Mascarello, Chiara (2018) Self-awareness in tibetan buddhism. A study of the philosophical relevance of rang rig and its contribution to the contemporary debates on the nature of consciousness. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Abstract (italian or english)
This research examines the concept of self-awareness (svasamvedana: rang rig) as it was developed in the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Self-cognition, that is, the mind’s knowing of itself, is a highly technical concept in Buddhist philosophy and, since it targets fundamental issues relating to the nature of consciousness, represents a crucial subject of debate among various scholars of the tradition. However, modern scholarship has not yet fully examined this field despite the most recent reflections upon self-awareness in the ongoing philosophical debates on subjective experience calling for a deeper study of the insights the Buddhist contemplative tradition might offer in helping to unravel the conundrum that the nature of consciousness presents. Dwelling upon the different understandings of the Buddhist notion of svasamvedana/rang rig, this dissertation mainly examines its Tibetan developments, in light of the Indian philosophical legacy, and the contribution they may offer to a universal discourse on self-awareness, mainly through dialogue with the potentials and tendencies of contemporary philosophy of mind.
After a few introductory remarks, the first part of the research examines the Indian origins and main developments related to the concept of svasamvedana. I start by exploring the initial emergence of the idea of self-awareness in some pre-Dignaga Buddhist sources before taking a closer look at Dignaga’s epistemological formulation of the concept and, finally, considering the main post-Dignaga Indian developments. As such, the first part of the research is intended as an overview of the Indian Buddhist history of the idea of self-awareness that precedes its Tibetan assimilation, an important background that must be considered for a proper understanding of the Tibetan debates.
The second part of the research focuses on the multidimensional relevance that the idea of rang rig acquires in the Tibetan arena. Selecting a few representative Tibetan accounts, I analyze their most relevant philosophical implications. To begin with, I discuss some aspects of the main categories that have been adopted in modern scholarship for the classification of the various understandings of self-awareness. Then, I investigate how the two main features of the intentionality and luminosity of consciousness are questioned and problematized by Tibetan scholars, analyzing the epistemological issues self-awareness entails, such as memory and the validity of cognition, and examining the role of ontology in interpreting self-awareness, especially in relation to the two truths. Moreover, I investigate the soteriological implications of rang rig in relation to spiritual breakthrough, with special reference to the rDzogs-chen view.
The final section of the thesis attempts to create a dialogue between the Tibetan tradition and contemporary studies on self-awareness. These days, self-awareness is still a hot topic tightly linked to the problem of the nature of subjective experience as well as other issues such as the hard problem of consciousness, the differences between same-order and higher-order theories, the relationship between intentionality and phenomenality, and the controversial role of subjectivity. I proceed by identifying aspects and dimensions of the discourse on self-cognition where the Tibetan understandings of this concept can fruitfully meet with the problems and strands of the ongoing debates in philosophy of mind. By putting them in dialogue I analyze the resonances and differences between the legacy of the Indo-Tibetan tradition and the modern controversies that arise.
What ensues from this research is an overall examination of the main accounts of the Buddhist notion of svasamvedana/rang rig, with a specific focus on the Tibetan assimilation and developments of the topic in light of the previous Indian thought upon it. These philosophical positions are unpacked, intertwined, interpreted and considered against a wider reflection upon the universal problems of self-awareness by assuming a methodological approach that allows the categorization and analysis of the challenges and nuances of the cross-cultural praxis itself. With this work I intend to follow the suggestion, recently made by a few recent scholars, to deepen and broaden our understanding of svasamvedana by putting it in relation to the contemporary sensitivity to the topic and in dialogue with comparable ongoing reflections upon the nature of consciousness. Even just scratching the surface of such a delicate, vast and complicated philosophical project, I hope to be able to tap into the mutually transformative potentials of such a cross-cultural philosophical enterprise, whose challenges now more than ever are becoming urgent, demanding but also promising.
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Abstract (a different language)
Questa ricerca esamina il concetto di autocoscienza (svasamvedana: rang rig) come è stato sviluppato nella tradizione buddista indo-tibetana. L'autocoscienza, cioè la conoscenza che la mente ha di se stessa, è un concetto che presenta un alto livello di complessità e tecnicità all’interno della filosofia buddista e, poiché interseca questioni fondamentali relative alla natura della coscienza, rappresenta un argomento cruciale di dibattito tra i vari studiosi della tradizione. D’altra parte l'esegesi moderna non ha ancora esaminato completamente questo campo, nonostante la riflessione contemporanea sull'autoconsapevolezza e sulla natura dell’esperienza soggettiva potrebbe senza dubbio giovarsi delle intuizioni che la tradizione contemplativa buddhista offre. Approfondendo le diverse concezioni della nozione buddhista di autocoscienza, questa dissertazione esamina principalmente i suoi sviluppi nella filosofia tibetana, sia alla luce del retaggio filosofico indiano, sia considerando il contributo che essi possono offrire a un discorso universale sull'autocoscienza e sulla natura dell’esperienza, attraverso il dialogo con la filosofia della mente contemporanea.
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