Thursday, 19 December 2013

Buddhist Misology?

According to a Wikipedia entry, “misology” is “the hatred of reasoning; the revulsion or distrust of logical debate, argumentation, or the Socratic elenchus.” The question is whether we can speak of “Buddhist misology” or designate any Buddhist philosophy or ideology as “misology.” According to Seyfort Ruegg 1981: 2, one of the various terms used to describe the doctrine of Madhyamaka school and particularly of Nāgārjuna, is “misology,” which he, of course, rejects. Mādhyamikas would claim that the Madhyamaka reasoning is reasoning par excellence and if there is one person that truly loves and lives reasoning then that person would be a Mādhyamika. Hence nothing can be more off the tract than describing Madhyamaka philosophy as “misology.” For Tibetan scholars such as Rong-zom-pa, there would no such thing as absolutely immaculate reasoning that can prove or disprove everything to everyone and thus all kinds of reasoning are maculate and limited, but there are various kinds of reasoning, one reasoning more incisive than the others. The more incisive ones can refute the less incisive ones. We can assume that Buddhist logicians and philosophers would like to think that they have some of the most incisive kinds of reasoning ever. They would contend that the Buddha taught only what is logical/rational/reasonable, and anything or everything that is logical/rational/reasonable should be acceptable to the Buddha and a Buddhist philosopher. From such a perspective, it would make no sense at all to talk of “Buddhist misology.” But what about Buddhist yogins and devotional Buddhists? Are they not supposed to hate reasoning? Buddhist yogins would warn people of the limitation of theoretical type of reasoning, pure speculation, and “eristics” (i.e. arguments that aim at winning rather than gaining insights) but they cannot be said to hate reasoning. Devotional Buddhists, knowledgeable about Buddhist logics and reasoning, would not hate reasoning. Devotional Buddhists, who are ignorant of the Buddhist logics and reasoning, might hate reasoning, but as Candrakīrti states, fools are never authorities. Any way, the word “hate” is totally inappropriate. Even if a person is ignorant of reasoning or disproves reasoning, it does not mean that the person actually hates it. In short, the term “Buddhist misology” would be a complete misnomer.

With regard to the limitation of theoretical type of reasoning, pure speculation, and “eristics,” I think we can glean quite a bit of information from materials associated with different periods, places, and persons. Propositions and deliberations on the status of logic and epistemology in Buddhism will be of particular relevance and interest. In this regard some studies have already been done. We would find Buddhist thinkers who seem markedly pro-Pramāṇic, and others who appear markedly anti-Pramāṇic, but in the end we might find a consensus. That is, when people like Atiśa tell us that anumāṇas and pratyakṣa are dispensable for Buddhist soteriology, they really do not really or actually seem to reject altogether the utility or instrumental/epistemic value of inferences and perceptions as such. Because if this were the case, they would have to even reject existence and utility of yogic perceptions (e.g. śuddhalaukikajñāna and nirvikalpajñāna), which, however, could have hardly been the case. For most, if not for all, buddhajñāna would be the ultimate pratyakṣa. What these people are perhaps trying to tell is that Buddhists, who aspire for Arhathood or Buddhahood, do not need a system of theory (or a theory system) that is devoted to the theorization of logic and epistemology. Perhaps something like: You just play or enjoy the music. You don't have to theorize it. The consistent and categorical rejection of pure speculations as being irrelevant to and detrimental for one’s aspiration for salvation is attributed to the Buddha himself. Dignāga, too, warns us against dragging Buddhist teachings along “eristic paths” (rtog ge’i lam). The points of consensus between (seemingly) pro-Pramāṇic and anti-Pramāṇic Buddhist thinkers is perhaps that (a) risks of being carried away by pure theoretical speculations and not being able to avail oneself of the teachings of the Buddha that are actually and initially meant as medicine against the ills of saṃsāra, but (b) liberating insight, be it prajñaic or jñānaic, which must be ultimately acquired through meditation, is indispensable for causing one’s soterical breakthrough

There is also the relativisation of pramāṇa (i.e. kind of “higher” and “lower”). gNubs-chen, (citing the sPyi bcingsbSam gtan mig sgron (pp. 295–296):

gsang sngags rgya mtsho chen po ni ||
dpe dang tshad ma gtan tshigs dang ||
rjes su dpog pa’i shes rab kyis ||
rtogs par nus pa ma yin te ||
de bas gsang sngags bdag nyid che ||
dngos grub rlabs chen ’khrigs pa can ||
bsam yas gting ni dpag dka’ bas ||
lung dang man ngag thob pas ’grub  ||.



  1. Hi Dorji,
    Some tentative supports to your fine notes; the message will be splitted.

    On "misology":
    Why such a rebellious attitude of distrust towards reasoning (here named “misology”) became and often becomes relevant at all in the different essays and attempts at a solution concerning soteriology (observable in all religio-philosophical main cultures)?
    Because mind becomes stunned, when personally and directly confronted and identified with the utmost of “spiritual experience”, namely prabhasvara-experience, here meant not only from the philosophically validated viewpoint, recognized as evidenced reality engagement through absolute trust (in interdependent conventional activity) but also perceived as as authentic undergone “light-bathing” arrived at through gracious, meditative flash absorptions.
    [It appears that those exceptional, intimate absoluteness-fusions (experience/presencing of egoless illuminations, substantially and literally understood) become possible owing to the natural, evolutionary outcome of “naïve cognitive purity in reality-engagement” through endeavouring “selfless intelligent” behavior and acting].

    We are talking/contemplating here about “bhutakoti-penetration”, the “ultimate experience of the personal reality-touch” (“bhutakoti, translatable as “limit of reality” or “ultimate end of cognitive felt substantiality”), which generally would be either interpreted from the philosophical perspective through sunyata-direct-perception or otherwise could be experienced in the spiritual sense through sunyata-direct-perception as well (but should be approached by means of both options, suggested from my own insignificant viewpoint).

    In short, the problem thereby seems to be the following:
    Either one can become a great philosopher (hence a master of “thought-coordination”) or one can become a great yogi (hence a master of “thought-suppression”). The Buddhist challenge (only felt in my humble opinion) is that one “must/should” become “competent” in both personality developments (pudgalavada) for becoming able to validate Buddhahood. A philosopher normally is considered as an extraordinary, highly-matured theoretician and a yogi will be adorated as an exceptional, highly-experienced mystic. The problem of the philosopher then would be his/her “non-experience” of spiritual authenticity (when “only” absorbed in theories); the difficulty of the yogi would be his/her “non-competence of philosophical authenticity (when “only” immersed in mysticism).

    Now, the bodhisattva´s “mission/purpose” is to handle adequately both options to a highly developed degree (bhumi) or to the utmost possible degree of perfection because just by the mastery of philosophy the bodhisattva can use skillful means to teach the Dharma and by the control of yogic absorbtions the bodhisattva can affirm/strengthen his/her own compassionate reality-inclination. Sincerely, mikael.

  2. On Pramana:
    Concerning “the headache with pramana”, I would like to add and risk a brief, introductory note (but please read it critically; hope you will be gentle with me…).

    A bodhisattva feels oblidged to study pramana.
    The study of pramana is meant for (only a personal intuition) the theoretical and practical demonstration (which, I think, indeed is possible) of how the cognitively processed reality-engagement as such functions. A bodhisattva evidently isn´t interested in winning theoretical debates (which one could effectively do in training simply in logic as such; from the Indian philosophical standpoint that could be done through the study of the Nyaya system, in Occidental philosophy Aristotelism would be an authoritative source).

    Now, concerning this designated ontic-epistemic functionality/reliability (arthakriya) the bodhisattva will pose him/herself the following important question:

    “Why the others (prthagjana) cannot and indeed don´t want or moreover are even not interested to see this functionality?”

    The compassionate masters Dignaga and Dharmakirti had worked very hard on this fundamental question! Dharmakirti himself even was very frustrated (PV, I-1) with regard to the quite possible demonstrations concerning the understanding of the non-understanding which thus would/could centrifugate absolute trust (sraddha) in the mind of a faithful Buddhist follower (“pramanavada”) and therefore induce the definite cognitive congruity with reality (the personal entrusting).

    Now, impulsively, the cognitive functionality of reality-engagement testifies altogether mahakaruna (unending compassion) by the observable, reliable functionality itself! That´s the point to understand (otherwise said we try to understand the non-understanding)!
    So Dignaga/Dharmakirti, in convincingly seeing this dynamic mechanism of non-understanding, attempts to explain the bodhisattvic vision of reality through subtle epistemological and ontological argumentation! They describe reality as such through a maximum of philosophically found and elaborated expressibility until the utmost point where theory knocks over in cognitive naturalness (hence the personal entrusting!).
    The inclined bodhisattvas, who can follow their very difficult reasonings (this difficulty represents the felt misery of Dharmakirti´s melancholy), therewith refind the undetermined unity [dharmakaya] of suchness [svabhavikakaya] and the determined dualistic tolerance of Buddhahood (Buddha-jnana) and ordinariness (prthagjana-jnana) [sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya]; thus the ever-present cognitive (samsaric-nirvanic) ontologically felt tension will/would be overcome (by means of entrusting). However and vital, this overcoming should not be apprehended as a kind of cognitive “suppression” but as a daring adoption of this precisely ever-felt tension because the addressed tension itself guaranties mahakaruna (unending compassion)
    [ --> apratisthitanirvana]! Sincerely, mikael

  3. Continuation on pramana:

    Can such a decisive event finally be otherwise recognized as being an “overall personal affair”?

    But now a perplexing problem appears: What then is this “claimed breakthrough experience” of others (“spontaneitists”, “devotionalists”, etc.) arrived at without previous pramana penetration/understanding? The complexity with “such a designated breakthrough experience” (the “personal affair”) then is or begins, when one tries to convey this supposed grounding reality-penetration to other (sincerely orientated Buddhist) seekers through a kind of “short-cut” transmission (well-intentioned or not) where it would be “argumented” that all the rational products of thinking would be senseless [as your given and well-known example typically shows “just enjoy…, you don't have to theorize it…“; (by the way, look here at the already hidden/unconsious pramana-involvement expressed through such and other similary claims)], yet, ironically enough, that same person him/herself had (more or less concealed/laminated) undergone decades of study and meditation to arrive at “such a cognitive perforation”.
    How could one expect from “unprepeared others” such a “spontaneous accomplishment”? There lies a true problem of philosophical mockery within such an attitude of mind, which the doctrinally “short-cut-propagator” simply and tacitly skips in blaming/stultifying the philosopher as a foolish, incorrigible schizophrenic.
    Can we come out of this dilemma without really having understood “pramanic intention”?
    Does the indicated “wannabe/pseudo-mentality” of the “short-cut-propagator” not sound ridiculous too?
    The only excuse we probably could accept would be, when faced with sincere “religious seekers”, that such a disguised conduct stresses a pedagogical necessity owing to the judged cognitive maturity of the corresponding mentality requesting guidance but again we have the embarassement of “who other as the Buddha” could permit oneself such an objective judgment about others?
    Hence, for a “true bodhisattva” the question about the use or non-use of pramana (dispensable or not for Buddhist soteriology) is meaningless because a bodhisattva clearly sees that pramana is already involved in the slightest cognitive situation as such in existence (if we like it or not, if we know it or not…). Consequently, the suggested relativisation of pramana (in my humble opinion) appears to be ultimately problematic, simply because without pramana the bodhisattva would become “powerless” (upaya).
    The “problem of pramana” thereby is not the special knowing and handling of it but “to make adequately understandable” the “cognitive hidden nobleness of the involved heart-attitude within pramana” [“the pramanic heart jewel”], hence, on the one side becoming able to accept and on the other side becoming ready to implement consciously the “cognition-measurement-as-such” (pramana = means of valid cognition, cognition-emphasis/loading/validation).
    Because through trained pramana integration in one´s consciousness we become (or should/would become) increasingly perfused by an immense sympathy for cognitive ordinariness [the felt sympathy for the “cognitive otherness” (prthagjana)]. And here the sense of the wonderful practice of “Tonglen”/gtong len (“giving/sending and taking/receiving”) will be definitely validated (“blissful altruism” or Vajrayana-attitude). Sincerely, mikael

  4. Continutation on pramana:

    So, the aim of pramana philosopy, I think, would be this (again only a simplistic, personal appreciation):

    Refined, skillful acceptance and compassionate handling of “cognitive original evilness” [evilness meant as the obligatory identity-determination/belief in/by cognition itself and thus imperatively associated with unending, perpetuating thought constructions and projections = ontological innocence of cognition as such (prapanca)].

    Hence, the bodhisattva, in the totally entrusting of this seeing functionality (sraddha), works as a pacifier and goodness-orientator of “projective evilness”. Through pramana understanding the cognitive leap in devotional reality-engagement becomes enthusiastically meaningful (the cognitive gratitude).
    Thereby “selfpower” transforms away, the bodhisattva now is carried by “otherpower”! Then, like magic, the so ardently searched and promised buddhafield/pure land (buddhaksetra) of the joyous/blissful (Sukhavati) will not be so far away as we unawakened would mean.
    Sincerely, mikael.