In an office overflowing with books philosophy professor Dr. Marie Friquegnon spoke softly as she reminisced about her discovery of Buddhism.
Friquegnon has been teaching at WPU for 49 years. Her father first introduced her to philosophy when she was just seven years old.
He taught her about the French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes, known as “the Father of Modern Philosophy.” He told her about Descartes’ dream hypothesis that states, we cannot prove that the life we are experiencing isn’t a dream.
However, Friquegnon discovered Buddhism later in life.
“I read a little book called ‘The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha’ in high school but I wasn’t that impressed,” Friquegnon fondly recalled. “When I was a freshman at Barnard College, I took a course in Asian religion and I was very, very impressed by Buddhism.”
She joked about the inexpensive Buddha statue she bought when she was 18, that she still has adorning her living room to this day.
Unfortunately, Friquegnon fully committed herself to Buddhism when she was expelled from the Catholic Church for heresy.
“It was very upsetting for me because the Catholic Church has a rule that it is an article of faith that you must be able to prove the existence of God through reason,” said Friquegnon. “When I discovered that I couldn’t do that, and went to a priest, he said, ‘I guess you’ll have to leave’.”
For philosophy professors, conflicts can arise when remaining wholly devoted to a religion. Philosophy leads its adherents to question the world around them. Religion falls flat in that respect, by attributing doubt to heresy.
Friquegnon said she loved Buddhism because, “It is not a question of believing anything, it is a question of looking at the world logically and having special kinds of experiences.”
When asked how she felt about Buddhism and Eastern culture becoming a trend, Friquegnon offered a surprising answer.
“It’s absolutely wonderful because almost everybody is sort of Buddhist,” she said.
Friquegnon’s inclusive answer may be seen as a breath of fresh air, with everyone around us shouting cultural appropriation any chance they get.
“You can be a Buddhist and any other religion at the same time,” Friquegnon said. “But you have to practice love, kindness and compassion.”
Friquegnon teaches courses on Eastern Philosophy and Religion, Buddhist Philosophy, and Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. She has also given a senior seminar on Śāntarakṣita, the 8th century Indian philosopher who she has spent the past 30 years studying and writing four books about.
“The most important moment was when I discovered the writings of Śāntarakṣita,” she said. “He is very much like Immanuel Kant, with a mystical aspect.”
Friquegnon also learned Tibetan and Sanskrit to better understand her idol, Śāntarakṣita.
Friquegnon did her doctoral dissertation at NYU on the meaning of religious language. She has attributed her success in the field to the influential professors and people in her life such as, Columbia professor Anton Zigmund-Cerbu and her husband, Raziel Abelson, a philosophy professor.