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 Is the Truth Important?

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Is the Truth Important?    Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:54 am

I am a big fan of the radio program THIS AMERICAN LIFE. Some of you may know it. It is broadcast on most public radio stations and showcases so many insightful stories and commentary. I download the shows as podcasts and listen to them while I'm on the treadmill at the gym.

Some months ago, there was a special one-hour show from guest reporter Mike Daisey, an expose on Foxconn, the huge factory city in China where hundreds of thousands of workers produce so much of the technology we use today - iphones and ipads, the apple products, android phones, and more. For the last year, there had been reports in western media of problems at the factories, severe working conditions, human and working rights issues, environmental pollution, many suicides. We don't know where most of our "stuff" comes from or who makes it under what conditions. For too many of us, we just want the latest smartphone or flat screen TV to be awesome and affordable and reliable.

So, while on the treadmill, i heard this radio special on Foxconn and thought, Wow, what brilliant reporting. I believed it all. First, it was on one of the most respected radio programs in the country. After all, the reporter was right there, on the scene, talking to workers in China, going behind the gates, getting to the heart of the matter. And everything he said also reflected my existing thoughts and assumptions. I posted a link to the piece on facebook and told friends about the story, urging them to listen to it. Many people were talking about the show. It was considered an example of cutting edge investigative journalism.

In the last few days, it has come out that Mike Daisey falsified large parts of his story. Instead of being a true investigative piece, he had lied and fabricated much of the report. This has become a huge scandal in the world of journalism. Google it and you will see lots of stories and commentaries about this. I include an insightful commentary here. It turns out Daisey was a storyteller, not a journalist. He said what he was reporting was "the truth" but it was fiction, based on some facts, but expanded and exaggerated and amplified. Daisey is what we call a fabulist. He creates fiction and calls it fact. When all this came out, Daisey did not apologize. He said he wasn't a journalist at all, but a dramatist. He said he believes in the power of "narrative truth" and that often involves lying or fabricating. the main point is only about telling a terrific story - and that has such power that it overwhelms "truth" -- the story is so much better and more important and rationalized as "essential." So, there is no problem in making up "facts" or "characters" or "dialogue" - it all serves to create this wonderful story. "The truth of the story" is more important than the reality of daily life. Ordinary daily life is often too boring or complex. Not good enough. Not sharp enough. And it works because we want to believe these stories - the simpler the better. And so you can start with some facts or even imagined facts, you then stretch them a little, you add a bit here and there, and then you expand them, as the story becomes bigger and better and fuller, and you expand them some more, and then you add even more details and elements to it, creating whole new lines of narratives and dimensions-- and at this point - things are becoming very exciting - and then you add more and more, and it becomes huge, thrilling, fascinating, cosmic, eternal, amazing. Wow. At this point, you can't even remember what was "true" originally. And it doesn't matter. It is so much more exciting and vast and special. And now it feels even truer than true. It FEELS much more powerful than the original facts. So this is much better, yes? This is way better than "reality". It is hyper-reality. It is more real than real.

The essay I attached here is very insightful. Worth reading.

OK, so why am I writing about this here? How does this relate to this website or our discussions about the OBC or Zen or anything else? Why should any of care about this?

To cut to the chase, because most of what is considered to be Zen history,the lineage, much of the stories of the Zen masters / patriarchs is just like Daisey's report on Foxcomm. The stories are not true. They are fabrications based on some snippets of truth here or there, but are mostly big narratives, based on sectarian promotional schemes. These great simple glorious accounts are often too good to be true and they aren't true. They represent a ancient Chinese and Japanese cultural tradition of hagiography, of myth making or holy stories that are so compelling they become more important than "truth," and so "truth" doesn't really matter - in this way of thinking. And the overlay of some of the Buddhist teachings on great wisdom, on emptiness, on absolute mind, so the "facts" become even less relevant, not relevant at all - in the grand scheme. Only ignorant people would be concerned with facts. The great story overwhelms any challenges to the specific truth of any of it. And the stories get bigger and better and more and more cosmic and take on a life of their own. Holy enchantment.

Right now, I am reading - READINGS OF THE PLATFORM SUTRA edited by Morten Schulutter and Stephen Teiser. Fascinating. The Platform Sutra is one of the great texts of Zen and Chinese Buddhism. It is a wonderful, powerful story. and it is a story. It never happened. And the Chan/Zen lineage of patriarchal succession is a powerful and enduring construct lying at the heart of Zen identity in both China and later in Japan. But it is also mostly fabrication. If you want to believe the great myth of the perfect unbroken lineage of master and disciple, the mind to mind transmission from the Buddha to the present master, do not read this book. If you want to see how this great myth was actually constructed and manipulated and how it evolved over the centuries, then there are many books to read. And they are not written by evil critics, but by respected historians who respect Zen / Chan teachings immensely but don't see a problem in facing the actual reality of its history.

Why should we care now? Huineng, even if he didn't exist - that was 1500 years ago, so what??? Even if Rinzai didn't write any of the teachings attributed to him, who cares? It all depends i suppose on your relationship to these issues, to these traditions, to Buddhism or dharma. Does truth matter? Do facts matter? For Zen organizations in the West, for the tradition, it matters a great deal. That's my take on it. Whenever there is a scandal like at OBC or Shimano or Maezumi, it is the shadow of these core myths exploding in your face. It is the illusions coming to light. It is the false being revealed. The perfect master is not so perfect, the transmission does not mean what it claims to mean. Facts become relevant and can't be ignored. Daily life matters. Old stories that are being lived out today are not old but present day dramas. So it's not about if Huineng actually lived, but it is about how the assumptions around the master-disciple relationships being lived out now -- coming from these old retold stories. Attachment to the concept of absolute truth leads to confusion and more shadows.

Now, if you have left the tradition behind and have your own unique relationship to all these teachings and practices, it might not matter so much. I am not connected to any Zen organization, but this exploration of what is true, honestly, I find fascinating and useful in so many ways.

So much babbling.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Mike Daisey
Speakeasy - Commentary - By Jeff Yang


When I first encountered “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” the episode of “This American Life” featuring monologuist Mike Daisey on Apple and the practices of its Chinese contract manufacturer Foxconn, I resisted passing it along.

Dozens of people sent it to me and urged me to share the link with others. I’d listened to the show; I thought it was enormously compelling. I love “This American Life,” and I dig Daisey’s work, so why wouldn’t I push it out to my awkwardly large social network?

Maybe it’s because, even then, I felt like something was…off.

I’ve written about China for years, visited there frequently, immersed myself in its historical and contemporary business and culture and history and arts. When I’m there, I’m definitively an American, even if I’m not, as Daisey notes about himself, a large, round and white man who favors Hawaiian shirts. My Mandarin is elementary-school level at best — but I have close friends and coworkers who were born and raised there, and who are both opinionated and, I think, trustworthy.

And the ones closest to the situation also felt like something was…off.

Off enough to prevent me from broadcasting the story in a manner that would have otherwise seemed natural. I’m a long-time user and fan of Apple. But I’ve also been an outspoken believer in the need for both the capitalists of America and quasi-socialists of China to address human rights — and absolutely agree that Apple, the most valuable and profitable company in the world, bears an outsized responsibility to change the landscape for labor in the nation that makes its products possible.

But…could a very large, very round, very white man in a Hawaiian shirt really just roll up to the front gates of Foxconn and begin speaking to Chinese employees without interference? Could he really have happened upon multiple workers under the age of 16, even as young as 12, while standing unmolested and engaging in obvious conversation within barking distance of what he claimed were security guards with guns? (The latter, too, seemed odd: Guns are verboten in China to any but the police and military, and guards for financial institutions and classified-level research complexes. A Foxconn assembly plant doesn’t fit any of those descriptions.)

I didn’t want to call Daisey out: The story was too important, and much of what was in his monologue has been corroborated by other sources. But I felt uncomfortable evangelizing the message. So the news yesterday that Daisey has admitted to falsifying large tracts of his story, including the conversations with underage workers, including the guards with guns — that wasn’t so much surprising as it was disappointing. Today, “This American Life” is taking the unprecedented step of dedicating its entire program to retracting its broadcast of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which is now the most popular episode in the show’s illustrious history — it’s had nearly 900,000 podcast downloads to date.

In retrospect, everyone, including “This American Life” host Ira Glass, says they should have known better — except, how could they have? All of the major facts seemed to check out, matching other accounts and Daisey’s own records.

But they if they’d looked back at Daisey’s history, they might have come to a different set of conclusions.

Disclosure: I don’t know Mike Daisey personally. But I’m in his…peripheral circle. We know people who know one another. We’ve walked some of the same halls, spoken before some of the same audiences. Oh yes, and we’re Facebook friends — a connection that I initiated after following his work for years, beginning in my case with his 2001 show “21 Dog Years,” about his experience working as a phone drone for the ecommerce giant Amazon.com.

For me and many other walking-wounded survivors of the Bubble, “21 Dog Years” — a scathing, hilarious, from-the-intestines POV of one of the Great Beasts of the dot-com era — was a brilliant act of catharsis; it was the cold slap of water that many of us needed to shake off our punch-drunk demeanor. Arriving years before YouTube, it nevertheless went viral, the old, slow Faberge Organics way: A friend and former colleague told me to go see it; I saw it and told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. It was a huge hit. It established Daisey’s unique self- and other-deprecatory voice — rueful and insistent, world-weary yet idealistic.

And most importantly, it anointed him a member of a very select set of individuals who serve as the tech world’s dot-conscience: “Insider” enough to know the players and argot, yet not compromised by the seductive allure of being buddy-buddy with the big swinging dorks of the digital universe. Daisey had become a latter-day Socrates, a stinging fly upon the flanks of Seattle and San Francisco. It was a good role, a necessary one. A high profile one, too: Daisey became a much-sought-after TV and radio guest, a frequent heywaitaminnit voice in the media as irrational exuberance once again beset Silicon Valley.

That kind of role demands constant feeding, however. Almost a decade had gone by, in which Daisey applied his cracking wit to targets both lesser — the boardgame Monopoly, raising a puppy, bacon — and greater — the Department of Homeland Security, the global financial infrastructure, American consumerism. His creativity remained vibrant; his work output, consistent. But his relevance, perhaps, had waned. He was no longer the go-to guy on the need to think different about the price we pay for fulfillment of our one-click-download digital dreams.

And so, having been an Apple lover all of his life — if you follow his blog, at mikedaisey.blogspot.com, Apple-related posts run a close second to vintage pictures of exotic, somewhat-naked women — he decided to go after the biggest target in tech’s new world order: Steve Jobs.

Of course, Daisey’s decision to take aim at Jobs wouldn’t have been solely motivated by the desire to return to the center of the conversation around technology and ethics.

He’d dedicated a 2006 monologue, “Great Men of Genius,” to his obsession with a quartet of four larger than life personalities — Bertolt Brecht, P.T. Barnum, Nikola Tesla, and L. Ron Hubbard —who, placed in a blender and then cloned, might have produced something like Steve Jobs. So turning his lens to Jobs and Apple made sense. And it would make news. And make money.

But Daisey wanted to do more than that. He wanted to make a difference.

And that’s where, it seems to me, things began to go a little bit wrong. Because the role of the stinging fly is not to steer the horse, but to keep it awake and alert — to force it to look around and consider its surroundings, before it runs over a cliff or into a ditch.

With “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” Daisey took it upon himself not just to poke and provoke, but to rally active protest . The final lines of the monologue don’t offer closure, but an opening — literally:

“When you take your phones out outside to check the time, and the light falls across your face, you will know that it may have been made by children’s hands. You will know that. And you will live with it. Just as I live with it. Just as we’re all going to have to start seeing it if we’re going to make the shift. Tonight, the door is open if you want to walk through it. Tonight we are jailbroken.
Tonight we are free.”

The monologue is available in full, for free download. Appended to the play in the PDF is a section titled THE REST OF THE STORY IS IN YOUR HANDS — which touts the work’s enormous resonance and viral impact (specifically naming the historical popularity of the “This American Life” episode), and then urges readers to email Apple CEO Tim Cook, to demand changes from the rest of the hardware industry, to consider reducing their electronics footprint — and yes, to “spread the virus.”

Daisey’s pivot from opinionator to organizer made him an overnight “hot get” not just for public radio but prime-time TV. He was interviewed by the AP (which is reviewing its coverage of Daisey to determine what corrections are necessary). He wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (since redacted for false statements). In each case, he was being framed as an investigator, a researcher — a journalist, in all but name. Not what he is: A storyteller, and a masterful one. But he never denied or corrected those who showered him with praise for his groundbreaking “reporting.”

That is, until his falsifications and exaggerations were revealed by “Marketplace” China correspondent Rob Schmitz, acclaimed-apple-critic-made-details who tracked down Cathy Lee, the interpreter Daisey used in Shenzhen (and who figures as a prominent part of Daisey’s story). Lee professed surprise at Daisey’s claims, denying many of the most [banned term] ones. Schmitz and TAL’s Ira Glass confronted Daisey. Daisey admitted faking visits, fluffing facts and using hearsay anecdotes and prior reports to fashion fictional situations that fit the narrative he was trying to tell. That story makes up today’s “This American Life,” titled “Retraction.”

But Daisey did not accept that what he’d done was wrong. On the contrary, in a blogpost yesterday, he asserted that he had acted with complete integrity: “I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece [that] uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story….What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed ‘This American Life’ to air an excerpt from my monologue.…But this is my only regret.”

And, to his credit, Daisey’s position is fully consistent with his past.

You see, if Glass (and the rest of the media) had looked a little more closely at Daisey’s recent history, they’d have encountered one of his lesser-known pieces, a monologue called “Truth.” In that piece, Daisey explored the strange and, from the vantage point of today, ironic stories of JT LeRoy and James Frey — both of which are milestone cases of literary fabrication. He also briefly discusses his own history of exaggeration, sharing how an anecdote about butchering a deer evolved, onstage, into a full story about working in a slaughterhouse. Though “Truth” concludes ultimately that those who stretch facts must in some way be held accountable, it is remarkably ambivalent on that point, something that author Phil Campbell challenged him on, accusing him of privileging “empathy” over “truth.”

Daisey’s emailed response to Campbell was telling. “Of course working toward empathy sometimes undermines the truth — everything sometimes undermines the truth, including obsessive insistence on absolute truth, as though there even were such an animal.…I’m interested in the conflict between truth and fiction that is inherent to the process of being alive.”

There’s much more to Daisey’s response, but the short form version is, essentially, that he believes in the power of literary truth — of narrative truth. And that, sometimes, requires lying. There’s a telling scene in “Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in which Daisey, having run into all of the expected walls with authorities, essentially decides to fall back on what he knows best. “I have been trying to do things ‘the right way,’ I can’t get anywhere. I’ve been working with a fixer for the BBC—all the doors are closed. And you reach a certain point when you realize you may need to obey your natural inclinations.”

What are those natural inclinations? In the monologue, they’re to barrel over, Hawaiian shirt and all, to the main gates of Foxconn’s biggest factory and stake out the flow of employees in and out. But in real life, they’re simply…to tell a story. A good story. A great one — with narrative truth, if not factual truth. A story not to be believed, but believed in — another distinction Daisey makes in his response to Campbell:

“I’ve never known anyone who has expressed actual surprise about the Frey and LeRoy revelations — shock, disgust, and amazement, but never actual surprise,” he says. “Everyone I know who knew the works weren’t surprised because, once seen, the road is always so clear in retrospect — everyone thinks, ‘How could anyone ever have believed these stories?’ The answer is that for a variety of reasons people wanted to believe in these stories, and that is what I find interesting.”

People want to believe in Daisey’s stories, because they want to have faith in the ability of individuals to change the path of history with their actions. They want to believe they can think different, act different, and — as crazy as it sounds — make the world a better place. It is, again quite ironically, exactly the same enchantment Steve Jobs always depended on to sell his magical devices — you may not believe me, but you want to believe in me, and what I’m saying is that this is changing the game, changing the industry, changing the world.

When Jobs did it, they called it his “Reality Distortion Field.”

And Daisey calls it emotional truth, or essential truth, or the “truth of the story.” But deep down inside, he probably knows what it really is. Because about two-thirds of the way through “Agony and Ecstasy,” he writes a scene that (if it actually happened) involves him telling his interpreter Cathy that he intends to create a false identity as an American businessman to gain access to Foxconn’s hidden dormitories and assembly lines, purporting to be doing a pre-deal inspection. The key exchange in that scene goes like this:

“She says, ‘You…will lie to them.’
And I say, ‘Yes, Cathy. I’m going to lie to lots of people.’”

Now that, finally, is the truth.

***

I outreached to Daisey for comment via Facebook, and haven’t gotten a response. His publicist, Phil Rinaldi, says Daisey is “not speaking to anyone about this right now” — presumably because the return run of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is having its final performances at the New York Public Theater this weekend. I’m sure the shows will sell out now, if they haven’t already.

I’m not interested in attacking Daisey: I accept, to some degree, his rationale that he’s a performance artist and not a journalist. On the other hand, he’s tacitly accepted the praise and framing that others placed on his work, by appearing on dozens of TV shows and radio programs — with the most recent flurry occurring just a week ago, as he appeared everywhere talking about the human cost of the new iPad.

The story he’s telling is an important one. There’s a huge human cost to the creation of cool devices. But by blurring fact and fiction, not on stage, but on camera, in print and on air, Daisey has seriously compromised his ability to act as a credible voice on this issue — and significantly hurt the cause of labor organizers and advocates in China, who now face the possibility that all of their claims will be treated with skepticism or dismissed, both by authorities in China and potential supporters in the U.S.

Fortunately, momentum has already built to change the way things are done for the better. Tim Cook, as Apple CEO, has made it a corporate mandate to eliminate abuses where possible throughout the supply chain. Having just returned from South By Southwest Interactive, the nation’s biggest annual gathering of digital creative professionals, I can say that the goal of incorporating social equity into the way the tech business is run is only gathering steam.

And that, in no small part, is due to Mike Daisey. If only he’d put his status as a creative professional out front in all of his advocacy, rather than letting the likes of TechCrunch call him a “crusading journalist,” he might have dodged the inevitable backlash entirely.

For more on this story go to Daisey firestorm sparks questions about art, truth and Radio Show Pulls Exposé on Apple

Leave your thoughts about this story in the comments section.
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: Is the Truth Important?    Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:15 am

I have been aware of the Daisey story and was disappointed as I have also been a sometime fan of the show. But it doesn't surprise me, maybe because there is something in us all that wants to embellish or exaggerate to make the story better, because we believe what is, isn't enough.

I was attracted to Zen Buddhism and I have been attracted to other mystic paths of meditational practice, not because of their great claims of lineage and so on, but because, as with the historic buddha, there is an invitation to discover for oneself what has been discovered by those who have gone before. It is an operational hypothesis that can be tested and found to be experientially true for oneself or not. And perhaps like the buddha we have an intuition of something we already know, maybe even have conscious memories or glimpses of it when we were first starting out on this earthly journey, a memory that can be reawakened, and realized, actualized, and lived. For that reason I suppose I have not been despairing when I found the superstructures and personalities at Shasta Abbey and elsewhere to be not what they were presented. It didn't matter because the truth is utter simplicity, what is revealed when everything is stripped away. In my view all of the superstructure of tradition, ceremonial, scriptural study,hierarchy, and the rest are the window dressing of the simple truth of the heart, the Om Mani Padme Hum, the jewel within us, that can be realized, made conscious and intentional in our lives. And when we get down to it, what is, is enough, full, complete, and omnipresent.
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Jimyo

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PostSubject: Re: Is the Truth Important?    Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:47 am

I found what I was looking for, and more, and I'm sick of history, explanations, and words.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the Truth Important?    Tue Mar 20, 2012 9:09 pm

At the OBC lost and found, there were folks who found things and others who dropped stuff off. Not sure if one experience was preferable but the effort an individual makes to face what makes them uncomfortable, gives me hope.

Keep at it Jimyo.

Hope your book of history, explanations & words is doing well.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Is the Truth Important?    Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:07 pm

Just read what I think is quiet a brilliant essay from thinkBuddha.org that deals with Buddhist texts, what is true and what is not, and how to hold the various contradictions.

Lies in Which not Everything is False
Wednesday September 10, 2008


According to Wendy Doniger, in the South Sudan storytellers begin their tales with the following intriguing formula. This, by the way, calls for audience participation, and so the lines in bold are the ones spoken by the storyteller, whilst the italicised lines are those spoken by the audience.

This is a story.
Right!
It is a lie.
Right!
But not everything in it is false.
Right!


This, more or less, is how stories begin in the South Sudan (although as I’m writing this in a cafe in Leicester I don’t have the book on me, nor do I have personal access to any South Sudanese storytellers, so this particular story may itself be a lie in which not everything is false…) I have always loved this little exchange, as it says a lot about the kind of relationship stories have with the question of truth.

As a fiction writer, I confess to being a habitual liar. This is what fiction writers do – they make stuff up. They tell big fat lies. This, of course, makes writing fiction rather a curious business from the point of view of ethics, and this is something that I wrestle with from time to time. For example, in the book that I’m currently rewriting, I am writing about a couple of historical characters. I am inventing motives, desires, ideas, thoughts, passions that they may never have had. Indeed, I am inventing motives, desire, ideas, thoughts and passions that they almost certainly didn’t ever have. This, to say the least, is a problematic way of going on, and if Aristotle is right (as I suspect that he may be) in his claim that the dead are not beyond harm and injustice, then this is something that deserves to be taken seriously.

But, having said this, the lies of fictions are lies in which not everything is false. And so the ethical waters that we navigate when spinning fictions (and all of us – not just novelists – spend our lives spinning fictions) are therefore rather choppy and turbulent ones.

I’ve been thinking a fair amount about the relationship between fiction and lies thanks to Ralph Flores’s interesting book Buddhist Scriptures as Literature which I’ve been reviewing for the Western Buddhist Review. Flores’s book aims to re-read Buddhist texts as literature, rather than as timeless repositories of Truth, as doctrinal source-books or as uncomplicated and authoritative documents. Such an effort, I think, is thoroughly worthwhile, because it reinvigorates our thinking, thinking that becomes petrified as great monoliths of doctrine. And reading these texts as human texts that speak of human things allows us to see the texts as addressing our humanity. Sometimes it seems as if sacred texts – whether we are talking about the Bible, the Buddhist Sutras, the Communist Manifesto, or the complete works of Immanuel Kant – are treated as news-bulletins from the beyond rather than as human creations. So reading Kant, the Communist Manifesto or the Heart Sutra as literature puts a rather different spin on things.

I’ll link to my review of Flores’s book when it is published, and I do not want to anticipate what I have written there in this blog. But what I want to suggest here are a few of the benefits, as I see them, of reading Buddhist texts (or any other texts that have an aura of authority to them) as literature.

Firstly, to read Buddhist texts as literature has the effect of thinking afresh about what can seem like a litany of stale pieties (of course, some people may prefer stale pieties, but if I must have them at all, I like my pieties – like my pies – to be fresh out of the oven). There is always a danger of reading texts to confirm what we think we know, rather than to find out something new. But reading, I believe, should be a process of discovery and perhaps also of transformation, a process of finding unexpected things, rather than seeking confirmation of pre-existing views. After all, if you always see the same thing when you read, then why bother reading? So reading texts as litearature gives plays havoc with the well-ordered systems of our orthodoxies. Monkey runs rampant in the halls of heaven. And, when the mess has been cleared up, heaven is probably all the better for it. Following on from this, to read texts as literature allows the possibility of a return of lightness, play, subversion and wonder. To read as literature means is to call into question the high seriousness with which we look at texts, and allows questions of the form ‘what if…?’ to multiply. Thirdly – and this is, I think, a reflection of the last point – to read texts as literature permits the return of a kind of relish that can so easily be lost when texts become well-worn. It can restore texts to life when they had become dead and cold.

But there is one final reason that I think that reading Buddhist texts as literature is beneficial, and this relates to the Sudanese storytellers I have quoted above. Think of the following:

This is a Buddhist text.
Right!
It is a lie.
Right!
But not everything in it is false.
Right!


If any reading of a Buddhist text started like this, it would have an interesting and, I think, extremely positive effect. Because to relate a story knowing that it is a lie in which not everything is false is to place an ethical demand upon both the teller and the audience alike. It means that the text cannot be used as a refuge from the business of thinking about our lives, both individually and collectively, and it means that it is down to us to do the hard work of seeing what sense the story can make of our lives and seeing what sense our own lives can make of the story, amidst the play of words and images and falsehoods. In fact, I’d like to see the words of the Sudanese storytellers prefacing all the sacred books of the world, from Kant on downwards… But I am not holding my breath for the coming-to-pass of this particular brand of utopia.
Tags: heart sutra, journey to the west, kant, literature, stories

#2 · Jayarava

10 September 2008

Funny I’ve been thinking about this issue of reading texts lately. Haven’t taken the literature approach but did a blog post on 5 Sept on hermeneutics. Seems as though it’s almost a case of finding whatever you are looking for – and how often do we see all kinds of weird things justified by reference to some so-called scripture or other. Our preconceptions determine our conceptions.

I’m interested in pragmatic linguistic approaches to texts. There are a few people doing this in the field of Vedic studies (Laurie Pattern, Robert Yell, et al) and it becomes fascinating what is revealed. The only person I know doing similar research on Buddhist texts is Joanna Jurewicz, a Polish scholar who has examined metaphorical structures along the lines of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Certainly as regards mantra the results the pragmatists come up with are far more interesting and open the field up rather than shutting it down as a semanticist approach tends to.

Although I’m not totally convinced by his conclusions Greg Schopen has been running rampant through received orthodoxies wrt texts for years now. Amongst his claims is that there is no evidence for a Buddhist Canon before the 4th century CE; and that there has never been a time when the vinaya represented what monks do, that it has always been about what monks think they should do. He has forced many scholars to re-examine their methods and conclusions, and some of the responses have been very interesting indeed, and might never have surfaced if not for his vigorous challenge.

The result in the last few decades is that very few scholars are as naive about Buddhist texts as Buddhists themselves tend to be. Little of this attitude has found its way into the mainstream as yet.

Another aspect to this more literary approach might be to apply it to Buddhist narratives around their texts. For instance we hear that all texts were taught by the Buddha, but from a text critical point of view this is clearly not the case. The stories of the provenance of texts are perhaps more clearly literary but they do have a powerful influence on traditional Buddhist hermeneutics.

Finally I suppose it would be interesting to consider the stories that we tell ourselves about what we are doing as Buddhists. How much of it is a happy fiction?

I like your conclusion as it brings us back to personal responsibility. We do have texts, but the important issue for us is how we live. The texts are like a starting point for exploration. My next blog post is going to be on the relation of words, meaning and reality in the Lankavatara Sutra and the writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, and raises related issues.

Ciao
Jayarava
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PostSubject: Re: Is the Truth Important?    Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:26 pm

Wonderful essay!!
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PostSubject: Is The Truth Important-an absorbing read and some further thoughts   Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:52 pm

Thank you again Josh for an absorbing read.I kind of admire the guy for his audacity.The cutting edge between literal figurative and metaphorical truths is the plane I skate on.I wish I had his chutzpah!I don't know anything about the context though.

I just got back from a visit to Cologne, where my son lives .We went to a modern sculpture and installation exhibition at the Ludwig,a large gallery.The title of the exhibition was "Before the Law".

I admit I didn't and don't understand the title,but for your information..

There was some stunning and shocking work on display.

The piece most relevant to the theme of "Is The Truth Important" was a series of wall-mounted paintings,executed in a social-realist style,which gave the impression of a "real" world that was being protrayed.This world was one in which "Outsiders" were farmed out to strictly supervised food farms,observed with satellite surveillance cameras,had work permits tattooed on their bodies.

For me it resonated with what I have read and heard about the concentration camps .Obviously a vast and important subject.In this context,what I admired about the work was that the style of rendition was at first glance innocuous,vividly coloured,childlike in a way.The painting was brilliant,because of this disarming effect of something naive and harmless.There was also an overall impression of irony.The artist seemed to be playing with the possibility that this picture of a world of slavery and exclusion might be taken as a factual account.

Bertolt Brecht calls this intent alienation.In his plays,he gives opportunities to the audience to dialogue with the actors,to stand back and question the validity of the given narrative,and manipulate dramatic fictitious outcomes according to their own viewpoint.Joan Littlewood did similar work ,as did Grotowski.The technique keeps the critical stance alive.

I'm not keen on the fact -centred internet culture where the fare is information, knowledge,and there is no room for critical thinking.

So thanks again.

I'm going to read some Steve Lachs....

We need information and knowledge,and we need to assess their usefuleness in the light of experience.



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