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How to deal with the equal-and-unequal other?: The Theravada Buddist approach

With the two basic premises that (1) man is an unsocial social animal and (2) the other is both equal as well as unequal to us in diverse respects, the paper explains the Buddhist doctrine of brahmavihāra as a systematic way of dealing with others in a moral way. The paper develops in three parts: 1) In the first part the author discusses the critical response of Buddhism to the Brahmanical approach to equalities and inequalities. Here the author explains how Buddhism criticizes the hierarchical approach of Brahmanism and in what sense the Buddhist approach can be called egalitarian. 2) In the second part the author discusses the constructive approach of Buddhism to equalities and inequalities which is manifest in the doctrine of four sublime attitudes called brahmavihāras. Drawing on the transactional psychological analysis of four life positions given by Thomas Harris in his book, I’m OK You’re OK, the author reconstructs these life positions as objective conditions and explains the four sublime attitudes as moral responses to them. 3) In the last part the paper raises some related issues. Here he compares the Buddhist doctrine of brahmavihāras with the Pātañjala-Yoga concept of four bhāvanās and juxtaposes the Buddhist doctrine with the doctrines of anattā and śūnyatā.

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