Philosophy and the Practice of Reflexivity: On Dōgen's Discourse about Buddha-Nature

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Philosophy and the Practice of Reflexivity: On Dōgen's Discourse about Buddha-Nature
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Citation: Müller, Ralf. "Philosophy and the Practice of Reflexivity: On Dōgen's Discourse about Buddha-Nature." In Concepts of Philosophy in Asia and the Islamic World: Vol. 1, China and Japan, edited by Raji C. Steineck, Ralph Weber, Elena Louisa Lange, and Robert H. Gassmann, 545–76. Leiden: Brill, 2018.

Article Summary

Is Dōgen a philosopher? Or even an example of what he scolds a "word-counting scholars"?[1] Despite the difficulties of classifying Dōgen, many would still agree, at least with regard to his magnum opus, the Shōbōgenzō, that his writings are philosophical.[2] This, however, requires some clarification, since there is not much left of this work if one were to exclude all the fascicles that are not explicitly cited for philosophical interpretation. The philosophic scope becomes even smaller if one were to consider the respective passages of the few fascicles pertinent for explicit philosophical reading. At the risk of oversimplifying, the philosophical reception of Dōgen's works is almost entirely grounded in the fascicle "Uji",[3] which is distinguished for its thought–provoking discourse on time.[4] Furthermore the philosophical reading of other fascicles, including "Genjōkōan" and "Zenki"[5] revolves around a related interpretation of "Uji."
      Nevertheless, we can still ask if there might be yet another accessible vantage point from which one could regard Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō as philosophical? This paper will argue that the answer is "yes," there is such a vantage point, so long as one distinguishes what Dōgen writes from how Dōgen writes. For the claim of the paper is that while it remains ambiguous to maintain that his writings exhibit a philosophical system based on content, their form realizes what philosophy is at its core, i.e. reflexivity or philosophy’s inherent self reference.[6] (Müller, "Philosophy and the Practice of Reflexivity," 545–46)
  1. English quoted from W/A 16; jap. DZZ 2: 467−68: 「文字をかぞふる学者」. Note: The original text references quote from Dōgen zenji zenshū, ["DZZ"]. The English translations of the three main writings (Bendōwa [辦道話], "Busshō" [仏性], and Hōkyōki [宝慶記]) are based on Norman Waddell and Masao Abe (2002) ["W/A"]; and, respectively, Takashi James Kodera (1980), ["K"].
  2. As has already been pointed out, most philosophical readers only consider Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵). In fact, there is probably no reader of Dōgen who would blatantly disregard the religious practitioner's interpretation of Dōgen in favor of that of a strictly theoretical interpretation of a philosopher. Since, to my understanding, most existing philosophical readings of Dōgen are not radically different, it seems worth reevaluating these readings by dismantling both the historical and rhetorical layers of the respective author's prose to relate the effective ambitions and the factual interpretations. — In the case of Tanabe Hajime's 1939 reading of Dōgen (see Tanabe 2011 and Müller 2006 for translation and commentary), Masunaga Reihō (1939) presents the earliest and most comprehensive critique of Tanabe's philosophical reading including a set of six objections (pp. 627–630) building on Tanabe's own question of the systematic relation of religion and philosophy. Taking Tanabe's reading seriously would require a similar critique from his own vantage point. — A more recent outline of Western readers of Dōgen by Hee-Jin Kim (2004: xv-xxii) subsumes his own approach in contradistinction to the "textual-historical" and "comparative-philosophical" method as "methodological-hermeneutical" (p. xviii) to show "how Dōgen does his religion, especially his way of appropriating language and symbols soteriologically" (ibid.). The present article evolves Kim's reasoning with regards to the way Dōgen does philosophy in a similar vein.
  3. 有時.
  4. See Elberfeld 2006 for a recent interpretation of the fascicle "Uji" in the horizon of the Indian and Chinese Buddhist tradition. Still worth reading is Heine 1985.
  5. 現成公案 and 全機.
  6. Talking of a "core feature" of philosophy deserves more attention than planned at the outset of the paper. Instead of referring to a particular, well-established notion, "reflexivity" here summarizes multiple phenomena of a self-relational structure which are essential to the idea of philosophy. Thus it encompasses the quest for self-knowledge in ancient Greece ("know thyself") as well as Fichte's idea of the self positing I. So it subsumes the methodological self-relation of grounding or ending philosophy through philosophy, and any other kind of "metaphilosophy." If such a reflexive enterprise is evident for philosophy, it is not in the case of other sciences such as physics. See Schällibaum 2001 for a comprehensive account of the idea of reflexivity. On meta-philosophy see more recently Williamson 2007. See also Steineck in the present volume, and his qualification of philosophical texts as "referential texts with a specific reflective quality."