Philosophical Comparison of Laozi and Mulamadhyamakakarika: Taking Linguistic Strategy, Oppositional Thinking, and Viewpoint of Being and Nonbeing as Clues
|Keywords:||道;空性;語言策略;對反思維;有無觀;正言若反;二諦;正反;立破;有無相生;非有亦非無;消長律;緣起法;Dao;sunyata;linguistic strategy;oppositional thinking;viewpoint of being and nonbeing;recto word seems verso;two levels of truth;yo and wu give rise to each other;neither being nor nonbeing;law of vicissitudes;theory of interdependence||Issue Date:||2007||Abstract:||
Laozi and Mulamadhyamakakarika are two important classics of Daoism and Buddhism respectively. This study compares the two texts in terms of the following three topics: Linguistic Strategy, Oppositional Thinking, and the Viewpoint of Being(you) and Non-being(wu).
According to Laozi and Mulamadhyamakakarika, the meaning of ‘The Way’ (Dao) and ‘Emptiness’ (wunyata) cannot be fully expressed in words, yet both texts employ certain linguistic strategies by which they convey the inexpressible. To Laozi the inexpressible could be ascribed to the subtlety of the operation of opposites. To Mulamadhyamakakarika on the other hand, one of the reasons that Emptiness is inexpressible is because it transcends all dualistic thinking. By looking at the two opposites of being and non-being, we can further distinguish differing viewpoints and pivotal subjects from the two scriptures. The clues of linguistic strategy, oppositional thinking, and the viewpoint of being and non-being, therefore, constitute the axis of my discussion of the two classics. In what follows, I shall briefly list the conclusions from this research as contained in chapters 2 to 4.
In chapter 3, I point out that Laozi and Mulamadhyamakakarika take entirely different standpoints with regard to the worldly oppositional concepts. In Laozi, the universe consists of dualistic components which stand in opposition to each other. While constantly changing, each of these oppositional factors remains subject to the vicissitudes of growth and decline between itself and its opposite. The questions of how to maintain balance in this dualistic world so as to save ourselves from decay, how to attain immortality, and how to accomplish everything without action are Laozi’s main philosophical concerns. By contrast, Mulamadhyamakakarika aims to get beyond all duality by way of examining identity/confirmation and difference/negation between oppositional sides. Hence, it is clear that the two scriptures develop vastly differing theoretical models with which to view the worldly opposites.
In chapter 4, I take the oppositional terms of being (you) and non-being (wu) as instances of comparison. Laozi views you and wu as the origins of all things in the universe and advises us to pierce through the mysterious Dao by observing the profundity of you and wu in order to realize an everlasting life. By contrast, Mulamadhyamakakarika considers the views of being and non-being as manifestations of mental attachment. To realize nirvana will require the eradication of these two views. In section 3, I compare these two vastly differing viewpoints of being and non-being, including their usage, theoretical foundation, and practical implications, involving the discussion of the Daoist law of vicissitudes and Buddhist theory of dependent arising (pratitya-samutpada) .
Though both classics reveal skillful ways of responding to the inexpressible and laying emphasis on the flexibility, detachment, and ingenuity of linguistic strategy, at the same time we find that their foundations of thought and wisdom are quite divergent. By contrasting these two scriptures, we discover that the core philosophies of Chinese Daoism and Indian Buddhism are diametrically opposed. Laozi represents the tradition of Chinese Philosophy which, along with Zhuangzi and Yi embodied in the thought of ‘Three Profound Books’, puts forward a kind of dualistic philosophy that emphasizes change, dialectic, harmony and unity of the opposites. Mulamadhyamakakarika, however, follows the philosophy of the Agama and Prajbaparamita sutras and propounds the pursuit of liberation through eradicating attachment to dualistic concepts by way of the Indian Buddhist Philosophical systems of Non-Duality and the Middle Way. Hence, early Daoism and Buddhism are proved to be two dissimilar models of wisdom.
In sum, having investigated the fundamental insights of Daoism and Buddhism via the philosophical systems of Laozi, as the first patriarch of Daoism, and Nagarjuna, as the ‘second Buddha’ or the ‘common patriarch of Chinese Buddhism’, this study concludes that these two philosophers propose two totally different philosophical views which shed light on the divergent goals of attaining a long life and attaining nirvana respectively. Through the inheritance of later generations, however, the two systems meet and converge on the Chinese mainland to shape the overall trend of Chinese Buddhism.
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