Saturday, February 28, 2015

Buddhist Fideism or Fideism in Buddhism?

As usual, whenever I ponder over a question as to whether there is an idea or theory of “x” in Buddhism. I try to see how the word “x” is understood outside “Buddhism.” In this case, it is “Fideism.” What is “Fideism” supposed to mean and is there such a thing as “Fideism” in Buddhism? It is supposed to be “an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths…. The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means ‘faith-ism.’ Theologians and philosophers have responded in various ways to the place of faith and reason in determining the truth of metaphysical ideas, morality, and religious beliefs. A fideist is one who argues for fideism. Historically, fideism is most commonly ascribed to four philosophers: Pascal, Kierkegaard, William James, and Wittgenstein; with fideism being a label applied in a negative sense by their opponents, but which is not always supported by their own ideas and works or followers. There are a number of different forms of fideism” (Wikipedia, s.v.). 

The question in the Buddhist context would be what we mean by “faith” and whether there is at all such a thing as “faith.” Some of the words that come to my mind are dad pa, dang ba, mos pa, and so on. We can also consider Sanskrit, Pāli, and Chinese terms for these. We shall have to see how these words have been explained or defined, for example, in Abhidharmic sources. While mos pa (adhimokṣa or adhimukti) is a kind of “believing trust” (in something or someone), dang pa and dad pa seem to be described as a clear state of mind which is able to reflect the good qualities of others (i.e. of the Three Jewels); a state of mind which is capable of appreciation (and emotions such as compassion, although objects  of appreciation and compassion are different). A person with dad pa and dang ba is often touched or moved by the good qualities of others; is capable of tears of appreciation (e.g. upon hearing the teaching of emptiness)(and compassion, e.g. upon witnessing sentient beings in pain and suffering). The former case is expressed very eloquently by Candrakīrti in his Madhyamakāvatāra. Faith, if it is one and in this sense, is, of course considered positively in Buddhism. 

But the question is whether faith in this sense is seen (a) as self-sufficient and independent of reason and is thus capable of causing one to gain direct meditative access to the true reality thereby causing one to attain one’s soteriological goal; (b) if faith is seen hostile or contradictory to reason, and (c) if faith is superior to reason. Most Buddhist philosophers would perhaps propose that (a) faith is inadequate and not totally independent of reason, (b) faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, and (c) faith is not superior to reason. An aspirant would need both faith and reason; a reason-based faith is ideal and possible. One can, however, begin one’s spiritual aspiration with either faith or reason, or both at the same time. A faith-oriented person is usually considered dull and a reason-oriented person usually sharp (i.e. in terms of cognitive faculty) but to be noted is that theoretically one can also consider dull or sharp in terms of one’s “faculty of faith” (dad pa’i dbang po). It seems that both faculties of faith and reason are seen as means of gaining direct access into the true reality and for some faith works better and for others reason works better. In either case, what counts is that one is capable of penetrating the true reality with one’s direct meditative insight for which there is no other alternative.

There is, however, a statement according to which one can realize the ultimate truth only through faith. Such a position seems to be indicate Fideism in Buddhism but even faith in such a context may be easily reconcilable with reason. Buddhism would normally deprecate faith (such as faith in the Creator God) as being completely detrimental to one’s aspiration for one’s nirvāṇic release, for a faith in an non-existent God or substantial (or metaphysical) Self is an “acquired/superimposed ignorance/nescience” (kun tu btags pa’i ma rig pa), induced through indoctrination. Ignorance is Buddhism can perhaps never be bliss!

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