A Critical Introduction to Buddhist Thought
September 21, 28, October 5, 12. Monday. 6-8 PM EST. Online.
For millennia throughout Asia, Siddhattha Gotama (aka. the Buddha; c. 480-400 B.C.E.) has been known as an “enlightened” figure whose vast wisdom illuminates the way to a life of meaning and genuine satisfaction. At present, in the West, his teachings are increasingly viewed by adherents, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers alike as lucid descriptions of our human situation, and his prescribed practice of meditation as an effective means of awakening to that situation with clarity and equanimity.
Like other now prominent teachers of his day, in India, China, Greece, and beyond, Gotama claimed to have made significant discoveries about human existence. In short, he claimed to have realized a way of human being that accords fully with the nature of reality “as it is,” rather than as it is theorized or fantasized to be. Specifically, this seminar will explore central claims that Gotama made concerning reality and the real; self and consciousness; human psychology; the nature of action; God; causality; the conditions for well-being, and so on. The primary basis of our exploration will be foundational dialogues, or suttas, that Gotama engaged in with others over the course of his forty-five year teaching career. We might also look at later sutras and tantras.
Now, in the spirit of critical suspicion: Can an Iron Age teaching really deliver on such a promise? If so, 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. Is such a correspondence possible? Might Buddhist thought (and practice) offer us resources for dealing effectively with our current historical moment.?
Our text is: Glenn Wallis, Basic Teachings of the Buddha (New York: Random House Modern Library, 2007).
Sept. 2 1: Introduction (xi-xlvi). Sutta 5, “The All,” 27; commentary: “The Location of Lived Experience,” 97-99.
Sept. 28: Sutta 2, “A Brief Talk to Malukya,” 5-8; commentary: “Transfixed by Flamboyant Speculation,” 74-78. Sutta 6, “Like a Ball of Foam;” commentary, “Look: It is a Magical Display!” 100-103.
Oct. 5: Sutta 3, “Threefold Knowledge,” 9-21; commentary: “Enchanted by ‘God,'” 79-91.
Oct. 12: Sutta 14, “Present-Moment Awareness with Breathing,” 49-56; commentary: “How to Meditate,” 150-162. I recommend, also, this “non-buddhist” version of that sutta, called “Stranger Sutra.”
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of six books including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice, A Critique of Western Buddhism and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His most recent work places Buddhism face to face with continental philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia. He is the founder of the blog Speculative Non-Buddhism.