What should a socially-aware person make of Buddhism today? It presents itself as the treasure house of enlightened ideas and practices that were formulated by a gifted teacher who lived in India twenty-five hundred years ago. Followers of Buddhism, east and west, tell us that this man’s teachings accurately identify the real conditions of human existence. If true, that is quite a remarkable achievement. It would mean that an ancient diagnosis of human experience still pertains in our hyper-accelerated, ultra-technological modern society. It also suggests that Buddhist thought contains antidotes or even solutions for negotiating both our zombie-like consumer-capitalist system and our current political catastrophe. Is such a correspondence possible? Does Buddhism have anything of consequence to teach us today?
In this five-week seminar we will read and discuss Buddhist writings that deal with a range of questions, such as psychology (what is the person?), ethics (how should we act?), ontology (what are the properties of being?), and epistemology (how can we know?). Our focus will be on considering how Buddhist thought and practice might provide resources for the better understanding the present situation. No prior knowledge of Buddhism is assumed.
Our main text is: William Edelglass and Jay Garfield (eds.), Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Additional readings will be either be provided as handouts, as an html link, or shared over Google Docs and/or emailed.
Week One: Buddhist Philosophy: “Introduction;” “Metaphysics and Ontology;” Noa Ronkin, “Theravāda Metaphysics and Ontology: Kaccānagotta (Saṃyuttanikāya) and Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha. Online: “Metaphysics”; “Ontology.” Handout: on Laruelle’s critique of phenomenology.
NOTES: What is true or real about our lives, society, and world is intimately wedded to “how things are.” Metaphysics and ontology give thought to this matter of “being.” As abstract as it may seem, this is subject matter that we all muse about in our more serious moments. Moreover, giving thought to what you understand the constituents and nature of “being” (things, events, being itself) to be is very much an ethical exercise. For, assuming that consistency is a component of integrity, our views always entail particular commitments. For good measure, we will expose ourselves to Laruelle as an antidote to philosophy’s (and Buddhism’s) belief in it’s own sufficiency concerning these matters. Finally, how can you translate all of this into practical action in today’s world?