Sunday, 21 June 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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dorji,

    “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”.

    Do these specifications “from the very outset” and “one does not somehow make them empty” express or targeting the metaphysical dimension of being? What I try to inquire here is: are phenomena empty in their

    a) metaphysical beingness (hence regardless if I reflect about them or not, phenomena are empty or must be empty)

    or are they empty

    b) in our cognitive apprehension of them?

    I pose this probably trivial question for becoming sure that we do not talk at cross purposes concerning śūnyatā.


    I add a short passage from the Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra (The concentration of heroic progress) which (in my humble opinion) superbly offers the true intention of the bodhisattvic resolution concerning śūnyatā:

    [Philosophical Discussion]
    The Practice of Heroic Progress

    Then the bodhisattva Drdhamati questioned the devaputra *Matyabhimukha: If a bodhisattva wishes to obtain this samadhi, what dharmas should he cultivate?

    The devaputra: A bodhisattva who wishes to obtain this samadhi should cultivate the dharmas of the worldly (prthagjanadharma). If he sees those prthagjanadharmas are neither united (yukta) with nor separate (viyukta) from the buddhadharmas, then he is cultivating the Suramgamasamadhi.

    Drdhamati: Can there be union (yoga) or separation (viyoga) in relation to the buddhadharmas?

    The devaputra: In relation to the prthagjanadharmas, there is neither union or separation, and even less so in relation to the buddhadharmas.

    Drdhamati: What is meant by cultivating [dharmas]?

    The devaputra: Understanding that the prthagjanadharmas and the buddhadharmas constitute non-duality (advaya), that is cultivating dharmas [n.166]. In reality, between these [two kinds] of dharmas, there is neither union nor separation since, O Kulaputra, all dharmas have a mark of non-arising (anutpadalaksana), all dharmas have a mark of non-cessation (anirodhalaksana), all dharmas have a mark like space (akasasamalaksana) and all dharmas have a mark of non-encounter (asamagama) [n.167].

    [n.166] Regarding the identity of the worldly and the holy ones, see Vkn, pp.44-5, 55-6, 128. (Vkn = Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra, The advice of Vimalakirti)

    [n.167] The Tib. is clearer: (engl.transl.)
    Here, there is no united (yukta) nor separated (viyukta) dharma. Why? O Kulaputra, all dharmas have a suchness (tathata) [comprising] nonarising (anutpada), non-cessation (anirodha), non-distraction (aviksepa), non-encounter (asamagama) and non-separation (aviyoga).

    [transl. by Lamotte Etienne / Boin-Webb Sara, “Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra, The concentration of heroic progress”, 1965 (French transl.by Lamotte), 1998 (English transl. Boin-Webb)], p. 164


    Sincerely, mikael.

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