[Buddha-l] Loving your object of study

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Wed Dec 5 13:56:04 MST 2007

On Tue, 2007-12-04 at 20:49 -0500, Dan Lusthaus wrote:

> Richard, you silly coyote, if you have to feel right at the expense of
> distorting the import of what I wrote, go right ahead.

I'm a very slow coyote. It is never my intention to distort what people
are saying, but I sometimes misunderstand. When I'm not sure I
understand something, I try a paraphrase and wait to be corrected. It's
an old trick coyotes use to gain clarity.

> My point was simple. If one wants to reach some conclusion about the
> feasance of being a committed Buddhist -- or not being a committed
> Buddhist -- for the practice of the academic study of Buddhism, it would
> make little sense to leap to conclusions without first clarifying what being
> a "committed Buddhist" entails.

Thanks for the clarification. I never would have gotten that out of your
original words.

> Does it mean anyone who self-identifies as a "Buddhist," so that, for
> instance, one fills out official forms (hospital forms, govt. forms,
> employment forms, etc.) by placing the word "Buddhist" in the slot for
> "Religion"?

Now it's my turn to clarify what I was trying to say. When I spoke of
being in love being a block to wisdom (citing, as I recall, some aging
raspy-voiced poet from Minnesota), and when I spoke of infatuation, I
was trying to indicate people who self-identify as Buddhists and, in
their juvenile enthusiasm, mistakenly think that Buddhism is somehow
unique among the world's institutionalized neuroses.

> If so, then my experience tells me that mere self-identification as a
> Buddhist does not entail that one has a very deep or accurate understanding
> of Buddhism per se, including among many Asian Buddhists.

Yes, I agree.

>  So this by itself
> would neither hinder nor help one perform academic tasks, such as thinking
> critically, knowing how to access and judiciously use resources, etc. Those
> skills would be a separate matter, acquired by academic training.

I think that "being in love" with Buddhism, in the way I have dewscribed
it several times, would probably retard one's progress in acquiring
academic skills.

> If "committed" means not just self-identification, but commitment to certain
> practices, or a life-style, or commitment to certain perspectives, and so
> on, then -- and this was my claim -- having some idea of what those things
> are would be something one should clarify before deciding whether such
> qualities, properties, skills, etc., are or aren't conducive to academic
> pursuits.

Right. I agree with that, and I would add that would could be, say, a
Christian or secular humanist or a Muslim, and be deeply committed to
certain practices, lifestyle, and perspectives that Buddhists mistakenly
think are unique to Buddhist. 

> Without clarifying that, the jury remains out. It may, for instance, NOT be
> the case that being a committed Buddhist involves any sort of infatuation at
> all.

It was never my claim that being a committed Buddhist entails being
infatuated. The claim I was trying to make was that if one's commitment
to Buddhism is such that one thinks that Buddhism is uniquely noble or
true or efficacious as a path to virtue and liberation, then one is
infatuated. And that infatuation would, I submit, be a serious obstacle
both to a good academic practice and a good Buddhist practice.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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