Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Close your mouth, no barking like a dog!

Matthew Yglesias points me to this essay on "relativism" by the new pope.

I quote from Ratzinger:

The relativism of Hick, Knitter and related theories are ultimately based on a rationalism which declares that reason-in the Kantian meaning-is incapable of metaphysical cognition.[10] The new foundation of religion comes about by following a pragmatic path with more ethical or political overtones. However, there is also a consciously anti-rationalist response to the experience of the slogan "Everything is relative," which comes together under the pluriform denomination of [11]

For the supporters of the New Age, the solution to the problem of relativity must not be sought in a new encounter of the self with another or others, but by overcoming the subject in an ecstatic return to the cosmic dance. Like the old gnosis, this way pretends to be totally attuned to all the results of science and to be based on all kinds of scientific knowledge (biology, psychology, sociology, physics). But on the basis of this presupposition it offers at the same time a considerably antirationalist model of religion, a modern "mystic": The Absolute is not to be believed, but to be experienced. God is not a person to be distinguished from the world, but a spiritual energy present in the universe.

This is pretty much the deepest venture near Eastern philosophy that Ratzinger makes in his document; it is not surprising that he steers clear of Nagarjuna, or Dogen, or Shitou Xiqian (石頭希遷, whose famous rejoinder to questions is the title of this post). Admittedly, the latter two authors' works are shot through with metaphors, giddy fingers wagging excitedly at the moon, but the last link provides a clue into why I think Ratzinger is so far out of his depth (or in denial) that he's not even aware how weak his strawman is:


Harmony of Difference and Sameness

竺土大仙心 The mind of the great sage of India

東西密相付 is intimately transmitted from west to east.

人根有利鈍 While human faculties are sharp or dull,

道無南北祖 the Way has no northern or southern ancestors.

靈源明皎潔 The spiritual source shines clear in the light;

枝派暗流注 the branching streams flow on in the dark.

執事元是迷 Grasping at things is surely delusion;

契理亦非悟 according with sameness is still not enlightenment.

門門一切境 All the objects of the senses

迴互不迴互 interact and yet do not.

迴而更相 Interacting brings involvement.

不爾依位住 Otherwise, each keeps its place.

色本殊質像 Sights vary in quality and form,

聲元異樂苦 sounds differ as pleasing or harsh.

闇合上中言 Refined and common speech come together in the dark,

明明清濁句 clear and murky phrases are distinguished in the light.

四大性自復 The four elements return to their natures

如子得其母 just as a child turns to its mother;

火熱風動搖 Fire heats, wind moves,

水濕地堅固 water wets, earth is solid.

眼色耳音聲 Eye and sights, ear and sounds,

鼻香舌鹹醋 nose and smells, tongue and tastes;

然於一一法 Thus with each and every thing,

依根葉分布 depending on these roots, the leaves spread forth.

本未須歸宗 Trunk and branches share the essence;

尊卑用其語 revered and common, each has its speech.

當明中有暗 In the light there is darkness,

勿以暗相遇 but don't take it as darkness;

當暗中有明 In the dark there is light,

勿以明相睹 but don't see it as light.

明暗各相對 Light and dark oppose one another

比如前後歩 like the front and back foot in walking.

萬物自有功 Each of the myriad things has its merit,

當言用及處 expressed according to function and place.

事存函蓋合 Phenomena exist; box and lid fit;

理應箭鋒 principle responds; arrow points meet.

承言須會宗 Hearing the words, understand the meaning;

勿自立規矩 don't set up standards of your own.

觸目不會道 If you don't understand the Way right before you,

運足焉知路 how will you know the path as you walk?

進歩非近遠 Progress is not a matter of far or near,

迷隔山河故 but if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way.

謹白參玄人 I respectfully urge you who study the mystery,

光陰莫虚度 do not pass your days and nights in vain.

Genpo-roshi's translation is a bit clearer on this point- a dead giveaway I'd say:

Sounds distinguish comfort and discomfort.
The dark makes all words one;
brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases.
The four elements return to their natures as a child to its mother.
Fire is hot, wind moves, water is wet, earth hard.
Eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, tongue tastes the salt and sour.
Each is independent of the other.
Cause and effect must return to the great reality.
The words high and low are used relatively.
Within light there is darkness,
but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.(O)
Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative,
like two arrows meeting in mid air.

The absolute and the relative, in the Mahayana tradition are interdependent; it's not "there are no absolutes" nor "everything is relative."

To deny the relative is to live in a world that is not our own. To deny the absolute is to deny conciousness and thinking about the world. Each has its function and position, as it says above.

It's unfortunate that Ratzinger's piece is what passes for intellectual gravitas nowadays, at least in his immediate circle.

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