Philosophical Exchange - East and West

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Philosophical Exchange - East and West

Postby jeeprs » Fri Mar 01, 2013 9:39 pm

Topic split from here:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=11947


kirtu wrote:
gregkavarnos wrote:Of course Westerners can become Buddhists. Look at the Greeks. They sent 40,000 monks to the inauguration of the Ratnamali Mahathupa of Sri Lanka. They taught Indian Buddhists Buddhist art and incorporated Indic philosophy, science etc... into their indigenous philosophical systems. Westerners have been Buddhists since 350 BC. S where is the problem?


A history of the re-introduction of the Dharma to the West "How the Swans Came to the Lake" . Rick Fields, was written in the 90's. So basically we need a history of Western involvement in early Buddhism (which exists of course in separate texts, but something typing together Bactira, Gandhara, King Nagasena, etc. I knew there were Greek monks but didn't know about the 40,000 - were these from Greece itself or Greek and Greek related kingdoms in Asia?).

Kirt


There was a book published several years back called The Shape of Ancient Thought by a cultural historian named Thomas McEvilly. It's a big book that draws on the entire corpus of Greek and Indian philosophy to argue that the influences via the Silk Road between the two were profound and deep. I don't think the book is at all well known in academic Buddhist studies, but it is well written and worth reading. The in-depth comparisons of various aspects of Platonist and Indian philosophy are particularly interesting. (See a brief video introduction by him here)

There is also a school of thought that the Greek school called Pyrrhonism was basically a form of Madhyamika that hd been brought back to Greece by Pyrrho of Elis after he had journeyed to India (probably Greater Gandhara) during the Alexandran empire. This is touched on in McEvilly's book and explored in greater depth in another book called Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism by Adam Kuzminski (although the theory goes back a fair way).
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Fri Mar 01, 2013 11:28 pm

jeeprs wrote:
kirtu wrote:
gregkavarnos wrote:Of course Westerners can become Buddhists. Look at the Greeks. They sent 40,000 monks to the inauguration of the Ratnamali Mahathupa of Sri Lanka. They taught Indian Buddhists Buddhist art and incorporated Indic philosophy, science etc... into their indigenous philosophical systems. Westerners have been Buddhists since 350 BC. S where is the problem?


A history of the re-introduction of the Dharma to the West "How the Swans Came to the Lake" . Rick Fields, was written in the 90's. So basically we need a history of Western involvement in early Buddhism (which exists of course in separate texts, but something typing together Bactira, Gandhara, King Nagasena, etc. I knew there were Greek monks but didn't know about the 40,000 - were these from Greece itself or Greek and Greek related kingdoms in Asia?).

Kirt


There was a book published several years back called The Shape of Ancient Thought by a cultural historian named Thomas McEvilly. It's a big book that draws on the entire corpus of Greek and Indian philosophy to argue that the influences via the Silk Road between the two were profound and deep. I don't think the book is at all well known in academic Buddhist studies, but it is well written and worth reading. The in-depth comparisons of various aspects of Platonist and Indian philosophy are particularly interesting. (See a brief video introduction by him here)

There is also a school of thought that the Greek school called Pyrrhonism was basically a form of Madhyamika that hd been brought back to Greece by Pyrrho of Elis after he had journeyed to India (probably Greater Gandhara) during the Alexandran empire. This is touched on in McEvilly's book and explored in greater depth in another book called Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism by Adam Kuzminski (although the theory goes back a fair way).


I've seen the latter - for me this is definitely speculative terrain, but it seems intuitively plausible that there was philosophical exchange and influence in both directions.

Even if that turned out to be untrue, it is definitely uncanny how various pre and post-socratic Greek philosophies are proximate in various ways to Buddhist thinking and other Indian thinking.

I suppose I have the contrary opinion to the one expressed by Jnana - the deeper I study Buddhism, the more I appreciate and draw from the roots of my own (western) culture.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jnana » Fri Mar 01, 2013 11:34 pm

tobes wrote:
jeeprs wrote:There is also a school of thought that the Greek school called Pyrrhonism was basically a form of Madhyamika that hd been brought back to Greece by Pyrrho of Elis after he had journeyed to India (probably Greater Gandhara) during the Alexandran empire. This is touched on in McEvilly's book and explored in greater depth in another book called Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism by Adam Kuzminski (although the theory goes back a fair way).


I've seen the latter - for me this is definitely speculative terrain, but it seems intuitively plausible that there was philosophical exchange and influence in both directions.

Even if that turned out to be untrue, it is definitely uncanny how various pre and post-socratic Greek philosophies are proximate in various ways to Buddhist thinking and other Indian thinking.

I suppose I have the contrary opinion to the one expressed by Jnana - the deeper I study Buddhism, the more I appreciate and draw from the roots of my own (western) culture.

There are some resources on Pyrrhonism listed in this thread: Buddhism & Pyrrhonian Skepticism. However, IMO the similarities have been somewhat overstated.

But Pyrrhonism (& Epicureanism) aside, my earlier comment was primarily with regard to thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. I don't see any significant correspondences between these philosophers and the Buddhadharma.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby jeeprs » Fri Mar 01, 2013 11:49 pm

Scepticism is appropriate, given the subject matter. ;)

That other thread lists all of the texts I knew about on the topic, and then some - thanks.

I found the footnotes on Plotinus in the W Y Evans Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation very interesting. But then, I am naturally inclined to 'apophatic mysticism'.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jnana » Sat Mar 02, 2013 12:12 am

jeeprs wrote:I found the footnotes on Plotinus in the W Y Evans Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation very interesting. But then, I am naturally inclined to 'apophatic mysticism'.

Apophatic mysticism is interesting, and a correspondence can be made between apatheia and Buddhist dispassion (virāga). But in terms of view, notions such as the One as first cause, the Platonic forms, etc., are all quite foreign to the Buddhadharma.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:06 am

Jnana wrote:
tobes wrote:
jeeprs wrote:There is also a school of thought that the Greek school called Pyrrhonism was basically a form of Madhyamika that hd been brought back to Greece by Pyrrho of Elis after he had journeyed to India (probably Greater Gandhara) during the Alexandran empire. This is touched on in McEvilly's book and explored in greater depth in another book called Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism by Adam Kuzminski (although the theory goes back a fair way).


I've seen the latter - for me this is definitely speculative terrain, but it seems intuitively plausible that there was philosophical exchange and influence in both directions.

Even if that turned out to be untrue, it is definitely uncanny how various pre and post-socratic Greek philosophies are proximate in various ways to Buddhist thinking and other Indian thinking.

I suppose I have the contrary opinion to the one expressed by Jnana - the deeper I study Buddhism, the more I appreciate and draw from the roots of my own (western) culture.

There are some resources on Pyrrhonism listed in this thread: Buddhism & Pyrrhonian Skepticism. However, IMO the similarities have been somewhat overstated.

But Pyrrhonism (& Epicureanism) aside, my earlier comment was primarily with regard to thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. I don't see any significant correspondences between these philosophers and the Buddhadharma.


Metaphysically, I agree.

However, ethically, Keown has argued that there is strong continuity between Buddhist and Aristotelian ethics:

http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Buddhist-E ... 0333913094

I spent quite a lot of time trying to refute him, and then at some point - funnily enough after actually bothering to read The Nicomachean Ethics - I realised that his case was very compelling, albeit more so for the Pali traditions.

No one is Aristotelian metaphysically anymore. But there has been a huge revival in his ethics and politics. So I think this resonance is very relevant and important.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jinzang » Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:21 am

No one is Aristotelian metaphysically anymore.


You don't know many Catholics, do you?
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:36 am

Jinzang wrote:
No one is Aristotelian metaphysically anymore.


You don't know many Catholics, do you?


Touche. Point taken.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby jeeprs » Sat Mar 02, 2013 2:09 am

Some of the 'neo-thomist' philosophers are very good thinkers IMO. I am never the least tempted to agree with Catholic religious dogmatics, but their philosophical analyses are often spot on.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jnana » Sat Mar 02, 2013 2:24 am

tobes wrote:Metaphysically, I agree.

However, ethically, Keown has argued that there is strong continuity between Buddhist and Aristotelian ethics:

http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Buddhist-E ... 0333913094

I spent quite a lot of time trying to refute him, and then at some point - funnily enough after actually bothering to read The Nicomachean Ethics - I realised that his case was very compelling, albeit more so for the Pali traditions.

No one is Aristotelian metaphysically anymore. But there has been a huge revival in his ethics and politics. So I think this resonance is very relevant and important.

I think Keown would acknowledge that with Aristotle there is no explicit parallel to Buddhist karma & rebirth, nor a path of liberation from saṃsāra. I think he would also acknowledge that in the long history of Buddhist exegesis there was never a focus on ethics that parallels what is found in Aristotle, et al. Do you not consider these differences significant?
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby jeeprs » Sat Mar 02, 2013 3:13 am

Jnana wrote:
jeeprs wrote:I found the footnotes on Plotinus in the W Y Evans Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation very interesting. But then, I am naturally inclined to 'apophatic mysticism'.

Apophatic mysticism is interesting, and a correspondence can be made between apatheia and Buddhist dispassion (virāga). But in terms of view, notions such as the One as first cause, the Platonic forms, etc., are all quite foreign to the Buddhadharma.


My background, and overall orientation, tends towards 'universalism'. That is the attitude that sees underlying common truths in the various traditional forms. It is typical of many 'sixties types', of which I will admit to being one. That doesn't mean that I think that the various spiritual traditions are the same, or all say the same thing. The subject of 'spiritual liberation' is vast and multi-faceted. But I feel obliged towards pluralism, that is, even were I to accept that the Buddha is the greatest of teachers (as I do), this doesn't mean I believe that spiritual liberation is exclusive to Buddhism. But I do know it is a sensitive topic, and also that for many reasons, one might have to concentrate exclusively on a particular teaching.

But I am also strongly drawn to Christian Platonism, for some deep reason. I personally don't see any conflict between that and the Buddhist meditation practice that I engage in. Philosophically I think that Platonism has some characteristics that are not found in other traditions and that are quite unique. I think there is a spiritual interpretation of Plato which has largely been written out of history by modern Western scholarship. These elements have been retained and are much more visible in Eastern Orthodox theology, which is much more Platonist then Aristotelian. So for some reason I tend towards a syncretic philosophy that has both Platonist and Buddhist elements. Don't know where that came from but it is quite feasibly from an earlier life.

In any case, as is well documented, there is considerable common ground between certain schools of Christian mysticism, particularly Eckhardt, and the contemplative traditions generally, and some aspects of Buddhism, as described in some of D T Suzuki's books, like his Mysticism Christian and Buddhist.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sat Mar 02, 2013 11:51 pm

jeeprs wrote:Some of the 'neo-thomist' philosophers are very good thinkers IMO. I am never the least tempted to agree with Catholic religious dogmatics, but their philosophical analyses are often spot on.


I've never read them, but I'd be interested to learn more if you care to tell us. What kind of things are they spot on about?

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:03 am

Jnana wrote:
tobes wrote:Metaphysically, I agree.

However, ethically, Keown has argued that there is strong continuity between Buddhist and Aristotelian ethics:

http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Buddhist-E ... 0333913094

I spent quite a lot of time trying to refute him, and then at some point - funnily enough after actually bothering to read The Nicomachean Ethics - I realised that his case was very compelling, albeit more so for the Pali traditions.

No one is Aristotelian metaphysically anymore. But there has been a huge revival in his ethics and politics. So I think this resonance is very relevant and important.

I think Keown would acknowledge that with Aristotle there is no explicit parallel to Buddhist karma & rebirth, nor a path of liberation from saṃsāra. I think he would also acknowledge that in the long history of Buddhist exegesis there was never a focus on ethics that parallels what is found in Aristotle, et al. Do you not consider these differences significant?


Yes, of course he acknowledges that, and of course those differences are very significant. However, although ethics (or ethos) is a Greek term, I think it would be a huge mistake to conclude that Buddhism does not (and has not ,historically) have a deep and profound focus on 'ethics.' And this is not restricted merely to the concept of śīla; it involves all the elements of the path, and the way that agents on that path have a profound responsibility to cultivate and develop themselves and positively affect others. To treat this in squarely soteriological terms is fine - but there is no good reason to draw a fixed line and say "there is only soteriological content here, and no ethical content." I think there is clearly both, even if the latter is not as systematically expressed as, for example, epistemology or metaphysics might be.

So yes, of course there are significant differences. But there are also very significant continuities. And they are frutiful to contemplate.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:13 am

jeeprs wrote:
Jnana wrote:
jeeprs wrote:I found the footnotes on Plotinus in the W Y Evans Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation very interesting. But then, I am naturally inclined to 'apophatic mysticism'.

Apophatic mysticism is interesting, and a correspondence can be made between apatheia and Buddhist dispassion (virāga). But in terms of view, notions such as the One as first cause, the Platonic forms, etc., are all quite foreign to the Buddhadharma.


My background, and overall orientation, tends towards 'universalism'. That is the attitude that sees underlying common truths in the various traditional forms. It is typical of many 'sixties types', of which I will admit to being one. That doesn't mean that I think that the various spiritual traditions are the same, or all say the same thing. The subject of 'spiritual liberation' is vast and multi-faceted. But I feel obliged towards pluralism, that is, even were I to accept that the Buddha is the greatest of teachers (as I do), this doesn't mean I believe that spiritual liberation is exclusive to Buddhism. But I do know it is a sensitive topic, and also that for many reasons, one might have to concentrate exclusively on a particular teaching.

But I am also strongly drawn to Christian Platonism, for some deep reason. I personally don't see any conflict between that and the Buddhist meditation practice that I engage in. Philosophically I think that Platonism has some characteristics that are not found in other traditions and that are quite unique. I think there is a spiritual interpretation of Plato which has largely been written out of history by modern Western scholarship. These elements have been retained and are much more visible in Eastern Orthodox theology, which is much more Platonist then Aristotelian. So for some reason I tend towards a syncretic philosophy that has both Platonist and Buddhist elements. Don't know where that came from but it is quite feasibly from an earlier life.

In any case, as is well documented, there is considerable common ground between certain schools of Christian mysticism, particularly Eckhardt, and the contemplative traditions generally, and some aspects of Buddhism, as described in some of D T Suzuki's books, like his Mysticism Christian and Buddhist.


I think you would really enjoy this:

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/

Incidentally, I would have taken issue with your Platonic claims (i.e. that there may be a certain resonance with Buddhism), had I not recently heard the interpretation of Plato's metaphysics given my Peter Adamson (the prof who does the podcasts I linked). He gave a very unusual interpretation which basically posited a Socratic version of the two truths!

Anyway, that may raise a few eyebrows - if anyone takes issue with that, listen to the podcast first before critiquing!

The specific podcast is here:

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/plat ... y-republic

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Re: Philosophical Exchange - East and West

Postby jeeprs » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:25 am

@tobes -thanks for those references, I will definitely follow them up.

I think we have a lot in common.

As far as 'Thomist philosophy' - one source was a book called God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, by James Arraj. It is a meditation on the common ground between Zen and Thomism, with discussion of the recent (and brilliant) Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain. The book is now online here. Subsequently I discovered a number of other books in the 'Catholic-Zen' genre. Thomas Merton, of course, was one of the seminal figures, but there were others - William Johnston, Robert Kennedy, Rueben Habito, Ama Samy and others, mostly Jesuit. (I think the Jesuits have generally been the very liberal and ecumenical side of Catholicism and are often clever philosophers.)

A lot of what they say resonates with me, because (how do I put this) I am not atheist, but have a rather mystical conception of....well, I don't want to use the name here. Suffice to say that they all those kinds of writers convey a kind of deep sense of the nature of being itself which they approach through contemplation. That is why they can find common ground between their Christian faith and Buddhist practice, even if their actual belief systems are worlds apart in many ways. There is a strong parallel between 'the negative way' that you find in Christian Platonism, and the Buddhist teaching of emptiness (e.g. Masao Abe's Sunyata and Kenosis.)

Subsequently, on the Philosophy Forums, I got into many debates about the basis of ethics, whether there is such thing as a moral order, and so on. That lead me to reading about Alisdair McIntyre's After Virtue which is one of the great recent philosophy books. I also read a bit of Edward Feser, who was linked to above, and various other Thomistically-oriented writers, notably Etienne Gilson. So they are the main Thomist philosophers I'm aware of.

I see in all of these expositions of 'the perennial philosophy', which I think generally is represented in the Western tradition in Christianity (perhaps because Christianity actually appropriated it, and locked it in its vaults so they could say 'Sign here before reading' :smile: ).
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Re: Philosophical Exchange - East and West

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:38 am

jeeprs wrote:@tobes -thanks for those references, I will definitely follow them up.

I think we have a lot in common.

As far as 'Thomist philosophy' - one source was a book called God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, by James Arraj. It is a meditation on the common ground between Zen and Thomism, with discussion of the recent (and brilliant) Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain. The book is now online here. Subsequently I discovered a number of other books in the 'Catholic-Zen' genre. Thomas Merton, of course, was one of the seminal figures, but there were others - William Johnston, Robert Kennedy, Rueben Habito, Ama Samy and others, mostly Jesuit. (I think the Jesuits have generally been the very liberal and ecumenical side of Catholicism and are often clever philosophers.)

A lot of what they say resonates with me, because (how do I put this) I am not atheist, but have a rather mystical conception of....well, I don't want to use the name here. Suffice to say that they all those kinds of writers convey a kind of deep sense of the nature of being itself which they approach through contemplation. That is why they can find common ground between their Christian faith and Buddhist practice, even if their actual belief systems are worlds apart in many ways. There is a strong parallel between 'the negative way' that you find in Christian Platonism, and the Buddhist teaching of emptiness (e.g. Masao Abe's Sunyata and Kenosis.)

Subsequently, on the Philosophy Forums, I got into many debates about the basis of ethics, whether there is such thing as a moral order, and so on. That lead me to reading about Alisdair McIntyre's After Virtue which is one of the great recent philosophy books. I also read a bit of Edward Feser, who was linked to above, and various other Thomistically-oriented writers, notably Etienne Gilson. So they are the main Thomist philosophers I'm aware of.

I see in all of these expositions of 'the perennial philosophy', which I think generally is represented in the Western tradition in Christianity (perhaps because Christianity actually appropriated it, and locked it in its vaults so they could say 'Sign here before reading' :smile: ).


1/ Agree about McIntyre's After Virtue. I think it is among the best recent works on moral philosophy in the Anglo-American tradition.

2/ Also agree about negative theology. I haven't read any of the Christian Platonist's, and aside from Abe, haven't seen any of that Zen-Christianity literature. But I have poked my mind into the 11-12th century epoch where all that stuff was brewing, mainly in Spain. Maimonides is pretty amazing. There is a definite soteriological kinship with the Mādhyamikan's, even if, the metaphysics and cosmology is pretty distinct.

I think contemporary Buddhists typically like to distance themselves from these sorts of things, on the grounds that it's either a waste of time or that it's heretical in some way to read outside what is orthodox ''dharma.'' But I personally think that it can only lead to a deeper, richer, more nuanced understanding of all the issues at stake; and they are all the fundamental issues.

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Re: Philosophical Exchange - East and West

Postby Jnana » Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:45 am

jeeprs wrote:The subject of 'spiritual liberation' is vast and multi-faceted. But I feel obliged towards pluralism, that is, even were I to accept that the Buddha is the greatest of teachers (as I do), this doesn't mean I believe that spiritual liberation is exclusive to Buddhism. But I do know it is a sensitive topic, and also that for many reasons, one might have to concentrate exclusively on a particular teaching.

We do indeed live in a pluralistic world. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises From Socrates to Foucault, by Pierre Hadot, is an interesting read. He says (p. 83):

    In the view of all philosophical schools, mankind's principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passions: that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears. People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries. Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions.... Each school had its own therapeutic method, but all of them linked their therapeutics to a profound transformation of the individual's mode of seeing and being. The object of spiritual exercises is precisely to bring about this transformation.

jeeprs wrote:In any case, as is well documented, there is considerable common ground between certain schools of Christian mysticism, particularly Eckhardt, and the contemplative traditions generally, and some aspects of Buddhism, as described in some of D T Suzuki's books, like his Mysticism Christian and Buddhist.

Please feel free to add any relevant resources that you have found useful to this thread: Studies In Comparative Contemplative Traditions.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jnana » Sun Mar 03, 2013 2:48 am

tobes wrote:Yes, of course he acknowledges that, and of course those differences are very significant. However, although ethics (or ethos) is a Greek term, I think it would be a huge mistake to conclude that Buddhism does not (and has not ,historically) have a deep and profound focus on 'ethics.' And this is not restricted merely to the concept of śīla; it involves all the elements of the path, and the way that agents on that path have a profound responsibility to cultivate and develop themselves and positively affect others. To treat this in squarely soteriological terms is fine - but there is no good reason to draw a fixed line and say "there is only soteriological content here, and no ethical content." I think there is clearly both, even if the latter is not as systematically expressed as, for example, epistemology or metaphysics might be.

So yes, of course there are significant differences. But there are also very significant continuities. And they are frutiful to contemplate.

I think ethics are important. I would also agree that this is an area with enough commonality to make for fruitful comparison and dialogue. I certainly wouldn't dismiss this field of comparative study as unimportant.

That said, my own interest in the subject is primarily concerned with contemplative asceticism. A mode of practice and way of life that was much more valued in the ancient world than in contemporary Western society or liberal academia. Here, the writings of Neoplatonists such as Porphyry and Christian authors such as Evagrius and John Cassian offer useful points of comparison. Of course, there are many other important authors as well.
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Re: Philosophical Exchange - East and West

Postby jeeprs » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:02 am

Many thanks Jnana, some great resources in that linked thread. I haven't anything to add at this moment, but something may come to mind later.

Pierre Hadot wrote: In the view of all philosophical schools, mankind's principal cause of suffering, disorder, and unconsciousness were the passions: that is, unregulated desires and exaggerated fears. People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries. Philosophy thus appears, in the first place, as a therapeutic of the passions.... Each school had its own therapeutic method, but all of them linked their therapeutics to a profound transformation of the individual's mode of seeing and being. The object of spiritual exercises is precisely to bring about this transformation.


I admire Hadot. I think a lot of what goes under the name of 'philosophy' nowadays is profoundly anti-philosophical, the denial of philosophy as such. That is why I gave up debating on secular philosophy forums. I am trying to concentrate on studying a proper sadhana instead of debating against materialists.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby tobes » Sun Mar 03, 2013 11:38 pm

Jnana wrote:
tobes wrote:Yes, of course he acknowledges that, and of course those differences are very significant. However, although ethics (or ethos) is a Greek term, I think it would be a huge mistake to conclude that Buddhism does not (and has not ,historically) have a deep and profound focus on 'ethics.' And this is not restricted merely to the concept of śīla; it involves all the elements of the path, and the way that agents on that path have a profound responsibility to cultivate and develop themselves and positively affect others. To treat this in squarely soteriological terms is fine - but there is no good reason to draw a fixed line and say "there is only soteriological content here, and no ethical content." I think there is clearly both, even if the latter is not as systematically expressed as, for example, epistemology or metaphysics might be.

So yes, of course there are significant differences. But there are also very significant continuities. And they are frutiful to contemplate.

I think ethics are important. I would also agree that this is an area with enough commonality to make for fruitful comparison and dialogue. I certainly wouldn't dismiss this field of comparative study as unimportant.

That said, my own interest in the subject is primarily concerned with contemplative asceticism. A mode of practice and way of life that was much more valued in the ancient world than in contemporary Western society or liberal academia. Here, the writings of Neoplatonists such as Porphyry and Christian authors such as Evagrius and John Cassian offer useful points of comparison. Of course, there are many other important authors as well.



I guess my personal interest in the subject is related to the potentially positive role that Buddhist thought could play in the field of contemporary ethics, and by extension, political and social philosophy. Academia is very global now. China and India are on the rise. I don't think it is acceptable any more to think of ethics as a western discipline, complete with its three major thinkers - Aristotle, Kant and Bentham/Mill. But of course, this is still largely how people think - aside from China, where there has been a huge Confucius/Mencius revival (incidentally, on the back of a great deal of comparative work with Aristotle and the virtues tradition).

The Buddha belongs in this discourse, in the canon of moral philosophy, as one of the great moral teachers humanity has known. Buddhists need to learn how to speak in the language of contemporary ethics, if only because they can greatly enrich that field.

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