Academic Director, Mangalam Research Center
Karin Meyers is the academic director of the Mangalam Research Center (MRC) in Berkeley, California. She has taught Buddhist studies at several colleges and universities in the United States and abroad, including Kathmandu University and Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s Centre for Buddhist Studies in Nepal, where she also directed the master’s program in Buddhist Studies.
Her scholarly work focuses on bringing Buddhist perspectives to bear on cross-cultural and interdisciplinary inquiry into fundamental metaphysical, epistemological and ethical questions. She has published a number of articles on topics in Buddhist philosophy and is currently editing a volume of essays on Buddhism and the imagination stemming from a 2022 NEH Summer Institute she co-directed and hosted at MRC.
Karin has practiced Buddhist meditation in Tibetan and Theravāda traditions and took a year in 2019 to serve as Retreat Support Fellow at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Before attending graduate school, she worked at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and has recently returned to these socially engaged roots, promoting Buddhist engagement with the accelerating climate and ecological crisis.
She received her PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Buddhism and the Impossible
Like many religions, Buddhism is chock full of the impossible, from the Buddha’s diagnosis of the human condition in terms of the suffering involved in karma and rebirth to the nature of his awakening and his yogic powers. Virtually all traditional forms of Buddhism acknowledge some combination of these impossibilities. Yet, since its introduction in the West, Buddhism has enjoyed a unique reputation among the world’s religions as potentially compatible “science” (whatever that has meant at the time). Today, this includes a scientific materialism that denies the survival of consciousness after death as well as paranormal mental abilities. Defendants of this view argue that either the Buddha didn’t really say or mean what he is supposed to have said about human condition and nature of the mind, or that he would agree with an agnosticism toward these things that would allow “science” and “religion,” or the scientific and religious parts of Buddhism itself, to co-exist as “non-overlapping magisteria.” An alternative would be to take Buddhist claims about impossible things together with similar claims across different times and cultures to suggest the inadequacy of the dominant materialist framework.
After presenting a brief historical overview of the systematic exclusion of the impossible in the popular and academic reception of Buddhism in the West, this lecture will address how this exclusion affects the academic study of Buddhism, especially Buddhist philosophy, and what the academic study of Buddhism and other religious traditions might look like if every tier one research university not only had an (acknowledged) archive, but a Department of the Impossible.