Empathy, Altruism & Agape:Perspectives on Love in Science and Religion
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October 1-3, 1999, University Park Hotel at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary

Ruben L.F. Habito, a native of the Philippines, is Professor of World Religions and Spirituality at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Currently he is teaching and doing research at the Faculty of Intercultural Studies, Ryukoku University, Japan, until Spring of 2000. He has been serving as Resident Zen Teacher at the Maria Kannon Zen Center based in Dallas, Texas since 1990, and has also been active in the promotion of interreligious dialogue among practitioners as well as academics. Among his publications, Total Liberation: Zen Spirituality and the Social Dimension (NY; Orbis, 1989) and Healing Breath: Zen Spirituality for a Wounded Earth (NY: Orbis, 1993) specifically address the question of the cultivation of wisdom that flows into a compassion which in turn grounds engagement in socio-ecological transformation.
Compassion as Outflow of Wisdom‹-Buddhist Perspectives

The multiplex set of religious traditions identified under the general heading of Buddhism derive their basic inspiration from the enlightenment experience of Gautama Siddhartha (463-383 BCE), who, based on this experience and the transformation it wrought in his life as perceived by his followers, came to be known as the Buddha (Awakened One). This experience has often been described as the realization of one's interconnectedness with all beings, given expression in the Truth of Interdependent Co-arising (Sanskrit: pratitya-samutpada). This realization is no other than the wisdom of “seeing things just as they are” (yatha-bhutam) that grounds a sense of kinship with all beings (maitri, also translated as friendliness, compassion).

This paper will examine key Buddhist scriptural texts from different epochs to shed light on the way Buddhists have understood this pivotal experience that is at the heart of their view of reality as well as their prescription for authentic living, and then explore its implications for our time.

1. The Metta Sutta contains the well-known passage: “As a mother cares for her child, her only child, all her days, so have this mind in you toward all living beings.” This all-embracing mind is the concomitant outflow of having reached that Place of Peace (Nirvana), where, having dispelled all the machinations of the delusive ego, and one is thereby enabled to see things as they truly are, in mutual interconnectedness.

2. The four cardinal virtues stem from upeksa, translated as “equanimity,” but more profoundly, a basic stance of seeing through things (upa + iks), that is the genuine key to inner peace and inner embrace of all beings as manifestations of one’s own self.

3. Texts describing Emptiness suggest a vision of reality that results not in nihilism, but in a state of total liberation, that is, freedom from delusions and misconceptions of the egoistic mentality, and freedom to be a veritable being-for-others (the core meaning of the term bodhisattva).

4. a) Shinran differentiates the compassion of Self-Power from the compassion of Other-Power, presenting the latter as the genuine way in which one who has entrusted all to Amida Buddha's cosmic compassion is freed of all encumbrances, even of notions of one's own “good deeds,” and is enabled to truly be an embodiment of this cosmic compassion toward each being that one meets in one's life. b) Dogen presents enlightenment as the forgetting of self, which is the dissolution of all barriers between “self” and “the myriad things of the universe.” This state of realization of “no-barrier” enables one to see “mountains and rivers, the sun, the moon, the stars,” as no other than manifestations of one's own true self, and thereby be empowered to live at-one with all. c) Nichiren's worldview, centered on the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, finds its most succinct expression in a passage describing all living beings in this world as offspring of the all-wise and all-compassionate Eternal Sakyamuni. As such, all our thoughts, words, and actions are manifestations of this fundamental connectedness with one another.

These texts bring to light a common vision of reality that grounds authentic living. In other words, these Buddhist perspectives suggest axiological prescriptions as stemming from a basic ontological vision: “ought” as grounded on “is.” Here is a vision of reality that contains an inherent prescription for healing especially relevant for our contemporary situation facing major crises of global proportions.

Friday, October 1, 1999

Elliott Sober, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin
Mapping the Conceptual Terrain

Leda Cosmides, Ph.D. & John Tooby,Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Friendship, engagement, and the Banker’s Paradox: Other pathways to the Evolution of Altruism

William H. Durham, Ph.D.
Stanford University
The Role of Culture in the Evolution of Altruism

David Sloan Wilson, Ph.D.
Binghamton University SUNY
The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Altruism in Evolutionary Theory: Discussion with Audience

Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph. D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Living Links Center
Communication of Emotions and the Possibility of Sympathy in Monkeys and Apes

Antonio R. Damasio, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
The Neurobiology of Emotion

Hanna Damasio, M.D.
University of Iowa Hospital
Impaired Emotion and Social Behavior Following Brain Damage

William B. Hurlbut, M.D.
Stanford University
Empathy, Evolution and Ethics

Rev. Eugene Rivers
Ella J. Baker House

Saturday, October 2, 1999

Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Emory University, Yerkes Primate Center
The Molecular Biology of Monogamy

Greg Fricchione, M.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Brain Evolution: Separation, Attachment and Agape

Jerome Kagan, Ph.D.
Harvard University
The Human Moral Sense

Don Browning, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago
Agape, Empathy and the Foundational/Nonfoundational Debate

Joan Eads, Zone Coordinator
L’Arche USA

Jeffrey P. Schloss, Ph.D. Westmont College
Is It Really More Blessed to Give than to Receive?: Emerging Questions in the Evolution of Radical Altruism

Edith Wyschogrod, Ph.D.
Rice University Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

Sunday, October 3, 1999

Samuel P. Oliner, Ph.D.
Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute
Extraordinary Acts of Ordinary People: Faces of Heroism and Altruism

Pearl Oliner, Ph.D.
California State University - Humboldt
Ingroup and Outgroup Altruism: Protestants and Catholics

Kristen Renwick Monroe, Ph.D.
University of California
How Identity and Perspective Constrain Choice

Dan Batson, Ph.D.
University of Kansas
Addressing the Altruism Question Experimentally

V.S. Ramachandran, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Neural Basis of Empathy and of Artistic Experience

Lynn G. Underwood, Ph.D.
Fetzer Institute
The Human Experience of Agape & Compassion: Conceptual Mapping and Data from Selected Studies

Ruben L.F. Habito, Ph.D.
Southern Methodist University
Compiversity Pythagorean Bodies and the Body of Altruism

Stephen J. Pope, Ph.D.
Boston College
The Ordering of Love

Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Woodside Village Church
Emergence of Radical Love in the Biblical Tradition

Dame Cicely Saunders
St. Christopher’s Hospice

John Templeton Foundation
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