Blogs:Dorje108/History, Time and Buddhism

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My primary goal for this site is to present the basic concepts of Buddhism as clearly as possible. Thus, I am always interested in introductory texts on Buddhism, to see how different authors present these topics.

I have recently discovered the book The Vision of Buddhism by Roger J. Corless. The version of this book that I have (from a used book store) was published in 1989, and it has an endorsement on the back cover from Jeffrey Hopkins who has translated many books for the Dalai Lama.

Mr. Corless makes some interesting points regarding how time is understood in the West vs. the East. Here he is discussing the difficulty of presenting Buddhism through a historical lens:

It took me some years of teaching Buddhism to discover what was wrong here. History is an academic discipline that has developed in the Western hemisphere. The western hemisphere has been strongly influenced by the Abrahamaic traditions (Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam) and their conception of time as something created by God in and through which God manifests himself. On this view, time is meaningful. It has a beginning and an end, and the end is a goal, so that there is a development, a progressive acheivement of the goal. It makes sense to ask "What is the meaning of life?" A Christian hymn says "God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year." As soon as we substitute the word Buddha for God in this sentence, however, there is a problem.

History as a secular discipline has many of the features of the Abhrahamic tradition's view of time. God has been gradually erased out, and the notion of goal or purpose has become suspect, but the assumption that time is meaningful and that development is real does not seem to have been given up by even the most radical critics of the philosophy of history.

Buddhism, on the other hand, sees things as changing over time, but it does not see things as becoming more meaningful as they change. Change, for Buddhism, is a primary characteristic of of cyclic existence (samsara), and history is just a lot of change. All that we can say about history, Buddhistically, is that as time goes on we get more of it.

Buddhism also does not regard time as existing independently of the consciousness which experiences time...

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