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The Pragmatics of ‘Never Tell Too Plainly’: indirect communication in Chan Buddhism

Youru Wang, Philosophy Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong
Asian Philosophy, Vol. 10, No.1, 2000

[p7] ABSTRACT This is a philosophical investigation of the linguistic strategy of Chinese Chan Buddhism. First, it examines the underlying structure of Chan communication, which determines the Chan pragmatics of `never tell too plainly’ . The examination of the structural features of Chan communication reveals what the Chan `special transmission’ means. The Chan definition of communication is very different from the Aristotelian conception of communication in the West. The Aristotelian hierarchy of speaker over listener, or the direct over indirect, is absent is Chan communication. Communication in the Chan context is interactive, open-ended and determined by its existentio-practical concern. Second, this essay 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’. The whole study indicates that Chan Buddhism provides the resources for our contemporary inquiry into the issue of indirect communication.

I. Preliminary Remarks

This essay borrows terms or categories, such as pragmatics and indirect communication, from contemporary Western philosophical discourses to examine relevant issues in Chan Buddhist thought. As a general term for the study of language use, pragmatics here is not used in the same way as Anglo-American philosophers of language would use. The adoption of this term is closer to Deleuze’s or Lyotard’s use of the term.[1] It comprises a critique of Anglo-American pragmatics in supposing that neither intention nor conventional rules can ensure a shared structure for all language use. Therefore, pragmatics, when it is applied in the examination of Chan communication, is certainly contextual, historical and structurally open-ended. In this study, the term pragmatics will be sometimes interchangeable with the 'general principle' or 'general strategy' of Chan communication that is distinguished from those sub-categories or more specific strategies of Chan communication. However, no matter how `general’ it could be for the convenience of analysis, this pragmatics will only attempt to delineate some structural features of Chan communication in their contexts that are determined by various factors. It does not seek, by theoretic abstraction, any fixed system or foundation for understanding Chan communication out of its changing context. Nor does it attempt to discover something like a scientific conclusion for all `indirect communication’ . It turns away from these tendencies and tries to keep up with the dynamic, living reality of Chan language use.

As for indirect communication, it is obviously different from direct communication. The former involves a critique of the latter. The traditional concept of direct communication in the West can be traced back to Aristotle’ s Rhetoric.[2] This concept can be broadly defined as the following: it is speaker-oriented and assumes a linear, teleological [p9] relation between the speaker and the receiver; it presupposes the direct or corresponding relation between language and thought, thought and object; it regards the message or what is communicated as objective, context-free and separable from existentio-practical concerns; it considers meaning determined, unequivocal, and transparent; it confines itself to the direct use of language, namely, the descriptive, cognitive, or propositional use of language. Indirect communication, on the contrary, can be broadly defined as listener- or reader-oriented, and non-teleological; it assumes an interactive relation between the speaker and the listener; it abandons the correspondence theory of language; it is concerned with the existentio-practical dimension of what is communicated; it considers meaning open-ended and indeterminate; it adopts indirect language, such as metaphorical, poetic, paradoxical language. This concept of indirect communication is recently favoured by Western philosophers such as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida and even the later Wittgenstein from one side, and Kierkegaard from the other side. Kierkegaard expounds that existential reality can only be communicated indirectly, since each individual must live in it.[3] Heidegger and other philosophers reveal that the process of communication is always open-ended, non-teleological, interactive between the speaker and the listener, and therefore always indirect.[4] Although their emphases are different, the underlying connection between Kierkegaard’ s view and that of more recent philosophers has been exposed by recent studies.[5] My definition of indirect communication here, as one can see, is a synthesis of all these philosophers’ contributions. Although we should never forget to clarify all historical contexts, this concept of indirect communication embraces those important issues that the Chan strategy of indirect communication already addresses. This categorising does not conceal that the Chan Buddhist approach to indirect communication is more analogous to the Kierkegaardian approach in the sense that existentio-practical dimension is primordial to the way of communication. However, Chan Buddhists do share some important views with contemporary philosophers on the indirection of communication. [6]

The issue of communication has been salient in Chan Buddhism ever since Chan Buddhists made the claim that Chan is a 'special (or separate) transmission outside theoretic teachings' . This special transmission is sometimes also identified by Chan Buddhists as `the transmission from mind to mind’. The uniqueness of the claim for Chan transmission or communication has drawn the attention of several modern scholars and interpreters. De Martino, in his essay on Chan/Zen communication, clearly states that Chan/Zen communication could `be spoken of as a communication that is no-communication’.[7] D.T. Suzuki, in his famous debate with Hu Shi, reaches the same point concerning Chan/Zen communication. He writes: `Strictly speaking, ... there is no conveying at all’.[8] These interpretations quite obviously tend to draw a line between Chan communication or transmission and our ordinary communication as conveyance of information or knowledge. As my definition has shown, we subsume the latter type of communication under the category of direct communication. The Chan strategy of communication, then, without doubt, fits into our category of indirect communication. Hu Shi, in his important essay 'Chan (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method' , pays special heed to one of Chan’s peculiar methods of instruction —`never tell too plainly’ (bushuopo).[9] Hu Shi points out that by using this method of never explaining things `in too plain language’, the Chan masters let `the individual  find out things through his own effort and through his own ever-widening life experience’.[10] To show the practical consequence of this method, Hu Shi cites a quote about bushuopo from the sayings of a great Chan master Dongshan Liangjie: ‘It is not [p9] my former master’s virtue or Buddha Dharma that I esteem, only that he did not make exhaustive explanations for me’.[11] This saying illustrates that in the master-disciple communication of Chan, the indirect way of communication itself is inseparable from, and even more important than, what is communicated. It has an important bearing on the realisation of enlightenment. Hu Shi’ s effort to call attention to the study of the Chan strategy and principle of `never tell too plainly’ is, therefore, significant to any more advanced investigations of indirect communication in Chan. Unfortunately, not much has been done in this regard since Hu Shi’s discussion.

It might be worth examining further here, for the purpose of our ensuing study, D.T. Suzuki’ s response to Hu Shi’ s description of the Chan method. One point Suzuki makes is that there is no prescribed, or fixed, method for Chan. Chan communication as non-conveyance of information or knowledge `is the awakening of the same experience in others by means of words, gestures, and anything the master finds suitable at the moment’.[12] This comment seems quite right. If `never tell too plainly’ were someday to become a rule or pattern that every Chan teacher must follow or duplicate, a great Chan master might spit at it and resolve to utilise plain expressions. Here I would like to make two comments as a supplement to Suzuki’ s point. First, the Chan strategy of `never tell too plainly’ does not mean to exclude any use of plain, direct expressions such as `no Buddhas’, `no clinging to anything’.[13] This fact is reflected in the huge body of Chan recorded sayings. Second, the principle of `never tell too plainly’ should not be conceived of as a unified method but as being open to a variety of strategies as Chan Buddhism itself provides. Suzuki correctly observes that Chan Buddhist expressions have a variety of uses and that what they mean depends on different situations.[14] He further emphasises that bushuopo is not just `not to speak plainly’. It is not merely a pedagogical method. It is `inherent in the constitution of’ the enlightenmental experience of Chan.[15] This is where Suzuki disagrees with Hu Shi. Although I do not take an overall stand with Suzuki on that debate, I think that Suzuki is suggesting to us that there is an underlying structure or relationship in the Chan strategy of `never tell too plainly’. To investigate this underlying structure or relationship will, it seems to me, be crucial to our study and understanding of indirect communication in Chan.

My argument, however, is that this investigation of the underlying structure or relationship should be an integral part of our contextual (or situational) investigation of Chan communicative strategy. From this perspective, Suzuki’s stance seems somewhat problematic. In attempting to look beyond the so-called `pedagogical method’, Suzuki tends to focus on the Chan experience of enlightenment itself. For Suzuki, those great Chan masters’ strategies, either verbal or non-verbal, directly issue forth from their enlightenment experience.[16] This leads Suzuki to leaning too much on the explanation or revelation of this Chan experience itself, and to overlooking, to a great extent, the importance of the contextual investigation and explanation of Chan communicative strategies. This tendency is not only reflected in his debate with Hu Shi, but is also manifest in his well-known study of the Chan/Zen gongan (J. koan). In that study, the focus remains on discussing the meaning of the Chan experience of enlightenment (satori) itself.[17]

This problem is closely related to, or probably caused by, two other problems in Suzuki’s treatment of Chan. First, he believes in a kind of `self-nature of Zen’ or what he calls `Zen as it is in itself’ , which refers especially to the Chan/Zen experience of enlightenment.[18] Thus the Chan experience becomes ahistorical and context-free. This interpretation seems to be incongruous with the typical Chan emphasis on the realisation [p10] of enlightenment within everyday/ temporal situations. Nor is it consistent with Suzuki’ s own acknowledgement that Chan/Zen deals with both time and timelessness,[19] namely, an interweaving of the two dimensions, not one dimension only. Second, the related understanding that Chan communicative strategies directly issue forth from the masters’ enlightenment experience becomes a reason to underestimate their strategies or methods and the related studies. Concerning this point, I have two brief comments to make. First, the idea that Chan communicative strategies are manifestations of, or to a large extent determined by, Chan enlightenment experience should underpin rather than undermine the importance of these strategies. Especially from the perspective of Hongzhou Chan, which will be the focus of our ensuing investigation, apart from everyday activities including linguistic communications, there would be no realisation of enlightenment. This perspective precludes any underestimation of Chan strategies and their functionality in Chan Buddhist soteriological practice. Secondly, it is important to understand properly the so-called direct functioning or issuing forth of the Chan strategies from the enlightenment experience. Insofar as Chan communication and its strategies are inseparable from the Chan enlightenment experience, the former seems to have a direct connection with the latter. However, insofar as Chan communicative strategies are the adaptation of the enlightened one’ s experience to different students and situations, this working of Chan communication is nonetheless indirect. The Chan masters are the masters of indirect communication precisely because they are so skilful in their adaptation. This adaptation cancels what Suzuki claims as the self-identity of the Chan experience, and keeps this experience alive by moving along with changing situations on a daily basis and by effectively arousing more people to work toward their own enlightenment.

Our ensuing study, therefore, will be directed toward both the investigation of the underlying structure of Chan communication — the pragmatics of `never tell too plainly’ — and the investigation of the important types of Chan communicative strategies. Although our study is rather more philosophical than historical, our interpretation of this underlying structure will not be ahistorical nor will our understanding of the Chan strategies be context-free. Our re-contextualisation of Chan texts will involve a kind of `fusion of horizons’ — the fusion of the historical tradition and our contemporary philosophical understanding. The latter will particularly consist of our use of selected vocabularies from contemporary discourses. A contemporary revisiting of the tradition of Chan Buddhist communication will definitely find useful resources for our contemporary understanding, utilisation and development of various strategies of indirect communication. It will also clarify what the Chan `special transmission’ or `the transmission from mind to mind’ means or implies. However, all this must be done on the basis of examining Chan texts, most of which are widely known as `recorded sayings (yulu)’ .

II. The Contextual and Structural Features of the Chan Pragmatics of `Never Tell Too Plainly’

To characterise and to analyse the contextual and structural features of the Chan pragmatics of `never tell too plainly’ are to reveal the rationale for this general strategy of indirect communication. To put it another way, we shall attempt to see under what circumstances this indirect communication works or for what reasons Chan Buddhists employ this general strategy. Since Chan communicative strategy is inseparable from the goal of Chan soteriological practice — the realisation of enlightenment — our analysis [p11] of the contextual and structural features of Chan communication must link itself to the understanding and interpretation of this Chan enlightenment. Two main dimensions of Chan enlightenment most profoundly determine the underlying structure of Chan communication. One is the dimension of non-duality. Another is the existentio-practical dimension. These two dimensions are closely interrelated in the realisation of enlightenment.

The Dimension of Non-duality

Chan Buddhism inherits the dimension of non-duality from the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition. Among the Chan contributions to the enrichment of this Mahāyāna  dimension of non-duality, two aspects are particularly relevant to our current study. (i) Chan completely carries out the dimension of non-duality in such a way that all the schisms between nirvāna and samsāra, between Buddhas and sentient beings, between self and other, etc., forfeit their legitimacy. The consequence of this realised non-duality in Chan is not only an intellectual non-commitment to any oppositional thinking or binary distinction, but an active involvement in the everyday world of interdependent fluidity. This living fluidity of interdependence, in the eye of an enlightened person, never becomes a vacant space, a realm for escape from the everyday entanglement, nor becomes an abyss for annihilation. It is a productive field of interrelationship, a field for interactivity in which the conventional, samsaric separations or oppositions no longer restrict or hinder the enlightened person. Enlightenment, from this Chan point of view and understood as realised non-duality, can never be an isolated state of consciousness, nor can it be an experience `as it is in itself’ . (ii) Chan Buddhists most noticeably carry into effect the dimension of non-duality in their communicative encounter between the masters and the disciples, which is a unique form within Chan soteriological practice. This application of non-duality dramatically alters the traditional pattern of Buddhist discourse or communication. That pattern demarcates, by established scriptural phraseology such as `thus have I heard’, the preacher and the receiver of the Buddhist dharma. It facilitates the view that the Buddha conveys a kind of truth or knowledge. Chan Buddhist transmission or communication, however, is `a transmission or communication in which there is no transmitter, no recipient, and nothing transmitted or communicated, and, at the same time, nothing not transmitted or not communicated’.[20] It is not too difficult to understand, in terms of non-duality, that there is no transmitter, no recipient, and nothing transmitted or communicated in the Chan communication. This is so because the connection between these features of Chan communication and the non-dual dimension of Chan enlightenment is quite obvious. De Martino also explains the feature of the Chan communication as `a transmission of [dharma] by [dharma] to [dharma] that is [n]o-[dharma]’.[21] I believe this non-duality is why D.T. Suzuki interprets Chan communication as the direct functioning of the enlightenmental experience itself.[22] However, what is most commonly misunderstood is this `dharma that is no-dharma’, or that nothing is transmitted and at the same time nothing is not transmitted. Here I mean the differentiation of the dharma, or the same of non-self- identity, in the realisation of the enlightenment, which is so crucial to our understanding of Chan communication. If we carry out the Chan dimension of non-duality, and understand enlightenment as realising and being involved in the everyday world of interdependence, the dharma must be understood as differentiating itself or negating itself, not in order to return to itself, but to be open to the living flux of interdependence. In much the same way, the dharma or the enlightenment experience must [p12] differentiate or negate itself in order to communicate or to share. Thus it does not cancel communication in sustaining its own identity, but merely demands a transformation of the latter. It makes possible a radically different way of communicating, assigning a different role to each participant in the communication, and therefore best serves Chan soteriological practice.

The Existentio-practical Dimension

Chan enlightenment is both individual and social. It is individual in the sense that it is each individual’s existentio-spiritual awakening or the transformation of one’ s own personhood. It is social in the sense that enlightenment is not, and cannot be attained by, a withdrawal from everyday activities or practices in the world and from all involvement with others. This point is well illustrated in Mazu Daoyi’ s explanation of dao (in Chan, dao designates both the Buddhist Path and enlightenment): as he says, `Just like now, whether walking, standing, sitting, reclining, responding to situations or handling things for people: all is dao’. [23] In this light, the Chan emphasis on each individual’s existentio-spiritual awakening or the transformation of one’s personhood does not necessarily entail a kind of individualism as long as its social and practical dimensions are not ignored. However, it is this emphasis on each individual’s awakening or transformation, or more precisely, its existentio-practical dimension, that decisively calls for the change in the meaning of communication in Chan.

Here we attempt of clarify the meaning of `the transmission from mind to mind (yixin chuanxin)’ . The Chan masters do use the word `transmission’ or `communication’ (chuan) when they talk about `the special (or separate) transmission outside theoretic teachings (jiaowai biechuan)’ and `the transmission from mind to mind’. However, this transmission or communication never amounts to conveying something from the inner state of one mind to that of another. It does not convey something like knowledge or cognitive truth that can be exteriorised by the transmitter and can be obtained or possessed by the receiver. The Western conception of direct communication based on the correspondence relation between object and thought , thought and medium, finds no counterpart in Chan communication. As many Chan texts have revealed, Chan masters vehemently oppose any consideration of Chan enlightenment as getting a certain kind of knowledge through some media. This objection to submitting communication to mediated cognition, however, does not necessarily mean that the Chan communication of enlightenment experience is non-mediational, as D.T. Suzuki has claimed. [24] What matters for Chan is that conventional media are seen as means to accomplish practical (especially soteriological) goals, not as medium of representing something mental or material.

Because of this fundamental difference between conventional communication and Chan transmission or communication, oftentimes Chan masters painstakingly point out that they transmit nothing to anybody. For example, Dazhu Huhai declares: `I do not have a single dharma to show anybody’. [25] Linji announces: `I don’ t have a particle of [dharma] to give to anyone’. [26] The following dialogue between Huangbo Xiyun and his student may be the most straightforward discussion on `the transmission from mind to mind’. 

The student: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the dharma to be transmitted?
The master: It is a transmission from mind to mind … Obtaining no dharma [p13] whatever is called the transmission of mind … You hear people speak of the transmission of mind and then you intend to say that there is something to be received. So a patriarch said: `…Enlightenment is naught to be obtained. One who attains does not say he knows’. [27]

Here Huangbo Xiyun makes perfectly clear that the transmission from mind to mind is not a transmission in the conventional sense. It transmits nothing, not even a single dharma. Therefore, paradoxically, this no-transmission, as he explains, is the so-called transmission of mind.

Nevertheless, the Chan `recorded sayings’ provide us with other positive terms that the Chan masters use to explain their view of communication. These terms allow us to take a further look at what is meant by `the transmission from mind to mind’. For instance, Huangbo Xiyun himself also interprets `the transmission from mind to mind’ as follows: `Mind and mind verify and accord with each other (yixin yinxin) so that they become the same (xinxin buyi)’.[28] It is difficult to find an accurate equivalent for the Chinese character yin in a single English word. As a verb, it involves the meanings of `to accord or to harmonize with each other’, `to verify each other’ , and so forth.[29] In compounds, such as `yinhe (to verify and to accord with)’, `yinzheng (to verify)’, `yinke (to verify and to conform)’, etc., these meanings are apparent and often adopted by Chan Buddhists. Thus, according to Huangbo Xiyun, the transmission from mind to mind must be understood as the mutual realisation or verification of enlightenment. The mind of the master (the Sakyamuni Buddha is seen as the first master by Chan Buddhism) and the mind of the disciple are brought into harmony or accord by each one’s enlightenment. This is the meaning of transmission. Here the verification (yinzheng) of enlightenment must not be understood as merely interior. It must be characterised as neither interior nor exterior, since it can never be cut off from, or confined to, one side or the other.

Just as yin indicates to us the special meaning of Chan communication, the use of the term qi offers a similar clue to the understanding of this meaning. Qi, as a verb, involves a stronger sense of `to accord or to harmonise with each other’ and `to get along with each other’ than the word yin does. It contains as well the meanings of `to attain’ and `to experience and to understand’. [30] Thus in Chinese compounds we see `qihe (to get along with each other, or to accord with each other)’, 'qihui (to experience and to understand)', 'qiwu (to experience and to realize)', etc. The Chan masters more often use qihui or qiwu in the sense of `to be enlightened’. Huangbo Xiyun, in his well-known Chuanxin Fayao, frequently uses such terms as qihui, qiw­u, moqi (to realise silently), and so on.

What draws our attention is the close relation between his use of qi and his interpretation of Chan transmission or communication. After his discussion of the verification and harmonisation between mind and mind (yixin yinxin), he immediately talks about qihui — the experience and realisation of enlightenment.[31] For him, being able to verify and harmonise one’s mind with another enlightened mind is first and foremost to experience and realise one’ s own enlightenment (qihui). This experience and realisation of one’s own enlightenment is like a person’s drinking of water (ruren yinshui). Whether the water is cold or warm, one must experience it by him- or herself (lengnuan zizhi).[32] Nobody can do it for him or her. It involves one’s existential choice, the conversion of one’s life outlook and attitude, good will and decision-making; in short, the transformation of the entire personhood. On the other hand, Huangbo Xiyun unmistakably points out: `Each opportunity and each situation, each move of brows [p14] and each blink, if responding appropriately, all can be called [the moment of] the experience and attainment of enlightenment (qihui) or the verification and realisation of the way of Chan’.[33] In this light, qihui is a practical matter. It is inseparable from practices in the everyday world and involvement with others. The Chan emphasis on qihui thus most effectively embodies the existentio-practical dimension of Chan. It reveals the peculiar context for the primary goal and feature of Chan transmission or communication. Because of this disclosure of the intrinsic relation between qihui and Chan transmission, Peixiu, a famous lay Chan Buddhist and the editor of Huangbo Xiyun’s sayings, in his `Hymn on the Transmission of Mind’ which is often used as an appendix to Huangbo Xiyun’ s sayings, summarises: `Mind cannot be transmitted. The experience, realization and resonance of enlightenment, therefore, are the transmission (yiqi weichuan)’.[34] This is an accurate recount of Huangbo Xiyun’s thought and an excellent definition for Chan transmission or communication.

Once we have a clear grasp of these important dimensions of Chan, which give special meaning to Chan transmission or communication, we are in a better position to investigate the peculiar relations among the components of this communication, the unique roles these participants play, all of which constitute the underlying structure for the employment of the general strategy — `never tell too plainly’. (a) In Chan communication as the experience, realisation and resonance of enlightenment, there is no hierarchy of speaker and listener, transmitter and receiver. The overturning of this hierarchy is due not only to the Chan perspective of non-duality, but also to its existentio-practical concern. Let us examine first the role of the Chan master as a participant in this communication. In Chan communication, the master, the patriarch, or even the Buddha, is not a dominant speaker or transmitter whose intention predetermines the process and end of communication. The role that the Chan master plays rather manifests the open-ended structure of Chan communication. This role can be described in the following main aspects.

First, Chan masters’ engaging in the communication only serves as their response to other sentient beings’ need for the realisation of enlightenment. They themselves have nothing special to deliver, nor do they have any position to assert. The realisation of other sentient beings’ own enlightenment is the focus and primary goal of all Chan communicative activities in which Chan masters are involved. As we have indicated, this realization is the transformation of one’ s entire personhood. It can never be reduced to the mere conveying/receiving of a certain intention or intentional meaning. Meaning is completely contextual and situational. It must be realised existentially and practically by one’ s own transformation. It is in this sense that the Chan students’ naive search for answers to the question — `what was the first patriarch’s intention in coming from the West?’ — must always be rejected by the Chan master. Since other sentient beings’ own enlightenment rather than one master’s intended meaning is the focus and goal of communicative action, what this master says is not particularly important, nor is it necessary to be fixed. It simply becomes a moment of evocation or inspiration for the student’s own effort and life-engagement.

Second, what the master says does not directly link his enlightenment with the student’s realisation of his or her own enlightenment. It is indirect, since all sayings are situational and the situations in which the master and the student realize their own enlightenment are also different. To deny this situational difference is to deny our everyday world of change and  flux. Chan masters embrace this changing reality rather than ignoring it. Their indirect strategy of communication reflects their insight into this situational or practical difference. Therefore, `never tell too plainly’ as an [p15] indirect strategy is not a personal or sectarian preference but a profound recognition of the indirection of communication. Chan master Kuishan Lingyou once suggested that even parents’ sayings cannot have a direct relation with their son’s own realisation of enlightenment — `I will not even explain directly to my son, although my mouth was born with me from my parents’.[35] He also says: `What I can directly tell is my own understanding. How can it (directly) benefit your own seeing?’ [36] The implication is that while enlightenment for all Buddhists seems the same, each realisation must be different. What the parents or the masters understand or see would never be identical with what the son or the student understands or sees, for each faces a different situation, being in a different position, and must find his or her own way.

Third, since other sentient beings’ own enlightenment is the focus and primary goal of the communication, and since their realisation of enlightenment is situational, every Chan master, as a participant, is not only a speaker. He is, and must be, a listener in the first place. Chan masters may happily accept Heidegger’s opinion that speaking is of itself a listening, but would refuse to confine themselves to the reified ‘essential being of language’ that fascinated Heidegger for so long.[37] A Chan master listens to many different things. He, of course, listens to the silent utterance of his own and other’s enlightenment experiences, listens to the speaking of the Chan language that has come down to him. This kind of listening prepares him for engaging in communication. However, more importantly, he listens to the silent call of a variety of situations in which he encounters the student. He listens to the silent telling of the student’s everyday activities and practices, of his relationship with others, and of his capacity. Finally, he listens to the student’ s questions and words carefully. Because he listens, he is able to respond and speak better. He thus is able to perform an art of speaking — to speak indirectly. Chan masters may agree with Kierkegaard on one thing: that indirect communication is what makes communication an art. [38]

Fourth, this art of speaking, based on listening, demands that the Chan master must speak differently according to each different situation. There is no fixed meaning to convey, nor is there any theoretic principle to follow. Since Chan masters’ sayings are not to inculcate a form of thought, formal consistency is not a restriction for them. Their sayings are regulated or guided by their practical purpose or effectiveness. This enhances greatly the sensibility, flexibility and skilfulness of their response and speaking. One of the most famous examples is Mazu Daoyi’s different responses and sayings to different people and situations.

Question: Why do you say that mind is Buddha (Jixin Jifo)?
Answer: To stop children’ s crying.
Question: What do you say when they have stopped crying?
Answer: It is neither mind nor Buddha (Feixin Feifo).
Question: When there comes someone who belongs to neither of these two kinds, how do you instruct him?
Answer: I tell him that it is not even a thing (Bushiwu).
Question: How about when you suddenly meet someone who has been on the Path?
Answer: I teach him to experience and realize the great dao (Tihui Dadao).[39]

[p16] Here four great notions of the Chan soteriology briefly posed by Mazu Daoyi respond to four kinds of people who are at different stages of their spiritual progress. As Mazu Daoyi and his followers emphatically advise, no student should get stuck in any of his words or notions. They are, among numerous others, merely expedients (fangbian shishe) or temporary prescriptions (yaofang). A similar demonstration of the great flexibility and skilfulness in responding and speaking can also be found in Linji’s description of his `Four Procedures’. [40]

Fifth, this great flexibility in responding and speaking reveals the working of the Chan art and strategy of ‘never tell too plainly’. The Chan masters must not perform in such conventional ways as giving lectures, teaching doctrines, describing things, or explaining principles for further action, but must simply evoke, inspire, arouse, or intrigue. Therefore, to speak indirectly is to say something evocative, inspiring, edifying. The Chan masters speak in order to evoke the students’ self-interrogation and self-transformation, to arouse the students’ discovery of their own meaning of enlightenment, to encourage the students to make their own existential choice. In all these aspects, neither the Chan master’ s intention nor his saying can substitute for the students’ own action. A great Chan master is fully aware of his difficult task: to help his students only to the degree that his words will inspire or edify them, but never mislead them or hinder their own realisation. This is the main reason that many Chan students feel so grateful to their masters. One instance, as we put at the beginning of this paper, is Dongshan Liangjie’s noted esteem for his master’s strategy of `never tell too plainly’. To arouse the students’ action in the right direction, the Chan masters’ evocative or edifying sayings are often at the same time therapeutic. Not only do these Chan masters carefully eschew any trap of reifying words, they also offer ‘shock therapy’ to those who, for instance, have been trapped by the reifying use of words and the conventional way of thinking. Zhaozhou’s answer of ‘The cypress tree in the yard’ could be a kind of ‘shock therapy’ to the student who asks what the first patriarch’s intention is in coming from the West.[41] The ‘shock therapy’ directs the students towards working out their own health. Sometimes it has the effect of curing the disease quickly and leads the students to the realization of their own enlightenment.

(b) If the art and strategy of ‘never tell too plainly’ make the Chan master’s speaking both freer and more difficult, so does the role of the student. The student, in Chan communication, is not only a listener, nor only a passive receiver. If the master merely conveyed some information or knowledge, some fixed meanings or formulated teachings and doctrines, some rules or principles, everything might be much easier for the student. In that case there would be no authentic Chan communication. The Chan student, on the contrary, must become more engaged, active and creative. The master’s responses or words, no matter how evocative or edifying, only push the students back on themselves. They must face their own situation and  find their own way to enlightenment. They must make their own decision and transform their own personhood. They must experience and realise the meaning of enlightenment in their daily activities and situations in which they cannot simply duplicate their master’s experience. Only in this way can they achieve enlightenment, echoing and resonating with the master’s experience, and harmonise themselves with the master and other enlightened ones. Only in this sense can communication be completed.

On the other hand, since the masters do not impose any positions or rules on them, and do not inculcate any dogmas, the students are set free from what the masters say. They are free to search out their own answers and solutions to the problem of their lives, free to explore the meaning of life and death, nirvana and samsāra, in various [p17] situations, free to do whatever they believe is right in their daily practices. This freedom is both the condition for the student’ s creative involvement and the characteristic of enlightenment. We may see this aspect more clearly from the following ‘recorded sayings’ .

When Mazu Daoyi heard that Master Damei Fachang lived in the mountain, he sent a monk there to ask, ‘What have you learned from Master Mazu so that you live in this mountain?’ Damei answered, `Master Mazu taught me that mind is Buddha; accordingly I have settled here to live.’ The monk said, `Nowadays Master Mazu teaches a different Buddha-dharma’ . Damei asked, ‘What is the difference?’ The monk said, `In these days he also teaches that there is neither mind nor Buddha’ . Damei said, `This old man confuses people without an end. No matter how you insist on saying `There is neither mind nor Buddha’ , I will pay attention only to 'Mind is Buddha' ’ . When Master Mazu heard the story after the monk’ s return, he remarked, `Oh brothers, the plum is now ripe’ . (For the Chinese word damei means big plum.) [42]

This story demonstrates best the creative relation between the student and the master, especially the unique role of the student. As Mazu’ s student, Damei is free to choose what is right for him, or what is most suitable to his own situation. He does not depend on, or attach himself to, everything his master says. From the perspective of enlightenment, whatever the master says, either `Mind is Buddha’ or `Neither mind nor Buddha’, is nothing but a skilful expedient guiding the students toward their realisation of enlightenment within each particular situation. To understand this is an important step on the path to enlightenment. Therefore, the master admires Damei’s attainment of freedom and non-attachment. This story also illustrates best the non-existence of the hierarchy between speaker and listener, transmitter and receiver, in Chan communication. The student, as a creative person, a master of himself, is free to challenge his own master, as Damei’s words show. The end of the story can be read as Mazu’s meeting the challenge from his own student. Chan communication thus is perfectly shown here as the mutual realisation of enlightenment, as the harmonious relation between the participants, as the achievement of qihui.

(c) It is hard to demarcate the message, as an element in the Chan communication, from the participants and from the communicative action in the way that a traditional study of communication, such as an Aristotelian one, does. We have referred to the issue of message or of what is communicated in our discussion of the role of the participants in Chan communication. Here I will briefly summarise the germane points. First, the Chan masters always underscore, as we have mentioned several times, that they do not convey any message, any teaching, any dharma. When Zhaozhou uses the words `The cypress tree in the yard’ to answer the question `What is the first patriarch’s intention in coming from the West’, a student asks him, `Don’t you use surroundings to show something?’ Zhaozhou says: `I do not use surroundings to show anything’.[43] He is suggesting that there is not even a message behind such words as `The cypress tree in the yard’. All the Chan masters’ sayings are prescriptions for curing diseases or expedients to evoke self-interrogation and self-transformation. In a word, they serve practical purposes. Therefore, the clarity and definitiveness of their words or meanings are unimportant. For example, to answer the same question, once Zhaozhou uses `The cypress tree in the yard’; another time he uses `The legs of a bed’; another time he uses `Moss growing on one’s front teeth’.[44] These answers, of course, make the student’s conventional understanding of the message very difficult. Second, what is communicated is not a message, [p18] but the realisation and resonance of enlightenment in everyday activities and practices. In other words, the awakened participant of this communication him-or-herself is what is communicated. Thus the participants are free from the bondage of any message, any words. This is precisely the main reason that the issue of what is communicated does not exist in itself for Chan communication. It is embodied in Chan communicative action, in the entire way of communicating, in the existentio-practical achievement of enlightenment itself, in the creative contribution of the participants.

These preliminary accounts of the underlying relationship and structure of Chan communication help us to understand why and how Chan Buddhists employ the indirect strategy of `never tell too plainly’. However, to see more distinctly how Chan Buddhists communicate indirectly, we must investigate more concrete strategies that are compelling illustrations and manifestations of the general strategy of `never tell too plainly’. It is to these different types of the indirect strategy of Chan communication that we now turn.

III. The Use of `Living Words’ : the different types of indirect strategy in Chan communication

The extraordinary flexibility and skilfulness of the art and strategy of `never tell too plainly’ characteristic of Chan communication is also reflected in the Chan notion of `living words’. Among the well-known Chan masters, Baizhang Huaihai may be the first one to distinguish `living words (shengyu)’ from `dead words (siyu).’ Like other Chan masters, he fiercely opposes any reliance on words or being restricted by words. Meanwhile, he makes quite explicit that he does not oppose every use of language. `You must,’ he says, `discriminate those living and dead words...’.[45] This notion of living words later on becomes a focus for the development of using gongan in `kanhua Chan’. Yuanwu Keqin makes a famous statement about `living words’.
Examine the living words (huoju); don’ t examine the dead words (siju). If you gain understanding through the living words, you will never forget it; if you gain understanding through the dead words, you won’t even be able to save yourself. If you want to take the patriarchs and Buddhas as your masters, you must clearly choose the living words.[46]

Dahui Zonggao, the strongest advocate of `kanhua Chan’, holds the same opinion.[47] Generally speaking, the Chan notion of `living words’ carries apparently two major meanings. First, it insists that Chan Buddhists should use words in such a way as to elude every fixation on words, to avoid falling into the trap of words. Living words are those that can point to something beyond any fixed words or meanings. Living words thus function and play at the boundaries of language. Second, therefore, living words best serve Chan soteriological practice, never hindering but catalysing Chan awakening in a variety of contexts. It is not surprising that the art of `never tell too plainly’ finds its finest expression in the notion of `living words’. However, Chan Buddhists do not establish a theory of `living words’. Their notion of `living words’ is involved in their explanation of the actual use of words. In what follows, we will examine three types of `living words’ as the Chan strategies of indirect communication.[48]

(a) The Use of Paradoxical Language

The use of paradoxical expression has a close connection with the use of serial negation [p19] or double negation in Buddhism. Both can be placed under the category of the play of negativity in discursive language. The use of double negation and paradox is not a privilege that Chan Buddhism exclusively possesses. It is a common feature of discourse, we may say characteristic, of almost the entire Buddhist tradition, including Indian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and so forth. However, scholars have been arguing that although Chan Buddhists are informed by the Indian Mahāyāna  Buddhist discourse of negativity, such as the Mādhyamika discourse and the Prajñāpāramitā tradition, Chan Buddhism reaches the consummation of the Chinese adaptation and simplification of the Indian Buddhist mode. Contrary to the Indian mode of rigid logical analysis, such as the reductio ad absurdum and the progressive negation, Chinese Buddhists prefer the simplified use of paradox, the juxtaposition of opposites, which is first exemplified by the Chinese Mādhyamika thinker, Sengzhao, and culminates in Chan Buddhists.[49] The consequence of this simplification of negative strategy coincides with the Chan attitude of non-reliance on theoretical teachings, with its emphasis on the realisation of the Buddhist soteriologial goal in all mundane activities. In any case, the abundant use of paradoxical language is widely known as a unique characteristic of Chan discourse. To understand this use of paradoxical language, we had better start our investigation with Baizhang Huaihai’s account of `living words’.

Baizhang’ s account of `living words’ involves his advice on using words or sentences that cut off two opposites.

Cut off the supposition ‘it exists’ and the supposition ‘it does not exist’. Cut off the supposition `it is nonexistent’ and the supposition `it is not nonexistent’. Leave no trace on either side. Let nobody catch you on either side...neither profane nor holy, neither light nor dark, neither having knowledge nor lacking knowledge, neither bondage nor liberation. It is not any name or category at all.[50]

Therefore, ‘Those sayings that there is cultivation and there is realization, that this mind is Buddha,...are dead words. Those sayings that there is neither cultivation nor realization, that it is neither mind nor Buddha, ...are living words’.[51] `Neither identity nor difference, neither impermanence nor permanence, neither coming nor going — these are living words ... [The binary distinctions of] coming, going, impermanence, permanence, Buddha and sentient beings, are dead words.’ [52] On these accounts, `living words’ are, first of all, paradoxical words, words that elude and violate the conventional rules of oppositional thinking and either/or logic. This accent on the use of paradoxical words develops from Huineng’s similar teaching in The Platform Sutra. Huineng teaches his disciples to preach dharma ‘by utilizing the thirty-six pairs of opposites and going around them without attaching yourself to either side’. [53] When explaining how one should use this method, he further points out:

In conversation with others, externally, while within form, be separate from form; internally, while within emptiness, be separate from emptiness... . Darkness is not darkness by itself; because there is light there is darkness. That darkness is not darkness by itself is because light changes, becoming darkness, and with darkness light is revealed. They originate each from the other. The thirty-six pairs are also like this.[54]

We see very clearly that the logical principles of non-contradiction and excluded middle simply do not work here for these Chan Buddhist thinkers. However, to understand why these Chan Buddhist thinkers advocate and use the paradoxical expressions of [p20] A = -A, we need a three-fold dimensional analysis to look more closely into the entire context of the Chan Buddhist use of paradoxical words.

Dynamic Dimension or the Dimension of Getting Along with the Change and Flux of The everyday World.  The above-quoted paragraph from Huineng plainly shows that his preference for using paradoxical expression is concerned with the ‘change’, contingency and indeterminacy of things, or in traditional Buddhist terms, with interdependent origination. This dimension is fundamental for the Chan use of paradoxical words and for Chan soteriology. It is true that this dimension is frequently misunderstood both inside and outside Chan Buddhism. `Sitting meditation’ and the realisation of enlightenment or Buddha-nature are often conceived of as a kind of escape from the flux and impurity of mundane activities to an island of permanence and purity. Teachings such as `concentrating the mind and entering into meditation, fixing the mind on contemplating purity, ... controlling the mind for inner cleanness’,[55] criticised by Shenhui, presuppose the Buddha-nature as an immobilised essence apart from flowing reality and the everyday activities of the human mind. However, the spirit of Shenhui’s criticism is greatly promoted by the later development of Chan Buddhism.[56]

Among the most celebrated Chan masters, Huangbo, Linji and Mazu all like to use the word renyun, which could be best translated as `following along with the movement of all things or circumstances’. In Mazu’s sayings, we find the following expression: ‘following along with the movement of all things and in this way living out your time’.[57] Huangbo advises his students: `At all times ... never attach yourself to one thing; just follow along with the movement of all things the whole day long’ .[58] ‘Following along with the movement of all things without any restriction is called liberation’ [59] Linji’ s more metaphorical expression goes like this: `Merely according to circumstances as they are, use up your past karma; following along with [the change of] circumstances, put on your [different] clothes’.[60] Linji’s viewpoint is also manifested in his use of this quotation:

The mind changes in accordance with the myriad circumstances; the way it changes is truly profound. If you can realize its nature through this flow, you will have neither joy nor sorrow.[61]

I use all these important and persuasive examples to demonstrate that these great Chan thinkers never regard liberation or enlightenment as isolation or an escape from the flowing reality of the everyday world. They rather consider it a return from our isolated or fixed state of mind to this world of perpetual change and flux. They consider all these changes and fluctuations natural and spontaneously so, and this naturalness and spontaneity a state of the enlightened mind. Their use of the word renyun is often in tandem with their use of words tinged with more apparent Daoist naturalism such as ziran (being natural or spontaneously so) and wushi (doing nothing). Accordingly, words that are connected with the fabrication and staticisation of sequential, discriminative, reifying thinking, must be ‘cut off’. Words that utilise oppositions and contradictions to inspire our return to the world of dynamic convergence of various different meanings, things, aspects, to call forth our flowing together with these different meanings, things, aspects, are ‘living words’.

Pragmatic Dimension or Therapeutic Dimension. When Mazu proposes at the same time the notion of `Mind is Buddha’ and the notion of ‘There is neither mind nor Buddha’, it is an apparent contradiction. However, when facing another person’s questioning of [p21] his position, as we have seen, he does not attempt to solve the contradiction by reformulating his sentences or by clearing its semantic meanings. He simply asks people to look beyond the semantic meanings of his sayings. In other words, the meaningfulness is its usefulness, which lies completely in the pragmatic context, namely, in the context of soteriological practice. Therefore, the forms of contradiction or paradox, in the Chan communication, are always preserved as they are, without any need to eliminate them, but at the same time are utilized to serve therapeutic or healing purposes, such as ‘To stop children’s crying’. Baizhang Huaihai makes this point very explicit. He states: `All speeches and teachings are just like curing illness. Because there are different kinds of illness, we use different medicines. Therefore sometimes we say “There is Buddha”, and sometimes we say “There is no Buddha”... . Prescriptions are different. We should never have any restriction and fixation.’ [62] Another master, Zizai of Funiu Mountain, also explains: `Such a phrase as “There is neither mind nor Buddha” is a phrase for curing illness with a medicine.’ [63] Many of Chan paradoxical expressions work in the same way. For the Chan masters and students, if the therapeutic functions of these paradoxical expressions are effective, there are no contradictory meanings at all within the pragmatic context.[64]

Liminological Dimension. The Chan use of paradoxical expressions cannot be characterised as illogical or irrational, as D.T. Suzuki sometimes claims.[65] It is translogical or paralogical. It functions and plays at the boundaries or limits of ordinary logical thinking. As Huineng’s strategy has shown, Chan utilises various pairs of opposites that are commonly used as the elements of the discrimination characteristic of a conventional either/or logic. However, without abandoning these opposites available in ordinary and religious — philosophical language, the Chan masters make inoperative logical rules such as those of non-contradiction and excluded middle. They use contradictions and oppositions as special tools to pursue a pragmatic purpose, to suspend human staticisation and fixation, to arouse their fellow beings’ awakening to the dynamic reality of change and flux. Therefore, the boundaries or limits of discriminative language, oppositional thinking and either/or logic are the pre-conditions of the Chan use of paradox. But by playing at these boundaries or limits, the Chan paradoxical expression works toward something that ordinary logical thinking cannot, namely, overcoming the latter’ s limitations. This is the liminological function of Chan paradoxical expressions,[66] an important function of Chan ‘living words’.

(b) The Use of Tautological Language

The English word tautology, stemming from its Greek root, means the repetition of the same idea, statement or word. Grammatically, tautology is commonly considered as meaningless or as a fault of style.[67] Philosophically (or logically), tautology is often said to be empty, uninformative or useless.[68] The subject — predicate structure of propositional language demands an exclusion of tautology from philosophical discourse. This structure, in serving the logical principle of identity and defining a thing as itself, always forces a proposition to say something about the thing it represents, namely, to refer to something opposite to it negatively in order to establish its own identity, such as `A is not X’ or `A is not non-A’. Thus, although Western logic and its principle of identity have been criticised as tautological for their ignorance of the change and flux of things,[69] this logical language, ironically, forbids the use of any apparently tautological expression. Obviously, oppositional thinking is the foundation for both the principle of [p22] identity and the exclusion of tautology from philosophical discourses. In his critique of Western ontotheologies and his search for alternatives to Western metaphysical language, Heidegger strikingly uses tautological expressions such as `the world worlds’, `the thing things’.[70] However, Heidegger is not informed by the fact that Chan Buddhists also use tautological language as `living words’ in their religio-philosophical discourses. The investigation of the Chan use of tautological language will therefore be helpful to our exploration of other possibilities in philosophical discourse.

Most tautologies deliberately used by Chan masters appear in the dialogues between the masters and the students. Being extraordinarily flexible and skilful in responding and speaking, the Chan masters sometimes give contradictory answers to the same question. They speak as differently as they can in order to deal with very different situations or contexts. Sometimes they keep silent, refusing to give any answer. Sometimes they simply repeat the student’s words. Let us look at the following examples:

Question: What is one drop of water from the source of Caoxi (Ruheshi Caoyuan Yidishui)?[71]
Answer: [It is] one drop of water from the source of Caoxi (Shi Caoyuan Yidishui).[72]
Question: What is the Buddha-dharma (Ruheshi Fofa)?
Answer: The Buddha-dharma (Fofa).
Question: What is the dharma of all dharmas (Ruheshi Fazhongfa)?
Answer: The dharma of all dharmas (Fazhongfa)...
Question: What is the dao (Ruheshi Dao)?
Answer: The dao, the dao.[73]
Question: What is the dao (Ruheshi Dao)?
Answer: [It is] just the dao (Zhengshi Dao).[74]

Are these tautological answers or expressions meaningless? It is true that they are uninformative, since they are not conventional answers to those inquiries, not the conveyance of any information. They say nothing in the conventional sense. However, they are certainly not meaningless, nor are they useless, within the context of Chan soteriological practice.

The general function of Chan tautological expression in soteriological practice can be described as follows. First, tautology is used as a therapeutic tool similar to a negative strategy. It decomposes or violates normal predication, refusing to formulate a definition, to predicate anything. The lack of a strict subject-predicate structure in Chinese grammar facilitates the Chan masters’ deliberately turning their back on any definition. However, the pragmatic concern is still a predominant factor here. The lack of rules for subject-predicate relationship does not preclude the possibility of using Chinese language in the way of predication, as those Chan students’ questions imply. For these Chan masters, the students’ questions have fallen into the trap of predication. The realisation of the Buddha-dharma or the dao cannot rely on knowing the definition of the Buddha-dharma or the dao. It must liberate itself from any oppositional thinking and referential, propositional language, and must be achieved practically, as indicated [p23] by our preceding discussion of the dimension of non-duality and the pragmatic dimension in Chan. The Chan masters’ answers are to reverse the direction of predication, to put an end to oppositional thinking and referential language, and to cure the students’ illness. Thus the unconventional, tautological expression produces an effect analogous to a kind of therapeutic shock to the students.

Second, although the tautological expressions say nothing in the sense of predication, they nonetheless say something indirectly. In interrupting predication, they continuously and repeatedly challenge and provoke the students’ effort, guiding them toward non-oppositional or non-dualistic understanding. As we can see in our examples, the tautology of `the Buddha-dharma’ or ‘the dao’ points to the realisation of enlightenment in such a way as to violate or unusually restrict ordinary naming. It provisionally utilises the naming, but transforms and presents it in an undivided manner, in its full intensity, in its dynamic immanence, and without an `is predication’. Chan tautological expression is thus a saying by way of non-saying, or a saying of non-saying. It is beyond negative and positive expressions. This use of tautological expressions noticeably demonstrates the characteristic of the Chan use of `living words’. If living words are those that have no words within themselves (yuzhong wuyu),[75] the Chan tautological expressions are precisely such words. They are sayings of repeating and at the same time of pointing, suggesting, but without predicating.

There are similarities between the Chan Buddhist use of tautology and Heidegger’s. Both use tautology to decompose conventional predication, to overcome oppositional thinking. Both use it as a saying of non-saying or as a saying by way of non-saying. However, the differences with respect to their uses of tautology are also discernible. The Chan Buddhist use of tautology has an apparently pragmatic goal, namely, it serves its soteriological purpose. Heidegger’s use is closely related to his search for the understanding of Being. The tautological expression for Heidegger is to maintain the identity and unity of Being.[76] For Chan Buddhists, although the tautological expression aims at pointing to the Buddha-dharma or the dao non-dualistically, the Buddha-dharma or the dao is neither identical nor different. The Buddha-dharma or the dao must be realised holistically, but at the same time it opens to differentiation, to different people and different situations. Therefore, it is without self-identity. It is not a metaphysical notion. Rather, it is a soteriological and heuristic notion.

(c) The Use of Poetic Language

Here the term `poetic language’ refers not only to words cast in a conventional verse form but also to words of poetic taste, or of poeticity, that do not conform to any conventional canon of poetry. I define `poeticity’ or `poeticising’ in a broad sense, namely, I define it as a kind of figurative, imaginative, or suggestive use of language that echoes, or evokes co-echoing with, the rhythm of life. This will allow us to take into consideration more than the Chan masters’ frequent borrowing and composing of verses in their communication. It will take into account the entire way of poeticising characteristic of Chan discourse. Thus, Linji’ s well-known verses in his explanation of `Four Procedures’ are one example of using poetic language.[77] Some of Huangbo Xiyun’ s sayings are another:

Mountains are mountains; water is water; monks are monks; laymen are laymen. Mountains, rivers, and the great earth; the sun, the moon, and the stars —
none of them is outside your mind ... The green mountains that [p24] everywhere meet your gaze — this void world — are so clear and bright that no single hairsbreadth is left there for your cognitive understanding.[78]

Even Zhaozhou’s famous answer, `The cypress tree in the yard’, is a kind of poetic language.

As Burton Watson correctly discerns, the Chan masters prefer ‘brief, highly compact poetical expressions that are suggestive rather than expository in nature’ . This use of poetic language `eschews specifically religious or philosophical terminology in favor of everyday language, seeking to express insight in terms of the imagery and verse forms current in the secular culture of the period’.[79] Observations of this kind point to the relation between the Chan use of poetic language and the Chan emphasis on the realisation of enlightenment within all secular activities. Other scholars also see factors contributing to the evolution of Chan poetic expressions from Buddhist gāthās (hymns) — the facilitation of poetic expressions by the analogical nature of Chinese language, the centuries-long cultivation of poetic sensibilities before the golden age of Chan, the great literary notion and tradition of metaphor and allegory (bixing), etc.[80] Hajime Nakamura, among others, particularly regards the Chan preference for figurative, suggestive language as indicative of the `non-logical character’ of Chan Buddhism. He chooses Linji’s explanation of `Four Procedures’ to show that Linji favours using figurative language instead of giving logical, speculative expositions.[81] All these interpretations may well provide answers, from a cultural perspective, to the question of why Chan Buddhists prefer using poetic language. However, they do not precisely answer the question of how poetic language functions in Chan communication. The study of the latter question, it seems to me, is crucial to a deeper understanding of the former question. This study will eventually reveal that poetic language is not a decorative feature of Chan discourse but plays a substantial role in the entire Chan communication. [82] It will disclose the inner logic of Chan poeticising. My preliminary investigation of this question will thus elucidate, in line with this thinking, the following aspects. First, the Chan use of poetic language is a kind of de-familiarisation that proceeds by deviating from or violating conventional Buddhist usage and all conventional ways of thinking. There are two types of de-familiarisation: moderate and radical. Moderate de-familiarisation designates a type of poetic expression in combination with conventional discursive language, such as the foregoing passage quoted from Huangbo Xiyun’ s sayings. But even in combination with conventional discursive language, this inclusion of poetic expressions in the main part of preaching violates the rhetorical canon of Buddhist discourse. The Chan poetic expressions are no longer subsidiary to theoretical inquiries and logical expositions as those traditional Buddhist gāthās were. Moreover, the use of figurative, expressive language deliberately minimises or marginalises the conventional use of expository, propositional language and the cognitive mode of thinking. This is more prominent in the radical type of de-familiarisation.

This type of de-familiarisation often occurs in the master-disciple conversation. The masters give completely figurative, expressive answers to the students’ intellectual inquiries, such as `The cypress tree in the yard’ and `The river from the Land of Peach Blossom goes around the pavilion of white cloud’.[83] Answers of this kind produce elusive effects. This elusiveness becomes a decisive force before which all conventional sequential thinking is doomed to lose itself. Since this use of poetic expression forcefully interrupts the conventional sequential thinking represented by the student’ s question, it is, again, similar to a kind of `therapeutic shock’. In this context, the Chan use of poetic language, it could be said, comprises its apophasis. It denies the student’s way [p25] of questioning and thinking. However, this denial is obviously different from any direct  negation, for the poetic expressions here do not themselves directly engage in any negation.

Therefore, secondly, although the use of poetic language within the Chan Buddhist context contains apophasis, it cannot be characterised as apophatic discourse. It rather manifests a kind of kataphasis, a poetic affirmation that is different from both conventional negation and affirmation.[84] In such poetic expressions — `The cypress tree in the yard’ and `The river from the Land of Peach Blossom goes around the pavilion of white cloud’ — we see that the everyday world, as vivid as it is, is poetically affirmed or reaffirmed in its naturalistic dynamism. To borrow Heidegger’s words, `this multiple ambiguousness of the poetic saying ... leaves what is as it is’.[85] In this way Chan Buddhism remarkably poeticises the Mahayana belief that the nirvanic world is not different from the samsaric world and the Chinese Buddhist notion of `true emptiness within wondrous beings (zhenkong miaoyou)’. Therefore, even though the Chan masters ignore or deny the students’ questions, they nonetheless say something meaningful and positive within the dialogical context by pointing to it poetically, and thus guide the students’ soteriological practice.

Thirdly, the elusiveness characteristic of these poetic expressions makes the understanding of their meanings more open to variation, to situational differences. In other words, it always allows or even encourages more than one understanding of what it says. The Chan masters maintain the necessity of this elusiveness and multiplicity of meanings in their use of poetic expressions. For instance, when Zhaozhou replies: `I do not use surroundings to show something’, he asserts that there is no definite cognitive content or meaning hidden behind these metaphorical words — `The cypress tree in the yard’. Just as Heidegger thinks the multiplicity of meanings necessary to thinking,[86] the Chan masters consider the elusiveness and multiplicity of meanings necessary to provoking each individual’s situational realisation of enlightenment.

Scholars have divided Chan poetry into different types.[87] Among these types, those that demonstrate Buddhist dharmas and enlightenment experience are of primary importance. As we have discussed earlier, the Chan students must experience, realise and resonate with enlightenment existentially (practically) and non-dualistically. This requires that the Chan masters, in responding to the students’ inquiries, must say something merely evocative, edifying, in order not to mislead the students, not to hinder their own realisation. That is to say, they must speak indirectly. The elusiveness and multiplicity of meanings inherent in Chan poetic expressions best serve this indirection of communication. These expressions challenge students’ own effort and arouse students’ creative imagination through the imagery closely associated with everyday experiences. Let us look at the following verses:

(1) What green mountain is not a place for the practice of dao? Must you, cane in hand, make a pilgrimage to Qing Liang? Even if the golden-haired lion should appear in the clouds, It would not be an auspicious sight to the dharma eye![88]
(2) The happy adventure of the romantic youth, His lady alone knows its sweetness.[89]

The first case mainly suggests that you should not seek the dao externally or dualistically. The second case hints that the realisation and resonation of enlightenment must be achieved existentially and inwardly, and cannot be externalised or objectified. However, these are just hints or suggestions. They allow and even call forth divergent imaginations and understandings in terms of concrete, particular, personal experiences [p26] and situations of the everyday world. Thus they inspire and provoke in a way that theoretic teaching and discursive speech cannot do. Because of their close relationship with secular experiences, these poetic expressions also de-mystify the Chan enlightenment experience. In the final analysis, the use of poetic language as an indirect strategy is demanded by the inner structure of Chan communication. As living words, Chan poetic expression make Chan communication more effective and even more attractive to ordinary people.[90]

Some Further Readings:

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. 

Jin Y. Park: Zen Language in Our Times: the case of Pojo Chinul's huataumeditation Park discuss the role of language in huatau meditation, focusing on Korean Zen Buddhism.

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. 

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".

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.


[1] See Deleuze, G. & Guattari , F. (1988) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi, (Trans.) (London, The Althlone Press), ch 4; Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, G. Bennington & B. Massumi (Transl.) (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press), chs 6 & 7. Also see Lecercle, J.J. (1987) The misprision of pragmatics: conceptions of language in contemporary French philosophy, in A.P. Griffiths, (Ed.) Contemporary French Philosophy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), pp. 21-40.

[2] See Cooper, Lane (Trans.) The Rhetoric of Aristotle (1932) (New York, D. Appleton-Century), pp. 6, 8-9. Aristotle demarcates three components of communication: the speaker, the message, and the receiver. The purpose of communication, as a transfer of information, is to persuade the listener to accept the information in a direction and manner desired by the speaker. This conception of communication is also related to his correspondence theory of language. See Aristotle (1984) De Interpretatione, in: Jonathan Barnes (Ed.) Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 1 (Princeton, Princeton University Press), p. 25.

[3] See Kierkegaard, Soren (1941) Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript , D.F. Swenson & W. Lowrie (Trans.) (Princeton, Princeton University Press), p. 320.

[4] See Heidegger, Martin (1962) Being and Time, J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson (Trans) (New York, Harper & Row), pp. 197, 205; Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1964) Signs, R.C. Mccleary (Trans.) (Evanston, Northwestern University Press), pp. 42-44; Derrida, Jacques (1982) Margins of Philosophy, A. Bass (Trans.) (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press), pp. 311 - 321; Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953) Philosophical Investigations , G.E.M. Anscombe (Transl.) (New York, Macmillan), 83e-84e, 304e, 363e. Due to the limited space, I cannot discuss, in detail and respectively, all these philosophers’ views in this essay. However, this should not lead us to ignoring the fact that these philosophers’ exploration in the issue of indirect communication, as the integral part and result of their critique of Western metaphysics, deserve many more studies.

[5] With his later discourse of sign, Kierkegaard’ s theory of indirect communication has been admitted as the precursor of the contemporary inquiries into the indirection of communication, despite his special reference to ethico-religious issues. See, for example, Roger Poole’ s recent study on Kierkegaard. Poole, Roger (1993) Kierkegaard: The Indirect Communication (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia), p. 2. Also see Agacinski, Sylviane (1988) Aparte: Conceptions and Deaths of Soren Kierkegaard , K. Newmark (Transl.) (Tallahassee, Florida State University Press), p. 20. Kierkegaard’ s discourse of sign can be found in Kierkegaard, Soran (1944) Training in Christianity , W. Lowrie (Trans.) (Princeton, Princeton University Press), p. 124.

[6] As I have indicated, my concept of indirect communication includes the indirection of communication and the use of the indirect strategy of communication in different discourses. The indirection of communication involves the meaning that all communication is necessarily indirect. It overturns the traditional hierarchy of the direct over the indirect. As a result, it not only legitimises the traditional use of the indirect strategy of communication, but also opens the possibility for the further study and use of various strategies of indirect communication. However, here I cannot clarify in detail the difference between contemporary Western discourses on the indirection of communication, which emphasise the whole being of communication mediated by contextual uses of language, and Chan Buddhist one. The latter takes into full consideration the changing situation in which each person’ s enlightenment takes place. Therefore, all communication for Chan is also indirect, and language is always contextual and inseparable from broader practices despite that language is considered a tool. This position will be clearer in the ensuing discussion.

[7] De Martino, Richard (1983 ) On Zen communication Communication, 8, p. 17. Italic is original.

[8] Suzuki, D.T. (1955 ) Studies in Zen (London, Rider & Company), p. 150.

[9] Hu Shi (1953) Philosophy East and West, 3(1), p. 21.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Dongshan Liangjie Chanshi Yulu, in: Chanzong, Jicheng (1968 ) (Taibei, Yiwen Yinshu Guan), Vol. 13, p. 9024; Powell, William F. (Trans.) (1986 ) The Record of Tung-Shan , (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press), p. 28. Hu Shi’ s quotation is not a complete translation of this sentence.

[12]Suzuki, op. cit., note 8, p. 150.

[13] Suzuki also mentions that Chan `is not purposely shunning’ all plain speaking. See ibid., p. 159.

[14] Ibid., pp. 158-159.

[15] Ibid., pp. 159-160.

[16] Ibid., pp. 66.

[17] See Suzuki, D.T. (1994) The Zen Koan as a Means of Attaining Enlightenment (Boston, Charles E. Tuttle), originally published in Suzuki, D.T. (1950 ) Essays in Zen Buddhism (second series), C. Humphries (Ed.) (London, Rider & Company). I must point out that contrary to Suzuki’ s neglect of the study of Chan linguistic strategies, at least two Chinese scholars, Bao Hutian and Wu Yi, echoing Hu Shi one way or another, have done some significant studies in exploring these strategies. The present project of mine can be seen as a further step from their precursory works. However, the works of these Chinese scholars have not been widely known or studied by most of Western scholars in Chan Buddhism. See Bao Hutian (1971 ) A penetrating look at Chan gongan (Chanzong gongan zhi toushi), in: Yihai Weilan (Taipei, Guangwen Shuju), pp. 127-144 and his (1988) The necessary condition and knowledge for the person who studies Chan (Chanxue yanjiuzhe yinjuyou de tiaojian yu renshi), in: Changu Shixinji (Taipei, Dongda Tushu Gongsi), pp. 12-24. Also see WU YI (1981 ) Ten essential types of Chan gongan (Chanzong gongan wenda de Shige jiben geshi), in: Zhongguo Zhexue De Shengming He Fangfa (Taipei, Dongda Tushu Gongsi), pp. 69-81.

[18] Suzuki, op. cit., note 8, p. 144.

[19] Ibid., p. 153.

[20] De Martino, Richard (1983), p. 24. Italics is original.

[21] Ibid., p. 17.

[22] Suzuki, op. cit., note 8, p. 66.

[23] Jiangxi Mazu Daoyi Chanshi Yulu, in: Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 8962. Cf. Cheng Chien Bhikshu (Trans.) (1992 ) Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-Tsu and the Hung-Chou School of Ch'an (Berkeley, Asian Humanities Press), p. 65. As one may note, Cheng’ s translation of `jiewu’ as `dealing with people as they come’ goes too far from the original meaning of the Chinese words.

[24] See Suzuki, op. cit., note 8, pp. 66, 143, 147.

[25] See Dazhu Huihai, Dunwu Rudao Yaomenlun, part II, Chanzong Jicheng, 1, p. 47 Cf. Blofeld, John (Trans.) (1962 ) Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening(London, Buddhist Publishing Group), p. 61.

[26] Linji Lu, in: Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 4, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7357; Watson, Burton (Trans.) (1993) The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi, (Boston, Shambhala), p. 53.

[27] Huangbo Xiyun, Chuanxin Fayao, Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 8980. See also Ui Hakujo , (1990) Denshin hoyo , Ui Hakuju yakuchu zenseki shusei, Vol. 2 (Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten), pp. 42-3; Blofeld, John (Trans.) (1958 ) The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind (New York, Grove Weidenfeld), pp. 59-60. The patriarch whom Huangbo Xiyun mentions here is the alleged Twenty-Third Indian Patriarch Haklenayasas.

[28] Ibid., p. 8978. Also, Ui Hakujuo , op. cit., note 27, pp. 30-31.

[29] See Hanyu Dacidian (1988) (Hong Kong, Sanlian Shudian), Vol. 2, p. 513.

[30] Ibid., p. 1532.

[31] See Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 8978; Ui Hakujuå , op. cit., note 27, pp. 30-33.

[32] Ibid., p. 8995. Cf. Blofeld, op. cit., note 27, p. 126.

[33] Ibid., p. 8987; Ui Hakujuo , op. cit., note 27, pp. 80-81, 121.

[34] See Jingde Chuandeng Lu, fascicle 9, in: Taishō , 51, p. 273. Also see UI Hakujuo, op. cit., note 27, pp. 88-89, 145.

[35] Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 9023. Cf. Powell, op. cit., note 11, p. 25. Here I disagree with Powell’ s translation.

[36] Jingde Chuanden g Lu, fascicle 11, Taisho , 51, p. 284.

[37] See Heidegger, Martin (1971) On the way to language , P.D. Hertz, (Trans.) (New York, Harper & Row), p. 123. The Chan Buddhist insight into the non-duality between speaking and listening is the foundation for their understanding of the role of listening in communication. This insight is inseparable from the pragmatic wisdom that guides the Chan soteriological practice. However, Heidegger’s main interest is the search for an understanding of the essential Being that appropriates and calls forth human listening and speaking.

[38] Kierkegaard, op. cit., note 3, p. 246.

[39] See Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 1, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, pp. 7310 - 7311. Cf. Cheng Chien Bhikshu, op. cit., note 23, p. 78.

[40] The four procedures are as follows: `Sometimes I take away the person but do not take away the surroundings. Sometimes I take away the surroundings but do not take away the person. Sometimes I take away both the person and the surroundings. Sometimes I take away neither the person nor the surroundings.’ See Linji Lu, in Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 4, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7350; Yanagida Seizan, (1972) Rinzai Roku (Tokyo, Daizo Shuppan Kabushiki Kaisha), p. 69; Watson, op. cit., note 26, pp. 21 - 22.

[41] Zhaozhou Zhenji Chanshi Yulu, in: Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 13, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7457.

[42] Jingde Chuandeng Lu, fascicle 7, Taisho , 51, p. 254. Cf. Sohaku Ogata, (Trans.) (1990 ) The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters (Wakefield, NH, Longwood Academic), p. 240.

[43] Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 13, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7457.

[44] Ibid., fascicle 14, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, pp. 7469, 7472.

[45] Baizhang Guanglu, in: Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 1, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7321. Cleary, Thomas(Trans.) (1978) Sayings and doings of Pai-chang (Los Angeles, Center Publications), p. 50.

[46] Foguo Keqin Chanshi Xinyao, Chanzong Jicheng, 14, p. 9858. A similar statement can also be seen in his Biyan Ji, fascicle 2, Chanzong Jicheng, 10, p. 6453. Cf. T. CLEARY & J.C. CLEARY (Trans.) (1992) The Blue Cliff Record (Boston, Shambhala), p. 134. There is no strong evidence in the text to support the translators’ interpretation that this statement is made by Deshan.

[47] Dahui repeats, in his own teaching, this statement originally made by Yuanwu. See Dahui Pujue Chanshi Yulu, fascicle 14, TaishoÅ , 47, p. 870.

[48] The Chan notion and use of 'living words' have not been closely examined in the contemporary study of Chan thought. We  find no discussion on the notion and use of `living words’ in the early studies of Chan koan, such as Miura, Isshu and Sasaki, Ruth Fuller, (1965) The Zen Koan: Its History and Use in Rinzai Zen (San Diego, HBJ) and Suzuki, op. cit., note 17. Baizhang Huaihai’ s important account of the use of `living words’ and the later development of the notion of `living words’ in Chan are neglected as well by those writings on the history of Chinese Chan thought, such as Nukariya Kaiten (1925) Zengaku shisoshi (Tokyo, Genkosha), Sekiguchi Shindai (1964) Zenshu shisoshi (Tokyo, Sankibo Busshorin), Suzuki Tetsuo (1985) To-godai zenshu shi (Tokyo, Sankibo Busshorin), etc. Among American scholars, recently, Buswell [Buswell, R.E.J. (1987) The `short-cut’ approach of k’an-hua meditation: the evolution of a practical subitism in Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, in: P.N. Gregory (Ed.) Sudden and Gradual Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press), p. 348] and Gimello [Gimello, R.M. (1991 ) Marga and culture: learning, letters, and liberation in Northern Sung Ch’ an, in: R.E.J. Buswell & R.M. Gimello (Eds) Paths to Liberation: The Marga and Its Transformations in Buddhist Thought (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press), p. 376] both refer to the notion of `living words’ . Buswell places the notion of `living words’, in another paper, within three Chan hermeneutic devices, although he discusses it mainly from a Korean Chan perspective [Buswell, R.E.J. (1988 ) Ch’an hermeneutics: a Korean view, in: D.S.J. Lopez (Ed.) Buddhist Hermeneutics(Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, pp. 246-248)] . However, two books recently written by Chinese scholars — Pan Guiming (1992) Zhongguo Chanzong Sixiang Licheng (Beijing, Jinri Zhongguo Chubanshe); DU Jiwen & Wei Daoru (1993) Zhongguo Chanzong Tongshi (Nanjing, Jiangsu Guji Chubanshe — have given more detailed studies than any others hitherto of the above-mentioned Chan notion and use of `living words’.

[49] In this regard, see Ch’ien, Edward T. (1984 ) The conception of language and the use of paradox in Buddhism and Taoism, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 11(4) . Ch’ien differentiates the Indian mode of serial, progressive negation, and Sengzhao’ s and Chan Buddhists’ simplified uses of paradox. Also see Shohei Ichimura (1985 ) A determining factor that differentiated Indian and Chinese Mādhyamika methods of dialectic as reductio-ad-absurdum and paradoxical argument respectively, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 33(2). Ichimura points out that the difference between the methods of Indian Mādhyamika and Sengzhao, on the part of the Chinese Buddhist world, `was to be further made magnified in the Zen tradition in later periods’.

[50] Baizhang Guanglu, Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 1, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7316. Cf. Cleary, op. cit., note 45, pp. 34 - 35.

[51] Ibid., p. 7317; Cf. Ibid., pp. 37- 38.

[52] Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 2, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7325.

[53] Cf. Chan, Wing-Tsit (Transl.) (1963 ) The Platform Scripture (New York, St. John’ s University Press), pp. 120-121.

[54] The translation presented here is my own compromise, a combination and minor revision of Wing-tsit Chan’ s and Yampolsky’ s translations of the original Chinese sentences. Cf. Ibid., p. 127; Yampolsky, Philip B. (Transl.) (1967) The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (New York, Columbia University Press), pp. 172-173.

[55] See Heze Shenhui Chanshi Yulu, in: Shijun, Lou Yulie, et al. (Eds) (1983 ) Zhongguo Fojiao Sixiang Ziliao Xuanbian (Bejing, Zhonghua Shuju), 2(4), p. 89.

[56] See Yanagida, Seizan & Umehara, Takeshi (1969) Mu no tankyu : Chugoku zen (Tokyo, Kakukawa Shoten), p. 128.

[57] Jingde Chuanden g Lu, fascicle 6, in: Taisho , 51, p. 246.

[58] Wanling Lu, in: Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 8987; Ui Hakuju, op. cit., note 27, pp. 78-79. Cf. Blofeld, op. cit., note 27, p. 90.

[59] Ibid., p. 8996.

[60] Linji Lu, Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 4, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7351; Seizan, op. cit., note 40, p. 79. Cf. Watson, op. cit. note 26, p. 26; Sasaki, Ruth Fuller (Transl.) (1975 ) The recorded sayings of Ch'an master Lin-chi Hui-chao of Chen prefecture (Kyoto, The Institute for Zen Studies), pp. 9-10.

[61] Ibid., p. 7357; Seizan, op. cit., note 40, p. 145. Cf. Sasaki , op. cit., note 60, p. 27; Watson, op. cit., note 26, p. 55. It is alleged that this hymn is written by the Twenty-Second Indian Patriarch Manorhita. Probably, it is fabricated by Chinese Buddhists. In any event, the hymn quoted by Linji reflects Linji’s own thought.

[62] Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 2, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, pp. 7327-7328.

[63] Jingde Chuandeng Lu, fascicle 7, Taisho , 51, p. 253. Cf. Ogata, op. cit., note 42, p. 231.

[64] In this regard, Chung-ying Cheng’s analysis of the principle of contextual reconstruction [Cheng, Chungying (1973 ) On Zen (Ch’an) language and Zen paradoxes, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 1(1), p. 95] is still valid.

[65] Suzuki, D.T. (1964 ) An Introduction to Zen Buddhism(New York, Grove Weidenfeld), p. 58.

[66] For more discussions of the liminology of language, its definition and its application in Chan Buddhism, see Wang, Youru (1997 ) An inquiry into the liminology of language in the Zhuangzi and in Chan Buddhism, International Philosophical Quarterly, 37(2).

[67] See Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, p. 2344; The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn, Vol. 17, p. 672.

[68] See the entry tautology in Audi , Robert (Ed.) (1995 ) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), pp. 788 - 789.

[69] Hegel and Wittgenstein have noticed the tautology of the principle of identity. Their critiques are discussed more intensively by contemporary thinkers. See Hegel, G.W.F. (1965) Logic, William Wallace (Trans.) (Oxford, Oxford University Press), p. 213; Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, C.K. Ogden (Trans.) (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul), 5.5303 , p. 139; Toms, Eric (1962) Being, Negation and Logic. (Oxford, Basil Blackwell), p. 55; Kainz, Howard P. (1988) Paradox, Dialectic, and System (University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press), p. 45; etc.

[70] For a detailed examination of Heidegger’ s use of tautological expressions, see Schofer, Erasmus (1972) Heidegger’ s language: metalogical forms of thought and grammatical specialties, in: J.J. Kochelmans (Ed.) On Heidegger and Language (Evanston, Northwestern University Press), pp. 287 - 301.

[71] `The source of Caoxi’ here designates (Caoxi) Huineng Chan or Southern Chan. ‘One drop of water from the source of Caoxi’ symbolises the inherited teaching of Huineng Chan.

[72] Dafayan Wenyi Chanshi Yulu, Chanzong Jicheng, 13, p. 9150.

[73] Touzi Heshang Yulu, Guzunsu Yulu, fascicle 36, Chanzong Jicheng, 12, pp. 7771, 7775.

[74] Dongchan Kelong Chanshi, see Jingde Chuanden g Lu, fascicle 21, TaishoÅ , 51, p. 376.

[75] Juefan Huihong says: `When there are words within the words (Yuzhong Youyu), these words are called dead words (Mingwei Siju); when there are no words within the words (Yuzhong Wuyu), these words are called living words (Mingwei Huoju).’ See Chanlin Sengbao Zhuan, fascicle 12, HTC, vol 137, p. 247.

[76] Schofer, op. cit., note 70, pp. 293± 294.

[77] Linji’ s verses are translated into English by Burton Watson as follows. For the procedure of `taking away the person but not taking away the environment’ , Linji says: `Warm sun shines forth, spreading the earth with brocade. The little child’ s hair hangs down, white as silk thread.’ For `taking away the environment but not taking away the person’, he says: `The king’ s commands have spread throughout the realm. Generals beyond the border no longer taste the smoke and dust of battle.’ For `taking away both the person and the environment’, he says: `All word cut off Ping and Fen — they stand alone, a region apart.’ For `taking away neither the person nor the environment’ he says: `The king ascends his jewelled hall; country oldsters sing their songs’. See Watson, op. cit., note 26, pp. 21-22 and his explanation of the verses in the notes. For the original Chinese, see Linji Lu, Guzunesu Yulu, fascicle 4, Chanzong Jicheng, 11, p. 7350; Seizan, op. cit., note 40, pp. 69-70.

[78] Wanling Lu, Taisho, 48, p. 385; Ui Hakuju , op. cit., note 27, pp. 70-71. Cf. Blofeld, op. cit., note 27, pp. 81-82. To experience the poeticity of Huangbo’s sentences, we must read the original Chinese. My English rendering does not preserve the original poeticity well.

[79] Watson, Burton (1988) Zen Poetry, in: K. KRAFT (Ed.) Zen: Tradition and Transition (New York, Grove Press), p. 106.

[80] See Du Songbai (1976) Chanxue Yu Tangsong Shixue (Taibei, Liming Wenhua Shiye Gongsi), pp. 197± 198; ZHOU YUKAI (1994) Zhongguo Chanzong Yu Shige (Gao Xiong: Liwen Wenhua Gongsi), pp. 29± 34; Iriya Yoshitaka (1983) Chugoku no zen to shi, in: Kyudo to etsuraku (Tokyo, Iwanami shoten), p. 77 and his Waddell, N.A. (Trans.), (1973 ) Chinese poetry and Zen, The Eastern Buddhist, 6(1), p. 56; Wawrytko, Sandra A. (1992 ) The poetics of Ch’ an: upayic poetry and its Taoist enrichment, Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal, No. 5, pp. 344± 347. Among various studies I have mentioned so far, Wawrytko’ s paper seems to be the only one that has paid attention to the theoretical issue of how Chan poetry contributes to Chan enlightenment experience.

[81] Hajime Nakamura (1964) , P.P. Wiener (Ed.) Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press), p. 193.

[82] I agree with Robert Gimello’ s opinion: `[O]ne must credit to poetry and the other modes of literary expression associated with Ch’ an meditation an operative and transformative power’ . See Gimello, Robert (1986 ) Poetry and the kung-an in Ch’ an pratice, Ten Directions, 7 (Spring/ Summer), p. 11.

[83] Deshan Shaoyan Chanshi, in: Wudeng Huiyuan, fascicle 15 (1984 ) (Beijing, Zhonghua Shuju), vol. 3, p. 969.

[84] Robert Gimello has insightfully argued that Chinese Buddhism in general, and Huyan in particular, has moved toward a more kataphatic mode of discourse, which is a significant departure from traditionally Indian forms of conceptualisation and expression. See Gimello, Robert (1976 ) Apophatic and kataphatic discourse in Mahayana: a Chinese view, Philosophy East and West, 26(2), pp. 119, 122. Chan Buddhism can be regarded as a further move in the same direction through its poeticizing. However, the Chan use of poetic language involves both apophatic and kataphatic functions as I indicated in this discussion.

[85] Heidegger, op. cit., note 37, p. 192.

[86] Heidegger, Martin (1968) What Is Called Thinking?, J. Glenn, Gray (Transl.) (New York, Harper & Row), p. 71.

[87] Du Songbai, op. cit., note 80, p. 1.

[88] This poem is written to Zhaozhou by a learned monk. See Jingde Chaunden g Lu. fascicle 10, In: Taisho, 51, p. 277. The English translation of this poem is from Wu, John C.H. (1996) The Golden Age of Zen (New York, Doubleday), p. 100. I made minor corrections. Also see Ogata, op. cit., note 42, p. 349. For the explanation of the verses, see Du Songbai, op. cit., note 80, p. 213.

[89] Zhaojue Keqin Chanshi, in: Wudeng Huiyuan, op. cit., note 83, fascicle 19, 3, p. 1254. The English translation of the verses is from WU, op. cit., note 88, p. 204. [90] I want to express my thank to the anonymous readers who have kindly provided useful information and comments for improving this article.

[90] I want to express my thank to the anonymous readers who have kindly provided useful information and comments for improving this article.