The Clôture of Deconstruction:
A Mahāyāna Critique of Derrida

David Loy

Vol. XXVII, No. I
Issue No. 105 (March 1987)

International Philosophical Quarterly

San-un Zendos
Kamakura, Japan



One senses Derrida is indeed on the verge of someway else, if not a something else, but surely he has not yet broken out of the turn. Derrida is in the turn of language, but he has logically demonstrated language to be not a turn but a labyrinth.

Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend[1]


DERRIDA'S RADICAL critique of Western philosophy is defective only because it is not radical enough. His deconstruction is incomplete because it does not deconstruct itself and attain clôture: that much-sought clôture of metaphysical thinking which would also be the opening to something else. This is why Derrida remains in the halfway-house of proliferating "pure textuality," whereas deconstruction could lead to a transformed mode of experiencing the world.

     Any notion of a clôture for deconstruction seems incongruous with Derrida's project, whose différance, in deconstructing any proffered "transcendental signified," allows the dissemination of endless supplementation. Nevertheless, I shall argue for this by contrasting Derrida's method and claims with another form of deconstruction that antedates his by some nineteen centuries: the Mādhyamika "anti-philosophy" of Nāgārjuna. A worthy opponent for the enfant terrible of contemporary Western philosophy, Nāgārjuna is indisputably the greatest thinker of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and many consider his Mādhyamika to be "the central philosophy of Buddhism."[2] Its influence in India, Tibet, Mongolia, China and Japan can hardly be overestimated. The Vajrayāna Buddhism of Tibet treasures Nāgārjuna's works as the most profound possible expression of philosophical truth; and while Zen Buddhism neither is nor has a philosophy, it is no less true that Mādhyamika (along with Yogācāra) provided the theoretical perspective which made the development of Zen practice possible. Even some of the devotional schools of Pure Land Buddhism look back to Nāgārjuna as their founding father.

     Given this historical significance, it is an intellectual scandal that Mādhyamika is so little known in the West. But Nāgārjuna's subtle and complicated dialectical method is often difficult to follow, perhaps because it cuts too much to the bone, challenging commonsense more than we are able or willing to understand. Nāgārjuna is more systematic than Derrida in his critique and refutation of all possible metaphysical views, including any that might be called his own. To what end? To anticipate, the debate between them will turn on the following issues.




     Nāgārjuna's dialectic works by undermining such "commonsense" dualities as that between objects and their causal relations, or that between things and time. In both of these examples (to be discussed later), the latter term may be used first to deconstruct the former and to deny that there is anything self-existing or self-present. Derrida's demonstration of the ineluctability of différance makes the same point. But that alone is incomplete. The interdependence of both terms in such dualities implies that the negation of either must also lead to negation of the other. We use "cause-and-effect" to explain the relationships between supposedly discrete things, which means that our concepts of objects and causal relations, being relative to each other, must stand or fall together: if there are no objects, then there can be no causality (as usually understood). We shall see that the same paradox holds true for time: if there is only time, because there are no objects "in" time, then there is no time. Each pole deconstructs the other. It is the necessity for this second and reverse movement that Derrida does not see. Expressed in his categories, Derrida, although aware that each term of a duality is the différance of the other, does not fully realize how deconstructing one term (transcendental signified, self-presence, reference, etc.) must also transform the other (différance, temporization, supplementation, etc.).

     What is the result of this double-deconstruction of "commonsense" dualities? Derrida's single-deconstruction leads to the "temporary" reversal of their hierarchy, and/or to a discontinuous, irruptive "liberation" from reference grounded in the search for unattainable origins, into the dissemination of a free-floating meaning beyond any conceptual clôture. For Nāgārjuna, this would be only the illusion of liberation, while remaining trapped in a textual "bad infinity" which tends to become increasingly playful. What is needed is not just "a change of style," however seductive or frustrating that may be. Rather, the complete deconstruction of such dualities can lead, not merely to their more self-conscious "reinscription," but to a mode of experience which is not governed by them. Nāgārjuna agrees that such dualities are ineluctably inscribed in language, and thus are fundamental categories of thought; this means, however, not that they are inescapable, but that their deconstruction points finally to an experience beyond language -- or, more precisely, to a different way of experiencing language and thought.

     In other words, the ultimate irony is that deconstruction ends in the elusive "origin" which metaphysics has always sought and which Derrida believes he has refuted. They are both right. Philosophy will never come to rest in such an origin, for no "transcendental signified" can be located with/in language, and philosophy is a language-game. The rhetorical operations which produce supposedly logical proofs cannot be eliminated: philosophy, like all language, is basically metaphorical. This is Derrida's positive and, I hope, lasting contribution. But the deconstruction of thought via language -- for this is what Nāgārjuna understood himself to be doing -- offers a different mode of approach to the problem. "There is nothing outside the text" is more true for us now than Derrida realizes, but it is not necessarily true. In order to understand this, let us consider: What is the paradigm "transcendental signified," according to Buddhism? Not nirvāna, as two centuries of Western interpretation have led us to believe, for, as we shall see, nirvāna is neither transcendental ("The ontic range of nirvāna is the ontic range of the everyday world. There is not even the subtlest difference between the two." MMK, XXV, 20)[3] nor signified ("No truth has been taught by a Buddha for anyone,




any where." XXV, 24). On the contrary, the paradigm transcendental signified is the thing -- here meaning not only physical objects but also the objectified subject. What most needs to be deconstructed is the apparent objectivity of the world, which is due to taking perceptions as "signs" of the object. The relationship between names and things is the archetypal signifier/signified correspondence, and the Buddhist goal is nothing less than its complete deconstruction: "... the non-functioning of perceptions as signs of all named things is itself nirvāna" (Candrakīrti)[4] It is not Buddhism that postulates ametaphysical Reality behind appearance, but our usual "commonsense" view, which distinguishes them by objectifying the former with a name. Nirvāna, in contrast, is nothing other than "the utter dissipation of ontologizing thought" (Candrakīrti).

     Unarticulated and delusive ontological commitments underlie even the most everyday uses of language. Suddenly, language/thought is no longer the means (as according to metaphysics) nor even the end (according to Heidegger and Derrida, in very different ways) but the problem itself. This perspective is essential to Buddhism and to most meditative traditions. Philosophy cannot grasp what it seeks in any of its categories, but, as language becoming self-conscious of its function, it can learn to "undo" itself and cease to be an obstruction, in that way allowing what we have long sought to manifest itself. This "origin-which-cannot-be-named" has always been the most obvious thing, but says Nāgārjuna, all ways of thinking about it -- whether metaphysical or deconstructive -- can only conceal it by dualistically separating us from it.

     To avoid becoming even longer than it is, this paper must presuppose some familiarity with the writings of Jacques Derrida. First I present, in some detail, the approach and perspective of Nāgārjuna, although with reference to Derrida when the similarities suggest such a comparison.[5] I hope that this first part is interesting in itself, but in any case it is necessary to the critique that follows. The main differences are reserved for Part Two, where Derrida is subjected to a Mādhyamika critique.



1. Even more than most philosophers, both Nāgārjuna and Derrida can be understood only within their philosophical context. Like Kant's dialectic, both deconstructive methods are dependent on philosophy having attained a high degree of sophistication; both are self-consciously parasitic upon the dogmatism of previous paradigms, "the interminable and total conflict of reason" (Murti). But otherwise the difference in their contexts is more striking.

     Nāgārjuna is very much within the Buddhist tradition, which is as much religious as philosophical (a distinction whose invalidity becomes apparent in such an application), although Mādhyamika constitutes so major a development within Buddhism that it is almost a break with the prior tradition. But Nāgārjuna never questions Buddhist methods and goals, although he explains them in a new way. Also, like Kant, he is responding to a conflict of traditions.




     There are two main currents of Indian philosophy -- one having its source in the atma-doctrine of the Upanisads and the other in the anatma doctrine of Buddha. They conceive reality on two distinct and exclusive patterns. The Upanisads and the systems following the Brahmanical tradition conceive reality on the pattern of an inner core or soul (ātman), immutable and identical amidst an outer region of impermanence and change, to which it is unrelated or but loosely related. This may be termed the Substance-view of reality...

     The other tradition is represented by the Buddhist denial of substance and all that it implies. There is no inner and immutable core in things; everything is in flux. Existence for the Buddhist is momentary, unique, and unitary. The substance (the universal and the identical) was rejected as illusory; it was but a thought-construction made under the influence of wrong belief.[6]

It was the conflict between these paradigms that prompted Nāgārjuna's aufheben, which nonetheless did not lead to any merger between the two traditions (although Advaita Vedānta borrowed the dialectical argumentation of Mādhyamika for the same end, refuting the reality of the objective world). Nāgārjuna, although constituting a "Copernican Revolution" within Indian philosophy, understood himself as only explicating more clearly than others what the Buddha himself had taught.

     In contrast to Indian pluralism, where conflicting systems evolved adjacently by adding sub-commentaries to commentaries on revered works, Derrida is heir to a more integrated tradition which has developed by repeatedly revolutionizing itself. Each philosophical generation defines its own identity by cannibalizing what its forebears have left. Since the failure of the Hegelian synthesis, this has meant killing not only one's own father but all one's forefathers. This difference is important because it affects their respective deconstructions. In contrast to Derrida's "hierarchy reversal" (e.g., a grammatology to replace phono- and logocentrism) there is no such reversal, temporary or not, in Mādhyamika because Nāgārjuna was reacting to a conflict between diametrically opposed paradigms.

     Yet these differences should not overshadow what the two deconstructions share. One often-overlooked aspect of Buddhism, unusual for a religion but common with Derrida, is that Buddhism assumes no "golden age" in the past, no mythical pure point of historical origin to which Buddhists yearn to return. Because of their belief in an all-loving God, the Semitic religions must postulate a Garden of Eden from which man fell because of his own sin. Buddhism, accepting no such Creator, is silent about the origin of the world and of our duhkha (suffering in the broad sense: including dissatisfaction, frustration, angst). The most the Buddha ever said about this was that "a beginning cannot be found." Insofar as nirvāna might be taken as such an origin, it is not something that needs to be regained or even gained, but only to be realized by ending the delusion that keeps us from understanding the way things have always been. On other occasions, the Buddha pointed out that whether or not there was a beginning really makes no difference, since what is important is that there is an end. He often stated that he came to teach only two things: that our lives are duhkha (suffering), and there is a way to end that duhkha.

     Most central to Buddhist doctrine is the denial of an ontological self. This brings us back to the paradigm conflict between Vedānta and early Buddhism. Essential to the Vedantic "Substance-view" is not only its postulation of an immutable soul (ātman)




but also the identification of that soul with the Ground of the universe (Brahman). The Buddhist rejection of self should be understood as a critique of any such self-existent, self-present transcendental signified, and the most important Buddhist doctrine, pratītya-samutpāda, is nothing less than a systematic deconstruction of any claim to self-reflexive "pure consciousness" (cit).

     Pratītya-samutpāda ("dependent origination") refutes any such conception by demonstrating the interdependence of all elements of our experience. Everything, including consciousness, may be located within a set of cause-and-effect, differing-and-deferring relationship ("when X exists, then Y arises") which precludes any simple" self-presence." The early Pali sutras contain various versions of this "interlocking chain," but the standard doctrinal compilation presents twelve factors.

(1) ignorance of the interdependent nature of all things (constituting not only the first "link" but the basic presupposition of the whole process) leads to the activation of
(2) mental formations (psychological causal factors derived from past thoughts and actions and usually understood as karmic tendencies persisting from past lifetimes) leads to
(3) (rebirth) consciousness (necessary for impregnation) leads to
(4) name-and-form (the developing mind-body complex of the fetus) which leads to
(5) the six sense-organs (including the mind as the organ of thinking) which lead to
(6) contact between such organs and sense-objects (including mind and "mind objects") and thus
(7) sensation (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) leading to
(8) craving (not only desire for objects of pleasure but also aversion to unpleasant ones and indifference to neutral ones) and hence
(9) grasping at sense-objects, the manifestation of craving, leading to
(10) becoming (the tendency to be reborn, a function of such grasping), which causes
(11) (re-)birth, which leads to
(12) duhkha, old age, and death.

Calling this a "causal chain" does not mean that the last link rejoins directly with the first. The first two factors are causes from the past affecting the present; the next seven are causes and effects operating in the present; the last three are the future effects of present causes. Whether or not this doctrine is taken literally as referring to past and future lifetimes or psychologized into past and future experiences, its importance for Buddhism can hardly be overemphasized. The interdependence of all experience is explained without any reference to a first cause (a creator God, etc.) or a final cause. There is only "conditionality": everything is both conditioned and conditioning, each event only a function of an "economy of differences."

     But at first the full critique of self-presence (Nāgārjuna's term is svabhāva, "self-existence") was only implicit. It remained for Nāgārjuna, six centuries after the Buddha, to rethink pratītya-samutpāda as implying śūnyatā (devoidness, lack of being)[7] of all phenomena. By his time Indian philosophy had developed and formalized itself to a sophistication unknown to the Buddha's generation, and in his major work the Mūlamadhyamikakārikā -- indisputably the most important work of Buddhist philos-




ophy -- Nāgārjuna examined the views of the main schools on the central problems of philosophy: causality, motion, the senses, material objects, the self, time, action, etc. In what follows we shall summarize Nāgārjuna's analysis of two issues, causality and time. The choice is not random. Causality is the fundamental problem for Nāgārjuna -- many of the other topics, such as motion, only apply its general conclusions to more specific instances -- and, given Derrida' s critique of self-presence, temporality is the crucial issue for him. There is another reason for choosing these two. Causality and time imply each other, to the extent of being two sides of the same coin (or, to anticipate the deconstruction which follows, two aspects of the same bifurcation). Causality requires that cause precede the effect, and time requires that the past cause the future. Our plight -- the root of our duhkha -- can also be summarized in these terms: we feel that we are (or should be) free, but we know that our lives are physically and psychologically determined; we feel that we are (or should be) timeless, yet we realize that we are mortal, inextricably trapped in time. To deconstruct fully any of these philosophical problems is to deconstruct the others as well. But before we begin that deconstruction, a brief description of Nāgārjuna's method will be helpful.

     It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast of styles than that between Derrida's clever, multi-layered bricolage and Nāgārjuna's straightforward dialectics, whose dry "either/or" bears more than a passing resemblance to early Greek dialectics.[8] Without explicitly postulating the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle, Nāgārjuna's makes liberal use of them, doing nothing more than demonstrating their full implications in order to deconstruct metaphysics (including the metaphysics enshrined in our ordinary ways of thinking, implicit in the categories of language).[9] Classical Indian philosophy was a quest to determine the Real, and the Real, it was agreed, is that which is self-existent, not dependent upon anything else. Anything which can be shown to be relative to something else is thereby refuted as a candidate. So Nāgārjuna's task was quite simple: to take all the proposed candidates for Reality and demonstrate their relativity (śūnyatā), leaving nothing -- not even śūnyatā, since that term too is relative to the candidates. "...śūnyatā is the exhaustion of all theories and views; those for whom śūnyatā is itself a theory are incurable" (MMK, Xlll,8). Rather than attempt to construct a new theory or language with śūnyatā as the key term, Nāgārjuna, while understanding that ordinary language is full of deluding ontological commitments, accepts it and deconstructs it from within: "Śūnyatā is a guiding, not a cognitive, notion, presupposing the everyday" (XXIV, 18). No privileged language is created in this deconstruction, and his goal cannot be expressed or pointed to with out the delusive logocentrisms of language; but, like Derrida, Nāgārjuna thus uses it "under erasure," without committing himself to its categories.

     It is here that we find the deepest resonance with Derrida, whose deconstruction also proceeds by demonstrating the inescapable différance infecting all Western metaphysical candidates for a "transcendental-signified." Deleuze's cryptic remark about Foucault -- that he is a new kind of map-maker, constructing maps for use rather than to mirror the terrain[10] -- is equally true for both Nāgārjuna and Derrida. The fun-




damental presuppositions of metaphysics -- that we can mirror the whole terrain from some Archimedean point of pure, self-contained thought -- is the illusion they subvert, and their weapons are śūnyatā/différance. These mirror nothing because they have no reference apart from their subversive function; to fix them within a given system is to use them in ways that suppress that function.

     Where they diverge is in their understanding of the result of this subversion. For Nāgārjuna the primary transcendental-signified to be deconstructed is the world we live, for the supposedly objective world is a function of our ways of thinking about it. In Indian philosophy vikalpa and prapañca refer to the superimposition of such reified thought-categories and the proliferation of thought-constructions that this generates. Realizing that the world is determined for us by our ways of thinking about it then yields to meditative practices which may lead to "the end of prapañca" (MMK,XXV, 24, the closest Nāgārjuna comes to a "definition" of nirvāna), allowing something hitherto obscured to reveal itself. In that sense, there is a "higher truth," but any attempt to describe it -- even to call it a truth -- can only be part of the "lower truth" which, as part of prapañca, must finally be superseded. In answer to an opponent's objection that then his own thesis is also self-refuted as śūnya (devoid of any truth-value), Nāgārjuna replied: "If I were to put forth any thesis whatsoever, it would have that defect; but since I advance no thesis, I do not have that fault."[11] Nāgārjuna has nothing to offer; he only wants to take something away from us. The following deconstructions should be read in that light.[12]

2. The problem of causality is the most important one for Mādhyamika, but at first encounter there seems to be a contradiction in Nāgārjuna's analysis. One the one hand, causal interdependence is so central that Nāgārjuna identifies it with the most important concept, śūnyatā (MMK, XXIV, 18). The undeniable relativity of everything is the means by which all self-existence (svabhāva) is refuted. At the same time, Nāgārjuna redefines pratītya-samutpāda in such a way as to negate causality altogether. The first and most important chapter of the MMK concluded that the causal relation is incomprehensible, and later chapters go further to claim that causation is delusive: "Origination, existence, and destruction are of the nature of māyā, dreams, or a fairy castle"(MMK, VII, 34). The last chapters seize on this issue as one way to crystallize the difference between samsāra and nirvāna. What is perhaps the most important verse in the MMK distinguishes between them by attributing causal relations only to samsāra: "That which, taken as causal or dependent, is the process of being born and passing on, is, taken non-causally and beyond all dependence, declared to be nirvāna" (MMK,XXV, 9).

     How are we to take this obvious contradiction? The paradox, I shall argue, is that the experience of complete conditionality is phenomenologically equivalent to a denial of all causal conditions. A view which is so radical as to analyze all things away into "their" causal conditions is offering an interpretation of experience which becomes in-




distinguishable from a view that negates causality altogether. Thus a dialectic is inherent in the Mādhyamika analysis. The first step examines the commonsense distinction between things and their cause-and-effect relationships, using the latter to dissolve the former and to refute the self-existence of "things." Less obvious is the second step, which reverses the analysis: the lack of "thingness" in things implies a mode of experience in which there is no awareness of cause and effect. Things and their causal relations must stand or fall together, because our notion of cause-and-effect is dependent on that of objectively-existing things. If causality explains the interaction among things, then things themselves must be "noncausal." And this is precisely our commonsense notion of what an "object" is: that thing whose continued existence does not need to be explained -- i.e., once in existence, it "self-exists." The objectivity of the world (including the objectivization of myself, my own sense of being a discrete, persisting self) depends upon this dualism. It is the bifurcation between them that Nāgārjuna shows to be untenable, by using each pole to deconstruct the other.

     In order to understand the Mādhyamika critique, we must begin with a clear sense of what it is that is being criticized: not primarily metaphysics, but our commonsense understanding of the world, which sees it as a collection of discrete entities (including myself) interacting causally "in" space and time. This understanding (one or the other aspect of which is absolutized in systematic metaphysics) is what makes the everyday world samsāra for us, and it is this samsāra that Nāgārjuna is concerned to deconstruct. The implication of Nāgārjuna's arguments against self-existence (e.g., MMK Chapters I, XV) is to point out the inconsistency concealed within this everyday way of "taking" the world: we accept that things change, yet at the same time we assume that they remain "essentially" the same -- which is necessary if they are to be "things" at all. Other Indian philosophers, recognizing this inconsistency, tried to solve it by absolutizing one of these at the expense of the other. The satkāryavāda substance-view of Samkhya emphazied permanence at the price of not being able to account for change, and the asatkāryavāda modal-view of early Buddhism had the opposite problem of not being able to account for continuity. The basic difficulty with all such views is that any understanding of cause and effect which tries to relate two separate things together can be reduced to the contradiction of both asserting and denying identity.

     As the first prong of his attack on the bifurcation, Nāgārjuna refutes our common-sense distinction between things and their causal relations simply by sharpening the distinction to absurdity. If things are to be self-existent, then they must be distinguish able from their conditions, but their existence is clearly contingent upon the conditions which bring them into being and eventually cause them to disappear. If it is objected that one cannot live without reifying such fictitious entities, at least to some extent, then the Mādhyamika agrees; but this "lower truth" (samvrti), while not denied completely, must not be taken as a correct understanding of the way things really are.

     But that is only the first step, for now the critique dialectically reverses. The category of causality turns out to be just as dependent upon things as things are on their causal conditions. This second step is easy to state but harder to understand. Granted, if there is only cause-and-effect, then there is no thing which causes and no thing which is effected; but if there is nothing to cause or be effected, then there is no reason to perceive the world in terms of cause-and-effect. For example, implicit in our concept of change is the notion that a thing is becoming other than it was, so unless one reifies something self-existent in order to provide continuity between these different conditioned states,




there is nothing apart from the changing conditions to be changed. The concept of change needs something to "bite" on, but the first step of the dialectic leaves nothing unconditioned to chew. If the colleague I meet for lunch is not in any sense the same person I saw earlier, because there is no substratum of permanence to "him," then it also makes no sense to say that "he" has changed. Thus, if there is only coming-and-going -- with no "thing" that comes or goes -- then there is no real coming and going.

     What are we left with? A universe śūnya-events, none of which occurs for the sake of any other. Each event -- every leaf-flutter, wandering thought, and piece of litter (all things become "thingings") -- is whole and complete in itself, because, although conditioned by everything else in the universe and a manifestation of that whole, for precisely that reason it is not subordinated to anything else but is an end-in-itself. In that sense each thing is the only thing in the whole universe (tathatā, "just this! ") and thus is unconditioned, because the duality between determinism and freedom is deconstructed at the same time. If "liberty or freedom signifies properly the absence of opposition" (Hobbes), then such unimpeded interdependence implies freedom, since there is not only no "thing" that does the event but also no "other" to oppose it. This means that, whenever any event occurs, it is the whole universe that makes the event happen or rather is the event. If we accept that the universe is self-caused, then it acts freely whenever anything is done. The spontaneous actions of an enlightened person respond to a situation like a glove fits on a hand because they are not done by him (her). Without a sense of self, thoughts and actions are experienced as welling-up nondually from a source unfathomably deep -- or (what amounts to the same thing) from nowhere. If one nondualistically is a cause/effect, without the sense of being a hypostatized self that dualistically uses cause/effect, then there is not the awareness that it is a cause/effect; it is experienced as whole, complete, and "traceless."[13] If we try to find a "transcendental signified" in Mādhyamika, it can only be every event that ever occurs in the whole universe, which is why the Buddha could teach simply by twirling a flower.

     So there turn out to be only two alternatives: either cause-and-effect relationships between discrete thought-constructed objects, or nondual "all-conditionality" (pratītya-samutpāda) which is experienced as unconditioned freedom (tathatā).[14] In order to experience the latter, the heirarchy which causality constructs -- for the most important hypostatized object is me, the subject who craves other objects and needs an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships in order to manipulate circumstances and obtain them -- must be demolished. "All conditionality," in its complete negation of anything to be attached to, offers no practical utility, because there is no longer any object to be obtained or any self to crave it; whereas a hypostatized self which wants to obtain some other hypostatized thing will need to construct a causal chain of events which leads to it. Because each event in such a chain is experienced not in itself but only




for the sake of the next, and the next, ..., the śūnya nature of each is overlooked in our eagerness to obtain the objectified goal. The dissatisfaction with each particular event, in hurrying to the next, is essential to the sense of self, which is why causality is the root category of thought and hence the one most in need of deconstruction.

3. Before considering the implications of the above analysis for Derrida, we must see that exactly the same paradox applies to temporality: if there is only time, then there is no time. To deconstruct the delusive dichtomy between beings and time is to realize that I am not in time because I am time, which means that I am free from time.

     The early Buddhist emphasis on impermanence does not mean an acceptance of time and change as we usually experience them. Samsāra is literally the temporal cycle of birth and death, coming and going, which is somehow negated in nirvāna. What is the genesis of such birth and death? " ... time is generated by the mind's restlessness, its stretching out to the future, its projects, and its negation of 'the present state'."[15] But there is no future without a past; expectations and intentions are determined by previous experiences -- more precisely, by the "seeds" (vāsanās) and mental tendencies (samskāras) which remain from them. So past and future work together to obscure the present, usually negating it so successfully that we can hardly be said to experience it. The ceaseless stream of intentionality devalues the present into simply one more moment in the sequence of causal relationships, as an effect of past causes and a cause of future effects.

     The consequence of this devaluation of the present is that time becomes objectified through a reversal taking place. Instead of past and future being understood as a function of present memories and expectations, the present is reduced to a moment within a "time-stream" which is understood to exist "out there" -- a "container," as it were, like space, within which things exist and events occur. But in order for time to be a container, there must be a contained -- something that is "in" it -- which is objects. And in order for objects to be "in" time, they must in themselves be atemporal -- i.e., self-existing. In this way, the delusive bifurcation that occurs between objects and causality is paralleled by the same bifurcation between objects and time, as a result of which each pole gains a spurious "reality." The first reified object, the most important thing to be hypostatized as atemporal, is the "I," the sense of an ontological self that is permanent and unchanging, which comes into being to discover itself in the anxious position of being an atemporal entity nonetheless inextricably trapped "in" time.

     The first half of the Mādhyamika dialectic deconstructs the object that is "in" time by demonstrating that it is time. Much of our difficulty in understanding time is due to spatial metaphors, but in this case a spatial analogy is helpful. We normally understand objects such as cups to be "in" space, which implies that in themselves they must have a self-existence distinct from spatial relations. Not much reflection, however, is necessary to realize that the cup itself is irremedially spatial: all its parts must have a certain thickness, and without the various spatial relations among the bottom and sides and handle, the cup could not be a cup. One way to express this is to say that the cup is not "in" space but itself is space: the cup is "what space is doing in that place," so to speak. The same is true for the temporality of the cup. The cup is not an atemporal, self-existing object that just happens to be "in" time, for its being is irremedially temporal. This de-




stroys the thought-constructed dualism between things and time. When we want to express this, we must describe one pole in terms of the other, by saying either that objects are temporal (in which case they are not "objects" as we usually conceive of them) or, conversely, that time is objects -- that is, that time expresses itself in the manifestations which we call objects. Probably the clearest expression of this was by the Japanese Zen master Degas: "The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers. The flowers, in turn, express the time called spring. This is not existence within time; existence itself is time."[16] This is the meaning of his "being-time" (uji):

"Being-time" means that time is being; i.e., "Time is existence, existence is time." ... Every thing, every being in this entire world is time ... Do not think of time as merely flying by; do not only study the fleeting aspect of time. If time is really flying away, there would be a separation between time and ourselves. If you think that time is just a passing phenomenon, you will never understand being-time.[17]

Time "flies away" when we experience it dualistically, with the sense of a self which is observing it from outside. Then time becomes something which I have (or don't have) objectified and quantified in a succession of "now-moments" that cannot be held but incessantly fall away. In contrast, the "being-times" which we usually reify into objects do not occur in time because they are time. As Nāgārjuna would put it, that things (or "thingings") are time means that there is no second, external time which they are "within."

     This brings us to the second prong of the dialectic. Having used temporality to deconstruct things, we must now reverse the analysis and use the lack of a thing "in" time to negate the objectivity of time also. When there is no contained, there can be no container. If there are no things which have an existence apart from time, then it makes no sense to speak of "them" as being young or old: "So the young man does not grow old nor does the old man grow old" (Nāgārjuna)[18]. Dōgen expressed this in terms of firewood and ashes:

... we should not take the view that what is latterly ashes was formerly firewood. What we should understand is that, according to the doctrine of Buddhism, Firewood stays at the position of firewood ... There are former and later stages, but these stages are clearly cut.[19]

Firewood does not become ashes; rather, there is the "being-time" of firewood, then the "being-time" of ashes. If there are no atemporal objects, then the present does not gain its value or meaning by its relation to past or future. Each "being-time" is complete in itself. But how does such "being-time" free us from time?

Similarly, when human beings die, they cannot return to life; but in Buddhist teaching we never say that life changes into death ... Likewise, death cannot change into life ... Life and death have absolute existence, like the relationship of winter and spring. But do not think of winter changing into spring or spring into summer.[20]




Because life and death, like spring and summer, are not in time, they are in themselves timeless. If there is no one who is born and dies, there is only birth and death; but if there are only the events of birth and death, then there is no real birth and death. Alternatively, we may say that there is life and death in every moment, with the arising and passing away of each thought and act. Dōgen again: "Just understand that birth-and-death is nirvāna... only then can you be free from birth and death."

     This paradox suggests two contradictory descriptions. We may say that there is only the present: not, of course, the present as usually understood -- a series of fleeting moments which incessantly fall away to become the past -- but a very different present which incorporates what we normally call the past and the future, because it always stays the same.

We cannot be separated from time. This means that because, in reality, there is no coming or going in time, when we cross the river or climb the mountain we exist in the eternal present of time; this time includes all past and future time.... Most people think time is passing and do not realize that there is an aspect that is not passing (Dōgen).[21]

What is the aspect of time that is not passing? It is always now. Alternatively, this non-dual way of experiencing time may be described as living in eternity: again, not eternity in the usual sense, an infinite persistence in time which presupposes the usual duality between things and time. There is "an eternity on this side of the grave" if the present is not devalued, as Wittgenstein realized:

For life in the present there is no death.
If by eternity is understood not infinite temporal duration but non-temporality, then it can be said that a man lives eternally if he lives in the present.[22]

     So there is nothing outside the incessant flux of change, yet there is also something which does not change at all. Transformation is experienced very differently if one is the change rather than an observer of it. The same is true for causality. The interdependence of time and causality means that to live (in) the Now-which-does-not-fall-away is freedom, for that Now is an unconditionality which is not incompatible with conditions as long as I am those conditions. To be the Now means to be one with whatever is happening, in which case conditions are not a constraint but constitute the everchanging web of possibilities which may be actualized (or not) freely. Such freedom is not a delusion born of ignoring the causal factors that determine my behavior, but just the opposite: it is motives, conscious or unconscious, which pull me out of the Now by objectifying both time and things (including, first, me) in order to provide a field-of-play for the network of intentions. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such an objectified field as long as it is realized to be a mental construction, for then I am not objectively trapped within my own objectifications. But, from the "highest point of view," we have always lived only (in) the Eternal Now. Any other sense of time is the result of prapañca thought-projection within that Now. That is why philosophy -- not only metaphysics but even deconstructive anti-philosophy, including this paper -- cannot be the Way, but must finally yield to something else. To identify with any thought-construction is to be objectified by it and lose the Now, whereas meditation -- zazen, yoga, etc. -- is learning how to dwell in that Now.





1. In terms of the double-deconstruction above, Derrida performs the first phase of the dialectic but not the second. The Mahāyāna dissolution of self-existing objects "into" time anticipates the critique of self-presence which Derrida makes in textual terms, by showing that every process of signification is an economy of temporal differences:

The play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals, which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself... There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces.[23]

But, despite realizing that each term of such dualities is only the différance of the other, Derrida does not see the second phase, in which the dialectic reverses. In Dōgen's "being-time," lack of self-presence is not incompatible with "the eternal present of time," because without self-existing objects time is not composed of a succession of "now-moments." Such moments exist only relative to objects, as their successive modulations. Mahāyāna ends up with a distinction between the commonsense understanding of objectified time, in which the present shrinks to a moving dividing-line whereby the future continuously falls away to become past, and the non-metaphysical experience of an Eternal Now. It is no coincidence that this bears more than a passing resemblance to (among many other things) Heidegger's distinction between the "fallen" metaphysical conception of time and a more primordial understanding which the "fundamental ontology" of Being and Time attempts to grasp.

     Derrida's most detailed examination of time and of Heidegger is in "Ousia and Grammē: Note on a note from Being and Time."[24] Its point of departure is a footnote from Being and Time in which Heidegger, having differentiated his own view of time from the traditional and metaphysical one, argues that the "fallen" conception of time is implicit in all Western metaphysics from Aristotle through Hegel and Bergson. It originates in an aporia found in Aristotle's Physics IV, in which the nature of time is determined as "nonbeing' ' because it is composed of a succession of elementary parts -- "nows" (nun):

But in order to be, in order to be a being, it [time] must not be affected by time, it must not become (past or future). To participate in beingness, in ousia, therefore is to participate, in being-present, in the presence of the present, or if you will, in presentness (p.40).

The circularity of this definition remains "unthought" until Heidegger. From the Mādhyamika perspective, this aporia is merely another version of the delusive bifurcation between things and time. Aristotle's metaphysical demonstration is only a more explicit determination of the duality already latent in ordinary language. Whether both terms resulting from the bifurcation are taken to be real (both "container" and "contained" being real, as presented above in Part 1) or the reality of one is used to deny the reality of the other (as with Aristotle) is irrelevant to the main point.




     From a Mādhyamika perspective, what is most interesting is that Derrida's essay takes for granted the very metaphysical determination of time that Heidegger and (to a lesser extent) even Hegel are attempting to bring into question. Ironically, the many passages which Derrida quotes from Hegel and Heidegger repeatedly point to the second and reverse movement, a move which Derrida himself cannot see. It would be difficult to find another text that deconstructs itself so well. For example:

...this Hegelian determination of time permits us to think the present, the very form of time, as eternity... Eternity is another name of the presence of the present. Hegel also distinguishes this presence from the present as now (pp. 45-6).

Derrida's critique arises from not seeing the distinction which Heidegger makes between two different types of present: fallen and primordial, gegenwärtig and anwesen. Derrida introduces Heidegger's footnote by placing it in its context.

     The Note belongs to the next to last section of the last chapter ("Temporality and Within-Time-ness as the Source of the Ordinary Conception of Time"). Time is usually considered as that in which beings are produced. Within-time-ness, intratemporality, is taken to be the homogeneous medium in which the movement of daily existence is reckoned and organized. This homogeneity of the temporal medium becomes the effect of a "leveling off of primordial time"..., and constitutes a world time more objective than the object and more subjective than the subject (p. 35).

Derrida sees that the "leveling" of which Heidegger speaks as due to the exorbitant privilege of the "now" and the "point" (p. 36). Yet, after reproducing the entire footnote, he can understand its significance only as calling into question, not some conception of the present, but, simply, "the present":

Has not the entire history of philosophy been authorized by the "extraordinary right" of the present?... How could one think Being and time otherwise than on the basis of the present, in the form of the present, to wit a certain now in general from which no experience, by definition, can ever depart? The experience of thought and the thought of experience have never dealt with anything but presence (p. 38).

Derrida's concern is to overthrow the privilege granted to the present, but merely relegating presence into a function of past and future différances misses the deeper point of Heidegger's distinction and Nāgārjuna's critique. What is taken for granted in "Ousia and Grammē" is nowhere obvious there, but it becomes explicit in a much-quoted passage from the previous essay "Différance":

Différance is what makes the movement of signification possible only if each element called "present," appearing on the stage of presence, is related to something other than itself, but is retaining the mark of the past element and is already letting itself be hollowed out by the mark of its relation to the future element, -- the trace relating no less to what is called the future than to what is called the past, and constituting what is called the present by this very relation to what is not; that is, not even to a past or a future considered as a modified present. In order for it [the present element] to be, an interval must separate it from what it is not; but this interval that constitutes it in the present must also, with one and the same stroke, divide the present in itself, thus dividing, along with the present, everything that can be conceived on its basis, that is, every being, -- in particular, for our metaphysical language, the substance or subject (emphasis mine)."[25]




the present in itself, thus dividing, along with the present, everything that can be conceived on its basis, that is, every being, -- in particular, for our metaphysical language, the substance or subject (emphasis mine).[25]

An interval must separate the present from what it is not in order for the present to be itself. But how does an interval function to make the present "be itself"? It can only be by distinguishing one "now-moment" from another, which is not-yet or already-was. What remains "unthought" in this is the usual and apparently innocuous assumption that the present is a series of such "now-moments" which successively fall away. Now is the time to reflect further on the implications of this assumption. Doesn't any such conception of the present presuppose another present that each "now-moment" successively "occupies"? For what else can determine that one now-moment is now present, while another is not-yet or already-was? But this begins to sound oddly familiar. What did Derrida say about Aristotle's aporia?

...time is defined according to its relation to an elementary part, the now, which itself is affected -- as if it were not already temporal -- by a time which negates it in determining it as a past now or a future now. The nun, the element of time, in this sense is not in itself temporal (P.40).

Derrida's attack on "the privilege granted to the present" should not distract us from realizing that his own conception of time constitutes another version of the everyday and "commonsense" conception of time. Ironically, both are versions of the circular aporia which Derrida criticizes in Aristotle.

     This shows us again that it is not only, or primarily, formal metaphysics which must be deconstructed, but the ontological commitments sedimented in the categories of ordinary language and thus in our everyday, taken-for-granted understanding of experience. Otherwise our analysis, although deconstructing the explicit "transcendental signifieds" of systematic metaphysics, also reveals the implicit, concealed ones of commonsense. Derrida concludes his essay by suggesting that "perhaps there is no 'vulgar concept of time.'"

The concept of time, in all its aspects, belongs to metaphysics, and it names the domination of presence.... an other concept of time cannot be opposed to it, since time in general belongs to metaphysical conceptuality (p. 63).

This is more true than Derrida realizes: because his own conception of time, like that of commonsense, like any conception, is metaphysical. A view of time, and thus a metaphysics (whether articulated or latent) is unavoidable as long as the delusive bifurcation between time and things has not been eliminated through ending prapañca thought-construction. However much Derrida may "solicit" the history of Western metaphysics, this example suggests that his "de-sedimentation" finally functions to justify a commonsense view which does not become aware of its own metaphysical assumptions.

     This critique of Derrida recuperates much of Heidegger against him. Derrida criticizes his valorization of presence and nearness, "the prevalence granted to the phenom-




enological metaphor."[26] From the strict perspective of Mādhyamika deconstruction, such metaphors are no more acceptable than any other attempt to describe what is, yet are also understandable as an attempt to describe the nondual experience which occurs when prapañca ends. If the sense of self is one of the objectifications due to prapañca, then (to paraphrase Eckhart) such experience is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and phenomenological metaphors seem naturally suggested. But despite his great attempt to deconstruct metaphysics and overcome philosophy, Heidegger never discovered the way really to do so. He realized the illusion of system-making, but never the root delusion of thought-construction. From a Buddhist perspective, one senses that he had some taste of nondual experience -- perhaps at the time of the Kehret? -- and that he spent the rest of his career in an attempt to develop philosophical categories adequate to express it. Derrida is correct to criticize Heidegger's opposition between "primordial" and "derivative" temporality as still metaphysical (p. 63), yet Heidegger himself knew this. Unfortunately, he never discovered the way out of metaphysics. But neither has Derrida.

2. What must be the nature of philosophical discourse which wants to announce the inability of thought and language to re-present reality? Simply trying to represent that inability is self-defeating and "risks sinking into the autism of the closure" (Ends, p. 135). But not to represent at all leaves only silence or the ludic free-play of discourse, neither of which in itself is of much help to anyone else. The Mahāyāna solution is to adopt both, using a "double-strategy" which produces a theory about the delusiveness of thought and also dismisses that theory by turning it back against itself. This is the strategy employed in the voluminous Prajñapāramitā (literally, "transcendental wisdom") literature of Mahāyāna, which contains countless formulations of the following form: "X is X, but it is not really X." Nāgārjuna's more rigorous deconstruction is a classic example of how the second strategy devours the first: head swallows tail, and nothing remains -- no nirvāna, no Buddha, no teaching at all. "No truth has been taught by a Buddha for anyone, anywhere" (MMK, XXV, 24). One result of this was Zen:

...the fundamental dharma (teaching) of the dharma is that there are no dharmas, yet that this dharma of no-dharma is in itself a dharma; and now that the no-dharma dharma has been transmitted, how can the dharma of the dharma be a dharma? (Huang Po[27])

The practice negated any theory, even though it was a particular theory which justified that practice and made it possible. Only meditative practice can actually end prapañca and open up a new mode of experience.

     Derrida too has a "double-strategy," but his works very differently. His first strategy -- his theory of why theory cannot represent -- is différance and the grammatological critique of self-presence; the second is the "dissemination" which this opens up, allowing "the seminal adventure of the trace." Again, the first strategy justifies and requires the second. There is an inevitable tension within both double-strategies, but Nāgārjuna's deconstruction is finally resolved in a clôture whose silence reveals an alternative to the superimpositions of thought-construction. In contrast, the contradiction within Derrida's deconstruction, rather than devouring itself, becomes an ambivalent "bad infin-




ity" in which what is unsatisfactory about each strategy is disguised by alternatively having recourse to the other.

     Derrida understands that all philosophy, including his, can only "reinscribe," but, for him, the sole solution is to disseminate wildly in the hope of avoiding any fixation into a system that will subvert his insight.[28] One wonders what freedom can be found in such a need to keep ahead of yourself. In contrast, we have the Buddhist example of a Zen master, who plays with language -- moving in and out of it freely -- because he is not bound by it. His laconic expressions emerge from and are one with, an unrepresentable ground of serenity; and although they cannot point directly to this ground, there are ways to suggest it for someone else. In comparison with this freedom, to rejoice in being caught in a language which has lost its ability to represent any truth brings to mind Shaw's comment on the pleasures of an endless holiday: "a good working definition of hell."

3. The same criticism can be made from another direction. The exposition of Mādhyamika concluded with paradoxes: if there is only causation, then everything is unconditioned; if there is only time, then there is no time. Derrida's conception of interpretation and supplementation may be deconstructed into another version of the same paradox: if there is no pure and simple "origin," but only the deferral of supplements ("the trace is the origin of the origin"), then there is no supplementation either, because each supplement becomes its own origin. In one sense this indeed liberates interpretation, but in amore fundamental sense it refutes the possibility of "interpretation." If, as Nietzsche said, the text disappears under its interpretation, then so must the interpretations. As before, Derrida begins a deconstruction but does not complete it. By turning the deconstructed term back against the deconstructing one, dissemination may be deconstructed into "the end of prapañca."

     "Poststructuralism" was inaugurated by the linguistic realization that in the functioning of the sign it is not possible to distinguish the order of the signified from the order of the signifier. The role of the signified is played by a set of signifiers. "The ontological consequences for such a view are immense. The rigid metaphysical distinction between empirical signifier and ideal signified becomes obliterated in a general circulation of signs, i.e., in the play of signifiers."[29] The literary consequences are equally immense. The sharp distinction between the original text-in-itself and its interpretations becomes obliterated in a "disseminating" discourse which can "decenter the text" by appending its own commentary as a "textual graft." "The hermeneutic project which postulates a true sense of the text is disqualified.... Reading is freed from the horizon of the meaning or truth of Being," etc.[30] This "liberation" of the signifiers also establishes a democracy among them; in the general circulation of signs, they become equal. By eliminating the intentions of the author (another signified "origin"), Nietzsche's cryptic remark on a scrap of paper -- "I have forgotten my umbrella" -- becomes "no




more or less significant than any other passage." "Dissemination... affirms (I do not say produces or controls) endless substitution, it neither arrests nor controls play."[31]

     Who likes to stop someone else from playing and having fun? But there is something odd here. Why does one interpret? The original motivation presupposed a search for truth, understood as a signified which language could come to signify. Supplementation and interpretation were necessary because previous attempts to signify this truth were inadequate: the old categories needed to be adjusted or, more radically, new paradigms substituted. But why supplement now, if we are no longer trying to discover some conceptual truth that can be signified? Derrida offers an alternative view of interpretation: there is not only "deciphering to end exile," but also "affirming play." If there is no pure origin then there is no exile to return from; but in what sense can such "play" still be called "interpretation," if the chain of supplementation is not rooted in some to-be-signified?

     The poststructuralist response is that this objection is based on a confusion. Because other signifiers function as signifiers for each other, there is always reference -- not to some mythical origin, but to other supplements. There is only the interpretation of other interpretations. This is why deconstruction is necessarily parasitic: not believing that there is any non-metaphorical truth-in-itself to be signified, it needs as "host" another text which attempts to provide such a signified. Then it is not only the host which makes truth-claims, but also the deconstruction which gains a derivative truth-signifying ability of its own from its critique of the proffered signified.

     The irony in this is that Derrida, while believing that he has refuted any transcendental signified, has in effect reconstituted an equivalent in the truth-claim of the host-text, because that is the only way his own deconstruction can make any truth-claim. The motivation behind all interpretation is the belief that there is some truth to be discovered in the text, or -- what amounts to the same thing -- that some is to be derived from criticizing it. The demonstration of errors presupposes some truth, and whether that truth is a transcendental signified or a function of other signifiers makes no difference. Derrida eliminates the presumed origin of supplementation without realizing that this origin was also the origin of all truth, and this second loss infects all subsequent supplements all the way back to him.[32]

     This is not a difficulty for Nāgārjuna, who realizes that his own deconstruction implies the refutation of all truth as well as error, including any truth that might be called his own. He does not mind this: on the contrary, he is happy for others to realize the ultimate meaninglessness of his statements as long as they realize the meaninglessness of all others as well. Any conceptual "truth" derived from deconstruction is no less deluding prapañca than error. The "devoidness" (śūnyatā) of all language pleases him because he has another, nonconceptual, perspective, the experience of which is the goal of Buddhist deconstruction.

     It is not sufficient to answer that the deconstructive concept of truth, rather than presupposing a "transcendental signified" outside the text, requires only an "invagination" of the text, a reflexive infolding back onto itself. For the problem is precisely what is obscured by all self-referring involutions. The concept of interpretation, presuppos-




ing such reflexivity, is an instance of such "infolding." The conquence of this, as we shall now see, is that, although nothing escapes the circle of supplementation, for that very reason nothing has ever supplemented anything else.

     This requires a brief discussion of Buddhist meditation, for it is in meditation that such thought-involutions unravel and we are able to realize the nondual nature of non-reflected experience. Some understanding of how meditation functions to end prapañca is essential to Buddhist deconstruction for the simple reason that it is the only effective deconstruction. Briefly, Zen Buddhist meditation (for example) is a means to forget oneself. Since there is really no self to eliminate, all that is needed is to "let go" of the sense of self. But this is not something that the sense-of-self can directly do, since it is itself the problem. What is needed is a special type of "self-forgetting." A common technique is to concentrate on something so completely that the sense of subject-object duality "fades away" as one "becomes one" with it. This mode of "forgetfulness" is best described in contrast with Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida, since "forgetfulness" is an important concept for all of them.

     Derrida believes that it is Nietzsche's interplay between philosophical knowledge and an active, joyful forgetfulness of it which cannot be reconciled with Heidegger's one-sided metaphysical reading of him.[33] For Heidegger, forgetfulness of Being -- which is metaphysics -- is to be in a "remembering back" (Wiedererinnerung). It is this still-metaphysical "remembering back" to Being which Derrida wishes to eliminate in his deconstruction of any transcendental signified. This leaves him with what he thinks is an active Nietzschean forgetfulness, expressed in the "free play" of dissemination. The question already raised is whether such a forgetfulness of metaphysics is only a more subtle form of bondage to the unarticuiated metaphysical categories implicit in our everyday understanding.

     The "forgetfulness" of Zen meditation is different from these. For Buddhism, the fundamental duality in need of deconstruction is that between subject and object, between conscious self and the external world. As with the bifurcations already discussed in Part One, to deconstruct one of the two terms must result in a new understanding of the other. Dōgen again:

To learn about Buddhism is to learn about yourself. To learn about yourself is to forget yourself. To forget yourself is to perceive yourself as all things. To do this is to let "fall away" the body and mind of self and others.[34]

I came to realize clearly that mind is nothing other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.[35]

Such a nondual experience requires actually deconstructing one's own sense-of-self which means some form of meditation to unravel the self-reflexive thought-constructions which maintain the sense of self.

     Derrida's view of the subject is similar -- up to a point:

It [the economic aspect of différence] confirms that the subject, and first of all the conscious and speaking subject, depends upon the system of differences and the movement of




différance, that the subject is not present, nor above all present to itself before difference, that the subject is constituted only in being divided from itself, in becoming space, in temporizing, in deferral...[36]

Buddhism agrees that différance is intrinsic to the subject. The disagreement is whether it is possible to put an end to such temporizing deferral. Can such a subject actually be deconstructed? Despite his critique of the Western metaphysical tradition, Derrida still implicitly accepts the post-Aristotelian view -- a metaphysical view now too firmly inscribed in rationalist "commonsense" to be recognized as such -- that any other mode of experience is a religious myth. Buddhism agrees that the subject is not a cause but an effect, and for that reason cannot directly undo itself. But in Buddhism it is the way the mind reflexively "doubles-back" upon itself that creates the sense of self -- e.g., the sense of being a thinker, the one who links thoughts together. John Levy has elaborated this point into what is perhaps the classic argument against subject-object duality:

     When I am conscious of an object, that is, of a notion or a percept, that object alone is present. When I am conscious of my perceiving, what alone presents itself to consciousness is the notion that I perceive the object; and therefore the notion of my being a perceiver also constitutes an object of consciousness. From this, a most important fact emerges: the so-called subject who thinks, and its apparent object, have no immediate relation.

     The notion, lam reading, does not occur while we are thus absorbed [in reading a book]; it occurs only when our attention wavers ... a little reflection will show that even when we are not thus absorbed for any appreciable lapse of time, the subject who afterwards lays claim to the action was not present to consciousness when the action was taking place. The idea of our being the agent occurs to us as a separate thought, which is to say that it forms an entirely fresh object of consciousness. And since, at the time of the occurrence, we were present as neither the thinker, the agent, the percipient, nor the enjoyer, no subsequent claim on our part could alter the position...

     If the notions of subject and object are both the separate objects of consciousness, neither term has any real significance. An object, in the absence of a subject, cannot be what is normally called an object; and the subject, in the absence of an object, cannot be what is normally called the subject. It is in memory that the two notions seem to combine to form an entirely new notion, I am the perceiver or the thinker.[37]

Levy develops a point much stressed in Vedānta: the self is that which cannot be known, for to know it would be to make it into an object. What is usually overlooked about this point is that our usual sense-of-self is the result of exactly such an objectification. But then what would happen if I did not reflexively "superimpose" the notions of subject and object together in memory? If each thought were experienced autonomously, just by itself, wouldn't that eliminate the delusive sense of subject-object duality?

     That this is the principle behind Zen meditation is suggested by perhaps the greatest Zen master, the sixth Chinese patriarch, Hui Neng:

In the exercise of our thinking faculty, let the past be dead. If we allow our thoughts, past, present and future, to link up in a series, we put ourselves under restraint. On the other hand, if we never let our mind attach to anything, we shall gain freedom.[38]




Hui Neng's "dharma-grandson," Ma-tsu, describes the result of this practice -- how thoughts are experienced after enlightenment, once the sense of self has "fallen away": "So with former thoughts, later thoughts, and thoughts in between: the thoughts follow one another without being linked together. Each one is absolutely tranquil."[39]

     This is not to deny that from another perspective thoughts are conditioned by other thoughts, a function of other mental events. Here we have another version of the causality paradox: the conditionality of all mental events -- the fact that all thoughts are always "supplements" -- means that each one may be experienced autonomously, as if it were the only one in the whole universe) springing up nondually by itself. In the causality paradox, this occurred because the "noncausal" term -- the object -- was deconstructed. The equivalent here is the thinker, the sense of a self which is supposedly doing the thinking by linking the thoughts together, never letting go of one until there is another to hold. When that thinker suddenly evaporates, the nondual nature of each thought becomes evident: I do not think it, because "I" am it.

     This strange phenomenon is in fact quite familiar to us, for it is the source of creativity. This explains why creativity is necessarily mysterious, for the honest genius will admit that he doesn't know where his inspirations come from. Innumerable examples of such nondual thinking can be cited. Given the topic of this paper, the best examples are from Nietzsche and Heidegger:

     Has anyone at the end of the nineteenth century a clear idea of what poets of strong ages have called inspiration If not, I will describe it. -- If one had the slightest residue of superstition left in one's system, one could hardly reject altogether the idea that one is merely incarnation, merely mouthpiece, merely a medium of overpowering forces. The concept of revelation -- in a sense that suddenly, with indescribable certainty and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes one to the last depths and throws one down -- that merely describes the facts. One hears, one does not seek; one accepts, one does not ask who gives; like lightning, a thought flashes up, with necessity, without hesitation regarding its form -- never had any choice....

     Everything happens involuntarily in the highest degree but as in a gale of a feeling of freedom, of absoluteness, of power, of divinity....[40]

Notice how Nietzsche equates conditionality ("involuntarily in the highest degree' ') and the unconditioned ("a gale of a feeling of freedom..."). There are no such dramatic examples in Heidegger, but this concept of "nondual thinking" provides an insightful approach to all his later work, which is concerned not to construct a system but to think ever more deeply and nondually. In fact, this constitutes perhaps the major difference between his earlier project, which was still metaphysical in trying to represent Being, and his later work after the Kehre when his thinking was "claimed by Being."[41]

     I know of nothing comparable in Derrida. Perhaps the French legacy of Cartesian subjectivity is not so easily effaced. Despite his clever "dance of the pen," Derrida's multivalent wit never becomes the inspiration of Nietzsche, any more than savoir vivre is found in the cruel laughter of the Overman, who leaves without looking back at the




texts burning behind him. Is it necessary to add that many examples of both are to be found in the Zen tradition?[42]



     The purpose of this essay has been to show that, although Derrida's différance constitutes a major philosophical insight, his employment of it does not develop its most radical implications. There is no "transcendental signified" to which language can point, because every signified is only a function of other signifiers; all we can ever have in language is a general circulation of signs. The importance of this can hardly be over-emphasized, but from this sudden checkmate of all philosophy there are two directions to go. One is to make the reasonable but solipsistic assumption that, because language cannot point outside itself, we must remain forever inscribed in its sign-circulation. This "liberates" the proliferations of dissemination, a "free-play" that must be called nihilistic if it is motivated by having nothing else to do.[43]

     The other possibility is that perhaps what metaphysics has sought in language can be found in some other way. Needless to say, contemporary Western philosophy is not sympathetic to such a possibility; but isn't that a consequence of the frustration of it sown attempt to point outside itself? In language, such a possibility cannot be proven or disproven, but most of the Asian philosophical tradition is predicated on that possibility. Of course, examples are not lacking in the West either.[44]

     The poststructuralist response to this is predictable. What I have called a deconstruction is only another attempted aufheben of metaphysics. The Now-which-does-not-fall-away, etc., is merely another transcendental signified, a fact disguised by ambivalently signifying it and then denying that it can be signified. Of course, such a criticism is true. But it is unnecessary. This paper readily deconstructs itself, as Buddhism has been doing for over two thousand years. The truth of all this can only imply its ultimate meaninglessness, since this paper becomes merely a proliferation of thought-constructions. But that does not make me a Cretan liar, for the philosophical point has been to demonstrate the need to go beyond philosophy. Perhaps it is only in this sense that language can truly point beyond itself. May this critique contribute, not to the endless proliferation of commentary, but to that true deconstruction which abruptly finds its clôture in the nonconceptual realization of our nondual nature.





[1] Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend (Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1984), p. 48. This book discusses Derrida in relation to Taoism, M5dhyamika, and Christian theology ("the Blessed Trinity").[back to text]
[2] For example, T. R. V. Murti, whose study remains perhaps the best work in English on the subject: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (London: Alien and Unwin, 1960).[back to text]
[3] The Mūlamadhyamikakārikā (hereafter "MMK") is Nāgārjuna's most important work. References are to the translation by Mervyn Sprung, in Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti (Boulder, Colorado: Prajnā Press, 1979).[back to text]
[4] The Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti (see n. 3) is the best-known Buddhist commentary on the MMK; this is from the gloss to XXV, 24.[back to text]
[5] The following exposition draws heavily on several previously published papers on the topic: "The Difference between Samsāra and Nirvāna," Philosophy East and West, 33 (October, 1983); "How Not to Criticize Nāgārjuna: A Response to L. Stafford Betty," Philosophy East and West, 34 (October, 1984); "The Paradox of Causality in Mādhyamika," International Philosophical Quarterly, 25 (March, 1985); and "The Mahāyāna Deconstruction of Time," Philosophy East and West, 36 (January, 1986).[back to text]
[6] Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, pp. 10-11.[back to text]
[7] Sprung's translation; usually "emptiness." Śūnyatā is from the root śū, which means "to swell" in two senses: not only "hollow or empty" but also "to be swollen" in the sense of full. It has been unfortunate for Buddhist studies in the West that "emptiness" captures only the first sense.[back to text]
[8] For a provocative discussion of possible Greek influence, see Thomas McEvilley, "Early Greek Philosophy and Mādhyamika," Philosophy East and West, 31 (April, 1981).[back to text]
[9] "The Mādhyamika is the most dogmatic rationalist of any tradition" (Sprung, p. 9).[back to text]
[10] Quoted in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1982), p. 128.[back to text]
[11] Vigraha-vyāvartani verse 29.[back to text]
[12] I do not make a textual exegesis but present an interpretation of what Nāgārjuna's arguments are doing. Even in India and Tibet there has always been much controversy about the meaning of Mādhyamika, and other schools, naturally frustrated by not having any thesis to attack, have usually criticized Nāgārjuna as a nihilist. His own successors divided over the question of whether Mādhyamika was merely parasitic in offering a critique of any view (the Prasangika school) or could advance autonomous arguments of its own (the Svatantrika school). In the West, Nāgārjuna-interpretation is still in its infancy. For a critique of the two main lines of interpretation, see "How Not to Criticize Nāgārjuna" (n. 6).[back to text]
[13] Tung-shan told his students to walk "in the bird's track," which is of course trackless. For further discussion of the relations among action, intention, and nonduality, see "Wei-wu-wei: Nondual Action," Philosophy East and West, 35 (January, 1985).[back to text]
[14] This view of Mādhyamika is important for understanding the trisvabhāva ("three natures") doctrine of Yogācāra Buddhism. The "imagined nature" of parikalpita is our usual dualistic experience of a collection of discrete things causally interacting in space and time. "All-conditionality" corresponds to the "other-dependent" nature of paratantra. The Unconditioned is the perfectly-accomplished world of parinispanna. For both Mādhyamika and Yogācāra (the two main philosophical schools of Mahāyāna) an understanding of "all-conditionality," negating the self-existence of discrete things, is the crucial "hinge" by which we turn from delusion to enlightenment.[back to text]
[15] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Vol. I (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 45. Arendt is describing Plotinus and Hegel, but the quotation also fits the nondualist Asian traditions.[back to text]
[16] Masunaga Reiho, tran., The Solo Approach to Zen (Tokyo: Layman Buddhist Society Press, 1958), pp. 58-69.[back to text]
[17] Dōgen Zenji, Shōbōgenzō, tran. Nishiyama and Stevens (Sendai: Daihokkaikaku), Vol. 1, 1975.[back to text]
[18] MMK, XIII, 5.[back to text]
[19] Dōgen Zenji, p. 2.[back to text]
[20] Ibid.[back to text]
[21] Ibid., pp. 69,70.[back to text]
[22] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914-1916 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1961), p. 75e, 8.7.16.[back to text]
[23] Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Baas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 26.[back to text]
[24] Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 31-67.[back to text]
[25] Magliola's trans., in Derrida on the Mend (see n. 1), pp. 32-33.[back to text]
[26] "The Ends of Man," in Margins of Philosophy, p. 132; hereafter "Ends."[back to text]
[27] John Blofeld, trans., The Zen Teaching of Huang PO (London: The Buddhist Society, 1958), pp. 64-65, with alterations.[back to text]
[28] "Both the destruction and deconstruction of the history of philosophy have the effect of leading, not to a forgetting or an overcoming of it, but to an increased preoccupation with it." [David Couzens Hoy, "Forgetting the Text," in The Question of Textuality, ed. Sapiens, Bové, and O'Hara (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 234]. It is a way to recuperate the tradition without believing in it; for what else are philosophers today to do?[back to text]
[29] David B. Allison, "Destruction/Deconstruction in the Text of Nietzsche" in ibid., p. 215.[back to text]
[30] From Derrida's Spurs, quoted in Allison, ibid., p. 211.[back to text]
[31] Positions, p. 86.[back to text]
[32] "The task confronting a post-structuralist... theory of reading is to explain misreadings without generating ontological commitments of the same sort that caused previous distortions." (Hoy, op. cit., p. 223).[back to text]
[33] For example, see Ends, p. 163 and the discussion by Spivak in her introduction to Of Grammatology, xxx-xxxiii.[back to text]
[34] From the "Genjo-Koan" first fascicle of the Shōbōgenzō, my version.[back to text]
[35] Quoted in Philip Kapleau, ed., The Three Pillars of Zen (Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1966), p. 205.[back to text]
[36] Positions, p. 29.[back to text]
[37] John Levy, The Nature of Man According to the Vedanta (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), pp. 66-67.[back to text]
[38] Wong Mou-lam, trans., Sutra Spoken by the Sixth Patriarch on the High Seat of the Treasure of the Law (Hong Kong Buddhist Book Distributor, no date), p. 49.[back to text]
[39] Quoted in Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (Penguin, 1962), p. 102 n.[back to text]
[40] F. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage 1966), pp. 300-301.[back to text]
[41] "Letter on Humanism," trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 199.[back to text]
[42] For further discussion of how meditation functions to cut the chain of interlinking thoughts, see "Mu and its Implications," Zen Buddhism Today III, 1985, Institute for Zen Studies, Hanazono College, Kyoto; and "Nondual Thinking," Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 13 (June, 1986).[back to text]
[43] Given Derrida's fondness for Nietzsche, a Nietzschean evaluation is appropriate here. For Nietzsche,nihilism is a hope for the future, because it provides the possibility for a necessary "revaluation of all values. "But more immediately it is a grave danger: "God (Being, the transcendental signified, value, reference, meaning) is dead; now everything is permitted." In textual terms, what form would such nihilism take? Do we find an equivalent in the loss of the original source of meaning, experienced as a vertiginous freedom to proliferate and disseminate in any way we want? Is it then that "I have lost my umbrella" becomes as meaningful as any other statement?[back to text]
[44] This opens up the possibility of deconstructing another duality: that between Western philosophy, defining itself as rational inquiry, and its "shadow" the mystical tradition. The latter has survived only as a subterranean current distinct from the mainstream of Western thought, which has dismissed it as irrational. As long as philosophy was confident of its logical ability to derive a transcendental signified, this intolerance was inevitable; but perhaps a bridge can now be found. I think it is scandalous that Eckhart, for example, has not been incorporated into the main tradition. One wonders if Spinoza, had he not used a geometrical method, would have suffered the same fate.[back to text]