Friday, January 12, 2018

Buddhist Dolorology/Algology/Algonomy/Lypeology/Odyneology

Buddhist Dolorology/Algology/Algonomy/
Lypeology/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.

I contend that the uniqueness of a religion is defined by the uniqueness of its soteriology, and Buddhism is no exception. And Buddhist soteriology is inextricably linked with what I propose to call “Buddhist algology or Buddhist algonomy.” I wish to define “Buddhist algology or algonomy” simply as the Buddhist philosophy of pain or suffering in a concrete sense (e.g. toothache) as well as a deep-seated, subtle, and inexplicable sense of discontentment even as one experiences moments of sheer joy or pleasure.

Or, we may term ssuch 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.


Some random points would be mentioned here as possible venues for exploring Buddhist algology/algonomy. (1) The idea that the worldly existence is inherently characterized by pain and suffering is not unique to Buddhist philosophy, and is common to both pre-Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophies and religions. (2) What is certainly unique to Buddhism is the scheme of the Four Noble Truths or Truths Accessible to the Noble Ones only.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Buddhist Philosophical Perspective on Sensibility and Vulnerability

It is already passed midnight. I drank a cup of strong coffee to keep myself awake to do some urgent paper works. I did manage to do some paper works but not all. Paper works are like waves. Incessant. The effect of coffee seems to linger. I am tired but still not sleepy. There is dead silence. I can only hear my conceptual waves lash against the shores of my brain.

I am thinking about sensibility and vulnerability from a Buddhist philosophical perspective. This is trigged by some recent turmoil (or incidents) in the Tibetan society. I am not a Tibetan, but an admirer of Tibetan people with all its strengths and weaknesses. And I try to intellectually engage with Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, this is all I can do. I consider myself apolitical, not because I have no political views on any given issue but because I consider political (or religious) ideology to be inherently beset with cognitional-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa).

Elsewhere, I once stated that there is no such thing as a perfect political system or a form of government. Of the many forms of imperfect political systems, democracy seems to be preferable, though not necessarily more efficient. I also claim that the degree of the efficiency and success of democracy is directly proportional to the gross national wisdom or insight (prajñā: shes rab) and compassion (karuṇā/kṛpā: snying rje) of the people. Democracy is doomed to fail and cause immense misery to the people if the majority of people become increasingly blinded by one’s political and religious ideology and if the benevolent attitude of compassion for all people is supplanted by malevolence and hatred. Majority per se can never be a criterion for prajñāic and karuṇāic correctness. Ignorance and malice of one hundred people would not transform them to wisdom and compassion. A country ruled by one wise and compassionate person would be much better off than a country ruled by one hundred ignorant and cruel persons. That is why sometimes one would think that a wise and benevolent monarchy is better than a dysfunctional democracy run by foolish and cruel people. Despite such risks, democracy should be promoted by trying to constantly enhance the gross national prajñā and gross national karuṇā. The two should ensure that the greater and long-term wellbeing of the people is not undermined. …


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Philology = Textology + Ideology + Historiology


Here is one more attempt to define “philology.” Philology is a discipline that combines textology, ideology, and historiology. Textology, here, does not mean only “text linguistics” but “the study of texts written in the past.” By the way, there is no such thing as “texts written in the present or future.” All written texts come from the past. Ideology here is not “a system or set of religious and non-religious ideals and beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual” but “the science of ideas transmitted via written texts.” Historiology here is to be understood as “the scientific study or knowledge of history” (of texts and ideas). Note that because manuscript is a manuscript only because of the text it bears, there is no “manuscriptology” without philology. If there were such a discipline, it would be like a life-less body.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Authenticism in Buddhism

Dream doctrines (rmi lam gyi chos) is usually frowned upon, if not outrightly rejected. But so are revealed treasures (gter ma). The authenticity issue of scriptures and doctrines continue to fascinate me. I do not wish to go into the details. But I have once suggested that two kinds of authenticity criteria have been presupposed by Tibetan scholars, namely, what I am wont to call a “genetic” criterion and a “generic” criterion. According to the genetic criterion, only those scriptures that have been genetically transmitted from India (i.e. in form of Sanskrit manuscripts) and eventually in some form from the historical Buddha himself can be considered authentic. Strictly speaking, many Buddhist scriptures might fail to fulfill this criterion, although each tradition would take for granted that its scriptures somehow stem from the historical Buddha himself. According to the generic criterion, any teaching that is generically “well-expounded” (subhāṣita/sūkta) should be acceptable as “Buddha-expounded” (buddhabhāṣita/buddhokta). That which is well-expounded is to be understood as that which teaches beneficiality (phan pa) and verity (bden pa). To be sure, “beneficiality” is a word that I have created myself. I personally think that while the first criterion, if fulfill-able, is ideal, we should also admit the second criterion. Some Tibetan scholars in fact did. Neither of the two criteria seems to be without problems. Let us, for the time being, skip the first criterion, and issues such as why, and to what extent it has been used in Tibet. The second criterion is my concern now. It seems that there are two interpretations of the commonality or similarity of certain ideas or doctrines that might occur in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist sources, namely, a rejective and a receptive one. According to the rejective interpretation, the similarity of certain Buddhist ideas or doctrines is sheer coincidence just like a woodworm’s creation of the shape of the letter “A” and has no value whatsoever. According to the receptive interpretation, anything that is subhāṣita/sūkta should be accepted as buddhabhāṣita/buddhokta. Such commonality or similarity of beneficial and true doctrines is, however, said to be owing to the beneficial influence of the Buddha. One of my professors gave me one more insight. According to him, some Buddhists might have believed that a teaching that appeared to them so inspiring could have only been taught by the Buddha. Such an explanation might not have an epistemic value, but it certainly seems to have a positive instrumental value insofar as it would help Buddhist thinkers to focus on the objective content of any teaching regardless of its spatial and temporal provenance and help them to be perceptive and receptive to and appreciative of any idea that seems noble. Nobility, again, is to be defined by beneficiality (phan pa) and verity (bden pa). From the perspective of the history of ideas, it seems that the teachings taught by the Buddha (buddhabhāṣita/buddhokta) have initially been eulogized as “well-expounded” (subhāṣita/sūkta). Such an idea seems not far away from the idea that if A is X, why can’t X be A. Thus, if all that is buddhabhāṣita is subhāṣita, then all that is subhāṣita must also be buddhabhāṣita. In short, I personally think that both genetic and generic criteria should be applied while trying to investigate the authenticity of Buddhist scriptures and doctrines.
         This small essay was triggered by a small passage in the rJe tsong kha pa’i rnam thar chen mo by Cha-har-dge-bshes Blo-bzang-tshul-khrims. rJe dGe-’dun-grub (1391–1475), one of the foremost disciples of Tsong-kha-pa (1357–1419) and who is retrospectively called the first Dalai Lama and who also founded bKra-shis-lhun-po monastery, once dreamt a dream. In the dream, Tsong-kha-pa appeared to him and said: “dGe-’dun-grub, are you practicing bodhicitta which involves [meditatively] switching [the identities of] oneself and others?” He replied: “Yes, I am.” Thereupon rJe-btsun Shes-rab-seng-ge (1383–1445), another disciple of Tsong-kha-pa, in the physical form of Tsong-kha-pa, gave him two swords, and said: “The ultimate dharma is the generation of bodhicitta. The ultimate view is the [view of] śūnyatā. The ultimate tantra is the Guhyasamāja.” This small anecdote made me pause and reflect. Isn’t this a beautiful thing? Isn’t this inspiring? Admittedly this was only a dream. But what difference does it make whether these statements were made and heard in a dream or whether these statements were made and heard in a wake state? Should one accept this dream doctrine as authentic? If not, why not? What is wrong with it? Can we consider this teaching as dGe-’dun-grub’s? Or Tsong-kha-pa’s? Or perhaps rJe-btsun Shes-rab-seng-ge’s? Can one consider this teaching to be precious? If so, why not consider de facto a treasure? Theoretically rJe dGe-’dun-grub could claim that he received this teaching from Tsong-kha-pa or from rJe-btsun Shes-rab-seng-ge. Should we say he did not? What if he were to say he discovered this teaching in a dream or in his mind? Should we say that he did not and ridicule him? Should we accuse him of being a charlatan and this particular teaching as bogus? Does such a teaching have any spiritual or soteriological value? Does it really matter who taught this teaching, how, and where? What if one were to take, for example, these bodhicitta and śūnyatā teachings seriously and practice them diligently, thereby observing immense and direct benefit such as an obvious decrease of one’s intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa) and an increase of one’s compassion (karuṇā) and discriminating insight (prajñā)? I think one of my Tibetan mentors has maintained that within the bounds of efficient strategies (upāya) and discriminating insight (prajñā), there is no limitation or restriction with regard to what can be employed as soterical means and what not. To those of us who are not endowed with upāya and prajñā, even dharma or medicine may turn out to be detrimental to one’s wellbeing. To those of us who are endowed with upāya and prajñā, even adharma or poison may turn out to be beneficial to one’s wellbeing. The key from the standpoint of special Mahāyāna is therefore not to ignorantly and arrogantly waste one’s life trying to label other people’s teachings as false and bogus but to ensure that one is capable of making use of both medicine and poisons as means of one’s curatio et salvatio.



Saturday, February 18, 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?