New Metaphysics for Eternal Experience: Critical Review of

Steve Odin's Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism: A
Critical Study of Cumulative Penetration vs. Interpenetration
Robert C. Nevilie
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Vol.11 (1984)
PP. 185-197
Copyright @ 1984 by Dialogue Publishing Company, Honolulu,
Hawaii, U.S.A.

. P.185 The aboriginal saving experience sought and celebrated in Buddhism, particularly Hua-yen Buddhism, has been expressed in the strategies of Buddhist philosophy as developed in an accumulating tradition centuries old. But perhaps not well, not without unnecessary paradox, not without misleading speculations and practical consequences. The philosophical strategies of Whitehead's revolution within Western philosophy are more apt for the presentation of Buddhist experience, strange as it may seem. Yet there are notorious difficulties with Whitehead's position, particularly with that part of his position dealing with the theistic God. An attempt to do justice to Buddhist experience leads to a correction of Whitehead's theory, And so a new system developed from certain roots of process philosophy can serve as the speculative vehicle for an appreciation of Buddhist experience. Such is the thesis of Steve Odin's Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism: A Critical Study of Cumulative Penetration vs. Interpenetration, a brilliant first book by a young scholar whose synthesizing erudition and speculative imagination are unparalleled in his generation, to my knowledge.(1) The first and most essential element of system is that it be able to do many different things, consistently, at once. Odin's tasks are to appreciate Buddhist experience and philosophy, to express them for his audience pretty much in Buddhist terms, then to reexpress them in terms likely to be familiar to the audience, and relate these to the first expressions, to construct a platform for critical analysis that respects the integrity of Buddhism, to exposit and criticize Whitehead's philosophy from a position that allows for selective appropriation, to show how reconstructed process philosophy expresses Buddhist experience and does so better than equally abstract and categoreal Buddhist philosophy, and then to confirm the worth of the whole enterprise by showing how it puts many problematic elements into place. His book does this with genius. P.186 Odin's first task as a Western scholar is to create a recognizable entry into the Buddhist world. There is no fool-proof way to do this, since any Asian scholar who disagrees with a Westerner's opinion can always say the latter suffers from cultural or linguistic ignorance for which there is never a sufficient remedy. Odin weaves his Buddhist fabric from a wide variety of Asian texts and traditions, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese, Yogacara and Tantric as well as Hua-yen. The cloth hangs together without obscuring differences and inconsistencies (although the latter are not much explored) . Odin's distinctive contribution to Buddhist expression, however, is the creative use of Korean Buddhism. The book begins with Odin's translation from the Chinese of the "Ocean Seal" of Uisang (625-702), First Patriarch of Korean Hua-yen Buddhism; the "Ocean Seal" is a compressed epitome of Hua-yen doctrine. Uisang's own commentary on the seal is translated at the end of the volume in an appendix. Throughout the book Korean figures such as Wonhyo (617-686) and Chinul(1150-1210) are analyzed as primary interpreters of Buddhism, thus helping to make public in the contemporary world the profound contribution of Korean Buddhism. (Odin's translations and interpretations of Korean Buddhism were supervised by Professor Sung-bae Park to whom the volume is dedicated.(2)) The inner argument of Odin's book is in three main parts: (I) "The Hua-yen Round-Sudden Vehicle of Non-Obstructed Interpenetration," (II) "A Whiteheadian Process Critique of Hua-yen Buddhism, " and (III) "Theology of the Deep Unconscious: A Reconstruction of Process Theology." I. Part I, in its first chapter, provides an historical introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism as an attempt to harmonize all Mahayana Buddhist schools of its time within its own doctrine of interpenetration; Odin discusses Chinese, Korean and Japanese developments of Hua-yen. Chapter Two focuses on a philosophical analysis of intercausation and interpenetration, dealing most particularly with Fa-tsang, the most famous teacher of this school. The center of Odin's analysis is Hua-yen's four-fold dharmadhatu: of shih ("the world of mutually exclusive particulars"), of li ("the all-embracing universal P.187 reality"), of li and shih ("the unhindered interfusion of universal with particular"), and of shih and shih ("the unhindered interfusion of particular with particular") which is the special contribution of Hua-yen (pp. 18 ff). This chapter introduces a crucial conceptual tool of the book, the ti-yung or essence-function construction according to which each particular, being both essence and function, is a microcosm of any larger unit, or of the universe.(3) Chapter Three illustrates the symmetrical interpenetration of all things through the linguistic device of the interpenetration of all meanings, using the philosophical strategies of linguistic analysis pioneered in this field by Frederick J. Streng.(4) In the second and third chapters Odin is careful to point out that the symmetry required of mutual penetration may hold in "ideal" affairs such as language, but may not hold for spatiotemporal physical events. Chapter Four is presented as one of the main dialectical engines of the book. Its point is to use the categories and insights of the Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenologies (with an emphasis on Gestalt psychology) to explicate the character of experience in Hua-yen. Unlike most Heidegger commentators who make him smaller in order to be understood in pre-accepted terms, Odin brilliantly takes Heidegger's notions of phenomenology as "enlightening" or "lighting" or opening to the glow and radiation of things as plainly reflected in the radiant Buddha worlds of Mahayana. Several years ago Thomas J. J. Altizer suggested that Buddhism, better than the Western tradition, supplies the experience that Whitehead explicates.(5) Now Odin makes a case that Buddhism is a plain foundation for Heidegger's efforts. Odin articulates certain Buddhist mental techniques as versions of Husserlian imaginative variation, and argues that the distinction between core and horizon is central to the Buddhist experience. In particular, Odin likens prajna to the noetic act which by practice of alternating one's focus on core and horizon finally puts them in equilibrium; sunyata is the noematic pole at which there is an openness to the reality or irreality of all things by virtue of the arbitrary dominance in any corehorizon structure. Odin writes: The Hua-yen Buddhist enlightenment experience of li-shih-wu-ai can be phenomenologically analyzed in terms of its noetic/ noematic intentionality structure so that prajna can be described as a non-focal or decentered act of perceptual awareness resulting P.188 from a radical reversal in the noesis, i.e., a shift of attention from core to horizon, this being what Heidegger terms Gelassenheit or "releasement into openness," and sunyata is its noematic correlate, namely, the region of openness, or the open-dimension of the perceptual field. (p. 39) This idea is heavily illustrated by Buddhist examples and is developed in several dimensions. One critical point needs to be emphasized in preparation for a later point. Throughout the chapter Odin speaks of the gestalt as "value-laden." Surely our own experience is value-laden, and so is the radiant, blissful and compassionate peak experience of Buddhism. But Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology cannot admit that because, for both, phenomenology is description and, for the latter, interpretation. The noetic act of describing reduces the noematic object to a fact for description. Were the noematic object to be a value or value-laden, the appropriate noetic act would be appreciation. Both Husserl and Heidegger, the former for the sake of science and the latter in faithfulness to Nietzsche, reject "values" and their appreciation as Romantic if not just Bourgeoise. While correct in noting that experience, even peak experience, is value-laden, Odin is not sensitive to the polemic thrust of phenomenology against these experiential elements. He struggles with this problem in an attempt to show that Hei- degger's notions of "care" and that of the "shepherd of being'' give rise to ethics; but the struggle is unconvincing (pp. 47-49). The fifth chapter interprets Hua-yen by virtue of its connection with meditation, specifically Ch'an Buddhism. In the meditative realm, as well as the realms of the gestalt and the linguistic, the symmetry of interpenetration makes good sense. Odin presents a fascinating discussion of the Korean Buddhist Chinul who argued, somewhat unorthodoxly, that sudden enlightenment is compatible with and may even require further gradual practice for the attainment of ultimate enlightenment. Chinul's theory of "nature origination" presents a view of causation unmediated by traditional Buddhist dependent origination, such that any person is in very nature idential with Buddha. The point of Chinul's doctrine was not to render an account of causation within the material world but to stimulate salvation by an act of "nascent faith" which realizes both identity with Buddha and the necessity of further growth. By limiting Chinul's claim to the soteriological realm, P.189 Odin prescinds from the question whether it makes metaphysical sense; thus he removes it from any critical force in the Whiteheadian attack on symmetrical causation. From a soteriological point of view there can be a total interpenetration of nascent and fullfilled Buddhas. The upshot of Odin's Part I is a many-aspect presentation of Hua-yen Buddhism which softens or removes any commitment to claims that there is total interpenetration of past and future in the temporal passage of the material world. Despite the fact Hua-yen Buddhism asserts such temporal interpenetration, its basic experience is about something else, namely the ideal world. II. Part II of Odin's book is "A Whiteheadian Process Critique of Hua-yen Buddhism." There are many, many points of convergence between Whitehead's organic philosophy and the Buddhist sensibility, and most people who know enough about both to comment have stressed these convergences. In one fundamental and pervasive point, however, there is direct opposition. Broadly put, Whitehead and most process philosophers, especially Hartshorne, argue that although the present contains the past it does not contain the future except in outline. Change, if it is real, consists in adding or creating something in addition to past conditions, which Whitehead explains with his doctrine of creativity. Most to the point, moral responsibility depends on the possibility that action in the present makes a difference to what will occur, a difference that would be missing if the future were wholly determined by the past. In other terms, human freedom is possible if and only if the present can make a difference to the future when the past cannot. Therefore the future cannot wholly interpenetrate the past and present, and there is an asymmetry to causal process. To the extent Hua-yen Buddhism asserts a total symmetry of temporal orders, it cannot be right. The polemic here is that the Hua-yen Buddhist theory of total non-obstructed interpenetration and unhindered mutual containment with its underlying symmetrical infrastructure has P.190 accounted for complete ontological togetherness, cohesiveness and solidarity, but at the expense of all creativeness, novelty and freedom. Each dharma can be exhaustively factored or reductively analyzed into its causal relations and supportive conditions without remainder. By definition, total determinism is entailed by such a view in that each dharma is simply an effect of its manifold of causes: there is no creativity, freedom or novelty. (pp. 77 f) But of course one must ask, why believe Whitehead rather than Hua-yen determinism? Odin offers two kinds of reasons. The minor one is that the soteriological interests of Buddhism would be better off with Whitehead than with its own categories. For instance, even though the novice recognizes an identity with Buddha, there is still more work to be done to bring this recognition to complete fulfillment; otherwise there would be no point to the Bodhisattva's vows. The asymmetrical view of process accounts for this well. The major reason to believe Whitehead, however, is that the view is intrinsically worth adopting. Here Odin introduces his own carefully wrought version of process philosophy, which he calls a theory of "cumulative penetration." Chapter 6, the first in Part II, develops the theme of "creative synthesis and emergent novelty"; this is contrasted with the symmetries of Buddhist thinkers such as Nagarjuna and Nishida. In the final analysis, the basic discrepancy between Hua-yen Buddhism and Whiteheadian process theory is this: the Hua-yen principle of sunyata or universal relativity accords a primacy to causal relatedness in terms of a dialectical interpenetration between the many and the one; whereas Whitehead's Category of the Ultimate (creativity-many-one) accords a primacy to the principle of creativity, in terms of a cumulative penetration of manyness-into-oneness, such that the many become one and are increased by one. (p. 81) Chapter 7 presents the process view in terms of the transmission of feelings; it constitutes one of the subtlest expositions of Whitehead I have P.191 seen. Odin introduces the notion that asymmetry consists in a movement from the objectivity of the past to the subjectivity of the present. Once the present moment is finished it adds to the objects for subsequent feeling. Odin carefully relates this to many dimensions of Buddhist experience, with interesting discussions of Dogen and Nishida. He derives from Whitehead and elaborates with great force a fundamental metaphysical principle: actuality requires limitation. Put conversely, if everything is in everything else, nothing is definitely actual. The most brilliant moment of Odin's book, from a metaphysical standpoint, is the brief six page Chapter 8, "Negative Prehensions." Not only does a present actual moment exclude the future, but it must select among and grade the infinite potentialities presented by the past. Odin introduces this extraordinarily subtle and technical point from Whitehead's theory with fine rhetorical control. The discussion recognizes the parallel Whiteheadian point, that value is the outcome of limitation, and that an actuality is in fact an embodiment of selective value. Whitehead's theory of negative prehensions therefore stands as a brilliant effort to account for the precise manner in which some data is included and some excluded from the creative process of experiential synthesis, thereby presenting a scheme adequate enough to interpret the exactitude and uniqueness of each moment of experience, each one having its own novel intensity of emotional tone and qualitative immediacy. (p. 110) The most forceful dialectical payoff of Odin's argument is that the Buddhist experience of bliss requires just such a metaphysical achievement of value as provided by negative prehensions. He accounts for this with Whitehead's theory of experience as a dipolar rendering of objective contrasts into unified subjective immediacy. In Chapter 9 Odin compares the attacks on "substance" philosophy which Buddhism and process philosophy make respectively. The former attack utilizes the symmetrical view of relations. The latter consists in rejecting a notion of "simple location" found in most substance theories, but employs the claim that each actual thing has its own creativity added to its conditions. Buddhism would call such creativity an unacceptable "own nature." Does Whitehead's theory of actual occasions claim that physical P.192 process is the only ontological reality? Justus Buchler argued that it does and that this is a mistake.(6) Odin adopts a view close to Buchler's in saying that while asymmetry is the character of the causal order of actual events there are in fact many other orders in which symmetry of relations might be the dominant character. In Chapter 10 Odin summarizes his "metaphysics of cumulative penetration" and uses it to treat three main Buddhist themes: Enlightenment, Compassion, and Bliss. For reasons that will become apparent below, I will stress his treatment of the third. With a subtle discussion of Tantric elements in Buddhism, he describes bliss as the ecstatic enjoyment of the togetherness of all things. Togetherness is a symmetrical order. But emotional intensity and value consist in embodying contrasts in diploar relations, he argues persuasively. Then, in a framework of interpenetration, there is a complete unobstructed mutual fusion and mutual identification between all dialectical opposites, such as one and many, subject and object, or cause and effect, thereby establishing a condition of "sameness"... As such, the irreducible dipolar contrasts are collapsed, which in turn precludes intensity of aesthetic-value feeling and final depth of satisfaction. Hence the Tantric conception of ultimate reality as mahasukha or ecstatic pleasure and bliss which is generated by yuganaddha or interpenetration of opposites, is better interpreted in terms of the Whiteheadian process hermeneutic as aesthetic-value feeling arising out of irreducible dipolar contrasts within a framework of cumulative penetration. (p. 152) III. Part III of Odin's book is a wholly original extension of Whitehead, and its brevity here augurs future systematic work. Chapter 11 argues that Whitehead's categoreal description of God is simply mistaken and incoherent, as several thinkers have claimed. Nevertheless, several of the crucial functions Whitehead assigns to God can instead be performed by a cummulative P.193 collective unconscious. Appealing to Jung for the outlines of a theory of the unconscious, Odin argues that unconscious archetypes supply patterns of eternal objects that function as divine lures. These archetypes are causually effective within process and account both for the phenomena of Whitehead's God's primordial nature and for those of the consequent nature. Those two natures are but abstractions from concrete process, Odin argues, and one avoids the philosophical difficulties of separating God from the world and creativity as Whitehead does. Chapter 12 focuses on the primordial divine nature in the collective unconscious and highlights the symmetrical relations in archetypical functioning, particularly Jung's notion of synchronicity. Odin concludes with a sweeping flourish across Buddhist schools, arguing that the principal experience in Tantric and Hua-yen traditions is that of the symmetrical togetherness of divine possibilities. And the point of Buddhist practice is to achieve this experience. According to the theology of the deep unconscious then, OceanSeal-Samadhi is to be comprehended as an atemporal envisagement of all possibilities. It is a realization of the synchronically ordered archetypal reality of the collective unconscious, in an act which Platonic philosophy termed anamnesis, or the "recol- lection" of the realm of archetypes, which, according to the Jungian psychological hermeneutic, means precisely the archetypal imagination. Thus, the simultaneous interpenetration of all times and spaces the infinite realms-embracing-realms occuring in the Ocean-Seal-Samadhi must not be attributed to physical actuality which is regulated by the principal of karmic inheritance or cause and effect, but only to the synchronistic archetypal reality of the archetypal imagination as empirically manifested in dreams, interior visions and other spontaneous expressions of the collective unconscious. (p.175f) IV. Odin's is a new systematic vision which brings East and West, abstract philo- sophy and concrete experience, to a common meeting ground. I have P.194 summarized extensively in order to give a sense of the scope and subtlety of this view and to stimulate further discussion. I want now to enter that discussion as a participant (with a different though closely related vision) by asking several questions. 1. If value and its embodiment in emotional intensity are the outcomes of selective limitation, as Odin so beautifully argues (and I agree), how can any ideal order with symmetry and total mutual interpenetration be valuable? In the passage quoted above, Odin claims that the Tantric experience of bliss is better interpreted in terms of cumulative penetration precisely because total interpenetration collapses the contrast needed for value. But then how can this Tantric experience be of the ideal order rather than the real order? And if it be of the real order, need not the vision be historical, that is, related to concrete, limited actuality? Odin goes a long way toward answering this question by claiming that the dipolar character of Whitehead's God exists within the unconscious, thus combining both temporal asymmetrical limitation and atemporal, symmetrical total interpenetration within the "asymmetrical perimeters underscoring the metaphysics of cumulative penetration." (p. 159) But what is the relation between the two poles in the unconscious that allows for both symmetrical and asymmetrical orders without making the former, the allegedly infinite set of eternal objects which in Whitehead are indistinguishable from one another, to collapse into the night in which all cows are black? To put the point crudely, if Whitehead's theory of God is incoherent regarding the relation between primordial and consequent natures, how is it an advance to transfer it to finite individuals? To frame the question with the most refined abstraction, does not Odin's project depend on making the symmetrical order ontologically dependent on the asymmetrical order which contains value? 2. Is it methodologically wise to interpret diverse aspects of Buddhism into mutually exclusive Western philosophies? What does it say about Buddhism if its emptiness and wisdom experiences are best displayed by phenomenology and its soteriological elements of practice and bliss by process philosophy? Phenomenology arose from a philosophical commitment to the positive factuality of things, a factuality open to description undefiled by assertions of existence or value. Even with its hermeneutical development by Heidegger and his followers phenomenology sets description as basic and valuation as a function of the subject constituting a world. Merleau-Ponty P.195 and others have recognized that experience is value-laden but have not shifted from the underlying positivistic metaphysics, only from talking about things to talking about the experience of things. If the Buddhist experience of emptiness and wisdom is mainly an ontological reversal of field and foreground as understood by phenomenology, that experience cannot include the valuational elements involved in practice and the attainment of bliss. Process philosophy, on the other hand, has a dialectical conception of reality in which definite actuality requires negation in the form of negative prehensions. This is the source of the selective limitation characteristic of value. Like phenomenology, process philosophy can employ distinctions of core from horizon, but only in such a way as to embody a selected valuation. If Odin really means that kind of core-horizon distinction, it would be better to say so rather than force a value language on the phenomenologists for whom that has been anathema (with a few noted exceptions such as Scheler). 3. Given his overall systematic strategy, how will Odin address the ontological question? Phrased in Western ways, that question is What is Being?, or Why is there anything actual at all? Whitehead addressed that question by saying that God decides on a vague form for each emergent actual entity which is prehended by that entity and used as a subjective aim guiding its creativity. Without this "divine lure," for Whitehead, there could be no principle for reducing the occasion's many antecedent conditions to a new unity. I agree completely with Odin that Whitehead's solution is inadequate but would suggest that one needs to acknowledge a different kind of divine creativity. Odin merely shifts Whitehead's God to more mundane tasks. Buddhism does not address the ontological question the way the West does, and for a reason intrinsic to its tradition. The ontological question arises in the West out of a recognition that, although sheer chaos has nothing to be explained, any kind of order or complexity does. What is the cause of definiteness? If the world has some definiteness, then the world needs to be explained. The Buddhist tradition is not so committed to the actual reality of definiteness. Of course definiteness is often represented as the imaginative creation of a Buddha, of which there are thousands, each with its Buddhaworld. This line of thinking is central to Hua-yen. Odin's stroke of interpretive genius is to see these multiple Buddha-worlds as alternate potential patterns of possibilities. But whereas Buddhists want to say that our own P.196 world is just one of these multiple Buddha-worlds, Odin wants to say ours is actual and the rest are potential. Whereas some Buddhists would finesse the ontological question by asserting the ontological parity of all Buddhaworlds and allowing that they are not really different - a chaos of Buddhaworlds- Odin must face the ontological question squarely. To escape it he would have to abandon the role of limitation, selection, or negative prehension in cumulative penetration. I do not ask these questions to suggest that Odin cannot answer them but to spur him on to do so. His book contains suggestions about how he might respond. Let me close with a reinterpretation of what he has done. Although bearing the form of a comparative study, Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism is an original, large-scale systematic philosophy which arises out of broad knowledge and reflection on Indian, East Asian, and Western philosophy together. This is an extraordinary achievement. Hegel made a feeble attempt at catholic paideia with his chapter on Lamaism in his History of Philosophy lectures. Schopenhauer and Emerson attempted to take Eastern philosophy more seriously. Whitehead and Northop responded well to its claim upon our philosophical attention in the 20th century, and recent writers such as Chung-ying Cheng, David L. Hall, Tu Wei-ming and myself have attempted systematic philosophy like Odin with reference points in diverse world traditions. But none of us, in my opinion, has combined catholic scholarly depth with speculative originality to the degree Odin has achieved in his first book. The book will be challenged both for its scholarship and for its speculative ideas. Because of its quality, however, that challenge will have to be on a higher plan than has usually characterized the discussion. P.197 NOTES 1. Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism: A Critical Study of Cumulative Penetration vs. Interpenetration. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982). xxi, 242 pp. Page references in the text are to this book. My enthusiasm should be put in the context of my personal association with the book which I first saw in an early draft as a dissertation, then in a later draft as a manuscript accepted into my Series in Systematic Philosophy at SUNY Press, and now in its greatly expanded and improved published version which I have been asked to review, despite my protestations of prior bias. To finish this personal parenthesis and partially redeem my objectivity, I can say that Odin's is a system that can stand by itself, and this review shall attempt to let it do so. 2. Odin is heavily influenced by Park's pioneering book, Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983) which sets Korean Buddhism off over against the Japanese Buddhist revival of the Kyoto School. 3. The source for this point in Odin is Park, ibid., Chapter 4. 4. Compare Frederick J. Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967). 5. Thomas J. J. Altizer, "The Buddhist Ground of the Whiteheadian God," Process Studies 5/4 (Winter 1975). 6. Justus Buchler, "On a Strain of Arbitrariness in Whitehead's System, " Journal of Philosophy 66/19 (October 1969)