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I am loathe to criticize this book on the grounds that it exemplifies the very problem it purports to critique, as such criticisms border on cliche. But there is no other way to characterize this one-sided examination of the history of Europe's encounter with Buddhism.
What I was hoping for was an intellectual history, but what I got is something altogether less useful or interesting. Droit offers a speculative investigation of Europe's nineteenth-century readings of Buddhism as a process of constructing its own dialectical other and projecting it outside. While the (primarily) German philosophers of Europe were grappling with the problem of establishing an absolute ground for their own value-system, they saw within Buddhism the specter of nihilism, a religious tradition that valorized nothingness and oblivion as the chief end of human soteriology. Insodoing, European scholars were unable to see or engage meaningfully with the real object of study, and instead spent a century grappling with their own shadow.
I will observe that decades after Said, this strategy of critique for western readings of non-European cultures will come as a breakthrough to very few readers. What is exceedingly odd, however, is that Droit makes no attempt whatsoever to come to terms with Buddhism himself. He simply asserts in the very first sentence of the book, without argument or reference of any kind, that the reading of Buddhism as a nihilistic enterprise in the above-mentioned sense is completely misguided. The book begins "Let us say it straight out: Buddhism is not a religion that worships nothingness. To our Western eyes, Buddhism does not appear - no longer appears, today - to entail either a desire for annihilation or a fascination for destruction."
As a student of Buddhist philosophy for over fifteen years, I see no grounds whatsoever for making such a sweeping determination. Buddhist characterizations of the end-result and aim of meditation vary significantly, but many of them place an extremely strong emphasis on apophatic language of cessation, destruction, and annihilation.
Consider one of the canonical formulations of nibanna (=nirvana) drawn from an early Pali scripture, the Maagandiya Sutta: "'These [forms of suffering] are [like] diseases, tumors, and darts;' but here [with the attainment of nibanna] these diseases, tumors, and darts cease without remainder. With the cessation of my clinging comes cessation of being; with the cessation of being, cessation of birth; with the cessation of birth, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering."
This presentation of nibanna is highly typical of the Pali canon, and while it is subject to differing interpretations, I think it can be strongly argued that this model of liberation propounds an actual, literal cessation of consciousness, in the sense that the round of suffering is depicted as being driven by an endless process of death and rebirth, from which the whole nexus of suffering arises.
I know that very different presentations of nirvana and liberation exist in other Buddhist traditions. However, even in the Mahayana traditions following Asanga and Maitreya, which characterize liberation as within this life, very strong emphasis is put on the soteriological importance of emptiness, the non-inherent existence of all phenomena, including the self.
I am not arguing that Hegel is a reliable interpreter of Buddhism - I am saying that to simply wave your hand at all this textual evidence and say that there is no basis to the European reading of Buddhism as a religion of nothingness ignores textual evidence from Buddhist scripture itself. The basic premise of this book is fatally flawed.
Droit charges early scholars of Buddhism with failing to come to terms with Buddhism itself, and seeing it only in the light of their own provincial philosophical concerns. How could you more accurately characterize his own book? It disregards any necessity of examining the tradition it treats, and thereby fails utterly to meet the basic standards of comparative work.
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This book is fascinating. It's nice to see that so much of what is observed on a topic during an era- in this case Buddhism- often only reflects their times. I remember having a conversation with a philosophy teacher when I was an undergraduate where I noted that so much of the portrayal of Buddhism/ Hinduism in Nietzsche seems like over simplification. Well he dismissed this; as an intellectual he had already made up his mind based on reading of secondary sources. After reading this book I can now see why.