Reply to Frank J. Hoffman
B
y Mary Bockover

@Philosophy East and West
V. 40, no. 2 (April 1990)
pp. 237-238

Copyright 1990 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

p. 237

    Frank J. Hoffman responds with two main criticisms of what he claims are "glaring inaccuracies'' in my review of his book, Rationality and Mind in Early Buddhism.

    First, Hoffman claims that I misunderstand the use of his term, "early Buddhism," which refers to the Buddhism of the five Nikaayas. As such, he posits that I am inaccurate in saying that (he shows) "Early Buddhism is indeed a rational, 'accurate and non-trivial' school of thought," for his words 'accurate and non-trivial' refer to the study of early Buddhism, not to early Buddhism itself.

    It takes reading Hoffman's book, however, to see that throughout it he writes of "understanding early Buddhism" (the title of chapter 1), "reading early Buddhism" (p. 7), of a logic that is sometimes "employed in early Buddhism" (p. 8), and so on. Even though repeatedly using such terminology does make it seem as though he is talking about early Buddhism itself, Hoffman stipulated in the first few sentences of his book that, "For convenience the term 'early Buddhism' is used here as a shorthand for 'the Buddhism of the five Nikaayas'" (p. 1). But if this is a fair strategy for Hoffman, then it should also be appropriate for my review, which opens with the very same point -- that Hoffman's book "investigates the 'Buddhism of the five Nikaayas,' the earliest (Pali) source of material for studying Buddhism" (p. 214 of the review). In light of this I go on my review to use the term "early Buddhism" exactly as Hoffman does throughout his book, as a shorthand for the study of early Buddhism. One only needs to notice that Hoffman did not name his book Rationality and Mind in the Study of Early Buddhism to understand that my use of the term "early Buddhism" should not be considered a glaring inaccuracy.

    The second criticism Hoffman has of my review is not as gratuitous as the first. I said that in chapter 1 Hoffman suggests that "Going to the Pali texts is essential, but it is also methodologically necessary to look at certain commentaries, given the more specific goal of understanding how Early Buddhism can be taken to bear on pertinent issues of mind." He rightly points out in his response that he claims (on p. 5) that going to the commentaries is not methodologically necessary for this task. However, he goes on in the same chapter to claim that what is needed from scholars of Buddhism is: "on the one hand, sympathetic understanding of what is internally coherent and linguistically precise in the language of the Asian texts studied, and, on the other hand, attention to Asian thought from a critical philosophical point of view. The former alone leads to a head-in-the-sands-ostrich attitude characteristic of foolish complacency; the latter alone leads to arrogant misunderstanding" (p. 7). This statement is what led me to believe that understanding pertinent

 

 

p. 238

issues of mind in (the study of) early Buddhism does ultimately demand "attention to Asian thought from a critical philosophical point of view," including attention to certain commentaries, at least if one is not to end up with his "head-in-the-sands." But this is an issue that can be left to others who read Hoffman's book.