The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby dharmagoat » Thu Aug 09, 2012 3:50 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:I feel as though Batchelor found a niche that he could brand and sell books by.

Which is not to say that the niche is not a valid one.

BuddhaSoup wrote:What the Buddha taught seems to be by its nature secular. For Batchelor to lay claim to a "secular" form of Buddhism is, to me, redundant.

Does he lay claim to it, or just contribute to it?

BuddhaSoup wrote:People have a right to reject karma and rebirth. People at one time thought the world was flat. Now, we can prove the Earth is a sphere. We may never be able in this life to prove rebirth, or disprove it...but to reject it goes against what Buddha understood. That's not secular Buddhism, that's just one man's opinion, and he's entitled to it.

As a Buddhist, I agree that it is a mistake to reject rebirth, but that does not mean that we are obliged to accept it. I expect that this is Stephen Batchelor's view too.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Aug 09, 2012 5:00 am

As I move through the book, Malhotra presents another interesting thesis, that of the Monotheistic traditions as "history-centric" traditions:

"In history-centric religions, it is not necessary for prophets to have achieved the highest state of consciousness themselves, they become prophets merely by agreeing to serve as transmitters of the divine will... The Church claims to be the embodiment of God on earth, and yet its leaders are not known to have attained embodied enlightenment... The Bible is more culturally conditioned (smriti) than direct wisdom (shruti).


By contrast, the Gita argues that only knowledge that is free from dualism can enable one to see the undivided spiritual nature in all living entities. Knowledge which apprehends all beings as a multiplicity, without underlying unity, is of a lower order. Thus, only a lineage of enlightened masters can transmit authentically...

Unlike the claims made for Jesus, Gautama Buddha emphasized that his enlightenment was merely discovery of a reality that had always existed. He did not bring any covenants from God. He asserted that he was neither God nor a messenger sent by God, and that whatever he discovered was available to every human to discover for himself using the same methods he did. In fact, he stated explicitly that he was neither the first nor the last person to have achieved nirvana. Knowledge of Buddha's life-history is not necessary in order for Buddhist principles to work.

Jewish and Christian religions cannot afford to compromise on their history-centric beliefs, because to do so would be tantamount to surrendering their claims of unique access to God's will. (pg. 90-91, Being Different- Malhotra)
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Thu Aug 09, 2012 3:00 pm

Greg wrote:Further to tobes' point, Western academia has in fact had lively discussions about how to approach inner experiences.


It would be hard to deny that there have been many 'lively discussions' about the 'inner' throughout Western philosophy. Some can be found even in the philosophy of science. And, certainly, some academic 'fields' look more at the 'inner' than the 'outer', though few try to move beyond that dichotomous analysis. But, these discussions are more tolerated in Western academia than considered 'fundamental' to what takes place in the academy, overall, don't you think? Moreover, the general public is still encouraged to think of science as rooted in 'objectivism'.

JKhedrup wrote:As I move through the book, Malhotra presents another interesting thesis, that of the Monotheistic traditions as "history-centric" traditions


This 'history-centric' terminology may be an original contribution, but the idea that India's unique 'philosophical system' leads it to be more open to and effective at multiculturalism is not. His thinking about the prophetic aspects of Abrahamic religions is not original, either. What is original is the way he puts it all together to critique the West.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Thu Aug 09, 2012 3:07 pm

Malhotra picks up and runs with a common theme from earlier and very similar works wherein Western Abrahamic faiths Christianity Judaism Islam are argued to be exogenous and of the intellect whereas Eastern faiths Jain Hindu Buddhist are endogenous and of the intuitive. Old coals, new rake.
Valuably,Malhotra restates some valid points around tendencies towards conflict within those two streams though.
Not sure the book sold well beyond academic libraries you were fortunate to secure a copy if yours is of the only and first edition quite limited print run. Amazon now has it on print to order I believe.
His conclusion that - endogenous intuitive paths are historically less likely to have waged 'holy wars' than have the exogenous intellect groups - holds water.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Thu Aug 09, 2012 11:57 pm

viniketa wrote:
Greg wrote:Further to tobes' point, Western academia has in fact had lively discussions about how to approach inner experiences.


It would be hard to deny that there have been many 'lively discussions' about the 'inner' throughout Western philosophy. Some can be found even in the philosophy of science. And, certainly, some academic 'fields' look more at the 'inner' than the 'outer', though few try to move beyond that dichotomous analysis. But, these discussions are more tolerated in Western academia than considered 'fundamental' to what takes place in the academy, overall, don't you think? Moreover, the general public is still encouraged to think of science as rooted in 'objectivism'.



What is fundamental to the western academy - at least in my neck of the woods - is the economics of intellectual property, ranking systems, global competition for the best researchers and high fee paying students. In short, it is not some epistemic standard of 'objectivism'. It is the logic of utility and market consequentialism, to which all content is necessarily subordinate. I would raise the argument that content is often driven by that outcome/result based logic - which means that the epistemic standard is actually pragmatism. i.e. whatever works to get published.

But if anyone wishes to reject that argument - and there may be good reasons for doing so - purely on epistemic content alone, we are in a post-modern epoch. I don't see objectivism anywhere but on the whiteboards of practicing logicians and epistemologists.

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Fri Aug 10, 2012 1:58 am

tobes wrote:which means that the epistemic standard is actually pragmatism. i.e. whatever works to get published.


So, the measure of the standard is an 'outer' publication? The assumptions are sometimes subtle...

tobes wrote:I don't see objectivism anywhere but on the whiteboards of practicing logicians and epistemologists.


You are in a most fortunate situation...

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Fri Aug 10, 2012 3:24 pm

tobes wrote:I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.



He adresses this objection in his book early on.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Fri Aug 10, 2012 6:24 pm

Malcolm wrote:He adresses this objection in his book early on.


He also addresses objections based in 'postmodern' arguments early-on.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Fri Aug 10, 2012 9:07 pm

viniketa wrote:
Malcolm wrote:He adresses this objection in his book early on.


He also addresses objections based in 'postmodern' arguments early-on.


Yes, actually I did not know about this author, but I read a substantial portion of his book "Being Different" last night, and I find that I broadly agree with his presentation of Dharmic culture as opposed to Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture. Many of his points are points I have made in the past in various places and to various people over the past 25 years.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Fri Aug 10, 2012 11:48 pm

Sadly it's very much an academic sub genre almost ghettoised. The theses are sound yet languish in backwaters such as Malhotra's work. Subaltern studies has more or less been and gone.
Very little along his lines published from within the Indian academy funnily enough.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:04 am

Malcolm wrote:
tobes wrote:I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.



He adresses this objection in his book early on.


What is his argument?

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:05 am

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.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:09 am

tobes wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
tobes wrote:I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.



He adresses this objection in his book early on.


What is his argument?

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In making these arguments, I may be accused of using broad definitions, generalizations and extreme contrasts. When I speak of 'the West' vs 'India', or the 'Judeo-Christian religions' vs the 'dharma traditions', I am well aware that I may be indulging in the kind of essentialism that postmodern thinkers have correctly challenged. I am also aware that such large categories comprise multiple traditions which are separate and often opposed. I view these terms as family resemblances and guides, not as reified or immutable entities. Furthermore, most people do understand them as pointing to actual entities with distinct spiritual and cosmological orientations, even if they can only be defined in opposition to one another. The terms can thus be used as entry points for debate and as foils to contrast both sides, which may help deepen our understanding.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 110-116). . Kindle Edition.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:35 am

Malcolm wrote:I find that I broadly agree with his presentation of Dharmic culture as opposed to Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture.


I've read the 'available' preview on Amazon, and a number of his summaries and other reviews of the book. It will be a week or so before my budget will allow me to purchase the book, but I will. While I agree with the tone of what he is saying, there are some points I'm still inconclusive about, not having yet read the entire text. I've been aware of the Infinity Foundation for a few years, and have read some of his short essays in the past. I was unaware of the book until JKhedrup's post, though. It is refreshing to see someone to write unapologetically on this topic for a Western audience. Western reception, not surprisingly, does not seem overwhelmingly positive.


Osho wrote:Subaltern studies has more or less been and gone. Very little along his lines published from within the Indian academy funnily enough.


I do not agree it is subaltern, though it can certainly be classified as such in Western academia. It is, as the author states, firmly within the Indian tradition of pūrva pakṣa, which is the same tradition underlying much of Buddhist discourse (see the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā). It is also the only suitable method by which to refute his points, i.e., one must critique his contentions about Dharmic culture situated firmly within the framework of the culture itself (cultural relativism). This is not to say one has to be Indian from India, only that the work should be analyzed on the basis of the framework of Indian culture rather than Western culture. Do his contentions about Dharmic culture 'hold up'? Can sufficient instantiations be found in those cultures to support his claims?

Related to the second point, I ran across this:

http://invadingthesacred.com/component/ ... /Itemid,1/

It may be, as Malhotra and others suggest, that as India's share of the 'academy' grows, we will see more publications in this vein, particularly if 'academic' Western attacks on Indian religion (e.g., Wendy Doniger, et al.) continue to grow. Malhotra, himself, seems to be planning further publications.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Sat Aug 11, 2012 12:46 am

Malhotra's 'argument' such as it is might be summarised as 'Derridean nostalgia'.
Raking over PoMo coals to bolster an interesting thesis detracts from both thesis and methodology. The book is an extended riff on an earlier paper.
The victors get to write the history books as Foucault said, at great length.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:01 am

Osho wrote:The victors get to write the history books as Foucault said, at great length.


What is the 'battle' and who are the 'victors'? Dismissing his work by saying it is not 'in line' with current thinking in Western academic circles only sets one up for further claims of ethnocentricity.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:12 am

Malcolm wrote:What is very interesting is that way Western ideas of historicity shape our concerns about the Dharmas we westerners choose to learn.


Quite a good and interesting point. We Westerners also go back, again and again, to 'ancient Western' thinking (pre-Christian, e.g. Plato, Aristotle ), and sometimes get the 'historicity' wrong.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Sat Aug 11, 2012 2:57 am

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.

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:11 am

Malcolm wrote:
In making these arguments, I may be accused of using broad definitions, generalizations and extreme contrasts. When I speak of 'the West' vs 'India', or the 'Judeo-Christian religions' vs the 'dharma traditions', I am well aware that I may be indulging in the kind of essentialism that postmodern thinkers have correctly challenged. I am also aware that such large categories comprise multiple traditions which are separate and often opposed. I view these terms as family resemblances and guides, not as reified or immutable entities. Furthermore, most people do understand them as pointing to actual entities with distinct spiritual and cosmological orientations, even if they can only be defined in opposition to one another. The terms can thus be used as entry points for debate and as foils to contrast both sides, which may help deepen our understanding.

Malhotra, Rajiv (2011-10-10). Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism (Kindle Locations 110-116). . Kindle Edition.



Thanks Malcolm - that doesn't really address the point I had in mind though.

I'm not so concerned that he is reifying some entity called 'the west' - I'm sure he's nuanced enough to navigate that issue. What I'm pointing to is that he may be reifying the dominant epistemological orientation of the west. i.e. by assuming that it is some kind of objectivism, rather than something which is highly pluralistic (there are many profound contestations on these matters). The irony and probable weakness here, is that if there is one dominant epistemic orientation, it is probably the deep refutation of objectivism!
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Indrajala » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:29 am

Malcolm wrote:
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.


I wonder if this doesn't reflect in Indian academia as well. For instance, in India I found this one book on Buddhism in Central Asia published within the last two decades and he was citing 19th century British scholarship on Chinese Buddhism (including the romanization of Chinese which was baffling and incomprehensible). He clearly didn't seem to mind using what I would consider rather outdated works. They might be useful to a point, but not citing them in your main discussion. If you tried to do that in the west the editors wouldn't tolerate it and it wouldn't pass peer review, but in India it seems to be no big deal.

At the bookshops in Delhi and elsewhere you see reprint after reprint of dated translations. 19th century translations of the travel journals of Faxian and Xuanzang. Conze's works are all reprinted, too.

In the west we tend to prefer more up-to-date works that have digested the past works and conforms to present expectations and ideas. It isn't even a preference, the system demands it.
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