Malcolm wrote:What is very interesting is that way Western ideas of historicity shape our concerns about the Dharmas we westerners choose to learn. These ideas are very foreign to the spirit of Dharmic religions, at least as expressed through Malhotra's book. I cite all of the endless debates about whether Mahāyāna was taught by the Buddha; weather the Pali Canon is the "real" Buddhism. Whether Vajrayāna is as valid as Mahāyāna, or more recently, the abortive debate over the historicity of Bon accounts of their religion. Malhotra argues:
Itihasa is also fundamentally pluralistic: there are usually a variety of versions. A remodelled account or a new version of a narrative does not nullify all others. There is no burning of old books to erase past versions. What gets rejected is simply ignored, possibly to be revived or revisited at a later time when it might again become contextually relevant. Hence, in India one finds ancient customs coexisting with those from later periods. An open past serves as a creative resource for future generations who might want to explore the roads not taken. The Western unfolding of history, on the other hand, does not have room for parallel streams, finding them threatening and hence believing it safer to display them in museums (i.e., not as living traditions but as dead ones). But collapsing all variations into a mono-history only produces a mono-culture. Such a lack of understanding and insight causes itihasa to get misconstrued as myth vis-à-vis some putative 'reality'.13
The West demands that its myths be historicized so that they may be claimed as true. Indians do not carry the burden of history-centrism and so are under no pressure to present their myths as history.
There are multiple stakeholders who compete for their respective versions of history to prevail. Power is always at work in the construction of history. (History is written by the victors, as the popular adage goes.) More often than not, history is arbitrary in terms of what is included and what is not, what is emphasized, whose point of view is privileged, what values get superimposed, and so forth. In the West, a powerful apparatus and elaborate process have evolved to present history, and the transformation of Western myths into fact remains a major preoccupation of the Western humanities.
Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 1123-1136). . Kindle Edition.
I find this very compelling. I think that Buddhist Studies in the west has two deep orthodoxies - textualism and historicism - and these are of course, both mutually supporting in producing a very particular general orientation......which implictly and sometimes explicitly denies or overlooks other important orientations.
I am generally very critical of the dominance of that approach - but at the same time, we must acknowledge that many great insights have arisen from it. What's problematic is not the approach itself, but the fact that it is so orthodox that other methods of inquiry may be subtly denigrated.
Two things to consider though: 1/ The contemporary textualist-historicist approach is strongly informed by the hermeneutical turn via Heidegger, Gadamer et al. Most contemporary scholars are well aware of what they bring into the text. The implication is that the problem really has nothing to do with 'objectivism' which was indeed a goal of earlier philological endeavors. So, if historicism is the critique of what is privileged in western approaches to the Dharma, this is very distinct from objectivism - which was the claim in the OP.
2/ As I mentioned earlier, other modes of inquiry have been really gaining momentum - art history, psychology, phenomenology, sociology of religion etc. Academic conferences these days throw up a real motley crew of different disciplinary perspectives. So, yes, there is a certain orthodoxy, but it exists in a pretty rich and diverse field of inquiry, some of which pays very close attention to non-historical/ inner domains of experience.