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Discourse Scholarship

¿What about “Nikayan Philosophy”?

Frequently Akincano refers to what he calls “Buddhist Psychology”. I’m curious if this is a phrase used across the Bodhi College team? For myself, as I explore these disciplines of Mind and Human Flourishing (that is: Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Neuroscience, and Contemplative Practice), I find it increasingly important to select the most appropriate (dare I say, Skillful?) language for my communications.

What is at stake?

  1. I am exploring and attempting to synthesize work from diverse disciplines not always sympathetic to one another.
  2. The language I use necessarily informs the way I think about and work with the material.
  3. I see much of my work as being an aspect of translation: in the first case, translating between the disciplines, and in the second, translating from the disciplines to the language of the tribes from which I have come: tribes of soldiers, tribes of scientists, tribes of engineers, tribes of working class Americans.

The term “Buddhist Psychology” does not land with me:

  1. What is “Buddhist”, anyway? I think Akincano means the teachings of Gotama as captured in the Pāli Canon… but he may also mean as understood within the Theravādan or Tibetan Buddhist traditions. My friendly-but-limited exposure to Mahāyāna (which consists of Alan Watts recordings and some first-hand exposure to the Sōtō Zen School) does not seem represented by Akincano’s Buddhist Psychology.
  2. Our (my) understanding of the contemporary divide between Philosophy of Mind and Psychology is that Psychologists are more interested in empirical data. Although Gotama did enjoin us to explore our own experience, most of the folks with whom I have spoken and studied do so within the framework and maps which he offered. It feels to me more like Philosophy than like Psychology.

In his series, “Buddhism Before the Theravāda” (do listen, if you haven’t. It’s spectacular), John Peacock talks about the “Nikaya Strata” of texts. Might we not talk, instead of “Buddhist Psychology”, might we not talk about “Nikayan Philosophy”? Perhaps “Nikayan Philosophy of Mind”? That’s rather long. But it does seem, from a Western perspective, that Nikayan Philosophy, if such a thing existed, could be considered in terms of Pragmatic Philosophy and Philosophy of Mind.

In any case, my proposal: might we perhaps consider moving away from “Buddhist Psychology”? And if not “Nikayan Philosophy of Mind”, might we begin a discussion about what to name this thing we are talking about?

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