Buddhism: The Path of Deconstruction?

Here’s a table of The 4 Noble Truths. It’s not perfect (and is actually simplified!), but it suggests a tantalizing idea: The Buddhist path may be based on a thorough-going deconstruction.  I explored this in an earlier article, but here’s a summary.

I bundle collections of phenomena into objects. For instance, phenomena of certain images (like smiling faces), feelings (like pride), etc… get bundled under the object “reputation”.  A similar process obtains for “cars”, “books” and all the other objects I encounter daily.  I can go even further; I can deconstruct certain feelings into even lower level sensations, low enough that I have no emotional attachment to them.

The key here is that the phenomena making up the objects to which I cling do not in themselves inspire clinging.  Yet, since no object exists beyond the phenomena that define them, this means I cling to illusions.

Yet, I still cling.  Why? Well, because intellectual understanding is not enough. I have to SEE this in action. So how do I see this?

By deconstruction.

When I deconstruct the objects of my experience, I see the phenomena, feel no clinging and know there’s nothing beyond those phenomena. This facilitates letting go. It doesn’t matter how I deconstruct (there are many ways to do this) provided that my deconstruction fully defines the object and reduces things to a level to which clinging doesn’t apply.

For instance, let’s say I’m craving my favorite meal. Normally, I consume the meal without attending to this experience carefully.  However, what if I deconstruct my experience as I eat the meal?  What if I focus on the whole process; the sensations of saltiness, textures, my chewing, etc…?  I don’t cling to any of those aspects, yet together they define the totality of consuming my favorite meal.  Seeing this, I see first-hand that what I craved was a mental abstraction; not the entire set of phenomena, but something extra I added to this set.

My goal is to live this deconstruction, to deconstruct all experience, leaving nothing out.  This includes the experience of the “self”, which is another abstract object, but one I’m so used to treating as the subject, that I take it for granted as a “background” when it really is not.

Deconstruction is a process, not an ontological or metaphysical claim.

So do the 4 Noble Truths in all their gory detail (and the many numbered Buddhist lists in general) represent a thorough-going deconstruction?

Is Buddhism the path of deconstruction?


10 thoughts on “Buddhism: The Path of Deconstruction?

  1. Thank you for this perfectly cogent statement of Buddhistic reductionism, and how it ought be applied in practice. There is perhaps a certain irony in reducing the world to the ten thousand things in order to apprehend a unicity, is there not?

    1. Well in this case there’s no irony because the purpose of the deconstruction is not to apprehend a unity, but to eliminate the foundation of clinging. One way of looking at it is that we often see 1 thing that we cling to, a thing which is illusory. Upon reflection, we see 10,001 things; all the properties and the thing to which they belong. When we look at it in a more mindful frame of reference, we only see the 10,000 things. We replaced 1 thing with 10,000 but that was a gain, because it was only the 1 thing to which we clung.

      1. Nah. A doctrine of unity would say that nothing really exists. What would there be to cling to?

        I do see your point about clinging, that it is singular phenomenon that can be dealt with at a single blow. This makes much sense. It’s the association of ‘unity’ with a numerical quantity that seems to cause problems.

      2. Thank you for your further explanation BIAR, and thank you also Peter.

        Without wishing to appear pedantic or contrarian, which almost certainly is a futile wish, then one might argue that all clinging is dependent upon the belief in ourselves as the notional subject. In other words, “to eliminate the foundation of clinging” requires not only an exhaustive phenomenological reduction (e.g. Husserlian/Buddhistic), but further, the ensuing dissolution of the subject/object dichotomy. The erroneously conceived subject always in some subtle sense clings, or is averse to, the erroneously conceived object (however so reduced). Unless and until the dichotomy dissolves in a unicity, or more accurately, until the dichotomy is seen as a mind-construct alone, then just so long does clinging and aversion persist in varying degrees of subtlety. Does that sound about right to you BIAR, or do you detect some error therein?

      3. Well, the elimination of a subject above and beyond its properties applies to everything, including the subject known as “self”. So in one respect, “self” is just a specific instance of this general principle. In another respect, this specific instance is so fundamental to our suffering that it can take center (or perhaps even exclusive) stage. So I wouldn’t disagree at all, and in fact have said as much in previous posts 🙂

        You are not pedantic at all and your observations are (IMO) correct and naturally follow from this deconstruction.

        In fact, it may be good to give special attention to this “self” because it’s easy to take this self as background and thus not turn this same deconstruction on it.

      4. Spot on for me Hariod. Perhaps it would be possible to say that the self simply is clinging, that the two thing go ineluctably hand in hand.

  2. I’d agree with Hariod’s excellent comment, and with your idea. Buddhism philosophy and practice is reductionist with a vengeance and thus ultimately holistic, and it seems about right to me to call the fourth Noble Truth the path of deconstruction.

  3. It is only as reductionism as physics. Reductionism is employed as a tool.

    Buddhism, whose core teachings the noble truths, is about suffering.

    In fact Buddha’s solution, the path, is about concentration achieved via conduct/diligence and wisdom. This is required for any human to achieve (become) anything. In this case it just happens to be about complete understanding about suffering and transcending.

    There is a reason buddha picked “suffering” as his core focus (for concentration).

    There were lot of pure reductionists and nihilists during his time too.

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