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Buddha-Nature and Personality as the Ground of Ethics: A Metaethical Dialogue Between Dōgen and Berdyaev



This paper seeks to contribute to the ongoing Buddhist-Christian dialogue bybringing together the teachings of Zen Master Dōgen and the Russian Christianphilosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. This dialogue discusses a metaethical question:What is the foundation of ethical practice? I aim to show that Dōgen’s idea of“buddha-nature” and Berdyaev’s idea of “personality” can be understood as thefoundations of ethical practice in ways that are similar and mutually clarifyingin their total affirmation of human temporal existence. We begin by discussingthe general contours of Dōgen’s practice-realization and Berdyaev’s creativeethics, and then proceed to a comparative examination of the foundationof ethics found in Dōgen’s notion of Buddha-nature and Berdyaev’s notionof personality. The comparison considers four facets of Buddha-nature andpersonality: being, time, nothingness, and impermanence. First, we show howboth thinkers consider the ground of ethics to be something inseparable fromthe entire being of an individual and the being of all existence as a whole. Thisrefutes the tendency to see the foundation of goodness as a mere fragment ofhuman existence or as restricted to particular existents. Second, we show howboth thinkers consider this foundation to be manifest not merely in the futureor the past, but in every moment seen as a whole in itself. Third, we examinethe collision between this immanent foundation and individuality, and showhow the non-substantiality of Buddha-nature and God make room for creative and individual expressions of authenticity. Finally, we consider the problem ofimpermanence, and show how the ground of ethics is not an escape fromimpermanence but an acceptance and embracing of this impermanence as theground of the efficacy and dynamism of ethical practice.

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