Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Fanged Dialogue

Posted by Glenn Wallis on October 13, 2011

In sum

All X-Buddhisms are incapable of genuinely conversing with the sciences and the humanities. They are, furthermore, unable to comprehend themselves. For both, we need Speculative non-Buddhism (or something like it). All Buddhism can ever achieve is a Narcissus-like self-referential iteration of its self-given image—as this or that X-Buddhism. For Buddhism must at all costs preserve its majestic omen pontificator: “The Dharma,” Architect of the Cosmic Vault and the Keeper of its Inventory. Only by feigning dialogue at the Feast of Knowledge can Buddhism preserve itself. This is fanged dialogue.

*       *      *

In this post, I want to continue articulating the procedures of Speculative non-Buddhism. Because my method can appear abstract, it may help if I use a concrete example to get some traction. To that end, I want to refer to a recent article by Rita Gross called “Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners” (links at bottom).

Rita Gross is an exemplary Buddhist studies and feminist scholar. She is also a senior teacher in Shambhala Buddhism. I am not critiquing her article point by point here. What I am doing is extracting the major premise and the major conclusion, and then analyzing these to illuminate Speculative non-Buddhist theorems. Gross’s body of work is a model of erudite sophistication combined with real-world urgency. She is the rare scholar who is willing to “lower” herself to the Buddhist hoi polloi. And she is the rare practitioner who has the courage to explore tradition’s terrain well beyond the prescribed boundaries.

Gross’s major point is this: “Modern historical studies challenge assumptions commonly held in Buddhist traditions.” A fuller version of that premise:

Modern historical studies show the contingency and historicity of developments in religions, something that traditional religions dislike intensely. Historical study of religion undercuts the claim that any specific form, any practice or verbal doctrine, could be unmediated, completely definitive, and one hundred percent an absolute truth. Instead, it fosters the view that all religious expressions and forms are relative, that is to say, they are partially the result of specific causes and conditions found in their specific environments. Even a religion such as Buddhism, which affirms impermanence as completely central, doesn’t really like to hear that its core teachings and institutions have changed over the years.

That premise is irrefutable. Historical study of, say, Pali canonical literature, obliterates the notion that it contains “the teachings of the Buddha.” Indeed, such study undermines the very notion of “the Buddha” as a historically recoverable figure. What we find instead of “sacred scripture” is a hodge podge of teachings that are more easily traceable to the machinations of various, and often vying, Buddhist communities. (That is why Speculative non-Buddhism refers to the Buddha as “the protagonist:” he is a historical figure entirely overwritten by a literary one.) The extent of damage that historical analysis can do to Buddhism’s self-understanding is literally limitless. In fact, a genuine dialogue between Buddhism and historical method could conceivably leave Buddhism so stunted and disfigured that no Buddhist would recognize it. So, you may be wondering, what demonic genie has Gross cast loose from the flagon of history; and what destruction has that genie of history wrought on Buddhism’s self-understanding?

None, and none, whatsoever. Gross’s major conclusion is given in her first sentence: “I am convinced that an accurate, nonsectarian study of Buddhist history can be of great benefit to dharma practitioners.” She states a fuller version of this conclusion at the end of the article:

Rather than being something that detracts from our commitment to Buddhadharma, to some almost a heresy, an accurate, nonsectarian history of Buddhism can enrich and improve one’s dharma practice immensely. This alone is a sufficient recommendation for such study. But the study of Buddhist history brings other benefits as well, such as providing tools to appreciate Buddhist internal diversity and thus promote greater communication within the greater Buddhist community. Perhaps most important, it allows us to develop a seamless account of Buddhism and modernity. For nothing is sadder than a religion’s demand that we turn off our critical intelligence when its traditions conflict with well-established results of modern science and history. The depth of Buddhadharma does not need such mindless acquiescence to convention.

From the perspective of Speculative non-Buddhism, this conclusion is wholly predictable. It is also disingenuous. The reason I say it is disingenuous is because it refuses to allow historical study to do its work. And it does so in the name of historical study. This work is given in Gross’s premise: historical method reveals “contingency and historicity;” it “undercuts” traditional and sectarian claims; it illuminates “relativity;” it produces results that tradition “intensely dislikes.” Gross’s conclusion usurps the power of historical method, and places that method in the service of preservation of the Buddhist status quo—indeed, even elevates Buddhism well beyond its current status. Historical study, she says, need not “detract from our commitment to Buddhadharma.” On the contrary, it “can enrich and improve one’s dharma practice immensely.” It can increase inter-sectarian understanding. Most importantly, it “allows us to develop a seamless account of Buddhism and modernity.”

Gross’s conclusion has made a mockery of her very premise, and worse: it has rendered historical study barren. In all honesty, Rita Gross cannot predict the outcome of subjecting tradition to historical methodology. Her own premise holds that the result might be (should be?) as devastating as it is unpredictable. Her conclusion, then, is really not a conclusion at all. It is the type of kindly inducement we get in dharma sermons: programmatic, encouraging, hopeful. Gross flinches. She not only leaves the historical genie in the bottle; she rubs it, closes her eyes, and makes a nice wish.

The greatest irony of Gross’s article comes at the very end: “For nothing is sadder than a religion’s demand that we turn off our critical intelligence when its traditions conflict with well-established results of modern science and history.” Like so many others, Gross earlier quotes the Dalai Lama’s contention that “if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” Can anyone—anyone—provide a single instance where “Buddhism” has altered one jot of its precious belief system in light of scientific findings? How would that even be possible? The Dalai Lama is able to rewire peoples’ thinking processes and alter the canonical texts? Contra the Dalai Lama and Rita Gross, from a Speculative non-Buddhism perspective scientific method and historical study cannot possibly change anything at all in Buddhism or in Buddhists. Why? Gross gives the reason—again, ironically, in my reading—in her very last sentence: “The depth of Buddhadharma does not need such mindless acquiescence to convention.” The irony is this: Yes, it does. The “depth of Buddhadharma”—as article of faith, as belief, as ideological game-piece, not self-evident fact—requires precisely “acquiescence to convention”—to Buddhist conventions of agreement.

From the Speculative non-Buddhism perspective none of this is new, and it is all wholly predictable. Gross is, after all, a “dharma teacher” (website link below). Buddhism, I contend, is utterly incapable of genuinely conversing with the sciences and the humanities. It is, furthermore, unable to comprehend itself. All Buddhism can ever achieve is a Narcissus-like self-referential iteration of its self-given image. It must at all costs preserve “the depth of the Buddhadharma.” And it can only achieve this by feigning—or outright forfeiting—genuine dialogue with other disciplines. Gross’s article is just the latest example of buddhistic flinching before reality. Gross, as a Buddhist, like all true-believers in transcendental norms, must insist that there is “no radical disjunction between traditional Buddhism and the results of modern scholarship,” and that “traditional Buddhism and the results of modern historical scholarship are deeply consonant.” Such insistence is the price of admittance to the Buddhist vallation.

Why not truly unleash historical method—remove the dharma-preserving constraints—and see what happens? What’s there to lose?

Heuristics

With this example before you, I would like to present some (abbreviated) related Speculative non-Buddhist postulates and theorems. You might want, then, to apply these to a re-reading of Gross’s article—or any Buddhist writing. In that way, you can begin to see the kind of heuristic work that Speculative non-Buddhist postulates and theorems can do. The overarching postulate of Speculative non-Buddhism is decision. Gross’s article is predicated on decision. Decision was discussed in depth in the previous post. The first postulate discussed here, reflexivity, ensues from decision.

Reflexivity. Performing, like an athlete, moves in the buddhistic arena (i.e., in “the world”–the buddhistic thought-world shaped by decision). Reflexivity is the automatic and habitual reaching toward the X-Buddhist dispensation as providing necessarily adequate explanatory terms and efficacious practices. X-buddhistic reflexivity is the diminishment of the capacity for Keats’s negative capability: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” The X-Buddhist practitioner is reflexive in direct proportion to his/her loss of negative capability. Reflexivity constitutes the practitioner’s achievement of dharmic specularity, wherein all terms and conditions are seen from above. Reflexivity is thus commensurate with affiliation in the X-Buddhist community: the more instinctive the reflex toward the X-buddhistic dipensation, the more assured is affiliation. Optimally, Buddhism, like all ideological systems, aims for hyper-reflexivity. To whatever degree it is present, furthermore, reflexivity disables the Buddhist qua Buddhist from discerning the decisional structure that informs his affiliation. It is in this regard that reflexivity constitutes a blinding condition.

Buddhist. A person reflexively beholden to the structural syntax of buddhistic decision. The embodiment of (“the shape of”), hence the central agent in, the buddhistic thought-world. A person whose speech concerning exigent matters is constructed from buddhemes (derived, in turn, from the fecund font of The Dharma). Given the radically protean nature of decisional adaptation, the possible modifications (X-) of the abstract noun “Buddhist” are illimitable.

The Dharma. The specular omen pontificator of samsaric contingency. Like God, Justice, Logos, Rta, The Dao, and so on, The Dharma (English: The Norm as buddhistic trinity of dispensation, truth, and cosmic structure) is the architect of the cosmic vault and the keeper of its inventory. As such, The Dharma is the buddhistic hallucination of reality. In its decisional function, The Dharma is the transcendent-immanent operator that synthesizes the purely immanent dyad of spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) and contingency (paticcasamuppada). The hallucinatory quality results from the fact that The Dharma is a function of a purely idealized (transcendent) grammar that produces oracular statements infinitum concerning the finite world (immanence). The Dharma is the buddhistic gathering together (under the authority of The Dharma) of reality’s posited (by The Dharma) splintered whole, which splintering is exhibited by the (dharmically indexed) world condition articulated (by The Dharma) as spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency.

Buddhism. An explicit world-representation or thought-world founded on a universally accepted syntax, or decisional structure. As the history of the tradition exemplifies, this structure permits perpetual mutation, wherein decision is re-inscribed in ever-developing expressions of “X-Buddhism.” Doctrinally: a specular, ideological system founded on teachings given canonically to a literary protagonist named “the Buddha.” Aesthetically: a consistently recognizable rhetorics of display (texts, costumes, names, statuary, hair styles, painting, ritual artifacts, architecture, etc.). Institutionally: the manufacturer and conservatory of buddhistic charism. In the terms of its own rhetorics, “Buddhism” names the principal and superior representer of exigent human knowledge. Yet, as mentioned earlier, given the inexhaustible inventory of reality engendered by buddhistic decision—indeed, given the very syntax of decision itself—Buddhism can be formulated and arranged in innumerable guises. The word “Buddhism” thus indexes a consistent multiplicity: consistent, given its omnipresent decisional syntax; multiple, given its protean adaptability. The history of Buddhism shows it to be, to cite Laruelle, “the articulation of a universal market where the concepts are exchanged according to specific rules to each system, and from an authority with two sides: one of the [buddhistic] division of work, the other of the appropriation of part of what the market of the concepts produces”—for instance, morphological innovations, such as MBSR, Soto Zen, or Secular Buddhism.

Devitalization of charism. The Buddhist vallation is sealed by charism. Buddhistic charismata are the incalculable averred “gifts” of wisdom, knowledge, community, teacher-student relationship, healing, and so forth, that cascade out of the dharmic dispensation. Such gifts exert a binding influence on the Buddhist. One result of charismatic influence is the blinding of the Buddhist to decisional structure and decisional commitment. Enactment of Speculative non-Buddhist heuristics enables the Buddhist to unbind and unblind from the coercive yet largely unconscious effects of the charism. Imaginative curvature—speculative applied reconfiguration—is impossible until this charism is quelled.

Cancellation of warrant. A major consequence of applying Speculative non-Buddhist heuristics: the comprehensive withdrawal of buddhistic verity. [In the article above, Rita Gross expressed this verity as given in “the depth of the Buddhadharma.”] Indeed, given the coercive function of decision, the work of Speculative non-Buddhism cannot proceed until cancellation of warrant occurs. Cancellation is not an intentional act. It is the sudden dissipation—affective and cognitive—of a fata morgana (warrant).

Links

Rita Gross website

Tricycle article sited here: “Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners,” by Rita M. Gross

About these ads

43 Responses to “Fanged Dialogue”

  1. Kevin Knox said

    Hope you can entice Ms. Gross to some dialogue with you on these points, but suspect you’ll have to address her as Rita rather than Nancy.

    That minor error aside I agree with your points and truly do hope she’s up for some dialogue, as unlike myself she has the background and intellect required for fruitful dialogue with you on these topics. While the degree of open-mindedness and respect for history she displays certainly caused shock and consternation among the Tibetan tradition true believers in her sangha (she’s involved with Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche nowadays and seems to have only an arms-length relationship with Shambhala), she has a very long way to go to get to the level of radical inquiry you display in “A Buddhist Manifesto” and your other writings. Really appreciate you stirring the pot, as always.

  2. Oh, shite monkeys–corrected! Thanks for that fix, Kevin. I agree that Gross’s article is extraordinarily courageous and open-minded. And I hope that many, many Buddhists will read it. I hope, too, that it will cause genuine discussion among Buddhists. She raises many important points.

    As you say, in so many words, my question here is that, if, in the end, Buddhism comes out unscathed after all of this discussion about the relationship between history and tradition, what’s the point, the value, of discussion? The goal of genuine dialogue, for me anyway, can never be to preserve the status quo. Dialogue must risk destruction.

  3. You write: ” Can anyone—anyone—provide a single instance where “Buddhism” has altered one jot of its precious belief system in light of scientific findings? How would that even be possible? The Dalai Lama is able to rewire peoples’ thinking processes and alter the canonical texts?”

    The standard examples here (given by the Dalai Lama on several occasions) are the existence of Mt Meru, and the luminosity of the moon; it is worth remembering that the young Dalai Lama (aged 8, if I recall correctly) looked through a telescope and saw the shadows on the craters of the moon, which demonstrated to him that the moon was reflecting the light of the sun and was not a luminous body, contra what he had been taught.

    As for how it would be possible: the way that the Dalai Lama is attempt to “rewire peoples’ thinking processes and alter the canonical texts” is in altering the way we approach these texts–he is suggesting that when the scriptural teachings are found to be in conflict with science, one should interpret the texts as metaphorical, and not rely on their literal truth. In other words, he’s proposing a non-fundamentalist reading of the text. (The relationship between what he is doing here and the epistemology of Dharmakīrti, which forms the epistemological foundation for Gelugpa doctrine is a fascinating topic, but probably one for another day.)

  4. Tom Pepper said

    I am alternately impressed and exasperated by Gross’s work. I admire the attempt to bring attention to the issue of gender in Buddhism, and to recover from the tradition some Buddhist practices, often obscured in patriarchal cultures, that might be empowering for women. It is important to note that some of the more egregiously sexist teachings arose at particular times, to suit the interests of extremely patriarchal cultures.

    I don’t, however, think that the recovering of forgotten “representations of gender” is the same as “history.” Gross’s concept of history, it seems to me, is too positivist, and can only hinder the success of her project. She seems to see history as a matter of assigning dates to the appearance of teachings and practices, and therefore historical work is “radically relativizing,” as she puts it in a recent article in “Buddhist-Christian Studies.” In this radical relativism, “change is normal” and no “sources” can be “prioritized”; this leaves us with no criteria on which to gauge the real effects of historical events, no way to explain why particular change occurred, except that somebody at some point, apparently strictly for reasons of misogyny, chose to say or do something differently.

    In this same article (“The Crisis of Authority: Buddhist History of Buddhist Practitioners”), she suggests that historical events CAN, in fact, be explained, but with the Buddhist concept of dependent origination. And this leads to my question for Glenn:

    As I understand your concept of “decision,” it is something akin to Badiou’s “count-as-one”: that conceptual structuring which informs how everything will be understood, what counts as conceivable, even perceptible, and even organizes the discourses in which we can speak of what exists. So, the goal is to get outside the “count-as-one,” to see what is excluded from “existing” by its initial structuring gesture. On this understanding then, Gross’s attempt to historicize Buddhism from within the Buddhist count-as-one is bound simply to reorganize Zafu’s in the zendo of the Titanic.

    Now, here’s the question: if this is correct, I am unclear on how you are using the term “transcendence”; it seems to have a negative valence, but I’m not clear why. And, in the same vein, I don’t see the sense in which paticcasamuppada is “contingency.” Are you saying that dependent-arising “appears” as contingent, from within the Buddhist count-as-one/decision? I’m kind of confused by the terminology here, and I’m wondering if we are thinking from different ontological assumptions.

    To return to the question of historicizing Buddhism: I think that a true historicizing of Buddhist teaching and practice would likely be far more unsettling than Rita Gross seems to think it would be–but, from her concept of history as change without a cause, such historicizing isn’t possible. I would love to see a history of Buddhism that takes into account the relationship between social/economic transformation and the origin of Buddhism: why does it occur at a time when the economic system is transforming from agricultural to trade, when the social organization is shifting from priestly sacrifice to monetary exchange, and when literacy is arising? In histories of the west, these things have been taken into account–there’s a great book called “Money and the Early Greek Mind,” by Richard Seaford, that explains the social and economic causes of the rise of Greek philosophy during a very similar social transition. And the impact of literacy on the concept of subjectivity used to be a common topic in European history. Why do Zen and Shin Buddhism arise in Japan at precisely the time when Japan developed literacy and a uniform medium of monetary exchange? These kinds of causes are invisible from within Buddhism, but considering the history of Buddhism from outside its “count-as-one” might reveal a history of alternating radically transformative thought and periods of powerful containment. We might then have to decide which function it is serving in our culture; my guess is, mostly the latter.

  5. This might also illustrate the situation.

    I think the three persons named here, Rita Gross, Jetsun Khandro and Dalai Lama are a good example how the whole Tibetan Buddhist system is wired by the Dalai Lama from the top down and why it is resisting evolution. It might be the case that Jetsun Khandro is aware of historicity but she will not get through with it because the Dalai Lama does not want to take historicity into account or is unable to do so.

    The Tibetan Buddhism is a hierarchical structure where the truth filters down from the top to the bottom and as long as it‘s CEO does not say so, nobody will talk something else than the backward projected ‘true’ history which functions as conservation of power. There are many examples in support of the claim that the Dalai Lama does not understand or rejects historicity. One can take Thomas Laird‘s „The story of Tibet. Conversations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama“ and read it parallel to Matthew Kapstein‘s „The Tibetans“. The latter tells a social-political history of the Tibet, which for example takes into account the economy as an important factor for patterns which developed in the relationship of the clans in Tibet on one side and the growing monastic traditions on the other. Contrary to this the Dalai Lama insists on the Tibetan history as not being something which has to do with politics and he is oblivious to economic factors. Instead he talks at great length for several times about a Chenrezi master-plan with Tibet. A plan the godhead has with it‘s country. He does not take the two historical views as alternate possibilities which might serve different needs, he simply dismisses any other viewpoint besides his own.

    Now, if the Dalai Lama does not except a modern historical viewpoint, how can a person downward in the hierarchical structure adopt one? If she does, then only at the cost of either leaving the structure or developing cognitive dissonances.

    I witnessed Jetsun Khandro myself this Mai. She was announced at a place nearby to give a talk about a certain Tibetan dzogchen text. This text is something quite radical and potentially revolutionary in contrast to conservative Tibetan Buddhism. I was interested to hear the viewpoint of someone I considered conservative. (The text is the nineteenth-century „The Essential Point in Three Statements“ by Dza Patrul) The talk was an astonishing experience. Jetsün Khandro behaved like any famous lama, walking around with all the pomp of a holy tulku. Attendants walking in front and behind her. Incense burned at her way. Certain ritual things carried by further attendants. And then when she comes in every single western disciple except three or four heretics make three prostrations. I was not used to such a spectacle but the real surprise was still to come. I think she did not lost a single word about the theme which was announced but instead she repeatedly strongly criticized the manner in which western Buddhists practice. She talked about them as people who practice in totally mechanical ways without any thought of their own. She really seemed to be angry and she was merciless. It could have been a great pleasure seeing her slaughtering her audience but it was not.

    It was not, because what is the point sitting on a throne pointing out a way not to practice at the same time being the focus of this very practice being practiced?

    Mrs. Gross mentions the growing fundamentalism in North American Buddhism. Very good this is said. I think this is a result of the cognitive dissonances these people experience. Everybody who knows a bit about the working of our mental apparatus will realize what this fundamentalism is protecting – a believe system which is subject to transience.

    If Mrs. Gross is in contact with Jetsun Khandro it would be really interesting to hear from her about how Jetsun is handling this difficult situation?

  6. Just letting you know I featured this post and your blog on my list of best buddhism blogs: http://www.allconsidering.com/2011/best-buddhist-blogs/

  7. Thanks for the valuable question, Tom. I consider a question valuable if it’s destructive—if it messes with the compactness of statements and claims and pours light on the assumptions sleeping, like naked mole rats, cozily therein. That’s what your question about my use of “transcendental/transcendence” and my understanding of paticcasamuppada does for me. So, I will say briefly how I have been using the term; but want to add that, thanks to questions like yours, I now see a need to give it more thought. I hope you’ll say what your understanding of the terms is, too.

    First, what I don’t mean. When I say that all X-Buddhisms rely on an identical “transcendental syntax,” I don’t mean transcendental in the sense of conditions of possibility. Of course, I don’t dispute the necessity of non-apparent enabling conditions for cognition, experience, and such. The way you describe Badiou’s “count-as-one” does indeed clarify my use of “decision” as a “conceptual structuring which informs how everything will be understood,” etc.; and, if I understand correctly, in some circles both of these concepts could be called “transcendental” precisely in doing the work you describe. Is that right? But I don’t want the term to stand for some, even reasonably, posited entity or process or structure that contributes to the perception or cognition of a phenomenon (like Kant’s categories) Why not? Because, I want science to do that work, not philosophy. And, at the lowly level that I use it, science does a good job of refraining from invoking processes, etc. that exceed (go beyond, surpass—transcend?) observable structures. That is not to say that I don’t see a role for inference, deduction, and mathematics; I just don’t want to use the language of transcendence to describe those procedures.

    This reasoning, I now realize, originates in a deep-seated prejudice of mine. I have been operating with a notion of “transcendental/transcendence” that stems from my interactions with a field of inquiry within which I was obligated to earn a living, yet had no taste—indeed, a profound distaste—for: religious studies (my training is in Sanskrit philology). In religious studies, “transcendental” means beyond the limits of knowability; and “transcendence” means someone’s somehow nonetheless knowing some transcendental X. Religious studies in the United States is unapologetically spiritualized, even theophilic (including Buddhist studies). So, transcendence-talk is, to my ears, indistinguishable from God-talk or Emptiness/Dharmakaya-as-via-negativa-God-talk. Enter here, too, the endless stream of fakirs and mystics.

    So, I am using the terms in their religious studies sense. Given my interest in “empty reality,” I want to contrast transcendence, moreover, to immanence. Again, now that you mention it, I hear a religious studies distinction here, too. Hume comes to mind:

    “If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school metaphysics for instance; let us ask, ‘Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?’ No. ‘Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?’ No. commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion” (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section 7, part 3).

    I wonder if I am using paticcasamuppada in the same sense as your “dependent-arising”? By “contingency,” I just mean a fact or event that is dependent on something else. In classical Buddhist theory, as you of course know, paticcasamuppada does the work of a radical causal theory. (Radical because it is posited as both incontrovertible and arising-in-the-first-instance. Contrary to the celebratory interpretation of people like Thich Nhat Hanh, I understand it as the protagonist’s explanation for irreversible instability.) In the buddhistic decisional syntax, it is the causal fact that actuates the particular event-world called samsara. You are right that I understand both of these terms as “appearing as” anything at all—i.e., as elements in the buddhistic hallucination.

    About your last paragraph, I wonder if The Sociology of Early Buddhism might be interesting to you. Here’s a sample Somewhat peripheral (more a history of ideas), but perhaps still of interest to you: The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, by Thomas McEvilley .

    I hope this explanation was at least helpful enough to carry on the discussion. I do need to think much more about the matters that you brought up. Thanks for the stimulus, Tom.

  8. Hi Michael, Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for providing a couple of examples of Buddhism’s changing in response to scientific findings. In a sense, the examples you provide–Mt. Meru and lunar luminosity–provide another example of “fanged dialogue,” don’t you think? That the Dalai Lama mentions–repeatedly, as you say–these two changes in how Tibetans (Buddhist world-wide? only the Dalai lama?) understand the world, reminds me a bit of how a politician might concede a minor point in order appease the restless masses while, of course, preserving the status quo. Science could dismantle so much more than an obviously mythical axis mundi and an even more obviously erroneous belief in lunar luminosity. But what serious work do the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders permit science? As to those teachers who advocate a metaphorical reading of scripture and so on, I just hear them all speaking with forked tongue. From the Speculative non-Buddhism perspective, they never leave science or any other system of thought alone in the Buddhist vallation. They only permit them to visit under the conditions of a tightly controlled tour. Why?

    Thanks again, Michael.

  9. I understand (I think) your skepticism toward the Dalai Lama’s position, but it does not appear to me to be an instance of conceding a minor point in order to preserve the status quo; rather, he is conceding the whole game, as far as fundamentalism is concerned. If we put this in terms of the Indian epistemological tradition (that forms the basis for most Tibetan Buddhism), he is stating that the Pramāņa of inference is more trustworthy than the Pramāņa of scripture; this is a major concession, if you ask me. I suppose I’d reverse your question: by what serious work does the Dalai Lama, for instance, not permit science? (I found his recent statement on his future reincarnation to be an interesting example in this regard.)

    I must admit that I am still trying to get a handle on your project of “Speculative non-Buddhism”; my own touchpoints (Derrida in Western philosophy, Early Indian Madhyamaka in Buddhist studies) seem to be somewhat different than yours, both in terms of transcendence and immanence, so some of the moves you are making are less than clear to me.

  10. Tom Pepper said

    Glenn,

    I see what you mean now–I just wanted to clarify the terms. There’s a tradition, from Neitszche to Deleuze, of rejecting transcendence when it is understood as rejecting life in favor of some unattainable positive value in the next world. I tend to think of the transcendental as the mind-independent reality, which has no value positive or negative, exceeds our current conceptual construction of it, and is the reason we can continue to expand our ability to interact with the world (that is, we really can, and sometimes do, get better and more complete ideas of reality, not just different ones). The definition of contingent, also, seems to be a difference in emphasis in different discourses; I tend to think of contingent as more synonymous with aleatory–as those events the causes of which are inaccessible to us.

    Can I offer a response to the question of the Dali Lama’s acceptance of science? In his recent book “The Boddhisatva Brain,” Owen Flannagan discusses the Dali Lama’s “caveat”: “the Dali Lama underlines the need to distinguish between what is negated through scientific method and what has not been observed through such a method”. This caveat leaves everything pretty much as it is, since we certainly cannot prove a negative. We can prove Earth’s moon is not luminous, but not that luminous moons do not exist. We can prove that this particular Lama has not power over the weather, but not that such power is impossible. This rigid distinction between scientific materialism of objects, and relativist idealism of the human world, is an easy concession, that has been made by the postmoderns as well–it leaves us able to say just about anything without rejecting modern “science,” but only as long as we limit this science to naive empiricism. The theory of science has come a long way, and we don’t need to accept either that physics is empiricist, or that there can be no scientific knowledge of the mind without the materialist reductionism of neuroscience.

    I have only read about halfway through “The Sociology of Early Buddhism,” and it is very interesting. Still not quite dialectical enough for my tastes, though–they tend to explain the economic and social possibility of Buddhism, but don’t make much of the ability of Buddhism itself to be a causal factor. Still, it gives a great sense of the historical conditions of early Buddhism, and one of these days I’ll get around to finishing it.

    Speaking of finishing things, I’m still working on an attempt to make sense of the anti-intellectualism of Western Buddhism. I was working on it this morning, and it’s nearly making sense now, I think.

    Gassho,
    Tom

  11. Hi Michael,

    Der Unbuddhist has a few posts that may interest you. (Be sure to scroll down to “The Dalai Lama and Buddhist Dogma.”) Do you really think that the Dalai lama is “conceding the whole game, as far as fundamentalism is concerned”? What, in real, practical terms, does that mean? If you can read German, there is an interesting discussion on “kritscher Buddhismus” going on over at Buddhaland. If you visit, be sure to scroll down to Matthias’s comment citing Nagarjuna, etc.

    I would love to hear your (Derrida’s, early Madhyamaka’s) understanding on transcendence and immanence. Is there an elevator-ride version?

    Thanks!

  12. Glenn: Before continuing, I should make it clear that I am not an apologist for the Dalai Lama, nor do I have a particular stake in what he is saying; I’m not a Buddhist, much less a Gelugpa, although I am (broadly speaking) sympathetic to the Prasaṅgika interpretation of Madhyamaka that the Gelug tradition espouses.

    What I mean, in practical terms, is that *if* one were to provide solid scientific evidence disproving, for example, rebirth, the Dalai Lama would be obliged (by his own statements) to accept it, and reinterpret the doctrine as metaphorical. As the Dalai Lama said in his statement on reincarnation, at the moment there is no scientifically observable process whereby matter achieves consciousness, which means that the traditional Tibetan understanding (that there is a temporal continuum of consciousness each conscious state must be causally related to a prior conscious state, even across lifetimes) has not been rejected. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Buddhist epistemological tradition, so I’ll spare you the Dharmakīrti-style interpretation, but the compressed version is: for both scientists and Gelugpa, the answer to “How does consciousness arise?” is “It’s a mystery”; the major difference is that scientists believe the mystery occurs with each birth, based upon inference; and the Gelugpa puts the mystery as a one-time event in the unimaginably distant past, based upon a combination of inference and scripture.

    Thanks for the reference to Der Unbuddhist; I have glanced over the English portions, and it looks like there is some interesting stuff there. It appears that they take umbrage at the Dalai Lama’s saying “As long as you are a Buddhist, it is necessary to accept past and future rebirth“, which surprises me a bit; it is no more outrageous than the Pope saying “As long as you are a Christian, it is necessary to accept the resurrection of Christ.” Sure, it is possible to consider yourself a Buddhist without accepting rebirth, but doing so puts you firmly at odds with the overwhelming majority of Buddhist doctrine and tradition– a plain reading of the sūtras shows that Right View (samyag-dṛṣṭi, sammā-diṭṭhi) entails a belief in rebirth. And, I’ve found nothing in my reading of Nāgārjuna that indicates he thought otherwise– but if somebody has a citation, I’d be happy to reconsider.

    Regarding transcendence and immanence: the (too-) short version is that for Nāgārjuna, in Mark Siderits’s felicitous phrasing, the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth. In other words, Nāgārjuna fundamentally rejects the notion that there is anything transcendent. (Similarly, Derrida: Martin Hägglund’s “Radical Atheism” makes this case in detail.) As for immanence, by rejecting svabhāva, Nāgārjuna rejects that there is anything that is truly immanent (in a simple,non-relational, substantive form); likewise, Derrida rejects any metaphysics of presence that relies on any entity that is truly and simply present.

  13. From a non-intellectual, I greatly enjoyed what I understood, and I feel what I did not understand still resonating. Thank you for taking the time to write this. The comments were also illuminating.

  14. PS: two things

    (1) I had to look up one of the words you use:
    “Such insistence is the price of admittance to the Buddhist vallation
    Vallation: An earthwork wall used for military defense
    Loved it!

    (2) Following the link on commentor Katinka’s marketing ploy, I saw all the “spiritual” junk she is trying to make money on. It made me think you could also really use a store here too. You could sell Non-Buddhist Stuff. SNB Coffee Mugs and Alarm clocks to help wake the slumber and such….
    Think of all the possibilities! Imagine the T-shirts!

  15. Mattia Salvini said

    I partly agree with this assessment, however, for reasons which are quite the opposite than those presented above.

    It is difficult for traditional Buddhists (like myself) to engage in actual discussion with the contemporary sciences because most (if not all) Buddhist philosophy works within a very different epistemology. I consider the latter to be more sophisticated and convincing that contemporary scientific thought, hence I am Buddhist; I also think that Buddhist epistemology is incompatible with at least some important features of contemporary scientific thinking (if science is thought to provide an accurate, or the most accurate, description of the empirical world).

    On the other hand, Rita Gross seems to put together two things difficult to reconcile (and here I agree with the post above): Buddhist teachings on dependent arising, with modern notions of historical contingency. From the perspective of Buddhist epistemology it is *far* from clear that the Pali and Sanskrit sources are not Buddhavacana. (In fact, it is far from clear even from the perspective of contemporary philology, despite what the author says above – he doesn’t seem very accurate in that respect).

  16. Mattia Salvini said

    A further note, concerning the following:

    That premise is irrefutable. Historical study of, say, Pali canonical literature, obliterates the notion that it contains “the teachings of the Buddha.” Indeed, such study undermines the very notion of “the Buddha” as a historically recoverable figure. What we find instead of “sacred scripture” is a hodge podge of teachings that are more easily traceable to the machinations of various, and often vying, Buddhist communities.

    That premise is very much refutable, once you refute the epistemology which is at the basis of contemporary historical analysis. I believe this has been amply done in the Buddhist philosophical traditions, especially in the several centuries of Madhyamaka epistemological discussions. If you are looking for something irrefutable, perhaps that may be the place to look.

    Furthermore, this passage contains a somewhat dishonest rhetoric, even in respect to its usage of contemporary tools. Historical study of Pāli canonical literature is not ‘scientific’ in the same sense as, say, the observation of molecules and their behavior. On the other hand, philology is based on a vast amount of (largely arbitrary) speculation; and once we move from the philological material to the ‘historical realities’ one may wish to reconstruct through it, it is more than obvious that the passage is problematic and never conclusive. On the other hand, the very jargon employed in the above quote suggests that historical reconstruction participates of the accuracy of contemporary scientific epistemology, as also of a remarkable level of conclusiveness that (in fact) no serious philologist or historian would (should?) dare to claim for one’s hypotheses. In the case of the history of Buddhism, what modern scholars have are superficial and fragmentary traces that do not even allow to form a cogent or comprehensive hypothesis (let alone present matters in the coarsely assertive manner that we find at the beginning of this page). In respect to the historiography of Buddhism (both traditional and contemporary) the Speculative Non-Buddhist should perhaps revise his sources more carefully, and employ a more tentative tone.

  17. Mattia Salvini said

    @ Michael Dorfman:

    *Sure, it is possible to consider yourself a Buddhist without accepting rebirth, but doing so puts you firmly at odds with the overwhelming majority of Buddhist doctrine and tradition– a plain reading of the sūtras shows that Right View (samyag-dṛṣṭi, sammā-diṭṭhi) entails a belief in rebirth. And, I’ve found nothing in my reading of Sure, it is possible to consider yourself a Buddhist without accepting rebirth, but doing so puts you firmly at odds with the overwhelming majority of Buddhist doctrine and tradition– a plain reading of the sūtras shows that Right View (samyag-dṛṣṭi, sammā-diṭṭhi) entails a belief in rebirth. And, I’ve found nothing in my reading of Nāgārjuna that indicates he thought otherwise– but if somebody has a citation, I’d be happy to reconsider. that indicates he thought otherwise– but if somebody has a citation, I’d be happy to reconsider.*

    Well, there are in fact several parts of Nāgārjuna’s writing that indicate he thought otherwise, and indicate so very strongly. I have written an article that partly analyzes that specific issue; hence I’d like to send you the link: nagaraprathama.com

    In one passage that I did not quote in my article, Nāgārjuna goes to the point of saying that those who believe in a permanent self at least get a good rebirth, while those who even deny rebirth will get a bad rebirth.

    Besides Nāgārjuna, there are a number of standard canonical presentations of Right View where it is specifically explained as firm conviction about karma and rebirth; and where Wrong View is presented as the denial of rebirth and karma.

    The last two chapters of the Mūlamadhyamakārikā, as the well an entire short text entitled Pratītyasamutpādahṛdayakārikāvyākhyānam are specifically about rebirth. Notice that the latter text is about the *heart* of dependent arising.

  18. @Mattia Salvini:

    I think you are misreading me; we are actually in agreement. I was saying that I have found nothing in my reading that would indicate that Nāgārjuna did *not* accept rebirth. If one wishes to consider oneself a Buddhist without accepting rebirth, one places oneself firmly at odds with Buddhist doctrine and tradition including Nāgārjuna.

    And, believe it or not, I actually read your article when it appeared in the TIJBS. It’s a very nice piece of work.

  19. Tom Pepper said

    Mattia Salvini,

    I am trying to work through your concerns here (I will definitely read the article you give a link to). Much of your concern, though, seems to depend on rejection of some particular epistemology, and I’m not sure what you are rejecting. I wonder if you can explain what you take to be the epistemology “which is at the basis of contemporary historical analysis”?

    Thanks,
    Tom

  20. Mattia Salvini said

    I am afraid that you are 100% right; I did misread you, and I offer my apologies for that (a very silly mistake on my part).

  21. Mattia Salvini said

    @ Tom Pepper

    What I am going to say implies a remarkable degree of simplification, but it should still work to answer your query, I do hope.

    Most academic reconstructions of the history of Buddhism start from specific presuppositions about what is humanly possible and impossible, and about the range of variability in the perception of historical events. They also do not share much in common with the Buddhist philosophical views about the prominent causal role of sentient events (citta, intentionality) in shaping even the most fundamental features of the ostensible, non-sentient world. This means that 1. the most fundamental evidence to start with in one’s reconstruction will be by default ostensible and easily shareable (i.e. epigraphy, archeology, manuscriptology and so forth); 2. to expand more technically on the previous point, the most reliable data will have to be gathered through the five senses or through tools that amplify their workings.

    Now, when we look at, say, Vaibhaa.sika Abhidharma we find that the more fundamental elements of existence are not in fact perceptible by any other sense but the mind, as they have no extension. This regards only ruupa (what is sometimes, misleadingly, translated as ‘matter’); when it comes to sentient events, they have no location (adeshastha) and no presence in space (amuurta) – the idea of analyzing them through the five senses becomes ludicrous. Hence the tools of modern science would be *in principle* incapable of detecting the presence and causal workings of those elements of existence that least depend upon our conceptual indirection. Interestingly, when scientists come up with any category of existence that is supposed to be most fundamental, such categories require a remarkable degree of theoretical indirection – which should raise some suspicion towards a system which claims to be fundamentally ‘empiricist’. The same criticism could hardly be leveled against Buddhist philosophers, inasmuch as they recognize and take on board the causal prominence of sentient processes, and concepts, in the formation of the observed data (one important link between rebirth and dependent arising).

    To highlight the differences further would require more specification – which Buddhist school are we referring to? Hence, for the moment, I leave it at that.

  22. Tom Pepper said

    Mattia Salvini,

    Yes, I think this does answer my question. You are rejecting the positivist and empiricist epistemology, so commonly portrayed as the epistemology of Western science. Of course, as you point out, scientists in the West have never actually felt the need to adhere to empiricist epistemologies–if they had, they would certainly never have made much progress. I would agree that Buddhist philosophy is absolutely incompatible with empiricism–just the understanding of mind as one of the six senses should make this obvious, yet I have read quite a few scholarly works trying to fit Buddhist thought into an empiricist mold.

    I would just suggest that epistemology tends to be most necessary in those fields of study where the status of knowledge is most in doubt. Physicists rarely bother with it, and refuse to be bothered by it, while those in the social sciences are often very devoted to theories of knowledge as a way to rule out of court ideas that they find troublesome. I would suggest that Western epistemology is far more diverse than the empiricism usually resorted to by historians, psychologists, sociologists, and others wanting to claim a scientific status for their discipline. Roy Bhaskar, for instance, is one of the most interesting thinkers in the field of epistemology, and he is insistent that “reasons can be causes.” His “critical realism” is far closer to Buddhist philosophy than any other Western school of thought I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t encountered his work, you might be interested in his book “From East to West.”

    If the field of Buddhist studies is stuck in this naive empiricism (and I would argue that what is called “radical” empiricism is even more naive than the old-fashioned positivist kind), then I don’t doubt they would never really get the point of Buddhism while they are trying to produce an “objective” history of discourses.

    Thanks,
    Tom

  23. Mattia Salvini said

    Your last remark is indeed very much to the point:

    ‘If the field of Buddhist studies is stuck in this naive empiricism (and I would argue that what is called “radical” empiricism is even more naive than the old-fashioned positivist kind), then I don’t doubt they would never really get the point of Buddhism while they are trying to produce an “objective” history of discourses.
    I am aware that within the social sciences a number of rather ‘liberal’ epistemological positions are available, and it is no taboo to bring them to the table. In fact, I know at least one case of a respectable historian who brought forth the view that history exists primarily in the mind of the historian.’

    Now, as Cakrabarty has justly remarked, those working in the field of South-Asian studies rarely do employ intellectual tools whose pedigree is not strictly European; South-Asian thought can be an object, but not a tool for one’s research. Within the field of Buddhist studies, that practically means that I could make use of Vico’s or Hegel’s ideas of history in order to assess and interpret Buddhist history, but not of Dharmakīrti or Tārānātha. This ‘prohibition’ is never explicitly stated but is implemented very punctually. It cannot be stated explicitly, since it is indefensible. It has to be punctually implemented, since otherwise (I believe) many contemporary academics would feel that they have *nothing to offer* to the study of Buddhism, when compared to a traditional scholar (whose linguistic skills and scholastic erudition and precision are rarely matched by the bulk of those working in the academia). On my part, I am afraid that such is (in many cases, although not all) very precisely the case.

  24. “Within the field of Buddhist studies, that practically means that I could make use of Vico’s or Hegel’s ideas of history in order to assess and interpret Buddhist history, but not of Dharmakīrti or Tārānātha.”

    Is that really the case? It seems to me that there are people in Buddhist Studies working with Buddhist Epistemology in some very interesting ways– Dan Arnold and Sara McClintock come immediately to mind.

  25. Mattia Salvini said

    That is in fact true; even before them, Peter Skilling has argued that using Buddhist interpretive categories is in many cases more profitable that employing the historiographical tools of modern academia (a good example being the distinction between ‘Canonical’ and ‘non-Canonical). There is even a volume, entitled ‘Buddhist Theology’, which attempts to consistently employ Buddhist conceptual tools in important theoretical debates.

    However, these remain (very welcome) exceptions. The way in which the field is formulated, the jargon that sustains it, and the curricula routinely proposed to the students are a different matter altogether. I do agree that the possibility of change is now there; however, it is hard to tell which direction it will take.

    One (rather worrisome) signal is that many Asian universities, located in Buddhist countries, are most eager to adopt the most obsolete and ‘hard-core-empiricist’ approaches to the study of Buddhism, so as to ‘modernize’ it. This is indeed a paradoxical situation, since it precludes any significant dialogue or bridge between traditional Buddhist epistemology and its representation and discussion at an academic level – which would be rather desirable within a community broadly definable as Buddhist. The paradox is even more acute when we consider that it often lives within one and the same person – as some of my own students have on occasion made abundantly clear. I said that this is rather worrisome as I believe that much of the future of the academic study of Buddhism will be in Asia.

  26. Tom Pepper said

    Regarding post 23: I don’t think it is helpful to try to put epistemological theories on a conservative-liberal spectrum; that usually just confuses the matter. Usually, those who make the claim that history is “all in the mind of the historian,” and I have also heard this claim many times, are politically very reactionary. It is a common strategy of the extreme right to claim they have the most “radical” position: absolute relativism. This prevents the left from arguing (how can you argue, if it’s all relative) and leaves everything just as it is.

  27. Mattia Salvini said

    Most definitely, I didn’t mean that appellation to denote political leanings – that is why I wrote ‘liberal’ within inverted commas. In effect, it is often leftist historians that may adhere to rather strong forms of empiricism (occasionally even with good reason, from their perspective). I meant ‘liberal’ to mean less in line with the mainstream epistemology of history adopted within the field of Buddhist studies; meaning, open to more possibilities, less ‘conservative’ in the sense of preserving the more broadly accepted and institutionalized framework.

    In fact, historians who are politically towards the left may feel very uncomfortable with historical relativism, since it may seem to open to very reactionary forms of revisionism (such as Holocaust denial and so forth). It is a complex matter; although it is in fact directly related to our discussion about scholarly decisions on this or that epistemology, a satisfactory analysis of the matter may well bring us out of topic, I’m afraid.

  28. Hallo Mattia

    I wonder if what you attempt to do here isn‘t just another try of buddhist discourse control? And I wonder if you see the irony in your first two statements # 15 and # 16 if read against the mission statement of non-buddhism?

    You begin simply with stating that your worldview is superior and from this you develop your case. I am not a buddhist scholar and I don‘t have a scientific education or any knowledge in the humanities apart from a bit of reading now and then but at least I am a thinking being, which is why I really wonder if you have read any further on this blog than the first few paragraphs of „Fanged Dialog“.

    It is not only that you dismiss something which I only can suspect – For example „contemporary scientific thought“…. what is this? Or „contemporary scientific thinking“, which you define as something which has to with a „description of the empirical world“ – It is that you seem to miss the point of non-buddhism entirely.

    If it wouldn‘t be so you couldn‘t start here with a statement of the superiority of your worldview and you would see that the „decision“ is the statement of the problem with the „description of the empirical world“.

    Buddhist discourse control (BDC) is the attempt to control what is talked about so that buddhism might escape any critical thinking (which is under the rule of BDC labeled as„wrong view“). As I understand it, non-buddhism is among other things an invitation to buddhism to sit down at the great table of knowledge with everybody else as a peer. The question is what do you have to offer? „Buddhavacana“ is, as I experience it, used as a vehicle of BDC. „The buddha said so“ and basta. I wonder how you escape the circular reasoning inherent in this sort of hermeneutics. What is it apart from a „sacred meaning“ (Rita Gross‘ emergency exit)?

    How is an original buddha word possible? In the light of what we know today about how remembrance works, in the light that meaning is context sensitive, how is it possible to transport an original meaning over 400 years until it is written down for the first time. The German historian Johannes Fried in his „Der Schleier der Erinnerung“ is making a strong case against a historiography which does not take into account the unreliability of intra- and intercerebral memory. If this plasticity of memory is a human universal how then, apart from other hermeneutical problems, can there be an original in the sense of something reproduced as identical with something other (wouldn‘t this be essentialistic?)? And which epistemology is most suitable to work with this human condition?

    I think the answer must look beyond a polarity of absolute relativism versus some kind of positivistic, empiricistic thinking.

    Kind regards, Matthias

  29. Mattia Salvini said

    Dear Matthias,

    Thank you for your interesting comments.

    I will try to answer you as clearly as I can, and I apologize in advance for any opacity in my argumentation.

    *And I wonder if you see the irony in your first two statements # 15 and # 16 if read against the mission statement of non-buddhism?*

    I do not, please elaborate on this point.

    *You begin simply with stating that your worldview is superior and from this you develop your case.*

    Where? I wonder whether you carefully read the context of my assertions.

    I am answering a specific objection, pointing out that what should really be discussed is the difference in epistemology between those contemporary Buddhist historians that argue against the Buddhavacana being, in fact, Buddhavacana, vs. the epistemologies of traditional Buddhist thought. I have mentioned that I consider the latter more reliable and cogent. The very same is implied in the argument brought forth by the Non-Buddhist’s post, except that what he considers superior is the epistemology of contemporary historical reconstruction. Inasmuch as he has offered no argumentation to assert such superiority, I do not feel obliged to do the same for my own position; I most obviously wonder why you fault me, as I have been in fact more explicit in stating my epistemological preferences, while the Non-Buddhist’s argumentation relies on a specific position without even acknowledging it. Where is the vicious circle, then?
    In fact, my whole point is that the Non-Buddhist’s assertions are based on an implicit assumption – i.e. that his own ‘scientific’ world-view is superior *basta*.

    *Buddhist discourse control (BDC) is the attempt to control what is talked about so that buddhism might escape any critical thinking (which is under the rule of BDC labeled as„wrong view“). As I understand it, non-buddhism is among other things an invitation to buddhism to sit down at the great table of knowledge with everybody else as a peer. The question is what do you have to offer? „Buddhavacana“ is, as I experience it, used as a vehicle of BDC. „The buddha said so“ and basta. I wonder how you escape the circular reasoning inherent in this sort of hermeneutics. What is it apart from a „sacred meaning“ (Rita Gross‘ emergency exit)?*

    Buddhist Discourse Control is a rather dubious hermeneutic category within which to easily subsume any reasoned argumentation which may lend results at odds with your own preferred epistemology. As many other interpretive categories, it is vague and open ended enough to be applicable to a wide variety of counter-arguments (as you have in effect just done); and in so doing, the attention is brought away from the argumentative flaws in one’s own position. It is a way to silence an opponent through a trick of mere rhetoric, strengthened further by the use of an abbreviation (BDC), which once again suggests the reliability and precision of contemporary scientific discourse, while in fact its strength is entirely in its vagueness. Your insistence on Buddhavacana is out of place here, since it was not used as an argumentative tool, but rather, I was questioning the line of argumentation that would discard the Pāli texts as being in fact Buddhavacana. You are confusing the thesis with the logical ground.

    *How is an original buddha word possible? In the light of what we know today about how remembrance works*

    I do not know who this *we* is, and most certainly I do not feel I should be forcibly included in that *we*. In the light of whatever little *I* know, I have very scarce interest in the workings of the brain, as I consider that memory, and other mental activities, can be better understood without any reference to cerebral activities. If you want to know why, it brings us to a *different* discussion, and in fact your entire paragraph is once again out of topic. The debate in my posts was about the possibility of discarding the Pāli texts as Buddhavacana on a purely philological basis, and your present comments are going in a rather different direction, whose relationship to my own posts I only partially comprehend.

    *If this plasticity of memory is a human universal how then, apart from other hermeneutical problems, can there be an original in the sense of something reproduced as identical with something other (wouldn‘t this be essentialistic?)? And which epistemology is most suitable to work with this human condition?*

    First, I do not think that such plasticity of memory is a human universal (see above). Second, the reproduction of something identical doesn’t imply essentialism *in a Madhyamaka sense at least*, since both identity and difference are contingent, hence an identical reproduction is in the very same position as a divergent reproduction. It is not the case that difference may be ‘less contingent’ than identity.

    Best regards,
    Mattia (our name is almost the same)

  30. Mattia Salvini said

    P.S.:

    You speak of inviting the Buddhist to ‘the great table of knowledge’ so that we may discuss as ‘peers’.

    Well, in this table I have already been told that some of my well-pondered-upon positions are fundamentally wrong; more precisely, that they are *irrefutably* wrong; that too, without offering *any argumentation* to corroborate such claim. To state that their wrongness is *irrefutable*, amounts to saying that I shouldn’t even bother to offer a counter argument. Since *no argumentation* is offered, the claim is based entirely on the authority and charisma of the speaker (the Non-Buddhist). Is this indeed an invitation to talk as peers? All the faults that you ascribe to the BDC are in fact faults in your own position; or to be more precise, they are constitutive features of your own jargon, where authority is derived from reference to the modern custodians of truth, ‘contemporary historians’ (which may not even find themselves adequately represented, fortunately), and the force of a position is derived from relying upon such authority, rather than from offering reasoned refutations.

    *Welcome to our table of knowledge. You may sit on that chair of nails, and eat our leftovers. If you feel uncomfortable, you most deserve it, since your epistemology is pre-modern, and since you don’t know German.*

    I can only send messages to that table from afar, but I doubt I’d sit there for a dinner (since that is *not* what I’ve been invited to).

  31. Tom Pepper said

    Mattia,

    It’s unfortunate that you feel you’ve been treated with hostility. I thought we were just having a conversation. But, you did, in post 15, say that you cannot “engage in actual discussion” with “contemporary scientific thought” because your position is so much more “sophisticated.” You are, as Matthias points out, refusing to have a discussion with those who disagree with you, then complaining that THEY are being rude.

    You really have a very inaccurate idea of what contemporary scientific thought actually is. It is not empiricist. Some historians have an overly empiricist idea of what they are doing (I think this is true of Rita Gross, at times) but most do not. What your perceive as “jargon” is, to my ears, simply ordinary English philosophical terminology–if you don’t know what these terms mean, maybe you should consider that as an indication that your knowledge of the field of contemporary thought is limited. You seem to assume everyone in the west is a positivist/empiricist, and when someone says something that is clearly not empiricist it is just empiricism in incomprehensible “jargon.”

    I, for one, would like to hear more concerning your “well pondered” position–I am assuming you are referring to the belief in the Pali canon as Buddhavacana. In what sense is it possible that these texts are all the word of the Buddha? I also would argue that it is possible that the entire canon is the word of the Buddha, but not if that has to mean the literal words spoken by a specific mortal body.

  32. Mattia Salvini said

    Tom, let me start by saying that I did not perceive hostility in your comments. I was referring to the initial post in the thread, as I shall presently try to clarify.

    I propose to go back to post #15, since I am afraid I wasn’t able to express my position with sufficient precision. I do not quite uphold some of the positions that are now used to describe my post; let me therefore expand on some points.

    The following is the first part of my post:

    *It is difficult for traditional Buddhists (like myself) to engage in actual discussion with the contemporary sciences because most (if not all) Buddhist philosophy works within a very different epistemology. I consider the latter to be more sophisticated and convincing that contemporary scientific thought, hence I am Buddhist; I also think that Buddhist epistemology is incompatible with at least some important features of contemporary scientific thinking (if science is thought to provide an accurate, or the most accurate, description of the empirical world).*

    And this is how you reconstruct my position:

    *But, you did, in post 15, say that you cannot “engage in actual discussion” with “contemporary scientific thought” because your position is so much more “sophisticated.” You are, as Matthias points out, refusing to have a discussion with those who disagree with you, then complaining that THEY are being rude.*

    I believe there is a significant inaccuracy in your reconstruction, inasmuch as it ascribes to my post a few positions that I do not uphold:

    1. “you did, in post 15, say that you cannot “engage in actual discussion” with “contemporary scientific thought”;

    I didn’t, in fact, say that I cannot; I said that ‘it is difficult’ – and I do think that to be the case. The reason it is difficult is because many such discussions happened without discussing fundamental epistemological divergences, and therefore remain philosophically superficial. There is often an assumption that the traditional Buddhist should by default accept a greater accuracy on the part of contemporary science in respect to its description of the external world, and such is the assumption that I find most problematic (especially when it is brought to bear upon historical reconstruction);

    2. “because your position is so much more “sophisticated.””.

    In fact, I haven’t given that as the *reason* for the difficulty in engaging in actual discussion. The reason I gave was the following: “because most (if not all) Buddhist philosophy works within a very different epistemology.”

    In other words, I have not said that I cannot engage in actual discussion with contemporary scientific thought because my epistemology is superior (which is how you reconstructed my position); rather, I have said that it is difficult to engage in actual discussion due to the sharply different epistemology – implying that the discussion should shift its focus towards the epistemology rather than towards specific results stemming from it. The addition – that I consider the Buddhist epistemology more sophisticated – was meant to explain the reason why I consider myself Buddhist.

    *You seem to assume everyone in the west is a positivist/empiricist, and when someone says something that is clearly not empiricist it is just empiricism in incomprehensible “jargon.”*

    I do not assume that, in fact. Please notice what I wrote, and notice the *if*:

    “(*if* science is thought to provide an accurate, or the most accurate, description of the empirical world)”.

    However, I uphold that the following assertion can only be done from within a hard-core positive/empiricist approach to history, not to say anything about a rather simplistic view of philology:

    *That premise is irrefutable. Historical study of, say, Pali canonical literature, obliterates the notion that it contains “the teachings of the Buddha.” Indeed, such study undermines the very notion of “the Buddha” as a historically recoverable figure. What we find instead of “sacred scripture” is a hodge podge of teachings that are more easily traceable to the machinations of various, and often vying, Buddhist communities.*

    This is the type of post which I find hostile, especially inasmuch as it considers it a priori impossible for someone to start from a different premise about historical reconstruction (the accepted premise is presented, let me stress this once more, as *irrefutable*).

    Regarding the possibility of the Pāli Piṭakas as representing the Buddhavacana, even in the sense of words spoken by a specific person, let me start by saying that what I feel can be proven is that it is *possible*, not certainly that is *sure*. The following points open to that possibility:

    1. memory; it is considered that those who heard the discourses were Arhats with exceptional memory. Hence, they would have been able to retain much more, and with more precision, than what an ordinary person may. Many contemporary readers have a problem with such idea; however, even ordinary people (non-Arhats) trained in more traditional scholarly environment are often able to remember large texts after having heard them just once.
    2. philology never warrants for conclusive reconstruction. The type of stratigraphy of the Pāli Canon proposed by (say) Nakamura is based on a series of assumptions and expectations about style and terminological resemblance, which require an interpretive decision at every step. They are far from conclusive evidence.
    3. the possibility of an omniscient person. This has to do with one’s understanding of the human mind, of how it cognizes its points of reference, and of how it relates to points of reference distributed within the three times. If one considers that the Buddha *could* be omniscient, one will also accept that the Buddhavacana may have features not shared by the speech of non-Buddhas.
    4. the limit of uniformity in perception. A reconstruction of the past depends also on what we understand it to be, and to what extent we consider that an event may be uniform in the perception of more than one person; if one’s position is that there is no prefect uniformity, but only co-ordination due to a similar karma, it becomes then impossible to speak of a uniform history, of the type wherein the type of exclusive and certain reconstruction proposed above becomes viable.
    5. the above only prove that *it is not impossible* that the Pāli texts may in fact be the perceived speech of a specific person on the part of a specific group of people – with the important addition that not all the words contained are traditionally considered as uttered by the Buddha, since much of it is editorial addition and regularization according to specific agreed upon conventions.
    6. since I have great trust in the oral traditions (more so than in what is set in writing), since I have witnessed to mnemonic abilities that make the idea of retaining entire volumes after one hearing more than plausible, and since I find reasoning concerning the existence of an omniscient person very convincing, I find it very much plausible (not only possible) that the Pāli texts represent much of what the Buddha was perceived to have said. I would in fact extend that to the Mahāyāna Sūtras as well, for that matter.

    Let me stress once again that my main point of contention is the idea that the type of historical reconstruction that lends to consider the Pāli texts as “a hodge podge of teachings that are more easily traceable to the machinations of various, and often vying, Buddhist communities” may be based on some “irrefutable premise”. Those premises would have to include 1. the impossibility of more than ordinary mental abilities 2. perfect uniformity in the object of perception 3. absolute reliability of textual stratigraphy 4. perfect uniformity between the present human condition and the past 5. one’s own complete mastery of not only Pāli literature, but also all the roughly contemporary Sanskrit and Prākṛt literatures (even as preserved in translation) that make the stratigraphy even possible in the first place, matched by 6. a remarkable discomfort with open-ended positions.

    Without those six premises, it is to my understanding *impossible* to uphold that the methods of contemporary reconstructions form an *irrefutable* starting point, nor would it be possible to uphold such strong and exclusive positions about the past history of Buddhism. To my mind, those premises are very much refutable.

  33. Dear Mattia

    I am surely the last one around here who should argue with you. You will defeat me in any case at our own battleground. Regarding this battleground, it is maybe impossible to discard „the Pāli texts as Buddhavacana on a purely philological basis.“ I cannot and will not argue with you about that because I simply have no glue about Pali philology. Is this then a reason for me to shut up? I don‘t think so. The topic here is at least partly the one and only true utterance of the buddha. Rita Gross attempts to take a look at the contingency of buddhist teachings but in the end she flinches and regresses back to „sacred meaning“. She leaves untouched a secret core meaning which is miraculously transmitted upon us through space and time. I step in here because I am nether bound to your area of knowledge nor to the one of Mrs. Gross and I feel invited here to ask some questions from the perspective of somebody who wants to know. The question is, how is it possible to be sure that a one and only true utterance of the buddha is transmitted orally over 400 years until it is written down for the first time? Having in mind that the manuscript record in Pali begins, to my knowledge, only at around 800 CE, we have a gap from the word of the man to the written record of about 1200 years. From what „we“ know, and with this „we“ I mean what is possible for us to know in our culture, it seems simply impossible to be sure about what happened at the time of the buddha and what his original meaning was (what does not equal to a relativistic anything-goes). I gave the example of Johannes Fried because he discusses the problem of „The Remembrance of oral cultures“ at length.

    Now regarding BDC. I don‘t think it is possible to exclude the plasticity of memory (which maybe better is named a feature of the homo sapiens then a „human universal“) from this discussion. To do so is, in my opinion, an arbitrary restriction of the topic under discussion – the topic being True Utterance and the possibility of hearing it. Maybe it is also a question of defining True Utterance. If this is the case I am happy to learn from you. As far as I am concerned this True Utterance is in a lot of cases just an obscure hermeneutic category as in the case of Mrs. Gross‘ „sacred meaning“. The attempt to narrow the field of conversation to not to endanger this „sacred meaning“ I define as BDC.

    But you are right in your critic of my use of the term because from how I introduce it, it must look like „a way to silence an opponent through a trick of mere rhetoric“. The term is a reaction to my experience with some discussions I had during the last weeks with true buddhist believers. The rhetoric they use is always motivated by the necessity not to step out of the narrow field of conversation in which the true meaning of everything is not endangered. I should mention that it is not without irony I am using the term and its abbreviation and that it is reflecting the rhetoric short hands true buddhist believers use. I will write about this in my own blog.

    I am aware of the fact that this whole issue is far more complicated then the few words here might suggest. Maybe a minimal consensus here is reachable in that nobody is interested in a reductionistic simplification of the problem field to a so called sacred meaning which says everything without saying anything. The irony I was mentioning in my post has to do with that in this discussion Buddhavacana in danger to be confused with a simple esoteric truth to which popular buddhism is reduced in the west, i.e. a sacred meaning of whatever. So in introducing yourself as a „traditional buddhist“ who makes clear at once (in broad brushes) that there is an epistemology he clearly prefers you are in danger to be misunderstood as just another x-buddhist. As I understand it you are invited here to put forward what exactly is preferable with „traditional buddhist epistemology“ above „contemporary scientific thought“.

    Best wishes, Matthias

  34. Mattia Salvini said

    Dear Matthias,

    I start understanding that our discussion has been vitiated by a juxtaposition of someone else’s position upon my own. In effect, my own proposal is rather distinct from that of Rita Gross. The reason I entered the discussion in the first place is precisely that I strongly disagree with her, and that I partly agree with the criticism leveled against her position in the initial post above. I don’t think that appealing to a trans-temporal ‘sacred meaning’ is sufficient to rescue the Pāli and Sanskrit texts as Buddhavacana, when the situation is far more complex due to the sense of the word within the Buddhist traditions themselves.

    My initial post, however, was not so ambitious, and it was referring to a specific section about certain *premises* held to be *irrefutable*. I would like to stress this point so as to eventually obtain some response on that initial concern. An assessment of the irrefutability of those premises passes by necessity through a discussion of the relationship between philology and historical reconstruction, between orality, memory and the construction of a text and so forth. An argument about the plasticity of memory may well be welcome, but let us not forget that other views about the human mind do exist, and within those views its possibilities and potentials would indeed allow for what may appear counter-intuitive to some. If you agree to have a discussion with a *different* interlocutor from yourself, you may perhaps also accept that his difference may be enough for him or her not to take research on the brain as particularly relevant on the matter. In which case, the discussion may well move on to a different level, and partly, to a different topic (i.e., epistemology) – which may bring us to a more interesting and indeed open-ended starting point. But (I repeat again and again) if one position is already considered *irrefutable* and based on the works of mysterious (unnamed) authorities, then this is far from being open-ended. Please substitute ‘God said’ with ‘historians said’, and ‘God’s word’ with ‘critical thinking’ or ‘hard thought’, and observe carefully how some of the posts start to look like.

    I have started discussing my epistemological differences in #32; please have a look at that post. However, I do not want to continue in that direction on this particular thread, since it will divert attention from my initial point of contention, which has not been properly addressed: how can you claim to offer an open table for discussion when:

    1. you held certain premises to be *irrefutable*;
    2. you appeal to vague authorities (*historians*) without even naming them and without explaining why you find that particular historical reconstruction more convincing.

    Let me expand upon this a bit:

    A category like BDC is too comprehensive and vaguely defined as to allow to include within its rubric a virtually infinite number of instances, which are accordingly discredited by an (ultimately arbitrary) attribution of intention. It means not engaging with the argumentation, avoiding an actual discussion by speculating over the interlocutor’s agenda or even mental states. This first move is dubious and forms a rather flimsy foundation for further debate; however, the weakness of the foundation is obliterated by the eloquence of the following steps, and once the castle is built everyone seems to gladly forget that it is made of cards.

    My line of argument, I insist, involved no circularity. I argued that it is not feasible to have an actual discussion when one side refuses to either explicate or offer arguments for one’s position (as it is based on *irrefutable premises*), and appeals to undefined authorities (*historians*) without even naming them (which historians? Do all historians of Pāli literature uphold the position that has been ascribed to them? And so forth; but *historians* conjures an aura of ‘critical thinking’, doesn’t it? Such is the ultimate authoritarian stance).

    I repeat once again that for a discussion to be meaningful the focus should shift from the results of a certain epistemology (the Pāli Buddhavacana was/wasn’t actually spoken by the Buddha?) to the epistemology itself. What are the philosophical premises, the view of history and of reality, the view of philology, of the human mind, and so forth, that may lead to those two conflicting results?

    Simply to state that one position is irrefutable and the other should follow suit, that one constitutes ‘hard thought’ and ‘critical thinking’, while the other is more or less consciously dogmatic, is truly circular – as it discredits the interlocutor’s position either through rhetoric qualifications (not argued for), or by ascribing intention, by superimposing an agenda that may or may not be there (BDC, which, as any other ascription of intent, can neither be proven nor refuted). However, in effect, the presence or absence of a certain agenda, besides being ultimately impossible to ascertain, doesn’t per se invalidate the cogency of the argumentations presented; this may be one of those counterintuitive and uncomfortable conclusions that an open-ended reflection may lead us to.

    This was the content and intent of my initial post.

    I do not know what are the short-hand used by X-Buddhists, as I am not even sure whether I ever met an X-Buddhist. This, to be frank, appears as another category whose usefulness I would question: once you have placed somebody as an X-Buddhist, your assessment of his/her position does not any more depend upon reading carefully the argumentations presented, but rather, from a pre-conceived notion of an agenda that such person may or may not have (which fact, I repeat once again, should be irrelevant in assessing the soundness of a position).

    I may be an X-Buddhist, or I may not be an X-Buddhist; either way, it is my argumentations and their soundness that should be at stake when you offer a counter-position or a criticism; ascription of mental states or intention is rather out of place, it is argumentatively irrelevant, and will bring the discussion into more and more vicious circles.

    If you want to break out from the present vicious circle, it may be nice of you to address my initial concern, which is: why are the initial premises of the discussion *irrefutable* and why do you offer no argumentation to support your claims about the authority of a specific historical reconstruction?

    I am aware of repeating the same point over and over again; I want to make sure that it is understood with complete clarity and that, finally, someone may address it.

    Best,
    Mattia

  35. Mattia Salvini said

    P.S.:

    Please forgive my insistence, it’s meant to clarify my own position.

    You write:

    *The rhetoric they use is always motivated by the necessity not to step out of the narrow field of conversation in which the true meaning of everything is not endangered.*

    This is an ascription of intention rather difficult to prove or refute, and as such I would say it has little argumentative value; for the following reasons:

    1. you cannot ascertain their motives to be such;
    2. even if you could, it wouldn’t invalidate their arguments.

    Regarding point two, that is a bit like someone saying ‘what you said is wrong, because you have black hair’.

    In general, I would insist that this (or any) discussion may profit from a shift of focus. Rather than speculatively ascribing intentions to one’s interlocutor (especially, intentions that the interlocutor hasn’t stated to have), rather than trying to ascertain whether the interlocutor fits within a specific discredited category (such as, X-Buddhist) or whether he or she is ‘cool’, it may be more profitable to focus on a clear comprehension of the line of argumentation, discussing its flaws when necessary, but not discussing the hypothetical and unproven mental flaws of one’s interlocutors. Otherwise, the whole discussion boils down to one question: are we cool (‘critical thinker’) or not cool (X-Buddhist)?

    All I am suggesting is a shift of focus, and a greater attention to the argumentation itself.

  36. Mattia Salvini said

    I will expand further, as I may have found a way to explain myself more clearly.

    You may consider that ‘sacred meaning’ and so forth work as rhetoric variables for something in principle beyond the pale of reasoned discussion, and you may well be right. Let me add that such is not the mode of traditional Buddhist scholasticism, nor have I appealed to any such categories in my argumentation (or please show me where I have, and I shall regret it).

    However, categories such as the ‘obvious’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘irrefutable premise’, ‘hard thought’, ‘science’ are equally vague and carry out a similar rhetoric function. In a way, my criticism to (some of) the content in this thread is that it is very close to the undesirable position it wishes to criticize. On one hand, you seem to acknowledge that historians and scientists work within a field which is open to discussion and which contains a number of divergent positions; at the same time, you speak of ‘historians’ and ‘critical thinking’ in very generalized terms when calling upon those categories to lend authority to an argument (a good example being the argument against the Pāli Tipiṭaka being Buddhavacana). When I question the soundness of an exclusive position about the history of Buddhism by questioning the writer’s appeal to philology, the answer is ‘I don’t know about philology, but I still want to offer my opinion.’ But then, why start by stating an exclusive (irrefutable) position, which is based on philology after all? This is all the more puzzling, as the initial position and its defense are distributed between two speakers; the second speaker defends the first, who stated one’s premises to be irrefutable, while at the same time admitting no knowledge of the field that lends authority to those premises. Shouldn’t I be at least confused by such procedure?

    This reliance upon undefined authority is made even less convincing by how your opponents are discredited through an ascription of intent, which (see above) is at one time arbitrary and irrelevant.

    You may find this assessment rather uncharitable, but I do hope you will consider whether it may be utterly off the mark; if you think it is and you can argue for it, I’d be extremely happy to be proven wrong.

  37. Dear Mattia

    Very good point. In #35 you state buddhist discourse control is „an ascription of intention rather difficult to prove or refute“. As you seem very interested in this interpretive category I should give an example of BDC. But first, of course you are right that it is no good strategy to ascribe to somebody a wrong mental state to defeat his argument. I would say it is not totally impossible to speculate about the intention and the state of mind somebody is in. But, if at all, this is always only possible via the performance of a person. Unfortunately you pick just the one statement where I indeed speculate about the motivation of the speaker. In the paragraph above the one you choose to take your citation from, I „define“ buddhist discourse control as „the attempt to narrow the field of conversation to not to endanger the „sacred meaning“. (#33) I will elaborate on this elsewhere but it should be clear that I am talking about people acting, performing, in a certain manner.

    Now, you take a certain citation from what I wrote to make a case against me. i.e. I am speculating about your mental state rather than to put forward arguments. Regrettably you use this short handed hypothesis for the rest of your postings to argument against all and everything. For example in #34 you use the same line of reasoning – „avoiding [via the BDC category] an actual discussion by speculating over the interlocutor’s agenda or even mental states“ – as an argument against the „irrefutable“ premise you or so strongly opposing. What do you do here? You are not only constructing a case from the little I said about it against the category of buddhist discourse control, you are also conflating your short hand hypothesis with something another speaker says, namely Glenn‘s „irrefutability“. What ensues with such acting on your side is simply confusion.

    Ok, please remember that I didn‘t enter the discussion mainly because of your argumentation against Glenn‘s position but because I was wondering if you read anything else in this blog than the first few paragraphs of „Fanged Dialog“. Now seeing you elaborating your position more and more it seems to me as if you really have no clue at all about the argumentation which is developed here. Or, if you know about it, I must admire your bravery writing down here in #32 the six points about the possibility of buddhavacana because they are so exceptionally weak. However this may be, you simply ignore the material on this blog. It would be very interesting, for example, to hear what you have to say about „reflexivity“ in the non-buddhistic sense vs. your „great trust in the oral traditions“. Or what is with „the possibility of an omniscient person“ vs. the main question non-buddhism puts forward: „Shorn of its transcendental representations, what might Buddhism offer us?“

    This said, you see I don‘t have to speculate about your intention or your mental state. Instead I can see your action, your performance, which consists the more you write of the generation of confusion and the ignoring of literally everything which is developed on this site. These two strategies belong to the weaponry of buddhist discourse control.

    Sadly this also occludes one of your main points that „a discussion to be meaningful the focus should shift from the results of a certain epistemology […] to the epistemology itself.“ (#34) This is the ironic indeed, because, as I understand it, what non-buddhism does, is exactly this: It works with epistemology itself. Look at Glenn‘s text „Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism“ and what he has to say about „decision“: „Decision is, given its specifically Buddhist terms and the representations that ensue from those terms, always, already, and only a buddhistic understanding of the world.“ (p.6)

    At last, let me point you to a text which is very interesting in regard of your main interest hear. „Who‘s buddhism is truest?“ by Linda Heuman. You will find it on the tricycle-website. She discusses the findings of the Early Buddhist Manuscript Project which is under the guidance of Richard Salomon, professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist studies at the University of Washington. You will know better then me what this project is about. Those old manuscripts written on birch bark, buried in Gandhara some two-thousand years ago. Heuman quotes Collett Cox, also professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist studies at the University of Washington: „We might have to accept that from the very beginning there were various accounts of his teachings, different sutras, and different versions of sutras transmitted in different areas. At the very beginning we might have a number of different sources, all of whom represent or claim to represent the teaching of the Buddha.“ And she quotes Oskar von Hinüber, which she names one of the world’s leading scholars of Pali: “Nobody holds the view of an original canon anymore.”

    Kind regards, Matthias

  38. Mattia Salvini said

    Dear Matthias,

    Thank you for your comment.

    My confusion may indeed be complete, as I fail to understand how your present comment succeeds in addressing the point that I have asked time and again to be clarified. I have not stated that it is impossible to quote a specific position on the history of Buddhism, to endorse it and argue from that basis (as you seem to be doing by referring me to Linda Heuman’s article, which I have read, and with which I strongly disagree). As to conflating several bloggers’ positions (such as yours and the Non-Buddhist), it is intentional, as none of the bloggers has after all decided to answer my query/objection, implicitly endorsing the Non-Buddhist position.

    The overall content of this forum/blog interests me only to a point, and to be frank you are perfectly right in your assessment of my limited reading of the same. I have read only hear and there, true. I doubt that I shall read much more (time is limited).

    I have asked one question, about a very specific point, which even your last comment does not directly address. Providing a link to a certain historical reconstruction, and naming a specific scholar does not answer my question as to why the Non-Buddhist may state certain premises to be *irrefutable* and not explicate which type of historical reconstruction he is referring to, as well as – why. You may do it for him (implicitly endorsing his position), but that still doesn’t answer my question.

    As to my 6 points, you characterize them as weak, but I see no trace of reasoned argumentation against them, except for a series of suggestions like ‘read this, read that’. Weaker as they may be, you offer me no reason whatsoever to abandon them.

    They remain, nonetheless, an aside. My query remains unanswered, and you are strengthening my impression that the form of discussion fostered in this forum is far from open-ended.

    I have read here and there, though, and here is an example of the the type of statements that I find:

    ‘As you say, in so many words, my question here is that, if, in the end, Buddhism comes out unscathed after all of this discussion about the relationship between history and tradition, what’s the point, the value, of discussion? The goal of genuine dialogue, for me anyway, can never be to preserve the status quo. Dialogue must risk destruction.’

    The above paragraph is a masterpiece – of close-minded dogmatism. Either a discussion lends your expected result or (regardless of anything else that may happen within it), it is not even worth beginning. Let me be more precise:

    *As you say, in so many words, my question here is that, if, in the end, Buddhism comes out unscathed after all of this discussion about the relationship between history and tradition, what’s the point, the value, of discussion?*

    This is a rather puzzling question, as it shows that you enter the dialogue with a very precise expectation about its result (i.e., either not honestly, or unaware of your own self-contradiction). We are supposed to have a discussion where the result is open-ended, but if the result doesn’t correspond to your expectations (‘scathing’ Buddhism), you dismiss the dialogue as pointless. It is therefore obvious that you have already decided about your conclusions, which therefore cannot take into any serious account the opponent’s positions and argumentation. Is that your idea of a ‘dialogue’? How can you expect that anyone will feel ‘welcome’ in a discussion with you, when you are explicitly stating that either it goes as per your wishes, or it is pointless?

    *The goal of genuine dialogue, for me anyway, can never be to preserve the status quo.*

    That a dialogue lends a certain result doesn’t necessarily mean that the goal of that dialogue was that result; hence, this is hardly a valid criticism of Rita Gross (since it passes, once again, through an arbitrary ascription of intention). We may start discussing a certain position and our discussion may confirm the validity of that position; that doesn’t entail that the discussion was biased or that its goal was to preserve the initial position. All your criticism depends upon a very specific and pre-conceived notion of the ‘real intent’ in your interlocutors’ argumentation, which most definitely is not a healthy premise for a dialogue; since, your opponents end up being nothing more than type-cast characters in a play you’ve already written, down to the smallest detail.

    It seems hardly plausible that you may not be able to understand this simple principle, considering that you appear to be capable of significant eloquence and intellectual sophistication. I have therefore ample reason to be puzzled at an attitude that appears to be inconsistent and dogmatic. What you are stating could be rephrased as follows:

    ‘I am the Speculative Non-Buddhist. I will enter a dialogue with you, but if its result is not to damage to your own position, our dialogue has no value’.

    This, in fact, could be your manifesto.

    Best,
    Mattia

  39. Mattia Salvini said

    P.S.:

    You wrote:

    *This said, you see I don‘t have to speculate about your intention or your mental state. Instead I can see your action, your performance, which consists the more you write of the generation of confusion and the ignoring of literally everything which is developed on this site. These two strategies belong to the weaponry of buddhist discourse control.*

    I am afraid this reconstruction doesn’t work, and I shall explain why I think so.

    You perceive confusion in my argumentation: namely, that I conflate an argument using BDC with the Non-Buddhist’s argument about irrefutable premises and so forth. You also noticed that I haven’t read much of the material on the site. From that, you conclude that I have not only one strategy, but two. I do not see how you could describe my (supposed) confusion and ignorance as ‘strategies’ without ascribing a specific intention. Please explain.

    You would have had a series of other options available when responding to what you perceive as confusion and ignorance in my writing.

    The first would have been to state that you do not see the relation between BDC and the Non-Buddhist’s argument about irrefutable premises and so forth, and you could have asked me to explain why I juxtaposed them. Rather, you assumed to already know the answer, and this answer depended on my intention, supposedly belonging to a larger strategy. *Had you asked me* I would have answered that 1. BDC does not figure in my basic argument (re-read the post please) and 2. I included it in an expanded discussion because other posts in the thread convince me that it is indeed relevant.

    That was the first possibility.

    The second possibility would be to point out that there is confusion in my argumentation, without further describing such confusion as ‘strategy’. You should allow for the possibility of my presenting a flawed argument without the intention to do so (it happens, and it is not a matter of strategy, it is called a ‘mistake’).

    The possibility you chose goes by necessity through an ascription of intention and, for that matter, a very speculative one; which also has the distinctive (rhetoric) advantage of ascribing me not only intention, but fundamentally malevolent and dishonest intention – since you are implying that I *purposely* mixed up two unrelated issues in order to pursue an unhealthy agenda. Or perhaps, that I suffer from that mild schizophrenia that you may describe as ‘cognitive dissonance’, and therefore my words are bound to a subconscious dishonest agenda without any conscious intention on my part. (I’m well-meaning, but mentally ill?)

    Regarding my not reading much of the rest of the blog – trust me, it is not strategy. My interest is limited to offering a response to what I perceived was a rather unfair manner of argumentation regarding a very specific instance. I feel far from obliged to acquaint myself with the entirety of the site’s apparatus, and I don’t think it bears upon the present discussion.

    All of this, once again, is not directly related to the main point I have tried to obtain a response about. Since you never directly comment upon the Non-Buddhist’s position on irrefutable premises and the authority of ‘historians’, must I take it that you agree with that position?

    Best,
    Mattia

  40. Dear Matti

    This is becoming a bit silly, isn‘t it?

    Grab yourself a beer and relax.

    Best wishes, Matthias

  41. Mattia Salvini said

    Thank you Matthias,

    that does clarify all my doubts.

    May you also have a nice day,

    Best,

    Mattia

  42. […] intersection of religion and science reminded me of the very odd article/blog post called “Fanged Dialog” which begins, “All X-Buddhisms are incapable of genuinely conversing with the sciences […]

  43. […] reader may well wish to consult Glenn Wallis’ two posts: X-Buddhistic Hallucination, and Fanged Dialogue for additional critical tools. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 852 other followers

%d bloggers like this: