Saturday, 6 September 2014

Shankara on Buddhism

There have been many attempts to establish a naturalist approach to Buddhism which has gained a certain following amongst philosophers and intellectuals. Rocket scientists at prayer sort of. Massimo Pigliucci
massimo v graham
demurs in terms which are far more polite than Shankara’s.

To be brief, from every point of view that this Buddhist doctrine may be examined for finding out some justification, it breaks down like a well sunk in sand; and we do not find any the least logic here. Hence all behaviour based on the Buddhist scripture is unjustifiable. Moreover, Buddha exposed his own incoherence in talk when he instructed the three mutually contradictory theories of the existence of external objects, existence of consciousness, and absolute nihilism; or he showed his malevolence towards all creatures, acting under the delusion that these creature would get confused by imbibing contradictory views. The idea is that the Buddhist view should be abjured in every way by all who desire the highest good. (B.S.B. II.ii.32)

Intemperate stuff really though the philosophical arguments that he makes in the sections preceding are to my mind cogent. He declines to consider Sunyavada/Madhyamika, systematised by Nagarjuna :

As for the view of the absolute nihilist; no attempt is made for its refutation since it is opposed to all means of valid knowledge. For human behaviour, conforming as does to all right means of valid knowledge, cannot be denied so long as a different order of reality is not realized; for unless there be an exception, the general rule prevails. (B.S.B. II.ii.31)

Does that make Shankara an internalist or an externalist? Surely that dyad is the most bewildering form of characterisation of an epistemological standpoint that over subtle philosophers have come up with. That it is known to be such is evinced by the need to explain in detail why a particular position is one or the other. Otiose and obfuscatory. Says Tim van Gelder in the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy:

In the 1980’s , the pair internalism/externalism gained currency in epistemological contexts, where it is applied, though not without terminological confusion, to the analysis of knowledge and of justified true belief.

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