I am a cultural researcher and am researching into contemporary (Western) Buddhism, but while I have studied some historico-cultural books on Buddhism, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly well-read especially with regards to canonical Buddhist texts themselves. There are several members here (both monastics and laypeople) who are much, much more knowledgeable about the suttas and commentaries. While I do not focus on these texts as such, I do refer to them in my work and of course for my own practice.
As for my work, I’m researching into Buddhism as a broad cultural formation
, investigating how, as a living tradition, it interacts organically with the ecology of social, cultural, and political relations that make up our contemporary society. I’m particularly interested in exploring how Buddhist understanding could be used to facilitate analyses of such politically-charged issues as faith, spirituality, and consumerism--in the hope that Buddhism, together with certain continental philoosphical thought, can help us develop more ethical ways of engaging with these things. My work therefore doesn’t fall strictly within the traditional discipline of Buddhist Studies per se. I suppose my research into Buddhism attempts to follow the guidelines of what has been described as Buddhist critical-constructive reflection
, a kind of approach that draws on both traditional Buddhist studies and the social sciences/humanities to mutually illuminate one another and to tackle contemporary problems.
As for what you say about the Buddhist advice to ‘know for yourself’. I agree that it is almost like a general principle that comes up again and again in other places and not just the Kalama Sutta. However, what I’ve noticed is that this idea of ‘know for yourself’ has to be understood alongside the idea of (well, for convenience I’ll just call it) ‘care for yourself’, which in its fullest sense requires also a kind of selflessness and care for others. However, I can’t cite specific texts to illustrate this, maybe others can help out here. Please note that I am using general terms to explain myself here and I’m not claiming that these terms that can be found in canonical texts; this is just how I’ve understood the Dhamma in the context of my practice and research and is how I would express them in simple language.
To ‘know for yourself’, as I understand it, involves taking the truth claims of Buddhism as ‘hypotheses for living’, which we then explore in the context of our everyday thought, speech, and action, as we attempt to follow the five precepts, develop mental training, and cultivate kindness and compassion in our dealings with others. ‘Know for yourself’, as I see it, is a kind of embodied knowing, a kind of knowing-in-action
, rather than a knowing that derives solely from logic and reason.
Researching into the history of Buddhism suggests that it would be inaccurate to interpret this idea of ‘know for yourself’ narrowly in epistemological terms because unlike the western philosophical tradition, Buddhism does not draw sharp distinctions between epistemology, ethics, ontology, and other categories. There seems to be mutually supportive interrelationships between these categories in Buddhism. As for how these interrelationships unfold, I will have to let others who are more knowledgeable than me explain it—I’m still discovering this for myself.