The Cult of Emptiness. the Western Discovery of Buddhist Thought and the Invention of Oriental Philosophy

Urs App

Language: English

Pages: 306

ISBN: 3906000125

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Whereas the discovery by Europeans of the continents of our earth has been the subject of countless studies and its protagonists (such as Columbus) are universally known, research on the European discovery of our globe's "spiritual continents" - its religions and philosophies - is still in its infancy. The Christian West's discovery of Asia's largest religion and fount of philosophies, Buddhism, is a case in point: though it triggered one of the most significant and influential spiritual and cultural encounters in world history, even the most basic questions remain unanswered. What did Europeans first learn about Buddhist thought? When and where did this discovery take place and who was involved in it? What kind of Buddhism did they study, how did they understand or misunderstand it, and what were the repercussions of such discoveries in Europe? Based on a wide range of sources in European and Asian languages, Urs App -- the author of The Birth of Orientalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) -- identifies the protagonists of the first Western encounter with Buddhism and shows how their interpretation of Buddhist doctrines led to the invention of a single "Oriental philosophy" reigning from Egypt to Japan: an atheist philosophy anchored in "nothingness" and "emptiness" that was revealed by the Buddha to his closest disciples on his deathbed. Leading thinkers of the Enlightenment came to regard this philosophy as the most ancient form of atheism, the ancestor of Greek philosophy, the precursor of Spinoza, and the fount of mysticism as well as countless heresies including monism, pantheism, quietism, and gnosticism.

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as the God of Zen. From the point of view of the Japanese Zen ad­ epts, however, there was of course no God in play. Rather, they are likely to have explained to the Jesuits that the fundamental purport and basis (honbun) of their teaching consists in awakening (satori) to one's "original face" (honrai no menmoku **O)lID§ Frois's "Fonrai nome mogui") or "Buddha nature" (bussho f!In'/g: Frois's "Buxon") . Understandably, Frois's Arlecchino-style interpretation - - 22 During the Muromachi period,

counterparts in Japanese myth of Adam and Eve. 52 Valignanos Lectures and Catechism From the Japanese perspective it was also reprehensible that these black-robed Buddhist monks from India-who of course must have taken the precepts-ate animal flesh. A Japanese thus accused a mis­ sionary: Even though it is strictly forbidden in all sects and orders of Japan for bonzes to eat any kind of meat or fish, the [Jesuit] Father usually not only partakes of pork and the meat of deer but even-and this

(NAVARRETE) W hile Father Kircher in Rome was busy preparing his China illustrata for publication, nineteen of his fellow Jesuits in the China mission were deported to Canton and put under house ar­ rest for almost four years. Only four missionaries were allowed to remain at the imperial court in Beijing. The same deportation order also brought a handful of Dominican and Franciscan missionar­ ies into a cramped house in the southern Chinese city of Canton. From their arrival in March 1 666

Antonio a Santa Maria CABALLERO (also known as Antoine de Sainte-Marie; 1 602- 1 669) had a trump card up his sleeve : he was in possession of part of the report that Fr. Longobardi, Ricci's successor and critic, had written in 1 623 -24. This document was supposed to have been burned, but Caballero (who had met the aged Longobardi twice duting the 1 650) had obtained part of the report through Jean Valat, a maverick Jesuit (Cummins 1 993: 1 59) . The fact that Cabal­ lero had clandestinely sent

• ctPranou etiam I nomen (cla;��\'(1 ,·:fi�;·;�)laei Brahm: adhibentllr.) creator; ens ipsum hoc j est, 'id cst, C'· I '!..2. seen� tao :U;/,- e obsignata FIG. 1: SCHOPENHAUER'S NOTES IN AN�ETIL-D UPERRON'S OUPNEK'HAT (AN�ETIL 1801, VOL. 1,:7) The line that startled me begins with the sacred Indian word 0 UM that translator Anquetil-Duperron equated with God (Deus). That Schopenhauer would replace Anquetil's "Deus" by "Brahm" was to be expected; but what in the world had "Omitto"

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