I return today to my correspondence with Justin Whitaker on the Sigālovāda Sutta, taking off from his response to my previous post. The question at issue between us, I think, is what constitutes a good Buddhist life for a layperson or householder, a non-monk. We can get more specific by asking: should the layperson’s life be one that aspires to emulate the monk’s? I don’t think that it should, and I continue to suspect that Justin doesn’t either.Continue reading
Sandro Galea, the dean of BU’s School of Public Health, recently wrote a wonderful (free) Substack post reflecting on the nature of health in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. I’m writing about Galea’s post here because the questions it raises are absolutely philosophical ones.
He closes with the important comment: “we do not live to be healthy—we aspire to be healthy so we can live.” In other circumstances this might seem a truism. But the past fourteen months have made it all too clear how much this needs to be said. For we have all become all too aware of just how much can be given up for the sake of health. Government restrictions already placed major limits on our activity. Most people I know, myself included, limited their activity considerably further than what was required by the government. And most of us also know others whose restrictions went even further than our own. A number of people effectively became voluntary shut-ins, losing all physical contact with the outside world out of fear of a dread disease.Continue reading
The key goal of my dissertation was to understand Śāntideva’s thought as it was and how it could be applied in a contemporary context. Now, for my book, I want to actually apply Śāntideva’s thought, which requires asking where he is right and where he is wrong. And that, it turns out, changes my understanding of some of the dissertation’s key concepts – especially the one in its title.
The dissertation is entitled “Ethical revaluation in the thought of Śāntideva”. In its third chapter, I describe “ethical revaluation” as a consequence of Śāntideva’s ideals of nonattachment (aparigraha) and patient endurance (kṣānti). I explain the idea of ethical revaluation as follows:Continue reading
I’m back from a trip to see my family in India, and have an Indian wedding ceremony. It was wonderful to see everyone there, and it also got me thinking.
When I wrote recently about my Indian background, I put some emphasis on how having an Indian background could be misleading in trying to understand Indian philosophy. It had taken me longer to see that Indian philosophy has an integrity orientation because after living in modern India, I’d spent a long time thinking of India as having an intimacy orientation.
But in my excitement over that realization, I think I’d forgotten that I’d held an intimacy view of India for a reason. Continue reading
ascent/descent, Augustine, Confucius, intimacy/integrity, Ken Wilber, Maimonides, Martha Nussbaum, Max Weber, Mozi, Plato, Prabhupada, puruṣārthas, Stephen Walker, Tattvārtha Sūtra, Teresa of Ávila, Thomas P. Kasulis, Yoga Sūtras
I’ve been thinking further about what kind of categories one may best use to classify philosophies and their associated ways of life. I do think my earlier classification of three basic ways of life hits on something quite important; but I also think Stephen Walker’s criticisms of that scheme (addressed here) are on point. Among those who reject traditional ways of life and knowing on non-ascetic grounds, there is more going on than the pleasure-seeking I identify with the concept of “libertinism.” That’s why I toyed in the same post with expanding the conception based on the Sanskrit puruṣārthas, the “four aims” of worldly success, pleasure, traditional duty and liberation. But as I mused at the bottom of that post, the puruṣārtha scheme loses the far-reaching nature of the three-ways-of-life comparison. The differences between asceticism, traditionalism and libertinism are not only differences in ways of living; they reach down to epistemology and ontology, theoretical ways of understanding the world. When the “libertine” mode of living and thinking is formally subdivided into artha and kāma, these two supposedly separate modes no longer look all that distinct from one another.
Instead, I now turn back to a different categorization I didn’t have time to mention in the puruṣārtha post: the intersecting axes of ascent and descent, and intimacy and integrity. These two ways of classifying philosophies seem to me to do more justice to East Asian thought, while still going “all the way down”: extending from theoretical foundations all the way up to life as lived. Continue reading
In private messages, Stephen Walker recently came back to points he’d made before about the three basic ways of life I had identified before (asceticism, traditionalism and libertinism). He noted, correctly I think, that that scheme as it stands is Indo-Eurocentric; many Chinese thinkers (especially pre-Buddhist ones) do not fit it comfortably.
The problem is not merely a matter of some thinkers lying between ways of life – if, say, Mozi lies between traditionalism and libertinism, as Aquinas lies between traditionalism and asceticism. Schemes like this are (and probably must be) Weberian ideal types: the possibility that real-world examples will fall somewhere in between the categories is not just anticipated, it’s intended. The point is to have a universal heuristic to understand the particulars better, not to have a classification where one can file everything neatly into one folder or the other. (There is something rather Platonic about the ideal-type method, in that one never expects to encounter a perfect or exact manifestation of the category in the real world.)
No, the serious problem is more particular to the scheme, with its third category of “libertinism” encompassing those thinkers who do not embrace asceticism and whose critiques of tradition are relatively radical. Chinese tradition features many such thinkers – but, contrary to my category of “libertinism” as defined in the earlier post, almost none of them highlight pleasure as a (let alone the) central feature of a good life. Continue reading