‘After Buddhism’ – The Buddha’s Ultimate Concerns

June 8, 2018
Hi Linda, Winton, Ramsey:
I was contemplating our first online study group and the discussion. The irritation came about the “Ultimate Concerns” in connection with the 4P’s. If you ask me Linda what are my concerns or what would I add to these 4P’s then it is Joy. But I sense there is a mistake in the question. Looking at Stephen’s Book and how he writes about the 4P’s I understand this 4 P’s differently. He writes about these as Gotama’s “original ideas”. Steven distinguishes these ideas because they are not found in the other religious texts of Jaina’s or Hindus. He does not mention the 4P’s as “Buddha’s ultimate concerns” as it is put in the study guide/workbook. He quotes Tillich in an attempt to describe the term “secular”. The idea of “ULTIMATE CONCERN” is of a Christian terminology. It assumes there is something ULTIMATE.
Best wishes,
Gerd Kuhlman

June 9, 2018
Gerd, Winton, and Ramesy: Gerd, thank you for this email.  I think you are catching something in my presentation and thinking, that is not filled out, and comes from my having read the entire book (and first two sections of the workbook) and how I have integrated ‘ultimate concerns’ as core values or underlying intentions or existential concerns in practice that arise from our personal conditions. That being said, I did not catch how it would come off to others as presenting an ultimate truth/ultimate concern.  Let me think about this a little more – your cause for irritation is ‘on to something’ and I value your input.
With metta,

June 14, 2018
A few more cents here, Gerd, Winton, and Ramsey:
Stephen talks about the four P’s as fundamentals he pulls out of Gotama’s teachings.  What I would like to be consider and become more aware of, in our online study group using the study guide, is our own ‘fundamentals’ entering into how we uniquely and collectively understand and practice secular Buddhism. My training and sankharas tend toward being flexible, overly so in some situations, so I looked up ultimate and existential and found that the way I am using the words are more in line with the definitions below.  From Stephen’s writing, he seems to use them similarly. Gerd, your comments have been useful and I will use the words with more knowledge of what they can mean, and what I mean when I am using them.
My best,

1. The best achievable, or best of it’s kind
2. A fundamental or principle
not as
3. Final – being or happening at the end of a process

1. Continued survival
2. A way of living
3. Any of a person’s current, future, or past lives on this earth
not as
4. An essential being or entity, or all that exists

June 14, 2018
Hello Linda, Gerd and Ramsey:
First up, thanks to Gerd for raising the issue of ultimate concern. As a result of that intervention, I’ve slightly reworded the last two lines of p. 4 of the workbook to make clear that Stephen’s ultimate concern is coming to terms with his own birth and death, and the existential issues that this quest raises. The four P’s – which inform this quest – are the Buddha’s central and unique contributions thereto. Stephen also points out that serious religious people are on the same quest, albeit using different resources to pursue it. But the ultimate concern is the same in both instances.

Personally, I don’t think one should stare oneself blind at the four P’s. Their formulation provides a handy orientation through the much more detailed teachings that Stephen extrapolates in his book, but no more than that. So I resonate to Linda’s third paragraph in the last email. Flexibility, intuition, and the knack of following one’s nose enrich dharma practice and study, especially given that its original expression depended so much on diverse interlocutors and occasions.

Gerd, I think ‘ultimate concern’ refers to one’s own sense of what is of weightiest importance to oneself, not to some supposed ultimate truth. For instance, many religious folk would, I think, say that their ultimate concern is to obey God – something that implies no truth-claim at all. Charles Taylor, ‘Sources of the self’, is a good read on this subject.