Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dialogue With The Devil

Walter Kaufmann was one of America's most famous philosophers and I became a fan of his years ago. I was first introduced to his writings by Venerable Nyanaponika who had a great appreciation for him also. He had all Kaufmann's books and with his characteristic generosity lent them to me. Kaufmann was the one of the very few academics at that time who actually read the Tipitaka instead of the then often unreliable secondary literature. He knew the Tipitaka through Neumann's lyrical German translations. As a result, Kaufmann was able to write authoritatively about the Dhamma and he often did. In his brilliant Critique of Religion and Philosophy (1958) Kaufmann has an amusing and insightful fictitious dialogue between Satan and an atheist. I reproduce a small part of it here.

Atheist: You look so content. Have you grilled another theologian for breakfast? Or did you heat up a Christian for your lunch?

Satan: Both, my friend.

Atheist: I have often wondered how you catch Buddhists. After all, they do not believe the sort of thing Christians believe, so you can't undermine their faith.

Satan: I get them to fall out of love with the world.

Atheist: By dangling beautiful women in front of ascetics?

Satan: Not necessarily. Their aim is to fall out of love with the world. I try to show them that suffering is worthwhile.

Atheist: That’s what I said; women.

Satan: That works only with the least interesting cases. The others I try to interest in some cause, some task, some mission. I may even persuade them to spread their knowledge to as many men as possible. As soon as I have kindled some ambition I generally do not find it too hard to involve men in all sorts of compromises. But there are other ways.

Atheist: Just name one more.

Satan: Sometimes I try to lead then from detachment into callousness and indifference to the suffering of others. But that only works in the early stages. Once a Buddhist has developed his particular detached compassion he represents one of the hardest cases I know.


reasonable said...

This interesting piece reminds me of C. S. Lewis' book Screwtape Letters which is about the conversation of senior demon to a junior demon on how to succeed in tempting people :)

yuri said...

Kaufman's Satan (Mara) has caught many Buddhists and even Masters with his net. Mission, cause, tasks, number of followers... Even social activity is not a mission or a cause but rather a by-product of advancement along the 8-fold path with naturally growing metta and karuna. There are other tricks up Mara's sleeve - comfortable niche in modern life, pride and feeling of being someone special, enjoying popularity - to name a few. And falling in love with this world as well as falling out of love with it - both are traps.

Teck said...


Thanks for the snippet. I got me interested to pick up the book.

Also, there is a typo in the dialogue. Satan, in his second line, should have said "I get them to fall IN love with the world" instead of "OUT".

Many blessings to you.