These short (ish) remarks are taken from my PhD thesis, and basically contain some musings on how best to interpret dharmakāya if, like the Madhyamaka school, you are committed to a position that denies ultimate existence. Any constructive feedback appreciated, and as my thesis is yet to be submitted (or even finished!), this post is of course liable to change!
I have been working on translations of parts of the AsPP as part of my thesis. This particular section deals with the merit involved in the worship of the written word of the Buddha (or, at least, of the supposed words of the Buddha in the Perfection of Wisdom).
The context is thus – I want to demonstrate that there is a link between dharmakāya and dharmaśarīra (both mean dharma-body when translated literally), which will, I hope, allow me to demonstrate a non-transcendental Madhyamaka reading of some ostensibly essentialist transcendental Prajñāpāramitā texts. When I finish the discussion of this in my thesis, I hope to whittle it down to digestible sizes and eventually publish it here. As things stand, it is a long, convoluted discussion exploring not only intricacies of Prajñāpāramitā and Madhyamaka philosophy, but also Sanskrit interpretation and etymologies.
This is going to be a relatively short post, mostly because I’ve lost my mojo after being laid up with the flu and I just want to get writing again (it is also teaching season, and I’ve been busy, busy, busy!). I’m liable to revise this post because it has been thrown together rather quickly and I want to use parts of it in my thesis, so as always, any comments are greatly appreciated.
So, with that said, I’ll crack on. Anyone familiar with Madhyamaka will probably know that there is a tension within the school as to how to deal with pramāṇas. Most Buddhist schools allow two pramāṇas, perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāṇa). Within Madhyamaka schools, we have later Mādhyamikas such as Bhāviveka utilising the logical method to make positive assertions and inferences about reality whilst upholding that in the final analysis, all is empty (śūnya) of intrinsic existence (svabhāva), and yet on the other we have Nāgārjuna roundly dismissing the very ideas of a pramāṇa as incoherent. It is on the latter of these positions that I will spend some time.
How might the Semantic Interpretation of Emptiness affect the supposed monism inherent in Madhyamaka? Some (not so short) introductory remarks touching on priority monism, Advaita, and Madhyamaka.
In this post I want to eventually spend a bit of time with the Semantic Interpretation of Emptiness as put forth by Buddhist philosophy titan, Mark Siderits. This theory attempts to explain Nāgārjuna’s philosophy through a strict anti-foundationalist lens, and so what this means in practical terms is that the realm of the conventional truth/reality (saṁvṛtisatya) must paradoxically take precedence over the realm of ultimate truth/reality (paramārthasatya). The whole enterprise was succinctly summarised by Siderits in the catchy slogan ‘the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth’, a phrase that, owing to its continued misunderstanding, I expect Siderits regrets coining! I hope it is already clear how much of a radical viewpoint that this is in Buddhism. The two-truths of Buddhism is famous – not always for the best of reasons – and is widely known to prioritise knowledge of the ultimate (prajñā, cognate with gnosis in the Greek). Nāgārjuna is, on the semantic reading, turning this on its head. I think that there is some good evidence to support a semantic reading of emptiness, and I am interested as to what this might mean for allegations of monism in Madhyamaka. We will get to the details a little later on. For now, just take note that Nāgārjuna seems to be regarding the notion of ultimacy as another metaphysical view to be cast aside by the diligent Mādhyamika. Continue reading “Monism in Madhyamaka [Pt. 1]”
Recently, I have had recourse to think about the relationship of the tathāgatagarbha (Buddha-nature; Buddha-essence; Buddha-embryo) literature with the wider Mahāyāna project. This being me, I have, of course, been looking at this through a distinctly Madhyamaka lens. This is, as it turns out, no straightforward feat, even with my own predilection for all things Nāgārjuna. However, personal bias and preference is but one small aspect of this fledgling investigation, and so I feel as though I am (mostly) vindicated in taking a narrowly Madhyamaka tack. My last post on this page concerned some initial thoughts regarding the (then) recent translation of Bhattacharya’s L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme Ancien, or The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism (1973; trans. 2015), and it is with this book that I remain primarily concerned. Within this work, Bhattacharya repeatedly claims that the tathāgatagarbha literature of the Mahāyāna endorses the belief in – and thus the existence of – an Upaniṣadic ātman. A further claim made by Bhattacharya is that it is the Mahāyāna schools of Buddhism ‘which put things right’ in terms of how ātman is treated doctrinally (2015: 39), and so it is evident that for him, the tathāgatagarbha literature represents something of an apex for Buddhist thought, rounding off the hitherto incomplete or forgotten emphasis on a transcendent ātman. Continue reading “Nāgārjuna on the Tathāgata: Rejecting the Existence of Ultimate Entities.”
[This post was previously published on my old blog on 23 March, 2016]
It has been a while since I last blogged, partly owing to been bogged down in reams and reams of spurious, disparate ‘research’ and partly because I just didn’t feel like I had anything to write about. I still don’t feel like I have a great deal to write about, really, but I have been reading an engrossing book that has piqued my interest: Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s ‘The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism‘. I have always been taught to strike whilst the iron is hot, so to speak, so here are some preliminary thoughts. No doubt I will have more to say on this as I get further through the book and reflect on and readjust my opinions. I intend to write the next piece on Bhattacharya’s thesis in view of emptiness and the implications that emptiness has on truth. Continue reading “The Buddha: closet ātmavādin? Bhattacharya’s ‘The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism’ [Pt. 1]”