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A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack
Author Loy, David R.
PublisherState University of New York Press
Publisher Url
LocationAlbany, NY, US [奧爾巴尼, 紐約州, 美國]
SeriesSUNY series in religious studies
Content type書籍=Book
Keyword佛教人物=Buddhist; 佛教史=Buddhist History; 信心=Belief=Faith; 緣起=paticca-samuppada=pratitya-samutpada=conditions; 緣起=pratitya-samutpada=conditions=paticca-samuppada; Psychological Aspects of Western Civilization; Philosophy of Western Civilization; Classical Influences on Western Civilization; Buddhist Philosophy; Doctrines of Buddhism; Philosophy of Self; Psychology of Identity; Self-consciousness
AbstractLoy follows the rise of global capitalism to its present status as the first truly world religion, and sees economics as its theology. He notes its pernicious effects, such as ecological degradation and the encouragement of greed. He shows how it has come to occupy the status of dogma when all it really offers is a particular, historically conditioned, and in many ways inadequate and misleading way of valuing and devaluing the world. He contrasts this with his understanding of the possibilities offered by Buddhism.

We learn that during what Jaspers called the 'Axial Age' (800-200bce) in many cultures religions sprang into being that posited a transcendent world standing in contra-distinction to this one, which was, by comparison, devalued. Ethics and faith became the credentials for entry into this better world. Loy shows that our world becomes a place of lack, defined through comparison with the better place. This lack has haunted western culture ever since, though it has undergone numerous transformations and survived the demise of belief in the other world from which it sprang.

After sketching his own interpretation of Buddhism, Loy offers a critique of 'freedom', an ideal that has stimulated many wars and revolutions – French, Russian, Chinese – that have culminated in tyranny. America is sometimes claimed as the exception, but arguably the American attempt to export its variety of 'freedom and justice' currently lies at the root of civil strife around the world. The western ideal of freedom is connected to the centrality it accords the potentially autonomous self – and it becomes imperative that this potential is actualised. However, Buddhism suggests that autonomous selfhood is impossible because selfhood can never be isolated from the conditions upon which it depends: the environment and the community. It is no accident, therefore, that the triumph of the western freedom-view has been accompanied by the devastation of environment and community. 'Self-actualisation', whether of the individual or the state, is all too often at somebody else's expense.

Freedom is the mother of anxiety. The freed masses have, therefore, often traded their emancipation for the security offered by autocratic direction. Even if this is avoided, the pursuit of freedom becomes an endless chase after a mirage that recedes as we approach, because to secure freedom one has to achieve control. At the collective level the whole exercise is self-defeating, but Loy explores these themes through the history of classical Greece. The Greeks invented humanism and individualism and were even more competitive than ourselves, but he argues that although the Greeks developed the 'higher religion of the self' their prime achievement was to demonstrate that it didn't work. Democratic Athens was the most imperialistic of the Greek city states. We have, however, failed to learn the lesson.

I agree with Loy that freedom-anxiety is closely related to a basic mistake about the nature of the self. On this mistake rests a consumerist edifice in which people have an illusion of freedom that obscures the cruelties in which they are implicated, the manner in which they are being led by the nose, and the ways in which matters might be righted. We have created a world in which exploitation is accepted because it serves the profit that underpins our way of life. We think that if we can only secure 'enough' then we will be freed from anxiety. This anxiety, however, does not come from not having enough. It is the shadow of the very self-consciousness that we hold so dear and that rides under the banner of 'freedom'.

Loy's analysis of the trajectory of ancient Greek culture is salutary in its parallel to our own age of supposedly secular humanism. Toward the end of this period Greek culture became increasingly introspective, just as ours is becoming. In Greece this further blinded the psyche to the world of objects and aggravated the sense of
ISBN0791452603 (平); 079145259X (精)
Created date2008.07.18
Modified date2014.03.28

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