NAGARJUNA, SARTRE AND LACAN

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NAGARJUNA, SARTRE AND LACAN


THE CONTINGENCY OF THE SELF




MIRA FONG


房曼琪






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"
Never in the thought of the
W
est has the Self been so pervaded by
negation. One would have to go to the East, to the Buddhist philosopher
Nagarjuna with his doctrine of Anatman (no
-
self), the insubstantiality of
the Self, to meet as awesome a list of negations as Sartre draws up. The
Self, indeed, is in Sartre's treatment, as in Buddhism, a bubble that has
nothing at its center
." Irrational Man by William Barrett

A Negative Ontology of the Self

Nagarjuna
龍樹論師

( c.150
-
250), the foremost scholar of the Mahayana School and
revered as t
he second Buddha, whose
work was aimed in the
deconstruction o
f

Essentialism
. His

argument
, regarding

the contingency of the self

and the
existence of
the
phenomenal world
,

w
as

further
elaborated
, after two thousand years,

in the
e
xistential analysis of Ja
cques Lacan and Jean Paul Sartre. The princip
a
l motif of this
paper
is to correlate
the
ir

analysis of
the self

with references to
their

own

ontological
propositions

including
the
idea
s

of emptiness
性空

(Nagarjuna), nothingness
虛無

(Sartre) and
the
lack
依性空

(
Lacan)

as these are the foundations in which they
construct the insubstantial
and indeterminate
character of the self
.


Each
of the three
thinker
s

conduct
s

a
critical
theory

on the self

by eliciting a particular
hermeneutics, either from a Buddhist or psychoanalytic perspective
.

Yet, t
hey

seem to

have reached
the same
understanding

that the self

has
no

underlying
substance
. Rather,

t
h
e self is

a terrain of composites

六識六境

and
it
s conscio
usness
and identity
co
-
arise



with
the
world
.

Such
assertion is
tie
d

to
Nagarjuna's key
theory of
dependent
origination

依他起性

, which
is
investigated

in

great details

in

the context of
psychoanalysis
by Sartre and Lacan
.


While Nagarjuna
advanced

his arguments
b
y utilizing the
dialectic
logic

to demonstrate
the
supreme void and the
fictitious nature of the self

破相顯性
, Sartre
's phenomenology

and Lacan
's structural psychoanalysis

formulate
d

a negative ontology
to

uncover the
pre
-
condition
of the
self
.

Here
,

negative ontology means the self is treated on a
phenomenal plane.

Sartre observes that man's existence is marked by nothingness


:"
a

being who is not what he is and is what he is not
". Lacan
, a postmodern theorist,
who views the self
lacking a

uni
fied
identity but rather fragmented and is conditioned by
cultural discourses.
Additionally, b
oth
Sartre and Lacan
depict
the antagonistic

and
dependent

nature of
the
human psyche with reference to Hegel's "
life and death
struggle of the self and the other
"

which
can be considered as

a
W
estern version o
f

dependent origination
.


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Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that
, as a philosophical
construction, there
remains
fundamental
differen
ces
between

them. Ea
ch of their work was

a respon
se

to
its
own

historical

circumstance
.

I
n the case
of
Nagarjuna
, his

epistemic deconstruction of
the self
by taking an opposing stand against

the
metaphysics
in the Hindu system which
postulates a universal Selfhood, the Atman or Brahman. He also rejects
the
doctrine of
the
early Buddhist schools of his time
as

they regard
ed

the self as
having
svabha
va
, a

substantial real.
F
or
Sartre
,
the

emphasis on
freedom and
action

was

to counter
the
pervasive
nihilism during WWII
.
With

a Nietzschean
defiance
, he

contend
s

that there is
no Creator

and

one must invent its own authentic self within the condition of
nothingness.

Lacan
,

an anti
-
orthodox rebel

who supported the French Communist Party
to fight against the
capitalis
tic practice
,

tackle
d

the
gap
between the Freudia
n ego and
the

sovereignty

of
the
e
stablishment
.



The attempt to
draw a connection
,

between
their

negative
ontology of the self and the
psychology of
dependent origination,

means

one is

perhaps
taking
a

risk

of
misinterpretation
.

Nonetheless,
in
a deeper level,
their

investigation

of
the fundamental

conditions of human existence,
its

suffering and transcendence,
is

universal
.

In the

Buddhist scripture, Sati
, as

pure awareness

or "knowing as it is", can be
achieved
when
one understands the nature and cause of suffering (the five aggregates of attachment
and the five mental obstacles). Lacan and Sartre's analysis
, though
without any
reference to
Buddhism,
offers insights
relevant to the Buddhist notion regarding
the
t
hree marks of existence, that is, impermanence, discontent and no self. They

also

stress
the social dimension of

desire or craving

as the cause of suffering.


T
he

added Chinese phrases

taken
from B
uddhist text
s

(for those who also read Chinese)

are intended
to

expan
d

the conte
xtual

meaning
s
as well as cultivating
a

transition
ing

from Lacan's multi
-
layer
ed

analysis
to the
way of

Zen.



Nagarjuna: The Radical Indeterminacy of the Self

"
If there is no essence, who could become the other? If there i
s essence, what could
become the other
?" Nagarjuna

In refuting Descartes' claim that mental substance is indubitable, David Hume, a
Scottish empiricist, argues that the cogito, the thinking substance
is

composed of
memories, impressions and concepts. The
y are
mental concepts
determined by the
principle of contiguity and relational conjunction. Hume's radical skepticism
accords
with

the central tenet in Nagarjuna's teaching that our knowledge of the self and reality
is fallible
. Although both argue from a
causal point of view, but causality
,

for Hume, is
constituted by constant conjunctions,

itself is not a principle or self
-
evident truth.


Nagarjuna's major work,
Madhyamika

中觀論
, is a systematic and rigorous analysis of
the status of the self through the co
ncept of
sunyata
(emptiness
性空
)
. His aim was
to
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counter the realistic view of
the
self and
its perceived

phenomenal world
森羅萬相
.

He
asserts that the idea of a coherent, independent self is an illusion
假相
since its genesis is
pervaded by
sunyata
.
A
ll things com
e into existence by their relations with other
s

and
are mutually dependent linked by a causal nexus
因果相續
,

a process of differentiation
.


To the questions of "
who I am
"

and "
what I am
", Nagarjuna's

answer is that the self, as
a cognitive agent, is a mere collection of mental and physical aggregates
積聚
, such as
sensory impressions and mental concepts. Hume

also made the same
argument
: "
man is
a bundle of collection of different perceptions with succe
ed one another with
inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux of movement
". What they both are
saying is that the self, including the knowledge of the world, the names and forms, is
without inherent substance (
svabhava

實性
) and is temporal in nature
.

Thus,
Nagarjuna

proclaims
:"
No things whatsoever exist, at any time or place, having risen by
themselves, from another, from both or without a cause
."

The
concept of
sunyata

is
intended as an internal negation to dismantle any false
apprehension of a
singular and substantial self.

It
plays a key role in Nagarjun's system

to refute
the

metaphysic
s
of
a
universal
Self
, the Atman
. He
argues that

such postulation
is a result of conceptual confusion,
since
it
can neither be logically inferred, nor verified
by a posteriori judgment.
In
The Treaties of Two
fold

Truth
二諦論
, Nagarjuna conducts
a dialectic
method of
reasoning

by

differentiat
ing

the two

levels of
truth
真俗二諦
: "
One
is that of a personal and
conventional

truth of the self, and a higher truth which
surpasses it
. "
中觀論
:
諸佛依二諦
,
為眾生說法
,
一以世俗諦
,
二第一義諦
.

說諸法由因緣

.
緣起而有者
,
俗諦
.
說一切畢竟空
,
真諦也
. The first level truth
世諦
, the thesis, is
established by social agreement or public opinion for pragmatic reason. The second level
truth
真諦
,
as an antithesis and a skeptic position
,

regards

all truth claims are
provisional.
吉藏

三論玄義
:

說有為俗諦
,
空為真諦
.
有空為俗
,

非有非空為真之二諦
...


言亡
慮絕為真之二諦
.

Naga
rjuna
purports
sunyata

to

the
theory of

no
-
self (
anatman

性空
)
and

of
dependent
origination
依他
起性
. T
he

epistemic application

of
sunyata

析空
is
to
reveal
the

misconception of reality but not to be posited as an absolute truth
. Such clarification is
well explained

by

Hsueh
-
Li Chen in
Nagarjuna, Kant and Wittgenstein
: "
Nagarjuna's
rejection of the concept of noumena does not imply that he accepted the legitimate use
of human categories or concepts in the realm of phenomena

"
內止其心
,
不空外界
.

Basically,
Nagarjuna

is saying that ideas are

merely

products of the mind


and
are

determined by
a dialogical system
.

To borrow Lacan's words: "
every truth has a
structure of a fiction
."

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Based on such premise, Nagarjuna proclaims that
our ideas of
things

are
established
in
v
irtue of
its

opposite
二見分
, such as the notion of being or non
-
being
空有問題
.
He
explicates
:

"
That which is the element of light is seen to exist on account of darkness,
and the element of good is seen to exist on account of bad, that which is the element of
space is seen to exist on account of form.
"
The Treaties of the Middle Way
中論
,
Nagarjuna
's major theoretical framework,

addresses the problem of dichotomous
thinking
. The way to transcend the either/or mentality, he proposes, is to

cultivate a
non
-
abiding a
wareness
言慮無寄

by taking a middle position
. The Middle Way refers to
a method of progressive negation to any truth claim
.
He

clarifies: "
It cannot be called
void or not void, or both, or neither. But in order to point it out, it's called the void
".
Further:

"
there is no arising, no dissolving
不生不滅
, no atman and no anatman
無我亦
無無我
."
In essence, t
he
Middle Way
alludes to a non
-
fixated approach in order to
transcend both negation and affirmation

言詞相寂
,
文字性空
, that is, between nihilism
and essentialism
.

Some schola
rs compare Nagarjuna's logic of deconstruction to that of Postmodern
theory

which rejects the idea of universality and replaces with an
unstable

world view of
change and flux.

Both argue from a relativistic position that the meaning of an idea is
inferred
by contrasting or deferring to other ideas within a system of signifiers
隨應諸法
,

實不定
.

Interestingly, Wittgenstein's theory of the language game also implies the
same notion that our ideas of things are provincial as they are limited within the
framework of language as well as a set of speech rules. In regard to the realm outside the
langua
ge, Wittgenstein seems to pointing to a state of Zen which transcends language

語道斷
,

心行處減
, as he ends his
Tractatus Logico
-
Philosophicus

with these words:
"
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent
".

Implicitly,
Nagarjuna's dialectic is a transi
tioning from critical thinking to a state of
Bodhi mind

淵微鏡徹
, the silent mirroring of suchness.
His method was later
assimilated into the
Zen
practice
by way of

non
-
verbal

transmission
以教照心
,
以心
解教
,
as such state is meant to be experienced not analyzed
非想
,
非非
想處
. Seeing things as
they are

諸相寂然

without articulation.

Overall, the basic premise of "
The Middle Way
"
, taken to a logical extreme,

is to point
out that
what considered as matter of fact is constituted
through

relations of ideas
因緣
所生
.

Things in themselves neither hav
e

substance (
svahbava
) nor empty. Nagarjuna
himself considers his own teaching to be tentative which is characteristic of Buddhist
teaching
, the purpose is to relinquish the constraint of an absolute or realistic position.
Different level of discourse is required due to circumstantial factors
方便教化
.


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The Prajnaparamita Sutra

心經
, the
best

known Buddhist text, contains Nagarjuna's
core
theory
, the investigation of the condition
s

of arising, dwelling and finally the
ceasing.
Its
content can be summed up in his words
:

W
hat dependently arises

Has no cessation, no production, no annihilation, no permanence

No coming, no going, no difference, no sameness,

Is free of elaborations of inherent existence and of duality

And is at peace.


O
ne can observe a parallel and complimentary view of
sunyata
between Nagarjuna and
that of Sartre and Lacan as they also relate the concept of the no
-
self to a lack
依性空
,
which is precisely the field of
sunyata
, described by Sartre: "
nothing comes into the
world through man because man not only bears the nothing within him, but consists
of

nothing
".

Contemporary Western philosophy puts emphasis on the social dimension of the self
such as the study of Dasein in Heidegger's
Being and Ti
me.

Dasein
,

as human being, is
situated in temporality and constructed by its
facticity
, meaning its physical appearance,
intellectual competence and social integration.
It has no prior essence.
In this respect,
both Sartre's and Heidegger's existential ph
enomenology corresponds to Nagarjuna's
theory that the consciousness of the self is not in
nate
but co
-
arises with the
phenomenal
world
因緣所生
.

Jean Paul Sartre
:

T
he
Poverty
of the Self.

T
he
enquiry
into the meaning and purpose of human existence in the
climate of

pervasive

nothingness
泯絕無寄

became
the prime
concern
since Kierkegaard. He asked:

"
I stick my finger into existence, it smells nothing. Where am I? What is this thing
called the world?... Who am I? How did I come into this world? Why was I not
con
sulted
?"

Since then,
a new

movement

ha
s

emerged from continental philosophy
.
Contrary to
the

age old

question
:

"what can one know"

in

the pursuit of epistemological
certainty, philosophers
turn
ed

to the
human
subject

to explore
its inner
pathos.

One
such endeavor is

t
he publication of Sartre's
Being and Nothingness

in 1943
,
an

investigation of the self and
its

existential
condition
of nothingness. Although these are
the
same
subject matter

as

in Nagarjuna's doctrine
,

but
Nagarjuna's

negation of
the self
is through

a
linguistic and logical operation
. In contrast,
Sartre
's
method is

phenomenological
. His

negation of the self

is

through the

proposition
of nothingness.

While Heidegger was interested in disclosing the region of being

as

the ground of
all
beings,
Sartre

located the idea of being in

human relations. He
came to realize that there
is a negative mode
within

human
consciousness
. It is manifested,

not only
as

an

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intrinsic split
of

the self
, but also

in its
unstable

relations with others


.

Ba
sed on
such

observation, Sartre formulated a dualistic
ontology,
the

in
-
itself and for
-
itself
, a
concept
which
was originally introduced by Hegel
.

I
n
Phenomenology of the Spiri
t
, Hegel
gives a dramatic account of the master and slave
confrontation, in that

each self must "
struggle till death
" in order to subjugate the other
self. He writes: "
the absolute object is the I individual, but when faced by another self
-
consciousness, difficulties arise (the other is a veritable mirror of my own
consciousness). Eac
h I must position itself against the other
". Such antagonism within
human relations was eagerly developed in both Sartre and Lacan's psychoanalytic theory

and

attribute such dichotomy to

a lack of self identity
.

Sartre deconstructs the solidity of the self

by internalizing the conflict of master and
slave which he regards as cause of self alienation.
With a combination of psychoanalysis
and Hegel's dialectics, Sartre
, in
Being and Nothingness
, provides a detail
explanation

regarding

the inherent human psyc
he exists in a paradox, an unhappy consciousness. It
composes of two conflicting selves, that is,
being
-
in
-
itself

(one's own facticity) and
being
-
for
-
itself

(the conscious self).

As conscious being,
the
for
-
itself must
resist
and
negate its own facticity
,
the
in
-
itself
. S
uch
antagonism

produces an intrinsic condition,
that is,
a trauma of the self.

To press farther, the

internal split

also
manifest
s

itself

in
mass movement
. For example, the

social conflicts

between classes and nations including
the dominanc
e over
the
non
-
human kinds.

Similarly
,

Freud
interprets
such internal
trauma
as the cause of man's
outward

aggression in his
Civilization and Its Discontents
:

"
Man have gain control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help
they
would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man
."

As an individual, w
hen
the

experiencing self

is

bound up with a co
-
presence of others
,

i
t

risk
s

the threat of being turned into

a

non
-
being.
Sartre

contends:
"
the other, in a
certain s
ense, is the radical negation of my subjectivity, he is the one for whom I am
not a subject but an object
".

O
ne's own sense of self can easily slip away by the
interrogative look of others as "
sitting in judgment
".
In this

respect
,
the

self

is being
alien
ated from its own possibilities

by

allowing
"
what
-
is
-
not determines what
-
is
."

Based on the notion

"
to be is to be for another
"
,

Sartre

formulates
his

theory

regarding

the contingency of the self
緣起性空
and its

attempt to escape the nothingness of its
non
-
being
.
In other words,
one's reflective consciousness is being objectified into "
for
-
itself
-
for
-
others
"
.


Sartre's i
n
-
depth psycho
an
alysis of human relations

and the troubled
self
is

vividly illustrated in
his

play
No exit
, a literary interpretation of his magnum opus,
Being and Nothingness
. Both work
s

were written in the same year.

No Exit
, in a theatrical format,
plays out the

psychology
of "
being
-
for
-
others
"
and
"
struggle till death
" (except that all three
characters in
the play
were already dead!)
.

I
n
8



it
,

the three characters, Garcin, Inez and Estelle, are supposed to be dead

and

confined
in a room of damnation.
Each
,

as a

chimerical self
,

is preoccupied with self identity by
seeking validation through the
oppressive

others
.

One hear
s

Inez's lament on the non
-
substantiality of herself:

"
How weak I am, a mere breath
i
n the air, a gaze observing
you, a formless thought that thinks you
."

After being emotionally tormented by the two
women

and unable to escape
,
Garcin conc
lu
des
:

"
Hell is other people
". Because the
others are able to take away one's own subjectivity and making it an object of his world.


To further Sartre's view, o
ne
can re
late

the

split

self

to Freud's theory of the
unconscious
,

such as
eros

or love versus
thanatos
, hate or a death drive
.
It is also
manifest
ed

in
p
hilosophical

dualism

such as

Plato's
dividing line

between the visible and the
intelligible world
,

as well as Kant's

epistemolog
ical separation of

the

noumena and
phenomena. Politically,
the
in
herent

conflict

takes the form of
class struggle

theorized

by Karl Marx
and
also by

Michel Foucault
, who
reasons

that

social discourse

is just

another form of oppression

of the unprivileged.


Ontologically, Sartre
posit
s that
the self

is
divided

in
to

two

opposing

poles, being and
the
consciousness of nothingness
.

P
ut in another way, w
hat lies at the core of one's
being is really a non
-
being

due to the fact that being is always dialectically towards its
antithesis,

as Sartre professes:

"
Nothingness enters
the world through human
existence
".

T
he intentionality of one's consciousness perceive
s the
world

through

"
what
is not there
", its presence is
revealed

in absence
.
Sartre's
notion

that
human
consciousness

constitutes
its own nothingness

corresponds to

the
void in
Nagarjuna
's
logic
.

W
h
at appears
to be a
n individual self

is really
a lack of being


. This notion is
further explored by another Parisian thinker
,

Jacques Lacan, in his analysis of the

ego,
desire and the Other.

Sar
tre
's

investigation
on

the
dependent
nature of human desire is also a
n important
subject

for both
Buddhism

and Lacan. Sartre

posits
that desire
is
originated
from an
inner lack
.

"
One looks at things with desire
"

he sa
ys
. Further, desire
is

always
tied to
one's

memories,

anxiety,

int
erests,
needs
and projects.
In
Being and Nothingness
,
Sartre

argues

that
: "
The existence of desire as a human fact is sufficient to prove that
human reality is a lack
"
.

D
esire
and
anxiety
are caused by one's

internal nothingness

which is like a hole

waiting to be filled
,
a

view
elaborate
d
in

his

"
Existentialism and
Human Emotions
: "
I have only to crawl into it

(the hole)

in order to make myself exist
in the world which awaits me
".
In nothingness,
man
is propelled to
seek its own
density:"
the uniform
and spherical plentitude of Parmenidean being.
"

In many ways, Sartre's philosophy contains the skeptic ideas of David Hume, an
intellectual of mid
-
Eighteenth century
who
frequented the salons in Paris. Both reject
the assumption of a supernatural
spirit
,
transcendent reality or a teleological universe

such as Hegel's
Geist
, an invisible spirit behind the rational development of human
9



history.
Rather,
they believe
there is no
higher

order that holds the
human
reality and
the self together.

Sartre

also assoc
iate
s

egotism with the project of becoming God. He
remarks: "
To be man means to reach toward being God. Or if you prefer, man
fundamentally is the desire to be God...Every human reality is a passion in that it
projects losing itself so as to found being an
d by the same stroke to constitute the In
-
itself which escapes contingency by being its own foundation which religions call God
."


Sartre makes it very clear that the very effort to fill the void "
is a useless passion striving
in a universe without purpos
e
"

because the universe is indifferent to our human
struggles.

This explains
why

m
an's fundamental project is to cover up the void

by

seeking
a transcendent connection
as the ground of his being.
The concept of being, for
b
oth
Sartre

and Hume
, is similar
to

a blank canvas, a tabula rasa
空無所有
which
counters the

theory

since Plato
who
holds
that one's existence is ascribed by timeless
principles.

But there is also a twist which Sartre applies the existential nothingness dialectically, to
further posits his

idea of freedom, which will be explained in this paper as well.


Jacques Lacan:
The I is the Other

Jacques Lacan,
a French Psychoanalyst

and a contemporary of Sartre

of the
50s
,

is
perhaps one of the most intriguing

continental

thinkers. Apart from his
reworking o
f

Freud's
theory
of the ego and the unconscious
,

Lacan

formulates a

pluralistic and
negative ontology
by
incorporat
ing

ideas from
a diverse group of thinkers, primarily,
Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Saussure and Levi
-
Strauss.

Lacan was also active
in the
Parisian
artistic and literary circle
, particularly, the
surrealist

group.
From Hegel,
Lacan
adopted
his

dialectic reasoning to invert the Platonic Real to the unreality of the self


. His
interest,
regarding

the genesis of the self and its cultural
ization
,

is influenced by
the structural anthropology of
Claude Levi
-
Strauss as well as
Ferdinand De
Saussure's
linguistics
, through which
he
developed his

own

theory of self within the three orders.

Contrary to the

practice
in general psychology

which aims to integrate the ego
, Lacan
, by
way of
structural

analysis
,
de
-
center
s

the Freudian ego
.
The self, in his view, is

predicated by language and

has no
intrinsic

properties
. R
ather, i
t
is something of a lack

性空
.

I
ts meaning is
de
rived from
a chain

of signification

through

a dichotomous
thinking
二見分
. Beyond language, the world is inaccessible to the cogito. Lacan,
transfers
the Freudian ego to a
structural theorizing
, a similar task conducted by
Nagarjuna. Both argue that the
idea of the
self

is
derived
through

a process of
differentiation
分別性
.

According to Lacan, t
he self
,

as a signifier

and
being

suspended
in the linguistic plane
,

has no access to the
thing
-
in
-
itself
. H
e
explain
s
:

"
The signifier is
a sign that does not refers to any object...it
refers to another sign which is as such
structured to signify the absence of another sign

"
無盡緣起
.

10



Lacan also sees the self is bound up in the tension between its own fragmentation and
the imaginary ideal
as to be

unified and coherent.
T
he self
, for Lacan,
has two
components,
the
social
/

cultural

phenomena

as well as
the linguistic structure.

On the
social plane, the content of the
self

is pre
-
determined by an existing value system. On
the linguistic plane, the
self
, as a speaking entity,
its status is
ident
ified as a signifier
.

These
aspects of the
self

also
reflect
the condition
s

which attribute to

its

"
traumatic
accession to the Symbolic Order
"
stated

by Stephen Ross

in his article on Lacan
.

As a young doctor in the 1930s, Lacan
was influenced by
the
pro
-
left
surrealist
s,
in


particular, Dali's
view of the
free flowing of the

unconscious.
Lacan

agrees that

the
human subject is not a rational construct but rather
deficient, lacking identity and
driven by desire.

His
investigation of the self as
the sub
ject

poses
a radical departure
from Descartes'

view
of
the human subject as
a
rational being
. Descartes'
cogito
, the
thinking substance
as

an anchor
ing for his epistemology,
is capable of

acquiring
universal knowledge through reason.

On the contrary,
Laca
n's
subject

is n
either rational
nor
immaterial
.

H
e reverses Descartes cogito from "
I think therefore I am
" to

"
I think
where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think
."
For

Lacan,
the subject is an
unreality
and

has no interiority
空境
. It inheres its
content from outside

as
Bruce Fink

differentiates

in
The Lacanian Subject.

He explains:

"
the Lacanian subject is neither the
individual, nor the thinking subject
... "

further
:

"
temporary speaking, the subject
appears only as a pulsation, an occasional impu
lse or interruption that immediately
dies away or is extinguished
"
眾緣合即有
.

One find s
uch characteristic of the subject
similar to

the
Buddh
ist view
一切諸法
,
皆同幻化


since

he

comments:

"
Eastern
philosophy has been telling us for millennia, a construct, a mental
object."

Li
ke Plato
's
metaphysics,

Lacan's princip
al

theory is a
lso a

tripartite
structure

composed
of
three orders (as co
-
arising
相應俱起
)
:

the
I
maginary (unaware of the unreality of
its
content
), the
R
eal (which is

an

absen
ce
) and the
S
ymbolic (language is the prime
element). Among the three orders, the
S
ymbolic

as a moral framework
,

is sometime
s

refer
red

to
with
the term "
the name
-
of
-

the
-
father
"
.

The
S
ymbolic order

regulates
the
subject's
conscious and

unconscious

activities
.
I
t

is
internalized

as soon as
the subject

enter
s
the
human
community
.
The
S
ymbolic
precedes the other two orders

and
is
generally referred to

as

law and social convention
. L
acan associates
the
S
ymbolic plane
with

the big Other

which refers to, according to

Loren
zo Chiesa, language, the

Freudian

unconscious and the Symbolic

fabrics
. The big Other also
cor
relate
s

to Freud
's

idea of
the
cultural super ego
.


Within the tripartite structure, t
he self is
adventitious as it is conditioned

by
the
Symbolic Order
,

a universal totality which
Lacan
describes
in
Ecrits

(1966)
: "
It covers
all human lived experience like a web...it is always there, more or less latent
."

Inevitably, such
totalizing

power
generate
s

tension
for

both the
I
maginary and the Real

11



which is
almost absent

since

the three orders are inter
woven

因緣相生
.

Lacan

proclaims
:
"
the unconscious

is structured like a language
"
, w
hat he meant is that

the unconscious
of the subject is
taken over
by
the discourse of the Other
.


Under the sovereignty of

the Symbolic

Order
, the Imaginary

self

is
a

narcissistic and
deceptive self identi
ty of "who I think I am"
. It survives through
a false consciousness

or

bad faith
.
T
he

subjectivity
of the Imaginary
,

in Lacan's system,
is basically a
misconception
, i
ndoc
trinat
ed by

social
propagandas
. S
u
ch self
-
delusion

is

dramatized
in
Eugene O'neill's

classic

play,
The Iceman Cometh
.
It is a

story of a collection of
characters harbor together

in
a place called
Harry Hope's Salon. Each

lives

in
his own
fantas
y

or

the
I
ma
ginary realm
. Their day to day existence is by
hang
ing

on to a
pipe
dream

which is
really
a

hopeless hope
. U
ntil
one day,

they are confronted by
a messianic
figure, Hickey, who represents the terrifying truth
.
That is,
one must confront
one's own
self
-
delusion

which is
m
ade up with desire
s

and borrowed
self
-
identity
.


As for the Real,

it is hidden and
knotted together with the Other
.

Lacan distinguishes the
Real as outside the language and cannot be symbolized, except with occasional
breakthrough
隱顯
, like tearing a hole
.
The only
possibility
for the Real to unveil itself
and claim its being
is
by

subvert
ing

the
Symbolic
Order all together

(this has to do with
Lacan's political activism,
the

attempt to undermine Capitalism)
.

In other words,
the
Real
must confront
between being and
its own

vacuity

since its space is occupied by the

Symbolic

O
ther
.

This is exactly the message that Hickey, in

The
I
ceman Cometh

,
brought to those who liv
ed

in the Imaginary realm.


Lacan
, in hi
s
early work
,

also examines
one's
psycholog
ical

need for confirmation
through others

by referring to

Hegel's
master

and

slave
dialectic
. The
servile
relation of
self and Other plays out as Hegel describes: "
On approaching the other, it has lost its
own self, since it finds itself as
another being
."

What it implies is that

one's identity is
unconsciously concealed in the other
.

Lacan

trans
fers

the

self/other
dichotomy

to t
he

subject's

encounter
ing
of

the
big
Other
,
which he sees as
an

intrusion

to the Real

occurs
during
the
ego
's
early
psychic development
.
Thus, he

re
-
describes Hegel's dialectic
to "a
struggle for the others"

and

declares: "
Le desir de Autre
-
man desires what the other
desires
"
. T
hat is, the self want
s

to be desired by the other (as portrayed in Sartre's play,
No

Ex
it
,

each desires the other for
his or her own

redemption).


Perhaps the most significant contribution of Lacan's work is his

insight on the social
dimension of desire

遍計所

.

Lacan tackles Freud's pleasure principle

by

introduc
ing

two key concepts in his later wor
k
, namely "
objet a
, the object cause of desire

痴障
" and
"
jouissance

or pleasure in pain
驅心役識
". The concept of
jouissance

was introduced in
his seminar
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
. It refers to a paradoxical reaction of the
subject's intention as it constantly tries to tr
ansgress

the prohibition
貪欲
, to
find
12



pleasure in its

lack of enjoyment,
hence, it is more of a

suffering than pleasure
苦樂二受
.

The idea of "
Ob
jet a
"

refers to a surplus drive,
it means

when one enjoys the lack of
enjoyment, a paradoxical desire in which the ego imagines and experiences its own
existence through the antagonistic relation of self

and
other. Lacan explains: "
What
makes an object desirable is not any intrinsic quality of th
e thing in itself but simply
the fact that it is desired by another.
"

Ob
jet a

is
a corollary
with

the empty experience of
jouissance
,

because it is essentially a
loss.
F
or Lacan,
objet a

specifically
refers to the object of desire, not the thing that desi
re
towards, but rather
,

the cause of desire, and is basically a social construct. In other
words, desire is not related to its object

but

to a lack.


Giv
en

the fact that desire is always followed by suffering


為業
, Lacan
, as a theorist,
endeavors to get to the
deeper layer of
understanding
desire by
differentiat
ing

between
Jouissance

and desire
.
It is well
explained by
Jeanne Wolff
Bernstein:

"
Lacan linked
and contrasted jouissance with desire. Whereas desire implies a la
ck
-
one can only
desire what one does not have, jouissance implies an excess of gratification, readily
turning its pursuit of pleasure into an abyss of tension and pain
."


In
his article

Kant with Sade
, Lacan
continues to
elaborate

the
dependent

and causal

character of

desire
情執
:

"
Desire must be formulated as the Other's desire (desir de
L'Autre) since it is originally desire for what the Other desire
."

One's

unconscious
desire is tied to the desire of the Other

since t
he

I and
O
ther

are

co
-
arising
. Hence La
can
concludes:

"
the I is the Other
-
je est un autre
."


Like Sartre,
Lacan

also attributes
desire
to
a lack

(
a

lack of being)
. Conversely, the lack
leads to the surplus of desire

in
a
vicious cycle
.
For t
his reason
,

Lacan

disagrees with
Freud's suggestion of liberating the unconscious because it too operates within the
symbolic order. Lacan also considers the conventional psychoanalytic model is
,

in fact, a
reinforcement of the unreal self
假相
along with its pathos
本惑
.

He
reg
ards
the

attempt
to unif
y

the individual psyche

or the split ego
as practicing "
human engineering
". It
actually

intensifies the

ego's narcissistic impulse by postulating an ideal self
which can
further
creat
e a

rift between the I and other
. Such
antagonism

and

idealization

have
been playing out
in

endless
human
dramas
恆沙
煩惱
, such as
longing, despair, revenge,
betrayal, rivalry and ambition.

One can
relate

these
perennial
themes
through
the Greek
Tragedies, the work of
Shakespeare

and countless others.

Instead of
finding
a cure,
Lacan suggests a conscious effort to dissolve the subject's illusion of the self

斷惑
減苦
.


E
ssen
tially,
Lacan is not saying anything different from the Buddhist perspective that
desire
,

haunted by its own
insatiability
妄執
,

is

the
basic

condition of human
existence
.


Lacan's
comp
rehensive

theori
zing
operat
es

on several

different

levels

simultaneously

by
incorporating
linguistics,
psychology, literature
, art

and mathematics
. Yet, behind the
13



Lacanian hermeneutics,
there is

a
connection to

the
core
teaching of Nagarj
una
. Both
are non
-
essentialist

and regard
the self as indeterminate and contingent.
T
he
idea of
"
dependent origination

依他


"
corresponds to Lacan's
portraying
of
the

subject as an
empty signifier
. I
t

los
es

its
certainty in a signifying process
遷流相續
.
More importantly,

his

insights on

desire
妄執
as

the
cause
of suffering

is
fundamen
t
al
to

Buddhism
苦諦
.


5.
Project of Freedom

Although the

three thinkers appear to have painted a nihilist view of human
condition
at
the
brink of nothingness
, but such deconstruction itself

meant to be a

way

of

relie
ving

suffering
, which is, the

dismantling the illusion of the self
破相
.

Nagarjuna

compares
such illusion to that of a magic
al performance

or reflections from a hall of mirrors.
Da
vid Hume

also made a similar remark
:

"
The mind is a kind of theater, where
perceptions successively make their appearance, mingled in an infinite variety of
postures and situations
."

The way Nagarjuna conducts his extreme logic in
Madhyamika

can be
regard
ed
as

a


training method
分別所分別

in order t
o free the mind from
clinging to

names and forms

恆審
思量
as if they are
real
. For instance, the concept of

s
unyata
,
taken as
either
negati
ve
or

not negative
,

is still a
mental construct.
Its real
implication

is located

outside
the bound of language

as
it depicts
a revelatory possibility
蘊空
. W
ithin the world of
samsara
, the

realm of suffering and

perpetual wandering
苦輪常運
, lies the possibility
of

mukti,
a
calm

mind
正覺
. Nagarjuna
refers such becoming
to Buddha's own
journey

o
f
liberation.

The
investigation
of nothingness

如虛空之包藏萬有

opens
to
a

path of
transformation
真空妙有
.

As H
eidegger
a
muses: "
das nichts selbst nichtet
" meaning
"
nothingness makes nought
!"

Influenced by Kierkegaard, the freedom project for Sartre takes the form of

an eruptive
force as he declares: "
man is what he makes of himself
". The word "
authenticity
" has its
Greek root, meaning to make or create oneself.
As

an intellectual revolutionary, Sartre's
self creation is linked to the ethics of authenticity.

Despite t
he fact that the human agent
is contingent and the self is only a convention, Sartre's counter polemic is that the self
can be experienced as "
the presence to self
".
A
gainst the backdrop of an indifferent
universe
,

the freedom project

is to surge up from the void
空境
and
to
reinvent one
's life

through self
-
determination
.


In contrast to

Hegel's attempt to re
-
enact Plato's transcendental
Eidos

by inserting the
Absolute
consciousness
within the human history as the guiding spirit, Sartre

se
es man's
over
all

condition is nothingness and

there
by proclaims
:"
Man's essence is freedom
".
Sartre's
Being and Nothingness

paves way to

affirmative action as

explained by

William
Barrett:

"
The only meaning he can give himself is through the free project that he
14



launches out of his own nothingness. Sartre turns from nothingness not to compassion,
but to human freedom as realized in revolutionary activity
."

Similarly, Nagarjuna, a
political r
eformer in his time, also gives priority to personal action for a higher cause
over a contemplative path
成大悲則不住



.

In his less pessimistic writing

Existentialism
and

Human

Emotions
,
one can sense that
Sartre

is moving from a negative ontology to an ethical

plane

w
hich

emphasi
ze
s

freedom
and action
even

one lives

in
a

temporary reality
.

Why? Because o
ne's being is located in
its existential dimension

and is
historical
ly

and political
ly

situat
ed
.

Thus freedom is to
be exercised "
only in the ethical plane
".
Sartre give
s

his reason: "
when we say that a
man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own
individuality, but that he is responsible for all men
."

O
bvious
ly,
Sartre's freedom

is

predicate
d by

an ethical precept

sinc
e the individual is
part of the
larger
phenomenon of
being.
It's up to the individual to define who he

is

and not escaping into a "
bad faith
"
which is a form of self
-
deception
.

One is to rise above the antagonistic existence



by
cultivating

an empathetic understanding
真心全體
. This is
, in fact, a

self
-
transformation
.


The
answer in
w
hich Lacan comes up with,
in order
to
relief

the trauma of the self,

is

as
radical as Nagarjuna
's, that

one must be resolute
in

confronting the
sunyata
of the self
性空
and the unreality of the Other

別相
.
Jeanne Wolff Bernstein
explains such
confrontation
:

"
one's subjectivity

was constructed through and for an Other...and
forced to confront both the void of the Other and the void inside of himself..
."


Some of Lacan's

ideas may appear to be inconsistent
when
he integrate
d

the three
orders into

a meta
-
theory

including

the
science of
mathematics and logic.

Nevertheless,
he
continue
d

to

tackle

the

notion

o
f the Real

and its resistan
ce

to the established order
.

It is interesting to

note

that

Lorenzo Chiesa's
comment

in

Subjectivity and otherness

regarding Lacan'
s

reassessment of the Real
and
its
demarcation from
the
Other.

He says:
"
all we are left with is the Real
-
of
-
the
-
Symbolic and a mythical extrasymbolic
"u
ndead"
. ..Lacan also unintentionally falls back into a quasi
-
mythical understanding
of the pure Real by promoting the notion of a transcendental real "Thing" understood
as a positive absence.
"

Such
statement
reveals

an

ambivalent status of the Real

as the
undead
. T
hough absent, it

has the possibility
for fur
ther explication
, possibly through a
non
-
verbal surfacing
, from the surreal to the real

(
Lacan

participated in the
early
French
Surrealist's movement

and was a close friend of Andre Breton
) a
nd
p
erhaps, mixed with
a bit of Zen
.

Lacan's
anticipation of
the Real
seems to coincide with

Heidegger
's
meditation on
b
eing
s
ince
Lacan translated

his

work into French
.

According to
Heidegger
,
Dasein

is

"
being
thrown
" into
a

world of
Das Man

or
"
the They
"
,

which he refers to as social norms and
linguistic convention
. Such interpretation coincides with Lacan's
notion of
the big Other.
Das Man,

says Heidegger:
"
prescribes one's state
-
of
-
mind and determines what and
15



how one sees
".

One can further
relate

Dasein
's
thrown
ess

to

the

traumatic
entrance of
the

Real

into the Symbolic
plane
.

This explains why b
oth
Heidegger and Lacan
insist

that
the way to
un
cover

one's

authenticity

(one's authentic
mode of being
)
or
the

absent

Real

is

by

questioning
the

whole
system

through which
one is taught to think
.

One may further implicate

Lacan's

elusive
R
eal
隱顯
, the pre
-
S
ymbolic subject
,

with

Heidegger
'
s

portraying

of

the

inexpressive
ness of

Being

言直


which resembles
a
non
-
conceptual

state of suchness

体性現起
.

In fact,
they
both
were interested in the
contemplative approach

觀照

of

Eastern philosophy
.

Lacan characterizes the intrinsic
resist
a
nce of the Real as an eruption

which he

describe
d

"
as a knock on the door that

interrupts a dream
"
先有大


而後覺此大

.
O
ne can compare such eruption

to

a
sudden awakening
, in that the self
is
seen as

reflection
of the

moon over the water

or

an

image in

the

mirror
水月鏡像
.

In the late
1960s, Lacan developed a theory of discourse
s
as a method of
question
ing

the
imposed identity
of

the
ego
我相

from the
oppressive

Other
. These questions would be
:
"
why am I who you say that I am
?"
or as Bernstein paraphrased: "
What am I and for
whom
?"
B
y

question
ing
the subject's servility to the
illusive
O
thers, the Real is able to
make its appearance in the world

through
intervention
.

On a deeper level,
Lacan
's
extensive analysis o
f

desire

meant
to
free

the
ego

from the
fabric of
Symbolic

illusions
捨緣離相
.
In practicing psychotherapy,
Lacan rejects the
attempt to unify the ego's psychic life
我執

in order to provide a temporary
sense of
coherence
. He explains that

such

a
unified self was developed
during

the

infant's

mirror
stage
, a process of identification with
the mother/
other
. This

developmental
stage

is

the
origin of the split ego

as well as

the seat of neurosis
迷悟之

.

For

Lacan
,

t
he only way to
unburden the
ego

斷惑滅苦
,

the illusory image of one's self
,

is
to undergo a series of
articulated discourse
s

through which one

learns
t
hat the
self

is
only
a social construct

and

"
a thin, weightless and empty self without substance

"
照見五蘊皆空
.


To
simply
put
:

"
the end of desire is the end of subjectivity
"
.

Only then,
the mind

is
capable of reflecting with

mirror like
clarity
寂而恆照
,
照而恆寂
.


The final point to be made here is that
,

e
ither from a Buddhist
perspective

or

psycho

analysis,

at heart of
their

work,
depict
s

the
core
meaning
of the Four Noble Truth
s

四聖

.

T
he origin of desire
苦諦

as

both Nargarjuna and Lacan
explicated
, has to do with
one's attitude

rather than the act of outward seeking.

T
he narcissistic ego
, according to

them
, is

the origin of
dukkha

心染故眾生染
,
心淨

故眾生淨
,

the realm of suffering
.
As for
the path
that

leads to the cessation of suffering
滅諦
,
Sartre, Lacan and Nagarjuna, each
offers a

way of being in the world

of impermanence
無常
.

16



One may wonder if there is a way to
free
oneself from

the constraint of the

S
ymbolic
Other
?

To
find
the
answer

to

this question, one need
s

to look
no further than

the
countless literature

in Eastern philosophy

as it seems suggested by Lacan
. Among
various
systems and
practices
concerning the way
to a free mind

念念無滯
is the sage
knowledge of
Lao
-
Tze and Chaung
-
Tze. Both describe that a free man is unconcerned

有雙泯

, who lives outside of things and f
inds

solace in nature. According to their
philosophy, all lives are
Pu


, meaning "
put together by
nature
". The literary meaning
of
Pu

is "
uncarved wood
" which refers to the original state of things
本相
prior to the
process of
societal
indoctrinat
ion.


Within the cryptic course of nature, the human
self

hangs in the peripheral like a planet
coursing aroun
d a larger universe. Perhaps, this is the reason David Hume offers his
consoling statement that in a godless universe, "
Nature herself is suffice
.

One may
also

consider that both
Sartre's
being
-
in
-
itself

and

Lacan's unsymbolizable
Real (
as

the
unsayable ,
see footnote)
,
implies

a
natural state of
being
,
irrelevant to

culture
and

the
psychic state of the
mind. Outside language and ideas, all things are

already in tune with
a larger universe
曰月星辰
,
山河大地

.


Although t
he experience of
nothingness

is often associated with alienation,


paradoxically, it

also

opens to a path of freedom.
"
One is free when does not get
involved in fixation, attachment or clinging, nor resolved on one's self

"
不起執心
,

affirmed by

Nagarjuna
. A

free mind is a state of non
-
a
biding
非有非空
.

Through

the
unfolding of
prajna
,
the

intelligible knowing
妙覺
, one
can

d
issipat
e

the

unhappy
consciousness

into the evanescent
萬滯同盡

and transform
the nihilistic nothingness



to a

free play of
no
-
thing
-
ness
.


Through the

unfolding of
s
unyata
,
the
restless
mind is tr
ansformed into
a
quiet heart

堂靜夜坐無言
,
寂寂寥寥本自然

(
川禪師頌
)
.


Foot note
s
:

1.
Nagarjuna's work was translated into Chinese and had great influence on the Sanlun


School
三論宗

or Three Treaties School, an early Mahayana Buddhist sect durin
g the


Sui

and Tang


Dynasty. Ji
-
Tsang
吉藏
, a
n

eminent
priest scholar, was


summoned by Emperor Sui (the first emperor to unite both the Southern and


Northern Dynasties
南北朝
), to propagate the teachings of Nagarjuna through which

17




Buddhism was flourished in China.
The Middle Way is
a

methodology

in Nagarjuna's



system. It is
a

linguistic and
dialectic

strategy to abandon any

absolute

position
破相遣




.
The same method
was
employed

in

Sanlun

School

and

later
incorporated into



the

Zen practice

(
三論宗
-

僧詮
:
頓跡

幽林
,

禪味相得
)
. Its

approach is

by uttering



paradoxical
phrases

in order for
the

teacher

to

help

student
s

to

realize that the




unsayable
以心
傳心
,
不立文字
cannot be

attained

through rational discourse
s
.

2.
本文主要意


依據
東西方


不同的
哲學系統
,
包括


特的
存在主義
,

康的
心理


分析與
龍樹
論師的中觀哲學
,
作互相參照
,
並延伸
他們
西方的
觀念
,

詮釋
無我
,

尤其是



關於
依他起性

dependent origination
的論証
.




,
這種
嚐試

對三論學者
以及
心理



析學派來說
,
可能

越界的
問題
.
事實上
,
己有
學者
介紹龍樹



與後現代

語言分解



Linguistic deconstruction
的關聯
.




康的
体系
,


大複雜
,
深受
黑格爾
,

海德

,

人類學以及

超現實主義影響
.

主要
思想
,


包括彿洛依德
理論

語言分析

structural linguistics.
他的
後現代

"
破相
"






中觀



,
甚至可以和

禪宗作
連結
.


References:

1.

Jeffrey Hopkins

(19
96
)

Meditation on Emptiness

2.
Jean
-
Paul Sartre

(
2001
)

Being and Nothingness

3. Jean
-
P
aul Sartre (
19
8
7
)

Existentialism
an
d

Human

Emotions

4
.
Jacques Lacan

(
2006
)

Ecrit
s Translated by Bruce Fink

5
.
Lorenzo Chiesa

(2007)


Subjectivity and Otherness

6
.
Bruce Fink

(1995)

The Lacanian Subject
-
Between Language and Jouissance


7
.
Jeanne Wolff Bernstein

(
2012
)
Jacques Lacan

from Text Book of Psychoanalysis


8. Stephen Ross (2002) A Very Brief Introduction to Lacan

9
.
David Hume

(
1
975
)


Enquir
ies

Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning


18




the

Principles of Morals

10
.


Sigmund Freud

(19
89
)

Civilization and Its Discontent
s

1
1
.

Nagarjuna
:
The Fundamentals of the Middle Way
. Edited by George Cronk 1998

1
2
.

Hsueh
-
Li Cheng

(1981)

Nagarjun
a
, Kant and Wittgenstein

1
3
.


宗密
:
禪源諸詮集都序

1
4
.

黃懺華
:
中國佛教史

February 2013