The twilight Language:Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism,by Roderick S. Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox

Reviewed by Lou Nordstrom

Philosophy East and West
Vol.39 (1989.01 )
Copyright by University of Hawaii Press


In this interesting and occasionally provocative work the authors summarize their pur-pose as being "to investigate and clarify the higher stages of Buddhist meditation and the relationships between them and the symbolic language of the Tipitaka and the tanrras" (p. 191). The missing link between this symbolic language and the tantras is "the three knowledges" attained by Gautama Buddha in his enlightenment. The au-thors propose that these knowledges be interpreted strictly in terms of Theravada Buddhist insight meditation and a meditation technique-"retracing"-that is somewhat their own invention. While the quality of research and argumentation recommends this work, there are two aspects I find problematic.

First, the authors consistently construe "Buddhist meditation" as meaning only Theravaada Buddhist insight meditation. Their definition unjustifiably excludes Ma-haayaana and Vajrayaana forms of meditation. Moreover, they engage in a sustained



critique of any form of meditation characterizable as "deep concentration," one of theconsequences of which-not altogether unintended-is the exclusion, specifically, of Zen Buddhist meditation (zazen), as well as the praj~na wisdom it embodies, as non-Buddhist. The authors make much of the fact that "deep concentration is a majorobstacle to insight practice" (p. 50). Since "insight practice" is synonymous with "Buddhist meditation," it follows that what is a major obstacle to Buddhist meditation is therefore non-Buddhist. While it may indeed be true that deep concentration and insight practice are incompatible, it is also the case that "insight practice" is not the only legitimate form of Buddhist meditation. Zen Buddhist meditation-like all the other Mahayana and Vajrayaana meditation forms excluded by the authors' stipulative definition-is a perfectly legitimate Buddhist meditation practice and the view of en-lightenment and nirvana associated with this form of meditation practice is a legitimately Buddhist view. I sense a special pleading in this work that mars its scholarly impartiality.The reason I focus specifically on the exclusion of the Zen Buddhist practice/view is that it differs significantly from the Theravaadin. In Zen, enlightenment is not best characterized as "permanent awareness," nor is nirvana "an interpretation of enlight-enment in terms of the microcosm/macrocosm model." The exclusion of the Zen Buddhist practice/view is the exclusion of another way of interpreting the crucial"three knowledges." Zen would not interpret these knowledges in terms of the microcosm/macrocosm model because it sees the Buddha's enlightenment and nirvana in terms of the nullification of this duality by virtue of the realization of the primordial oneness of nonduality. I suggest there simply is no one "Buddhist meditation" nor, for that matter, one self-consistent "Buddhism." The specious semblance of the oneness of Buddhism in this work is purchased by the programmatic exclusion of otherness.

Second, the authors' characterization of Buddhist meditation as "mental development" reflects a general psychologizing of meditation as well as the three knowledges.What underlies this psychologizing is the use made of the duality of microcosm and macrocosm: wit enables the authors to speak of both meditation and the three knowledges in exclusively "microscosmic" (mentalistic, psychological) terms. Even though their entire case rests on the maintenance of the duality of microcosm and macrocosm,the authors nonetheless concede that microcosm and macrocosm were identical for Gautama Buddha. But they then proceed to say that, despite the fact that Buddha saw microcosm and macrocosm as one, "it seems essential to maintain the distinction between these two levels, while recognizing how they correspond to each other" (p. 93).The reason it is "essential" that the distinction be maintained is that the authors'treatment of the connection between Buddhist meditation and Tantric symbolism presupposes this distinction. The Buddha's realization of oneness as nonduality undermines the very basis of it. The authors' general methodological reliance on the method of authority obliges them to give more weight to the Buddha's realization of oneness.If we interpret this realization in such a way that it implies the nullification of any and all duality, then there is no longer any justification for the methodological and substantive primacy accorded the microcosmic level.

We can see this unjustified preference for the microcosmic in the authors' mistaken classification of prajnna, the empty wisdom embodied in Zen Buddhist meditation, as "Hindu" on the ground that it is not the result of "introspection into the nature of



mind" (p. 187). What is being assumed to be self-evidently true is that for anything to count as legitimaie-or "elite"-Buddhist meditation. it much be "introspective" in

this microcosmic sense. I think this is importantly false. It may well be that by psychologizing Buddha's teaching, so that it becomes nothing more than "a guide for exploring consciousness. a set of instructions by following which the mind can become fully aware of its own nature" (p. 197). the teaching thereby "acquires a present relevance that is otherwise lacking" (p. 196), but as far as I am concerned, the price one pays for such "relevance" is just too high. This price is the loss of that extraordinary sense of triumph and victory that is the Buddha's realization/liberation. whose scope extends well beyond the mentalistic/psychological attainment of awareness or the understanding of the nature of one's own mind. What one misses in this account of Buddhism is the fact of the Buddha's realization of oneness. It would be most unfortunate were the fact of such primordial oneness no longer to be "relevant" to contemporary culture.