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The role of reason in the experience of awakening : towards the philosophical reconstruction of rationality operative in the Pāli canon teachings of the Buddha

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Author

Szkredka, Slawomir

Date

2008

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies

Committee

Long, Bruce J.
Locke, Kenneth A.
Chen, Huaiyu

Abstract

Every search is based on some pre-understanding of what one is looking for. Accordingly, the search for the role of reason in the experience of awakening begins with the investigation of rationality as such. I demonstrate that rationality cannot be reduced to a set of fixed rules alone and that the best way to decipher (but not to exhaust) the nature of reason is by tracing the forms of its historical development. Thus three basic roles of reason are identified (1) to assess the logical coherence (so-called classical reason), (2) to retrace the dialectical development (so-called Hegelian reason), and (3) to critique the purported powers of reason especially by comparative uncovering of any disruptive otherness (so-called postmodern reason).

Accordingly, to decipher the shape of rationality operative in the Buddha’s thought, I first demonstrate the logical coherence of the content of enlightenment as far as the Buddha has articulated this content and as far as this articulation finds its textual evidence in the Pāli Canon.

Secondly, I point to the historicity of reason in a Hegelian sense. I accomplish it by demonstrating how the Buddha’s core philosophy is a creative synthesis (or Hegelian sublation) of deep contradictions that pervaded Indian mind around the Buddha’s time. Enlightenment is seen here in the dialectical manner as the faithful continuation of the traditional tendencies and a creative resolution of tensions long at work in the Indian intellectual culture.

Thirdly, by situating the Buddha in the comparative dialogue with the Western thinkers, I aim not just at drawing parallels but also at pointing to irreducible differences, preserving the otherness of Buddhism. In this context, I investigate the elements outside of reason such as moral discipline, suffering, and faith in authority in light of their complicated relation to reason in the experience of enlightenment

As a result, the shape of the Buddha’s rationality appears to be at the same time post-metaphysical and ethical, systematic and comfortable with paradox, critical of the powers of reason and yet capable of fulfilling its highest aspirations. This rich and complex notion of reason is a new and refreshing possibility for our times.

Degree Granter

University of the West

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