29 November 2019

Xuanzang and the Heart Sutra

I'm pleased to announce that my sixth article on the Heart Sutra has just been published and is now available online as an open access pdf.
'Xuanzang’s Relationship to the Heart Sūtra in Light of the Fangshan Stele.' Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies (2019, 32: 1–30)
I first present a transcription, translation, and discussion of the Fangshan Heart Sutra inscription on a stone stele with particular focus on the colophon, dated 13 March 661 CE. Making it the earliest dated physical evidence of the Heart Sutra.  This is about three years before the death of Xuanzang so has the potential to resolve outstanding questions about his involvement in the production or transmission of the text. Given that the Fangshan Stele is well known in Chinese language publications for almost a century, and has been noted in a number of art history articles, it is odd that it has never before been discussed in an English language Buddhism Studies context. In 2015 I spent a lot of time researching the claim by Kazuaki Tanahashi that the Beilin Stele (672 CE) was the oldest dated Heart Sutra. Although I turned up a number of mistakes and anomalies in Tanahashi's book, the Fangshan Stele did not show up on my research. Hopefully this paper will go some way to redressing the lacuna. 

An important aspect of the traditional history of the Heart Sutra is the association of it with Xuanzang. This is not simply an incidental fact associated with the text, but is centrally important to our understanding of it.

Chinese Buddhists developed criteria for judging the authenticity of a sūtra and the Heart Sutra ought to fail since it has none of the expected internal features. It does not begin "Thus have I heard", it does not relate the occasion and place of the teaching, it does not feature the Buddha speaking or endorsing the words of the protagonists, and it doesn't feature the interlocutor praising the teaching.

The reason we treat the Heart Sutra as an Indian sūtra is solely because it refers to itself as a translation by Xuanzang and this in turn rests on his reputation as a pilgrim. However, on closer examination there are many reasons not to believe this narrative. Most especially, internal evidence from the text and comparative study in the context of Chinese and Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitā proves that the Chinese Heart Sutra (Xinjing) is not a translation at all. Rather it is a digest text (chāo jīng 抄經) made of passages copied from the Large Perfection of Insight Sutra translation by Kumārajīva (T 223) and one or two other texts. The copied passages were linked together with specially composed Chinese passages. And finally an incantation was added from a recently arrived collection of such spells from India.

Traditional scholarship puts together information that emerged in the decades following Xuanzang's death to create the story. The Biography of Xuanzang (by Huili and Yancong) from 688 CE and the Kaiyuan Catalogue (of Buddhist texts) from 730 CE are two principle sources. They include a backstory for Xuanzang's association and details like the translation date and circumstances.

However, modern research contradicts the tradition at every turn. In this article I consider how the Fangshan Stele fits into both ways of looking at the Heart Sutra and conclude, unsurprisingly given the gist of my five previous articles, that the traditional narrative is no real help in understanding the stele, whereas the modern historical narrative, of which I am one of the principle authors, does make more sense of the stele and the relationship to Xuanzang. 

In short the tradition is a fabrication. Now, since I submitted this article Jeffrey Kotyk has proposed that, contrary to my conclusions, Xuanzang was not only involved in the composition of the Heart Sutra was in fact the author of it. This is based on a passage in the Biography which is authenticated in a collection of Xuanzang's letters. The passage says that Xuanzang presents a golden lettered Heart Sutra to the Emperor. 
On the 5th day, 12th Month of Yǒnghuī 6 (永徽六年十二月五日) i.e., 6 January, 656, Xuánzàng sent a letter to the emperor celebrating the birth of a new prince the month before. He wrote in a letter: "I dare to offer a copy of the Prajñā Heart Sutra in gold letters, one scroll and a case." (輒敢進金字《般若心經》一卷并函 T 50.272b.12). This piece of information is quite a big deal because this is the earliest literary reference to the Heart Sutra with a precise date that I know of. It is five years before the earliest physical evidence (661 CE) and definitely before Xuánzàng began translating Prajñāpāramitā texts in ernest (660 CE). (Critical Thinking in Buddhist Historiography)
Now this does not say that Xuanzang is the Author of the Heart Sutra. But as I write in the article he was very knowledgeable about Indian texts and probably already familiar with the Prajñāpāramitā. The minor edits on the text copied from Kumārajīva's Large Sutra (T 223) may reflect early examples of Xuanzang's attempt to reform the "spelling" of Buddhist terms in Chinese (which did not succeed). Here I am arguing against my own conclusion, welcome to the wonderful world of historical textual scholarship.

To be clear, in denying the validity of the traditional historical account of the Heart Sutra I do not intend any slight on the Heart Sutra itself. I think it authentically represents some aspects of Prajñāpāramitā and the Buddhism of the mid-7th Century in China. Nor do I think Xuanzang practised to deceive. The making of a digest text was a straightforward, above board activity in China. Hundreds of them were produced. If Kotyk is right, Xuanzang made this one for a special occasion: the appointment of the eldest son of Wu Zhao (aka Emperor Wu Zetian) to be Crown Prince.

Although Emperor Gaozong is prominent in the Buddhist accounts and Wu Zhao something of an afterthought, it was in fact Wu Zhao who was a Buddhist and who was the more generous patron. Like his father Taizong, Gaozong was at best indifferent to Buddhism, but perhaps had a personal friendship with Xuanzang because of his travels and his ability to tell stories about his travels. Cultivating Wu Zhao paid off for the Buddhist establishment as later she ascended to the imperial throne in her own right. But it must have been obvious for Buddhists that Wu Zhao becoming Empress Consort in 655 was a huge opportunity for them to expand their influence in the court. So although the expensive gift of gold lettered sutra in a special case was made to the Emperor Gaozong, it almost certainly aimed to please his wife, Wu Zhao. And this would have been obvious to everyone involved.

In any case, the digest text was elevated beyond its natural status by people, and for reasons, unknown. Others piled on to make this locally produced gem into a star of India residing in China. And one of the ways they did this was to manufacture a Sanskrit "original". Only they did a poor job of this. Whoever made the translation was competent at Sanskrit, but completely misjudged the idiom of Prajñāpāramitā and even managed to use an expression only employed by Chinese Buddhists. Having worked on correcting the mistakes that Conze introduced into his critical edition, and having been oriented towards the Sanskrit tradition, I was surprised to find myself concluding that the Sanskrit text was a bad forgery and that the "original" was the standard Chinese text represented by the canonical sūtra T.251 (though both Fangshan and Beilin Stele's have minor character variations that suggest the canonical version was edited at a later date).

In any case, I commend this article to the world of avid Heart Sutra fans. I would like to once again thank Ji Yun for drawing my attention to the Fangshan Stele in an email in 2018 and Jeffrey Kotyk for our stimulating email exchanges on the subject of Chinese historiography (history writing). Scholarship is not about the contributions of individuals, it is a collective exercise of conjecture and refutation. More than most of my articles, this one contains a lot of plausible conjecture. There may be other stories that can be told from the available evidence, although I do think that the traditional narratives have been thoroughly debunked. But new evidence could emerge that changes the story. Indeed the Fangshan Stele was just waiting to be incorporated into our spiel. It was not lost, or hidden, or unknown, it was simply overlooked by historians of Buddhism (at least those of us who write in English). Who knows what else we are overlooking, let alone what archaeologists may turn up in the ongoing search for history?


Heart Sutra articles

(2015). ‘Heart Murmurs: Some Problems with Conze’s Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya.’ Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 8: 2848. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/104 

(2017). ‘Epithets of the Mantra in the Heart Sutra.’ Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 12: 26–57. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/155

(2017). ‘Form is (Not) Emptiness: The Enigma at the Heart of the Heart Sutra.’ Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 13: 52–80. http://www.jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/164.

(2018). ‘A Note on Niṣṭhānirvāṇa in the Heart Sutra.’  Journal of the Oxford Centre For Buddhist Studies 14: 10–17. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/173

(2018). ‘The Buddhas of the Three Times and the Chinese Origins of the Heart Sutra.’ Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 15: 9–27. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/184

(2019). ‘Xuanzang’s Relationship to the Heart Sūtra in Light of the Fangshan Stele.’ Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies 32: 1–30. http://chinesebuddhiststudies.org/previous_issues/jcbs3201_Attwood(1-30).pdf

22 November 2019

Heart Sutra and Social Reality

This essay continues on from: Heart Sutra: Author, Scribe, Editor, Translator, Reader. (25 October 2019)

In John Searle's account of social reality, the ontologically subjective can become epistemically objective when everyone agrees to treat it as such. One of his best examples is money. Although it seems peripheral to the issues I write about, money is one of the best systems to look at to see how social reality works. We all know and use money, yet we seldom stop to think about it. I will first give an account of money in terms of social reality and then look at how this can be applied in terms of Buddhist texts. And I circle back to previous essays in this series to consider the issues raised by Jonathan Silk, especially the idea of the ur-text. The Heart Sutra, being what it is, is difficult to slot into the standard narratives of philology.


The vast majority of money today, some economists say 97%, is in fact debt owed to banks and has no basis in physical reality, not even in token form. Most money is just notations in an electronic ledger. Modern money is by and large just a concept, that is, it is ontologically subjective. Can we then say that money is not real? Seemingly not, since we behave all the time as though money is real. I can go into a shop, hand over money, and come away with a loaf of bread. The shop keeper must believe that money is real or they would not give me real bread in exchange for it.

Sometimes this concept of money is called fiat currency because the government just declare that there is money and, lo, there is money. The Latin fiat comes ultimately from the verb facere "make, do" and means "let it be done" (3rd person singular present subjunctive of the passive mood). Hence also: fiat lux "let it there be light". 

Of course, not just anyone can state what money is. Typically only the government are empowered to do this. One of the agreed functions of government is to decide what forms of payment are valid for settling debts and paying taxes (which are a kind of debt to the state).

The government are able to do this in a meaningful way because we agree that the government is empowered to make this kind of declaration, and we agree to act as if the declaration is the way things are. While we are in agreement, the subjective idea of money is an epistemic fact. This is tantamount to being real. When we cease agreeing, as happens in cases of hyperinflation, then money ceases to be real and we cannot use it to settle debts. Money is ontologically subjective, but epistemically objective. 

So, money is whatever a suitably empowered person or body declares it to be. Such a declaration is a speech act with the specific illocutionary function of defining money. I wrote about speech acts in the previous essay. And this is possible only because we all agree to act as if the government has this power and to act as if money has value. As I wrote in 2016:
"Money is defined socially by collective intentionality rather than by any appeal to ontology or reality. Searle calls this an institutional fact." (Institutional Facts & Language). 
Intentionality here is the idea that our thoughts have an object. Collective intentionality is the idea of a group of people all having mental states related to the same object. One way to understand collective intentionality is with respect to a physical, mind-independent object. Think of the ball at a football match watched by 100,000 fans. The reason they all know at the same time when the ball goes into the goal is because it the ball is a mind independent object being tracked by 100,000 independent minds. Coordinating such responses in the absence of mind independent objects is a very difficult task.

With money we sometimes have physical objects in the form of coins and notes. However, as I said, money is largely notional, an idea, an abstraction. So there need not be a physical object for there to be collective intentionality. A credit card ,for example, represents not money, but the right to transfer  electronic funds, including borrowed funds, from one account to another. Such transactions never involve physical money, only electronic notations in databases.  

The value of modern tokens that represent money (notes and coins) is typically a fraction of the monetary value of the objects, particularly in the case of notes. Objectively, money is worth precisely the paper it is written on. The first modern paper money was worth vastly more than its weight in gold, because it represented the promise to pay a certain, much greater, amount of gold. The founding of Bank of England broke this connection between money and goods, and set the scene for the creation of modern currencies, so let me sketch an overview of what happened.

The Bank of England

In 1694, King William III was asset rich but had racked up enormous debts fighting wars in Ireland and France. Financing this debt had become a serious problem. An idea by William Patterson was to fund it by public subscription. That is, British subjects would give money to the crown via an intermediary to pay off the debts in the short term on the promise of being paid back with interest in the long term. Today we would call it refinancing. The intermediary was incorporated as a private company, with limited liabilities, and was given a royal charter than enabled it to trade in government bonds (i.e., to trade the debts the government owed to subscribers) and to issue bank notes.

The newly incorporated Bank of England raised a large amount of cash which was used to buy up government debt, allowing the King to use his cash-flow to run the country (pay the army and public servants). Cash poured in because of the promise of good interest rates. But the investment had to exist first, before the investors would cough up their cash. One of the attractive things about an investment is that a reputable institution has already committed to it, which suggests that the risk of losing one's capital is acceptable. Banks actively lead investment; they don't passively respond to it. The debt comes first, then they seek investors to cover it. Funding government spending commitments is still a solid investment opportunity with low risk in most nations.

By this time, money had already begun to take the form of notes. The notes were IOUs for a certain amount of gold. These were originally issued by goldsmiths who typically held large amounts of gold and could easily pay out when an IOU was presented. But people soon realised that the value lay in the promise to pay and they began trading the notes themselves as a way of settling debts. At this stage the value of money was still pegged to the value of gold, also known as the gold standard.

We have tried using the gold standard off and on since 1694 but keep abandoning it. Advocates for using a gold standard are called "goldbugs". The physically limited amount of gold places constraints on the supply of money . For example, in 1971 the value of the US dollar was pegged to the value of gold as a result of global post-war monetary reforms. Just as the USA needed to expand the supply of money to pay for the Vietnam War, the French were hoarding gold. This put a squeeze on the US money supply and threatened to make the war unaffordable. So the USA once again broke the connection of money to physical reality which allowed them to create as much money as they needed by selling government bonds.

The goldsmith's IOUs were easily forged and the supply of notes was soon several times the amount of gold that existed. This is a weakness in most forms of physical money. One of the jobs of the Royal Mint was to ensure the integrity of the coinage, a job that Isaac Newton prosecuted with savage efficiency during his tenure. The new bank notes issued by the Bank of England were designed from the outset to be difficult to counterfeit. However, the new notes still represented a promise to pay and were still linked to the ability of the Bank of England to honour that promise.

The success of the Bank of England rested on a number of intangible factors. The Royal charter empowered the bank to issue bank notes. In effect it created the modern notion of money as a promise to pay. Thus the success also rested on how that promise was perceived. As long as people believed that the promise could be made good, they acted as if the bank note had value. The Bank had to seek investors to continue to ensure that their reserves were able to meet the day to day need to pay out gold on the promise, but in practice the demand for actual gold was small compared to the size of the debt they took over from the King, and the demand for gold diminished over time. People became comfortable dealing with bank notes: gradually bank notes became banknotes. We stopped thinking of the notes as IOUs and started thinking of them as money.

I say "people", but in fact during the 17th and 18th Centuries the only people investing in the Bank of England were wealthy aristocracy and the emerging class of industrialists. In all likelihood they were all men. Common people still mainly used coins which were valuable because of the stuff they were made of. Coins were still literally made of gold or silver or copper. The breaking of the link between the value of the substance and the face value of the coin took longer.

The value represented by the banknote was notional. It existed because English businessmen agreed to act as if it did. The reputation of the Bank of England started out as an adjunct of the reputation of the King and the businessmen involved. The King had to declare, via the Royal charter, that notes issued by the Bank were a valid way to settled debts and pay taxes. At this point paying tax became a matter of returning an unredeemed IOU from the King, to the King. Gradually the Bank came to have its own reputation as reliable and dependable. Banks became the epitome of conservative and reliable social institutions. They were models of probity and rectitude. This reputation is long gone in 2019, but I can still remember a time when banks prided themselves on their reputation. 

Reputation is a vitally important part of the social reality. The mere whiff of a bank being insolvent, i.e., unable to pay what is promised, can cause a run on the bank. This is when people scramble to get their money out before the bank can no longer make good on their promise to pay. We've experienced this in recent living memory, which is part of why banks' reputations have changed. 

This form of banking, in which a bank issues debts and then seeks investors, is now the model that all banks use. It is the source of most of the money in circulation. We are sometimes mislead into believing that banks lend out our savings but this is not really what happens. To be sure, banks do invest our savings, but they do so in deals that are arranged before we make our deposits. Debt first, then deposits. 

This kind of money is not ontologically objective, rather it is ontologically subjective; it primarily exists in our minds. But it is epistemically objective because anyone who knows what money is accepts that money represents value and participates in the system. When I buy a book printed on hundreds of pages of paper I simply hand over one or two small paper notes. I'm not exchanging paper for paper, because the shopkeeper and I agree to act as if the notes have value, via a promise to pay made by William of Orange in 1694. And the huge weight of social reality is behind this transaction. Indeed, opting out is scarcely an option. If I unilaterally decide that money has no value then I cannot participate in the economy. Nor will shopkeepers haggle over the value of a banknote, even if in some countries they will haggle over the price of goods and services. 

In this social reality, the government is empowered, by virtue of being the office-holder, to perform certain functions. One of these is to define money and control the supply of money, i.e., to regulate how much debt banks can create.

There is nothing special about kings or gold. We simply collectively decide to treat them as if they are special and mark this with a speech act (and in the case of kings, with some form of ritual action). A king is just a human being and gold is just a metal. The value we place on them is subjective. George III was not materially changed when the USA declared itself a republic in which "all men are created equal". This subjective value may be based on objective qualities such as the rareness or ductility of gold, or the personal qualities of a particular king. Even so, the concept of value is  itself subjective. And it is the value we place on kings and gold that influence our participation in social reality.

Having outlined a relatively clear case study of social reality, I now want to argue that the situation with texts and Buddhist communities is somewhat analogous.

The Social Reality of Buddhist Texts

A given text is considered to be a Buddhist sūtra because Buddhists, or enough Buddhists of the right status, accept that it is so. There are, of course, disputes over some texts. The Heart Sutra is a rather brilliant example because it is emphatically not a sūtra by most formal definitions of the concept. Nonetheless it is accepted as a sūtra and is seen by many as the acme of Buddhist sūtras. One regularly sees it referred to as the most popular Buddhist sūtra. If we can understand the social reality of the Heart Sutra we may get some important insights into the social reality of Buddhist texts more generally. 

Buddhists in early medieval China developed a list of criteria for judging the authenticity of a text. They had to do this partly because almost as soon as Buddhism was introduced into the China, the literati set about writing their own Buddhist texts, such as the Forty-Two Section Sūtra or the pseudo-Śuraṃgama Sūtra, or the Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna. Lest we be judgemental, this is not new or distinctive to China. In fact, this also happened throughout the history of Buddhism in India. 

Indian Buddhism seems to have lacked the idea that texts were unchanging and sacrosanct. Brahmins had this attitude and took extraordinary measures to preserve the Vedas with very high fidelity. Unusually, the Vedic oral tradition is more accurate than the Vedic manuscript tradition that started in the Common Era. By contrast, Buddhist texts changed, probably with every retelling of the story and with every copy of a manuscript once writing was introduced into India, in the 3rd Century BCE.

The Heart Sutra lacked all of the features that would make it a sūtra. It is considered to be a sūtra despite this because the text itself says (speech act) that is a sūtra and that it was translated by Xuanzang. He was a prestigious individual in his time, known for his trip to gather Indian Buddhist texts and for his translations of the same. The extent to which the Buddhist stories about his relationship with successive emperors are true is something that is very much up for discussion (both Jeffrey Kotyk and I are waiting for articles to be published on this subject). Xuanzang does seem to have attracted considerable royal sponsorship to support his translations, which included a large team of collaborators and assistants paid for by the state. 

We now know that the Heart Sutra is not a translation at all, it is a chāo jīng 抄經 or "digest text". The Heart Sutra combines passages copied from the Large Sutra (T 223) and the Dhāraṇīsamuccaya (T 901) with some passages composed in Chinese. What's more we know that Xuanzang's chief follower (Kuījī) and a prominent collaborator (Woncheuk) both expressed doubts about the status of Heart Sutra in their commentaries. They seem to have been aware that it was not a sūtra. Still, by the end of the 7th Century the association with Xuanzang, the great pilgrim and translator, is enough for Chinese Buddhists to agree that a non-sūtra is in fact a sūtra, that is, they acted as if it were a sūtra. And now it is de rigueur for commentators to remind readers that the Heart Sutra is the most popular Buddhist sūtra. Not only is this non-sūtra accepted as a sūtra, it has become the epitome of a Buddhist sūtra. In fact, the text has also transcended the Buddhist context and become a pop-culture meme; we find it printed on lampshades, hats, and mousepads.

It is quite common to find Buddhists who say that simply hearing the text was enough to spark their conversion to Buddhism. Such people tend to emphasise the mystery said to be inherent in the text (though research has shown the mystery to be largely the result of spelling and grammatical errors). 

I've argued that the digest text is a distinctively Chinese genre and I still think this is accurate. However, Jonathan Silk raises an interesting objection to thinking of such texts as "apocryphal" or "pseudo-epigraphical". As he points out:
"Nearly all Buddhist scriptural literature from the very earliest times follows the same pattern: texts are constructed out of parts, stock phrases, pericopes, elements which are drawn upon to create – with of course some new elements as well – new works."
At face value, the Chinese digest texts seem to fit this same pattern. So if I want to draw a distinction I have to try to say why I think they are different. Digests were consciously a condensation of a larger text and attempted to capture the essence of it. Even the most modular Pāli Sutta usually tries to convey some new point and often expands on existing works rather than making any attempt to condense them. The digest as epitome is distinctively Chinese. It's not just a storytelling medium, but reflects a conscious attempt to simplify long, complex, and abstruse Buddhist texts for the local culture.

Another objection here is that the Chinese criteria would have excluded many Indian texts, such as the well-known Karaṇīya Metta Sutta, which similarly lacks all of the necessary features to be considered a sūtra. Think of the case of the Dhammapada, which is also not a sūtra but has other claims to authenticity, despite being a collection of verses, some of which also circulated beyond the Buddhist community and despite each version having a different but overlapping selection of verses. 

Silk's point is well taken. It raises a number of important questions. If the formulaic nature of Buddhist texts is evident throughout history, then to what extent is any Work (in the sense I outlined in the two previous essays) a new Work? In what sense is any text an ur-text if it copies passages from elsewhere. Is the Heart Sutra a distinct work or is it derivative of the Large Sutra? How disruptive is the presence of Guānzìzài 觀自在 or the dhāraṇī in the scheme of things, given that they do not come from Prajñāpāramitā sources?


The Buddhist version of social reality is no different in principle from any other social reality. It is based on collective intentionality and it consists of relationships between members of a social group  that is characterised by social cohesion and cooperation, status hierarchies, in-group privilege, and so on. It's just a variation on the standard social primate architecture.

Social functions are carried out by individuals and groups. People are empowered to carry out functions, usually by speech acts that declare that they are empowered to do so. Within the "priesthood" of Buddhism some members are agreed to play special roles: teacher, preceptor, hierophant, political leader, and so on. Sometimes they all come together in one person such as the "Pope" of Tibetan Buddhists, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is possible because of the collective intentionality of the community and their agreement to act as if such things are real, i.e., to treat speech acts as creating new epistemically objective, institutional facts.

The only real power that one person has over another is physical. The strongest can bully the weakest if they want to. However, we are a social species, so lone bullies can be dealt with by a coalition of weaker individuals. A coalition of bullies working for a cunning strategist is much more difficult to deal with and becomes a feature of human culture as we settle into cities. To some extent kingship is an extension of physical strength, at least in its origins. The state is able to exert physical force, usually through proxies, to compel obedience. Although we sometimes see similar models in religion, or we see religious and secular functions merge or unify in order to use violence in a religious cause, this is not the norm. The power of a priesthood is more often psychological. 

Some modern Buddhist groups have rejected some of the traditional social distinctions (i.e. monk/lay) but we tend to reproduce the features of primate social reality in any case. Various forms of hierarchy emerge, the worst of which appears to be the monarchy, i.e., the singular leader with no peers. Without checks and balances there is often abuse of power in monarchies. And indeed we see this all the time in monarchic and deeply hierarchical social setups that are found in Buddhist groups. Buddhist monarchs are no better than any other kind. However, monarchs cannot rule without the explicit consent of their subjects, especially when they don't have an army to enforce their will. They maintain their position purely by charisma. A religious monarchy of the type very often found in Buddhist groups centred around a charismatic living teacher is not usually maintained by violence or the threat of it. It's maintained because people are willing to be subjects of a monarch. And it breaks down when people no longer consent to be subjects, often because the monarch has not fulfilled their social obligations.

The dynamics of sexual relations within religious communities is a minefield. Religieux often have extremely negative attitudes towards sex and desire. Monarchs who lack peers are almost always lonely and sometimes naive about power differentials. There will always be some people that will trade sex for higher social status; and who will be resentful if they do not obtain it. Fundamentally people who are coerced resent it; we are acutely attuned to ingroup fairness and unfairness provokes a disgust reaction. Any form of tyranny inevitably breeds discontent and, eventually, rebellion. Monarchies are inherently unstable. Moreover, the question of succession becomes fraught because truly charismatic leaders are rare. Good kings are almost inevitably followed by bad kings.

Even with more equitable groups, there will be formal and informal functions that members play with the consent of the group. Deciding which texts form the doctrinal basis of a Buddhist movement is a function that leaders usually take on. They determine the curriculum and set texts for the community. For many Buddhists, the curriculum was set centuries ago by some founder figure; or we may operate on an even longer term tradition without an identifiable founder, or we may attribute our tradition to the mythical founder of Buddhism (though this does not bear scrutiny).

I think the group I'm a member of is slightly unusual in that members acknowledge some common texts, but on the whole we each rely on wide range of different texts. Our Venn diagram has a small intersection and large areas of non-intersection. What's more our founder was eclectic in the texts that he commented on; far more eclectic than any of his followers who cannot hope to keep all of his teachings in mind while also being engaged with any number of other teachers. We are also strongly influenced at times by non-Buddhist texts.

Coming back to the Heart Sutra again, we cannot see exactly what happened for it to be incorporated into the Chinese Buddhist canon. One plausible narrative is that Xuanzang himself created the Heart Sutra as a gift for Gaozong and Wu Zhao on the occasion of Wu Zhao's son becoming Crown Prince (in 656 CE). We still cannot say how the digest text came to be considered an authentic text, only that when it did (some time before March 661 CE), it was precisely the association with Xuanzang that enabled this. 

A reference to Xuanzang invokes his journey to India and return with many authentic sutras. On the other hand, the standard narrative says that he obtained the Heart Sutra before he left China. There is no reason to believe this narrative and several reasons to doubt it. So, for now, the situation remains unclear. The traditional stories are not historical accounts, but serve to increase the prestige of the text (and perhaps the protagonists). The prestige of the Heart Sutra and of Xuanzang have fed off each other to create a charismatic narrative that is itself a religious text. Few people reference the traditional sources directly, but nonetheless the story continues to circulate and be told, if only in bastardised forms such as the legend of Monkey.

The social reality of the Heart Sutra in China is not based in physical reality. It is based on facts that are declared to be true and accepted as true on some other basis; a subjective basis. Nonetheless, it is a fact that Chinese Buddhists have treated the Heart Sutra as an authentic Indian sūtra for more than 1200 years. This raises the question that I've been trying to get at for some time.

Buddhist Text Permissions

Systems administrators talk about the "permissions" of files in their computer systems. This is a set of parameters which allows different users, or classes of users, different rights to look at documents, to edit documents, and to run programs (the read, write, and execute parameters). Adjusting these parameters allows the sysadmin to, for example, prevent naive users from accidentally deleting important files or running malicious software. The sysadmin is empowered to make and apply such determinations to protect their system and to protect users from their own incompetence.

When it comes to who can read, write, or execute a Buddhist text the situation is very complex. Here I will take "execute" to mean "put into practice." For example, some Buddhist practices require an initiation; while some are sectarian. The meditation practices referred to in the Heart Sutra were not for beginners. The attainment of emptiness requires a good deal of experience as well as a temperament for and a lifestyle conducive to a very reduced level of sensory stimulation.

These are issues that can only exist with respect to social realities that themselves are localised in time and space. If I ask the question in one place at different times (diachronic), then I get a set of different answers for each time. If I ask the question at one time (synchronic) in different places I get a different set of answers in each place. There is not one place or one time which speaks for all places or all times, not even the mythical India of the past.

There are no agreed standards on the file permissions on the Heart Sutra. I've literally had Asian lay people tell me that I could not possibly understand the Heart Sutra because I do not speak Japanese, despite the fact that I can read Sanskrit and they believe that the text was originally composed in Sanskrit. And this despite my publishing on the text in both Sanskrit and early medieval literary Chinese.

Historical Development

The Heart Sutra was composed in the mid-7th Century, mainly using passages copied an early 5th Century Chinese translation of a 4th Century manuscript copy of a Text that existed before the 3rd Century CE, but grew out of a text that itself developed in stages over centuries.

If we take Joseph Walser's suggestion, the mainstream texts of Prajñāpāramitā literature began as a couple of pages, but as Huifeng/Matt Orsborn has shown, it must have quickly expanded into the chapter structure of the Small Sutra that by the Pala Dynasty (9-12th C) was called the Aṣṭasāhasrikā. The Large Sutra was a threefold expansion, incorporating a raft of new material (including Gāndhārī alphabet practices) that occured at an unknown date and continued to expand over time, leaving versions such as the Aṣṭadaśasāhasrikā, the Pañcaviṃśātisāhasrikā, and the four-fold expanded Śatasāhasrikā.

At any given point in this chronology, in any given place, there would be an answer to who was empowered to read, write, and execute a text. There would be an answer to the question of what the authentic text looked like that was not disrupted by the historical existence of earlier versions or contemporary parallels in other communities that were different. Thus, as I noted in a previous essay, the concept of an ur-text may not apply at all.

When we look at and try to understand this history we have to be cautious. One potential misstep is to assume that what applies now applied in the past. This is almost certainly not true. Not only does Buddhism change all the time, but the surrounding cultures change also, and there are complex interactions. Buddhism may change in response to changes in society; reacting positively or negatively to those changes, either going along with them or taking a different (perhaps even oppositional) path. On the other hand, that Buddhism is often dependent on patronage from political elites and politics is an important consideration. Very few living Buddhists are in the position of being able to criticise their national government, for example. Religious Buddhists often appear to endorse the authoritarian regimes we find in nominally Buddhist nations. Contrary to the peaceful self-image many Buddhist converts have, Buddhists in traditional countries routinely advocate violence against cultural/religious minorities, e.g. in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Another potential misstep is to assume that we have clear information about what rules applied in the past. We are reliant on normative texts that outline someone's, sectarian, idealised situation. This is not a guide to actual practice. Indeed, Greg Schopen has shown us that archaeology almost always conflicts with normative accounts, suggesting that they cannot be taken on their own terms.

Prajñāpāramitā is now universally met out of context, separated from the practical traditions that gave rise to it. I suspect, for example, that the Chinese never encountered a living Prajñāpāramitā tradition, rather they met the literature as interpreted by other Mahāyāna sects that had never practiced the type of meditation described by the literature. Once Madhyamaka metaphysics took hold, Prajñāpāramitā came to be seen as a mere adjunct, but my impression is that the two are unrelated. Prajñāpāramitā rejects the kind of metaphysics expounded by Nāgārjuna. 


Searle's outline of social reality is a powerful way of understanding and appreciating a variety of social groups and phenomena, especially when we combine it with his earlier work on speech acts. It allows us to appreciate that there are different kinds of facts that play different roles in how we understand ourselves, our world, and our place in the world. As a philosophical framework it affords us an interesting perspective on social phenomena such as money. And the description of money is a good way of setting out the key elements of the framework, including the idea of collective intentionality, and the four different kinds of facts.  

By showing that there are analogies between such disparate social phenomena as money and Buddhist texts I hope to have opened up a new way of looking at issues such as the authenticity and legitimacy of Buddhist texts or, indeed, Buddhist teachers. Such things are seldom based on ontologically objective facts, although such facts are always relevant. Rather, the issues are largely dependent on observer relative features, by institutional or epistemically objective facts as well as some ontologically subjective facts.

Buddhists at different time and places take different texts to be authentic. In the case of the Heart Sutra, which is not a sūtra, there were  still mechanisms by which the reputation of Xuanzang could be leveraged to make a claim to authenticity. Such claims are not based in ontologically objective facts, despite the earliest Heart Sutra being one carved into a stone slab dated 661 CE. Particularly in China we know that texts were frequently passed off and accepted as authentic, when even by their own standards they were not. The association with India, even via a pilgrim like Xuanzang could be the overriding factor.

Buddhist texts are institutional; they are authentic if Buddhists act as if they are authentic. This is what authenticity boils down to, or rather is built up from. In the case of the Heart Sutra, the legitimising narratives came after the physical instantiation as a Document. Indeed, some details of the Heart Sutra myth did not emerge for decades after the first evidence for the text. Like the case of debt preceding deposits in banking, we may wonder if texts proceed legitimising narratives in Buddhism. Given how flimsy the story of the Buddha is, perhaps this too came after the fact. 

I think this approach has some promise as a way of understanding the crisis of methodology in studying Buddhism and Buddhist texts that Jonathan Silk has put his finger on. 



Searle, John R. (1995). The Construction of Social reality. Penguin.

Jonathan A. Silk (2015) 'Establishing­/­Interpreting­/­Translating: ­Is­ It­ Just­ That­ Easy?' Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Vol. 36/37: 205-225.

Michael McLeay, Amar Radia and Ryland Thomas. Money creation in the modern economy. Bank of England, Quarterly Bulletin 2014 Q1.

15 November 2019

Global Warming: Some Basic Facts and Some Thoughts

This is an edited version of an essay I wrote for the Triratna Order to try to clarify the issues surrounding climate change and related problems. I have some interest in the basic idea of global warming because my education touched on it in very specific ways: I spent a lot of time at university shining light through samples and measuring what frequencies were absorbed. We can think of the atmosphere as our sample and the sun shining a broad spectrum of light through it.

One of the basic and important facts about the air in our atmosphere is that it’s transparent to visible light and thus colourless at room temperature. This is not true of all gases. Chlorine gas, for example, is greenish and opaque (at least when concentrated).

This transparency is important because it means that most of the light from the sun reaches the surface and is absorbed. Sunlight is composed of many frequencies of light. We see the visible frequencies, but we don’t see, for example, the ultraviolet. Ultraviolet light is what causes sunburn. We don’t see infrared, but we feel it as the warmth from hot things. Of course, some of the light bounces around and enters our eyes, setting off reactions that we interpret as vision. But most of it is simply absorbed.  When matter absorbs energy from any source, it heats up. Two thirds of the earth’s surface is water, which is very good at absorbing heat. So a lot of the heat generated is stored in the oceans.

Some of the light is absorbed by green things that use the energy in the light to do chemical engineering on a tiny scale, i.e. building sugar molecules one at a time from carbon-dioxide and water. A byproduct is oxygen. It took some time to evolve to use this byproduct, but nowadays we rely on being able to breathe a gas with about 21% oxygen in it. The sugars are then used in metabolism, either directly in the plant, or indirectly up the food chain by organisms that live on green things and their predators. The sunlight energy trapped in the sugar molecule is released partly as heat.

So, as a result of light from the sun reaching the earth, some heat is generated by warm things radiating and by living things metabolising.

There are different ways of thinking about heat. For example, it can manifest as movement: more heat equals faster movement. But heat can radiate as well, in which case it takes the form of infrared light (IR). So sunlight comes in, is absorbed, and heats things up a little bit, and some of that heat is radiated back into space as infrared light. Our eyes cannot see infrared, but we can feel it on our skin as a sensation of warmth. The infrared light hits our skin, is absorbed and transfers its energy to our skin, heating it up. 

Just as some gases are transparent to visible light, some gases are transparent to infrared light. Nitrogen gas (N2) is largely transparent to both, for example. But some gases are transparent to visible and ultraviolet light and opaque to infrared light. Amongst these are carbon-dioxide, methane, and water. We call these the greenhouse gases. The amounts of these gases in the atmosphere are tiny. For example, at the moment the amount of carbon dioxide is on average about 410 parts per million. That is, for a volume of 1 million litres of air, separated into its component gases, there will only be 410 litres of carbon dioxide. Tiny, really, but more than enough.

The glass of a greenhouse is transparent to visible light but opaque to infrared. Whatever is inside the greenhouse absorbs light from the sun and radiates heat which is trapped by the glass. So the interior of the glasshouse stays warmer than the surrounding air. Hence the greenhouse effect.

The same thing happens on the earth. The greenhouse gases trap heat near the surface and keep it warm. Without greenhouse gases the surface of the earth would be frozen. Greenhouse gases are essential to keeping our oceans liquid and our world livable. Billions of years ago an asteroid hit the earth and threw tons of dust up into the air, blocking the sun and it caused the oceans to freeze over almost completely. And note, that life survived this and blossomed again once things thawed out. 

The greenhouse effect was first proposed in the middle of the 19th Century. It was physically demonstrated and linked to burning of fossil fuels by the end of the 19th Century. When we burn fossil fuels one of the main products is carbon dioxide. The science of the effect is very well established and understood. No one is credibly arguing that the greenhouse effect does not exist or that it has not been adequately quantified.

We know quite a lot about the history of levels of greenhouse gases from drilling into ice and measuring the composition of gas bubbles trapped in the ice. This allows us to construct profiles over time. And these can be correlated with analysis of sediments in lakes and with records of pollen in soils (indicating what kind of vegetation was present), and with physical indications of where sea level was. Tree rings are also used to calibrate such records because trees grow faster when it is warmer.

So in a broad brush stroke picture we do understand the greenhouse effect very well indeed. We have a clear, quantitative picture of the natural cycles of greenhouse gases going back millions of years. And we can see how large-scale effects such as the average surface temperature and sea level vary according to carbon dioxide concentration.

The equation is quite simple: more greenhouse gases, more greenhouse effect; less greenhouse gases, less greenhouse effect. More carbon-dioxide in the air means more heat is trapped, raising the surface temperature and melting polar ice caps which raises the sea level. And we know that the earth is getting warmer, polar ice is melting, and sea level is rising.

To this point, everything I have said is (beyond a reasonable doubt) an accurate description of physical reality. There’s always a chance that I, personally, have misunderstood some detail, or fluffed it on the day, but the science of the greenhouse effect is very well understood and quantified. Anyone can check the basic outline because there are many available sources at many levels of detail. There is no rational dissent about the basic facts of this effect.

Another important fact is that for most of the last 10,000 years levels of carbon-dioxide have been fairly stable, rising slowly from around 260 ppm to about 280 ppm in 1800. For the next 150 years carbon-dioxide rose more steeply to 310 ppm. Since 1950 the level of carbon-dioxide has risen exponentially to about 410 ppm. 

These are average figures which vary locally and seasonally. The rise since the 1950s is occurring at a rate that is unprecedented in millions of years of ice-core sample data.  What’s more we can correlate to a very high degree of certainty that the scale and pace of the increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide is the same as the scale and pace of humans burning fossil fuels. Given that we know the causal mechanism, we can say with confidence that current warming trends are caused by human activity, specifically by burning fossil fuels.

It is true that some natural processes, such as massive volcanism can raise atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels at a similar scale and pace, though these are usually accompanied by dust clouds that block out the sunlight. We have good records of such things since the industrial revolution and we can see that this is not a factor. The increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide is not solely due to us, but most of it is. 

So why do people disagree about climate science?

Everyone one will be familiar with the shimmer in the air over a fire. This happens because heat causes variations in the density of the air. We’ll all be familiar with the way light bends as it goes from air into water. It can shift the apparent position of things under water by quite a distance. This can happen when light passes from a region of less dense to a region of more dense air. Hot air is less dense, which is why hot air balloons float. It is also fluctuations in the density of the atmosphere that causes the "twinkling" of star light. The warmth radiating from the earth causes the air move around. The warmer it is the faster it tends to move, and the more of it tends to move.

Weather is caused, in part, by the changing density of air. Air flows out of high pressure systems and into low pressure systems. Such air flows are sensitive to the amount of heat available. They are highly sensitive to small changes in heat. So much so, that weather is very difficult to predict accurately at the local level. With super computers we can predict the weather with over a few hundred square kilometres for about 4-5 days. But the accuracy drops from about 80% for the weather today to almost zero at 5-6 days. Weather is affected by huge numbers of variables including ocean currents, ocean salinity, cloud formations, pollutants, local greenhouse gases, vegetation, and global patterns of pressure.

Warming the earth changes the weather. We see this every year as we go through cycles of summer and winter. In fact, we see it in the difference between day and night. Large scale, long-term effects of temperature such as seasons, or longer variables, are well quantified, while small scale, short-term effects are very difficult to quantify.

We can model the complex processes involved in climate and make predictions about what will change and by how much. Such models are constantly being refined and becoming more accurate. Just as weather prediction has improved with the incorporation of real time satellite data and faster computers, so has the accuracy of climate models improved.

One of the reasons people disagree is that in the past models were cruder and disagreement was more likely. This has resolved in the last ten years or so. Nowadays, working climate scientists are largely agreed on the scale and nature of the changes that we are seeing and will see. A consensus has emerged amongst climate scientists that is reflected in documents like the various reports from the IPCC.

The dissent that I have encountered seems on the whole to come from commercial (industrial) and political rather than scientific points of view.

Political Dissent

The problem of climate change conflicts to a large extent with the prevailing political ideology. A global systemic problem cannot be addressed except by coordinated government action. But at this point in time there is a widespread feeling that we cannot trust governments to act in our best interest and a concerted effort to prevent them from doing so. This concerted effort has come mainly from politicians themselves.

This kind of dissent is not about climate change specifically. It’s about the type of governance we aspire to have for our society. People with libertarian views have become ever more vocal in arguing that government must butt out.

This kind of political discourse does not necessarily entail the denial of climate change. But where it does accept climate change, it tends to shift the burden onto individuals. Climate change in this view is the result of consumer choices and if we would only change our choices we could save the world. Industry will respond to the market, and government has no role to play in economic markets.

So there is a fundamental disagreement on the nature of the problem and the validity of possible solutions. Libertarians reject collective action on social and environmental problems. This is partly based on an essay by Friedrich A. Hayek that argued that any form of central planning inevitably leads to totalitarianism.

Of course, Hayek has been proved wrong by many nation states, with the Scandinavians being the best examples. Socialism and centralised planning do not invariably lead to totalitarianism. Centrally funded health care, for example, is considerably more fair and efficient than free market models. And pushing responsibility onto individuals ignores the role played by corporations that use monopoly (or near monopoly) power to distort markets for their own gain. 

In recent years as government have held back from the economy, corporations have consolidated most industries into three or four super-corporations that suppress competition, gouge consumers, and undermine pay and conditions for workers. Markets cannot solve our problems because the corporations that are the problem control the markets. 

Industrial Dissent

Anyone who follows the relevant news channels will know that a series of court proceedings have been initiated against oil companies in the USA in 2019. In particular, an amicus brief has been filed in the Supreme Court against ExxonMobil led by two academics, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. They allege that Exxon knew (see #ExxonKnew on Twitter) about the dangers of climate change but sought to cast doubt on the science, even though it was part-funded by oil companies, including ExxonMobil.

The case is based on a comparison of Exxon’s in-house communications with their public statements. There is considerable documentary evidence (available publically) that Exxon internally accepted that climate change was happening and began to plan for it in the 1980s (including plans covering exactly the kinds of lawsuits they now face). In public, however, they briefed against the facts and lobbied world legislatures to water down measures aimed at mitigating climate change. Exxon spends tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying against climate science. Interestingly, they now also portray themselves as leaders in dealing with climate change.

The situation is analogous to big tobacco companies that knew about the harmful effects of smoking, but denied the link to cancer for decades after medical research established the facts, thus delaying social changes and causing millions of deaths, but reaping huge profits.

Of course ,the oil industry has been highly politicised for over a century now. The amount of wealth involved is so vast that it distorts the politics of our globe. Oil magnates buy influence with their wealth that far exceeds the single vote that the ordinary citizen has once every few years.

Super Rich Dissent

Although this category has a large overlap with the previous one, we can state it a bit more generally. Many of the super-rich rich are enthusiastic about social change and make a great show of philanthropy. But the change they seek is external to themselves. Everything may change, except their ability to hoard wealth and the actual hoards that they have accumulated. So, for example, rather than paying their workers a living wage, they donate money to charities which help working people in poverty. This keeps workers dependent on their generosity rather than allowing them the dignity of earning a living.

The crossover is that the super-rich, the billionaires, get super-rich via super-corporations and their anti-competitive practices.

They often say that the kind of changes called for by the consensus would stifle innovation, but most living billionaires got their start in environments with much more regulation and higher tax rates. This did not stop Bill Gates or Steve Jobs from innovating in the past. It did not prevent Nokia emerging in socialist Finland, or Volvo in Sweden. Yes, the Rolling Stones did live in tax exile, but the post war tax regime did not prevent them getting rich enough to be in the top tax bracket. Innovators will always innovate because they cannot help themselves. If we were to take away the monopoly power of the super-corporations (prevent them from merging) then we would have more competition and more jobs. If competition and markets are a public good, then we should maximise them.

The super-rich suppress competition, subvert democracy, and hoard wealth that would be better placed in the hands of workers to spend in local shops. Their dissent is entirely self-serving. Real change means that they will have to give up some of their wealth and power to the rest of us. 

Media Dissent

The mainstream media generally do a poor job of reporting science. They are fixated, for obvious and understandable reasons, on the novel and exciting. The media do wait for confirmation and thus often publish stories about science that fall by the wayside. This is normal. Ideally, scientists theorise and do experiments and publish the results. Then the published results are picked apart by other scientists. Sometimes it adds to our knowledge and sometimes it turns out that either an experiment was flawed, or the explanation was flawed. This is not a flaw of science. This is the process. We have to wait for replication. And we have to be ready for our theory about why things happened to be disproved. The media short-circuit this process.

The result is that one has to fact-check the media. Or rely on trusted sources to do the fact-checking. It can be very difficult to know how to go about it. Also the media are not always truthful. Media organisations are all owned by a few super-corporations whose owners do have ideological or political agendas. The Murdoch owned News Corp owns Fox (including 27 TV channels and 21st Century Fox movies), Sky, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, National Geographic, The Times, The Sun, and publisher HarperCollins. His newspapers may have editorial independence, but he appoints the editors based on their political views.

Media outlets have a range of approaches to climate science, but the poor way they handle science, combined with political agendas, causes problems. It is not that there is specific reason to dissent from the consensus. That is, the dissent that I have encountered in this arena was not based on rational arguments about flaws in the science. Rather, it was based on distrust of the system; on distrust of the motives of scientists. Indeed, many dissenting individuals seemed to be convinced by President Trump’s assertion that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

My own fact-checking on some media reports has been illuminating. For example, the report from Breitbart earlier this year that “500 climate scientists” had registered a dissenting opinion. On checking, only a handful of the 500 were, in fact, climate scientists. The leading voices were not scientists at all. Several worked for oil companies. Some were political activists who were focused on attacking the state (particularly in the USA). One was a journalist with no relevant qualifications. I checked this article because I saw it being repeatedly cited by those who wished to deny basic facts about climate change. 

The media thrive on fear, anger, disgust and lust. It suits them to emphasise conflict. Someone like Murdoch doesn't care about the truth; he only cares about making money. Analysis of the situation tells us that the super-rich and their super-corporations are part of the problem and they are fighting back.

Dissenting Scientists

I have only encountered one dissenter who called himself a climate scientist. But I could neither confirm his credentials nor identify his place of work. His dissent was focussed on claims about the number and strength of hurricanes hitting the USA. He claimed that hurricanes had not varied significantly from the average. As best as I can tell, he was wrong about this. Hurricanes are becoming more frequent and they are becoming stronger. 

I believe that there are some real scientists who continue to dispute climate science; to dissent from the consensus. And this is a good thing. As Richard Feynman said, “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”. Everyone should be prepared to consider evidence that falsifies their view.  However, this dissenting group are now a tiny minority and, while we should continue to listen to them, the burden of proof has decisively shifted onto them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

The vast preponderance of evidence is that human activity, particularly burning fossil fuels, is causing climate change. It is theoretically possible to disprove this, but it would seem now to involve some flaw in the very nature of science and that seems unlikely.

It's Not Just Climate Change

No one seriously disputes the existence of the greenhouse effect. Very few seriously dispute the existence of global warming which is leading to global changes in the atmosphere and oceans that we experience as changing climate, extreme or unseasonal weather, rising sea-levels, and increasing numbers of wildfires. But this is not the only global problem that we face. 

Pollution is estimated to kill millions of people each year. Pollution has many sources: throw-away plastics, burning fossil fuels, spraying pesticides, farm run-off. Micro plastic particles are entering the food chain at every level. Mercury levels are so high in shark and tuna that eating too much can make us ill. The air we breathe is laden with a variety of toxins from carcinogenic particulates to acid forming oxides that cause respiratory distress and acid rain. And this is in the countries where the effects are less noticeable. In India and China the problem is orders of magnitude worse. Noise pollution is now thought to contribute to mental health problems. 

We are also witnessing the loss of natural habitats at an alarming rate at the same time as species are being pushed to the brink of extinction or over it. Vital areas of biodiversity are dying. Rainforests are being burnt. Coral reefs are being bleached. Mangrove forests are being destroyed. Flying insect populations in Europe are just 25% of what they were a generation ago. Birds that rely on insects as food are disappearing. Organisms transferred between continents go rogue in their new home and become devastating pests: rabbits, cats, and cane toads in Australia; rabbits, possums, and pampas grass in New Zealand; flatworms in the UK that eat earthworms. Or simply over-fishing in the oceans wiping out species like the North Atlantic cod. Ecologies are networks of species that have complex interrelationships. Disrupting them can have unexpected effects. 

These three problems are interrelated. They all result from humans being careless about their impact on the environment. The human population of the planet, in optimistic views, is likely to top out at around 10-11 billion. That is at about 50% more people than we currently have. Which means that there are limits to how bad problems caused by human activity will get, but that without reforms, things will get considerably worse than before. 

The worry now is the idea of the tipping point. This happens when a system is changed beyond a point of no return so that it cannot return to the natural equilibrium. The problem is that pushed out of equilibrium some complex systems begin to exhibit chaotic behaviour with unpredictable swings far from the norm. If we disrupt the atmosphere by heating it we cannot predict all of the effects, but chaotic weather will not be conducive to human thriving. 

Although much of the public discourse is focussed on climate change, and climate change is certainly an important issue, there are these other related issues. Pollution seems to be a more urgent problem, but both climate change and the ecological problems have much more severe long term consequences. 

Now What?

Our situation is a version of Pascal’s Wager. We have two choices: we can bet that the climate science consensus is right or we can bet that it is wrong. And in either case, we can win or lose the bet. That gives us four scenarios. But before looking at these, we need to emphasise that climate change is only one aspect of the problem.

Greenhouse gases are not the only product of burning fossil fuels. Pollution, in the form of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, is another major problem we face. Pollution is not simply unpleasant. It causes disease and death on a scale similar to tobacco smoking. This is also an undisputed fact. Millions of people die each year as a result of pollution related diseases. 

Another related issue to thinking about our lifestyles is the loss of biodiversity, which is increasingly being called a mass extinction event by those who study such things. The steep decline of flying insects in Europe is particularly troubling, for example, because it may cause disruption in food production if we lose pollinating insects.

Here are the choices we face:
1. If we bet that the climate science consensus is correct and accept that we need to take drastic state-level actions to combat it, then we might win the bet or lose.
1.1 If we win, then we avert a global disaster and our own possible extinction. We obtain clean air, clean water, drastically reduce waste, and shift our reliance on fossil fuels from the middle east to locally produced energy (avoiding the problem of peak oil). We protect and preserve biodiversity and the tropical rain forests. We secure our food production system. And we avoid mass migrations caused by sea level rise. 

1.2 If we lose then we invest a lot of money and look silly. But we still get clean air, water, and food, etc. 
2. If we bet that the climate science consensus is incorrect, then we eschew state-level actions and allow nature and markets to take their course. And again, we may win or lose.
2.1 If we win then current trends still continue. Which means worsening levels of pollution; rising sea levels; loss of biodiversity; worsening weather. We hit peak oil unprepared.

2.2 If we lose the bet, then climate change runs away and rapidly reaches a tipping point. Life on earth is seriously disrupted. Human civilisation falters due to widespread famine and drought. Mass extinction permanently changes all ecosystems.
In this approach we have to consider both the likelihood of the outcome and the risks associated with being wrong. The worst possible outcome is betting against the present consensus and losing; i.e., the consensus is correct and we do nothing about it. It could be the end of civilisation. If we bet with the consensus and get it wrong then the results are costly, but the outcomes will still be quite good, because we avoid the worst effects of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss.

The probability of each scenario is non-zero. A non-zero risk of an avoidable and very destructive catastrophe weighs very heavily on me. A non-zero risk of investing a lot and having clean air, water, and food seems attractive in any case. Betting against the climate science consensus only has bad outcomes; betting for it has some good outcomes whatever happens. 

Arguments Against

Some will argue that this scenario is too simplistic. There is a third way which involves incremental improvements in technology that will enable us mitigate or overcome climate change. This assumes that there are sufficient incentives to innovate and time to bring new technology to market. Keep in mind that the consensus is that we have about 10 years left to get our carbon-dioxide emissions under control or our grandchildren will face runaway climate change. The USA has withdrawn from the Paris Accord, is removing incentives for Green technology, and stifling attempts to implement environmental standards. Britain is about to elect a climate change denying government also, which will again remove incentives and slow progress. I’m a great fan of technology, but this approach, at this stage of the game, boils down to a bet against the consensus. 

Allied to this is the argument that we are already moving quickly enough. Saudi Arabia is converting to renewable energy sources, China is on track to meet its Paris Accord Targets, and so on. However, this argument was dealt a blow with the recent IPCC report that climate change is happening more rapidly than the average predicted by the consensus. We have less time than we thought to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions before we cause irreversible harm. This means that taking this line of least resistance is also a bet against the consensus.

One argument that I haven’t really touched upon yet is “it’s natural”; i.e., climate change is real, but it’s the result of natural changes rather than human activity and thus changes in our emissions will have no effect. This view is plain wrong. The rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is clearly linked to burning fossil fuels. In any case, this is another bet against the consensus.

A final potential disagreement is that we cannot afford it. This doesn’t hold water. We can afford whatever we decide to afford. For example, the UK could afford £1.5 trillion to bail out the banks in 2008. We did this because the alternative was the let major banks go bankrupt and for people to lose their savings and investments as happened after the great stock market crash of 1929. Other examples are the various wars we fight. When coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, destroying the civil infrastructure and eventually assassinating Saddam Hussein, all based on false and faked information, we didn't pay for it out of savings. The coalition governments borrowed the money as governments have been doing since 1694 when the Bank of England was founded to fund an English war in France. What stops us at present is an economic ideology. Not only can we afford a program like the Green New Deal (first proposed in 2008) but it will pay for itself. All that is lacking is political will. The argument of affordability is another bet against the consensus.


So, yes, there are many complexities in dealing with the science that can be confusing for lay people. A little knowledge can often be a bad thing because we don’t realise how much we don’t know. And yes there are dissenting voices, coming from a variety of viewpoints, not all of which are from bad actors. And yes, there are voices joined with the consensus who are bad actors with ideological agendas. But the scientific consensus is now wide and deep. Thousands of climate scientists have now come together to assert that the scale of climate change presents an existential threat to humanity in a variety of ways. At the same time we know that millions die each year from pollution and we see alarming numbers of species either extinct or threatened with extinction. 

Yes, there is a body of dissenting opinion. And where this is genuine we should honour it. But we need not give credit to the Flat Earth Society or to conspiracy theories. We need not treat vested interests such as the super-rich and super-corporations as neutral players. We should especially identify the fossil fuel industry as a bad actor in this discussion - they are spending vast amounts of money on promoting plausible lies. 

Whatever our politics or thoughts about climate change, it will always be better to assume that the present climate science consensus is right. Assuming that the consensus is right presents us with the lowest risk strategy and generally good outcomes. Betting that the consensus is wrong can only lead to bad outcomes even if we are right and if we are wrong the outcomes will be catastrophic.

Greta Thunberg recommends not arguing with climate change deniers, but I'm not sure this is the best approach. I think there is scope for keeping the lines of communication open. People won't be persuaded by facts alone, but the facts of the greenhouse effect are not in dispute in any case.

We can continue to refine the climate change narrative: record floods, record droughts, record fires, record temperatures, record sea-level rise, record glacier and sea-ice retreat, record storms in record numbers, record pollution levels, record plastic found in the ocean and the food chain, and record numbers of species going extinct all at the same time.

is disrupting our planet and our way of life. If it is not human activity, then we can ask deniers what is it? Where climate change presents some doubts, the problem of pollution is much harder to dismiss. And if humans are causing more pollution, then why not climate change as well?  


This is a version of an essay I first wrote in Nov 2019 for the Triratna Buddhist Order. 

25 October 2019

Heart Sutra: Author, Scribe, Editor, Translator, Reader

In this second essay on philology and the Heart Sutra I will once again take up Milikowsky's tripartite description of a text as consisting of Work, Text, and Document. The Work being the author's intended message, expressed in a Text (or several Texts) using words, and then encoded in a Document (or Documents). Mostly in studying the history ancient Buddhism we're dealing with physical Documents that postdate the composition of the text by some centuries, supported by sparse and contradictory archaeology and epigraphy (inscriptions). There is no mention of Buddhism from external sources until Lāja Devapiya (aka Asoka) ruled the Moriya Empire in the mid 3rd Century BCE (Yes, he did spell Rāja with an L; no, he never used Sanskrit).

When studying a Work conceived of centuries ago in a language now long dead, the Documents we have to hand are very often translations. Suttas were probably not composed in Pāli, for example. We may think that anyone who reads Chinese characters as, say Mandarin or Cantonese, would be able to read the Xīnjīng (like Icelanders reading the Nordic Sagas) but this is not so. The Chinese grammar used in the Heart Sutra is early medieval (much of it composed in the early 5th Century). It's full of loan words, transliterations, and Indic grammar. It's rather like a modern English-speaker reading Chaucer. There's no privileged access to these Texts or to the Work. 

A translation is someone's interpretation of a Text that is someone's interpretation of a Work. It is thus twice removed (at least) from the Work. In effect, a translation has at least two authors. Some would say a translation is a wholly new Work, but I think this goes too far. A translation is genetically related to a source Text. One derives from the other. The self-appointed role of philologers is to try to use Documents and Texts to infer knowledge about the Work. Religieux don't usually seek out philologers because they already consider their narratives about the Work to constitute all the desirable knowledge to be had.

In this essay, I will introduce a cross-current in the form of some ideas and terms from speech act theory, developed by John L. Austin and his student John Searle. Speech act theory arose in the tradition of American pragmatic philosophy, which often stands in contrast to European concern with semantics and/or semiotics (i.e., what words and things mean). The focus in pragmatics is less on what speech means and more on what it does. Speech act theory is interesting because it sidesteps the intricacies and controversies of etymology and grammatical analysis. It also has a broader reference. Words are certainly at the heart of language, and language is at the heart of communication, but semantics tends to ignore the halo of other ways with which we influence our world using speech. 


If I say "Nice hat" in a pleasant tone of voice it is a compliment, but in a sarcastic tone it is derogatory. Same words, different meaning. Pragmatics also takes into account the way contextual factors may affect the message. If my interlocutors believe that people who wear hats fit into a stereotype and I say of some third party, "Nice hat", then I am saying that person fits our stereotype. It's not a comment on the hat, but an invocation of shared presuppositions about the person wearing it. The hat is merely a metonym for the stereotype and my attitude to it. The study of semantics is admirable and fun, but it often misses the point of speech. Semantic methods can be blind to the fact that a statement like "Nice hat" may have little to do with hats at all. 

This point is particularly important where speech is encoded in written words. We tend to assume that the words are the Work and that semantic methods will allow us to infer all the knowledge we need. We may not consider the pragmatics at all. I noted this tendency in my contribution to the special issue of Contemporary Buddhism on the term vedanā (Attwood 2018). In fact, the words are the Text; a representation of the Work. And meaning can be entirely unrelated to etymology, as the term vedanā shows.

Scholarship on the Heart Sutra to date has been too mired in unnoticed editorial and hermeneutical  mistakes for semantic methods to gain much traction. Or at least, we can point to spectacular failures of semantics to notice simple grammatical and lexical mistakes. We are all still working with faulty Texts but seemingly do not notice because our hermeneutic embraces concepts like the equality of opposites. 

Speech Acts

It is a while since I read Austin's classic book How to Do Things With Words, and my interpretation may well have drifted away from his. Where semantics focuses on the meaning of words, speech act theory thinks of speech as instrumental: speech does something. A speech act has several aspects:
  • locution, what one says, an utterance, i.e., a speech act seen from the point of view of semantics, grammar, and prosody; 
  • illocution, what one does or intends to do with speech; and 
  • perlocution, the actual effect of speaking, especially the impact of the speech act on the audience. 

A Work exists in the mind of an author. In order to communicate it, the Work must be made into a Text. The instantiation of a Work in words as a Text is a locutionary speech act. That said, an author does not gain an audience simply by writing down their thoughts. They must publish them, i.e., make them known to the public. Making known the Text is another locutionary act, with the specific illocutionary function of persuading people to obtain and read the Text. The illocutionary function of the Text is likely more complex.

It may be true that we use words to communicate facts some of the time, but Texts almost always have some illocutionary purpose related to the nature of the Work: to persuade or dissuade, to entertain or distract, to educate, etc. In this essay, for example, I'm trying to alert the reader to certain complexities of dealing with Buddhist texts that I think have important ramifications for my project to revise the text. I was persuaded (a perlocutionary function) that I needed to go through this exercise after reading a Text by Jonathan Silk, which is itself part of a broader project he is involved in which questions the applicability of traditional philology to Buddhism and the problem of what might replace it. My essays often take the form of my "lecture notes" and "thinking aloud" as I educate myself about such issues.

A Buddhist sūtra began life as a Work many centuries ago in a culture that is long gone. We sometimes assume that ancient India is clearly reflected in modern India. Perhaps it is, but only to the extent that Iron Age Britain is represented in the modern United Kingdom. That is, hardly at all. India is as much the product of history as any other modern nation. Rediscovering the historical context is not simply a matter of projecting modern-day life in, say, rural Bihar back 2500 years. Rather, the culture must be painstakingly reconstructed from clues closer to the time. In the case of the Prajñāpāramitā, the culture was Gandhāra under the Kushan Kings. Previous rulers included Achaemanid Persians, then Greek invaders, then Central Asians. The people spoke Indic languages in the east and Iranian languages in the west. The different cultures each contributed something to the substratum of local cultures to produce a unique place and time with no parallel in modern India.

The Work behind a Buddhist sūtra may not be the product of an individual mind. My sense is that the underlying Work was always a multifaceted network of stories developed amongst the members of a community that grew, splintered, and reformed many times. Texts emerged and constantly changed, with each storyteller adding, making their contribution. Later attempts to unify the stories tell us that disunity was the norm but at some point, probably under a political hegemony, it came to be perceived as a problem. In this case identifying the Work as a singular, coherent, unified entity is impossible. The Texts do not point back to an ur-text which reproduces the Work with great fidelity.

I also presume that the first Buddhist communities emerged from an existing culture. Judging by the language of the early Buddhist Texts, through surviving Documents, they emerged as a result of repeated storytelling based on central themes which were elaborated upon over considerable stretches of time. Whether the figure of the Buddha lived or whether the idea of a teacher was just appealing to the community, we don't know. There is no corroborating evidence outside of the texts. What we conclude on this score depends entirely on our starting assumptions. However, we can say that along the way some sūtras were expressed in the theological language of a kind of Brahmanism. Some were in the language of Jainism. Some show influence from autochthonic cultures via deities like the yakkha. Terms from these sectarian accounts made their way into general circulation. There is some evidence also that storytelling proceeded in local languages for centuries before the adoption of what have been called "church languages" emerged (we don't know when this happened). 

From a semantic point of view, a Buddhist sutra is an attempt to communicate an idea. From the pragmatic point of view, it is an attempt to do something in the world. It may be that the authors of a sūtra sought to instruct a student, to convert a stranger, to arouse zeal in a flagging disciple, to argue with a rival, or to preserve a cherished memory. Or all of the above. Intentions are as varied as authors. And each author will have multiple and perhaps competing intentions. Thus, the Text is partial, in the sense of being an imperfect representation of the Work; in imperfectly conveying the author's intentions in communicating the Work; and also in achieving what the author sought to do.

The Context of Speech Acts

The context within which a speech act operates is social reality. I outlined my take on John Searle's social reality in a series of essays in 2016. I will return to social reality in my next installment, but will make a few general comments here. Texts are very much embedded in systems of social reality:  culture, laws and customs, language, alphabets, historical narratives, editions, translations, and so on.

Austin and Searle referred to the illocutionary force of an utterance. A speech act has the power to change social reality through its illocutionary force. I'm not sure the metaphors of "power" and "force" are the most appropriate here. I would prefer to say, for example, that an illocution is a tool for bringing about change. Illocution is instrumental and the agent of change is the author. The text is a tool for bringing about the change that the author desires.

Importantly, speech act theory extends Milikowsky's tripartite scheme. Perlocution, what is actually achieved by a speech act, acknowledges that the reader plays an active role in the process of bringing about change. The reader is a not a blank sheet on which the author writes, they have their own worldview, their own context. They have to allow themselves to be acted upon by the Text (which in turn invokes Foucauldian ideas about the technology of the self). Changing the world via Texts involves persuasion and negotiation, but it also involves subjection. It order for the author to achieve their goal, the reader must subject themselves to the will of the author. 

This is not the post-modern idea that the reader is the author or that in fact there is no author. I am not arguing that the Text is different for everyone who reads it. This kind of relativism seems to be a dead end that denies the possibility of communication or deliberate changes in social reality. And this flies in the face of experience: we do communicate and social reality does change. 

The reader has their own worldview, beliefs, knowledge, emotional state, and very likely their own ideas about what changes are necessary and desirable in the world. But the Document the reader refers to is a constraint. It means that both the meaning and purpose of the Document is not arbitrary. The assumption of pragmatics is that the author is attempting to do something with a Text. If a reader argues that the author's intention was something arbitrary or unrelated to the words, then this creates at best a burden of proof on the reader or cognitive dissonance in other readers. Whence the phrase "Did we read the same book?"

For example, when Libertarians argue that Marxists want to enslave everyone, the Marxist can point to what Marx wrote about liberating the proletariat from the dominion of capitalists. Collectivism need not be a tyranny. The totalitarian states of Soviet Russia and China would have horrified Marx every bit as much as the Classical Liberal Capitalism of his day did. He wanted to see power and resource ownership vested in workers' collectives, not in government. One can see why the 1% fear this prospect, but it does not make their lies about Marx any truer.  

Of course, we are seeing this stretched to breaking point right now. Orwellian doublespeak has become the norm for politicians and big business. And the media report it all with no filters or analysis. The tools of semantics leave us scratching our heads when someone says something and then claims not to have said it, or to have said something different, or to have meant something different (all three have occurred in the last week). Semanticists cry out, "but... words have meanings, you can't just make them say something else." This is the position that Alice takes in her confrontation with Humpty Dumpty:
 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”  
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things–that’s all.”  
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all” (Carroll 1872: 112).

Pragmatics does not endorse the political nonsense, but it gives us a way to understand speech acts that defy semantics. The question is not what the author meant, but what the author of the speech act  was trying to do. For example, sowing confusion amongst your enemies by spreading disinformation is a classic military tactic. It undermines the ability of the enemy to understand your true intent and leaves them expending time, energy, and resources sifting through your utterances looking for the truth. The use of disinformation and propaganda in warfare is not new. The routine overt use of them in domestic politics is a modern disease. When the government adopts this style of disinformation campaign we can conclude that they see themselves as on a war footing. The problem is that it is we, the people, who are their enemy that must be kept in the dark. The government seeks to conceal its true intent from its own citizens. Frank Zappa said that "government is the entertainment wing of the military industrial complex." But since he said that the role of government has moved from distraction to more active deception.

Because speech acts are aimed at doing something within social reality they are almost always political in the broadest sense. As we will see, this is related to the idea of empowerment to perform functions in social reality. To some extent, primate communications always exist in a social milieu characterised by relative status and power. In the massive, loosely bound communities of modern urban life, where the bonds of mutual obligation are weak, we don't always treat our neighbours as part of our ingroup.

The power to produce, transmit, or authenticate texts is not open to everyone. Typically, the community empowers someone to carry out these functions by agreement.

Importantly those involved in transmitting a Text across time, across boundaries—scribes, editors, redactors, translators—may inadvertently or deliberately change the Text in the production of new Documents. And in extreme cases, of which the Heart Sutra is one, this can create false leads as to the nature of the Work, and even confusion as to the provenance and authenticity of the Text. In a case such as the Heart Sutra, where ties with the Work were broken, then we are creating a wholly new Work.

Approaching a Work

When I first started studying Buddhist texts, my instructors were very unsophisticated. They took  and encouraged a naive realist approach to texts. The view was that we had direct access to the Work through the Document at hand, even though the Document was inevitably an English translation. We effectively acted as though the Buddha spoke modern English. At best we acknowledged that two translators could phrase the ideas of the Work somewhat differently, but we had no coherent theory of how this happened and no access to source texts. We could compensate to some extent by looking at multiple translations, but this was not always possible in the mid-1990s before the world wide web.

The first text that really attracted my attention was the Bodhicaryāvatāra (a book I now loathe). I had access to two translations: Marion Matics' translation from Sanskrit and Stephen Bachelor's translation from Tibetan (the Tibetan being itself a translation from Sanskrit). At first I was not aware of how a double translation might differ from a single translation. But it did spark an interest in source texts in canonical languages that eventually motivated me to teach myself Pāli and begin reading Pāli suttas independently. This opened my eyes to the vast gulf between a source and a translation that often exists. But it was not until I begun to try to understand that Heart Sutra that I realised just how complex the relationship of Text to Document could become, and how that complexity could skew any inferences we might make about the Work.  

In the case of Nepalese manuscripts from the 18th and 19th Centuries, which are relatively plentiful, they are full of scribal errors. When I described British Library Manuscript EAP676/2/5 for the first time, my diplomatic edition required 142 notes to mention all of the omissions, additions, and spelling mistakes with respect to Conze's text and the rules of Sanskrit. Such manuscripts have gone through several generations of being copied by scribes who did not know Sanskrit. These scribes seem not to have been writing for comprehension. The Documents they created were good enough to attract puṇya (credit towards a better afterlife) and/or to be an object of worship. Even the oldest Sanskrit Heart Sutra manuscript, previously held in the Hōryū Temple in Ikaruga, Japan has errors and editorial additions that are not found in the Chinese source texts.

So when a reader holds a translated Buddhist sutra in their hand, and reads it in an attempt to understand what the author was attempting to communicate, there are multiple human minds at work: the locution and illocution of the author; of various scribes; of editors; of translators, each of them embedded in a cultural context. And at each step there is a chance that the perlocution fails to match the illocution of the author, scribe, editor, translator, or reader.

A New Text

The illocution of the popular Chinese Heart Sutra Text (of which there are probably millions of Documents) has resulted in a skewed perlocution that changes our whole understanding of the text. Traditionally, it is read as a kind of anti-realist metaphysics that denies the existence of Buddhist categories. When we point out the key term that was misunderstood, the text starts to seem like an epistemic account of an altered mental state. Of course, the ability of the human mind to enter the state of emptiness has broader metaphysical implications, but they are not anti-realist in flavour. Thus the mistaken reading must be due to the retroactive influence of the Sanskrit translation produced in China. My understanding is that it was intended to deceive the Chinese Buddhist establishment about the provenance of the Heart Sutra, which is all too obviously not a sūtra and not Indian.

The case of the Heart Sutra is somewhat unusual. For example, we can see that 以無所得故 yǐwúsuǒdégù does not mean aprāptitvāt because we know that it was copied from Kumārajīva's translation of the Large Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, i.e. 《摩訶般若波羅蜜經》 (T 223). By comparing Kumārajīva's translation with the extant Sanskrit manuscripts we can see that he used 以無所得故 to represent anupalambhayogena. So here, Kumārajīva, as translator, had the locution anupalambhayogena in mind, but 以無所得故 was misread as aprāptitvāt, which was in turn assumed to be correct. So, we came to (mistakenly) read 以無所得故 to mean "being in state of non-attainment".

Worse still, when Kumarajīva was translating the Large Sutra he either had a faulty manuscript or he fluffed the translation of na prāptir nābhismaya as 無智亦無得, which is conventionally read to mean na jñānaṃ na prāptiḥ. Mokṣala and Xuanzang both got this right. What's more the context shows that na prāptir nābhismaya is significant because the terms are standing in for marga and phala here. Kumarajīva's mistake was copied into the Xīnjīng, then translated into Sanskrit. 

Understanding this, we could create a new Text which more accurately conveys the Work. But here's the rub. The new Text has never existed before. It will be unfamiliar to the world's Buddhists. Huifeng laid out the rationale for the change, and he did create a new English translation, but he did not propose changing the Sanskrit Text (which is still widely if erroneously believed to be the source text). Let us say that I create this new Text (which I have done) and early in 2020 I manage to get it published. Would anyone take any notice at all? Would there be any obligation to?

Such questions move us closer to the heart of the matter I am wrestling with. 



Attwood, Jayarava. (2017). '‘Epithets of the Mantra’ in the Heart Sutra.' Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies,12, 26–57. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/155

Attwood, Jayarava. (2018). 'Defining Vedanā: Through the Looking Glass.' Contemporary Buddhism, 18 no. 3, 31-46. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2018.1450959. Academia.edu.

Jonathan A. Silk (2015) 'Establishing­/­Interpreting­/­Translating: ­Is­ It­ Just­ That­ Easy?' Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Vol. 36/37: 205-225.

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