Buddhist studies in the West have been conditioned first by Greek and then by Christian conceptions of religion as a set of beliefs, doctrines or dogmas. This perspective may not take into account the initial conflicting dynamics of Buddhism, beginning with a renunciant’s radical departure from the royal palace for the forest and developing, after the enlightenment, as a “return to the palace”, to social concerns and politics. This original contradiction has produced the entire history of Buddhism.
Given the current preoccupation with “engagement”, might we also consider dusting off the stone-cold “two wheels of Dharma” by asking: “Where are you going? To the forest? Or to the palace?”
Louis Gabaude began his Asian life by volunteering for a civil service in Laos as a teacher (1964-1966), then switched to Asian and Buddhist studies at the l’Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) in Paris, before coming back to Laos and Thailand where he has lived since 1973. With a PhD on Buddhadasa’s theory of interpretation, he has conducted research within the French School of Asian Studies [École Française d’Extrême-Orient] since 1980, headed the School Centre in Chiang Mai from 1998 to 2005. His main focus has been the history of Buddhist ideas in Thailand.