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BUDDHISM AND MIMETIC THEORY: A RESPONSE TO CHRISTOPHER IVES Leo D. Lefebure Fordham University ChristopherIves offers avery clearandthoughtful exploration ofthe relation between Dharma and Destruction. His discussion helps us to understand the historical relation between institutions and violence in various Buddhist traditions. His overview of the historical record is quite compelling, offering us an important counterpoint and corrective to the widespread images of Buddhist peacemakers in the popular media. From the beginning, the Buddhist tradition has had a mixed record in its understanding and practice of the first moral precept, nonviolence. The encounter between Buddhist perspectives and mimetic theory poses interesting challenges for both partners to the discussion. Mimetic theory offers Buddhists an analysis ofthe construction ofdesire and the self that in many ways complements traditional Buddhist perspectives. It also offers a naming ofthe mechanisms of violence in the formation of societies that may be helpful for Buddhists' social analyses. Buddhism for its part offers mimetic theory a centuries-old tradition of reflection on the role of desire in the construction of an illusory self as well as a body of practical wisdom on non-violence that, even if it has not always been put into practice, challenges and instructs the human community today. The popular images of Buddhist peacemakers are, after all, deeply rooted in the early Buddhist tradition and powerfully represented by contemporary figures such as the Dalai Lama, Mahaghosananda (the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism and Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist leader who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize). 176Leo D. Lefebure I approach this discussion not as a professional scholar of Buddhism but as a Christian theologian who has been involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue and who is interested in both Buddhism and mimetic theory, as well as in the relations between these two trajectories today. One model for further discussion would be to take the historical data that Ives has set forth and then apply mimetic theory, asking to what degree mimetic theory can illumine the dynamics and developments of Buddhist history. Using Bernard Lonergan's image of the scissors, which Charles Heflingmentionedin his discussion inthis conference, this approach would cast Buddhism in the role of providing the lower blade of the scissors, the data to be understood, and mimetic theory would provide the upper blade of the scissors, the analytic concepts to understand the data and to make judgments and decisions. In this method, Buddhism would be relatively passive and mimetic theory would be more active. I am sure that there is ample material in Buddhist history that lends itselfto mimetic analysis (one can think ofthe traditional treatment ofthe so-called "outcasts" in Japanese society). One could, as James Alison noted in his opening address, go on endlessly, even obsessively applyingmimetic concepts to different areas of human experience. I am not sure this qualifies as true dialogue, however. It risks continuing the older Orientalist assumption that only Western concepts are capable of understanding Asia's experience and that Asians themselves have relatively little to contribute.1 For a true dialogue, the voices ofboth traditions must play a rather more active role. Both traditions can furnish material for both the upper and the lower blades of the scissors. In Lonergan's terminology, we aremovingbeyondinterpretation, which seeks understanding, and beyond history, which for Lonergan asks what is going forward in history, to the distinct functional specialization of dialectic (Lonergan 125?30). This discipline reflects upon the underlying values at work in historical processes and the assumptions behind these values. In this inquiry we ask about the status of differences of perspective: to what degree are they complementary and where are they contradictory? I would like to organize the discussion between Buddhist perspectives and mimetic theory around the three central points of mimetic theory, which René Girard himself has described as his three most important discoveries: (1) the mimetic construction of desire as the source of human identity, (2) the surrogate victim mechanism as the central dynamic of 1 On Orientalism, see Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). A Response to Christopher Ives177 primal religion and culture, and (3) biblical revelation as the unique, unparalleled unmasking of the surrogate victim mechanism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 175-184
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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