• Becoming God, Becoming the Buddha: The Relation of Identity and Praxis in the Thought of Maximus the Confessor and Kūkai

      Nagatomo, Shigenori; Limberis, Vasiliki, 1954-; Bregman, Lucy; Botwinick, Aryeh (Temple University. Libraries, 2015)
      My dissertation investigates the concept of ‘divinization’, or becoming like (or identical to) God or the Buddha in the thought of two early medieval monk-philosophers from radically different religious-philosophical traditions, Maximus the Confessor (580-662 CE) and Kukai (774-835 CE). I use this as a means of comparing the relationship between understandings of identity and praxis advocated by these two thinkers. Maximus was a Christian monk who lived during a period of great theological and political turmoil in the Byzantine Empire and participated in the theological debates of his day. Kukai was a Japanese monk who studied esoteric Buddhism in China and returned to establish an esoteric lineage in Japan, allowing it to survive after its demise in China. In the first half of my dissertation, I investigate their philosophical understandings of identity, what makes a thing what it is and not something else. I consider this their metaphysic (using the term in the broadest sense of an account of reality). I begin by looking at their religio-philosophical contexts which informed their thought and then on texts written by my principles themselves. Maximus’ understanding, shaped by Greek philosophy and early Christian theologians, is embodied in a triad of concepts – logoi, divine ideas and wills which bestow being on created things and hold them in existence; tropoi, the modes of existence of particular creatures and hypostasis, the individual existent or creature which exists in the tension between logoi and tropoi. The core of Kukai’s understanding is funi (不二) or non-duality, a doctrine that has both epistemic and ontological implications. It is grounded in the experience of meditation as well as the esoteric Buddhist teaching of muge (無礙), the mutual interpenetration and non-obstruction of all things. It is a doctrine central to esotericism but also has roots in prajnāpāramitā (“perfection of wisdom”) literature, important to many schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism. How they understand ‘identity’ is central to their philosophy and will reflect in both the practices they advocate and the rationale for them After establishing and explicating their understanding of identity, in consequent chapters I look at the praxes that they advocate and their metapraxis or reasoning behind these practices. I focus on regimes of self-cultivation, such as meditation, prayer, virtuous behavior, various ritual activities and how they lead to the ultimate goal of divinization. In Maximus, this process of divinization is called theosis (θέωσις), ‘deification’. He follows in a long line of Christian thinkers who hold that God created human beings in order to make them like himself, to become by grace what God is by nature. In Kūkai, this process is known as sokushin jōbutsu (即身成仏), ‘becoming a Buddha in this very existence’. He is the heir to an esoteric tradition that holds that all sentient beings are originally enlightened, they have Buddha-mind or already are the Buddha, but this reality is obscured by a profound miscognition of the reality which gives rise to egoistic craving. In the final section, I look more closely at these respective accounts of divinization, to show the profound parallels and divergences found in their thought and elucidate the source of these differences in their respective metaphysic, their accounts of identity; how does identity shape practice? What informs this understanding of identity? This is the larger question I am seeking to address. In doing so, even though my research is limited in focus to two particular thinkers, they do act as representatives of two larger traditions, Early/Eastern Christianity and Japanese Buddhism. The answers they give to this question reflect the insights and positions offered by these larger traditions.