A contribution to the sixth installment of the Common Knowledge symposium “Apology for Quietism,” this article addresses a) the extent to which the familiar term “Buddhist quietism” is legitimate, b) the use of the term by Jesuit missionaries in Asia at the time that Catholic quietism was briefly flourishing in Europe, and c) the use of the term in the European philosophical controversy over Spinozism. Faure argues that, in most cases, the European critique of Buddhism was aimed at European enemies. Chan Buddhism in China and Zen in Japan came to be associated with nihilism as well as quietism, and the association proved resilient down into the twentieth century, but the Jesuit critique has a peculiar provenance. The Jesuits in China borrowed arguments against Buddhism from neo-Confucianist allies, yet the Confucian critique of Buddhism was itself indebted to arguments that had been directed by Buddhist schools against one another. Certain Chan schools had accused other Chan schools of quietism and nihilism, and Western scholars even in the later twentieth century have taken sides in these disputes as well. However, Faure argues, the “no-thought” of Chan is not the “blank slate” of Christian quietism, on which God engraves his will and blessings. Nor does Buddhist quietism lead to the extasis of mystical union. Moreover, Buddhism was perceived by East Asian rulers mainly as an ideological weapon and only secondarily as a soteriological doctrine. Indeed “warrior monks” in Japan formed bands that attacked all who threatened their interests, and the country could not be unified under Tokugawa rule until this activist Buddhism was quelled. The article concludes with an expression of admiration for quietism and a wish that there might be more of it in Buddhism now.
Bernard Faure; In the Quiet of the Monastery: Buddhist Controversies Over Quietism. Common Knowledge 1 August 2010; 16 (3): 424–438. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2010-004
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