8:30 – 9:00 AM / Registration @ the lobby of the University of Toronto Multifaith Centre
9:00 – 9:30 AM / Introductory Remarks
9:30 – 10:30 AM / Talk by Dr. Jordan Peterson
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM / Talk by Dr. Paul Fulton
11: 45 AM – 12:45 PM / Light Lunch
12:45 PM – 1:45 PM / Talk by Dr. John Vervaeke
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM / Keynote by Dr. José Cabezón
3:40 PM – 4:40 PM / Panel Discussion with all Speakers
There will be an opportunity for conference attendees to ask questions after individual talks and during the panel discussion.
Dr. Jordan Peterson / Desire: Biology and Culture
Human beings are not mere cognitive or representational machines, matching the reality of ongoing perceptions against the cold, calculated expectations of our actions. Instead, we interact with the world as if it matters, as it does, since we are alive, and wish to stay that way. Thus, the matter of the world is something that is meaningful, and that meaning is real, rather than something added, subjectively, to an essentially meaningless but in some manner more real and more fundamental substrate. Our perceptions themselves, our visions of reality, are deeply and necessarily informed by desire.
We build the world of desire from the bottom up; our embodied structures shape our basic motivations, which we develop and render more sophisticated through our capacity for social interaction and cognitive abstraction. At the most primordial levels, we share motivational structure and function with other animals, far down the evolutionary chain of being. At the upper levels, we arrange and organize our individual motivations into complex social games; above that, we play games with the rules of the games themselves, allowing the shared social structures that organize our motivations so that we remain predictable to ourselves and each other to change and adapt to new circumstances.
Dr. Paul Fulton / A Tendentious and Single-minded Disquisition on the Harmful Nature of Desire
Psychotherapy patients present full of desire: thwarted desire, suppressed desire, excessive and unrestrained desire, desire for self improvement or its counterpart, the desire to be rid of some unwanted trait or condition. While we think we know what we want, it is not the failure to gain the desired outcome, but a fundamental confusion about the nature of wanting itself that makes enduring satisfaction elusive. How, in Buddhist theory and practice, does desire cause suffering, and how does its formulation differ from the commonsense understandings that are the foundation of both our indigenous folk psychologies and the formal psychological theories underlying psychotherapeutic practice? Put differently: What’s wrong with desire?
Dr. John Vervaeke / Eros into Agape, and the Core of Buddhist training
In his essay The Basis of Buddhist Philosophy D. T. Suzuki states “Buddhist training consists in transforming tisna (tanha) into karuna, ego-centered love into something universal, eros into agape.” In a similar vein Ajahan Sucitto in Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha’s First Teaching, argues that “you could summarize Dhamma training as the transformation of taṇhā into chanda,” and that we are not trying to get rid of desire but “trying to transmute it, take it out of the shadow of gratification and need, and use its aspiration and vigor to bring us into light and clarity.” The concept of transformation of eros into agape draws from the neoplatonic Christian tradition of anagoge (the spiritual ascent to enlightenment) that Suzuki is discussing in his essay, and Sucitto moves towards a similar theme when he speaks of the transmutation of craving into an aspiration that moves into the light. So Suzuki’s Zen tradition, the neoplatonic Christian tradition, and Sucitto’s Theravadan tradition seem to be converging on a claim that is regarded as central to the traditions. How can we understand this process of transformation and transmutation? This talk will argue that the cognitive science of relevance realization and wisdom cultivation can be integrated with philosophical and psychological work on meaning in life in order to clarify this process of transmuting eros into agape.
Dr. José Cabezón / The Buddhist Theory of Desire and Its Implications for Understanding Human Sexuality
According to many classical Buddhist texts, desire for the pleasures of the senses is considered an obstacle to human flourishing. But what precisely is desire? What is its nature and function? And why is it considered so problematic? Exploring the literature of classical Indian Buddhism, we explore some of these fundamental questions. As a form of pleasure — indeed, as the highest pleasure that ordinary human beings experience — sexual pleasure is considered the source of a particularly intense form of desire. What do the Buddhist sources tell us about this specific form of desire? The tradition also tells us that it is possible to completely eliminate desire. What techniques have Buddhists used to achieve this goal? The talk concludes with some reflections on the Buddhist understanding of desire. How plausible is the Buddhist theory? What are its strengths and weaknesses?