Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ron Silliman and the Sautrāntika Mind

I want to quote a sizable portion of Will Buckingham's recent post, Fluidity and Thought, from ThinkBuddah; it describes so beautifully what Ron Silliman is doing in much of The Alphabet. There are books that are years and decades in the writing, but what impresses me in the Alphabet is not the time it took to write, but the time needed to observe, record and complile this vast shimmering universe of perceptions--the mind catching the passing world and itself, each reflected in the other and as perpetually in motion as that river Heraclitus could not step into twice.

A distinction is being made here between the thoughts we have about the world – which tend towards fixity or (if they must have some kind of dynamism) which tend to be continually recreated in their own image, and the flux of direct experience which, as we all know, is changing moment by moment, and is never stable. The frameworks of thought are the conventially true things, the quicksilver changes of experience are the ultimately true things.

What this does, I think, is rather interesting. Firstly, when in the Western traditions we think of what is ultimately true, we often think of something big and important and stable and unchanging, something that lurks behind or beyond the world, whether a God, or what Kant thought of as the conditions of the possibility of what-have-you, or laws, or principles. This Sautrāntika view not only turns this upside down (the ultimate truths are the very things that are impermanent!), but is also rather more homely and rather less grand. One way of reading it is as a call to empiricism and away from dreamy mysticism or from the wilder shores of speculation. It reminds us to pay attention to the fluidity, to recognise that when thoughts find themselves snagged it is because the thoughts themselves are not keeping up with the world, because they have become too fixed and rigid, because, useful as they are, they are in need of revision. To pay attention to ultimate truth is not to seek the hidden face of things, not to lay bare a secret that lurks behind the world, but to return to a closer attention to experience, to asking what is actually going on here?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jacob for these reflections and this quote. My take on a similar nettle: Possibly, thoughts seemingly about experience are not valid (as such) at all, being of a different order, origin, and category.
    Link: http://lloydmintern.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/84-cloudburst/