By David R. Loy
A Buddhist interpretation of Western historical past that indicates civilization formed by way of the self's hope for groundedness.
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Additional resources for A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack
Humphreys finds the necessary precondition for such a transcendental perspective on society in the privileged and relatively independent position of axial-age intellectuals, such as the sophists, whose special linguistic skills provided “the ability to recreate social relationships and manipulate them in thought” (Humphreys 111). This ability was a result of complex cultural conditions that encouraged the development of humanism. When the Indo-Europeans invaded Greece their Aryan sky gods, patrons of vitality and power, encountered the local chthonian fertility deities and learned to coexist with them in a live-and-let-live manner that did not foster the absolutism of the Abrahamic heritage.
As Peter Brown adds, this marked “the end of a long-established classical ideal of perfection” (156). But if perfection is not attainable in this world, it must be postulated as attainable somewhere else: There must be another world, after death, in which our lack can be resolved. The stage was set for the success of the late medieval church, which as God’s agent on earth would gain a monopoly on the dispensation of lack. This was a complex, many-sided legacy. Sin offered a way—indeed, led to the development of a spiritual technology—to cope with lack, but the increasing subjectivity it promoted also deepened the sense of lack that needed to be coped with, as the example of Augustine himself shows.
Goethe The growth of freedom has been the central theme of history, Lord Acton believed, because it represents God’s plan for humanity. One does not need such a Whiggish view of history to notice that the history of the West, at least, has indeed been a story of the development of freedom, whether actualized or idealized. We trace the origins of Western civilization back to the Greek “emancipation” of reason from myth. Since the Renaissance, there has been a progressive emphasis, first on religious freedom (the Reformation), then political freedom (the English, American, French revolutions), followed by economic freedom (the class struggle), colonial freedom (independence movements), racial freedom (civil rights), psychological freedom (psychotherapy frees us from neuroses), and most recently gender equality and sexual freedom (feminism and gay rights emancipate women and sexual “deviance”).
A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack by David R. Loy