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zen philosophy
These essays deal with Zen philosophy or an analysis of Zen Buddhism using philosophical methods, both Western and Eastern. Essays are listed alphabetically by author. Questions, broken links, suggestions, etc, please . Search thezensite
Maseo Abe: Self-Awakening and Faith — Zen and Christianity Abe looks at some of the differences between Zen and Christianity pointing out the contrasts between God and Nothingness, faith and enlightenment and salvation and self-awakening. from Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes (Faith Meets Faith Series) Orbis Books, 1990

Yoko Arisaka: Beyond "East and West": Nishida's Universalism and Postcolonial Critique Arisaka looks at Kitaro Nishida's philosophical "universalism" which Nishida's defenders claim is incompatible with imperialist nationalism and finds that "Philosophical universalism is not in itself anti-imperialist, but can in fact contribute to imperialist ideology." from The Review of Politics 59:3, Summer 97, pp. 541-560

Michael Berman: Time and Emptiness in the Chao-Lun Berman looks at the Madhyamika Buddhist-Taoist Seng-chao's Book of Chao and discusses the use of language and how Seng-chao, through sunyata and marga, understood time. from Journal of Chinese Philosophy Vol 24, 1997 pp43-58

Chung-Ying Cheng: On Zen (Ch'an) Language and Zen Paradoxes “this essay plans to inquire into the logical and semantical significances of the dialogic exchanges (kung-an, koan) in Zen language and discourse as well as to clarify their methodological and ontological basis…In what logically intelligible way does a puzzle or a paradox as generated in a dialogic exchange derive its extraordinary meaningfulness as a tool for reaching or revealing the ultimate truth?…How is the paradoxicality or puzzlement of such a puzzle or paradox to be rationally explained and logically dissolved?” from Journal of Chinese Philosophy
——Onto-Epistemology of Sudden Enlightenment in Chan Buddhism: Cheng explores the epistemology of enlightenment and the relationships between enlightenment and knowledge. from Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, May 2000

Sungtaeik Cho: The Rationalist Tendency in Modern Buddhist Scholarship: A Revaluation The author argues that Buddhism cannot be understood by rational Western philosophical methods but reminds the reader that Buddhist thought is based on knowledge acquired through meditation. A short essay, but worthy. Originally published: Philosophy East and West Vol.52 No. 4 Oct. 2002

Michael Clasquin: Real Buddhas Don't Laugh: Attitudes towards Humour and Laughter in Ancient India and China Clasquin tries to answer why Zen uses humour when the Vinaya and other codes of conduct expressly forbid laughter. He investigates early Hindu humour and uses modern philosophy to discover the types of humour in Zen. from Social Identities, Volume 7, Number 1, 2001

Edward Conze: In this two-part series of essays, Conze looks at similarities and differences between Western philosophy and Buddhist thought. Conze says, "my interpretation of Buddhism is the conviction ... that it is essentially a doctrine of salvation, and that all its philosophical statements are subordinate to its soteriological purpose." In Buddhist Philosophy and It's European Parallels, Conze finds "only three currents of European philosophy which can significantly be compared with Buddhism, i.e., [1] the Greek Skeptics, [2] the wisdom-seeking mystics, and [3] the monists and dialecticians." In the second part, Spurious Parallels to Buddhist Philosophy, Conze points out "When we compare Buddhist and European thought, it happens quite often that the formulations agree, whereas considerations of their context, of the motives behind them, and of the conclusions drawn from them suggest wide discrepancies. Verbal coincidences frequently mask fundamental divergences in the concepts underlying them." from Philosophy East and West 13, no.1, January 1963.

Carl Hooper: Koan Zen and Wittgenstein’s Only Correct Method in Philosophy Koan Zen is a philosophical practice that bears a strong family resemblance to Wittgenstein’s approach to philosophy.Both koan Zen and Wittgenstein’s method set limits to the reach of philosophical discourse. Each rules metaphysical speculation out of bounds. Neither, however, represents a rejection of the metaphysical. Where Wittgenstein enjoins silence in the face of the unsayable, a silence that allows the metaphysical to show itself, koan Zen calls for concrete demonstrations of that which cannot be captured in rational discourse.
Asian Philosophy Vol. 17, No. 3, November 2007, pp. 283–292


Henry Cruise: Early Buddhism: some recent misconceptions"The main point is that there is a case to be made that Early Buddhism was empirical, in the way that modern science might be said to be empirical. but not in the way in which "the Lord Buddha finds himself conscripted as a supporter of the British Philosophical tradition of empiricism'." from Philosophy East and West, Volume 33, no.2 April, 1983

Robert Ellis : How Buddhist Was Plato? Plato and his teacher Socrates laid the foundation for Western philosophy. Ellis explores Platonic thought in a Buddhist light: "Plato does seem to have betrayed the most basic principles of his teacher, but the tendencies, which gave rise to that betrayal, are already present in Socrates' view as it is reported in the Socratic dialogues. From a Buddhist viewpoint the weaknesses can be clearly seen as due to a failure to fully understand a non-dualist approach, which could have given greater consistency to the flashes of insight that, we find in both Socrates and Plato."

Ronald Epstein: The Transformation Of Consciousness Into Wisdom In The Chinese Consciousness-Only School According To The Cheng Wei-Shi Lun Epstein looks at the consciousness-only school of Buddhism and briefly delineates the stages of transformation, and how after transformation is complete and Buddhahood has been realized, tries to indicate how the immanent aspect of Buddhahood utilizes wisdom to function in the world.

 Bernard Faure: Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm Faure uses structural criticism to analyse Bodhidharma's life as a literary piece belonging to the genre of hagiography, rejecting obsolete concepts of historical individuality and all methodological extremes to reach a new, limited understanding of "Bodhidharma's coming from the West".

Asaf Federman: Literal Means and Hidden Meanings: a New Analysis of Skillful Means Federman explores what is meant by "skillful means". "Skillful means is therefore not a mere pedagogical device of matching the right simile to the right person. It is also not exactly the idea that the teachings should be abandoned after a person reaches a goal. It is rather a sophisticated explanatory tool that enables a new religious movement to claim that what has been widely accepted as true is actually not true, and that truth is, and has always been, something else. " from Philosophy East & West Volume 59, Number 2 April 2009 125-141

Toby Avard Foshay: Denegation, Nonduality and Language in Derrida and Dogen   Buddhism and post-modernism for those who love this kind of thing. from: Philosophy East and West.

Philip Goodchild : Speech And Silence In The Mumokan: And Examination of the Use of Language In Light of the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze . This essay attempts to "extract interpretative methods and concepts from Deleuze's work in order to make use of them in observing exactly how language is used in the Mumonkan" — a language-based interpretation of koans. Interesting essay. Originally published in Philosophy East and West, Jan93, Vol. 43 Iss. 1

Peter D. Hershock : From Vulnerability to Virtuosity: Buddhist Reflections on Responding to Terrorism and Tragedy. How do Buddhists approach the terrorism abroad in our world? Hershock has some ideas. A good essay. see also David Loy

Person as Narration: the Dissolution of 'Self' and 'Other' in Ch'an Buddhism Hershock discusses how 'self' and 'other' are only "conventions within a story" as Buddhism recognises neither. The implications of this for 'karma' are explored and Hershock sees tun-wu not as "sudden enlightenment" but as "readiness to awaken." A very interesting and important point is raised here. from Philosophy East and West, Oct., 1994 v44 n4 p685

Linda Holt: From India to China: Transformations in Buddhist Philosophy Holt explores how the foreign religion of Indian Buddhism was adapted to Chinese philosophical ideals, culture and language. from: Qi: The Journal of Eastern Health & Fitness, 1995

Christopher Ives: Not Buying into Words and Letters: Zen, Ideology, and Prophetic Critique Judging from the active participation of Zen leaders and institutions in modern Japanese imperialism, one might conclude that by its very nature Zen succumbs easily to ideological co-optation. But is this true and can Zen do anything about it? Christopher Ives believes Zen can resist dominant ideologies. from Journal of Buddhist Ethics Vol 13, 2006

Yun-hun Jan: The mind as the buddha-nature: The concept of the Absolute in Ch'an Buddhism Jan looks at how the Mind has been defined in various Chan schools and how Tsung-mi sought to clear up the confusion between these various schools. from Philosophy East and West Volume 31, Number 4 October 1981

Hiroshi Kanno: The Modern Significance of the Lotus Sūtra: Kanno explains parts of the Lotus Sūtra, especially some of the metaphorical language and stories. However, regardless of the title, Kanno does not really relate the Lotus Sūtra to modern times. The Journal of Oriental Studies Vol. 14 October, 2004

T. P. Kasulis: Truth and Zen : a very philosophical look. Kasulis looks at how Aristotle, Thomas, Hui Neng, Lin Chi and Dogen approached the issue of 'truth'. He finds that Zen and Western philosophy diverge "when they consider what the purpose of thinking  is and what  the basic relationship  between man and world is." It's not so much that they think differently, rather they "disagree about what we should think about." from: Philosophy East and West Vol. 30. No. 4 1980

T. P. Kasulis: Zen as a Social Ethics of Responsiveness One reason traditional Chan or Zen did not develop a comprehensive social ethics is that it arose in an East Asian milieu with axiologies already firmly in place. Since these value orientations did not conflict with basic Buddhist principles, Chan/Zen used its praxes and theories of praxis to supplement and enhance, rather than criticize, those indigenous ethical orientations. When we consider the intercultural relevance of Zen ethics today, however, we must examine how its traditional ethical assumptions interface with its Western conversation partners. This paper analyzes special philosophical problems arising when one tries to carry Zen moral values without modification into Western contexts. from Journal of Buddhist Ethics

John P. Keenan: The Emptiness of Christ: A Mahayana Christology To overcome the conflicting nature between a divine Christ and a human Christ, Keenan turns to Mahayana philosophy where the concept of emptiness and dependent co-arising eliminates the duality. Many will find this an interesting essay. from Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 75 No. 1

Gereon Kopf:Critical Comments on Nishida's Use of Chinese Buddhism Knopf explores how Nishida uses Buddhism concepts in his philosophy and explores Nishida's hermeneutical method of application of Buddhist texts. from Journal of Chinese Philosophy 32:2 (June 2005) 313–329

Lewis R Lancaster : Discussion of Time in Mahayana Texts : the author discusses some aspects of how Mahayana scriptures perceived time. from: Philosophy East and West 24, no. 2, April 1974

Stephen W. Laycock: The Dialectics of Nothingness: A Reexamination of Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng . A highly abstract philosophical look at the two gathas of Shen-hsiu and Hui-neng. Laycock argues “that Shen-hsiu's position entails that of Hui-neng; and… that Hui-neng's position likewise entails that of Shen-hsiu. But more than simply this, … show[s] that the dialectical interinvolvement of the two contrasting insights has serious ramifications for contemporary occidental phenomenology.” from Journal of Chinese Philosophy Vol.24, 1997

David Loy: How to Reform a Serial Killer: The Buddhist Approach to Restorative Justice This article considers how Buddhist perspectives on crime and punishment support the contemporary movement toward restorative (in place of retributive) justice. Loy concludes with some reflections on why our present criminal justice systems serve the purposes of the state better than the needs of offenders and their victims. from Journal of Buddhist Ethics No. 7 (2000) pp. 145-168

Shiro Matsumoto: Critical Considerations on Zen Thought : an essay by Professor Matsumoto which discusses zen thought and the cessation of thinking and aatman/Buddha nature.

Stephen McCarthy: Why the Dalai Lama Should Read Aristotle McCarthy argues that the rhetoric of ‘Asian values' as opposed to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights doesn't hold up. Buddhist values as expressed by the Dalai Lama match closely those values declared by Aristotle. from Journal of Buddhist Ethics 8 (2001): 42 - 60

Douglas K. Mikkelson: Aquinas and Dōgen on Poverty and the Religious Life Recent efforts to articulate Buddhist ethics have increasingly focused on “Western” ethical systems that possess a “family resemblance” sufficient to serve as a bridge. One promising avenue is the employment of Aristotelian-Thomistic thinking in seeking to understand certain manifestations of Buddhism. More specifically, we can explore how the thinking of Thomas Aquinas may serve to illuminate the moral vision of the Zen Master Dōgen on specific topics, such as that of “poverty and the religious life.” from Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Robert J. Moore: Dereification in Zen Buddhism The goal of this article is to develop the concept of "dereification" in religion and to explain certain aspects of Zen Buddhism. To this end, Moore argues that conversion to Zen Buddhism is actually a resocialization process characterized by the acquisition of dereifying perception. While earlier accounts of dereification in religion have remained at a very general theoretical level, Moore tries to give a more empirical account of dereification by showing (1) that it corresponds to a concept used by religious practitioners themselves, emptiness, (2) that it is developed through particular religious practices, meditation, and (3) that it is involved in actual forms of religious interaction, koan training.from: Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 36 No. 4 Fall95, p.699-724


Charles Muller: Innate Enlightenment and No-thought: A Response to the Critical Buddhist Position on Zen Muller questions the "characterization of innate enlightenment thought " and how the term is used in Ch'an texts and argues that the concept of "no-thought" does not mean abscence of thought but that the concept means "non-attached thought". A paper delivered to the International Conference on Sŏn at Paekyang-sa, Kwangju, Korea, August 22, 1998

Shigenori Nagatomo: The Logic of the Diamond Sutra: A is not A, therefore it is A Nagatomo looks at the "logic of not" in the Diamond Sutra. Although the logic seems illogical, this is only because one tends to look at it from an Aristotelian dualistic view... "in order to properly understand it, one must effect a perspectival shift from the dualistic, egological stance to a non-dualistic, non-egological stance." from Asian Philosophy, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2000

Jin Y. Park: Zen Language in Our Times: the case of Pojo Chinul's huatau meditation Park discuss the role of language in huatau meditation, focusing on Korean Zen Buddhism. from Philosophy East & West, Vol 55 No. 1, Jan. 2005

The Putative Fascism of the Kyoto School and the Political Correctness of the Modern AcademyThe title says a lot! Parkes goes after "critical treatments of the Kyoto School thinkers at the hands of Tetsuo Najita and H. D. Harootunian, Bernard Faure, Karatani Kojin, and Leslie Pincus." Of serious academic interest only. from Philosophy East and West, V47, N3, July 1997

Fabio Rambelli: Buddhism and Semiotics Rambelli explores some of the basics of Buddhist language, its role in building and articulating perceived reality. If, as stated in some Buddhist sutras, the words of ordinary language are related to superficial aspects of phenomena, uttered in dreams, conditioned by fallacious attachment to wrong ideas, and forever conditioned by the seeds of suffering, what is the status of the words of the Buddha? from Volume 6 (1) of The Semiotic Review of Books

Rein Raud: ‘Place’ And ‘Being-Time’: Spatiotemporal Concepts In The Thought Of Nishida Kitarō And Dōgen Kigen "Perhaps the best known among ... spatiotemporal East Asian concepts are the notions of ‘place’ (basho) of Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945) and the ‘being-time’ (uji) of Dōgen Kigen (1200–1253). This article is an effort at a comparative analysis of these notions, focusing especially on Nishida’s philosophy as a synthesis of Western and Asian philosophical discourses." An interesting essay comparing Nishida and Dōgen's approach to a fundamental philosophical/religious problem. from Philosophy East and West - Volume 54, Number 1, January 2004, pp. 29-51

Henry Rosemont Jr: Is Zen a Philosophy? Rosemont argues that, putting aside the soteriological function of Zen, it is a philosophy, or at least has philosophy embedded in it. So why do Zen commentators such as Alan Watts and D T Suzuki claim there is no philosophy in Zen? An interesting, easy to read essay. Should lead to lots of arguments! from Philosophy East & West

Anton Sevilla: Approaching the Language of Zen: Clarke, Heidegger, and the Meaning of Articulation in Zen Koans
Through a number of koans, Sevilla explores the notion of Zen articulation as 'unsaying,' and 'poetic speech,' and through Martin Heidegger's theory of language and the notions of logos and aletheia, Sevilla attempts to clarify and expound on the meaning of 'unsaying' and 'poetic speech.' original source

Ben-Ami Scharfstein: Salvation By Paradox: On Zen And Zen-like Thought "If, as I have argued, our intelligence is an anxiety-arousing instrument designed to rid us of anxiety, then Zen is anti-intellectual in the sense of attempting to rid us of anxiety in general (over everything except, perhaps, the attempt to get rid of anxiety). Zen makes its attempt by, among other things, lowering the demands of our intelligence as such. One of the signs that we have in fact arrived at the Zen goal is the ability to suspend our normal logic and play freely with concepts." Journal of Chinese Philosophy, V. 3 (1976) pp. 209-234

Kevin Schilbrack: Metaphysics in Dogen "The first section of this essay introduces a definition of metaphysics that, although drawn from the Western philosophical tradition, is, I hope, generic enough to be useful for the study of philosophy outside the West, and then argues for the legitimacy of metaphysics as an interpretative tool for the understanding of Zen Buddhist thought. The second section spells out what I take to be the basic features of Dogen's metaphysics, and the third deals with a rival non-metaphysical interpretation of Dogen's philosophy. from: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 50, No. 1 (January 2000)

James D. Sellmann & Hans Julius Schneider Liberating Language in Linji and Wittgenstein The aim of this paper is to explicate some unexpected and striking similarities and equally important differences between Wittgenstein's methodology and the approach of Chinese Chan or Japanese Zen Buddhism. "The Zen approach to life most definitely sheds some light on what Ludwig Wittgenstein was ‘pointing’ at or trying to show through his kōanic or kōan-like use of philosophical problems. Wittgenstein’s analysis provides a way for understanding what the Zen master is doing. "Asian Philosophy, Vol. 13, Nos. 2/3, 2003

Leland E Shields: Zen Koans as Myths Jungian psychotherapist Shields looks at how "Jung's methods
of seeking wisdom in myth are applied to Zen koans to explore the process of individuation." from Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Volume 4, Number 4

Mark Siderits: On the Soteriological Significance of Emptiness What role does 'emptiness' play in ending suffering? Siderits tackles this question: "The doctrine of emptiness is said to be the remedy that purges itself along with the cause of one’s lingering illness. One sometimes senses that critics of the semantic interpretation believe it would be just too disappointing if this turned out to be all there were to the doctrine of emptiness. Perhaps the feeling of disappointment is a sign that emptiness is doing the purging work for which it was intended. " from: Contemporary Buddhism, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2003

Jonathan Silk: What, If Anything, Is Mahayana Buddhism? Problems Of Definitions And Classifications Silk tries to find a definition of Mahayana Buddhism. It turns out not be as simple as it sounds. This is a very long essay. from Numen Vol. 49

Ivan Strenski: Gradual Enlightenment, Sudden Enlightenment and Empiricism "I want to see how epistemological perspectives might illuminate the shape of Buddhist attitudes toward the gradual or sudden attainment of enlightenment. Using a modified and rather informal structuralism, I want to compare the structures of institutionalized theories of knowledge with the structures of meditational practices and beliefs to see whether one might understand the characteristics of these practices and beliefs in terms of their underlying epistemological structure." Philosophy East and West v.30 n.1 (January 1980) pp.3-20

Kirill Ole Thompson: When a White Horse Is Not a Horse Thompson looks at the paradox that a white horse is not a horse (pai-ma fei ma) and the "Treatise on the White Horse" (Pai-ma lun) attributed to Master Kung-sun Lung (fl. 284-259 B.C.) [which] have alternatively astonished and perplexed readers for over two millennia. from Philosophy East & West, Oct, 1995, Vol. 45, Iss. 4

John M Thompson: Particular and Universal: Problems posed by Shaku Soen's "Zen" Thompson approaches Soen's teaching from a mystical viewpoint. "...it becomes evident that in ignoring him [Soen], scholars have overlooked a significant source of material for the academic study of mysticism." Thompson also briefly covers Soen Roshi's militarism. original source

Shizuteru Ueda: Silence and Words in Zen Buddhism "The topic of this article is the self-less self and more particularly this self in its connection with the problem of language. " Ueda explores how language and silence are used in Zen to lead to the 'true self'. from: Diogenes No. 170, Vol 43/2, Summer, 1995

Youru Wang: The Pragmatics of ‘Never Tell Too Plainly’: indirect communication in Chan Buddhism This is a philosophical investigation of the linguistic strategy of Chinese Chan Buddhism. It examines the underlying structure of Chan communication, which determines the Chan pragmatics of 'never tell too plainly' revealing what the Chan `special transmission’ means. This essay also investigates the different types of the Chan strategies of indirect communication, such as the use of paradoxical, tautological and poetic language, which best demonstrate the principle of 'never tell too plainly'. from Asian Philosophy, Vol. 10, No.1, 2000

Dale S. Wright: Rethinking Transcendence: The Role of Language in Zen Experience Wright questions whether enlightenment "stands altogether beyond the shaping power of language and culture". He also looks at the role language played in the origins and development of the monsastic community, a community that made the Zen experience of awakening possible. Very interesting essay for those that see the Zen experience "not dependent on language and texts". Is that true? from Philosophy East and West, vol 42, no 1, January 1992
——Satori and the Moral Dimension of Enlightenment This essay addresses the question posed by Brian Victoria's description of"moral blindness" in twentieth-century Japanese Zen masters by claiming that since Zen monastic training does not include practices of reflection that cultivate the moral dimension of life, skill in this dimension of human character was not considered a fundamental or necessary component of Zen enlightenment. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Vol 13, 2006



Yong Zhi: Human Actions Illustrated in Zen's Ox-Herding Pictures Yong Zhi takes us on a journey exploring the famous ten ox-herding pictures. from Humanities 2012, 1, 166–177; doi:10.3390/h1030166

Desheng Zong: Three Language-Related Methods In Early Chinese Chan Buddhism The primary concern of this essay is the history and philosophical significance of three language-related methods widely used in Chan practice during the golden age of Chinese Chan Buddhism, roughly from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. Zong looks at "the Bodhidharma Method", "the naming game" and "the four ways of Ju and Yi". An interesting essay about early Chan methodology. from Philosophy East and West 55.4 (Oct 2005): p584 (19)