Gratitude Without a Self

Journal of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 40:75-108 (2023)
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Abstract

Gratitude plays a critical role in our social lives. It helps to build and strengthen relationships, and it enhances wellbeing. Gratitude is typically thought of as involving oneself having a positive feeling towards another self. But this kind of self-to-self gratitude seems to be at odds with the central Buddhist view that there is no self. Feeling gratitude to someone for some past generosity seems misplaced since there is no continuing self who both performed the generous action and is now the recipient of gratitude. In this paper, we explore how the Buddhist might respond to this problem. In response, Buddhists characterize a kind of gratitude (anumodanā) that is not fully propositional, but nor is it a notion that critically implicates the problematic concept of self. Anumodanā (literally rejoicing in good deeds of another) is best thought of as an expression of sympathetic joy (mudita) which is classified among the “sublime abidings” or “perfections” in Buddhism. In this paper we explain the notion of anumodanā and its functioning in the context of dāna (gift-giving or almsgiving in the Buddhist monastic context) to explain how it recovers some of the benefits of our ordinary reactive attitude of gratitude without implicating the self.

Author Profiles

Monima Chadha
Monash University
Shaun Nichols
Cornell University

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