Nous and Nirvāṇa: Conversations with Plotinus — An Essay in Buddhist Cosmology

Philosophy East and West 57 (2):140-177 (2007)
In the Classical world, the language of cosmology was a means for framing philosophical concerns. Among these were issues of time, motion, and soul; concepts of the limited and the unlimited; and the nature and basis of number. This is no less true of Indian thought-Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Ājivika-where the prestige of the cosmological idiom for organizing philosophical and theological thought cannot be overstated. This essay focuses on the structural similarities in the thought of Plotinus and Buddhist cosmological/philosophical speculation. It builds on research concerning the Buddha-field (buddhakṣetra), which identified two discrete numerologies central to this speculation: the thousands of worlds (sāhasralokadhātu) comprising the field of a single Buddha (buddhakṣetra), characteristic of the Hinayana, and the innumerable or incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) Buddha-fields filling the ten regions of space, characteristic of the Mahāyāna. The Enneads of Plotinus serve as a lens through which to view in a fresh way a broad range of difficult issues associated with Buddhist cosmology in three general areas. First, it asks whether Plotinus' understanding of Intellect and his treatment of infinite and essential number afford an understanding of the innumerables and thousands central to the concept of the Buddhā-field. This analysis involves a consideration of the Hindu creator god, Brahma, as 'demiurge.' Second, it suggests analogies between the One, Intellect, and Soul of Plotinus and the three Buddhist Realms-the Formless Realm, the Realm of Form, and the Realm of Desire. Finally, it explores the possibility that an understanding of the Enneads can provide a model for relating the cosmologies of the Hīnayāna and the Mahāyāna
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DOI 10.1353/pew.2007.0020
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