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Philosophy Workshop: Suffering & The Self — A Survey of Buddhist Philosophy

February 8, 2020 @ 10:00 am - 12:30 pm MST


This 2½-hour workshop will take us on a guided tour of the Buddhist philosophies of India and Tibet.* 


After a brief historical overview, we’ll begin with some of the key philosophical claims—and the arguments for those claims—made by the historical Buddha, including:

•      The denial of a permanent, stable “self”: What do we even mean by the self?  How can we explain our everyday experience of the world without the self?  And why, according to the Buddha, does clinging to belief in the self cause us to suffer? 

•      The claim that all existence is fundamentally characterized by suffering: What does this mean?  How could it be true, when there seem to be lots of good, pleasant parts of life? Why is this more than mere hopeless nihilism?

We will then go on, to see how later Buddhist thinkers in India expanded and elaborated on these basic insights, including:

•      Extending the arguments against the self, to critique our ordinary ideas about material objects and the external world.

•      Developing an ethics of radical compassion for all sentient beings.


And we’ll conclude by looking head-on at some interpretive questions, for the place of Buddhist thought in the modern world:

•      What is the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and modern science (especially neuroscience)?

•      Is it appropriate to think of Buddhism as a religion?  What does this even mean?  What possibility (or even necessity) is there for “supernatural” elements, like the presence of divine beings or the literal truth of reincarnation?  What happens to Buddhism if we reject any or all of those elements?

•      What is the place of meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) in a wider Buddhist context?  Historically, throughout Asia, most Buddhists did not meditate: Why not?  And how has the shift to widespread meditation changed the way practitioners and outsiders understand Buddhist teaching and practice?


We’ll leave the workshop with a deeper understanding of the traditions and arguments; new, richer questions to ponder and explore; and suggestions for further reading and study.

(* Please note: while we may make occasional gestures toward elements of Buddhist practice, as they relate to philosophical ideas, and toward expressions of Buddhism beyond India and Tibet (such as the traditions of East and Southeast Asia), our primary focus in this workshop will be on theory and philosophical argument from Indo-Tibetan Buddhist traditions.)


No background in philosophy is required to participate in this workshop.  All ages welcome. FREE.  $15-$30 suggested donation (if you are of the means to do so).  Donations help to cover workshop leader honorariums and community “workshop scholarships” for those in need.  

Light snacks & hot tea provided. Space is limited.  Learn more about the workshop leader & reserve your spot here! 

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