The Buddhist background

J. P. Williams

in Denying Divinity

Published in print November 2000 | ISBN: 9780198269991
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191683855 | DOI:
The Buddhist background

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The Buddha's teaching of no-self, impermanence, and especially of the extinction of the self (nirvana) have historically been all too susceptible of construal as nihilism. Modern scholarship, however, has done much to restore a positive sense to them: the Buddha insisted that his work was to teach liberation, and his negations are not metaphysical but psychological, an alarm-call to ethical and meditative action to free oneself from greed, hatred, and delusion. Insofar as the Sinitization of Buddhism affected the apophatic elements of the tradition, three major trends may be noted: the influence of Taoist apophasis, and greater stresses on kataphasis and on phenomena. This chapter turns to the Mahayana and especially to the work of Nagarjuna. But first, since it has been already noted that the Buddha's concern was soteriological and therefore practical and not primarily philosophical, this chapter pays more attention to the meditative tradition that lies at the heart of Buddhist practice.

Keywords: Buddha; meditative tradition; Mahayana; Nagarjuna; no-self; impermanence; self; Buddhism; apophasis; kataphasis

Chapter.  8782 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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