03 August 2007

Salvation and/or Nirvana

One of the guiding principles of dialogue is a constant testing of the hypothesis that differences of idiom may conceal a convergence of experience. We are always entitled to wonder whether that other ‘belief system’ may be using different words to indicate the same realities that we know under more familiar names. Is it possible that Christian salvation really denotes the same experience as Buddhist nirvana?

One common factor shared by both is that spiritual seekers and questers imagine them elsewhere: at the end of the current spiritual journey, or on the far side of the river we must cross. This entails that some may reach the goal while others may not.

The Buddha on his deathbed is said to have reminded his followers that if anyone attains enlightenment, it is through his own efforts. The essential privacy of spiritual life (that is, of experience) is also affirmed in the Qur'án, Surah 35:

Allah verily sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will; so let not thy soul expire in sighings for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do!
— 35:8 (Pickthall)

And no burdened soul can bear another's burden, and if one heavy laden crieth for (help with) his load, naught of it will be lifted even though he (unto whom he crieth) be of kin. Thou warnest only those who fear their Lord in secret, and have established worship. He who groweth (in goodness), groweth only for himself, (he cannot by his merit redeem others). Unto Allah is the journeying.

— 35:18 (Pickthall)

On the other hand, the Buddhist bodhisattva gives up all aspiration to a private attainment. Likewise salvation in Christ is in communion, participation in the One Body, love's body. Nirvana is not an escape from the mess of the world, or from entanglement with others, but the realization of the interbeing of the self. So is the body of Christ.

For a human, to be conscious of self and of experience, and of their privacy, is to be grounded in the human community, in the social nature of the human animal, in the language enabled by empathy and symbol. The self, insofar as one can be conscious of it (rather than conscious with it), is nothing but one of those symbols.

In Luke 2, upon first seeing the child Jesus, Simeon responds as follows:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.
Luke 2:29-32 (KJV)

Simeon here takes salvation ‘of all peoples’ as an accomplished fact embodied in Jesus rather than a distant goal, and thus he is allowed to ‘depart in peace’ like a slave released by his master. Before seeing this salvation with his own eyes, Simeon was already ‘righteous and devout’ (2:25), but he had no desire for a private and personal salvation that would leave others unsaved. There is something deeply selfish about such a goal. This is one face of spiritual materialism (Trungpa 1973). It takes a renunciation of that selfishness to realize nirvana not as a remote goal but as a present reality concealed behind the ignorance of self-interest.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gary,

Nice post.
I think this issue connects also to general philosophy. Some people comparing philosophy to science, point that philosophy goes nowhere.

But I think that philosophy is more like the spiritual development. To go forward in philosophy seems to me is to gain comprehension which has to be obtained by everyone for himself, and which is not easily communicated in the way that scientific knowledge is.

I am guessing this is the view that you yourself hold given what you wrote in the 'Return of the backwoods philosopher' post?

gnox said...

Hello Tanas!

Yes, i'd agree that philosophy is like spiritual development. Or is a mode of spiritual development. Spirit, science, philosophy -- we can try to erect boundaries between them, but they crumble as soon as we turn our attention elsewhere.

In science (i.e. what Peirce called "the special sciences"), we can only talk about public phenomena, those things we can make common reference to because they exist externally to each of us. But philosophy is about what's universal in all experience, and that includes an element of privacy or internality. Yet the self is a creature of intersubjectivity.

I think Dogen said it all when he wrote, "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self." You could substitute "philosophy" for "the Buddha Way" and it's the same truth. However, to make this truth fully explicit would take a whole book. Which is my reason for writing one (though it seems to be taking forever).

Science does produce results that can be used even by those who haven't lived through the process of inquiry that produced them. This isn't true of philosophy: the results are useless, and hardly even visible, to those outside the process.

I've been reading your "brood comb" blog and have sometimes wanted to respond, but i don't feel familiar enough with the texts you've mentioned or quoted there to say anything sensible in that idiom. Or maybe your current questions are just different from mine. But who knows when or how our paths will cross in the future?

Tzutzu said...

Hello Gary,

while reading your blog and also discovering your gnoxic home site today, I thought of sharing two links with you:

- Mandelbrot documentary:

- Dangerous Knowledge documentary :

If we are living in this world based on conventions, why do we use the same conventions to find The Answers?

gnox said...

Greetings Tzutzu,

Thanks for the video pointers -- unfortunately i can't use Internet video due to the limitations of my connection. But maybe others reading this can use them.

I'm not sure i understand your question: "If we are living in this world based on conventions, why do we use the same conventions to find The Answers?" My answer would be: "Why not?"

Why can't we use conventions to go beyond those same conventions? To put it in Peircean terms, signs grow and develop: semiosis is the self-modification of habits.

On the other hand, i wouldn't say that "we are living in this world based on conventions" in the first place, because there is more to life than conventions, and this "more" is more basic than the conventions are. And on this point i would recommend Eugene Gendlin's
Thinking Beyond Patterns.

Tzutzu said...

Hi Gary,
I am referring to conventions as every man’s own limitations ( be they self inflicted or inputted by/from their environment )– which dynamically change over time but still act as conventions and limitations to his overall view or understanding of the inside or outside world.
For example if we try to make a parallel between a human beings convention “tree” and a rhizomatic process it’s just that. The sum and interconnection of all conventions is actually what defines that particular individual.
It’s not easy for me to put it into words as I only can feel it at a certain level how that works on me. If we could translate this into words we would create just another convention node out of that. So expanding the infinite will just give you more infinities and every time you will have an answer you will base your answer on your convention-history.
Deleuze and Guattari have pointed out what I am referring to as a rhizome or a rhizomatic process in Thousand plateaus and tried to sum it up or define it by some principles:
- The principle of connection and heterogeneity
- The principle of multitude
- The principle of the assignifying break
- The principle of Cartography and Decalcomony ( the english translations might not be those because I read it in german )
My only proof that I cannot transpose it into words but still feel that I can grasp a fraction of it ( or at least n-1 ) is a cite from U.Eco that says:

“.. was in Wirklichkeit nicht darstellbar ist, weil es ein Rhizom ist, eine unvorstellbare Globalitaet.”
“... the un-designable in our reality, because it’s a rhizome, an unimaginable globality.”
Maybe my translation here leaks a bit because of the rich meaning that resides in some of the german words. But hopefully it’s an opener for a continuation of this conversation.

I will also read the Thinking beyond patterns and come back to you. Thank you for the link.

Tzutzu said...

Hello Gary,

now that i began reading the Beyond Patterns, I cannot resist the urge to write back and thank you immensely for that link. It is an amazing paper. Will need more time to digest it and research though. Thank you very much.