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HomeZenJohn Dewey, Flourishing, and Buddhism – The Existential Buddhist

John Dewey, Flourishing, and Buddhism – The Existential Buddhist


I’ve skilled a gradual set of shifts in the best way I perceive Buddhist apply over time. There was a time when the Buddhist teachings on non-self, interdependence, consciousness, impermanence, and dukkha offered the totality of the body inside which I understood the goals of Buddhist apply. These teachings stay vital to me, however I now perceive them inside a bigger non-Buddhist framework.

At first that bigger body was primarily neo-Aristotelian: Buddhist apply is a way for selling advantage, knowledge, and flourishing. By flourishing, I imply a life that’s completely satisfied, psychologically wealthy, and praiseworthy, takes the well-being of others significantly, and is manifested within the a number of domains of relationships, accomplishments, aesthetics, aware presence, which means, wholeness, integrity, and resilience. Virtues are the intra- and inter-personal abilities that make flourishing attainable, and knowledge the school that enables us to steadiness conflicting ethical and non-moral issues.  I’ve subsequently come to grasp Buddhist and Aristotelean flourishing, knowledge, and advantage from inside the even bigger body of Deweyan pragmatism. I need to briefly describe this bigger body and what it implies for Buddhist apply.

Aristotle and Dewey have been each naturalists. Their view of human values and functions didn’t depend on beliefs in regards to the existence (or nonexistence) of a God or gods, an afterlife, rebirth, and something supernatural. They have been additionally sensible concerning the higher limits of human enchancment. Aristotle and Dewey didn’t imagine in the potential of some magical apotheosis that might flip us into transcendent (and trans-human) good beings. We might be able to flourish higher than we presently do, and we might be able to turn out to be wiser and extra virtuous than we presently are, however we can not turn out to be completely clever or completely virtuous. Their frameworks rule out the chances of the standard Buddhist targets of good enlightenment or rebirth in some higher afterlife. What they don’t rule out is the potential of elevated compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness, sympathetic pleasure, generosity, non-harming, and mindfulness.

Dewey and Aristotle half firm over Aristotle’s essentialist views on fact, human nature, and ethics. Not like Aristotle, Dewey thinks beliefs are neither “true” nor “unfaithful” however solely roughly ample for given functions. We work to justify our beliefs with proof, however can by no means accumulate all of the proof we and posterity may presumably uncover over many lifetimes, and so our beliefs can solely be provisional at greatest—ok for current functions and extra helpful than competing hypotheses for these functions—however open to revision as we encounter extra proof. For Deweyans, the seek for higher beliefs is at all times an open-ended means of continued inquiry.

Dewey believed that there isn’t any such factor as a vital human nature however solely the best way we occur to have turned out given a selected practice of genetic and social evolution and private expertise. Human nature might change over time given additional genetic and/or social change. All we are able to say is what people are like now and what the historic document says we have been like previously. Can we people overcome our selfishness, competitiveness, tribalism, and aggressiveness in some very best future? We will’t enchantment to some important human nature to reply that query. The reply can solely be “who is aware of?” and perhaps, “we will see.” On this approach, Deweyans share the Zen angle of “not understanding.”

Morality can be contingent on social evolution. What was ethical for honor, warrior, or frontier cultures is just not what’s ethical for industrialized Western democratic cultures at this time. Aristotle, in his day, didn’t prolong his esteem for the Athenian male aristocracy to girls, slaves, or barbarians. As pragmatist thinker Richard Rorty prompt, ethical progress happens by way of acts of creativeness that enable us to grasp the views of individuals we as soon as regarded as “not like us.” As we think about their views and take them into consideration, we frequently enrich our personal.

We’re presently within the midst of a set of transitions in ethical values as we, as a society, rethink older values concerning premarital intercourse, sexual consent, marijuana use, gender roles, and the standing of “outsider” racial, ethnic, spiritual, sexual, and differently-abled teams. A great deal of at this time’s political turmoil is because of the battle between those that have re-thought these older social values and those that want to retain them as-is. Fundamentalists imagine there is just one option to be ethical and it by no means adjustments. Deweyans inquire into current social values to find whether or not they nonetheless do (or ever did) improve human flourishing or whether or not they stand in want of revision given current social circumstances.

That is the bigger context inside which I now view the goals of Buddhist apply. Deweyan Buddhists will not be Buddhist fundamentalists—issues are by no means true simply because the Buddha mentioned them. Each Buddhist tenet is open to inquiry, and if our investigations lead us to totally different conclusions, so be it. Deweyans undertake Buddhist concepts after they improve flourishing and modify them after they now not do (in the event that they ever did) given the proof.

From this body of reference, sure facets of Buddhist dogma now not make sense to me. For instance, I don’t imagine we ought to surrender need, full cease. As an alternative, we must aspire to proper need—wanting the issues that genuinely improve flourishing and wanting them in the appropriate type of approach—not rigidly, compulsively, or obsessively. Equally, I don’t imagine we must eschew sensual pleasure. Sensual pleasures must be pursued ethically and shouldn’t crowd out or undermine our different targets and aspirations—however they do have an vital position to play in our well-being. We additionally don’t need to dwell eternally within the current second. Whereas we’re higher off after we discover a bigger area in our lives for being current, and whereas we profit from progress in our potential to be aware and discerning concerning our ideas, feelings, and wishes, this nonetheless leaves loads of room in our lives for planning for the longer term and studying from the previous.

Lastly, I don’t imagine we ought let go of our attachments to family members or deal with everybody with the identical diploma of affection and compassion. It appears pure for us—and good for our flourishing—after we are keen on family members, are emotionally connected to our household and mates, and care extra about them than we do distant neighbors, grocery clerks, insurance coverage salespersons, or folks we’ve by no means really met. We will acknowledge all relationships are impermanent—that individuals finally change, depart, or develop outdated and die—and nonetheless worth how these relationships contribute to our flourishing. Buddhism is correct in suggesting we are able to develop our good will, care, and concern for everybody, and that it’s attainable to make a basic stage of excellent will our default angle a lot of the time. Buddhism appears mistaken, nonetheless, in suggesting we must (and may) really feel the very same diploma of emotional connection to (or disconnection from) everybody.

One factor we Deweyans suppose Buddhism does get proper is its redefinition of human being as “interbeing.” We’re deeply social animals who care concerning the well-being of our households and communities. Their well-being is a vital a part of our personal well-being. Put up-Renaissance Western cultures have tended in direction of an extreme individualism on the expense of an appreciation of our deep embedding inside households, societies, cultures, and ecosystems. We people are additionally beings who’re oriented towards the longer term in that we care concerning the future well-being of our household, society, tradition, and planet. Dewey burdened that organisms couldn’t be understood in isolation, however solely within the context of their relations and transactions with their pure and cultural environments as they creatively pursued options to issues in these relations and transactions as they arose.

It’s inevitable that as we expertise extra, learn extra, and be taught extra, we finally come to see our older concepts in a more recent gentle. This newer gentle isn’t one thing we intentionally hunt down—it simply “occurs” alongside the best way. Is it ever in any other case? It appears constant, howewer, with the Buddhist teachings on non-self and impermanence—there’s no unchanging you or me, and no unchanging understanding of Buddhism.

Given this new “Deweyan” body, I considered altering the title of this weblog from The Existential Buddhist to The Pragmatic Buddhist. Once I began this weblog I used to be extra fascinated with existentialism—particularly existential approaches to psychotherapy and phenomenology. Alas, there may be already an current method to Buddhism referred to as “Pragmatic Dharma”—one which has little or nothing to do (so far as I can inform) with the American pragmatist custom of Peirce, James, Dewey, and Rorty. That makes calling myself a “pragmatic Buddhist” problematic—I’d at all times have to qualify it by explaining “I’m not that type of pragmatic Buddhist.” Altering domains and redirecting older readers to it additionally appears extra hassle than it’s price. So, the identify Existential Buddhist stays—new wine in an outdated bottle—and I’ll simply put up with needing to elucidate “I’m not that type of existential Buddhist.”







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