Playing with and without words
The radicalism of Hongzhou Chan has been portrayed as a product of the Chan imagination during the Song dynasty, which it clearly is to a degree. It is not solely a Song creation to the extent that it is already criticized for its radicalism and antinomianism by Zongmi during the Tang dynasty.62 Hongzhou and Linji
Chan—the identity and orthodoxy of which were stabilized in the Song period as a “golden age”63—are recognized for their simultaneous ruthless critique and creative exercise of communication. Its practice of indirect, paradoxical, and shocking ways of speaking pursues strategies that are simultaneously suspicious of language while elaborately employing it in manifold ways.
Chan “wordless words” and “speechless speech,” which struck a sympathetic interpreter like Carl Jung as mostly nonsensical, are extraneous to the extent that they should not be taken as establishing an absolute standard or reifying concepts of the Buddha and awakening, as indicated by Yuanwu Keqin И'^ЙШ (1063-1135).64 This manner of speaking without speaking and not speaking through speaking is incoherent if the expressive exercise of language is necessarily subordinate to its cognitive propositional use, or if it is impossible to performatively enact language against the referential character of language, as Carnap contended. McRae has described the significant difference between performative and referential utterances in Chan.65 Chan ways of speaking reveal the inadequacy of understanding language as purely cognitive, referential, and representational. Chan contests the deepest prejudices of Western philosophy concerning the essence and function of language. The tensions between performance and predication, experience and language should not be ignored nor unquestioningly reproduced, as the tensions clarify the extensive variety of linguistic tactics involved in ways of speaking that challenge conventional reified forms of speech and understanding.
Heidegger’s interpretation of language might be helpful in this context. He claimed that predicative or propositional thinking is intentional and can therefore only conceive “nothing” as either another something, as an object of predication, or as absurd.66 Heidegger disputed the semantic paradigm of conventional and formal logic, which Chenyang Li has shown is inadequate to Chinese thought, as it makes the derivative primary insofar as truth as correctness presupposes the more originary encounter with truth as the openness of disclosure.67 The issue of truth concerns being wakeful and attuned to the question:
Only if it belonged to the essence of philosophy to make the obvious incomprehensible and the unquestioned something questioned. Only if philosophy had the task of shocking common sense out of its presumptive selfglorification. Only if philosophy had the function of arousing us so that we become awake ...68
Heidegger stresses that, however inappropriately and inadequately, the transition from representational to recollective thinking proceeds through representational thinking.69 The transition from metaphysics to another kind of thinking proceeds through metaphysical questions.70 Representational and predicative thinking and the tension between predication and performance are part of the movement of thought interpreted as a practice rather than as a propositional assertion of referential and representational contents.
Chan linguistic practices allow us to reconsider Heidegger’s argument concerning language. Chan performatively places in question representational predication in utterances that themselves use predication, thus allowing each exercise of authority to be an occasion for criticism and further transformation.71 Such self-challenging and self-destructuring speaking is enacted in the Chan iconoclasm best exemplified in the shaped and reshaped figure of Linji, when—for instance—he advises Buddhists to kill the Buddha and the patriarchs or to become the genuine person without rank or position (wuwei zhenren —who
Linji described as “here in this lump of red flesh” and as “a shitty ass-wiper.”72 Revealingly, as Welter has demonstrated, it is the later texts that have Linji speak with rawness of the “lump of red flesh” and “dried lump of shit,” whereas earlier texts have him speak of the “body-field of the five skandhas” and “impure thing.”73
Given its literati and imperial patronage during the Song dynasty, Chan’s call for spontaneous naturalness and use of iconoclastic words and practices are not incompatible with established social-political life and can indeed reflect the mythic and ideological autonomy and self-stylized sensibilities of social-elites.74 Chan often although not inevitably has had a conservative social role throughout East Asia.75 The radicality of Chan Buddhism only develops in relation to the social-political conditions as well as the doctrinal, devotional, and ritual contexts of Buddhism that have produced it. This historical claim does not rule out that these conditions can themselves be transformed into questions through Chan destructuring practices.76
Chan’s behavioral and linguistic practices challenge conventional understanding for the sake of a transformation of a person’s comportment and disposition. These practices can enact an emptying and desacralization of what is popularly understood as sacred in order to point back to the “one great matter” (yidashi —AV): “There is only you, followers of the Way, this person in front of my eyes now listening to the dharma .. .”77 In another instance illustrating how Linji’s Chan aims at shifting perspectives, Linji is described as forbidding travel to Mount Wutai (Wutai Shan ?ЖШ), where popular devotional Buddhists believed the Bodhisattva Manjusri appeared.78 Linji’s Manjusri cannot be seen on a sacred mountain, it is revealed, because he is manifested in the performative enactment of one’s activity and practice. However, there is more going on than this recentering in one’s own heart-mind in the Linji yulu (Recorded
Sayings of Linji): there are episodes portraying Linji’s ambiguous success in dealing with Puhua ^^, an eccentric esoteric practitioner of crazy wisdom attributed with magical powers, who Linji strives to yet cannot quite expose.79 Despite Linji’s warnings, the sacred mountain of the bodhisattva of compassion continued to appeal to ordinary believers and Chan practitioners. In these encounter dialogues, which became the basis of various gongan, Chan is not as exclusively demythologizing or secularizing as a modern reader might wish. Linji’s Chan plays a dangerous game of ironic ambiguity and reversal that might lead to the freedom of transversing perspectives. Chan is not only desacralizing, it recognizes a degree of validity in other approaches and practices, as well as retaining its own moment of sacralization, while opening them and itself to their own fundamental non-substantial and self-emptying emptiness.
Linji’s practice of Chan might be described as having its own form of methodological atheism, reinterpreting all images and idols in relation to the question of one’s own way of living in the present moment. The secularization and demystification involved in Heidegger’s “methodological atheism" which is being reapplied to Heidegger’s own thinking of the nothing in this chapter insofar as it too is empty of itself, separates philosophy from faith (Glaube)— even as Heidegger asserts that faith as faith remains beyond and irreducible to the immanence of philosophical questioning. Destructuring (Destruktion) must struggle to renew itself in its enactment (Vollzug) and confrontation (Auseinandersetzung) with what has been handed down and solidified, and accordingly demands “a genuine confrontation with the history that we ourselves ‘are.’”80 Heidegger and Hongzhou/Linji Chan partake in a strategy that is partially analogous. This very existence is the “great issue” of concern and transformation. Chan “destructuring” and “authenticity” disclose what is “already” at play and the destructuring transcendence or transformation of everydayness remains immanent within the everyday existence of the ordinary mind that is itself the Way (pingchangxin shi dao ^^^^Ж).
Heidegger’s Dasein (existence in its temporal and worldly being-there) is ecstatic or transcendent in the sense of standing out in the world, irrupting amid beings. It surpasses the world as formative of world yet does not transcend the world in the sense of departure to another realm. This worldly transcendence is not derivative of intentionality, selfhood, or subjectivity but grounds the deep structures of the subject.81 Dasein cannot be restricted to the immanence of consciousness or perception, the subject or the “I,” even as it exists within worldly immanence as precisely this “each time one’s own” (jemeinig) “being-in- the-world” (in-der-Welt-sein).82
In contrast with the attitude of faith, which Heidegger described as a believing, revealing, and way of existing that does not arise spontaneously or immanently from and through Dasein itself, it is you yourself that is in each case in question in philosophizing; just as it is your own mind that is the great issue for Buddhist practice.83 What the Chan practices of Mazu and Linji transform is not the mind, as an independent entity, but how the mind relates to itself amid the myriad things, whether it mirrors things as a free responding to phenomena or is reactively absorbed in and attached to things.84 The point of emptying attachment and aversion is neither to be entangled in or turned around by things nor lost in their emptiness. One ought not be attached to and hindered by the Buddha himself in awakening to one’s condition.85 Authenticity in the self-transcendence of the conventional attached self is a modification rather than elimination of inauthenticity and the ordinary absorption in things. “We are," Heidegger stated, “overwhelmed and spellbound by beings," and Chan performative strategies aim at therapeutically breaking the spell.86
Both authenticity and inauthenticity are modes or transformed and individuated variations of the same everydayness. Instead of opposites or different worlds, in The Concept of Time authenticity is the realization of one’s constant inauthenticity and inevitable complicity with the ordinary mundane world that Buddhism identifies with karma. As self-relating finitude confronted by infinity, Dasein can only be at best authentically inauthentic or inauthentically authentic: “The authentic being of Dasein is what it is only insofar as it is inauthentically authentic, that is, ‘preserved’ in itself. [Authenticity] is not anything that should or could exist for itself next to the inauthentic.”87
One Hongzhou formulation borrowed from Nagarjuna states that nirvana is samsara and samsara nirvana (shengsi ji niepan ^ЖШШШ), just as suffering is awakening (fannao ji puti МШо? ^Ш). The discovery of what is in each case already happening, to use a phenomenological expression, is repeatedly emphasized by Linji, as in his retelling of a tale of Yajnadatta, the madman from Sravasti, from the Surangama Sutra (Dafo dingshou lengyan jing shelun ШШМШЙ): “A man of old tells us that Yajnadatta thought he had lost his head and went looking for it, but once he had put a stop to his seeking mind, he found he was perfectly all right”88 As in the Bodhisattva’s non-appearance on Mt. Wutai, what we seek is not external to us.89 Seeking intrinsically means not to find since it means already distancing and losing what is sought in Linji’s logic.90
Chan elucidates the inadequacy of language through language to phenomenologically and responsively express the truth of the matter, with its emphasis on a transmission from mind to mind outside of the scriptures and its perception of awakening as a lightning bolt that illuminates the mind. This play occurs within a set of historical conditions. Welter elucidates the internal Buddhist and external worldly political dimensions of such claims without reducing them to their political contexts, as claims to transmission establish lineage and authority as well as potential truth and authenticity91, especially “given Chan’s insistence upon lineage affiliation as the basis for legitimacy ...”92 Welter demonstrates how lineage, ideology, and doctrine do not necessarily overlap, and how their intersections become contested sites for reinterpreting and creating the past.93
Chan’s deconstructive and postmodern critics stress its instrumental view of language,94 and the flawed character of its “rhetoric of immediacy”95 Wright and Faure reject the idea that, in the words of Bodhidharma and other masters, one can use words to get beyond words (chaoyue wenzi de huayu Mm) and forget them in doing so.96 The practice of Buddhism is a vehicle that destructures itself in its being enacted for oneself, as “self-practice is the practice of the Buddha” and being the Buddha is the very practice of the Buddha.97 Practices, including linguistic ones, constitute the path and being-underway that is itself awakening. This performative rather than instrumental use of language entails that language is not a means to a nonlinguistic mystical exteriority transcending the world. As each time self-enacting, and potentially transformative, Chan practices are not best thought of as a form of mysticism much less fideism. It does not posit or set the subject in relation to an intransitive absolute; it dissolves the substantial subject whether interpreted through the unity of the one or the many.
The encounter with and transformation through emptiness is crucial to Chan, yet it is not itself the purpose or absolute. Emptiness cannot be interpreted according to the classical Christian philosophical conception of nothing as the negation or privation of being, or its modern ontotheological—including logical positivist—successors. In the Chan context, Zongmi interprets emptiness as a provisional negation to be relativized as a negative means inadequate to the ultimate positive soteriological end of becoming a Buddha.98 The Essentials of the Transmission of Mind (Huangbo shan Duanji chanshi chuanxin fayao
attributed to Huangbo, offers a different account, where emptiness is an abyss without limit or obstruction. It is not to be construed nihilistically by being instrumentalized as purely negative and derivative or rejected as a mere nothing and void.
It is necessary to attend to the context and sense of discourses of emptiness. In Huangbo’s discourse, the dharma does not signify that there are “no things”; it is a freedom and ease in relation to things. It is not being dependent on causes and things in the midst of their interdependent conditionality.99 Emptiness is spoken of as the source of being and nothing, mind and no-mind, and compared to the empty sky, empty hand, or the clarity of infinite empty space.100 Emptiness is fundamentally emptying; it is not an entity or something to be construed as an absolute reality that could be the object of a pure intuition or experience.101 It is itself empty, and in need of dereification through its own emptying in unsaying. Heidegger’s abyssal groundlessness of the ground, the non-essence that informs essence, approaches this conditionless condition.102 Being itself self-empty, emptiness attracts and repels language, as can be traced in the long multicultural history of the apophatic and dialetheist saying and unsaying of words.
Chan employs a performative language of indication, of gestures and hints, rather than a conceptualizing and categorizing language of explanation. Dale Wright describes how its language is performative rather than referential, while Jin Y. Park has elucidated the soteriological context and function of Zen Buddhist language games.103 Chan accordingly makes language useful for intimating that which seems beyond language, as its long intense history of literary production demonstrates. The poetic and paradoxical uses of language, indicating what is other than language and what is ultimately the same (if there is no entity or thing existing beyond the event of encounter and communication), require that Chan games and warnings be directed against the fixation of words and being transfixed by language: “genuine mind is not fixed, and genuine wisdom is not bounded"104 The call to “go beyond” is taken back in Chan with the assertion that there is no beyond to which to go, as each person is already sufficient without needing augmentation or diminishment.105 Just now, one is already there, and “this very inescapability itself is mediation.”106 Chan contains a double movement of transcending any absorption in ordinary daily life and responding to it in its immanence—empty and clear, spontaneously aware and responsive with untroubled mind in encountering and responding to situations, people, and circumstances.107 It means “not to forget the matter of birth and death while in the midst of the passions of the world"108
The way is not mystical or mysterious but rather described as being without difficulty. It is “perfect and complete right under everyone’s feet” and “pure and naked in the midst of everyday activities.”109 Since language is self-deconstructing in Chan without there being a primordial something or experience standing outside the self-reproduction and deconstruction oflanguage, there is nothing to cling to and calculate. Using without being absorbed in words and interpretations, as there is no ultimate definition or account that can be provided in words, Chan challenges and brings into question clinging to the language that one uses, including self-reflexively the language of non-clinging.110 The question that concerns us is the language of experience and the experience rather than a negation of language. The issue is our own being or mind and not “Being” or “Mind.” The self-destructuring of language and experience, that is their self-emptying, occurs through a variety of means—from the shout and the stick to the aporia and double-edged bind of the gongan. These work to disturb experience and language by showing their very uncanniness in Heidegger and their interdependent, impermanent, and empty character in Chan.
Chan Buddhism’s “mind to mind transmission” (yi xin chuan xin reveals the necessity of speaking otherwise. According to Dahui, “Today I speak this way, but then tomorrow I’ll speak otherwise ... Where will you search out my abiding place? Since I myself don’t even know, how can anyone else find where I stay?”111 The free, flexible, and creative use of indirect language is a primary feature. The richness and variety of Chan ways of speaking are not due to duplicity but to the communicative and self-deconstructing event of Chan awakening. If enlightenment is situational, and consequently irreducible to a formula or rule, if it requires one’s own enactment of it, then another cannot give it. The master evokes it through a flexible intrigue of words and gestures.
Enacting individuation without a fixed or unconditional self, the other’s awakening is on each occasion the other’s own. T. Griffith Foulk notes of koan practice, awakening consists in the dereification and demystification of the master and the master’s words.112 There is no “transmission” of mind, or any other content; there is a provocation to a mutual enactment of the event of enlightenment. Awakening can neither be given nor imposed. It is a resourceful engagement and appropriation that calls for letting go and emptying in order to be non-intentionally responsive to the suchness of things.113 “Just as they are,” according to Seosan, “effortlessly responding to conditions”; letting go of thoughts and conditions, “spring comes, and grass grows all by itself,” and “everything is the same true suchness, as it is, and yet everything is clearly distinct.”114 In his interpretation of Huangbo, Wright argues that no-self implies the practice of letting go, which is an opening up to the encounter, and spontaneous compassionate responsiveness.115