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Preface The title, Understanding Buddhism, is to be construed in its verbal meaning, suggesting an ongoing endeavor to think about our experience from a Buddhist point of view. To borrow a metaphor from chemistr", the book is a catalytic agent designed to speed up a reaction that is spreading rapidly throughout the contemporary world. People everywhere are engaging their fellow" creatures, including those from radically different cultures, in militant probing of vital issues. These issues threaten, from time to time, to develop into cultural hurricanes over the troubled surface of an interpenetrating, interdependent community of humankind. At every hand we face problems we have no idea how to solve, problems that force us to probe more deeply into the assumptions and forms of understanding in which we have been reared. This radical searching of ourselves is part of the legacy of the Buddhist orientatioll, which offers people a self-corrective discipline capable of freeing individuals from emotio.nal and intellectual attachment to the ways of the past, opening them to what is really going on, as distinguished from what they have been taught. One of the inferences to be drawn from the following chapters is that light increases when Buddhist and Western ideas x • Pm/flce are brought together on some of the controversial issues of life. Illustrations abound. Had Descartes been challenged as directly as his spiritual descendants are challenged today with Buddhist perspectives, he may not have committed himself to the untenable thesis that the most fundamental factors in experience are the clearest and most distinct. He may have been open to the Buddhist persuasion that the forms of conscious thought are a minute selection of relatively superficial detail out of the organic wholeness of an interrelated world, and he may have been open to the Buddhist suggestion that the forms of consciousness find their most rational function in penetrating into the depths of our multi-dimensional experience of the world, rather than offering themselves as principles of authority for the conduct of life. It was this "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," in Whitehead's words, which fixed upon generations in the West the dualisms that have thrown all of the issues of life into metaphysical confusion. It is at least conceivable that Descartes may have avoided this major mistake had he encountered Buddhism in an adequate form, particularly since he went part of the way toward Buddhism in contending, as Hartshorne says, "that concrete actuality is most unambiguously and clearly given to us in our own experiencing."l Like Columbus who never visited America, Descartes missed the full sweep of his own discovery.2 Another illustration can be found in C. L Lewis's Mind and the World OTdel~ one of the important products of American thought. Working over the legacy of Immanuel Kant, Lewis rejects the notion that the forms of understanding give us absolute and certain knowledge, suggesting rather that the categories Kant made central to almost all modern philosophy are better understood as purposive attitudes with which we explore our experience in the world. This is precisely why Lam.a Anagarika Govinda uses the title, The Psychological Attitude of Early Buddhist Philosophy.3 Ideas are to be understood in their total matrix of feeling and emotion. Something of the inwardness of nature appears when thoughts are used as probes rather than as models to control behavior. "There is just about enough chance Preface· xi that our trusted generalizations may be false," Lewis says, /I to make the pursuit of science pleasantly exciting.114 It is this exploratory; tentative, pragmatic, purposive use of conceptual structure that makes Buddhism in the fullest sense the Inost selfcorrective orientation in the history of the world.s The ideas and perceptions constituting the core of this book are a tiny portion of a flood of such cross-cultural reflections between radically different racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, and ancestral orders of life. Cultural encapsulation and its essential counterpart, the self-centeredness of individual existence, are now part of the unbalanced brutalized past we seek to survive. In this global struggle Buddhism teaches us that the universe is present in the experience of each individual and that the life-anddeath stmggle is to become fully awake. Every chapter in this book has emerged out of such crosscultural communication, most of them being expressed initially in lectures and seminars on both sides of the Pacific Basin, usually followed by publication in journals devoted to Asian and comparative thought. I am grateful to The...


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