Buddhist Rhetoric

Wed., Aug. 20th, 09:00-12:30

The Uses of Critical Examination and Independent Reasoning/Analysis in the Self-Diction of Early Indian Buddhist Literati

Eltschinger, Vincent (Institut für Kultur und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Wien, AUT)

The Buddhist poet Aśvaghoṣa (early 2nd century CE?) often represents the (future) Buddha as subordinating rational choice in religio-philosophical matters to a critical examination (parīkṣā, vicāra, etc.) of the competing salvational systems (especially Sāṅkhya). This picture is part of the poet’s wider concern with the bodhisattva as challenging allegedly deceptive systems and converting their representatives (Arāḍa Kālāma, Subhadra). But as the works of Aśvaghoṣa (the Buddhacarita and the Saundarananda) themselves clearly testify, the notion of parīkṣā plays a prominent role in early Indian Buddhist literature of both polemical and “meditational” intent. On the one hand, the Yogācārabhūmi (early 4th century CE?) makes critical examination the essential concern of its polemics against “allodoxies” (Sāṅkhya, Jainism, Sarvāstivāda, materialism, etc.) and a key component of its definition of logic and dialectics (hetuvidyā, vāda). On the other hand, meditational handbooks such as Saṅgharakṣa’s Yogācārabhūmi (early 2nd century CE?) and the so-called Yogalehrbuch allot a central place to parīkṣā while describing the intellectual practices and the (early?) career of a bodhisattva. In these and other texts, critical examination through independent and value-free reasoning is made the condition of the Buddha’s paradigmatic experience and the defining, exclusive characteristic of Buddhism. The aim of this paper is to inquire into the semantics and the pragmatics of parīkṣā in Indian Buddhist literary works from the 1st half of the 1st millenium CE and to assess the role played by it in the Buddhists’ self-diction and apologetic endeavours. At the same time, the paper will provide an intellectual genealogy of the Buddhist epistemologists’ uses of parīkṣā—a characteristic component of so many of their works’ or chapters’ titles—, reasoning, and the means of valid cognition (pramāṇa). There are good reasons to believe that what Sara McClintock has very aptly described as the late Buddhist philosophers’ “rhetoric of reason” was already a central concern to Aśvaghoṣa and his contemporaries.



The Functioning of Performatives in the Rhetoric of Chinese Tiantai and Huayan Texts

Kantor, Hans-Rudolf (Huafan University, Taipei, TWN)

Rhetoric and linguistic strategy are essential components in the “deconstructive practice” (po 破) of “contemplation” (guan 觀) expounded by the Chinese Tiantai Buddhists, as well as in the textual pragmatics developed by the Chinese Huayan masters.

The two Buddhist schools stress the importance of our insight into, or awareness of, the “inseparability of truth and falsehood” (zhenwang buli 真妄不離) concerning the way we relate to and exist in our world. The epistemological sense of such inseparability coincides with the ontological level, because both the present world and the way we exist in it are dependent upon our epistemic stance in relation to it. Our full awareness of inseparability evolves a dynamic which, paradoxically, consists in constantly differentiating our own constructions from that which really or truly sustains our conceptualizing activity. The Chinese term for that dynamic awareness is called “subtle awakening” (miaowu 妙悟), disassociating us from the deceptive force of all falsehood without really and completely nullifying falsehood itself. The course of practice and cultivation that entails all this also embraces insight on the basis of discursive analysis expounded in the Tiantai treatises on “contemplation,”and the Huayan works of Sūtra interpretation. However, the specific feature of those texts is their rhetoric, as well as their linguistic and compositional strategies used to trigger the dynamics of our awareness. In other words, the text itself performs what it signifies in the specific sense that the way in which it talks about “contemplation” itself exemplifies the sense of “contemplation.”The same applies to the Huayan discussions of “true emptiness” (zhenkong 真空). In an operational manner, the rhetoric that constitutes or informs the performatives in those texts is crucial to the realization and presentation of the meanings and the sense as a whole. The present paper intends to describe, analyze, and compare the rhetorical forms of those performatives and their functioning, by examining selected passages from Zhiyi’s (538-597) Tiantai texts Mohe zhiguan and Fahua xuanyi, and the Huayan work Huayan fajie xuanjing traditionally ascribed to Dushun (557-640).


When Argument Becomes Perfume: Audience, Persuasion, and Spiritual Cultivation in Kamalaśīla’s Tattvasaṅgrahapañjikā

McClintock, Sara (Emory University, Atlanta, USA)

The title of this talk borrows from a phrase from a famous verse near the start of the text that has come down to us with the title of Bodhicaryāvatāra attributed to the ninth-century Indian Buddhist scholar-practitioner Śāntideva. In the verse, Śāntideva maintains that the following treatise contains nothing new, nothing that has not already been taught before. In addition, he also exhibits his modesty by claiming to have no particular gifts when it comes to the composition of treatises. For these reasons, he says, he has not undertake to write the Bodhicaryāvatāra for the sake of others, but rather what motivates his composition of the text is his desire to “perfume” (vāsayitum) his own mind.

A similar verse can be found at the outset of Kamalaśīla’s Tattvasaṅgrahapañjikā. Although the language of perfuming is absent, the parallel construction is striking. Here, we hear the eighth-century thinker Kamalaśīla similarly claim neither to be clever enough to state something new nor to be writing explicitly for others. Instead, he states that he undertakes this work in order to familiarize himself with reality (tattva). The word that Kamalaśīla uses here for familiarization, abhyāsa, literally means repetition or practice, but it has a secondary connotation of habituation or cultivation. It is the same word that both he and Śāntarakṣita, the author of the Tattvasaṅgraha upon which he is commenting, use when discussing how practitioners cultivate particular mental states as antidotes to the affective and cognitive structures at the root of suffering.

Rhetorically speaking, these statements at the outset of these two texts invite readers to similarly engage with the treatises as methods for spiritual cultivation. Yet at the same time, both texts, the Tattvasaṅgrahapañjikā especially, contain copious polemical arguments aimed at philosophical antagonists, both within and outside of the Buddhist fold. Such arguments might be thought to be for the purpose of dialectical persuasion only and thus to fall outside the purview of spiritual cultivation per se. Indeed, contemporary and ancient scholars appear split on questions concerning both the audience and the aims of Buddhist polemical works such as these, with some arguing that they do not belong to the Buddhist project of spiritual transformation but only to the domain of epistemology and logic.

This paper probes the intertwined questions of audience and aim in Kamalaśīla’s Tattvasaṅgrahapañjikā to show how it explicitly rejects any strong distinction between polemical persuasion and spiritual cultivation. The key to understanding how this can be so is to revise our conception of audience away from the idea of an actual audience and in favor of the notion of a rhetorically constructed audience. This then allows us to see how Kamalaśīla envisions the audience to transform through its engagement with the text. Arguments now are seen to work on different levels depending on the degree of spiritual maturity of the rhetorically constructed audience. For some, arguments work to persuade and refute. For others, they work to perfume the mind. 

Modern Configurations of Meditation, Selfhood, and the Secular

McMahan, David (Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, USA)

Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation and mindfulness practices have undergone profound changes in the modern period. From their sole institutional home in the monastery, they have now taken their place in the most prominent secular institutions, such as corporations, public universities, public health care systems, and even the US military. The rhetorical reconfiguration of meditation practices as modern technologies of the self for increasing the freedom and effectiveness of modern selves in secular societies has been, and continues to be, essential for their inclusion in secular institutional settings. This paper examines the transcribing of meditation and mindfulness from indigenous Buddhist categories into categories of modern secularism. This has involved the rhetorical reframing of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness practices as secular, even scientific endeavors. What models of the mind and the human being are operative in this rhetoric? What is at stake in such reframing?

Many promoters of Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation and mindfulness practices in recent decades have emphasized their “non-religious” character, distancing them from the “religious” elements of Buddhism. In many western countries, separation of church and state requires that secularism serve as a kind of “filter” to strip away the “religious” elements of meditation, leaving it a technique to achieve various forms of well-being, instrumental effectiveness, and human enhancement as conceived in modern societies. This is a continuation of the discursive thrust of certain modes of Buddhist modernism that have been developing for over a century.

Exploring this reconfiguration not only helps the historian of religion understand one of the most momentous transformations and recontextualizations of Buddhist meditation in its history, it helps analysts of culture discern the boundaries of the modern conception of the secular itself.



Configuring enlightenment - A model for the analysis of Buddhist rhetoric

Steineck, Raji (University Zürich, Switherland)

Many Buddhist texts are persuasive in nature, i.e. they aim at changing the minds of their readers. Buddhist authors from different times and places have used diverse means such as arguments, narratives, poetic language, citations, word-play etc. to achieve this aim. In order to be able to detect and systematically describe the means and strategies that are employed within a specific text we developed a model of rhetorical analysis. This model is based on the idea that texts are products of communication and can therefore be analyzed with the help of models of communication. The sophisticated author of a text does not only communicate with his readers outside the text, but he will also try to shape the communication that takes place within the text. He will configure the text's addresser, for example, in order to appear in a favorable light, and he will try to influence how the envisaged readers conceive of their own role when reading the text.

In our talk we will present this model and illustrate its use with the help of Dōgen's early text Bendōwa . We will show how Dōgen , a cleric with high aspirations but of unestablished legitimacy, attempted to convince a mixed audience of clerics of higher, equal, and lower rank as well as actual and potential lay followers and patrons of the qualities of his spiritual authority and teaching. He had to reckon with their doubts on the legitimacy of his position and with their objections to his teaching, which ran contrary to the established convictions of the day. He chose to deal with this problem by employing a structural rhetoric device: he reconfigured, in the intratextual communication, his own position and the pragmatic relationship between himself and his readership. The Bendōwa thus illustrates how an author can try to configure the communicative situation embedded within the text in order to compensate for the deficiencies of his power to influence his communicative stance in the real world .



Bringing the Preacher down to Earth: Rhetoric, Humanity, and Glamour in the Great Lamp of the Dharma Dhāraṇī Scripture

Overbey, Ryan (University of California, Berkeley, USA)

Mahāyāna sūtras often portray the Buddhist preacher of the dharma as a heroic being, advanced in practice, approaching the highest stages of the bodhisattva path. And yet the very same sūtras also reveal profound obstacles faced by the preacher in the difficult arena of pedagogy and persuasion. This paper examines an early medieval Buddhist text, the Great Lamp of the Dharma Dhāraṇī Scripture (Dà fǎjù tuóluóní jīng 大法炬陀羅尼經, extant in a single sixth-century Chinese translation) to explore the tensions between the preacher’s purported attainments and the very real obstacles confronting him. The Great Lamp uses many of the same techniques found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric to both navigate the mundane difficulties of preaching and to construct the image of the preacher as a venerable presence. The Great Lamp demonstrates how practical Buddhist rhetorical techniques could transform the flawed humanity of the preacher into an authoritative figure with superhuman glamour.





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