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Destroying Mara Forever

Destroying Mara Forever January 31, 2010

a festschrift for Damien Keown,

has finally arrived. It’s a good one… I’m just getting started on it, but the contributors list alone makes it a must-have for everyone interested in contemporary Buddhist studies and ethics.

A quick quote from the prologue (describing Professor Keown’s Ph.D. days):

“The two areas where Buddhism had invested virtually all of its intellectual energy, it seemed to Damien, were psychology and metaphysics, subjects reflecting the central Buddhist preoccupation with the nature of reality and the individual’s response to it.” (prologue, p.xv)

It’s true. And it makes the job of the contemporary Buddhist philosopher all the more dicey. We have to pick and choose the ideas (and stories) that will form a structure of Buddhist ethics; just as Buddhist philosophers of past days did with psychology and metaphysics. We have to systematize and order in our contemporary age just as they did (see especially the Abhidhamma) so long ago. It’s tricky – but, oddly, fun.

As an aside, I cannot count how many times I’ve heard or read that Buddhism or the Buddha wasn’t interested in metaphysics, followed by a re-telling of the “man and the arrow” story:

“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know …. The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

“In the same way, if anyone were to say, ‘I won’t live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that ‘The cosmos is eternal,’… or that ‘After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,’ the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata.

But in reading this (and elsewhere in the Pali texts) it is clear that the set of pointless philosophical pursuits is somewhat limited.

Most philosophy that I’ve come across, East and West, thankfully falls within the Buddha’s constraints.

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