A Ku Indeed!

Walking Betwixt Two Worlds

Posted in Buddhism, China, Chinese Philosophy, Course Material, Existentialism, Life by Chris on November 11, 2008

As I read the Theravada Buddhist work the Dhammapada, I find myself thinking of Kierkegaard. Specifically, I find myself thinking of Abraham and the Knight of Faith, and the relationship between their predicament (as described by Kierkegaard) and the life-situation of the potential Buddhist Arahant. Both typologies, the Buddhist and the Existentialist, seem to me to offer as an ideal a way of “walking betwixt the two worlds” in which one lives as the being that one is.

Without going into too much detail, Kierkegaard’s Abraham (the potential “knight of faith”) is asked by God to kill the one thing that he loves the most — his son Isaac. Of course, as the story goes, he does so, or at least he tries to do so and is stopped at the last moment by an angel. What is remarkable about the story of Abraham, however, is often mistaken to be the actual action of the attempted murder. In truth, the “miracle” occurs afterward, in the story not told – in the lived experiences of Abraham from that point on after the big story is over, when he is back and re-engaged in the day-to-day of his normal family routine.

What is remarkable about his life emerges when we reflect on why we feel bad for Abraham. How can he enjoy being a father to this son any longer, when he has already abdicated this role on Mt. Moriah? Isn’t he miserable, in a way, realizing that there’s something about his relationship to his son that is now dead and not retrievable? After all — he was willing to kill him! We feel as if he is doomed to a life of resignation. Kierkegaard tells that our fears are misplaced. Abraham (like Camus’ Sisyphus) is happy. His relationship with his son, as a matter of fact, is intensified to a degree that it never reached before.

The Kierkegaard story is complicated (shameless plug for my book here, which explains it!). But the bottom line is something like this: Abraham has learned to live in the tension between two worlds. On the one hand, he is in the physical world in which he experiences connection to his son. He is, in this sense, “of the world” and so naturally forms bonds with it. But at the same time, he realizes that he is not “of the world” at all because he is also outside of it as well, independent of it. What he is, in a sense, is fundamentally disconnected from that world.

In a way, Abraham, after the encounter, learns that Issac is not his. He does not own his son. In fact, he learns that Issac is not “his son” because nothing is properly “his” at all. Abraham gives up control, he gives up possession. He realizes that Issac is God’s, and that everything about his relationship to the world is fleeting and, at any moment, the result of a kind of divine grace. Thus, it appears that one must be able to “join the two worlds” (being in and being out) without resolving the tension between them, and without rejecting one for the other.

I’m not suggesting that the Dhammapada is an Existential text, but it does have some similar themes. The Arahant (the Buddhist’s sage) too is called upon to be in the world while out of it. A central theme is to not form attachments to the world because such attachments speak of a kind of misguided egoism that the sage labors to be rid of. In poem five, “The Fool,” we read:

A fool suffers, thinking,
“I have children! I have wealth!”
One’s self isn’t even one’s own.
How then are children? How then is wealth?

The Arahant here is called to renounce his/her “self” as a fiction (Sage as Humean bundle!); as a result, one recognizes that one cannot “have” anything at all because there’s no subject to do the possessing. As a result, possession, in a world of no-self (anatman), is incoherent. It is a fiction that leads to illusions of control and a desire for permanence in an impermanent world, fictions that lead to suffering.

But yet, Buddha doesn’t advise us to flee from the world. He tells us in poem 8 (“Thousands) that:

Better than one hundred years lived
Without seeing the arising and passing of things
Is one day lived
Seeing their arising and passing.

One way to read this is that it is a celebration of one of the three jewels, the life of Buddha, who was once separated from “arising and passing” and then was exposed to it, an exposure that led him to later become Enlightened.

But another way to see this is to suggest that the Arahant is “in the world” — and as a result is exposed, just as everyone else is, to what normally goes on within that world. Just as Abraham forms connections with his son, the Arahant lives in a world of change and impermanence. He/She does not avoid it.

At the same time, in poem 13 (“The World”):

Do not follow an inferior way.
Don’t live with negligence
Do not follow a wrong view;
Don’t be engrossed by the world.

Of course, as any reader of the Dhammapada knows, there are endless verses like this one, calling on the person to detach from the world in the sense of not desiring it, or wanting to possess it or control it. Good “connection” with the world is the kind of connection that is “not-connected” in a sense; it is the kind of relationship that is passive and open to impermanence. Engaged but not attached. Passionate but not connected.

Like the Knight of Faith, the Arahant lives “betwixt” two worlds in a flurry of descriptions (like “passionate but not connected”) that seem hard to get one’s head around, if not one’s practices.

This is not an uncommon theme in these kinds of works (works that deal with meaning of life issues). In them, we often get a two world view:

The world of the animal. In this purely “physical” world, we are almost deterministically carried about, living in a blind way motivated by sensory pursuits only. When humans live in this world, we reduce ourselves to the life of the dog, or the slug, being moved only what things external to us in a law-like scientific fashion (in accord with the natural laws of the universe).

The world of the Gods. The Gods, in a sense, are moved only by reason (a Kantian fantasy?), or by some other form of non-sensual motivator. They are freed from the world entirely and the physical (and psychological) laws that govern it.

Humans, on this view, live in the middle. We are not Gods, but we are not animals either. So living as a human being means to live “betwixt” the two, in the tension (as an Existentialist would put it) and in the midst of the contradictions that emerge from living between two polar opposite forms of existing.

I certainly see this in both the Buddhist and the Existentialist, but my wonder about this way of talking goes further: is it really possible to live in this way? Can we be Abrahams? Knights of Faith? Arahants? Is it possible to “be attached without desire” or to “love one’s son but at the same time renounce him”? Or are these ways of talking just useful fictions of sorts?

Moreover: is it really admirable or praiseworthy to try to live in the middle of such worlds?

20 Responses

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  1. zensquared said, on November 11, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    “Is it really possible to live in this way?” Of course it is. People who practice Zen try, moment by moment, to live exactly this way. I won’t try to tell you that lots of people are 100 percent successful at doing so — but they try. And the more you work at it, and really practice with effort, with heart, you find that the teaching that all things are impermanent really comes back again and again, a thousand times a day. And when that happens, your joy can be overwhelming — you will look at your children and realize how marvelous it is that they are there. Like Abraham, you will be staggered by your own wonder and gratitude. And not only toward your children, but toward something as insignificant as a yellow leaf on a black road.

    Great post. Thank you for writing it.

  2. Peony said, on November 11, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Chris,

    I came by to discuss small fish but I can see we have more important matters to deal with. Kierkegaard.

    Is Kierkegaard– in fact– advocating living between worlds?

    With Buddhism absolutely that is a true statement. A famous Buddhist teacher in Medieval Japan Yoshida Keno described it as wading out into deeper waters, not with the goal of remaining in the deep waters, but rather to return to the shallows, a different person. Water being an important metaphor of course as one does not want to be so caught up in the world that one is tossed about like a pebble at sea.

    Kierkegaard had a very, very different project, I would argue– which is not dissimilar to Dostoevsky’s. One is not (!) to be detached or dis-connected but rather to live in such as way as to embody one’s commitment to their inner world right smack in the world. In Abraham’s case that meant making the ultimate sacrifice– but if one lives a life committed to one’s inner world in this way, making an ultimate sacrifice might be part and parcel of the deal. To take Hubert Dreyfus’ example, Martin Luther King had a totally committed, connected and embodied commitment which connected his self to the world. It was someting he was willing to make the ultimate sacrfice for and the commitment demanded a full participation in the world.

    Buddhists, I would argue, have a different take as to them this engagement of inner self with the world is not the ultimate goal. This world was not all there is– which I think is different from the existentialists who– even Kierkegaard–placed a tremendous stress on acting in time, in the world.

    Kierkegaard was famously very concerned with, not about what he should think but about what he should be doing. And that action is all-important as an expression of embodied commitment. Kierkegaard was all about being right smack in the world, I would argue and his stress on the self (for example, God’s commandment was not that any man should kill his son but that Kierkegaard as a individual Self) should sacrifice his son (in an action which would embody his inner commitment– in this case to God).
    Buddhist, in contrast, are more like Platonists in the sense that they are interested in universals– what all people should do, not just what Abraham should do in that particular historically connected context.

    This is not a fine distinction in the way your post suggests, I would argue– as it categorically separates the imperative of the Buddhist from that of the existentialist– because again to the existentialist it is actions performed in time/history/this world which matter.

    I’ll be back to simmer up small fish later.

    Cheers, Peony

  3. Chris said, on November 11, 2008 at 8:40 pm


    Thanks for stopping by. Was I talking about the small fish here? I thought I left that on Sam’s blog!

    In any case, I don’t take issue with many of your claims here, many of which I agree with. I certainly don’t want to equate the missions of the Buddhist or the Existentialist. There are a mountain of dissimilarities between the two projects. I simply see some similarities on the subject I was concerned with.

    In the case of K, it’s not that there are two worlds literally, but rather, say the “world of possibility” and the “world of necessity” or “the world of the finite and infinite” or however else you want to put it (he has so many distinctions that he likes to put into tension with one another). Abraham, if successful, can keep the two in just the right tension (remember from _Sickness_ — “the self is a tension between two poles”). The problem comes into play when we favor one over the other, leading to reflective aesthetes, or to hedonism, or whatever. Most of the existentialists, even taking points about real-time committed embodiment into consideration, seem to repeat these dichotomies in one form or another. To say “worlds” on my part is, I agree, an exaggeration. But still there is a strong sense that the authentic person who is “aware” is in a state of tension between within what might be seen as a two-world view.

    On Abraham — he does have to recognize that he is more than just the world. He’s an individual related to God. So, in a sense, he has to give up the world and his finite attachments. But at the same time, accepting God means getting them all back (the infinite movement). Hence the odd consequence of being connected passionately in the moment to the world, while at the same time being in a sense distant from it (the knight of faith is not without resignation, he says, no?). (All in the moment of embodied commitment, I’m sure you’d agree; this is not about thinking).

    By concern with Buddhism is just on this issue alone. It may in fact not be good fit (that’s the question of the post). But it does seem as if the Arahant is asked to be aware of the world, to be connected to it and its realities, while at the same time being disconnected from it in the sense of not being “attached” to it via desires for permanence. The Arahant, like the authentic person in Existentialism, or the Knight, exists in a state of tension between polar oppositions that cannot be resolved (and are not meant to be resolved).

  4. Chris said, on November 11, 2008 at 8:41 pm


    I cannot remember the poem exactly, but I’m thinking of the Tao Te Ching here — there’s some notion of not taking on larger projects but rather taking on the smaller constituent parts of those projects, given that the latter, when done correctly, end up satisfying the former.

    So, if such a life can be achieved in a second, do it. Then try again. And again. Before you know it…

  5. Peony said, on November 11, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I know what you are saying– but just like with the fish– I see a fatal error, because I think that an authentic person does not stand apart from the world. Rather, the authentic person stands right in the muck of it. In this way, our delightful Dane, in his own existential spendor too believes that existence precedes essence– and that alone dscounts this understanding of between worlds. Actions in the world fundamentally matter (and those actions include one’s understanding– as again existence precedes essence). This is what is meant, I think, by authetnticity.

    Again too I don’t think Abraham was renouncing the world. The example itself is so extreme that it’s almost unfortunate on Kierkegaard’s part … but no, I do not think God called Abraham to renounce the world or even his attachments. Rather he was called upon to make one sacrifice. This is a very important distinction.

    There is also a categorical difference that could be seen in making an ultimate scarifice versus a lifestyle of un-attachment of resignation as well. Your descriptions of Buddhism I completely agree with.

    Gloomy perhaps, but Kierkegaard makes a very interesting move …

  6. Chris said, on November 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm


    First, you have a nice blog — I just checked it out! The “Asian-Studies” blog world is expanding, and there’s a lot of very cool stuff out there. I also see that Bill Haines has been posting there. Don’t be fooled into thinking that he is a person. If you notice, “Bill Haines” never sleeps. Posts 24/7. “He” is a “thoughtful commenter BOT”. “He” is just a net-BOT that bounces between different Asian-centered blogs leaving good thoughtful comments. 🙂

    Second — I disagree on Abraham. I think there are two attachments that Abraham has to give up as _idols_ or false gods. The first is the world in its sensual, perhaps aesthetic form (his love for Isaac). The second is the world in its ethical form, which is manifested in Abraham’s social identity. The sacrifice of Isaac proves that he is willing to murder his son while at the same time have no worldly way of making sense of the deed. “He’s just a murderer!” the Dane suggests.

    Agamemnon, on the other hand, kills his daughter, and so does the first, but he’s a “tragic hero” because his sacrifice can be made sense of in terms of the world — he’s not just a father, he’s also a King, and he was called upon as King to do the dastardly deed.

    In any sense, my reading of the story is that the Knight of Faith is a contradiction because he encapsulates a tension — of renunciation and faith. He gives up Issac (and the world) while at the same time believing that he will get them back (via God’s grace). And he does. And he continues to exist through an embodiment of that tension, concretely in the world as you put it, living his life in just that sense.

    My reading here: Abraham is asked to give up on sense of attachment (false idol) in order to get back his connection to the world but in a way that is far different than the old way in which he was connected. And here is the connection to Dhammapada: Abraham no longer sees Isaac as “his” — he is God’s. The world is not “his” — it is God’s. “He” doesn’t possess a thing, but yet he lives securely and most concretely in the midst of it, passionate about life as he can be.

    A cool, but strange portrait. But what else can one expect from the Dane, no?

  7. Peony said, on November 11, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Interesting move.

    And yet…

    While you may have a point about our mutual bot Bill, and yes, even Agamemnon I do not disagree– with Abraham you are missing (in my humble opinion) a crucial point, and that is that God did *not* ask Abraham to renounce the world (in the way that Buddhist teaching does) that is, God did not ask Abraham to give up his love and attachment to his son but rather to make the ultimate sacrifice for his embodied commitment (faith in this case to God).

    And by making this ultimate sacrifice (which doesn’t demand he renounce his love for his son or renounce that his son is “his” —just that he make the sacrifice) he will get everything more back– just as you said. But again, this is Abraham’s particular calling and Kierkegaard is not recommending a general de-tached way of looking at the world, but rather a person and individual and subjective approach. For the Buddhists, what is good for one is the goof for all, I think.

    A cool and strange portrait indeed– Danes and New Yorkers alike, I’d say 🙂

  8. Peony said, on November 11, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    PS: I guess the opposite way of saying what I’m trying to say is that Kierkegaard’s man of faith and Abraham’s love of his son are not categorically opposed in the way you are perhaps suggesting (and in the way a really hardcore look at Buddhist doctrine seems to in fact imply). This is th crucial difference that I was trying to bring out– I hope I did. For my reading of Kierkegaard is not that the Dane is recommending a renunciation of worldly love– quite the contrary. Just the personal, individual faith is paramount– feel free to fix my many typos (I have a blinding headache today!)

    More on fish later,

  9. Bill Haines said, on November 11, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    > Zen \ Chris \ Daodejing 63 (cf. 60)

  10. Chris said, on November 13, 2008 at 5:47 am


    We may just disagree on the internals of this story at some point. I’m not sure — I’ll give it another shot to see if we might potential agree about some aspect here.

    I think Abraham’s sacrifice is a very specific one. He’s being asked to give up on a certain way or relating himself to the world, and to instead affirm through his embodied worldly commitments his fundamental relationship as an irreducible individual not to Isaac or to his social community, but rather to God.

    I don’t think this involves giving up on his love for Isaac — this is something he must retain for the movement of faith to make any sense or to have any content, actually — but he must come to embody that love for Isaac in a different way. So I’m not thinking that his love for Isaac (or his understanding of who he is vis-a-vis his social community and his standing in it as a father) and his faith or devotion to God must be opposed, just that they could be.

    One way to love something might, in the religious sense, border on idolatry. I may love something in the sense that I cannot conceive of myself without it because I am that attached to it. Another way of loving might maintain the connection without the attachment that borders on idolatry. I think what Abe is being asked to do is to drop the first sense and reaffirm the second. The first does not involve God in any interesting sense, but the second one does. It means giving up on control, or possession, and affirming trust and faith, while retaining the core connection of love. (I think a similar argument can be given for Abe’s relationship to his community, but unnecessary here).

    This may reconcile our positions, but I’m not sure — I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

    On the other hand, I am not sure at all what to make of the connection with the Arahant (that’s the question of the post!). It may be that the Arahant is expected to renounce the world in a way far stronger than I am suggesting Abraham has to, or that the renouncing is not simultaneous with a movement of faith that gets it back again, and so the analogy would fail there. In K’s language, it might be — not sure — that the Arahant is a mere Knight of Infinite Resignation, whereas Abe is a Knight of Faith. Unsure.

  11. Peony said, on November 13, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Actually, I don’t think we disagree on the content of either story– what we disagree on is the crucial point with regard to your post, and that is that Buddhist renunciation (as practice) is similar to Abraham’s great one’s in a lifetime sacrifice of his son in what K describes as a leap of faith.

    I have 2 reasons why I disagree (I have to be brief as I need to catch train into Tokyo)

    1) God did not ask Abraham to give up his “attachment” (worldly/physical attachments) for his son as the Buddhist teachings suggest as a means of self extinguishing (nirvana) but rather God asked Abraham to sacrifice what he held most dear– as proof of his faith.

    I would go as far as to say these two things could not be more different.

    Indeed, God only asked that Abraham give up his son because Abraham loved his son more than his own Self. (That is the most touching and really disturbing part of the story, don’t you think? If God had asked him to give up his own life that would have been far easier). If I really stretch my imagination I could say that Abraham and the son as conflated into each other (I’ve heard some Rabbis do in fact equate Abraham and his son as one person=one soul) then yes, God is saying– like in baptism– that Abraham’s faith by fire will transform him into a new man…. HOWEVER, this does not mean giving up attachments. Abraham undoubtedly cherished and was as attached to his son as ever after the incident on the mountain!! (though his love of God was probably greatly heightened)

    Kierkegaard’s understanding of the story, too, follows this line I think. (In a twisted way, please don’t bring up Regina because we really don’t need her but that was K’s great sacrifice, wasn’t it?).

    Also, like I said before– this was Abraham’s personal individual “calling” . Kierkegaard was absolutely clear about that.

    This alone discounts comparison to the Arahant as that is a universal recommendation of “detachment” (as a way of salvage)….The point being that Abraham’s Sacrifice is just an example while the Arahant’s task is a universal recommendation. These two things are so utterly different that I really thought it would be helpful to bring out the difference so that you could take it from there in your exploration of the Arahant.

    My personal opinion? Abraham faith is the tougher challenge. The Arahant’s path perhaps the less slippery slope however….Well, basically, my opinion is that pretty much as you summed up in your last paragraph. I think both my guys (Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky) wouldn’t have looked all that kindly on the Arahant– shall we all recall Ivan K. — who by the way I met in real life, driving me to drink and to find refuge in the arms of the oddball Dane– hence leading to this enjoyable conversation (well, on my part for sure!)

    BTW, at the bottom of my post here I linked to an article by Dreyfus called What would Kierkegaard have thought of the Internet. I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s highly recommended!

  12. Peony said, on November 14, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Do you want to know why I think this point about Abraham’s sacrifice is so important? It’s because it touches on the categorical different approaches these 2 traditions have to an understanding of Self. Happiness (next world) as an extinguishing of self versus happiness (this world in time) as a full expression of Self. Just think of the two sacrifices: sidhartha’s sacrifice for the lion cub in the jataka tales versus Abraham’s. Also, I do actually think K, would find the Arahat a night of resignation.

    Anyway, I guess I’ve said everything I could pssoibly have to say 🙂

  13. Chris said, on November 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm


    Sorry for the delay. My end-week tends to get hectic and I fall behind a bit. Then, moreover, when I finally get home on Friday afternoon, I usually feel like I’ve gone 1 round with (the old) Mike Tyson.

    Anyway, I appreciate the extended explanation.

    A few things:

    1. I think I am turning to your view regarding the Arahant. I wasn’t convinced by the strength of the analogy to start, but some of the points you’ve made make sense to me and have clarified some aspects of the issue. Still, as I’ll point out towards the end, I do think there are some remaining points of similarity.

    2. I also think we are in agreement re the Great Dane. One of the most interesting things about reading Kierkegaard is that there are many consistent ways to describe the things he discusses. Most of the time, these various ways come from he himself!

    I think the Rabbi’s point is well taken. One way to understand the story, I think, is that it is about Isaac and also about Abraham’s relationship to his community. Another way to describe it is to see it as an extended story about Abraham’s attempts to control (or sustain, or create) through his own efforts his own identity. Some writers have put it this way: Abe’s relationship to Isaac is his attempt to maintain (via feeling) his aesthetic self; his relationship to his community is his attempt to maintain an ethical self (a la Hegel, or perhaps Confucius even).

    By these lights, it is only when he is willing to sacrifice his own control, or sense of control, over his own self and sacrifice it to God that he can, in K’s eyes, finally _be_ a self via his embodied faith commitment. So he gives something up only to simultaneously get it back again, albeit in a new and different way.

    Seen in this way, Abe is not asked to give up his relationship to Isaac (or his aesthetic self) or his relationship to his community (his ethical self). But he is asked to not put them before God (not to think that he, Abraham, is the determiner of what he is). To do otherwise would be idolatry.

    I wonder here if we can find agreement on this point, due to the fact that “attachment” is ambiguous, and contains senses that if we disambiguate might help us to find that common ground. On the one hand, Abraham clearly loves Isaac, and after the ordeal on the mountain, he rejoins his community, happier than before.

    So he clearly not “detached” in the way that one might expect from someone who has fully renounced these things. At the same time, his attachment to them, after the trial, is different. He loves Isaac and the world, but they are gifts from God. Another might say that he learns to have a new relationship with himself (on the other reading), but in this sense he newly understands that he is sustained by the divine. On this other manner of reading things, he maintains aesthetic and ethical dimensions, but the religious dimension of self-hood becomes primary.

    3. With these notions in mind (which I think we might actually agree on): I think the Arahant is likely a different case. There is, as far as I can tell anyway (and my understanding of the Dhammapada is not firm here) no sense in which the Arahant “gets anything back” in the moment of renunciation (or resignation). The Arahant is never “rejoined” with the world after the “test” (as Abraham is, via his connection to Isaac and the social community). The world remains “Other” in a sense up to the end. The task of the Arahant is to maintain that composure.

    In fact, if I recall, the Dane thinks that resignation itself — to do it correctly, or to complete the task of the Arahant, say — requires everything that a human being can possibly will on its own power. After this, it is exhausted at emptying itself, and has nothing left. This is why the final movement — the movement of faith — requires God’s grace. The “reconnection” must take place under God’s power. This is not available to the Arahant.

    4. If some of the points above make sense, there are some points of similarity here. In the main, there is a need to renounce a certain notion of self, and in both traditions, that notion of self is linked to ideas of control. The illusion of self, in the Dhammapada, is linked strongly to a false view of permanence, and this itself is linked to a desire for control. Similarly, in K, if you accept the “selfhood” way of reading Abe’s dilemma, there is a notion of wanting to determine one’s own existence or Self (either through the guise of aestheticism or ethics). If I recall right, K calls this “the despair of defiance”. Only when this notion of false illusory self is given up — through renunciation — can the movement of faith be possible.

    5. On Regina: every time I read about Regina I can’t make up my mind whether to feel bad for the Dane, or to see him as a wee bit pathetic. Especially when he left his money to her.

    6. I’ve read Dreyfus’ work on K and the Internet and enjoyed it quite a bit. In fact, I dedicated a short section of my book to it. I think it was called “Would K have hated the Internet?” I’m pretty sure I have Hubert an acknowledgment there.

    On a very related theme, I applied some of Dreyfus’ ideas to this older post on this blog, called “Would Confucius Dig Facebook?”


    Thanks again for your thoughtful conversation here, Peony!

  14. Chris said, on November 14, 2008 at 9:25 pm


    Hopefully the above reads coherently. As I said, feeling a bit beat up by Mike Tyson at the moment, physically and mentally!

  15. Peony said, on November 15, 2008 at 3:03 am

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you so much for the thorough explanation? and yes, we do agree. Except
    perhaps one tiny point? which is, I do not think Abe’s sacrifice (as
    described by the Great Dane) involves a giving up of Self. Of a momentary
    control in that moment of faith, absolutely. But even that is just for the
    moments it takes to act.

    I think it’s very likely that both the Existentialist stance? as well as
    the Confucian stance– would not have a lot to think kindly about when it
    comes to the Arahant.

    To your original question about whether it is possible to live that way? I
    often think of the burning house in the Lotus Sutra and I too wonder if it
    is possible.

    I’m looking forward to checking out your post about facebook as well as the
    section in your book about Kierkegaard and the Internet (I had problems with
    Dreyfus’ take so am curious to read your’s.)

    Hope your weekend is relaxing and you are feeling less Mike Tysonish by

    Our friend has been awfully quiet, hasn’t he?That’s good though as I hope
    to keep his mind on the bronzes over at my place

    I didn’t know K left his money to regina… interesting, but not surprising.
    The whole thing is really charming in a way as I think perhaps he actually
    thought that he was making a sacrifice on par with Abraham’s. She married
    well, I hear.

  16. Peony said, on November 17, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Still thinking about Kierkegaard and really the Arahant by dismissing higher immediacy (which is K’s real priority, isn’t it) that separates the two (and this is tied to becoming a Self). It’s very interesting, really. But my quetion remains, what would Confucius think? Could Confucian relationships stand in a higher immediacy? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the this-worldly Confucians who shre most with the Great dane…

    That’s where I stand for now, I guess.

    Over and out,

  17. Chris said, on November 18, 2008 at 9:27 am


    This is a very interesting, but difficult question. I’m not sure what the answer is.

    First, because K’s vocabulary is so abstract and vague, let’s make sure we mean the same things:

    Thinking in terms of Dreyfus’ work, I take “lower immediacy” to be a reference to the aesthetic, ethical and Religiousness A (resignation) spheres, whereas “higher immediacy” refers to Religiousness B (faith).

    I take Dreyfus’ point here to mean that “higher” is a reference to the acceptance of concrete world commitments after renouncing all of the things that compose lower immediacy.

    Probably the biggest obstacle here — perhaps — is to think that Confucianism is really just an instantiation of the ethical stage. So I guess that’s where the debate would start, no? If we were to argue your point, we’d have to make clear why Confucianism is different from that communal-self approach laid out and critiqued by K.

    What do you think?

  18. Peony said, on November 18, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    You’re right, Confucius would just be stuck in the ethical stage– you know what? I think I am too. In your book, do you have an explanation of those terms (higher and lower immediacy) They’re not from Hegel are they? I’m listening to Dreyfus’ lectures on Kierkegaard as I cook and do housework so if anything comes up, I think I’ll post again 🙂

    Bill and I were thinking of reading Daniel Bell’s Beyond Liberal Democracy (or his other one on New Confucianism) to have a small discussion at my place– would you be in? You’ll be meeting Bell I guess in a few more months.

  19. Chris said, on November 18, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I would, actually, although given the end of the semester I’m not sure how much I could dive in until grading is done (second week of December). I’ve actually had some recent email contact with Bell about some things (non-academic mostly), and I suggested to him that we have lunch at some point while I’m over there. That said, I’d love to freshen up on his work (I’ve read a little of his work, but I’ve never read either of those two books).

    I’ll order both of them from Amazon so they are ready to read for when things die down around here. Sounds like fun — looking forward to it! Great idea!

  20. Peony said, on November 19, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Just a few more random thoughts on this:
    1) I realized that my comments may not have been clear about one matter and that is that the arahant, while aiming to be detached, still loves their kids, I think (just like Abraham loved Isaac). That is, they aim to remove ego attachment–but not *necessarily* emotional attachment. So in that sense I can see what you meant in that yes, humans are asked to approach life from a transformed perspective– but while one leads to the extinction of self, the other aims at the becoming of a self. One is a lifestyle approach while the other is likened to religious faith, which leads me to…

    2) higher immediacy
    I checked and it seems it is a Kierkegaard original (is that correct?) which he based on Hegel’s lower immediacy. I don’t think there is any renouncing though (maybe?) just that famous leap of faith…

    But like you said it’s all very ambiguous (K’s language)– but one thing seems clear and that is, it doesn’t really matter what the content of the faith is (or the embodied commitment) so that as long as the Confuciun was aware that he could never meet the ideals of his project but just had faith that that way of life would make sense of everything else in his life– then, you know what? I’m not sure he would be stuck in the ethical.

    On the other hand, though, like you said, the confucian approach is (I believe) a universalist approach and that is something NOT presribed by Kierkegaard (otherwise everyone would be called to kill their sons). This idea of a “calling” is rather intriguing if you think about it, I think.

    3) Also, even though I didn’t phrase my question well, what I really wanted to ask is not what would Kierkegaard think of Confucius but what would Confucius think of Kierkegaard– for to me, that is the interesting question. To sift the Asian thinkers through Western philosophical conventions or preconceived notions seems the less interesting project than trying to take the ancinet Chinese approach as a method and then– to better understand that method– to apply it to the Western philosopher. There is much that could be discussed and learned.

    My intuition (don’t quote me though) is that the Confucian philosophers might be more demanding in terms of “results”as embodied in people’s lives so that while Kierkegaard was always discussing “action” (“what I have to do, not what I have to think..” blah blah) in fact, he was rather a mess wasn’t he?
    There’s not even one modern European philosopher I’d like to have coffee with. Every last one of them seemed somehow– how shall I say this? less than desirable. Voltaire is the only one I’d get near and even with him– well, it would only be under duress.

    I think there is more of a rigorous demand in terms of the person with the Asian thinkers (until very modern times in Japanese the term for body “karada” 身体 included both body and mind. Now “karada” is written as 体 just the body part.) That is just one small difference I think in approach (which is based fundamentally on a duality versus non-duality of mind-body)

    Don’t feel pressured to respond right away– I may not be able to check back till next week because of work… (which always gets in the way of my fun”!)

    Regarding the book– when does your semester end? We can start whenever is good for you.

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