QUESTION: Derrida is famous for saying that "there is nothing without a context" and I wondered whether his thinking partly overlapped with dependent origination.

SHORT ANSWER: Definitely, but... not everything is impermanent.

LONG ANSWER: Buddha's teaching emphasises that all ordinary things - abstract as well as concrete - are dependent upon conditions and therefore subject to change, decay and death. Many people in the West take that part of his teaching as the whole of it. However, the other half of his teaching is that there is a possibility of liberation and liberation is a matter of identifying with what is not conditional and not impermanent. He called this by a variety of terms, but the most well known is nirvana.

In this sense, we could say that most Western Buddhism is philosophy rather than religion. It is Buddhism with the 'salvation' taken out. That, of course, also means that the whole of Buddha's fundamental intent is ignored. Presumably this is because we live in an ultra-materialist age.

Within the philosophical domain, Buddha and Derrida would, I suppose, have agreed on this point. All ordinary meaning derives from context more than substance. This is clear logically as well as empirically. When one asks, what does something mean, we are really asking, in what context is it best to see it. eg. What is the 'meaning' of the current troubles in France? Possible answers: 1. The proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie; 2. A move toward the sensible management of a modern economy; 3. Reaction by a bored population who want to liven things up; 4. Over-flow of frustration that is really attributable to many other insoluble social problems; 5. The unpopularity of the government; 6. A bid for power by the trade unions, etc. It does not matter whether your choice is politically left or right, serious or trivial, historical or of the moment, in every case, one is advancing a context as 'meaning', and I imagine that Buddha would agree that this is always the case.

Buddha might add, however, that this exercise can go on indefinitely. the context also has a context and so on ad infinitum. One difference between being in samsara and being in nirvana is, therefore, that samsara is a situation where the argument goes on ad infinitum whereas nirvana is 'empty' because it is unconditional. In this Buddhist approach 'right view' means having an infinite perspective from the beginning. This then cuts through contention. At a most practical level it often leads to the question, "Hey, people, what's the big deal? Do we really need to get so heated here?" So Buddhism brings some cool into heated situations. It takes the fever out. Buddha was a very cool guy. His context was the whole cosmos (at least).

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks David
This is a really helpful answer.



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