Abstract In this paper, I trace the influence that Buddhist texts had on the poetic design and philosophical orientation of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. References to the “middle way” in the poems point us to texts from the very earliest moments of the Buddhist tradition, texts to which Eliot had access. More specifically, I develop the suggestion offered by Jeffrey Perl and Andrew Tuck that the work of Nagarjuna, the second-century founder of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism (the so-called “Middle Way” school), could have played an important role in T. S. Eliot’s philosophical and poetic development. I employ Perl and Tuck’s assertion as a hermeneutical lens through which to analyze Eliot’s work. I suggest that Eliot’s allusions to the “middle way” in Four Quartets can usefully be understood through Nagarjuna’s causal analysis and linguistic theories, themselves codifications in part of the earlier Buddhist priorities. In this article, I will demonstrate how certain foundational Buddhist conceptions of language and causality, embodied in the tradition by the concept of the “middle way,” played a central role in Eliot’s philosophical and poetic orientation, especially as evidenced in Four Quartets. It was Eliot’s affinity for these ideas, ideas appearing in both earlier Theravada and later Mahayana texts to which he had access, that appeared in key moments of his poetic corpus. More specifically, I will develop the suggestion offered by Jeffrey Perl and Andrew Tuck (1985) that the work of Nagarjuna, the second-century founder of the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism (the so-called “Middle Way” school), played an important role in Eliot’s intellectual development. To be sure, there has been in Eliot scholarship an engaging debate on how deeply Eliot knew the work of Nagarjuna, though we know he was introduced to Nagarjuna’s thought in classes with Masaharu Anesaki at Harvard (Kearns 1987, 76). Regardless of how one comes down on this issue, it is nevertheless true that Nagarjuna codifies and systematizes some of the major trends in the Buddhist texts to which Eliot had access more broadly. I will therefore use Nagarjuna’s major text, the Mulamadhyamakakarika, as a lens through which to gauge Eliot’s indebtedness to Buddhist texts in Four Quartets. My success, I hope, will be gauged from the interpretive possibilities that open up once one puts Eliot’s text in hermeneutical conversation with the Buddhist texts, Nagarjuna’s in particular. I suggest that Eliot’s allusions to the middle way in Four Quartets reflect Nagarjuna’s causal analysis and linguistic theories. I argue that Eliot, following Nagarjuna’s middle way, presents a view of time and causality that insists that things in the world cannot be considered either as impermanent or as lacking a causal continuity. Because of this, language, though it has the potential to deceive by reifying things in the world that are ultimately impermanent, also has a chastened sense of reference, able to signal elements of life that have some abiding, dependent regularity. Thus, for Eliot and Nagarjuna, language has the potential to index both life’s sufferings and its saving moments of illumination, two elements of human existence to which religious paths of cultivation consistently bear witness. Both see language as holding open the possibility of a soteriological path of writing and praxis that eventually, in its culminating moments, leads to a paradoxical loss of subjectivity. Because Eliot’s view of language, influenced mimetically by the Buddhist texts to which he had access, insists on language’s ability to both falsify and reveal, he offers a provocative resistance to linguistic theories, such as Nietzsche’s, that revel in the former while abandoning the latter. The depth of Eliot’s engagement with Indic philosophical and literary texts has often been noted, though extensive close readings informed by this knowledge have not been readily undertaken. The pioneering work on this subject has been done by Cleo McNelly Kearns, who, in her T. S. Eliot and Indic Traditions: A Study in Poetry and Belief, places Eliot’s interests in Indic texts in the religious, literary, and philosophical communities through which they emerged. Kearns’s work is magisterial, an abiding and crucial resource for Eliot studies. Thanks to Kearns, we know that Eliot had a thoroughgoing familiarity with such diverse texts as the Vedas, Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, along with Buddhist texts both from the Pali canon and the Mahayana tradition (Kearns 1987, 21). Eliot studied Indic texts first as an undergraduate at Harvard with Irving Babbitt (Kearns 1987, 21) and later as a PhD student in Harvard’s philosophy department (beginning in 1911). According to Kearns, Eliot took four courses in Sanskrit and Pali with Charles Lanman and a course called “Philosophical Sanskrit” with James Woods, a translator of Patanjali (Kearns 1987, 22). As for Buddhism specifically, Eliot’s familiarity with the texts of the Pali canon is well known. The notes to The Waste Land cite Henry Clarke Warren’s Buddhism in Translations, a text Eliot encountered early on as a student and that would prove highly influential on his thought (Kearns 1987, 69). As a graduate student, through his classes on Pali and Sanskrit, he read portions of the Jatakas, Nikayas, commentaries by Buddhaghosa, and other texts as supplied by Lanman (Kearns 1987, 25, 73). However, evidence of Eliot’s awareness of Mahayana Buddhism, and specifically Madhyamaka Buddhism, is far less concrete than that of his engagement with the Pali texts of Theravada Buddhism. Kearns reports that Eliot was introduced to the Mahayana during his graduate studies at Harvard through a lecture series taught by visiting scholar Masaharu Anesaki in 1913 to 1914 (Kearns 1987). Anesaki devoted significant time to a presentation of the Madhyamaka, primarily in reference to the work of its founder, Nagarjuna (Kearns 1987, 76). Kearns warns, however, that there “is no evidence that Eliot read any of the works of Nagarjuna or studied his thought outside the context of Anesaki’s general introduction. (In fact, his notes tell us that he missed three lectures, including one specifically devoted to Nagarjuna)” (Kearns 1987, 78). Despite this, Kearns notes that Anesaki did apparently talk quite a bit about Nagarjuna in the other lectures, so Eliot was probably aware of the basic philosophical teachings. Further, it is not out of the question that Eliot could have acquired a translation of Madhyamaka texts if he desired; as Andrew Tuck has pointed out, one of Candrakirti’s commentaries on Nagarjuna’s Madhyamikakarika was available in translation by Eugène Burnouf (Tuck 1990, 33). Other than this speculative possibility, however, we simply do not know definitively what kind of engagement Eliot may have made with Madhyamaka texts outside of classroom study. Nevertheless, Perl and Tuck argue that evidence in the philosophical notebooks (in restricted collections at King’s College, Cambridge, and Harvard) point to a deeper awareness of Madhyamaka than Kearns initially allows. They argue that Eliot latched on to Nagarjuna’s formulation of the “middle way,” an analysis of the world poised between philosophical nihilism and essentialism, which resulted in the recovery of the utility of social convention cleansed of essentialist tendencies (Perl and Tuck 1985, 82). They cite Eliot as writing, in some unpublished lecture notes from 1913 to 1914: “A view is false in one sense, true in another. This kind of synthesis is characteristic of Buddhism from its very beginnings under the name of middle path … Life is neither pain nor pleasure. The views that the world exists or not, both are false, the truth lies in the middle, transcending both views” (Perl and Tuck 1985, 84). As we shall see, this does indeed closely resemble the kind of philosophical argument made by Nagarjuna in the seminal text for the Madhyamaka, Mulamadhyakakarika. Nagarjuna does attempt to maintain some sense of conventional reality of existents, even while denying that they possess an eternal, independent essence. Entities exist conventionally, but do not ultimately exist. Perl and Tuck also claim that Eliot uses Nagarjuna’s famous declaration of the identity of nirvana and samsara to describe the process of a soteriological path that returns one to the world (previously experienced as the round of suffering, samsara) now seen anew in a soteriologically efficacious way, as empty (nirvana) (Perl and Tuck 1985, 83). Further, they see Nagarjuna’s supposed eschewal of all philosophical “views” as a possible source of Eliot’s contextualized embedding of truth claims within discrete discursive contexts: “he [i.e., Eliot] was concerned to affirm the contextual validity of all theoretical statements: any theory will possess a significance and function within a limited system of beliefs and practices … Eliot rejected the philosophically standard presupposition that belief in an ideology necessitates belief in its exclusive access to truth” (Perl and Tuck 1985, 84). Consequently, Perl and Tuck argue, such a view of discourse allows Eliot to reconceive philosophical practice as allied, not with the free exercise of sovereign reason, but as a soteriological practice (Perl and Tuck 1985, 82). As may be apparent from this short summary, Perl and Tuck glimpse tantalizing allusions to Nagarjuna, but the evidence they present suggests rather than proves the influence of Madhyamaka on Eliot’s work. To be sure, they have identified important themes shared by both Nagarjuna and Eliot; the parallels are striking. Kearns makes precisely this point, while simultaneously lamenting the lack of clear textual evidence of influence: “For Eliot, too, this notion of an ‘in-between’ or middle state that will not rest either in a logocentric formulation or in the silence of despair imposed by interdicting it completely is crucial” (Kearns 1987, 81). To my mind, however, without a convincing engagement with the poetry itself, it is difficult to see how strong these parallels really are. If Perl and Tuck want to argue the strength of Nagarjuna’s influence on Eliot’s philosophical formation, it would make sense to show how these ideas shape the texture of the poetry itself. Such an analysis, though not proving influence, would at least make the argument more persuasive. Kearns herself sees such an avenue as potentially enlightening (so to speak). She writes that “the parallel between Nagarjuna and Eliot … is so rich in potential that problems of tracing direct influence ought not to prevent its further pursuit” (Kearns 1987, 81). It is just such a pursuit I intend to undertake here, but only through close attention to the details of Eliot’s poetry (in this case, Four Quartets). Such an analysis lends credence to the important work done by Perl and Tuck, while highlighting the provocative parallels noted by all of the commentators. LANGUAGE AND THE FINITUDE OF THE SELF IN FOUR QUARTETS I will begin the discussion by exploring how the invocation of the middle way emerges for Eliot in Four Quartets.1 I will show that this happens after Eliot lays out a very Nietzschean view of language in “East Coker.” Then, after raising a hermeneutical dilemma about that view at the end of “East Coker,” I will turn to Nagarjuna’s theories of language as a way to help solve this dilemma and understand the transition from “East Coker” to “The Dry Salvages.” Finally, I intend to return to Four Quartets, now with an understanding of Nagarjuna’s thought, to see how the Buddhist’s text helps reveal a distinctive movement of Eliot’s poetry. Eliot alludes to the middle way twice in Four Quartets, both instances in “East Coker.” Significantly, both references occur as the four-poem sequence approaches its own “middle,” the transition from “East Coker” to “The Dry Salvages.” Though I realize that the poems were not initially published together, I believe there is a highly sophisticated plan reaching across the Quartets, one that is highly influenced by the Buddhist analyses of causation and signification. Consequently, I will argue that the placement of these allusions towards the middle of the sequence is intentional, signaling to the reader a crucial change of vision in the course of the poems, from a realization of transience to an appreciation of that which abides, and from a meditation on that which language falsifies to an insistence on that which it signifies. To demonstrate this claim, I will first explore the context in which these allusions are made, and then show how an understanding of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka answers some crucial questions that will emerge in the course of the analysis. The first reference to the middle way appears in part II of “East Coker,” in the midst of a discussion of language’s inability to represent a world that is in perpetual flux. Indeed, the problem of transience emerged fully in part I of the poem, through a discussion of the cycle of human desire and generation. There the poet depicts the dance of men and women around a bonfire as emblematic of the desire that characterizes embodied, sexual existence. The dancers move “Round and round the fire / Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,” (33–34) as generations come and go in a seemingly incessant “round” of birth, decay, and death.2 Eliot describes this cycle as “The time of the coupling of man and woman / And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling. / Eating and drinking. Dung and death” (44–46). Existence as depicted here is a material, beast-like one of coupling, eating, defecating, and dying. Bodily rhythms, the rhythms of life, enchain the human being in a temporal existence in which one is moved in the cycle that itself will continue long after the individual has spent his or her desire. Part II takes the depiction of transience and desire from the first section and develops it in terms of language, epistemology, and poetry. In fact, it is in this passage that Eliot presents a view of language that sounds remarkably like that of Nietzsche. Eliot begins his discussion of language by meditating on human finitude and the potential for epistemic error. In the middle of this section, Eliot writes, There is, it seems to us At best, only a limited value In the knowledge derived from experience. The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies, For the pattern is new in every moment And every moment is a new and shocking Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm. In the middle, not only in the middle of the way But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble, On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold, And menaced by monsters, fancy lights, Risking enchantment. (81–93) First, of course, any allusion to the “middle of the way” has to evoke the beginning of Dante’s Inferno: “Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood was, wild, rugged, harsh” (I.1–5).3 The beginning of Dante’s monumental journey begins in a “dark wood” made more confusing by the sleep that still hangs about his head: “I cannot rightly say how I entered it, I was so full of sleep at the moment I left the true way” (I.10–12). Dante’s journey will be one from darkness to light, from obscurity to clarity, and from sleep to an uninterrupted attentiveness to the Divine. Thus, the opening of the poem stresses the temporal finitude of the individual and the epistemological obscurity of the mind just awakening, not yet graced with insight. Eliot makes clear that Dante is behind this passage, redescribing Dante’s “dark wood” as a “bramble” or “the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold.” (In fact, Dante himself relates how he had to proceed up the mountain “so that the firm foot was always the lower” [I.30]). In addition, Dante encounters three beasts: a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. In Inferno, these animals’ significances are unclear, but they certainly represent sins prohibiting Dante from ascending the mountain. Some have suggested that they are allegorical representations for sensual indulgence, wrath, and avarice, respectively.4 Hence, like Eliot, Dante is “menaced by monsters.” The animals in Eliot’s poem hearken back to the same kind of bestiality and carnality represented in the first part of “East Coker.” In part II, that carnality is placed firmly within the meditation on epistemology. The poet is “menaced by monsters, fancy lights, / Risking enchantment.” The pilgrim in the “dark wood” can only see the “monsters” and “fancy lights” that appear to him. To trust them, to take them as true, is certainly to “risk enchantment.” And given the allusion to Dante, one can assume that these monsters and fancy lights are not at all benevolent. This bleak view of the “middle of the way” is prepared by the lines on signification that immediately precede it, lines that very much resemble Nietzsche’s theories of discourse. Eliot began this passage with a poet’s frustration in “the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings” (70–71). Later in the passage he dilates on this struggle: the individual mired in temporality cannot resort easily to the “knowledge derived from experience,” because “[t]he knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies, / For the pattern is new in every moment.” In this view, the world is in complete flux, and the attempt to gather knowledge is really an imposition of a pattern upon that world. The individual must impose human patterns of knowledge upon the world, creating distinctions within a reality that is inherently indistinct. The pattern falsifies, because, in reality, “the pattern is new in every moment.” Eliot attempts to illustrate his meaning by changing the meter in the middle of the latter line, from the preliminary anapests to the concluding iambs after the word “new,” rhythmically depicting a change of “pattern.” As soon as a pattern is established, the transience of reality has ensured that that which was signified is now no more. Although scripted metrics may be preserved on the page, the world has changed into a new pattern, making the knowledge once gained immediately obsolete and illusory. Thus, “We are only undeceived / Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.” Only in retrospect, once we have been undeceived, can we actually know that which deceived and has harmed us. And the mode for this sudden realization is nowhere mentioned. However, it should also be noted that the opening lines of Dante, with all their foreboding, mark the moment of supreme optimism, for it is only with the graced awareness of obscurity and error that one can hope to overcome it. This depiction of the beginning of the soteriological path will become important later in the analysis. Further, each attempt at knowledge represents a “valuation,” not an instance of rational objectivity. As with Nietzsche, thinkers immerse themselves in the process of valuing and asserting the will to power, of forging an order where none exists. Our language manifests not an unchanging truth about the world, but the residue of former valuations that were made, not because of their truth value, but as part of the complex of exertions of the will to power. The meter nicely captures the rupturing effect of Nietzschean valuations. The term “valuation” captures one’s attention immediately, coming as it does at the beginning of the line. It also changes the metrical pattern from the iambs of the previous line to the “shocking” trochaic meter of “valuation.” Remember Nietzsche’s assertion that truth was a series of metaphors that “after long usage seems to a nation fixed, canonic, binding; truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions” (Nietzsche 1992, 636). In this sense, the animal references from part I and from Dante become particularly poignant. Language usage in such cases has nothing to do with reasoning, but with a more primal self-assertion of existence. For the poet in this part of the poem, the meditation on the obscurity of knowledge emerges from an initial dissatisfaction with poetic utterance itself, “the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings” (“East Coker,” 70–71). In fact, the portion of free verse in the second half of part II follows immediately after the formal sequence of more or less strict iambic tetrameter lines describing nature as engaged in “constellated wars / Scorpion fights against the Sun / Until the Sun and Moon go down / Comets weep and Leonids fly / Hunt the heavens and the plains / Whirled in a vortex …” (61–65). With the line, “That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory” (68), the poet recognizes the paradox of describing the disordered world in fixed linguistic form.5 To tread this middle way is therefore truly to “risk enchantment,” the enchantments provided by the tendency of language to falsify, and of words to slip away from their meanings or to fail to carry the burden of communication and reference. In fact, we find that the whole meditation on falsifying and imposing patterns is really a meditation on the ability of language, once fixed on the page, to accurately represent a reality that always temporally outstrips it. The epistemological uncertainty expressed in the echoes of Dante intertwines with issues of language and signification. To be a pilgrim on the via viatoris of human time is to be susceptible to the “enchantments” of human language and knowing. The second reference to the middle way emerges only after “East Coker” prepares for it with a series of passages challenging the pretensions of the self. These passages explore dispossession and the insubstantiality of the self as soteriological goods. Part III moves the meditation on transience to a profound negation and detachment in which all human representation and all human desire is depicted as in some way suspect and soteriologically inefficient: In order to arrive at what you do not know You must go by a way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess You must go by the way of dispossession. In order to arrive at what you are not You must go through the way in which you are not. (138–43) The reader here is left only with paradox: to know, one must be ignorant; to possess, one must dispossess; to arrive at a new identity, one must abandon the self, and “go through the way in which you are not.” The more the self asserts itself, the further from any soteriological goal it moves. The exposition on transience and desire and the critique of language have led in part III to a thorough-going skepticism regarding all human knowing and intention. Paradoxically, humans must intend not to intend, and relinquish when they hope to possess, and desire to end desiring. Part IV then focuses the negating analysis of part III onto the human subject itself, pointing to the problem of desire as requiring drastic remedy from outside the individual. The verses figure Christ as the “wounded surgeon” who “plies the steel / That questions the distempered part” (147–48). Christ is a doctor who heals by cutting away and shaping; his care is “[t]he sharp compassion of the healer’s art” (150). Eliot’s depiction suggests that human beings are made up of “parts” that can be cut away, revealing no self, but rather a set of physical constituents that are in turn also susceptible to the surgeon’s knife. The “steel” of the surgeon’s instrument, tempered in fire and purified, itself must heal the “distempered part” of the human body that has not yet been purified. The affliction of the patient here is fever, the inflammation of the body and the increase in body temperature. The flames of desire consume the body; the body needs to be consumed by the flames of purification that can “temper” it. Christ the healer wields an instrument, the instrument of his “art,” that has itself been tempered in flame. Christ simultaneously cuts away and shapes the patient into his work of art, ironically a fragmented work. The art of this physician, then, is to pry the self away from its bodily attachments, desires, and pretensions by showing the depths of its temporal finitude and error. Thus, the poet ironically notes that “to be restored, our sickness must grow worse” (156). Only the abandonment of the quest for the sovereign self, enabled by Christ, will lead to the ultimate healing of the individual. Christ’s Passion, alluded to in the last lines of the section, becomes a reminder of human error and mortality, as well as the prime example of perfect self-sacrifice and divine self-emptying: The dripping blood our only drink, The bloody flesh our only food: In spite of which we like to think That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood— Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good. (167–71) The gruesome reminder of Christ’s Passion serves as a reminder of human physical mortality as well as the sin that would lead Christ from the last supper to the passion on Calvary. The Eucharistic meal here is bread and wine, but even more so a prefiguration of the following day’s butchery. This is a vicious, bloody, cannibalistic meal, shot through with sin. Christ’s Passion shows the hungry, desiring self, the self that consumes food, information, and Others, as sinful. And it is “in spite of” Christ’s human suffering that we posit ourselves as “sound, substantial flesh and blood.” According to the OED, “sound” can mean, “Not affected by disease, decay, or injury,” as well as, “Of things or substances: solid, massive, compact,” and, “Of a solid, substantial, ample, or thorough nature or character.” In this passage, humans are not healthy physically, epistemically, or morally, and neither are they “solid” or “substantial.” Flesh and blood can be chewed and changed by bodily processes. This resonates in turn with the surgery metaphor. Once Christ cuts away the body, part by part, no substance emerges. It is not coincidental, I think, that such an analysis echoes Buddhist assertions that a self “is not found” in philosophical analyses, as we shall see shortly. The Eucharistic reference also implies Christ’s triumph in spite of humanity’s sinful desire. This triumph is accomplished Christ triumphs, not only in his suffering, but in the shaping capacity of the ritual path. Good Friday is but prelude to the Resurrection, and the Eucharistic meal, as means of grace, leads to the resurrection of Christ in the lives of believers. The Eucharist, the ritual path, becomes the razor through which Christ begins to temper the passions of the faithful, transforming their consuming desire from within and fulfilling those desires beyond expectation. The Eucharistic reference here, after a rather Buddhistic analysis, points to an Anglo-Catholic formulation of the Impossible, the eradication of desire in and through desire. But it is precisely because the human being is mutable, not “substantial,” that Christ can cut and shape human life into art. Finally, after exploring finitude, mortality, and epistemic uncertainty, in part V of "East Coker," we get a recapitulation of the theme of the middle way, this time beginning with an echo of the critique of language from the earlier passage, but moving to a different resolution than negation. This passage will reward a very close scrutiny. Eliot’s evocation of the middle way returns to the meditation on poetic making from part II: So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. (172–82) Interestingly, the dismantling of the pretensions of the self from the previous section is followed by the speaker’s renewed self-assertion, “here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years ….” The critique of “substantial flesh and blood” has done nothing to remove the temporal existence of the poet or the reality of a world plagued by the violence of “deux guerres.” The self may not exist in an ultimate sense, but that realization has not eradicated the struggle of the temporal self for linguistic expression and discovery, a struggle that Eliot describes slightly differently now. Rather than stressing the hopeless falsification that human knowledge and language impose upon the world, he depicts verbal description as something that can and must be undertaken again and again: “every attempt / Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure ….” Note the strange position of the word “Is” at the beginning of the line, receiving the visual and perhaps even auditory stress here. The same occurs later at the beginning of the line “Is a new beginning.” Regardless of what it may mean to exist, the attempt itself, the renewal of struggle, is something that exists most strongly here. The poet does not indulge in despair, but rather expresses a renewed sense of striving, albeit in a tone suffused with stoic resignation. After all, the poet does write after having endured two World Wars, the poet’s “deux guerres.” An awareness of language’s shortcomings has not eradicated the need to use it. Ventures and attempts, beginnings and new starts: these things possess a vivid reality for the poet. Further, human knowing is not so deprived as to prohibit the poet from knowing that each attempt itself is a “new start, and a different kind of failure.” For the poet to say that “one had only learnt to get the better of words / For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / One is no longer disposed to say it” implies that the poet had a “thing” to say, or something for which a particular expression is no longer adequate. Though “each venture” is a “raid on the inarticulate,” the poet implies that there is still something to be gained from articulating and rearticulating. The kind of articulating here, whose raw materials are an “imprecision of feeling” and “Undisciplined squads of emotion,” is precisely the poetic articulation Eliot describes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The terms “feeling” and “emotion” are thus charged terms for Eliot, used frequently in his critical writing. In “Tradition,” these are the two “elements” that the poet converts into poetry. In this essay Eliot characterizes the poet as a type of “catalyst” that joins emotion and feelings into different poetic configurations; he or she is a “medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations” (Eliot 1975, 41). These two terms, “emotion” and “feeling,” admittedly have very vague significance for Eliot in this essay, but the concepts do seem to have different valences. The confusion is heightened by the fact that Eliot does not, I think, use them in their more colloquial senses. He writes, “The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art. It may be formed out of one emotion, or may be a combination of several; and various feelings, inhering for the writer in particular words or phrases or images, may be added to compose the final result” (Eliot 1975, 41). “Emotion” seems to be an internal, subjective reaction, the “effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it.” “Feeling,” on the other hand, seems to refer to something that inheres in particular words or images for the author. It seems to invoke the poetic effect connected with either the mimetic quality or the sensuous texture of words. Hence, feelings are “words or phrases or images,” all of which have a sensuous reality for either poet or reader. At any rate, both feeling and emotion seem to be “passions” in the sense that they represent something that happens to the poet or reader, an experience of the influence of an external force on the creative mind. The poet’s craft depends on “a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality” (Eliot 1975, 40) to allow these external influences to accumulate and form different combinations within the mind. The mind of the poet is “a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together” (Eliot 1975, 41). The poet/bricoleur, similar to the mystic, must continually extinguish the personality to “store up” all of these feelings and to allow them to suggest to the mind new combinations, new poetic feelings on their own. Thus Eliot takes great pains to delineate both the active and the passive aspects of poetic creation, stressing the “givenness” of the materials with which the poet actively creates: “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material” (Eliot 1975, 41). This process of self-sacrifice and recombination, for Eliot, is that by which the poet, in a new situation, encounters tradition as well. Old and new consort to form a new utterance that speaks to a contemporary audience. The poet must be aware of the meaning that is shared across the years as well as the contours of the modern situation. This awareness, the poet’s “historical sense … is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together” (Eliot 1975, 38). As Eliot makes clear in the essay, this historical sense is not a blind obedience to historical authority, but a process of recovery that must be worked for by the poet: “Tradition … cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor” (Eliot 1975, 38). Thus, the timeless within the temporal must be continually sought out, worked out, recovered through great poetic effort, and “transmuted” into new feeling, new text(ure). It is precisely this theory that seems to be evoked in the passage from “East Coker.” The middle way now represents, not epistemological uncertainty, but a view of poetic making that stresses the continual re-commencing of textual signifying, the constant recovery of meaning, “the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again” (86–87). And this process, as in “Tradition,” is one that, not only takes into consideration the individual’s imposition of order onto the world, but the self-sacrifice of the poet and the reception of data from outside the individual. Poetic creation takes place through both “strength and submission” (83), and that which is to be “conquered” (84) must also be “recovered.” BUDDHISM AND THE “MIDDLE WAY” Why this move from language’s utter inability to signify to a historically informed view of poetic creation’s ability to recover and reiterate? I believe the answer becomes clearer if we view the allusions to the middle way in “East Coker” through the lens of Madhyamaka Buddhism, the self-proclaimed middle way school. The founder of this school, Nagarjuna, presents, in his seminal text Mulamadhyamakakarika (henceforth MK), an analysis of causality that results in the declaration that all phenomena are both empty and conventionally existent. I believe Eliot has such a causal analysis, in which words themselves are shown to be both empty and yet pragmatically efficient, in mind here. This is not to say that this is the only way to read the Quartets, or that Eliot’s work is a hidden Buddhist polemical tract (though I do think Eliot’s Christianity has a strong Buddhistic character). Rather, what I wish to suggest is that a tarrying among the verses of Nagarjuna’s thought will unlock yet another dimension of Eliot’s complex poetry, clarifying one of its central structural elements. Therefore, it will benefit us to take a closer look at Nagarjuna’s text and the view of causality and language presented there. I will be relying in this presentation primarily on Jay Garfield’s translation of the text, as well as his excellent commentary on it, which I find particularly persuasive and illuminative of the poetry at hand.6 The magnitude of my debt to his interpretation is significant and should become clear over the following pages; it is his interpretation of Madhyamaka I hope to present as clearly as possible.7 To understand the Madhyamaka, it is absolutely crucial to understand what they are arguing against. Otherwise, it is very easy to interpret their texts simplistically as nihilistically denying any existence to objects and the self. As we will see, to interpret Nagarjuna this way would be to miss his unique philosophical contribution. The Madhyamaka argue against a specific notion of essence, or svabhava. Jay Garfield defines this notion as follows: “…essences are by definition eternal and fixed. They are independent. And for a phenomenon to have an essence is for it to have some permanent independent core” (Garfield 1995, 111). Such an essence would be self-caused, impervious to change, and without reliance on any temporal conditions whatsoever for its existence. For something to have essence, svabhava, would be for that thing to be in some sense free from temporal dependence. To such a notion of essence, Nagarjuna applies a very particular version of the Buddhist concept of pratityasamutpada, the chain of dependent origination that explains how all things exist and retain the consequences of their actions within samsara, the round of desire, suffering, and rebirth. This analysis of dependence becomes the basis for the conception of the middle way. Steven Collins has described how, from the very earliest textual strata of the Buddhist tradition, such a description of the conditioned nature of all things was seen as a middle way of sorts: Just as in the Buddha’s first sermon the Eight-fold Path was the Middle Way between the extremes of sensual indulgence and ascetic self-torture, so here in the conceptual sphere, the teaching of Dependent Origination is a middle way between the two extremes of eternalism and annihilationism. “The same man acts and experiences the result—this is eternalism. One man acts, another experiences the result—that is annihilationism. Avoiding these two extremes, the Enlightened One gives a teaching of the Middle Way”—that is to say, Dependent Origination. In another place, the two extremes are said to be “existence” and “non-existence” …. (Collins 1982, 104–5)8 Collins notes that the idea of the “Middle Way,” first described as a soteriological path of detachment between self-punishing asceticism and sensualism, in philosophical discourse becomes a conceptualization of the self between eternalism and annihilationism, allowing the Buddhist to argue the conditionality of the self while maintaining a sense of ethical responsibility. Only by maintaining some belief that the self suffers the ill consequences of its attachments, regardless of how devoid of essential unity it is, can the Buddhist defend the system of karma upon which the Buddha’s soteriology depends. The Buddhist therefore argues against the belief that “there is an entity which is denoted by the grammatical subject of verbs … the Buddha’s reply asserts the existence of an event described by the verbal notion, but denies that it is legitimate to infer the existence of the real subject from the verbal form” (Collins 1982, 105). The philosophical trick for the Buddhist becomes criticizing the “I,” while still granting it some agency vis-à-vis the “verbal,” the practical sphere of ethical action. It is not only the “I” that has no abiding essence, but anything that falls under this understanding of causation: that is, everything. Our language then as a whole deceives us into thinking of things in the world as permanent rather than dependent conglomerations. In Henry Clark Warren’s collection (that we know Eliot used), we find this passage from Buddhaghosa: Just as the word “chariot” is but a mode of expression for axle, wheels, chariot-body, polem and other constituent members, placed in a certain relation to each other, but when we come to examine the members one by one we discover that in the absolute sense there is no chariot … in exactly the same way the words “living entity” and “Ego” are but a mode of expression for the presence of the five attachment groups, but when we come to examine the elements of being one by one, we discover that in the absolute sense there is no living entity there to form a basis for such figments as “I am” or “I”; in other words, that in the absolute sense there is only name and form. The insight of him who perceives this is called knowledge of the truth. (Warren 2004, 134–35) Buddhaghosa claims that words simply draw together elements into a conglomeration that we take to be an existing thing. We cannot initially do without these “modes of expression”; they provide us with our initial understanding of the world. Nevertheless, the things the modes signify do not exist in an “absolute sense.” We have here then the beginning of the distinction between conventional and ultimate truth that would become so important in the Mahayana, of which Nagarjua is a part. Collins notes that the early Buddhist notion of “two truths” usually refers to a distinction between higher and lower teachings, or the very distinction between language and the lack of essence of a thing (Collins 1982, 156).9 Codifying and expanding some of these earlier trends, Nagarjuna embraces the notion of the Middle Way as that which orders the whole of the Buddhist tradition, and consequently his text begins first and foremost with a thorough analysis of the impossibility of essence in a world of temporal conditionality. Dependent Origination is thus the chief ontological commitment of the text, asserted in the very first verses: 1. Neither from itself, nor from another, Nor from both, Nor without a cause, Does anything whatever, anywhere arise. ……………………… 6. For neither an existent nor a non-existent thing Is a condition appropriate. If a thing is non-existent, how could it have a condition? If a thing is already existent, what would a condition do? (I.1, 6) The first verse presents a version of the Madhyamaka “tetralemma,” a four-part analysis that supposedly takes into consideration all possible philosophical accounts of causation. From Nagarjuna’s view, no existing thing can be the cause of itself, nor can an existing thing contain within itself the inherent potential to become a particular kind of essential thing (Garfield 1995, 106). Essences do not change or develop. They are eternal, and do not depend on temporal conditions for their existence. Likewise, no essence can emerge from another unchanging essence; the very idea undercuts the autonomy of essence. If an entity is caused by another, brought about by another, it cannot be independent (Garfield 1995, 111). If we cannot argue either of the first two options of the tetralemma, then we cannot argue the third, which combines the first two options by claiming that an essence emerges from both self and other. Finally, we cannot make the ridiculous claim that entities arise in the absence of conditions. The scenario echoes the epistemological point raised above; if there were an entity separate from conditions, it would be impossible for us to know about it in the first place (Garfield 1995, 112). Thus, verse 6 summarizes the causal analysis. An independent existing thing that is truly an essence could not be contingent since it would have no conditions: “If a thing is already existent, what would a condition do?” A nonexistent thing also could not possibly be conditioned: “If a thing is nonexistent, how could it have a condition?” (Garfield 1995, 116). Thus we are left with the apparent paradox that things in this world, including selves, neither exist nor do not exist. Conditioned things cannot be essences, yet we also cannot say that they do not exist in some way. For Nagarjuna, such entities are empty, “shunya.” Nagarjuna begins by dismantling a particular view of entities and causality, showing it to be incoherent. When we attempt to consider entities as conditioned, it becomes impossible to grasp onto something we can hold to be essential. Later in the text, Nagarjuna shifts his causal analysis to a more detailed analysis of the subject, epistemology, and language. This analysis begins to emerge in chapter 9 of the text, in which Nagarjuna takes the “dependence” on which he so rigorously insisted in the first chapter to assert the dependence of the self on objects exterior to it. The analysis of objects in the world is now turned back on the subject: “Someone is disclosed by something. / Something is disclosed by someone. / Without something how can someone exist? / Without someone how can something exist?” (IX.5). Garfield notes in his commentary on the verse that Nagarjuna is asserting “the corelativity and interdependence of subject and object. Subjectivity only emerges when there is an object of awareness … the idea of an object with no subject is contradictory” (Garfield 1995, 185). The concept of dependence therefore holds for the very relationship of knowing. Human subjectivity exists in a relationship of dependency from moment to moment on objects external to the subject. Subjects and objects are “disclosed” by one another in a temporal relationship, with neither receiving epistemic primacy in Nagarjuna’s analysis. Subjectivity depends on a relationship with externality, on the disjunction of self and otherness that, in a Buddhist context, will lead to an unfortunate grasping of self, the “I,” as “mine.” It is precisely this point that Nagarjuna makes in chapter XVIII of MK, an important chapter that elucidates the relation between grasping, consciousness, and language: 4. When views of “I” and “mine” are extinguished, Whether with respect to the internal or external, The appropriator ceases. This having ceased, birth ceases. 5. Action and misery having ceased, there is nirvana. Action and misery come from conceptual thought. This comes from mental fabrication. Fabrication ceases through emptiness. (XVIII.4-5) Here views of “I” and “mine,” “internal” and “external” must be released for liberation from rebirth to occur. But given the previous analysis of subjectivity, these views imply far more than simple greed or possessiveness. They refer, rather, to the very operations of consciousness itself, which “appropriates” externality as part of itself. Garfield explains: “By ‘appropriation,’ Nagarjuna indicates any cognitive act by means of which one takes an attribute or entity as one’s own, or as part of one’s self” (Garfield 1995, 182). Further, even though one cannot think the subject without the object, the manner in which these objects are identified as such and are likewise appropriated by consciousness will depend upon some sort of subjective act of grasping (Garfield 1995, 182). This is precisely what Nagarjuna goes on to explain in verse 5, where mental fabrication leads to conceptual thought, which leads constantly to the wrong kind of action and appropriation, and therefore to continued suffering. Mental fabrication claims aspects of externality for the self by making them into objects for appropriation. It is precisely this aspect of consciousness that reifies external existents into essences, creating the ontology within which the subject lives (Garfield 1995, 248). So the self is not “other” to its objects—it in part constitutes them. It is also not the same as those objects—it has a distinct existence. Verse 7 goes on to present the paradox of selfhood, while bringing the problematic of language firmly into the purview of the previous statements on mental fabrication. Language, it turns out, has nothing substantial to which to refer, nor does it possess in itself any essential reality. Nagarjuna writes, 7. What language expresses is non-existent. The sphere of thought is nonexistent. Unarisen and unceased, like nirvana Is the nature of things. (XVIII.7) Verse 7 brings the crisis to a head: not only is what language expresses empty, but the sphere of thought is also empty. Garfield explains this tension as follows: “To say of a thing that it is dependently arisen is to say that its identity as a single entity is nothing more than its being the referent of a word. The thing itself, apart from the conventions of individuation, has no identity. To say of a thing that its identity is merely a verbal fact about it is to say that it is empty” (Garfield 1995, 305). Language and thought fabricate the distinctions of the world. The external world exists without such distinctions, and it is only through human mental fabrications that a world of objects exists to begin with. The world exists for human beings as part of human consciousness. This does not, however, mean that there is no external world.10 Note that Nagarjuna claims that “what language expresses is non-existent” (emphasis mine). Language and thought both fabricate and express, and express through fabricating. Those things that language expresses, the phenomena of the world, are empty. But language can still express phenomena. The seeming equivocation in Garfield’s commentary here actually reflects the deliberate ambiguity in Nagarjuna’s text: there are referents to words, yet words serve as establishing conventional reality through individuation. All things are “conventionally existent but ultimately empty” (Garfield 1995, 305). Hence, we get the conclusion to the sequence from chapter XVIII: 8. Everything is real and not real, Both real and not real, Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. ………………………………………. 10. Whatever comes into being dependent on another Is not identical to that thing. Nor is it different from it. Therefore it is neither nonexistent in time nor permanent. (XVIII.8, 10) The conclusion to this important chapter combines Nagarjuna’s view on language and the self with the analysis of temporal dependence that he had developed in earlier chapters. He compounds the epistemic ambiguity with his previous causal skepticism. Here, Nagarjuna reiterates the teaching that Collins traced back to early Buddhism (Collins 1982, 104–5). Anything that comes to be, dependent on conditions, cannot be the same as those conditions, for we speak of a different, transient entity. Nor can it be said to be free of those conditions, precisely because it is dependent. Thus it is neither “nonexistent in time nor permanent.” It is “both real and not real.” Further, note the temporal tension expressed here. Even though entities change, we cannot say that the later version of the entity is the same as the earlier, nor can we say that it is completely different from it. We cannot say it is the same, since obviously it has changed, and we cannot say it is completely different, for that would be to reify a later stage of the entity, granting it some form of independence from its conditions. Rather, the entity exists in temporal tension. Take the self: if the self comes into existence in juxtaposition to the objects of the world, its subjectivity is dependent on those conditions. The self is not identical to those conditions, nor can it be said to be completely other from them. It requires that externality as its co-constituting Other. Further, as above, we cannot say that each temporal moment of the self is the same as, or different from, the moments that preceded it. The self exists in temporal tension. Or, consider language: it emerges dependent on the exterior world, yet it shapes that world for human consciousness. It cannot be said to be identical with the world, nor can it be said to be completely different from it. Language itself is dependent. Daniel Arnold has made precisely this point in describing Nagarjuna’s views on language: Nagarjuna … insists that precisely because all things are dependently originated, our accounts of them, too, are dependent—dependent, that is, on the fact that phenomena exist and we are able to describe them. Because our descriptions so depend they must not be understood as providing metaphysical explanations that operate as though they referred beyond phenomena to “the reasons for phenomena”; and, also because our descriptions so depend, phenomena are not allowed to be replaced by our descriptions of them. That is, they exist. (Arnold 1998, 80) I would also stretch the point, and assert that each instance of linguistic utterance depends on the entire context of language that precedes it. Language usage is itself dependent on a linguistic history of effects that makes that usage neither completely the same nor different from prior usage. Regardless however, the import of the prior analyses is that, if we give independent, inherent existence to any of the entities above, we removes them from the world of dependence. Yet this is absurd, for as Garfield notes, “Emptiness is important because it is the only way that things can exist” (Garfield 1995, 211). Emptiness and dependent origination—that is, the tension of a temporally bound being—is the only way that this being can exist in any way we could know. Otherwise an entity would be completely beyond our realm of experience, completely beyond thought and language. Nagarjuna shows the depth of language’s dependence when he asserts paradoxically that his own designations of things as “empty” are also empty. It is in this move that Nagarjuna reveals the full significance of the linguistic middle way, demonstrating the dependence of Buddhist discourse itself on previous instances of reification. In chapter XXIV.18, Nagarjuna argues: “Whatever is dependently co-arisen / That is explained to be emptiness. / That, being a dependent designation, / Is itself the middle way.” Garfield’s commentary on the text explains that Nagarjuna is asserting the “emptiness of all phenomena” (Garfield 1995, 212). In other words, we must first perceive phenomena before claiming they are empty; the designation “empty” depends on the previously reifying nature of language. If nothing were ever reified, seen as a substantial unity, there would never have been a need for the teaching of emptiness, for neither would there have been suffering itself. The teaching responds to a set of conditions and is dependent on those conditions. In analyzing a table, for example, No conventional table, no emptiness of the table. The emptiness is dependent upon the table and is, therefore, itself empty of inherent existence, as is the emptiness of that emptiness, and so on, ad infinitum. To see the table as empty, for Nagarjuna, is not to somehow see “beyond” the illusion of the table to some other, more real entity. It is to see the table as conventional; as dependent. But the table that we see when we see its emptiness is the very same table, seen not as the substantial thing we instinctively posit, but rather as it is. Emptiness is hence not different from conventional reality–it is the fact that conventional reality is conventional. Hence it must be dependently arisen since it depends upon the existence of empty phenomena. (Garfield 1995, 316) Thus, according to Garfield, “emptiness” does not refer to an essence lurking beyond the shadowy phenomena of this world. Being a dependent designation, it describes the state of phenomena themselves.11 This also opens the way for the second important point that Nagarjuna makes at the end of the text, the identity of samsara and nirvana. Because the designation of emptiness is dependent on phenomena, the realization of this emptiness, the soteriological telos of nirvana, depends upon the prior positing of conventional phenomena. Nirvana becomes a way of seeing the world accurately (as empty); in that it shifts how the conventional world is perceived, not the positing of a separate realm of emptiness separate from the world of phenomena (Garfield 1995, 332).12 Most importantly, it is precisely because the world is empty that nirvana can be attained in the first place. The fact that all things are dependently originated means that suffering also arises in dependence, and that to eliminate those things upon which suffering depends means eliminating suffering itself. Thus, as Garfield rightly points out, emptiness is the basis of the whole practice of Buddhist life: “… the path only makes sense, and cultivation of the path is only possible, if suffering is impermanent and alleviable and if the nature of mind is empty and hence malleable” (Garfield 1995, 310). The fact that all phenomena are empty makes the idea of self-cultivation, of striving for improvement, cogent. As in Eliot’s “hospital,” the self can only be cultivated if it is not essential, and its suffering not permanent.13 Near the conclusion of chapter XXIV, Nagarjuna shows that the soteriological potential of the Buddhist path is precisely what is at stake. At issue is the reality of suffering: suffering must be real enough to be a problem for human beings, but must not be seen as essential and incapable of changing. He writes, 23. If suffering had an essence, Its cessation would not exist. So if an essence is posited, One denies cessation. …………………………………. 25. If suffering, arising, and Ceasing are nonexistent By what path could one seek To obtain the cessation of suffering? (XXIV.23, 25) Nagarjuna ends with a soteriological concern, now filtered through his sophisticated linguistic and causal analysis. For the cultivation of the Buddhist path to be both possible and necessary, suffering must be seen to have reality, though not essential existence. If essence is posited of suffering, suffering cannot end. But if suffering has no abiding existence whatsoever, if it has no consequences, there is no need for the disciplines of the path. Likewise, the self must be seen as abiding enough to bear the consequences of its previous actions and mutable enough to be reformed. So Nagarjuna’s thought seeks to index and hold open the possibility of the ultimate, unresolved Buddhist paradox, the overcoming of desire and attachment in and through the discipline of desire and the proper attachments. One must desire not to desire. LANGUAGE AND CAUSALITY IN FOUR QUARTETS Finally turning back to Eliot, we find a new way of thinking about how causality and representation are presented in the Quartets. To begin, recall that the first meditation on the middle way represented the bleakness of epistemological uncertainty. As with Nietzsche, language and thought impose false patterns on the world: “The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies, / For the pattern is new in every moment” ("East Coker," 84–85). Further, the poet portrayed knowledge as an ever-developing series of human (all too human) valuations that are made only to be overcome later by more potent valuations: “And every moment is a new and shocking / Valuation of all we have been” (86–87). The middle way is therefore pictured as Dante’s dark mountainside at the outset of Inferno, where the pilgrim is threatened with carnality, bestiality, and illusion. Eliot’s speaker decides that “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire/ Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless” (97–98). Suddenly, in parts III and IV, “East Coker” plummets into a relentless negation, into (literally) a cutting away of illusion and desire. We are finally brought face to face with a very Buddhist-like analysis, in which human parts are cut away by Christ the surgeon; the notion that we are “sound, substantial flesh and blood” is given up, and the reader wonders where the poet could possibly go next. Both language and the self are, in Nagarjuna’s terms, “empty.” Yet at the same time, the inessential nature of the self, the self’s vulnerability to suffering, change, and decay, allows Christ to sculpt the self into a work of art with his tempered scalpel. The instrument by which Christ accomplishes his “art” is the ritual sphere, the path of devotion in which human consumption is defeated from within by the Eucharist, in moments of impossible transformation. As with Buddhism, desire is defeated in and through desire. In part V, we find a reassertion of the poet’s subjectivity: “So here I am in the middle way” (172). The “I” that was just dismantled appears again in temporal, spatial existence: “I,” “here.” Some sense of subjectivity remains, even after the dismembering analysis of part IV. The “I” has been seen to be ultimately empty, yet its reality as one engaging with language and practice persists. In Nagarjuna’s language, the ultimate reality of the self and the world has been glimpsed, but the conventional self persists in the activity and passivity of the salvific path. Further, we have the emergence of a rhetoric of recovery, linked with Eliot’s own notions of poetic making, notions not only of the merging of feeling, thought, and emotion but also of making the past present through a poetic process inescapably informed by an awareness of the past. The poetic process becomes “the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again” (186–87). Eliot’s poetic process is that whereby emotion is reconciled with feeling, the interior with the exterior, and action with passion. Most importantly, this change in rhetoric marks a change in the overall intellectual trajectory of Four Quartets. Following the evocation of the middle way, “The Dry Salvages” obsesses about the presence of the past. The passage speaks of that which abides, of the repeating patterns of time, of the temporal and human regularities upon which language and knowledge depend. Consider the image of the edge of the ocean, “the beaches where it tosses / Its hints of early and other creation” (17–18). The beach shows forth the wreckage of former times, the detritus that remains after these artifacts have been used and abandoned. The artifacts' creators have disappeared, but they remain as hieroglyphics to be read and pondered. Or consider this passage from part II: It seems, as one becomes older, That the past has another pattern, and ceases to be a mere sequence— Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution, Which becomes, in the popular mind, a means of disowning the past. The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being, Fruition, fulfillment, security or affection, Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination— We had the experience but missed the meaning, And approach to the meaning restores the experience In a different form, beyond any meaning We can assign to happiness. (85–96) The reader hears that this illumination “Is not the experience of one life only / But of many generations” (98–99). Suddenly, the past has a pattern and is no longer merely a sequence of separate moments (nor a teleological, evolutionary progression). Certain experiences belong not to one generation, but to many. This experience cannot be “disowned” but remains a part of human temporal experience. And we find that one such experience to which the past attests through a series of attempted figurations is that of humanity’s “sudden illuminations,” which cannot be fully expressed but can be approached by successive generations of writers through different “forms” that linguistically trans-form the experience. Not only do the traces of illumination abide, but so do the other “ineffable” experiences of “agony”: Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony (Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding, Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things, Is not in question) are likewise permanent With such permanence as time has. …………………………… Time the destroyer is time the preserver. (104–8, 115) Suffering here is not only physical, but mental and emotional as well: it is caused by “misunderstanding,” or improper hoping, or improper fearing. Moments of pain and the consequences of error remain within human selves, once again placing the persistence of suffering at the heart of “The Dry Salvages.” The experience of suffering seems, for Eliot, to be a vivid reminder that we are the inheritors of any type of pain we have previously experienced. These marks of pain abide, but only with “such permanence as time has.” The self retains the memory of agony, but the poet implies that the pain is not eternal or essential; there is a possibility of pain ceasing. For we are also inheritors of the sudden illuminations as well, both those of our own lives and those within a broader historical context, which we can strive to recover. To invoke the presentness of the past in suffering is also to open the possibility of the recovery of the past. What we see, therefore, in the references to the middle way in “East Coker” is a change in emphasis from that which changes to that which abides, from that which is imposed upon reality to that which influences the individual from without, from that which language falsifies to that which it signifies. I would therefore like to suggest that Eliot’s allusions to the middle way signal the moment in Four Quartets where Eliot’s poetic persona moves to adopt something like Nagarjuna’s dual perspective on causation and language. Just as Nagarjuna asserts that entities are dependent, that they cannot be said to be completely different from nor the same as the entities of previous moments, so too does Eliot take into consideration the constantly changing nature of temporality on one hand (“East Coker”) and the abidingness of entities on the other (“The Dry Salvages”). All the while Eliot preserves the salvific potential of language. True, this potential is hampered on the one hand by the challenges of deception, illusion, and falsification, elucidated in the early sections of “East Coker.” But the emptiness and transience described in “East Coker” is transformed at the end of it and is shown to be the precondition of the path of cultivation, of being shaped by Christ. For both Eliot and Nagarjuna, the realization of emptiness and suffering, based on the healing intervention of a teacher (Christ, the Buddha), enables the salvific process of cultivation towards an impossible telos. The emptiness or dependence of the subject exposes it to the suffering of the world but also enables the shaping of the self through practice and words. The Christian believer consumes the Word, but is in turn shaped by it through words and sacrament. Or, rather, the human being becomes the poem, the word of the Word through praxis and desire. Human suffering, that is, the existential condition of the self being acted upon, is transformed from within, into the therapeutic instrument of salvation. Recall the soteriological import behind Nagarjuna’s causal analysis. The purpose of the doctrine of dependent origination, from the earliest moments of the Buddhist canon, was to explain temporal becoming in terms of suffering. This meant that it not only had to attack notions of an eternal, essential self, but also to explain how a transient self could be said to suffer and need redemption at all. Nagarjuna’s analysis attempts to accomplish both through an insistent assertion of dependence. The self is not an eternal essence; it is temporal and transient. But this does not mean that the self lacks the traces, both mental and physical, of its temporal experience of the world. The self acts and is acted upon. It is only because of this dialectic that the self’s attachments to the world can be explained as soteriologically detrimental suffering. And it is only because of this dialectic that the self can begin its way upon the path through first developing the proper attachments. It must have a history of attachment as well as objects exterior to it to which it can be attached and from which it can consequently be liberated. The traces of bodily and mental suffering (in the broadest sense) must be considered to have at least as much reality as the continuing process of desiring and becoming. Therefore, in Nagarjuna’s analysis, the self is dependent on previous versions of itself as well as on the externality of that which it reifies. On a linguistic level, what we find at the end of “East Coker” is a movement, after critiques of language, epistemology, and essence, to a reinstatement of the self, language, and external objects, but now as temporal and dependent. We find, as shown above, an insistence that there are aspects of human existence that can be figured and refigured, discovered and rediscovered. We find that language, inexact though it be, can express aspects of reality with some degree of success. And we find a reassertion of the self that strives towards a salvific goal, expressed at the end of “East Coker” in terms of the poetic search for meaning. Recall the soteriological valence of part IV of the poem that prepares the way for the culminating allusion to the middle way. The realization of the emptiness of the self was figured as an operation of cutting away and shaping, undertaken by Christ the surgeon/artist upon the mortal, sinful subject. The world was portrayed as a soteriological hospital: “The whole earth is our hospital / Endowed by the ruined millionaire” (157–58). The healing that takes place within this hospital is not one we tend to enjoy, however, for it challenges selfishness and self-possession by dismantling the self. Yet the “I” that was reinstated in part V, the “I” of the middle way, is still a subject who suffers and stands in need of healing, and one who, like Dante, treads the path to salvation; there is still some sense of the subject who strives to “get the better of words” in order to express the “inarticulate” or to “recover what has been lost.” The self acts and suffers “in time / Caught in the form of limitation / Between un-being and being” (“Burnt Norton,” 166–68). For both Eliot and Nagarjuna, the reality of suffering opens up the possibility of signification, for suffering implies both the transience of the self and also the abidingness of the effects of action and suffering. Recall that, for Nietzsche, signification was impossible in a world of flux and becoming. Signification is impossible, as, in Eliot’s words, “every moment is a new and shocking / Valuation of all we have been” (“East Coker” 87). The problem of signification led Nietzsche to a revaluation of mythos, a radical reveling in the will to power and language’s metaphorical potential. Neither Eliot nor Nagarjuna rests in such a view of temporality. Both suggest that such a view fails to take the realities of suffering and dependence seriously enough; the pain and effects of temporal existence persist and cannot be willed away. Because entities both change and abide, the possibility of reference remains. In “The Dry Salvages,” Eliot gives us the ominous portrait of the “ragged rock in the restless waters” (118) upon which waves constantly crash: “In navigable weather it is always a seamark / To lay a course by: but in the sombre season / Or the sudden fury, is what it always was” (121–23). The rock is dependable enough to successfully navigate by and solid enough to wreck the storm-tossed ship. It is ignored at one’s peril, and its reality is confirmed by the suffering it regularly causes. The rock becomes emblematic of the causes of human suffering in general, from epistemic and ethical error to physical pain. This does not mean that both thinkers turn their backs on the fabrication involved in human knowing and representing, a fabrication upon which Nietzsche insisted. Both realize that any soteriological goal passes through an imperfect discourse that must describe the problem, suggest the solution, and point to the ultimate illumination, regardless of how ineffable it might be. The allusion in “East Coker” to “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which the poet must deal with “feeling” and “emotion” in a dialectic of passivity and activity, deploys the kind of epistemic moderation Nagarjuna presents when he insists that words depend on externality on the one hand and subjective grasping on the other. To understand human knowing, one must take into consideration both human fabrication and that which happens to human knowers. Both are dependent on one another. Ultimately, for both Eliot and Nagarjuna, the middle way stretches discourse between past and future, interior and exterior, deception and expression. As mentioned earlier, the middle way is also a reference to the beginning of Dante’s pilgrimage from darkness to light, from obscurity to clarity, from desire to love. Eliot wrote of Dante in The Clarke Lectures that, in his brand of mysticism, “the divine vision of God could only be attained by a process in which the analytic intellect took part; it was through and by and beyond discursive thought that man could arrive at beatitude” (Eliot 1993, 99). The path to salvation for Eliot, as for Madhyamaka Buddhism, begins with discursive thought and cultivation, leading beyond it to a moment in which the individual’s intentionality and desire are completely transformed and overcome. It is true that for Eliot, and not for Nagarjuna, this moment is the moment of Christian grace and love. Eliot will only go so far with the Buddhist. Nevertheless, both thinkers would realize the paradoxical nature of this moment. Both would assert that, prior to that moment, the striving to realize the transformation must pass through discourse relentlessly, rigorously, and with a profound humility in the face of ambiguity: “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business” (189). The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for JAAR as well as Cynthia Eller for their insightful suggestions toward the revision of this article. REFERENCES Arnold , Daniel . 1998 . “ Mapping the Middle Way: Thoughts on a Buddhist Contribution to a Feminist Discussion .” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 14 ( 1 ): 63 – 84 . Collins , Steven . 1982 . Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism . New York : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dante , Alighieri . 1970 . Inferno: Text . Translated by Charles S. Singleton . Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press . ——. Inferno . 1996 . Edited and translated by Robert M. Durling . Introduction and notes by Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez. New York : Oxford University Press . Eliot , T. S . 1971 . Four Quartets . San Diego : Harcourt, Inc . ——. 1975 . “ Tradition and the Individual Talent .” In Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot ., edited by Frank Kermode . New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux . ——. 1993 . “ The Clarke Lectures .” The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry . Edited by Ronald Schuchard . London : Faber and Faber . ——. 2005 . The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose . Edited by Lawrence Rainey . New Haven : Yale University Press . Ganeri , Jonardon . 2012 . The Concealed Art of the Soul: Theories of Self and Practices of Truth in Indian Ethics and Epistemology . New York : Oxford University Press . Garfield , Jay L ., trans. 1995 . The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika . New York : Oxford University Press . ——. 2002 . Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation . New York : Oxford University Press . Gethin , Rupert . 1998 . The Foundations of Buddhism . New York : Oxford University Press . Kearns , Cleo McNelly . 1987 . T. S. Eliot and Indic Traditions: A Study in Poetry and Belief . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nietzsche , Friedrich . 1992 . “ Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense .” In Critical Theory Since Plato , translated by Mazemilia A. Mügge, edited by Hazard Adams , 634 – 39 . Rev. Ed. Fort Worth, TX : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich . Perl , Jeffrey M. , and Andrew P. Tuck . 1985 . “ Foreign Metaphysics: The Significance of T. S. Eliot’s Philosophical Notebooks, Part One .” The Southern Review 21 ( 1 ): 79 – 88 . Singleton , Charles S . 1970 . Inferno: Text and Commentary . Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press . Tuck , Andrew P . 1990 . Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship: On the Western Interpretation of Nagarjuna . New York : Oxford University Press . Warren , Henry Clarke . 2004 . A Buddhist Reader: Selections from the Sacred Books . New York : Dover Publications . Williams , Paul . 1989 . Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations . New York : Routledge . Footnotes 1 All references to Four Quartets will be given as line numbers of the poem under discussion. 2 Indeed, a reference to the Buddhist notion of samsara, the round of rebirth, is strongly implied. Further, the fire here, as so often in the Quartets, symbolizes human desire and attachment, here with a particularly sexual valence. One is reminded of the Buddha’s “Fire Sermon,” to which Eliot specifically referenced in The Waste Land (Eliot 2005, 62). 3 All citations of the Commedia are taken from the translation by Charles S. Singleton, Inferno: Text (Dante 1970) and will be accompanied by chapter and verse numbers: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / che le diritta via era smarrita” (I.1–3). 4 I am indebted to Michael Murrin for this interpretation of the beasts in Inferno (personal communication). According to Durling and Martinez, any ascription of allegory here has to be conjecture (Dante 1996, 36). Murrin’s interpretation differs somewhat from Charles Singleton’s interpretation in his Commentary to Inferno. He suggests that the she-wolf represents “concupiscentia” or “cupiditas” (Singleton 1970, 10) and that the lion “raging with hunger” (I.47) a desire for consumption threatening to tear the pilgrim off the path before him. He does not have a suggestion for the leopard, though he sums up Dante’s passage with the general observation that, at the very least, the three animals represent “sinful dispositions” (Singleton 1970, 10). 5 This kind of poetic wrestling has, in fact, already been described earlier. Recall the passage from “Burnt Norton” similar to this one: “Words strain, / Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, / Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, / Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, / Will not stay still” (148–52). 6 Garfield’s translation and commentary in turn owe much to the Tibetan Geluk-pa tradition, both to its classical commentaries (by such figures as Chandrakirti and Tsong Khapa) and to its contemporary Tibetan expositors (such as Geshe Yeshes Thap-Khas and Gen Lobzang Gyatso) (see especially Garfield 1995, 97–98, where Garfield acknowledges these debts). Garfield’s translation and his analytical essays on the Madhyamaka have reignited debates on Nagarjuna, challenging some prominent readings of his texts influenced by deconstruction and Wittgenstein. For a history of the interpretation of Nagarjuna in the West, see Tuck 1990. For further elucidations of Garfield’s reading of Nagarjuna, see his essays collected in Garfield 2002. 7 All references to Garfield’s translation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika will be given in chapter and verse numbers. Translation and Commentary by Jay L. Garfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 8 Collins’ references are from the Samyutta Nikaya, II.13–14, II.62. 9 See also Gethin 1998, 145–46. Jonardon Ganeri has traced various Indian teachings of multiple levels of truth from the Upanishads and early Buddhist texts to later, more systematic accounts. See Jonardon Ganeri, 2012. 10 Garfield admits as much: “Though subject and object as well as internal and external objects are, for Nagarjuna, all ultimately empty and, in important senses, interdependent, they are not identical. Physical objects are, as Kant would emphasize, empirically external to the mind in a way that pains are not; and the conventional perceiver is not one with the perceived. When I see an elephant, it is not, thereby, the case that I have a trunk!” (Garfield 1995, 185, n. 59). 11 Paul Williams, in his important book Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, is by and large in agreement with this interpretation. He describes “emptiness” as “in a sense, an abstraction. It is the absence of inherent existence and is seen through prajna, analytic understanding in its various forms … It is the absence of inherent existence itself related to the object which is being critically examined in order to find out if it has inherent existence” (Williams 1989, 62). In other words, emptiness is posited of entities once one has analytically and contemplatively searched for essence and not found one. Once essence is not found, the phenomenon itself can be said to be empty, though still conventionally existent. 12 Alternately, Williams has deftly summed this up, stating, “We should not think that this world is empty but nirvana is some really existing alternative realm or world. Nirvana is attainable here and now through the correct understanding of the here and now” (Williams 1989, 69). 13 This becomes Nagarjuna’s defense of the Buddhist path, with all its intentional activities. Collins has remarked on the distinction that he, following M. E. Spiro, makes between kammic and nibbanic Buddhism. Kammic Buddhism is the process of undertaking the right kinds of actions to obtain better rebirths, while nibbanic Buddhism is the rarefied practice undertaken by monks intent on attaining the ultimate soteriological release (Collins 1982, 16). Collins makes this distinction to explain how Buddhism could provide for participation by both villagers and religious monastic virtuosos, but I believe the same model can hold for the Buddhist path as a whole, and in other contexts. This distinction allows the element of cultivation, bhavana, into Buddhism. To attain nirvana, one must undergo a cultivation of the self that begins with the proper actions, and continues through the proper meditation techniques. Indeed, the Buddhists added their own particular brand of meditative technique, vipassana meditation, to the more broadly practiced samadhi meditation. This meditation passed through the “one-pointedness” of samadhi to a reinsertion of Buddhist analysis within this conceptual meditative tranquility (Collins 1982, 111). Thus, even in the most extensive stages of meditation, some sense of mental cultivation is at work. It is through this combination of calm abiding and intentional analysis that an impossible transformation takes place; the desires of the self are finally arrested and cease, and the monk is able to see things truly. In the Madhyamaka, this means attaining great creative powers: “When he arises from his meditation he still sees inherent existence, but he knows that this is not how things are, and he is like a magician viewing his own creations” (Williams 1989, 73). The end result, then, is the world viewed differently, as a soteriological laboratory that the newly awakened meditator can manipulate to bring others to the same enlightenment. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 8, 2018
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