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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
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Philosophy of language and problem of expressiveness of the Absolute in Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism / Философия языка и проблема выразимости абсолютного в школе Гелук тибетского буддизма

Нестеркин Сергей Петрович

доктор философских наук

ведущий научный сотрудник, Федеральное государственное бюджетное учреждение науки Институт монголоведения, буддологии и тибетологии Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук (ИМБТ СО РАН)

670047, Россия, Республика Бурятия, г. Улан-Удэ, ул. Сахьяновой, 6

Nesterkin Sergei

Doctor of Philosophy

Leading Scientific Associate, Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences

670047, Russia, respublika Buryatiya, g. Ulan-Ude, ul. Sakh'yanovoi, 6

sn3716@yandex.ru
Другие публикации этого автора
 

 

DOI:

10.25136/1339-3057.2019.2.28373

Дата направления статьи в редакцию:

13-12-2018


Дата публикации:

04-05-2019


Аннотация.

Предметом исследования является концепция выразимости абсолютного, разработанная в школе Гелук тибетского буддизма. В большинстве буддийских школ принято, что язык, в силу своей бинарной природы, способен выражать только относительную истину, а абсолютная может быть познана только непосредственно, в состоянии однонаправленного медитативного погружения, где отсутствует всякая двойственность, в том числе языковые знаковые структуры. Однако в Гелук акцентируется внимание на том, что без использования языка невозможно объяснить адепту технологию реализации непосредственного видения абсолютного, без чего невозможно достижение просветления и дальнейшая передача традиции. В статье на материале тибетских текстов эксплицируются философские воззрения Гелук, которые, по мысли последователей этой школы, позволяют снять это противоречие. Основными выводами исследования является то, что в Гелук была выработана концепция языка, согласно которой вербальное/концептуальное подразделяется на два вида. К первому относится вербальное/концептуальное, возникшее в результате приписывания (тиб. sgro 'dogs) ложных качеств объектам рассмотрения, от которого следует избавляться. Второй вид лишен ложного приписывания, формируется в процессе использования особого вида философского дискурса – прасанги, и служит причиной возникновения «среднего взгляда» (тиб. dbu lta), видящего вещи правильно. Это позволяет последователю прасангики эффективно использовать вербальные структуры для (1) адекватного познания на концептуальном уровне и (2) перехода к непосредственному постижению абсолютной истины, которое, в конечном итоге, дает возможность обрести освобождение и достичь состояния Будды.

Ключевые слова: философия буддизма, философия языка, вербальные структуры, текст, тибетский буддизм, Гелук, мадхьямака, сотериология, религиозная практика, прасангика

Работа выполнена в рамках государственного задания (XII.191.1.3. Комплексное исследование религиозно-философских, историко-культурных, социально-политических аспектов буддизма в традиционных и современных контекстах России и стран Центральной и Восточной Азии, номер госрегистрации № АААА-А17-117021310263-7)

Abstract.

The subject of this research is the concept of expressiveness of the Absolute, developed in Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. In majority of Buddhist schools it is established that the language, due to its binary nature, is capable of expressing only the relative truth, while the absolute truth can be cognized in the state of unidirectional meditative submersion, with the absence of any duality, including the linguistic symbolic structures. However, in Gelug School it is emphasized that it is impossible to explain an adept the technique of realization of direct vision of the absolute unless using the language, which also allows reaching enlightenment and further translation of the tradition. Based on the materials of Tibetan texts, the author explicates the philosophical views of Gelug School, which, according to the thought of its successors, eliminate such contradiction. The main conclusion consists in the fact the Gelug School developed the concept of language that subdivides the verbal/conceptual into two types. The first one  contains the verbal/conceptual, resulted from the ascription (Tibetan: sgro 'dogs) of false qualities of the objects of consideration, which should be obviated. The second one is deprived of false ascription, and forms in the course of using a specific type of philosophical discourse – prasangika, serving as the cause of emergence of the “middle view” (Tibetan: dbu lta) that sees all things properly. This allows the successor of prasangika to effectively use the verbal structures for adequate cognition at the conceptual level, and transition towards the direct cognition of the absolute truth, which ultimately helps to acquire freedom and reach a state of nirvana.

Keywords:

Madhyamaka,, Gelug, Tibetan Buddhism, text, verbal structures, the philosophy of language, the philosophy of Buddhism, soteriology, religious practice, prasangika

One of the most intriguing problems of the philosophy of language is the way in which words and concepts that fix common (generic) characteristics of objects of cognition are able to adequately reflect the unique experience of a person and do this in such a way that another person, relying on them, is able to reproduce this experience in their own stream of existence, which is just as unique. This is especially surprising when it comes to the experience of knowing the beyond and the absolute, which are always very intimate, personal and unique; and relating to an object that by definition goes beyond all boundaries - including language ones. This paradox in the Christian tradition is reflected in the problems of cataphatic and apophatic theology. In the Buddhist tradition, it also occupies a significant place. The controversy over the problems of language, its relation to the absolute, the limits of the possibilities to express mystical experience by means of language, including the experience of the absolute, in many ways determined the particularity of the schools of Buddhism, primarily in the transmission of the tradition, which is a main goal of each school. The solution of this question determines, in particular, the place that philosophy (and simply, systematized knowledge) occupies in this process, the volume and organizational forms of philosophical education and its place in the system of the transmission of the tradition, the interrelationship of philosophical-doctrinal knowledge and contemplative practice, the determination of the necessary the amount of philosophical knowledge in order for yogic contemplative practice to be effective, etc. These issues were problematized in the Buddhist tradition in numerous polemics between representatives of different schools. These issues revealed what was common and inherent in all schools of Buddhism and the particularities that determine the identity of each one.

All the Buddhist Schools view language and conceptual thinking based on language as the factors obscuring consciousness and impeding enlightenment because they operate with binary oppositions. The majority of the Buddhist schools state that language can express only the relative truth. As for the absolute truth, it can be cognized directly in a meditative state when any duality is absent, including linguistic structures.

A very radical position on this question was developed in Ch’an Buddhism. In this school emphasis was laid on direct, immediate transmission of the teaching “from heart to heart”; the possibility of adequate rendering the truth in words was rejected [1]. This was postulated as the main principle of the tradition: “Special transmission outside the scriptures, not relying on words and writings.” [Ibid. P. 23]

Opposition to the Ch’an school can be found in the Gelug tradition. Unlike Ch’an Buddhists, representatives of the Gelug school recognize the possibility to describe one’s experience of the reality by verbal means and to use this description as a support for such an experience in practice [2. С. 334-337].

This concept is based on a special understanding of the role of semiotic structures in the process of socialization that was developed in the Gelug School. According to the epistemological teaching of this school, of the two processes of cognition — direct perception and thinking — only the former can reflect the reality in an adequate way with all its unique features (Tib. rang mtshan) .

Thinking and speech that expresses it reflect only the general (Tib. spyi ) features of objects; for that reason, thinking cannot reflect and speech cannot express reality in its concreteness. The Gelug school accepts this concept that is common for all the schools of Buddhist philosophy. The Gelug school assumes that language plays a positive role in the cognition of the absolute. They substantiate it in the following way.

A significant difference between the direct and conceptual indirect cognition, from the point of view of the Gelug School, is that conceptual thinking is included in its object, excluding (Tib. sel ‘jug ) everything that differs from it. As for direct cognition, it cognizes an object by virtue of the appearance of the object as such (Tib. sgrub ‘jug ), for which no process of exclusion is necessary

In the conceptual perception of an object (e.g. a pot), a general idea (Tib. don spyi ) of a pot arises in the mind. It is projected by the mind to the pot and identifies with it, forming a recognized object (Tib. zhen yul ). The correspondence between the pot as the recognized object and the pot as a real object is defined by the category of identity of reverse identity (Tib. ldog pa gcig ) because both of these objects are nothing but a pot.

The introduction of this kind of identity (adopted from the Sautrantika epistemology) made it possible for the Gelug School to substantiate the possibility of adequate (to some extent) conceptual cognition as well as the description of reality and necessity for the study of such descriptions for its further direct cognition.

Moreover, representatives of the Gelug school consider the use of concepts on the path of enlightenment not merely possible but quite essential. They reason in the following way: for liberation from Samsara, the cause of which is karma and afflictive emotions(San. kleśa; Tib. nyon mongs ) it is free oneself from afflicative emotionsthan with karma.

The basis of all kleśasis ignorance (Tib. ma rig pa ). When ignorance is dispelled, the manifestation of all the other kleśas stops. Ignorance is eliminated by wisdom (Tib. ye shes ) that directly cognizes absolute truth. It occurs in a special meditative state (samādhi ). In order to achieve this state, it is indispensable to follow morality. Samādhi, in turn, is the result of the integration of the state of calm abiding (Tib. zhi gans ) and that of the special insight (Tib. lhag mthong ).

Though the attainment of the truth in samādhi is direct and is higher than the conceptual cognition of it, it is impossible to attain samādhi (according to Gelug views) without conceptual investigation because the practice of special insight (Tib. lhag mthong ) mainly consists of the following: during so-called investigative meditation (Tib. dpyod sgom ) substantiation of the truth of the ideas that were examined and accepted previously during the stage of cognition are considered in brief on a subtle level of consciousness, and sometimes these ideas are meditated on. For this purpose, it is essential to attain conviction in the truth of those or other provisions of the teachings on the basis of logical substantiation.

Thus, the Prasangika school has a twofold attitude to conceptuality. On the one hand, it should be rejected because in a number of Sūtras and works of the founding fathers of Madhyamaka (Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva), conceptuality is quite negatively characterized as ignorance and the cause of Samsara.

Moreover, even after one is freed from the kleśas, the occurrence of conceptuality, even as potential state, does not allow a Boddhisattva to attain the Buddha’s Enlightenment through the realization of the Dharmakāya by definitively merging non-conceptual wisdom with the Absolute. The analysis by Tsongkhapa and his adherents came to the conclusion that the Sūtras do not contain a description of the method to eliminate even the slightest traces of conceptuality.

That is why they consider it indispensable to use, on the final stage of the path of perfection, special tantric techniques for complete elimination of subtle energies (Tib. rlung ; San. prāṇa ) that produce the conceptual and provide for its functioning.

However, on the other hand, it is practically impossible to do without conceptuality while explaining the truths and the paths to perfection; it appears to be an important element of the technique of the actualization of the direct view of the Absolute.

Tsongkhapa considers that the way out of this predicament is to divide conceptuality into two kinds: one of them should be eliminated by all means, while the second can be effectively used on a considerable part of the path of perfection.

The first kind of conceptuality arises from ascribing (Tib. sgro 'dogs ) false features to the objects considered. According to Tsonkhapa, there are two types of false conceptualizations — “holding to extremes” (Tib. mthar 'dzin ) and holding to the true establishment of things (Tib. bden grub 'dzin ) [3. F 194A].

Such dual evaluation of conceptuality brought the Prasangika school to the idea that it is essential to develop special philosophical techniques that could weaken the negative aspects of conceptuality and strengthen the positive ones. As a starting point in considering this issue, the statement by Chandrakirti can be pointed out that a true adherent of Madhyamaka should not rely on his “own argument” — svatantra (Tib. rang rgyud ) [Ibid. F. 124A]. An adherent of Prasangika accepts the possibility of indirect cognition only on the basis of prasanga [4. F. 355]. What does it mean?

Tibetan epistemologists consider clarity (Tib. gsal ba ) and pure awareness (Tib. rig pa ) of an object to be signs of cognition (Tib. shes pa ) [5. P. 108]. Thanks to these signs, cognition is able to fulfill its function (Tib. byed las ) — ascertainment (Tib. 'jog pa) and definition (Tib. nges pa ). That is why we can say that the standard problem of a philosopher is the ascertainment of the truth in relation to the object observed through correct definition of its signs. Accordingly, every philosopher inevitably faces the problem of the validity of definition. Numerous investigations brought the Prasangika school to a conclusion about the impossibility of a non-contradictory definition of dharmas. On the basis of this, they classified definite dharmas, definition, and those dharmas by which definition is empty (San.. śūnyatā ), i.e. they lacked true establishment (Tib. bden grub stong ), the occurrence as authentically defined dharmas. If the true definition is unacceptable, the task of a philosopher becomes unfeasible; philosophizing itself becomes impossible. What conclusion was reached by the Prasangika School in this difficult situation? Within the framework of ordinary philosophical thinking, the Prasangika adherents developed a concept of the “object of negation” (Tib. dgag bya ) — something that is to be negated, denied, eliminated and extinguished by a true Buddhist philosopher.

Two main types of that object were singled out: one to be negated on the path (Tib. lam gyi dgag bya) and one to be negated through reasoning (Tib. rigs kyi dgag bya). For the first one, there are two “covers”: the “cover of the kleśas” (Tib. nyon sgrib), i.e. desire, anger, and the other kleśas; and the “cover of the cognizable” (Tib. shes bya'i sgrib pa) that includes the traces (Tib. bag chags) of the kleśas that remain in the mind after the kleśas have been removed, several kinds of obscuration (Tib. rmongs pa) and negative tendencies (Tib. gnas ngan len) that are the main immediate obstacles for achieving liberation (first) and the state of Buddhahood (second).

The object of negation that is removed by reasoning (Tib. rigs kyi dgag bya ), according to the Prasangika adherents, is everything associated with the idea of true establishment . Two elements are emphasized in this “object of negation”: 1) an object (Tib. yul ) — true establishment; 2) “object-possessor” (Tib. yul can ; i.e. cognition) – the recognition of true establishment [6. F. 96 and further]. The establishment of the truth in relation to the object under consideration can be realized by accepting that this object is fallacious. Regarding the specified “object of negation,” this signifies the rejection of the idea of true establishment and the elimination of the acceptance of true establishment through well-reasoned proof.

However, unacceptability of true definition makes the direct refutation of the idea of true establishment impossible because such refutation will always be based on one’s “own argument” (San. svatantra ), i.e. something that the philosopher considers true. Besides, the adherents of Prasangika consider that if an individual accepts true establishment, the absence of true establishment ascertained through argumentation will also be accepted as taking a place of truth. In other words, the absence of true establishment will be taken as true, consequently. If a philosopher cannot, within the framework of his philosophy, “give a repudiation” (Tib. sun 'byin ) of the object of the “object of negation” — true establishment, a question arises: is it possible to “repudiate” the “object possessor” — recognizing true establishment?

The adherents of Prasangika think that this kind of possibility can be provided by prasanga (Tib. thal ‘gyur ), a special kind of conclusion. It is always given in response to the opponent’s statement. Taking into account only what the opponent himself admits, it discovers the error in the opponent’s taking his own statement as true [5. Chapters 17, 25.]. Since an adherent of Prasangika does not rely on what he himself recognizes, and neither rejects nor affirms any idea, and uses universally recognized rules of logic, he does not come into a contradiction with the fact that it is impossible to give a true definition. He directly “repudiates” recognition of the truth and indirectly “repudiates” true establishment. When the opponent is attacked by numerous different prasangas, his recognition of true establishment weakens, which leads to subtle changes in his perception of the objects considered. What does this consist of?

In many Mahayana Sūtras, it is recommended not to remain (Tib. gnas ) in any dharmas. In accordance with this, Chandrakirti states that it is essential to remain in dharmas without remaining in them. What does this mean? Cognition refers to the category of the « object possessor»; the feature of which is that it “enters” (Tib. 'jug ) into the object [Ibid. Chapter 7]. The cognition “enters” into a dharma by its clarification and knowledge, after which it remains in it realizing its truth by defining (understanding) its features. Ordinary mind perceives “entering” into an object and remaining in it as true. When, with the help of the prasangas the recognition of the true establishment is weakened, this perception changes: a special position of the mind begins to be formed that can be named middle Mind. It distances itself, to some extent, from a dharma — it “enters” into it without “entering”; it “remains” without “remaining”.

When the middle position of the mind is formed sufficiently, the Prasangika adherents, while continuing to make this position stronger and firmer by means of prasangas ; begin to use standard proofs of the absence of true establishment in ordinary mental conclusions.

Thus, the adherents of the Prasangika school, by means of prasangas and ordinary proofs, form a middle position of the mind and “repudiate” true establishment and its recognition, while staying within the framework of philosophy and solving the problem of the refutation of the main false idea and getting rid of the corresponding false conception. The conception formed through this of the absence of true establishment and the conviction in its verity have specific features that make them suitable for the further use in the process of realization of direct knowledge of the ultimate truth with the help of meditative techniques.

It should be emphasized that the Gelug view on the pragmatics of language activity, the mechanism of the functioning of concepts in general and of philosophical categories in particular makes it possible to develop a middle position of the mind, to form a “middle view” (Tib. dbu lta ) that truly reflects the world on a relative level.

From the Gelug point of view, if the defined, the definition and the means of defining are devoid of the truth, it does not mean that they cannot be true relative in particular or in concrete relations. If they were unacceptable even conditionally, then neither conceptual cognition nor any activity based on it would be possible. However, this contradicts everyday experience of cognition and activity. Consequently, relative truth should have a place. Why is only the relative truth possible?

Things are characterized by impermanence and changeability, the complexity of organization and variety of connections and relations. Conceptual mind cannot grasp something at once in the fullness of its dynamics, structure, connections and relations. However, it can define things in parts, in concrete relations. For example, two dharmas can be identical in one aspect but different in another aspect. If these dharmas are considered without reference to these relations they should be defined as identical and different, which contains a contradiction and thus should be characterized as not being true. Since the definition is valid only in case of considering the dharmas in a concrete aspect and relation, it will be possible to speak of it as relatively true.

The relatively true has a middle place between genuinely true and genuinely untrue. It can be relatively defined as true, or untrue; or true and untrue; or neither true, nor untrue. In every case, the validity of such definitions is established from the point of view of the aspect and relation in which the dharmas are considered. Since the characteristics of the definition corresponds to the middle principle, or non-duality (Tib. gnyis med ), proclaimed in the Sūtras, it is appropriate to speak of relative definition and relative truth of the middle non-dual.

Defining the dharmas is the task of philosophy. The Prasangika adherents state that since a definition can only be relative, then philosophical thinking itself can only be relative too. Thus, a true philosopher should recognize this relativity and philosophize accordingly. Since this relativity is characterized as middle non-dual, then philosophical thinking on its basis can be defined as philosophy in the middle, or non-dual, style. The non-dual style is the foundational one in the philosophy of the Prasangika school and it is the principal means of constructing their system of conceptions.

Thus, the assimilation and use of the non-dual style leads to the strengthening and development of the middle position of the mind and, on its basis, to the formation of the “middle view”. If the prasangas and arguments “give repudiation” to true establishment and its recognition, then philosophizing in the non-dual style based on the idea of the middle (as opposed to extreme), “gives repudiation” to the “extreme view” (Tib. mthar ltha ). The extreme view recognizes the extreme that is opposed to the “middle view.” This makes it possible for a follower of the Prasangika school to effectively use philosophizing for the adequate cognition of different objects on the conceptual level and to provide a transition to direct cognition of the truth that eventually allows the possibility to attain enlightenment and Buddhahood.

In conclusion I would like to note that the philosophy of language developed by the Gelug School became the foundation of philosophical education and systems of meditative practice in this tradition. It became the factor that largely determined the uniqueness of approaches to the transmission of the tradition in this school of Buddhism.

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