Buddha Nature and the Concept of Person

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Buddha Nature and the Concept of Person
Citation: King, Sallie B. "Buddha Nature and the Concept of Person." Philosophy East and West 39, no. 2 (1989): 151–70.


No abstract given. Here are the first relevant paragraphs:

Buddhism has a profound and thoroughly developed set of teachings on human being. One might well argue that the question of human being is the question par excellence with which the Buddhist tradition as a whole struggles. According to the traditional account, for example, the point of departure for the Buddha's own search, discoveries, and teachings was the dilemma of the human condition. Moreover, vast numbers of Buddhist texts speak out of or address human experience as such, consciously focusing upon it as the source of both question and answer. Nonetheless, many questions a modern Westerner asks as a matter of course about human being are not directly addressed in the Buddhist texts. There are of course important reasons for this. Our concept of and assumptions about human individuality are profoundly different from Buddhist views of the same. Our two worlds of discourse about the value and meaning of finite bodily existence, the course of history, the meaning of suffering, and the nature of possible human greatness are set up on entirely different foundations. Thus, for a contemporary Westerner to ask the question "What is a person? What is a human being?" of a Buddhist text is to set oneself up to receive an answer that does not satisfy the intent of the question. Yet, while Buddhist views and assumptions differ so markedly from our own, Buddhist texts reveal in their own way a preoccupation with the human condition as intent as that of our own hyperindividualistic, anthropocentric culture.
      With such a shared fixation, it is inevitable that persons on both sides of the cultural boundaries will attempt to gain light from the other side on this subject, despite the incommensurability of each other's questions and answers. The present essay is one such attempt: not an East-West comparison, but an effort to address a Buddhist text from the perspective of cross-cultural philosophy (still, despite the name, a thoroughly Western enterprise) . Herein I will engage in dialogue the Buddha Nature Treatise (Chinese: Fo Hsing Luna; hereafter, BNT), a text representative of the Buddha nature tradition that contains an extensive discussion of the concept of Buddha nature, a crucial component, if not the most crucial component, of the East Asian Buddhist concept of human being. I will attempt to wrest from the text answers to two categories of questions-it s view of the ontological nature of human being and its view of the existential status of human beings. In the course of the discussion I will ask such questions as: What roles do individuality and freedom play in the view of human being portrayed in this text? What value, if any, does an individual human personality possess? Is there anything of value in human history? Clearly, the text itself does not speak in these terms; these are the questions of a twentieth-century, philosophically inclined American. In order to bridge the cultural gap, I will first give a summary account of the text's concept of Buddha nature in its own terms and in its own format. Then, acknowledging that the text itself neither speaks this language nor shares my concerns, I will put my questions to the text and attempt to extract from the text its implications for the subject of my concern. In other words, I cannot claim that the author of the BNT does make the statements I will give as responses to my questions about human being, but I do claim that these views are implicit in and follow from the statements he does make about Buddha nature. Granting that human freedom requires us to expect the unexpected, nonetheless, I believe that if the author of the BNT were here today and could engage in dialogue with me, as long as my interlocutor remained consistent, something close to the views I will articulate in the course of this essay would emerge. (King, "Buddha Nature and the Concept of Person," 151–52)