Buddhist Praja and Greek Sophia

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  • BUDDHIST PRA3jitI AND GREEK SOPHIA

    Edward J. D. Conze Visiting Professor, Universit;v of Lancaster

    For two reasons a comparison of the Sanskrit and Greek terms for Wisdom may be of interest. There is first the current discussion on how Buddhist terms should be translated. H. Guenther, for instance, claims that prajr%i should not be rendered as wisdom, but as analytical appreciative understanding.l One of the many objections to this proposal is that it fits only the initial stages of pra$i, which in its final consum- mation, as pra$i+.iramitti, becomes non-discriminative, non-dual, evincing the sameness of all. Others propose to translate as insight knowledge, etc.2 My point is that if wisdom is correct for sophia,. it must be equally correct for praj&i.

    Secondly, reliance on wisdom is an essential ingredient of the peren- nial philosophy. To quote a previous article,3 it maintains:

    that the wise men of old have found a wisdom which is true, although it has no empirical basis in observations which can be made by everyone and everybody; and that in fact there is a rare and unordinary faculty in some of us by which we can attain direct contact with actual reality,-through the ~rajiSi(p&amita) of the Buddhists, the logos of Parmenides, the sophia of Aristotle and others, Spinozas amor dei intellectualis, Hegels Vernunft, and so on.

    In the following I will indicate this aspect of the perennial philosophy in some detail. The article is only one of a series of studies in comparative religious philosophy which have been pursued over the years, and pre- supposes some of the results which I believe to have established before.4 The topic would fill a book and all I can give are the headlines of its various chapters. Assertion must take the place of argumentation, and my conclusions will be more obvious to those who knew them before than to those to whom they are new.

    The sources for this study are, of course, almost infinite. A footnote will enumerate those for Buddhism, as these are less well known.5 For suphia I rely greatly on Aristotles Protrejticus,e ca 350 B.C., and contemporary with a particularly creative period of Buddhist history. The parallelism is here very close, and even extends to a few side-issues. For instance, Aristotle clearly states the law of karma,7 i.e. For it is an inspired saying of the ancients that the soul pays penalties and that we live for the punishment of great sins. This is akin to NagigBrjunas remark* that

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