Hegel on Buddhism

Romanticism and Buddhism

Hegel on Buddhism

Timothy Morton, University of California, Davis

Hegel derived his understanding of Buddhism from a particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism which emphasizes the notion of emptiness. This essay demonstrates the signficance of Hegel's gendered misprision of Buddhism for his thought and for Western philosophy in general, and in particular provides a major reading of the idea of 'nothingness' which Western thought takes to be the content of Buddhist 'emptiness.' This essay appears in _Romanticism and Buddhism_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

The spell is diminished only where the subject, in Hegel's language, is "involved"

—Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

  1. When Adorno castigates the materialistic consumption of an easily available form of Zen as a "corny exoticism," the decoration of a vacuously uncritical form of modern subjectivity (Negative Dialectics 68), he may not be aware of the extent to which traditional (non-Western) Buddhists may already agree with him. And when he describes genuine self-reflection, the subject meditating upon "its real captivity," he does not note that this is indeed a more genuine form of Buddhist meditation. Moreover, when Adorno approvingly cites the notion of Hegelian "involvement," he appears not to be aware of the irony that such an idea has links to Hegel's encounters with Buddhism (68). Buddhism, then, seems to be on both sides of the equation. How might one begin to account for such a state of affairs? Adorno has Heidegger in his sights, with his (for Adorno) paradoxically reifying view of Being and his concomitant later interest in Zen. Adorno tacks closely to the passage in Hegel's Logic where Buddhism is discussed (119-20). Adorno's argument—that Heidegger reifies modern subjectivity much as a quiescent Zen produces a fascist modern subject—would have been even more effective had he been aware of some of the historical and philosophical determinants of reified nothingness. Moreover, this would have enabled an intensification of Adorno's already intensely dialectical account of nothingness and nihilism towards the end of Negative Dialectics, which he associates explicitly with the thought of Schopenhauer (376-81). In a book committed to thought's encounter with what it is not, myopic Western eyes might at least have caught a glimpse of Mahayana Buddhism in the Romantic period. Adorno needed only to have read Hegel on Buddhism more closely. And far from finding models for fascist subjectivity, Adorno would have discovered in Hegel himself a weak, sickly, feminine being, the castoff of a relentless dialectic, the very type of Adorno's own remorseless assault on modern positivity. For in Hegel, Buddhism is the abject body that must be expelled for true subject-object relations to commence. And ironically enough, Buddhism itself would probably agree.

  2. In Adorno, what for Hegel was consciousness without content has become "nonconceptual vagary" (68). Hegel's notion of pure consciousness without content aptly theorizes some Romantic-period aesthetic phenomena (Simpson 10). But to what extent does this notion, under scrutiny, undermine the idea of a stable, solid self upon which some of the popular ideas of Romantic art depend (such as the idea of the "egotistical sublime")? Hegel discovered a form of modern consciousness reflected in the Buddhist idea of emptiness, or as he puts it, "nothingness."[1] For Hegel, nothingness is a state of pure negation, devoid of positive determinations. It is, therefore, a dialectical dead end, or rather, a horrifyingly stillborn, stunted false start. Staying with this nothingness would not be the same as the "tarrying with the negative" to which he exhorts philosophy in the Preface to the Phenomenology, but a premature retirement of Spirit in a pasture in which, to use his striking image, all cows are black (Hegel para. 16). Nothingness as void is a basic element of Judeo-Christian theology. The concept of nothing or zero is significant in the history of the West: borrowed from Arabic mathematics, zero enables negative numbers, which facilitates double-entry bookkeeping, a cornerstone of capitalism—zero enables debt, the creation of speculative capital.[2] Nothingness was also destined to become a significant aspect of Romantic and post-Romantic European philosophy. There is no doubt that a careful, slow reading of Hegel's (mis)recognition of nothingness in Buddhism would be of great value.

  3. This essay explores something that Hegel tries to hide in plain view, something that he disavows that rests uncannily close to his own philosophical scheme in what Hegel construes as an almost maddening contentment and self-enclosure. Hegel dismisses Buddhism, and in particular, Buddhist meditation, without keeping it utterly out of reach. Indeed, he is unable to jettison Buddhism, even while he is criticizing it, for it provides some key elements of his models for thinking. Despite the way in which it shadows his thought, discussions of Hegel's view of Buddhism have so far tended to be oblique or limited to simple reference.[3] There is still rather little on the topic in general, and very little detailed work on Hegel's complex engagement with Buddhist ideas and practices. Here I combine textual, historicist and philosophical analysis to demonstrate that whether Hegel already had what Heidegger calls a "pre-understanding" for Buddhism in his thinking; whether the fragmentary Chinese and Tibetan whispers that reached him from his sources on Buddhism influenced his view; whether he was always already disposed to view emptiness as "nothingness" and Buddhist soteriological practice as Insichsein or "being-within-self" (that is, ultimately without concrete determinants); or whether Buddhism did influence him indirectly; my thesis stands: that there is a remarkable and historically probable collusion between Hegel's view of the nothingness of the in-itself—or, as first stated in the Logic, Fichte's phrase I = I,[4] —and the dominant form of Tibetan Buddhism of which he was aware. And that residing within Hegel's concept of Buddhism, like a toe half-absorbed into a sucking mouth (an image to which we will return), is a gentle lovingness (Sanskrit: maitri) whose objective and sexual status is rigorously, and, for Hegel, threateningly indeterminate.

  4. Three sections follow. The first establishes Hegel's view of Buddhism, exploring in particular a key set of texts that explore ideas of nothingness, or emptiness. The second investigates more thoroughly those notions of Buddhist emptiness with which Hegel was familiar. This digression into Buddhist thinking is crucial for my argument, since it demonstrates that Hegel's idea of nothingness drastically reduces emptiness to what Buddhism itself ironically considers a rather substantial thing in which one has to believe. The final section outlines the ways in which Hegel's view of emptiness insufficiently accounts for the different kinds of Buddhist view contemporary with Hegel. The main Buddhist text on emptiness, the Prajnaparamita Sutra (the Sutra of the Heart of Transcendent Knowledge), is reproduced in an Appendix in its abbreviated twenty-five-line form.

  5. Hegel's Buddhism or, philosophy puts its foot in its mouth

  6. Buddhism had existed in Western writing for a long time before Hegel examined it. Strabo, Marco Polo and Peter Bayle had discussed it; John Toland talked about "the religion of Fo" (Buddha); the travel writer Richard Hakluyt published pictures of yogis (certain kinds of practitioner), though whether they were Hindu or Buddhist is not specified. The Annual Bibliography of English literature lists about forty citations about Buddhism, Tibet and the Dalai Lama in Romantic-period poetry. Thomas Moore, for example, wrote about mantra, Buddha, and Tibetan Lamas.[5] Hegel's direct sources for his view of Buddhism are, primarily, the work of Samuel Turner (1749—1802), an English researcher who had gained access to the court of the Dalai Lama and his associate the Panchen Lama (the findings were published around 1800); and the sixth and seventh volumes of the encyclopedic Allgemeine Historie on Buddhism (1750).[6] From the former, Hegel gleaned information about the idea that Lamas were reincarnations of previous Lamas (or high teachers). From the latter, he obtained the concept of "the empty" or "nothing," which is the main focus of this paper.

  7. Here is the passage from the Allgemeine Historie:

    Sie sagen, dass das leere oder Nichts, dere Unsang aller Dinge sen; dass aus diesem Nichts und aus der Bermischung [Vermmischung] der Elemente, alle Dinge hervorgebracht sind, und dahin wieder zuruct sehren mussen; dass alle Wesen, sowohl belebte als unbelebte, nur in der Gestalt und in den Eigenschaften von einander unterscheiden sind: in Betrachtung des Ubwesens oder Grundstoffs aber, einerlen bleiben. (6.368)
    They say that mere Nothingness is the basis of all things; that all things are brought out of this Nothing and out of the mingling of the elements, and must tend back there again; that all phenomena, both living and non-living, are only different from one another in form and in superficial properties: upon examination/contemplation of phenomena or basic elements, however, nothing besides remains.

    Note that this is "mere" nothingness. Note also that nothingness is claimed to be "the basis of all things" (not necessarily a universal view, even in Tibet, whence the Allgemeine Historie obtained its information). And note the subtle ambiguity that there is "nothing besides" the phenomena one might analyze. Does this mean that nothingness actually exists "besides" these phenomena? Or does it suggest that all we can possibly experience are these phenomena themselves? We shall return to this. In brief, despite protesting that what he dislikes about Buddhism is the first idea, that nothingness is the basis of all things, what Hegel actually produces, along with many others, is a sense of a positive nothingness that exists alongside phenomena. In strictly Buddhist terms, he becomes guilty of the very nihilism he is berating in what he beholds.

  8. In the Logic Hegel makes one explicit remark about Buddhism, and some others that pertain to his understanding of Buddhism in his later lectures on religion. Buddhism plays a consistent role in this body of work. It is a placeholder for a view that must be acknowledged but ultimately surpassed on the onward march towards the full realization of the Notion in Christianity. We could easily blame Hegel for a form of imperialism and stop there, but it will be more revealing to find out what he says, and not only for its parallels with the view to which he was indirectly exposed.

  9. In all historical probability, the very people who started the Tibetan whispers, the Gelugpa sect that had been dominant since the mid-eighteenth century, had developed their own form of xenophobia, which manifested both as an intolerance towards outsiders (still evident in some Tibetan teachers' attitudes towards "Westerners" and even those from other Tibetan sects), and as a strict doctrinal discipline. This specific discipline is most legible in the incongruities in Hegel's perception of Buddhism. There is a general understanding of what the Mahayana (of which more later) calls the absolute truth ("nothingness"), fused with a perception of strict Hinayana self-denial, and tinged with the Vajrayana culture of "Lamaism," as Hegel calls it, which would have been highly visible to Samuel Turner. Hegel's Buddhism is a mixture of asceticism, a limited philosophical view of the absolute, and superstition. Hegel does not so much hear as overhear the Gelugpa whispers about emptiness.

  10. The Gelugpas (who were and are headed by the Dalai Lama), with their very thorough and gradual path of study, scholarship and debate, would have been loath to dish out anything beyond the strict Hinayana teachings which must be held by all monastic practitioners of whatever level (unlike some of the yogic practitioners associated with other sects in Tibet)—hence asceticism. Emptiness (nothingness) would have been a general cultural understanding, as the Mahayana view was pervasive in Tibet. Merely being born meant taking refuge vows (taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha or community of practitioners), just as young children in Christian cultures are baptized. Entering a monastery, as every aspiring young man or woman would tend to do, would entail taking the bodhisattva vows of entry into the Mahayana, in which one promises to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. So most Tibetans would be familiar with what Hegel calls "nothingness" as part of the cultural background. And the Vajrayana, remaining secret even to most of the monks with whom Turner would have come into contact, would be perceived as trappings by a visitor—the supernatural elements, the idea of incarnate Lamas, the rituals.

  11. Paragraph 87 of the Logic describes "Pure" being as "mere abstraction" and "therefore the absolutely negative: which, in a similarly immediate aspect, is just Nothing" (125, 127). Hegel continues:

    Hence was derived the second definition of the Absolute: the Absolute is the Nought. In fact this definition is implied in saying that the thing-in-itself is the indeterminate, utterly without form and so without content—or in saying that God is only the supreme Being and nothing more; for this is really declaring him to be the same negativity as above. The Nothing which the Buddhists make the universal principal, as well as the final aim and goal of everything, is the same abstraction. (127)

    The talk of nothingness as "the final aim and goal of everything" is evidently derived from the Allgemeine Historie. Hegel here compares what he knows of Buddhism from the Allgemeine Historie with Spinozist and Enlightenment attitudes towards God, that he is a "supreme Being and nothing more." (One should qualify this, however, by recalling Hegel's spirited defense of this view, which he calls a true pantheism, in the section on Buddhism in Religion.) The notes that follow are revealing:

    It is natural too for us to represent Being as absolute riches, and Nothing as absolute poverty. But if when we view the whole world we can only say that everything is, and nothing more, we are neglecting all speciality and, instead of absolute plenitude, we have absolute emptiness. The same stricture is applicable to those who define God to be mere Being; a definition not a whit better than that of the Buddhists, who make God to be Nought, and who from that principle draw the further conclusion that self-annihilation is the means by which man becomes God. (128)

    (Hegel may misinterpret Spinoza's idea of nothingness: Hegel subscribes to a non-Parmenidean, relativistic or meontic form of "nothing," while Spinoza could be said to opt for a more radical oukontic nothing) (Regan 147). If we study the lectures on the philosophy of religion, we will be able to read back into a later passage in the Logic, the beginnings of the section on essence (a dialectical progression from the idea of being), Hegel's understanding of what he means by Insichsein or being-within-self, which is his view of Buddhist practice:

    Unfortunately when the Absolute is taken only to be the Essence, the negativity which this implies is often taken only to mean the withdrawal of all determinate predicates. This negative action of withdrawal or abstraction thus falls outside of the Essence—which is thus left as a mere result apart from its premisses—the caput mortuum of abstraction. But as this negativity, instead of being external to Being, is its own dialectic, the truth of the latter, viz. Essence, will be Being as retired within itself—immanent Being. (162)

    Because it lacks predicates, this apophatic essentiality seems too abstract for Hegel. And yet the way in which he describes inwardness bears the trace of an all too physical materiality. In the Logic, it is a death's head. To imagine Buddhism as a skull would effectively kill it off. But elsewhere Hegel produces a far more uncanny image. Ironically, the image that he chooses to describe Buddhism in Religion is a Hindu one: "The image of Buddha in the thinking posture, with feet and arms intertwined so that a toe extends into the mouth—this [is] the withdrawal into self, this absorption in oneself" (252). This astonishing image is alarming more in the eyes of the narrator than in itself: babies gleefully suck their toes all the time. But in Hegel's description, it is as if the toe has taken on a horrifying life of its own, wiggling away from the life of totalizing spirit. The toe "extends," it wants to thrust itself down the throat, like one of Francis Bacon's figures disappearing into a keyhole or a washbasin.[7] Would it have been marginally less disturbing if the mouth had (actively) tried to swallow the toe? The translation captures something of the Cartesian view of matter as sheer extension, so that we cannot tell whether there is a willing subject "behind" the toe's descent into the mouth's wet cavity. The extension of the toe (willed or not? by the mind, or by the toe itself?) is precisely self-annihilating, and pleasurably so. The mixture of sexuality and death could not be harder to miss. Or is it asexual pleasure? Or presexual? This is a precise indeterminacy to which we shall return.

  12. The toe sucker is practicing literal, physical introversion. The body turns round on itself and disposes of itself down one of its own holes. To be "retired within itself," Being loses its spiritual or ideal aspect and actually becomes this very image, as in Hegel's telling syntax: "The image of Buddha . . . this [is] the withdrawal into self." Hegel repetitively adds "this absorption in oneself," as if he himself cannot get away from the fascinating, sucking maw. There is a little eddy of enjoyment in Hegel's own text, a sucking backwash that is not simply dialectics at a standstill, but rather an entirely different order of being. This Buddhist being is only recognizable in Hegel's universe as an inconsistent distortion, at once too insubstantial and too solid. Buddhism stands both for an absolute nothingness, a blank zero that itself becomes heavy and dense, unable to shift itself into dialectical gear, and for a substantiality that is not even graced with an idea of nothingness. Contemplation, meditation, is tantamount to reducing the body to a horrifying inertia, a body without organs in the Deleuzian-Guattarian terminology (Deleuze and Guattari 149-66). The nearest approximation is a black hole, a physicality so intense that nothing escapes from it. On the other hand, the image is made of organs rather than a single, independent body. If he is terrified of the static body without organs of the meditating ascetic, in which the inside of the body threatens to swallow all trace of working limbs, perhaps Hegel's description also evokes an even greater panic concerning the possibility of organs without bodies. As one starts to examine the image, nothingness proliferates into a veritable sea of holes. The zero of the open mouth, stuffed full of the body of which it forms a part, while the body curls around in a giant, fleshy zero, like a doughnut: this is the inconsistent, compelling image, the sinthome of Hegel's ideological fixation.[8] It is ironic, then, that for Buddhist meditators, physical posture is indeed not only a support for meditation, but also embodies it, quite literally, as in the notions of yoga and mudra (gesture), where certain postures enact forms of being awake. These are indeed "thinking postures," to use Hegel's phrase, the textual ambiguity brilliantly (accidentally?) betraying his anxiety about the idea that a posture could think. There must be an infinite distance between posing a philosophical proposition, conceptually positing, and this posturing thought, this thinking that postures and postures that perform thinking. As any Buddhist meditator could have told Hegel, meditation is a highly physical process.

  13. As well as being disturbingly feminine (I am reminded of Φ, Lacan's formula for castration, Phi—a Greek letter that is like a crossed-out zero, something that is "not even nothing"), Hegel's version of Buddhism is disturbingly infantile: it needs to pull its toe out and start doing dialectics. The image of self-swallowing "stands above the wildness of desire and is the cessation of desire" (252), and also the cessation of predication:

    [Buddhists] say that everything emerges from nothing, everything returns to nothing. That is the absolute foundation, the indeterminate, the negated being of everything particular, so that all particular existences or actualities are only forms, and only the nothing has genuine independence, while in contrast all other actuality has none; it counts only as something accidental, an indifferent form. For a human being, this state of negation is the highest state: one must immerse oneself in this nothing, in the eternal tranquillity of the nothing generally, in the substantial in which all determinations cease, where there is no virtue or intelligence, where all movement annuls itself. All characteristics of both natural life and spiritual life have vanished. To be blissful, human beings themselves must strive, through ceaseless internal mindfulness, to will nothing, to want [nothing], and to do nothing. (253—4)

    Again, note the way in which Hegel adopts the Allgemeine Historie's der Nichts in "the eternal tranquillity of the nothing." For Hegel, the Buddhist constantly equates form with mere accidentality, which in itself is "indifferent" nothing. "When one attains this," declares Hegel, putting Buddhism in its place, "there is no longer any question of something higher, of virtue and immortality." Instead, "Human holiness consists in uniting oneself, by this negation, with nothingness, and so with God, with the absolute" (254). Union with God is embodied in extending one's toe into one's mouth in an impossible, fantastic act of self-swallowing, a precise figuration of the paradoxical impossibity of "will[ing] nothing—want[ing] [nothing], and do[ing] nothing" (the sneer in the tricolon is almost audible). Again, the image of willing nothing is at once vacuously negative and disturbingly positive. Nothingness is threatening because of its inertia as well as its blankness, its "indifferent" refusal to lift the body into the spirit world.

  14. At this point in his career, Hegel views Buddhism as even lower in the hierarchy of religions than Hinduism, which proliferates dream-like images of the absolute in all the varied figures of the Hindu pantheon. Later, in revising Religion and in The Philosophy of History, he was to reverse their respective positions.[9] Buddhism, more than the Taoism that in his scheme precedes it in its understanding of the absolute, at least grasps that there is something determinate to be recognized and sought, unlike more animistic religions. It is just that what is recognized is still, for Hegel, on a very abstract level, as abstract as the statement "I = I" (Logic 125). Buddhism remains in the position ascribed in the Logic to the doctrine of "Becoming," whose "maxim" is that "Being is the passage into Nought, and Nought the passage into Being" (131). The way Buddhism floats about between more and less primitive stages of religious history is symptomatic of the tremendous anxiety with which Hegel simultaneously teases out and wards off this I = I, this self-enclosing, self-regarding nothingness that barely conceals a positive pleasure, a self-liberating or self-annihilating suction. This pleasurable self-reference might later find a name in narcissism. Without alluding directly to toes extending into mouths, Jacques Derrida opposed the implication that narcissism is a contemptible state. He insisted upon the existence of many differently "extended" forms of narcissism, forms that may or may not be the disturbing self-regard of Hegel's Buddha (Derrida 199). Indeed, in Buddhism, self-regard might be a form of kindness (maitri) rather than selfishness.

  15. Hegel is well aware that self-swallowing is paradoxical. After the swallow, there would be no swallower, and no swallowee. That is his point. (Curiously, it is rather close to the Buddhist idea of transcendent generosity, that in truth there is no gift, no giver, and no recipient.) This paradox hides another, deeper one: that of self-pleasuring. This self-pleasuring is the very form of the meditating Buddha, a form Hegel hides out in the open of his text. Is the toe-sucking sexual, or not? Is it an objectal relationship, resembling a relationship of a subject to Melanie Klein's "partial objects"? Are swallower and swallowee the same? Are they different? This indeterminacy is structural, not epiphenomenal. Subject, object and abject are smeared across one another unrecognizably. It looks like the one thing that Hegel finds more frightening than nothingness is this unrecognizable intimacy, this intimacy with the extimate, with what protrudes, such as a toe, and the red, wet, all too human O of the mouth that takes it in. The disavowal of nothingness hides another disavowed, even more denegated and foreclosed thing, the inertia of the self-pleasurer, who after all appears in the form of an inert statue, a self-consuming artifact, the static image of a meditator disappearing into nothing, and/or dissolving into enjoyment. After all, who is to say that there is a person, a sucker, behind all this? The image organizes zones of pleasure rather than a single solid self. In the conclusion, I will re-examine the idea that Hegel's Buddhism has something to say about the objects that we think of as art, objects whose status was becoming highly contested and politicized in his era, as the notion of the aesthetic sought, rather like Buddhism, to reconcile subject and object in a world in which they had been ripped apart.

  16. Hegel's thinking about nothing, and about nothing as Buddhism, is of the utmost significance in the history of philosophy: for example, all too briefly, Schopenhauer's view of Buddhism as annihilation of desire; Nietzsche's critique of Buddhism as a consumption of the soul; Heidegger's interest in Zen; the nuancing and critique of "I = I" in Sartre. Aside from their potential political implications for hearing the plight of the exiled Tibetans, the drastically distorted remarks of Slavoj Žižek on "Western Buddhism" in Critical Inquiry and elsewhere continue the equation of emptiness with nothingness, and nirvana with the realization of this nothingness. Notwithstanding the irony that Lacanian (and therefore Sartrean, and therefore Hegelian) notions of nothingness inform his view of why the Christian legacy is worth fighting for, for Žižek Western Buddhism is only a hippy form of laziness, lacking the commitment to moral absolutes that he praises in the proclamations of Pope John Paul II.[10] Using the zeugma "dust to dust," from the Book of Common Prayer, which resembles Hegel's "I = I" in its circular brevity, Žižek rubbishes nirvana as "primordial Void" (Žižek 54). Far from being an originally Buddhist concept, this void is Judaeo-Christian through and through. It is as if, in translation, Buddhism is thought to stop at the mysterious void that pre-exists God's act of creation. Translation yanks emptiness towards the void, then blames it for being nothingness. Though, as I will argue, certain Buddhist views do tend towards nihilism, they by no means justify any action based on the misinterpretation that since everything is empty anyway, one might as well steal or kill. The notion of emptiness is inseparable from compassion. Since reality goes beyond any conceptualization, we can afford to lose a little of our precious territory, our ego-clinging, our sense of a self to which we are holding on for dear life.

  17. It is the Prajnaparamita Sutra that Schopenhauer explicitly quotes at the end of the first volume of The World as Will and Representation in declaring that "the point where subject and object no longer exist" is "nothing," a nothing that oscillates between an aestheticized asceticism, an "ocean-like calmness of the spirit," and a more existentially horrific "empty nothingness" (Schopenhauer 411-2). Despite the fact that towards the beginning of paragraph 71, from which these statements are taken, he indicates that nothing can only be a relative entity, not a positive one, Schopenhauer cannot resist imbuing it with a certain charm or horror; despite, one might add, his Kantian insistence on the ways in which aestheticized asceticism transcends desire. Such a paradoxical, ambiguous nothingness is the place at which the Western notion of the aesthetic, itself a reconciler of subject and object, mistakenly meets the Buddhist notion of emptiness. The image of the toe-swallowing meditator is remarkably similar to what De Quincey says about Kant, that in his "aesthetic" self-absorption he was a stomach devouring itself (De Quincey 2.156).[11] Schopenhauer's cold nirvana forgets about the pleasure Hegel tries to ward off. According to Buddhism, the universe in which we exist is the desire realm, and thus, since all beings are caught in a dialectic of desire, passion (and com-passion) is a lifeline to enlightenment, because by extending friendliness to oneself and others, one begins to understand that things are not as solid as our habitual tendencies would take them to be.

  18. In The Philosophy of History Hegel draws upon more material from Turner's account of the court of the Dalai Lama. Hegel exhibits a horrified fascination concerning the "feminine" education of the young incarnate Lama (Tibetan: tulku) "in a kind of prison" of "quiet and solitude," living "chiefly on vegetables" and "revolt[ing] from killing any animal, even a louse" (171). This vignette is as arresting as the toe-swallowing statue. For a start, here is evidence that Hegel robustly joined the contemporary debate on vegetarianism. For him, vegetarianism is unmanly, as is refraining from killing animals. I am reminded of the portrayal of the Jacobins in the English press as at once both cannibals and vegetarians: the word "revolt" was well chosen by the translator.[12] For Hegel, Buddhists eat themselves (toe-sucking) and yet they abstain from carnivorousness, and from virility. As David Clark has shown, masculinity and meat-eating are inextricably intertwined in Hegel.[13]

  19. For Hegel, the capacity to act, to will, has been imprisoned. Hegel goes further here than a simple picture of monastic calm. Aside from walls and doors, quietness and solitude themselves constitute the prison. If we combine this image with that of the toe-sucker, we discover inwardness upon inwardness, self-withdrawal enclosed within self-withdrawal. The Lama's being is locked within another (being-within-self), or even willingly inserted into it, like a toe. The prison of quiet and solitude is practically the external form of the view of nothingness, embodied in the oroboros, the self-swallowing man. Shut away in the monastery, the Lama's very body is his or her prison, a hole inside a hole. And yet the Lama is on display, like a statue. The Lama "does not hold the Spiritual Essence as his peculiar property, but is regarded as partaking in it only in order to exhibit it to others," in a spirit not unlike that of French or American republicanism (171). Hegel must have been disturbed by the extent to which the culture of the Lama uncannily echoed the Europe of absolute freedom and terror, while simultaneously retaining a monarchical structure, an unsynthesized parody of the very state for which he himself argued. Furthermore, his recoil from nothingness is a curious symptom of his unconscious reification of it: if it were really just nothing at all, then why be repulsed? There is evidence here of a denegation, a strong disavowal of the body in its inert, contemplative and "passive," "feminine" mode. Insichsein, then, is a sick form of inwardness. Indeed, Hegel goes so far as to posit inwardness itself as sickness. The horror of the toe-sucker is that he or she has already achieved the union (or dissolution?) of subject and object, before the dialectic has even begun. It is a frighteningly abject version of Hegel's own system, oblivious to the march of History, an astonishingly resilient and resistant form of physical being that preexists the dialectic, standing outside and yet inside at the same time, a state of exception that uncannily resembles Hegel's own devouring and self-devouring dialectic. This has to do with Hegel himself, of course, but it also has to do with the cultural logics of patriarchy and imperialism, in which those who do not have History must have it imposed on them. It has not a little to do with the image of the inscrutable, self-regarding, lazy Oriental. For the British, this role was played by the Chinese, who for De Quincey needed some Western Historical stimulation to wake them up.[14]

  20. To which a Buddhist might reply: yes, indeed, better never to have started the march of History, better never to have become involved in samsara, better to have stayed inert, with one's toe in one's mouth, partaking in nothingness. Žižek's harsh words about peaceful states of mind as forms of laziness contain generous helpings of the abject image that Hegelian History had to exempt. Žižek moves too quickly to cast aside the moment at which Western philosophy got a glimpse of emptiness. It is significant from within the perspective of Marxism itself that at the very start of industrial capitalism and imperialism, an image of absolute tranquility was thrown up out of Orientalist studies of Tibet and China. Writing in Minima Moralia a century and a half later, Adorno corrects a reflex towards seeing production as (painful) labor. Adorno evokes nirvana:

    A mankind which no longer knows want will begin to have an inkling of the delusory, futile nature of all the arrangements hitherto made in order to escape want, which used wealth to reproduce want on a larger scale. Enjoyment would be affected, just as its present framework is inseparable from operating, planning, having one's way, subjugating. Rien faire comme une bête, lying on water and looking peacefully at the sky, "being, nothing else, without any further definition and fulfilment," might take the place of process, act, satisfaction. . . . None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace. (Adorno 157)

    "Being, nothing else, without any further definition and fulfillment": in Adorno's use of the words of Maupassant we re-encounter Hegel's notion of nothingness. The collapsed, non-grasping surrender which Hegel spurns is raised to the highest power in Adorno. Despite his own proclamations against Buddhism, Adorno remains one of the few philosophers working within Western traditions whose thinking has a flavor that a Buddhist would recognize as sympathetic.

  21. "There is no spoon": sources for Hegel's nothingness

  22. For Hegel, Buddhist nothingness is a false, reified concreteness, a concreteness with, as we have seen, a soft, feminine, abject underbelly. Apparently, there is not enough mediation in meditation. Hegel's sources would have proved no help: the contemporary Gelugpas (and still nowadays, in some cases) could be hostile towards meditation practice, and many have reserved it for a notional point after the completion of one's intellectual studies. Their view of what Hegel is calling nothingness is more popular with Buddhist scholars than with meditators. Ironically, meditators (yogis) were more likely to prefer approaches (such as Cittamatra, discussed below) that could be used as provisional stepping stones (mediations) on the way towards perfect understanding, under the assumption that the owl of enlightenment flies only at dusk. Hegel might even have preferred such views and compared them more favorably with Christianity.

  23. I now turn to Tibetan Buddhism's account of so-called "nothingness," a concept (or non-concept?) only visible to Hegel in paradoxical and oxymoronic terms. One very significant aspect of the soteriological practice of Buddhism is the progressive realization of ever more profound views of reality. Understanding what reality is will help to lessen the suffering caused by the grasping and fixation that turns the wheel of samsara or migratory existence (Tibetan: khorwa) round and round. According to Tibetan tradition, the historical Buddha supposedly "turned the Wheel of Dharma" or teaching three times during his life. The teachings comprise two different "vehicles" (Sanskrit: yanas) for taking the practitioner from confusion and suffering to enlightenment: the Hinayana and Mahayana, the latter of which was taught in two different ways. The "first turning of the Wheel of Dharma" is often called the Hinayana, or Shravakayana (Sanskrit) to denote the "hearers" or ordinary practitioners who heard these teachings. The idea is that in his compassion the Buddha expounded the same teaching in three different ways to three different capacities of audience. Still others assert that different types of audience heard the same words in different ways. I use the notion of the "three turnings of the Wheel of Dharma" as a heuristic term that is intrinsic to the schools of thought I investigate here.

  24. "Hinayana" (Sanskrit: "narrow vehicle") is the name that Mahayana (Sanskrit: "broad vehicle") Buddhism gave to early traditions of Buddhist doctrine, as practiced for instance by the Theravadins of Southern Asia. I use the term "Hinayana" here in line with the Tibetan Mahayana and Vajrayana (Sanskrit: "indestructible vehicle") traditions of which Hegel was aware. To think of Hinayana as somehow "lesser" is significantly to misunderstand Tibetan views, in which so-called Hinayana discipline is thoroughly incorporated into Mahayana and Vajrayana practices. The Hinayana, or narrow vehicle, is not all that narrow in its view: the narrowness is the immediacy of focus on the individual practitioner himself or herself, the goal being soso tharpa (Tibetan: individual liberation from suffering in samsara). The view of the Hinayana is egolessness. This can be construed first as egolessness of self, in which the self is analyzed into a congeries of phenomenological atoms. Secondly, at least in some forms of Hinayana, one realizes partial egolessness of dharmas (Sanskrit: dharmas here in a second sense, that of elements of reality), consisting of the chain of cause and effect known in Tibetan as tendrel (Tibetan: dependently originated arising; Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada). (This is considered partial egolessness of dharmas from the point of view of the second vehicle, the Mahayana or "broad" vehicle.) In other words, things do not really exist: this glass of water is only made out of bits and pieces of other things, and so are those other things; and the same goes for our actions and thoughts.

  25. In the teachings of the "first turning," Buddha's laying out of the Hinayana view, then, there is already some degree of emptiness compared with the habitual notions one has of having a single solid self. Notice that in this view, reality is already not split into subject and object. We are dealing with pieces of phenomenological experience, phenomenological atoms that according to Hinayana scripture occur every sixtieth of a second. These dharmas, or phenomenological atoms, are comprised of a perceiver and a perceived, sense organs and perceptual fields, including the "sense consciousnesses" construed as aspects of consciousness: a rainbow, for instance, depends upon water, sunlight, and a certain point of view. So there is some emptiness here. The view of an Arhat or realized being who has followed the path of the Hinayana, is, according to the Mahayanists, equal to that of a bodhisattva on the sixth bhumi (Sanskrit: level of enlightenment; there are eleven in the Mahayana). For the realized practitioner of Hinayana, grasping ceases, though there is still some subtle fixation on what reality is.

  26. The "second turning of the Wheel of Dharma" comprised the Mahayana teachings. Mahayana means "great" vehicle, because its view is proclaimed to be vast and profound: profound because it delves down to the bottomlessness of reality; and vast because it expands to care for all sentient beings throughout all space(s) and time(s). In the Mahayana one takes a vow called the bodhisattva vow, in which one promises to help all other sentient beings to enlightenment before attaining enlightenment oneself, or to attain enlightenment for their sake. Of course, paradoxically, the wish to open up one's resources to other sentient beings is itself very enlightening and one finds oneself enlightened more rapidly than on the Hinayana path of individual liberation. The Mahayana path is based on understanding and realizing the view of emptiness, and of extending one's warmth and compassion towards other sentient beings: giving birth, in order words, to bodhichitta (Sanskrit: "mind of enlightenment"). Even if he had been correct about nothingness, Hegel would still have overlooked the compassion side of this coin.

  27. Tibetan Buddhists use the terms trangdon and ngedon to differentiate among the teachings. According to all Mahayanists, the Hinayana view of egolessness is trangdon, that is, a partial view. Now according to some Mahayanists, notably the ones with whom Hegel's sources came into contact (in particular the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which had assumed political control throughout the eighteenth century), the second turning of the wheel of dharma is fully ngedon or definitive, while the teachings of the third turning are partially ngedon, designed to aid those who had difficulty with the view of emptiness (Tibetan: tongpa-nyi; Sanskrit: shunyata) expounded in the second turning. According to other lineages, for example, the Kagyü and Nyingma sects of Tibetan Buddhism (the Kagyü are headed by the Karmapa, who is their equivalent of the Gelugpas' Dalai Lama)[15] the third turning teachings are ngedon, and the second turning partially ngedon. The third turning teachings are often called "luminosity" to distinguish them from the second turning teachings on emptiness, though they are said not to contradict this view, but to complement it. (And from a Kagyü or Nyingma point of view, they complete it.)

  28. In The Matrix, that popular classroom teaching aid, the protagonist Neo observes a young boy dressed like a tulku (Tibetan: incarnate Lama). The boy is playing with a metal spoon, supposedly causing it to bend by realizing the truth that in reality "there is no spoon." The boy's words have become an incredibly popular ersatz Buddhist catchphrase. Indeed, it does encapsulate the second turning doctrine of emptiness rather well. It is actually easy to explain the second turning view to readers of literary theory: all they have to do is imagine Derrida's view of language and writing to apply to the whole of reality. Nagarjuna (first to second century AD) was the Indian exponent of the Madhyamaka or "middle way" on which the view of emptiness is based. Nagarjuna did not provide a philosophical view so much as a deconstructive method of reducing to absurdity any argument that asserted something single, lasting or independent about reality (in Buddhism, these three together comprise a view based on "self" or ego). In the manner of Derrida insisting that différance is not a concept, Nagarjuna insisted that anyone who accepted his philosophy as a belief was incurably insane. (Incidentally, it seems strange, from a Buddhist point of view, that scholars are at pains to declare in the titles of their books on deconstruction and religion, notably Buddhism, that they are "healing" or "mending" deconstruction. From a Buddhist point of view, it would have been more apt to say that they are sharpening it or making it tougher—or just doing it.)[16]

  29. In Tibet the second turning is associated most strongly with Chandrakirti, a student of Nagarjuna, and is known as rangtong, or emptiness of self, self-emptiness. How is rangtong different from the egolessness of the Hinayana? In this view, the very tools with which we analyzed egolessness of self have no single lasting independent existence. There is a panoply of Hinayana terms for understanding reality, such as the five skandhas (Sanskrit: "heaps"). These five "heaps" make up a sense of self, in the absence of a real one. They are what the Prajnaparamita Sutra refers to in the phrase "no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness"; then there are the sense organs, the sense consciousness and sense fields.

  30. An easy way of understanding the Prajnaparamita Sutra would be to put all the terms in the middle section of the Sutra into quotation marks. "In reality, there is no 'form', no 'feeling', no 'perception'" and so forth. The meaning of the Sutra is summed up in the first declaration of Avalokiteshvara, when he says "Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form [that is, substance and shape—determination in Hegelese]; emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness." If we were to delve into the vertiginous levels of emptiness progressively proclaimed in this chiasmus, this essay would be many times its current length. In brief, the Sutra declares that the very conceptual tools with which the Hinayanists broke down reality are themselves subject to deconstruction: they do not in themselves give rise to a metaphysics of presence. There is no spoon. "Spoon" is just a designation we give to something whose spooniness is a coming together of various causes and conditions, which are themselves empty of inherent existence for the same reason: and the ways in which we break those down, talking about cause and effect, for example, or sense fields, is also subject to deconstruction.

  31. Among a great variety of methods, Nagarjuna's student Chandrakirti developed the deconstructive form of argument known as the "tiny vajra" (diamond, lightning bolt, scepter), a mini-Madhyamaka exercise, to show that phenomena cannot be said to arise—and that therefore they cannot be said to dwell or cease either. Madhyamaka is much more rigorous than atomism. If we said the spoon arose from something else, a non-spoon, then the essence of the spoon would still be caught up in the pre-spoon, and there would be no (single, independent, lasting) spoon. If the spoon came from itself, then it must always have existed, otherwise it would have come from a non-spoon. This is not the case, so there is no spoon. If the spoon came both from itself and from other entities (non-spoons), it would exist and not exist simultaneously, and since this cannot be true, we cannot establish the existence of the spoon on this basis either. If the spoon came neither from itself nor from a non-spoon, then we assert that something can come from nothing, and we have not determined why the spoon is a spoon and not anything else, say a fork. There is no way of establishing that the spoon is single, independent, and lasting. Since for a Berkeley or a Hume ideas could be said simply to be congeries of sensation and designation, one can see how Hegel would have associated Buddhist thought with certain aspects of Enlightenment philosophy; though there are more resemblances between the Madhyamakan view of emptiness and skepticism than there are to Spinozan pantheism.

  32. Why did Nagarjuna call his (non)view the middle way, anyway? It is designed to steer a course between asserting that things exist—in this view, that would be theism, or what Derrida and others call ontotheology—and asserting that they do not—that would be nihilism, which for Nagarjuna still implies holding on to a concept, in which case there is a separation of knower and known, and the return of dualism. Nihilism is believing in nothing (in some senses, actually quite impossible). As Adorno puts it, in a devastatingly brief attack on modern chic: "Faith in nothingness would be as insipid as would faith in Being. It would be the palliative of a mind proudly content to see through the whole swindle" (Negative Dialectics 379). One can already see that Hegel's choice of "nothingness" to designate what he understands of emptiness is at least somewhat prey to an accusation that it is truly existent, in the sense of being single, independent and lasting. Hence his view that Buddhism involves the stripping away of all determinants from the self by a rigorous asceticism and (for him) a paradoxical identification with the nothingness. Ironically, the nothingness that Hegel calls the truth of I = I has at least a dash of somethingness.

  33. Hegel construes reincarnation as mitigating the potential idolatry of the ways in which Tibetans appeared (and still appear according to current Western media) to "worship a living god" in the form of the Dalai Lama. He is not really a person pretending to be a god, declares Hegel, just a spokesperson (or somewhere between an incarnation and a spokesperson) for nothingness. For all the kinds of cultural superiority such a statement could project, and despite the imperial uses to which such a patronizing generosity could be put, Hegel was not far from the truth. (Incidentally, the inverse misapprehension prevented the Tibetans from converting to Christianity when the first missionaries arrived. In order to describe the risen Christ, they inadvertently used the Tibetan for "zombie"—literally a body activated by an abstract force—and failed to impress.) One can tell that Hegel was inspired by the rangtong view in his use of "highest" to describe emptiness: "For a human being, this state of negation is the highest state" (Religion 254). According to the rangtong view, reality in its highest absolute nature is empty: if you saw reality properly the perceptual field would at first dissolve, as it does for Neo at the end of The Matrix; the first bhumi (level) of Mahayana realization is said to be an experience of everything disappearing.[17] But in the next view under discussion, emptiness is not the ultimate point of reality, but rather its basis.

  34. There is a spoon: emptiness as basic reality

  35. The reason why things exist at all is because they are empty, but that does not somehow get rid of them. As the 1970s advertisement for shredded wheat put it, this view has nothing added or taken away. In the shentong or third turning view, reality is indeed beyond conceptualization—including the subtle conceptualization that holds on to that idea, in whatever form, as a thing to be known. This is what preserves the shentong view from nihilism, and from a certain smugness bred of holding the ultimate philosophical joker up your sleeve. "Shentong" means emptiness of other. In the shentong view emptiness is only the basis of phenomenal appearance. It is associated in Tibet with the Indian teacher Asanga (third to fourth century AD), and with Yogachara, which means basically a school of thought that is helpful to meditators.

  36. One might at this point almost declare, "there is a spoon, because it is empty." According to Tsoknyi Rinpoche, a teacher in the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the reason we can tell this glass of water is empty is because it exists.[18] In other words its emptiness is not in spite of its existence. Emptiness is not the ultimate state of the glass; it is the basis for the glass's existence. To extend the analogy with deconstruction, différance by no means abolishes the distinctions between signs; pace one of my literary theory undergraduates who wrote about deconstruction being a "communistic" theory that reduced distinction to absolute lack of determination—just a huge vague soup of non-meaning, in which everything means nothing to an equal extent.

  37. To the uneducated ear the shentong view almost sounds like a version of idealism, or perhaps even solipsism, especially as it is full of phrases such as "the clear light nature of mind," which could also easily be read as a form of theism. This is indeed how it sounds to certain Tibetans, notably those with whom Hegel's sources came into contact. Another contemporary Tibetan teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso of the Kagyü lineage, writes that "Because Shentong makes the same distinction between the three natures as the Cittamatrins do, and because it stresses the true existence of the luminous knowing aspect of mind, many Rangtong masters have confused it with the thought of Cittamatra" or "mind-only" (Tibetan: semtsam) (Gyamtso 76). This is another way in which Hegel, following the rangtong view and being himself an idealist, could have become confused about the shentong view; indeed, one of Hegel's indirect sources, Alexander Csoma de Koros, was puzzled on this very point. One must here recall that the Cittamatra view itself goes beyond the pantheism of the Coleridgean and Wordsworthian "one life within us and abroad": the kind of pantheism that Hegel benignly defends in his closing remarks in the section on Buddhism in Religion (260—3). Cittamatra certainly has no tendencies towards either pantheism or solipsism—why? Because we have already overcome a sense of self in the Hinayana, whose view is egolessness; it does not somehow get to come back. The mind-only view is very helpful in resolving our concepts about the dualism of inside and outside: "All our concepts are based on accepting outer objects as separate from the inner perceiving mind and taking them to be real." Mind-only, in which all phenomena are perceived as more or less real existents of mind, answers the question of "How does the interface of mind and matter actually work?" (Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso 50).

  38. "However," continues Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, "there are very important differences between Cittamatra and Shentong. Firstly, Shentong does not accept the Cittamatra view that consciousness is truly existent. [It] hold[s] the Madhyamaka view that it is non-arising and without self-nature. They consider themselves to be the Great Madhyamikas because their system involves not only recognizing freedom from all conceptual contrivance, but also the realization of the Wisdom Mind (Jnana) that is free from all contrivance" (96). From this standpoint, knowing reality as something to be known is still a form of objectification, howsoever subtle. The Buddhist path first emphasizes clearing away gross obstacles to the proper view: the kleshas or afflictive mental states (anger, jealousy, pride and so forth). This helps to eliminate the "grasping" that is one aspect of the Third Noble Truth (the Noble Truths are common to all schools of Buddhism). Then the practitioner must deal with "fixation," the mind's compulsion to hold on to things, informed by more subtle misconceptions. Thus the Hinayana is oriented towards working on the self; the Mahayana towards working with the other (and with otherness).

  39. From the shentong point of view the rangtong tends towards nihilism—a paradoxical (and ultimately untenable) belief in nothing; the idea of emptiness in the rangtong is still somewhat conceptual—it is precisely the idea that no concept can be applied to the notion of emptiness; in other words it is paradoxically not fully nonconceptual. Reality is empty, but not of the qualities of a Buddha, transcendent intelligence, wisdom and compassion: luminosity. Remember that the subject/object dualism has long been surpassed. So what we are dealing with here is a self-luminous reality, beyond conceptualization, endowed with all the qualities of a Buddha. After which point, in Buddhism, there is only poetry, the direct proclamation of enlightened mind otherwise known as Vajrayana.

  40. The shentong view of luminosity and Buddha-nature strikingly resembles David Clark's observation on Schelling's view of the Behmenist Ungrund in his essay on Jean-Luc Marion's God without Being: "the Ungrund is contaminated from the start by the universe it subtends, making the impulse to misrecognize the groundless as the primal ground, and thereby firmly reappropriate it to ontotheology, quite irresistible"; "the Ungrund's non-being is neither the void of nothingness nor the nonsense of non-entity," so that the question then becomes how to avoid speaking of it, or as Derrida, quoted in Clark, observes: "'how, in speaking, not to say this or that, in this or that manner? . . . How to avoid . . . even predication itself?'" (Clark 161-2).

  41. Buddhism is less tongue-tied than this: reality has all the qualities of a Buddha, wakefulness, intelligence, compassion—attributes which are often called "luminosity" to distinguish it from sheer lack of existence. What we are constantly forgetting in our fascination with emptiness, especially as intellectuals—a fascination reminiscent of Sartre's formulation, in which, as a matter of fact, it is we who are the nothingness and the in-itself that is the being—"like a gigantic object in a desert world" (as Sartre puts it)(246)—what we are forgetting here, in our fixation, is precisely the original nonseparation of subject and object—what Buddha nature is seeing is precisely Buddha nature. There is nothing to be seen because the difference between seer and seen has been transcended. In fact, any slight introduction of such a difference would entail a legitimate attack from the rangtong or prasangika Madhyamaka view, and rightly so too. To read Hegel from the standpoint of Buddhism, this difference stems from the fascination with which Hegel regards the big fat zero of the toe-sucking meditator. It is a nothing that is not even nothing, that hides a something, an irrepressible gentleness perhaps, which Hegel would call feminine and which Buddhism would call bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment, the genuine heart of sadness.

  42. In their apophatic anxiety to speak nothing and nothing more, many writers on the topic of emptiness fall into the mode of Jeremy in Yellow Submarine—a poor creature whose scholarship leaves him a nowhere man who "hasn't got a point of view" (The Beatles). This is not quite enough to inspire the practitioner, according to the Kagyü and Nyingma sects of Tibetan Buddhism. There is surely something of this in Adorno's marshalling of the medieval apophatic tradition with the Buddhist view of nirvana (however distorted) against Nietzschean nihilism, which supplies fascism with "slogans": "The medieval nihil privativum in which the concept of nothingness was recognized as the negation of something rather than as autosemantical, is as superior to the diligent 'overcomings' as the image of Nirvana, of nothingness as something" (380). The rangtong is traditionally said to be good for academics, who like tying themselves in knots—or think that they can untie them and will worry at them incessantly until they themselves disappear (Magliola 102). It is a shame that Buddhism has been construed in the West to imply a view that ultimate reality is nothingness or absence of determination. Buddhist intellectuals still have work to do to correct the distorted picture of Buddhism that has become a complacently unexamined commonplace in some postmodernist intellectual circles, which have simply received without question the (pessimist and nihilist) assessments of Buddhism transmitted by such thinkers as Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

  43. The point of all three turnings is to help sentient beings become more compassionate and kind to themselves and others, in part by realizing that there was never much in the first place to hold on to in the way of the territory of selfhood. The "self" that Insichsein is "within" never had that much existence anyway; there was not much A for A to equal itself, a point taken up in Wittgenstein, and in Derrida on the copula.[19] For a Buddhist, to say that emptiness is absence of determination is a determination. Hegel's view of emptiness as nothingness is, from the Buddhist point of view, an error that had profound consequences not only for the reception of Buddhism in the West, but for the history of continental philosophy to come, and it was also useful in constructing a historical narrative that promotes Christianity at Buddhism's expense.

  44. To study Hegel's Buddhism is to call for a re-examination of issues in Hegel's aesthetics that would take his fascinating, abject image of the Buddha into account. On the one hand, "the primitive artistic pantheism of the East" appears to jam together the two halves of art, nature and idea, as "unsuitable" and opaque to one another. Thus are produced forms that cannot adequately bear their content, either becoming "bizarre, grotesque and tasteless" (rather like Hegel's view of the proliferating dreams of Hinduism), or turning "the infinite but abstract freedom of the substantive Idea disdainfully against all phenomenal being as null and evanescent," rather like his view of Buddhism (Hegel 83). In the Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics Hegel was keen to criticize the idea of God as merely "One, the supreme Being as such": in this formula "we have only enunciated a lifeless abstraction of the irrational understanding" (77). On the other hand, the inwardness of the Romantic art form is analogous to a pure "consciousness of God . . . in which the distinction of objectivity and subjectivity is done away" (90). Could the inwardness with which Hegel characterizes Buddhism have anything to do with this, or is it merely to be construed as marginal to Hegel's thought? Hegel appears disturbed by the notion of irony: a sense of "the nothingness of all that is objective" which gives rise to a "sickly" form of "quiescence and feebleness—which does not like to act or to touch anything for fear of surrendering its inward harmony." Hegel here offers what could later be used as a critique of his student Schopenhauer, whose fusion of Buddhism and the aesthetic presents just such a "morbid saintliness and yearning," based on an "abstract inwardness (of mind)," a "retirement into itself" (73). Surely there is an echo of this in the Buddhism of Insichsein? And could what Hegel says about irony, that most Romantic of tropes, be isometric with his view of Buddhism and in particular, Buddhist meditation practice?

  45. Despite his wish to eject it from the path of the dialectic, to leave it sucking its toe at the doorstep of History, the big, fat zero, the feminine body of the meditator, contemplation embodied, the body whose image is its concept, the thinking posture, an abject version of artistic harmony, reappears in the moment of irony, the quintessence of contemporary art. A Hegelian reading of Romantic art, then, would necessarily consist of reflections on Buddhadharma, however obliquely, and moreover, Romantic art itself embodies a certain Buddhism. There is a secret passage between the vertigo of irony, and the oceanic pleasure of lovingness, maitri, imagined in the form of a statue whose toe extends into its mouth. Never fully digested into Hegel's scheme, finding itself at the start, or is it outside, or is it just inside, the dialectical process, Buddha nature, the I = I, which is also zero, which is also a body ingesting itself, haunts Hegel's text like the melancholy echo of a fully embodied emptiness suffused with longing and compassion, which is, in fact, what it actually is.


    The Prajnaparamita Sutra in twenty-five lines. (There are various versions, both larger than this and much smaller.) My insertions in square brackets. Translated into Tibetan by Lotsawa bhikshu [monk] Rinchen De with the Indian pandita [scholar] Vimalamitra. Translated into English by the Nalanda Translation Committee, with reference to several Sanskrit editions.

    The Sutra of the Heart of Transcendent Knowledge.

    Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas. At that time the Blessed One entered the samadhi [meditation state] that expresses the dharma called "profound illumination," and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva [great bodhisattva], while practicing the profound prajnaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature.

    Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shariputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, "How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita?"

    Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, said to venerable Shariputra, "O Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature. Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no touch, no taste, no dharmas; no eye dhatu ["space," capacity] up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no nonattainment. Therefore, Shariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajnaparamita. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the Buddhas of the three times, by means of prajnaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment. Therefore, the great mantra of prajnaparamita, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequalled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajnaparamita mantra is said in this way:


    [oh beyond, beyond, completely beyond, beyond all concept of beyond, awake, so be it]

    Thus, Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound prajnaparamita."

    Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, saying, "Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajnaparamita just as you have taught and all the tathagatas will rejoice."

    When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shariputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras [jealous gods], and gandharvas [musicians of the gods] rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.

For their generous help and encouragement, I would like to thank David Clark (whose kindness is legible throughout the text), Jeffrey Cox, Mark Lussier, and the anonymous reader for Romantic Praxis. A version of this essay was presented at the University of London on 3 May 2002; in particular, I would like to thank Elizabeth Eger, Markman Ellis, Emma Francis, and Annie Janowitz for their helpful observations on this occasion.

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1 For recent work on Hegel and Buddhism, see Kenneth Liberman, "Negative Dialectics in 'Madhyamika' and the Continental Tradition," pp. 185-202, and Heinrich Dumoulin, "Buddhism and Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy," pp. 457-70.

2 See Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero.

3 See for example Louis Dupré, "Transitions and Tensions in Hegel's Treatment of Determinate Religion," pp. 81-92, esp. 84, 92; John Burbridge, "Is Hegel a Christian?", 93-107, esp. 104.

4 Attributed to Fichte in Vorselungen über die Geschischte der Philosophie; see Daniel P. Jamros, The Human Shape of God: Religion in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, 126.

5 In The Fall of Hebe, Fum and Hum, and Tout Pour la Tripe.

6 Hegel was also somewhat familiar with the following indirect sources: Jean Pierre Abel-Rémusat; de Koros; Allgemeine Historie der Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande; oder, Sammlung aller Reisebeschreibungen (Leipzig, 1750), vols. 6, 7; Samuel Turner, "Copy of an Account Given by Mr. Turner, of His Interview with the Teshoo Lama at the Monastery of Terpaling, Enclosed in Mr. Turner's Letter to the Honourable the Governor General, Dated Patna, 2d March, 1784," in Asiatic Researches 1:197-205; "An Account of a Journey in Tibet," in Asiatic Researches 1:207-220; An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama, in Tibet: Containing a Narrative of a Journey through Bootan, and Part of Tibet (London, 1800), which Turner dedicated to the East India Company. See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, 265 n. 183, 185, 266 n. 188, 504-5.

7 See Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation.

8 The term is a pun on the Apostle Thomas, who had to insert his fingers into the gaping wound in the side of the risen Christ, who had returned to convince Thomas of His reality. For Lacan, the sinthome is neither symptom nor fantasy but "the point marking the dimension of 'what is in the subject more than himself' and what he therefore 'loves more than himself'" (Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, 132.

9 See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History.

10 See Slavoj Žižek, "Melancholy and the Act," 657-81, esp. 674-7; see also The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, esp. 23, 27-40, 128, 166-7.

11 See David Clark, "We Other Prussians: Bodies and Pleasures in De Quincey and Late Kant," 261-87.

12 See Timothy Morton, Shelley and the Revolution in Taste: The Body and the Natural World, 13-56.

13 See David Clark, "Hegel, Eating: Schelling and the Carnivorous Virility of Philosophy," 115-40.

14 See Nigel Leask, "Murdering One's Double: Thomas de Quincey and S.T. Coleridge," 170-228.

15 For political reasons the Dalai Lama has assumed greater control over the Tibetan nation as the oppression of the Chinese has continued. Also to be factored into this discussion should be an understanding of the Ri-me or unbiased lineage, started by Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), which had roots earlier but started to come into prominence in the nineteenth century. This nonsectarian approach has stressed the wisdom inhering in all schools of Buddhism.

16 See David Loy, ed., Healing Deconstruction: Postmodern Thought in Buddhism and Christianity: a title whose double meaning is still singular. See also Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend.

17 Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Sutrayana Seminary, 1999.


18 Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Boulder Shambhala Center, August 1998.

19 See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (5.5303), and Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology.