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Logic and Contradiction in Buddhism – Brief Addendum

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In Reason and its Limits, I surveyed some of the primary questions confronting the student of Buddhism with respect to paradox and reason. Today I came across an apposite observation in a book on the Christian mystic Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and I thought I would share it.

In Theophany; The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysus the Areopagite, Eric D. Perl observes that Pseudo-Dionysius should be viewed through a philosophical lens, even where he does not specifically engage in philosophical discourse, because philosophy is the context of his writing and thought.

To take a prime example, the central Dionysian doctrine that God is ‘beyond being’ is not merely a phrase or a theme which has a discoverable history in Plato and Neoplatonism, nor is it merely a vague assertion of divine transcendence. Rather, within the Neoplatonic context, it is the conclusion of a definite sequence of philosophical reasoning, and only in terms of that argumentation can its precise meaning be correctly grasped. (pg. 1)

This is a crucial observation for any apophatic or transrational tradition, and it is certainly relevant to Buddhist Mahayana discourse. Assertions in the Buddhist literature that phenomena lack a determinate conceptual character or essence are made in the context of a literature that establishes such a view through dialectical reasoning, such as the contemplative writings of Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. When confronted with statements that seem at a glance to reject rational thought, this should be borne in mind.

This is most likely true even for scriptural sources such as the Prajnaparamita Sutras, which were probably composed after Nagarjuna wrote.


Written by Mesocosm

August 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm