Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 29, No 2 (2012)

‘I’ without ‘I am’: On the Presence of Subjectivity in Early Buddhism, in the Light of Transcendental Phenomenology

Khristos Nizamis
Issued Date: 1 Jan 2013

Abstract


Investigating the Pāli suttas, compiled prior to the development of Abhidhamma, from a phenomenological perspective reveals an internally coherent and consistent doctrine/theory whose crucial theme is the intentionality and subjectivity of consciousness. Reductive interpretations tend to interpret the basic Buddhist principle of ‘non-self ’, and its correlative repudiation of the concept/conceit ‘I am’, as entailing a rejection of any genuine (phenomenological) meaningfulness for the term ‘I’ as a legitimate expression of subjectivity, intentionality, and consciousness. Indeed, it is occasionally even claimed that Buddhas and Arahants cannot possess subjective intentional consciousness at all. In the following reflections, then, a few key aspects of an alternative (phenomenological) perspective upon early Pāli Buddhism are introduced and sketched out, whereby it is argued that the presence of subjective intentional consciousness, even in the case of Buddhas and Arahants, is not only presupposed by the suttas, and is not only quite unproblematic for early Buddhist doctrine/theory, but is also actually of fundamental importance for the very possibility of Buddhist truth and practice. Thus, early Buddhist doctrine/theory is not only non-reductive; it also eminently invites a deep dialogue with, and a serious and detailed interpretation from the perspective of, Transcendental Phenomenology.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v29i2.175-250

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