing to honour my parents, I would like to turn this week to my father, Jayant Lele, who has been central to my intellectual development throughout my lifetime. No doubt he has influencrd me in many ways I’m not even aware of; here I will discuss what I do know about.
My father bequeathed to me two intellectual drives: to understand wider context, and to stand outside consensus as an intellectual outsider. Continue reading