About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Monday, January 03, 2011

IEET countdown # 28 - Kris Notaro on Buddhism and suffering

Note that I'm not going to go through the entire countdown, just what interests me. #29 was a piece by David Brin on his pet topic of surveillance, "sousveillance", privacy, and transparency. By all means have a look if this especially interests you.

Kris Notaro puts in a plea for the continuing relevance of Buddhism in a world where suffering seems, for practical purposes, to be inevitable.

I must say that I'm sceptical about this. Not about the inevitability of suffering - it would, at the least, be very difficult to eliminate completely - but about Buddhism as a useful response. You don't need to buy into a religion, or even an off-the-shelf philosophical system, if that's what Westernised Buddhism is, to deal with issues concerning suffering on their own terms. We are all capable of doing what we can to get a handle on facts related to suffering (and to other things that we either value or disvalue) and of making reflective choices. In any event, anybody with the intelligence and the interests that bring them here or to the IEET site will be capable of such reflection and deliberation. For those people, I don't think that traditional belief systems have anything to do with it - and that applies to Buddhism as well as the Abrahamic monotheisms.

There may be things to be said in favour of Buddhism as religions and traditional belief systems go - in favour of its tolerance, its emphasis on suffering as a bad thing (which Christian thinkers often don't recognise adequately), its relatively benign record when it comes to persecutions and wars. But that's not to say we really need it around in the 21st century.

Still, Notaro makes an interesting case. Worth reading whether you agree or not.


Spencer Troxell said...

What do you think about epicureanism or stoicism when it comes to off-the-shelf philosophical systems?

They would seem to be in very much the same boat as the more secular versions of buddhism that are generally practiced.

Amanda said...

On Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor is an interesting read. His most recent book is Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. I've heard various podcast interviews and read reviews from a Buddhist perspective (he was also out here earlier this year and I saw him speak in Sydney, also in front of a Buddhist audience) but not so much from an Atheist perspective, which would be interesting. Although I haven't looked in a while, I should do another trawl.