Sunday, 17 November 2013

Nagarjuna's Madras Curry

When I first came to London, as a carnivorous Carnatic lad, I was compelled to choose between only three types of curry.
 Korma was too mild. Phaal blew your arse off. Madras was in between. 
(Goan Vindaloo is sour-sweet shite and only suitable for spoiled pork)
I wish I could say I always chose Madras, more especially as that's where I'm from. Sadly, I didn't. I'd drink till closing time and then order Phaal at the tandoori. 
However, when it came to Soteriological Epistemologies, I was partial to Buddhism- Jainism was constipating, Hinduism crapulous, but Buddhism was just right especially after I learnt to economise by getting drunk only on an empty stomach and could nurse a hangover with the comforting thought that-
Whatever is dependently co-arisen, 
That is explained to be emptiness. 
That, being a dependent designation, 
Is itself the middle way. 
Nagarjuna (MMK XXIV : 18)
What's more, a mid-morning hair of the dog shows you that Sansara really is Nirvana.
However, in omitting my post pub Curry, I now realize I showed a lack of true Vivek. Curry is important for understanding Nagarjuna. Not Curry, the dish, but Haskell Curry the logician.
Here's an example of Curry's paradox.
'If this sentence is true, then Nagarjuna's Madhyamika is a Madras Curry.'
With a two cornered Logic, with an excluded middle, this sentence is true even  if Nagarjuna was actually from Andhra & cooked Phaal.
A four cornered Logic need not be dialethic if there is some intensional criteria (rather than a conditional) such that two corners have a pragmatics (i.e. an interpretation or uniformly presentable ideal of a certain sort) which can be shown to be empty or asymptotically approach emptiness. However, because Set theory uses extensional definitions, and thus can't distinguish between the recursive and the recursively enumerable, it is condemned to glutty or gappy pragmatics.
Nagarjuna has Scriptural authority to make emptiness intensional in a particular way which side-steps problems caused by Time. Being a brainy guy, he formulates a Curry type tetralemma which omits mention of this Scriptural authority and yet which entails nothing he doesn't assent to.
This annoys the fuck out of the Nyaya pundits but doesn't blow the arse out of ontology and that's why Umasvati and Sankara, in their different ways, do something similar for their own traditions.
But this doesn't mean Nagarjuna is always a Madras Curry.
For incautious Westerner's he's viciously Phaal.
Take the case of Graham Priest, who has proposed an 'Inclosure Schema' to tackle various types of paradoxes, like the sorites. But we know it can't tackle, or even effectively spot, Curry paradoxes. So what could be funnier than watching Priest tackle Nagarjuna because we know in advance that he is chewing on, not Korma or Madras, but blow-your-arse-off Phaal?
Let's play the video-

This is Priest (with Jay Garfield) on Nagarjuna
'The contradictions at the limits of thought have a general and bipartite structure. The first part is an argument to the effect that a certain view, usually about the nature of the limit in question, transcends that limit (cannot be conceived, described, etc.). 
This is Transcendence. The other is an argument to the effect that the view is within the limit-Closure. Often, this argument is a practical one, based on the fact that Closure is demonstrated in the very act of theorizing about the limits. At any rate, together, the pair describe a structure that can conveniently be called an inclosure: a totality, Q and an object, o, such that o both is and is not in Q. On closer analysis, inclosures can be found to have a more detailed structure. At its simplest, the structure is as follows. The inclosure comes with an operator, 8, which, when applied to any suitable subset of Q, gives another object that is in Q (that is, one that is not in the subset in question, but is in Q). Thus, for example, if we are talking about sets of ordinals, 8 might apply to give us the least ordinal not in the set. If we are talking about a set of entities that have been thought about, 8 might give us an entity of which we have not yet thought. The contradiction at the limit arises when 8 is applied to the totality Q itself. For then the application of 8 gives an object that is both within and without Q: the least ordinal greater than all ordinals, or the unthought object...
Central to Nagarjuna's understanding of emptiness as immanent in the conventional world is his doctrine of the emptiness of emptiness. That, we have seen, is what prevents the two truths from collapsing into an appearance/reality or phenomenon/noumenon distinction. But it is also what generates the contradictions characteristic of philosophy at the limits. We have encountered two of these, and have seen that they are intimately connected. The first is a paradox of expressibility: linguistic expression and conceptualization can express only conventional (Vyavaharika) truth; the ultimate truth (Paramaartha)  is that which is inexpressible and that which transcends these limits. So it cannot be expressed or characterized. But we have just done so. The second is a paradox of ontology: all phenomena, Nagarjuna argues, are empty, and so ultimately have no nature (svabhava) . But emptiness is, therefore, the ultimate nature of things. So they both have and lack an ultimate nature. 
That these paradoxes involve Transcendence should be clear. In the first case, there is an explicit claim that the ultimate truth transcends the limits of language and of thought. In the second case, Nagarjuna claims that the character of ultimate reality transcends all natures. That they also involve Closure is also evident. In the first case, the truths are expressed and hence are within the limits of expressibility; and in the second case, the nature is given and hence is within the totality of all natures. 


We'd better stop the video here. I mean it's one thing to muffle one's giggles while watching a guy eat a Phaal curry but quite another to follow him in to the toilet.  More especially as Priest has Jay Garfield in tow and at this point the shite they are spouting is that Nagarjuna was headed out of Buddhism into a supposedly rational Dialethia without any soteriological features. This is as bad as David Kalupahana's attempt to turn Nagarjuna into a William James type pragmatic or Ewing Chinn's attempt to turn him into John Dewey. Why not just say, Nagarjuna was headed towards a career as a singing waiter at an Elvis themed Diner soon to be opening in suburban Toledo?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not whining about them Whiteys stealing our Tribal totem pole- not only are they welcome to it, they will also preserve it better than we would. On the contrary, I'm saying don't pretend your Philosophy campus is built over an old Indian's burial ground. And definitely don't order Nagarjuna's Curry coz it aint Madhyamika Madras but blow-your-arse-off Phaal.

There are plenty of pious Western Buddhists who do the Meditation and who work for Universal Welfare and so on. But they understand Buddhism is a Religion and have a Religious attitude towards it. Certainly, Buddhism has what we call Philosophy. But it isn't Psilosophy because even in the form of Nagarjuna's Curry it isn't shite. Not yet.


Buddhism can have a concept of the limit as antarabhava or (Tibetan) bardo, similar to Ibn Arabi's barzakh. This, by itself means that it can have a dynamic conception of substance similar to Jain parinami dhravya. However, if it also has kshanikavada- i.e. a doctrine of momentariness- then the dynamics are stalemated and instead you have spatial entanglement- i.e. dependent origination, which Nagarjuna defines as svabhava emptiness, but we also know- on the authority of the Buddha- that there can be a 'cetana' (intentionality) such that the entanglement is severed. Since Buddhism is radically ontologically dysphoric, this is the aim of meditation and study. Followers of Nagarjuna thus hold that 'at the limit' both instantaneous enlightenment (when sansara becomes identical with nirvana) and Bodhisattvahood are possible.

Given that all this is the case, Priest's dialethia looks pretty silly. What Nagarjuna has done is show that there is an intensional pragmatics consistent with Buddha's all manumitting message- 'Truth is One. There is no second'

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