Wollstonecraft & Buddha
Apr 22, 2013
5 minutes read

Be warned: The work here, written for a philsophy class from the past, has little to do with the thoughts/feelings/beliefs of the author. Much was written with an intentional bias or viewpoint which was given as part of the assignment. Tread lightly, and try not to take it too seriously.

Wollstonecraft and Buddha may seem worlds apart, but it is easy to draw a few corollaries between the two of them, perhaps not in time and space but definitely between the ethos and values that each of them shared. Both authors had obvious interest what they perceived as the power of the human mind, and both authors conclude that it is within the power of the possessor of such a tool to free it, or accumulate so many types and facets of knowledge so that one can become eventually free from the misery of the unknowing. Both authors contend that knowledge is power, and that with the self-discipline to attain knowledge comes with it knowledge (and thus, power).

Wollstonecraft thinks that in order to extol virtue, one must remain vigilant against the creeping of idleness and contentedness into one’s life. She believes that in modern life (relative to her) has created an issue unique to that time – people are becoming content with their life , and thus bored. This is a problem because she believes that in that idleness one loses virtue. The specific example she gives is a woman, whom when told repeatedly and constantly that she is beautiful loses sight of her child who may be in need of a mother. The woman , in that example, is too busy idly fulfilling the easy role, that of a symbol of beauty rather than the role of a mother or woman first. When displays the knowledge of how the world actually works when one chooses to be virtuous, and by proxy - dutiful. Wollstonecraft believes that honors and money that you’re born into are damaging, as they promote contentedness without the personal experience of gaining the knowledge that one would get from naturally trying to attain such rank or financial success. Specifically, she believes that these things are even more damaging to women due to their inability to pursue certain career choices. She perceives the greatest bondage that one can be put into is one of a forced ignorance, and she believes that any benevolent government would provisions so that all of it’s people may avoid idleness (and complacency). More than any other concept, however, she extols the equality between a man and a woman, and the woman’s ability to do all the jobs and careers that a man now finds himself in, plus more.

Buddha believes the mind to be the most important of aspects that make up a person. The mind alone is capable of perceiving a reality higher than the one that man is a part of in this physical realm. Buddha refers to attachment to the physical realm as ‘Mara’, and detachment as ‘Nibbana’. There are various ways to strengthen the mind, but Buddha most promotes meditation. Through meditation and steadfastness one gains wisdom. With the gathering of wisdom, eventually one shall attain the ability to perceive the other reality; to become ‘Enlightened’. Buddha believes in the idea of detachment from the corporeal realm that we exist in, so that while our bodily forms may remain dutiful in this world, our ‘Enlightened’ minds may be free to use their wisdom to explore Nirvana, and become deathless. This is a metaphor for the deathless nature of knowledge, one may pass gathered knowledge to offspring, and thus the idea becomes practically ‘deathless’. Buddha also contends– relatedly– that the human body is temporary and fragile, and (again) that the only thing which may remain timeless is the wisdom that one accrues. Buddha also believes that when one shows the virtues listed within the doctrine, it’s immediately visible to all that glance upon that ‘Enlightened’ individual. This ‘fragrance’, is noticed even by deities above the status of a single human person, even though other earthly attempts go unnoticed.

Both authors believe that wisdom leads to power in the hands of a person. Both authors also believe that one must stay steadfast in their duties if one expects to accrue such wisdom. However, Wollstonecraft is much more of a realist when it comes to what the power of knowledge may gain you. She sees knowledge as practically viable, meaning that it translates readily to the real world, power to make decisions and actions. Buddha, on the other hand, believed that wisdom lead to a further realization of the power of neutrality. The overall idea that while the younger less wise man may be quick to raise his fist against an aggressor, the wise man pauses and takes inaction as his route of choice, as the avoidance of conflict is known to the wiser man as the more appropriate choice. Buddha does not mention in the text a difference in the treatment between man and woman, however since it is of ancient origin it is tough to really know the exact phrasing of the stories, plus sexism may not have yet been a topic of discussion in civilized circles. Wollstonecraft, however, extensively mentions the inequality of the day towards women, and mentions the equal worth in ability that women have towards men. She gives examples of inequalities that she was exposed to within the modern society that she experienced as a person.

Both authors contend that knowledge is power, and that with the self-discipline to attain knowledge comes with it knowledge (and thus, power). While they may do so in far different ways, large parts of the message are consistent between the two authors. Wollstonecraft, perhaps due to writing for a more ‘knowledged’ set of people decided to include mostly practical examples of how knowledge was power, while Buddha decided to use more ethereal examples – perhaps due to the more quicker jump in ancient times to explain phenomena using divine examples and folklore.

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