[Buddha-l] liturgical languages

Stanley J. Ziobro II ziobro at wfu.edu
Mon May 16 14:24:43 MDT 2005

On Sat, 14 May 2005, jkirk wrote:

> > > Hi Stan,
> > > After I wrote my comment I guessed this question would come along
> :) ------
> > > Well, not if one considers parinirvana a transformation, ergo change
> > > (anicca), not stasis.
> > > So bodhi is not actually fnished but transformed.
> > > That's also how I personally view it as well.
> >
> > Thanks, Joanna.  Being dense and ignorant as I am I have further
> > questions.  If parinirvana is a transformation something is transformed,
> > since there are no states without some underlying condition or conditions
> > effecting those states.  If we posit this underlying condition to be some
> > essence, and furthermore posit this essence to be dynamic rather than
> static
> > (which is probably not the normative Indian conception of essence), then
> > it is conceivable to have an essence that has truly attained a transformed
> > state while yet open to further transformations, but on a different order,
> > a parinirvanic order.  But parinirvana, at least in the Nikaya tradition,
> > is the goal or end beyond which there is nothing more to attain, is it
> > not?  So, if there are further transformations (since transformations are
> > conceivably open to continuation in accord with your notion that bodhi is
> > not completed but transformed), what would they be?  To posit these
> > further transformations would seem to indicate some transformed something
> > that is a non-static supposit of these transformations.  At least this is
> > what I would understand the matter to be.  What, in your view, am I not
> > understanding?
> >
> > Regards,
> >
> > Stan Ziobro
> =========================
> I'm dense too, but not as punctilious a thinker as you are.


> I prefer the idea that any time a label is applied to a phenomenon it's in
> danger of becoming essentialised. I.e., just naming things gives them
> substance. This idea is well-entrenched in some disciplines but I don't have
> the energy to trace its development now. You probably have already come
> across this idea and Richard, among plenty of others on this list, is surely
> on to it.

Yes, this notion in general is fairly normative and found in various
philosophical or theological traditions.  I'm most familiar with it via
the scholastic distinction between an actual essence of some thing and a
hypothetical essence.  The distinction is (1) that between what underlies
that which is expressed by a concrete noun and its abstract nominal form,
and (2) a notional conception of some non-actually existing thing
expressed by a concrete noun and by its abstract nominal form.  Thus for
(1) you have "man" and "humanity", while for (2) you have "unicorn" and
"unicornicity".  What is here termied a hypothetical essence corresponds
more to your remarks immediately above, at least from the realist
scholastic perspective.  From this same perspective (1) would not fit your
general scheme.

> This common misperception
> (I consider it a misperception anyway) is contradicted, usefully I think, by
> the propositions on anatta and anicca. Thus, words about human experience
> that can produce readings that suggest ongoing process as opposed to stasis
> strike me as more useful.  If you want to think of a term as both essential
> and dynamic, such as "transformation," OK, but I prefer not to. Therefore it
> is not productive nor useful for me to "posit" any word or term as an
> essence. One can get embroiled so easily in word games.

I would tend to agree with you in good part.  I am wary of essentialism,
to be honest.  Although I think, along with Aristotle and Aquinas that the
essence of some thing is expressed by its definition, I don't consider it
right or useful to claim that that we know reality via essence(s).  It's
either an impossible proposition or it is empty.

> Richard's reminding us that nirvana and also parinirvana (as well as bodhi)
> are absences is a big help-----he's reminded us of this before, and I tend
> to forget it because the word-essence-equation habit is, well, a habit.  I
> have no problem going with the ancients' 2200 year old decision on this. It
> suits practice purposes nicely and also has the beneficial effect of
> installing roadblocks that warn off paths to more word games.

I would agree that word games are useless; but I don't think words are
useless.  Just as an aside I recall reading Dogen's claim that one knows
via words and via the wordless (OK, I'm paraphrasing somewhat).  The
concept of nirvana as empty or beyond expression (I guess absence is fair
enough) is clear enough in the abhidharmakosa.  Certainly it is usefully
expressed as such when one considers the danger of the idolatry of words.
But note that speaking of this absence is still positively stated.  I
suppose this makes your point that we can essentialize what is beyond
essence and fall into what you call word games.

> As Richard reminds us, and I believe the teachings mainly point that way,
> the goal is getting rid of the kleshas, aka nirvana. But as we all know,
> that ain't easily done.
> Batchellor thinks that even the Buddha wrestled with Mara his entire life.
> That makes sense to me: process, not stasis.

I'd agree.

> At death what is transformed is not some essence but the various particulars
> that make up the human body, now in process as a corpse, no longer in
> process as a "mentating human." As a corpse, the former human's kleshas and
> everything else produced by mentation/lived experience are irrelevant, hence
> parinirvana.

I understand that this is one way of putting the matter.  I wonder about
it, though, but perhaps that can wait for another post.  Right now I need
to absent myself.



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