Early Buddhist Metaphysics by Noa Ronkin
(Routledge) This book provides a philosophical account of the
major doctrinal shift in the history of early Theravada
tradition in India: the transition from the earliest
stratum of Buddhist thought to the systematic and
allegedly scholastic philosophy of the Pali Abhidhamma
movement. Conceptual investigation into the development
of Buddhist ideas is pursued, thus rendering the
Buddha's philosophical position more explicit and
showing how and why his successors changed it. Entwining
comparative philosophy and Buddhology, the author probes
the Abhidhamma's shift from an epistemologically
oriented conceptual scheme to a metaphysical woridview
that is based on the concept of dhamma. She does so in
terms of the Aristotelian tradition and vis-a-vis modern
philosophy, exploiting Western philosophical literature
from Plato to contemporary texts in the fields of
philosophy of mind and cultural criticism. This book not
only demonstrates that a philosophical inquiry into the
conceptual foundations of early Buddhism can enhance our
understanding of what philosophy and religion are qua
thought and religion; it also shows the value of fresh perspectives for traditional
Combining philosophically rigorous investigation and Buddhological research criteria, Early Buddhist Metaphysics fills a significant gap in Buddhist scholarship's treatment of the conceptual development of the Abhidhamma.
Noa Ronkin received her PhD from the University of Oxford. She is currently a lecturer in the Introduction to the Humanities Programme and a Research Fellow at the Center for Buddhist Studies, Stanford University. Her research interests include a range of issues associated with Indian Theravada Buddhist philosophy and psychology, the Abhidhamma tradition and comparative Indian philosophy.
The question of how and why the Buddha's first teachings resulted in something quite different, namely, the dhamma, spawns a host of subsidiary queries: is it possible to trace the distinct phases of the conceptual transition from the earliest Buddhist teaching, through the Abhidhamma literature and up to the later Theravadin commentarial tradition? What motivated the Abhidhammikas in this process of change? Even if we are entitled to characterize the Abhidhamma as a `scholastic' movement, does its scholastic orientation imply that it is bound to embody a complete misreading of the 'original' teaching? To what extent did the canonical Abhidhamma genuinely become 'removed in spirit' from early Buddhist teaching and why? What, then, is the place of soteriology within the Abhidhamma framework?
My inquiry into these questions is based on the Pali canonical texts, several paracanonical works and the Atthakatha. In what follows by 'early Abhidhamma' I mean the Abhidhamma-pitaka, particularly the Dhammasangani, the Vibhanga and the Patthana. By 'later', 'mature' or 'developed Abhidhamma' I intend what is referred to in the Atthakatha the Visuddhimagga and two of the primary Abhidhamma manuals, — the Abhidhammavatara and the Abhidhammatthasañgaha. The Petakopadesa, Nettippakarana, Milindapanha, Buddhavamsa and the Patisambhidamagga — para-canonical works whose role in the establishment of the dhamma theory is appraised in Chapter 3 — I regard as transitional texts that reflect the canonical Abhidhamma's formative period. Any investigation into the doctrinal development of the tradition ancestral to the Theravada must take into account the contemporary Brahmanical backdrop against which it arose and the challenges posed by its rival Buddhist schools. Alongside the Pali sources I therefore use throughout this study such texts as the Upanisads, the Nyayasatra, the Vaisesikasutra and works of the grammatical Vyakarana literature, and also look into relevant sources that summarize the views of the Northern Sarvastivada Vaibhasika and Sautrantika schools, as these often highlight distinctive features of the Theravadin position and clarify difficulties of interpretation.
Buddhological literature is replete with discussions of the difficulties associated with the assessment of the early phase of Buddhist literature, and a number of attempts have been made at compiling a detailed chronology of the evolution of the Pali texts. While our understanding of the texts have certainly profited from these attempts, they have not been able satisfactorily to provide a comprehensive chronological stratification either of the earliest phase of Buddhist literature as represented by the Vinaya-pitaka and the four primary Nikayas (along with certain other smaller texts associated with them), or of its second broad phase as documented in the para-canonical texts and the Abhidharma literature. I do not wish to enter the methodological, historical and philological maze surrounding this area of Buddhist studies, for my concerns in the present study are elsewhere. Following the commonly accepted, preliminary relative chronology of the Pali sources mentioned above, I shall adopt here the view that while the later works belonging to the second broad phase of Buddhist literature contain much that is apparently new and distinctive to a particular tradition ancestral to the Theravada, they also contain a fair amount of material that is still part of the common heritage and earliest stratum of Buddhist thought as found in the Nikayas (and Agamas).
To make headway in understanding early Buddhism we might as well benefit from a stratification of the ideas and concepts contained in the Pali texts rather than of the texts alone. Thus although linguistic and historical concerns form a 1 necessary part of this inquiry, what I have set out to do here is pursue a conceptual investigation into the development of Buddhist ideas, assuming first that Buddhism and philosophy are comparable and commensurate, and second that such an investigation must, at times, overstep the textual sources and involve philosophical reconstruction. For instance, when I characterize in Chapter 2 the Buddha's teaching as process philosophy, or when I state in Chapter 4 that the canonical and post-canonical Abhidhamma is concerned with the problems of the intension and extension of individuation respectively, I do not thereby claim that this is what the ancient Buddhists ultimately had in mind, nor that this is how we ought to understand their position. Rather, I offer a possible reading of the development of Buddhist conceptual thought, which makes sense of it in the light of our knowledge of the history of philosophy, while preserving its unique, context-sensitive features. Since my analysis is concerned with the Theravada views of issues that reside in between the terrains of epistemology and soteriology, philosophy of language, phenomenology of time and consciousness, metaphysics and ontology, these concerns require us briefly to address the question of the place of philosophy in Buddhist thought.
Reflecting on this subject, D. Seyfort Ruegg observes that in deciding whether Buddhist teaching is genuinely philosophical, much will depend on what we think philosophy is about. Representing itself as therapeutic and soteriological, Buddhism is not essentially philosophical if 'philosophy' denotes but analysis of concepts, language and meaning As a teaching prescribing a path to the cessation of dukkha, Buddhism has had to develop a soteriological method that is theoretically intelligible and satisfying, and hence within its framework soteriology and epistemology are interconnected. In line with Ruegg's view, this study assumes that Buddhist thought — albeit irreducible to any single philosophy — can be meaningfully described as philosophical in the sense that philosophical thinking comprises a major part of its procedures and mindset, and that this philosophical dimension is heuristically necessary in the study of Buddhism.
Weaving Buddhology with comparative philosophy, in addition to the Buddhist and Brahmanical sources I rely on Western philosophical literature from its Greek origins up to contemporary texts pertaining to analytic philosophy, philosophy of mind and cultural criticism. This eclecticism is intentional and methodologically motivated: here I follow Bimal Krishna Matilal's apprehension of the study of classical Indian philosophy vis-à-vis analytic philosophy as exemplifying the inseparable relation between philosophical theory and Indian thought. Drawing on a wide range of both classical Indian and Anglo-American literary sources, Matilal's work shows that through the study of such diverse literature and by giving the Indian material a genuine prospect of informing contemporary philosophical discussions, one can become immersed in the process of reinterpreting the values and the fundamental concepts of one's own culture or tradition, thus revealing its mechanisms of self-awareness and approaching a critical, deeper understanding of the culture itself, perhaps from the inside.
As for comparative philosophy, this is still in a formative stage and the `comparative method' is far from being a completed project. Comparative studies, and such studies of Western and Indian philosophies specifically, are abundant in discussions of the problems of the comparative method and the various questions involved in it. These include such questions as whether there is a common ground for comparing Western and Indian philosophical-religious traditions and a universal medium through which they can communicate; whether revealing similarities between the two respective traditions is possible only at the cost of obliterating their different contexts, thus of misconstruing their doctrines; whether overemphasizing each tradition's particular context does not lead one into yielding to the danger of conceptual relativism; whether we can understand, and if so to what extent, the Indian statements by drawing on Western philosophy, or what the study of Indian thought means if it leaves us without the guidance of Western terminology.
This study presupposes that the questions of philosophy and their treatments by various traditions transcend considerations of time and place, and hence that there is, indeed, a basis for a cross-cultural comparison of such traditions as twentieth-century Western scholarship and early Buddhism. Still, we should bear in mind that the comparative method is not an end in itself. As Wilhelm Halbfass captures this point:
If 'comparative philosophy' is supposed to be philosophy, it cannot just be the comparison of philosophies. It cannot be the objectifying, juxtaposing, synoptic, comparative investigation of historical, anthropological data. Comparative philosophy is philosophy insofar as it aims at self-understanding. It has to be ready to bring its own standpoint, and the conditions and the horizon of comparison itself, into the process of comparison which thus assumes the reflexive, self-referring dimension which constitutes philosophy.
Cross-cultural comparisons frequently prove to have limited heuristic value. Every comparison ends with the vexing question 'So what if X and Y are similar/ different in such-and-such respects?', and comparative philosophy should be able to answer that question. This is possible if we are willing to examine our conceptual distinctions that foster the conditions of the very act of comparison. The customary guiding method in dealing with non-Western texts has been to ask to what extent these texts solve our philosophical problems. This question, however, reads into the texts those issues by which the investigator is already seized and generates answers that depend upon his or her cultural determinants. Comparative philosophy should therefore reformulate the question and ask instead to what extent non-Western texts suggest that we should be asking different philosophical questions. 'By asking this latter question', Henry Rosemont stresses, 'comparative philosophers can hope to revitalize philosophy in general by articulating alternative conceptual frameworks, showing how, why and that they make sense; and by so doing begin to develop a new conceptual framework that embodies the insights from a multiplicity of cultures, which can assist the ongoing work of human and biological scientists to solve the puzzles of what it is to be a human being' .28 We must constantly acknowledge the fact that our definitions and presuppositions may not be directly applicable to the Buddhist conceptual infrastructure. The comparative method can then turn terminological and conceptual ambiguities to its advantage by utilizing them to make sense of Buddhist thought and in its mirror to call into question our habitual categories and presuppositions that shape our approach to human experience and its relation to the environment. Comparative philosophy may thus become illuminating and innovative if it turns into a means to gaining self-awareness and novel insights into the nature of philosophy and religion qua thought and religion.
We are now able to describe our research topic more accurately. Although the Buddha is recorded as claiming to have no interest in purely theoretical questions because they are not conducive to nibbana, this does not necessarily mean that he rejects metaphysical questions, or that in his teaching there is hardly any of what we may nowadays call a philosophy. Setting aside certain matters as unexplained itself has philosophical significance, for in philosophy, semantics and pragmatics the principle of relevance is recognized as essentially philosophical.29 As will be shown, despite the Buddha's silence on ontological matters he clearly had a distinctive epistemology, subject to the constraints of which there followed, if only implicitly, a particular kind of metaphysics, and indeed a radical one. Subsequent 1 generations continued to grapple with the Buddha's heritage and to elaborate on his teaching, teasing out from it a clearer albeit different metaphysical theory, and stratifying it with conceptual realism. This process, as we shall see throughout this book, is evidenced in the canonical Abhidhamma literature. Yet despite the Abhidhamma's gradual movement towards reification of terms and concepts, we i will see that in its early period it remained epistemologically geared, and that if a realist ontology is to be found in Theravadin thought then this is a post-canonical development derivative from the commentarial systematization of the earlier teachings.
Moreover, when dealing with the Theravadin mindset one contends with an ontology remarkably different from its customary construal in Western tradition. In the Theravadin arena ontology is bound up with what we may provisionally call psychology, and although it is concerned with what and how things really are, this reality is not necessarily external. Ontology here is grounded in a conceptual scheme that lacks the postulate of transcendence and holds a special place for the concept of kamma, that is, a particular kind of mentality, one's 'act of will' or intention (cetana). This means not only that the real is not necessarily external, but also that what something is could be equated with how it acts and what it does, and that the criteria of truth of ordinary judgements about what is real are rooted in one's consciousness. Rather similar views are nowadays acceptable to Western mind and are even dominant among philosophical circles that, following such figures as Wittgenstein, Heidegger or Quine, endorse behaviouristic, pragmatic and holistic approaches to knowledge, meaning and existence. These views, though, sprang up at a very late stage in the history of Western thought and have been accompanied by a sense of philosophical crisis. They were anticipated by Kant (although he retains the picture of philosophy as an architectonic scheme providing a framework for inquiry in the form of a theory of knowledge), but gained importance as late as the nineteenth century and became dominant only in the twentieth century. The philosophical crisis they induce is connected with the rise of post-modernism, the deconstructionist criticism and the demise of foundational epistemology. These movements are regarded as offensive to the philosophical quest for commensurate truth and to rationality as a whole, because they dismiss both the idea of knowledge as an assemblage of accurate representations of an objective reality and the notion of apodictic philosophy as picking out the foundations of knowledge. Now throughout this study by 'Western philosophy' or 'Western thought' I mean the classical European tradition that dominated until the end of the eighteenth century. For this tradition epistemology as the foundational discipline of philosophy was thought to be distinct from psychology, and the idea that the world contains mind-independent entities, properties and relations was central to any ontological account of the real. Aligning this line of development in Western thought with the Theravada thought-world may clarify that what the earliest Buddhist teaching offers is a deflationary notion of knowledge (albeit such that avoids a philosophical crisis or a sense of a threatening conceptual vacuum that needs to be filled), whereas what the Abhidhamma Promulgates in response to this radical position is a more commonsensical view —Pragmatic at first, and later, in the post-canonical period, a representational model of knowledge and an ensuing psychological ontology. We shall elaborate on this issue in Chapters 4 and 5 while discussing the Abhidhamma conception of dhamma and its following metaphysics of mind.
It has become widely accepted to present the history of Buddhist thought as a struggle to come to terms with an account of one's experience based on a conceptual infrastructure that does not presuppose an underlying substantial core unifying that experience. According to this portrayal, the history of Buddhist thought is the history of a continuing debate over the construction of reality and the self in substantial terms. The Buddha presents a vision of human experience as a transitory array of phenomena that are not held together by any underlying substrate. The Abhidharma's account of this experience, by contrast, is based on the notion of ultimate, self-sufficient elements, that is, dharmas. Madhyamaka thought is then seen as a watershed in the history of Buddhist ideas: Nagarjuna's notion of emptiness (sunyata) demonstrates the logical impossibility of the Abhidharma ontological realism, and shows that the Buddha taught that everything was indeterminate and empty of its own-existence. Finally, the Yogacara is said to have returned to a positive account of reality, although from the perspective of idealism and based on the workings of the mind, as embodied by the idea of 'store consciousness' (alaya-vijnana) entertained in the works of Vasubandhu. This general portrayal illustrates that the development of Buddhist thought hinges upon a long-lasting debate regarding the tradition's notion of the term dhamma, its signification, and of what its true nature and its ontological status are. As Richard Gombrich has suggested, 'the development of a Buddhist ontology, perhaps contrary to the Buddha's intentions, might be traced through considering how the word dhamma is used'. This consideration underlies Chapter 2. I wish to take this idea one step further, though, and claim that the concept of dhamma lies at the core of a major metaphysical shift undergone by Buddhist thought during the period of the formation and fixation of the Abhidhamma. To make headway in comprehending the changing Abhidhamma doctrines they must be viewed in the light of this metaphysical shift.
What happened during this transitional period in the history of Theravadin thought is that the Abhidhammikas — in their attempt to elaborate on the Buddha's teaching (Dhamma), to construct it in theoretical terms and to provide an all-inclusive systematization of its set of truths and principles (dhammas) — inclined towards contemplating these principles as determined particulars, and in due course as primary elements (dhammas). They thus put more emphasis on the nature and status of the events constitutive of one's conscious experience as taught by the Buddha, rather than on how the consciousness process as a whole operates. As Rupert Gethin notes with reference to the transition from using the singular form dhamma to the plural dhammas, [T]he relationship between dhamma and dhammas has been insufficiently examined by modern scholarship. This is in part the result of a tendency to view dhammas as the exclusive domain of the later Abhidhamma literature, both canonical and commentarial. The assumption is that the dhammas of the Abhidhamma constitute a scholastic elaboration somewhat removed in spirit and time from the 'original' dhamma of the Buddha.
Contemporary scholars have construed the major difference between the Buddha's teaching and the Abhidhamma in terms of a shift from how to what: from a concern with how one knows and how one experiences one's world, to asking what there is in the world. Gombrich has thus indicated that the consistency of the Buddha's interest in 'how' rather than in 'what' gains weight by his emphasis on physical and mental processes rather than on objects, as well as by his dismissal of ontological matters. Along the same line of thought, Sue Hamilton has suggested that the analysis of the human being into five khandhas is not an analysis of what the human being consists of, but of the processes or events by which one's experience is constituted and which one needs to understand.35 Yet what are those phenomena — those physical and mental processes — that the Buddha discusses? They are all knowable phenomena as presented in consciousness; they are dhammas. Hence, the shifting emphasis from 'how' to 'what' and the growing interest in ontology hinge, first and foremost, upon the concept of dhamma.
This means that at the kernel of what is perhaps the most striking doctrinal transition in the history of Theravadin thought and in the development of early Indian Buddhism in general, underlying the supposedly degenerative and scholastic character of the Abhidhamma, lies the tradition's changing outlook of the nature of a dhamma: of what it means to be a specific dhamma. This question is crucial to the objective of the present monograph and will be pursued throughout the following chapters.
Chapter 1 delineates the historical and doctrinal backdrop of the rise of the various Abhidharma schools: it surveys the contemporary intellectual milieu during the transitional period from the Nikaya mindset to the institutionalized tradition ancestral to the Theravada, advancing the prevalent scholarly accounts of the evolution of the Pali Abhidhamma and its literary genre.
Assuming that at the heart of the doctrinal transition from the first teachings of the Buddha to the canonical Abhidhamma lies a shift in the tradition's construal of the concept of dhamma, Chapter 2 explores the development of this concept and the formation of the dhamma theory. Examining the evolution of this theory along with two of its closely related doctrines — the doctrine of atomism and the doctrine of momen tartness — this chapter shows that the major doctrinal shift in the history of early Buddhism is best understood in terms of a change in epistemological attitude and metaphysical foundation. Specifically, I find that the Abhidhamma theoreticians drew from the Buddha's epistemological position a metaphysical outlook that fostered a shift from analysing conscious experience in terms of processes to analysing it in terms of events, that is, from process to event metaphysics. The operative conceptual scheme implicit in the Buddha's teachings, which I identify with the concept of dhamma as a psycho-physical process, is thus replaced in the early Abhidhamma with the understanding of a dhamma qua an event as analytical primitive.
Chapter 3 focuses on the Theravadin shifting apprehension of the term sabhava, a key concept in the evolution of Buddhist doctrinal thought, from its earliest occurrences in the para-canonical texts to its elaboration in the Atthakatha and the sub-commentaries. Drawing on the recognition that the doctrine of sabhava cannot sensibly be isolated from the evolving dhamma theory and its underlying metaphysical shift, I show that the overall treatment of the concept of sabhava attests to the Theravadins' concern with matters of epistemology and language rather than of ontology, and that such an interest in ontology arose relatively late and was desultory rather than systematic.
Chapter 4 further investigates the Abhidhamma metaphysical vision. I identify the dhamma theory as centred on the individuation of one's conscious experience, and examine its application within the Abhidhamma event-based analysis of the consciousness process (citta-vithi). Discussing the Vaisesika and the early Grammarians' notions of definition and categorization as sources that are likely to have influenced the Abhidhamma dhamma theory, I clarify in what way the Theravadin conception of ontology is suffused with language and psychology. The chapter concludes with an appraisal of the Abhidhamma's growing interest in the individuation of nibbana, thus accounting for the post-canonical, fourfold dhamma typology.
Chapter 5 deals with another major aspect of the doctrinal transition undergone by early Buddhist thought, namely, the development of the Buddhist notion of causation. Having presented the doctrine of dependent co-arising (paticcasamuppada) as an account of causation that relies on the concept of kamma, I investigate the transition from this early doctrine to the Abhidhamma's complex theory of relations of causal conditioning (paccaya) as represented in its seventh book, the Patthana, showing that this theory is not about causation at all but rather forms an integral part of the overarching project of the individuation of the mental.
The book concludes with a reappraisal of the philosophical implications and tenability of the Abhidhamma's metaphysical vision, pointing to its weaknesses and to `proto-Madhyamika elements' in the Buddha's teaching.
Let's reconsider the developed Abhidhamma metaphysical enterprise as embodied in the dhamma theory. Is it tenable? Is it possible adequately to account for the individuality of events? Might not the very notion of individuation be circular? The foregoing study has shown that the post-canonical Abhidhamma projects a philosophy of substantiality without substance, or rather smuggles substantiality into process metaphysics. But such an enterprise is, first, at odds with the earliest Buddhist teaching and, second, suffers from several grave weaknesses.
To begin with, the Abhidhamma's categorial preference for the dhammas is dubious. The canonical Abhidhamma claims that the dhammas, and only they, are primary individuals in the sense of particular-distinction, namely, that they are the absolutely primary objects of reference, analysis and distinction. The post-canonical Abhidhamma takes this claim to imply that the dhammas are also ontologically prior to all other types of encountered phenomena. But things are not intrinsically primary: primacy is an epistemic characteristic, not ontological. A given item is primary to the extent that one confronts it directly in perception as a possible object of the demonstrative 'this', so that any given event may be primary for one person at a certain time and not at another, or for one observer but not for another.
In fact, the entire espousal of an epistemological and existential unison of substantive meaning is based on the unwarranted transition from epistemology to ontology. The developed dhamma theory rests on the thesis that existence follows from reference to individuals. It hinges upon the idea that the statements of ordinary speech do not merely report the manifestation of psycho-physical occurrences, but also the existence of various types of events. This surmise has its origins in the early Buddhist doctrine of the intentionality of consciousness, that is, the thesis that any instance of consciousness must be conscious of something, that it must have an objective support (arammana). Based on this thesis and on the established linguistic practice of reference to empirical particulars, the later Abhidhamma drew the conclusion that the intentional object must exist. To draw ontological conclusions on the grounds of linguistic practice is, however, a non sequitur. Moreover, the Abhidhamma dhamma theory relies on the unacceptable premise that individuality-dependence constitutes the appropriate criterion for ontological primacy. The focus is on the individuating reference to specific dhamma categories. But tying questions of what is or is not ontologically prior exclusively to particular individuation procedures and to conceptual dependence relationships among phenomena is a questionable strategy. Why should individuality-dependence be selected as the touchstone of ontological priority, rather than, for instance, predication or origination-dependence?
Yet another problem is that the developed Abhidhamma uses the atemporal category of sabhava as an ontological determinant while atemporal individuation is ontologically impoverishing. A complete account of a dhamma's nature must involve the dynamics of its operation through time, but sabhava as an atemporal category falls short of such a description of its dhamma. Also, the very idea of a complete individuating description is dubious, for when the dhammas' individuation does take into account their causal and temporal relations, then a vast range of descriptive possibilities is effected, none of which is complete. A variety of different possible individual dhamma instances may then be the referents of that incomplete description, and hence the uniqueness essential to individuation would be lacking.
The Abhidhamma takes into account the dhammas' temporal relations for the sake of their individuation by entwining the notion of sabhava with the theory of momentariness. But this, as we have seen in the course of this study, draws the Abhidhamma away from the earliest Buddhist sources towards ontological realism and reification. An alternative resort is to turn to the conditional relations that exist among the dhammas, both simultaneously and over a period of time —an attempt embodied in the Patthana theory of paccaya. This attempt, though, is circular: at least some paccayas are events, namely, dhammas, and hence we cannot use relationships of causal conditioning as the criteria for the individuation of events. The circularity arises from the fact that causal conditions individuate dhammas only if the latter are already individuated.
In attempting to offer criteria for the individuation of the mental the Abhidhamma falls back on the slippery notion of individuation that goes considerably against the spirit of the Nikaya-based Buddhist heritage. Indeed the concerns of the Abhidhamma and its ultimate objective, let alone in the canonical period, ensue from the concerns of the Nikayas, but there appears to be an inevitable tension between this objective and the method the Abhidhamma advances in order to pursue it. Drawing on the concept of dhamma qua an analytical primitive in the sense of a distinguishable particular that is the basic unit in a system of reference, the Abhdhamma method arouses vexing philosophical puzzles that have also affected Western intellectual history, as well as doctrinal difficulties that may undermine both the early Buddhist outlook and the Abhidhamma's own concern with Buddhist soteriology. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Abhidhamma/Abhidharma metaphysical venture was emphatically criticized by the Mahayana philosophers, and that it was eventually destined to set the scene for the next turning of the dharma wheel in the history of Buddhist thought.
Abhidharmasamuccaya: The Compendium of the Higher Teaching by Asanga, translated by Walpola Rahula & Sara-Boin Webb (Asian Humanities Press)
There are two systems of Abhidharma according to the
Tibetan tradition, the lower and the higher. The lower system is taught in the
Abhidharmakosa, while the higher system is taught in this book--the two books
form a complementary pair. Asanga is the founder of the Yogacara school of
Mahayana Buddhism. His younger brother Vasubandhu wrote the Abhidharmakosa
before Asanga converted him to Mahayana Buddhism. The Samuccaya follows the
traditional prose question and answer style of the older Pali Abhidharma texts.
Rahula's excellent translation was based on Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan.
Four of these prayers were composed by Chen-nga Sherab Jungne, one of the two principal disciples of Lord Jigten Sumgn (1143-1217), the founder of the Drigung Kagyu lineage. Another is by Lord Jigten Sumgn's close student Ngorje Repa.One is by Lingje Repa, the teacher of Tsangpa Gyare, who founded the lineage of the Drukpa Kagyu. One is by the nineteenth-century treasure-revealer Nuden Dorje. Two are by the great Mipham Namgyal (1846-1912), and three are by Lord Jigten Sumgn himself. In every case, the theme of these prayers is devotion.
THE MONK AND THE PHILOSOPHER: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life by Jean Francois Revel, Matthieu Ricard ($24.00, hardcover, 336 pages, Schocken Books; ISBN: 0805241620) Paperback
Jean-Francois Revel, a pillar of French intellectual life in our time, became world-famous for his challenges to both Communism and Christianity. Twenty-seven years ago, his son, Matthieu Ricard, gave up a promising career as a scientist to study Tibetan Buddhism not as a detached observer but by immersing himself in its practice under the guidance of its greatest living masters.
Meeting in an inn overlooking Kathmandu, these two profoundly thoughtful men explored the questions that have occupied humankind throughout its history, Does life have meaning? What is consciousness? Is man free? What is the value of scientific and material progress? Why is there suffering, war, and hatred? Their conversation is not merely abstract: they ask each other questions about ethics, rights, and responsibilities, about knowledge and belief, and they discuss frankly the differences in the way each has tried to make sense of his life.
Utterly absorbing, inspiring, and accessible, this remarkable dialogue engages East with West, ideas with life, and science with the humanities, providing wisdom on how to enrich the way we live our lives. The undercurrents and subtle tensions makes this one of the most thoughtful and humane exchanges on the East versus West front. Recommended as a possible classic and milestone in the Buddhist conversion of Western science and philosophy.
JEAN-FRANCOIS REVEL, a member of the Academe Franaise, was born in 1924. He studied and taught philosophy but abandoned university teaching to concentrate on writing. He was editor for many years of the influential political weekly LExpress .His books, including the bestseller Without Marx or Jesus and How Democracies Perish, have gained worldwide recognition.
MATTHIEU RICARD lives in the Shechen Monastery in Nepal. Born in France in 1946, he received his doctorate in molecular biology from the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In 1972 he decided to forsake his scientific career to better concentrate on his Buddhist studies, which he had begun years earlier. He has published Journey to Enlightenment, a book of photographs about his teacher, Dilgoentse Rinpoche (one of the most eminent Tibetan masters of our times and a teacher to The Dalai Lama), as well as translations of many Buddhist texts. He often accompanies The Dalai Lama to France as his personal interpreter.
J.F. I can understand how useful it is for the person whos acting to have the wisdom that enables him to stand back from his subjective particularities, his own passions, and thus from his own self, and to consider something wider than the Self, whose reality he relativizes as much as possible. It guarantees that whatever he does will have a much greater mastery, will be more universal, will have more meaning for others, and that hell be better able to understand the world and act on himself. I think, nonetheless, that all attempts to annihilate the self so as to anaesthetize forever the feeling of confronting adverse, irksome circumstances, the feeling that there are moral choices to be made, mistakes to avoid, that human action isnt always clear-sighted, lucid, and effective in short, all the efforts human thought has gone to in order to calm us and get rid of that uncertain but responsible side of things have always failed.
M. The West seems to find it very difficult to understand how recognizing that the self has no true existence doesnt stand in the way of determination, strength of mind and action in the slightest. Instead, it opens our eyes wide to the causes of happiness and suffering. Its a recognition that makes action very precise. Belief in a self isnt what gives force to judgment, its what blocks it. If our actions arent always clear-sighted, courageous, lucid, and effective, as you say, its because were the plaything of our attachment to the self. Its said, The viewpoint of the sage is higher than the sky, and his discernment in terms of the laws of cause and effect is finer than flour. You cant rebel against what youve sown yourself, but you can build the future by knowing how to distinguish between what leads to misery and what liberates you from it. Thats very different from fatalistically espousing an inevitable future.
].F There, I agree with you completely, in the sense that what the Stoics, and Spinoza too, wanted to do to make us more peaceful was to demonstrate that nothing could have happened other than what actually happens.
M. Weve spoken a lot of Buddhism as a way of giving meaning to life. But what is it that gives meaning to life for you, and for the trend of thinking that you represent?
J.F First of all, I dont represent any trend of thinking. I do my best to understand the systems that exist or have existed in the past, and thats already hard enough. But in trying to answer you, Id like to fill in the background, as it were, of the diverse directions that Western thought has taken. Since the birth of Greek civilization which is taken as the starting point of Western culture there have been three main types of answer to the question of the meaning of life. The first is the religious answer, especially since the great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been predominant. This answer places the finality of existence in the beyond, or in a truth whose nature is transcendent, and therefore in all the steps to be taken and laws to be respected to ensure the personal salvation of the immortal soul. Each person will experience eternal life in the beyond depending on his or her merits in this life here below. Broadly speaking, this is the basis on which the West with the help of religions which all, as it happens, came from the Middle East has built its search for the meaning of life for the last several thousand years. It hasnt prevented each individual from seeking happiness in this world here below through the whole variety of actions that belonging to earthly reality, from the farmer trying to achieve a good harvest up to the king trying to bump off anyone who offends or challenges him, or the businessman trying to make money. You could say that apart from religious people in a strict sense monks, or mystics, whose everyday life coincided with the ideal of salvation all the rest sought happiness in a more or less empirical way, not excluding what religion calls sin, but nevertheless still seeking eternal happiness in the hereafter. The two goals were compatible, since the search for eternal happiness implied the notion of pardon, confession, absolution, and redemption for all the sins committed down below.
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