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Buddhism and Deconstruction
Toward a Comparative Semiotics

  • Kumarajiva, Paramartha, Xuanzang (344-413, 499-569, 599-644) brought texts from India to China
  • Buddhist systems analysed are: Sarvastivadin, Sautrantika, Madhyamaka, and Vijnanavada.
  • Last chapter brings "Madhyamaka and Vijnanavada to a study of Derrida's deconstruction of Western metaphysics"
  • Main argument: "Mahayana Buddhist philosophical systems and Derridean deconstruction converge in making the notion of the Same thematic in their separate texts."
  • Cites Derrida, "margins of philosophy" for explanation of differance; differance is "the becoming-space of time and the becoming-time of space"
  • focused study on Chinese Madhyamaka and Yogacara instead of early buddhism or ch'an/zen b/c he felt the concept of sign was more discursively treated in these later schools.
  • dismisses early buddhism as "more literary" [clearly he did not confront the abhidhamma]
  • narrowed his research down to three scholars, fluent in sanskrit and chinese, whose writing would be instrumental in future chinese buddhism. Limited his "humble effort" to exegetical (exegesis being my new favorite word) texts, not primary material.
  • Kumarajiva was interested in bringing Nagarjuna's philosophy to China; and thus to elaborate the idea of the "true sign"; this was made synonymous with "ultimate truth".
  • J.L. Austin: Constative speech acts are expository: they exhibit, explains and clarifies its key notions and beliefs, Performative speech acts enacts the very doctrine preached, they enact and embody them. [better to remain performative, don't you think?] no he didn't, he went constative, exegeticative,
  • okay this is funny: "Of the 32 extant texts attributed to Paramartha... I focused on Treatise on the three catagories of absense-of-being. According to Nakamura's review of Ui's study, this text is Paramartha's translation of Vasubandu's comentary on Asanga's Exposition of the Noble Doctrine." [which is itself commentary, on the Buddha's dharma, in mnemonic form, presented in Sanscrit, arguably translated from Pali and written down between the second and third great councils, of a teaching delivered in a language we don't even know by some guy who may not have even existed!]
  • anyway, Paramartha's Three Categories deals with being/absense in relation to sense (nimitta) and referent (artha), five elements of a sign (pancadharma), relationship between name and named, construction (vyavasthapana) and de-construction (nirvyavasthapana)...
  • "It is a concrete piece of textual evidence showing that the mahayana philosophical system not only contains elements of deconstruction but has left with us a theoretical formulation thant anticipates the semiotics in French deconstruction.
  • "When one sees the signifier as identical with the signified, he projects into the world an imagined being; when one percieves a difference between the signifier and signified, he understands that any identifiable entity is dependent on its other; and when one is able to appreciate fulfilled being, his understanding of the dharma-sign is no longer limited by the categories of identity and difference, but informed by an insight into the Same." This corresponds to the three aspects of being, (imagined, other-dependant, and fulfilled) and as such is overturned by the categories of "absense-of-being" (trividhanihsvabhava)." (9)
  • [Using Wang's approach to get at the teachings of Sakyamuni Gautama would be like analysing Hegal in an attempt to understand Sorcrates.  This is why I'm sticking to Abhidhamma; its analogous to using Aristotle to understand Socrates. Nevertheless, his shit is tight.]
  • "In my opinion, the critical program of the Faxiang School does not consist in their justification of the mind-only doctrine, or in their exposition of the eight-fold topology of consciousness, or in their account of the three categories of being. These themes are the common property of both Shelun and Faxiang schools. What distinguishes F. thought is its theory of legible form (akara) of an object of consciousness. The F. writers separate the legible form from its physical embodiments and identify it with the common characteristic discernible in all the species of the same genus." (10-1)
  • On Derrida: "I was only interested in a parochial issue, that is, a comparison between the Buddhist conception of samata and Derrida's conception of the Same... No one else has developed a semiotics that is so reminiscent of the buddhist conception of samata,  Barthes' notion of the floating signifier may invite a comparison with the Prajnaparamita notion of dharmas as mere names unsupportedby a fixed self-identical referent. Baudrillard's notion of hyperreality shows a strong tendencyof idealism and can be intelligibly related to the Sautrantika..."(12)
  • "...I am of the opinion that Gashe' is nearer the mark in recognizing deconstruction as a middle ground between metaphysics and anti-metaphysics." (13) [but this makes no sense. meta-physics is already an opposition to physics, an exteriority. What would be the "anti" of that already "outside" except something else that is already outside. the middle ground may be the skin of the argument, but if it partakes of measurable quantities is physics. If it is beyond the scope of empirical research its metaphysics. End of story. If there is no inside and no outside nor neither nor, then you are dwelling in Buddhism and Derrida. If you are deconstructing the notion of exteriority to physics and interiority then you are not left with a middle ground to stand upon, for the system has been exploded.]
  • "Like the Mahayana Buddhist philosophers who criticize the Hinayana as well as the Tirthikas for their failure to understand the notion of the true sign of all dharmas, Derrida criticizes Western metaphysics... for their failure to understand the question of the sign... For Derrida, differance is neither a thing nor a concept, but the irreducable movement that transcends both presence and absence. A close look at derrida's differance echoes the Madhyamaka theme of 'eight negations' which, according to Kumararajiva, sumarize the notion of the true sign of all dharmas." (13)
  • "In Buddhism, the Eight Negations reject the binary relations of identity and difference, and emphasize the tendency of the sign to pass over to its other. Thus binary oppositions--such as those between masculine and feminine, life and death, etc.--are to be dissolved in this movement towards the other... It expresses the truth of the Same (samata) and suchness (tathata) and yet refuses to be taken in hand. Likewise in Derrida's deconstruction, the trace of the other is the most original movement in terms of either presence or absence, identity or difference. It is the ideality of the Same that allows the sign to function" (14) [dude's talking about Ideal signs in Derrida... I don't think that's correct interpretation]
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