BUDDHIST GENERAL SEMANTICS
A New Approach To Buddhist Religion And Its Philosophy
ISBN: 0-595-30679-9, Hard cover ISBN: 0-595-75848-7
copyright by Khai Thien 2004, iUniverse Publisher, printed in the U.S.A.
One of the frustrating quandaries confronting North American Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism here is how to translate Buddhist ideas and ideals and Buddhist actions into our own local idiom, our own modes of understanding, thought, and action. This is not just about finding suitable translations for words like dharma or sunyata. It is, rather, about finding suitable examples, metaphors, similes, and indigenous systems of thought and philosophies of action, such that, when properly explained, the Buddha's teachings come alive, become relevant, real, and, most importantly, perhaps, possible. The world we have made today, is, after all, not an easy one for religious ideas—ideas lacking in militancy or anger. They don't always do very well. They can get lost in the chaos, shouted down, drowned out. Furthermore, Buddhism has the added burden of being remote or exotic in the minds of many Americans. This is, perhaps, not so much a product of its foreign, Asian origins, as of its unfamiliar language and a long list of often poorly explained notions. American seekers have a tendency to encounter Buddhism, cry "Cool!" but then walk away.
Khai Thien a.k.a Thich Tam Thien, however, offers some new ideas on making Buddhism relevant and meaningful, despite the hardships of the age. Khai Thien is new to America, but his work at Chua Viet Nam in Los Angeles is already well known both in the Vietnamese community and among other Buddhists in Los Angeles. And he has been a wonderful friend to me. He is not only knowledgeable and wise, but kind and helpful as well—the fullness of a bodhisattva's virtues! And here, in this book, we can see that his thoughts on Buddhism in the modern world are relevant and necessary. In his Buddhist General Semantics, Khai Thien has given us an intriguing picture of how Buddhism and contemporary normative explorations of living the good life from non-Buddhist sources can complement one another. As he writes, in his conclusion, the basis of this complementary relationship is that "…both general semantics and Buddhism focus on the search for truth and self-realization, self-discovery, and self-awareness…." His goal is to place Buddhism under the lens of general semantics and thereby find new ways for understanding the Buddha's teachings. But he wants to shake us up, not cast us adrift in a sea of unfamiliar Buddhist terms, Sanskrit and Pali phrases. He wants to connect our Buddhist thoughts and our Buddhist words to our everyday acts, to how we actually live in the world. To that end, Khai Thien grounds his discussion in the everyday, the familiar—orange juice and advertisements and contemporary psychology. With a little help—some finger pointing and some explanations—and a little concentration, we can see that Buddhism was not really ever so very exotic or remote.
Khai Thien's work here is both a good general introduction to some basic (and not so basic) tenets of Buddhism, as well as a prescriptive view on how Buddhism can work in the modern world, how being a Buddhist can work in the modern world. His discussion is not easy or simple. Neither is it simplistic. He lays out a complicated and intricate picture of Buddhism with work on general semantics. But he always finds ways of making what he says connect with out own lives. Khai Thien has over twenty years of experience as a Buddhist monk and teacher in Vietnam. Now, in a new Buddhist world, he takes pains to make those teachings practical, connect them to, as he writes, "the living reactions of human beings." I am particularly drawn, in closing, to his discussion of silence in the last chapter. Silence is not something we are accustomed to dealing with here in America—or anywhere, I imagine. We know of silence as absence, as a lack of activity. It is the silence, as Thay Khai Thien write, of the battlefield after the fight is over, of the cessation of movement. But there is another kind of silence, that of mental concentration, of striving for something, fully focused on the task, at one with ones thoughts and actions. "Such a noble silence must be the first and foremost discipline for us to get in touch with our sanity and depart for our spiritual journey as well," he writes. To that end, I welcome this book and all of Khai Thien's work in America.
Douglas M. Padgett
“One of the frustrating quandaries confronting Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism in North America is how to translate Buddhist ideas, ideals and actions into our own local idiom, our own modes of understanding, thought, and action. This is not just about finding suitable translations for words like dharma or sunyata. It is, rather, about finding suitable examples, metaphors, similes, and indigenous systems of thought and philosophies of action, … In his Buddhist General Semantics, Khai Thien has given us an intriguing picture of how Buddhism and contemporary normative explorations of living the good life from non-Buddhist sources can complement one another. As he writes, in his conclusion, the basis of this complementary relationship is that "…both general semantics and Buddhism focus on the search for truth and self-realization, self-discovery, and self-awareness…."
—Douglas M. Padgett
“… I first met Khai Thien, in 1996 while I was on a research trip to Vietnam to study Vietnamese Buddhism. He spent an enormous amount of time trying to guide me through the intricacies of Buddhist philosophy. Through the course of that trip, and another one in 1997, I grew increasingly impressed by khai thien’s knowledge of Buddhism, his considerable language skills and his over-all mental dexterity. To my utter astonishment, I discovered that he had already published nine books in his mid-twenties. One of his books became required reading for Vietnamese university students studying Buddhist philosophy. In this book, Buddhist General Semantics, he attempts to achieve a synthesis between Buddhist teaching and the discipline of general semantics in order to more clearly explain Buddhist philosophy to a larger audience.”
—Robert J. Topmiller
Eastern Kentucky University
“The author does an excellent job of explaining why the general semantic approach to Buddhism is unique and how such an approach will be beneficial to readers. He makes an effort to help readers understand the complexity of the Buddhist philosophy by relating its teachings to things they will all understand, such as advertising. By doing this, he takes something abstract and makes it appear concrete for his readers.”
Buddhist General Semantics is one of the first books of religious philosophy evaluating the relationship between Buddhism and General Semantics. The book offers a new approach to Buddhist religion and its Philosophy with clear definitions and explanations of Buddhist basic teachings. This comprehensive guide to Buddhist philosophy is for those who wish to get in touch with the real world of self-discovery and self-awareness.
Buddhist General Semantics is an exploration into the relationship of one’s internal and external experiences and how it can establish a greater understanding of the theories and practice of Buddhism. Though the origin of Buddhism dates back over 2,500 years, the Western world is still searching for an approach to make its teachings meaningful and applicable in a modern society. Through the use of general semantics, Khai Thien presents a clear and honest process we must undergo to grasp the true nature of ourselves, hence creating a profound awareness of the connection between our consciousness and reality. Khai Thien uses tangible examples from Western culture to introduce and define challenging aspects of Buddhist philosophy in a voice that crosses religious boundaries. He invites persons of all faiths to reflect on the value of recognizing the correlations between language, thought and behavior and how it can enhance their daily lives.
— Melanie M. Townsend