Last week my wife and I re-watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – the original Chuck Jones cartoon, not the later remakes. As we talked about it, I realized that that Christmas special, and the original book, are a great depiction of eudaimonism – perhaps even in a Confucian form.Continue reading
As I write this post, I, probably along with most of my readers, face severe restrictions on normal human social activity, in order to limit the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. Electronic communications have made it possible to continue a social life despite these restrictions – but much of this conversation tends to focus on the virus and the limitations of life under it. I find myself yearning for more conversations about other things, and you may be as well. I also do not think I have anything particularly profound to say about the virus so far. For these reasons, I am not going to write here about the virus, at least for now. Instead, for the next little while I’m going to write about other topics that I’d been planning to write about anyway, but on an increased frequency to suit my and others’ changed schedules: every Sunday rather than every alternate Sunday. This is the first such post. I was not thinking about the virus when I originally wrote it, but perhaps it takes on a different resonance now.
A good human life, in general, requires living with other human beings. Some would take this claim as a truism, but I think it’s important to establish it. The ideal of the autonomous, independent individual is not merely a modern Western conceit, as is usually thought; this ideal is held up as a high ideal by monastic traditions in ancient India, perhaps most prominently in the Yoga Sūtras and Jain Tattvārtha Sūtra which describe their highest ideal as kaivalya, aloneness.Continue reading
Last time I began to propose an answer to David Chapman’s questions about what might be distinctively Buddhist about a modern Buddhist ethics. I mentioned the classical Buddhist critique of politics and activism, and noted that I agree with some of that critique. Let me now say more about what I mean by that.
What first excited me about Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra was not the widely read eighth chapter (with its meditations on self and other and the deconstruction of the body that repulses many). Rather, it was the sixth chapter, on anger and patient endurance – when I responded to a student’s question about the text by saying “in this text, there’s no such thing as righteous anger.”
I do not think this is a message a typical secular North American liberal is likely to accept. Continue reading
There is a destructive pattern of behaviour I’ve observed too often which, in an amateur psychological diagnosis, I have come to call the bodhisattva complex. I thought of this term as a friend of mine – a young medical resident – described the behaviours she observed among her fellow medical residents and doctors, who think nothing of working 24- or even 48-hour shifts in order to help people in their care. One wonders: what kind of patient wants to be treated by a man or woman who hasn’t slept in 48 hours?
When I refer to the bodhisattva complex, I do not mean that actual bodhisattvas – ideal Mahāyāna Buddhist beings – are psychologically unhealthy. Some might make that argument (Martha Nussbaum has done so, more or less), but I would not at all. Rather, the bodhisattva complex refers to something which I think is far more common than actual bodhisattvas: you suffer it if you believe you are a bodhisattva, but aren’t. Continue reading
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
The term digital humanities has quickly become trendy over the past couple years. The term has often excited me, since digital technology in the humanities is both a part of what I do for a living, and what makes my humanistic scholarship on this blog possible. So I’ve followed discussions of digital humanities, such as the HUMANIST mailing list, with interest.
I remain deeply interested in the field, but I’ve also begun to acquire some skepticism toward it. Continue reading
Perhaps the most common term for a man who is not traditionally masculine is “sensitive.” The term is sometimes spelled out further so that such men are called SNAGs, “sensitive new age guys.” But what is it to be “sensitive”? And is it a good or a bad thing?
It seems to me that the term “sensitivity,” as popularly used, implies at least two different concepts. They are related; in both cases, if one is asked “what is one sensitive to?”, the answer would likely be: emotion. But they are not the same; for one is generally good, the other generally bad. Continue reading
The momentous yet mixed results of this week’s Canadian election were overshadowed on the global scene by the killing of Osama bin Laden. Though the first event riveted me more, the second has more philosophical significance – or rather, not the event itself, but the reaction to it.
Americans have typically greeted bin Laden’s death with jubilation and celebration, often waving American flags and chanting “U.S.A.” But some minority voices, such as Linton Weeks at NPR radio and Pamela Gerloff of the Huffington Post, have raised questions about this celebration. Is it really a good idea to celebrate a human death, even the death of one’s enemy? Continue reading
Still on honeymoon break, but I thought I’d share the opening remarks that were read at our wedding ceremony. I wrote them, with my fiancée’s help, and our wonderful officiant, Jason Clower, read them:
Friends and loved ones, it has been three years since Amod and Caitlin met at the home of Joanna, whose music has accompanied us into this chapel. Now we are gathered here in love and support for Amod and Caitlin as they promise to face the future together, accepting whatever may lie ahead. What we are celebrating, they have summed up in a Sanskrit word inscribed on both of their wedding rings. This word is parasparaprīti, a word that can mean many things. It is a compound word, made of two parts, paraspara and prīti. Prīti can mean love, joy, delight, pleasure, friendship, kindness, affection, zest, exuberance. Paraspara means mutual, shared, of or by or for each other.
And so when these two words are put together into the compound parasparaprīti, it can mean any number of things — including mutual love, shared joy, delight in each other, kindness toward each other, exuberance for each other — all of which Caitlin and Amod have already felt for each other, and all of which they pledge to continue feeling for each other from this day forward.
The marriage, which they begin today, is not only about joy and delight. It is also about the sorrow, frustration, and grief that are inevitable parts of life — about committing to share these as well, and knowing they can be made a little lighter by facing them together. It is this commitment to share and stand by each other, in joy and in sorrow, that we are here to declare and affirm today.
EDIT (29 July): For some reason, comments were turned off when I first made this post. That was not my intention; I don’t know why it happened. It should be fixed now.
It’s become something of a cliché to say that Buddhism is about embracing our “interdependence.” The mechanistic Cartesian worldview, so the story goes, has led us to think of human beings as subjects independent of the world around them, in a way responsible for our current environmental catastrophes. (Depending on who you ask, this idea of independence might also be responsible for patriarchy, racism, homophobia, class exploitation and an inability to express our emotions.) But Buddhists know better: Buddhists know that everything arises dependent on everything else, so we should affirm and celebrate our mutual ties to each other and to the earth. In Thomas Kasulis’s terms, Buddhism on this interpretation offers us an intimacy worldview, distinct from the integrity worldview of the modern West. This idea is perhaps most clearly found in the thought of Joanna Macy, but its spread goes much wider among Western (Yavanayāna) converts to Buddhism, especially (but not only) in the baby-boom generation.
The problem: this view is almost the opposite of what the classical Indian Buddhists – including the Buddha of the Pali suttas – actually taught. To be sure, the autonomous, independent selves that we would like to believe in are an illusion. We must indeed recognize the dependent co-arising (paticca samuppāda or pratitya samutpāda) of all things, acknowledge that everything arises out of a circle of mutually dependent causes.
Here’s the thing: this circle of causes is bad. Continue reading