Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Feminist Perspectives on the Body

In terms of the history of western philosophy, the philosophy of embodiment is relatively recent. For much of this history the body has been conceptualised as simply one biological object among others, part of a biological nature which our rational faculties set us apart from, as well as an instrument to be directed and a possible source of disruption to be controlled. Problematically for feminists, the opposition between mind and body has also been correlated with an opposition between male and female, with the female regarded as enmeshed in her bodily existence in a way that makes attainment of rationality questionable. "Women are somehow more biological, morecorporeal, and more natural than men" (Grosz 14). Such enmeshment in corporeality was also attributed to colonised bodies and those attributed to the lower classes (McClintock 1995, Alcoff 2006, 103). Challenging such assumptions required feminists to confront corporeality in order to elucidate and confront constructions of sexual difference.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Animal Rights and Buddhism

From a Buddhist perspective, it seems to me the tricky part of this question is not "animals," but "rights." The concept of rights developed in western civilization over many centuries and came to fruition during the 17th century or so, in the work of Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke.  But there was no such concept in the world 25 centuries ago, during the time of the Buddha.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Advaita Vedanta - Adi Sankara's views

Adi Sankara's treatises on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras are his principal and almost undeniably his own works. Although he mostly adhered to traditional means of commenting on the Brahma Sutra, there are a number of original ideas and arguments. He taught that it was only through knowledge and wisdom of nonduality that one could be enlightened.

Sankara's opponents accused him of teaching Buddhism in the garb of Hinduism, because his non-dualistic ideals were a bit radical to contemporary Hindu philosophy. However, it may be noted that while the Later Buddhists arrived at a changeless, deathless, absolute truth after their insightful understanding of the unreality of samsara, historically Vedantins never liked this idea. Although Advaita also proposes the theory of Maya, explaining the universe as a "trick of a magician", Sankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic premise that Brahman is real. Their idea of Maya emerges from their belief in the reality of Brahman, rather than the other way around.

Sankara was a peripatetic orthodox Hindu monk who traveled the length and breadth of India. The more enthusiastic followers of the Advaita tradition claim that he was chiefly responsible for "driving the Buddhists away". Historically the decline of Buddhism in India is known to have taken place long after Sankara or even Kumarila Bhatta (who according to a legend had "driven the Buddhists away" by defeating them in debates), sometime before the Muslim invasion into Afghanistan (earlier Gandhara).

Although today's most enthusiastic followers of Advaita believe Sankara argued against Buddhists in person, a historical source, the Madhaviya Sankara Vijayam, indicates that Sankara sought debates with Mimamsa, Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Yoga scholars as keenly as with any Buddhists. In fact his arguments against the Buddhists are quite mild in the Upanishad Bhashyas, while they border on the acrimonious in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya.

The Vishistadvaita and Dvaita schools believed in an ultimatelysaguna Brahman. They differ passionately with Advaita, and believe that his nirguna Brahman is not different from the Buddhist Sunyata(wholeness or zeroness) — much to the dismay of the Advaita school. A careful study of the Buddhist Sunyata will show that it is in some ways metaphysically similar as Brahman. Whether Sankara agrees with the Buddhists is not very clear from his commentaries on the Upanishads. His arguments against Buddhism in the Brahma Sutra Bhashyas are more a representation of Vedantic traditional debate with Buddhists than a true representation of his own individual belief. (See link: Sankara's arguments against Buddhism)

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