By David R. Loy

A Buddhist interpretation of Western background that exhibits civilization formed through the self's hope for groundedness

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Extra resources for A Buddhist history of the West : studies in lack

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As it created something quite new. In most ways the premodern West was not very different from the other civilizations of its time, but we must find something within the Middle Ages themselves to account for how the modern West originated. 41 42 A Buddhist History of the West It turns out that answering this question will also shed light on another almost as important: the origins of Western law. The basic issue here is not only the development of legal codes but more the curious problem of the law’s authority.

Elsewhere (1996, 154ff) I have argued that the category of transcendence is important for explaining the differences between South Asia (India, which emphasized it) and East Asia (China and Japan, which did not). In order to see this difference, however, transcendence must be understood to have at least three related but different meanings: as another “higher” reality, such as God or Brahman; as a universal or absolute ethic, such as the Mosaic Decalogue (usually derived from a higher reality, such as Yahweh); and (remembering its etymology: trans plus scendere, to climb over, to rise above) as that perspective by which we “rise above” the given in order to observe it critically and gain the leverage to change it.

Most studies of freedom emphasize that the West has made the major contributions to the theory and practice of freedom. Patterson also attempts to explain why freedom did not evolve in the non-Western world. His short and sketchy treatment of this question discusses North and South American Indian tribes, African preliterate societies, a group of South Pacific tribes, ancient Mesopotamia, and dynastic Egypt. It does not consider India and China, philosophically the most sophisticated non-Western cultures and therefore the ones we would expect to offer the most interesting alternatives to the Western understanding of freedom.

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