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LIN Chen-kuo - Metaphysics, Suffering, and Liberation: The Debate between Two Buddhisms - p. 298

LIN Chen-kuo - Metaphysics, Suffering, and Liberation: The Debate between Two Buddhisms - p. 298

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Metaphysics, Suffering, and Liberation: The Debate between Two Buddhisms

Metaphysics, Suffering, and Liberation: The Debate between Two Buddhisms

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01/07/2013

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Metaphysics, Suffering, and Liberation
The Debate between Two Buddhisms 
IN
Chen-kuo
T  
HECOREOF
Buddhist practice consists in meditating on the causeof suffering in order to overcome it. The need for such practiceis only intensi³ed as Buddhism attempts to face modernity. Forsuffering and modernity, as apparently disconnected as they may seem at³rst sight, present an ineluctable challenge to philosophical meditation. Ismodernity merely a new form of human suffering? Or is there a sense in which modernity really constitutes the “un³nished projectof theEnlightenment? These are questions the Buddhist thinkers share with Western intellectual history today.In this essay I propose, in the ³rst place, to locate the question of suf-fering in the context of modern discourse and examine postmodern posi-tions associated with ³gures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Adorno, andDerrida. In a word, these “postmodernists” attribute the suffering and illu-sion of modernity to the fact that the metaphysics of identity or subjec-tivity in which modernity is embedded is intrinsically oppressive. Havingconsidered this view, I will then attempt to lay out the reasons why I con-sider the legacy of the Enlightenment as worth preserving today.In the second place, I wish to consider how modern Buddhistthinkers and scholars of Buddhist philosophy respond to the call of modernity, focussing on the confrontation between Critical Buddhismand Topical Buddhism. The Critical Buddhists, in particular O-yangChing-wu (1871–1943) and Lü Ch’eng (1896–1989) of the ChineseInstitute of Buddhist Studies, and Hakamaya Noriaki and MatsumotoShirõ of Komazawa University in Japan, argue that the Sinicized forms of Buddhism are corrupt and incompatible with the project of modernity. Incontrast, Topical Buddhist thinkers such as Nishitani Keiji of the Kyoto
298
LIN CHEN-KUO
 
school and Malcolm David Eckel contend that the Critical Buddhists failto see the limits of logocentrism or to give “difference” its due. Whileboth sides agree in criticizing the metaphysics of identity for its lack of social conscience, the Topical Buddhists insist that religious or socio-political liberation must be achieved through the critique of self-centeredrationality.In a third and concluding section I will argue that the un³nished pro- ject of modernity can be carried on through negative dialectics in theBuddhist sense. In line with the Mahayana cliché that “there is no nirvana without samsara,we need to see that modernity cannot be achieved without suffering. If samsara and suffering are ontologically part of modernity, as Adorno points out in his
Dialectics of Enlightenment 
, thenmetaphysics will not be eliminated or overcome completely. The prob-lem is rather how to engage in more joyful and deconstructive forms of metaphysics.
THE KARMA OF MODERNITY 
Even though we now recognize Hegel’s announcement of “the comingof world history” as a Eurocentric myth, the fact is, the encounterbetween European modernity and other traditions continues to take placeon all sides. Historically, the Buddhist encounter with modernity began with European colonial expansion to Asia prior to the eighteenth century.The Western discovery of Buddhism not only brought about the so-calledOriental Renaissance in the West, but also changed the self-understandingof Buddhist traditions.
1
Under the shadow of colonialism, Buddhists wereled to view themselves through the lens of another culture, or even torewrite their own traditions with alien categories, thus effecting a kind of reverse Orientalism from within. The irony and ambivalence of the situa-tion is only further complicated when Buddhists now turn around and try to confront the complexity of modernity in its present-day forms. Fromthe very outset, we seem to be trapped in a hermeneutic circle of (mis)understanding. Accordingly, it seems apropos to begin with a brief digression onrecent philosophical reµections on modernity since the 1980s. The debatebetween Habermas and the “young conservatives” like Lyotard, Derrida,and Rorty offers one way into the question. We could also look back toHeidegger and his reading of Nietzsche in the early 1940s or, as both
METAPHYSICS, SUFFERING, AND LIBERATION
299
 
Habermas and David Kolb suggest, back to Hegel.
2
For the sake of brevity,I will restrict my remarks here to Habermas in the attempt to track “theshifting horizon of modernity” in terms of attitudes toward metaphysics.For it is here, in the critiques of metaphysics, that the pathology of modernity witnessed in all radical critics is most visible.
3
Some may question whether the assumption of such a relationshipbetween modernity and metaphysics is legitimate. To the social scientist, Western modernity is manifest in the structures of industrial society, incapitalism, technology, and liberal democracy.
4
 Weber, as is known,attributed the dynamism behind these structures to rationalization, but just how this works out in the concrete for modern civilizations is far fromself-evident. Philosophically and historically, we need to look to a deeperunderstanding of being—that is, of the world and human beings—in thethought of ³gures like Descartes and Kant. In order for society to be“rationalized” in the form of modernity, there must be some sort of underlying metaphysical mind-set at work.In the “modern” age, the processes of rationalization are carried on within an epistemological framework of the subject-object duality. Thisframework measures and certi³es our knowledge of the external world.The foundation of epistemic certainty is therefore located on the side of the subject: for Descartes, in the ego of the
cogito 
; for Kant, in theautonomous self as law-giver and world-viewer. The subject, in particularthe thinking subject, becomes the center of being, while the object isreduced to something external to and represented by the subject. Thismind-set functions not only in the epistemic realm, but extends to theethico-political realm as well, where things and persons are objecti³ed andrepresented by the thinking subject. They become items of reason,objects for rationalizaton. This mode of thought lies behind the greatachievements of the Enlightenment. As Heidegger has observed:
 Western history has now begun to enter into the completion of that peri-od we call modern, and which is de³ned by the fact that man becomesthe measure and the center of beings. Man is what lies at the bottom of all beings; that is, in modern terms, at the bottom of all objecti³cationand representability.
5
Modernity is therefore the triumph of a human-centered or subject-centered world view in which everything is reduced to the status of “representation.”
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LIN CHEN-KUO

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