[7/7] 南傳佛教研究中的“經典”與“理性”問題

[Bilingual, Chinese & English] 

§7.

相反,當前的時尚似乎是研究人員認為的,與民族志學者在他們實地考察中發現的 “文化實踐之多樣性”與 “行為儀式之現實性”所對立的,書面經典之“教義理性”等主張。[Schober, 2008, 第 261頁, 引用 Collins, 1990] 核心的假定(我在這裡所要駁斥的)是書面經典是 “理性的”,而當代文化是“非理性的”。

我對這些研究人員曾研究用來做比較的這些被認為是“理性的”文本抱持很大的懷疑。在近期的一篇文章中,安妮漢森(Anne Hansen)試圖 對“理性的”經(sutta)與《本生經》(Jātaka)傳統做出總體比較;[Hansen, 2008, 第45頁] 她認為一部被稱作《大般涅盤經》(Mahā-Parinibbāna-sutta)的經本例舉了歐洲人誇大的“理性”傾向,同在《本生經》文學中將佛陀(Buddha)描述為“他”進行對比。事實上,她挑選(並引用)的經作為 “理性主義”的模範,包括了所有與在《本生經》中發現的同樣的魔法部分:在《大般涅盤經》裡,佛陀記憶過往,預知未來,施法以致地動山搖,游際於神鬼魑魅之間,靈體神通皆備; 漢森(Hansen)對故事的這些魔法部分既未引用,亦無提及,製造了“經”並不包括她所要比較的超自然(及其他《本生經》類似神話元素)的這一假像。她聲稱她(有選擇性地)引用的“經”體現了佛陀是一個人,一位歷史人物,“而非《本生經》所敘述的神話角色”。[同上, 第45頁]

何為經同《本生經》堪以“理性主義之現代主義思維”的真正區別?[同上,第37頁] 《大般涅盤經》有“史上去神話色彩之佛陀”的特色並非真實 [見上, 第45頁],而且我唯一能想像的是,作者做出這一比較靠的是片面的二手材料來源,抑或她多多少少不甚瞭解自己所引用來支撐其論點的一手材料來源。同樣,我發現蕭伯(Schober)關於“巴利文,尤其是《論藏》文本的 [這種] 理性之對比主張”極其含混。[Schober, 2008, 第260–1頁] 學者們提及的(並嗤之為“理性的”)這些文本裡其實就充滿著他們意在從民族志中發現的魔幻及神秘主義類型(且佯作這些古文本並不含有)。我認為他們給讀者提供的這種對比存在誤導,因為這些作者正將一些已知內容與未知內容作對比。

在東南亞佛教的這類眾多英文研究中,“理性”和“經卷”之間存有疑義。漢森(Hansen)引用了來自坦比亞(Tambiah)的詞語“經卷主義”(Hansen, 2007, 第34頁; 參見 Hansen, 2008,第41頁) 並將其等同為“理性主義”和“理性化的佛教”(在柬埔寨,泰國與緬甸)而沒有定義她所謂的“理性”為何。(Hansen, 2007, 第38頁) 或許這可解釋成,向書面記錄探詢的“理性行為”同經文本身內容之假定理性間的困惑。回到小林(Kobayashi)引用的那個例子(§3中, 見上),僧侶探詢書面經典的行為(或證實,或廢止某一儀式)可足夠明確地稱為“經卷主義”;然而,我認為形容其為“理性主義者”,與“現代性”和“傳統”相對立,則有著普遍性的誤導。斷定古文本總體上與鬼對立(或飼鬼)是完全錯誤的:在這個例子中,僧侶們簡單地抵制了一種飼鬼方法而改換其他方式,且儀式保留了一個傳送功德,旨在酬犒,尤其是那些來自地獄鬼怪的禮節。以古文本對比當今行為,儀式中只有微小差異得到了解決。這類經文的內容(涉及關於地獄或任何其他主題)既不為人類學家所熟知,亦不被當代東南亞(實地考察採訪的)受調查者所通曉。

關於民族志實地調查的問題癥結在於,南傳佛教僧侶自身常常進行著與索斯沃德(Southwold)假說所大相徑庭的假設:僧人通常相信只有書面文本“……是純正的(‘規範的’,‘正統的’,‘純粹的’,等等)而且民族志學佛教,與之不同,在某種意義上並非特別地道的内容。” [引自前文, §2] 這樣看來,民族志學者意在實地考察中發現些本土的,持續的,以及非書面形式的內容,則變成了將經典視為他們研究之中不必要的障礙:如果他們將經典與“理性的”和“現代的”聯繫起來,偏離了當地傳統的純正性,他們會想到規避這些,而視作他們臆想調查課題的干擾。用非常簡單的概念來說,我拒絕這整個思想脈絡,因為我不接受將探詢經文的行為等同於佛教之“現代化”或“理性化”(且我不認為任何我所引用的作者會給予一個有效的證據支援這一等同)。

在斯里蘭卡初次邂逅南傳佛教時,前幾代西方學者在佛教“理性的”與“非理性的”部分進行的二分法,便是為了頌贊他們擇選的經典佛教部分。[Harris, 2006, 第214頁及以後] 這一對“理性”的特殊運用已被遺忘;其曾用於後成為英屬殖民地的錫蘭一個非常特定的與基督教傳教士辯論的背景中,且在佛教與基督教教義對比上意義十分有限(的確,在這一背景下,“理性的”頗為經常地是在指“不去冒犯基督教道德”)。[Harris, 2006, 例第75, 107–8, 187頁等] 該爭論具有真正的歷史意義,但對現在使用的詞語“理性的”之學術背景來說則極富欺騙性(正如以上從蕭伯(Schober)處所引用,並在§3中長篇介紹的)。我現在發現的這個經常重複地出現在學術文章中的論點運用了該二分法,以達到另外一個非常不同的目的:古文本中認為的“理性”被當成文本自身排除在外,仿佛文本因此就與現存文化的研究毫無關係的藉詞。正如索斯沃德(Southwold)和庫克(Cook)(以上引用,§3) 這好比裹卷在一個球內,來影射無論我們對經典瞭解多少都是“理性化”西方學者們的人為創作。故“理性的”被用於暗指“非純正的”和“非真實的”。

我曾在前文(§5 和 §6)概括的一手來源並非西方影響的結果;而是西方影響的解藥。對於那些想要抱怨經典譯文偏頗的人們來說,另外的辦法即是去理解經典本身,而不需要譯者。

為一種極其複雜的情況提出一個非常簡單的結論,對我來說“理性主義” 只有當理解成(歐洲文明的)基督教論述的某種內在時才有其意義,但“經文主義”在南傳佛教環境中有著更明晰的意涵 (即,通過探詢經典來驗證實踐)。我們對不假批判地接受爭論中任何一方做出的有關“現代性”的任何主張都應倍加謹慎,恰恰是由於太多的亞洲佛教徒現已擅用著同樣的詞彙:

目前,“理性的”在很大程度上影響著我們去閱讀佛教文本,框範在了墨守成規的局限內。存在於這種選擇性閱讀中的心態,一方面是,高估了人類在推理方面的解釋能力,另一方面是,有將宗教範疇與人類生存範疇分離的傾向。西方學術曾在中世紀教會統治時期的慘痛經歷中達成過這一立場。未能理解歷史背景中類似“理性的”和“科學的”概念,東南亞學者將其接受為現代化的一部分,且在西方遺存的借鑒下,東南亞傳統開始被重新解讀。” [Cho, 2002, 第434頁]

這裡的解決辦法並非試圖忽視經典(因其被認為有著與現代性亂象的糾葛)而是相反去發展能辨別何為真實經典,以及何又僅為對經典之現代觀點的敏銳洞察力。為何佛教經典本身的重要性會受到這種對立情緒的挑戰,以至於斯諾德格拉斯(Snodgrass)抱怨道(如§3中引用),“迄今被普遍接受的佛教”或許是非常不同於我們在最古老文本中發現的東西?為何這會削弱經典對文化人類學的顯著性?對現代希臘文化的研究並不會因缺乏同古希臘的相似性而荒廢;對現代中國的研究不會因為古漢語文本的研究而削弱。這樣的對比不應損害研究,而是要有助於研究。


§7.
Instead, the current fashion seems to be comparative claims about what the researcher

presumes to be the “doctrinal rationality” of the written canon as opposed to “the diversity of cultural practices” and “performative ritual realities” that ethnographers can uncover in their fieldwork. [Schober, 2008, p. 261, citing Collins, 1990] The central assumption (that I would refute here) is that the written canon is “rational” whereas contemporary culture is “irrational”.

I have grave doubts that these researchers have studied the texts that they deem to be “rational” in these comparisons. In a recent article, Anne Hansen attempts to contrast a “rational” sutta (經) to the Jātaka (本生) tradition in general; [Hansen, 2008, p. 45] she thinks that a canonical text called the Mahā-Parinibbāna-sutta exemplifies the “rational” tendency that Europeans exaggerated, in contrast to the Buddha as he is depicted in Jātaka literature. In fact, the sutta she has selected (and quoted) as an exemplar of this “rationalism” contains all of the same magical aspects of storytelling found in the Jātakas: in the Mahā-Parinibbāna-sutta the Buddha remembers previous lives, predicts the future, magically causes earthquakes, interacts with demi-gods, demons, ghosts, etc., and he performs both psychic and physical miracles. Hansen neither quotes nor mentions any of these magical aspects of the story, creating the illusion that this sutta excludes the supernatural (and other Jātaka-like mythological elements) she would contrast it to. She claims that this sutta she (selectively) quotes from shows the Buddha as a human, historical figure, “rather than the mythic character represented in Jataka narratives”. [Ibid., p. 45]

What really is the supposed difference between this sutta and the Jātakas that equates to “modernist ideas of rationalism”? [Ibid. p. 37] It is simply not true that the Mahā-Parinibbāna- sutta features “the demythologized historical Buddha” [Ibid., p. 45], and I can only imagine that the author making this comparison has relied on biased secondary sources, or that she is somehow unfamiliar with the primary source she is quoting to support her argument. Similarly, I find Schober’s contrasting claims about “[the] rationality of Pali and especially abhidhamma texts” extremely dubious. [Schober, 2008, p. 260–1] The texts these scholars allude to (and dismiss as “rational”) are, in fact, brimful of precisely the type of magic and mysticism that they presume to discover in their ethnography (and that they pretend such ancient texts are lacking). I surmise that the contrast they offer their readers is misleading because these authors are contrasting something known to something unknown.

There is an equivocation between “rational” and “scriptural” in many of these English- language studies of Southeast Asian Buddhism. Hansen quotes the term “scripturalism” from Tambiah (Hansen, 2007, p. 34; cf. Hansen, 2008, p. 41) and then equates this with “rationalism” and “rationalized Buddhism” (in Cambodia, Thailand and Burma) without defining what she means by “rational”. (Hansen, 2007, p. 38) Perhaps this can be explained as confusion between the “rational act” of consulting the written record and the presumed rationality of the content of the scriptures themselves. To return to the example quoted from Kobayashi (in §3, above), the act of the monks consulting the written canon (to either certify or invalidate a particular ritual) can be described clearly enough as “scripturalism”; however, I think it is wildly misleading to describe this as a “rationalist” opposition of “modernity” to “tradition”. It would be utterly false to infer that the ancient texts are opposed to ghosts (or ghost- feeding) in general: in this example, the monks simply rejected one method of ghost-feeding for another, and the ritual remains a merit-transfer ceremony intended to benefit ghosts, particularly those in hell. Only minor differences in ritual are resolved in comparing current practices to the ancient texts. The contents of such scriptures (dealing with hell or any other topic) are neither well-known to the anthropologists, nor are they well-known to their informants (interviewed in fieldwork) in contemporary Southeast Asia.

The problem for ethnographic fieldwork is that Theravāda Buddhist monks themselves are often enough proceeding with an assumption diametrically opposed to Southwold’s hypothesis: the monks often believe that only the written canon “…is authentic (‘normative’, ‘orthodox’, ‘pure’, and so forth) and that the Buddhism of ethnography, which differs from it, is in some sense not quite the genuine article.” [Quoted above, §2] In this way, the ethnographer who presumes to discover something indigenous, continuous, and unwritten in their fieldwork comes to regard the canon as an unwanted obstacle to their research: if they associate the canon with a “rational” and “modern” digression from the authenticity of local tradition, they will want to avoid it as a distraction from the imagined subject of their own inquiry. In a very simple sense, I reject this entire train of thought because I do not accept that the act of consulting the scriptures can be equated with the “modernization” or “rationalization” of Buddhism (and I do not think that any of the authors whom I have quoted offer a valid proof of this equation).

On first encountering Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka, former generations of Western scholars construed the dichotomy between “rational” and “irrational” aspects of Buddhism simply in order to praise the aspects of canonical Buddhism they preferred. [Harris, 2006, p. 214 et seq.] This peculiar use of “rationality” has been forgotten; it was used in the context of a very specific set of debates confronting Christian Missionaries in what was then the British colony of Ceylon, and had a very limited meaning in contrasting Buddhism to Christian doctrine (indeed, in this context, “rational” very often meant “not offensive to Christian morality”). [Harris, 2006, e.g., p. 75, 107–8, 187, etc.] This debate is of real historical significance, but it is wildly spurious to the academic context that the word “rational” is now employed in (as quoted from Schober, above, and introduced at length in §3). The argument that I now find repeated so often in academic literature employs this dichotomy to a very different purpose: the supposed “rationality” of the ancient texts is treated as a pretext to exclude them as if they were (therefore) irrelevant to the research of the living culture. As with Southwold and Cook (quoted above, §3) this tends to be rolled up in one ball with with insinuations that whatever we know about the canon is the factitious work of “rationalizing” Western scholars. Thus, “rational” is used to insinuate “inauthentic” and “unreal”.

The primary sources that I have outlined (in §5 and §6) above are not the result of Western influence; they are the antidote to Western influence. For those who would complain about biased interpretations of the canon, the alternative is to understand the canon itself, without an interpreter.

To offer a very simple conclusion on a very complicated matter, it seems to me that “rationalism” is a term that is meaningful only if it is understood as something internal to (European civilization’s) Christian discourse, whereas “scripturalism” has a clearer meaning in the Theravāda milieu (i.e., the verification of practice by consulting the canon). We should be very wary of the uncritical acceptance of any claims about “modernity” made by any side in these debates, precisely because so many Asian Buddhists have now appropriated the same terms:

At present the “rational” greatly influences our reading of Buddhist texts, confining it within the limits of scholasticism. The mentality involved in such a selective reading is, on the one hand, the overestimation of the explanatory power of human reason and, on the other, a tendency to separate the realm of religion from the human existential realm. Western scholarship arrived at this standpoint from the traumatic experience of the dominance of the Church during the Medieval period. Failing to see the historical context of concepts like “rational” and “scientific,” East Asian scholars accepted them as part of modernity, and the East Asian tradition began to be reinterpreted in the light of the Western legacy. [Cho, 2002, p. 434]

The solution here is not to attempt to ignore the canon (because of its presumed entanglement with this mess of modernity) but instead to develop the acumen to discern what is truly canonical, and what is merely modern opinion about the canon. Why would the importance of the Buddhist canon itself be challenged by this antagonism, that Snodgrass complains of (as quoted in §3), that “Buddhism as hitherto commonly received” may be a very different thing from what we find in the most ancient texts? Why would that diminish the salience of the canon to cultural anthropology? The study of modern Greek culture is not invalidated by its lack of resemblance to ancient Greece; the study of modern China is not impaired by the study of ancient Chinese texts. Contrasts of this kind should not impair research, but should enable it.


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