P22. Buddhist Thoughts and Practices

Session: Session 4, 8:30 – 10:00 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Honors

Chair: Tarryn Chun (University of Notre Dame)

Paper Presenters: Tiantian Cai (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Yaroslav Komarovski (University of Nebraska – Lincoln), Trang Nguyen (University of South Wales)

Negating the Either-Or Structure: A Juxtaposition Experiment for Hegelian Absolute Knowing and Buddhist Nondual Awareness

Speaker: Tiantian Cai
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Abstract: If we can answer “yes” to Dabashi’s query, “Can non-European think?,” then the next step is to take the topic even further and inquire as to how we are able to transcend the east-west divide and the power inequality embedded. By juxtaposing Hegel’s examination of absolute knowing and the ultimate non-dual awareness in Yogācāra Buddhism, the paper acts as an experiment of immanent critique that seeks the possibility of an equal, non-presupposed conversation as an attempt to actualize delinking from European ideology. The juxtaposition experiment shows, both the Buddhist and Hegel’s response to the absolute negation of the one-sidedness of subject-object dualism. The Hegelian movement eventually claims for an on-going awareness of the unification of subject and object as absolute knowing, the spirit, which presents a negation of a either-or conceptual structure by ascribing to internal conflicts as driven force, whereas Yogācāra Buddhism highlights interdependence of subject and object and claims what remains after the elimination of dualism is mental continuum of self-reflexivity, which presents as a negation of neither-nor structure and, as opposed to Hegel’s idea about conflicts and progression, Buddhism ascribes to an universal willing of liberation from suffering as driven force. The actualization brought about by ritual and practice is another factor that conditions the realization of both’s absoluteness. More consideration needs to be given to their experiential focus.

Imagining the Real: Imagination in Buddhist Tantric Practice

Speaker: Yaroslav Komarovski
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Abstract: The ritual-contemplative practice of Tibetan tantric Buddhism is based on the notion of the innate buddhahood manifesting itself in divine forms of tantric maṇḍalas (“dwellings” of awakened beings). This practice involves three key elements: vivid appearance—visualizing oneself as a buddha surrounded by awakened divinities within a maṇḍala, divine pride—being convinced that one is already fully awakened, and recollection of purity—contemplating symbolic meanings of the maṇḍala. Clarifying these elements, in the first half of the paper I refer to five types of imagination addressed in contemporary scholarship: inner imaging which evokes a quasi-perceptual experience; concrete imaging—seeing-as or symbolic seeing; hypothetical imaging which affords thought about scenarios that may or may not be the case; pretense which invokes experiential aspects of such scenarios; and creativity which generates new ideas and forms. I argue that tantric practice incorporates all these types: inner imagining and creativity are involved in the vivid appearance, concrete imaging in the recollection of purity, and hypothetical imaging and pretense in the divine pride. In the second part of the paper I explain that while traditional Tibetan scholars agree that tantric practice in big part consists of constructing an imaginary, unreal world, they nonetheless claim that it helps to come into contact with and display the reality of innate buddhahood. I explore several strategies used for explaining how this process is supposed to work and for solving an apparent contradiction involved in the position that the imaginative processes can bring one into contact with reality.

“Popularizing Zen in Vietnam: A Comparative Study of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Order of Interbeing and Thích Thanh Từ’s Bamboo Grove.”

Speaker: Trang Nguyen
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of South Wales
Abstract: My paper compares two influential Zen figures in Vietnam, Thích Nhất Hạnh (1926-2022) and Thích Thanh Từ (1924-), and the two Zen schools they created: the Order of Interbeing established by Nhất Hạnh in the West and then “imported” to Vietnam, and the Bamboo Grove established by Thanh Từ in Vietnam and subsequently “exported” to the West. The paper explores how these schools have been popularized in Vietnam under the censorship by the Communist Party. Nhất Hạnh and Thanh Từ grew up during the French colonization and American war. Nhất Hạnh was actively involved in peace activism (because of which he was not allowed to return to Vietnam for 40 years), taught Buddhism in the West, and promoted the idea of “Engaged Buddhism” around the world. Thanh Từ, in contrast, kept silence during the period of political chaos, focused on setting up new monasteries, taught meditation mainly in Vietnam, and discouraged his followers from politically charged social engagement. Both were advocating their versions of “nationalist Buddhism,” presenting their traditions as expressions of uniquely Vietnamese national character. Although Nhất Hạnh’s tradition is officially banned while Thanh Từ’s tradition is promoted by the Vietnamese government, my field research demonstrates that significantly more Vietnamese Buddhists are aware of and follow the Order of Interbeing than the Bamboo Grove. I argue that this popularity derives from Nhất Hạnh’s school’s success in “marketing” itself, its usage of flexible methods helping its followers to solve their day-to-day problems, and its deemphasizing Buddhist soteriological objectives.