March 28, 2017

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By David R. Loy

A Buddhist interpretation of Western background that indicates civilization formed by means of the self's wish for groundedness

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Additional info for A Buddhist history of the West : studies in lack

Sample text

What caused it? We cannot simply point to the Renaissance, for that rebirth is itself the effect to be explained. What caused the Renaissance? Intellectuals at the time were inspired by the rediscovery of ancient texts, yet in no sense was the Renaissance a return to the classical period: It was a revolution that, like all revolutions, misunderstood itself to be restoring some pristine condition long lost in the past . . as it created something quite new. In most ways the premodern West was not very different from the other civilizations of its time, but we must find something within the Middle Ages themselves to account for how the modern West originated.

The psychoanalyst Otto Rank divided our anxiety into two complimentary fears. Life fear is the anxiety we feel when we stand out too much, thereby losing our connection with the whole; death fear is the anxiety of losing one’s personhood and dissolving back into the whole. “Whereas the life fear is anxiety at going forward, becoming an individual, the death fear is anxiety at going backward, losing individuality. ” This can just as well be expressed in terms of freedom: we feel the need to be free, but becoming more free makes us more anxious and therefore more inclined to sacrifice that freedom to someone who promises us security (including absolution for our sense of lack).

This route is dangerous because it tends to become a vicious circle. It contains no resolution of lack, only its aggravation. Today, however, we find ourselves in a radically different situation, which is beginning to transform our valuation of freedom. Like it or not, our paramount value must be reexamined from a new perspective. The ecological degradation of the earth, which threatens our own survival, supersedes other problems. This situation cannot be understood in terms of, or solved by, our need for greater freedom.

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