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The Contemporary Relevance of Buddha

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2014

Extract

The great poet and novelist Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) once remarked that he was extremely sad that he was not alive when Gautama Buddha was still around. Tagore very much wished he could have had conversations with Buddha. I share that sentiment, but, like Rabindranath, I am also immensely grateful that, even now, we can enjoy—and learn from—the ideas and arguments that Buddha gave us twenty-five hundred years ago. Our world may be very different from what Buddha faced in the sixth century bce, but we can still benefit greatly from the reasoned approach to ethics, politics, and social relations that Gautama Buddha brought to the world of human understanding.

Type
Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2014 

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References

1 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Culture and Value, ed. von Wright, G. H. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), p. 30Google Scholar.

2 Chattopadhyaya, Latika has a very interesting book on the subject, originally in Bengali, but now available in English: Scepticism in Indian Thought: Carvaka Philosophy Reexamined (Kolkata: New Age, 2013)Google Scholar.

3 I will not go further into this aspect of Buddha's thought in this essay (nor am I assessing the force of Buddha's counterarguments against the materialists). But I note here that there is need for more work in the literatures on both epistemology and ethics in Buddha's disputation of materialism without the hypothesis of the existence of an almighty God. As an intellectual exercise this can be a hugely interesting philosophical inquiry into our understanding of the nature and demands of the world around us. Madhavacarya has given us several very important leads in that comparative study.

4 See Hajime, Nakamura, “Basic Features of the Legal, Political, and Economic Thought of Japan,” in Moore, Charles A., ed., The Japanese Mind: Essentials of Japanese Philosophy and Culture (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1973), p. 144Google Scholar. See also my The Argumentative Indian (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)Google Scholar.

5 On this, see my “The Crisis of European Democracy,” New York Times, May 22, 2012; and “What Happened to Europe?” New Republic, August 2, 2012.

6 Rich, Bruce, To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century (New Delhi: Penguin, 2008)Google Scholar.

7 I have discussed this issue more fully in The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009)Google Scholar, chapters 8 (“Rationality and Other People”) and 9 (“Plurality of Impartial Reasons”).

8 In a visionary initiative undertaken by the East-Asia Summit, the old Nalanda University is now being reestablished through a multi-country initiative—an effort that includes India, China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other Asian countries.

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