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Seminar: The Discourses of the Buddha: A philosophical exploration
2 October 2019 @ 14:00 - 17:00
One event on 13 December 2019 at 15:00
One event on 29 November 2019 at 15:00
One event on 15 November 2019 at 15:00
One event on 23 October 2019 at 14:00
One event on 16 October 2019 at 14:00
This seminar offers a philosophical exploration of one of the oldest founding collections of the Buddhist tradition: the Discourses preserved in the Sutta Pitaka of the Pāli Canon (first century BCE). The Discourses address a wide range of theoretical and practical issues, such as: the nature of persons, human psychology, happiness and suffering, causation, theory of knowledge, phenomenology of experience, the method for investigating reality. The Discourses offer thus a unique and enjoyable point of entrance in the ancient Buddhist worldview.
In this seminar, we will focus in particular on six main topics:
- happiness and human psychology (sukha and the five khandhas);
- meditation as a method of investigation (samādhi and vipassanā);
- the three characteristics of reality and ‘non-Self’ (anicchā, dukkha, anattā);
- dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda);
- the four noble truths and philosophical disputes (ariyasaccāni and diṭṭḥi);
- emptiness (suññatā).
Each of these topics will be addressed in a devoted 3-hour meeting. Meetings will comprise a general overview of the topic, a reading-group-like session and further activities (e.g. presentations) proposed by participants. In general, we’ll focus on close reading of selected discourses (in English translation), discussion of relevant secondary literature and reflection on the philosophical implications, suggestions and insights that arise from the Discourses. Reading materials will be made available before each meeting.
Location: Faculty of Philosophy, Oude Boteringestraat 52, 9717 GL, Groningen.
Audience: all are welcome to attend, students in particular. No previous knowledge is required.
Credits: master students who attend most of the seminar (at least 5 meetings out of 6) and write a final essay (5000 words) can validate their participation for 5 ECTS (prior to approval by the Board of Examiners).
- October 2, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA
- October 16, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA
- October 23, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA
(Related event: Nov. 6 – Symposium on Buddhist Meditation)
- November 15, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA
- November 29, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA
- December 13, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA
Registration: please fill in the online form here.
Further information: for any questions please contact email@example.com
Syllabus (available in PDF format here)
The main body of the Discourses of the Buddha is preserved in four collections: the Long Discourses (Digha Nikaya – DN), the Middle-Length Discourses (Majjhima Nikaya – MN), the Connected Discourses (Samyutta Nikaya – SN) and the Numerical Discourses (Anguttara Nikaya – AN).
The best English translation currently available is published by Wisdom Publications and it’s done by Maurice Walshe (DN) and Bhikkhu Bodhi (MN, SN, and AN).
SuttaCentral (https://suttacentral.net/) is a free website that gives access to the original Pali texts and several English translations (often also those mentioned above). The website offers some introductory information about the Discourses, a dictionary, and different versions of the root texts preserved in other ancient collections (e.g. Chinese).
Note: the following primary readings (mostly from MN and SN) will be taken from the free online versions available on SuttaCentral. In preparation for each meeting, it is recommended to read the primary texts suggested. Secondary texts are suggestions for further reflection and are optional.
For a general orientation about different historical, cultural and intellectual aspects of Buddhism and its development:
Damien Keown, Buddhism. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: OUP, 2013.
Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford: OUP, 1998.
For a discussion of several key philosophical issues on which Buddhist philosophy can be made conversant with today’s analytic philosophy:
Jay L. Garfield, Engaging Buddhism. Why It Matters to Philosophy, Oxford: OUP, 2015,
An accessible and popular presentation of how several aspects of Buddhist practice can be interpreted from the point of view of contemporary evolutionary biology and psychology:
Robert Wright, Why Buddhism Is True. The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, New York: Simon&Schster, 2017
A polemical pamphlet on the social, economical and moral implications of the practice of secularized ‘Mindfulness’ (MBSR) in today’s American culture and the issues it raises:
Ronald E. Purser, McMindfulness. How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. London: Repeater, 2019.
For an overview of how actual Buddhist teachers (in the Theravada tradition) present and explain the Buddhist path and practice:
Jack Kornfield, Living Dharma. Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters, Boulder: Shambhala, 2010.
Ajahn Sumedho, The Sound of Silence. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2007.
Meeting 1 (October 2, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA): happiness and human psychology (sukha and the five khandhas)
On pleasures, their gratification, danger and escape:
MN 13: The Great Discourse on the Mass of Suffering
MN 14: The Shorter Discourse on the Mass of Suffering
On the five aggregates (Khandas):
SN 22.95 (3): A Lump of Foam
SN 22.82 (10): The Full-Moon Night
Rupert Gethin, “The Five Khandas: Their Treatment in the Nikayas and Early Abhidharma”. Journal of Indian Philosophy 14, (1986): 35-53 https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00165825
Sue Hamilton, Identity and Experience. The Constitution of the Human Being According to early Buddhism. Oxford: Luzac Oriental, 1996.
Meeting 2 (October 16, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA): meditation as a method of investigation (samādhi and vipassanā)
On the complete gradual training:
MN 39: The Greater Discourse at Assapura
On the foundations of awareness (sati):
MN 10: The Foundations of Mindfulness
On the divine abodes and the immeasurable:
SN 41.7: With Godatta
An alternative overview of the gradual training, focused on the abandonment of the taints:
MN 2: All the Taints
Rupert Gethin, “On the Practice of Buddhist Meditation according to the Pali Nikayas and Exegetical Sources”.
Analayo, Satipatthana. The Direct Path to Realization. Birmingham: Windhorse, 2003.
Available here: PDF
Analayo, Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, Cambridge: Windhorse, 2015. Available here: PDF
Peter Harvey, “Signless Meditation in Pali Buddhism.” The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 9, no. 1 (1986): 25-52.
Meeting 3 (October 23, Wednesday: 14:00-17:00, room ALPHA):the three characteristics of reality and ‘non-Self’ (aniccā, dukkha, anattā)
On the characteristics of non-self
SN 22.59 (7) The Characteristics of Nonself
SN 12.17 (7) The Naked Ascetic Kassapa
SN 12.15 (5): Kaccanagotta
Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Personality, Consciousness and Nirvana in Early Buddhism. London: Routledge 1995.
Meeting 4 (November 15, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA): dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda)
Direct and Reverse exposition of dependent origination
MN 38: The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving
Analysis of the twelve links:
SN 12.2 (2): Analysis of Dependent Origination
Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Under The Bodhi Tree. Buddha’s Original Vision of Dependent Co-arising, Somervilles: Wisdom Publications, 2017.
Meeting 5 (November 29, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA): the four noble truths and philosophical disputes (ariyasaccāni and diṭṭḥi)
The four noble truths in the first discourse of the Buddha:
SN 56.11 (1): Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma
The pattern of the four noble truths intersects with dependent origination:
MN 9: Right View
Wrong speculative views, their origin, danger and escape:
DN1: The All-Embracing Net of Views
Ajahn Sumedho, The Four Noble Truths, Book available for free distribution here:
Bhikkhu Bodhi, The All-Embracing Net of Views, Kandi: Buddhist Publication Society, 20073.
Meeting 6 (December 13, Friday: 15:00-18:00, room ALPHA): emptiness (suññatā)
Abiding in emptiness:
MN 121: The Shorter Discourse on Voidness
MN 122: The Greater Discourse on Voidness
Analayo, Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, Cambridge: Windhorse, 2015. (PDF)
Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn, Pessanno, The Island. An Anthology on the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana, 2013. Book available for free distribution here: https://www.amaravati.org/dhamma-books/the-island/
About the OZSW event calendar
The OZSW event calendar lists academic philosophy events organized by/at Dutch universities, and is offered by the OZSW as a service to the research community. Please check the event in question – through their website or organizer – to find out if you could participate and whether registration is required. Obviously we carry no responsibility for non-OZSW events.