Why Ask What Enlightenment Is?
WHEN EUROPEAN INTELLECTUALS in the late eighteenth century engaged in high-profile, public debate on the question “What is enlightenment?,”1 Buddhist answers to this question never came up for consideration, and it is safe to say that no participant in these debates would have or could have believed that this “oriental” religion had anything even remotely to do with “enlightenment.” Although knowledge of Buddhism was already accumulating in Europe by that time through the merchants, missionaries, and soldiers that the various European empires had dispatched to Asia, what they “knew” about Buddhism was that this ascetic, monastic religion was curiously nihilistic in its central goal: ...
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