Book Review of Nalanda Dialogue Series – Volume 1 – Prolegomena to Intercultural Dialogue: Modern Engagement with Indian Knowledge Tradition (Reviewed by David Simone)

Binod Kumar Choudhary & Debajyoti Gangopadhyay, Editors. Nalanda Dialogue Series – Volume 1 – Prolegomena to Intercultural Dialogue: Modern Engagement with Indian Knowledge Tradition. Xvi + 273 pp., index. Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, 2022. ₹780 (paperback).

The Nalanda Dialogue Series is a collection of dialogues between various scholars of the humanities, sciences and those trained in the “traditional knowledge” of India. The goal of the dialogues is to foster a better understanding of each among both the modern western scientific and philosophical paradigms and the Indian tradition. I think the series succeeds in its goal. Volume 1 of the series provides dialogues with several philosophers, including Graham Priest and Mark Siderits. The dialogue style is useful because it provides succinct views of these philosophers and scientists on a myriad of aspects in the Indian tradition. In what follows, I will summarize Chapters 4 & 5 which is a dialogue with Graham Priest, providing his views on the intersection of Buddhism with modern science and logic.

In chapter 4, titled “Meeting Grounds of Buddhism and Modern Sciences”, Priest lays out three points of dialogue between Buddhism and Modern Science: (i) science of the mind, due to Buddhism’s emphasis on different kinds of mental states and their interactions; (ii) logic, due to the interaction of logic with modern science, and Buddhism’s utilization of the catuṣkoṭi (“four cornered”) and Priest’s interpretation of it as paraconsistent logic; (iii) pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination), which he sees as analogous to modern science’s view of quantum entanglement.

Chapter 5 is a dialogue between Priest and Debyajyoti Gangopadhyay, titled “Can Buddhist Logic be seen as a forerunner of modern Paraconsistent Logic?” The chapter begins with Gangopadhyay asking Priest for his motivations for studying logic, philosophy, and Buddhism. Priest says that he became interested in logic through his study of mathematics and its foundations. This interest then spurred him to work in a philosophy department where he could more deeply study these issues. He then explains how he met Jay Garfield, philosopher of Buddhism, in the early 1990’s. Through discussions with Garfield he realized that there were many interesting aspects of Asian philosophy he could grapple with as well. Priest says he felt most sympathetic toward Buddhism, motivating him to focus his study there.

Priest and Gangopadhyay then discuss how the study of logic overlaps in both the Western and Indian traditions. They discuss how in the Indian tradition logic was developed due to epistemological concerns in order for each school to discern their view from another. Priest points out, however, that in the Indian tradition there was never the kind of development of logic that occurred in the West during the 20th century. Gangopadhyay and Priest then discuss how in both traditions logic has metaphysical presuppositions, citing philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel.

This discussion then leads to the questions of whether or not emptiness (śūnyatā) can be understood in logical terms or whether it transcends logic. Priest then explains that to be empty means to be devoid of intrinsic nature, and a thing is what is only in relation to other things, i.e. dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda). He claims that from the standpoint of logic there is nothing weird about this view. Furthermore, in Madhyamaka literature, emptiness is said to be the ultimate reality while at the same time being ineffable – which means that emptiness may transcend logic. However, Priest disagrees that emptiness transcend logic and succinctly explains his well-known dialethiest and paraconsistent reading of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi, which I need not detail here.

What I found really enjoyable about the Nalanda dialogue series is how the format allows for concise explanations of philosopher’s viewpoints on an array of subjects. It allows the reader to easily understand their views without having to dig through all of their previous work. However, one thing I would have liked to see, at least in the dialogue with Priest, is a little more push back on the dialethist and paraconsistent reading of Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi, and emptiness in general. Priest’s dialethist and paraconsistent reading is partially based on a specific understanding of the doctrine of two truths in Mādhyamaka.

The first view, which seems to be Priest’s view, is best articulated by the Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Tsongkhapa. According to this view, the ultimate truth must be an object of intellectual understanding (which includes logical analysis), otherwise it would be unknowable, and it would therefore be the case that all of the practice aimed at the realization of emptiness would be nonsensical. The only way to reach the ultimate truth is through the conventional truth, which is intellectual (and logical), and thus there is only the conventional truth. The second view, best articulated by the Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Gorampa, is that the ultimate truth cannot be an object intellectual understanding because it transcends proliferation (prapañca) – a view which Priest explicitly rejects in the interview. On this view, the ultimate truth is non-conceptual, thus non-linguistic, and thus not subject to logical analysis.

Intellectual analysis may be a necessary component to understanding the ultimate truth but it is not a sufficient component. In order to truly understand the ultimate truth there must be a direct insight of the ultimate truth through meditative practice. While I do not have the space to address the details of the debate on the correct understanding of the two truths in Madhyamaka, I personally hold Gorampa’s view on the matter, and I would like to have seen how Priest would have responded to the nuances of the debate. If Gorampa’s view is correct, it would undermine Priest’s dialethist and paraconsistent reading of Nāgārjuna, so it would be philosophically insightful to see his response.

Overall, the Nalanda dialogue series is an excellent source for anyone interested in intercultural dialogue between the Indian and western traditions. I recommend it to anyone interested in comparative or fusion philosophy.

Reviewed by David Simone, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

One Reply to “Book Review of Nalanda Dialogue Series – Volume 1 – Prolegomena to Intercultural Dialogue: Modern Engagement with Indian Knowledge Tradition (Reviewed by David Simone)”

  1. My sincere thanks to Ethan and David Simone on behalf of Navanalanda Mahavihara and Team Nalanda Dialogue Mission.

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