Monday, August 30, 2004

Nirvana as Asphyxiation

E. M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, tr. R. Howard (New York: Seaver Books, 1983), p. 118:

In the Benares sermon, Buddha cites, among the causes of pain, the thirst to become and the thirst not to become. The first thirst we understand, but why the second? To long for nonbecoming -- is that not to be released? What is meant here is not the goal but the way as such, the pursuit and the attachment to the pursuit. --Unfortunately, on the way to deliverance only the way is interesting. Deliverance? One does not attain it, one is engulfed in it, smothered in it. Nirvana itself -- an asphyxia! Though the gentlest of all.

I am reminded of Ramanuja's rejoinder to Shankara: "I want to taste sugar, not become sugar." If salvation is destructive of all individuality, what could it be worth? If, on the other hand, salvation is merely entry into a Hinterwelt that reproduces in magnified form features of the hic et nunc -- as on the puerile Islamic conception of paradise as endless disporting with black-eyed virgins -- then (i) what rational person could believe in it, and (ii) how could it solve the fundamental problems that plague us here below?

I'll give this problem a name. It is the problem of elaborating a conception of salvation that avoids both annihilationism and reduplicationism.