On being Buddhist and distinctively Buddhist

At the beginning of my replies to Evan Thompson’s response, I noted that there are two core access in which my eudaimonist Buddhist modernism differs from a great deal of premodern Buddhist tradition. I will first address the one that I take to be a deeper modification to the tradition, in include points beyond the removal of suffering. Thompson doesn’t speak of this qualifying in quite these periods, but I repute many of his comments speak directly to it. Specially, Thompson says:

I submit that the driving engine–historically and philosophically–of Buddhist pondered is the following set of propositions: All stated and deepened things are impermanent, disappointing, and not-self( the so-called three tags of live ); and nirvana is unconditioned peace. Another formulation is the so-called four closes( which, according to Tibetan Buddhism, minimally determine a view as Buddhist ): everything stated and compounded is impermanent; everything infected( by the mental calamities of beginningless fundamental ignorance, attachment, and feeling) is suffering; all phenomena are devoid of self; and nirvana( unconditioned cessation of affliction) is peace.

I don’t agree that these propositions constitute the driving locomotive of Buddhist saw; that would be a very strong claim, one which Thompson does not argue for. I do, however, think that they are among the more important parts of Buddhist reputed historically. Certainly I think they are so important that on this blog, 11 years ago, I described them, or something like them, as the biggest reason I wasn’t a Buddhist- much as Thompson does. At that phase I stood with him on that question; I don’t anymore.

What modified? I’ve told that floor: sitting in the waiting room of a cancer clinic, I unexpectedly realized that if I was to have a chaplain to help me face demise, I would want that chaplain to be Buddhist. That was for a number of reasons, but significant among them the Buddha’s own recognition of the inevitability of fatality( in the suttas ), with his last words,” strive with vigilance”- strive to be better. That depended neither on a God I couldn’t believe in , nor on an advocacy of social right that can do nothing in the face of death’s inevitability. All this was crucial to me because- as with a therapist- for a chaplain to help a patient, the patient has to provide the chaplain with trust, even faith. A good chaplain will challenge us on precisely those views that are spawning it hard for us to live the last parts of our lives well.

Now Thompson says in his reply 😛 TAGEND

I have no objection to anyone who feels more at home with Buddhist perceptions of dignity, and of wholesome versus destructive feelings, than with akin notions in other lores( Stoicism, Christianity, Confucianism, etc .), who accordingly wishes to articulate virtue ethics chiefly from the evolving view of the Buddhist theoretical heritage, and who thus identifies as a Buddhist.

This indicates to me that Thompson would find relatively little to object to in my adoption of Buddhism as I’ve described above still further. Where I envisage his objections would lie is to the next one of the purposes of my adoption of Buddhism. That is: Nothing that happened in the hospital waiting room changed my belief that rebirth is false, or that the things of this world can be worthy of our pastime. I had not then, and have not now, construed any Buddhist arguments that discouraged me from these views. I is of the view that then leaves me three options. First, I could depart Buddhism on the grounds that I cannot accept propositions traditionally important to it- an existentially unsatisfying option in the context, and one that would likely exclude membership in nearly any tradition that exists( including secular humanism and Unitarian Universalism ). Second, I agreed to accept two mutually contradictory impressions at the same time -an approach completely unacceptable for a philosopher, and not huge for ordinary people either. Or, I could attempt to adhere to a Buddhism that remained true to these other theoretical convictions of mine- which was thus not include most of the overtures Thompson links. That is the option I espouse, and I continue to think it the best.

I also think that my leave worldview remains distinctively Buddhist in a variety of ways: accepting honourable feeling, conceiving( with the Second Noble Truth) that the causes of suffering are primarily mental, seeing political action as dangerous, and more. Thompson, nonetheless, doesn’t think that the refusal of righteous anger weighs as distinctively Buddhist( and this in a way that would probably apply to other related overtures ). He notes in response that” archaic and modern Stoics too regard anger as a vicious emotion that needs to be restrained and counteracted by positive passions and rational sense .” That’s true. But saying only that the rejection of righteous anger is therefore not distinctively Buddhist shows a standard for” distinctively Buddhist” that I don’t think is fair. In saying that the abandonment of righteous anger is” distinctively Buddhist” I meant that it legislates something like David Chapman’s standard of something “not already understood by( say) a non-Buddhist college-educated left-leaning Californian”( or Bostonian or Vancouverite)- something that challenges the common sense that what left-wing North Americans were already inclined to believe anyway, which I feel Thompson and I concur is an important thing for Buddhism to do. What is distinctively Buddhist in this way is what is challenging rather than comfortable.

Thompson’s observes, by comparison, appear to be setting a far higher standard for an idea to be” distinctively Buddhist “: that there was still or ought to have no other institutions that ever proposed it. This, I refer, is an impossibly quality standards. I think that most of what Thompson takes to be the” driving engine” of Buddhist belief would disappoint it. Augustine would have wholeheartedly agreed that the things of this world- requirement and compounded things- are impermanent and unsatisfactory, and that genuine well-being is is located within an unconditioned conciliation beyond it. The Hellenistic Skeptics, and even numerous contemporary postmodernists, would agree that” all phenomena are devoid of self “. Very few hypothesis are unique to any legend, and I don’t see any reason to expect them to be. I study a tradition’s distinctiveness is important not for any sense of uniqueness, but for a direction it offers challenges to the common sense of the age( and so what is distinctive about a lore may change from period to era ).

In the next post I’ll explore at more period why I reject the kind of propositions Thompson notations above, and what that intends.

Cross-posted at the Indian Philosophy Blog .

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