Journal of Buddhist Ethics

An online journal of Buddhist scholarship related to ethics.

Dramatic Interdependence

ISSN 1076–9005
Volume 7, 2000

Family Matters: Dramatic Interdependence and the Intimate Realization of Buddhist Liberation

Peter D. Hershock
East-West Center
Asian Studies Development Program

In this paper, I assemble a set of narratives that will persuade us to refrain from seeing Buddhist families as either fundamentally biological or essentially cultural phenomena, but rather as dramatic communities in narrative motion away from saṃsāra toward nirvāṇa—communities intent on anuttara samyak sambodhi or utmost and all-encompassing enlightenment. Such a view of the family will stand in significant opposition to the interpretation of enlightenment as a peak and private experience; to the reduction (Buddhist) teachings to texts; and to the belief that it is on the basis of valorizing individuality and equality that we are best able to realize satisfyingly human community. Hopefully, it will also encourage us to question our own prejudices for minimally defining family and community in objective and institutional terms rather than in terms of dramatically exemplary or virtuosic relationships.

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