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Mimesis, Violence, and Socially Engaged Buddhism: Overture to a Dialogue Leo D. Lefebure University ofSaint Mary ofthe Lake René Girard's analysis ofdesire, mimetic rivalry, and the surrogate victim mechanism seeks to transform human consciousness in order to overcome seemingly intractable patterns ofrivalry and violence. In this project the Buddhist tradition, with its long commitment to nonviolence, its age-old suspicion of ordinary views of the self, and its ancient experience of meditation as a transformative practice, exerts a claim to attention. The Buddhist tradition shares many of Girard's concerns: It denies the reality ofan autonomous, independent selfand calls attention to the interdependence ofall realities. It challenges its followers to become conscious ofthe sources oftheir own feelings and thoughts, to accept responsibility for them, and to be liberated from violence. Like Girard, Buddhism rejects the notion that there can be "good violence" as well as bad. For Buddhists, awakening from the illusions of the autonomous selfand freedom from violence are inseparable. The term, "Socially Engaged Buddhism," refers to a variety ofBuddhist move-ments since the 1950s which seek to apply ancient Buddhist principles to contemporary social, economic, and political problems. Powerful prejudices, however, threaten this conversation before it begins. Since the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer and Max Weber, Westerners have often seen Buddhism as a pessimistic religion, a worldnegating tradition that encourages the individual to withdraw from the world and seek a solitary salvation. The belief in karma has often been 122Leo D. Lefebure interpreted as fatalistic and inimical to social transformation. Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana traditions, has often accommodated to the dominant powers in society without exerting any effective social or political critique. Like every other major religious tradition, Buddhism has had an ambiguous history; and Westerners have often assumed prematurely that Buddhism has no history of social and political engagement whatsoever . Girard himself, in conversation with Jean-Claude Dussault in 1981, viewed Buddhism as a withdrawal from action in the world. Girard commented: Alors il me semble que la non-violence des religions orientales est la recherche d'une position hors de la violence, nirvana, etc., au prix de toute action. Mais cette recherche abandonne le monde en quelque sorte à lui-même. Alors il me semble que s'il fallait résumer d'un mot, ce serait un mot comme dégagement absolu par rapport à l'existence. ("Séminaire de recherche" 81) [It seems to me that the nonviolence of Eastern religions is the search for a position outside of violence, nirvana, etc., at the price ofall action. But this search abandons the world in a way to itself. Now it seems to me that if it were necessary to sum it up in a formula, it would be a phrase such as absolute détachement in regard to existence.] Later in the conversation, Girard expressed his own negative reaction: "Si vous voulez, je me sens profondément gréco-biblico-occidental face à ce renoncement nirvanesque total." (83) [If you please, I feel myself profoundly greco-biblical-occidental in contrast to this complete nirvanesque renunciation.] According to Girard's interpretation, Buddhism offers no constructive solution to the social problems ofrivalry and violence, but only an individual escape through withdrawal. Closely related to Girard's negative view ofBuddhism is his interpretation ofall non-biblical religions as channeling violence but as powerless to break the cycle ofviolence. He claims that only biblical revelation offers a basis for overcoming the violence of the surrogate victim mechanism: "To recognize Christ as God is to recognize him as the only being capable of rising above the violence that had, up to that point, absolutely transcended mankind. Violence is the controlling agent in every form ofmythic or cultural structure, and Christ is the only agent who is capable of escaping from these structures and freeing us from their dominance" (1987, Mimesis, Violence, and Socially Engaged Buddhism 123 219). Girard asserts that there is no common ground between the violenceridden mythologies which dominate all other religions and the revelation of God in Christianity (1986, 166). Girard is almost Barthian in his exclusivistic claims for Christian revelation, viewing all other religions as products of human mimetic striving and only Christianity as the true...


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pp. 121-140
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