Friday, November 22, 2013

CULTURAL BUDDHISM responses: set-4

45. Argo Spier:
Exploring the fringes of the cultural influence of Buddhism in contemporary society … in India, one unavoidably, at one stage or the other, will have to stumble upon the ambiguity whether Buddhism is a religion or not? And, when one approaches the cultural significance of Buddhism in present day society, whether one won't have to consider that it is a myth in its entirety? It may also be that Buddhism as such, based on myths, is merely the expression of the mythical consciousness of 'man through the ages'.

The idea of p k Sasidharan to have the discourse been associated with 'the taking of a voyage' is a super find. It evokes enthusiasm – ref. the enthusiastic participation of the commentaries – and it provides the needed relaxed atmosphere in which ALL ideas and research are welcome, appreciated and have less of a chance to force a priories that may hamper honest open research. Dr. A. Kanthamani's suggestion that the subtitle of the discourse be changed to incorporate the religious aspects of Buddhism may be an example of a hampering a priori. It suggests that Buddhism is a religion.

But to return to the suggestion that Buddhism may, in its entirety, be the result of myth working, such a consideration may alter perspectives as to the cultural heritage left behind by Buddhism.

In theology 'the time of myths' is past. This has been the case since the De-mystification by Bultmann (Germany) and Vergote (The Netherlands), in the 80ties, of the Christian New Testament, which contains the revelation of Jesus Christ. The De-mystification of the New Testament 'message' didn't devaluate the 'truth value' of the Christian gospel, on the contrary, it brought forth valuable insight and a 'new' understanding of the 2000 year old texts. What the myths used to say (in the past) can and must since their work be expressed differently in all religions or in the thought-of religions. Mythical consciousness needs the interpreting intervention of critical reason, for myths can run wild. And mythical stories – Siddhārtha Gautama, having the thirty-two major and eighty minor marks or signs of a mahāpurua, 'superman' and leaving the elderly palace to become enlightened under a specific kind of tree – can only be accepted as 'pointers' and with reservation. The French philosopher, Gusdorf, conceives mythical consciousness as the implicit, 'enlarged reason' spoken of by phenomenology. Explicit, critical reason is here not the enemy of mythical consciousness. On the contrary, it helps us.

Having said this, I am well aware of the complexity of tracing the mythical mind and its development through time. Moreover, the complexity to, say, with the traces found, make an evaluation of the cultural heritage in contemporary times.

One of the most valuable input into the itinerary of the 'voyage' now under way, is the remark of E. P. Rajagopalan concerning the archaeological potentiality of remnant contemporary words used in everyday contexts. Language archeology is a valuable tool. In this regard I can give the example of a recent history study that was done concerning the Medieval history of the Northern part of France, Normandy. The study dealt with the influence of the Viking influx to that part of the country around 1000 A.C. Before the study the Normand Vikings (from Norway) was seen as 'plundering colonialists'. After the study, and with the discovery of how many names of cities as well as words for cultural festivals contain Normand roots, and the use of language archeology, the understanding of the Vikings was fundamentally changed. Now (by many historians) they are conceived as 'well educated immigrants' having had a 'high cultural level of development'. It also became clear that their threat to the indigenous peoples living in 1000 A.D. in this geographic part of France, the present Normandy (even the name of the region refers to the Norman Vikings) was NOT one of De-civilization but in fact just the opposite. It was their ability to integrate into the higher political layers of the then social organization that was the problem. The violent ones were the indigenous population.

Is it not possible that the now positive evaluation of the cultural heritage of Buddhism may reshape itself into a negative one when exploring deeper into the psyche? An open and non a priori approach towards Buddhism and the incorporation of the possible influence by the mythical conscience of man – and the incorporation of the language archeology tool - may provide a totally new light on the cultural heritage and influence of Buddhism in India.

46. A.  Kanthamani:
I am glad that Sasi no longer uses 'cultural' as an adjective which was the thing I put to question. My question was what is cultural about it. The onus is to explain. Now he can escape my criticism. He is entitled to use the 'heritage’ or the ‘legacy where he is no longer bound by the Buddhism as we know it, which is inclusive of religion with an attendant credo (rites, rituals, doctrines, mysticism etc). It is open to re-read but not exactly the way Prof. Argo suggests: that would just be mimicking the west but he can 'contextualise'. He can raise a question what is relevant in the legacy for the contemporary world. He can liberate from the a priori imagery to go a posteriori (let me endorse Argo again). He cautions however about the 'complexity' . This is a good advice and he can proceed to unloosen the complexity in whatever way he likes. One interesting domain of this 'complexity' lies in its having been a religion in the past, but it needs re-evaluation of the particularity. Before this: is it not proper to assess the legacy in its generality: what relevance religion has to play in the contemporary world?  If this is too comprehensive, we shall consider each one particular imagery. Let me endorse Argo again: 'cultural heritage may reshape itself' may be, devolving itself into a 'negative imagery'. I hope he will agree with me to have a scientific evaluation over and above the linguistic. Hopefully a new 'baby' is born! I read all criticisms and open-ended remarks with interest: I learnt a great deal! 
47. P. Madhu:

Buddha is a wonderful thinker who wanted to liberate us from our assumptions of ‘self’, past, future & culture. Culture for him is samsara! We reify it as samskara! Historians & many brands of social scientists even now got stuck with ‘time’ as past (history) or future (futurity- development-progress...) Historians have a bias towards past & locate present in the past & developmentalists, investors,... locate the present in the future... the ontology of present—historians seek in the past... but the world of investment escaping the academic dexterity of historians give the destiny of making present to the future by their investments and dreams...
Taken seriously Buddha had ideas that may absolve us from the identity disease and its consequences.
Below I give a methodological criticism – inspired by Buddha’s thinking (as i understood them!):
 The present, it is said, is historical. However, what we cannot be sure what history is.  Those which are projected before us as histories are nothing beyond the artworks historians produce. The present, it is said, is futuristic. Similarly, we cannot be sure what the future is. The projected futures are the aspirations of the current.
History is a futurization project irrespective of the historians’ interests or aims.  History happens as historians interpret past or present and lay a trajectory towards the futures influenced by the singularities of their academic system.  For some contingent reasons, most projects of history writings happened to be projects trim the pasts into limited ideal types of tapered future, a contribution towards a ‘global history’ of humanity.  The global history projected is as vicious as the ecology deprived of its diversity by the projections of power elites. An awareness of futures and pasts as multiple temporalities breaking out always from the presents would avert historians from sedating their subscribers towards a tapered future.
The ontology of present is not merely historical but also futuristic. However, it will be simplistic to say the ontology of our present existence is both futuristic and historical because neither there exist a factual history lying out there to be described in all its details nor a factual future whose trajectory is already laid. History and future are both discovered and invented.  The multiple presents hold multiple pathways of the pasts and futures which can be modified by presents as they come forth.  There are infinite histories and futures to be discovered or invented. The greater we understand the creative power of the multiple presents the lesser we would dare to limit the ontology of the present in terms of past or future.
Neither the pasts nor the futures are finished products. They are as unfinished as the presents are. Both futures and pasts are live temporalities as the presents are. In other words, pasts and futures are the extensions of the multiple-presents rather than determiners of the ontology of any monolith of the present. There exists no finished ontology of time to be described or to look ahead.  However, it appears to me, presents always have the power to enliven pasts and futures.
Time as history or future is the unbecoming temporized and presented as linear chunks of periods trajectories from past to future. The periodized chunks of temporalities adulterated with ideologies of convenience, histories and futures are projected.  The ontology of present is sought within the projected trajectories. The ontology of present to exist, there should be an ontology of the trajectory moving from the past to the future through present. The unbecoming is moment to moment disbandment of time rather than a trajectory being constructed from past to future. To be more specific, the disbandment is experienced by us as time. However, history is produced disregarding that history is imagined only through ideological constructs of temporalities and trajectories. The endeavour of history itself thus can be understood as projects essentializing time while time per se has no such order, trajectory or uniformity. Temporalities are understood by many thinkers as hetero-temporal, pluri-temporal manifold experienced through ideologies of mindscapes that are subjected to layers of ideological presuppositions.
The presentation and projections of history and future, seen from this perspective, is entangled within the ideological presuppositions almost in its entirety. Hence, seeking guidance either from history or future will be nothing better than getting entangled within the ideological muddle. Such a history or futurity has nothing liberative in them. Merely, they immerse their subjects into one or another bad faith. This poses a major problem to social thinkers and theorists. Social Scientists, I suggest, instead of producing history or future, could de-ontologize the history, future and the present. De-ontologizing history would require, de-essentialzing and de-ideologizing time.
How to go about de-ontologizing time could be a question arising now. One way to de-ontologize time as history or future is to expose the ideological syntagm within which the histories and futures are produced. Also we could expose the hetero-temporal, pluri-temporal and assemblage effects of time constructions. Yet another way is to examine the events and counter events torpedoing sets of constructed times and trajectories. The other way is to expose the unfinished character of time that never allows any finitude of past or future. Exposing the non-linearity, co-presents co-opting temporalities, anti-presents repelling temporal trajectories, exploring the processes of othering, demystifying continuities and many such research endeavors may let historians to make sense of time in its ever unbecoming nowness. The virtue of such orientations of history and future will be reminding its students of the ever unbecoming present. The virtue of scientific understanding of history or future is, I would say, to release time from the ideological clutches produced them.   
If we want to be fair to Buddha’s thinking we may have to de-ontologize  “culture” or “history” & “cultural history”! That will be a taking the discussion to a different level that getting clogged into identitarian reifications and freezing history and future into identity claims and counter claims!
48. K. Satchidanandan

It will be interesting to connect / contrast these observations with Antonio Negri's ideas of the constitution of time and his constructions like Collective Time, Productive Time and Constitutive Time and what he calls Jetzt-Zeit or 'Now-Time'.

It will also be interesting to look at Buddha's ideas of self as flux, of the decentred, ever discontinuous subject  and his insistence on the absence of an originary as reflected by Subhuti in the Vagrakkhedika  (Diamond Sutra) which in conclusion says " Honoured of the Worlds! The Lord Buddha  did not formulate a precise system of Law or doctrine." This urges us to go beyond the idea of Buddh"ism" and of the Buddh"ist" religion that emanates from a misreading of the the Buddha who would not permit any precise systematization of what he had said  in negative terms: perfection as an empty name, not numbers of worlds but no numbers of worlds, not selfhood but no selfhood : also his looking at the body  as continually changing so that man is never the same for two consecutive moments. These ideas- that might appear Lacanian/Foucauldian to a post-Structuralist- may have profound implications for our understanding of the constitution and reconstitution of time as well as of identities.
49. P. Madhu:
I enjoyed Dr. Satchidanandan’s observation. I also appreciate Devika’s acknowledgement of “apparent shading between Buddhism and
the post structuralist critique of time” that  is , she says “quite well-noticed by now”. I wonder at the wisdom of a great vagabond monk- to have acquired a great wisdom that could only partially be achieved by the most respected academics after 2000+ years! I appreciate Prof. Sasi for bringing up the much needed thinking on Buddha. I found Dr. Satchidanandan’s caution that we need to appreciate ‘buddh’ist’ & not merely Buddhism!
To advance the argument & possible discussion further he brought Negri to focus. I hope that would let the argument further. Negri shows us the way to understand Marx in a matured way & proceed ahead. If contrasted, our scholars hardly show the mettle to be matured! In this context this paper available open may be relevant: The paper is closer to what Dr. Satchidanandan wrote and what I observed in my earlier comments.
Buddhist thinking is deeply ‘anti-narcissist’. That gives a solid direction to thinking philosophy and social sciences. It appears to be social science may not be validated in future is it hesitates to take non-narcissist dimension. The degree of non-narcissism will be one of the criteria to assess the quality & methodological rigour of social science or philosophy! I would like that standard would gradually apply to all fields of expertise! This ‘essence’ of Buddhist  thinking lets it to come up again and again despite all historical efforts to suppress it in the past!
I doubt history- not because it is somebody else’s field- or I have some competition with some historian... History as it is problematized is a suspect within the field of historiography and it is too much outdated with the understanding of time, especially many of the new kinds of post-structuralist understandings. There exists no one-autheticated-post-structuralist-historiography. Many new means of historiographies are coming up. Some of them I mentioned in my earlier observations. If relevant to this discussions, we should discuss them ... as post structuralist methods are not totally alien to Buddhist thinking...
This discussion can branch out into many topics... of that one could be methodological discussion... that may help us to excavate the methodological biases that buried quite a lot of thinking by prematurely labelling them as non-scientific!...

  50. J. Devika:
I think we need to acknowledge that essentialising and de-essentialising time both have their politics. The apparent shading between Buddhism and the post structuralist critique of time is quite well-noticed by now and need not be necessarily pitted against attempts to essentialize time. I am sure we can gain enough self-distance from ongoing attempts that seek to
employ Buddhism as a tool for the latter -- just as we can use it as a tool to de-essentialise time. I don't think there is any true essence of Buddhism that we need to be faithful to. Also don't see why one of these projects has to be necessarily pitted against another. I am not convinced that these projects have necessarily good or bad effects either; without expanding
the field of analysis to examine the conditions under which such projects take shape and the effects they produce, no substantial insight that goes beyond fixities and binaries is bound to arise. The same applies to historical projects too -- as far as I know, post structuralist historiography is far more sophisticated and indeed demanding of painstaking inquiry than Madhu's account would have us believe!

51. P. Madhu:

The Buddhist epistemology has to offer something significant to the social scientific methodology. Especially, its idea of annicca or impermanence is worthy to be considered. That frees us from essentialist ideals of time and identity often cherished in social thinking- (even by the claimants of 'post-structural' understanding). Instead of essentializing time and identities, this helps us to understand them as 'live unbecomings'- even at odds with the pressures of facticities and 'immanence'! A milieu of culture, from this understanding is the melieu of that culture unbecoming- even over coming all pressures that may tend to retain it. So time happens! How things/ cultures/genders unbecomes ... over come stereotypes, a given conjecture.. would be the locale of study if the approach is taken seriously. This is an alternative because otherwise - what we see as history is identities, cultures & times reified...generating needless anger, hatred and deceive oneself as if such an anger were 'revolutionary' or 'progressive'! ... unbecoming is liveliness... unbecoming is over coming stereotypes, unbecoming is mindfulness.. unbecoming has hope in the methodology...this aspect has not there in most of the current constructions of 'post-structuralism'. They still have elements of narcissism, essentialisms, ideologies, premature labeling...I agree with Devika, of-course it has to be verified at field conditions

52. K. Satchidanandan:
I agree that we need not confine ourselves to a single approach or method in the seminar. The 'real' 'historical' Buddha is hard to reconstruct, except from the hagiographical accounts and mediated dialogues  and unauthenticated texts including Dhammapada. Ultimately the Buddhas who work in history and society are   constructs with their own socio-political implications, like the Brahmin Buddha and the Dalit Buddha , the meditating Buddha and the acting Buddha, the egalitarian Buddha and the transcendental Buddha, the philosopher's Buddha and the poet's Buddha ,not to speak of all those Zen constructs where Buddha intervenes in every human act, all of which , as Devika points out, need not necessarily be pitted against one another as there are several strands running parallely  among them. Perhaps we need to look at: 1. the links between the available texts and  practices (impositions too)2. the social role that the imagined ways of Buddhism have played in different historical(ideological- epistemological-ontological) contexts.3. The relevance of some of these constructs to our own time and our struggle for another world, call it Walter Benjamin's Messianic world if you will. 
53. S. Raju:

There are different tenors in the analysis of the past that counties to the present. The most general way to classify them is the following: 1. one can move from past to present; 2. one can move from the present to the past (history of present). It appears from the title of your write up that you are more proximate to the second one. The suggestion seems to be that you start from the present day cultural location of Kalady and trace back its relationship with Buddhist culture, Buddhist path, Buddhist thoughts …………… through Sankaracharya. Though both ways 1&2 deal with time, transmission, transformation, continuitty & discontinuity etc they have different political imperatives. Your attempt, I feel, is not so much to contemplate on Buddhism per se, but to recognize how ‘it’ is pervasive and prevail across the taken for granted social categories/distinctions such as caste-class hierarchies. You are thinking about ways in which the icon of Buddha (especially in Kalady) got erased over time. You are alluding to the point that the place name “Kalady” refers to ‘foot prints of a guru or master’ or preacher. This in turn suggests that it is a reminiscence of relic worship. Perhaps, the question that crops up is the following: can one overlook the metaphorical reduction of Kalady to the Sankaracharya icon? More than this question there is yet another one; how such a metaphorical reduction erased the land marks of Buddhist traces/……. ? When one embark on the voyager from the banks of Periyar to ‘Buddha’/ Buddhism/ Buddhist culture, (path, thought…) one has to anticipate the roaring waves of conceptual and category slippages. I am sure that you have in your mind not so much the ‘historical Buddha’ but the Buddha in action and the Budddha dis-activated. And the Kalady overshadowed or over-lit to the extent of blissful blindness. 
The multiple usages such as Budhist path, Buddhist thought, Buddha vada (Buddhist argument), Buddhist religion, Buddhist culture etc. reveal that you are not taking any deterministic or stoic stand. This is intellectually quite comforting for there is no whip; moreover, such multiple usage gives room for capturing the heterogeneity and multiplicity.     
I understand from your Note that Sankaracharya is a veda-anthi(vedanti) and resonate well with the idea that Sankaracharya is a cypto-Buddhist. If this is so, the philosophical/theoretical voyage from Kalady to non-historic/non-transcendental Buddha through Sankara opens up fresh routes for contemplation.  

54. P. Madhu:

Within spiritual traditions of India that which revered through relics are symbolic representation of realized atman or dhammakaya of any or all of the buddhas, shankaras, jainas- beyond name form and characters. The identities and historicities matter only for the non-spiritual realms of religiosities within the ‘inauthentic’ realms of historicity.
Spiritual realm is timeless- if we take the native field to which these relics belong. Hence, for a spiritually oriented reaching past from present or coming to present from past is immaterial.
Further, there exists no neat path either from past to present or from present to past because these routes always take various directions always from the present of various periodicity. I can imagine two forms of temporalities: 1. Timeless time 2. Timing time (nowness). Past (and sometimes future) represented by conceptualized by some forms of historicities are truth games– irrespective of their utility in the current.
 Histories as they are written are various permutations and combinations of assemblages- all of them are possible from the present! Histories, as they mature and become more authentic- they do not get stuck with identities rather they show us the genealogies and ‘truth games’ played out of identities.
 Thus, surprisingly, both history and spirituality cares least for the identity games and lets the pursuer beyond them! The histories and spiritualities are greatly resourceful in this respect! They are more of self-learning than something to do with incidents out there happened at some point of time- neither they are attempts to ‘straighten’ bent history! Neither an authentic historian nor a spiritualist would attempt straightening the time thus assumed to have bent!
 However, or those who are yet to be stuck with the cords of spirituality or authentic history identities matter! They play the game actively! – Many may not accept this statement!
Such attempts of time travels from present to past (or even travelling from past to present) do not actually straighten the ‘bent’ history or vouch for to which religion relics belong rather it lets us to the plane where we recognize the futility of such attempts. However, such an exercise is always excellent- as it lets us to strike with authentic history and spirituality, as if actually such authenticities exist!
Any serious student of varieties of spiritual discourses of India for ages would identify them as argumentative traditions and schools rather than religions as it is today. At the level of masters like Buddha, Sankara, mahavir, etc... they are different argumentative traditions which agree upon a lot and disagree upon a few other percept. In some cases the differences are merely linguistic or emphasis given to one aspect than to the other. Many of them agree ideas: 1. Samatva is their recommendation (samatva as internal equanimity) 2. They all agree upon Dharma 3. They all agree materiality has nonmaterial subtlety as their source- all matter & everything is from that common source- that is called ‘sunya’ or ‘siva’ or ‘brahman’- all are very closely synonymous- if one closely follows the discussions. They have differences, but those differences are not so significant to distinguish one totally different from the other. They differ at higher levels of their argumentations. All these argumentations had very contradictory social expression- because , social was taking its own dimension- responding to the life-politics.. . So that one cannot say one religion is rogue and other is an angel if we are truthful to the social interpretation of the past... However, we have the tendency to compartmentalize- watertight the past- & identities people having then extending from the politics of identity as it gets thickened in the current. A time that never was is frequently invented by all power centres.
Almost all  പൊതുധാരണ (public perceptions) are suspicious. That is a known fact! പൊതുധാരണ - it seems will be always like that. Academic ധാരണ (perception) I do not think is much different. As I have commented elsewhere- historiography is still hugely problematic as we have yet to come in terms with time and identities. Social Science academics is still naïve. Its discursive richness has not reached anywhere near the argumentative richness that was prevalent through various local thinking traditions. The problem is that our academics hardly knows the treasure of local thinking available. We just label them by one or another identity- and claim ourselves being ‘politically right’ for not having sufficient knowledge in them! We reinvent wheels- again and again, often, the new wheels reinvented are incomparably of poor quality. We are merely smart- any one points out this will be attacked with one or another label- often camouflaged as ‘politically right’! Knowledge production has become more of lobbied stuff than truthful or sincere enquires! Now we have some people lobby for Sankara some others lobby for something else! We may have to escape from obsessive compulsions of monumentalizations... As you point out every word, word combinations of “ബുദ്ധസംസ്ക്കാരത്തെ തുടച്ചുനീക്കി ഹിന്ദുമതമെന്ന് ഇന്ന് വിളിക്കപ്പെടുണ വൈദിക സംസ്ക്കാരത്തെ പുനസ്ഥാപിച്ച ഒരു യുഗപുരുഷനായ ആദിശങ്കരയുടെ ജന്മഭൂമിയാണ് കാലടി  (Kaldi is the birth-place of Shankara, who has replaced Hinduism as it is currently existing  removing the erstwhile Buddhism) are suspects... as the stories of St. Thomas & that of Cheran Chenguttuvan are suspects. Enlivening these suspicions I think will be a great process that may help us to ‘unbecome’ & de-narcissize.  Many of the ‘established’ ‘is’es are ‘is’nots! That lets our identities and consequent commitment to identity-fascisms questioned.
The misrecognition of  വാതം (argument) as  മതം (religion) I think has to be better understood. I think- people already know that- however, socially, മതം has become so deep routed- intrigued with everyday life politics മതം (religion) may not go. For identity intellectuals-  മതം (religion)  is an inevitable fodder to be chewed forever!


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