Saturday, 18 February 2017

A Note on Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism)

You may have heard thousands of times about Bhutan being a land of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). Some would simply scoff at the very idea and some would be fascinated by it. Others may choose to maintain a safe (not necessarily a sagely) silence because of the risk of becoming a “prisoner of Shangrila.” By the way, I interpret “prisoner of Shangrila” as someone who creates, believes in, live or wishes to live, or propagates a fabulous image of a society or a country that is not consonant with the actual state of affairs. If you say you are from Bhutan, people would expect you to know about GNH. In the past, I have been invited to give lectures on GNH. As a rule, I politely declined by explaining that although I hail from Bhutan, I am not an expert on Bhutan, not particularly on GNH. Instead I often offered to give talks on Buddhist philosophy of happiness.

While I am still unsure about the feasibility of GNH as a practical political guideline, I hold the philosophy of GNH a very noble source of inspiration insofar as it is a crystallization of the concept of the maximization of the over-all wellbeing of a society. Why would anyone have a problem with it? The only challenge is how best to gain a clear picture of the causes and conditions of GNH and to make real difference to the society without becoming complacent. Bhutan is neither a heaven nor a hell. It is just a tiny fleck on the earth. While non-Bhutanese might afford to create a heavenly or hellish image of Bhutan, Bhutanese cannot. Bhutanese alone must live the reality.

Actually I love what Aung San Suu Kyi in her Nobel Lecture (Oslo, June 16, 2012) stated: “Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveller in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. Even if we do not achieve perfect peace on earth, because perfect peace is not of this earth, common endeavours to gain peace will unite individuals and nations in trust and friendship and help to make our human community safer and kinder.” Indeed according to Buddhist philosophy, absolute happiness is not of this earth. I hope and pray that the Bhutanese leadership and people will continue to strive towards the goal of maximizing the wellbeing and happiness of the nation, unaffected and undeterred by the hellish or heavenly image of Bhutan that is likely to be created and recreated. But why am I talking about this here?

Let me get back to my initial and actual theme: Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism). I do think that Buddhist sources belonging to various systems and degrees of antiquity reveal fascinating philosophies of happiness. I am still in the process of exploring and exploiting them purely for personal interests. To express the Buddhist philosophy of happiness, I employ the word “eudaimonism.” But why do I also add here an alternative word “Saukhyaism”? It is possible that some readers may not like the word “eudaimonism” because of the possible unnecessary implication or connotation or association. Saukhyaism is a neologism I created myself. The Sanskrit word saukhya is a neuter abstract noun built from sukha and it sufficiently renders the idea of “happiness.” Before delving into pressing works that require immediate attention,  I am often tempted to read something that is not connected to work but something that is soothing and inspiring to my soul. I know Buddhists do not use the word “soul.” But it seems somehow befitting here. Nāgārjuna is one who never ceases to inspire me. In this case, I am speaking of his Ratnāvalī and I think authorship is not an issue here. Or is it? So I grab Michael Hahn’s edition of it and just open a page and start reading it as I simultaneously take a sip of hot Indian chai that I recently started to make. Ratnāvalī 4.98 prevented me from reading further. It made me think and rethink. So in Ratnāvalī 4.98, Nāgārjuna clearly suggests that happiness of all kinds is actually a by-product of the highest state of awakening! Or, perhaps as one strives for the highest goal of awakening, one would obtain happiness on the way and by the way (antarā: zhar la). What kind of implication would such an understanding of happiness have on the understanding of Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism)? This idea, which I need to explore and exploit further, would be significant for my understanding of Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism). Does he imply that happiness is not the Summum bonum? Is there such a thing as Summum bonum according to Buddhist philosophy? If so, what would be it?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Innate Luminousism

The expression “Innate Luminousism” is a neologism that I am coining here to express the Buddhist philosophical idea that the nature of mind is luminous. Readers who know this Buddhist concept well may, for the time being, withhold their enlightening lecture on the topic, because this is not my motive for addressing the issue here. My interest here is how precisely does Rong-zom-pa, an eleventh-century Tibetan scholar, understand this concept. Those readers who can provide insights on Rong-zom-pa’s understanding of the concept based on concrete, explicit, and unambiguous textual sources are, of course, welcome to comment. I shall propose my own understanding of how he understands the concept. As far as I am concerned, the most fundamental understanding of the statement that the nature of mind is by nature luminous is that mind in its elemental state is untainted and ”untaintable,” unpolluted and ”unpollutable.” All stains, pollutions, or contaminations are thus adventitious and are foreign to the actual pure nature of the mind. It is because of this quality of the mind, that is, the natural purity of the mind and its quality of pollutability and purifiability, that purification and pollution are at all possible. This seems to be the very crux of Buddhist soteriological mechanism. The pure nature of mind at its elemental level or state may be compared to water in its molecular state and level (i.e. H20). The question is if mind can be reduced to non-mind, that is, to the extent that it loses the identity and quality of mind. I have a feeling that some Buddhist philosophers believed that it is possible. This would be like splitting hydrogen and oxygen present in H20, thereby losing the identity and quality of water. But what about Rong-zom-pa’s understanding of the statement that mind is by nature luminous? If to carefully examine the way he explains the concept of rang bzhin gyis ’od gsal ba’i rnam par thar pa (obviously according to the special soteriology of what he calls “special Mahāyāna”), it seems to be clear that rang bzhin gyis ’od gsal ba’i rnam par thar pa is the realization that both pollutants and purifiers are not substantially existent. For him, therefore, mind and its pollutants and purifiers are not only like water, its pollutants and purifiers but more so like mirage-water and its pollutants and purifiers. Apparent mind may appear to polluted and purified, but like mirage-water, there has never been mind, nor its pollution, nor its purification, even when the apparent mind appears to be polluted or purified. So it seems that for Rong-zom-pa, it is not so much because of the natural purity of the actual mind and its quality of pollutability and purifiability that one speaks of the luminosity of the mind, but rather that one speaks of the natural luminosity of the mind because of the innate non-substantiality of the apparent mind and its immaculate nature which is always and essentially devoid of pollutants and purifiers. Perhaps one might say that for Rong-zom-pa only that quality or reality that transcends the duality such as of pollution and purification, day and light, light and darkness, and so forth, can be called naturally luminous. My understanding might become a little more plausible if we consider the expression “the nature of space is luminous” that he, if I am not mistaken, also  employs. That is, for him, we cannot say that the nature of space is luminous only when the sun shines or only when there is light. Luminosity in its ultimate sense should be, I think according to him, that quality or reality of the space that is inherently, intrinsically, and primordially pure (i.e. empty) of anything that does not belong to the quality of space. For the time being, I cannot think of a better explanation of his understanding of innate luminosity. There are many shades and levels of understanding the concept of luminosity, but the two that I alluded here seem to be crucial or significant.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Political Ostracism

I always thought I am apolitical, which is, anyway, said to be one way of being political. But I think I have lost my political naivety, illusion, and innocence. More and more people in my today’s world seem to suffer political ostracism. They seem to have become politically homeless. They now seem to live in a political orphanage, because they can neither feel at home (or identify themselves) with the self-righteous, radical, militant, hypocritical, intolerant, and often anti-Semitic, left ideologists, nor can they feel at home (or identify themselves) with extreme, nationalistic, chauvinistic, xenophobic, and racist right ideologists. Politics and media seem to have been hijacked by these two types of ideologists, who seem to be too radical and extreme to leave room for reason, truth, justice, moderation, nuanced positions, wisdom, and compassion. Politics and media tend to hide, twist, or deny truth and reality when they do not fit their ideologies and agendas. Worst of all, such political ideologies, particularly, the extreme leftist ideology seems to have infiltrated the world of academics. Some academics seem to have somehow got the idea that an academic is defined by the radicality of his or her radical leftist political ideology. A tragic irony is that even a hint of reasoned dissents would suffice to label a fellow academic as a Nazi, thereby seeking to ostracize  and delegitimize an alternative viewpoint by throwing accusations ad hominem.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Water Analogy

Mind in its elemental form is said to be pristinely pure. Some might like to compare it to fully distilled water devoid of any adventitious malignant or benignant substances. Some would think it is pregnant with innate positive qualities, that is, comparable to pure water pregnant with rich precious minerals. But pure mind can become polluted. If the regnant pollutant is hatred, mind becomes indignant, oppugnant, and malignant. If the regnant pollutant is attachment, it becomes poignant. If the regnant pollutant is confusion or ignorance, mind becomes stagnant. A polluted mind become repugnant and malignant. But we also find several methods of purification: disinfection, distillation, sedimentation, sterilization, and so on. One approach is particularly noteworthy. According to one, mind has never been mind. It is as though we have all the while taken (virtual) “mirage-water” to be (actual) water. Gaining direct meditative insight into this reality is said to liberate one once and for all.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Buddhist Paradiseology or Buddhist Edenology

This is just for pure fun. Every language, culture, or religion may have its own words and concept of paradise or heaven. Buddhism is no exception. In course of time, it has developed various notions of paradise or heaven. By the way, nivāṇa is not a paradise or heaven. There are, in general, concepts of higher realms” and “lower realms,” “good or happy existences” and “bad or miserable existences,” “worldly spheres” and “Buddhaic spheres,” “pure realms” and “impure realms,” and so forth. Impure realms are usually said to be karmically produced, whereas pure realms may be produced through the previous resolutions of certain Buddhas and which serve as kinds of temporary stations of relief that would enable one to pursue one’s onward journey towards becoming a buddha. Not all higher realms are heavenly realms. Human realm, for example, is a higher realm but not a heavenly or celestial realm. Not all lower realms are hellish realms (be they hyperthermic or hypothermic hells). Animalic realm is a lower realm but not a hellish realm. Paradisical realm of the Buddha Amitābha is called Sukhāvatī (“[Realm] Endowed with Bliss].” Based on East-Asian tradition and sources, it came to be known as the “Pure Land of Amitābha,” and the Buddhist tradition that is associated with it is known as “Pure-Land Buddhism,” although one is tempted to call it “Land-of-Bliss Buddhism” instead. In the Tibetan tradition, there is no such a thing “Sukhāvatī Buddhism” although followers of each school might believe that birth in the Sukhāvatī is a possible (albeit only temporary) option. Paradisical realm of a Buddha is not limited to that of Buddha Amitābha alone. Akṣobhya and the like, too, have their own paradisical realms. Tārā, too, has her own paradisical realm. Padmasambhava’s paradisical realm is very popular among his followers. In the end, we also encounter the idea that heaven or hell is one’s own projection or construction, and thus one should rather aspire to cleans one’s own intellectual emotional defilements and other obscurations. Such a paradisical realm in Buddhism may be called a “Buddhist Elysian Field” or “Buddhist Elysium” or “Buddhist Edenic Abode.” The theory or study of paradise-like realms or spheres in Buddhism may be called “Buddhist Paradiseology” or “Buddhist Edenology.” Just a random thought!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Buddhist Hodology

My obsession with coining new (or borrowing old) words for expressing certain ideas in Buddhist philosophy and religion continues. This time it is “Hodology.” It is supposed to mean “study of pathways.” The word is derived from the Greek hodos, meaning “path.” It is used in various contexts such as in neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and geography. I wish to use this word in Buddhist philosophy and soteriology. Let us say “Buddhist hodology.” In the Buddhist context, it is supposed to include all reflections, explanations, descriptions, and systematization of topics all subsumed under what Tibetan Buddhist scholars would call “discourses of the spiritual stages and paths” (sa dang lam gyi rnam gzhag). This is an important topic. One could also call “Buddhist Mārgology.” Nowadays we use the expression “Meditation Theories” very vaguely to express the theories of bhūmis and mārgas. But the expression is perhaps too narrow. “Buddhist hodology” would include everything that is linked with Buddhist soteriology. It would deal with mundane (laukika) and supramundane (lokottara) paths, the correct and the wrong paths, the pitfalls and dangers on the way, regression and progression, signs, qualities, and achievements. In order to have a historically (or diachronically) and doctrinally (or synchronically) representative picture of Buddhist hodology, one has to consider hodology from the perspective of various schools and systems of Buddhism. At any rate, I feel that the use of the use of the term “Buddhist hodology” is justifiable.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Buddhist Lypeology or Buddhist Odyneology

I would like to remind my readers (especially if they happen to be my students) that these blog writings of mine are not meant to be academic writings and thus they should not be treated as such, although I do welcome academics to read and comment on them. Now, I think it is high time that we coin a term such as “Buddhist lypeology” or “Buddhist odyneology.” I have borrowed Greek words lypē and odynē (having the meaning of “(primarily) physical or (secondarily) mental pain”). By “Buddhist lypeology/odyneology,” I wish to express the Buddhist theory or philosophy of pain, suffering, and discontentment (duḥkha: sdug bsngal). Buddhist lypeology/odyneology can be considered an important aspect of Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist soteriology. I shall mention here only a few points that seem relevant for Buddhist lypeology/odyneology. What is duḥkha? What is the nature of duḥkha? What are the causes and conditions of duḥkha? What are the antidotes of duḥkha? Can one and how can one end duḥkha? What is the value (if there is one at all) of duḥkha? With regard to the nature of duḥkha, one can also consider the typology of duḥkha. One may consider two types of duḥkha: physical (or bodily) duḥkha and psychical (or mental) duḥkha. On may also consider three types of duḥkha. This is well known. The third of the three types of duḥkha is said to be typically Buddhist (LS). Then usually Buddhist sources speak of the eight kinds of duḥkha (already in canonical sources). I just see that rDo-grub bsTan-pa’i-nyi-ma (gSung ’bum, vol. 7, p. 236) also speaks of  two kinds of duḥkha, “gross duḥkha” (rags pa’i sdug bsngal) and “subtle duḥkha” (phra ba’i sdug bsngal) The first one is identified as duḥkha experienced by beings in lower destinies (durgati: ngan song) whereas the latter with saṃskāraduḥkhatā. Two Buddhist positions are noteworthy here. First we have the one position according to which there is no sukha at all in saṃsāra and that all feelings/sensations are duḥkha. The impression of sukha that we get is mistaken just like the feeling of ease that we get while shifting the load from one shoulder to another. Second, we do also have some strands that believed that we do have feeling of happiness and pleasure (although often dominated by the feeling of duḥkha). The primary cause of duḥkha is according to one position tṛṣṇā and according to another avidyā (and we may find the two positions reconciled). It is assumed that pāpa causes duḥkha. What about the value of duḥkha? My impression is that in Buddhism, duḥkha in a measured degree can be beneficial for a person (and thus can have a positive instrumental value). Too much of duḥkha or sukha is, however, detrimental or impedimental for a person. In Buddhism, duḥkha is not owned by an owner. It takes place in any psycho-physical complex at any given point in time and place. In addition, it is assumed that duḥkha (e.g. toothache) is a reality that one has to face once it is present. If one does not want future duḥkha, just avoid its causes and conditions. Intellectual-psychological receptivity (kṣānti: bzod pa) is necessary to face one’s duḥkha. Usually one who is capable of equalizing  sukha and duḥkha is considered wise. Some Buddhist strands recommend one to view duḥkha not as a problem but as a solution. So it is said that one should see duḥkhasatya as nirodhasatya (i.e. saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.