On my dissertation committee, Janet Gyatso always had perceptive comments to make, usually coming from many different directions. The one line of criticism that she pursued throughout the dissertation process was about authorship: she was visibly dissatisfied that I had chosen to pursue the diss as a study of a single author, Śāntideva. The point extended beyond my dissertation as well: early on in my PhD, I gave her a paper that explained it would treat the Yoga Sūtras together with their Yoga Bhāṣya commentary as an “internally coherent,” and she commented “you can’t do that.” In other classes focused on reading texts, she would tell her students that the class would not look for coherence – they would not be asking questions of the form “if the text says x here, how can it say y over here when the two contradict each other?”
One can always argue the details of this textual question in any given case. In Śāntideva’s case it’s not only a matter of arguing whether “his” two major works (the Bodhicaryāvatāra and the Śikṣā Samuccaya) were written by the same person; it’s also the fact that these texts may themselves be the work of multiple writers, in that there’s an early version of the Bodhicaryāvatāra (the “Dunhuang recension”) which differs from the received version known to tradition. But there’s an issue here much bigger than the interpretation of any one thinker: should one even try to find the coherent views of an individual author?
Gyatso greatly admired the works of Jacques Derrida, who threw doubt on the idea of authorship, and often focused on the “margins” of texts in order to highlight inconsistencies and ways in which the texts break down. Her course on Buddhist philosophy highlighted parallels between the work of Derrida and of Nāgārjuna. In some respects it’s not hard to see why: Derrida questions the idea of the subject or self, as most Buddhist thinkers do. If the self is unreal, as so many Buddhist thinkers have said, then so is the author. Thus perhaps Śāntideva’s disavowal of his own originality and profundity at the beginning of the Bodhicaryāvatāra. (I have tended to insist that the difference between Derrida and Buddhist Madhyamaka philosophy is that Madhyamaka has a point. But that’s a topic for another time.)
It does help, I think, to be careful with questions of authorship – to think carefully about what one means when one speaks of “Śāntideva” (or “Plato”), when the texts come to us from such questionable sources. But I also think it’s all too easy to take the point too far. When one discards the search for coherence entirely, one discards most of one’s ability to learn from the texts one reads.
From the first draft of my proposal to the final draft of my dissertation, my research was guided by this quote from Thomas Kuhn:
When reading the works of an important thinker, look first for the apparent absurdities in the text and ask yourself how a sensible person could have written them. When you find an answer, I continue, when those passages make sense, then you may find that more central passages, ones you previously thought you understood, have changed their meaning. (from p. xii of his The Essential Tension)
Significant words here include “important thinker” and “sensible person.” You might find plenty of contradictions or other absurdities in the ramblings of an everyday, average person. But the writers of great works like the Bodhicaryāvatāra put a lot of thought into those works, and their value has repeatedly been discovered anew by thinkers in the generations that follow them. They’re not going to drop random inconsistencies into their work and just think “oh, that’s okay.” If there are contradictions, they’re going to be there for a good reason; at the very least, contradictions need to be explained.
It was this method of looking for coherence that allowed me to find what I think is the most innovative and important part of my dissertation’s interpretation of Śāntideva: the idea that gifts benefit the recipient through the gift encounter and not the gift object. I was looking at the combination of Śāntideva’s advice that material goods are harmful, and the fact that he urges one to give those gifts to others for their own benefit. Was there a way these two ideas could go together without contradicting each other? Sure enough, there was – you just had to get rid of the idea, which seems like common sense to us but not to Śāntideva, that the purpose of gift-giving is to ensure that the recipient possesses the gift. I could have shrugged my shoulders and said “well, this is a composite text, of course it contradicts itself.” But if I had, if I hadn’t taken contradiction in the important thinker as a problem, I wouldn’t have seen what I came to see.
As far as I know, it was just such an approach that led Kuhn to write his most famous work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. As a physicist, Kuhn was trying to read Aristotle’s Physics, and found it full of what appeared to be unpardonable errors in logic and observation. Just from looking at the world around him, Aristotle should have known better. Now Kuhn could easily have said “well, we all contradict ourselves and make dumb mistakes; why should we expect better of Aristotle?” But he didn’t. He did expect better from the thinker whose works had been taken as canonical for a thousand years, and rightly so. Once he did, it fell into place: Aristotle was asking entirely different questions, for different purposes, from the questions a Newtonian physicist would ask. Aristotle’s work would make perfect sense if one’s underlying assumptions changed.
More broadly, I think, it’s this search for coherence in the great and admired minds of the past that leads us to find genuinely new insights, ones that change our current perspective. In constructive study, where one seeks to learn from a tradition and not merely about it, there is always the danger that one will only find what one was already looking for – pick out the ideas one already agrees with, and not be challenged by them. One of the best ways to avoid this, to learn something genuinely new, is to focus on those “apparent absurdities,” the things that don’t make sense, and ask how somebody intelligent could have believed them. One might not come to believe in the thing one thought was absurd; but one will likely come to see the world in a new way that will challenge other ideas.
michael reidy said:
‘Assume coherence’ – a wise motto and one which requires surpassing of one’s own presuppositions. Theodicy discussions often lose that guiding principle and assume that religious thinkers are not consistent. The belief in diametrically opposed positions is supposed to be a defeater for the theist which of course it isn’t because the understanding of the theist position by the atheist is radically deficient in the first instance. Still mistakes can happen. For instance Frege claimed that meaning was subjective. Would it, that position for instance, be a ‘meaning’ if there were no even disputed meanings? Would we be just firing off an arrow and painting a bullseye around it?
Michael Reidy: “because the understanding of the theist position by the atheist is radically deficient in the first instance.”
How so? I hope you aren’t, following the modus operandi of religions, simply issuing a decree to the effect that it is so! LOL
In any case, even if the atheist’s understanding of theism is “radically deficient” (Wittgenstein’s comment that the world of the religious believer is different from that of the unbeliever has some resonance here.) it can’t be much worse than that of the (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) theist’s “understanding” of atheism as a view inspired by the Devil! LOL
Your reflections are interesting, Amod.
“The point extended beyond my dissertation as well: early on in my PhD, I gave her a paper that explained it would treat the Yoga Sūtras together with their Yoga Bhāṣya commentary as an “internally coherent,” and she commented “you can’t do that.” In other classes focused on reading texts, she would tell her students that the class would not look for coherence – they would not be asking questions of the form “if the text says x here, how can it say y over here when the two contradict each other?””
Her decree against inquiring into coherence appears to be arbitrary, and, hence, irrational. It also seems to blatantly violate intellectual and academic freedom of students! Was this going on at Harvard?
One wonders whether this imperious decree against examining coherence, a basic requirement of intellectual inquiry, was impelled by a fear of detection and exposure of incoherence and nonsense in those texts. LOL
In any case, when we consider the fact of a striking form of irrationality which persistently afflicts the human mind, namely, the tendency to hold mutually incompatible beliefs on things, events, issues, etc., anyone interested in the purification and development of the intellect would begin with the inquiry into the coherence of having all the various beliefs they do have in their minds.
It also goes without saying that our appreciation of a text or thinker, among other things, is a not a matter of the fallacious “all or nothing”. “Great minds make great mistakes.” And great absurdities are among those mistakes. The recognition of the absurdities as well as the great insights in such thinkers and texts is the hallmark of intellectual honesty and maturity.
Amod’s reflections are seldom insipid and always deserve and provoke a response!
“Gyatso greatly admired the works of Jacques Derrida, who threw doubt on the idea of authorship, and often focused on the “margins” of texts in order to highlight inconsistencies and ways in which the texts break down.”
Admiration for an obscurantist charlatan such as Derrida? Well, Yathah Guru, tathah…….
Yes, no doubt, Derrida also doubted that he was the author of his own books, and, therefore, had no claims of copyright on them and royalties from the sales of his books!!!
“…Derrida questions the idea of the subject or self, as most Buddhist thinkers do.”
Yes, it is undoubtedly coherent to suppose that a “self” was not doing this questioning and that the terms “Buddhist thinkers” do not refer to anyone at all!!!
“If the self is unreal, as so many Buddhist thinkers have said, then so is the author.”
Yes, it is so obviously coherent that “Buddhist thinkers” (= no one at all) have said that “the self is unreal.” And, yes indeed, what could more profound than the claim on the part of a given author that he isn’t real at all!!!
“Thus perhaps Śāntideva’s disavowal of his own originality and profundity at the beginning of the Bodhicaryāvatāra.”
He is disavowing, I think truthfully, “his own” originality and profundity, but I dare say that he could also actually go on to prove “his own” originality and profundity by claiming that he actually doesn’t exist or that he isn’t real!!!
Derrida’s “charlatanry” is evident from his bizarre claim that writing is logically prior to speech (despite glaring and obvious evidence to the contrary, e.g., the existence of cultures with speech but no writing) and his misrepresentation of even some of the elementary views and contributions of Saussure.
Thill, you have a 19th Century Western view of Buddhism — equating egolessness or emptiness with nothingness or nihilism.
This is the view of Herman Melville in his poem: “swooning swim to less and less; aspirants to nothingness”.
If you have an interest in a more nuanced view, you should answer the question what is “self”?
In English, when we say “The self is unreal.”, we mean that it does not exist.
The law of excluded middle applies here: either self is real or it is unreal, either it exists or it doesn’t exist.
So, do you agree with Amod’s claim that “the self is unreal” according to “Buddhist thinkers” or not?
It is a red herring to talk about 19th century Western view of Buddhism, “equating emptiness with nothingness”, “nuanced views” and such.
I believe we have already discussed this “emptiness” business and I have clearly identified what the Buddhist doctrine of “emptiness” asserts in that discussion.
Jim: “If you have an interest in a more nuanced view, you should answer the question what is “self”?”
I stick to our precious commonsense here. The “self” is the person or being, the subject who has a variety of physical and other attributes. You are referring to your “self” when you use “I” and you are referring to the “self” of others when you use words such as “you”, “him”, “her”, etc.
For instance, you were addressing my “self” when you posed your question. It is your “self” which posed that question.
When you say “I am a Buddhist.” you are attributing something, however amorphous, to yourself! When you say to someone “We shall make a Buddhist of you yet!” you are saying that you will attempt to make it the case that the same amorphous attribute will hold true of the “self” of that person.
When you say “I am striving for Enlightenment.”, you are identifying a goal, however amorphous, which your “self” has set for itself.
My “self” is awaiting with bated breath for a revelation from your “self” on the portentous “nuance” here!
Thill, “self” is assumed in ordinary discourse. The nuance that is necessary is to look into the basis for that assumption.
On another thread, I offered some contemplations of the type that Buddhists will undertake in Mahamudra investigations. You didn’t respond to those — which is fine. Perhaps you are not interested in understanding the Buddhist concept of no self. But then, then you can’t refute the position if you don’t understand it.
It is not enough, as you assert, to say that “self” exists because we use concepts of “I” and “other”. It is necessary to look into what “I” is composed of when we use it in ordinary speech. The fact is, that we use it very inconsistently. Sometimes we refer to “I” as if it were our body, sometimes as if it were our energetic aspect or personality and sometimes as our mind. And when we say “I” in ordinary usage, such as “I am too fat” as we look in the mirror, we are holding a concept of ourselves at arms length and criticizing it. Which is the “I” in that situation? Is it the fat reflection in the mirror or is it the flickering emotion of disgust in viewing an image we identify with? And then we might say, “I am too critical, I should be gentler with myself”. And then is the self the “critical of fat person self” that we hold at arms length or the flicker of another emotion, maybe a mix of forgiveness and critical intelligence that looks at the “critical self”.
The question is — can you locate a solid, unchanging “self” anywhere that is not an aggregate of things and conditions that have come together in a temporary way? If you can, then the Buddhist concept of “no self” is wrong.
The Buddhist concept of “no self” doesn’t negate appearance. It is just that “self” has no intrinsic existence, or to say it another way — is interdependent, arising from various causes and conditions and dependent on the perception of an “other”. The world we live in is evanescent. In one hundred years, no one will be alive who is alive today. Seemingly solid buildings will crumble. Governments will fall. New forms will arise. But is is not necessary to wait to see change to understand this. Appearances that seem solid even in this moment have no intrinsic existence. Buddhists don’t negate appearance, but they work to understand what appearance is free of our habitual concepts of it.
What causes suffering is attachment to concepts — particularly concepts of self. There are various skillful ways for loosening attachments. Some of these work on the relative level — in the way that patience might be employed to counter anger (i.e. “count to ten”). But the ultimate solution is to see the absolute nature of things clearly — and that itself eliminates attachment and suffering because we understand that there is no solid thing that attaches and nothing to attach to.
But it is still possible to thoroughly enjoy a good meal or a tender moment with another person. And that is why I think Amod could have read Shantideva at his wedding — or at least that with time and further analysis he might have overcome his reasons for not doing so.
The issue is whether the denial of self makes sense. To show that this denial is absurd does not require a plausible theory of self. To insist that it does, as you think, is analogous to the insistence that one must first provide a theory of language to show that the statement “Language is “unreal” or does not exist.” is absurd.
I think we can also compare “The self does not exist.” with “Consciousness does not exist.” To see the self-evident absurdity of someone denying that consciousness is real one does not need or require a theory of consciousness. It is more than sufficient to have a glimmer of understanding that the the very act of this denial proves what it denies, i.e., that consciousness is real.
So, if I did not have a “self” and you did not have a “self”, it would be impossible to have this debate or discussion.
Perhaps, it might make it easier for you to understand my point if I reiterate that the statement “The self does not exist.” is analogous to
the statements “Language does not exist.” and “Consciousness does not exist.”
Note further that if Buddhism allegedly proffers a theory of self, it must presuppose the reality or existence of self. You cannot have theory OF something if you deny the reality or existence of that something! You can’t have a theory of dogs if you deny that dogs are real or that dogs exist!
It is obviously incoherent to deny the reality of the self and at the same time to proffer a theory of the nature of the self. In Michael Reidy’s memorable terminology, Buddhism stands convicted of “Irish Bull” on this point.
If Buddhist apologists claim that Buddhism countenances the meaningfulness and veracity of ordinary (= commonsense) judgments and presuppositions on the self, then they need to explain why they cling to the view that the self is unreal since that is certainly not a judgment or presupposition of our ordinary, commonsense talk of self.
Consider “I don’t exist.” said and meant by someone in the literal sense. Obviously, this is the very paradigm of absurdity and to recognize this one doesn’t need a theory of the “I”!
Thill, in having a discussion, I think it is fair to ask for a definition of terms. And more than that, any investigation into our condition requires an understanding of what we call “mind” and “self”. Buddhists have spent 2,000 years in meditation retreats and contemplative analytical practices to understand the nature of mind. Perhaps, as you seem to say, this has been a waste of time, contemplating absurdities. I think otherwise.
The real questions Buddhists are asking are fundamental philosophical questions. Who are we? What is the nature is consciousness? When we reflect on “ourselves”, what is happening? Is consciousness like a torch that shines on an object? Or is it more like a candle flame that is self-illuminating? Can consciousness really look at itself? Or is that like saying that an eyeball can see itself? Is “self” dependent on “other”? How does our language (concepts) filter our perception of the world?
You jump to a conclusion posited by Buddhists and reject it as absurd without any understanding (or apparent interest) in the process.
JW: “Buddhists have spent 2,000 years in meditation retreats and contemplative analytical practices to understand the nature of mind. Perhaps, as you seem to say, this has been a waste of time, contemplating absurdities.”
Obviously, it would be waste of time to do all that if one believed that the “mind is unreal” or that the “mind does not exist”! I am sorry, I know you are not Dr. Watson, but this is elementary. What is there to examine or contemplate if you deny the existence or reality of that which you say you are examining or contemplating? It is like writing the biography of “a son of barren woman”! LOL
I have no problem with questions on the nature of the self as long as they sensibly, as they ought to, acknowledge the underlying presupposition that the self exists. My objection was to the denial of the self, to the claim that “the self is unreal.”
JW: “Buddhists have spent 2,000 years in meditation retreats and contemplative analytical practices to understand the nature of mind. Perhaps, as you seem to say, this has been a waste of time, contemplating absurdities.”
I think it is an instance of one deep-seated incoherence in Buddhism: the inconsistency between the meditative practice and its presuppositions and the denial of the self. Another deep-seated incoherence stems from the inconsistency between the ethical precepts and the “self-same” denial of the self.
You have no understanding of meditation practice if you think that it involves presuppositions.
JW: “You have no understanding of meditation practice if you think that it involves presuppositions.”
And you have no understanding of the English language and the logical implications of claims and concepts in that language if you think that the concept of “meditation practice” does not involve presuppositions. You must at the very least presuppose that there is a meditator, an identifiable process called “meditation”, and an object of meditation!
If Buddhism or Buddhist “meditation practice” is undermining your understanding of the semantics and conceptual implications of ideas expressed in English, give up one of them! LOL
I mean give up either Buddhism or English! LOL
Meditation does not have presuppositions. Or, at least, it is a process of letting go of presuppositions.
Ultimately, these include letting go of concepts of “meditator”, “meditation” and “object of meditation”.
Your views are a good illustration of the fact that realizing this (even conceptually) is not an easy process.
JW: “Meditation does not have presuppositions. Or, at least, it is a process of letting go of presuppositions.
Ultimately, these include letting go of concepts of “meditator”, “meditation” and “object of meditation”.”
So, the presupposition of (Buddhist)meditation practice is that meditation is “a process of letting go of presuppositions”!!! It also seems to presuppose that this process is difficult to “grasp conceptually”!!!
We have another absurdity in our hands. Someone sitting down to do “Buddhist meditation” according to a tradition of meditative practice which makes numerous constitutive assumptions and claims on the practice and its alleged outcomes and yet denying that the practice is based on any assumption or presupposition!
How do you practice “mindfulness meditation” without presupposing that you have a mind or consciousness and the faculty of attending to or being mindful to mental states (that there are mental states to attend to is another presupposition) to start with?
Or could it be that those who practice “mindfulness meditation” actually have no minds to begin with? LOL
Well, we can agree that inquiry into the nature of what we call “self” is useful. I don’t think that it is necessary to accept the Buddhist concept of “no self” to have a productive discussion. There are plenty of genuine paths that work from the concept of the existence of a self, including various theistic traditions.
And the Buddhist concept of “no self” is a difficult concept — and, as I said, not at all the same as a denial of the world of perception and appearance.
JW:”And the Buddhist concept of “no self” is a difficult concept — and, as I said, not at all the same as a denial of the world of perception and appearance.”
Again, “no self” in English means “the self does not exist”. It is obviously absurd for anyone to assert this either to herself or to another person!
“Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye”
— E. Dickinson
Yes, indeed! Just spend an hour in the company of the really mad (as Schopenhauer once did) in an asylum and see what it is like. I am sure you will return with your “divinest sense” and your “discerning eye” enhanced a thousandfold.
Schopenhauer, according to Bryan Magee, used to visit insane asylums frequently and hold “long conversations” with the inmates. He held a theory of insanity according to which it is in its core a voluntary condition, a condition an agent has embraced, or willed to bring abou,t as a form of insulation against going through traumatic experiences again. Perhaps, there are forms of insanity which are like this, but there are others which seem to be involuntary because they have a neurochemical or biological basis.
JW: “And that is why I think Amod could have read Shantideva at his wedding — or at least that with time and further analysis he might have overcome his reasons for not doing so.”
Oh no! Reading Santideva at one’s wedding would be like reading the Tibetan Book of Death at the birth of one’s child!!!
JW: “But it is still possible to thoroughly enjoy a good meal or a tender moment with another person.”
I am sorry, but a Buddhist may think that this is the greatest achievement of Buddhism, that it can also allow for the enjoyment of a good meal or “a tender moment with another person”, but ordinary people would justifiably think that there is something insufferably strange and conceited about such Buddhists! Who in their right mind would think that these obvious facts need any acknowledgment, authentication, or certification from any source?
Amod: ” …Jacques Derrida, who threw doubt on the idea of authorship, and often focused on the “margins” of texts in order to highlight inconsistencies and ways in which the texts break down.”
To jump from “inconsistencies and ways in which the texts break down” to “doubt on the idea of authorship”, as Derrida seems to, is one of those characteristically ludicrous modes of non-sequitur he repeatedly subjects his starry-eyed readers to in his so-called “works”!
Why can’t the author of a text be inconsistent? Why can’t a text with an identifiable author suffer from inconsistency?
Honor the incomprehensible wisdom of Seigneur Derrida!
Amod: “Derrida questions the idea of the subject or self, as most Buddhist thinkers do.”
If this questioning means denial of the the subject or self, then it is has the same degree of absurdity, nay, even of pathology of thought, as the denial, by way of speech, that one can speak, and the denial by way of an English sentence that one can write in English!
These denials are crazy, and, hence, hard to encounter, in places other than lunatic asylums, clinics for schizophrenics, philosophy or religion classrooms, philosophy or religion professors’ offices, and Buddhist “institutions” for a good reason: these denials presuppose the very thing they deny!
Amod: ” gifts benefit the recipient through the gift encounter and not the gift object.”
If this is true, why do we need a gift object at all? Why not just stage a “gift encounter” with no gift object and see if the intended effect obtains? It is a constitutive feature of a “gift encounter” that a genuine article of gift is given and that the recipient is pleased to some degree by it. Further, Santideva, going by your claims, seems to think that not any gift encounter will do. He approves only of a gift encounter in which the giver is a “Bodhisattva”.
Amod: “I was looking at the combination of Śāntideva’s advice that material goods are harmful, and the fact that he urges one to give those gifts to others for their own benefit.”
Here is Santideva’s argument based on your statements on it in this and other posts:
1. External goods, e.g., clothing, food, money, etc., are harmful.
2. So, gifts of external goods, even to those who desperately need them, are harmful.
3. However, gifts of external goods given by a “Bodhisattva” to others produce the benefit of “Sraddha” or of making the recipient receptive to the teachings of the “Bodhisattva”.
4. This benefit is a great good which outweighs any harm or vice caused in the recipient by desire, possessiveness, or pride induced by the gift of the external goods.
5. Therefore, gifts of external goods by a “Bodhisattva” confer a great good on the recipient.
6. Hence, gifts of external goods to others are morally justified if the gifts are given by a “Bodhisattva”.
What is justification for premise # 1? I think it has to do with Santideva’s anti-worldly and ascetic Buddhist belief that external goods produce vices in the recipients. However, this belief is false, or, at least, not necessarily true. The gift of external goods can also produce virtues such as gratitude, love, trust, etc. A starving person saved by the gift of food normally feels gratitude toward the donor, regardless of whether the donor is good, bad, ugly, or a “Bodhisattva”.
In any case, Santideva also ignores another feature of such situations. These gifts can be given out of compassion for the victim and the attendant good desire to alleviate that suffering. If compassion is good, then it follows that gifts of external goods expressive of compassion are also good, particularly for the donor.
The recipient is also able to appreciate the value of compassion. So, the gift also has a positive effect on the victim in that it helps the victim to appreciate and possibly emulate the compassion of the donor.
Santideva overlooks or ignores all these features of giving external goods as gifts and focuses only on the possible negative effects some sorts of gifts of external goods can have in some contexts.
Further, this sort of focus on the negative effects of gifts of external goods in some contexts could undermine his premises # 3 and 4. What if the vices generated by the gifts of external goods in some contexts overpower and prevent any receptivity to the teachings of the “Bodhisattva”? Then we would have to say that the Bodhisattva acted without “skill” in giving those external goods and that he would have done the right thing to refrain from giving any external gifts at all to those recipients.
Santideva seems to become all “starry-eyed” at the spectacle of a “Bodhisattva” giving gifts of external goods and forgets that this does not confer any necessary immunity in the recipient against the vices these external goods could awaken or elicit and their power to prevent any receptivity to the teachings of the “Bodhisattva”.
“These denials are crazy, and, hence, hard to encounter in places other than lunatic asylums, clinics for schizophrenics, philosophy or religion classrooms, philosophy or religion professors’ offices, and Buddhist “institutions”, for a good reason: these denials presuppose the very thing they deny!”
I should have said “These denials offer testimony or proof for the very thing they deny!”.
In Chapter 10, “Dedication”, of his Bodhicaryavatara (p. 166, The Way of the Bodhicaryavatara, Shambala, 1997) Santideva prays that everyone should have “unrestricted wealth”. If indeed he thinks that external goods such as wealth are harmful, why does he offer this prayer? (The prayer is inane, but for other fairly obvious reasons.)
Amod: “the writers of great works like the Bodhicaryāvatāra put a lot of thought into those works…”
If so, how could they spew inanities, such as prohibitions on teaching those who keep their hats on their heads, and ask weird questions about why someone can’t consider himself the “I” or “self” another’s body and why another can’t consider himself the “I” or “self” of one’s body? Does Santideva seriously believe, or would he even entertain the possibility, that an orthodox Brahmin priest of his time could legitimately claim that he was the “I” or “self” of Santideva’s body? If so, what would then be the status of the “I” which calls itself Santideva? Wouldn’t it be displaced by the “I” of the contemptible “fire-worshipper”? And are to belive that Santideva has accpeted the likelihood of all this with the equanimity of a “Bodhisattva”?
It is also curious that the Bodhicaryavatara is full of New Testament style appeals to irrational fears, fear of sudden death, torments of hell-fire and such. (Chap. 7, “Heroic Perseverance”, The Way of the Bodhisattva, pp.98-99, Shambala, 1997). To me, these are the tactics of spiritually and intellectually immature religious propagandists.
In comparison to the Bodhicaryavatara, even Victorian puritanical attitudes toward the body and sexuality seem faintly libidinous!
Wittgenstein once commented that Russell’s writings on sexuality were an “anti-aphrodisiac”, but if there is any book which can be termed an “anti-aphrodisiac” and an “anti-sexual tract”, it is the Bodhicaryavatara.
It is full of pathological contempt for the human body in itself and as an object of sexual desire. Some of its choice terminology to refer to this awesome, beautiful, fragile, resilient,and marvelous product of evolution are: “heap of bones”, “filth”, “engendered from an unclean seed”, “filth arisen and replete with it”, “the ordure of an unclean sack”, “by nature gives off evil smells”, “reeking with the stink of slime”, “a nightmare to behold”, “a weapon that will injure us”, and so on.
All this “stinks” of contempt and disrespect for one of the extraordinary phenomena of nature. To view otehr people, particularly women, in these terms is assuredly pathological, misogynistic, and dehumanizing.
Could anyone in a normal and healthy frame of mind look at his parents, spouse, children, beloved, friends, and, yes, even the “Zen Master”, in these terms since we become aware of them only in terms of their bodily presence?
One of the bizarre and deletrious consequences of the Buddhist denial, contrary to commonsense and science, of Svabhava or the inherent nature of things can be seen in the delusive hopes Santideva entertains in Chap. 10, “Dedication” of the Bodhicaryavatara. If you believe that things don’t have any Svabhava or inherent nature, then you will also believe that there are no inherent or inbuilt constraints in objects and that they can turn into something completely different. In other words, you will deny or fail to grasp that there are laws of nature, regularities exhibited by objects in virtue of their inherent nature and the nature of forces acting on them.
“May those caught in the freezing ice be warmed.”, “May fiery coals turn into heaps of jewels.”, “May the hail of lava…become a rain of blossom”, “May the blind receive their sight”, “May all the women in this world attain the strength of masculinity”, “May everyone have unrestricted wealth”, etc.
Correction: substitute “deleterious” for “deletrious”
michael reidy said:
No one has bit the bullet and suffered logotomy with a blunt and rusty penknife more than Shankara. He will say ‘your Sankhya and your Vaisesika are mere inference, speculation and fractious babbling, it does not line up with sruti and therefore it is almost not even smrti. As for Buddhism, he chastises that with mere reason along the lines that you have indicated. However, and here I am cutting a rod for my own back, when you examine his system there is a distinct sense that one could map other classical realisms on to it not that they are isomorphic or homological but that the weights or the pattern of oppositions are similar.
To speculate is to peculate but is there a suggestion that internal coherence is a given but there is as well what the Greeks might have called an archeidos that we receive intermittently.
MR: “However, and here I am cutting a rod for my own back, when you examine his system there is a distinct sense that one could map other classical realisms on to it not that they are isomorphic or homological but that the weights or the pattern of oppositions are similar.
To speculate is to peculate but is there a suggestion that internal coherence is a given but there is as well what the Greeks might have called an archeidos that we receive intermittently.”
MR, you have lost me on these sentences which look like they might have been penned on top of Mr. Everest! Pl. clarify! Thanks!
michael reidy said:
I’ll do my best to replenish the oxygen cache whilst knowing that expatiation can deepen bewilderment. Basically it is an intuition that even as Shankara claims that the Vedas are the ultimate pramana (valid source of knowledge) and surpass the claims of inference and speculation other systems such as the Realism of Plato and Aristotle have limned in their way a picture that is similar structurally to Advaita. Reality and Illusion, doxa and gnosis, One, True and Good, One without a second, myth and mithya; one could go on at book length about the parallels but the suggestion I am making which is by no means original is that there is an archeidos (primal form) at play which uses the dominant cultural apparatus to express itself.
Such speculation is a filching from the petty cash of perennial philosophy.
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