In a provocative essay entitled "Sacred Persistence: Toward a Redescription of Canon"'"`UNIQ--ref-000015E9-QINU`"' Jonathan Z. Smith describes the process of self-limitation that occurs when a tradition comes to define for itself (and to define itself in terms of) a canon. There he states that "the radical and arbitrary reduction represented by the notion of canon and the ingenuity represented by the rule-governed exegetical enterprise of applying the canon to every dimension of human life is that most characteristic, persistent, and obsessive religious activity."'"`UNIQ--ref-000015EA-QINU`"' Perhaps the most important shortcoming of what is an otherwise masterful essay on the subject of religious canons and their interpretation is Smith's apparent lack of concern with the causal processes underlying the formation of canons and specifically with the social implications of the exclusion of texts or other religious elements from a canon. Contrary to Smith's claim, it has become quite clear, especially in the scholarship of the past decade, that the "reduction" involved in the process of canon-formation is never, as he suggests, "arbitrary". Instead, religious texts come to be considered canonical usually at the expense of other texts that are consciously
excluded and thereby denied normative status. To say that the decision to exclude a particular work is conscious and not arbitrary is to point out that it is ideologically motivated (at times only implicitly so), that it arises within a specific historical and sociocultural context and, perhaps the most significant point, that it is an act of the religious hegemony.'"`UNIQ--ref-000015EB-QINU`"'
This question aside, seeing the canon as a predicament, i.e., as a tradition's self-imposed limitation, and viewing the exegetical enterprise as the means whereby a tradition extricates itself from this predicament, is indeed a provocative way of formulating the problematic of religious canons. In this essay I intend to employ Smith's notion as a springboard for discussing the Indo-Tibetan concept of siddhānta (Tibetan grub mtha', literally 'tenet'), a concept that represents on the level of philosophical ideas this same process of self-limitation. I will maintain that the adoption of such a schema serves functionally to "canonize" philosophy in much the same way as the collection of accepted scriptural texts creates a norm for what is textually canonical. I shall also examine some of the rhetorical strategies involved in utilizing and upholding the validity of the siddhānta schema. In particular, in the latter part of the essay I will turn my attention to the exegesis of the Tibetan dGe lugs pa school and shall examine how this brand of Buddhist scholasticism deals with the problems that arise out of the self-limitation that occurs in the course of canonizing its philosophical tradition. As might be expected, the examples that best illustrate the unique dGe lugs pa exposition of siddhānta have to do with points of controversy, and among these some of the most controversial have to do with the theory of Buddha Nature. Hence, much of the material that we shall consider will in one way or another have to do with the notion of tathāgatagarbha.
In what follows I shall urge, first of all, that in the scholastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the literature of the dGe lugs pa sect, the siddhānta
schematization served as a de facto canonization of Buddhist philosophy that came to defme what was philosophically normative.'"`UNIQ--ref-000015EC-QINU`"' Secondly, I shall maintain that, despite the fact that Tibetan exegetes have arrived at only a tentative consensus'"`UNIQ--ref-000015ED-QINU`"' as to the nature of the textual canons,'"`UNIQ--ref-000015EE-QINU`"' the determination of whether or not a doctrine was normatively Buddhist (and if so either provisionally or unequivocally true)'"`UNIQ--ref-000015EF-QINU`"' involved to a great extent a rhetoric that had as its basic presupposition the validity of the siddhānta
schema. Put in another way, philosophical discourse (and particularly polemics) was based as much on the siddhānta
classification scheme as it was on the physical canons, the collection of the "Buddha's word" and the commentarial literature whose creation it spurred. In many instances the siddhānta
schema that formed the doctrinal or philosophical canon came to supersede the physical canon as the standard by comparison with which new ideas or texts came to achieve legitimacy.'"`UNIQ--ref-000015F0-QINU`"' (Cabezón, "The Canonization of Philosophy," 7–9)
Cabezón, José Ignacio. "The Canonization of Philosophy and the Rhetoric of Siddhānta in Tibetan Buddhism." In Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota, edited by Paul J. Griffiths and John P. Keenan, 7–26. Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, 1990.