[Buddha-l] Re: [Karma and ethics [was: angels]

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat May 28 10:58:04 MDT 2005

On Sat, 2005-05-28 at 12:21 +0700, Randall Jones wrote:

> At 10:05 AM 5/28/2005, Richard Hayes wrote:
> >If one is striving to be historically accurate about Buddhist thinking,
> >then it is somewhat misleading to describe Buddhist theories in terms of
> >constructs that were alien to the settings where Buddhism evolved.
> Aren't similar things said about readings of the U.S. constitution?  And 
> doesn't Buddhist thinking continue?

The fact that Buddhist thinking continues has no bearing at all on the
question of what it meant historically. Here it might be useful to be
reminded of the distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics. The
former is the study of what documents meant at the time they were
written, the later is the discussion of what those documents can mean
now. If one is striving to be historically accurate--if one is doing
exegesis--then it is misleading to read into old texts what we would now
like them to mean.

All I am trying to say is that one should be clear what one is doing. If
one is doing exegesis of Buddhist texts, then it is best to keep out
categories that were alien to them at the time they were written. Once
one has done that, one can then do hermeneutics, but it's impossible to
do good hermeneutics until one has first done a respectable job of

> OK, I'm finding it hard to say what I mean.  Nevertheless, I think this is 
> a real and important distinction.  Buddhist writings aren't just 
> literature, and to the extent they go beyond literature (i.e., are 
> "scripture"), they escape history through a potential to enter into the 
> living and changing conversation of now.

Yes, of course. 

> But I'm willing to be shown wrong. In fact, I have
> >a graduate student right now who may do an excellent job of showing just
> >how wrong I am.
> I hope he will share his work, whether he shows you wrong or not.

I'm sure she will. Sharing one's work is a required part of getting a
graduate degree.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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