The following post by the writer at Holo-Poiesis addresses issues around the Buddhist concept dependent origination and its relation with similar concepts in western philosophy. It explicates a non-absolutist interpretation of the Madhyamaka or Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy. While it may appear technical to anyone not familiar with Buddhism, it’s attempt to show the relation between idealist thought and the “fetishistic grasping of the real at a societal level (commodity fetishism)” is relevant to similar ideas circulating around forms of post-structuralist and post-humanist thought. Idealist thought, which in this writers estimation includes variations of philosophical materialism, is unavoidably linked with forms of capitalist oppression and violence against the human being. The piece is an example of the way what might appear to be incommensurable discourses can be brought together to illuminate each other, without trying for an overall synthesis that would become just another iteration of absolutist/idealist thought. The piece is part of a wider project at Holo-Poiesis to explore a non-essentialist, non-absolutist and socially critical interpretation of the Madhyamaka as a “soteriological-emancipatory project” — a path to personal and collective liberation.
Madhyamaka and the Problem of Approach.
The doctrine of the two truths is a principle tenet of the Madhyamaka path, serving not only to show the non-contradictory coherence of the Buddha’s different teachings but also serving as a support for the practice of achieving liberating knowing. The doctrine distinguishes between the conventional truth of phenomena as interdependently originated and the ultimate truth of the emptiness of their own nature, that they lack independent existence. The same doctrine also emphasizes the interdependence of the two truths, an interdependence without which each side has no meaning of its own, which reiterates the ultimate truth of the emptiness of things taken on their own. Finally, this doctrine itself is designated a conventional truth with no inherent independent existence of its own because of its dependently originated derivation from the primary soteriological process.
The encounter of Buddhist Madhyamaka with the West is one of world-historical significance. The manner with which this encounter is approached is of key importance, for it will condition the way in which the two change and re-encounter one another. Due to the significance with which the two-truths doctrine is to Buddha-dharma, where the interpretation of the theory’s relevance to practice determines the path, it is key to take into account how the two-truths are interpreted by Western philosophers in their attempts to make sense of and gain from this encounter with the other. We can evaluate the interpretations by making a distinction between approaches which take the two-truths to be truths about reality, and the approach which take the two truths to be truthful ways of approaching reality.