Friday, March 6, 2009

The buddha in the world today - SOF review

I will try to be careful in my review of Speaking of Faith's issue with the Indian journalist Pankaj Mishra under the title The Buddha in the World (transcript) Much is said that can be taken in very many directions and so let me start out by saying this is an absolute must listen. In addition to the regular program, one can also tap into the unedited interview with Pankaj Mishra.

The figure of the Buddha, Mishra reveals, was actually unknown to him, a Hindu from India. Even though the Buddha is revered among Hindus as well and the story is known, the message is sort of pushed aside. Buddha is sort of co opted into Hinduism as a reincarnation of Vishnu. But when in his later years Mishra dug into the history and the teachings of the Buddha, it became a journey of great learning for him. In his conversation with Krista Tippett, he relates the insights he has gained and how he applies them into a deeper understanding of the world today.

Mishra is very critical of capitalism, the optimism about progress, technology, open market and democracy. He characterizes the idea that progress, technology and democracy will make for some kind of ideal society as rather naive (in my words). Riches, assuming it is riches that this will bring and what is aimed for, but we are talking a capitalist ideal, has its limits and eventually gives some protection only to minor inconveniences and dangers in life. Real suffering remains. This also implies a warning against wrong methods to reach that goal of democracy and open market. As if good results (if good at all) make good for violent means. The Buddha's emphasis to live in the present means for Mishra a very practical lesson to be careful with grand assumptions, bad methods (even to good ends) and begs for an understanding of other cultural traditions and perspectives.

Enough. I will never do justice to Mishra's words and thoughts this way. One must listen in order to not just hear more accurately what I have penned down so bluntly, but also to feel Mishra's pleasant voice and modest style of expression. It is a wonderful experience.

More Speaking of Faith:
Listening Generously - Rachel Remen, (recommended)
The Sunni-Shia Divide and the future of Islam,
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,
Karen Armstrong.

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