Allowing Spontaneity: Practice, Theory, and Ethical Cultivation in Longchenpa's Great Perfection Philosophy of Action
Lobel, Adam S.
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AbstractThis is a study of the philosophy of practical action in the Great Perfection poetry and spiritual exercises of the fourteenth century Tibetan author, Longchen Rabjampa Drime Ozer (klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer 1308-1364). I inquire into his claim that practices may be completely spontaneous, uncaused, and effortless and what this claim might reveal about the conditions of possibility for action. Although I am interested in how Longchenpa understands spontaneous practices, I also question whether the very categories of practice and theory are useful for interpreting his writings. In taking up these questions, I maintain that Longchenpa’s texts can contribute to inquiries into the nature of human practices and action that is relevant today. It is my aspiration that this dissertation may facilitate engagement with Longchenpa’s reflections on the nature of liberative practice by thinkers in post-Heideggerian continental philosophy, especially in relation to conceptions of intentionality, causality, agency, ethics, and free will.
The study begins with the historical context for issues of spontaneous practice relevant for Longchenpa’s Great Perfection tradition in fourteenth century Tibet. Following from this context, I then present four different interpretations of causal action, which I call the “four configurations.” Comprising the second part of the study, my examination of each of these configurations will consist in an exploration of what I argue are four primary ways to construe the nature of practice in terms of intentionality, theories, and causality. The first configuration addresses spiritual exercises that begin with theoretical views that are deliberately applied in actions. The second configuration focuses on methods that begin with embodied practices. The third configuration explores metaphysical foundations for actions. The fourth configuration looks to tacit social practices and networks of relationships as conditions for methods of ethical self-cultivation. Yet each of these characterizations fall short of what I will argue is Longchenpa’s understanding of practical action. Each of these configurations fail to provide the most satisfying, and in the end accurate, model of the process by which human beings perform freedom. The central chapters of the thesis bring together the history of Buddhist spiritual exercises, Longchenpa’s writings, and selected issues from contemporary philosophy and sociology of practice.
I will show how Longchenpa’s spontaneous practice theory challenges some of the most basic assumptions about practices, and questions whether even well-meaning techniques or manipulations can lead to freedom. In the process of this critical reading, I will also be able to glean affirmative aspects of Longchenpa’s approach. Once we suspend the first configuration we can see Longchenpa’s phenomenology of knowledge. Going beyond the second configuration allows me to point to his conceptions of time and an effortlessness style in his instructions for spiritual exercises, which, I argue, is distinct from many interpretations of “sudden” conceptions of Buddhist practice. Going beyond the third configuration allows us to garner a sense of groundless potentiality in actions. And finally, interrupting the fourth configuration provides an opportunity to discern Longchenpa’s spontaneous ontological ethics.
My primary thesis is that if practices are preconceived to be causal, teleological, and intentional, they will be predetermined in terms of an imperative to produce effects. Some form of willfulness becomes necessary to mediate between theory, action, and agency. Therefore, to allow for spontaneous practices, there can be neither a theoretical nor a practical a priori foundation and they must be freed from causality and object-directedness. This observation calls into question the entire metaphysics in which the western apparatus of practice and ethics is thinkable. I would like to put the meanings of practice into the form of a question. Longchenpa will help us to reawaken a sense of wonder and uncertainty about the practical.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40050138
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