Episode 271 :: Doug Smith and Justin Whitaker :: Reading the Buddha as a Philosopher

| April 2, 2017 | 2 Comments

Doug Smith

Doug Smith and Justin Whitaker join us to speak about their paper Reading the Buddha as a Philosopher.

Have you ever been asked whether you think of Buddha as a religious figure, or as a philosopher? Or perhaps some other description has been thrown in the mix, like teacher or healer. Every time I see discussions online and elsewhere about what Buddhism is, invariably how we describe Gotama makes its way into the dialogue. But what we may mean by philosopher has changed over the years, and there may be a dismissive view that the Buddha could be described as such.

Doug Smith has practiced meditation on and off for many years. He chose to do a PhD in Philosophy rather than Buddhist Studies, pursuing a minor in South Asian Studies alongside. He is also a long-time scientific skeptic. Reading Steven Batchelor’s Confession of a Buddhist Atheist turned him around to the possibility of a secularized Buddhist practice, one that would not require belief in the supernatural. He’s now getting back into a more thorough study of what interested him most about Buddhism back in school: the Pali Canon.

Justin Whitaker

Justin Whitaker is the founder of American Buddhist Perspectives, an award-winning blog chronicling Buddhism in the United States and beyond as well as Mindful Montana, offering mindfulness meditation rooted in Buddhist tradition and contemporary science. He has been interviewed by Tricycle Magazine, On Being’s podcast “Creating Our Own Lives” and the Secular Buddhist podcast. He holds a PhD in Religious Studies from the University of London where his work focused on comparing early Buddhist ethics with the work of Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). He has taught at several colleges and universities in the U.S. as well as in India and China.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Philosopher’s Brew Herbal Tea. Maybe make that in Russell’s Teapot.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (2)

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  1. TomSchulte TomSchulte says:

    Enjoyed reading the paper. I don’t hear as skillfully as I once did so podcasts aren’t my first choice for information.

  2. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Nice work!

    When I was in law school, John Rawls’ theory of justice was at the height of its popularity. As I recall, our jurisprudence professor presented him as a Kantian moralist who seemed to think the Bill of Rights was a categorical imperative. Whatever reservations some of us had about his project, we certainly didn’t doubt Rawls was “doing philosophy.” After all, we were told authoritatively that jurisprudence is a branch of philosophy.

    Surely, you are right that what Gotama did was at least as much philosophy as what Rawls was up to. But Rawls had an advantage. It was the scholarly tradition which regarded jurisprudence as philosophy that got to define philosophy. The problem, I think, isn’t just that philosophy needs to be defined before answering the question “was the Buddha a philosopherer?” but that the definition of philosophy has a history which shaped it, and history is difficult to escape.

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