Accepted Paper:

Buddhist approach from "The View from Afar": going beyond ontology / epistemology in anthropology  


Atsuki Nakagami (The University of Tokyo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will present a perspective on how to build bridges between anthropology and Buddhism. The discussion will begin by examining the works by Levi-Strauss who gave high praise to Buddhist thought. By analyzing its premise, I hope to shed light on discussion of ontology / epistemology.

Paper long abstract:

Following a series of two works with the title "Structural Anthropology," Claude Levi-Strauss named his third book "The View from Afar." This name was borrowed from an idea in Zeami's book on the theory of Noh, the classical Japanese performing art influenced by Buddhist cosmology. However, "The View from Afar" has never been analyzed taking into consideration some of the fundamental insights of Buddhist thought, nor has the last chapter of his book "Tristes Tropiques," which gives high praise of the Buddhist world view.

Within Buddhist thought, the ontology of the Abhidharma school asserts that the fundamental layer of our experience of the world goes beyond our ontological / epistemological assumptions, while the schools of Mahayana Buddhism, the "middle way" and "mind only" schools, explain a non-dualistic understanding of ultimate phenomena. Because Buddhist philosophy gives a comprehensive theory of behavior and action without relying on a specific "subject," there is a space it can contribute to the discussion of the human / nature dichotomy within anthropology as well as giving an alternative approach to cultural theory in general.

In this paper, I hope to give some preliminary thoughts on how Buddhist thought could be used within anthropology, and how it could shed light on some of the discussion of ontology/epistemology and the idea of an imagined culture / society that are found to a degree within "The View from Afar."

Panel P139
Querying the human/non-human divide and the ontological status of anthropology