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Nagarjuna and Theravada - Page 2 - Dhamma Wheel

Nagarjuna and Theravada

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Prasadachitta
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:05 pm

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

Dharmajim
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Dharmajim » Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:56 am

A few comments regarding Nagarjuna:

First, Theravada does not need Nagarjuna. I would argue that no one does, meaning that no Buddhist tradition needs his analyses in order to practice, follow the path, attain realization. In other words, I don't think Nagarjuna is particularly insightful nor do I think his writings particularly relevant to how the vast majority of practitioners engage the Dhamma and Dharma.

Nagarjuna is obsessed with articulating a finely wrought analysis; but how does that help one's practice? How does that help one achieve realization? I think it is all colosally irrelevant.

Here's an analogy as to why I think this way: Cultivation does not require perfect understanding of ultimate nature. If two gardeners have different understanding about the ultimate nature of "flower", those different understanding will not impinge on their abilities to garden effectively. Both can still produce wonderful gardens.

Similarly, understanding precisely and meticulously the exact nature of emptiness does not, in and of itself, prove conducive to effective practice of the Dhamma Path. It isn't needed in order to practice the precepts, enter into the foundations of mindfulness, or practice metta. Whether one comprehends emptiness as a non-affirming negation, or an affirming negation, or as a mystical darkness, all of these are equally compatible with Dhamma practice.

On the level of logic, I remain unconvinced by many of Nagarjuna's arguments, particularly those that rely on equating an infinite regress with a logical error (see, for example, his analysis of motion). Not all infinite regresses are fallacies; one has to further establish that the regress is logically vicious and Nagarjuna does not do that which, in my opinion, vitiates many of analyses. In addition, Nagarjuna often wins his arguments by defining his terms in an eccentric way; the link that Tilt gives offers one example of this. 'Self-nature' as used in Abhidhamma/dharma does not necessarily entail separate existence, which is how Nagarjuna treats it. Just as an ecological analysis of a field does not entail the separate existence of the elements of that field (the science of ecology would actually deny that conclusion), so also the listing of mental dhammas does not entail that they have separate existence. Nagarjuna uses a sleight of hand here to win an argument, but his victory had almost no influence on his opponents because he wasn't really addressing their claims.

I have a deep admiration for thinkers like Proclus, Spinoza, and Nagarjuna who are able to manifest a finely wroght analytical structure. There is something beautiful, to my mind, about these offerings, but they are not the final say on Dhamma. One philosopher I greatly admire, Alfred North Whitehead, says in his preface to "Process and Reality" that there is no such things as a final system of analysis. Creating a final system is not really the function of these kinds of analyses.

One of the things which disturbs me about the focus on Nagarjuna is that Mahayana Buddhism seems completely stuck in this medieval system and logic has come a long way, just as mathematics has. It reminds me a lot of Catholics who remain stuck with St. Thomas Aquinas. Western Theravada Buddhists have already made some interesting offerings integrating contemporary western philosophy, applying it to Theravada Dhamma; I'm thinking of Gowans as a good example. I would like to see Mahayana Buddhism follow this example instead of remaining fixated on Nagarjuna.

Best wishes,

Dharmajim

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby clw_uk » Thu Feb 19, 2009 9:22 pm

Sorry for lack of posts, been caught up in the other thread

Thanks to everyone for posting such full and interesting posts, they have given be some good understandings


:namaste:
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:05 pm


Dharmajim
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Dharmajim » Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:09 am

Hi Tilt:

I find the point you made one of the most disturbing of the madhyamika tradition. Chandrakirti explicitly says you have to be a madhyamikan to have full enlightenment. In order for that to be the case one would have to establish a causal connection between awakening and learning a system of analysis. It isn't too difficult to comprehend a causal connection between overcoming the five hindrances and awakening; since nibbana is stated to be "peace" in the Pali Canon one can grasp the connection in a fairly straightforward way. But what would be the connection between nailing down a system of analysis and awakening? Since awakening is often claimed to be non-conceptual it would seem to me to be generating a hindrance rather than clearing an obscuration.

Hi Gabriel:

The idea that Nagarjuna has no view of his own, as he states in, I believe, the Vigrahavyavartani, is one that I do not agree with. First, Nagarjuna clearly believes in the efficacy of analysis and that entails having a view as to the nature of analysis. Many people would not agree with this view; for example many would argue that comprehension of higher states is intuitive and non-analytical. So this is not obvious or something to be taken for granted.

I regard Nagarjuna's claim that he doesn't have a view as identical to Newton's famous "Hypothesi non fingo", "I have no hypotheses", or B. F. Skinner's claim to have no axioms or Derrida's similar claim. All of these have proven to be false and for anyone outside of the madhyamika haze the view they have is fairly blatant.

Best wishes,

Dharmajim

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Prasadachitta
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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:19 am

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Individual » Sat Feb 21, 2009 3:53 pm

The best things in life aren't things.


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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Dharmajim » Sat Feb 21, 2009 6:20 pm

Individual:

I agree that it's possible to use Nagarjuna to assist one's understanding. Kalupahana seems to have been able to do this. But as Tilt pointed out, the madhyamika tradition (though perhaps not Nagarjuna himself) makes much larger claims as to the importance of their analysis. They do not consider madhyamika to be one among a number of possible interpretations. The view of madhyamika is that without an understanding of madhyamika one cannot awaken. I disagree with that and if Nagarjuna really meant that then I respectfully disagree with Nagarjuna.

Regarding the perception of the garden as a subtle emptiness, I don't think that is so. Perception does not, in itself, entail an ontological position. I can imagine a devout monotheist looking at the garden and feeling that the beauty of the garden is a sign of the beauty of the Lord, the Creator of All. This is not a view of subtle emptiness. Most people, I suspect, don't really give it much thought one way or the other, and there's something to be said for just getting down to the gardening.

Best wishes,

Dharmajim

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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Individual » Sun Feb 22, 2009 7:32 pm

The best things in life aren't things.


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Re: Nagarjuna and Theravada

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:40 pm

"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332


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