From the Jacket
The book bases Buddhist psychology on a sophisticated and thoroughgoing empiricism. Jamesean psychological concepts are used in order to clarify the Buddhist ideas. The first part of the book outlines the principles of psychology that can be traced to the Buddha himself with detailed comparison to James. The second part dealt with the understanding of these principles by later disciples of Buddha. The substantial appendices present analyses of Maitreya’s Madhyanatavibhaga and Vasubandhu’s Vijnapatimatratasiddhi.
“Despite the exotic character of its content for Western readers, the book is written in a clear and accessible prose. It is very detailed introduction to the most interesting features of Buddhist thought.”
John J. McDermott, Texas A&M University major contribution to Buddhist studies, giving a refreshing and daring interpretation of some of the Buddhist doctrine that has grown stale from dated sources and ideas” Diana Yoshikawa Paul.
David J. Kalupahana is Professor of Philosophy at the University Hawaii.
Several books dealing with Buddhist psychology have appeared since Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids highlighted the importance of psychological analysis in the Buddha’s teachings (see Buddhist Psychology, London: G. Bell and Sons, 1914). More recently, the Buddha’s psychological speculations have been compared with those of modern psychologists and psychoanalysts (see M.W. Padmasiri de Silva, Buddhist and Freudian Psychology, Colombo: Lake House Investments, 1978). Even a world-renowned psychoanalyst got heavily involved inn the study of Buddhist psychology (see D. T. Suzuki, Erich From and Robert De Martino, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, New York: Grove Press, 1960). While it would be grossly unfair to say that these studies have no contribution to make, there is no denying that most of them labor under the old cliché that the goal of Buddhist psychological analysis is to reveal the hidden mysteries in the human mind and thereby facilitate the development of a transcendental state of consciousness beyond the reach of linguistic expression (see state of consciousness beyond the reach of linguistic expression (see Thomas A. Kochumuttom, A Buddhist Doctrine of Experience Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982). The Buddha’s statements, as well as the statements of some of his faithful disciples throughout the centuries, have therefore been looked upon as enigmatic utterances or koans with no directly implied meanings. Experiences not described by the Buddha or his more enlightened disciples are being constantly discussed, while those that are described and “laid bare” (utta ni-kata, as the Buddha himself would characterize them) are ignored.
Even though the Buddha’s ideas were totally opposed to those expressed in India during his day, their influence on mankind has remained pervasive. They spread rapidly both in India and beyond her boundaries to gain a lasting hold in the lives of countless millions throughout the centuries in South, South-East and East Asia. Yet soon they were to disappear from the country in which they were first promulgated. This disappearance was due mostly to the way in which the Brahmanical tradition reasserted itself by emphasizing transcendence in the spheres of psychology, metaphysics, ethics and religious experience, as is evident from a careful study of the Bhagavadgita.
Buddhism, it has been said, is “the last of the great Asiatic schools of thought to reach American shores,” and “has been moving ever deeper into the very substratum of American philosophy,…” (Buddhism and American Thikers, ed. Kenneth K. Inada and N.P. Jacobson, Albany: The State University of New York Press, 1984, p. vii). Yet, considering the manner in which Buddhism is being presented in the Western world, one can raise questions regarding its fate in this country, which in a way may not be very different from the Indian senario.
It the techniques of Buddhist psychology were to reveal an “ineffable” ultimate reality, then it would have nothing to do with philosophy which, according to James, is very talkative. Thus, Buddhist psychology not only becomes mystical or spiritualist, but also loses its claim to be a genuine philosophy. Under these circumstances, neither the psychologists nor the philosophers, however restricted the parameters of their respective fields of inquiry are, could be lamed for not recognizing Buddhism as embodying a genuine psychological analysis or a viable philosophical method. While Buddhism loses its passport to the sacred domains of both psychology and philosophy, its appeal to the so-called students of religion also dwindles the moment it is described as a form of non-absolutism, for religion becomes almost meaningless for most people unless it recognizes an Absolute or Ultimate Reality. Buddhism thereby becomes an enigma.
In my previous writings, I have constantly struggled to explain the early Buddhist tradition as one based upon an extremely sophisticated empiricist foundation. In considering it to be a form of empiricism I was not making an equation between Buddhism and the British form of empiricism, especially the Humean version, primarily because the Buddha looked upon relations to be part and parcel of the events, hence they are an real as the events themselves and not merely products of human imagination. In a more recent publication I have provided evidence in favor of a similarly empiricist interpretation of even the philosophy of Nagarjuna, who has generally been regarded as a champion of the mystical and the transcendental. Yet it seems that one of the major obstacles to accepting such an interpretation of either the Buddha or Nagarjuna is the present understanding of the nature of Buddhist psychology.
The present volume is devoted to an examination of the basic principles of Buddhist psychology. Contrary to most interpretations, it will be argued that there is no need to assume any form of transcendence or absolutism in reading the Buddhist texts. A non-absolutist or non-transcendentalist interpretation of the later forms of Buddhism would not only align some of the leading philosophers of that period with the Buddha himself, but also prevent the fate that befell Buddhism in India being repeated in the modern Western world, where it has come to be studied with some enthusiasm. In the process of examining the principles of Buddhist psychology every effort would be made to show how the Buddha’s psychological analysis is subservient to his philosophical discourse. When he decided to speak about his freedom and explain it to the world he was donning the cloak of a philosopher. His interest in distinguishing between a right view (samma-ditthi) and a confused view (miccha-ditthi) and, his claim that he avoids empty or false statements (tuccha, musa) and confines himself to true and well-founded statements (taccha, bhuta) makes him a genuine philosopher, even according to the most restricted definition of philosophy. However, his philosophical enterprise is closely wedded to his psychological speculations and, as may be shown in the course of the following discussions, this relationship has engendered a rather unique philosophical outlook, namely, a thorough-going non-substantialism, non-absolutism, and anti-essentialism.
This particular philosophical outlook in Buddhism renders any comparison of the Buddha with many of the leading philosophers of the Western world a difficult task, except in a rather piecemeal way. Yet the situation is not hopeless. Since the Buddha appears to have combined the vocations of a psychologist and a philosopher, what is needed is to look for someone in the Western world who also combined in himself these two vocations. The obvious choice is William James. Furthermore, such a comparison is justified by the fact that William James, after he compiled the magnum opus on religion, perceived a close relationship between his ideas and those of Buddhism (see section on “Epistemology and Psychology”). The comparison between Buddhist and Jamesean psychology is undertaken with a view to showing the possible similarities in their outlook, not their identity. After all, James was a medical man who had the opportunity to dissect and analyse the physical structure of the human brain. Yet his explanation, the latter being confined to the testimony and behaviour of other conscious human beings. The Buddha, on the contrary, was strictly confined to introspection and observation without the benefit of brain surgery. If their approaches to understanding the nature of human consciousness are comparable, then their speculations regarding the nature of existence, of moral phenomena, etc., may also turn out to be equally comparable. Thus, the present work is only a prolegomenon to a more detailed examination of Buddhism and the Jamesean version of American pragmatism.
In presenting James in the way I have done, I am not claiming any originality in interpretation. All that I am attempting to do here is to utilize the Jamesean psychological ideas and concepts in order to clarify the ideas expressed by a this-worldly-minded yogin of the sixth century B.C. and which are enveloped in darkness due to the intricacies of the classical languages in which they are preserved. After years of neglect, since Ralph Barton Perry’s detailed treatment of James’ work, the last two decades witnessed a resurgence of interest in James, leading especially to the publication of a definitive set of editions of his writings under the title: The Works of William James, with introductions that place James in the Western philosophical background even though James seems to have been familiar with even the non-western philosophical traditions. The availability of such a definitive edition of James’ works will facilitate a more detailed comparative study of James’ pragmatism with similar pragmatic movements in other parts of the world.
The first part of the present work is devoted to an outlining of the principles of psychology that can be traced back to the Buddha himself, with detailed comparisons with James’. The second part deals with the understanding of these principles by the later disciples of the Buddha. In contrast to the generally held view that Buddhist thought gradually evolved from small beginnings to elaborate systems, like a lotus bud blooming forth into a multi-petalled lotus, I have tried to show that revisions were made by some of the scholastics and that there was a continued and persistent effort to resurrect the teachings of the Buddha by disciples like Moggaliputtatissa, Nagarjuna, and Vasubandhu. Such a reading of Nagarjuna will be found in my Nagarjuna. The Philosophy of the Middle Way (1986). Similar analyses of Maitreya’s Madhyantavibhaga and the Vasubandhu’s Vijnaptimatratasiddhi are appended to this volume.
The first part of the present work is devoted to an outlining of the principles of psychology that can be traced back to the Buddha himself, with detailed comparisons with James’. The second part deals with the understanding of these principles by the later disciples of the Buddha. In contrast to the generally held view that Buddhist thought gradually evolved from small beginnings to elaborate systems, like a lotus bud blooming forth into a mult-petalled lotus, I have tried to show that revisions were made by some of the scholastics and that there was a continued and persistent effort to resurrect the teachings of the Buddha by disciples like Moggaliputtatisa, Nagarjuna, and Vasubandhu. Such a reading of Nagarjuna will be found in my Nagarjuna. The Philosophy of the Middle Way (1986). Similar analyses of Maitreya’s Madhyantavibhaga and the Vasubandhu’s vijnaptimatratasaddhi are appended to this volume.
It is my sincere hope that this brief comparison of the psychological reflections of some of our great ancestors will lead to more comprehensive and fruitful comparative studies in philosophy and culture.
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