[Buddha-l] Nirvana si, bodhi no! [was: liturgical languages]

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Fri May 13 15:39:54 MDT 2005

On Fri, 2005-05-13 at 21:31 +0100, r.g.morrison wrote:

> I think even we Scots would admit that the notion of the 'Enlightenment' 
> extends beyond Scotland,

Aye, there is no doubt of that. The real question is whether the
Enlightenment ever extended INTO Scotland.

> I believe that the term 'Enlightenment' was used to translate 'bodhi'
> as Buddhism (non-Mahayana) seemed so rational and sensible when
> contrasted with the Judeo-Christian tradition to English/Western 
> translators of the early Buddhist texts.

I think this is it exactly. The first talks I ever heard on Buddhism
were given by a group of scientists from Thailand and Sri Lanka, and
they proudly told the audience that Buddhism was scientific long before
most of Europe was literate. Their claim was that Christianity had been
an impediment to scientific progress (and this was before the board of
education in the state of Kansas outlawed the teaching of evolution in
the year 2005!), while Buddhism had fostered scientific progress from
the very beginning. This talk was amply illustrated by readings from the
sutta usually but mistakenly called the Kalama Sutta. 

Although I think just about everything those Buddhist scientists said
was wrong, at least about Buddhism promoting science, I daresay I never
would have taken a second peek at Buddhism had it not been for my
believing that Buddhism is fully compatible with science. By the time I
discovered what a pile of elephant wash that was, it was too late. I had
already benefited from Buddhism so much that I saw no need to jettison

> I've met modern Indian Buddhists who put Betrand Russell next to the
> Buddha, so as to distinguish it from what they see as the irrational
> superstitions of Hindhuism.

I was "educated" in the United States, so I had a very poor knowledge of
geography and history until shame drove me to correct the intellectual
poverty that was my inheritance from the country of my birth. I think I
was thirty before I discovered that India is in Asia instead of Africa.
(It's not as crazy as it sounds. All the Indians I knew were from Uganda
and Kenya.) All this is a preamble to my confession that even when I
thought the Buddha was an African (this was after I learned he was from
India rather than China), I had him and Bertrand Russell in the same
boat. Hume was in there, too (this was before I learned he was
Scottish). All these men were, in my myopic eyes, ferocious warriors
against superstition, faith, irrationality and Republicans. Now I am
marginally less foolish in that I know the Buddha was all for
superstition, faith and irrationality. But never for Republicans, for
which we can thank God (who, until I was forty, I thought was from
Kansas--that's before I learned he was really from Oz).

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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