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Mystical Realism


Mike
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Hi everyone,

 

I've been wanting to perhaps go over some writings from Zen Master Dogen's Shobogenzo here, as they have been challenging and inspiring me these last few months. First, though, I’d like to talk generally about Mahayana Buddhist ontology/epistemology and why I like its flavor.

 

The concerns of Buddhist philosophy tend to be different than in the West, though it can interact well with many Western styles of philosophy - existentialism, postmodernism, Whitehead’s process metaphysics. (You can check out Nishitani's 'Religion and Nothingness' for a thoroughly "existentialized" version of Buddhist philosophy).

 

To put it simply, the problem with modern Western philosophy, to my mind, is that it tends to get lost in its pretense of objectivity. With the success of the scientific method, and for all its benefits, we have very much inherited a lopsided view of things. Reality has, for us, come to be treated as an object, and knowledge as manipulation/control. In short, we have “mistaken methodology for ontology.” I think this is probably the single greatest shift in perspective from pre-modern to modern, and it is a shift that doesn’t rest soundly to me. I think we desperately need to affirm a more mature relationship with the cosmos (and by "we" I refer to our culture, our popular, collective beliefs).

 

While in the West we seek the ideal of detached, disembodied truth, Buddhism recognizes that truth is always embodied and intimate. There is no truth existing in purely theoretical terms: truth must always be realized in practice. As human beings, our deepest needs lie not in abstract, rational, discursive thought. We need truth confirmed in practice. As such, Buddhism draws no sharp distinction between epistemology and ontology, nor between insight and reality.

 

Much of our current thinking traces back to the legacy of Descartes. Though he gave the mind a high ontological status, he did so by introducing a dubious, thoroughgoing mind/matter dualism, which, though most of us have subsequently rejected, continues to be tacitly embodied in our thinking. Descartes, a father of the scientific method, removed perception from the perceived, quality from quantity, intension from extension. The concept of matter developed as that which is lifeless and defined merely by geometric extension.

 

This problem has remained with us, because even though we've rejected dualism, we’ve nevertheless retained the concept of matter, and furthermore insist that matter is all there actually is. This is very curious indeed. Under the banner of materialism, we therefore attempt to explain everything - to give an account of reality and experience - exclusively in terms of extended objects and structures, reducing subjectivity to a mere shadow of what we take to be the real reality. I take this to be a symptom of an epistemic sickness, leading to an impoverished way of seeing - and being.

 

Kant built another system based on this dualistic preoccupation, and abstracted the noumena from the phenomena in a very stark fashion.

 

Buddhist philosophy, on the other hand, is non-dualistic. It does not suppose language and thought to be describing an independent, objective state of affairs, and yet neither does it collapse into idealism, nihilism, or antirealism. It simply (or not-so-simply) does not presume such a state of affairs to exist, and therefore doesn't concern itself with creating (or projecting) ideas that correspond to one. Buddhism enters into an existential awareness in which there simply are no objects and no independent existence to refer to, and which is done justice only by the language of intimacy.

 

To quote David Loy, it attempts to “rescue language from its own mystifications.” Language becomes a creative exploration of what, while already too close for words, is yet not necessarily without words. As DT Suzuki said, there is nothing either explicable or inexplicable about reality as such. There simply is no intrinsic and independent reality - no noumenal reality composed of externalized, pre-given objects which confront one's pre-given senses - to define as such.

 

Therefore Buddhism does not suppose that the mind’s function is to mirror/represent such a reality. The mind is definitely not treated as an object (that which is encountered/confronted/apprehended), but neither is it treated as a subject (that which encounters, confronts, apprehends). Mind itself is nonduality, luminous emptiness. Bodhidharma wrote, “the Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure” (The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, 7). Beings have neither the stain of self nor other. Nor both, nor neither. Life springs forth from Purity. “It is as if the experience were its own source,” writes Roshi Robert Aitken. This is a position that I like to identify as “mystical realism,” to grab a term from Hee Jin Kim’s work on Dogen. Yet all this is not to negate the world, but simply awaken fully to it, nothing hidden. Just "such." Even though the world is essenceless, this very essencelessness is our world. Come to it, breathe deeply, embrace it completely.

 

"In direct perception of this mundane world, where things are never what they seem, where all is delusory enchantment, like hallucination, seeing all and everything as a continuity like the reflection of the moon in water, that is the Buddha’s pristine awareness, and a flash of undivided recognition of that gives us a unitary experience of total presence." (from the Guhyagarbha-tantra)

 

From the introduction in “Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature,” which explores some Tibetan texts on yogacara and vajrayana,

 

“In negative terms, vijnapti-matra rules out the realist extreme: substantial external objects of cognition are denied. However,… [it] has also a positive connotation…to indicate an intent to avoid the idealist extreme as well…The intension here is not to reduce the material to the mental, but to deny the dichotomy, while affirming that the basic reality is more usefully discussed in the terms belonging to a correct understanding of the mental.” (p55)

 

“Ultimately, the phenomena contained in samsara and nirvana are emptiness beyond all extremes of reference points.” (p267)

 

Some verses (from Tibetan sources):

 

“Relatively entities exist,

Ultimately they have no nature.

When mistaking what has no nature,

It is the truth of the relative.” (Speech of Delight, 31)

 

“Based on mind only,

One will not impute external objects.

The one who observes purely

Utterly transcends mind only as well.” (ibid, 31)

 

“Establishing the appearance of the mind is like a thief in an empty house.

It is beyond color, form, shape, and characteristics.

There is no searcher and no object of a search.” (A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path, 320)

 

“The all-creating mind is like a magician.

All the suffering and joy of samsara and nirvana arise from it.

Hold well the real meaning of mind.” (ibid, 306)

 

What I like about Buddhism is that while it resists naïve realism and makes no pretense of describing how things “really are” in an objective sense, it can still find where to hold to “real meaning” - something which we sadly have stopped believing in in the secular West. I would simply describe “real meaning,” that is, “ultimate reality,” as selfless abiding…

 

The hermit doesn't sleep at night:

in love with the blue of the vacant moon

The cool of the breeze

that rustles the trees

rustles him too.

-Ching An

 

…that which implicates the self so wholly that there is no trace left, traceless realization beyond self and other. No trace of self-nature, intrinsic or extrinsic, objective or subjective, inside or out. Just intimacy, truth without the pretense of method - “subjectless, objectless knowing,” as Lex Hixton put it - and the phenomenal and noumenal are one and the same.

 

In his commentary on the Chuang Tzu, Kaung-Ming Wu says this about meaning:

 

“‘Meaning’ is so basic and pervasive that it cannot be clearly defined or described. To ask what meaning means begs the question, for every word describing meaning must itself be meaningful.” (The Butterfly as Companion 364)

 

Therefore Dogen writes,

 

"I come to realize that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and stars."

 

"Enlightenment is intimacy with all things."

 

"Mountains and rivers at this very moment are the actualization of the world of the ancient Buddhas. Each, abiding in its phenomenal expression, realizes completeness."

 

"That you carry yourself forward and experience the myriad things is delusion. That the myriad things come forward and experience themselves is awakening."

Edited by Mike
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Mike, many thanks for this contribution to the OWT area. I read it with great interest, and in a way it makes me speechless...........rather like the Peanuts cartoon that has Lucy ask the gang what they see in the shape of the clouds. Schroeder breaks into a long refrain about how he sees the image of St Paul addressing the crowds in Athens, while Linus wax's lyrical about some other classic figure of antiquity. Lucy then asks Charlie Brown directly.......and Charlie just stands there and says, "well, I was going to say I could see a little red chuff chuff but I don't think I'll bother....."

 

Well, maybe I can salvage something for myself by saying I'm more intuitive that philosophical, rely more on instinct than explicit analysis..... :D . I do remember, long after having my own interest in Buddhism stirred, a moment of what could be called "paradigm shift". Up until this point, without really being explicitly aware of it in my own mind, I was basically looking at what I deemed "exotic" ways of thinking, being, feeling, seeing - this all from the outside. It was the "western" way that was embedded in reality, the actual "given" of reality, from which "given" I was looking. Then - I'm not talking about any sort of mystical revelation or any such nonsense - but there came a moment when it became apparent that what was being studied could in fact be the "way things are" (or "are not"..... :) ) From this there is no going back.

 

Anyway, hopefully others here on this forum can mull over Mike's post, and if what can be offered is thought to be no more than the equivalent of "little red chuff chuffs", please don't let this put you off..... :D

 

After all, as the Good Book says.......and a little child shall lead them.

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Mike,

 

Darn. There is so much meat in there that i can't find the salad. :D

 

I have read your post over a couple times and will re-read and enjoy it again. Attaching words to intimacy and subjective experiences has never been one of my strong points but your words and the words of Loy, Dogen, Kaung-Ming Wu and Tibetan sources do my intellect justice. :lol:

 

Thanks for the post, i can't add anything nor can i subtract anything. :o

 

Joseph

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Mike,

 

First off, I'm over my head. Discussions about ontology generally are, but ontology fueled by a Buddhist perspective... yeah, over my head. I"m going to make a comment now, and come back to this thread this afternoon or evening after I have a chance to figure out questions to ask (questions take longer than opinions).

 

My comment: I'm increasingly suspicious you would like Bruno Latour, as the complaints you make about the western tradition are very much his. He's a materialist who denies there is only one material form who rejects dualistic thinking. A sociologist of science, he's made a career out of pointing out that scientists don't actually use the scientific method, and openly mocks Kantian influence in his peers when he finds it. He's a post-structuralist in the tradition of Derrida and Foucault, but insists that we can and do escape language often. I know I've said this before, but it's really the only thing I know that approaches what you're currently talking about.

 

I hope to have a more engaging question to ask later on.

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Like Nick, certain subjects tend to leave me floundering, yet suggestions "offer" themselves to me, often other peoples words, and take on some sort of shape. Funnily enough, a phrase that has come to mind, after reading through Mike'e OP, is one from way back, spoken by a Fundamentalist guy....."Have you heard of the man who missed out on heaven by 12 inches? He believed with his head but not with his heart." This in turn made me think again of a phrase that caught my mind in Quaker Way's thread opener in the Progressive Christianity section, "Are we of God".........You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this', but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?"

 

What suggests itself to me is that, and I might be on the wrong track, is that within the Buddhist fold, more often than not, no thought has been given to "ontological" concerns or anything else, except in a soteriological context. (Soteriological, meaning pertaining to salvation, more often associated with salvation in a Christian context, yet is now being used more widely - obviously, within Buddhism, "enlightenment" rather than "salvation" would be the buzzword!) While in the West there is David Hume musing..... He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continued, which he calls himself; though I am certain there is no such principle in me. ( Hume , Treatise I:4:vi) yet apparently remaining "untouched" by such thought, within Buddhism such is the meditative starting point for anatta, not-self, the fundamental basis for reaching the end of suffering(dukkha)

 

It just seems to me that in Christianity those like Merton who seek to go beyond the "I-Thou" relationship to a deeper, more "non-dual" realisation, are in the minority, and sadly, often regarded with suspicion by many orthodox. No "I-Thou" relationship is a waste, far from it, Merton himself makes that perfectly plain. So too in Buddhism, Thomas Cleary speaks of the deep need for the "signposts" of the "lesser journey", for the moral provisions accumulated during it, before one should embark for the "other shore"......the "greater journey".

 

Well, how's that for a little red chuff chuff...... :D

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Tariki and Mike,

 

This is less a profound question than a question I need to ask out of ignorance: both of you make reference to the need to the need to transcend dualities. Could you explain this further? Is it a matter that, like Foucault complaining about Marxian dialectics, that matters of concern may occasionally need more than two categories, or that thinking in terms of dualities distracts us from an already present unity, or something else? I understand that accepting binaries as a given tends to create rather rigid assumptions and givens, but there seems (maybe?) to be more going on when you guys talk about the need to move beyond them.

 

As with most questions asked out of ignorance, I realize I'm asking a question that requires a 600+ page book on another topic to effectively answer.

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Tariki

you make reference to the need to transcend dualities. Could you explain this further?

 

Nick, as I never cease to try to say............I'm a simple guy. I'm at my worst (if I'm ever any better.... :D ) when trying to answer direct questions.

 

For me there is a great difference between trying desperately hard not to think ill of another human being, trying not to speak ill of another human being......because of some saying of Christ that tells us this is wrong, and because we shall be judged in the same way that we judge others etc etc. A great difference between that, and a way of being spoken of by Buson...

 

Neither speak ill of others,

Nor well of yourself.

The moment you open

Your mouth to speak,

The autumn wind stirs

And chills your lips.

 

How do we move from one to the other? If I had the answer to that, if it was a "technique" that could be studied, well............

 

Master! Master! What must I do to get spiritual illumination?

 

Well, my son, you must rise in the morning, dress and then eat.

 

But master, I do not understand!

 

If you do not understand , my son, you must rise in the morning, dress and then eat!

 

This is not quoted to to be enigmatic, nor to wrap myself in some mystic cloud (!) but really, more to agree with you that a 600+ page book may well have more of an answer, this being my autobiography. But then, that would only be mine, not yours....

 

I may find more to say, but hopefully Mike can be more helpful.

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Thanks everyone for being more than gracious to my armchair philosophizing. :D

 

I'll try to respond to everyone, not necessarily in order.

 

First I'll try to give some thoughts on Nick's question about the meaning of nonduality. It's actually a very profound question, since its really at the heart of Buddhist philosophy and practice. Nonduality is primarily an epistemological stance toward reality. It's not some "thing" that reality "is", rather, it is trying to move away from what seems to drive us to think in those terms in the first place. What is knowledge?, what is its relation to reality? Nonduality ultimately sees knowledge as reality itself. Insight (prajna or wisdom) is reality (sunyata or emptiness or true reality).

 

But that's probably just more confusing. In my experience it really takes some exposure to Buddhist texts, moving with them both conceptually and somatically. You have to get a feel for the significance of what is being sought, what is being envisioned. As Derek so prudently pointed out, Buddhist ontology is never divorced from soteriology. An ontological realization is identical with a release from some kind of mental, perhaps even physiological, obstruction. Removing such snares in our thinking allows one to more fully let go of the ego and its projections and to abide in direct acceptance of reality.

 

Really it begins with learning not to distance ourselves from reality, as we do when we (quite naturally) project reified concepts onto it. Like any skill this takes pratice.

 

We approach reality looking for essences, something which lies behind the phenomenal world and makes phenomena what they are, something which defines them as one thing and not another, as something distant, existing 'on its own side' and in itself, that we can in principle separate from ourselves so as to speak about in terms of possessing independent properties. We also objectify ourselves, supposing there is a 'me' who 'possesses' such and such attributes, and we also suppose that we have a separate existence which encounters various objects but remains ontologically closed in-itself.

 

Practice involves contacting and touching phenomena directly (so that there is only "touch" and nothing remaining on "either side"), without pretense of it being inside or outside, "mine" or other, of it being anything at all, other than 'such'. "Suchness" is the positive term for the negative "emptiness". Suchness can be "defined" as purity, subjectless, objectless knowing/existence. Within this approach to knowing - this epistemology - things are realized to be insubstantial, like a magical apparition with no objective referent. It really is awakening and abiding in what is profoundly simple about living and being, utter selfless transparency.

 

Nonduality holds to no ontological foundation to reality which establishes the apprehender versus the apprehended. In seeing, nothing is seen, nor is there anyone who sees. In thinking, likewise. There is no substance to which phenomena act as attributes - substance/attribute metaphysics are set aside. All things are radically "ontologically open" with nothing hidden.

 

If I may quote Derek in something he wrote in a post in another thread.

 

And leading on from this, the possibility of a consciousness derived not from the self aware subject (per Descartes), who must necessarily see God as Object (even as Idol), but from Being itself, ontologically seen to be prior to the subject-object division.

 

 

 

I hope you don't mind Derek, your words often stir clarity in my thoughts. :)

 

I'm not sure if my words here have been more confusing than not.

 

Thanks for your thoughts everyone, I appreciate it and I'll try to respond to more a little later.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Mike said It really is awakening and abiding in what is profoundly simple about living and being

 

Really, this is the problem, my own and everybody's. Said in so many ways in so many traditions. So simple because "given", so simple because pure "grace", so simple because "everything is empty from the beginning", so simple because there is nothing to attain............yet, as one sage once said, who has the pearl?

 

 

Remain silent, and you sink into a realm of shadows; speak, and you fall into a deep pit.

 

Try, and you're as far away as sky from earth; give up, and your'll never attain.

 

Enormous waves go on and on, foaming breakers flood the skies: who's got the bright pearl that calms the oceans?

 

My own Pure Land tradition speaks of "no calculation", and tells me that even to seek not to calculate is a form of calculation! This is the ultimate paradox.

 

Another counterpoint to this is that, according to Buddhism, "samsara IS nirvana". This world of birth and death IS the end of suffering.

 

Seekers who disdain clamour to seek quietude are as it were throwing away flour but seeking cake. Cake is originally flour, which changes according to use. Afflictions are not other than enlightenment.

(Pao-chih)

 

One really does wonder sometimes just what the problem is......then I look around the world, see the suffering - so we do what we can.

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Very well stated Derek.

 

My explication of nonduality above was kind of an Spark-notes style overview of some of the bare-bones concepts. Your words do well putting some flesh and blood on those bones. :D

 

 

Peace,

Mike

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Hi Nick,

 

Thank you to both Mike and Derek for helping me out. I understand a little more, and I am appreciative.

 

Glad my words were somewhat coherent at least. :lol: Nonduality really doesn't depend on any one argument or vantage point, the Buddhist tradition(s) comprises many different schools, yet converge on this theme of nondual wisdom and practice. Then you have nonduality in Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism, even in Christianity. There are many nondualities, but they dovetail nicely at many points.

 

My comment: I'm increasingly suspicious you would like Bruno Latour, as the complaints you make about the western tradition are very much his. He's a materialist who denies there is only one material form who rejects dualistic thinking. A sociologist of science, he's made a career out of pointing out that scientists don't actually use the scientific method, and openly mocks Kantian influence in his peers when he finds it. He's a post-structuralist in the tradition of Derrida and Foucault, but insists that we can and do escape language often. I know I've said this before, but it's really the only thing I know that approaches what you're currently talking about.

 

I'm only superficially acquainted with the French philosophers. I've never actually studied them but read about them when reading about postmodernism and existentialism. Buddhism has had a productive history of conversation with existentialism. While I stick mainly with religious philosophy because, I must admit, my concerns are soteriological, I must admit of course that 'religious' philosophy and 'regular' philosophy are often identical at their most crucial points. I'd probably find resonance with Latour by what you describe. I think the dualism of our Western tradition on the whole has been a detriment, and that we need another way of thinking than reasoning about the elusive 'thing-in-itself'. I especially like that he 'insists that we can and do escape language often'.

 

Some Western materialists/physicalists do give the mind the place it deserves ontologically and epistemologically. Philosopher Galen Strawson, for instance, argues that physicalism strongly implies some form of panpsychism or pan-experientalism, and I agree. Much of our current thinking takes the mind to be an 'emergent property of the brain'. The brain, of course, seen as a purely externalized, objectified (in other words, materialized) structure that generates the mind/experiential but is not itself mind/experiential. This belief, though widespread, is easily enough deconstructed and its flaws revealed. From what I understand Whitehead argued something similar. 'Matter' is just a concept, and perhaps not a particularly helpful one at base.

 

Thanks,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I am not sure if this is relevant to the discussion about duality and categorization, but I just happened to just read something in a completely unrelated context (a linguistics article about function words). The author says, "Western thought from the time of the early Greeks has been highly categorical. Categorization is an essential process by which we are able to generalize or to reason. [...] Having categories allows us to think about the world in an ordered way, and to make inferences regarding a particular class of objects, ideas or events based on category membership."

 

He goes on to say, "East Asians also naturally categorize, but Peng and Nesbett argue that Eastern thinking and philosophy are less guided by categorization and more by movement and process."

 

If, in fact, Western and Eastern thought processes do differ, then one has to wonder if one is superior to the other. I can think of awful and wonderful things that have occurred in both cultural milieus, so I would wonder if this is just a difference without a moral implication. But, I suppose even this question itself suggests a Greek approach to the issue.

 

George

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George,

 

I'd imagine that answers to that question would tend to be either fascinatingly complex, or stumble into unfortunate stereotypes very quickly. I would be curious how that would play out. I read a lot of scholars who spend a lot of time studying how people assign and are assigned variable categories (a degree of worth, legitimacy, authenticity, etc.), and it's a really interesting (and relevant to me professionally) question how this procedure would work differently if one is assigning a state ("worthy" or somesuch) vs. a trajectory ("Evolving" or somesuch). So much to ponder, so little time ;)

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I'm only superficially acquainted with the French philosophers. I've never actually studied them but read about them when reading about postmodernism and existentialism. Buddhism has had a productive history of conversation with existentialism. While I stick mainly with religious philosophy because, I must admit, my concerns are soteriological, I must admit of course that 'religious' philosophy and 'regular' philosophy are often identical at their most crucial points. I'd probably find resonance with Latour by what you describe. I think the dualism of our Western tradition on the whole has been a detriment, and that we need another way of thinking than reasoning about the elusive 'thing-in-itself'. I especially like that he 'insists that we can and do escape language often'.

 

Some Western materialists/physicalists do give the mind the place it deserves ontologically and epistemologically. Philosopher Galen Strawson, for instance, argues that physicalism strongly implies some form of panpsychism or pan-experientalism, and I agree. Much of our current thinking takes the mind to be an 'emergent property of the brain'. The brain, of course, seen as a purely externalized, objectified (in other words, materialized) structure that generates the mind/experiential but is not itself mind/experiential. This belief, though widespread, is easily enough deconstructed and its flaws revealed. From what I understand Whitehead argued something similar. 'Matter' is just a concept, and perhaps not a particularly helpful one at base.

 

Latour would absolutely agree with the second quoted paragraph (Latour is also a big fan of Whitehead). I'd go on, but I really would just be threadjacking and pontificating (always a bad combo).

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Latour would absolutely agree with the second quoted paragraph (Latour is also a big fan of Whitehead). I'd go on, but I really would just be threadjacking and pontificating (always a bad combo).

 

Feel free to go on my friend. Lord knows I do. :lol:

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Feel free to go on my friend. Lord knows I do. :lol:

 

heh, ok.

In terms of sociological theory, Latour's actor-network theory is a freakish monstrosity that should not exist, and yet does. As such, I think it's awesome and love it to no end :D

 

Semiotics (from French structuralist and post-structuralist thought) is the idea that all human meaning is relational. The concept "dog" gets its meaning from its relationship to other words/concepts (mammal, pet, tree, postman, etc.), but it does not get its meaning from a direct link to the actual 4-legged animal. Structuralism insists on this deferral of meaning: human meaning and signifiers are necessarily disconnected (but related) from the 'real' world of signifieds. Humanity is trapped within language & discourse. Needless to say, it's a bit on the idealist end of things, and in vulnerable to critiques on that level (and others).

 

Latour rejects the materialist/idealist binary by arguing that while individual things may exist that present a more ideal or material nature, the real interesting thing is how one weaves back and forth across the boundary (and other boundaries too). Texts connect to bodies, minds, mouths, paper, pens, computers, and printers before they connect to other texts. Each of those shifts is a translation into a new form. Latour is a material semiotician, where meaning flows through mediators of variable ontology. Discourse can be inscribed on non-linguistic objects, and language constantly attempts to account for those objects in turn. We can escape language. Indeed, we are required to constantly.

 

You can also see from that last example why he also rejects object/actor binary in favor of the question what gives a certain actant agency in a given Everything is hybrid: A human being is an actor-network composed of (at least 1) body, a credit rating, clothes, identities, texts, discursive categories, etc, etc, etc. Simply saying THAT is a subject and THAT is an object is boring and misses the really interesting questions about the associations between mediators.

 

I'm unsure how useful this information is to you. However, the above is a good explanation of where I'm coming from in this conversation. :)

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I'm unsure how useful this information is to you. However, the above is a good explanation of where I'm coming from in this conversation. :)

 

Thanks for doing so. :) I'm not familiar with all of the terminology used, but I did get something out of it. I think one of the basic problems we have inherited from Cartesian doubt is this notion that reality cannot be known or spoken about because 'we' have no 'access' to 'it' except through some indirect mediator. I like what this suggests to me,

 

Latour rejects the materialist/idealist binary by arguing that while individual things may exist that present a more ideal or material nature, the real interesting thing is how one weaves back and forth across the boundary (and other boundaries too).

 

....

 

Discourse can be inscribed on non-linguistic objects, and language constantly attempts to account for those objects in turn. We can escape language. Indeed, we are required to constantly.

 

...which seems to me to challenge any clear demarcation between sign and signified, creating an interesting tension.

 

David Loy wrote an interesting essay called Language against its own mystifications: Deconstruction in Nagarjuna and Dogen. From the essay (actually he cites Hee Jin Kim in this quote):

 

Language and symbols circumscribe; but, as living forces, they are dynamic enough to open up, constantly re-expressing, renewing, and casting-off, so as to unfold new horizons of their own life. In this way language and symbols know no limits with respect to how far they can penetrate both conceptually and symbolically. No Buddhist thinker was more intensely and meticulously involved with the exploration of each and every linguistic possibility of Buddhist concepts and symbols-even those forgotten, displaced onesthan Dogen who endeavored to appropriate them in the dynamic workings of the Way's realization. (Hee-Jin Kim)11

 

Thanks,

Mike

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Hi Derek,

 

I just want to comment on something that impressed me and have been meaning to get to...

 

I do remember, long after having my own interest in Buddhism stirred, a moment of what could be called "paradigm shift". Up until this point, without really being explicitly aware of it in my own mind, I was basically looking at what I deemed "exotic" ways of thinking, being, feeling, seeing - this all from the outside. It was the "western" way that was embedded in reality, the actual "given" of reality, from which "given" I was looking. Then - I'm not talking about any sort of mystical revelation or any such nonsense - but there came a moment when it became apparent that what was being studied could in fact be the "way things are" (or "are not"..... :) ) From this there is no going back.

 

I really like this. A similar shift in my experience occurred at some point, or rather, over a course of time. It's been exciting for me finally arrive to where I'm reading religious/spiritual texts not with the mind of a skeptical observer, but as a student... of 'the Way' - 'the way things are'. It's been a meandering journey to get to that place - I imagine it was for you as well. It's nice to finally 'get there', though I'm not sure where exactly "there" is . :)

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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George,

 

I'd imagine that answers to that question would tend to be either fascinatingly complex, or stumble into unfortunate stereotypes very quickly.

Nick,

 

Yes, It is probably best not to go there. I doubt if there is anything productive to be gained and there is the possiblity of very negative discourse and, as you say, stereotyping. Maybe, it is worthwhile just to acknowledge that there are differences, try to understand them and treat each with respect.

 

George

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George,

 

Over the last... five years or so, I have gained a deep appreciation of how important it is to treating things that differ with respect and not off-handedly attempt to redefine in terms of the other. It is amazingly difficult sometimes.

 

 

 

Mike,

 

Four things.

 

  1. Sorry about the jargon.
  2. Latour is very much a critic of Decartes, but his views on mediation for Latour are... complicated. The short form is that as truth moves, it changes, yet remains truth. Things are knowable precisely because they are mediated, and to suggest mediated knowledge is inferior is as incoherent as claiming the word "table" in English is superior to the word for table in Spanish.
  3. Interestingly, he argues that humanity constructs truth a number of different ways, and scientific truth is only one, though it's the most common and it's the one he studies. He's tried to write about how religious truth differs from scientific truth but he's not very clear what he wants to say (last I checked).
  4. That quote, especially the part about how things can have a living force and are ever-unnfolding, is something Latour would approve of.

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Hi Nick,

 

Thanks for those thoughts, I really like this...

 

Things are knowable precisely because they are mediated, and to suggest mediated knowledge is inferior is as incoherent as claiming the word "table" in English is superior to the word for table in Spanish.

 

I'll have to think about that for a while.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Nick,

 

Your last post made me think of something Kuang-Ming Wu wrote. He wrote a book called 'The Butterfly as Companion', it is a philosophical and literary exploration of the first three chapters of The Chuangtzu, the influential Daoist text. For brevity's sake, I'll just say that Wu sets up what follows by suggesting that laughter creates the self of the one who laughs:

 

'But this is to put the cart before the horse,' someone might say. It is not laughter that creates; it is the existing things which are ridiculous that occasion laughter. We exist first, and then we laugh.' This objection assumes existence-as-such without properties - emptily existing prior to those properties. But there is no bare existence as such; it is a phantom concoction of philosophers.

 

To oversimplify, Wu suggests here that there is no 'existence' before the 'existence as', no need to seek an independent reality behind it.

 

What Latour seems to be suggesting has strong resonance with this. I think you might really enjoy Wu's work; I personally consider it something of a masterpiece, so, obviously, I highly recommend it.

 

Also from his book:

 

Chuang Tzu's thought is a peculiar unity of poetizing, parodying, and philosophizing...Although perhaps lacking in traditional metre, his thinking follows the 'cadence, metre, and rhyme' of life, that is, that living inevitability which is free, rhythmic, and co-creative with us who are, in turn, changed subtly by such life vicissitudes.

 

....

 

Chuang Tzu used traditional categories without being bound by them...he parodied the then-current philosophies...In his hands, notions and phrases hover and romp in actualities.

 

....

 

We have two ways of philosophizing--we can watch for systematic logical consistency; we can also discern the shifting implications of actuality and express them intelligently. Chuang Tzu philosophized the latter way, letting the former way take care of itself. He lets the systematic character of our thinking grow into an atmosphere in which our discernment breathes its life. It is a spontaneous philosophizing of the concrete, a subtle weaving of philosophical montage under (sub-tilis) life's bewildering implications.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Latour is very much a critic of Decartes, but his views on mediation for Latour are... complicated. The short form is that as truth moves, it changes, yet remains truth. Things are knowable precisely because they are mediated, and to suggest mediated knowledge is inferior is as incoherent as claiming the word "table" in English is superior to the word for table in Spanish.

Nick,

 

If by "mediated knowledge" he means mediated by the world as we experience it, this would make sense to me.

 

On a less philosophic level, I think there is basic unlearned knowledge that is part of our genetic makeup as humans. Then, there is acquired knowledge, some of which is elaboration of the basic knowledge.

 

It is well accepted that we are born with a language instinct. We all have the genetic wiring for language with basic universal principles. However, it is society that sets the specific parameters that differentiate Spanish from English. Likewise, it has been argued (I think persuasively) that we are born with certain moral instincts. We intuitively know that killing, lying, cheating, etc. are morally wrong. However, it is society that teaches the specific circumstances in which exceptions are allowed or sets priorities when basic values conflict. Without these genetic intuitions, societies through human history, would have had to continually reinvent 'thou shall not kill' and 'thou shall not bear false witness' with disastrous consequences for some.

 

But, I suspect Latour was thinking on a much deeper, more abstract level.

 

George

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At risk of appearing pedantic, but nevertheless to clarify.

 

there came a moment when it became apparent that what was being studied could in fact be the "way things are" (or "are not"..... ) From this there is no going back.

 

The "could" was purposely emphasised. This is relation to the "no going back". My intention was not to imply I was now firmly within an "eastern" camp, after leaving a "western" way behind, but that I was more into a way of "unknowing", which for me is neither of "east" nor "west". This is partly why I always put the inverted commas around "east" and "west", as for me the two terms are very questionable as often used in some religious debates.

 

Anyway, perhaps I'd better stop while I'm losing...... :D

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