#19 The Mind of Skill, Part 5: Skill in Buddhism – Jay L. Garfield on ethics, perception, and spontaneity in Buddhist practice

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The present podcast is the fifth and last episode in a podcast-series, which we have named ‘The Mind of Skill’. As the name indicates, this series investigates the more mental dimensions of skill—it does so by interviewing a line of current experts.

Besides being of interest in itself, the nature of skill is related to more general questions of human existence.  For example, many of the ancient Greek philosophers saw a clear link between virtue and skill: according to them, virtuous individuals who were capable of living well could in some sense also be seen as people who acquired the skill to live. In relation, Buddhist teachings often stress the virtuous and awakened person as a skilful person—skilful in ethics, concentration, and wisdom. This is, in many ways, highlighted in Zen Buddhist practice in which activities such as calligraphy, poetry, tea-making, and many other activities require a high level of skill. With this in mind, there seems to be a clear connection between skill and the good life. The hope is that this series can clarify some aspects of this connection and aspire the listener to explore it. 

Broadly speaking, the focus of this episode is on skill in Buddhism. To introduce and outline this topic, the guest of the episode is philosopher and Buddhist scholar Jay L. Garfield. Jay is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Buddhist Studies at Smith College in Massachusetts. He has published a long line of research articles on topics in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and Buddhist philosophy and psychology. Among his most recent books are Knowing Illusion: Bringing a Tibetan Debate into Contemporary Discourse (with the Yakherds, 2021), Buddhist Ethics: A Philosophical Exploration (2021), What Can’t Be Said: Paradox and Contradiction in East Asian Thought (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest, and Robert Sharf, 2021), Minds Without Fear: Philosophy in the Indian Renaissance (with Nalini Bhushan, 2017), Dignāga’s Investigation of the Percept: A Philosophical Legacy in India and Tibet (with Douglas Duckworth, David Eckel, John Powers, Yeshes Thabkhas and Sonam Thakchöe, 2016) Engaging Buddhism: Why it Matters to Philosophy (2015), Moonpaths: Ethics and Emptiness (with the Cowherds, 2015) and (edited, with Jan Westerhoff), Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals? (2015). A general theme throughout many of these works is the notion of skill in Buddhist practice and thought. A theme that Jay clarifies in multiple and deeply engaging ways in the present podcast. 

It was a great pleasure talking with Jay. We hope you enjoy the interview!