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By David R. Loy

A Buddhist interpretation of Western heritage that indicates civilization formed by way of the self's wish for groundedness.

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Extra resources for A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack

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It does not consider India and China, philosophically the most sophisticated non-Western cultures and therefore the ones we would expect to offer the most interesting alternatives to the Western understanding of freedom. In India, for example, mukti has long been acknowledged by almost all schools of thought as the highest spiritual goal: [S]ince human existence was traditionally conceived as a cycle of birth and death interspersed with experience or suffering, the freedom of the self could be described as freedom from this cycle of samsara.

The main concern of The Republic is the problems with city-state democracy; it addresses the root of the problem by analyzing the democratic personality, which lacks a coherent organizing principle and therefore follows the strongest pressures of the moment— a recipe for social as well as psychological strife (561c-d). Further experience only deepened Plato’s distaste for personal freedom, as this extraordinary passage in The Laws (XII 942a-d) reveals: The organization of our forces is a thing calling in its nature for much advice and the framing of many rules, but the principle is this—that no man, and no woman, be ever suffered to live without an officer over them, and no soul of man to learn the trick of doing one single thing of its own sole motion, in play or in earnest, but, in peace as in war, ever to live with the commander in sight, to follow his leading, and take his motions from him to the least detail— to halt or advance, to drill, to bathe, to dine, to keep watch .

We are not born free—what freedom we have is the result of complex historical conditions—but Dostoyevsky’s arrow is otherwise right on target: if (as the sense-ofself ’s sense-of-lack implies) freedom makes us anxious, the more free we are the more anxious we will be, and the greater our need to resolve that anxiety one way or another—usually by surrendering it to some father protector or other authority figure. 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.

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