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Hegel on Buddhism

Hegel derived his understanding of Buddhism from a particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism which emphasizes the notion of emptiness. This sect had recently gained political power in Tibet to the exclusion of other legitimate views of the Dharma. This essay demonstrates the signficance of Hegel's misprision of Buddhism for his thought and for Western philosophy in general. In particular, Hegel radically misreads Buddhist meditation as an immersion in "self" ("Insichsein"), and construes Buddhism as a dangerous feminine principle, either too sexual or strangely asexual or autoerotic (as the current Pope has also stated). Using a combination of Buddhist scholarship and philosophy and deconstruction (ways of analyzing that go together quite well), I discover a fatal and phobic fascination with Buddhism in Hegel's thought, a fascination which leads him to develop the idea of "nothingness." "Nothingness" becomes an evocative term which Western philosphy after Hegel will try to include, exclude and police in numerous ways. Most recently, the systematic and shocking (deliberate?) misunderstandings of Buddhism by Slavoj Zizek have been based on this idea of nothingness. "Hegel on Buddhism" shows how this idea is nothing more than a paper tiger, a construct which tells us more about Western philosophy than it does about Buddhism.
February 2007

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