Back at it…

We started a new term today. There were some great moments in the department as we all began our new courses: a colleague explaining a priori knowledge to two students in the context of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (!), which they are pursuing in an independent project. A discussion with a colleague about how to incorporate Ferguson into my course on Nonviolence this winter, with special attention to the role of religion: it can help people create narratives of hope and it can provide theological justification for the status quo. Students in class writing and talking about ideas of freedom and enchainment using Rousseau’s saying that “humans are born free but everywhere they are in chains.”

A good day. A good start. More soon!

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Mick Jagger, Doctor Buddha, and the Four Noble Truths

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(This post is a PG-rated follow-up to my post on Louis CK, and a follow up to the 2×2 Four Noble Truths post.)

When I was working with my sixth graders, I wanted to give them a way to think through and understand the idea of dukkha. The Four Noble Truths do not make much sense if this central idea is not grasped, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make this idea accessible to them without either bludgeoning them with the truth (impermanence, death, loss, pain, etc. — not very appropriate developmentally) or skipping over it entirely.

It was at this point that I remembered once hearing Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher, speak about “that skinny man from England with the big lips who teaches the Lam Rim [Stages of the Buddhist Path to Awakening].” This was the way in!

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The Bhagavad Gita and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Nurses

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Krishna teaching Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita

D.D. Kosambi, the Indian Marxist historian, once dismissed the Bhagavad Gita as “700 fratricidal verses.” And while this text has been extolled by champions of nonviolence such as Thoreau and Gandhi, Kosambi does have a point: Krishna – God himself who has taken on human form – urges Arjuna, the reluctant warrior, to fight in battle against his teachers, cousins, and friends. Why? Because his dharma requires him to do so. Arjuna must act in this battle in order to preserve the order of the universe, even if it means slaughtering his kin. Continue reading

Dharma: An Introduction

“Dharma is subtle.”

This quotation recurs throughout the Mahabharata, one of the two great epics in Hinduism. (The Ramayana is the other.) Dharma is a Sanskrit word that is often translated as duty or responsibility. It is probably the central ethical idea in Hinduism. It’s also rather complex.

The word dharma is often translated as “duty,” and this definition is a pretty good start. However, there’s more nuance to the term: dharma refers to duties/responsibilities that a person has to uphold the functioning of the communities in which they are enmeshed. Dharma is action that upholds the world. As such, it is linked quite closely to a person’s identity: in my case, I have specific dharmas as a son, a partner, a teacher, a colleague, a tenant, and so on. Performing my dharma, then, is a matter of acting in a way that preserves and upholds the social orders I am a part of: my family, my classroom, my workplace, my home – my communities. Continue reading