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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 15 COMMENTARY IN THE EARLY 2000s, I taught Western philosophy to Tibetan monks at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, India. These monks were excited to explore new insights into questions they were already pursuing in Buddhist philosophy, and new questions they had never considered. I was recently reminded of my students in Dharamsala when a Buddhist friend asked why studying Western philosophy might be of any benefit to a contemporary practitioner. Buddhism offers a vast tradition of philosophical and moral reflection. But traditions endure only to the degree to which they address the experience and concerns of each new genera tion. Our contemporary concerns include justice and inequality, navigating difference in multicultural societies, climate change, and the pervasiveness of information technology. Discerning how to speak, act, and think skillfully in our contemporary context requires us to engage with these concerns. As Buddhists, we should not be afraid of drawing on Western thought when it can help with this engagement. In contrast to premodern Buddhism, justice has been a pri mary concern of Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle. Western political theory—teaching us about human dignity and human rights—informs contemporary engaged Buddhist responses to injustice. And Western environmental philosophy informs ecobuddhism, a modern Buddhist response to a prob lem classical Buddhist authors never faced. Western intellectual traditions provide resources that can help us be morally atten tive as Buddhists living in a world with oppressive social struc tures and unraveling natural systems. But as Buddhists, we should also be open to learning from Western philosophy in areas that Buddhist traditions address in great detail, such as mind, world, and meaning. Western phi losophers explored these same questions; sometimes their ideas and arguments can clarify Buddhist analyses. Since insight is How Buddhists Can Benefit from Western Philosophy WILLIAM EDELGLASS