How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?

M. Provisionally we could put side by side ‘absurd’ (or illogical) and ‘unprovable’, even if they are not synonymous; and the main tenets of all religions are such. They are not ‘rational’. On the other hand, neither science, ‘common sense’, or rationality are the ‘end all’. There are many things that escape explanation with the current state of our knowledge and understanding.

Paradox is a term related, one way or another, to the above. Just consider the following:

i) “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress”. Niels Bohr (famous physicist)

ii) Is there anything more absurd to ordinary understanding of the world and us than the following (taken from this blog): “That truth, put into words, is paradoxical: you are all (as Consciousness) and ‘you’ (as perceived individual) are nothing; you are the final witness, but ‘you’ are not a witness; the world is illusory (as appearance), but in essence is reality itself. That revelatory, transcendental experience is non-transferable, not provable to another.”

GL. If by absurdism you mean acknowledging that there is no absolute truth, then zen buddhism when asked what is enlightenment, answers “6 pounds of flax”, which is, I believe, trying to point out that absolute truth is impossible.

M. You probably mean ‘impossible to demonstrate, or to know, with the ordinary mind’, but ask a zen buddhist if it (absolute reality or truth) is impossible to grasp, to grok.

GL. I think the point of the flax koan is that you can’t know satori with certainty.

M. Is it not rather that the experience cannot be explained – or transmitted – with words, being ineffable? Such is a transcendental experience, where there is no individual subject present.

GL. Isn’t “ineffable” the same as saying we can’t know with certainty?

M. No, it means ‘inexpressible’, the experience being overwhelming (rather than being too sacred – another meaning).

GL. If you can’t describe it, then it isn’t knowable.

If it is purely a matter of experience, then there is no way for me to know you are experiencing something the same way I am. Color is ineffable. You experience red and green the way you do, and I experience it the way I do. And unless we have an objective test for color blindness, there is no way to know if you see what I see. Some people see color when they hear sound. And as long as that experience is ineffable, there is no way to know if we see color the same way. Only when we establish some objective explanation and some objective testing can we know with certainty if we are experiencing similar things.

M. You refer to what are called qualia, but I am not sure how far you want to go (can nothing be known? In what sense?) Most empiricists/scientist tend to disregard this question or deny that it presents any problem for their physicalist stance. In non-duality, which is what interests me, there are not, cannot be, any objective tests referable to either external or internal experiences of what generally is understood as reality (the world and oneself) except, perhaps, in one’s facial expression and/or demeanor. That agrees with what you say about qualia but, aside from non-duality (or as a preliminary to it), it doesn’t mean that there cannot be agreement, concurrence, in the realm of thought, sensations, and feelings. Two people reading the same book or page – if they are on the same wave length (let’s say interest in non-duality, or in a particular modality of art, like Baroque or modern) – will have similar thoughts and feelings. Language is for communication – even about the understanding of non-duality (like zen) – but certain experiences cannot be communicated, such as particular intuitions or epiphanies, regardless of what we understand as qualia, though related to it.


About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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5 Responses to How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?

  1. Hariod Brawn says:

    “. . . except, perhaps, in one’s facial expression and/or demeanor.”

    And in humour, or lack thereof? The self-subject is often quite absurd, yes?

    • The sense of humor can be ‘seen'(again,facial expressions), heard, and appreciated, but can it be transmitted to another? Do empiricists like Stephen Dwarking have a sense of humour? Well, they take qualia as a joke! (and for them it really is).

  2. Hariod Brawn says:

    “. . . can it be transmitted to another?” – sometimes it’s a struggle!

    Then there is the ‘smile-producing conciousness’ sometimes mentioned in orthodox Buddhism, which is a different thing, instead being a physical effect brought on by the highest wisdom-knowledge. This is transmissible from arahant to one ready to see i.e. those with ‘little dust in their eyes’.

    I have no truck with Eliminative Materialists.

    • Sorry for the late reply. Yes, there are, though few, arahants, and one is very lucky to find one such. One was Jean Klein (personally I met a disciple of his – Francis Lucille). The title of a book of the former is: ‘Transmission of the Flame’ – excellent! (:’Understanding, being the understandig, is enlightenment’). Nearness to a master may be the final *spark*. Can there not be “nearness” at a disance – even through a book? The final understanding, though, is immediate, intimate, and spontaneous, not necessarily transmitted from person to person – to everything there are exceptions. Preparation and dedication are of the essence – the terrain must be fertile. The flame is any-and- every-where.

      • Hariod Brawn says:

        Thank you very much. Just to be clear on my original comment, the ‘smile-producing consciousness’ of orthodox Buddhism is not a supramundane transmission of so-called ‘enlightenment’. It is a ‘knowing smile’ that cannot be explained in mundane language, as the ‘knowingness’ is of supramundane wisdom, but again, is not productive of the path moment of liberation/arahantship, which itself is uncaused – according to orthodox Buddhism. And yes, I revere classical Advaita/Natha doctrines. Not so Neo-Advaita though.

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