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A Buddhist Approach to Personhood and Communication

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What Taylor is emphasizing is that one predominant fact about self is that it is not like an object in the way we standardly understand the term. We do not possess selves in the way we possess hearts and lungs. It has to be recognised that we are living beings with these organs quite independent of our self-understanding or the meanings that things have fir us. But we are selves only to the extent that we operate in a certain space of questions and are engaged in extractions and interpretations of meanings.

Ceylontoday, 2016-03-13 02:00:00
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A Buddhist Approach to Personhood and Communication

What Taylor is emphasizing is that one predominant fact about self is that it is not like an object in the way we standardly understand the term. We do not possess selves in the way we possess hearts and lungs. It has to be recognised that we are living beings with these organs quite independent of our self-understanding or the meanings that things have fir us. But we are selves only to the extent that we operate in a certain space of questions and are engaged in extractions and interpretations of meanings.

These observations of Charles Taylor on the concept of self have a significant bearing on the way Buddhism approaches this concept.
Let us now explore the concept of the self as seen through Buddhist scriptures. There is a fundamental paradox that we have to contend with. Buddhism advocates the idea of non-self (anatta); in fact, it is among the three central pillars of Buddhist thought the other two being impermanence (aniccha), suffering (dukkha) . If Buddhism espouses the idea of non-self how can one square it with the privileged ideas of agency, salvation, responsibility, action etc? In order to address this puzzling question, we need to locate this concept in the larger intellectual landscape of the time in India. That is because, only a textual understanding of the concept of self will enable us to come to grips with its intended meaning.


in addition, while rejecting the idea of self, the Buddha frequently employed such terms as I (aham), mine (mama), and self (atta).Some found this confusing; however, to understand what he meant by terms such as self and I, one has to invoke the trope of the stream of consciousness (vinnanasota), which is central to his explication.


I stated earlier that in order to comprehend the two nature and significance of the idea of self in Buddhism, we need to locate it in the intellectual debates at the time in ancient India. Here we need to take note of two dominant schools – perrenialism (sassaravada) and annihilationism (uchchedavada). In order to set the stage for this discussion, let me a cite a passage from The Samyuttanikaya. Speaking to Kaccayana the Buddha says the following. 'This world O Kaccayana, generally proceeds on a duality, of the belief in existence and the belief in non-existence......All exists, Kaccayana, that is one extreme. Naught exists, Kaccayana, that is the other extreme. Not approaching either extreme the Tathagatha teaches you a doctrine of the middle way.' This doctrine of the middle ways is crucial to understanding the fundamental vectors of Buddhist thought.

There were two dominant schools of thought at the time. The first advocated a concept that was transcendental, eternal and that is antagonistic to he body. Those who subscribed to the supremacy of the eternal self maintained that the body is an obstacle to the deliverance of the self; it prevents the salvation of the self. Those who subscribed to this vision believed in a metaphysical self, as indeed many of the Indian thinkers at the time did, and established a clear distinction between a permanent metaphysical self and a perishable body. The Annihilationists, on the other hand represented a reaction against Eternalists and advanced the view that there is no eternal self and that the only valid form of knowledge was sense-perceotions. It was their intention to the essence of human beings was discernible not in an elusive metaphysical self, but in an experientially validatable body. Their concept of the self was largely materialistic as opposed to the idealistic version proposed by adherents of eternalism. The idea of desire is imbricated with both of these approaches. The Eternalists were desirous of achieving immortality, hence the emphasis on the timeless self. The Annihilationists, being materialists, were interested in sensual pleasure. The Buddha rejected both these approaches and advocated a middle path. The Eternalists privileged self-mortification and Annihilartionists self-gratification. The Buddha, on the basis of his empirical experience, repudiated birth and advocated a via media. It is in this context of thinking that the Buddhist conception of self had to be interpreted.


The Buddha described the human being as a psychophysical entity (namarupa) and he conceptualised this in terms of five aggregates (panchakkhanda). the Buddha did not want to fall into the error, that was common at the time, of enforcing a rigid distinction between mind and matter and thereby generating a host of metaphysical problems. he was opposed to the view that the mind had an existence that was separate from the body; he saw that mind and the body are inseparably linked. He regarded the body as the physical dimension of personhood, and asserted that there cannot be any consciousness or mental activities that are not situated in this physical personhood. It is interesting to note that the Buddha, in addressing issues of mind and bodty, focused on the idea of processes of experience and not the entity named mind or body. When the question of mind and body was raised, he reacted by stating that what is referred to as matter is 'contact with resistance (patigha samphassa), and what is called mind is contact with concepts (adhivachana samphassa). The idea of contact is crucial here.


Let jus examine the five aggregates that constitute the human personality. They are also described as 'aggregates of grasping (upadanakkhnada). What is interesting about this phrase is that it underscores the way that human beings latch in to these aggregates in the belief that there are his or her personhood. The first of the five aggregates is material form (rupa). Here the term material form has to be understood very broadly as including the physical body as well as the experiences derived from contact through material objects. The Buddha made it clear that the material form has to be understood as a process rather than an object. The material form, then, is a vital element, in the view of the Buddha, in the human person.


The second aggregate is sensation (vedana).the Buddha recognised that feelings, both pleasant ad unpleasant, are an integral part of human personhood. The focus on sensation is important in view of the fact that both in matters of social intercourse and personal salvation, the elimination of destructive emotions is crucial. The third aggregate is perception (sanna). Here the Buddha is focusing on the act of perceiving it cannot meaningfully be separated from various other activities undertaken by human beings. Our perceptions are formed by the blending of concepts, memories, dispositions as well as activities related to material forms. In other words, there is no unmixed perception – unmixed in the sense of not having contacts with various other activities.

(To be continued next week)

The third aggregate is perception (sanna). Here the focus is on the act of perceiving rather than on an entity termed perception. The Buddha explained that the perception cannot be meaningfully separated from other activities undertaken by human beings. They are vitally related to various other facets of human life. Our perceptions constitute a blending of concepts, imaginings, memories as well as interactions with material forms. There are no unmixed perceptions – unmixed in the sense of not having any contact with other activities. The fourth aggregate is disposition 9sankhara0. According to the Buddha, it is this disposition, more than any other that goes to inform the human personhood. He characterized disposition' as that which processes material forms, feelings, perceptions, dispositions themselves and consciousness into their particular form.' The dispositions play a major role in human personhood; they are active in shaping our physical personhood as well as inflecting whatever new personhood which we may choose to develop in the future. According to the Buddha, the dispositions are responsible for molding not only our human personhood but also our built environment and facilities including housing, household goods, architecture, transportation etc. -in other words our culture and social life. The Buddha characterized the opulence surrounding the lives of kings and nobility, for example, as manifesting the power of dispositions. The dispositions are a way of mapping the experiential world.
The fifth aggregate is consciousness (vinnana). It seeks to clarify the sense of continuity experienced by the person who is given specific shape by dispositions. As with other aggregates, consciousness is integrally linked with the other four. According to the Buddha the consciousness cannot be understood as something eternal and transcendental; it is also not a chain of discrete moments that are held together by the power of a permanent self. The consciousness works in concert with the other aggregates. Interestingly, the Buddha remarked that consciousness is nothing more or less than the act of being conscious. Hence, throughout his discussion of the five aggregates that constitute the human personality, the Buddha was keen to point out its processual nature. These five aggregates and their interactions serve to demonstrate the falsity of the belief that there is an unchanging self. The five aggregates need to be understood as functions and their intersections suggest an alternative to the idea of a fixed and eternal self. Now the problem before the Buddha, in exploring the self, was how to explain the continuities in human experiences. Here he invoked to trope of the stream of consciousness.


It was the Buddha's conviction that the most productive way of explaining human experience is through the trope of a stream of consciousness. The activities of human beings can be tracked through the incessant flow of consciousness. The ideas of the stream of consciousness and the five aggregates that I discussed in the earlier paragraphs allow us to acquire a more grounded understanding of human action. The Buddha who rejected the eternal and metaphysical self advocated by certain ancient Indian thinkers found the ideas of the stream of consciousness and five aggregates useful ways of addressing the issues that the metaphysical self was supposed to answer. It is interesting to note, as Kalupahna has pointed out, that the concept of the stream of consciousness fashioned by the Buddha some twenty five centuries ago finds a ready echo and resonance in the writings of the eminent American philosopher William James. He maintained that, 'consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as chain or train do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A river or a stream are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.'


What the Buddha, by focusing on the trope of the stream of consciousness, was seeking to accomplish was to offer an alternative explanation for the idea of personal identity, the sense of I or me. The feeling that one is a unified self is produced by the steam of consciousness with its intermingling of sensations, memories, exceptions and dispositions. It is this stream of thought that the Buddha had in mind when he deployed words such as I and mine and self. The stream, by definition, rejects the notion of mutable, unchanging self. In another wards, the invocation of this trope by the Buddha was a calculated strategy on his part to jettison the metaphysical self that was in currency at the time. These ideas of five aggregates and the stream of consciousness, it needs to be noted, form an interlocking conceptual system with other leading notions in Buddhism such as dependent co-origination.(paticca- samuppda).


This discussion of the five aggregates and the stream of consciousness inscribed in Buddhist texts, I hope, establishes one important fact, namely, that the idea of self has to be understood at both in terms of two registers, of individual psychology and social relations. At a deeper level, both registers, to be sure, are vitally interconnected. Let me examine the second register in greater detail as it has a direct bearing on communication. The Buddhist concept of self cannot be understood in its true complexity unless we pay close attention to the social register. Fir example, the ideal that should guide social behavior in Buddhism is laid out in the Noble Eightfold path. The eight elements that go to form this Noble Path are: right view (samma ditthi), right intention (samma sankappa), right speech (samma vacha), right action (samma kammanta), right livelihood (samma ajiva), right effort (samma vayama), right mindfulness (samma sati) and right concentration (samma samadhi). It is evident that many of these prized virtues are closely related to social interaction. The concept of the self as enunciated in Buddhism can be profitably understood in relation to this Noble Eightfold Path. What this points to, and underscores, is the fact that the concept of the self endorsed by Buddhism has these two wings, psychological and social interactional.


At the beginning of this essay I referenced the fact that Western thinking on the concept of self has been marked by a set of dualities such as self as subject and self as object, self as unitary and self as plural. What the Buddhist approach does is to transcend these dualities by positing n alternate vision that is processual, fluent and which is able to displace the discourse of the self onto a different plane. The very trope of the stream of consciousness that is so pivotal to the Buddhist concept of the self is illustrative of this fact. The Buddhist approach to the ideas of self and agency are characterized by an interesting interplay between the individual and the social. It is not an either/or as posited by many Western theorists but both/and. Let me explain this further. The sense of agency cannot be separated out from the idea of dignity. One has agency only if one has dignity. Self-worth and agency are closely linked. Even in societies where communal bonds, social ties, feelings of collectivity are strong and highly valued, It is evident that the idea of dignity is expressed in terms of individual preferences. Here we see the interplay of the individual and social and it is this phenomenon that Buddhism upholds, not the binary between the individual and society. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning economist, who is also a distinguished philosopher, focusing on human dignity calls attention to the importance of human agency which in turn paves the way for economic growth in developing societies.


The concept of agency is central to communication. And interestingly, Buddhism does not endorse a concept of self as traditionally understood, but it certainly promotes the idea of agency. Without this sense of agency how can one overcome suffering and attain liberation? Admittedly, the English word agency carries certain connotations that do not comport well with Buddhist ideas. However, in the absence of a better term, and keeping at the back of the mind these Eurocentric associations, I wish to examine the concept of agency in greater detail. Human agency, as I understand the term, does not imply absolute sovereignty and self-containedness on the part of the doer; It signalizes only the ability of a person to institute responsible action within a limited space. This is a viewpoint that Buddhism clearly endorses. Clearly, there is an intentionality that is foregrounded in agency, but it is not one that enjoys total freedom.


In terms of communication theory, the concept of agency is central. It is at the heart of all the models of communication and mass communication that have been proposed by various theorists. The intentionalities of the communicator, the way he or she shapes the message, the reactions of the receivers are all imbricated with agency. One of the earliest of modern Western communication models is that of the political scientist Harold Lasswell who asked the question Who says what to whom with what effect? Here the entire question is underwritten by the power of human agency. Or if we go far back in history, we find the Aristotelian model that finds articulation in the Rhetoric. Once again the persuasive communication that Aristotle is examining is deeply informed by the vibrancy of human agency.


As I stated earlier, Buddhism does not propose a unitary self as is standardly understood, but it certainly approves the salience of human agency. The concept of the self as it has come to be understood in modern times bears the epistemic signature of the Western world. Lt me explore this in greater detail by focusing on the Buddhist concept of moral retribution (karma in Sanskrit, kamma in Pali).the concept of karma plays a decisive role in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Unfortunately, this term has been misinterpreted as fatalism and thereby diminishing it and robbing it of its conceptual richness and moral valences. In point of fact it is the exact opposite is the case. As inscribed in classical texts, the law of karma is highly germane to the ontology and epistemology of the human person. It is closely connected to questions of human agency, social order, justice and morality. Indeed one of the best ways of gaining entry into Hindu and Buddhist views on agency is through the concept of karma. It is also vial to a deeper appreciation of moral effects.


What the law of karma does is to explain the complex ways in which certain consequences flow from certain moral actions performed by the given agent. It not only emphasizes the significance of human agency but also furnishes us with a moral framework within which it could be purposefully understood. Ordinarily, the law of karma is glossed as mere fatalism. This is a clear misreading of it. A closer analysis of the original texts would surely underline the point that various actions performed by human beings here and now determine the behavioral contexts and trajectories of action in the future. In other words, it is a mechanism of contextualizing and the sense of agency is in no way erased as fatalists would have it; on the contrary, it re-focuses on the idea of agency in clearly marked spaces.


Ideas of self and agency have been central to communication theories and models developed in the west. If we take the models of communication that have been proposed during the past six decades or so we would observe the importance accorded to the concept of the self. For analytical convenience, I would like to divide the communication models developed in the west into two broad and capacious categories – linear models and circular models. Liner models are characterized by one way transfer of messages. Many of the models fall into this category.

They focus on the way communicators encode messages, receivers decode them, and the autonomous self of the communicators and receivers are accorded a position of centrality. The architects of these models are concerned with questions of efficaciousness and effectivity – how successful are the communicators in conveying their message to the receiver in order to secure the intended effect/here what we find is the desire to understand and represent communication as an activity in which the communicator seeks to influence the behavior and mental outlook of the receiver. If the communicator fails to bring about the intended effects in the receiver, the communicative act will be regarded as unsuccessful and ineffective. It is up to the researches to inquire into the causes of this failure.


Many of the early models of communication such as those proposed by Lasswell, Shanon and Weaver, Newcomb, Westley and MacLean, Jakobson belong to this category; to be sure, as time went on, these models become more complex; but the basic communication philosophy remained intact. There are, it seems to me, three central deficiencies in these linear models of communication. The first is that communication is conceptualized in terms of transmitting, transporting, a message from the communicator to the receiver. The second is that the actors involved in communication are seen in individualistic and atomistic terms. This certainly is not the case; the actors are invariably and inescapably enmeshed in pluralities of social contexts and discourses. Third, there understanding of communicative meaning is restricted and counter-productive. They see the meaning as fully formed, just like an object is. This, in point of fact, is far from reality. Communication meanings emerge as a result of a set of complex interactions between the communicator, message, receiver and context. For example the determinative role of language in shaping the communicative message is totally ignored by the makers of these linear models.


I wish to designate second category of communication models as circular models. Unlike the earlier models the builders of these models recognize the non-linearity of communication as a process. The idea of exchange, as opposed to transmission, is pivotal to their thinking. The emphasis now shifts from the delivery of pre-formed messages to the production of communicative messages through the joint efforts of communicators and receivers. The potentiality for miscommunication is recognized by circular models in a way that they were not by linear models.

The ways in which language and cultural imperatives shape communication, which is a form of human interaction through messages, are given greater weight in probing into the process of communication. While the linear models see communicative messages as objects transported by the specific channels of communication, the linear models tend to look upon communicative messages as cooperative products of communicators and receivers, and the reading of available signs become a primary task of the receivers. To make a broad generalization, the linear modes tend to draw on the work of psychologists, social psychologists and positivistic behavioral scientists while circular models favor cultural anthropology, semiotics and critical theory. Models such as George Gerbner's can be assigned into the circular models category.


The circular models, I contend, are an improvement on linear models and represent a forward moving trajectory in communication studies. However, they too need to be strengthened. The way political and ideological imperatives shape the construction and reception of communicative messages, the constitutive role of ambiguities and ambivalences in communication, the ways in which language and images exceed the grasp of communicators and assume a life of their own all demand careful consideration. Unfortunately, Western communication models have yet to engage these issues resolutely. Communication is a form of human interaction, and all human interactions, in one way or another, are shaped by power plays in societies. The ideas of power plays, asymmetries of power, the power-guided strategies by which communicative narratives are constructed have yet to be addressed adequately. In addition, the very ontology of the communicative act, how it is conditioned by multiple determinants need to be explored in a way that it has not been so far. In other words, the conditions of possibility of communication needs to be explored very carefully. These are some of the areas that should attract the attention of current architects of communication models.


Let me take one dominant Western communication model and examine its central features. It is the Shannon and Weaver model ( they were guided by engineering and mathematics) that has had a profound impact on the growth if communication studies, and still continues to exert its influence. This model which was presented in 1949 is generally referred to as mathematical theory of communication. They developed this model during World War II in the bell telephone laboratories; their primary aim was to ascertain the most effective ways of pressing into service communication channels.

For them, the two dominant channels were the telephone cable and the radio wave. It was their declared aim to come up with a theory that allowed them to understand how to transmit a maximum load of information through a specific channel and how to assess the capability of any given channel to deliver that information. The Shannon and Weaver model is linear' it deals with the flow of information from an information source through a transmitter to a receiver; the transmission and reception of signals are important. This model focuses in three categories of problems. With what accuracy can symbols of communication be transmitted/ with what precision do the transmitted symbols communicate the intended meaning/ with what effectiveness do the received meanings impact behavior in preferred ways/all though these three categories can be identified, the authors of this model focus their attention on the first stated category. This model, then, which is linear, communicator-centered, focusing on the efficaciousness of the chosen medium is technocratic in nature. Indeed, many of the communication models fall into this group.


Let us consider another well-known model, this time not from mass communication but communication studies. The model was fashioned by the celebrated linguist roman Jacobson. This too is a linear model, but the author is a little more interested in questions of semiotics rather than engineering as was the case in the Shannon and Weaver model. His primary objective is to identify the constitutive forces in a communicative act. Therefore, questions of structure and meaning capture his attention. It is indeed his considered judgment that there are six elements that go to form a communicative act. His model seeks to explain the functions performed by each of these elements. To use Jakobson's terminology, an addresser sends a message to an addressee. He or she is aware of the fact that this message should reference something other than itself He terms this the context; for communication to take place smoothly there should be what he calls contact; what he implies by this term is the physical channel and the linkages between the addresser and addressee. Finally, there is the code; he uses the term to designate a shared system of meaning which serves to structure the message. These constitutive elements of communication can be represented as follows:

Addresser Context Addressee
Message

Contact
Code

Jakobson says that each of these elements is responsible for setting in motion a different function of language and that all acts of communication represent a hierarchy of these functions. These functions he terms emotive, referential, poetic, phatic, metalingual and conative.


According to Jacobson, the emotive function focuses on the relationship of the addresser to the message. This is an expressive function. He uses the word emotion broadly to cover such things as emotions, attitudes, class affiliations and so on. The emotive function varies from communicative act to communicative act. In poetry it is very pronounced; in an academic paper it is held in check. At the other end of the process of communication is the conative function. This calls attention to the effect the communicated message has had on the addressee. In political writing or propaganda this function figures prominently. The referential function is privileged in factual and neutral communication. Factual accuracy is of the utmost importance here. The phatic function seeks to allow the flow of communication smoothly through the chosen channels by facilitating an easy relationship between the addresser and addressee. It stresses psychological linkages that facilitate this effort by stressing the contact factor.


The meta -lingual function sheds light on the identification of the code that is being pressed into service in the act of communication. It focuses on the frame of intelligibility. To take an actual example, when a urinal is presented in a hardware store it is a saleable commodity; when Marcel Duchamp signed it and placed it in art gallery, it immediately becomes a work of art. So the meta -linguality or framing is important. All communicative messages carry direct or oblique meta -lingual functions or pointers. Finally the poetic function, according to Jacobson, highlights the relationship of the message to itself. This function is predominant in forms of aesthetic communication. However, this is not to suggest that it is absent in ordinary acts of communication. Alliterations, binaries, onomatopoeias found in ordinary usage emphasize this function. The six corresponding functions that Jacobson identified can be represented as follows:

Emotive Referential Conative
Poetic
Phatic
Metalingual

I have briefly discussed the essence of Roman Jakobson's model which is one of the most well-known among students of communication and possibly the most widely-cited model. It is different from Shannon and Weaver's as it comes out of linguistics and semiotics rather than engineering and mathematics. There is a certain sophistication in the way that Jacobson dissects the communicative act. The model seeks to come up with a universally applicable model of communication.

This model, as we saw, proposes six elements that are then mapped on to six functions of communication. According to Jacobson, in any communicative event, one of these functions is privileged over the others. One interesting aspect of Jacobson's model, which is absent or at best barely present in many other models, the message of a communicative event does not exhaust meaning; he emphatically says that the meaning also depends on the context, code, forms of contact and their diverse permutations. In other words, he sees the production of communication meaning in a larger context, which is indeed a salutary move. What he is calling attention to is the importance of recognizing the fact that the meaning of a communicative message is generated by the totality of the act of communication. He is, of course, primarily focusing on verbal communication, the influence of the Prague school with which he was associated is clearly evident,


Despite the advances made, the Jacobson model suffers from a number of conceptual deficiencies. First, he sees the communicative act as being constituted by a number of discrete elements; the sense of interaction and flow of between them is ignored. His focus on static entities has the unfortunate consequence of undermining the processual nature of communication. Second, this is a linear model of communication. What I mean by this is that the various elements that make up the model stand in a sequential relationship to each other. The one-directional movement implied by this model is central to its meaning. What we see here conceptualized is the origin of communication with the addresser and its ending with the addressee when the message has been delivered. However, the act of communication is far more complex than what this model suggests and therefore is constant back and forth interactions among each of the constituent elements. Moreover, the idea of miscommunication is central to communication and it has to be factored in a way that Jakobson has not done. It is evident that this model is governed by a linear logic.


Third, Jacobson assumes that the selfhood of the addresser and addressee are pre-given; they are stable, self-contained, self-present and are the locus of action. They are perceived as self-determining and self-empowered agents who are anterior to the act of communication. Jacobson's model, and others like it, which draw on Descartes' self-transparent ego ignores the complex and variable constitution of the self. This idea of a self-empowered and self-transparent ego ignores the central role played by language in the production of self. Emile Benveniste asserted that, 'it is in and through language that man constitutes himself as a subject, because language alone establishes the concept of ego in reality.' Similarly Heidegger pointed out the centrality of language in the constitutions of human beings and so did Lacan. The approach suggested by Jakobson not only ignores the role of language in the formation of self but also the determinative role of socio-cultural factors such as the influence of community, ethnic bonds, religious affiliations, family connections and so on. The models proposed by Jakobson and others like him downplay the significance of the other in the constitution of self. Here, it seems to me, as I will indicate later, the Buddhist approach to self and agency can play a vital role.


What we find in these models are agents who are unmoored from their cultures, social contexts, psychological dispositions, and they are genderless. If we are to come up with more realistic and heuristically more productive models of communication we need to begin by appreciating the complex and multi-faceted nature of selfhood. Here Buddhism can play a significant role in opening up new pathways of inquiry. The addresser and addressee ,we need to realize, are positioned in different ways depending on a whole host of variables related to psychological, social and cultural issues. Moreover, before the communicator can discharge his responsibilities as a communicator he or she should have been a recipient of communication to begin with. These deficiencies can be rectified to a very large extent it seems to me, by drawing on the approaches to self, agency, interdependence, karma advocated by Buddhism.


The eminent postmodernist thinker Jean Baudrillard has criticized the Jakobson model from his distinctive theoretical vantage point. He says that, this model 'excludes the reciprocity and antagonism of interlocutors, and the ambivalence of their exchange.' In his opinion, 'what really circulates is information, a semantic content that is assumed to be legible and univocal. The agency of the code guarantees the univocality, and by the same token the respective positions of encoder and decoder.....the formula has a formal coherence that assures it is the only possible schema of communication.' He then goes on to point out that, 'but as soon as one points ambivalent relations, it all collapses. There is no code for ambivalence; and without a code, no more encoder and decoder; the extras flee the stage. Even a message becomes impossible, since it would, after all, have to be defined as emitted and received. It is as if the entire formalization exists only to avert the catastrophe. And then therein resides its scientist status. What it underpins, in fact, the terrorism of the code.'


Baudrillard, in his customary graphic way, refers to the terrorism of the code I Jakobson's model. Here he is putting his finger on a salient deficiency in the model. As he proceeds to observe, 'the code becomes the only agency that speaks, that speaks, that exchanges itself and reproduces through the dissociation of the two terms and the univocality (or, equivocality, or multivocality – it hardly matters – through the non-ambivalence) of the message. What Baudrillard is underscoring here is the way that the homage paid to the code ensures the univocality of the intended message. and as he rightly points out,' Each communication process is thus vectorized into a single meaning from the transmitter to the receiver, the latter can become transmitter in turn, and the same schema is reproduced......this structure is given as objective and scientific, since it follows the methodological rules of decomposing its object into simple elements. In fact, it is satisfied with an empirical given, an abstraction from lived experience and reality; that is, the ideological categories that express a certain type of social relation.' This abstraction from lived reality is central defect of all such models. As I will show later, the Buddhist approach to self and communication has the possibility of addressing these blind spots effectively.


What this strong emphasis in the code does is to remove the complexities and ambiguities that mark human communication and turn it into an easily manageable phenomenon thereby falsifying it. Jean Baudrillard (Baurillard) was moved to characterize the Jacobson model as terroristic not becomes it challenges and harms the existing social order; rather it is because it imposes an ersatz unity on social disorder; it is indeed a firm of violation. One can see that the clarity of the code is connected to the clarity of the message and the clarity of selfhoods associated with communicators and receivers. I said earlier this move implies an act of violence.

I say so because it simplifies reality and reduces it to convenient orderliness all the time ignoring the pluralities, ambivalences, contradictions and tensions that mark communication. Jakobson, and other communication theorists like him, pay a very high price indeed to construct this narrative of clarity and coherence. Here, as I will explain later, the Buddhist model of communication can offer us useful insight regarding the requisite corrective measures
Earlier on in this essay I alluded to two broad categories of communication models – linear and circular. Both models, in their different ways, posit a self-contained, self-transparent and self-present subject as driving the communication process. This is, to be sure, most pronounced in the linear models. The communicative subject, predictably, is at the heart of all theorizations of communication. What both these types of models suggest is a unitary, solitary, discrete subject of communication. There is this solitary subject prior to the act of communication. However, if we are to attain a true understanding of the complexities and diverse ramifications of communication we need to problematize this supposedly solitary and autonomous communicative subject. Without such a problematization, theories of communication will be partially successful at best. One useful way in which we can explore the complexities of the communicative subject, I wish to argue, is by drawing on Buddhist approaches to personhood and agency.


At the beginning of this essay, I stated that Buddhism believes in non-self, but it actually pursues the idea of personhood. The noble eightfold path that I alluded to cannot be understood without reference to personhood. There are three points that I wish to make about the Buddhist notion of personhood drawing on the concepts of the five aggregates, theory of causality or dependent co-origination (paticcha samuppada) and the Noble Eightfold Path and the law of karma These different concepts, to be sure, constitute an interlocking conceptual system, and they highlight some important facets of personhood that are extremely germane to re-understanding the process of communication. In this regard, I wish to focus on what I think are four important aspects of the Buddhist notion of personhood.


First, Buddhism promotes the notion of a grounded personhood. Instead of a free-floating, unanchored, self-contained, autonomous self, Buddhism proposes an idea of personhood that is inextricably linked with psychological dispositions, economic forces, social factors and cultural imperatives. It does not enjoy total and absolute freedom; it is shaped by karmic imperatives. At the same time it possesses a sense of agency which allows it to pursue cherished goals of self-transformation and liberation. This idea of a grounded personhood can be used productively in exploring the complexities of communication. Instead of the self-transparent and sovereign self that is presupposed by communication models such as those of Jakobson, we have a personhood that is in vita interaction with a plurality of variables. A careful study of the five aggregates, the concept of dependent co-origination will lead to such a conclusion.

Second, instead of an independent and atomistic self, Buddhism advances the notion of an interconnected personhood – a personhood that is connected with others in society, both supportively and antagonistically, with others in society. Reading the Western models of communication in general, one is left with the uneasy feeling that the communicative subjects are self-begotten and they indicate no sense of relationality as a vital aspect of their being. The interconnected personhood is inscribed in the discourses of the five aggregates, dependent co-origination and the Noble Eightfold Path. The notion of an interconnected personhood opens up a most interesting line of inquiry that would encourage us to re-imagine the communicative subject in new and fruitful ways.


Third, instead of the unitary and monadic self, advocated by the generality of Western communication models, Buddhism sheds light on the importance of understanding self in its pluralizing ways. In other words personhood, as the Buddha conceptualized it, is self-divided, self-transforming and in a constant state of change. Hence, to talk of stable, mutable, unitary selves, as many of the Western communications theorists do, is to turn a blind eye to the complex realities associated with the concept of the self. The pluralization of personhood, according to Buddhism, is a vital part of its ontology.


Fourth, the Buddhist concept of personhood gains depth and definition within a moral framework. The law of karma that guides human action can be understood most profitably as a means of moral contextualization of human action. Similarly, the Noble Eightfold Path gestures towards a moral understanding of human behavior. A person, as defined in Buddhist texts, attains full definition in the context of a moral imagination, which is supplied by the law of karma and the Noble Eightfold Path.


The concept of personhood promoted by Buddhism is a relational one; it has no independent meaning. In other words, it is, in the current language of cultural analysis, an anti-essentialist posture. The eminent philosopher, Richard Rorty has explained the problem of the essential very lucidly. He said that, 'the nice thing about numbers, from my point of view, is simply that it is very hard to think of them as having intrinsic natures, as having an essential core surrounded by a penumbra of accidental relationships. Numbers are an admirable example of something which is difficult to describe in essentialist language.' Admittedly there are differences between numbers and human beings, but Rorty makes a significant point. He goes on to ask the question what is the essence of the number 17 – what is it in itself, apart from its relationships to other numbers. What is required is a description of 17 that differs in kind from descriptions such as; less than 22, more than 8, the sum total of 6 and 11, the square root of 289 etc.


Richard Rorty concludes that, 'whatever sorts of things may have intrinsic natures, numbers do not – that it simply does not pay to be an essentialist about numbers. We anti-essentialists would like to convince you that it also does not pay to be essentialist about tables, stars, electrons, human beings, academic disciplines, social institutions, or anything else. We suggest that you think of all such objects as resembling numbers in the following respect; there is nothing to be known about them except an initially large, and forever expandable, web of relations to other objects. Everything that can serve as the term of a relation can be dissolved into another set of relations, and so on for ever.

There are, so to speak, relations all the way down, all the way up, and all the way out in every direction; you never reach something which is not just one more nexus of relations. It is Rorty's conviction that the system of natural numbers is a persuasive model of the universe because in that system it is evident that there aren't available any terms of relations that are not merely clusters of further relations. I have quoted Rorty at length because it seems to me, he is emphasizing in a very lucid manner the inescapable relationality of personhood. This is precisely the point that Buddhism is seeking to make, although Buddhists and Rortyites approach it from different intellectual vantage points.


What is interesting to note about this relational personhood is that it has both an epistemological and moral dimensions. The Buddhist notion of the Noble eightfold Path establishes this aspect. Interestingly, Richard Rorty, too, calls attention to the moral dimension of the relational self.. He says that philosophers such as John Dewey and Annette Baier have argued that the idea of the self as cold, self-interested, calculating, psychopath should be repudiated. He asks the pertinent question, 'if we really were such selves the question, 'why should I be moral would be forever unanswerable.' only when we masochistically envision ourselves as selves of that kind do we feel the need to punish ourselves by quailing before divine commands, or before Kant's tribunal of pure practical reason. So the relationality of personhood which is vital for its very being is connected to questions of moral imagination. That is why Rorty rightly emphasizes the fact that moral progress is not a matter of an increase in rationality but the increasing of sensitivity, as the capability to react to the concerns and needs of larger and larger groups of people. This ability to enter into sympathetic relations with others is deeply inscribed in the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, and is one that should enter into the thinking of theorist and model-builders of communication if they are to perceive the deeper relations between communication and the moral imagination.


When discussing the relationship between personhood and communication as inscribed in Buddhist texts another important topic that invites close attention is that of the theory of causality or dependent c-origination. This has great implication for the understanding of, and investigations into, communication theory. this theory of causality signalizes the complex network of factors that are activated in any given happening.

The causes are multiple and interconnected. It is not one guided by a linear logic. In terms of our own immediate goal – the clarification of the nature of communication –the concept of dependent co-origination can prove to be extremely helpful. It emphatically points to the multiplicity of interconnected causes that can determine a communicative event. These causes are often referred to as c-factors. We very often think of communicative events as being activated monocausally; this is certainly the impression left by western theories of communication. What the Buddhist approach asserts is that there are a cluster of causes that shape a communicative event and they form a web. What this concept does, it seems to me, is to call attention to the conditions of possibility of a communicative act. This is indeed an area that has received scant attention from communication theorists and model-builders. Furthermore, this Buddhist concept of causality has the merit of underscoring the fact that the relationship that exists between cause and effect are of immutably sequential but reversible; what they encircle is the sense of mutual dependence. Hence, to refer to them as cause and effect, as is the normal case, is to do injustice to their true motivating spirit.

The widespread nomination is based on the presupposition that causes precede effects in a unidirectional flow. As I stated earlier, it was the Buddha's conviction that personhood should be understood as a psycho-physical formation and that the individual and consciousness exist in a state of mutual dependence.; that is to say, the psycho-physical entity is dependant of consciousness and consciousness ids dependent on psycho-physical entity. This Buddhist concept of dependent co-origination can prove to be of great heuristic value in exploring the meaning of human communication and how it operates. Western theories have focused on the instrumental aspects of communication (How can communication serve to deliver messages efficaciously?) rather than the more demanding and central epistemological questions. The Buddhist concept of causality that I referred to opens the door to such a much-needed effort.


The concept of the law of karma as enunciated by the Buddha is another formulation that is of great hermeneutic significance when discussing the issue of personhood and communication. It is vitally imbricated with such other topics as the five aggregates, the concept of causality, the Noble Eightfold Path that I have alluded to in this essay. The law of karma, contrary to common understanding, does not usher in a sense of fatalism; in fact it does the opposite.

It clears a space for moral action and agency, it represents the confluence of determinants of action which are incessantly forming into new temporary wholes, it provides, to use Hershock's term a context of relevance. As he observes, 'suitably condensed, the Buddhist teaching of karma comes to this; the topography of our life narratives should be seen as corresponding to the complexion of our own values and intentions. The conflicts we encounter are rooted in not in the objective opinions of a so-called 'natural law' or the capaciousness of chance but in tensions among our own values and aspirations, our likes and dislikes, our desires and dreams. ' He goes on to assert that, ;in a karmic or dramatic cosmos, values precede facts. Meaning, far from being either an objective or subjective state of affairs, occurs as that through which all subjects and objects come to be situated as they are.'


Clearly, the karma is a complex and many-sided concept. It is great heuristic value for students of communication. From a communication viewpoint what it does is to point out the significance of the following: everything is interconnected' interdependence is the name of the game; nothing happens by chance or the dictates of fatalism; actions need to be understood in the context of the confluence of ever-changing and manifold determinants. All these pen up a theoretically productive space for the exploration of issues of personhood, agency and communication. A communicative event, when analyzed in terms of c its constitutive forces, displays admirably the working of the law of the karma. The karma, which represents a cartography of conditioning, can best be understood as a continuously unfolding narrative of personhood in its multifarious interactions with others.

It is also away of giving a depth to the sphere of lived experience by the constant evocation of personal and cultural memory. The law of karma also creates a force-field of agency; in this force-field, ideas of human nature, human desire, intentionality, valuations, memory, purposeful action and goals of social living clash and coalesce so as to form complex unities out of persons. By doing so, it compels radically to re-imagine the nature and significance of personhood. Indeed, these are issues that have scarcely entered the calculations of western communication theorists and architects of communication models.


What I have sought to do in this essay is to call attention to the importance of understanding and drawing on the Buddhist approach to personhood, agency and communication as a way of investigating into the deficiencies of the existing models and theories of communication in the Western world. This might look as if it is an unwarranted stretch. However, as scholars such as Yoshitaka Miike have shown, excavations into Asian communication theories can prove to be exceedingly fruitful in expanding the discourse of communication. Some of my own writings have sought to underline this need. There is a distinct advantage, it seems to me, in invoking Buddhist concepts of communication. That is, Western communication theories and models in general emerge out of Eurocentric discursive spaces, or to use Michel Foucault's term epistemes. One can go only so far by way of self-critique while operating within that discursive field. What a Buddhist or Confucian or Hindu approach will allow us is to get out of that discursive field and explore Western communication theories from an exogeneous perspective. This, I contend, carries within it distinct possibilities for newer inquiries.


Western communication models are, by and large m are ego—centered, atomistic, linear, instrumentalized, paying inadequate attention to questions of complexities of lived experience and the concomitant mutual inter-dependencies among human beings. A Buddhist approach enables us to get out of this restrictive vision. On the other hand, the Buddhist perspective privileges collective interdependencies over individuality, multiple causations over single causations, circular interactions over liner and sequential flows. These are, I am persuaded, important dimensions of communication. Western communication models valorize a kind of rationality that is individualistic, de-contextualized, de-linked from emotions; The architects of these models claim objectivity for their models on the basis of this de-contextualized rationality. The Buddhist view, on the other hand emphasizes the importance of contextual understanding, situated knowledge, complexities of lived realities Its sense of rationality cannot be separated from contexts of lived realities or emotional affiliations. In other words, it is much more a grounded and total rationality. We do not find such a rationality activating or underwriting the available Western models and theories of communication. Some of the phenomenologically- oriented communication theorists recognized the importance and potential usefulness of such an effort, but they did not go far in that direction. It seems to me that the pathways of thinking promoted by Buddhism will enable us to move father in that direction.


In my discussion of the complex interrelationships between personhood, agency and communication from A Buddhist perspective, I sought to underline the following main points. These, it is my belief, will help us to think through some important and challenging problems of communication theory. Let me represent them in a concise form.

1. Any communicative event is the result of the interactions of a plurality of causes. Hence the idea of monocausality should be discarded in favor of multivocality. The essential human connectedness that marks human communication has to be examined in terms of complexes or clusters of causes, which Western communication theorists so far have failed to do.

2. All phenomena are interdependent. Individuals should be understood in their necessary relationality and not in terms of atomic insularity or monadic self-containedness. Such an approach to communication will enable us to rectify some of the weaknesses in existing Western theories and models.

3. The personhood is not unitary; it is self-dived. Contradictory forces interact within it. Any theorizing of communication needs to take this into consideration.

4. When we construct theories and build models of communication the important question to ask is how effectively do they work (although, I dare say this question is important) but rather what is communication, what does it entail and what are the ways in which we can conceptualize communicability. The Buddhist approach that I have been discussing in this essay has much to offer in this regard.

5. The Buddhist concept of karma with its focus on contexts of action, confluences of past memories, present realities and future ambitions, will facilitate the exploration of the complexities of agency which is at the heart of communication.

6. What human communication produces is situated knowledge and it deals with contextualized rationalities. Instead of the de-contextualized rationalities that have guided Western theorizations of communication, and putatively context-free knowledge that are supposed to be produced, following the Buddhist lead we need to focus on contextualization of rationality, situating of knowledge and seeking to understand communication within the facticity of given reality.

7. The Buddhist approach to personhood, agency and communication that I have discussed in this essay will enable us to discover and work towards a new language of analysis for communication study. The kind of language that we communications scholars currently deploy is clearly stamped by the desires of the Western experiences, worldviews and agendas. Therefore, there is a compelling need to widen the vocabulary of analysis by drawing on alternate sources such as Asian intellectual traditions.

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