May 05, 2005

Recommended reading

An End To Suffering: The Buddha in the World by Pankaj Mishra (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: 2004)

This is a book ostensibly about Bhuddism and the life of its founder, but, more importantly, recounts the spiritual and intellectual voyage of the author from disinterested observer to involved partipant. He is Indian by birth, but has travelled and lived extensively in the West, notably, the U.S. and U.K. He has also immersed himself in the reading of Western philosophy, citing Nietzsche, Emerson, Adam Smith, Rousseau, and Václav Havel, among others. So his approach to his subject is not that of a “true believer” or mono-cultural historian.

In addition to a brief biography of the Buddha, he traces the history of the “movement,” if you can call it that, through the ages and varying cultures, from the original Indian sanghas to the San Francisco Zen Center. In so doing, he places Buddhism in its social, economic and political contexts to show how relevant it was (or wasn’t, is or isn’t) to the times.

He refers to the Nietzschean dictum that “God is dead; everything is permitted” to help to understand the post-modern condition and conundrum. Of course, there are the usual religious objections and reactions leading to the other extreme of religious fundamentalism we are living through in our times. And all this leads to questions of the meaning of “freedom” and its limitations.

At the end of his quest, he finds that Buddhist philosophies of impermanence and compassion are an appropriate response to what he sees as our existential dilemma and the violent times we live in (he admits being a kind of neophyte with respect to its various practices).

In Shintaido, we experience the dichotomy between dogma and free will in the interplay between kata (form) and expression so I think we have a good way to study this big philosophical question with our bodies.

I am recommending this book because it provides a kind of background to our practice which can help to enrich and expand it. If you want to convert to Buddhism, that’s your business.

Posted by mandragore at May 5, 2005 01:48 PM

Isn't necessity what stands between dogma and free will?

I believe the Nietzchean dictum applies in times when the "map" (dogma) totally occlude the underlying "territory" (reality). Hence the 'license' to tear it all apart, all preconception, rules and dogma, shake the whole thing to reconnect with sheer necessity (e.g. the real limits of our body).

Then, ultimately, we create a new map (since it appears we can't do without), until...

God is dead! Long live to God!

Posted by: pb at May 30, 2005 05:50 AM

I took the plunge ( Amazon delivers to the Czech Republic) -- this is a really excellent book. It's so well-written and traverses such a wide range of viewpoints so naturally, I'm even thinking of suggesting it to my father, and thinking he would enjoy it -- one of the last people you'd expect to have any interest in "Buddhism". But this book is about much more than just Buddhism or the life of the Buddha himself.

Posted by: David Franklin at June 26, 2005 07:51 AM