The dissemination of Buddhism following the enlightenment of Siddhatha Gotama represents a fascinating kaliedescope of concepts and ideas. What begins as a relatively simple, fundimentally athiestic psychological excersize, over time recreates the very thought process of daily life throughout asia. The flexibility and universal appeal of the philosophy has resulted ultimately in the misplacement of the original teaching, and the flourishing of a pantheon of dieties, cross-breeding with indiginous religions, and a Trace that can be felt throughout the world. I have no idea at this point to what extent we will be able to follow this thread, but we will chase it to the ends of the earth, back into itself, through its knots of exegesis and beyond the bounds of phyics.
The oldest extant texts of Buddhism are the Pali canon preserved in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. These texts are transcriptions of mnemonic devices originally memorized and recited. As mnemonic devices, the root suttana and vinaya teachings are themselves exegetical, thus merely signatory of the teachings of the Buddha, not the teachings themselves. Later, after the second great council, in order "preserve" the buddhadhamma, the suttana was commited to writing. Some two hundred years following the Buddha's mahasamadhi, and shortly after the printing of the Buddha's mnemesis, the Abhidhamma was composed. This can be thought of as a third level removed from the teachings of the buddha, and a fourth step distant from his actual intent.
Without the Buddha's enlightenment, we would have nothing, therefore, the fitting stillpoint of this dialogue should be that moment, the moment of spiritual awakening, the moment where revelation struck. Following that, but in reality preceding that, we have the great "turning of the wheel of Dharma, the first sermon of the buddha. Texturally there is no originary origin, but tradition holds that the first sermon was in fact the first sermon, and the recollection of the attainment of enlightenment was a later teaching. For the sake of historicity, and to not belabor the textural interpretation, rather, to not get bogged down in minutea our search for truth, we will reconstruct the chronology of events as they would necessarily have occurred. Thus, first came the enlightenment, then came the first sermon. But already in the relating of both these events the great exegesis has commenced. For it is equally relevant to trace the trace backward yet further to the seven years asceticism, or to his orginal teachers, or better still to the relationship with his wife and abandoned child, or further still to Prince Siddhartha Gotama's upbringing in the palace. But no, our foundational assumption will be that the single most traumatic experience in Gautama's life was to be the moment of his enlightenment, and indeed, it is to that moment that all exegeses throughout all the ensuing traditions of buddhisms are directed.
The lack in the Suttana is its fundimental lack of coherence. There is no orderly systematization with the texts. Rather, they are grouped by length, Digha, Majjimika, Samyutta Nikkaya. Long, Middle Length, and Short respectively. Also the Angutara or the Numbered discourses. This recalls medaevel librarys where the books were organized by colors of the bindings and size of the volume. The Vinaya, rules to the monks, I have never seen anything written about. there's some 227 precepts taken by monks all or in part, and somehow that fills a dozen volumes. However, these two collections are not in any way a beginning to end read. They are piecemeal teachings converted to mnemonic structures which were then to be systematically memorized by the Bikkhu Sangha as a unit. No one person could hold it all, it took a community of monks to memorize and recite the Buddhist canon.
As was mentioned, shortly after the second great council, some 200 years following the Buddha's passing, the dissemination of Buddhism took a critical turn. The texts were committed to writing, thus freeing the community of the need to memorize. Rather, the practice of memorization onerous as it must have been, was found remiss and in order to preserve the tradition, it was committed to writing. Later we will go into the terrible consequences of this action with reference to Derrida, Socrates, and all those who lambast writing in general.
What is of most interest to us here is what happened next. Writing begets writing, and there was no end to the writing once it began. Following on the heels of the Suttana and Vinaya, was the "posthumous" teachings of the Buddha. This guy never stopped teaching. He taught, or rather, the historical figure taught through other pens well into the first millenium. Notably, the Abhidhamma texts in the orthodox Pali Canon of the Theravadins, and the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Lotus Sutra to name but two of the hundreds of mahayana texts issuing forth ostensibly from the mouth of the Buddha. It is said that the Mahayana Canon contains a half a million pages. Some day I will find a library that contains a full collection and simply cast my eyes for one moment on every page. I wonder how long that would take... weeks?
Getting to the point: The fundimental lack apparent in the Abhidhamma is that it presents an index, a "chinese pharmacy" of concepts without the living pressence of philosophy. In its effort to abstract from the teachings of the Buddha the act of teaching, the act of active philosophizing, it distills the essential nature of that teaching into a lifeless pressence that has no relevance to the act of practicing yoga. Sakyamuni Buddha's teachings were always directed toward individuals with individual outlooks and problems. Thus, the Abhidhamma is a hypomnemesis of concepts without actual application to a starting point, with no real relevance to the Practice of meditation. This chinese pharmacy provides a pharmokon of concepts, which, when studied provide the illusion of wisdom without actually ever dwelling in the realm of living thought.
In its defence, it was always intended to be a companion text to a formal education. Buddhism has always relied on a teacher, a "good friend" as it occurs throughout the suttana. Without a master to guide one's study, one is remiss in reading only the texts. The lists of the Abhidhamma were never intended to stand alone. They were guidelines to be filled in by practical teachings in the course of study for a meditator, a scholar, or other devoted individual. Thus, we can see that the abhidhamma is incomplete in its own right. It is a skeleton, or at best, a skeleton key of the teachings of the Buddha.
But can we really still call them the Buddha's teachings? Does the exegesis produce a separate text? Or can we cast aside all notions of Orthodoxy the moment pen entered Bhikkhu hand?
Tradition throughout all the teachings of all the buddhisms across the planet would say yes to the first question. The Buddha Dhamma/Dharma is one Dharma. All writing, all recitation, are the roots of trees. The actual practice of meditation, the actual ACT of practice is the crucial element. Scholarship is of greater and lesser interest across the spectrum of buddhisms, and always, it is a pharmakon (quoth Derrida), medicine, but also poison and supplement.
In the Abhidhamma, the concepts of Buddhist psychology are outlined, indexed, and derived from historical source material, but by representing a representation of the representation, one has entered an infinite regress which defeats the fundimental import of the path of the yogi. A practicioner of a path represents a discrete system which defines not a position, but a vector; therefore the efficacy of the abhidhamma to the actual living drama of the student is dubious. As an index it is not philosophy, it is at risk of becoming sophistry for it denies the living movement of signifier and signified. By outlining the doctrine of the Buddha one is missing the point of a man who neither wrote nor condoned the practice. Furthermore, it gives birth to an infinite progress of writing attempting to interpret the interpretation. Buddhaghosa's Vishudamagga stands almost on par with the Abhidhamma itself, a text it ostensibly interprets. Furthermore, following the trace of exegesis through sanscrit, across the himalayas and into China, across china into Korea, north from India into Tibet, Afganistan and Mongolia, From Korea into Japan, and never mind from India to Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Malasia, Indonesia... Each of these countries has produced translations, interpretations, commentary, and sectarian disputes and inter-sangha rivalries. Rarely has it come to violent conflict, but the conflict in interpretation existed in the Buddha's own time, and continues up to this day.
The Kaliedascope of buddhisms in the world today are but a small fraction of the historic schisms. All of these can be traced to the painfully complex simplicity of the buddha's teaching. And all of these disputes are among those who have not reached the state of enlightenment about how best to define it, quanitify it, or rather, which is the best, most comprehensive method of pointing at that which is beyond the very possibility of epistemological insight. For in Buddhism, we step beyond logic, beyond ontology, beyond physics; I hesitate to use the concept metaphysics; for in buddhism it is physics which is the illusion on par with epitemology and logic. Mind is one of six senses equal to the eye and toungue. When we talk about the jnana states, we have transcended the concept of physics, so meta- as a modifier is inadequate. meta-illusion would perhaps suffice. In enlightenment we dwell in a meta-illusory state. We are outside of illusion, but not in reality or non-reality, for these, too, are sumarily dismissed as wrong views.
In contemporary linguistic thought we find the movement of signifier to signified to be an infinite regress where the "thing itself" is forever out of reach of a chain of signification. Likewise, in an analysis of the fundimental import of the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama we will show that this chain of signification is acknowleged in much the same way. Gautama uses the doctrine of dependant origination to show that for every possible view and for every possible dogma, they grow from a root, and the ultimate path for the yogi is not the analysis of the tree that grows from that seed but the uprooting of the very tree. For each person there are certain commonalities for which an Index, a matrix, is helpful, but which is forever alien from the practice of the renunciate. Here we see the prosthesis of philosophy, the substitution of a passive dogma for an active, living practice. The lack inherent in the exegesis
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