Friday, 30 January 2015

Disanalogy in Buddhist Philosophy

Disanalogy (i.e. dpe med pa)does not seem to be recorded by Merriam-Webster but by Collins. It is said to mean “a lack of analogy.” If we somehow assume that “analogy” is semantically coextensive with Tibetan dpe (dṛṣṭānta), which can also mean an “instance” or a “case,” or “exemplification” then one might speak of “disanalogy” in Buddhist philosophy. The Mādhyamikas have argued that one of the reasons why “reality” or “essentiality” or “substantiality” or “hypostatic existence” of an entity or phenomenon can never be proven because there is not a single dpe (“analogy,” “case,” or “instance”) of an entity or phenomenon or any given that is “real,” “substantial,” “essential” or “hypostatically existent.” A single dpe of an hypostatically existent entity would undermine or topple the entire Madhyamaka theory of emptiness. The Mādhyamikas would claim that all reasons that are put forward to refute the Madhyamaka philosophy of emptiness are actually ineffectual in achieving their objectives but would consolidate the Madhyamaka position. All reasons employed by the critics of Madhyamaka are like additional fuel that causes the Madhyamaka fire to burn even more brightly. Nāgārjuna, Śāntideva, and the like should be cited. In this connection, consider Mi-pham’s: chos gcig bden par grub na de nyid kyis || chos kun snang ba gtan nas ’gog ’gyur phyir || gcig kyang bden pa med pa’i nges shes kyis || mtha’ bral dbu ma’i lam bzang ….

A few  more points come to my mind. First, we also have to bear in mind that there is mthun dpe as well as mi mthun pa’i dpe (i.e. a kind of opposite case, counter-example, or counter-analogy). Second, a formally correct and complete syllogism is said to require a mthun dpe, that is, regardless of whether or not the proponent needs to demonstrate it to the qualified opponent. Third, I have encountered several intelligent and well-educated lay Buddhists in Europe who have problems with classical dpe used in Buddhist sources. One of the most common remarks is that a dpe, because of its dissimilarity with the don, often does not apply. To this, I have been trying to point out a few things. (a) In an Indian or Buddhist philosophical context, a dpe must primarily work for the qualified dialogue or debate partner. If a dpe is unknown (or makes no sense) to the opponent or partner, the proponent should not use it. (b) Usually The kind of dpe employed need not exist as a (concrete) particular entity. A dpe is usually an abstract concept of an entity or a non-entity. Thus, one can use “pot” (bum pa) as a dpe or “a rabbit’s horn.” (c) Importantly, the exemplifying dpe should never be totally similar to the to-be-exemplified don (meaning). If it does, it would not function as a dpe. A dpe is usually employed because of its at least one shared quality or similarity with the don. Therefore, it would be absolutely correct to the employ “rabbit’s horn” as a dpe in the following syllogism: A “pot,” if analyzed or ultimately, would turn out to be non-arisen just like a “rabbit’s horn.” Now in this case, the argument that “rabbit’s horn” cannot be employed as a dpe because of its dissimilarity with the “pot” would not be valid and the objection simply suggests that the opponent does not actually know the rules of the dialogue/debate. If both parties see the quality or attribute of being non-arisen in both “pot” and “rabbit’s horn,” that would suffice. (d) Perhaps the difficulty lies in the use of the word “analogy” itself. The idea of analogy in the Western intellectual culture is perhaps more rigid than the idea of dpe (dṛṣṭāntain Indian Buddhist intellectual culture. One must, however, note that even in the Buddhist contexts, dpe could be used loosely and non-technically or narrowly and technically. Perhaps one may state dpe (dṛṣṭānta) in Buddhist context may be used on a micro or individual level (i.e. one dpe for a single donon a macro or over-all level (i.e. a series of dpes for a series of dons). The dpe (dṛṣṭānta) thus may include analogy, allegory, and any kind of comparison and exemplification.

Buddhist Fetishism or Fetishism in Buddhism

I just happened to read Andrew Lang’s “Fetishism and Spiritualism” (The Making of Religion. London, New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1900, pp. 147–159) and the Wikipedia entry on “fetishism.” To be begin with, the word “fetish” is said to be derived from the French fétiche; which comes from the Portuguese feitiço; and this in turn from Latin facticius meaning “artificial” and facere “to make”) and is thus “an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the emic attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.” The idea of fetishism itself seems to have a rather long history. Sigmund Freud, in his essay on “Fetishism,” is said to have stated that the meaning and purpose of the fetish turns out, through analysis, to always be the same, namely, “the fetish is a substitute for the penis,” a particular and special kind of penis. The belief in the supernatural power of phallus (cf. “phallicism”) is popular not just among non-Buddhists in India but also among the Buddhists in Bhutan). Karl Marx’s idea of “commodity fetishism” (i.e. in which objects are imagined to dictate the social activities that produce them) and Alfred Binet’s “sexual fetishism” (i.e. the sexual attachment to an object in place of a person) are very interesting as well. Besides such forms of “secular fetishism,” fetishism is said to be present in all religions, which maybe called “sacral fetishism.” If this is the case, there must be fetishism in Buddhism as well. The topic that I dare thematize here is thus “Buddhist Fetishism” or “Fetishism in Buddhism.”
         A working definition of “Buddhist Fetishism” would be “a Buddhist belief in the supernatural or paranormal power in certain physical or inanimate objects.” That Buddhists believed, to varying degrees, in the supernatural or paranormal power of inanimate objects, can hardly be denied. Some random Buddhist ideas maybe mentioned here as some venues for exploration. First, the belief in the power of relics would be an ideal case of fetishism in Buddhism. To be noted is that a relic may even be conceived of as a sentient entity. The belief in the power of other organic or inorganic objects or substances such urine or implements or clothes of realized masters may be seen as an extension of the belief in the power of relics. Second, the Indian or Buddhist belief in the power of wish-fulfilling jewel, too, may be seen a kind of fetishism. Third, while the idea of three receptacles (rten gsum)—i.e. statues, scriptures, and stūpas—may not by itself suggest the idea fetishism, the idea of a statue or thanka that speaks or smiles, for example, may be indicative of some elements of fetishism. Fourth, objects that are regarded by some Tibetan Buddhists as btags grol, mthong grol, myong grol, reg grol, and the like, may also suggest elements of fetishism in Tibetan Buddhism. 
         Importantly, it would be true to state that in Buddhism the power of mind or meditation (and hence perhaps “psychical fetishism”) has precedence over the power of speech or mantras or truth (i.e. “verbal fetishism”) or of matter (i.e. “physical/material fetishism”).

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Buddhist Thaumaturgy or Thaumaturgy in Buddhism


I am sure some scholars would disapprove my use of the term “Buddhist Thaumaturgy,” perhaps with the argument that there is no such thing as “miracle-working,” “miracle,” “marvel,” and “magic” in Buddhism.  While it is true that there is no such thing as a Creator God who acts as a source of supernatural entities, events, or activities, and while we can understand why some of us may not like to have Thaumaturgy in Buddhism because it does not suit the image of Buddhism that we may have created ourselves, namely, Buddhism as a form of pure rationalism, it is not true that there are no elements of “miracles” and “miracle-working” in Buddhism. As far as I see, Buddhism seems to take for granted the existence of “miracle,” “marvel,” “magic,” “mystery,” “sorcery,” and the like, as some kind of “supernatural” phenomenon or reality. These realities are “supernatural” only in relative perspectives. That is, an entity, reality, or activity, is regarded as a “miracle,” “marvel,” or “magic,”  or “mystery” by normal mortals only insofar as such an entity, reality, activity, or, the underlying mechanism, appears to lie beyond their domain of cognition, conception, and explanation. From the perspectives of those who see through the mechanism of pratītyasamutpāda underlying any entity, reality, activity, there is nothing marvelous, magical, or mysterious about anything. In other words, as scientists might say, there is a logical or rational explanation to everything including magics and miracles.

While the existence of magic or marvel is not denied in Buddhism, its value, status, or role is relegated. Only a limited instrumental value is attributed to the magical means or power. It may be supernatural but fundamentally worldly (laukika: ’jig rten pa) in its nature, function, and scope, even when employed by a buddha or an arhant for beneficial purposes. A buddha, for example, can never put someone in a nirvāṇic state through his miraculous powers. If he could, he would have done that already. It is merely a pre-product or byproduct of one’s spiritual accomplishment and realization. Therefore, the higher one’s spiritual accomplishment is the greater would be one’s magical power. Nobody, from a Buddhist perspective, can outdo the magical feats of the Buddha or a buddha. As benevolent and beneficent as he is, however, he would never misuse his magical powers. If he sees that his magical feats would benefit sentient beings, he would demonstrate them. A Buddhist reinterpretation (or relativization) of magical and miraculous prowess and power would be thus: The greatest magical feat would be the elimination, transformation, or cognitive penetration of one’s intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa) as a result of which one obtains complete freedom from the bondage of saṃsāra. One who can do this would be a real magician,  or the greatest magician ever. 

Magical power is thus not denied in Buddhism but its value is relegated. But admittedly, it is also true for Buddhism that absolute power can corrupt one absolutely, the primum mobile of any form of corruption, according to Buddhism, being (negative) egoism characterized by lack of benevolence and beneficence. Magical power is seen as a powerful tool. One can wield one’s tool constructively or destructively; for benevolent or malevolent purposes; with beneficent or maleficent motives. Magic employed for a malevolent and destructive purpose with a maleficent motive may be considered “black magic.” Magic employed for a benevolent and constructive purpose with a beneficent motive may be considered “white magic.” Who can judge all these? It is often difficult to judge. In the end, a thaumaturgist alone should be his or her own witness and judge. A thaumaturgist alone is responsible for his or her thaumaturgy.

In Buddhist history and literature, we find ample accounts of the Buddha and his disciples demonstrating magical prowess and feats. The supernormal powers of the Buddha and his disciples are not considered abnormal in Buddhism. Each Buddhist society may have its own accounts of masters, saints, and yogins demonstrating magical feats. Tibetan Buddhist society is no exception. Particularly, the legendary accounts of Padmasambhava and his disciples are full of them. But this is not limited to rNying-ma school alone. Mi-la-ras-pa is known for the practice of black magic—which he is said to have learnt from a rNying-ma tāntrika (sngags pa)—the aftermath of which caused a turning point in his spiritual career. The legends of Rwa-lo-tsā-ba, for example, also contain full of accounts of he employing his magical powers to “liberate” (bsgral) thirteen bodhisattvas who have attained one of ten bodhisattva stages and thirteen translators of his standing (Shin rgyas, vol. 10, p. 74). He is said to have killed Mar-pa’s son Dharma-mdo-sde but he could not kill Mi-la-ras-pa. It is said that he could not kill Lang-lab, too, who was a shepherd and a Vajrakīla adept.

Where, according to Buddhism, should the magical power come from? There is a collective expression in Tibetan Buddhism: “three kinds of inconceivable [power]” (bsam gyis mi khyab pa gsum), namely, “inconceivable power of substance (i.e. of bodily or material entities)” (rzdas kyi nus pa bsam gyis mi khyab pa), “inconceivable power of mantras (i.e. of speech)” (sngags kyi nus pa bsam gyis mi khyab pa), and “inconceivable power of meditative concentration (i.e. of mind)” (ting nge ’dzin gyi nus pa bsam gyis mi khyab pa). If we are not convinced of the power of substance, we might just think of the nuclear bomb, venom, or potassium cyanid. If we are not convinced of the power of speech, we might try verbally insulting someone and see what happens. If we are not convinced of the power of concentration, we might try doing things after getting totally drunk. A Buddhist thaumaturgist might use one or a combination of these three means or powers, which would then be considered “magical” or “marvelous” by ordinary mortals like myself.