Is The Dharma a reified account of things—mind, self, causality, world? Or is it a metaphorical model? The former arrogates authority to itself; it has the first and final word. The latter eagerly awaits upgrades to its explanatory power, even to the point of its very displacement.
If x-buddhism offers a reified account, what are we to do with one of that account’s central tenets: contingency (paticcasamuppada), or what Hume called the “collocations of conditions”? For, doesn’t this tenet call into question the very notion of The Dharma—of, that is, an authoritative account of things? Why would x-buddhists bemoan this demotion of The Dharma from conclusive account to metaphorical model? For, as Tom Pepper says in the essay that follows,
If we are content to accept that everything is the result of conditions, and that our explanation will never be final, our knowledge never complete, then we have not a problem but an opportunity.
Taking advantage of such an opportunity, of course, requires x-buddhists to form a radical new relationship to The Dharma. Ironically, this new relationship would be one that more closely honors their own doctrine of contingency. For as a “final level of explanation, we must imbue [The Dharma] with intention and essence”—an irreconcilable contradiction of the tenet of contingency.
Why do x-buddhists resist this final embrace of contingency? Why are they more like Hume than Nagarjuna, as Pepper shows, in refusing to follow their own hard-won insight wherever it might take them? What role does ideology-blindness play in this refusal?
A final irony struck me in reading Pepper’s essay. X-buddhists—particularly Secular Buddhists and Mindfulness para-Buddhists—are anxious to enlist science in their quest for validation of The Dharma. The irony: they seek to further reify their account on the authority of a perishable model.
Nagarjuna, Hume, and the God Particle
Western Buddhists are usually quick to appropriate any new scientific news, invariably taking imprecise popular-press accounts of the latest discovery and pressing it into service as evidence of some purported ancient Eastern wisdom. So, one can imagine the discovery of the Higgs boson particle being put to such use fairly soon in the pages of Tricycle or in Alan Wallace’s next book. Maybe it will demonstrate that science has finally proven the ancient mystical truth of the “substrate consciousness,” or perhaps it will be called on to demonstrate the scientific truth of dependent origination or impermanence.
I am not about to make any such claim. The “science has finally demonstrated the ancient Buddhist wisdom” approach is always a mistake. Read the rest of this entry »