[Buddha-l] liturgical languages

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Mon May 9 21:19:11 MDT 2005

On Mon, 2005-05-09 at 20:06 +0100, Mike Austin wrote:

> Now perhaps you can explain something to me. Does the word 'enlightened' 
> pertain to an action? 

I suppose it can pertain to anything that one who believes in
enlightenment wishes the word to pertain to. It's just a fancy way of
showing strong approval of something to call it enlightened. I take it
that the maxim under question is said to make a simple point, namely,
that it is customary to think of a person as a long-term series of
events, while it is customary to think of an action as a fleeting event.
If one calls a person enlightened, then one seems to be saying that
everything she does deserves to be called enlightened. The Kathaa-vatthu
in the abhidhamma section of the Pali canon explicitly rejects the view
that everything the Buddha did was an enlightened action. Most of what
he did was what everyone else does: eat, sleep, defecate. So it would be
rather silly to call the Buddha an enlightened person, especially if so
saying would lead one to think that his eating was enlightened and his
sleeping was enlightened. Better to think that every now and then he
said something worth remembering. And if one really likes what he said,
then one could say he issued an enlightened saying.

> Is the action itself enlightened, or does it have the description
> 'enlightened' due to something other, or by proxy? 

I've already answered this in a previous message. Actions are just
actions. If someone approves an action, he calls the action enlightened.
If he disapproves it, he calls it foolish. The action itself does not
partake of the way it is characterized by people who evaluate it.

> If it is related to something other,  is that 'other' on the cause
> side or the effect side?

This question makes no sense to me. Ask it in some other way.

> Oh! Form in the general sense is observable by means of the eye, but are 
> 'actions' observable without mental constructs? 

Yes. I can observe my own mental actions. And I can hear a word
deliberately spoken by another. These are observations of actions that
can be done without superimposing any mental constructs at all.

> Are these actions self-defining?

Definitions pertain to the realm of words. Talking of an action as self-
defining is a category mistake.

>  In this way, 'actions' and 'minds' both exist as abstractions.

You have not established this. All you have done is to assert it. Very
well, then, I assert the opposite. I say actions are observed through
the senses without any superimposition of concept, while 'mind' is not
observed at all and exists only as a name superimposed on what is
acquired through the internal sense faculty. 

> >Where we probably agree completely is that enlightenment
> >also does not exist except as an abstraction.
> I stick my neck out at times, but not on this one.

So you think enlightenment is something that can be observed through the
senses. You can see, or perhaps smell, enlightenment as you can see blue
or smell sauerkraut?

> So enlightenment is just a name that means our approval of something. Is 
> that anything - anything at all?  And is that approval limited to a few, 
> or is it democratic?

Each person has his or her own judgements. I suppose if people were to
vote, then one could say of a given action at a given time that the
majority of eligible voters judged something to be an enlightened
action. My guess is that the results would vary considerably with the
eligibility of the voters. If everyone in the world could vote, then
only a minority would find the Buddha's doctrine of dependent
origination an enlightened teaching. If only Buddhists could vote, then
the results might be somewhat different. 

Buddhists, of course, interpret this to mean they they have a
particularly acute sense of what enlightenement is, while others are in
the dark. There is also something about the very idea of enlightenment
that smacks of self-importance and self-congratulation. Even if you deem
someone other than yourself to be enlightened, you are indirectly
congratulating yourself for knowing how to cast your vote.

Probably the best course of action is not to give enlightenment another
thought. I do not call such a course of action enlightened. I simply
call it good, and I call it that only because I call things good when
they don't annoy me. 

Enlightenment talk annoys me. It annoys me for the very same reason that
it annoys me when someone says "God wanted me to move to Colorado
Springs and start a megachurch." Such talk betrays an unwillingness to
own up to, and take full responsibility for, one's own particular forms
of madness. Speaking of enlightenment is no different from that.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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