An ongoing series of conversations on Critical Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Thought and Practice

In this series of conversations hosted by Mangalam Academic Director, Karin Meyers, scholars of Buddhist studies will offer critical perspectives on current social, political, economic and ecological crises in light of Buddhist history, thought and practice. In Asia, Buddhist study and practice were traditionally integrated together in monastery life. Today, in the west, serious study and practice are typically pursued in different social locations, the university, and Dharma centers. By bringing academic scholars and Dharma practitioners together in conversation, this series aims to bridge that gap. By focusing on contemporary issues and crises, the intention is to explore the relevance of Buddhist teachings for our times, as well as to support and inspire socially transformative Buddhist practice. Each session will begin and end with a short community practice and include ample time for Q&A and discussion.

Mangalam Research Center supports critical inquiry into topics relevant to Buddhist thought and practice. The views expressed in programs such as Currents do not necessarily reflect those of MRC or its parent organization.


Beyond Perfection: King Ashoka, Engaged Buddhism and Dharma in Ancient India

A Conversation with Sonam Kachru
Thursday, January 21, 2021 5 - 6:30 PM PST

In the introduction to his book, The Buddha and his Dharma, the Indian scholar, politician and social reformer, B. R. Ambedkar entertained Buddhism’s future in modern India with the help of a question: “What was the object of the Buddha in creating the Bhikkhu? Was the object to create a perfect man? Or was his object to create a social servant devoting his life to service of the people and being their friend, guide and philosopher?” In this conversation we shall explore this question by examining the remarkable legacy of the ancient Buddhist king, Ashoka Maurya, whose experiments in moral leadership, as represented in the archeological record and Buddhist narratives, reveal the pro-social implications of Buddhist ethical and contemplative practices, and remain a powerful lens to think through the contested place of Buddhism in a political world.

Sonam Kachru is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. His work centers on the history of philosophy in ancient South Asia, with a particular emphasis on Buddhist philosophy and literature. His first book, Other Lives: Mind and World in Indian Buddhism, is forthcoming with Columbia University Press.


Resisting Settler Colonialism as Buddhist Allies to Indigenous Peoples

A Conversation with Natalie Avalos
Friday, October 23rd 5:30 - 7 PM PDT

Contemporary Indigenous movements for sovereignty, like Standing Rock in 2016, have highlighted the ongoing violence settler colonialism perpetuates against lands and peoples. In this talk, I’ll discuss how Buddhists can draw from Buddhist teachings and shared land-based ethics to stand in solidarity with Native and Indigenous peoples. By connecting the dots between settler ideologies, the dispossession of peoples/lands, and ecological harm, I’ll outline the ways Buddhist praxis can facilitate decolonial praxis. This will give us an opportunity to explore how Buddhist scholars and practitioners may use this period of quarantine and intersecting crises to mobilize in the service of ecological wellness and collective liberation. 

Natalie Avalos is an Assistant Professor in the Ethnic Studies department at University of Colorado Boulder. She is an ethnographer of religion whose research and teaching focus on Native American and Indigenous religions in diaspora, healing historical trauma, and decolonization. She received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a special focus on Native American and Indigenous Religious Traditions and Tibetan Buddhism and is currently working on her manuscript titled The Metaphysics of Decoloniality: Transnational Indigeneities and Religious Refusal, which explores urban Indian and Tibetan refugee religious life as decolonial praxis. She is a Chicana of Apache descent, born and raised in the Bay Area.


Masks and Moral Ignorance: Exploring anti-mask sentiment through Buddhist accounts of ignorance

A Conversation with Emily McRae
Thursday, November 19th 5:30 - 7 PM PDT

Along with uprisings against racial injustice and police brutality, the summer of 2020 was marked by an intense (and uniquely American) debate about mask-wearing as an effective – and enforceable – measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. These two movements also intersect, with anti-mask advocates sometimes using their platform to undermine, ridicule, or attack Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements (including, importantly, reproductive justice movements). This raises some questions: What is the source of anti-mask sentiment and behavior—especially given the ease of wearing masks and the scientific consensus regarding their effectiveness? Why would such resistance be paired with antipathy for Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements?  

In this talk, I present a Buddhist conception of ignorance (avidyā, ma rig pa) and apply it to the recent resistance among some Americans to wearing masks as a protective measure against the spread of Covid 19. I suggest that explanations that anti-maskers are anti-science or anti-expertise, or that they are particularly devoted to personal liberty, are incomplete; that a particular kind of ignorance of the nature of the self is responsible for the refusal to wear masks. Following the Buddhist model, I argue that the root of anti-mask sentiment is a morally problematic self-conception, namely a morally problematic way of relating to white supremacy, patriarchy, and American identity among (mainly) white men, but also white women (as is evidenced by the viral, anti-mask “Karen” videos).

Emily McRae (she/her) is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Her specializations include Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, moral psychology, philosophy of emotion, and feminism. She is currently working on a book on moral ignorance that draws on Buddhist philosophical accounts of ignorance.

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Your offering will support the speaker for their time and help offset the costs of hosting these conversations. Mangalam Research Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible.