Contemplative practice promises to reshape our selves, our innermost and pre-reflective engagements with the world, in order to address intractable and systemic ethical problems. No-self practice offers a counter-intuitive approach to the reframing of ethics by advocating for the elimination of self, understood as any element that remains unaffected by the other dimensions of selfhood and experience. However, the connection between no-self contemplative practice and ethics remains difficult to trace in both its Christian and Buddhist lineages.
This dissertation examines the complex arguments that underlie no-self practice in Teresa of Avila and Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa and follows their effects in ethics. By engaging these diverse thinkers comparatively, this study explores the little recognized no-self theology in Teresa’s Interior Castle and the hidden connections of Buddhaghosa’s practical treatment of no-self with ethics in the Visuddhimagga. Their shared strategies for cultivating no-self clarify the apparent lacunae each other’s writing. By phenomenological analysis, overwhelming and incompatible imagery, and an emphasis on rich depictions of personhood, Teresa and Buddhaghosa describe no-self practice as the allowing of no element of experience to oppress any other. This practice uncovers the connections between subtle, interiorly felt and exteriorly experienced oppression.
First, the argument begins with a close analysis of the final room of Teresa’s Interior Castle and of mental constructions in the Visuddhimagga. These sections in each thinker’s work describe the role of something beyond being that transforms the nature of perception, both toward God/Nibbāna and the oppressions that characterize experience. Second, the argument then places these ideas in conversation, leading to a clearer picture of no-self’s portrayal of the relationship of desire and knowledge, and to a rereading of equanimity in Buddhaghosa’s thought as an analogue for love in Teresa’s. Third, the argument develops and analyzes the ethical dimensions of this transformation that enable a reshaped self, including no-self practice’s emphasis on friendship and community, and on freedom as an earned rather than assumed attribute of agency.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Going Out Like a Candle 4
Chapter 2: Teresa and the Empty Room 57
Chapter 3: Buddhaghosa and the Land-Finding Crow 98
Chapter 4: No-Self Practice and Practicing Non-Exclusion 154
Chapter 5: Fruit Bat Metaphysics, and All You Need Is Equanimity (or Love) 168
Chapter 6: No Earthly Good? 216
Works Cited 279
About this Dissertation
|Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor|
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