Research What Are You Reading...On Buddhism and Confucianism

What Are You Reading…On Buddhism and Confucianism

Many ancient philosophies had the goal of creating a well-functioning world and used their insights to develop rules of behavior and socio-political orders that are still with us today. Although we may question the metaphysical assumptions of these philosophies, we haven’t abandoned them because they contain important lessons . Recently, I’ve been thinking about lessons from Buddhism and Confucianism, particularly the Buddhist teachings on the origin of suffering and the Confucian idea of cultivating harmony.

We could benefit from studying those ideas more closely. Understanding that suffering comes from attachment and that harmony is created by extending compassion and kindness to others could change how we interact. When we encounter unfamiliar ideas, we often react by defending the familiar. When opposing sides do this, it can become impossible to reconcile our ideas or create change. But comprehending suffering can create a bond built on our shared experience with attachment. This can become the basis for a more respectful dialogue. We need to recognize how to be compassionate in speaking and responding while still firmly holding to our principles. Here are some papers that touch on these important Buddhist and Confucian ideas:


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  1. It seems that the ancient philosophies of both East and West have proven their value simply by their survival over such a long period. As example, if Buddhism and Confucianism were wildlife species in nature, we’d have to say that they are well adapted to their environment, their usefulness proven by their ongoing existence.

    That said, it seems even more helpful to observe that none of the ancient philosophies have succeeded in fundamentally transforming the human condition on either the personal or social level. Influenced, yes. Transformed, no.

    If this failure were true of only particular ideologies, then we could reasonably propose that the problem lied within the content of those ideologies. In such a case a process of philosophy, a method of inspecting and repairing such flawed idea systems, would seem the reasonable response.

    But what we see instead is that none of the ancient philosophies, nor any modern ones either, have succeeded in fundamentally transforming the human condition. The universality of this failure should teach us that the problems the ancient philosophies have long attempted to address do not arise at the level of the content of thought, and thus can not be resolved at that level.

    That is, personal human suffering and the resulting social conflict are not philosophical problems, and thus can not be resolved by philosophy, any philosophy. This is what a rich diversity of ancient philosophies long led by some of the best minds among us would seem to be teaching us.

    The universality of human suffering in every time and place is evidence that it’s source is something that we all have in common, that all humans everywhere have always had in common.

    The only thing that all humans everywhere across the rich diversity of human culture have in common is that which we are all made of psychologically, the electro-chemical information medium we call thought.

    Human suffering arises from the nature of thought itself, from the way that thought operates. This insight dramatically simplifies the problem of suffering, at the cost of devaluing the wonderful complexities we of a philosophical nature so love to consider.


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