This book, through extensive textual study, explores the Buddha's and Buddhism's uncompromising and unflinching emphasis on the centrality of ethics as against any pernicious dogmas and metaphysical beliefs, and their attempts to causally relate moral perfection to soteriological or eschatological goal. What is most admirable about Buddhism is that it integrates the vertical development of human consciousness, for which the other is the necessary condition, with the gradual development of morality. It was this emphasis which separated Siddhartha, before he attained the Awakened Wisdom (bodhi), from his teachers - Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta- and it is for this reason that the Buddha calls himself and his Dhamma patisotagami, i.e. going against the currents of the prevailing dogmas and pernicious beliefs. In brief, Buddhism is about overcoming of suffering, the greatest evil, through ethicization of human consciousness and conduct, which also takes care of the ethicization of the society and the universe. Besides, some of the essays of this book explore many other themes like Buddhist epistemology, nature of self, time, and interculturality.
About the Author
Hari Shankar Prasad (b.1953) is currently working as
Research Scientist in Professor's category, awarded by the University Grants Commission, and teaches philosophy at Delhi University since 1983. He did PhD from the Autstralian National University under Professor J.W. de Jong in 1982 on the topic "The Concept of Time in Buddhism." He has published in Philosophy East and West (Hawaii), East and West (Rome), Journal of Indian Philosophy (Dordrecht), Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical research (Delhi), Indian Philosophical Quarterly (Pune), and various anthologies. His edited books are: Amala Prajna: Aspects of Buddhist Studies (with N.H. Samtani), Essays on Time in Buddhism, Time in Indian Philosophy, The Uttaratantra of Maitreya, Philosophy, Grammar and Indology and Santaraksita: His Life and Work.
The central theme of this volume is to explore the central focus of the Buddha, as narrated by him for example through the parable of arrow, and of Buddhism texts (both in Pali and Sanskrit) compels us to subscribe to the view that Buddhism can appropriately be called an "ethicized religion" or "religion of ethics and soteriology." Further, on investigation into the contexts, contents, and the intended meaning of the Buddha's teachings (as preserved in the Nikayas) and their further elaborations by various Buddhist thinkers, it is not difficult to develop an insight that each of the Buddha's discourses -directly or indirectly -has an ethical message which has been continuously and more forcefully emphasized by his interpreters.
In a wider perspective, the Buddha's Dharma (Pali. Dhamma) actually stands for the cosmic principle of ethics as well as his teachings about it, which address the human issues and problems. Its primary focus is on the psychological transformation of human mind and the ways to achieve moral perfection, which together not only make this worldly life peaceful, happy, and harmonious but also serve the soteriological purpose of the aspirants without the mediation of any external agency like a priest or God. Note that it is all through human effort. In he process of ethicization, Buddhism restructures the entire humanity and the universe on the ethical line. Some of the chapters of the present volume-especially chapters one, four, five, six and seven- sufficiently show the primacy and centrality of ethics in Buddhism.
Since no ethics or morality can function without interpersonal relationship, it is bound to be social, i.e. this worldly, and Buddhism is grounded in this very empirical world, which is the realm of action, peace, and happiness and of course their opposites. In this regard, the Buddha and entire Buddhism make attempts to equate nirvana with the overcoming of such worldly evils as raga, dvesa, moha, asravas, trsna, and speculative thinking (kalpana) on the one hand and the practice of Noble Eightfold path and the brahmaviharas on the other so that the gap between this world (samsara) and the other world (nirvana) is bridged in the present life itself. The bodhisattva ideal with skilful means, especially in Mahayana, brings the ultimate goal within the reach of the layman who is incapable of acquiring rigorous training in the Buddhist discipline.
The criterion of selecting the textual passages, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, for the essays of this volume is to see and compare whether there is an uninterrupted effort by the Buddha and his followers to give a better alternative view of civilization to be founded on the complete ethicization of human consciousness and conduct. This is in direct opposition to the prevailing superstitious beliefs, pernicious dogmas, and the unethical practices, as found in the Brahmanic literature and society, which are the causes of suffering and also detrimental to the religious goal of liberation.
Further, just as the social organizing value for Hindus is svadharma, love or agape for Christians, universal brotherhood for Muslims, jen (humaneness) and yi (righteousness) for Confucians, and ahimsa for Jainas, for the Buddhists they are pancasila (in early Buddhism) and karuna (in later Buddhism). Encouraged by the overriding ethical orientation of Buddhism I have formulated the title of the present book as The Centrality of Ethics in Buddhism. Thus ethics is not just one of the many areas Buddhism is embarking on, rather it is a common spirit running throughout its investigation, be it psychological, metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, cosmological, political, or sociological.
This volume contains sixteen essays, most of which were written in the last twenty years on various occasions. They are all result of my research and teaching at Delhi University since 1983. The purpose of publishing them in one volume is to make them accessible to interested readers. They cover such areas as Buddhist ethics (which is dominating the contents), karma theory, interculturality, self, epistemology, and time. Chapter one (Introduction) which retains the title of the book and chapter six are exclusively written to highlight the central focus of Buddhism. Chapters two and three present a detailed view of the Vedic-Upanisadic-Dharmasastric way of ethical thinking, which is criticized by Buddhism. They are taken as a background in contrast to the Buddhist way of thinking. Chapters eight and nine show the Buddhist attempt to enter into an intercultural dialogue for creative peace peace through mutual adjustment and enrichment. Although chapter the, eleven, and twelve are dealing with the Buddhist conceptions of knowledge, reality, and self respectively, they have been included here because the analysis of these themes has a transforming effect on our attitude and moral conduct. Further, there is a good reason to include here chapters thirteen to sixteen. The whole section delves into the intercultural study of time, which falls under the sub-area of ethics. This kind of study helps us understand, appreciate, and benefit from the alien ways of understanding. Whereas chapter fifteen discusses the controversy between Samuel Clarke (the representative of Newton) and Leibniz on time, which could not be elaborated in chapter fourteen, chapter sixteen presents a non-Buddhist Indian contrast to be Buddhist position on time as found in chapter fourteen. Most of the essays of the present volume have been revised and have reformulated titles.
In writing these essays I have tremendously benefited from many great scholars directly or indirectly. Those who have directly influenced and shaped my philosophical ideas through their work and personal discussion in the last three decades are: Professors T.R.V. Murti, N.H. Samtani, N.K. Devraj, R.K. Tripathi, A.K. Chattrjee, N.S.S. Raman, R.C. Pandeya, J.W. de jong (my Ph.D. supervisor), A.L.Basham, J.J.C.Smart, John Passmore, B.K. Matilal, Ninian Smart, Hajime Nakamura, Massaki Hattori, Lambert Schmithausen, Heinrich Beck (and his colleagues Dr. Erwin Shadel and Dr. Uwe Voigt). Hans Poser, and R.A. Mall. The last three introduced me to the intercultural (e.g. Buddhism vs. Leibniz) and interdisciplinary (e.g. Biology, Physics and Philosophy) study of time. These professors were kind enough to be my host at their institutes in the last ten years. Needless to say, I am deeply indebted to all of them.
The one individual who has patiently suffered the brunt of my academic pursuits is my wife, Meena. She genuinely deserves not only my deep gratitude but also dedication of this book. I thank my two lovely children, Archana and Alok, now independent and settled aborad, who have greatly contributed to making our home a happy abode of living.
Lastly, I am thankful to Mr. N.P. Jain and Mr. Rajeev Prakash Jain of Motilal Banarsidass for accepting the manuscript and expediting its publication, to Mr. Om Anand for supervising the work, and to Mr. Rajesh Kumar for carefully composing the material. Finally, I sincerely acknowledge my gratefulness to all those publishers and editors who published the earlier versions of majority of these essays for their permission, wherever necessary, to reprint them here. At the end of each one of them I have given their full references.
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