Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Buddhism Beyond Without and Within

That the self advances to the ten thousand things and confirms them is called delusion.

That the ten thousand beings advance and confirm the self is called awakening, or realisation.

[Dogen, Genjokoan]
There's no one here. There's only you and me.
[Leonard Cohen, The Captain]
The subjective ideas "inside", "outside", "near" and "far" all assume a localized, fixed self. Such a "self" is contained within some kind of fixed boundary, and we call that boundary "the body". The body begins and ends in space and in time. In space, the body begins and ends at the boundary of our skin. In time the body begins and ends at the boundary of birth and death.

The Buddha taught that we should not identify with our bodies. This is often overlooked by those who are in a hurry to reconcile Buddhism with a modern secular humanist point of view. An unquestioned identification with the physical body is the central belief of what passes today under the name of secular humanism (which is neither "secular" nor "humanist" in any meaningful sense of those terms).

The Buddhist teaching of anatman, usually translated into English as "no-self", could, in my opinion, just as well be referred to as the teaching of "no-other". We imagine ourselves as entities held within containers - in crude terms, as souls contained within bodies. Buddhism does not teach that the contents of the container aren't "real" - or even that the container itself isn't real. Rather Buddhism teaches that the nice neat picture of the world according to which I am on the inside of this container, and everything else is on the outside, is misleading if we mistakenly think it is the whole story (it is part of the story).

Some Buddhists call what I am talking about "other-emptiness" as opposed to "self-emptiness". I guess that's not a bad way of looking at it, but it does kind of divert attention from the real problem: the small self hears the teaching of anatman and says, "you talkin' to me?"

I prefer to just always try to remember that if there is no self, then there is no other.


line of flight said...

you refer to "Buddhism" and "Buddhists" but don't cite to anyone other that Dogen and Leonard Cohen -- who can be hardly considered a Buddhist scholar. You also say the Buddha taught that we should not identify with our bodies. where's the cite for that? how can anyone engage in proper dialetics with you without any reference to any other scholars or texts? I see things that come from both somewhere in the Abhidharma texts and in the Prassanapada (or the Mulmadhyamakakarika itself). Not very systematic and seems to slip in a thought on Christian asceticism.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

If you are unfamiliar with the standard Buddhist exhortation to not identify with body then that is probably a good place for you to start.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Here are three more specific suggestions:

1. Take a look at the excellent reading list compiled by Peter Harvey here:

2. Of the books from the above list I recommend Rupert Gethin's "The Foundations of Buddhism" especially.

3. Do a google search on "other-emptiness":