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By David R. Loy

A Buddhist interpretation of Western historical past that exhibits civilization formed by means of the self's wish for groundedness

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Extra info for A Buddhist history of the West : studies in lack

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Why do we respect it, and yield to it? According to Harold Berman, “law—in all societies—derives its authority from something outside itself ” (16). What is that something? The answer to both questions turns out to be the same: The dynamism of the West and the authority of its law may both be traced back to the Papal reformation that occurred in Europe in the late eleventh century. This was not a reformation but a true revolution, in fact arguably the most important revolution the West ever experienced.

Understood more literally, however, original sin enslaves my incipient freedom to those religious institutions that claim to control its dispensation. Yet the radical inward turn Augustine encouraged, by seeking God within, opened the door for what seems to have been the spiritual freedom of the great Christian mystics, such as St. Francis and Meister Eckhart, who discovered what according to Buddhism is the only true way to resolve our lack: liberation from self in nondual union with something greater than the self, a loss of self-preoccupation that can lead to identifying oneself with all creation—not only with the needy and sick, but with Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

One Augustinian tension, in particular, had great implications for the future of personal freedom. His influential City of God went further than had any of the earlier Church Fathers in endorsing the powers of emperors. This divine sanction of secular The Lack of Freedom 37 authority was used to justify the subordination of church to state that was so characteristic of Christian Europe until the eleventh century. During this period kings were considered semireligious personages and had great influence on church affairs, while prominent churchmen played important roles in secular affairs as advisers, administrators, and rulers of ecclesiastical principalities.

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