Mahaayaana Buddhism and Whitehead 
-- A view by a lay student of Whitehead's Philosophy
By Masao Abe

Philosophy East & West
V. 25 (July 1975)
pp. 415-428

Copyright 1975 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 Author's note: I am grateful to Professor Morris Augustine for his valuable suggestions in the earlier stages of the manuscript. My deep gratitude also goes to Professors John Cobb and William Christian for carefully reading the manuscript following the conference and offering valuable criticism.

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As many scholars have already pointed out, the modes of thought Found in Whitehead's philosophy and Mahaayaana Buddhism have great affinities. The affinities are striking. Yet we cannot overlook some important differences between them. In my view these differences, although subtle and often inconspicuous, are essential, fundamental, and intrinsic, being deeply rooted in the structure of their ways of thinking and of understanding reality. Due to their great affinity, Whitehead's philosophy and Mahaayaana Buddhism appear to be contiguous to one another so that one could move from one to the other with a single step. I do not think, however, that this is the case. Despite the fact that these two systems contain many parallels, there is a deep gulf between them; one which is not easy to bridge. A continuous path through which one can come and go directly between them may not be found. For their differences is, in my view, not that of degree, extent or proportion, but that of quality, of nature and of structure. This must be clarified and emphasized at the outset of our approach to the subject "Mahaayaana Buddhism and Whitehead."

    This clarification -- of the essential difference between Whitehead's philosophy and Mahaayaana Buddhism -- does not, however, exclude the possibility of a dialogue between them. On the contrary, it indicates that, to develop a creative and productive dialogue between them, it is necessary at the outset to clearly realize the essential differences in their thought-structure. It is only after a clear understanding of these structural differences that a productive and fruitful encounter between them can proceed on a solid basis.

    To clarify the essential differences between the structures of Buddhist thought and Whitehead's thought, the latter's notion of "God and the World" may be the best and most crucial point of comparison.

 

I

Whitehead's idea of the relatedness of actual entities is surely strikingly similar to the Buddhist idea of pratiityasamutpaada, which may be translated as "dependent coorigination," "relationality," "conditioned coproduction" or "dependent coarising." Rejecting the Aristotelian idea of "primary substance," Whitehead emphasizes the interdependence of actual entities by saying:

The principle of universal relativity directly traverses Aristotle's dictum, "[A substance] is not present in a subject." On the contrary, according to this principle an actual entity is present in other actual entities. In fact if we allow for degrees of relevance, and for negligible relevance, we must say that every actual entity is present in every other actual entity. The philosophy of organism is mainly devoted to the task of making clear the notion of "being present in another entity." [1]

 

 

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It is not hard to see a parallel between Whitehead's principle of universal relativity and the Buddhist idea of "dependent coorigination." This basic principle in Buddhism is generally formulated as follows:

If this is, that comes to be;
From the arising of this, that arises;
If this is not, that does not come to be;
From the ceasing of this, that ceases.

    'This' and 'that' are completely dependent upon each other in their arising and ceasing to be. This Buddhist law of dependent coorigination implies at least the following four points:

    (1) Everything in the universe is concomitant, conditioned by each other, and interdependent in its origination.
    (2) Yet, everything is equally in itself, and of itself, without one being prior to the other. (Otherwise, interdependence is impossible.)
    (3) This truth of interdependence must be strictly applied to everything whatsoever without exception.
    (4) There is nothing whatsoever more substantial or more real which grounds the interdependence of everything. (Thus, the apparently contradictory statements of (1) and (2) can be logically joined together.)

    In Whitehead's philosophy, too, both (1) and (2) may be said to be clearly realized. Actual entities as the final real things of which the world is made up are interdependent, [2] and yet each actual entity is "something individual for its own sake," [3] and causa sui with its subjective aim. [4] The subject-superject nature of actual entities in Whitehead's philosophy indicates clearly the compatibility of the above points (1) and (2) in his system. When Whitehead says, "God is an actual entity" and emphasizes, "God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification," [5] the third connotation of dependent coorigination in Buddhism -- that nothing is excluded from this interdependent arising and ceasing -- seems to be well realized in Whitehead. However, we must look more carefully to see whether this is really the case. This question is inseparably connected with another question as to whether the idea of point (4), that is, that there is nothing whatsoever that is more real and serves as the foundation for the interdependence of everything, is fully realized in Whitehead.

    If I am not mistaken, the final answers to both of these questions must be in the negative. Let me explain the reason for this negative answer in the following manner:

    (A) by a further elucidation of the Buddhist idea of dependent coorigination, and,
    (B) by a more careful examination of Whitehead's idea of the relation between God and the world.

Let us begin with (B).

 

 

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II

In Whitehead, 'actual entities' are also termed 'actual occasions'. These two terms are used interchangeably. However, there is only one exception to this; this is, God. In Process and Reality, Whitehead remarks that "the term 'actual occasion' will always exclude God from its scope." [6] This is because the word 'occasion' implies a spatio-temporal location, whereas God is the one non-temporal actual entity. [7] God is nontemporal, wholly unaffected by time and process because of his primordial nature which is free, complete, eternal, actually deficient and unconscious. However this does not mean that Whitehead's idea of God is simply timeless, merely beyond time. As he says in the concluding chapter of Process and Reality, " ... analogously to all actual entities, the nature of God is dipolar. He has a primordial nature and a consequent nature." [8] The consequent nature of God is nothing but "the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature." [9] Originating with physical experiences derived from the temporal world, it is determined, incomplete, 'everlasting,' fully actual and conscious. Accordingly, the description of God as nontemporal does not mean that there is no time, no process in God. Because of his dipolar nature, God is temporal and nontemporal at the same time. At this point we should notice that the dipolar nature, though common to all actual entities, including God, is a special characteristic in God. This is implied when Whitehead says in the above quotation, " ... analogously to all actual entities, the nature of God is dipolar." Despite their dipolar nature, all actual entities other than God are not dipolar in the same way as God is. Rather, they are not temporal and nontemporal at once. This is the reason that to them the terms 'actual entities' and 'actual occasions' are simply interchangeable. Accordingly, it is not necessarily in the primordial nature of God, but rather in the dipolar nature peculiar to God that we can find the uniqueness of Whitehead's idea of God and the reason for the notion that God is not an actual occasion, although he is an actual entity.

    In Whitehead, the principle of universal relativity entails the rejection of absolute immanence as well as absolute transcendence. All actual entities including God are dipolar in their nature in the sense that they are both 'subject' and 'superject'. Just as an actual entity (or an actual occasion) in the temporal realm -- as a subject -- transcends all other actual entities and yet, as a superject, is immanent in them, God as a subject transcends the world and yet God as a superject is immanent in the world. This means that the world and its actual entities as subjects transcend God, and yet the world and its actual entities as superjects are immanent in God. In other words, just as actual entities in the temporal realm are relative to each other, God and the world (and its actual entities) are relative to each other. I believe we must here distinguish two kinds of relativity. One is relativity between actual entities (or actual occasions) in the world, and the other is relativity between God and the world or actual

 

 

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occasions in the world. The former is relativity within the realm of temporality, whereas the latter is relativity referring to nontemporality, that is, relativity between temporality (the World) and the dipolar nature of the temporal-nontemporal (God). These two kinds of relativity should not be mixed up nor understood as being in the same dimension.

    The difference between these two kinds of relativity may be shown by quoting William Christian's summary of his analysis of Whitehead's theory of "God and the World." [10]

    A. Actual occasions (as subjects) transcend God by virtue of their freedom and their privacy.
    B. Actual occasions (as superjects) are immanent in God objectively, completely, and effectively.
    C. God (as superject) is immanent in the world objectively and effectively.
    D. God (as subject) transcends the world by virtue of his freedom and privacy.
    E. God transcends the world also by virtue of his perfection -- both in being (as subject) and in power (as superject).

The two words I have italicized have no equivalents in their corresponding statements about God or the world. This means: one, that though actual occasions (as superjects) are completely immanent in God, God is not necessarily completely immanent in the world, and two, that God transcends the world by virtue of his perfection, but the world, though transcending God, is lacking its perfection.

    In short, this indicates that although there is interaction between the world and God, God finally transcends the world. God is more self-creative, more inclusive, more influential, than any other temporal actual entities. He alone is everlasting. This transcendence of God signifies, in Whitehead, that God is the principle of limitation which, by transcending every temporal occasion, gives an initial aim to an actual occasion to determine its limit. Without God as the principle of limitation, there could be no finite and ordered actualities nor values, and one would have an "indiscriminate modal pluralism."

    It may be clear now why my answer was in the negative to the question whether, in Whitehead, the principle of interdependence is strictly applied to everything without any exceptions. It may also be clear why my answer was again in the negative to the other question about whether, in him, there is not anything more real which acts as a foundation beyond or behind the interdependence of everything in the universe. In this connection, I would like to return to the approach (A) in Part I, which was temporarily left behind. I wish now to give a further elucidation of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent coorigination.

 

III

In Buddhism the idea of interdependence is strictly and thoroughly realized in its doctrine of dependent coorigination. This doctrine is inseparably con-

 

 

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nected with a radical rejection of any such divine transcendence as God. Buddhism is atheistic in its very basic nature. Buddha himself rejected the traditional Vedic idea of 'Brahman' which is the sole basis underlying the universe, and is identified with 'Aatman' which is the eternal self at the core of each individual. The Buddha said that it was merely an imaginary construction to believe in a Brahman of which we have no real comprehension and that such a belief is like a man who tries to climb up a ladder to the sky to reach a place he knows nothing about, or is like a man who falls in love with a beautiful queen whom no one has ever seen. [11]

    The conception of Brahman, the Hindu expression for the Absolute, was replaced by the Buddha with the notion of dependent coorigination and its accompanying notions of "impermanence" of everything (anitya) and "no-self" (anaatman). The denial of Brahman is accompanied by the denial of aatman.

    Thus we may say that the interdependence emphasized in the Buddhist notion of dependent coorigination is realized in the strictest sense by rejecting both transcendence and immanence. Accordingly, there can be nothing whatever that is "more real," and what lies behind or beyond the interdependence of every thing, whether in the nontemporal or temporal realm.

    The Buddha enunciated the principle of dependent coorigination as the "Middle Way." However, this Middle Way should not be taken as a middle point between the two poles. The Middle Way is far beyond dipolarity. It is a way overcoming dipolarity itself. In this sense the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way is not altogether the same as the Aristotelian idea of mesotes. The interdependence which is implied in the Buddhist doctrine of dependent coorigination is neither transcendence nor immanence nor something in between the two -- a middle position which is of dipolar nature and in which transcendence and immanence as two poles are directly interacting with each other. To realize the Middle Way, such a middle position with the dipolar nature must as well be overcome; because, however dynamic the middle point maybe, it is involved in the duality of transcendence and immanence A complete overcoming of the dipolarity with its intermediate position is essential for the realization of the Middle Way and dependent coorigination. This leads us to the Following three points:

    (i) In the Buddhist notion of dependent coorigination, there is nothing whatsoever "more real," (for instance, in terms of transcendence, immanence, or in between), which lies beyond or behind the interdependence of everything in the universe.
    (ii) However this "nothingness" should not be taken as nothingness which is distinguished from "somethingness." If so, we are involved in another duality, a duality between "nothingness" and "somethingness." "Nothingness" realized behind the interdependence of everything is not "relative nothingness" in contrast to "somethingness" but the "absolute Nothingness" which is beyond the duality of nothingness and somethingness.
    (iii) When one says that there is absolutely nothing "more real" behind the interdependence of everything, one means that its interdependence is deter-

 

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mined and limited by itself without any principle of determination and limitation.

    Only when one's understanding of the principle of interdependence includes these connotations, has one realized its genuine meaning. Accordingly, the realization or the "absolute Nothingness" is the crucial point for Buddhist doctrine of dependent coorigination and the Middle Way.

    In the doctrine of dependent coorigination expounded by the Buddha, the notion of the absolute Nothingness was implicitly implied. It was Naagaarjuna who explicitly enunciated this absolute Nothingness in terms of `suunyataa.

 

IV

It seems to be clear therefore that Whitehead's notion of God is not quite compatible with the Buddhist idea of dependent coorigination. This is because, despite his interaction with the temporal actual entities (actual occasions), God is not an actual occasion but a nontemporal actual entity, and is the principle of limitation upon actual occasions. In this sense, in Whitehead, God is understood to be somewhat beyond the interdependence of everything in the temporal world. By this, however, I do not mean that his notion of God is "something," or something substantial beyond the world. As Whitehead holds, " ... in every respect God and the World move conversely in each other in respect to their process," [12] his notion of God is not substantial nor static but dynamic, always interacting with and interpenetrating the world at every point of his process of creativity. In this sense we can say with justification that, in Whitehead, there is nothing behind the interdependence of actual entities (or actual occasions) in the universe because God is not "something." However, is not this "nothingness" a relative kind of nothingness as distinguished from "somethingness," and not the absolute Nothingness which overcomes the duality of nothingness and somethingness? If stated otherwise, can we say with full justification that in Whitehead there is absolutely nothing behind the interdependence of actual occasions in the universe?

    This is a crucial question. And my answer is "No." For, despite his close interaction with the world, God alone is not an actual occasion but a nontemporal entity which, as the principle of limitation, performs the function of providing the limitations that make concretions possible. In this respect, Whitehead is lacking the realization of the absolute Nothingness or "Emptiness;" the realization of which is indispensable for the Buddhist notion of interdependence or the relativity among the things in the universe.

    As I said, Naagaarjuna enunciated the "absolute Nothingness," which was implicitly implied in the Buddha's doctrine of dependent coorigination. He described the theory of dependent coorigination by means of the Eightfold Negation -- neither origination nor cessation; neither permanence nor impermanence; neither unity nor diversity; neither coming-in nor going-out.

 

 

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Naagaarjuna not only repudiated the eternalist view, which took phenomena to be real just as they are; he also rejected as illusory the exactly opposite nihilistic view that emphasizes the emptiness and nonbeing as the true reality. This double negation in terms of 'neither ... nor' is the pivotal point for the realization of Mahaayaana Emptiness which is never a sheer emptiness but rather, the fullness. For 'neither ... nor' in this case refers to the two opposing and contradictory poles of affirmation and negation, or positivity and negativity; thereby constituting a complete point of conversion from the absolute negation (negation of both affirmation and negation, that is the 'emptiness') into the absolute affirmation (affirmation of both affirmation and negation, that is, fullness').

 

V

In this connection we must notice the following five points:

    (1) Naagaarjuna's negation of negation in terms of 'neither ... nor' is not a flat negation of the two parallel items, but a breaking-through or the destruction of the contradiction or antinomy between the two opposing poles. For in it, affirmation and negation or positivity and negativity are inseparably connected together, and yet, they are negating each other. Thus, they constitute an antinomic whole.

    (2) However, Naagaarjuna's negation of negation is not merely a logical process but an existential and religious issue. The antimony between 'being' and 'non being', or affirmation and negation, is the one inherent in human being, and existentially it is precisely what is called "human suffering." It is not that man has such an antinomy, but that man is such an antinomy itself. Accordingly, the negation of negation does not signify a logical development of negation in an objective or external manner, but a serious inner struggle and an eventual breaking-through of the existential antinomy innate in man. In this "breaking-through" one is completely emancipated from illusions and sufferings, and thus awake into the Reality. Otherwise stated, one's ego-self dies and no-self is realized as the true self. This is the realization of one's true and deepest subjectivity which can be attained through the negation of negation. With this realization of no-self, `suunyataa is opened up.

    (3) Through the realization of this "negation of negation" and of "emptiness," the ground of man's subjectivity is transformed from mere self to the "no-self," another term for the true-self. Emptiness is thus realized as the deepest core or at the bottomless depth of one's subjectivity. It is deeper and more profound than one's own self. However, if emptiness is realized somewhat outside of "myself," it ceases to be the true emptiness, because it, then, becomes an object and thereby turns into a something to "me" -- a something merely named "nothing" or "emptiness." As soon as one conceptualizes or objectifies emptiness he misses it. The true emptiness can never be outside but inside of "myself," and yet it is deeper than my "self." Accordingly, it should be said both at once that "I am in emptiness," and yet that "emptiness is in me." In this connection, it must also be said that "I am empty," and yet that "emptiness is me." As there is no self, "I am in emptiness," or "I am empty." At the same time, as "no-self" is not a nihilistic idea but is simply another term for the "true self," "Emptiness is me," or, "emptiness is in me." I, as the true self, am dynamically one with emptiness itself.

    (4) Emptiness is boundless and limitless. It is expanding endlessly into all directions throughout the universe. Nothing can be outside of this endless and

 

 

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all-dimensional expansion of Emptiness. Although it is opened up through "my" subjective realization of no-self, it expands endlessly and objectively beyond "me." It is the unrestricted, dynamic whole, in which you and I, and everything else in the universe are included and realized equally just as they are; in their suchness without losing their individuality because they all are not supported and limited by any "something" whatever. Rather, they are the absolute Nothingness, or `suunyataa. Yet everything, including you and me, interpenetrates each other; that is, mutually limiting and being limited by one another. This dynamic structure of interaction among all things, without each losing its individuality, is fully realized simply because it takes place in the realization of the absolute Nothingness. The latter is not of course a particular principle of limitation. Thus one can say with full justification that "everything is in emptiness," and yet "emptiness is in everything;" or "everything is empty," and "emptiness is everything." Accordingly, emptiness is not only the deepest ground of one's subjectivity but also the deepest ground of the universe.

    (5) Everything, including you and me, in the universe is empty and is in emptiness. There is no underlying principle of limitation whatever. This means that everything is respectively and equally limited or determined by itself. In other words, everything is respectively and equally realized in its suchness. However, we should not overlook that this self-limitation (suchness) or self-determination (freedom) is inseparably connected with the realization of emptiness. It is self-limitation or self-determination by means of the realization of `suunyataa. It is a limitation without a limitator and a determination without a determiner. Hence, the Buddhist idea of the "law of no law," that is, "no law is the law," or the "order of no order," that is, "no order is the order." In this realization of emptiness, everything is fully realized as it is in its self-limitation and is absolutely affirmed in its suchness. However, this should not be taken as an objectively observable state nor as a goal to be reached. It is the ground of one's subjectivity and of the universe and it is neither objectifiable nor conceptualizable. "Suchness" is not a static or fixed state but a dynamic and living basis from which the individual, and everything else in mutual interpenetration, begins its activity anew at every moment of the process. This is the activity of self-determination (freedom) based on the realization of `suunyataa. Praj~naa (wisdom) and karu.naa (compassion) are the two aspects of this free activity of `suunyataa.

 

VI

It is clear that Whitehead's notion of God as the principle of limitation is not something apart from the universe nor an underlying principle essentially distinct from the universe. Toward the end of Process und Reality, Whitehead beautifully and impressively elucidates the relatedness of God and the World as follows:

    It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World.
    It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God.
    It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God. [13]

    The conceptions of the interpenetration, relativity, and the mutual embodiment of God and the world are so conspicuous that we may point them out as the most important characteristics of Whitehead's philosophy with its unique-

 

 

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ness among the philosophical interpretations of God in the West.

    Yet in Whitehead, this notion of relativity is not thoroughly carried out in his understanding of the relationship between God and the world. For, just like everything in the world, God is an actual entity, but unlike everything in the world God is not an actual occasion. God alone is always excluded from actual occasion. In this connection, as I mentioned earlier, we must distinguish two kinds of relativity -- the relativity among things of the world and that between God and the world The former is the relativity within the temporal realm, and the latter, the relativity referring to the nontemporal realm (that is, the relativity between the temporal realm, namely, the world, and the dipolar nature of temporality and nontemporality, God). What are the justifiable reasons for the two distinguishable kinds of relativity? How can the latter form of relativity be possible logically and existentially? Is the dipolar nature of God in Whitehead completely free from dualism which Whitehead intends to overcome in principle?

    If Whitehead were to carry out thoroughly the denial of dualism -- in my opinion, that is absolutely necessary in order to realize the ultimate Reality -- he would have said as follows:

    It is as true to say that God is nontemporal, as that the world is nontemporal.
    It is as true to say that God is temporal, as that the world is temporal.
    It is as true to say that God is an actual occasion as that every real thing in the world is an actual occasion.

According to Whitehead's definition, "actual occasion" has a spatio-temporal nature. It is extensive in terms of both spatiality and temporality. However, God alone is nontemporal, chiefly because of his primordial nature and, to some extent, because of his consequent nature, especially because of this "everlastingness." Through his primordial nature, God acts upon the World as the principle of concretion, and in his consequent nature, God is determined by the physical experiences derived from the temporal world as the world reacting upon God. In this sense, God is interpenetrating fully with the world and as such he, too, must be said to be spatio-temporal. At the same time, however, God is non-temporal as well as nonspatial, in the final analysis, both in his primordial and consequent natures. Viewed as primordial, God is "the unlimited conceptual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality" and "deficiently actual." [14] Viewed as consequent nature, God is infinite in his patience and everlasting in his creative advance and retention of mutual immediacy. In these two senses God is beyond temporality. Here temporality and nontemporality are not completely interrelated.

    Thus, although Whitehead emphasizes the mutual embodiment of God and the world, the mutuality does not seem to be complete. This is also discerned in the following quotation from Process and Reality:

    "In God's nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the

 

 

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World; in the World's nature, flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God." [15]

It seems after all to me that God includes the world, but not vice versa, because God is primordial in terms of permanence which is complete and eternal, whereas the world is primordial only in terms of flux which is incomplete and changing. As far as permanence is concerned, God is primordial but the World is derivative. Despite their close mutual embodiment, God is all inclusive, whereas the World is, in the last analysis, "the included."

    It this is the case, we notice a kind of double structure of God and the world in Whitehead's philosophy of organism. In it, a trace of dualism still remains. However, I am not saying that, in Whitehead, God and the world constitute a double structure in terms of substance. No. Instead, I am saying this in terms of nature and activity (prehension). Just in this sense his system, therefore, is not completely free from dualism.

 

VII

Mahaayaana Buddhists emphasize that to realize the ultimate Reality one must overcome all forms of duality, including even the duality between "duality" and "nonduality." When one speaks of duality one must, consciously or unconsciously, stand somewhat outside of the two poles which consist of the above duality. For, it is impossible to speak of duality properly by taking one of the two poles of that duality, or a certain point between them. One can legitimately talk about duality only by taking a third position outside that duality itself, and by looking at that duality somewhat from without. In this case, however, the third position is merely one conceptually established -- an unreal position Naturally, the reality which is grasped in terms of duality is the conceptualized or objectified reality, and it cannot be the ultimate Reality. This is why duality must be overcome in order to be free completely from conceptualization, objectification, illusions and attachment so that one can awake into the ultimate Reality or the true subjectivity.

    For the awakening into the ultimate Reality, one is required to overcome the final duality, that is the dichotomization of "duality" and "nonduality." To reach the position that is fully beyond any conceptualization, and to attain the genuine subjectivity, the most vital and indispensable requirement is the radical 'reversion' or the negation by transcending every possible conceptualization and objectification. This is signified by the "death" of one's ego and by the awakening into the "no-self," because of the difficulty in negating the stubborn innate tendency toward duality in human ego.

    Clearly, Whitehead's notion of dipolarity is not the duality in the ordinary sense. It is so dynamic and full of contrast that it is, in a way, beyond duality. However, the dipolar nature of God and the dipolar nature of actual occasions in the world are not the same. Strictly speaking, we must distinguish these two

 

 

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kinds of the dipolar nature just as we distinguished earlier the two kinds of relativity. If I am not mistaken, a trace of dualism still remains in Whitehead owing to the double structure, as discussed earlier, of God and the world in their nature and activity. Does not Whitehead conceptualize or objectify, unconsciously, the relationship between God and the world by taking the third position outside the very relationship itself? Even in philosophy this is questionable in order to reach the ultimate Reality.

    In Buddhism temporality and n on temporality is completely nondualistic. Hence sa^msaara as it is is nirvaa.na: nirvaa.na as it is is sa^msaara. Mahaayaana Buddhists take sa^msaara (transmigration of living and dying) in itself as "death" in its authentic sense. Death in its authentic sense is not death as distinguished from life, just as the real nothingness is not the nothingness as distinguished from somethingness. If we grasp the process of transmigration, not from the outside (that is, objectively), but from within (that is, subjectively or existentially), then we are always living and yet always dying at every and any moment. Without living, there is no dying; without dying, there is no living. Living and dying are nondualistically one in our existential realization. Since living and dying are the two opposing principles, this antinomic oneness of living and dying itself is the greatest suffering -- Death. In this existential realization, the endless transmigration of living-dying as such is realized as the Great Death. This implies that the process of transmigration is not a mere continuity, but a continuity which at each and every point of living is completely separated from what went before and what comes after. It is a conjunction of disjunction. This can be realized through the radical reversion at the depth of our existential realization. Through the realization of the Great Death, the realization of the Great Life (nirvaa.na) opens up. Once we come to this existential realization, we can say with justification that sa^msaara and nirvaa.na are identical. Thus the realization of the Great Death is the crucial point for the seemingly paradoxical Mahayana doctrines. This is simply another expression for the earlier statement that the realization of the absolute Nothingness is indispensable for attaining the Mahaayaana notion of Emptiness which is the fullness itself.

    There is almost no reference to death in Process and Reality. Again, in Process and Reality, the continuum or the conjunction seems to be more emphasized than the disjunction. The result is that Whitehead's philosophy is that of organism, and in it God is treated as the principle of creativity, limitation, and judgment. Against the Western metaphysical tradition -- which had generally put stress on being, substance, transcendence, and duality -- Whitehead emphasizes becoming, process, immanence and relatedness. He has established a marvelous system of organic metaphysics. However, the lack of the realization of the absolute nothingness and Death in the deepest sense prevents him from breaking through the framework of dualism. Nevertheless, within the context of dualism, he has expounded and developed the notion of the relatedness of everything in its limit. The duality is minimized but not overcome in Whitehead.

 

 

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    On the other hand, Mahaayaana Buddhism is based on nonduality by rejecting all possible dualisms. Thus it is not mechanistic, nor organic, nor substantial. Although "becoming" rather than "being," "process" rather than "substance," "flux" rather than unchanging "permanence" are stressed in Mahaayaana Buddhism, they are at every point supported, in one's existential realization, by the realization of the absolute Nothingness. Becoming, process, and flux are beginningless and endless in every possible sense, including the sense of immanence and transcendence and of substance and activity. They are realized thoroughly from within, existentially. They are grasped through the realization of emptiness which is open endlessly This is the reason that basically, becoming, process, and flux have no teleological implication in Mahaayaana Buddhism. Thus, becoming is not becoming but Being in any moment; process is not process but always the beginning and the end at the same time; flux is not flux but permanence at any point. This is the basis on which Mahaayaana teleology might be established.

    In short, in Mahaayaana Buddhism Emptiness replaces God, including Whitehead's notion of God. Hence there is no issue of God and the world. The Buddhist equivalent to the problem of God and the world may be the problem of Self and the world. For there is absolutely nothing behind the World or the universe, the face of which is to be realized by one's self. Both self and the world are thoroughly spatio-temporal. However, with the realization of being absolutely nothing behind the spatio-temporality of self and the world, only then the pivotal point of the radical reversion to the nonspatial and nontemporal nature which, at the same time, is nondualistically identical with the spatio-temporal nature, is realized. The self is the sphere that is open to this realization. Mahaayaana idea of nirvaa.na means precisely this nondualistic realization of the unique identity of the spatio-temporal nature and the nonspatial and nontemporal nature.

 

VIII

In the above, I have tried to clarify the difference between the thought-structure in Mahaayaana Buddhism and in Whitehead. However, as I said in the beginning of this article, the clarification of the differences between the two systems does not exclude the possibility of dialogue between them. On the contrary, it provides a realistic foundation for a fruitful and productive encounter. For, without a clear realization of the differences between their thought structures, the dialogue may be unrealistic and hence, barren. In my view, Mahaayaana Buddhism and Whitehead's philosophy of organism are strikingly similar because the latter minimizes duality and stands almost on the verge of overcoming the limit of duality. However, we cannot easily bridge the two, unless the structural differences in their thoughts are somehow overcome. There are at least two possible ways overcoming this difficulty. One is the approach from

 

 

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the side of Whitehead's philosophy, and the other is from the side of Mahaayaana Buddhism.

    Speaking from the side of Whitehead's philosophy, the limit of dualism must be completely overcome and broken through. This means that God must be understood as an actual occasion as well as an actual entity and that the principle of relativity must be strictly and thoroughly realized throughout the whole relation between God and the world, including the problem of temporality and nontemporality. This is possible only through the realization of the great Death and the conjunction of disjunction. Here a radical turning over by overcoming every possible objectification which is to take place in one's self. This idea entails the denial of Whitehead's notion of God with its nontemporal nature. In this way, however, God would be interpreted anew as the dynamic function of complete interaction in and throughout the open and limitless universe of spatio-temporal nature, without a slightest trace of the double structure. God, then, is no longer the principle of limitation, and instead, the 'no principle of limitation' is 'God'.

    This is the idea underlying this discussion. For, herein I have tried to clarify the differences of the thought structures of the two systems by using the conceptions of Mahaayaana Buddhism as the standard and by trying to see how closely Whitehead's philosophy approaches Mahaayaana Buddhism. I took this way, simply because it is easier for me at present than the reverse way. Therefore, I do not, of course, exclude the opposite approach of using Whitehead's philosophy as the standard and then taking a look as to how close Mahaayaana Buddhism comes to it. This would be the second way of overcoming the difference between their thought structures. There arises from this method the following two points: (1) the dipolar nature of God with his principle of limitation, and (2) the dynamic structure of the interactions among the things in the universe in Whitehead's philosophy must be introduced into the Buddhist way of thinking. This is because (1) the Mahaayaana ideas of Emptiness and Suchness always involve a risk to be taken negatively just because of their complete denial of duality. As soon as these ideas are understood as an object or a goal, that is, objectively, rather than as a ground or the root source of one's subjectivity (existentially), then they immediately turn into a mere Emptiness and a very shallow and cheap Suchness. The history of Mahaayaana Buddhism provides many such examples. They result in nihilism, pessimism, moral anarchy, indifferent and uncritical acceptance or affirmation of social conditions. Whitehead's idea of the dipolar nature of God with his principle of limitation may be reinterpreted in the Mahaayaana context as a preventive clue against the recurrent misunderstandings of the ideas of Emptiness and Suchness, the meanings of which tend to be misinterpreted negatively. (2) The dynamic structure of the interaction among things in the universe in Whitehead's philosophy should be introduced into Mahaayaana Buddhism because it puts a strong emphasis on the necessity of the awakening to the ground of one's

 

 

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subjectivity, that is, no-self, and thereby is generally weak in a concrete development and embodiment of the no-self in the world. It is Nishida's philosophy that developed the Mahaayaana idea of Emptiness or no-self in a constructive way in connection with society and history, especially through his use of and confrontation with Western science and philosophy. Whitehead's philosophy is certainly another excellent example, in this respect, from which Mahaayaana Buddhist thinkers have a great deal to learn.

    What I have said in this section is only a few suggestions for a positive dialogue beyond the critical realization of the structural differences in the thoughts of the two systems. There must be many other possibilities in this respect, and this, too, is a point of departure, a very significant and indispensable one. With an understanding of the differences between the thought structures of Mahaayaana Buddhism and Whitehead's philosophy, let us begin a creative and a very constructive dialogue between them.

 

NOTES

1. Process and Reality, pp. 79-80.

2. Process and Reality, p. 28.

3. Process and Reality, p. 135.

4. Process and Reality, p. 135.

5. Process and Reality, p. 521.

6. Process and Reality, p. 135.

7. D. W. Sherburne, A Key to Whitehead's Process and Reality (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1971), p. 207.

8. Process and Reality, p. 524.

9. Process and Reality, p. 524.

10. W. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead's Metaphysics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 380-381.

11. Kenneth W. Morgan, ed., The Path of the Buddha (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1946), p. 47.

12. Process and Reality, p. 529.

13. Process and Reality, p. 528.

14. Process and Reality, p. 521.

15. P. 529.