I was delighted to see Justin Whitaker responding to my post on the Sigālovāda Sutta – both in a comment and in a separate post of his own. Justin and I first found each other long ago over our shared interest in Pali Buddhist ethics, and he was one of my more frequent interlocutors in the early days of Love of All Wisdom, so it’s great to see him back around. I recall Justin citing the Sigālovāda favourably several times in earlier conversations, so perhaps it’s not surprising that my broadside against it is what brought him out of the woodwork!Continue reading
The Sigālovāda Sutta might be my least favourite sutta in the Pali Canon.
There is relatively little that the Pali texts say on “ethics” in a modern Western sense of interpersonal action-guiding; much of the specific instructions on action are found in vinaya, legal texts for the conduct of monks. The Sigālovāda is relatively unusual in providing guidance for action to lay householders. For that reason, a number of secondary writers on Buddhist ethics regard it as as a valuable guide for Buddhist ethical conduct.
I do not.Continue reading
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
I am an amateur at Indian aesthetic theory. I have not studied it much; I can read its Sanskrit source texts, but with some difficulty given how much they allude to literary and dramatic works I don’t know. As with Confucianism and Islamic Aristotelianism, it is a field where I cannot claim significant expertise. Yet I continue to find myself drawn to it, finding ideas that strike me as valuable and relevant – most recently reading Sheldon Pollock’s wonderful Rasa Reader, right from the first excerpt .
The earliest known extant text of Indian aesthetic theory is Bharata’s Nāṭya Śāstra. This text, circa 300 CE, sets out the concept of rasa, central to nearly all later Indian aesthetic thought. Rasa, roughly, refers to the emotion involved in a dramatic or literary work. The tradition often disagrees on where this rasa exists: the actor, the audience, the character, the author or even the work itself. But they all know that the Sanskrit word rasa literally means “taste”; it continues to refer to the sense of taste long after it has developed this more dramatic sense. And this meaning matters. Reading Pollock’s excerpt from Bharata, I am struck by the passage in Bharata’s chapter 6 where he defines rasa:
Here one might ask: What does ‘rasa’ actually mean? Our answer is that rasa is so called because it is something savored. And how can rasa be said to be ‘savored’? Just as discerning people relish tastes when eating food prepared with various condiments [vyañjana] and in doing so find pleasure, so discerning viewers relish the stable emotions when they are manifested by the acting out of various transitory emotions and reactions and accompanied by the other acting registers (the verbal, physical, and psychophysical), and they find pleasure in doing so. 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.
One of the most important virtues to consider, to my mind, is what Bertrand Russell called “zest.” Zest, in Russell’s terms, is the healthy enjoyment of worldly pleasures. He explains it as follows:
Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof either that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live. What is true in this trivial instance is equally true in more important matters. The man who enjoys watching football is to that extent superior to the man who does not. The man who enjoys reading is still more superior to the man who does not, since opportunities for reading are more frequent than opportunities for watching football. (Russell did not live to see ESPN.) The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another. Life is too short to be interested in everything, but it is good to be interested in as many things as are necessary to fill our days. (Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, pp. 125-6)
Zest in this sense, I think, is and should be a controversial virtue. There are many lists of virtues in which it does not appear. Continue reading