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#183: BEYOND COMPARING.

#183. BEYOND COMPARING. Comparisons are odious, John Lydgate suggested long ago, and engenderers of hatred. Here surely is the great divider of men: our endless appetite to get the one-uppance on each other. Nowhere is this inclination more painful to witness than in the sectarian disdains and hatreds of faiths and churches, in which the message of compassion is so roundly defeated. Bhikkhu Analayo, a German-born Theravadan Buddhist monk with a long trail of scholarship behind him, has recently published Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions (Wisdom, 2021) which tackles this vexed question in four areas: the long-established presumption of men’s superiority to women, particularly in the area of being able to achieve enlightenment; the Mahayana’s assumed superiority to Theravadan tradition, and the Theravadan’s assumed superiority to the Mahayana, largely argued on the development of ideas and the fidelity of practice to the Buddha’s original teachings; and the assumption of superiority in the recent school of secular Buddhism to the perceived superstitions of the older schools. His particular success in this study lies not just in his scholarship, which is reasoned, formidable, and succinctly argued, but in his complete disinclination to strike an attitude of superiority to people striking an attitude of superiority. He understands and respects all sides and arguments; he works slowly, carefully, academically, and refuses to simplify. Above all, he refuses to return snark for snark, and so grants us comprehension over satisfaction. This brief (140 pages) and wise text is a little masterwork of calm, reason and scholarship placed in the service of compassion and reconciliation. Let there be many like it.


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