Man and World

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 431-443

First online:

Dual and non-dual ontology in Satre and Mahāyāna Buddhism

  • Derek K. HeymanAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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This paper examines Sartre's dualistic ontology in the light of the non-duality asserted by Mahāyāna Buddhism. In the first section, I show, against the objection of Hazel E. Barnes, that Sartre and Buddhism have comparable theories of consciousness. The second section discusses Steven W. Laycock's use of Zen philosophy to solve the Sartrean metaphysical problem regarding the origin of being for-itself. This solution involves rejecting the ontological priority of being in-itself in favor of the Buddhist understanding of interdependent origination (pratītya-samutpāda) and emptiness (śūnyatā). Finally, I explain how this aspect of Buddhist thought is consistent with Sartre's ontology, thus making an acceptable solution. This consistency is possible if we understand Sartre's ontology as provisionally true in a sense gleaned from the Mādhyamika and Yogācāra schools of Indian Buddhism, which were influential to the formation of Zen philosophy.