A Rejoinder to Munitz
By Kenneth K. Inada

Philosophy East and West
vol. 25 (1975)
pp. 351-352

Copyright 1975 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

p. 351

In his response, Munitz has chosen the easy path by reverting to sterotyped views about Indian philosophy as a whole (inclusive of Buddhism) to deny any access to a dialogue with his transcendent nature of the World, or Existence, as he now prefers to use the term.

    One of the glaring mistakes is to group Vedaanta and Buddhism together on the epistemological, ontological, and metaphysical bases. As all Asianists and the informed know, the Buddhist reaction against the traditional Vedaantic view on reality, or Brahman was so critical and revolutionary that to speak of both in the same breath is like committing double harakiri with just one body. The word maayaa, popularly translated as 'illusion', does not occur at all in Buddhist philosophical language. Rather than maayaa the Buddhist uses the term avidyaa (nonillumined or unclear being) or du.hkha (popularly called "suffering" or "pain," but philosophically it refers to the state of imperfect nature of being). Another term, moha, is used to describe the delusive or wayward nature of our experience which includes both the sense faculties as well as mental activities. None of these terms carries the meaning of illusion as if there is a cover or veil ensconcing reality. As a matter of fact, the Buddhist will not use the term reality (sat) as against unreality (asat) or truth as against falsity, unless one is merely discoursing in the logical realm. As far as existential matters are concerned, things are as they are (yathaabhuutam) or in the nature of thatness (tathataa) or suchness (`suunyataa). These terms are necessitated because reality as it is indeterminate or nonentifiable. But I must admit that it is so easy to infer nonexistence or illusion from the indeterminate or nonentifiable character of reality. Again, on the other hand, it is so easy to infer something mysterious or transcendent of our ordinary existence.

    Munitz has presented a simplistic analysis of the relation of the finite and the infinite in terms of Creationism (the One or God creates the world, the domain of the many) and Illusionism (the domain of many, of appearances that screen the True Reality). He goes on to say that his concepts of the World and Existence would have to reject both Creationism and Illusionism (p. 18).

    I have no objection here to Munitz' rejection since Buddhist thought is not vitiated at all. First, the Buddhist also does not believe in a One or God or Principle that is the source or ground of the many. Second, illusionism is inoperative in Buddhism as explained earlier. Moreover, the disclosure of The One (True Reality) does not bring about genuine enlightenment as contended by Munitz. In truth, in enlightenment (vidyaa, bodhi, nirvaa.na, etc.), it is useless to speak of the nature of priority or posteriority of reality or of the world. If anything, enlightenment is coterminous with reality at all times. Third, the Buddhist will reject categorically any supposition or treatment of such terms as finite or infinite (or Infinite). These terms, in the strictest sense, are speculative and only serve as linguistic devices to fit the conventional, that is the rational, framework of knowledge. But it must be emphasized that both Munitz and Buddhism are actually focussing on the same reality, the same world, the

 

 

p. 352

same existence. Both are only attempting to understand the so-called transcendent nature of the World or Existence from different points of view.

    What I believe is called for in our dialogue is a more flexible and inclusive stance on reality, even if it means to question, revise, and relinquish some of the age-old canons in epistemology and metaphysics. Perhaps, it means a re-conceptualization of the function of epistemology and metaphysics in the order of some of the successes achieved in recent decades by logical empiricism and cognate fields. This certainly is a big order which cannot be delineated now but must be to the fore in future dialogues.

    Let us come to the heart of the matter. In order to move from the concept of the World to the transcendent nature of Existence, Munitz employs such terms as "undifferentiated," "blending of many existents," and "utterly unique" (p. 341). He takes for granted that we somehow have full understanding of these terms. Conceptually yes, but existentially I retain grave doubts. Moreover, he says that Existence is, in itself, ultimate, irreducible, and unassimilable to any conceptual, that is to say, to any explanatory or descriptive characterization whatsoever (p. 342). Having said this, he ends up by still adhering to the conceptual framework in which to recognize the order of 'abstraction' and awareness on which we base the use of the terms, The Universe, The World, and Existence, in order to resolve a seeming 'paradox' that they are one and the same (p. 342).

    My problem is that I find it difficult to follow to what extent the conceptual realm is necessary, to what extent it is unnecessary or lies in the background, and whether he is aware of the very subtle bifurcation generated in presenting a transcendent nature. Granted that he is aware of the bifurcation, would he be willing to focus and concentrate on the resolution of that bifurcation? In other words, the gap "caused" by the bifurcation is real, not only conceptually, which is relatively easy to fill, but ontologically (or existentially) which would be difficult since it will entail something more profound than mere empirical and rational analysis.

    In my original response, I have referred to the fact that the Buddhist is not so much after epistemological clarity as he is ontological clarity. The latter naturally has a wider context than the former. I have at times referred to the latter as the ontological absolute or the supreme experience of ontological togetherness of experiential elements, which are only descriptions for the enlightened content. Here I am somewhat heartened to notice that Munitz says "Existence is the supreme ontological fact" (p. 342). However, where he takes the Wittgensteinian stance in remaining silent on Existence, the Buddhist wishes to explore and seek the basis for the ultimate Silence.