restricted access Appendix: Buddhism in the Development of Western Philosophy
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Appendix Buddhism in the Development of Western Philosophy The present encounter of Buddhism with the wider world is one feature of the continuing"Age of Exploration" now half a millenium old and still germinating new possibilities for the future of the planet. Ideas propounded by the yellow-garbed monks of yore climbed the Himalayas to be synthesized and sharpened in a thousand years of Chinese philosophic discourse, whence they traveled the Old Silk Road and ocean trade routes to help European philosophers wriggle free from the fading intellectual tapestry of the ancient world. The most dramatic case in point is found in the way the Buddhist concept of "emptiness" or "nothingness" reached Europe by way of the Islamic Civilization to become the concept of zero in mathematics, the starting point and container of all possible digits. In Arabic, Shifr means "empty", which becomes the Arabic cypher. A more ambiguous example is found in the remark of the sinologue, Joseph Needham, that in Leibniz's monadology we have"the first appearance of organisms upon the stage of occidental theorizing. That things should not react upon one another but all work together by a harmony of wills was no new idea for the Chinese; it was the foundation of their correlative thinking."1 A discourse of over 14,000 words on the "natural theology of the Chinese" by Leibniz was translated from 150 • Appendix the original French into German in 1966, the first English translation appearing in 1977.2 Long before the famous journey of Marco Polo !1271-1295), the ideas of the "Far East" were familiar to the Moslem philosophe~ Averroes !1126-1198) and the Spanish Rabbi Maimonides !1135-1204). With the appearance of Christian missionaries , Europe's knowledge of Buddhism began a slow but persisting flow which has greatly accelerated in our time. The first European to acquire an understanding of Buddhism in Burma seems to have been the Franciscan friar, Pierre Bonifer, a doctor at the University of Paris. Franciscans had been all over the "Far East" as early as the thirteentll and fourteenth centuries, a friar named Jean de Montecorvin having built a church in Peking by 1369.3 The first ambassador Louis IV 11638-1715) received from Asia came from Siam, and the ship taking the ambassador home had on board Monsieur Vachet of the Society for Foreign Missions in Paris. Also on board were several Jesuits bound for Siam. A group of Chinese who had come to Europe to study at the Chinese theological college, established by the Jesuits in Naples, kept up a lengthy correspondence after returning to China and had a profound influence in shaping the theories of the physiocrats . Those they influenced included Francois Quesnay !1694-1774), with whom David Bume visited on frequent occasions, and to whom Burne's closest friend, Adam Smith !1723--1790), had intended to dedicate The Wealth of Nations, but for Quesnay's sudden death. The dependence of Quesnay's political and economic ideas upon the Chinese is as Quesnay frequcnt1y and gladly confessed, "astonishingly clear./J4 One idea central to the Enlightenment, the idea that virtue can be taught, which plato and the Western tradition generally denied, was thought by Qucsnay to have been universally neglected except among the Chinese.5 The explicit philosophical impact of Buddhism occurred in this framework. The Chinese were admired chiefly for their achievement in education, for their reflections on the nature of man, the reliability of his natural interests and sensibilities, his Development of Western Philosophy. 151 perfectibility, the idea that virtue can be taught, and the notion that the ethical is the highest level of human growth. Mencius's doctrine of sympathy was probably a major influence upon both Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments !1759), and upon Francis Hutcheson's doctrine of lithe moral sense." China, indeed, is the major transmitter of Buddhism's encounter with Europe. Buddhism made its way into China during the first century A.D. and entered into a general homogenizing with concepts from 1110ism and Confucianism which was complete by the time of Kumarajlva in A.D. 400. By the time that the T'ang dynasty [618-906J had gained control of a unified China in 618, Buddhism was already firmly entrenched on Chinese soil. From its modest beginnings as a religion carried by traveling merchants and Indian and Central Asian missionaries in the first and second centuries, it had spread throughout all levels of Chinese society. Vast temple complexes, awe-inspiring in...