[Buddha-l] Levinas and Buddhism

Eric Nelson esnels at gmail.com
Thu May 26 14:09:36 MDT 2005

Dear Gad,
Actually there are a number of people working on Buddhist and
Levinasian ethics, especially regarding the significance of the
Bodhisattva as existing for the sake of others.

Levinas himself did not encourage such comparative pursuits given his
complete disregard of eastern thought.

Zen masters and scholars have sometimes unfortunately misinterpreted
the ethical core of Buddhism, with disastrous results, if the ethical
is not merely a means to be overcome and left behind but is rather
constitutive of awakening itself.

One needs to be careful not to mystify what Levinas means by God and
religion (prereflective ethical obligations to others). For Levinas:
"When I maintain an ethical relation I refuse to recognize the role I
would play in a drama of which I would not be the author or whose
outcome another would know before me; I refuse to figure in a drama of
salvation or of damnation that would be enacted in spite of me and
that would make game of me. This is not equivalent to diabolical
pride, for it does not exclude obedience. But obedience precisely is
to be distinguished from an involuntary participation in mysterious
designs in which one figures or prefigures. Everything that cannot be
reduced to an interhuman relation represents not the superior but the
forever primitive form of religion" (TI 79).

best wishes, Eric

On 5/26/05, Gad Horowitz <horowitz at chass.utoronto.ca> wrote:
> Levinas' "God" is nothing other than the primordial obligation that arises
> for a human being to do his/her utmost, and more, for the other.  The
> command comes from what Levinas calls "the face of the Other".  I am
> suggesting that Sakyamuni's enlightenment experience per se was not enough
> to lead him to teach.He would  also have had to be confronted with the
> command coming from the face of the other--all suffering beings. I would
> like to read the story of his being "begged" by Brahma or Whoever as an
> indication or premonition of this .
> Levinas can help Buddhists finally deal with the question of Ethics . in a
> manner that might satisfy Judaeo-Christian-Islamic objections to Buddhism as
> demoting the ethical from the level of absolute truth to the level of
> conventional truth.  Thus I read Masao Abe arguing that
> "Auscwitz" though very reprehensible conventionally, is absolutely speaking
> nothing at all.  Christians have been fascinated with Levinas--andso has
> Derrida-- for decades.  Time for you Buddhists to discover something new in
> the "West"
> all.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "jkirk" <jkirk at spro.net>
> To: "Buddhist discussion forum" <buddha-l at mailman.swcp.com>
> Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 10:38 AM
> Subject: Re: [Buddha-l] angels
> > That sounds good to me except for the insistence on using the "God"
> concept.
> > If one insists on that, one is not writing about Buddhism, IMO.
> > Otherwise, many religions proclaim duties to humankind similar to those
> > found in Buddhism. Somewhere in one of the suttas there is also found the
> > "golden rule."  But the Buddha did not claim that what he was teaching was
> > God or gods, or came from him/her or them.
> >
> >  Joanna
> > =========================================
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Gad Horowitz" <horowitz at chass.utoronto.ca>
> >
> >
> > > thats all very well, but for Levinas"s Judaism "God" refers to our
> > > obligation to do our utmost and more for the other.  Does the Buddha not
> > > relate to such an obligation?  Why then does he teach?
> >

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