Getting the arrow out: A Buddhist approach to good and evil
'Things that are fun you enjoy, things that are suffering you recognize'
A renowned American Buddhist scholar is on P.E.I. this week to talk about the nature of good and evil in Buddhist philosophy.
Robert Buswell is founding director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at UCLA, and he is on the Island for the International Conference on Asian Studies at UPEI.
Buswell developed an interest in Eastern philosophy at an early age. He had been reading Western philosophy as a young teenager, and first read about Buddhism when he was 16, and realized it was what he had been looking for.
"These were things you could really put into practice," he said.
"Ultimately, if you look around at our world you can see this constancy of change, what the Buddhists call impermanence. So we have to learn how to step back and rather than always viewing the world from how that world is good for me, what's in it for me, taking a step back and removing the point of view and seeing things as they actually are."
7 years in Asia
Buswell quickly exhausted what was available in Buddhist teaching at his American university at the time, and flew off to Asia when he was 19. He studied in Thailand for a year, in Hong Kong for a year, and then for five years in Korea.
We are not so much concerned with what those cultural dimensions of Buddhism are.— Robert Buswell
He was twice ordained as Buddhist monk, in Thailand and Korea, but when he returned to America he realized his true calling was in academia.
There are significant differences, Buswell said, between the practice of Buddhism in North America and Asia.
"We are not so much concerned with what those cultural dimensions of Buddhism are, but what are these techniques the Buddhists have taught," he said.
"So you'll see, for example, in Western Buddhism, a lot of focus on mindfulness training, purely as a therapeutic technique, rather than as a religious practice."
Impermanence, good and evil
Westerners often connect impermanence with a sense of loss, and see Buddhism as a pessimistic religion, said Buswell, but he argues it is just the opposite.
"Things that are fun you enjoy, things that are suffering you recognize, but you don't get caught up either way," he said.
He wants the arrow out.- Robert Buswell
Buswell is speaking this week specifically on good and evil.
He said in considering good and evil, Buddhism does not overly concern itself with the source of evil, but more about responses to it.
"The Buddha talks about a man who has been shot by an arrow," he said.
"The man is not going to sit there and ask, 'Gee, I wonder what this arrow is made from,' or who would have shot it, or what the whole process was of getting shot by the arrow. He wants the arrow out."
The International Conference on Asian Studies runs Thursday and Friday.
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With files from Island Morning