Environment, Non-Attachment, and Enlightenment. A Talk by Frank J. Hoffman



The Sun, in “The Great Chapter” of The Book of the Gradual Sayings, illuminates a scenario in which seven suns destroy the Earth. Each description of a sun making Earth more and more uninhabitable teaches doctrines of impermanence, non-attachment and enlightenment. The text also shows why Buddha’s teaching is preferable to that of a popular teacher, Sunetta, who did not teach enlightenment but only a happy rebirth. “The Sun” is a Pali Buddhist text with a scientific view of worlds, which also emphasizes the importance of letting go of craving for more rebirths. In this sutta, or discourse, early Buddhist cosmology reveals not just one world but a sequence of many worlds arising and passing in a vast space-time landscape, such that neither Mount Meru nor life on earth itself are permanent. Although the problem of global warming emerges as a major one in contemporary life and thought, it is different from that which was anticipated in ancient Buddhist texts. A contemporary view is that we may be able to roll back the changes by polluting less and being a better steward of our natural home. By contrast, the sutta view is not optimistic for saving the planet. It is, however, optimistic that by turning away from worldly things, nirvana may be achieved. The Pali Buddhist sutta “The Sun” intersects with science, ethical philosophy and religion. Studying the sutta stimulates one now in interdisciplinary and contemporary thought by dialoging between ideals of religious renunciation and civic activism.

Prof. Dr. Frank J. Hoffman is Professor at the International Buddhist Studies College of Maha-chulalongkornrajavidyalaya University and Visiting Scholar Associate in the South Asia Center at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). He received his PhD in Philosophy of Religion at King’s College London, and an MA in Philosophy at the University of Hawai’i. Dr. Hoffman has 125 published items, including Rationality and Mind in Early Buddhism, Introduction to Early Buddhism, Breaking Barriers (with Godabarisha Mishra) and Pali Buddhism (with Mahinda Deegalle). He was Chair of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium and President of the Oriental Club of Philadelphia twice. Dr. Hoffman was an NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) summer institute/seminar participant at Harvard, Columbia, UH and UCLA. He held Rotary Grants for the University Teachers and taught Philosophy at the University of Madras (India) and in China at the universities of Wuhan and Peking. In the USA, he was full Professor at West Chester University and President of the Society for Philosophical Study of Religion, Science, and Asian Thought.

Date: Thursday, 21 March 2019
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

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The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2018-2019 Lecture Series.