Two Questions regarding Post-Christian Religion

(no gods were harmed during the writing of this post AFAIK)

At the end of the discussion under “Theo-Anthropology and the Essence of Christianity,” we temporarily got caught up in a dire internecine struggle over the specifics of schools or sects of Buddhism in relation to the Hegelian critique of Christian theology.  (Casualties were taken on all sides, but, for now, a ceasefire is in place, while a little blind lick-happy elderly toy poodle wanders across the battlefield seeking tasty treats.)

To discuss Buddhism (or any other great religion or philosophy) on the same level as we were discussing Christianity, we would need to be able to refer to a mythic essence of Buddhism, as opposed to the specifics of a particular practice or interpretation.

To review, I have discussed the assertion that there is a fundamental conceptual structure or central myth of Christianity whose implications become real in and as history – anthropology overcoming theology.  From this perspective the essential Christianity would be something other than any display of piety, ritual observance, sectarian label, or statement of belief in the reality of a particular secondary myth (virgin birth, resurrection, Bible = inspired word of God, etc.).  We do not need to insist on a religion-without-religion as the “real” religion:  Anthropology overcoming theology implies the end of religion as well as the end of history.  The apocalypse returns via atheism, which reveals Revelation as an intimation within religion of its own, religion’s, destruction.  The “world” in religious prophecy turns out to be religion in the world.  The End Times become the Last Gasp.  Witnessing and Day of Judgment are conjoined and conceptually inverted as an Era of Impeachment.

In this context, so-called post-Christian Western and global civilization can be understood as still essentially Christian, epistemologically Christian, whether or not individuals identify in their own minds with the religion.  The perspective further tends to imply that self-styled enemies of Christianity will remain essentially Christian or “Christianized.” Finally, it implies that Christianity – secretly to most Christians but made apparent in the history of Christian/Post-Christian civilization and for reasons explicated by Kojève – is the first modern atheist faith, a notion it’s taken a couple of thousand years to begin to get used to.

So in a discussion at this level of abstraction, it’s immaterial whether a democratical Protestantism or a hierarchical Catholicism presents a truer image of real, existing Christianity.  All cats are black, Marxism is Christianity, theism is atheism, in this midnight.  Each ideological position is informative in regard to an inevitable moment in the broad collective work of extenuation and expiation for the collective murder of God (a mass murder of gods, actually):  His (their) never-having-existed is the chief argument for the defense, even if making that argument may satisfy a jury of our guilt.

One thousand years ago, the verdict could get you burned at the stake.  Today, it hardly gets you attention on the internet, and sells books in decently large numbers if properly marketed.  It seems, at least here, that anthropology is overcoming theology.

As for Buddhism and other non-Christianities, the question for this discussion is whether there is an essence of Buddhism or other non-Christian systems, whether that essence or its realization evolves or is Christianized under the broadly-Christian hegemony of this long phase of world history.

To me, the central myth of Buddhism, from which everything else derives, is that of the individual who leaves society, in a sense leaves common reality itself (performing a superhuman feat of meditation), attains enlightenment, then brings it back.  The message is already contained within his departure and return,  and would therefore be twofold, putting paradoxical demands on the Buddhist:  To go all the way away, and fully arrive here.  So some Buddhist practices seem to stress renunciation and result in quietism, while others seem to qualify renunciation in various ways – allowing or perhaps requiring the Buddhist to serve and minister to others, to live a full normal life, and even to get involved in politics, but without offering a full-fledged rationale for the social order (the culture-state) as an end in itself.

I’ve repeatedly mentioned Hegel’s critique of Eastern religion, so the question might be how history or essences unknown or unrecognizable to the philosopher impact upon his views, which I’ll summarize as follows:  Eastern religion – including Buddhism by implication – is one-sidedly inward in its emphases:  Since the inward experience is alone essential for it, the relationship to the outside (society, state, politics) becomes non-essential and arbitrary.  Historically, therefore, the polities of the East built up in accordance with such a religious-philosophical outlook have tended to stagnate and degenerate, and eventually become vulnerable to outsiders.  Put differently, the religion-philosophy contributes little to history and offers little defense against history because it does not care to be actualized in the world on the level of the state, which is the primary engine of history.  Furthermore, according to Hegel, this form of belief leads to destruction when consequentially actualized (in the West), though he is referring in this respect to revolutionary fanaticism that can never find a real order that perfectly corresponds to its unreal abstractions, not to Buddhist priests doing good works or Hindu politicians running for office.

Two questions for believers in/practitioners of Eastern religions/disciplines:   1) What have CK and Hegel (or CK’s Hegel) missed – that is, what better defines an essence of Buddhism or other related non-Christian religion?  2)  To whatever extent Hegel (or CK’s Hegel) has things essentially right, what must Buddhism/The East become in our time?


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47 comments on “Two Questions regarding Post-Christian Religion

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  1. Okay. I don’t know the answer to either question, but I can tell you what the “neo-post-Hegelian” Wilber emphasizes. Perhaps that will head things in the right direction. Okay. One of Wilber’s big things is referred to as “The Levels of Being.” It connects with an older idea called “The Preternatural Pentad.” Wilber takes the Sanskrit five strata of mind(manas)-ego(ahamkara)-intellect(buddhi)-soul(prakriti)-spirit(purusha) and presents it as the more Western friendly Physical, Emotional, Mental, Soulful, and Spiritual levels. With that hierarchical structuring in mind, Wilber points out that the mistake we usually make is to try and “illuminate” the highest reality according to the perceptions of lower levels of consciousness. That doesn’t work. The mind (manas) is not self-illumining. Even the third level of consciousness (intellect-buddhi) is not equipped to explain the Truth. So to realize the Truth we must be absorbed in Spirit. I think the teacher who has realized Spirit level consciousness who you might relate to best is Sri Aurobindo. He was Western educated in the late 1800s, was very active politically and even militarily for awhile, and told the yoga people of his time that they had to realize Truth out in the world, not just internally.

  2. I get annoyed reading stuff like this, having had to do so much of it while a whippersnapper, but sometimes stuff is written well enough to be compelling despite everything.

    I must sigh and think of the Tsar and say to myself

    “If only he’d used his powers for good, instead of for Hegel.”

  3. @ fuster:
    I doubt you ever “did so much of” this really. You may have studied Hegel. You didn’t do Colin’s Hegel. It annoys me when people act like they’ve done something in their past when they haven’t really done it in order to dismiss something they can’t do now. I’m quite sure that what Colin is doing now is different than anything you could have done when you were a whippersnapper. So I am sighing as well.

  4. @ fuster:
    Well, make up your mind – a few days ago you were liking the discussion.

    As for Hegel… well, see, you know how it got started, I think… It turned out he was lurking in the b.g. all along, then attacked from several directions at once – Wilson’s deep dark secret, Kojève’s reply to Strauss (ON TYRANNY having advanced on my reading list as a result of an exchange with bob on neuro-capitalism), the thing that JED (and Adam) couldn’t cope with – and then I learned to an extent I had never previously appreciated how much so many of the other thinkers I had appreciated, but also the figures I despised, owed to his approach.

    And do you recall how I ended up with Pestritto’s book on Wilson, which blames progressivism, esp. Wilson’s progressivism and therefore “modern liberalism” on Hegel? Poor feller that I am, I had decided not to purchase Pestritto’s WOODROW WILSON AND THE ROOTS OF MODERN LIBERALISM, whose price has been inflated due to Beck and Goldberg having touted it. Instead, I had ordered Pestritto’s anthology of Wilson’s writings – ESSENTIAL POLITICAL WRITINGS. The book I received had EPW’s cover, but contained the text of ROOTS (rather severe printing error). So I read it, and found Wilson’s Hegelian understanding of America more intriguing than Pestritto’s criticism of it.

    So I was fetid to undergo a major encounter with H. Nothing to be done about it. It’s far from over. If I had the money and time, I might very well go back to school and do it all “right,” in the original. Luckily enough, I don’t have the money and time. So we’re safe at least from that.

  5. @ Scott Miller:
    Oh, don’t mind the frog. He contains multitudes. But maybe you’ll set him to ribbiting. Somewhere in a dusty armoire he keeps his set of engraved silver Calvin & Hobbes dueling pistols. He may be cleaning them even as we speak.

  6. @ CK MacLeod: I’ve continued to enjoy your Hegelbinge despite distaste for the German philosophizzing.
    I shall continue to read and express grump and if that engenders annoyance, perhaps we can ponder the import of it.

  7. @ fuster:
    Ach – does that mean there was an available correct path that they all missed, for three centuries? Guess it depends on what you expect philosophy to do, or to have done.

  8. @ Scott Miller:
    One question that remains is to what extent Aurobindo, Wilber, or others have thought things through on the level of history and the state, or if they have instead ceded that ground to others – whether because they don’t acknowledge the significance of the state or because they tacitly or explicitly acknowledge the Western-Christian models as irresistible.

  9. I’ve been a practicing Taoist(Meaning “Taoism” as an Ism is rarely or never reflected upon,but is merely lived)for Decades. It is the source of my political opinions.

    ” Chapter 69

    In using the military, there is a saying:
    I dare not be the host, but prefer to be the guest
    I dare not advance an inch, but prefer to withdraw a foot

    This is called marching in formation without formation
    Raising arms without arms
    Grappling enemies without enemies
    Holding weapons without weapons
    There is no greater disaster than to underestimate the enemy
    Underestimating the enemy almost made me lose my treasures

    So when evenly matched armies meet
    The side that is compassionate shall win
    http://www.taoism.net/ttc/complete.htm

  10. The Essence of Taoism is that the Universe being “Perfect” cannot be improved upon. This has been widely misinterpreted as a call for inaction. The Tao Te Ching is a very popular document,but again,very easy to misunderstand.
    When LT talks about “Perfection” he is referring to a Long Term Process. In Human Affairs,If we were able to count every good action/thought,every evil action thought throughout history,we would discover that there is a constant ratio between the two en masse,that is the “perfection”. But this Constant ratio varies in the short term. That is why to describe Tism as a philosophy of Inaction is inaccurate,we need to do as much good today as possible in order to balance out the volume of evil that is bound to be coming tomorrow. If we practice “Inaction”,the ratios will change for the worse,probably. Tism is very aware of the seven years rule/FAT-LEAN.
    TaoIsm contains the Essence of/and what’s best in both Conservative and Liberal political thought.

  11. Colin wrote;

    To me, the central myth of Buddhism, from which everything else derives, is that of the individual who leaves society, in a sense leaves common reality itself (performing a superhuman feat of meditation), attains enlightenment, then brings it back… but without offering a full-fledged rationale for the social order (the culture-state) as an end in itself.

    Put differently, the religion-philosophy contributes little to history and offers little defense against history because it does not care to be actualized in the world on the level of the state, which is the primary engine of history.

    .

    Put in Hegalian/Colin terms, yes.

    The Buddhist response is that history is a cycle of suffering that doesn’t end as long as we accept the ontological assumptions of these statements. But I struggle to specify what I think they are.

    As far as Buddhism becoming in our time…It has adapted to several very different cultures by incorporating elements of those cultures. In Asia, it has consequently generally been quite conservative politically except when the State acts like a wild animal.

    In the West, there is a lot of discussion of what adapting means. In Tibet adapting meant incorporating shamanism. In the West I think the issues are neuroscience and psychology.

    While I share the concern of many about this, I think it is the situation.

    More later…

  12. @ CK MacLeod:

    Maybe quibble with irresistable.

    Anyway…The Tibetan govt in exile sees democracy as the appropriate system if they were ever to rule themselves. The Dalai Lama says that there may not be another DL. He might even put it up for a vote!

    In any case, if there is another one (s)he won’t be the head of govt.

  13. fuster wrote:

    I expect philosophy to increase our knowledge of this world and its creatures.

    Certainly German philosophy has done that much. At a minimum it has increased our knowledge of German philosophers.

  14. Just for fun a reformluation:

    The central myth of Buddhism, is that of somebody who leaves society, leaves conventional reality itself (performing a perfectly human feat of meditation), attains enlightenment, then nobody brings it back saying nothing is an end in itself.

    Not entirely happy with this, but I think it will do.

  15. CK MacLeod wrote:

    One question that remains is to what extent Aurobindo, Wilber, or others have thought things through on the level of history and the state, or if they have instead ceded that ground to others – whether because they don’t acknowledge the significance of the state or because they tacitly or explicitly acknowledge the Western-Christian models as irresistible.

    Sorry it took me so long to reply. Aurobindo was actually an Indian nationalist freedom fighter who spent some time in jail for his political actions. That’s why I thought you’d be interested. He also works as a Fuster annoyance, since he studied German philosophy and came up with a yoga with a Nietzsche-like overman-underman perspective. I hope you check him out.

  16. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Right. This is where I get my attitude toward the supposed liberal-conservative mix in this country. No one should want either side to win. We need a balance between a sympathetic, adventurous, sensitive, if sometimes too reactive liberal base and a thoughtful, conventional, stingy, if sometimes too cautious conservative base. Right now, we have a tug-of-war between two confused, reactionary, self-oriented groups, neither of which express liberalism or conservatism effectively.

  17. From a Taoist view, it would also be great if the good liberal base allowed for a little bit of conservatism in themselves and the conservatives allowed for a little bit of liberalism in themselves. Then you have the nice yin-yang fish duality with the little dots on each side. (Maybe the sweetness and simplicity of that image will send Fuster running back to the Germans).

  18. Scott Miller wrote:

    Right now, we have a tug-of-war between two confused, reactionary, self-oriented groups, neither of which express liberalism or conservatism effectively.

    We have a system of government in which politics reflects, seeks to attract and dominate, and potentially encompasses the entirety of our society, but which is designed to function sub-optimally. Dysfunctionality and distrust permeate the political system and the state.

    The most patriotic hate the system in its actuality, and want to destroy its manifestations, but love the idea, which also allows for a love of the nation (the state other than the system) – those are conservatives. (They know how to “offshore” their seemingly contradictory embrace of the security state, placing it outside the “system,” possibly the most dangerous thing about them.) The liberals are the ones who defend the system in its actuality, and want to expand and improve it, but hate the system itself.

    Each side is condemned to treat the things they hate as objects of ardent desire. So of course they’re driven crazy, if they don’t start out that way. They take on within themselves the self-contradictions that are integral to the system of which they are a part.

  19. bob wrote:

    he central myth of Buddhism, is that of somebody who leaves society, leaves conventional reality itself (performing a [1]perfectly human feat of meditation), attains enlightenment, then [2]nobody brings it back saying [3]nothing is an end in itself.

    I see what you’re doing there, but isn’t that kind of an initiate’s version? Don’t take my disagreements the wrong way, as I’m not suggesting there aren’t valid questions involved at each point.

    [1]isn’t “perfectly human” either an oxymoron, a truism and redundancy, or the same as “superhuman”?

    [2]”nobody”? Is this a philosophical notion of non-existence of self? Seems like the imposition of esoteric knowledge on common speech.

    [3]Not sure, again, why the specific content (or non-content) of the “enlightenment” are integral to understanding the form and function of the myth.

    We’re using Buddhism here as a stand-in for The East. I’m not saying that Buddhism might not need to be considered separately and on its own terms, but I’m not sure why, within this discussion, the differences between Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, aren’t more akin to the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.

  20. Colin, we have a system where the schools don’t teach reading and writing to any appreciable degree, where there are massive disencentives to domestic manufacturing, where are our power demands have doubled, while our electrical grid is stagnant, where
    we our shutting down our domestic petroleum operations, while funding
    operations in other nations, making us more dependent not less on foreign oil. Our military is doing a decent job, all told, against an elusive
    enemy, that we are forbidden from identifying, the media, really the fourth branch of Government, facilitates all these tendencies, demonizing the popular movement that wants to change it, and
    practicing hagiography of the ruling class

  21. @ miguel cervantes:
    “the popular movement that wants to change it”: hope and change?

    Don’t really know how your comment is supposed to work within this discussion, other than as a statement of your support for your team of plucky underdogs out to beat the odds.

  22. @ CK MacLeod:

    I hope my tone wasn’t defensive because that’s not where I’m coming from at all. I assume good faith and humor in all our discussions

    “Initiate’s version”? Absolutely – kinda the point.

    To unpack it a lilltle more: “perfect” has the specific meaning of recognizing the 3 emptinesses: of self, of action, of object.

    “Nobody” nonself? yes

    Specific Content. The Hegalian maw ginds up everything so that eventally it’s digestable. I’m saying the Hegalian project of strpiping away what it regards as the non-essential to uncover the essential myth merely uncovers itself.

  23. @ bob:
    Don’t worry – didn’t take your tone as defensive at all. I’d call it “legitimately protective.” I wouldn’t expect a devoted Catholic to want to let go of, say, Immaculate Conception, just because CK MacLeod happens to consider it secondary (among other things).

    Just exploring the difference between an irreducible content and a secondary content – not “secondary” in actual importance to any particular individual, but secondary relative to a philosophy of world history. To me, the perfects seem like elements within a philosophical discourse, not central mythic elements.

    One way of viewing the theory, going back to prior exchanges on “safe from wild animals/non-interfering state,” is that a world in which the specific content is not chewed up would be the result of working/fighting in historical time – that IS history, in this view. This is the progressive view of world history that directly contradicts the cyclical view that classical Buddhism shares with other philosophies of the ancient world.

    Totally innocent ignorant person’s question: If the Noble Eightfold Path can end suffering for the journeyer, why fundamentally/inherently couldn’t there be a Noble X-Fold Path for an entire nation, or world, advanced and adopted as such?

  24. CK MacLeod wrote:

    Totally innocent ignorant person’s question: If the Noble Eightfold Path can end suffering for the journeyer, why fundamentally/inherently couldn’t there be a Noble X-Fold Path for an entire nation, or world, advanced and adopted as such?

    Even those Rinpoches who go along with Buddhist institutional social structuring are constantly trying to subvert it so that institutionalism doesn’t keep practitioners tied to a system embedded in suffering. They know that institutions are not liberated and do not liberate. They are a necessary evil, so to speak. Wise practitioners do a dance with them. Buddha’s own Sangha (spiritual community) was troubled with institutional problems. There was a plot to assassinate him, and he had all kinds of challenges keeping things cool on a gender level. Still, Sanghas are considered to be not only important, but essential to individuals making their way toward enlightenment. It’s interesting that actual Tibetan Tibetan Buddhists living in the states tend to restructure how things were in Tibet by connecting with rich, powerful Westerners like Steven Segal and Richard Gere. They become attached to the wealthy and end up exploiting the poor all over again. The Dalai Lama said that right when the Chinese attacked, the Tibetans were just about “to change.” He never says how they were going to change. I wish he would come out and say that the system of picking the Dalai Lama and all the minor Rinpoches was like a lottery system. It gave false hope to the poor because their circumstances could change overnight by a miracle, while maintaining the power base of the monks. I also think it’s too self-serving for TBs to think there is only personal not “cultural” karma. Of course, there is. What you reap, so shall you sew. That goes for countries as well. Tibet I think came as close to a Noble X-Fold Path for an entire nation as it gets and it didn’t work at all. Not even close. For the monks, on an individual level of practice, however, it was great. Probably more people became enlightened within the system than any other nation in history.

  25. @ CK MacLeod:

    Totally innocent ignorant person’s question: If the Noble Eightfold Path can end suffering for the journeyer, why fundamentally/inherently couldn’t there be a Noble X-Fold Path for an entire nation, or world, advanced and adopted as such?

    The Human Realm is of of 6 parts of the Desire Realm (Samsara) defined by its inhabitants always being dissatisfied with what they have. So, at the bottom, its easy to see why those in the Hell Realm are unhappy, but those in the God Realm become dissatisfied too.

    Ordinarily, enlightened beings reside in Nirvana, but the Mahayana and Tantric traditions say some may choose to take rebirth in the Human Realm to help other beings. But no restructuring of the realm will change what it is.

    Now Traditionally there are Universal Monarchs who can rule justly over an entire world system. But that world system reamins in samsara despite his wisdom.

    I’m kinda dissatisfied with this answer because I suspect it boils down to “there just can’t be”. Maybe your reaction will show me a dooor to a better approach.

  26. Am thinking through where this gets us, but, as an aside, I’ll make an observation that I’m sure has been made many times before regarding the similarities in the founding stories of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. In each case, we have a founding figure to whom a miraculous event or super-normal connection to the divine is attributed. In each case, his teachings are assembled by followers at some substantial temporal remove from the initial delivery, and the establishment and consolidation of a collective institution to propagate and perpetuate the teaching is marked by intense competition that seems to contradict and undermine the message. Such causes for skepticism may deter some, but for believers they provide a path or paths to proof (including all-important proof to self) of devotion.

    One difference between Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and I’ll throw in Marxism here as a name for modern irreligious religion, is the relative greater emphasis on collective salvation the closer we come to the present. In Buddhism, it seems to be rather a question mark. In Christianity, it’s critical, but still mysterious. In Islam, it’s critical and a real work to be accomplished in the world, for God. In Marxism, it’s a critical and a real work to be accomplished in the world, with the last connection to divine (supernatural) agency or commandment severed.

  27. @ CK MacLeod:

    That’s a pretty fair encapsulation. (As a Buddhist I quibble with the word “divine”.)

    Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism can be considered messianic as well. The traditional belief is that Buddha taught these “second and third turnigs of the wheel” during his life, but committed the initiates to secrecy until the time they could be taught without degenerating into a drive for power.

    The usual historical belief is that they were part of the evolution of Buddhism, developed by “ordinary beings”.

    At any rate, I think your aside points to the possiblity of religion being part of our neurological, evolutionarily adaptive make up.

  28. @ CK MacLeod:
    The question about “Grace” is also a big point. Obviously, with Christians, nothing really happens without Grace. With yoga, Grace is also important, because the mind can’t self-illuminate. Buddhists generally steer clear of the issue, but Vajrayana practices and awarenesses like “Mahamudra” also connect to an acknowledgment that enlightenment is beyond conditioning. You can’t practice your way into realization. At some point there has to be a moment of what we can all recognize as “Grace,” even if it is not necessarily Divinely inspired.

  29. @ Scott Miller:
    An emphasis on grace or parallel concepts isn’t shared uniformly among Christians. I think you can spend a lifetime immersed in certain Christian sects and never hear the word in a religious context, though you might hear much testimony about how Jesus came into whoever’s life. Often, these testimonials, even if they assert mystery, work out instead as rather materialistic proofs of divine justice: Jesus came to me when he saw I was ready, hit rock-bottom, when I was on the verge of x. “Jesus take the wheel!” Even the evangelical churches that in one way or another trace their way back to very contrary traditions are in this way infected with modern cravings for a god whose decisions can be celebrated as just, or you might say ethical.

    Different beliefs about grace, where and how it comes about, and especially whether good works could earn it for a believer, were a major basis for schism and schism again once upon a time, but we’re floating high above schism here. Theo-anthropology, in dissolving the separation between God and Man, would seem to obviate it, and likely look for alternative, materialistic or scientific explanations for those experiences.

    “Grace” also happens to be the name of a new client whose antique chairs and all-electric motor scooter I’ve been listing on eBay today. Her mother’s name was “Faith.” Maiden name “Jolly.” Tomorrow or so I ought to list a not-true First Edition of THE FOUNTAINHEAD for her: So, let’s see, Faith leads to Grace, something to rest on, something to take you from place to place, something to bring you near enlightenment or the source of everything… but all convertible to money (one hopes).

    So I can see why you would bring her up out of the blue like this – and I very much hope you’re right about the conditions being favorable.

  30. @ Scott Miller:

    I think “grace” is a negation of the Vajrayana approach. I suppose the “kindness of one’s guru” could be construed as grace, but to what end?

    “Grace” is something outside of oneself. Mahamudra and related practices are thought of as an uncovering of what’s already there.

  31. Colin

    Reread this post, and “anthropology overcoming theology” makes enough sense to me now that I could imagine saying to my daughter in one of our discussions.

    A slight detour…yesterday she stopped in after her Faustian themes in Lit and Cinema class and confessed that she was finding our years of what up until now had seemed pointless discussions (to her)with me, valuable. Not only in her classes where she dazzles the profs, but in her battle of wits (really no contest) with the libertarian frat boys she’s been hanging out with (this is a complete mystery to me).

    Anyway…Buddhism is anthropology with no theology.

    There is no reference to God to overcome. The issue as Robert Thurman puts it is “the only means for beings to gain freedom was their individual understanding of their unique situation”.

    To place it in the rubic of Christianity ie an overcoming, is to miss one of its, possiblibly its most imprortant feature – there is nothing to overcome.

    One could see Buddhism as the anthropology that has overcome the theology of Hinduism. In other words it has the relationship to Hinduism that Hegel sees his system having to Chrsitianity.

    But there is no end of history here. Ordinary beings are always dissatisfied and that is the engine of history and suffering.

  32. bob wrote:

    Buddhism is anthropology with no theology.

    We may be getting somewhere, but, just for the sake of clarity, anthropology overcoming theology is more Kojève’s Hegel than Hegel, in my reading, and would be an essence of Christianity realized inevitably, as exposed and understood via Hegel, than a revolution engineered by Hegel or his system. However, I’m still creeping up on Hegel’s knockdown-dragout with Christian theology, so I may have to amend these comments.

    As for Buddhism, again, I write as someone whose knowledge and experience of Buddhism is quite limited, but it sometimes seems to me that some Buddhists somewhat passively dispute that the essence of Buddhism is really religious at all: Y’all put it forth as a kind of saffron-flavored phenomenology of mind. Yet at the same time there is a significant stream (the most significant?) of Buddhism that operates with all of the trappings of a religion, including a reliance on “sensuous and spiritual” representations (myths) connected to varieties of mystery, transcendence, and disparate “beyonds.”

    So, I need a little help here: What role if any do notions of the divine and transcendent play in real existing and historical Buddhism? Is their a Buddhist critique of theology, Hindu or other, or does Buddhism merely bypass or attempt to bypass theology entirely?

    Regardless of the answer, the Hegelian issues with Buddhism would remain intact, I think, perhaps taking on more from his critiques of stoicism, cynicism, skepticism, etc. – as philosophical stances on the way to dialectical understandings. Buddhism might therefore in unique ways pre-figure the philosophy of world history that I’ve been summarizing in these posts and comments, but still lack the elements that would allow it to speak to world history – since it seems to bypass history in somewhat the same way it would seem to bypass theology. The parallel may be more than coincidental.

  33. @ CK MacLeod:

    Buddhism in situ in Asia is a religion in every sense of the word execpt theistic. In some countries it is the cultural identity of the nation as much as anything else. In others in may be one of several religions. But it functions as, and is a religion, but without any God.

    There are gods and bodhisattvas people pray to for worldly asistance. But these beings cannot do something that is not in one’s karma.

    In the convert west, many rebel against the religious trappings. I enjoyed your “saffron-flavored phenomenology of mind”. Some “mine” Buddhism and other eastern relgions for ideas for their psychological theories and modalities. Nothing wrong with that up to a point – but misrepresentation sometimes becomes a problem.

    I thnk Hegel (as I understand him from our conversations) and Buddhism stand in opposition each seeing the other as having had some real insight, but drawing conclusions directly opposite of the right ones.

  34. @ bob:
    Well, I’m a little confused by your description as I re-read it closely. No God, but “gods and bodhisattvas.” It sounds, in short, more pantheistic than atheistic. Pantheistic religions can be quite promiscuous and inconsistent. Sometimes the gods do whatever they want. Sometimes they’re checked by other powers , such as the Fates – whose working sometimes resemble “karma.” In some, but not all usages, karma functions like a virtual God, an eternal force of justice and judgment that lacks self-consciousness but still has properties of the divine Likewise, reincarnation and related traditions seem very important to some Buddhists, but not to others. (I once went to a lecture by Xong (sp) Rinpoche many years ago, and it was mostly a long, complicated tale of a person advancing spiritually through multiple incarnations. Very mind-blowing as a story. Had no idea what the point was.)

    I’d still like to know more about the relationship between Buddhism and other religions and philosophies – at what point it becomes impossible, if it does, to be both a Buddhist and a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Christian, a Buddhist and a strict materialist-atheist, from either side.

    Still not satisfied on this subject, but your final formulation on (neo-)Hegelianism vs Buddhism seems right. Incidentally, Kojève was said to be an incredibly learned man “fluent in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan dialects as well as in French, German, Russian, English, Hebrew, Latin and classical Greek.” I’ll see if I can turn up any useful commentaries by him on this question.

  35. @ CK MacLeod:

    Yeah, I knew I was opening a can of worms…

    This is going to take a while to either figure out how to talk about this without creating more confusion or find a link I’m comfortalbe with. The pantheism you describe is going in the wrong direction though.

    Skipping to the question about being Buddhist and x….

    Since we’re talking about ordinary beings, it is inevitable that part of our confusion will be to identify with some idea, ism, as a way of maintaining the illusion of a inherently existing self.

    If we bring this “to the path” and work with it then it helps us progress. Or it can just get in the way.

  36. In 40 I was trying to make a point about the religiousness of Buddhism, and probably made a hash of it.

    “Bodhisattvas and gods is too imprecise. “Bodhisattva” can have different meaning in different contexts. “Gods” is usually rendered as “deities” short for “meditational deities”.

    This from Alexander Berzin in an essay on Visualization.

    Let’s start on a general level. In tantra, we use our imaginations to imagine various Buddha-figures, yidam (yi-dam) in Tibetan. These Buddha-figures are sometimes referred to as “deities,” although the Tibetan term being translated here, lhag-pay lha (lhag-pa’i lha), actually means “higher deities.” They are higher in the sense that they are not samsaric gods in a samsaric god-realm, but are beyond the uncontrollably recurring rebirth of limited beings. So, they’re not creator gods and they’re not like ancient Greek gods or anything of the sort. Rather, all these figures represent the full enlightenment of a Buddha and each of them also represents prominently a particular aspect of Buddhahood, like Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara embodying compassion and Manjushri embodying discriminating awareness or wisdom.

  37. bob wrote:

    The pantheism you describe is going in the wrong direction though.

    Before I say anything else, let me first acknowledge that every faith appears different to its adherents than it does to outsiders. The outsiders are always missing some critical nuance or fundament, a fact which can and must be seen in different ways, both from the perspective of the skeptic seeking pure logical consistency, and for the believer who is driven by the perception and intimation of an inner truth, and for whom it is entirely logical and rational to subordinate “mere” logic and rationality to that inner truth.

    Also to have better signposts on our wrong path, I should have said “poly- or pantheistic,” not just “pantheistic.” We should also be clear in this discussion that GWF didn’t have much trouble at points throughout his post-Phenomenology career slipping into the language of Christian religion, so we don’t need to force Buddhism to “pass” some kind of absolute atheist purity test.

    There was a very specific sense in which Hegel strongly approved of Christian doctrines, as “spiritual and sensuous” or “pictorial” representations of philosophic truth. It was a basis for critiquing “Enlightenment” and “Pure Insight” as well as for critiquing naive religion. We’ve already discussed the meaning of the divinity of Christ in this sense, as the construction of the individual as of infinite worth and mediator of particular and universal. Being the “son of God” would be expressing as a “natural” relationship what for Hegel is a logical relationship between “Spirit” in different aspects.

    Such views, naturally, put Hegel on the suspects list for defenders of the old-time religion, a fact that may explain why in later life he tended to stress the defense of religious truth against Pure Insight rather than the dialectical re-interpretation of religion. In the hands of the Young Hegelians, Marx especially, forerunners all of Kojève, the former aspect tended to be emphasized, and used to augment an Enlightenment-style attack on religion that Hegel in fact rigorously criticized.

    Yet numerous angles for parallel critiques of Buddhism suggest themselves. In my simpleton’s understanding, the annihilation of Self differentiates Buddhism starkly (intentionally and radically?) from Hinduism, which features a pantheon of divine Selves and a panoply of other selves, including high celebration of self as in some passages from the Upanishads I recall. The “deities and bodhissatvas” are spiritual beings who lack being as selves. Reincarnation – which is virtually inconceivable in the Hegelian system – becomes possible because the reincarnated (non-?)self was never defined in terms of its positive existence anyway.

    I don’t want to lose the thought that karma suggests God or action of a god without a Self, divine action purged of selfhood. As for the disinterest in realizing the Kingdom of God on Earth through collective action, that would be perfectly consistent, since, for Hegel, civil society and the state are where any self becomes real, attains its positive moments, converts its abstract potential for freedom into true freedom. Karma becomes a substitute for the self-conscious collectivity progressing in time that Buddhism, as we’ve been discussing it, cannot embrace and seems to deny at a radical level.

    Karma, from this perspective, stores all of the attributes of divine judgment that the monotheists give to the Lord (i.e., a self-conscious entity above and before humanity) and that the Hegelian puts into history (as the coming to higher self-consciousness which attains its reality in the collective action of individuals).

  38. @ CK MacLeod:

    Karma is a very difficult subject. Buddha said that you have to be a Buddha to understand it – otherwise trying to would be a cause for “vexation”.

    That said, the most direct formulation is that is cause and effect. You do something, and at some point when conditions are right, the effect manifests. Like picking up a rock holding it for a while and then letting go. Or more traditionally, planting a seed.

    Nobody judges you. Most likely not in this lifetime, but what you do will manifest in some way in your future “mind stream” as an effect. There are no accounts, no St. Peter, no day of judgement. It’s always and continuously happening. Just like in the physical world where causes and effects are always and continuously happpening.

    Apparently until fairly recently, acedemics in Asian studies kept their Buddhism a secret, for fear of being seen as having gone native. Now it’s quite acceptable, and in some quarters even thought to be necessary.

    Your observation about reincarnation (rebirth is often the preferred term) is quite apt. Most people go the other way and ask, “If there’s no self, what is reborn?”.

    One of the problems is that diffferent teachings are directed a people with different levels of understand. So teaching can seem to be counterdictory.

    In any event, this is getting to the point at which my “poor vessel”ness as a student is having an effect. I’m not sure how much you want to pursure a more systematic approach.

    I’m happpy to recommend readings, although, as you would guess, they would be from the inside rather than outside in approach.

    In any event, I’m enjoying this conversation very much. So, accepting my limitations, this more random way is fine.

  39. @ bob:
    Please recommend away – but best if readily available on-line or cheap.

    Am also enjoying this conversation, but not sure how much I can or should do to sustain it right now: combination of distraction + am just reading something relevant to it, but also rather difficult to absorb. I also know that Scott is busy this week, and I’d like to see his take on these subjects.

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