Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Foucault, Buddhism and Disciplinary Rules

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

Foucault, Buddhism and Disciplinary Rules

Article excerpt

Foucault, Buddhism and Disciplinary Rules By Malcolm Voyce. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2017, vii + 182 pages, ISBN 978-1-4094-1080-5 (hardback), $141; ISBN 978-1-315-58285-6 (ebook) $50.

In the West, and especially in his native France, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was one of his century's most influential thinkers. Although mainly seen as a philosopher, he rode his highly original line of social inquiry roughshod across many disciplinary boundaries, from psychiatry and medicine, through penal systems and literary criticism, to administration and even accountancy-scandalizing the orthodox contributors to these fields at every turn.

Foucault's line of inquiry focused on how power is articulated at the societal and local institutional levels, and how it jumps the gap in between. In Discipline and Punish (1975), he showed how pre-modern power-the personal centralized power of the sovereign to impose his will through the threat of extreme violence on his scattered subjects-gave way to a disciplinary society in which power is decentered and manifests in local, institutionalized forms that rely on rule-based discipline. Particular discourses or ideologies impersonally generate these rules (in armies, prisons, asylums, factories, schools, and so on), which in turn produce a different kind of subject. She complies, not out of fear of some distant sovereign, but because she is already inducted into a disciplined way of life: habits, routines, gestures, and a certain etiquette constrain her actions-they are inscribed on her very body. Pre-modern monasteries pioneered this intimate kind of disciplinary power.

In his later work, Foucault modified this account of subjectivity in line with his interest in how some classical Greek and Roman philosophers, such as the Stoics, developed an aesthetic of the care of the self whereby one could fulfill one's human potential by systematically developing self-knowledge, and thereby cultivate a unique inner life as part of a virtuous and meaningful way of life. Although the subject is still very much socially constructed, Foucault suggested, she can leverage her disciplined way of life in order to transcend its limitations, claim a degree of freedom, and practice the exploratory kind of care of the self that the ancients extolled. A Buddhist following this line of inquiry might start wondering if it could apply to the monastic agenda and to the paradoxical role of the Buddhist monastic rule, the Vinaya, that sustains it.

Such an inquiring Buddhist can now find an erudite and lucid companion in Malcolm Voyce and his Foucault, Buddhism and Disciplinary Rules. In it he sets out to show how, taken together, Foucault's two analytical focuses-on discipline and on care of the self-evoke the dynamics of Vinaya-based practice, which can achieve compliance and social cohesion on the one hand and, at the same time, the possibility of a transgressive individual liberation on the other. Like Foucault himself, Voyce does not seek to elaborate a theoretical position, but rather to show what the one under consideration can achieve. As he quotes Foucault (132): "I would like my books to be a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through to find a tool which they can use.... I write for users, not readers."

Born in New Zealand, Voyce is a senior legal academic at Macquarie University in Sydney. He holds a doctorate in law based on a study of the Vinaya and another in sociology that analyses Foucault's principal ideas on power. The present book takes the reader through the recent research on-and controversies around-both the Vinaya and Foucault's reissue of the care of the self as a practice. Other major thinkers, such as Georges Bataille, an influence on Foucault, contribute to Voyce's fascinating suggestions on how we might understand the Vinaya and the monastic rituals around it, not least confession and the half-monthly Pātimokkha ceremony. Voyce takes his readers accessibly into the deeper recesses of the Vinaya, the teeming commentarial literature around it, and the otherwise daunting complexities of Foucault's thought. …

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