- Paperback: 216 pages
- Publisher: State University of New York Press (July 2, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1438426801
- ISBN-13: 978-1438426808
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays
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From the Back Cover
What do we need to do to become truly comfortable--at one--with our lives here and now? In these essays, Buddhist social critic and philosopher David R. Loy discusses liberation not from the world, but into it. Loy's lens is a wide one, encompassing the classic and the contemporary, the Asian, the Western, and the comparative. Loy seeks to distinguish what is vital from what is culturally conditioned and perhaps outdated in Buddhism and also to bring fresh worldviews to a Western world in crisis. Some basic Buddhist teachings are reconsidered and thinkers such as Nagarjuna, Dogen, Eckhart, Swedenborg, and Zhuangzi are discussed. Particularly contemporary concerns include the effects of a computerized society, the notion of karma and the position of women, terrorism and the failure of secular modernity, and a Buddhist response to the notion of a clash of civilizations. With his unique mix of Buddhist philosophical insight and passion for social justice, Loy asks us to consider when our awareness, or attention, is bound in delusion and when it is unbound and awakened.
"These essays, each one in its own right, are extremely thought-provoking. The various topics addressed are indeed significant, timely, and crucial toward understanding events and situations in our contemporary global scene." -- Ruben L. F. Habito, author of Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
David R. Loy is Besl Family Chair Professor of Ethics/Religion and Society at Xavier University. He is the author of several books, including A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, also published by SUNY Press, and Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution.
Top customer reviews
What follows may not seem fair to Professor Loy's intent and efforts in writing these essays, and in the end it is more opinion piece than review, but it is my deeper, more heartfelt, response (compared to my initial intellectual interest and excitement with the subject). Maybe what it really comes down to is, I just feel Loy is too wordy and dry and even predictable in these essays, and that this dilutes and obscures the import and impact of what Buddhism can contribute to (and learn from) the modern world. In other words, for all it's intentions (and even pretensions) this book doesn't really get to the heart of it.
Loy's basic premise is that awareness (defined as our attention to what is here and now) when bound (or fixated) is delusion/suffering, while awareness unbound (unfixated) is liberation. And this at first glance has a certain ring of truth to it. Remember, he is not just talking intellectually (hypothetically) here, but really and seriously about what matters most (our subjective experience of entrapment and/or liberation), and what is essential for our complete enlightenment. He even says it directly in the very first sentence of the first chapter;
"Do we miss the nature of liberated mind, not because it is too obscure or profound to understand, but because it is too obvious?"
Yet, for all this promises to reveal (that the truth is simply, awareness can be bound or unbound with the resulting experience being delusion or liberation) it also actually just obscures and keeps the truth at arms length, vs. bringing it right to the heart. It does this by using intellect, concepts and words AS IF they could bridge the gap between delusion and liberation (samsara and nirvana), and actually free bound/fixated awareness. But this is like trying to trick our minds into thinking ourselves into enlightenment. It is easy to read that samsara and nirvana are the same but just seen differently (bound or unbound in this case, and that the self is just a label we attach to our bound experience), and it might feel good to know, but it doesn't work. Concepts and structures of enlightenment lead to greater understanding, but not Liberation or Enlightenment or oneness with God, or whatever else you want to call it.
It is like it says in the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching (Gia-fu Feng translation);
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
Let me repeat part of that, "The named is the mother of the ten thousand things", in other words, all the distractions that bind our attention.
More simply, although we experience open (unbound) or closed (bound) attention/awareness, really awareness is only awareness - equally aware in each moment, equally unable to be bound or liberated, sullied or cleansed. So what actually works? What brings it to the heart? The answer (according to the Buddha) is that the path is different for each of us, that it is a process shaped by our particular proclivities (ie our "karma"). So, our paths are all different and of differing lengths, but from the point of view of unbound liberated awareness these paths are an illusion - our personal myths and metaphors. Much like how our dreams are real (as dreams) but no longer once we wake up. The waking up is what really counts here, and that involves a letting go of (unbinding to) the dream.
Going back to that first chapter of the Tao Te Ching - "These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness." Darkness, what a strange and powerful image, and then, "Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery." So, how does our intellect get a handle on this?! It doesn't, it can't, and opening (unbinding) the gate involves accepting this.
So for me at least it doesn't matter what I think; rationality is a stronger binding force, while a sense of the absurd or irrational is a quality of release. Many traditions (especially the mystic ones) give us this sense of playful absurdity (see Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters, a Companion to Tao Te Ching), but David Loy doesn't.
The sense I get is that we never wake up here. The closest we get is dreaming of talking about waking up. The topics covered in each of the ten chapters are perhaps interesting and relevant (comparison of a select group of great intellects and mystics, analysis of the self, and nature of time, and social issues of karma and women, terrorism and Western hegemony), and I found some of it fascinating and informative, but ultimately they are all within our dreaming.
I imagine David Loy would agree with me, and perhaps quickly add that the goal is to make them lucid dreams. But I thought the point of lucid dreaming isn't about making for better more pleasurable dreams as about being free of compulsive dreaming. Loy though, is aiming to have us "become truly comfortable - at one with - our lives here and now", and encourages a, "different type of salvation or deliverance: not liberation from this world but into it," and that once so liberated we are obligated to make the world a better place (no doubt, with a unified, politically correct vision of what is "better"). This may sound good, but it is basically a totalitarian/Marxist vision of reality and change (that primarily we must change the world, not ourselves), and we all know where such utopian visions lead...
That is just the great "mirage of social justice", as Friedrich Hayek called it. And Hayek wasn't even a venerable spiritual master, just an observant 20th century economist. Sounding not unlike Lao Tzu or the Buddha though he said, "Nature can be neither just nor unjust. Only if we mean to blame a personal creator does it make sense to describe it as unjust..." In the end such an approach is not only meaningless (as in chasing an illusion) but also harmful to the cause of individual liberation, by misconstruing the 'law of karma' and disrespecting the natural, effortless expression of wisdom-compassion. And as much as we might want to have liberation or awakening happen at a group or social level it really only happens to individuals, one buddha at a time...
(Edit 1/28/13 - The term "social Justice" is a tough one for me to figure out. I get the feeling progressives see it as an unimpeachable good, and use it as a modern synonym for "compassion", and so maybe miss Hayek's critique. I understand the desire to have interactions be "fair" or on a "level playing field", yet there is only so much we can do to impose fairness or levelness on others (or the larger market), and ironically it's inherently not very fair to do this imposing either.... The fact is we all bring our own karma with us. So to be practical the idea of equal justice for all or the rule of law has been implemented, but this has nothing to do with compassion, or the desire to make everyone equal, or somehow handicapped to appear equal at some starting point. From a Buddhist perspective I find it interesting that such a new term/value is gaining popularity, and is somehow attempting to add something to a 2500 yr old tradition. Yet if Buddhism has any truth to contribute philosophically and morally it is that wisdom and compassion are THE essential qualities of an enlightened (and enlightening) mind (the essence of non-duality). This use of social justice implies that up until now (and the development of an "engaged buddhism") bodhisattvas haven't been effective in actually being compassionate! Wow - it's a good thing Buddhism doesn't burn heretics at the stake, and instead takes an extremely tolerant view of the variety of paths and points of view confused sentient beings can come up with! Yet, out of confusion wisdom dawns - where else can it arise from!!!)
My bottom line problem with this kind of book (and attempt to liberate) is that it stays dualistic and reinforces those habits in ourselves. The Buddha taught the truth of suffering and it's cause (ignorance about the truth of impermanence), not to make us happy and somehow change impermanence, but so we would accept it, and live life with less misguided stress - and thus be free to travel a path of liberation (and so find happiness in spite of our selves and desires). What we need is an awareness (direct and vivid) of what Professor Loy points out in the first sentence - simply that. All the following application of this to intellectual understanding (hair splitting) and social/cultural transformation is just manipulating the dream to make us feel better. The Buddha said it, Master Eckhart said it, Emanuel Swedenborg said it - Life and the world we live in is already perfect if we wake up to that fact.
Our job is to do that waking up, but I don't think this book will help us do that.