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What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?$
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Dale S. Wright

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190622596

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190622596.001.0001

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Language in Zen Enlightenment

Language in Zen Enlightenment

(p.145) 8 Language in Zen Enlightenment
What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?

Dale S. Wright

Oxford University Press

“Language in Zen Enlightenment” considers the role language might play in the experience of enlightenment. Building on the Zen claims that enlightenment is “not dependent on language and culture” and that enlightenment is a “pure experience” of “things as they are” prior to the shaping effect of language, this chapter takes the perspective of contemporary philosophy and linguistic psychology in order to assess the two primary Western interpretations of the relation between language and Zen enlightenment. To articulate an alternative understanding of language and spiritual experience that goes beyond these earlier attempts, the chapter explores the kinds of language use found in the daily life of Zen communities, the role of the Zen master’s cryptic rhetoric of instruction, and the predominance of silent meditation in Zen training. It concludes with reflection on the possibility that Zen enlightenment might entail awakening to the power and subtlety of language rather than from it.

Keywords:   pure experience, dependence on language, cryptic rhetoric, contemporary philosophy, language

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