Monday, December 20, 2004

Bierce, Blondel, and Nirvana

Fans of the Analphilosopher's excellent weblog know that he regularly posts excerpts from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary. Yesterday, he posted this:

Nirvana, n. In the Buddhist religion, a state of pleasurable annihilation awarded to the wise, particularly to those wise enough to understand it. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Although intended sardonically, there is a serious point here to which Maurice Blondel alludes in the following quotation:

. . . if there is a salvation it cannot be tied to the learned solution of an obscure problem. . . It can only be offered clearly to all. (Action, p. 14)

It might be fruitful for someone to develop a comparison of Buddhism and Christianity on this point. Buddhism is a religion of self-help: "Be ye lamps unto yourselves, etc." Trouble is, how many attain the Goal? And if only a few renunciates ever attain it, how does that help the rest of us poor schleps? By contrast, in Christianity, God, in the person of the Logos, does the work for us. Unable ultimately to help ourselves, we are helped by Another. And the help is available to all despite their skills in metaphysics and meditation.

Obviously, what I have just written is but a crude gesture in the direction of a whole constellation of problem-clusters. For example, a thorough comparison would have to go into the role of the Bodhisattva as a sort of helper of samsarically-bound 'schleps.'