This book draws on Buddhist philosophy, and on the Western intellectual tradition: the many disciplines concerned with meaningness, particularly philosophy. I would like to thank my teachers and colleagues in both these areas.
My Lamas, Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen, have been the greatest influence on my understanding of eternalism, nihilism, monism and dualism, and their manifestations in everyday life. I am grateful to them for their kindness and openness, for exceptionally clear, practical, and profound explanations, and for their transmission of Buddhist method as well as understanding. They are probably mainly responsible for whatever unusual insights may be found here. However, this is explicitly not a Buddhist book. Where it does not accord with Buddhist doctrine, that is either because I misunderstood it, or did not intend to conform to it. Such deviations should not be interpreted as errors in their teaching.
Beth Preston has long been my mentor and guide to the Western philosophical tradition. Her knowledge and understanding is both deep and unusually broad, covering both the analytic and Continental schools. Her taste is impeccable and her rigor intimidating. Her skepticism regarding the ideas presented here has repeatedly forced me to rethink and reformulate. I have tried to adopt some of her intellectual care and precision, and to rein in my tendency to produce sweeping generalizations and unsupported pronouncements. If my enthusiasm sometimes outstrips my commitment to scholarly values, it is not for want of feedback from her.
I would like to thank also my other teachers in both traditions, my academic colleagues, my Buddhist sangha, and many friends who have contributed in various ways. Unfortunately they are too many to enumerate, but I am particularly grateful to:
- Naljorma Rin’dzin Pamo, my primary interlocutor, with whom I discuss most of the topics in this book in depth;
- Ngakma Zér-mé Dri’mèd, whose oral teaching on emptiness and form was fundamental to my understanding;
- Naljorpa Chhi’mèd Künzang, whose critique of an early version of this work led to an important reformulation;
- The (long defunct) “gravel” discussion group at M.I.T., the most stimulating intellectual environment I have encountered, whose members included particularly Beth Preston and Phil Agre, with whom I worked out very early versions of some of the ideas presented here;
- Robert Ellis, whose work in integrating the Buddhist understanding of eternalism and nihilism with elements of the Western philosophical tradition precedes mine, and with whom I have a valuable on-going discussion of these issues;
- Lucy Friedland, a conversation with whom sparked the writing of this book.
I would also like to thank the readers of this site, and especially those who leave thoughtful, useful, and friendly comments. I am writing the book on-line in order to start a conversation and to gain feedback, which will greatly improve it.