Why I am not a Buddhist

Introduction

This activity asks students to evaluate the argument against Buddhism's stance on desire presented in a poem by Molly Peacocke.

Background Information

Motivation

This activity helps students to critically evaluate a central argument in early Buddhism as well as see that arguments can be presented in many different forms.

Logistics

This is best done as a group activity, but could easily be done as a solo or pair activity, or even transformed into an essay question or essay assignment.

Texts / Connections

Relevant texts:
Dhammapada
Molly Peacocke, "Why I Am Not A Buddhist" (link)

Courses and Topics

  • Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Asian Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics

Activity Plan

Ask students to read the following poem ("Why I Am Not A Buddhist, by Molly Peacocke):

I love desire, the state of want and thought
of how to get; building a kingdom in a soul
requires desire. I love the things I've sought-
you in your beltless bathrobe, tongues of cash that loll
from my billfold- and love what I want: clothes,
houses, redemption. Can a new mauve suit
equal God? Oh no, desire is ranked. To lose
a loved pen is not like losing faith. Acute
desire for nut gateau is driven out by death,
but the cake on its plate has meaning,
even when love is endangered and nothing matters.
For my mother, health; for my sister, bereft,
wholeness. But why is desire suffering?
Because want leaves a world in tatters?
How else but in tatters should a world be?
A columned porch set high above a lake.
Here, take my money. A loved face in agony,
the spirit gone. Here, use my rags of love.

Ask the students to evaluate the argument against Buddhism presented in the poem. Do they agree or disagree? Has Peacocke provided a plausible counterargument to Buddhism? How would Buddhists respond?

Authorship

Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma)
sethrobertson@ou.edu