September 1, 2022

Reading a paper: “Bahá’u’lláh and the Luminous Mind: Bahá’í Gloss on a Buddhist Puzzle”

by Interfaith

In a recent thread@Ahanu recommended the following paper by Roland Faber as an example of Baha’is understand Buddhism on a more profound level than “Buddha was a manifestation of God”:

Here is a link to the paper: Baha’u’llah and the Luminous Mind

It is a rather long treatise at 54 pages in its PDF form.

In this thread I will post notes and comments as I read; It would be fun if others joined in, particularly those who have some familiarity with either or both the Baha’i Faith and Buddhism.

Thoughts on Section 1, “Non-Duality”

  • The author does not really define the term “Non-Duality”, although he mentions the difficulties reconciling it with Abrahamic traditions, and distinguishes it from Monism, but leaves it at that.
  • It is implied that Non-Duality is a concept common to all schools of Buddhism, which is not the case at all, rather, it is demonstrably a later development.
    • With some effort, Nagarjuna can be read as a non-dual philosopher: his surviving writings are structured as debating notes for addressing competing philosophies, thus they seem to deconstruct any and all points of view, which is indeed a method non-dual teachers sometimes like to use nowadays, but it is not at all clear that Nagarjuna would have understood his notes as a coherent philosophy in its own right rather than a bag of tricks to counter other philosophers. Nagarjuna lived about 700 years after the Buddha.
    • The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, from the Mahayana Buddhist writings, contains the famous quote, “Sariputra, form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form” – but again, this is found in only one of many early Buddhist schools, in a text composed about 500 years after the Buddha’s death, judging from the style (it is evidently a written work, not an oral tradition like the earliest Buddhist texts we have, as it is lacking the mnemonic aids of repetition and meter).
    • Theravada Buddhism, the school practised in South East Asia and Sri Lanka, a very orthodox and conservative school, preserving a very early edition of the Buddhist Canon, and in its roots perhaps predating Mahayana schools, has no notions of non-duality at all, nor does emptiness, the concept central to so much of Mahayana Buddhism, have any special status in Theravada (it is treated as just another mind state, without any special significance attached).
  • The closest we get to a definition of Non-Duality in this section is the Western quote, “The All is One / The One is All”. While this can be understood to point to the non-dual, it has a very strong whiff of monism, to me. The equivalent one-liner from Eastern traditions would be, “Not Two, Not Even One”, which, while pointing in the same direction, has a distinctly non-monist flavor, at least to me. The author does not make it clear why equating the two concepts of the Non-dual is a valid way to proceed.
  • In summary, Non-Dual thought can be understood as a later development in Buddhism, emerging from the dialogue with orthodox Hindu schools of thought. It was not present in the earliest Buddhist schools we know about. Thus, it can be understood (from the perspective of early and orthodox schools) as one of the very corruptions of the Buddha’s message which the Baha’i scriptures decry. To use Non-Dual thought as the foundation for an argument that the Baha’i faith represents a purer form of the Buddha’s message seems to me a bet on the wrong horse, from the beginning.

To me, it is unclear whether the Author, who indeed has an impressive CV in western Theological academia, as Ahanu pointed out, also has a good grasp of Eastern concepts.

Interesting paper, thanks, @Ahanu! I’m looking forward to what the next sections contain.

(Discussion in ‘Baha’i‘ started by CinoAug 15, 2022)

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