Taking another look at the Buddhist roots of a much-maligned term.

THIRTY YEARS AGO, the literary critic and cultural historian Raymond Williams published Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In what would become a classic work in the field of cultural studies, Williams examined a long list of words, words like culture, society, nature, image, and work, tracing their etymology and describing how their meaning, their use, and their derivatives evolved over time. He selected words that he felt were significant, as he put it, for “certain forms of thought.”

Buddhism is, of course, filled with such terms. There are so many, in fact, that no one has produced a complete list of keywords for Buddhism; indeed, the Buddha is said to have taught 84,000 doctrines as antidotes to 84,000 afflictions.

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