Reason’s Traces - Preface

Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought


496 pages, 6 x 9 inches


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The eighth-century Indian Buddhist philosopher Kamalaśıla, introducing his commentary to his teacher Śāntarakṣita’s masterwork, the Tattvasaṅgraha, remarked that he could find no dialectical pathway that had not already been well-worn by earlier sages. The established tracks of past generations, however, may become lost with the passage of centuries. Recovering reason’s peregrinations in ancient and medieval times by following its traces in the writings that have come down to us is, of necessity, an exploration in the archeology of ideas. Just as the reconstruction of an ancient road network invites our sustained reflection on a now eroded and obscured transportation system’s purpose for being, the traffic it bore, and the peoples it brought into communication or conflict with one another, so, too, reason’s traces call upon us to imagine, and to imagine ourselves journeying within, unfamiliar worlds of thought, conversation, and practice.

My own travels along the tracks and byways of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist thought have frequently turned on questions of identity and interpretation. Both represent central concerns of Buddhist intellectual traditions, and both demand a self-questioning that at once informs and is informed by the study of traditional textual sources. In the writings of Buddhist philosophers in these areas, moreover, we must attend to a call—at once within and beyond the body of established doctrine—to investigate our own identities and our prospects for understanding. The studies gathered in this book represent a philosophical and buddhological novice’s efforts to respond to this call.

The investigations of personal identity presented here were first formulated in connection with my dissertation research at Brown University in the 1980s. It is a pleasure to express in this context my gratitude to the Brown Philosophy Department and to my mentors there: the late Roderick Chisholm, Philip Quinn (now at the University of Notre Dame), Ernest Sosa, and James Van Cleve. I am indebted, also, to the late Arthur L. Basham and to David Pingree, who generously encouraged my work in Indian intellectual traditions at Brown.

I am very much indebted to two scholars who, when we first met, were in the same āśrama as I—that is, the transition from graduate school to whatever we call it that follows—and with whom I have shared a broad range of common interests in Buddhist thought and its interpretation. Steven Collins and Paul Griffiths have contributed in a great many ways to the thinking on Buddhism that is represented in this book. I am grateful to them above all for their friendship and for their steadfast refusal to let unchallenged assumptions rest unchallenged.

Frank Reynolds has been at the center of the Buddhist Studies maṇḍala at the University of Chicago throughout the period I have taught there. It is a pleasure now to be able to acknowledge, in the year of his retirement, the remarkable generosity of spirit he has extended to all who have had the good fortune to have been his students and colleagues. Above and beyond his many substantive contributions to the study of religion, Frank has shown us something of how the great vehicle can be entered in scholarly practice.
In preparing the present work for publication, I have very much benefitted from the assistance of Daniel Arnold, both in editing the manuscript and compiling the index. Dan’s broad background in Indology and philosophy, as well as his finely honed sense of style, made him an ideal reader and critic, improving this book throughout.

Several chapters reproduce, with varying degrees of revision, articles that were published earlier. I thank the editors and publishers mentioned for their kind permission to include here the following:

  • “Indra’s Search for the Self and the Beginnings of Philosophical Perplexity in India,” Religious Studies 24: 239–56.
  • “Śāntarakṣita on the Fallacies of Personalistic Vitalism,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 17 (1989): 43–59. With the permission of Kluwer Academic Publications.
  • “Mereological Considerations in Vasubandhu’s ‘Proof of Idealism,’” Idealistic Studies 18/1 (1988): 32–54.
  • “The Trouble with Truth: Heidegger on Alḗtheia, Buddhist Thinkers on Satya,” Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research 9/2 (1992): 69–85.
  • “Weaving the World: The Ritual Art of the Paṭa in Pāla Buddhism and Its Legacy in Tibet.” History of Religions 34/3 (1995): 241–62.
  • “Schopenhauer’s Shakti,” in Margaret Case, ed., Heinrich Zimmer: Coming into His Own (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): 105–18.
  • “From Dol-po-pa to ’Ba’-mda’ Dge-legs: Three Jo-nang-pa Masters on the Interpretation of Prajñāpāramitā.” In Helmut Krasser, Michael Torsten Much, Ernst Steinkellner, and Helmut Tauscher, eds., Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Seventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Science, 1997) 1: 457–75.
  • “Mi-pham’s Theory of Interpretation,” Donald Lopez, ed., Buddhist Hermeneutics (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1988), 149–74. With the permission of the Kuroda Institute.

I acknowledge also the San Diego Museum of Art for its generous permission to reproduce here the lovely Rajasthani miniature, “She sees her lover see her,” from the Edwin Binney III Collection of Indian painting.

Finally, I wish to thank Tom Tillemanns of the University of Lausanne, and E. Gene Smith and Timothy McNeill at Wisdom Publications, for their welcome efforts to publish this in the series Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.

Paris, June 2001


How to cite this document:
© Matthew T. Kapstein, Reason's Traces (Wisdom Publications, 2001)

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