Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Opening of Abdal-Hakim Murad's "Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur"

If the modern West is the civilizational climax of the profane and the material, then Islamic civilization, when it existed, was probably the civilizational climax of the sacred. This function need not be attributed to a spiritual eminence, which Muslims might wish to claim but which is certainly undemonstrable; nor can it be shown that any given Muslim artifact or text was more refined than a cognate production of, say, Hinduism. Rather, Islam's civilizational eminence stemmed from a spectacular plenitude. Of the other religions of the pre-Enlightenment world, only Buddhism rivaled Islam in massively encompassing a range of cultures; however Islam, uncontroversially, was the foundation for a still wider range and variety of cultural worlds. In particular, we may identify distinctive high civilizations among Muslim Africans, Arabs, Turks (including Central Asians), Persians (including, as an immensely fertile extension, Muslim India), and the population of the Malay Archipelago, radiating from the complex court cultures of Java.
-Tim Winter, ‘Ishmael and the Enlightenment’s crise de coeur: a response to Koshul and Kepnes,’ in Basit Bilal Koshul and Stephen Kepnes (eds.), Scripture, Reason, and the contemporary Islam-West encounter: studying the ‘Other’, Understanding the ‘Self’ (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 149-175. 

Outer vs. Inner Modernity

This idea that Asia's failure to conquer Europe can be seen as a sign of its being more, not less, advanced than Europe is shattering to our materialist and militarist preconceptions. But if we go deeper, we can find a valuable consolation. For us to understand the nature of Tibet's inner modernity, we must analyze the five main transformations that Europe went through from Reformation to Enlightenment: 
(1) the unification of the life-world by the process of removing the sacred as relevant to human purpose, leaving an all-absorbing secular realm;
(2) the disenchantment of the natural world, removing traditional concerns that had restrained its exploitation;
(3) the rationalization of all human effort in the goal of maximizing human comfort during the temporary existence in the secular realm;
(4) the absolutization of material progress; and
(5) the destruction of the channel of effort toward the sacred (represented by monasticism and its organized striving for perfection), which had been the institutional brake against materialism, industrialism, and militarism, leaving all human enterprise focused on those three pursuits.
Each of these strands in the Western process of outer modernization corresponds, in the reverse, to a strand in the process undergone by Tibet in its inner modernization:
(1) Instead of the life-world being unified by secularization, Tibet unified it by what we can call "sacralization" -- the sacred gradually absorbing the secular. The ultimate perfection of the individual the society, and even the buddhaverse became the prime concern of the whole society. The modernist unit of the sacred/secular dichotomy was achieved at the sacred, not the secular, pole;
(2) instead of disenchantment, the whole of reality became reenchanted. The magical/ordinary dichotomy was resolved by all becoming magical, opposite from all becoming routine and mechanical. Since the inner science of the Buddhist curriculum is based on a sense of the mind's natural power over nature, the transformation of the mind became the main avenue of progress toward the transformation of nature;
(3)  actions and goals were totally rationalized in Tibet as in the West, but in Tibet the rational made everything in life instrumental for the individual's attainment of evolutionary perfection in buddhahood, perfect wisdom and complete compassion;
(4) spiritual progress was the goal of absolute concern--the development of human perfection was industrialized--turning the whole of society into one vast school for enlightenment; and finally
(5) while commercial materialism was always a part of the seminomadic Tibetan economy and lifestyle, monasticism became completely dominant over all other institutions, disarming the military, transmuting the warrior spirit of Tibetan militarism into the ascetical heroism of monastic and contemplative adepts.  
-Robert Thurman, Inner Revolution, pgs. 245-7.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Notes from the the Introduction to the Essential Tibetan Buddhism by Robert Thurman

[From the wisdom of the terrible things that happened to Tibet in the second half of the twentieth century is] "to challenge the Tibetan Buddhists to let go of the trappings of their religion and philosophy and force themselves to achieve the ability to embody once again in this terrible era their teachings of detachment, compassion, and wisdom, and to scatter the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist teachers and disseminate their teachings throughout the planet among all the people, whether religious or secular, at this apocalyptic time when humanity must make a quantum leap from violence to peacefulness in order to preserve life on earth." (8)

[The Buddhist Enlightenment Movement] "is rational, guided by a critical inquiry into the nature of the reality of self and of the world, and experimental, proceeding from solid conclusions to the experiential verification of those conclusion." (11)

"He [Buddha] knew that the only means for beings to gain freedom was their individual understanding of their unique situation, He was forced to try to help them come to such an understanding. [...] Buddha was thus compelled to create methods of education for beings, "education" in the true sense of eliciting in beings the understanding of which they are capable, without indoctrinating or conditioning them....[Buddhas] do not transmit their understand into others' minds; They introduce beings to freedom by educating them about reality." (12)

"The monastic organization was a kind of inversion of the military organization: a peace army rather than a war army, a self-conquest tradition rather than an other-conquest tradition, a science of inner liberation rather than a science of liberating the outer world from the possession of others." (14)

"Atisha upheld the master's personal precept as the lifeline of the true Dharma, more important even than the authoritative canonical texts. He said that the "instruction of the Mentor" was more important than knowledge of all the Scriptures and their commentaries. This is because the authentic guru, lama, master, or spiritual mentor, is the representative of the immediate applicability of the teachings of an individual who needs methods to put into practice. General knowledge of doctrine is useful but does not automatically come with the skill to apply it. The mentor is the key element that makes the teaching practicable." (23)

"This rule of interpretation means the enlightened mentor is necessary to extract the instructional bottom line from the discourse or Scripture, since it is his or her job to decide which teaching applies to which practitioner." (23)

"It does a sick person no good to have a suitcase full of medicines if he does not know which one to take for his condition." (23)

-Robert Thurman, Essential Tibetan Buddhism (New York: HarperOne, 1995), 1-47.

Monday, November 16, 2015


You've found your own afflictions similarly
And from the mystics gained the remedy:

Often your limp would disappear again,
Your soul would also be relieved from pain.

Tie up you legs and feet, forgetful one,
Lest you become lost just as they have done--

Forgetfulness and lack of gratitude
Made you forget that you've gained special food.

The way is blocked now to keep you apart,
Since you've made weary every mystic's heart.

Find them and beg forgiveness desperately
Just as a heavy cloud weeps bitterly,

So that their roses bloom in your direction
And ripened fruits burst forth for your selection.

Rush there now! Don't act worse than dogs, you knave,
You fellow slave of that dog in the cave!

Since even dogs at times advise another,
'Attach your heart to your first home, my brother.

Cling to the door where you first ate a bone
And pay the debt for kindness that was shown.'


Don't ever break the pledge of loyalty.
Don't spread disloyalty so thoughtlessly.

It's through their loyalty that dogs earned fame,
So don't shame them and give them a bad name.

-Rumi, The Masnavi, Book Three, Trans. by Jawid Mojaddedi (New York: Oxford World Classic, 2013), pgs. 22-3.