Religious doctrines and the philosophical arguments supporting them often become more clearly deﬁned as a result of being challenged by opposing views and counterarguments. Conversely, ideas that are never challenged often remain relatively obscure and poorly deﬁned. The process of encountering rival ideas and alternative theories requires people to re-examine their own assumptions and provide reasons for holding views that could previously be taken for granted. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of important notions within Buddhist philosophy became (...) better deﬁned in the centuries after they became more widely dispersed in the Indian subcontinent; for it was only after coming into contact with opposing theories that many of the ideas articulated by the Buddha, and the presuppositions underlying those ideas, were seriously examined. Once these doctrines were challenged, later Buddhist philosophers had the task of either offering solid arguments in their support or revising the doctrines to a form in which they could be supported. Among the most important doctrines of early Buddhism, and one that remained unexamined for a relatively long time, was the doctrine of rebirth (punarbhava). It appears that most other philosophical systems in India were, like Buddhism, based on the notion that the foremost predicament for all living beings is that they are bound to experience the consequences of actions performed in previous lives; therefore, few philosophers challenged the Buddha in his statement of this as the problem most in need of a solution. Eventually, however, philosophers did arise who began to question the doctrine of rebirth and to pose strong arguments against it. Once this opposition had been stated, it was no longer possible for Buddhist apologists to take the doctrine of rebirth for granted. It became necessary to defend their position by ﬁnding evidence in support of it and by ﬁnding ﬂaws in the arguments adduced against it. (shrink)
Buddhism currently enjoys the reputation of being one of the leading voices in a chorus that sings the praises of religious tolerance and perhaps even of pluralism. It is open to question, however, whether this reputation is deserved. The purpose of the present article is to examine whether the teachings of classical Buddhism have a contribution to make to the jubilation over religious pluralism that has become fashionable in some quarters in recent years. It is hoped that this examination might (...) shed some light both on some of the implications of religious pluralism and on the spirit of the teachings of classical Buddhism. A task preliminary to dealing with this question is to clarify what is meant by religious pluralism. For the purpose of this discussion, let us take “pluralism” to signify not the mere acknowledgment that there is variety but the celebration of this variety. Whereas tolerance might be described as the attitude of being resigned to the fact that a variety exists, pluralism will be taken to mean the attitude that variety is healthy and therefore something to be desired. And religious pluralism, of course, will be taken as the attitude that it is salubrious to have a variety of religions. Such an attitude might be founded, for example, on an analogy with biology. The health of each living organism, it could be argued, is enhanced by the general health of the organism’s wider environment, and the health of this wider environment is in turn enhanced by the rich variety of species of organisms living therein. The value of variety, if one follows this biological analogy, is not merely aesthetic, not merely a pleasant respite from the monotony of too much uniformity; rather, variety is what makes life of any kind possible. Similarly, it could be argued by a devoted religious pluralist, the variety of religious beliefs and practices and experiences and modes of expression is vital to human survival and self-understanding. And just as the health of an individual organism, such as a cow, might actually be enhanced by the presence of other apparently annoying organisms, such as gadﬂies and mosquitoes, the health and perhaps even the very survival of any one religious tradition might actually be enhanced by the presence of other apparently antagonistic traditions, or by the presence of heresies within the same tradition.. (shrink)
Everyone, with the possible exception of those who are really good at it, is personally familiar with the phenomenon of self-deception. Anyone who has been conscious of struggling with a temptation to do what goes against her own better judgment and has then found justiﬁcation for yielding to temptation is familiar with self-deception. So if I may be allowed to begin with the assumption that most of us have experienced a phenomenon that we would identify as some form of self-deception, (...) what I shall try to do in this paper is to examine how one particular theory of personal identity can account for the phenomenon. Having done that, I shall look into the question of one of the mechanisms of self-deception and then into the question of whether there are occasions in which the mechanisms of self-deception may be regarded as producing more positive results. (shrink)
Like most religions, the Buddhist tradition is rich in stories that are designed to illustrate key principles and values. Stories of the Buddha himself offer a verbal portrait of an ideal human being that followers of the tradition can aspire to emulate; his story offers a picture of a person with a perfectly healthy mind. Stories of other people (and of gods, ghosts and ghouls) portray a wide range of beings from the nearly perfect to the dreadfully imperfect, all presented (...) as models of what one could eventually become oneself through gradual transformations from one’s present mentality. In what follows, I shall first tell a brief story about myself and will then recount the stories of two men who were cousins with similar but importantly different mentalities. And I shall conclude with a few observations about what I see as the significance of the difference between these two cousins. (shrink)
The purpose of this chapter will be to outline the classical Buddhist program for transforming the human mentality from one that is rigid, closed and prone to injuring itself and others to one that is flexible, open and competent to heal itself and others.
Writers presenting Buddhism to European and North American audiences have often availed themselves of philosophical terminology from modern traditions to convey presumably less familiar ideas coming from various classical and medieval Asian settings. Since the Buddha and many philosophers who developed his ideas seem to have stressed the importance of practice over theory, Buddhism is frequently described as practical or even pragmatic in its orientation. Since there have been few unpleasant clashes between traditional Buddhist beliefs and the findings of modern (...) science, and nothing that would compare in importance to the confrontations between Darwinians and Creationists, many Buddhist apologists have been able to get away with characterizing theirs as a religion that is scientific in spirit; many Buddhists, especially Therav ¯. (shrink)
It is well known that Dharmak¯ırti followed Dign¯aga in accepting that there are exactly two sources of new knowledge (pram¯an.a), namely, sensation (pratyaks.a) and inference (anum¯ana), and that the criteria by which these two means of acquiring knowledge are..
It is true for many disciplines within the humanities that there are numerous excellent works that introduce the beginner to the basic building blocks of the discipline, and also many advanced studies for the accomplished scholar, but few works that help the student get from the beginning stage to the advanced level. That has certainly been true of the discipline of Sanskrit. Once a student has devoted a couple of years to working through one of the excellent introductions to the (...) language by Ashok Aklujkar, Michael Coulson, Madhav Deshpande, Robert Goldman, or Walter Maurer, there have been hardly any intermediate texts to help the student systematically progress to more advanced levels. Now, however, with the publication of Scholastic Sanskrit, an important step has been taken toward filling that lacuna. This book assumes that the student has learned enough about Sanskrit grammar and syntax to be ready to begin plunging into the vast corpus comprising the many genres of Sanskrit literature. It is built on the conviction that even a student at the early stages of exploring Sanskrit literature can benefit from the work of traditional commentators; it is also built on the observation that until now there have not been reliable guides to help the student make intelligent use of Sanskrit commentaries. (shrink)
The Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, the followers of which are called Mādhyamikas, was one of the two principal schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, the other school being the Yogācāra. The name of the school is a reference to the claim made of Buddhism in general that it is a middle path (madhyamā pratipad) that avoids the two extremes of eternalism—the doctrine that all things exist because of an eternal essence—and annihilationism—the doctrine that things have essences while they exist but (...) that these essences are annihilated just when the things themselves go out of existence. The conviction of the Madhyamaka school, which can be called the Centrist school in English, is that this middle path is best achieved by a denial that things have any inherent natures at all. All things are, in other words, empty of inherent natures. This doctrine of universal emptiness of inherent natures (svabhāva-śūnyatā) is the hallmark of the school, which places the school solidly in the tradition associated with the Perfection of Wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) literature of Mahāyāna Buddhism. (shrink)
Background: HIV prevention trials conducted among disadvantaged vulnerable at-risk populations in developing countries present unique ethical dilemmas. A key concern in bioethics is the validity of informed consent for trial participation obtained from research subjects in such settings. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of a continuous informed consent process adopted during the MDP301 phase III vaginal microbicide trial in Mwanza, Tanzania. Methods: A total of 1146 women at increased risk of HIV acquisition working as alcohol (...) and food vendors or in bars, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses have been recruited into the MDP301 phase III efficacy and safety trial in Mwanza. During preparations for the trial, participatory community research methods were used to develop a locally-appropriate pictorial flipchart in order to convey key messages about the trial to potential participants. Pre-recorded audio tapes were also developed to facilitate understanding and compliance with gel-use instructions. A comprehension checklist is administered by clinical staff to all participants at screening, enrolment, 12, 24, 40 and 50 week follow-up visits during the trial. To investigate women's perceptions and experiences of the trial, including how well participants internalize and retain key messages provided through a continuous informed consent process, a random sub-sample of 102 women were invited to participate in in-depth interviews (IDIs) conducted immediately after their 4, 24 and 52 week follow-up visits. Results: 99 women completed interviews at 4-weeks, 83 at 24-weeks, and 74 at 52 weeks (a total of 256 interviews). In all interviews there was evidence of good comprehension and retention of key trial messages including that the gel is not currently know to be effective against HIV; that this is the key reason for conducting the trial; and that women should stop using gel in the event of pregnancy. Conclusions: Providing information to trial participants in a focussed, locally-appropriate manner, using methods developed in consultation with the community, and within a continuous informed-consent framework resulted in high levels of comprehension and message retention in this setting. This approach may represent a model for researchers conducting HIV prevention trials among other vulnerable populations in resource-poor settings.Trial registrationCurrent Controlled Trials ISRCTN64716212. (shrink)
BackgroundHIV prevention research in resource-limited countries is associated with a variety of ethical dilemmas. Key amongst these is the question of what constitutes an appropriate standard of health care (SoC) for participants in HIV prevention trials. This paper describes a community-focused approach to develop a locally-appropriate SoC in the context of a phase III vaginal microbicide trial in Mwanza City, northwest Tanzania.MethodsA mobile community-based sexual and reproductive health service for women working as informal food vendors or in traditional and modern (...) bars, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses has been established in 10 city wards. Wards were divided into geographical clusters and community representatives elected at cluster and ward level. A city-level Community Advisory Committee (CAC) with representatives from each ward has been established. Workshops and community meetings at ward and city-level have explored project-related concerns using tools adapted from participatory learning and action techniques e.g. chapati diagrams, pair-wise ranking. Secondary stakeholders representing local public-sector and non-governmental health and social care providers have formed a trial Stakeholders' Advisory Group (SAG), which includes two CAC representatives.ResultsKey recommendations from participatory community workshops, CAC and SAG meetings conducted in the first year of the trial relate to the quality and range of clinic services provided at study clinics as well as broader standard of care issues. Recommendations have included streamlining clinic services to reduce waiting times, expanding services to include the children and spouses of participants and providing care for common local conditions such as malaria. Participants, community representatives and stakeholders felt there was an ethical obligation to ensure effective access to antiretroviral drugs and to provide supportive community-based care for women identified as HIV positive during the trial. This obligation includes ensuring sustainable, post-trial access to these services. Post-trial access to an effective vaginal microbicide was also felt to be a moral imperative.ConclusionParticipatory methodologies enabled effective partnerships between researchers, participant representatives and community stakeholders to be developed and facilitated local dialogue and consensus on what constitutes a locally-appropriate standard of care in the context of a vaginal microbicide trial in this setting.Trial registrationCurrent Controlled Trials ISRCTN64716212. (shrink)
In the svārthānumāna chapter of his Pramāṇavārttika, the Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti presented a defense of his claim that legitimate inference must rest on a metaphysical basis if it is to be immune from the risks ordinarily involved in inducing general principles from a finite number of observations. Even if one repeatedly observes that x occurs with y and never observes y in the absence of x, there is no guarantee, on the basis of observation alone, that one will never observe (...) y in the absence of x at some point in the future. To provide such a guarantee, claims Dharmakīrti, one must know that there is a causal connection between x and y such that there is no possibility of y occurring in the absence of x. In the course of defending this central claim, Dharmakīrti ponders how one can know that there is a causal relationship of the kind necessary to guarantee a proposition of the form “Every y occurs with an x.” He also dismisses an interpretation of his predecessor Dignāga whereby Dignāga would be claiming non-observation of y in the absence of x is sufficient to warrant to the claim that no y occurs without x. The present article consists of a translation of kārikās 11–38 of Pramānavārttikam, svārthānumānaparicchedaḥ along with Dharmakīrti’s own prose commentary. The translators have also provided an English commentary, which includes a detailed introduction to the central issues in the translated text and their history in the literature before Dharmakīrti. (shrink)
The doctrine that there is no permanent creator who superintends creation and takes care of his creatures accords quite well with each of the principles known as the four noble truths of Buddhism. The first truth, that distress is universal, is traditionally expounded in terms of the impermanence of all features of experience and in terms of the absence of genuine unity or personal identity in the multitude of physical and mental factors that constitute what we experience as a single (...) person. As we saw above, the principal Buddhist arguments against the existence of God focus on the impossibility of permanence and unity in the causal structure of the universe. The second noble truth, that distress is the outcome of one's own unrealistic aspirations, is traditionally seen as ruling out the erroneous view that distress is something inflicted upon creatures by a cosmic superintendent or by other circumstances completely beyond their control. The third noble truth, that distress can be eliminated by divesting oneself of all unrealistic aspirations, rules out the view that sentient beings, as powerless victims of a divine will, have no alternative to a life of constant frustration. And the fourth noble truth, that the best means of removing unrealistic desires is to follow a methodical course of self-discipline, counters the view that the road to happiness lies in obedience to divine will or in trying to manipulate the sentiments of a cosmic intelligence through prayer or ritual. (shrink)