Conversations (from ATPII03: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:08:12.09 - 00:11:29.08)
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In eastern thinking religion and philosophy never split the same way that they did in the west. And the split in the west I think--Charles will no doubt correct me on this--but it really goes back to Socrates and Plato. Because the pre-Socratics, and I think primarily the Stoics and the Epicureans--philosophy for them was religion and religion was philosophy. Like, "How do we live in a way in which we aren’t struggling with experience all the time?"
And you read some of the early Stoic stuff, and even as it was later formulated by such people as Marcus Aurelius, it’s extraordinarily similar in many respects to Buddhist formulations, particularly when they’re talking about impermanence and the operation of attention. You read passages and they could have come out of one of the Pali or Sanskrit sutras, without any question.
And what we’re seeing on a global level in a certain sense, is the relegation of academic philosophy to a rather sterile discipline, and for the ordinary person struggling with these kinds of questions, is that religion and philosophy are now converging again about “How do I live,” around those kinds of questions. "How do I live in a way in which I don’t drive myself and others crazy? How do I make sense of this existence or this experience?" And so forth.
And these are very, very deep questions. They don’t trouble everybody, but they trouble all of you. [Laughter] Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Oh, you know, we embark on practice as a response to some kind of questioning and this brings me to the second theme, which has emerged from some of the conversations and reading I’ve been doing. And that is that one way of looking at religions in general is that they’re very, very long term conversations about certain questions.
Now, what keeps a religion alive is that the conversation never comes to an end. And in particular the questions are asked and answered anew in each generation. And when you look at the history of Buddhism, you find that that’s exactly what has happened. Buddhism has displayed a remarkable capacity for, to use a modern phrase, reinventing itself in generation after generation. And not only in generation after generation, but in culture after culture.