Buddhism Optimism and Pessimism Philosophies I am attaching last week’s lecture to this email. Please see the homework assignment on the last slide of the powerpoint.Make sure you pick only one question, and address both sides of the argument presented in the question. (Please use sources to back up your reasoning, and include a work cited/reference page of your sources at the very end of the paper). Assignments are due on Wednesday before or during class. (You may email me your paper as well- just bring the bullet points of your paper to class for the oral discussion). The Buddhist
History: Who was the Buddha?
– ? Religious leader, or Philosopher?
– Born in India, sometime during the 5th or 6th century, into the elite warrior class &
had all of the advantages of wealth and status.
– India’s dominant philosophical influence- a man known as “the Buddha” (meaning
the Enlightened One).
-Based on the numbers of people influenced by him, the Buddha may have been the
most persuasive thinker in human history.
-The Buddhist influence started in india, and became the prominent guide to behavior
in China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Korea, and Japan , even till today.
-The community of Buddhists has existed for 2500 years, making Buddhism one of the
oldest continuously existing religious or philosophical traditions in the world?
– During the times of Buddha, “one could define the essence of a warrior or a
slave, but not of a human being. There were , in fact no human beings, only
members of specific classes”
– Caste system : Kings, Priests & Pastors, Aristocratic Warriors, Merchant class,
Slaves & workers.
– New class was created “ascetics”- homeless religious beggars. ( “The only ones
in a position to discourse about “human nature”)
History: Who was the Buddha
– “When he was 30 years old, he began to feel as deep disquietude about his life”
– “He renounced his wealth & his family (wife and son) and adopted the life of a wandering
– He traveled through forests and towns, and viewed society from many perspectives.
– He studied meditation with with two masters.
– At 35 he sat under a Bodhi tree when he experienced an “awakening” that provided him with
an insight into the human condition.
– As a result he was able to understand the nature of salvation, and was released from suffering.
– For the next 40 years he traveled teaching the path to enlightenment. (by the time of his
death he had assembled monks and nuns who passed on the mission of the Buddha’s
The Buddha’s Theory:
– 1: Existence always involves suffering.
– 2: Reincarnation is everywhere in effect, such that current living beings have
lived previous lives and, after physical death, will be born again into new bodies.
– 3: The kind of future life one will have is determined by how one lives one’s
– 4: Salvation from misery in this life and in future lives is best achieved through a
combination of meditative practices and asceticism (the choice of poverty and
the flight from worldly pleasures).
– “The goals we pursue, namely seeking fulfillment of our personal desires, sexual
gratification, wealth and material objects, popularity and prestige and power
over others-are “karmic” acts (meaning they have unseen consequences).
– These acts can generate a future causing us to be reborn to yet another life of
– By renouncing all these pursuits, by living a solitary life of meditation, one can
escape the “rat race” of life.
– “The mere notion of desire, in its very nature is insatiable and frustrating, and
therefore its pursuit can only lead to unhappiness”
– The release from suffering is attained through meditation which can lead to
Nirvana, a state of release.
– Meditation according to the Buddha’s teachings is a technique of detached
introspection, one learns to be acutely conscious of thoughts, sensations, and
feelings without responding automatically to them.
– “True salvation comes solely with the discovery of the “not-self”.
– “The very notion of striving for a self as an escape from suffering is itself a
major source of suffering”.
– “The idea of individuality is a product of desire”
– “The notion of belongingness is also an imaginary construct” ex: My car, My
house. (Nothing belongs to anybody or anything). Both positive and negative
possessives are illusions. (mine/not-mine)
Buddhism: A Religion or Not?
– Its been argued that Buddhism is an atheistic religion (there are no gifts and
sacrifices, nor a sense of eliciting love or fear, or commands to be obeyed, as in
– Others declared that Buddhism is not a religion at all.
– Buddhism is based on the karmic doctrine that the universe demonstrates a
– This Fundamental Moral order is based on the idea of Karma; the idea that one
cannot mutilate, kill, or oppress others, without the consequence of a future life
of even more suffering and misery.
– -Buddhism teaches lessons in friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy and
even-temperedness. The goal is to dissolve the boundaries between oneself
and others, regardless of whether those others abide by the same rules.
The Four Noble Truths:
– Buddhism is summarized in terms of its Four Noble Truths:
– 1: Everything Involves Suffering
– 2:The Cause of Suffering is craving or Desire
(Alan Watts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7uigXd4Py8 )
– 3:Craving must be overcome
– 4:Craving can be transcended by following the Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble EightFold Truth:
– Right Outlook: Understanding the Four Noble Truths
– Right Purpose: To Reach Liberation
– Right Speech: Not to lie, not to slander
– Right Behavior: Not to kill, not to steal, not to drink intoxicants, not to be
– Right Self-Discipline: To practice a moral life
– Right Effort: to exercise Willpower
– Right Self-knowledge: to Examine constantly one’s behavior
– Right Self-Transcendence: to Meditate on the ultimate truth
– “As in Socratic and Platonic thought, the highest moral virtue in Buddhism is
– Monks were seen as disciplined; were beggars, and remained selfless.
Buddhism in China & Japan
– By 1200 C.E. Buddhism had disappeared from India but had become a strong
influence in China for several hundred years by Chinese emperors. In China it
was exercised as a tradition known as Ch’an (meaning meditation)
– Later Buddhism took root in Japan under the Japanese name of ZEN- where it
became an even greater influence than in China.
-In Zen training, the student is aided by submitting to the Master’s paradoxical
questions. The goal is o create a series of “agentless” actions, where the self
disappears. “The opposition between actor and act dissolves and the act becomes
an expression of a total nothingness that is purity”.
Buddhism on Human Nature in
– According to Buddhism “there is a universal human nature, but one with no substantial self”.
– Human Nature shares with all other life the fact that all life is suffering and that all life is
connected in a karmic system of reincarnation.
– Buddhism offers an escape from the sufferings caused by desires and cravings
– Less focus on the self and becoming “better”
– More Focus on politeness
– Buddhists accept what life has to offer and maintain a light-hearted attitude toward
difficulties. (problems are considered an inevitable part of life)
– Alan Watts: The Chinese Farmer :
– Pick one of the following and answer thoroughly:
1:Is there truly such a thing as Altruism?
“defend both sides)
2:Defend one, or if possible both of these theses:
“Buddhism is a philosophy of pessimism”
“Buddhism is a philosophy of optimism”
3: Is it possible not to desire?
(defend both sides)
4: Do you believe in reincarnation?
(defend both sides)
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