Sunday, February 20, 2011

"As I said, A is non-A…"

A tricky point about negation is to understand what exactly is negated. Sanskrit Grammars distinguishes between prasajya and paryudāsa kind of negations (pratiṣedha), with the latter corresponding to an eliminative negation and the former to an "adjustive" kind of negation. Typically, the prasajya is exemplified with na brahmāṇam ānaya, i.e., "Do not bring a Brahmin!", whereas the former with abrahmaṇam ānaya, i.e., "Bring someone who is not really a Brahmin", interpreted as referring to someone who is nearly a Brahmin, and falls short from the target (i.e., because he is a Brahmin by birth, but does not always act like a Brahmin should).

Among the comments on a previous post on these topics, the Vajracchedikāprajñāpāramitā (henceforth VPP) has often been referred to. This is a very ancient Mahāyāna text, possibly even predating the Aṣṭasāhasrikā (which was the main focus of the same post). I had a look at the electronical text of the VPP and found out many seemingly contradictory statements, having more or less this form:

What is called by the Bodhisattva to be X, that the Bodhisattva calls non-X. Hence it is said to be X.
This formula also applies to the perfection of knowledge (prajñāpāramitā) itself:

yaiva […] prajñāpāramitā tathāgatena bhāṣitā, saiva apāramitā tathāgatena bhāṣitā. tenocyate prajñāpāramitā

That very thing which is called perfection of knowledge by the Bodhisattva, that is called "non-perfection" by the Bodhisattva. Hence, it is said "perfection of knowledge".

Could this mean that it can only be a perfection of knowledge in the ultimate sense, if it were not one in the conventional sense? Hence:

That thing which is called perfection of knowledge by the Bodhisattva, that is called by the Bodhisattva "non [conventional] perfection. For this reason it is said to be a perfection of knowledge.

I.e., only insofar as it is distant from any conventional so-called perfections, can it be said to be one by the Bodhisattva, from the point of view of ultimate reality.

Once again, I am extremely grateful to the readers who richly commented on my previous post on Mahāyāna texts expressing paradoxes. You might also be interested in its "sequel".

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