Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Insidious metaphors

I found the section on narratives used in history, specifically the narrative of "organic stages of life", in Chapter 2 of Wedemeyer's Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism as very revealing. Wedemeyer states that the metaphor of organic development has been one of the most common narratives used by Western scholars when describing the history (or more accurately the historiography) of Buddhism. Because early 19th century scholars primarily focused on classical Buddhist texts, they saw the traditions and practices that had developed from these texts as less pure, and as steps toward the degeneration of Buddhism as a whole. This idea of practiced Buddhism (i.e. Buddhism as practiced by actual Buddhists) as being less legitimate than the textual or classical Buddhism (i.e. the Buddhism that early scholars brought back to Europe when coming back from Asia) is not only steeped in racism and Orientalism, but also reinforces the "self" vs "other" way of thinking that was so prevalent during European colonialism. What I found so revealing while reading this section was that, even though I would obviously never ascribe to such a way of thinking about Buddhism, I have nevertheless still found myself drawn to the narrative of organic development and have never really realized this general inclination of mine until now. I'm not necessarily surprised that I have this inclination (as its not only a very orderly metaphor, but an extremely universal metaphor as well), but I am surprised that it has shaped so many of the "stories" of history for me without my realizing. Wedemeyer's decision to fully explain this metaphor and how it affects peoples' views of Tantric Buddhism was a very thoughtful and helpful one, as I could definitely see myself getting sucked into one of the familiar narratives that so many have surrounded the tradition with.

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