Is there any escape from the awareness of pain and the bonds of an unending cycle of life? Why are humans subject to craving? What is the nature of human beings? The Buddhist understanding of salvation is based upon such quaries.
A thorough grasp of the function of craving in religious life is strategic to an understanding of Buddhism, yet its role in the Buddhist plan of salvation is easy to oversimplify and misinterpret. Matthews examines the concept of craving in Buddhism from both a phenomenological and religious perspective. He brings to the task a critical examination of key canonical texts of the Sutta Pitaka (Nikayas) as well as extensive travel in research of the meaning of craving for contemporary Buddhists, from learned monks to lay villagers. Having established the Buddhist perspective on how craving arises, how its affects the mind, and how it can be redirected, the volume concludes with spiritual implications of craving; crucial to awareness and freedom— emancipation—is the engagement and harnessing rather than suppression of craving.
I acknowledge the assistance and support of many friends and associates in the preparation of this text. Part of the challenge of approaching another religious tradition for analysis and reflection involves meeting with informed and receptive adherents of that tradition. In this regard, I have three individuals to thank for opening up a whole field of scholarly and monastic contacts. These are Dr. Andrew Nanayakkara of Colombo, Mr. Justice U Chan Htoon of Rangoon, and Professor Sulak Sivaraksa of Bangkok.
Closer to home, I have in particular my colleague Professor Hebert Lewis to thank for his fine editorial assistance. Marie—Thérese Mc Guinness also helped in this regard. Appreciation is likewise extended to Christine Lenihan and Deborah Seary for typing the manuscript. This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Canadian Federation of the Humanities, using funds provided by the social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Further assistance was received in the form of a Harvey T. Reid grant from Acadia University. And finally for my wife Pam, an expression of gratitude for her patience in seeing me through this lengthy endeavour.
Might I now also alert the reader to the fact that all the translations from the Pali texts are my own, except where indicated. I have consulted and sometimes used the translations of the Pali Text Society on occasions where I judged them to be precise and accurate. I have also decided to use the more common Sanskrit spellings of karma and nirvana where those terms appear in my discussion. In the sources they remain, of course, as kamma and nibbana.
Whatever else may be said 0f the one world of today, it is a world whose coming and going includes the coming and going of scholars from various countries interested in other ways of faith besides their own. The fact that Bruce Matthews is such a scholar adds to the value and interest of what he has to say on the subject of Buddhist "craving and salvation," as taught by the Buddha and understood by Theravada Buddhists in South East Asia as well as by Western scholars like himself.
Beginning with a research visit to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), he has in these last ten years extended his travels to include Burma and Thailand. Thus, he compares conclusions drawn from his own studies of the Pali texts with conclusions drawn by such scholars as K. N. Jayatilleke and M. W. P. de Silva. What Matthews has to say should lead his readers to review a good many of the conclusions about craving they have drawn from Buddhist texts in the past-and to review some of the Western interpretations of these texts.
They may be the more disposed to examine and re- consider earlier conclusions by what Professor Matthews has to say about the growing Buddhist interest in “unconscious craving," especially if they have been interested in Western presentations of "depth religion." His description of his essay as "a study of Buddhist soteriology" should lead his readers to look for something more than a swift glance at Buddhist practices, interpretations, and speculations today. They will not be disappointed.
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