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Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation (book review) Garfield, Jay L.

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230811: excellent essays. this is academic work. necessary to know a lot of buddhism, Mahayana and yogacara. know European philosophers to contrast... chapters have been previously published as essays...

part 1: madyamaka, begins with that essential impetus of philosophy east and west, skepticism...

ch 1- epoch and sunyata showing parallels and differences, there are great, extensive quotes from nagarjuna, particularly 'treatise on the middle way' to express concept of sunyata/emptiness, which reward careful examination. Wittgenstein has his say. this is useful corrective (dissolving) of many forms of dogmatic (western?) philosophy, such as the insistence on 'causal powers' rather than simple 'conditions' that enable this or that action, as reading of causation. this error is most focefully seen in fodor's extreme, individualistic, scientific realism. read this.

ch 2- dependent arising and the emptiness of emptiness, again great quotes, argues that everything is interdependent and as such has no 'inherent essence', no 'being from its own side'. in contrast to western philosophy, search for ground, for absolute, bd is entirely insistent on no ground, on the abyss of being. in this way everything is 'empty'- not nonexistent but very existent only if seen interdependent, as great, famous quote notes that these terms are the same. and then to be 'empty' is itself 'empty', is itself interdependent on 'conditions', and thus is different from the appearance/reality dualism or phenomena/numenon of Western thought...

ch 3- emptiness and pointlessness, nagarjuna insists again on total 'emptiness' but now through admonition that to abandon all views but emptiness is not to abandon 'all' views. 'views and entities' are 'positionless and emptiness is not an object of knowledge. this is where 'conventional' and 'ultimate' truths are deployed, where convention is how we interact with this world, our fellows, but must recognise all is empty...

ch 4- nagarjuna's theory of causality is actually where he begins 'treatise on the middle way' and the author argues the centrality of this theory, for, after all 'karma' means 'action', and once we have eliminated 'powers' there must be some affective 'cause' in bd universe. ngj is perhaps difficult to prise his assertions from cryptic poetry, which insists 'cause' is not in the 'caused' not in the 'causing agent' but in the interdependent/multiple/innumerable 'causes'. the author takes issue with the doctrine of rebirth, viewing it as holdover from hindu culture and not necessary...

ch 5- least readable for me

part 2: yogacara

ch 6- vasbanhu argues emptiness is not of emptiness but of subject/object duality. yogacara uses cittamatra is 'mind-only' or 'consciousness-only' and insists that while everything else is indeed empty, though exist, thoughts are not interdependent, thoughts are the 'essence' of being. this he argues by positing the 'three natures': 1) emptiness of emptiness- imagined, 2) other dependent, 3) consummate. anything in the mind (only place it can be) must participate in these three. I have read much more Mahayana than yogacara but it seems to me only further elaboration of buddhist thought as in ch 8...

ch 7- examines vasubanhu's treatise on the three natures and naturelessness in greater detail...

ch 8- Western idealism through Indian eyes, now this is what I was most hopeful from this book, though it might be too technical and require too much knowledge of named philosophers west (Berkeley, kant, Schopenhauer) and east (cittamatra philosophers, vasubandhu) and their ideas and assertions. first of which the author must argue against certain western commentators that yogacara is indeed buddhist idealism. then vasubadhu must characterise 1) each object has imagined nature 2) other-dependent nature (on the mind) 3) consummate nature when it and idea of it are same. objects do not exist without mind. these three aspects are interdependent, mutually implicative, not merely ontological but epistemological as well. to be ideal object is to be of the three natures... to vasubandhu, Berkeley makes good start at idealism, but vulnerable to Kant's criticism that his objects in space an imaginary matter. so Kant decides to create 'transcendental idealism'. his concepts of phenomenal vs ideal reality map well on vasubandhu's three natures but Schopenhauer will note there is noumenal reality found in 'representations' in positive manner as 'will'. all three aspects of idealism as conceived by vasubsandhu are finally here. this chapter ends with some diagnosis of why philosophy departments in the west haven't learned from Indian thought: parochialism, distance etc....

ch 9-14 are less interesting to me after 8. only ones of much interest are 11, 12, 14: democracy and buddhism- satya in satyagraha- philosophy, religion and the hermeneutic imperative...


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