In this article, the concept of dereification in religion is developed,
both theoretically and empirically, by analyzing Zen Buddhism. The central
thesis is that Zen Buddhism, by virtue of the Mahayana concept
of"emptiness" (sunyata), constitutes a dereifying perspective. In addition,
using the phenomenology of Alfred Schutz, the experience of dereifying
perception, which is acquired through Zen meditation, is described as a
state of focused duree. Furthermore, several of the interactional methods
through which Zen practitioners demonstrate their dereifying perspective
are analyzed from an ethnomethodological and conversation analytic
perspective, and the role of these methods in koan training is explained.
Conversion to Zen Buddhism has distinctive features that are not found in
most other religions. While some sociologists (Bell 1979; Preston 1988;
Wilson 1984) have characterized the process of becoming a Zen Buddhist as
"desocialization," I will argue that this process is better characterized
as resocialization in which dereifying perception is acquired. According to
Berger's (1967) social constructionist approach, religions tend to
legitimate alienated and reifying views of the social world. That is, the
belief systems of religious institutions obscure the human production of
social objects, such as a moral code or a familial role, by depicting them
as the manifestation of some natural or divine order and, therefore, as
beyond human influence. However, Berger mentions that a few religions
legitimate a dealienated and dereilying view of their social world.
Unfortunately, his mention of dereifying religions is a passing one. Of
them Berger states, "While these different possibilities are of great
interest for a general sociology of religion, we cannot pursue them further
here" (1967, p. 98). Nowhere else does he pursue this idea. My aim is to
develop this conception of dereification in religion, both theoretically
and empirically, by analyzing Zen Buddhism and, at the same time, to
explain some of the more enigmatic aspects of Zen Buddhism, such as the
notion of "emptiness" (sunyata), the meditative state of "no-mind"
(mushin), and the practice of koan training.
First, I review the sociological literature on desocialization,
reification, and dereification. Then, I present my central thesis, that Zen
Buddhism, by virtue of the Mahayana concept of "emptiness" (sunyata),
constitutes a dereifying perspective of the social world. Next, I provide
a description of the experience of dereifying perception in Zen Buddhism,
beginning with a description of Zen meditation, followed by a
phenomenological analysis that draws on the work of Alfred Schutz. Finally,
using ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, I analyze some methods
through which Zen practitioners demonstrate their dereifying perspective to
each other in face-to-face interaction, and I explain the role of these
methods in the Zen practice of koan training.
Several sociologists have observed that conversion to Buddhism and other
Eastern spiritual traditions is radically different from that of other
religions and that it should not be conceptualized as "resocialization."
These scholars (Bell 1979, pp. 56-57; Preston 1988, pp. 64, 70; Wilson
1984, pp. 302-303) argue that earlier sociological accounts (Balch 1980;
Berger and Luckmann 1966; Straus 1979) that conceive of religious
conversion as a resocialization process (just like that involved in joining
any type of new group in which a new belief system is learned) are
inadequate for explaining conversion to Buddhism or Yoga. In these
traditions, one's intellect, the faculty by which one perceives the world
through language, beliefs, and culture, is viewed as a cause of ignorance
and delusion that in turn causes alienation and suffering. One of the
central goals of these traditions is to "liberate" individuals from the
oppressive effects of their own intellect and culture. Hence, according to
these sociologists, conversion to Buddhism and Yoga consists of
desocialization, the unlearning or elimination of habitual and problematic
ways of feeling, acting, perceiving, and thinking, acquired through
childhood socialization, which are mediated through language and culture
(Bell 1979, p. 55; Preston 1988, p. 73; Wilson 1984, p. 303).
Desociatization has serious problems as a sociological concept. First, the
concept as defined by the authors (Bell 1979; Preston 1988; Wilson 1984) is
too vague in that it does not specify which socialized habits are
eliminated. While the authors give some examples of habits that are
"unlearned"— such as the tendency "to fear or worship or lust after power"
(Bell 1979, p. 56), the inability to concentrate (Preston 1988, pp. 72-73),
or the tendency to experience guilt or stress (Wilson 1984, p. 303) — they
offer no criteria for determining which socialized habits are "problematic"
and therefore eliminated. Second, the term "desocialization" is misleading
because it implies a reversal of all socialization, in which case the
individual would lose the ability to participate in society. For example,
Erring Goffman defines "desocialization" as a "loss of fundamental
capacities to communicate and co-operate" (Goffman 1961, p. 13n.). Although
Inge Bell (1979), David Preston (1988), and Stephen Wilson (1984) define
"desocialization" as an empowering process rather than as a debilitating
one, earlier studies of Buddhism have defined it negatively; therefore,
the use of the term may lead sociologists to mistake this perspective for
another to which it is diametrically opposed. Third, the most serious flaw
with desocialization is the idea of "unlearning." Unlearning implies that,
in conversion to Zen Buddhism, old habits are eliminated without being
replaced by new habits. In fact, new habits, such as meditating, are
learned, and a sociological account of conversion to Zen Buddhism must
acknowledge and analyze them. Although the idea of "unlearning" accords
with the language of Buddhists themselves, it is problematic as a
sociological concept and instead should be recognized as a member's
With their desocialization perspective, Bell, Preston, and Wilson appear to
be attempting to capture how resocialization into a Zen group is distinctly
different from resocialization into most other types of groups: rather than
consisting of the substitution of one belief system or theory for another,
it is characterized by a change at the metatheoretical level. What is
learned by the initiate is not simply a new belief system but a new way of
perceiving all belief systems. In my view, rather than describing this
change as desocialization, which implies that everything gained through
childhood socialization is lost and that nothing new is learned, this
process is better characterized as resocialization in which dereifying
perception is acquired.
While the concept of "reification" in religion first appears in the works
of Ludwig Feuerbach, G. W. F. Hegel, and Karl Marx, I will use Berger and
his colleagues' social constructionist account of reification and
dereification as a springboard for this study. According to Berger and
Luckmann (1966), any social world is inherently precarious because it is
produced and maintained solely through human activity. If the members of a
society were to stop acting, not only would social institutions stop
functioning, but the social world as such would cease to exist. Although
social reality is dependent on its members' ongoing activities, it does not
necessarily appear as such to the members themselves. For them, the social
world is just there, apparently existing independently of any person's
constitutive knowledge or activity. Berger and Luckmann (1966), drawing on
Marx ([1867-1895] 1967), call this apprehension of the social world as an
independently existing world "reification." According to Berger and
Luckmann (1966, p. 89), "reification is the apprehension of the products of
human activity as if they were something else than human products — such as
facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will."
Members of society may reify or attribute an independent ontology to
language, ideas, roles, norms, institutions, and even self-identities. By
denying the status of these objects as human products, reification helps
stabilize the inherently precarious social world.
Reification is different from objectification, the process by which the
mind lifts one aspect of reality out of the overall flow of experience and
makes it a discrete object of consciousness (Berger and Pullberg 1965, p.
200). Reification, on the other hand, is the process of objectifying
reality and then, apprehending the object as an alien thing that is
independent of its producer. Furthermore, Berger and Pullberg (1965, p.
200) conceptualize reification in terms of "alienation":
By alienation we mean the process by which the unity of the producing and
the product is broken. The product now appears to the producer as an alien
facticity and power standing in itself and over against him, no longer
recognizable as product. In other words, alienation is the process by which
man forgets that the world he lives in has been produced by himself. . . .
Reification is objectification in an alienated mode.
Thus, reification is the objectification of reality by an alienated
According to Berger and his colleagues, although objectification is
"anthropologically necessary" for a society to exist, reification is not.
Therefore, dereification is a theoretical possibility (Berger and Pullberg
1965, p. 209). Although people have historically tended to perceive the
social world in a reifying manner, it is always possible for them to
recognize the objects of the social world as constructions produced solely
through human activity. Furthermore, in times of radical social change,
culture shock, or social marginality, particular social objects tend to be
dereified by the people involved (Berger and Pullberg 1965, p. 209). For
example, during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, proponents of
the women's rights movement drew attention to the fact that the definition
of the woman's role in society is a social construction, not a fact of
nature or a manifestation of divine will, and, therefore, it is alterable.
But even in times of social change, when particular social objects are
dereified, they tend to be replaced with new reified objects, and hence,
people's overall perception of the social world tends to be reifying.
In The Sacred Canopy, Berger (1967) applies his social constructionist
theory to religion. He asserts that religious institutions have functioned
historically to stabilize the social order of a society by legitimating
alienated and reified views of the social order (Berger 1967, p. 89). That
is, the mainstream religious institutions of a society provide an
explanation for why the world and the particular social order do and should
exist, which identifies divine will as their cause. Thus, the active role
that people play in producing their world is denied.
Berger (1967) also points to exceptions to this historical trend: religions
that legitimate a dealienated and, therefore, dereifying view of the social
world. These religions are found especially among Western and Eastern
forms of mysticism. In general, they identify "ultimate reality" as
beyond the empirical world, and thus they relativize the social order and
its norms by asserting that the empirical world is a conventionally
sustained illusion. For example, Berger states that the "more sophisticated
soteriologies of India" assert that the empirical world, including the
social order, is an illusion (maya) constructed by the mind using language
and commonsense knowledge (Berger 1967, p. 97; Bell 1979, p. 55; Watts
1957, pp. 40-42). This notion of the empirical world as illusion was
inherited by Buddhism (Hajime 1987, p. 223) and is part of the conceptual
basis of dereification in Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, these dereifying
religions present an interesting case because their goal is to produce
overall dereifying perception in their members. That is, particular
dereified objects are not replaced with different reified objects; all
social objects are dereified.
Douglas Maynard and Thomas Wilson (1980) offer an ethnomethodological
conception of reification that will be useful in analyzing dereification in
Zen Buddhism. Their definition of reification is based on the concept of
"reflexive determination," a kind of determination that is neither causal
nor logical, but contextual: a thing is what it is only in the context of
the other parts of the whole. Remove a thing from its context, and it
ceases to be what it is. Maynard and Wilson illustrate the concept of
reflexive determination by using perceptual pattern recognition as a
metaphor. In the case of the face/goblet illusion, one part is a "nose"
only in the context of other parts that form a "chin," a "mouth," and an
"eye." Remove the curve that constitutes the nose from the whole context,
and it ceases to be a "nose." In applying this perceptual metaphor to the
social world, Maynard and Wilson (1980, p. 293) say that "the whole
context" includes not merely the picture but also the perceiver and the
actions the perceiver performs in relation to the picture: "The crux of
this move is to recognize that the perceiver and his or her actions are
reflexively codetermined with the features of the perceived object in
exactly the same way as the nose and chin were in the metaphorical
Maynard and Wilson then define abstraction and reification in terms of
reflexive determination. Abstraction consists of removing an object or
relation between objects from its reflexive context on the basis of some
characteristic and treating it as identical with other objects of a
category (1980, p. 294). Abstraction is roughly equivalent to Berger and
his colleagues' notion of objectification. On the other hand, Maynard and
Wilson (1980, p. 294) define reification as the denial of the reflexive
embeddedness of an object in its context:
However, abstraction is not reification, for while abstraction neglects the
reflexive embeddedness of objects or relations, it does not deny that
embeddedness in principle. But when reality comes to take on the appearance
of consisting of abstracted objects and abstracted relations between them,
their reflexive embeddedness is denied effective factual status, and it is
proper to speak of reification.
Hence, while abstraction entails neglecting the reflexive relations of an
object to its context, reification entails the denial of those reflexive
Maynard and Wilson's conception of reification has a broader application
than that of Berger and his colleagues. For the latter (1965; 1966; 1967),
only the social world can be reified, not the world of nature. However,
Maynard and Wilson's (1980) conception of reflexive determination applies
to all aspects of the phenomenal world, including "nature." Although
natural objects themselves are not made by human activity, their phenomenal
status still requires the use of human language and commonsense knowledge.
When we walk into a "forest," we often utilize our knowledge of "forests"
and see particular aspects of our immediate experience as "trees," "rocks,"
"streams," and "mountains." Under Maynard and Wilson's conception of
reification, the concept "tree" can be reified in the same way that a
social product (commodity, relationship, role, etc.) is reified: by denying
the reflexive connections of the object named to its context, including the
perceiver's own constitutive practices. Henceforth, when I use the term
"social world," I will be referring not merely to the world of social
institutions and relations but to all aspects of the world as it is
experienced through the categories of commonsense knowledge. This
refinement is necessary because, according to Zen Buddhism, people reify
not only social institutions but all kinds of objects of their phenomenal
experience that they define using commonsense categories.
Burke Thomason (1982) offers a Schutzian definition of dereification
that explicates, more clearly than that of Berger and his colleagues, how
dereification occurs phenomenologically and that accords more closely with
Maynard and Wilson's conception of reification. Thomason (1982, p. 90)
Schutz is saying in effect that we can de-reify our experiences,
i.e. recall the subjective constituting processes out of which they
Our " . . . objectivities . . . [are] always capable . . . of being
'unfrozen' and brought back to their original active state" [Schutz 1932,
Any thing that is perceived as existing independently of the perceiver can
be dereified by recalling the subjective experiences out of which the
object was constituted and by apprehending the reflexive connections of the
object to its context,
Finally, a truly dereifying perspective is "radically reflexive" (Pollner
1991), in other words, one that, while it asserts that all social objects
are constructed through human activity, also recognizes that its own
assertions possess this same characteristic and, therefore, are vulnerable
to reification. For example, Melvin Pollner (1991, p. 370) describes
"radical reflexivity" in early ethnomethodology as the appreciation of the
accomplished character of all social activity, including
ethnomethodological work. In other words, while they were analyzing the
detailed practices in and through which people accomplish the accountable
features of social settings, the early ethnomethodologists also analyzed
the detailed practices in and through which they themselves accomplished
the accountable features of their ethnomethodological analyses. In a
similar way, dereifying perspectives in religion  recognize that their
own doctrines, even the doctrine that the empirical world is a
conventionally sustained illusion, are conventionally sustained illusions.
Such recognition causes doctrines and theories to lose any "absolute"
authority they may appear to possess when taken for granted and reified.
The result of this radical reflexivity in dereifying religions is the total
abandonment of representation as a means of realizing "ultimate truth."
Thus, instead of characterizing conversion to Zen Buddhism as
"desocialization," this conversion process is better characterized as
resocialization in which the initiate learns to perceive the social world
in a dereifying manner. I will develop this concept of dereification in
religion, both theoretically and empirically, and at the same time explain
some of the more enigmatic aspects of Zen Buddhism.
THE MAHAYANA CONCEPT OF "EMPTINESS"
Zen Buddhism is a Sino-Japanese form of Mahayana Buddhism, and it is with
the Mahayana conception of "emptiness" (sunyata) that we can begin to
understand dereification in Zen Buddhism. Buddhism originated in India
around the sixth century before the common era, as a reaction against
the religious and social order of the Brahman establishment (Gomez 1987, p.
52). The primary goal is liberation from the cycle of birth-and-rebirth
(samsara). According to the Buddhist theory of samsara, sentient beings are
continually reborn into several realms after they die. The law of karma
asserts that when one performs virtuous actions, one is reborn into the
higher, more pleasant realms, and, conversely, when one performs
nonvirtuous actions, one is reborn into the lower, more unpleasant realms.
Sakyamuni (563-483 B.C.E.), the historical Buddha ("one who has awakened"),
taught that the individual can attain liberation (nirvana) from the cycle
of birth-and-rebirth by eliminating all attachments to the things of this
world. All attachments are eliminated when one directly realizes the fact
of "no-self" (anatman) — in other words, that the self is an "illusion"
(maya) and, therefore, that there is no real basis for evaluating things as
desirable or undesirable. The Mahayana ("greater vehicle") school of
Buddhism, which emerged in India by the first century B.C.E., extended the
notion of no-self to all phenomena with the conception of "emptiness"
(sunyata): not only is the self an illusion, so is every discrete
phenomenon, and therefore, there are no real objects to become attached to
in the first place and there is no real self to do the grasping. Thus,
while the ordinary consciousness of the normally socialized individual is
in a state of "ignorance" (avidya) of the truth of emptiness,
"enlightenment" consists of the realization of emptiness.
Nagarjuna (150-250 C.E.) systematized the concept of "emptiness" (sunyata),
which first appeared in the Prajnaparamita Sutras (100 B.C.E.-200 C.E.),
and founded the first philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism
(Madhyamika). Rather than establishing a fixed dogma of his own, Nagarjuna
refuted all dogmatic views by showing how their initial propositions lead
to unwarranted conclusions (Hajime 1987, p. 230). In other words,
Nagarjuna's sunyata philosophy unfreezes all fixed and frozen (i.e.,
reified) concepts and extreme dichotomies  and is a "radically
reflexive" perspective that, like ethnomethodology, "unsettles" any version
of reality, making visible the work of settling (Pollner 1991, p. 376).
One of several ways Nagarjuna explains emptiness is by identifying it with
"dependent co-arising" (pratitya-samutpada): "Since things arise
dependently . . . they are without essence of their own; as they are
without essence, they are void (i.e., devoid of the thing itself), and
hence empty of 'own-being' "(Hajime 1987, p. 230). Nagarjuna's
interpretation of dependent co-arising is very similar to Maynard and
Wilson's (1980) "reflexive determination." According to the concept of
reflexive determination, a thing is what it is only in the context of the
other parts of the whole context in which it appears (Maynard and Wilson
1980, p. 293). T. R. V. Murti (1955, pp. 137-138) explains Nagarjuna's
interpretation of dependent co-arising in a very similar way: "Any fact of
experience is not a thing in itself; it is what it is in relation to other
entities, and these in turn depend on others. . . . There is no whole apart
from the parts and vice versa. Things that derive their being and nature by
mutual dependence are nothing in themselves; they are not real."
Understanding emptiness involves an appreciation of the mutual dependence
of or reflexive connections between any phenomenon and its context and the
ability to perceive "true reality" or "suchness" (tathata), in other words,
reality just as it is without the duality imposed by conceptual categories
(Hajime 1987, p. 223).
Being "radically reflexive" (Pollner 1991), the sunyata doctrine recognizes
itself, as well as every other Buddhist doctrine, as a relative
construction and, therefore, as incapable of capturing "ultimate truth," or
emptiness (Gomez 1987, pp. 79-80). Instead, emptiness can only be "directly
realized" or experienced, and this experience comes with the practice of
Buddhist meditation. For example, Zen Buddhists consider "sitting
meditation" (zazen) the only necessary practice for directly realizing
"ultimate truth"; sunyata philosophy is only considered valuable to the
extent that it is useful as a complement to a student's meditation practice
(Kapleau 1965, p. 30). By studying sunyata philosophy students may learn to
abandon their dogmatic reified views of the world that prevent the
perception of the world as a constantly changing whole. Mumon (1183-1260)
states that when one directly realizes emptiness, "you will be able to slay
the Buddha should you meet him and dispatch all patriarchs [Zen masters]
you encounter" (Kapleau 1965, p. 76), in other words, to dereify all
Buddhist doctrines, including sunyata philosophy itself (Kapleau 1965, pp.
In this way, Buddhist theory can be translated into sociological terms.
According to Mahayana Buddhism, the consciousness of the normally
socialized individual is an alienated consciousness (Bell 1979, p. 59) in
which the individual projects linguistic distinctions and commonsense
categories onto reality (Watts 1957, pp. 40-42) and then reifies them.
Becoming enlightened involves, at least in part, dereifying perception of
all phenomena. Furthermore, the enlightened individual still uses
abstractions (or objectifications) in everyday life but does so without
reifying them. Nakamura Hajime (1987, p. 223), a scholar of Buddhism,
summarizes the concept of emptiness:
The ultimate truth of existence is comprehended by the term "emptiness"
(sunyata), one of the subtlest and most sophisticated concepts in the
philosophical armory of Mahayana Buddhism. Understanding sunyata entails
the awareness that all things rely for their existence on causal factors
and as such are devoid of any permanent "own-being" (svabhava). The purely
relative existence of all dharmas [phenomena] taught by this doctrine
entails the realization that the things of this world, the self (atman)
included, are merely the reifications of conceptual and linguistic
distinctions formed under the productive influence of fundamental ignorance
(avidya). Insofar as things of this world derive their reality solely from
a nexus of causal conditions (pratitya-samutpada), their nature, what they
all share, is precisely a "lack" of self-nature.
In the following sections, a phenomenological description of the experience
of Zen meditation will be offered in an attempt to describe emptiness and
thus dereifying perception as it is experienced in Zen Buddhism.
The Phenomenology of Zen Meditation
The central practice of Zen Buddhism is "sitting meditation" (zazen).
According to Yasutani Roshi, all Buddhist doctrine, scriptures, and
philosophy are no more than intellectual formalizations of zazen; or
rather, zazen is their practical demonstration (Kapleau 1965, p. 30).
Sitting meditation involves maintaining a particular bodily and mental
posture. The preferred bodily posture is the full-lotus in which the
meditator places the fight foot over the left thigh and the left foot over
the right thigh and maintains an erect spine. In zazen the hands are placed
in the lap in a specific position: the right hand is placed in the lap
palm-upward, the left hand is placed in the palm of the fight hand, also
palm-upward, and the tips of the thumbs lightly touch forming an oval.
Finally, the eyes are kept half-open and directed downward, but unfocused.
The mental posture involved in sitting meditation is that of concentration.
One's attention may be focused on an object, such as one's breathing or on
a koan, or it may be concentrated without focusing on an object, as in
"just sitting" (shikantaza). One of the more intriguing forms of sitting
meditation is meditation on a koan. A koan is a kind of riddle, for
Koans serve both as meditation objects for the student and as testing
devices with which the teacher evaluates the student's progress in Zen
training. The latter function will be discussed in a subsequent section. In
the following quotation, Yasutani Roshi instructs a student on how to
meditate on the koan "Mu!" (quoted in Kapleau 1965, p. 142):
What was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
A monk in all seriousness asked Joshu, "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?"
Joshu retorted, "Mu!"
First repeat the word "Mu," not audibly but in your mind. Concentrate on
becoming one with it. Do not think of its meaning. I repeat: just
concentrate wholeheartedly on becoming one with Mu. At first your efforts
will be mechanical, but this is unavoidable. Gradually, however, all of you
will become involved.
Through sitting meditation, the Zen Buddhist develops "one-pointed
concentration" (samadhi) or "no-mind" (mushin). While such mental abilities
can greatly enhance one's ability to perform all kinds of activities
(Suzuki 1959, p. 114) (e.g., the Japanese samurai practiced Zen meditation
to improve their sword-fighting), the main purpose of practicing Zen
meditation for the Buddhist is to attain satori-awakening or enlightenment.
Literally, satori means "seeing into your true nature" and at the same time
seeing into the true nature of the universe. According to Yasutani Roshi
(Kapleau 1965, pp. 143-144), satori is attained when the meditator's
"I-concept" is completely dispelled from consciousness, and he or she
experiences the universe and his or her self as a nondualistic whole.
Satori is the direct or experiential grasping of sunyata (Yasutani Roshi in
Kapleau 1965, p. 79).
The social phenomenology of Alfred Schutz can be used to define Zen
meditation sociologically as a reality with distinctive characteristics. In
his essay, "On Multiple Realities" (1962), Schutz states that we experience
many realities including the worlds of daily life, dreams, daydreams,
imageries and phantasms, art, religious experience, scientific
contemplation, child's play, and even psychotic episodes. Each of these
constitutes a distinctive "finite province of meaning" or a set of
experiences that share a specific cognitive style and are internally
coherent and consistent with others in the set (Schutz 1962, p. 230).
Although Schutz mentions religious meditation as an example of a finite
province of meaning, he does not describe it. This was mere economy or
oversight, for using Sehutz's phenomenology it is possible to describe and
analyze the reality of meditation in Zen Buddhism. To this end, it will be
useful to review several basic concepts: conduct and action, experience and
meaning, performing and working, the natural attitude, and the problem of
"Conduct," in Schutz's phenomenology, is meaningful behavior that involves
no forethought. "Action," on the other hand, is meaningful behavior that is
guided by a plan or project conceived prior to performance. Schutz says
that when the plan appears in consciousness, it appears in the future
perfect tense, that is, it appears as an already completed action. 
Another pair of Schutzian concepts is "experience" and "meaning."
Experience consists of two kinds of phenomena: "lived experience"
(Husserl's Erlebnis) or "pure duration" (Berg-son's duree) on the one hand,
and reflective thought on the other. Duree is a prereflective state in
which the world is in flux and there are no discrete objects. Schutz (1932,
p. 45) writes:
In "pure duration" there is no "side-by-sideness," no mutual externality of
parts, and no divisibility, but only a continuous flux, a stream of
conscious states. However, the term "conscious states" is misleading, as it
reminds one of the phenomena of the spatial world with its fixed entities,
such as images, percepts, and physical objects. What we, in fact,
experience in duration is not a being that is discrete and well-defined but
a constant transition from a now-thus to a new now-thus. The stream of
consciousness by its very nature has not yet been caught up in the net of
According to Schutz, only by stopping and reflecting on the stream of duree
can the ego lift a particular experience out of that flow and discriminate
it from the rest of experience (Schutz 1932, p. 45). Reflection (or
objectification in the terms of Berger et al.) is a necessary condition for
the constitution of meaningful experience. Schutz (1932, p. 52) explains:
Because the concept of meaningful experience always presupposes that the
experience of which meaning is predicated is a discrete one, it now becomes
quite clear that only a past experience can be called meaningful; that is,
one that is present to the retrospective glance as already finished and
Thus, all subjective meaning, including the spatio-temporal world, is
constituted in retrospect through reflection, rather than in the present
moment of lived experience (Erlebnis or duree). Both conduct and action are
meaningful in that they can be grasped by the retrospective reflective
glance as connected with the rest of one's experiences. Conduct-in-progress
becomes meaningful to the individual when the duree is suspended. Action
has the further feature of being grasped or at least adumbrated before the
act is performed; but action too involves a duree that becomes meaningful
upon completion of the act.
Schutz's description of experience coincides with that of Zen Buddhism. For
both, there are two fundamental types of experience — nonreflective and
reflective. In Zen, nonreflective experience, which is referred to as
suchness" (tathata) or as "direct" or "living" experience, is considered
the experience of reality as it truly is, while reflective experience is
considered an experience of illusions (maya) constructed by one's intellect
using language and common-sense knowledge. D. T. Suzuki (1949, p. 299)
illustrates the importance of this distinction between nonreflective,
living experience and reflective experience:
In fact, the truth of Zen is the truth of life, and life means to live, to
move, to act, not merely to reflect. Is it not the most natural thing in
the world for Zen, therefore, that its development should be towards acting
or rather living its truth instead of demonstrating or illustrating it in
words; that is to say, with ideas?
Because, as Schutz also points out, all meaning is attached to
nonreflective experience retrospectively, all meaning is relative. The
"ultimate truth" that Zen practitioners seek, therefore, is not
intellectual but experiential or direct. Hence, the intellectual rendering
of this "ultimate truth," "emptiness" (sunyata), is negative, specifying
only that it is devoid of perceptual discriminations and intellectual
Just as "ultimate truth" is referred to negatively as emptiness, the mental
state that leads to the apprehension of ultimate truth is referred to
negatively as "no-mind" (mushin). No-mind is a form of duree. In both duree
and no-mind, one lives in the present moment or, rather, does not stop to
reflect on the past (recollection) or on the future (anticipation) (Schutz
1932, pp. 49, 57; Suzuki 1959, p. 117). Both duree and no-mind are
described as a "flowing stream" that is not interrupted by reflection
(Schutz 1932, p. 45; Suzuki 1959, p. 111). In addition, the nonreflective
state of duree and no-mind are characterized by the complete absence of
self-consciousness (Schutz 1962, p. 216; Suzuki 1959, p. 147), a phenomenon
that Buddhists take as evidence of the illusory nature of the self
However, in addition to being a state of duree, no-mind consists of a
second element: concentration (samadhi) (Suzuki 1959, p. 183); therefore,
not all states of duree are equivalent to the meditative state of no-mind.
For instance, when the nonreflective mind jumps from present activity to
daydreams to bodily sensations, it is in various states of duree, but not
concentration. When the nonreflective mind exclusively focuses on the
present activity, there exists a state of concentration and, therefore, the
meditative state of no-mind. For Schutz, there are two types of duree that
constitute concentration: performing and working. Both performing and
working are forms of action in which the self "lives within its acts and
its attention is exclusively directed to carrying its project into effect,
executing its plan" (Schutz 1962, p. 213, emphasis added). In other words,
when performing or working, the self "lives within its acts" and is,
therefore, in a state of duree. Furthermore, the actor is not distracted
from the task of accomplishing the present activity. The difference between
performing and working is that the former is mental action, such as solving
an abstract problem, while the latter is physical action which gears into
the outer world and brings about the projected state of affairs by bodily
movements (Schutz 1962, pp. 211-212).
Because no-mind is a working state, it is related to what Schutz calls the
"natural attitude." The natural attitude is the mental attitude that
dominates the world of daily life, to which we invariably return from the
experience of other realities. First, the prevalent form of spontaneity of
the natural attitude is working (Schutz 1962, p. 212). Second, the natural
attitude is characterized by "wide-awakeness," in other words, a state in
which the self is fully interested in life. Schutz says that only the
performing, and especially the working, self is fully interested in life
and thus most wide-awake (Schutz 19.62, p. 213). Finally, the natural
attitude is characterized by a specific form of experiencing one's self. In
the natural attitude, one experiences one's self as a working self, "an
undivided total self" (Schutz 1962, p. 216). Schutz says that the "working
self" is equivalent to James's and Mead's "I," which "gets into experience
only after it has carried out the act and thus appears experientially as a
part of the Me, that is, the Me appears in our experience in memory"
(Schutz 1962, p. 216). Thus, the self that is perceived by the individual
is a construction of the reflective mind and not an element of duree or of
Because no-mind is a working state and working is characteristic of the
natural attitude of daily life, no-mind is also an integral part of daily
life. But there is one important way in which no-mind differs from the
natural attitude as it is experienced by most people. This difference can
be seen in what Schutz refers to as the "problem of enclaves." Although
nonreflective working is "prevalent" within the natural attitude, Schutz
recognizes that daily life is by no means purely nonreflective. He admits
that a region belonging to one province of meaning may be enclosed by
If we "sit down" in a major crisis of our life and consider again and again
our problems, if we draft, reject, redraft projects and plans before making
up our mind, if as fathers we meditate upon pedagogical questions or as
politicians upon public opinion — in all these situations we indulge in
theoretical contemplation in the wider sense of this term. But all this
contemplative thinking is performed for practical purposes and ends, and
for this very reason it constitutes an "enclave" of theoretical
contemplation within the world of working rather than a finite province of
meaning. (Schutz 1962, p. 245)
Theoretical enclaves occurring in the midst of working activities are
distinguished from theoretical contemplation proper that does not serve any
immediate practical purpose, such as scientific or philosophical
theorizing, and that therefore constitute "finite provinces of meaning"
(Schutz 1962, p. 245).
While enclaves pose an analytic problem for Schutz, they pose a practical
problem for Zen practitioners. Enclaves are distractions that interrupt the
continuous flowing of no-mind. Thus, the difference between the meditative
state of no-mind and the natural attitude of daily life as it is
experienced by most people is that in the former one's consciousness is
empty of all distraction, including unnecessary enclaves of reflection,
such as self-consciousness or daydreaming, while in the latter one's
consciousness may be cluttered with unnecessary enclaves. Therefore, the
meditative state of no-mind constitutes a pure form of the natural
attitude, in other words, one that is free of enclaves of reflective
thought. This finding is supported by the Zen assertion that the mental
state involved in meditation, no-mind, and the fruit of meditation,
satori-awakening, are the same as "the everyday mind" (heijo-shin) (Suzuki
1959, p. 147; 1949, p. 264). If the meditative state of no-mind in Zen
Buddhism involves a pure natural attitude, this tells us something of what
the mystical experience (satori) is like in Zen Buddhism and perhaps other
religions. Satori is not entirely foreign to anyone; it is not
qualitatively different from everyday experience, only quantitatively
different in that it is more unified because it contains fewer
The usefulness of Schutz's phenomenology is in enabling us to define Zen
meditation sociologically, as a finite province of meaning with distinctive
characteristics. The various forms of "sitting meditation" (zazen) in Zen
Buddhism are comprised of uninterrupted performing and working.  Zazen
is performing in that it requires mental action, in other words,
concentrating on one's breathing, holding a mental object such as a koan,
or maintaining alertness. But sitting meditation is also working in that it
requires the bodily action of maintaining a precise bodily posture.
Finally, when a competent meditator successfully practices sitting
meditation, the meditator's consciousness is empty of all enclaves of
reflection. The meditator experiences focused duree and, therefore, has no
awareness of the passage of time, of discrete mental or physical objects
(except for the meditation object if it is used), or of any self that is
separate from the rest of the world. By meditating, the practitioner
experiences a mode of reality that is empty of all social constructions and
that thus helps dereify any of his or her fixed conceptions of reality.
DEMONSTRATION OF THE DEREIFYING PERSPECTIVE
Zen practitioners demonstrate their understanding of "emptiness" (sunyata),
and thus their dereifying perspective, to each other in face-to-face
interaction by using particular methods. These methods can be found in the
Zen literature, which abounds with the "recorded sayings" (yulu), the
actual utterances and actions, of Zen masters throughout the centuries. Most of these records consist of "questions-and-answers" (mondos) between
Zen masters and their students. It is these recorded sayings, rather than
Mahayana scriptures (sutras) or commentaries (sastras), "that later
followers of the school have looked to when they sought to understand and
recapture the living spirit of Ch'an [Zen]" (Watson 1993, p. ix).
Furthermore, the interactional methods for demonstrating one's dereifying
perspective play an important role in the Zen practice of koan training
The Practical Methods of Zen Instruction
Suzuki (1949, pp. 267-313) analyzed many recorded mondos and identified
several "practical methods of Zen instruction" that the masters use to
demonstrate their understanding of emptiness and to help their students
develop such an understanding. Suzuki divides these "practical methods"
into two general categories: verbal methods and direct methods. Verbal
methods include paradox, going beyond opposites, contradiction,
affirmation, repetition, exclamation, silence, and counterquestioning.
Direct methods consist of bodily actions such as gesture, striking,
performance of a definite set of acts, and directing others to move about.
Suzuki does not claim to have identified all of the "practical methods"
that Zen masters have used or could use; he simply identifies several
methods that are common in the Zen literature.
Of Suzuki's "practical methods," affirmations, exclamations, gestures, and
strikings are similar in that they are all responses to questions that,
from the perspective of commonsense reasoning, do not appear to constitute
"answers." For example, affirmations, according to Suzuki, are positive
statements, in contrast to contradictions or negations, produced in
response to a question, but which are not relevant to the meaning-content
of the question. Suzuki (1949, pp. 283-284) gives the following examples in
which the second speaker responds with an affirmation:
(1) Monk: I read in the Sutra that all things return to the One, but where
does this One return to?
Another verbal method, exclamation, entails producing an exclamatory
utterance that may be a word, nonsense word, or shout in response to a
question, rather than giving an intelligible answer. The Chinese Zen master
Linchi (Rinzai) (d. 866 C.E.) was famous for responding to questions by
exclaiming "Kwatz!" which has no literal meaning. In the following
examples, Linchi's "Kwatz!" is simply translated as "a shout":
Joshu: When I was in the province of Tsing I had a robe made which weighed
(2) (Master Baso Doichi was sick)
Disciple: How do you feel today?
Baso: Sun-faced Buddha, moon-faced Buddha!
(3) Monk: When the body crumbles all to pieces and returns to the dust,
there eternally abides one thing. Of this I have been told, but where does
this one thing abide?
Joshu: It is windy again this morning.
(4) A monk asked, "What is the basic meaning of Buddhism?"
Zen masters also use nonverbal or "direct" methods that, like the verbal
methods discussed above, appear to have no relevance to the meaning-content
of the question. Two of the direct methods Suzuki identifies are gesture
and striking. The examples below are two of gesture, followed by two of
The Master [Linchi] gave a shout. The monk bowed low.
The Master said, "This fine monk is the kind who's worth talking to!"
(Watson 1993, p. 9)
(5) Another monk asked, "What is the basic meaning of Buddhism?" The Master
[Linchi] gave a shout. The monk bowed low.
The Master said, "Do you think that was a shout of approval?"
The monk said, "The countryside thieves have been thoroughly trounced!"
Master said, "What was their fault?"
The monk said, "A second offense is not permitted!"
The Master gave a shout. (Watson 1993, p. 14)
(6) Monk: How were things before the appearance of the Buddha in the world?
Using ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, the "practical methods of
Zen instruction" identified by Suzuki (1949) can be further analyzed as
orderly interactional accomplishments with distinctive features. In
describing the interactional form of some of Suzuki's "practical methods,"
it will be informative to discuss first the conversation analytic notion of
an "adjacency pair," a class of widely used conversational sequences
(Schegloff and Sacks 1973). Adjacency pairs are paired actions that include
question-answer, greeting-greeting, and invitation-acceptance/refusal. Each
pair type consists of a first pair part (e.g., a question) and a second
pair part (e.g., an answer). Furthermore, adjacency pairs exhibit the
following features (Schegloff and Sacks 1973, pp. 295-296):
Reiun: (raises his fly whisk)
Monk: How were things after the appearance of the Buddha?
Reiun: (raises his fly whisk) (Suzuki 1949, p. 301)
(7) Monk: One light divides itself into hundreds of thousands of lights;
may I ask where this one light originates?
Joshu: (throws off one shoe without a remark) (Suzuki 1949, p. 271)
(8) The Master [Linchi] asked a monk, "Where did you come from?"
The monk gave a shout.
The Master bowed slightly and motioned for him to sit down.
The monk was about to say something, whereupon the Master struck him a
blow. (Watson 1993, p. 84)
(9) A certain distinguished monk named Ting came to the Master [Linchi] for
an interview and asked, "What is the basic meaning of Buddhism?"
The Master got down from his chair, grabbed hold of him and gave him a
Then he let him go.
Ting stood in a daze.
A monk standing nearby said, "Mr. Ting, why don't you make a bow?"
As Ting was making a formal bow, he suddenly had a great enlightenment.
(Watson 1993, p. 97)
1. two utterance length,
2. adjacent positioning of component utterances,
3. different speakers producing each utterance,
4. relative ordering of parts, and
5. discriminative relations.
The following is a "clear case" of a question-answer adjacency pair
(Schegloff 1984, p. 33):
A: What time is it?
B: It's noon.
The sequence consists of (1) two utterances that are (2) positioned
adjacently and are (3) produced by different speakers. Furthermore, (4) the
question precedes the answer and (5) the two pair parts have discriminative
relations in that the pair type, question-answer, of which the first pair
part is a member is relevant to the selection of the second pair part. In
other words, "a basic rule of adjacency pair operation is: given the
recognizable production of a first pair part, on its first possible
completion its speaker should stop and a next speaker should start and
produce a second pair part from the pair type of which the first is
recognizably a member" (Schegloff and Sacks 1973, p. 296).
Returning to Suzuki's (1949) "practical methods of Zen instruction," the
methods of affirmation, exclamation, gesture, and striking share many of
the same features of the question-answer adjacency pair. For example, the
cases of affirmation (1, 2, and 3) exhibit the first four features of an
adjacency pair: (1) two utterance length, (2) adjacent positioning of
component utterances, (3) different speakers producing each utterance, and
(4) relative ordering of parts. However, they do not appear to possess the
fifth feature — discriminative relations. In other words, each second
utterance is a statement that does not appear to be of the same pair type
(question-answer) as the first utterance. Similarly, each case of
exclamation (4 and 5) exhibits the first four features of adjacency pairs;
even though the second pair part is simply a shout, rather than a
statement, it still qualifies as an "utterance."
Although the direct methods of gesture (6 and 7) and striking (8 and 9)
involve bodily actions, they are quite similar to the verbal methods of
affirmation and exclamation. If the word "utterance" is replaced with the
word "action" in the five features of adjacency pairs, then, like
affirmations and exclamations, gesture and striking would exhibit the first
four features of adjacency pairs, but not the fifth. Although in some types
of adjacency pairs a bodily action may be discriminatively related to a
first utterance (e.g., a wave of the hand in a greeting-greeting), the
bodily actions involved in the above cases of gesture and striking do not
appear to display discriminative relevance for the utterances they
follow — they don't appear to answer the questions.
Hence, in the case of each "practical method," the Zen masters violate
conventional conversational practices by deviating from the "basic rule" of
adjacency pair operation. That is, in using affirmation, exclamation,
gesture, and striking, Zen masters fail to produce an answer in the next
turn when asked a question by a student.
Although coparticipants in a conversation tend to follow the "basic rule"
of adjacency pair operation, deviations are common. John Heritage (1984, p.
253) notes that in most cases of deviation, when the selected speaker fails
to produce, in the next turn, a second pair part of the pair type of the
first utterance, speakers display an orientation to the nonnative
accountability of the question-answer pair structure. For example, one
common class of cases in which questions are not followed by answers in the
next turn is that in which the selected speaker proposes ignorance of the
substance of the question. For example (Heritage 1984, p. 249):
M: What happened at work, at Bullocks this evening?
In this case, by proposing ignorance ("Well, I don't know") the selected
speaker displays an orientation to the question-answer pair structure and
acknowledges that an answer is due, despite the fact that it cannot be
provided, rather than simply ignoring the question. Another common class of
deviations includes cases like the following (Heritage 1984, p. 251;
Schegloff 1972, p. 78):
P: Well, I don't know.
A: Are you coming tonight?
B: Can I bring a guest?
B: I'll be there.
In this case, B fails to produce an answer to A's question in the next
turn, but B's response displays an orientation to the question-answer pair
structure by virtue of the fact that it has an "analyzable relatedness" to
A's question (Heritage 1984, p. 251). That is, B's counterquestion ("Can I
bring a guest?") can be seen as relevant for reaching an answer and thus
accountably displays an orientation to the question-answer pair structure.
The Zen masters' "practical methods" differ from cases of "proposing
ignorance" and "asking analyzably related counterquestions" in that they do
not display an orientation to the normatlye accountability of the
question-answer pair structure — they do not provide an account for the
absence of the answer. The unique feature of the Zen masters' violations of
conventional conversational practices is not that they fail to provide an
answer in the next turn, but that they do so unaccountably. In this way the
Zen masters' practical methods are very similar to Harold Garfinkel's
"breaching experiments." Garfinkel (1963, p. 217; 1967, pp. 37-38) studied
the basic assumptions, or "background expectancies," of everyday life by
deliberately violating them. For example, in order to breach the
"interchangeability of standpoints," Garfinkel (1963, p. 223)
instructed his students "to enter a store, to select a customer, and to
treat the customer as a clerk while giving no recognition that the subject
was any other person than the experimenter took him to be and without
giving any indication that the experimenter's treatment was anything other
than perfectly reasonable and legitimate." The students reported that
violating this basic assumption produced confusion and anger on the part of
the "subjects." According to Garfinkel, breaching the background
expectancies of the attitude of daily life violates people's basic sense of
social "trust." Both Zen masters' practical methods and Garfinkel's
breaching experiments can throw the unsuspecting student or subject into a
momentary state of senselessness.
If the ethnomethodological aim of basing one's analysis on members'
analyses is to be followed, it must be shown that the participants in the
interaction treat the Zen masters' actions as unaccountable deviations.
Unfortunately, the cases of affirmations cited above do not include the
students' responses to the Zen masters' actions, but the others do. For
example, in case 4, the monk displays his acceptance of the master's
exclamation as an accountable response to his question by initiating the
closing of the interaction with a bow. Note that the student gives no
indication that the master's shout was not the type of response projected
by his question. The master then displays his agreement with the monk's
interpretation of his exclamation by stating, "This fine monk is the kind
who"s worth talking to!" In case 6, after the master raises his fly whisk
in response to the monk's question, the monk asks another question (to
which he receives the same response), displaying his acceptance of the
master's gesture as an accountable response to his first question.
Therefore, because the students in these cases treat the Zen masters'
exclamation and gesture as accountable responses to their questions, there
is no basis in these particular interactions for calling the Zen masters'
methods "unaccountable deviations from the basic rule of adjacency pair
operation." Instead the Zen masters and students are using unique types of
adjacency pairs (question-exclamation and question-gesture), which they
make accountable in these specific settings. Of course, Zen masters also
use ordinary question-answer adjacency pairs on many occasions, but when
they respond to questions with "exclamations" or "gestures," they signal to
the student that they are expressing "ultimate truth" rather than
To those trained in Zen Buddhism and Zen interaction, such as the monks and
students in the cases cited above, Zen masters' practical methods of
instruction are treated as accountable responses to questions. I would
speculate, however, that to those who are unfamiliar with Zen settings, Zen
masters' practical methods would be treated, at least initially, as
"unaccountable deviations from the basic rule of adjacency pair operation,"
although the data presented above do not include such cases. That is, the
questioners would attempt to repair the deviation and pursue the overdue
answer, or they might take the absence of an answer as intentional and,
therefore, as a display of "rudeness," "disrespect," or some other such
attitude. By breaching everyday conversational conventions, Zen masters
help facilitate dereifying perception in their students by exposing the
constructed or achieved nature of social reality.
The recorded mondos of Zen masters throughout the centuries and the
practical methods of Zen instruction identified by Suzuki (1949) are
important elements in the current Zen practice of koan training. Often
mondos themselves are used as koans, such as the koan "Mu!" (see above).
After students meditate on a koan in "sitting meditation" (zazen), they
appear before the teacher in either a private interview (dokusan) or a
public interview (shosan) to offer a "solution" to the koan. But in trying
to solve the koan, the students soon find that every attempt to interpret
the meaning of the koan fails the test. For example, Joshu's "Mu!" may be
interpreted as a denial of a major Mahayana doctrine. Mahayana schools of
Buddhism, including Zen, believe that all sentient beings possess
"Buddha-nature" (tathagata-garbha), the innate potential to attain
enlightenment. Joshu's response "Mu!" which literally means "No!" to the
question "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?" appears to be a contradiction of
Mahayana doctrine. But such an analytic interpretation will never lead to
an acceptable "solution" to the koan. Instead, students are instructed
to "demonstrate" their understanding in a "direct" or "living" manner
without relying on words or ideas. Yasutani Roshi explains to a student
(quoted in Kapleau 1965, p. 142):
Literally, the expression means "no" or "nothing," but the significance of
Joshu's answer does not lie in the word. Mu is the expression of the
living, functioning, dynamic Buddha-nature. What you must do is discover
the spirit or essence of this Mu, not through intellectual analysis but by
searching into your innermost being. Then you must demonstrate before me,
concretely and vividly, that you understand Mu as living truth, without
recourse to conceptions, theories, or abstract explanations. Remember, you
can't understand Mu through ordinary cognition; you must grasp it directly
with your whole being.
The correct manner in which to "demonstrate" one's understanding
"concretely and vividly . . . without recourse to conceptions, theories, or
abstract explanations," and hence, to solve the koan, is to respond
spontaneously to the teacher's question without hesitation and without any
concern for the rationality of one's response. This type of solution
resembles the practical methods of Zen instruction identified by Suzuki
In a conversation analytic study of public teacher-student interviews
(shosan or "Dharma combat") in a North American Zen monastery, Richard
Buttny and Thomas Isbell (1991) examine "demonstrations of understanding"
in koan training. The teacher's presentation of the koan, in their data
(Buttny and Isbell 1991, p. 294), is too long to reproduce here, but the
gist of it is this: The teacher reads a statement by the Zen master Mumon
in which he lists all of the activities that appear to constitute the whole
of Zen practice and then says that they are all incorrect. The teacher then
asks, given Mumon's statement, "How will you practice?" Hence, the question
would appear to common sense to be impossible to answer without completely
rejecting Zen. Buttny and Isbell (1991, pp. 299-303) first found that, in
the course of a teacher-student interview, the teacher will call on the
student to "demonstrate" his or her understanding. The following encounter
contains a typical case of what Buttny and Isbell (1991) refer to as a
"call for demonstration":
(10) NINTH TEACHER-STUDENT ENCOUNTER
The teacher calls on the student for a "demonstration" of his understanding
of "emptiness" (sunyata), rather than for an intellectual interpretation of
it, when he says, "So show me emptiness right now" (arrow 1). The teacher's
challenge is followed by a five-second gap (arrow 2) that the teacher
interprets as an inability on the part of the student to meet the
challenge, as is displayed in the teacher's statement, "You're working on
the right koan to find out" (arrow 3). In none of the cases in Buttny and
Isbell's data (1991) does a student successfully "solve" the koan.
T: . . . so how- how to do it
S: In everything in everything
S: if you're if you're one with:
S: if you're one with that moment
T: What is that (center dot) to be one with that
T: When you're really: be the thing itself what
T: That's emptiness: (1.3) sunyata (0.8) body and
mind fall away
1 right arrow
T: *So show me emptiness:* (1.0) right now
2 right arrow (5.0)
3 right arrow
T: You're working on the right koan to find out=
S: =HA Ha ha
T: Keep going
S: Hh Thank you
The "call for demonstration" is a device that also occurs in other data
given in The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau (1965). These
data consist of transcripts of private student-teacher interviews (dokusan)
that took place in Japan between Yasutani Roshi and Western students who
were beginners in Zen training. The purpose of several of the interviews
was koan training. In the following interview, the teacher (roshi) calls on
the student to demonstrate understanding:
(11) STUDENT B
The interview commences when the student enters the teacher's chambers and
announces, "I know what Mu is!" (arrow 1). The student then employs "direct
methods" similar to those examined above (6 and 7) by picking up the
teacher's baton and lifting another object as his response to the question,
"What is Mu?" The teacher gives a weak approval of student's solution but
then calls for another demonstration at arrow 3, "Tell me at once what the
size of the Real You is!" In response, the student pauses and then gives an
analytical answer. The teacher evaluates this answer negatively, saying
that if he had really "realized the truth" he could have given a "concrete"
and "instantaneous" answer. Again at arrow 4 the teacher calls on the
student to demonstrate his understanding by asking, "When I reach out with
both arms this way, how far do they extend?" The student responds, "I don't
1 right arrow
STUDENT: [excitedly] I know what Mu is! This is Mu
in one situation [picking up the roshi's
baton]. In another this would be Mu
[lifting another object]. Other than that
I don't know.
2 right arrow
ROSHI: That is not bad. If you really knew what
you meant by "I don't know," your answer
would be even better. It is obvious that
you will think of yourself as an entity
standing apart from other entities.
[Portion omitted in which Roshi reviews
some points from a morning lecture on
ROSHI: You must let go of logical reasoning and
grasp the real thing!
STUDENT: I can do that--yes, I can!
3 right arrow
ROSHI: Very well, tell me at once what the size
of the Real You is!
STUDENT: [pausing] Well . . . it depends on the
circumstances. In one situation
I may be one thing; in another, something
ROSHI: Had you realized the truth, you could have
given a concrete answer
4 right arrow
instantaneously. When I reach out with both
arms this way [demonstrating], how far do
they extend? Answer at once!
STUDENT: [pausing] I don't know. All I know is that
sometimes I feel I am this stick and
sometimes I feel I am something else — I'm
not sure what.
ROSHI: You are almost there. Don't become lax
now — do your utmost! (Kapleau 1965, pp.
In another interview from Kapleau's data, the roshi produces a "call for
(12) STUDENT J
At arrows 1, 2, and 3, the teacher calls for a demonstration of
understanding on the part of the student with the questions, "Who are you?"
and "What is this?" The student is unable to give a satisfactory answer to
any of the teacher's calls for demonstration.
STUDENT: My koan is "Who am I?"
1 right arrow
ROSHI: [sharply] Who are you?
STUDENT: [No answer.]
2 right arrow
ROSHI: Who are you!
STUDENT: [pausing] I don't know. . . .
ROSHI: When you come to the sudden inner realization
of your True-nature, you will be able to
respond instantly without reflection.
3 right arrow What is this [suddenly striking tatami mat
STUDENT: [No answer.]
ROSHI: Probe further! Your mind is almost ripe.
(Kapleau 1965, p. 153)
On another occasion, the teacher again calls for a demonstration from the
(13) STUDENT J
Again the student is unable to give a satisfactory answer to the teacher's
call for demonstration, "Who are You?"
STUDENT: My eyes are strange. They feel as though they are
looking not outward but inward, asking, "Who am
right arrow [Suddenly] Who are You?
STUDENT: [No answer] (Kapleau 1965, p. 156)
Although neither in Buttny and Isbell's (1991) nor in Kapleau's (1965) data
are there cases of a student satisfying a teacher's "call to demonstration"
and "solving" a koan, in both sets of data the teachers instruct the
students on how to do so. According to these teachers, the appropriate way
for students to "demonstrate" their understanding of a koan is to employ,
in an original and spontaneous manner, methods that correspond to the
practical methods of Zen instruction identified by Suzuki (1949). In the
following encounter from Kapleau's (1965, p. 121) data, the teacher
instructs the student on how to answer a koan:
(14) STUDENT C
In this interview, the roshi instructs the student that various bodily
actions, or direct methods, (arrow 1) are appropriate responses to a "call
for demonstration." Furthermore, he informs the student that when he has
experienced Mu, he will be able to respond spontaneously (arrow 2).
Yasutani Roshi identifies the spontaneity of the response as a feature of
an appropriate "solution" to a koan. In earlier transcripts, Yasutani Roshi
tells one student that when he has realized the truth, he will be able to
respond "instantaneously" (11) and another student that be "will be able to
respond instantly without reflection" (12). By requiring an instantaneous
response, the teacher prevents students from reflecting on the situation
and using their intellects.
1 right arrow
ROSHI: When I ask students to show me Mu some seize
my baton, others hold up a finger, still
others embrace me, like this [embracing
STUDENT: I know all that, but if I did it, it would
be premeditated, not spontaneous.
ROSHI: That is true of course. When you actually
experience Mu you will
2 right arrow be able to respond spontaneously. But you
must stop reasoning and just engross yourself
Buttny and Isbell's (1991) data also contain cases in which the teacher
instructs students on how to give an appropriate answer to the koan. Buttny
and Isbell found that not only did the teacher call on students for a
demonstration of their understanding, but that sometimes students called on
the teacher for a demonstration of his understanding. The following are
three cases of a teacher's response to a student's "call for
(15) SIXTH TEACHER-STUDENT ENCOUNTER
By responding to the students' calls for demonstration, the teacher models
acceptable "solutions" to the koan. In the first demonstration (15), the
teacher appears to use the method of affirmation, by responding to the
student's call with the irrelevant statement, "Huh sun rises in the east
sets in the west." In the next demonstration (16), the teacher uses a
direct method by responding to the call with a bodily action, slapping the
floor four times. Finally, in the third demonstration (17), the teacher's
response, "Ahh:: URGH:: MMMM::nn:: HAAaa::," looks very similar to what
Suzuki (1949) calls "exclamation."
S: Shosanshi show me this don't know mind
T: Huh sun rises: (1.1) in the east sets in the
(16) THIRD TEACHER-STUDENT ENCOUNTER
S: If the buddha (1.0) banged on the door (1.1)
or on the floor (1.5) or on the walls during
the service (2.0) would you turn him away:?
(0.9) if he refused to observe the rule of
silence? (1.0) or would you hit him over the
head with the rule book (1.6) or what
right arrow T: ((slaps floor four times loudly))
(17) FIFTH TEACHER-STUDENT ENCOUNTER
S: How's your pract- ((clears throat)) how's your
practice progressing Dido
T: Ahh:: URGH:: MMMM::nn:: HAAaa::
S: Can't seem to get anywhere?
T: *Do you understand?*
To summarize, the "practical methods of Zen instruction" are important for
the Zen practice of koan training. Zen masters use the practical methods to
direct the students' attention toward living experience, or duree, and away
from reflective experience or intellectual thinking. Suzuki (1949, p.
The idea of direct method appealed to by the masters is to get hold of this
fleeting life as it flees and not after it has flown. While it is fleeing,
there is no time to recall memory or to build ideas. No reasoning avails
here. Language may be used, but this has been associated too long with
ideation, and has lost directness or being by itself. As soon as words are
used, they express meaning, reasoning; they have no direct connection with
life, except being a faint echo or image of something that is no longer
here. This is the reason why the masters often avoid such expressions or
statements as are intelligible in any logical way.
Hence, in Zen, the practical methods are used to demonstrate one's
understanding that "ultimate truth" lies in duree, or living experience,
and not in intellectual representations and reifications of reality. In
other words, these practical methods are used to demonstrate one's
understanding of "emptiness" (sunyata) and one's dereifying perspective.
The goal of this article has been to develop the concept of "dereification"
in religion beyond Berger's (1967) work and to explain certain aspects of
Zen Buddhism. To this end, I have argued that, contrary to Bell (1979),
Preston (1988), and Wilson (1984), conversion to Zen Buddhism is a
resocialization process characterized by the acquisition of dereifying
perception. Zen Buddhism, by virtue of the Mahayana notion of "emptiness"
(sunyata), contains a conception of dereification that is consistent with
the work of Berger and his colleagues (1965; 1966; 1967), Maynard and
Wilson (1980), Thomason (1982), and Pollner (1991). Dereification is the
perception of the objects of the social world as socially relative and as
dependent on human perception and activity. In addition, according to the
concept of "dependent co-arising" (pratitya-samutpada) and reflexive
determination (Maynard and Wilson 1980), the identity of any social object
exists only by virtue of its relationship to the entire context in which it
appears, including not only its surroundings but also the perceiver. The
perception of emptiness and dereifying perception entail the appreciation
of an object's dependence on its context and of reality as a seamless
Next, the basis of the Zen practitioner's dereifying perspective is the
experience of emptiness, which is attained primarily through the practice
of "sitting meditation" (zazen). The meditative state of "no-mind" (mushin)
consists of "living experience," or duree, which is empty of reflective
consciousness and, therefore, of spatio-temporal constructions, of a
discrete self or "I," and of abstract meaning. In addition to being a state
of duree, the meditative state is focused on the performance of mental
and/or bodily actions--what Schutz calls performing and working,
respectively. The meditative state of no-mind and satori are not
other-worldly but correspond to a pure form of the natural attitude of
daily life, one that is empty of enclaves of reflective consciousness.
Finally, Zen practitioners demonstrate their understanding of emptiness and
their dereifying perspective to each other in face-to-face interaction
through a variety of "practical methods" identified by Suzuki (1949). These
methods consist of distinctive adjacency pairs that include, but are not
limited to, question-affirmation, question-exclamation, question-gesture,
and question-striking. They enable the Zen practitioner to demonstrate the
understanding that "ultimate truth" is to be found in living experience
rather than in linguistic and conceptual representations of reality.
Adequate "solutions" to koans consist of the spontaneous use of these
While earlier accounts of dereification in religion (Berger 1967) have
remained at a very general theoretical level, I have attempted 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. At the same time, I have attempted to explain these aspects of
Future research should look for evidence of dereification in religions
other than Zen Buddhism. Research questions might include: Do other
religions contain concepts similar to reification or dereification? Do
other types of religious meditation produce dereifying perception? Is
dereification in religion as rare as Berger asserts? In addition, research
should examine the consequences of a dereifying perspective for a
religion's organizational structure. According to Berger (1967), in the
majority of religions, reification functions to stabilize the authority of
various social institutions; therefore, religions that promote a dereifying
perspective should have distinctive types of authority structures. In a
similar vein, what motivates the members of dereifying religions to adhere
to moral codes that, after all, are socially relative? Dereification is a
subtle and profound feature of religion that deserves much more
1. Berger developed this theory with Stanley Pullberg (Berger and Pullberg
1965) and Thomas Luckmann (Berger and Luckmann 1966). From here forward, I
will refer to Berger and Pullberg (1965), Berger and Luckmann (1966), and
Berger (1967) simply as "Berger and his colleagues."
2. These authors also use the term "deconditioning" interchangeably with
3. For example, Franz Alexander (1923) claims that Buddhist meditation
practices cause a reversal of normal psychological development and extreme
regression to an infantile, narcissistic state.
4. Because Berger and his colleagues (1965, p. 200; 1967, p. 86) define
reification in terms of alienation, the terms "dealienating religion" and
"dereifying religion" are conceptually equivalent. I chose the term
"dereifying" so that I could tie Berger's discussion of religion to other
conceptions of reification.
5. If "mysticism" is defined in terms of dereification, then the opposing
extreme might be "fundamentalism," which would be defined as religion that
involves extreme reification of religious objects and ideas. Although most
mainstream religions involve some degree of reification according to Berger
(1967), the term "fundamentalism" would apply only to those religions that
show the highest degree of reification, in other words, believing in the
literal word of doctrine and being extremely intolerant of those who hold
opposing views of the world. Thus a fundamentalism-mysticism continuum
could be defined in terms of degrees of reification.
6. Thomason also offers a Schutzian conception of reification, but I do not
agree with his definition because he confounds reification with
typification (i.e. abstraction or objectification). However, I concur with
his definition of dereification.
7. Elsewhere Pollner (1987, pp. 129-132) briefly describes Zen Buddhism as
a "philosophical critique of mundane reason"; however, he does not discuss
the radical reflexivity of the Zen Buddhist perspective.
8. Buddhist scholars tend to use the expression "before the common era"
(B.C.E.) in place of B.C. and "of the common era" (C.E.) in place of
9. The Sanskrit term, sunyata, is pronounced "shoon-yah-tah."
10. My understanding of the concept of sunyata is largely influenced by
Professor Minoru Kiyota at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his
lectures, Professor Kiyota defines sunyata as a principle that "unfreezes
fixed and frozen concepts" and extreme dichotomies. This "unfreezing" is
11. While Preston argues that Schutz's phenomenology is inadequate for
describing Zen meditation because it qualifies neither as conduct nor as
action, I think this is an oversimplification. Preston (1988, pp. 86-87)
equates "conduct" and "action" with "passive" and "active" behavior,
respectively, asserting that Zen meditation involves a special attitude of
"active passivity" that he defines as "a posture of wakeful attentiveness
that is at the same time a nondoing." As a concept, "active passivity" is
not clear. More importantly, the concept does not preclude Zen meditation
from being "action" in the Schutzian sense. Furthermore, Preston claims
that Schutz fails to account for "regulated improvisation," which he
defines as "conduct that is perceived by others as appropriate, even
exemplary, yet not planned in advance" (Preston 1988, p. 145). Preston's
(1988, pp. 86-87) objections may stem from a misunderstanding of what
Schutz means by action being "planned in advance." First, although action
is guided by a plan that is formulated in conscious awareness, this plan
does not necessarily occupy awareness during the course of the action.
According to Schutz (1932, p. 63; 1962, p. 214), the actor can continually
bring the plan back to attention while acting but more often the plan is
out of awareness even while guiding the action. Second, regulated
improvisation is only one segment of a larger action. That is, although Zen
meditators may not have planned out everything that they will do during a
meditation session, they are formulating a plan of action when they decide
to go to the meditation hall and to begin a particular type of meditation.
Meditation is done correctly when the plan to meditate is kept out of
consciousness and concentration is maintained throughout the session, but
the plan is what sets the activity in motion in the first place and what
gives it continuity throughout.
12. Again, Preston objects to the use of Schutz's phenomenology on the
grounds that, under Schutz's definition, the meditative state cannot be the
most "wide-awake," which contradicts the experience of Zen meditators,
since only performing and working (forms of action) are the most
wide-awake. As stated above, meditation is action, and thus Preston's
objection is unfounded. Meditation is both performing and working:
performing in that it involves maintaining a specific mental posture and
working in that it involves maintaining a specific bodily posture.
13. Experiences of uninterrupted performing or working and of Zen
meditation are equivalent to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975) calls
"flow" states. Csikszentmihalyi found that when people are engaged in
demanding activities, they may become so fully absorbed in the activity
that all awareness of time, space, and self vanishes. Csikszentmihalyi
calls this experience of absorption in activity "flow." Furthermore,
Csikszentmihalyi found that "flow" states are "autotelic" or intrinsically
satisfying to the experiencer. Csikszentmihalyi's work on "flow" states has
recently become of interest in the sociology of religion because of the
similarity between "flow" states and "religious experiences" (see Neitz and
14. The status of these recorded sayings as data is questionable because
their accuracy cannot be verified and because they have been translated
from Chinese into English or even perhaps from Chinese into Japanese into
English. However, because these records have been used by subsequent Zen
practitioners up to the present as models for the correct demonstration of
emptiness, I believe it will still be useful to analyze them. In the next
section, I will show the relevance of these records for some modem day Zen
15. The "interchangeability of standpoints" is a basic assumption of
everyday life, identified by Schutz, which can be stated as: "a person
takes for granted, assumes that the other person does the same, and assumes
that as he assumes for the other the other assumes for him, that if they
were to change places so that the other person's here-and-now became his,
and his became the other person's, that the person would see events in the
same typical way as does the other person, and the other person would see
them in the same typical way as he does" (Garfinkel 1963, p. 212).
16. Instead of giving an ordinary answer, Joshu appears to be using
"contradiction," another of Suzuki's practical methods not discussed above,
which consists of an unqualified denial of an earlier statement of one's
own, of the statement of another, or of a well-established fact (Suzuki
1949, p. 279).
17. There is one case in which a student successfully defends her answer
against the teacher's challenges (Buttny and Isbell 1991, pp. 299-300), but
it is not clear if this defense constitutes a "solution" to the koan.
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Robert J. Moore, Indiana University-Bloomington
Direct all correspondence to Robert J. Moore, Department of Sociology,
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.