The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life handel oor 'n pa, Franse filosoof Jean-François Revel, sê dialoog met sy seun Matthieu Ricard, wat 'n wetenskaplike (mikro-bioloog) was en toe sy loopbaan opgegee het om as 'n Tibettaanse monnik te leef.
Die inleiding word deur die pa geskryf, hoofsaaklik om die boek binne die oop, soekende en eerlike gees van 'n filosofiese dialoog tussen pa en seun daar te stel. Verder ontvou dit as 'n dialoog: vraag, antwoord, vraag, antwoord, tussen pa (wat agnostiese uitkyk en westerse filosofie verteenwoordig) en seun (wat oosterse wysheid en Boeddhisme verteenwoordig).
Vroeg al in die boek skryf die pa (Revel): "A dialogue is not something that allows you to lose yourself or to loosen up the other, but rather is conducted in a poetical dimension in which men of discernible understanding and intellectual acuity attempt to meet each other at the meta-level of horizons."
Die pa skryf op 'n stadium: "...the central current of Western thought is built around two essential and complementary poles. The first is the achievement of personal autonomy and the strengthening of individuality, of personal judgment, and of will as a conscious agent and center of decision making. The second is action on the world. The West is a civilization of action – action on human history through politics, and action on the world through knowledge of the laws of nature, with all the assurance of being able to transform it and bend it to man's needs." Hy gaan dan voort om Boeddhisme vanuit sy westerse oogpunt te verduidelik en hoe hy dit verstaan.
Hierop antwoord sy seun dan: "...it's important to specify that the truth of suffering taught by the Buddha in his first sermon belongs to relative truth, and doesn't describe the ultimate nature of things ... Reflecting on pain should therefore incite us to the path of wisdom. Buddhism is centrally a path of healing from the illness of suffering. Thus: There are no such things as 'good' and 'bad' as such, there are only actions and thoughts that lead to suffering, and others than lead to happiness. We ourselves are responsible for the evils that befall us. We inherit the past and create the future ... Much more important than the metaphysical problems of suffering and evil are the means by which suffering and evil can be remedied."
Die gesprekke is verfrissend en van hoë kwaliteit. Die leser word ingetrek by die gesprekke deur die styl van vraag en antwoord. Hierdie boek gee die leser nie net 'n kykie in Boeddhisme nie maar ook hoe westerse filosofie belangrike lewensvrae benader en probeer antwoord. Hierdie boek is vir enigiemand wat geïnteresseerd is in die wetenskap-godsdiens debat. Dit is 'n eerlike, rou en sensitiewe boek. Hoogs aanbeveelbaar. 'n Resensie wat die boek aanbeveel sê die volgende: "On the other hand, The Monk and the Philosopher is about ideas and human possibilities, being wrestled with by two fine intellects who happen to be father and son. Matthieu is correct, The Monk and the Philosopher is a genuine dialogue and an enlightening one."
Die laaste hoofstuk sluit die gesprekke af deur pa en seun wat filosofeer oor wat presies is die mens, veral as daar gewonder word oor die idee van die "self" – waarna die pa die volgende skryf: "Over the last three centuries, philosophy has abandoned its function as a source of wisdom, and has restricted itself to knowledge. In doing so, it gave birth to various sciences, which have taken over the knowledge function, while the concern with justice and happiness moved over to politics, to concern with how society should be ordered. It is reasonable to suggest that, as the limits to what political action could achieve has become clearer, the 'wisdom-hole' in Western thought has become more obvious (hence the appeal of, amongst other things, Buddhism)."
'n Amerikaanse resent skryf die volgende oor die boek: "In The Philosopher's Conclusion, Jean-François sums up what he sees as the relevant key patterns in Western intellectual thought, what he has learned about Buddhism and how he remains unconvinced by its larger metaphysical claims. One of the great strengths of this book is that Jean-François Revel was so steeped in, so knowledgeable and perceptive about, Western intellectual history. He makes an excellent contact point for exploring the differences, similarities and overlaps with Buddhism. Not least because of his genuinely enquiring, but careful and well-schooled, mind:
'...the Dalai Lama's humble, practical, and courageous sagacity, representing an ethical ideal even in the tragic circumstances he has to work with as spiritual and political head of a martyred people, seems to be in a completely different dimension from the ineffective omniscience of so many career statesmen (p. 346)'
He sums up his own position quite nicely in his last sentence: 'Wisdom is not based on scientific certitude, and scientific certitude does not lead to wisdom. Both, nevertheless exist – forever indispensable, forever separate, forever complementary (p. 347)'
In his brief The Monk's Conclusion, Matthieu focuses on the question of human needs:
'...the Buddhist path, like all great spiritual traditions, is designed to help us become better human beings. Science has neither the design nor the means to help us attain that goal (p. 352).' This puts the dichotomy too strongly: it seems to me that some aspects of science are helpful in self-awareness. Matthieu holds that Buddhism as part needs to be used in ways which fit to where Westerners actually are: not 'Buddhism lite' but 'Buddhism appropriate'. He sees the willingness, indeed enthusiasm, of his father, a noted freethinker, to discuss the issues a heartening indication of Western interest in Buddhism: interest he found somewhat surprising at first."
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