I am very honored to be a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow this year. The Marty Center’s mission to help scholars of religion engage the world beyond the academy is an important one, and I am excited to have the opportunity to hone this skill as I complete my dissertation and look to the future. In the dissertation seminar, I look forward to discovering more about the work of my peers, and the chance to put up my own work for critique by people of such different disciplinary backgrounds will be very rewarding.
My aim this year is to complete the final chapters of my dissertation. My research addresses the way Buddhist philosophical debates are influenced by disparate commitments philosophers have to what buddhahood really is. I focus on two early 11th-century Indian Buddhists from the university of Vikramaśīla, Ratnākaraśānti and Jñānaśrīmitra. Ratnākaraśānti defended a peculiar position in philosophy of mind: that consciousness is possible without any content, without it being of or about anything. I explicate the novel theory of consciousness Ratnākaraśānti means to advance with this position (which is itself not obvious, for what does it mean to be conscious when one is not conscious of anything at all?), and I show that his view is inextricable from his theory of buddhahood, which is developed in part in his work on the transgressive practices taught in Buddhist tantra. Tantra, I suggest, is thus essential to Ratnākaraśānti’s philosophy. Jñānaśrīmitra (Ratnākaraśānti’s near-contemporary and possibly even his colleague) critiqued this view at great length. For countless reasons, he argues, it doesn’t hold up philosophically; it can be based only on faith. Consciousness must always have content, and there is no reason to think otherwise. Further, he argues that Ratnākaraśānti’s theory of buddhahood itself is flawed. I track the arguments these philosophers make, then, with an eye to showing the ways they relate to competing notions of buddhahood. By doing so, I intend to show the importance of reading Buddhist philosophy in the context of the tradition’s religious aims and practices.