THE MONK AND THE PHILOSOPHER by Jean-Francois Revel

THE MONK AND THE PHILOSOPHER

A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life

KIRKUS REVIEW

At the hands of noted French philosopher Revel (Democracy Against Itself: The Fate of the Democratic Impulse, 1993, etc.) and his son, a Tibetan monk, Ricard (Journey to Enlightenment, not reviewed), the age-old debate between reason and faith receives an intriguing twist: Western norms of thinking confront Eastern concepts of spiritual experience. As a young man, Ricard left a promising career in biology to pursue a deeper wisdom under the tutelage of Tibetan monks exiled in India, including the Dalai Lama. And so the two, with their strikingly divergent paths (the father remains a child of the skeptical French Enlightenment, and the son is now learned in the ways of Buddhist enlightenment), met first in Nepal and then in Brittany to collaborate on this written dialogue, which contrasts Buddhist and European philosophy, science, psychology, ethics, political theory, and spirituality. The dramatic movement of the discussions is purely intellectual—the personal lives of the authors and the natural beauty that surrounded them as they talked in Nepal and France are muted—and centers largely on Revel, who draws parallels between Buddhist and Western philosophy, learns that Buddhism is more activist than he had thought, and, while doubting Buddhist metaphysics, comes to appreciate how suitably it fills the vacuum left by what he deems the now defunct traditions of Western moral philosophy. Ricard supplies an able introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, though, as he astutely implies at the end, the form the book takes—of logical argument—mediates his father’s didactic skepticism more successfully than his own Buddhist compassion, which comes out sounding overly moralistic at times. Newcomers to Buddhism should note that, while Ricard acknowledges the range of Buddhisms, he does not always flag as such his own distinctly Mahayana teachings—as, for example, on the universal Buddha-nature. From the ever philosophical French, a rare public display of abstract ideas in lively motion. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8052-4162-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Schocken
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998




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