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Exploring Buddhist Philosophy

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Across non-Western traditions, Buddhism has perhaps the most sustained history of interaction with Western academic discourses. Western interest in Buddhism is sometimes motivated by a “Buddhist exceptionalism” – the assumption that Buddhism’s commitment to rationality and empiricism makes it distinct from other world religions. Thus, our understandings of “Buddhist Philosophy” have often been shaped by Anglo-American philosophy’s presupposition that the Enlightenment’s binary of philosophy versus religion transcends the sociocultural contingencies peculiar to Western intellectual history. As a result, introductions to Buddhism tend to oscillate between two pedagogic poles: either they present Buddhist concepts in terms of “philosophical” sub-disciplines such as ontology, epistemology, and ethics, or they introduce Buddhist worldviews with motifs related to “religious” praxis, such as the four noble truths, the eightfold path, not-self (anātman), and dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda).

In order to appreciate the diverse forms of conceptual rigor across Buddhist milieus, this introductory text drops the attempt to classify Buddhist thought as either logical argumentation or mystical insight. Instead, it foregrounds a leitmotif that reflects self-understandings of Buddhism as the “middle way”, namely that the history of Buddhist philosophy can be read as the negotiation of a dynamic tension between presence and absence, and between saying and not-saying. It will lead the reader through various manifestations of this paradoxical leitmotif in the form of arguments, parables, meta-critiques, and allegories. Each chapter focuses on a core motif in Buddhism, and highlights the dialectical pathways developed by Buddhist schools to negotiate the difficulties in indicating forms of ineffability that transcend subject-object dualities.

Published: Jan 15, 2027