- Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason
- Cover Page
- Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism
- Title Page
- Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. The Rhetorical Complexity of the Texts
- 3. Dogmas, Connotations, and Contexts
- 4. Omniscience Is Possible: The General Demonstration
- 5. Omniscience Is Actual: The Specific Demonstration
- 6. Motives for the Two Demonstrations
- 7. Spontaneous Omniscience and the Perfection of Reason
- Index of Translated Passages
- General Index
- About the Author
- Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism
- Copyright Page
OMNISCIENCE—THE QUALITY or state of infinite, all-encompassing knowledge—has proved a vexing notion for philosophers who proclaim a commitment to reason. Problems with the conception abound, not the least of which is how an ordinary person possessing limited knowledge could ever verify the omniscience of some allegedly omniscient being. However many things a being may appear to know, it nonetheless remains conceivable that there exist still other things of which that being is ignorant. In the face of this recognition, is it not simply folly for a philosopher to attempt to defend omniscience? This thorny issue lies at the heart of the present book, since Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, the Buddhist authors whose arguments in defense of omniscience we examine here, are not only aware of the conundrum, they fully endorse its basic premise. That is, these philosophers fully accept that the omniscience of one being cannot be verified by another who is not omniscient. Yet they also emphatically maintain that the doctrine that the Buddha is (or was) omniscient can be entirely justified through rational means.
This book aims to discover how this can be, at least with regard to the myriad arguments concerning omniscience in two Indian Buddhist texts of the eighth century: the Tattvasaṃgraha written by the Buddhist monk Śāntarakṣita, and its commentary, the Tattvasaṃgrahapañjikā, written by Śāntarakṣita’s direct disciple, the monk Kamalaśīla.1 Śāntarakṣita’s work is an 2 encyclopedic verse composition consisting in 3,645 metered stanzas, while Kamalaśīla’s prose commentary, to which I will refer simply as the Pañjikā, runs to more than 1,000 pages in modern printed editions. Although the extant Sanskrit manuscripts2 and Tibetan translations3 preserve the two works separately, the modern editions display them together, with the verses of the so-called “root text” inserted interlinearly in accord with the commentary’s explicit and pervasive “indications” (pratīka). The presence of these indications attests to the close commentarial nature of Kamalaśīla’s work, and I take them, together with the near certainty that Kamalaśīla was indeed Śāntarakṣita’s disciple, as a warrant for referring occasionally (mainly in the notes) to the two texts as a single, though admittedly bipartite, work.4 Taken 3 as a whole, these two massive works comprise a sustained apology for the rationality of Buddhism, including the ultimate Buddhist goal of attaining omniscience.
Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla’s arguments in defense of omniscience in these works are in many ways bewildering.5 First, the arguments are complex, and 4 they are found in several locations, not all of which are included in the lengthy final chapter explicitly devoted to the topic. Second, the arguments are generally expressed in the highly technical idioms of Indian epistemological discourse, thus requiring solid grounding in that elaborate style of reasoning. Third, and most confusing, the authors present what seem to be contradictory visions of omniscience in different parts of the works. Sorting out the nuances of these various positions is pretty tough. On the one hand, it requires a careful examination of a large number of complex arguments scattered throughout the texts. On the other hand, it also requires a more general investigation into the authors’ understanding of the nature of rationality, argumentation, and religious authority, since all three of these are profoundly implicated in their arguments concerning omniscience. But this challenging task turns out to have an unexpected reward, for by attending to the broader conceptions of rationality, argumentation, and religious authority that inform the reasoning about omniscience in these works, we come to discern a rhetoric of reason in the argumentation overall. It is insight into this rhetoric of reason that is the true fruit of the labor in this book. For it is only once we have understood the deeply rhetorical nature of reason for these Buddhist thinkers that their arguments about omniscience—arguments that are in some respects the pinnacle of all rational inquiry in their philosophical system—begin to make sense.
The Rhetoric of Reason
I first developed the idea of a rhetoric of reason as a result of my encounter with Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s theory of argumentation known as the New Rhetoric. A fundamental tenet of this theory, which the authors articulate in their groundbreaking work, La nouvelle rhétorique: traité de l’argumentation, is that central to all forms of argumentation is the enactment of a dialectical process in which some speaker or author 5 seeks to win over an audience.6 Whether an argument is formal or informal, concerned with facts or with values, coldly calculating or hotly impassioned, it always involves a speaker or author who, through discourse, tries to make an audience accede to a particular point of view. An argument’s audience thus holds enormous power over the argument’s author, since to persuade or convince an audience, the author must present arguments to which that audience can be made to accede. The centrality of the audience in argumentation thus can never be negated, even in the case of highly rational or rationalized discourse. To reflect this idea of the centrality of the audience, which I felt was essential to Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla’s own theories of rationality and argumentation, I coined the term the “rhetoric of reason” and used it in the title of my doctoral thesis.7
Later, I discovered the work of James Crosswhite, a philosopher and professor of English, who also draws on the New Rhetoric and who argues persuasively in his book The Rhetoric of Reason: Writing and the Attractions of Argument for the rhetorical nature of all forms of human reasoning. I found that Crosswhite’s understanding of rhetoric as “the only viable way to explain the possibility of reason itself ”8 resonated strongly with my reading of the premises underlying certain Buddhist approaches to rationality and reasoning, and that it bolstered my reading of Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla as embracing a rhetoric of reason in the Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā. In making his claim about rhetoric, Crosswhite begins from the premise that rhetoric “is different from any other field because rhetoric is concerned with the way discursive authority operates wherever it is found.”9 As such, the study of rhetoric has a kind of priority among all fields and disciplines, insofar as rhetoric always plays a critical role in the production of knowledge, no matter the field or the discipline. But rhetoric is not somehow foundational, since rhetoric is neither impervious to critique nor epistemologically prior to the construction of discursive authority. In short, rhetoric, like all forms of discourse, is also rhetorically constructed. Crosswhite compares his understanding of rhetoric to Habermas’s view of philosophy as simultaneously interpreting and acting within communicative practices. Likewise, rhetoric involves both the study of discursive authority and the simultaneous 6 participation in the rules of such authority at particular times and places. It thus can never be absolute.
The notion of a rhetoric of reason, then, points primarily to the ways in which philosophy and philosophical argumentation, both of which put a premium on rationality and truth, are nonetheless themselves also circumscribed by particular norms of authority and particular discursive practices which have themselves been rhetorically constructed. A rhetoric of reason does not reject reason as unattainable, but neither does it futilely attempt to cordon reason off from the rest of human discourse. Instead, a rhetoric of reason attempts, as precisely as possible, to attend to the question of discursive authority in relation to questions about such things as what is reasonable, rational, justified, true, or right in a variety of contexts. Crosswhite sums up as follows:
A rhetoric of reason does not understand itself as describing the necessary a priori features of all reasoning, to which the rhetorician has some kind of priviledged incontestable access. Rather, in its attempt to offer a general account of what happens when people argue, it understands itself as offering an account which is better for particular purposes, and more convincing in the context in which it is offered, than are competing accounts. That’s all.
On my reading of these Buddhist thinkers, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla would definitely assent to this characterization of their philosophical enterprise, though they would also be likely to emphasize their feeling that their own accounts are indeed better and more convincing for particular purposes than are rival accounts. But by itself, this high degree of confidence in their own analysis does not mitigate their commitment to an account of the authority of reason as a contextual product of particular discursive practices. While their frequent talk of certainty (niścaya) lends a veneer of absolutism to their work, there is good reason to hold that for Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, certainty, like all conceptual constructs, is primarily of pragmatic and not absolute value. For these reasons, which we will explore further below, I maintain that these thinkers engage in a rhetoric of reason, even if they do not explicitly claim to do so.
Specifically, I see two ways in which Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla may be said to employ a rhetoric of reason in the Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā. The first way corresponds closely to Crosswhite’s understanding outlined above. Here, the idea of a rhetoric of reason depends on a reading of the term rhetoric as signifying the contextual aspect of all communicative 7 discourse—including discourses concerning what counts as a rational argument. The term rhetoric in this instance draws attention to the fact that there is no neutral playing field upon which arguments may be advanced, but rather that the field of discourse is always being negotiated by the speaker or author and the audience for any given argument. In the works under study in this book, we find Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla continually adjusting their premises, reasoning, and language to accord with the premises, reasoning, and language of a wide variety of audiences. In part, they do so to increase their chances of winning over these diverse addressees. As such, their practice can appear to be a kind of sophistry. But contrary to this, I argue that Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla do not engage in this behavior solely in order to win debates. Rather, they do so because they understand reason and truth to be highly conventional affairs that emerge only in contexts created mutually by author and audience. This philosophical insight not only justifies their method of shifting premises, it actually requires it for reason to function. The indispensability of the author-audience relationship for the very existence of rationality is the first and most important element in Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla’s rhetoric of reason.
The second way in which Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla may be said to embrace a rhetoric of reason corresponds to a more common connotion of the term rhetoric—one thatis perhaps more familiar than is the study and construction of discursive authority. On this reading, the term rhetoric points to what Crosswhite calls the “different protocols and styles of reasoning [that] hold sway in different disciplines.”10 That is, we regularly speak of the rhetoric of a given group, discipline, or profession and, when we do so, we mean the ways in which that group, discipline, or profession attempts to shape and define a particular field of discourse through its use of particular forms of language and argument. Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla engage in a rhetoric of reason insofar as they make consistent appeal to reason ( yukti) as the highest arbiter of belief, and they do so within a context of a style of formal reasoning (nyāya) that places extremely high value on reason and rational analysis. Whatever the particular argument being advanced, whomever the particular audience being addressed, the authors’ underlying premises always seem to include the idea that reason justifies their arguments and their conclusions. To emphasize this, the authors regularly supplement their general argumentation with formal proof statements, using a highly stylized and prestigious style of reasoning for presenting arguments.11 This prestigious style of reasoning is 8 based in their understanding of the pramāṇas, the instruments or means by which reliable knowledge may be attained. In this book, I use the translation “means of trustworthy awareness” to refer to the pramāṇas; other common translations include “valid cognition,” “means of valid cognition,” “instrumental awareness,” “instrument for warranted awareness,” and so on.
In utilizing the technical idioms of this prestigious form of reasoning rooted in the pramāṇas, the authors appear to enter a kind of denaturalized field of discourse in which arguments and conclusions attain an aura of self-evidence and objectivity.12 We will have occasion to examine quite a few such arguments in the book, but our general purpose will not be to evaluate the soundness or validity of these formal proof statements per se. Rather, we will focus instead on how the authors use such formal proof statements as part of a larger rhetorical strategy aimed at convincing others of the overall rationality of the doctrines they endorse. The authors thus engage in a rhetoric of reason through their insistence on the privileged status of reason, especially when it is encoded in highly stylized proof statements.
These two ways of reading the notion of a rhetoric of reason—one with an emphasis on the conventional nature of rhetoric, the other with an emphasis on the certainty produced by reason—appear in some ways to be in tension. The first reading, that of a rhetoric of reason, involves the understanding that reason, like all forms of communicative discourse, is neither self-evident nor absolute, but is rather contigent on a context created mutually by author and audience. The second reading, that of a rhetoric of reason, involves the idea that reason is the highest and best arbiter of belief, and also that it is possible to demonstrate which beliefs reason justifies through the presentation of formal, seemingly self-evident, objective proof statements. Are Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla aware of this tension, and if so, do they attempt to resolve it? I do think that Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla are aware of the tension, but I hold that they see the tension as more apparent than real. This is so because they understand the apparent self-evidence of the formal proof statements of their rational discourse as rooted in the mutual conditioning of author and audience. Describing how language functions, Śāntarakṣita says:9
Indeed, we hold all verbal transactions to be similar to the statement “There are two moons” uttered by a person with eyes distorted by cataracts to another person who is like himself.13
In other words, all discourse—including formal rational discourse—is ultimately flawed, as are the concepts it produces.14 Words and concepts do not refer in any direct or unambiguous manner to anything that can be verified independently of those very words and concepts. Still, words and concepts function (at times quite well) due to the presence of a shared context and conditioning—conditioning that is itself a shared form of ignorance.15 The situation is thus similar to that of two people with the same eye disease who are able to agree on the presence of two moons. Even categories of philosophical thought such as reason, truth, and validity can function without any form of absolute reason. Reason functions as if it were absolute, but only so long as our shared ignorance remains.1610
This position has a powerful resonance with the New Rhetoric, especially with its understanding of all argumentation as necessarily imprecise due to the vagueness of language. Philosophy requires a rhetorical conception of reason since philosophy, like all discourse, is “elaborated not by setting out from an intuition of clear and distinct ideas, but setting out from common language, always confused and susceptible to a large number of interpretations.”17 Although the precise explanations for why language is confused will differ, there is a common recognition that for philosophical argumentation and analysis to take place, people must agree to start with premises that are inevitably tainted by bias and confusion. Clearly, there can be nothing absolute or self-evident in this process. Still, because conditioning is shared, agreement on premises and terms can be attained, such that a speaker or author may be in a position to “gain the adherence of minds” when addressing an audience. And if the speaker or author is not able to win over an audience, he or she always has the option of going back and revisiting the premises and terms in an attempt to find common ground to move the argumentation forward.
There is, however, one possible exception to the general principle that reason is contextual and rhetorically constructed in both the Buddhist texts and the New Rhetoric. The exception is not, as some might initially imagine, an appeal to direct perception or the “given” of sense-datum philosophers. Such appeals exist and possess a strong aura of self-evidence, but they are still not absolute for either the Buddhists or the New Rhetoricians. Appeals to experience remain conditioned, both rhetorically (insofar as they are discursive appeals) and through other forms of conditioning. The one possible exception to the rhetorical conception of reason in both systems comes in the form of what might be described as analytic reason. In the case of the Buddhist thinkers, the one possible form of reason that may not be rhetorical is that which is based on the principle of noncontradiction; for the authors of the New Rhetoric, it is reason that is entirely mathematical and that can be expressed through the symbols of formal logic. Both systems appear to grant such analytic forms of reason an exalted status, although in both cases it remains difficult to say whether these forms of reason can remain insulated from from the critique of contingency that applies to reasoning as carried out in ordinary language. Since all human reasoning requires ordinary language to function, the existence or nonexistence of a type of pure analytic reason that is not contingent on a rhetorically constructed context is more or less moot: even if such reason exists, human philosophers cannot proceed 11 without constructing a field of discourse that includes confusion, bias, and ignorance, and that proceeds through the mutual construction of discursive authority through the interaction of author and audience.
Reason, Rhetoric, and Omniscience
Although Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla understand reason to be rhetorical in this way, this does not lessen their commitment to it. In fact, they see rational analysis as critical to the fundamental Buddhist enterprise they also embrace: the eventual elimination of the primordial ignorance (avidyā) that pervades the mindstreams of all ordinary beings. This primordial ignorance is not just an absence of knowledge but involves a fundamental error or misperception of reality.18 When perfectly accomplished, the eradication of this fundamental error results in perfect knowledge, which the Buddhist tradition calls omniscience (sarvajña). The Buddha is necessarily one who has attained this kind of perfect knowledge, and so he is called the Omniscient One (sarvajña ). This same can also be said for any and all buddhas in the past, present, and future. This much is relatively standard Buddhist doctrine, and in line with their general commitment to reason, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla hold that the doctrine that the Buddha is (or was) omniscient can and should be justified by reason. The Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā contain extended argumentation in defense of this doctrine, nearly all of which is grounded in the notion that it is a rational doctrine that can be defended through rational means.
In comparison with many of the other Buddhist doctrines they defend, however, including such Buddhist ideas as impermanence, selflessness, and even the complicated exclusion theory of linguistic reference (apoha), it is extremely difficult to pin down exactly what these authors think omniscience is on basis of the evidence in their texts. Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla present more than one model of omniscience in these works, while providing only subtle and indirect clues as to which version of omniscience they ultimately endorse. Not surprisingly, scholars have often been perplexed at the apparently contradictory presentations of the Buddha’s omniscience found in the Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā.19 Once we recognize that Śāntarakṣita and 12 Kamalaśīla embrace a rhetorical conception of reason, however, their multiple positions on omniscience and the apparent contradictions appear far less troublesome. The key to our understanding is the authors’ use of a technique that I call the “sliding scale of analysis.”20 This technique allows that a philosopher may, under certain circumstances, be rationally justified in arguing from diverse and even contradictory metaphysical premises, even within the confines of a single work. The sliding scale of analysis reflects the authors’ rhetorical conception of reason, since it is rooted in the notion that rational discourse can and must change in accordance with the premises of the audience addressed.
Although recognizing the widespread use of the sliding scale of analysis in these works helps resolve some issues, it also raises difficult questions about the rhetorical nature of the rationality that these works valorize. Most of these questions cannot be fully answered in this book because they touch on presuppositions so fundamental that they would need another entire work to address them adequately. For example, one could inquire to what degree the sliding scale of analysis operates by playing on the tension mentioned above, whereby the standards of rationality by which arguments may be judged actually depend for their reliable operation on the continued presence of a degree of primordial ignorance in the author’s (and audience’s) mind. Similarly, one might also ask whether the sliding scale of analysis implies a kind of pragmatic theory of truth, whereby different things can be true for different people at different times. Or, one might consider whether we are dealing here with a form of practical reasoning in which truth per se is not the authors’ primary concern. These are extremely important questions, and we will continue to touch on them in the pages to come. The primary focus of the investigation, however, will remain the authors’ understanding and rational defense of omniscience, and especially the way that rational defense relies upon a rhetoric of reason in both of the senses described above.
Omniscience is a particularly fruitful doctrine to examine in this context for several reasons. First, omniscience has a special connection to the rhetoric of reason through its association with religious authority. That is, as these 13 texts state and as is corroborated in other Buddhist and non-Buddhist works, there is a clear supposition on the part of most Indian philosophers that the primary motivation for undertaking a demonstration of the Buddha’s omniscience is to provide an unshakable foundation for the truth of the Buddhist scriptures. After all, if one were able to demonstrate that a particular person knew everything, then one could also feel comfortable accepting whatever that person has said to be true. But if this is an accurate description of the authors’ motives in undertaking to demonstrate the Buddha’s omniscience, would it not then diminish their rhetoric of reason? Why would a person who values reason as the highest arbiter of truth care about grounding scriptures? Would not reason alone suffice for deciding all matters? The close connection that omniscience has with religious authority brings such questions into high relief, and presents a conundrum that will occupy us throughout much of this book: if the motive for undertaking a demonstration of the Buddha’s omniscience is not to establish his religious authority, then why bother to demonstrate it at all? A possible solution—and one for which I argue in this book—is that the authors wish different audiences to come away with different answers to the problem of reconciling reason and religious authority. This connects again to the rhetoric of reason, in that one answer or argument does not fit all audiences. It also opens the door to asking about political, social, or institutional motivations that may lurk behind the arguments for the Buddha’s omniscience.21
Another important way that omniscience is related to the rhetoric of reason concerns the authors’ conception of omniscience as the proper goal of all rational and judicious persons. A result of this conception is that when Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla argue for the possibility of human beings attaining omniscience, they may be seen also as arguing for a special way of life that is specifically designed to lead to this particular goal. Omniscience is thus not just one doctrine among many for these thinkers but rather the highest good and final destination of all those who seriously value and practice rational inquiry. When the authors claim to have demonstrated the Buddha’s omniscience through reason, they at the same time claim to have shown the rational justification for the path that has omniscience as its goal. They say, in 14 effect, that the Buddhist path is a rational path, grounded in reason, which any rational person will be bound to follow if only he or she comes to see its rationality for him or herself. This underlying argument corresponds to Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s conception of rhetoric, since those authors hold that an essential aspect of all argumentation involves persuading an audience to adopt a particular action, or at least to open themselves to the possibility of adopting such an action in appropriate circumstances.22 One way of reading this bipartite Buddhist work, then, is essentially as an apology for Buddhist practice, designed to convince rational persons to take up the Buddhist path with the eventual goal of attaining omniscience themselves.
The above assessment of the Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā as offering an apology not just for Buddhist doctrines but also for Buddhist practice brings into relief the question of whether these texts should be considered works of religion, philosophy, or something else altogether. Matthew Kapstein has recently addressed a similar question in relation to these and other Buddhist texts from around the same period, asking in particular what it can possibly mean to speak of the works as “Buddhist philosophy.”23 Noting that many of the works in question contain formidable arguments that can be compared with arguments from the Western philosophical tradition, Kapstein nevertheless maintains that the presence of these arguments is not the only or even the most important warrant for speaking of these works as Buddhist philosophy. Instead, he invokes Pierre Hadot’s reading of philosophia in ancient Greece as “a way of life” whose goal is a kind of personal transformation brought about through a variety of “spiritual exercises” (exercices spirituels).24 In my earlier doctoral thesis, I similarly invoked Hadot, since, like Kapstein, I think that attention to the larger question of how the practice of philosophy contributes to the formation of persons is critical to understanding the 15 nature of any form of philosophy.25 In the case in question, there is good reason to hold that the practices enjoined by the text centrally include the practice of rational inquiry, and that the arguments that make up the bulk of the works are themselves apart of that practice.
In the case of ancient Greek philosophia, the parallels to Indian Buddhism are strong. Following Hadot, we can understand philosophia to be “a form of life defined by an ideal of wisdom,”26 where wisdom is “a state of complete liberation from the passions, utter lucidity, knowledge of ourselves and of the world.”27 Wisdom is the goal of this form of life, and approaching or achieving wisdom brings about a transformation of the person that involves liberation from things such as “worries, passions, and desires.”28 To achieve such a transformation, the philosopher undertakes particular exercises of reason “designed to ensure spiritual progress toward the ideal state of wisdom,” much as an athlete trains to win a competition or a doctor applies a cure.29
Although these exercises of reason may be called meditations, Hadot argues instead for calling them “spiritual exercises” on the grounds that they are exercises that “engage the totality of the spirit.”30 According to Hadot, all 16 ancient Greek philosophical schools practiced such exercises. This is because they all agreed that
. . . man, before his philosophical conversion, is in a state of unhappy disquiet. Consumed by worry, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself, and attain a state of perfection. It is precisely for this that spiritual exercises are intended.31
Hadot maintains that these exercises are “unlike the Buddhist meditation practices of the Far East,” since they are not linked to a specific corporal posture and are instead “purely rational, imaginative, or intuitive.”32 But despite this disclaimer, I see nothing in the above description of philosophy to which Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla would be likely to object.33 On the contrary, it seems to me they would see his statement as close to encapsulating their own understanding of what they themselves do. For these Buddhists also recommend and engage in specific exercises of reason—including, and especially, the act of rational inquiry itself—as a central element in a way of life in which one seeks to transform oneself through developing and perfecting wisdom in an effort to remove suffering, that unfortunate state of ignorance and “unhappy disquiet.”34
For Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, this way of life is the Buddhist path (mārga). The goal is intellectual and moral perfection, a state of perfect wisdom and compassion called “awakening” (bodhi) or “perfect and complete awakening” (samyaksaṃbodhi). This path, like philosophia, entails of away of being in the world whereby a judicious person, the counterpart of the Greek 17 philosopher-sage, seeks to cultivate wisdom by every possible means in order to attain the maximal degree of wisdom attainable by a human being. This also entails that, as part of the cultivation of wisdom, a judicious person on the Buddhist path must be unrelenting in subjecting his or her ideas and experiences (his or her “thought”) to rational, philosophical analysis. The high degree of confidence that the authors place in the power of rational analysis to remove confusion and ascertain reality leads them to accept that through intensive thought or deliberation (cintā), a person may attain certainty (niścaya) concerning the way things really are.35
It is important to remember that while rational analysis may lead to unshakable certainty concerning the nature of reality, this certainty is still a rhetorically formed linguistic or conceptual construct. As such, this “certainty” is (paradoxically) still connected with ignorance. It is therefore also not the final goal of the path, which involves the complete removal of primordial ignorance and its attendant suffering. Since the removal of ignorance does not take place at the level of language or concepts, the ultimate goal of the path cannot be achieved by rational analysis. Rather, the removal of ignorance requires a transformation of the very structure of the mind itself, which in turn requires one to engage in a process of meditative cultivation (bhāvanā). Yet rational analysis still plays a critical role, because it allows one to rule out a whole range of incorrect views and replace them with views that while not able to directly encapsulate reality, can nevertheless be ascertained as in accord with reality. On the basis of such views, one then undertakes the meditative cultivation that gradually eliminates the distortions of primordial ignorance (and hence, also, all “views”), such that one’s thought and experience come to be in accord with reality. Eliminating ignorance brings about the elimination of suffering (duḥkha)—a term that could arguably be translated as “unhappy disquiet.”
Thinking of texts like the Tattvasaṃgraha and the Pañjikā as works of Buddhist philosophia and thereby highlighting structural similarities with the practice of philosophy in ancient Greece thus allows us to more clearly see the deeply practical elements of the Buddhist philosophical enterprise. It does not, of course, mean that Buddhist and Greek philosophy are the same nor that the differences between them are unimportant. As Vincent 18 Eltschinger has recently argued in a lengthy article responding both to Kapstein’s use of Hadot and to my own earlier use of Hadot in my doctoral thesis, scholars of Buddhism remain woefully uninformed concerning the details of the social and historical conditions informing the practice of Buddhism, including what we have come to call Buddhist philosophy, in ancient India.36 Unlike Hadot in his study of philosophia in the Hellenistic world, scholars of Buddhism have barely any reliable knowledge concerning the institutional realities and other social conditions under which monks like Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla lived and worked.37 Nor can we be certain about the actual spiritual exercises in which they engaged. These gaps in our knowledge render problematic any assessment of their work as analogous to the philosophia of the ancient world, apparent similarities aside.
Eltschinger further emphasizes that the spiritual exercises of the Hellentistic world differ from those Indian Buddhist practices that we might be tempted to term “spiritual exercises” in Hadot’s sense of the term. For example, the spiritual exercise of “training for death,” varieties of which Hadot takes as central to several ancient Greek schools, would no doubt look different had it developed in a context, such as that of ancient India, in which philosophers contemplating death envisioned “myriads of births to come.”38 While this i
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