Reconstructing Hindu-Buddhist Dialogue on the Self Through the Lens of Jaina Non-Absolutism

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Emma Irwin-Herzog


Contemporary discussions of self and consciousness have for some time incorporated Hindu-Buddhist dialogue on the existence and nature of self (Ram-Prasad 2012). The ideal of responsibly incorporating this dialogue raises an interpretive dilemma: on the one hand, we should eschew the simplistic picture of a “sterile contest” in which all Hindu schools are committed to the doctrine of the self (ātmavāda) and all Buddhists are invariantly committed to denying its existence (2012: 3). To treat Hindu ātmavādins as monolithically opposed to Buddhist no-self theorists without attending to disagreements within the two camps would be to woefully underrepresent the complexity of the terrain at hand. Yet, we should not forget that what we are dealing with is still a structured debate of some sort. I propose that two Jaina “disambiguation strategies” (Balcerowicz 2017)—the theory of viewpoints (naya-vāda) and the theory of sevenfold predication (syād-vāda), also called the sevenfold formula (sapta-bhagī)—can together facilitate a re-imaginative reconstruction of Hindu-Buddhist dialogue on the self as something other than a two-sided battle or an arbitrary cluster of views. Following superimposition of the sapta-bhagī onto what I temporarily term “the debate,” wherein each figure (bhaga) is understood as indexed in part by a specific viewpoint (naya) or a set thereof, we find a dynamic description of an indeterminate phenomenon, embracing affirmation and negation of the “self” (ātman) without antecedent commitment to the substantive existence of the referent of the term. This exercise in working with Jaina tools has implications for broader methodological concerns facing cross-cultural philosophical projects, and bears on how we might fruitfully re-imagine otherwise stymied contemporary debates.

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Irwin-Herzog, E. (2023). Reconstructing Hindu-Buddhist Dialogue on the Self Through the Lens of Jaina Non-Absolutism. Journal of World Philosophies, 8(1). Retrieved from