Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Buddhism and human rights: The journey to the west

The Chinese classic Journey to the West, based on the Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India, is actually an allegory of a Buddhist spiritual journey. Also known as Adventures of the Monkey God, it is a fitting tool to compare Buddhism and Kantian philosophy.

As fantastically explained by Venerable Khemananda in his commentary to Journey, the Buddhist way to enlightenment is allegorised by the arduous voyage to India which Xuanzang and his company must take while battling spiritual obstacles in the form of hostile demons and selfish humans. On the other hand, Kantian reasoning, which can achieve enlightened altruism, can be thought of as the spontaneous Monkey King, symbolising emerging wisdom (panna). Although he can fly to India and have an audience with the Buddha (enlightenment), Monkey can never remain there. His indispensable role is to guide the whole troupe.

Represents forming morality (sila), the gluttonous Pigsy often lapses into greed and lust and must be constantly kept in check. Both Kant and the Buddha, therefore, formulated principles for human ethics. As all humans are of equal dignity, Kant says that we must not put our needs above those of others. The Buddha also says, "On traversing all directions with the mind; one finds no one anywhere dearer than oneself; likewise everyone holds himself most dear."

Because an ethical principle is aimed as a law for all beings with equal dignity, it must be equally valid for all. To ensure this, Kant says it must pass the test of being universalised. That is, when adopted by everyone it can never be in conflict with itself....

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