The Concept of Nibbana and Its Potential for the Transformation of Self- and Worldview in Western Buddhist Practice

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonathan HARTH, Universitat Witten/Herdecke, Germany
In the main traditions of Buddhism (i.e. Theravāda-, Zen- and Tibetan Buddhism) one can find the commonality of a soteriological promise. It is the promise of nibbāna that aims at liberation from suffering.

For an empirical sociological approach this concept raises the question, in which way this religiously formatted knowledge of nibbāna could be integrated into specific life practices. How could this prominent but still abstract doctrine of Buddhism be converted into modern lifestyles (understood in terms of specific »world- and self-references«). The peculiarity of nibbāna is that it is not exclusively pointing at an afterlife, but on the contrary: the promise of nibbāna could be realized in this life. Thus, nibbāna aims at a transforamtion of specific habits and at a change in the attitude and perspective of one's own life.

Such a change of world- and self-view can be presented by the case of a practitioner who situates herself for more than 30 years in the tradition of Theravāda-Buddhism. Following the case we can observe her (painful and tedious) learning process to a new form of world- and self-view. Through her biographical narrations we are able to see how she finds from a worldview which focusses on enlightenment to an attitude that must be understood as a mainly pragmatic view of being here and now. The hereby accomplished transformation of habitual patterns can be interpreted in line with implementing the theoretical meanings of nibbāna.

The proposed contribution provides an empirically-led approach to the understanding of habitual transformation processes – in this case formatted by specific religious forms of communication (interaction with teachers and intensive studies of relevant documents) and self-studying through meditation. The empirical basis of this contribution is part of the research programm »Buddhism in the West« which is currently funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).