Friday, March 1, 2013

Postformal dialectics

As I noted in my last post on Open Integral, here's the old post on postformal dialectics, part 1:

November 2nd, 2007

The following is copied-and-pasted from the Integral Review forum on this topic. I pasted the first few posts here and the rest of the posts to date in the comments section.

Gary Hampson: Posted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 6:07 am

There seems to be some heat gathering in the Wilberian Theory vs Post-formal Reasoning discussion thread regarding dialectics:

Daniel Gustav Anderson has foregrounded the importance of dialectics with regard to integral theory, whilst he, Bonnitta Roy and theurj introduce various Buddhist dialectical understandings.

Bonnitta also distinguishes between formal dialectics (as thesis-antithesis-synthesis) and postformal dialectics (as invovling self-defining pairs).
It seems pertinent to give this topic its own discussion thread: et voila!

theurj: Posted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 5:26 pm

Lets go back to what Bonnie said in the Wilberian theory vs post-formal reasoning thread:

It is my feeling that dialectics in the above forms, is formal, not postformal, because it relies on the positing of opposite pairs, which it considers in some kind of tension. I believe that post-formal thinking sees dialectical pairs as self-defining, and therefore the tension is ‘resolved’ or ‘dissolved’ before the is any kind of movement toward synthesis.

This open up into entirely new ways of thinking/ perceiving more in terms of constellations(hunting for the right words here) and what the Buddhists call co-dependent origination

This will of course relate to the “Buddhist” nondual traditions and how they formulate the “two truths” and (co)dependent origination. So lets first take a look at how Ken formulates the two truths (absolute and relative) from footnote 7 to Excerpt C:

Is there any perception that is not a perspective? Yes, I believe so, and it has to do with satori or nondual awareness (or pure Emptiness consciousness without an object, which is therefore consciousness without a perspective), which I will explore in later excerpts. The conclusion of this integral reformulation of the wisdom traditions is that samsara (or the world of Form) is composed of perspectives, and nirvana (or Emptiness) is pure perception without an object or perspective. The union of Emptiness and Form is thus the union of perception and perspective, where in my pure perception I am one with everything that is arising (although as expressed through my own individual perspective, with which I am no longer exclusively identified). Finding Emptiness is a freedom from all perspectives (a nirvana free of samsara); a union with Form is finding the Fullness of perspectives that alone can express this Freedom (the nonduality of nirvana and samsara). Wisdom is transcending perspectives, compassion is embracing them all.”

We have aperspectival, nondual satori on the one hand and relative, perspectival consciousness on the other hand which requires a union or synthesis. This is the dual nonduality to which I refer, or as Bonnie describes it, the formal operational way of relating them.

So lets bring in Madhyamika, Nagarjunas dialectical method for handling the two truths. And here I must provide the disclaimer that there are numerous interpretations of this, all claiming to have the true interpretation handed down in a direct lineage from Nagarjuna. I will of course present my own biased preference in trying to show how this form of nonduality does not see the two truths as opposites in tension but as a self-defining pair and dissolved without synthesis, or postformally by the working definition above. And then I will show how Derrida does the same thing, in his own fashion.
I have a bias for Stephen Batchelors and Garfield & Priests interpretations of Madhyamikan nonduality. Batchelor says on the two truths:

“’Very often, says Maurice Walshe in the introduction to his translation of the Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha Nikaya), the Buddha talks in the Suttas in terms of conventional or relative truth (sammuti-sacca), according to which people and things exist just as they appear to the naive understanding. Elsewhere, however, when addressing and audience capable of appreciating his meaning, he speaks in terms of ultimate truth (paramattha-sacca).’”

˜This passage confirms a view familiar to all Buddhists, no matter what school to which they belong. It is technically known as the doctrine of the Two Truths, according to which reality is divided into two levels: the conventional and the ultimate, the relative and the absolute - or, as I translated it somewhere - the partial and the sublime.

It might come as a surprise, therefore - particularly after having just read the words of an eminent translator of the Buddhas word - to learn that nowhere among the discourses (sutta) in the Pali canon does the Buddha use such terms. This famous distinction between relative and absolute truth is entirely alien to these early texts. One can certainly interpret his teaching through the lens of such an idea (which, if you read the passage carefully, is what Maurice Walshe does) but bear in mind that the distinction itself is one the Buddha never employed.

The notion of Two Truths goes entirely against the grain of what the Buddha taught. Siddhattha Gotamas teaching is not founded on absolutes of any kind. He avoids the deeply ingrained assumption of much religious thought that reality is somehow split down the middle (God and Creation / Brahman and Maya / Nirvana and Samsara / Emptiness and Form). Ironically, of course, such divisions are blatantly dualistic - a position most Buddhists are supposed to be at pains to avoid.

In one of the most succinct accounts of his enlightenment, the Buddha speaks of awakening to dependent origination, a truth that is hard to see,’ since it goes against the worldly stream. (Ariyapariyesana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 26, section 19). In modern parlance, his insight was counterintuitive. Why? because it went against two streams: our instinctive mental habit to split reality into two, and the outward expression of that habit in religious doctrines such as the Two Truths. The Buddha awakened to a glittering plurality of endlessly arising and vanishing phenomena. No God created it; no Mind underpins it; no Unconditioned lies somewhere outside it. Ethics, meditation and wisdom are not founded on some absolute truth, but grow out of a careful examination of what causes suffering and what brings it to an end. Enlightenment, for the Buddha, entailed simply paying attention to the phenomenal flux of your own empirical experience.

The doctrine of the Two Truths seems to have emerged fairly soon after the Buddhas death. It is not a later Mahayana idea; for it was already taken for granted in the early Abhidhamma. I suspect that it was the first step in the progressive brahminization of Buddhism in India. The Two Truth doctrine is strikingly reminiscent of the Upanishadic teaching that the world of appearances is an illusion (maya) that separates us from the transcendent, absolute reality of God (brahman). But that, of course, was the worldview the Buddha sought to abandon. He wanted to replace it with another way of seeing things altogether: the radical contingency of all existence, devoid of any intrinsic self-essence or God.

Granted this form of dissolution claims the Buddha never made any such claim for two truths to begin with, which is pre-Madhyamika. So lets look at how Garfield & Priest[1] dissolve it from the Madhyamikan aperspective:

With arguments such as the preceding one, Nagarjuna establishes that everything is empty, contingently dependent on other things, dependently co-arisen, as it is often put. We must take the everything here very seriously, though. When Nagarjuna claims that everything is empty, everything includes emptiness itself. The emptiness of something is itself a dependently co-arisen property of that thing. The emptiness of emptiness is perhaps one of the most central claims of the MMK. Nagarjuna devotes much of chapter 7 to this topic. In that chapter, using some of the more difficult arguments of the MMK, he reduces to absurdity the assumption that dependent co-arising is itself an (ultimately) existing property of things.
For Western philosophers it is very tempting to adopt a Kantian understanding of Nagarjuna (as is offered, e.g., in Murti 1955). Identify conventional reality with the phenomenal realm, and ultimate reality with the noumenal, and there you have it. But this is not Nagarjuna’s view. The emptiness of emptiness means that ultimate reality cannot be thought of as a Kantian noumenal realm. For ultimate reality is just as empty as conventional reality. Ultimate reality is hence only conventionally real! The distinct realities are therefore identical.”

The article then goes into the complex dialectic of how this is so, given that it is indeed a contradiction from a formal operational perspective. I contend that Ken seems to view the two truths more as phenomenal and noumenal realms in union or synthesis rather than G&Ps interpretation of Nagarjuna’s dissolution.

As to how this relates to Derrida’s notions will have to wait, as my time has run out for this session and other duties call. To be continued.¦

1. Nagarjuna and the limits of thought by Garfield and Priest, Philosophy East & West Volume 53, Number 1, January 2003.
2. Note that there is a difference between this interpretation of emptiness and the one Bonnie uses in her IR article. This is highlighted by the differences between G&Ps view and the Dzogchen, even though the latter is also technically Madhyamikan. Food for another conversation if there is interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.