Erik (eriktrips) wrote,

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survey says

A book review:

I was going to put this on amazon but decided why be such a spoilsport and no one will have any idea what I am talking about anyway so I'm putting it here instead. mostly I've been irritated all day because not one but two different "Westerners"' books on Buddhism have suggested that shyness and self-consciousness are the equivalent of sin in the Buddhist universe.

but rather than address that head-on, I take a slightly different swipe:

Living with the Devil
Stephen Batchelor

The back cover of Living with the Devil promises that Stephen Batchelor will point out that the only truly evil gesture is actually the one which supposes a dichotomy between Good and Evil, God and Satan, Buddha and Mara, but I have to say that his argument remains caught on the Western drive to take our dichotomies seriously, rather than moving beyond them into a paradoxical mode where difference is neither incorporated into nor excluded from the Good. This latter was what I was hoping for: a westernized translation of what for us is the paradox that animates non-dualism. Instead Mara/conventional Evil remains that which one must resist even though we will eventually succumb to "his" forces of dissolution.

For a brief moment we do catch a glimpse of Mara in his human inadequacy and vulnerability, but Batchelor does not draw this moment out nor look at the consequences of what it truly would mean to make of one's shadow an intimate friend. And although he does make a move into Levinasian postmodern ethical territory, he elides the paradox wherein Mara's very vulnerability is constitutive of the call of the other not to injure him or her. Forgetting that the shadow is mythologically the realm of the unknown and thus the realm of that absolute alterity which lies before the egoistic agent bereft of anything but a plea, Batchelor misses an opportunity to articulate an ethics that would take Mara's suffering into account.

I will say that Living with the Devil provides lures that at least pepper a trail moving in the general direction of non-duality and joyful paradox, but falls short of entering the territory. This is probably a good place to start if you are steeped in Western metaphysics to the point that you believe the ideal self is stable, satisfied, and certain of its place in the universe. If you don't yet see the good in perplexity, then this book can help you to loosen up a bit. Just don't expect a fearless leap beyond dichotomous western thought; instead you will see it inscribed as "inevitable."

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