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SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM

AND BUDDHISM

In this paper I want to argue that Buddhism and existentialism,


the latter as represented by the atheistic Sartre on the one hand and
the Christian Kierkegaard on the other, are primarily interested to
awaken in man a moral sense of ultimate concern toward the
business of living. Furthermore, contrary to popular impressions,
the Buddhists, like the existentialists, believe that the future is
open-ended and that man alone is responsible for it. Reading some
of the writings of contemporary existentialists, one is left with the
impression that they alone are the champions of those who hold
that the future is an open one and thus what becomes of an individ-
ual is his sole responsibility. One of the purposes of this paper is
to correct this false impression which is being created and perpe-
tuated by such a remark as the following:
In the world outlook of Hinduism and of those movements
which sprang from within it without ever wholly separating
from within it - e. g., Jainism and Buddhism - there is no
room for an open future where man himself may produce
something wholly new, by his own acts creating significance
in the universe and helping to alter its destiny as well as
making his own. 1
So the first part of this paper is concerned to state briefly the
Buddhist and existentialist affirmation of the principle of self-
responsibility. And, in the second half, I further want to argue that
both of these philosophies employ "ethical fictions" to bring about
the intensification of man's sense of responsibility toward his own
conduct in the hope that it would lead to a radical alteration of his
total lifestyle. The doctrine of karma and its corollary, the doctrine
of rebirth, are the "ethical fictions" used by Buddhism; in existen-

1 Hazel Barnes, An Existentialist Ethics (New York: Alfred Knopf, I967) , p. ~o7I.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 81

tialism we have the fictions of "choosing for all mankind" (Sartre)


and choosing in fear and trembling as if before God and as if one's
eternal happiness is at stake (Kierkegaard).

I
Every thinker is "morally responsible for the use he makes of his
existence," Kierkegaard writes ~. This position is not peculiar to the
Danish philosopher; it is a doctrine shared by all existential phi-
losophers. Sartre, perhaps more than anyone else, has articulated
eloquently and popularly this notion of self-responsibility.
Man alone, maintains Sartre, is responsible for making himself
what he is. True, he is born into the world not of his making nor
was he ever consulted on the matter, but the fact that counts is that
from the moment man surges into the world, he assumes the respon-
sibility for perpetuating that existence and all its subsequent con-
duct. So the "first principle of existentialism" is that
man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself . . . .
Thus the first effect of existentialism is that it puts everyman
in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire
responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own
shoulders?
These remarks clearly embody a philosophy which takes the
business of existing with an ultimate sense of seriousness and con-
cern. Contrary to what some critics claim, existential philosophy
does not advocate irresponsible living; it urges man to assume the
total responsibility for the way he lives, the lifestyle he chooses. And,
his being is determined by how he exists. Left without any excuse, he
becomes the incontestable author of his individual deeds. In fact,
Sartre goes so far as to say that nothing can happen to a man with-
out his consenting to it. So a drunkard is a drunkard because he
freely chooses the life of a drunkard; so also, presumably, is a drug
addict.
This existentialist doctrine of responsibility, made popular by
Sartre, is not new. It is really an old Eastern wine put in a new
2 Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, tr. D. F. Swenson & W. Lowrie (Prince-
ton: Princeton Univ. Press, i94i), p. 3o7, footnote.
3 Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism in Walter K a u f m a n n (ed.), Existentialism from
Dostoevsky to Sartre (Cleveland: Meridian Books, I956), p. 291.
82 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION

Western bottle. Some twenty five centuries ago, Buddhism - and


before that H i n d u i s m - h a d already advanced such a doctrine, and
perhaps far more radical than the existentialist version of it. Ac-
cording to the Buddhist account, not only is man entirely respon-
sible for his being, but the burden of that responsibility must be
borne by him far into the future, including succeeding existences.
Buddhism provides no relief, h u m a n or divine, from this awesome
responsibility that man must bear for making of himself what he is.
Buddhism conveys to its adherents the nature of this self-responsibility
through the famous doctrine of karma. (Literally it means action.)
This doctrine affirms the relation that obtains between the action
or the deed of an individual and his mode of being. An individual
is what he is by virtue of his previous acts and what he now does is
determinative of what he will become. No h u m a n action can
escape its own built-in moral reaction. In all our doings and
strivings, we are constantly creating new karma which will condi-
tion our future, and at the same time each moment brings to
fruition our past karma. In a dialogue between the Greek King
Menander and the Buddhist monk Nagasena, the point is ex-
plained thus:
"Venerable N~gasena," asked the King, "why are men not
all alike, but some short-lived and some long, some sickly
and some healthy, some ugly and some handsome, some
weak and some strong, some poor and some rich, some base
and some noble, some stupid and some clever?"
"Why, your Majesty," replied the Elder, "are not all plants
alike, but some astringent, some salty, some pungent, some
sour, and some sweet?"
"I suppose, your Reverence, because they come from
different seeds."
"And so it is with men] They are not alike because of
different karmas. As the Lord [BuddhaJ said . . . 'Beings
each have their own karma. They are . . . born through
karma, they become members of tribes and families through
karma, each is ruled by karma, it is karma that divides them
into high and low. ''~

Milindapanha in W. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Buddhist Tradition in India, China, and oTapan
(New York: Random House, t969) , p. 25.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 83

Here the doctrine of karma is used to justify class status quo.


Popularly, this is how karma has been understood. In the hands of
the aristocrats, such as the Brahmins, it has become a potent in-
strument of social suppression and exploitation. In recent years, the
revolutionary climate of opinion, the influence of Western ideas of
individualism and so on, have made it possible for some writers to
correct such entrenched distortions and to place proper emphasis
on the meaning of karma as an individualistic moral principle. 5 It is
individualistic because it affirms without compromise the view that
man's lot is determined by his own effort or lack of it, and is not the
result of any capricious will or action of the gods, the devils, or any
other forces outside of man himself. And, moreover, it is possible,
within limits, for an individual to shape his destiny through his
present effort. Thus writes Professor S. K. Saksena:
In fact, the Law of Karma is the greatest contribution of the
Indian mind in having formulated a truly individualistic
attitude vis-a-vis society. It is the most powerful social ele-
ment of individualism in Hinduism and also in Buddhism.
Everyone is exclusively and completely responsible for his
or her actions and their consequences. No individual is
saved or condemned by any force outside h i m s e l f - in some
schools, not even by God. The Law of Karma is an affirma-
tion, in the strongest terms, of the principle of personal
individuality and responsibility. 6

It is regretable that Hazel Barnes, in a n a t t e m p t to emphasize the radical difference


between Sartre's ethics a n d Buddhism, ignores (or overlooks?) this similarity. This is
all the more uncalled for since the entire Part T h r e e of her An Existentialist Ethics is
devoted to the discussion of "Responsibilities."
Saksena, - " T h e Individual in Social T h o u g h t a n d Practice in India," in Charles A.
Moore (ed.), The Indian Mind (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, i967) , pp. 364-65.
Elsewhere V. P. V a r m a makes a similar point: " T h e concept ofkarman [Pall spelling for
Sanskrit karma] is highly individualistic. It seeks to explain the destiny of a n individual
in terms of his own efforts. It repudiates the conception of God as a n irresponsible
arbitrary o m n i p o t e n t being who dispenses misery a n d happiness in his whimsical
promulgations. It is opposed also to the notion of natural determinism of a mechanical
order, w h i c h explains h u m a n fate in terms of the notions of atoms a n d electrons. T h e
theory of karman is the first significant a t t e m p t in the history of h u m a n speculation to
explain a m a n ' s destiny in terms of his own endeavors. T h e stress on one's own effc~rts as
the sure p a t h to moral purification a n d personal illumination is the first significant
protest against the tribal notions of collective responsibility" ( " T h e Origins a n d Sociology
of the Early Buddhist Philosophy of M o r a l Determinism," Philosophy East & We~t, I
[I963-64], P. 35).
84 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION

Sartre echoes this Buddhist teaching when he writes that "from


the instant of my upsurge into being, I carry the weight of the
world by myself alone without anything or any person being able
to lighten it. ''7
In existential philosophy the notion of personal responsibility is
connected with the notion of choice; in fact, it is a function of
choice. Every action implies choice, choice implies responsibility.
Thus, says Sartre, if I am drafted into an army to fight a war which
I did not bring about, the war is still my war. To the extent that I
go along with it, "I have chosen it. This can be due to inertia, to
cowardice in the face of public opinion, or because I prefer other
values to the value of the refusal to join in a w a r . . . Anyway you
look at it, it is a matter of choice. ''8
In Buddhism the comparable mechanism is moral volition or will
(cetana). All consequential actions, be they in the forms of word,
deed, or thought, are willful actions. A passage in the Dhammapada
sums up the point in this way: "All that we are is the result of what
we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our
thoughts. I f a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness
follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him. ''9

II
The doctrine of karma in Buddhism is problematic; its empirical
status is far from established. Professor Edward Conze, for example,
admits that "the factual evidence for karma and r e b i r t h . . , is
scientifically inconclusive" and that the doctrine contains
two fairly unverifiable statements; it claims (I) that behind
the natural causality which links events in the world of sense
there are other, invisible, chains of moral causality which
ensures that all good acts are rewarded, all bad actions
punished; and (2) that this chain of moral sequences is not
interrupted by death, but continues from one life to another. 1~

Sartre, Being and Nothingness, tr. Hazel Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library,
I956), P. 555.
s Ibid., p. 554-
9 C. H. Hamilton (ed.), Buddhism: Selectionsfrom Buddhist Literature (Indianapolis: Bobbs-
Merrill, 1952), pp. 64-65.
,0 Conze, Buddhist Thought in india (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, I967) , p. 50.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 85

I f one believes in karma, "he takes it largely on faith," adds


Conze. Unfortunately, to say t h a t the Buddhists believe in k a r m a
"'largely 11 on faith" is far from satisfactory. I wish to suggest that for
the Buddhists, the empirical status of k a r m a and rebirth is irrelevant.
We know t h a t w h a t the B u d d h a was principally concerned with
was the existential problems of m a n : his sufferings, aging, and death.
Therefore, I would suggest that a more fruitful approach is to
consider the doctrine of k a r m a within the context of the existential
experience of man. So the problem is no longer one of ascertaining
the empirical or metaphysical basis of k a r m a - and such an enter-
prise has rarely interested the enlightened Buddhists - but one of
determining the function of k a r m a in man's moral experience,
broadly conceived.
Accordingly, I suggest that the doctrine of k a r m a and rebirth be
interpreted as '"ethical fictions" in the sense used by H. Vainhin-
g e r ? ~ An ethical fiction is an ideational construct which is exceed-
ingly fruitful to assume in dealing with the moral experience of man.
O n this interpretation one does not a t t e m p t to prove, for example,
t h a t m a n is free. O n e simply assumes that he is, for apart from this
supposition it makes no sense to speak of man's responsibility for his
action. Similarly, k a r m a is simply assumed to be operative. Such a
supposition has great practical consequence insofar as it inculcates
a sense of moral responsibility for our deeds. To be conscious of a
p e r m a n e n t and lasting moral consequence of our actions is to make
us more careful in our conduct. " T h e more we understand the law
of k a m m a [Pali spelling for Sanskrit karma]," writes a Buddhist,
"'the more we see how careful we must be of our acts, words, and
thoughts. ''~a This is in fact the p r i m a r y lesson the Buddhist doctrine
of k a r m a seeks to impart. Thus interpreted, k a r m a ceases to be a
speculative metaphysical doctrine; it becomes a practical guide to
living. W h e t h e r or not there actually exists a moral causality called
k a r m a is irrelevant; w h a t is crucial to h u m a n life is t h a t to live "as

11 Ibid. Also, in Buddhism and Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, I962),


W i n s t o n L. K i n g writes: " K a r m a itself is a m a t t e r of faith pure a n d simple, w h e t h e r we
call it 'blind' faith or not. T h e r e is absolutely no proof of its operation, or at least on the
scale a n d of the sort that makes it 'scientifically' proved or provable" (p. 214).
1~ See his The Philosophy of"As I f " , tr. C. K. O g d e n (London: Routledge & K e g a n Paul,
1952), esp. pp. 42-5 o.
la U Thittila, " T h e F u n d a m e n t a l Principles of T h e r a v a d a Buddhism," in K e n n e t h W.
M o r g a n (ed.), The Path of the Buddha (New York: R o n a l d Press, i956), p. 93.
86 INTERNATIONAL J O U R N A L FOR P H I L O S O P H Y OF RELIGION

if" it exists is to effect, in the words of Kierkegaard, "the transforma-


tion by which everything in the existence of the individual is
altered."14
Within the epistemological framework of the Advaita Vedrmta,
Eliot Deutsch has also argued that karma is just a "convenient
fiction .... which is undemonstrable but useful in interpreting h u m a n
experience. ''15 Elsewhere Zenryu Tsukamato notes that only a "tiny
number of leading (Chinese) monks and i n t e l l e c t u a l s . . , under-
stood rebirth and karma correctly" and this correct understanding
involves the realization that "karma and rebirth are significant as
the call to an inner awakening, not as something that puts an end to
the subjective nature and objectivizes it, nor as an explanation of
the various spheres of existence. ''~6 Once more the literal interpre-
tation of karma is rejected. It is here understood in terms of its
spiritual function as a call to an inner awakening which revolu-
tionizes the h u m a n individual. The Buddhist affirmation that the
consequences of one's actions, by virtue of the law of karma, will
follow oneself into subsequent lives, is aimed at broadening the mo-
ral dimension of h u m a n consciousness. It places the awesome re-
sponsibility of h u m a n happenings upon man himself.
In a different way, Sartre also seeks to achieve the same objective.
While discussing the issue of individual responsibility in one of his
writings, he finds it necessary to introduce the separate issue of
social responsibility. There is something un-existentialistic about his
remark that whenever I make a choice, I also choose for all man-
kind. " W h e n we say that man chooses for himself, we do mean that
every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that
in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. ''~7 For an existentialist
like Sartre to assert that whenever a man chooses for himself he also
chooses for all men is to subvert the central doctrine of existentialism

1~ Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 348.


15 See his " K a r m a as a 'Convenient Fiction' in the Advaita Vedfinta," Philosophy East &
West, 15 (I965) , pp. 4, 7. This article is reprinted in his Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical
Reconstruction (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1969), pp. 67-99. It should be noted
here that Professor Deutsch's a r g u m e n t is advanced within the context of the Advaita
Vedanta. However, I feel that this remarks are applicable also to the Buddhist notion of
k a r m a as I interpret it in this paper.
~n See his "Buddhism in China and Korea," tr. L. Hurvitz, in Morgan (ed.), The Path of
the Buddha, p. 23o.
17 Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, p. 29 I. Also, pp. ~92, 3o5 9
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 87

which affirms self-choice as the m a r k o f a u t h e n t i c life. W i t h i n the


f r a m e w o r k o f existentialism, it is inconceivable for any m a n to
act on b e h a l f of another, or to set himself up as the n o r m for others
to follow. Even a sympathetic student of Sartre finds it impossible to
resist the t e m p t a t i o n to protest on this point. H a z e l Barnes writes:

Insofar as Sartre's choice is for himself, I a d m i r e i t . . . I f he


seeks to impose it on all others, one must r e m i n d h i m that
they have the right to find their own w a y of reconciling the
d e m o n d s of the two self-realizations. Otherwise the freedom
he wants to save will be destroyed in the very process of
liberation. 18

I n the same lecture just referred to, Sartre himself actually refuses
to choose for another. H e tells the story of one of his students who
came to ask him d u r i n g the G e r m a n o c c u p a t i o n of F r a n c e w h e t h e r
he should go to E n g l a n d to join the Free F r e n c h Forces or to stay
h o m e to care for his n e e d y mother. Sartre's counsel was: "'You are
free, therefore choose - that is to say, invent. ''19 This advice, even if
it sounds cruelly unhelpful to the confused and perplexed student,
is perfectly consistent with the existentialist m o r a l principle of self-
choice.
O n the one h a n d , w h e n we choose we are supposed to choose also
for all men, and on the other, Sartre was not willing to choose for
his student. This a p p a r e n t inconsistency is resolved by Sartre him-
self in the following passage:

W h e n a m a n commits himself to anything, fully realizing t h a t


he is not only choosing w h a t he will be, b u t is t h e r e b y at the
same time a legislator deciding for the whole of m a n k i n d -
in such a moment a man cannot escapefrom the sense of complete and
profound responsibility. ~~

Again, for Sartre, who denies G o d as the legislator of h u m a n val-


ues, w h o advises each of us to " i n v e n t " our own values, to assert the
first half of the above sentence is sheer nonsense. But the concluding

18 Barnes, An Existentialist Ethics, p. 47.


19 Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, pp. 297-98.
2o Ibld., p. 292; italics added.
88 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION

half of the sentence tells us the real reason for making the un-
Sartrean statement. The notion of an individual "deciding for the
whole of mankind" is introduced for the purposes of dramatizing,
exaggerating the awesome weight of responsibility that follows every
act, every choice that an individual makes. In order to induce, to
generate in an individual a feeling of urgency and total responsibi-
lity for his conduct, Sartre resorts to a fiction of acting for all man-
kind. He is asking us to act "as if" we are acting for the whole h u m a n
race and that it is the destiny of mankind itself which is at stake in
that choice rather than merely that of the individual himself. It
takes such an ethical fiction to impregnate the situation with a sense
of ultimate seriousness.
The interpretation herein proposed is fully consistent with the
existentialist ethics of self-choice and self-responsibility. Professor
Alfred Stern has offered us a similar interpretation of Sartre's ethics.
He writes:
Considered not as a metaphysical reality but as an ethical
"as if", Sartre's concept of freedom certainly could fulfil its
whole moral mission by helping to prevent biological and
sociological determinism from becoming a pretext for moral
laziness and fatalism. The drunkard has to act "as if" he
were free to become a sober man, although alcoholism runs
in his f a m i l y . . .
The same is true of r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . . . As soon as we consider
the Sartre-Dostoyevsky idea - everybody is responsible for
everything to everybody - not as a metaphysical principle
but as an ethical fiction, as a moral "as if," we can harvest all
its benefits for ethics. I f we had said to a French citizen du-
ring the German occupation that he "is" responsible for the
war Hitler had started, he would have rejected this accusa-
tion as false. But if we had said to him that he ought to act
"as if" he were responsible for the war, our suggestion
might have enhanced his sense of responsibility31
In her attempt to drive a wedge between the existentialist and
Buddhist ethics, Hazel Barnes unwittingly brings the two closer
along the lines of interpretation suggested in this paper, when she
~1 Stern, Sartre: His Philosophy and Existential Psychoanalysis, and ed. (New York: Delta
Book, ~967), pp. 345-46.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 89

admits that existentialism can a c c o m m o d a t e the "fiction" of im-


mortality. " T h e value of the exhortation to live as if we were im-
m o r t a l is a m b i v a l e n t . . . Provided it is not i n t e n d e d as an excuse to
avoid responsibility for action in correcting social injustice, I can
see t h a t the decision to live as i f one is i m m o r t a l might be either an
a u t h e n t i c choice or an evasion. ''22
Bold as this suggestion m a y be - from the viewpoint of existen-
tialism - it is still a faint echo of the Buddhist teaching of rebirth !
O n our interpretation, the belief in i m m o r t a l i t y (rebirth) in Bud-
dhism is not an escape m e c h a n i s m ; rather, it is an ethical fiction
designed to induce and intensify an individual's sense of responsibi-
lity t o w a r d his own existence. T o live as if one's actions were im-
m o r t a l requires a corresponding sense of responsible c o m m i t m e n t
to all that one does.
I f we t u r n to K i e r k e g a a r d we find that he, too, is interested in the
intensification of an individual's sense of responsibility t o w a r d his
own life. T i m e and again he complains that m a n has forgotten the
m e a n i n g of " w h a t it means to exist. ''23 T o exist means, for Kierke-
gaard, to live with a heightened sense o f inwardness; it is a life
characterized by an ultimate concern for one's being and existence.
Living in this m a n n e r requires one to " v e n t u r e wholly to be oneself,
as an individual man, this definite individual m a n alone before the
face of God, alone in this t r e m e n d o u s exertion and this t r e m e n d o u s
responsibility. T M T o be alone in the solitude of one's own h e a r t is
not sufficient for K i e r k e g a a r d ; one must also posit that he is before
God. O n l y this sort of supposition would p r o d u c e the sense of "fear
and trembling", the existential pathos and inwardness characterisitc
of an authentic man.
This supposition that one is living and acting before the v e r y
searching gaze of G o d is K i e r k e g a a r d ' s "ethical fiction." Objectively,
there is no evidence to support such a supposition; and indeed,
within the epistemological f r a m e w o r k of K i e r k e g a a r d ' s thought,
"objective c e r t a i n t y " o f G o d is undesirable even if it could be veri-
fied empirically. His concern is with the existential c e r t a i n t y gener-
ated by the fiction. H e writes:

22 B a r n e s , An Existentialist Ethics, p p . 43 ~ 31 ; italics a d d e d .


23 K i e r k e g a a r d , Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p p . 2 i 6 , 203, 2 4 0 , 2 5 0 , a n d p a s s i m .
34 K i e r k e g a a r d , Fear and Trembling, tr. W . L o w r i e ( N e w Y o r k : A n c h o r Books, n. d . ) ,
p. I42 ; italics a d d e d .
9~ I N T E R N A T I O N A L J O U R N A L FOR PHILOSOPHY OF R E L I G I O N

Let us take as an example the knowledge of God. Objectively,


reflection is directed to the problem whether this object is
the true God, subjectively, reflection is directed to the ques-
tion whether the individual is related to something in such
a manner that his relationship is in truth a God-relationship. ~5

H e adds that an "individual is in the truth even i f he should happen to be


thus related to what is not true. ''2~ For what really matters is only the
truth that edifies the individuai. "This is an essential predicate re-
lating to the truth as inwardness; its decisive characterization as
edifying f o r y o u ; i.e., for the subject, constitutes its essential differ-
ence from all objective knowledge, in that the subjectivity itself
becomes the mark of truth. ''~7 Thus whatever is experienced in the
depth of one's being is the truth. And, to live "as if" one is living
before God is to live with a sense of pathos, of "utmost intensity
of subjective passion and with full consciousness of one's eternal
responsibility. ''28 It is this weighty feeling of responsibility which
brings about the alteration of the inauthentic lifestyle to one of
authenticity.
Interestingly, Kierkegaard himself seems to have anticipated the
interpretation herein proposed. Given the contention that God can
be felt only in the inwardness of one's subjectivity and all objective
considerations about him are not relevant, Kierkegaard concedes
that God thus becomes "a postulate, but not in the otiose manner in
which this word is commonly u n d e r s t o o d . . . The postulate is so far
from being arbitrary that it is precisely a life-necessity. It is then not
so much that God is a postulate, as that the existing individual's
postulation of God is a necessity. ''29 That exactly is the function of
ethical fiction: it seeks to enhance man's sense of responsibility and
ultimately deepens the moral dimension of his experience.
Kierkegaard also uses another ethical fiction, namely, eternal
happiness. Once more, if one supposes that his eternal happiness is
at stake in all of his doings, this can only generate in the individual
the passion to live with an ultimate sense of responsibility. The

35 Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Pos'script, p. 178.


36 Ibld., p. 178 ; italics in the original.
97 Ibid., p. 226.
3s Ibid., p. 27 o.
29 Ibid., p. 179, footnote.
SELF-RESPONSIBILITY IN EXISTENTIALISM AND BUDDHISM 91

objective fact of eternal happiness is not Kierkegaard's concern;


that is something "used by the gentlemen of the clerical profession
to swindle rural innocents. ''a~ The belief in eternal happiness,
Kierkegaard tells us, "does not consist in testifying about [the exist-
ence of] an eternal happiness, but in transforming one's existence
into a testimony concerning it. ''~1 In other words, "if the idea of an
eternal happiness does not transform his existence absolutely, he
does not stand related to it. '''~2
From all of these remarks, it is clear that Kierkegaard joins the
Buddhists in solemn affirmation of the potency of ethical fictions in
transforming human life into one of serious commitment to respon-
sible living.
From the preceding discussions, it is clear that both Buddhism and
existentialism locate the locus of moral responsibility in the individ-
ual person. M a n alone bears the total burden of his self-created
fate. Moreover, both Buddhism and existentialism seek to convey
the message of this awesome responsibility through the use of ethical
fictions: karma and rebirth in the case of Buddhism; choosing for all
mankind in the case of Sartre; and in the case of Kierkegaard,
choosing before God as if one's eternal happiness is at stake. It is
interesting to note that each philosophy picks its fictions from its
own religious and philosophic traditions. Kierkegaard works within
the convenient confines of his theistic background; Sartre moves
within the orbit of free thought; Buddhism is nurtured by its Hindu
heritage. But all of them are united in affirming the necessity of a
responsible way of life for man.
WESLEY K. H. TEO
Chicago State University

3o I b i d . , p. 346.
31 I b i d . , p. 353; see also pp. 347, 348, 35 TM
32 I b i d . , p. 352.