Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kenotic Model of Buddhist Soteriology

We are told that “in Christian theology, kenosis (Greek kénōsislit. ‘emptiness’) is the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will” (Wikipedias.v.). The term seems to be employed in various sub-areas of Christology in varying senses. But my concern here is whether we can use the term also in the context of Buddhism and specifically in the context of Buddhist soteriology. Although perhaps tempting, it does not seem to be suitable to use the term kenosis in the context of Buddhist ontology and axiology (e.g. in Buddhist ethics and morality). According to the Madhyamaka philosophy of emptiness (śūnyatā: stong pa nyid), phenomena are essentially and from the very outset empty of real or hypostatic existence and one does not somehow make them empty. Similarly Buddhist theory of the absence of a metaphysical Self (ātman: bdag) or Person (pudgala: gang zag) does not imply emptying of an existent Self or Person. If we consider particularly kenōsis in the sense ‘an emptying’ (from kenoun ‘to empty’), I think we can use it to characterize a model of Buddhist soteriology, which may be presupposed by more than one strand of Buddhism. We are told (Schmithausen 1969) that the absolute, according to the Yogācāra School of Dharmapāla, is conceived of as static (as opposed to the dynamic absolute of the Tathāgatagarbha School), and that the positive qualities of a buddha do not belong to the Wesen of the absolute and that thus they have to be generated additionally. It would thus seem that the Yogācāra School of Dharmapāla proposed or presupposed what one might call an Aufräumungsmodel/Ausräumungsmodel (i.e. clearance-model or riddance-model) of Buddhist soteriology. That is, to become an arhant or a buddha, one must clear or clean all the intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa) or all obscurations (āvaraṇa: sgrib pa). An important distinction between the soteriological model of a regular arhant and that of a buddha would be, however, that a regular arhant would not have additionally generated infinite positive qualities and what remains of an arhant in the end is mere tathatā, whereas a buddha would have additionally generated infinite positive qualities. The analogy of the Aufräumung bzw. Ausräumung einer Wohnung is actually apt here. What an arhant in the end gets is a cleaned and emptied flat (i.e. tathatā), whereas a buddha gets a fully and newly furnished flat. In either of the two cases, however, everything that was there in the flat of tathatā before have been totally emptied. Such an “emptying” model of Buddhist soteriology may be called “Kenotic Model of Buddhist Soteriology.” In my view, the soteriological model followed by the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka or Sarvadharmāpratiṣṭḥānavāda school cannot be said to be kenotic, reasons I cannot afford to give here.