Vol: 23 (1996)
Copyright @ 1996 by Dialogue Publishing company,
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A


A philosopher often approaches Chan Buddhsim
from a philosophical point of view. The questions he
would ask are: What does enlightenment (wu)(a) mean
and imply for a human being in terms of his seeking
wisdom and freedom? Can all persons achieve such
enlightenment? What methodology or process of
cultivation would lead him to this enlightenment as
claimed by Chan/Zen(b) masters? Finally, why must a
person seek enlightenment? We can put these
questions in a different way: What is enlightenment?
Can anyone attain it? How is it to be attained? Why
is it important to attain enlightenment? These four
questions could be answered in a "philosophy of Chan
enlightenment" and thus constitute a philosophical
approach to Chan Buddhism. However, in an
after-thought one may even ask whether Chan Buddhism
could be understood simply from such an internal and
philosophical view. One may further ask whether
there are other ways to understand Chan Buddhism
which will shed light on these internal questions of
Chan. It might be pointed out that one has to study
and understand how Chan masters spoke and wrote as
found in their recorded discourses in order to
detect how notions bearing upon enlightenment (such
as "illuminating one's mind as such and seeing one's
nature") are formed, informed and intended, as well
as to see how and why claims to enlightenment have
been accepted as warranted by certain kinds of
people. These are external questions concerning the
Chan tradition and constitute a historigraphic
approach to the Chan tradition.


This distinction between internal questions and
external questions lies in that the former engages
the questioner in confronting and embodying the
sustaining spirit of the quest for enlightenment as
a vital living tradition to which one may commit
one's life in practice. But for the latter, the
questioner need not worry about the true nature of
enlightenment, but instead concern himself with how
discourse on the nature of enlightenment and its
assertability and /or warrantability are
communicated or described. It is a matter of
historical-historigraphical understanding. Form this
point of view, it might be asked why internal
questions must be raised at all. To answer this, one
must see that, even though the Tang/Song(c) periods
are long gone, to raise internal questions is to see
how the Chan tradition may contribute directly to
the basic issues of human existence and the human
quest for spiritual emancipation: they are questions
to be addressed again and again, so that it may lead
to a high point of the question's self-understanding
and the understanding of the condition of humanity.
This may mean that there exists a human need for
spiritual emancipation in the human self which could
receive confirmation and vitality from the Chan
quest for spiritual emancipation. It presupposes the
relevance of a reflective discourse on the human
self in which the nature and mind of the human self
are to be understood. But for the external questions
it is clear that no such quest is presupposed or
required. What is presupposed is a quest of
understanding into the history of the Chan tradition
as a spiritual quest to be seen in various forms and
styles of discourses in which this quest has been
realized or articulated.
For the above reason we could distinguish between
lijie(d) (understanding according to reason or
rational thinking) and wujie(e) (understanding
according to my mind, signifying a self-realization
of my nature or/and my mind). Perhaps, early studies
of Chan/Zen are more on the side of wujie or
wujie-oriented. But given the large quantity of
historical documents concerning activities of the
Chan masters as a movement and as an establishment
it is evident that we need more lijie and more
lijie- oriented study of Chna/Zen. A methodological
question is then whether


we could make a lijie study of the wujie experience.
My reply to this question is that we can do this in
light of the reasons and causes for the wujie from
materials and texts we have available, and in so far
as wujie can be reconstructed in terms of a
philosophical theory of the human self and its
nature, again to be based on both materials and
texts available to us historically and reflections
on one's philosophical understanding of the wujie.
Theoretically, although we would normally treat the
lijie and wujie approaches to the Chan as two
independent approaches, they are in fact
interdependent, because they represent two functions
or two levels of the same mind and same nature of
the human self.
The wujie approach to the study of the Chan/Zen
has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Its
chief advantage lies in being able to deal with the
philosophical issue in a straight-forward way: it is
"to directly point to the original mind" so that
'one would make clear the mind and see one's
nature". Of course, in doing so one still needs to
work with the original texts of Chan masters, but
one need not worry about historical issues such as
how one method arose under which historical
circumstances. This is how I made a logical and
philosophical study of the Chan/Zen paradoxes in
1973.(1). The chief disadvantage of this approach
is: it is blind to the historical origins and social
contexts of different positions in Chan as well as
their changes and influences in practice, which lead
to a form of understanding, constituting an integral
part of the whole understanding.
Thus one needs both internal and external
approaches just as one needs both macroanalysis and
microanalysis of enlightenment cases in order to
make critical assessment of possible inner and outer
conditions for deepening of one's understanding of
enlightenment. For example, without knowing how
Liutou Chan(f) arose one would not see how the
distinctive position of Farong(g) relates to the
mainstream of the Chan movement after Fifth Patriach
Hongren.(h) History provides an illustration of how
concrete rationality takes place and when and where
rationality becomes complicated and even falls into
obscurity to the


point of losing any evidence. History also provides
a picture of how development proceeds and what a
picture a contour of the development yields. History
provides resources for abstraction and reflection
which could lead to more historical and
histographical research. One must therefore
recognize the importance of a dialectical exchange
and interchange between history and theory.
A basic paradox in understanding the Chan
enlightenment is that it is said to be beyond
linguistically constituted understanding (buliwenzi)
(i) Does this imply that one must be enlightened in
the Chan sense in order to understand the
enlightenment? My answer to this question is that
one can point to this understanding by having
understanding in a rational discourse which can be
seen as being conditioned by time and history. To go
into time and history is to provide a condition for
the rational understanding which would point to the
understanding beyond it. Hence we could point to the
three steps involved in the lijie understanding of
the wujie, namely to reconstruct history from the
rational understanding on the basis of historical
texts, to illuminate rational understanding on the
basis of history thus reconstructed, and to point to
a trans-rational understanding with rational
With regard to Chan/Zan research since the time
of Hu Shih(j)-Suzuki Debate in the 1930's we see in
European languages so far predominantly one-sided
attraction to the mysticism of Chan/Zen and find
relatively little study of the historigraphical
sources and historical resources of the Chan.
Besides, the West has shown more interest in
understanding Japanese Zen than understanding
Chinese Chan. In the past 50 years we see a
dominance of the writings of Heinrich dumoulin who
apparently did his Zen studies more on the basis of
Japanese edited Chinese sources than on the basis of
original Chinese sources. He subsumed Chan into Zen
without giving adequate accounts of Chan philosophy
or Chan history. For this reason one must welcome
the appearance of Bernard Faure's book Chan Insights
and Oversight (New Jersey: Princeton University
Press, 1993, 274 pages with 6 Pages of glossary and


34 pages of bibliography) in which refreshing
insights on Chan philosophy and Chan history are
found: It is a historically significant book for
philosophers of Chan and a philosophically or
methodologically significant book for historians of
Chaan. It is a book which discusses the formation
and nature of Chan both historically and as
philosophical school. It also provides a basis for
regarding Chan as a testing ground of the validity
and adequacy of any modern and contemporary Western
theory of meaning or analysis of meaning. It is a
book of rich insights and resourceful reflections on
the languages and discourses of Chan/Zen, although
it may still has its oversights and limitations.
Faure sees Chan-Zen as related but not sharing
the same essence and thus looks at the whole
Chan-Zen development from a difference and
rhizomatically open point of view: Chan-Zen is
developed in various locales and under various
historical and ideological constraints. In this way
he is able to see a fuller and more microscopic
picture of Chan-Zen.
Secondly, Faure is more methologically conscious
than any earlier Chan- Zen scholars. In this regard,
he has relied more on the european tradition of
methodology than American analytical methodology.
One must admit that the best studies on Chan/Zen
outside China and Japan are found in Europe rather
than in America. Faure is obviously European in
origin, though he published his first English book
on Ch'an/Zen in 1991. In fact, apart from his
reference to Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Heidegger and a
few post-modernist authors he is more
French-philosophy-oriented than anything else. His
methodology is to narrate how the Chan lineage was
formed and how it was inscribed and described in
language. It is a methodlogy which is both
hermeneutical and performative,both deconstructional
and reconstructive. He has much to do with
contemporary French postmodernism and Derrida. He is
sensitive to the presuppositions of Orientalism of
the 19th Centurary and a new prototyped Orientatlism
of the 20th Century which sees the Orient or Asia
(India and China and thus the tradition of Chan-Zen)
as the land of wisdom and "authenticity". But Faure
criticized Said nevertheless by pointing out that
there are epistemplogical obstacles to be overcome


in this Orientatlism, not to be simply rejected. For
him ethnocentrism and prevalence of Western
rationality are a cultural phenonomenon or even a
hermeneutical issue, not simply a matter of
What then is Faure's approach ? The answer is :
Faure wants to avoid both Orientalism and
Post-Orientalism (idealizing Japanese Zen as pure
spirituality as in Suzuki) by adopting a
performative-hermenutical analysis in terms of
"localized" understanding and a rhetorical extension
to a new discourse. In other words, I understand
this to be an effort to find the inner logic of the
formation of the Chan-Zen literality and ideology
which would stand aloof from the tangles of Western
rationalistic philosophy or a mystical Orientalist
language. If this is a correct understanding of
Faure, he would have my sympathy and support. We do
need to treat Chan-Zen as it appears in texts and
historiography. We do need to see Chan-Zen from many
points of view and in a context of orality versus
literality, hermeneutics versus rhetoric, inscribing
and describing. We have to point out that we also
have to see it as rooted in a fundatmental human
effort of a human person to liberate himself from
himself and this effort as such, of course, cannot
be understood without looking into fundamental ways
of thinking of Chan-Zhen on the one hand and
studying the schools of thought which gave rise to
them on the other. It is with this understanding I
shall now evaluate Faure' own insights and
In the first part, there is insight in Faure's
view that much of the Chan-Zen tradition as reported
in Chan-Zen literature was constructed in later
generations and thus should be conceived as a
metaphor in literature. He says "This means among
other things that, contrary to a common belief, the
Chan tradition is seen to develop, not from one
single stem to various branches, but rather
retroactively, from the branches to the stem: thus,
from the seventh to the nineth centuries, a number
of relatively independent movements such as the
Lankavatara school, Dongshan(k) school, the Northern
and Southern schools, the Niutou(l) ("Oxhead")
school, the Jingzhong and baotang(m) schools in
Szechwan, and the Hongzhou(n) school, all looked
back to Bodhidharma


as their founder and attemapted to derive legitimacy
from their hypothetical connection with
Boddhidharma's early community." (119-120) This is
no doubt a useful approach for Chan-Zen, as would be
useful for tracing formation of any intellectual and
religious tradition.
It is conceivable that a given tradition is
founded by a great master or a great teacher such as
in the case of the Confucian tradition with regard
to Confucius or in the case of the Daoist tradition
with regard to Lao Zi.(o) But even with Confucian
tradition one must see the strong contribution from
latter-day Confucianists such as Mencius(p) and
Xunzi(q) and with Daoist tradition later-day
Daoists such as Zhuangzi.(r) and authors of the
Huainanzi.(s) Thus for any tradition later contribu-
tions and retrospective absorption and
identification could be important and essential. How
could the Confucian tradition or the Christian
tradition develop with only Confucius standing alone
or Jesus Christ standing alone? Once a tradition is
established, then we could see how it branches to
different schools like a tree. We can see how a
tradition may be misconceived as a tree branching
only. We have to ask how the tree forms itself: the
tree is formed from its sporadic roots which pull
their strength together to give rise to the tree.
Hence the post-modern metaphor of the rhizomes for
describing the rise of a tradition has its powerful
suggestiveness. But then we must be also reminded
that once the tree is formed, it can branch out, and
likewise once a tradition is established, it could
give rise to different subtraditions and divisions
and schools. This is true of Confucianism and Daoism
as it is true of Christianity.
In this sense, although we need not stick to a
"teleological model" of Chan-Zen tradition as
suggested in the writings of Suzuki, we need not
deny that Chan-Zen tradition has its historical
substance in terms of scattered but related events,
interactions and organizations. It cannot be simply
be conceived as a tradition constructed from texts
and latter-day interpretations. It is true that
before Hui Neng(t) there is no real great influential
figure. Bodhidharma has started something which may
be totally different from latter-day developed Chan
schools, whether Northern or Southern. (2) As a
legendary figure from a foreign land, a


story of Bodhidarma no doubt has lended a charisma
to him as acclaimed founder of the Chan.
Perhaps we could describe the development of the
Chan tradition in China as having three stages: the
beginning stage which can be described as "five
patriachs in search of a tradition." But when we
come to the Sixth Patriach Hui Neng, we have a
clearly visible trunk which radiates influences
through many of his disciples. Hence the composition
or writing of the Platform Sutra should be
considered a crucial turning point for the
development of Chan as a tradition. This should be
the second stage of the Chan development. After Hui
Neng, we enter the third stage of development which
is the branching of Chan teaching into the Five
Hourses which their lineages. The transplantation of
Chan to Japan would of course belong to a different
story which is not teleologically linked to the
mainstream development of Chan tradition in China.
To what extent Dogen has also preserved the Caotong
(u) spirit is of course another question.
I have no quarrel in considering history as
arising from historiography and the historiographic
narrative as arising from even more fundamental
manipulation of text or even the first selection of
language expression of the historical events. But I
am doubtful that Chan history is or should be a
history of Chan as literature or as a literary genre
(123). This is again a post-modern approach, an idea
which needs clarification. Faure fell on Hayden
White's philosophy of history which envisions
history as simply a story to be told by a writer of
the history. A historian is a historiographer and a
historiographer is a literary writer or even
possibly an artistic poet. Historical narrative is
basically formed from a process of "emplotment"
controlled by a figuartive and rhetocial user of
language, and is enhanced by the writer's
"tropological code" in terms of metaphor, metonymy,
synecdoche and irony. But we are not compelled to
think of history from this point of view: there is
always a relative reality to deal with or a text to
be anchored in terms of times and places of its
author. This means that we could not erase the
referentially of a text. In other words, we could
rewrite the history


of Chan-Zen, but we must still make a distinction
between the world-objective and the language-
subjective. Many leads are possible and there must
be not only interpretations of facts and events, but
also recognization of relatively objective facts and
events as a basis and target for interpretation. We
must see the rise of Chan as signifying different
important historical events and reflecting
theoretical understandings which need not be
conflicting, but rather overlaping and
complementary.(124) To see this aspect of his-
torical or histographical writing is to recognize
the possibility of previously unknown facts as
fundamental basis for creative knowledge.
Faure has discussed several alternatives to the
historical approach, namely the structural and
hermeneutical analysis. The discussion of structural
analysis is important, for it gives a basis for
reconstructing interactive, mutually agonistic or
contrastive parallels in the development of Chan. In
a sense the historiography of Chan lineage is no
doubt such a reconstruction under structual
constraints or demands. However I do not regard Hui
Neng or Nanyue Huairang and Qingyuan Xingsi(w) as
mere reconstructions. One must allow that tracing
beginnings may also take time in history: history
has to be written when new facts or new understanding
of facts emerged in a course of time. There is no
paradigmatic type case without a syntagmatic case,
nor can there be a synchronic dimension of a history
without a diachronic sub-history. The structural
approach to the understanding of the history of Chan
in this sense informs the history as a structure or
as a framework. Yet it might lose sight however of
the hidden purpose or meaning of this reconstruction
which is to bring historical rationalization or
pursuasion to the practice and faith in its truth,
namely the quest for enlightenment and emancipation
from the vexations and sufferings of life.
The discussion of the hermeneutical approach is
equally well made by Faure. It shows the
sophisticated knowledge Faure has of contemporary
hermeneutics and its debates. Whether the
hermeneutics of suspicion (critique of ideology) or
the hermeneutics of retrieval or faith (effective
history), there is no merely logical way but only a


hermeneutical way to establish the meaning and
meaningfulness of a text. I agree that a
"systematically distorted communication" is always
possible and a "fusion of horizons" is difficult but
each tradition or text for each representative of a
tradition and each reader has a way of assimilating
new elements and making extensions or new
adjustments under new circumstances. The ultimate
model of fusion is resolution and integration of
conflicts in a hermeneutical field, where an
objective explanation would link and merge with a
subjective understanding. As object and subject have
to be defined relative to a meta-theory, so also
would the objective explanation and subjective
understanding. The former could be a rational and
scientific discourse of cause and effect, the latter
could be a matter of the disclosure of truth. But
there is always the possibility of a two-tiered
theory of truth relativized to contexts which
becomes inexpressible when decontextualized. One may
see the Chan enlightenment precisely under these
terms: It is to see everything as causally related;
then it is to see everything as uncaused and
posessing a self-sufficient nature or meaning on its
own. Finally it is to see everything as neither this
nor that, but as both this and that. Even
misunderstanding can prove to be an occasion for
innovative understanding in so far it leads to
insight into reality. Such is the case of Dogen's
misreading of his Chinese teacher Tiantong Rujin's
(x) "xin-chentuoluo"(y) as "inshengtuoluo"(z) as
mentioned by Faure (138).
This fact underlies Derrida's notions of "dif-
ference" and "dissemination". In considering the
dialectical or dialogical process of communication,
there is no prevention of concresence of novelty and
difference which also makes the understanding of
enlightenment "direct", "performative" and even
"rhetorical". Each understanding of enlightenment is
an enlightenment and each enlightenment implies also
an understanding of enlightenment. Here again Faure
is right in pointing out that we cannot simply
replace knowledge by performance or hermeneutics by
deconstruction (150). I must say that Faure has
struck a multifocal balance on the understanding
process which no doubt can be applied to our
understanding of Chan both as a history and as a
theory or


In the second part, languages of space and time
in Chan are subject to a philosophical and
phenomenological critique in connection with Chan's
relation to local religious discourses. It is
interesting to see how Chan masters explained the
state of enlightenment as an emptiness of both space
and time. Faure remarks that the world as emptied of
symbols in an enlightend mind needs no
interpretation. Certainly, it is true that no
interpretation is needed "here and now", but how
about "there and then"when and where do symbols and
language arise? It is a matter of what I call
"contextual reconstitution", where mountains remain
mountains and waters remain waters. Although truth
reveals itself in the immediate understanding of an
unmediated mind, all existing interpretations or
their possibilities will remain free from conflict
and present themselves as mind and truth at the same
time. This suggests that the genuine description of
a state of enlightenment is not separation of
thought and forms from emptiness, but is rather
their mutual transcendence and correlation at the
same time, as Hui Neng has stressed in the Platform
Sutra. This switch from a Lankatavara nihilism to a
Platform Sutra realism must be recognized as an
essential element of the Chinese Chan tradition.
Faure makes an illuminating footnote on the contrast
between localized and unlocalized ("seeing from
nowhere") approaches, leading to difference between
the structurist and the post-structurist discourses.
There is apparently a mixed and unclarified issue
involving so called "ocularcentrism" (panoptical
conception of the subject), non-ocularcentricism,
and a localized perspectivism in both the
metadiscourses and the discourses under discussion.
This issue in fact is an issue of the tension and
balance between the homogeneity or pure oneness in
the conscious nonconsciousness of awakening or
enlightenment on the one hand, and the heterogeneity
and contextualized localities or temporalities in
actual perception of the world of practical life on
the other. A person who becomes enlightened in the
best Chanist way negates his perception of the world
of diversity, yet he may also negate his negation of
his such perception. Besides, he has to stay active


or related to this world before he passes away.
Therefore a genuine enlightenment should include
both a dimension of transcendence beyond diversity
and a dimension of immanence toward diversity.(3)
When we apply this understanding of enlightenment
to space and time, we shall see how there must be
such a tension of homogeneity versus heterogeneity,
and oneness versus diversity. When one reflets on
one's enlightenment one will also find that within
the enlightenment there are resources for not only
resolving this tension, but also for transforming
this tension into a creative remaking of oneself as
represented in the unity of the three bodies (namely
the unity of the law body and the reward body in the
creative openness of the transformation body). Hence,
the polarity and consequent unity of the
logocentricity and multivocality in Chan with regard
to their description and experience of space and time
should be regarded as an inherent characteristic of
Chan thinking, particularly when we think back about
the impact of the Zhouyi(aa) philosophy as a way of
thinking which shows itself from the beginning in the
founding sutra of the tradition, the Platform Sutra.
As to whether there are more visual/spatial metaphors
than aural/temporal metaphors in the Chan texts, and
what this would suggest, remains both an empirical
question and a matter of interpretation. Perhaps,
this fundamental tension could also apply to the
tension between language and non-language in the
speaking or showing of enlightenment in the Chan
tradition. There cannot be an absolute rejection of
language, because the absolute and precise rejection
of language has to be itself formulated in language.
What is then the nature of language in Chinese
Chan? In the first place, language denotes objects
and articulates ideas. Language is also constitutive
of its denotation and articulation, particularly in
a visual language such as Chinese. As such, Chinese
language like Chinese painting reconstructs reality
from a holistic point of view: the whole is
constitutive of the world and the mind. What is
presented in the language is not simply what is
represented in the language, for there is the in
visible/or the yin(ab) part of reality existing
side by side with the


yang(ac) part of the reality. Hence language also
speaks of that which is beyond the language
(yizai-yanwai).(ad) We may thus regard this as the
exhibitive function of language. Language speaks and
yet the negation of it also speaks. Speaking is not
a matter of language alone but of non-language
(including silence) as well.
The fourth ability of language is that it em-
bodies truth and is the expression and realization
of truth. Hence speaking is an end not just a means.
It is in this sense that Faure has mentioned Granet's
characterization of Chinese words as emblems (or
marked extensions) of reality itself. Yet Chinese
language is not just like a displayed emblem, but is
a virtual power which can be elicited or vocalized
like a mantra.
The fifth use of language is that it can be a
pointer toward something in a context or situation
where the context or situation calls for
identification. The pointive or indicative
(indexical) uses of language makes the Chan koans
(kung-an)(ae) intriguing: It points they way out
and it points to nothingness. The fact that koans
can be puzzling shows that it is not always clear
what they point to.It requires a meditative
reflection to reveal what the pointed-out is to be
or not to be.
Finally,Chan language can be highly performative
and perlocutionary. It is by its being used, and
perhaps being used in terms of all these different
functions, that Chan language could become a power
of awakening by means of which one becomes thereby
quickly enlightened. There is no denial that this
power of enlightening is derived from many levels of
the language (the syntactic, the semantic, semiotic
or pragmatic) when all the levels work together to
produce a force destructive of blocking and holding.
I have indicated in my wriging how patent and
concrete contradictions and impossibilities
formulated in koans in general leads right into
emptiness and de-conceptualization whereby the truth
of nature reveals or realizes itself.
With all these functions of language being said,
we may indeed agree with Faure in criticizing the
traditional hermeneutical interpretation of the Chan
language as too narrow an approach to understanding
the art and the functions of speaking in Chan. Not
only must we be


reminded of many different rhetorical styles of
speaking in the Five Houses of Chan. We must also
remember the famous sayings from the Linji
Yixuan.(af) "Sometimes my shout is like a sword of
the Diamond King sometimes my shout is like a lion
crouching on ground; sometimes my shout is like the
fathoming gauge; sometimes my shout is not to be
used as one ahout." (4) I am, however, not sure that
Chan's rejection of "language as absolute" is a
result of assimilating Tantric, Daoist and Confucian
practices and beliefs. Even if some case can be made
for this, it would remain artificial and reductive
if we lose sight of the creativity released from the
dialectical quest and thinking for the truth of
enlightenment in Chan. If anything, Daoism has paved
the way and set a model for the Chan masters.
In his Chapter Eight, Faure has brought out two
actives of the Chan's use of language: In-scribing
and De-scribing. Or rather he has linked the slogan
of "not establishing language" (buliwenzi) to
Derrida's analysis of writing and logocentrism. The
interesting thing is that while Derrida describes the
logocentric spoken word and praises the writing as
differentially non-logocentric, Chan would discard
both speaking and writing as a hindrance to seeing
the nature of the self and illuminating the mind. In
fact, for Chan it is not writing alone which hinders
our vision of truth. All things would so hinder it,
and therefore to see them as emptiness is a necessary
condition for the realization of the truth of
enlightenment. But then, as I pointed out earlier,
once enlightened, no hindrence is also a hindrance,
and so speaking and writing would be as well. The
pattern (wen)(ag) of lnaguage like any pattern would
become a display of the truth rather than its
hindrance. In this sense the logocentric issue need
not be so much an issue of whether there is the
spoken language at work as an issue of whether there
is the egocentric self at work. Besides, as pointed
out by Faure, there is no reason to assume that
Chinese language escapes from logocentrism and
refuses to lend itself to a "meataphysics of
presence" because of the lack of a logos. Similarly,
whether there is more orality or more writing
literacy is no issue at all, for both can be
positivily argued for, just as one may also


equally argue for more concretion or for more
abstraction in the use of Chan language.
The principle of harmonization which is implicit
in the Zhouyi symbolism and made explicit in the
Yizhuan(ah) is well implemented in the use of the
Chan language, where both abstract and concrete,
both oral and literary, both li(ai) and dao,(aj) are
fused to an indistinguishable extent. Even though
different koans and poems in different schools and
during different periods put stress one way or
another, there is no easy formula to enable one to
generalize over the relative weight of orality
versus literacy, speaking versus writing, or
concrete versus abstract, each in their polarities.
The very ritual of transmission may favor the oral
over the literal because of the need for direct
contact and conventional practice. Besides, to make
the auditory sense predominate in the Chan for the
sake of subitist enlightenment need not make sense.
Faure here is right in pointing out that vision can
be simulaneous in time and sound can be sequential
in time. Hence there is no reason to explain the
nature o sudden enlightenment on ground of sound
rather than vision. Perhaps, vision is closer to
truth, for there is a long tradition of
vision/illumination and observation (guan)(ak) since
the founding of the symbolism of the Zhouyi. It is
in this vision of the whole reality that the pattern
(wen)(ak) emerges. Writing as pattern and as a
symbolism of pattern is presupposed or emerges from
such a vision and observation. Faure has taken note
that there is a growing literalization of the oral
in the later development of the tradition of Chan,
and this no doubt is found in the historiographical
formation of the Chan tradition.
It is clear that in both classical Confucianism
and Neo-Confucianism and even in classical Daoism
there is the illumination of the truth as the dao or
as the li, and this has been described as the
"seeing" or "observing" (guan) as suggested in the
Yijing tradition. Of course the dao/li is not the
logos, but rather it is the self-transformative
power of a source to diffuse and totalize in a
dialectial framework. Hence the metaphysics of
presence is also at the same time a metaphysics of
absence via the polarity of yin and yang. It is
against such background that Faure's


speaking of the in-scribing and de-describing makes
great sense: in the sense of de-scribing reality
Chan writing is against writing, but in the sense of
in-scribing reality Chan masters would themselves
keep writing. It must be pointed out that although
the distinction between in-scribing and de-scribing
is not quite thoroughly clarified by Faure, their
relationship in terms of their roles has been
forcefully made clear by him.
Apparently, de-scribing is a process which de-
contextualizes the original orality or in-scription
and provides possibility of intertextual extension
of meaning. This then allows for a
recontextualization.(5) This is a process of the
transformation of the rhetoric of the oral into the
hermeneutic of the literary. But is this the reason
why the Chan master distrusts writing? Again it is a
matter of reaching enlightenment either due to the
mediation (for transcendence) of the writing or at
giving live meaning to the writing because of the
enlightenment reached independently. There is no
absolute rejection of writing or hermeneutics at all
in Chan, as there is always an interplay between the
hermeneutical and the rhetoretical and between the
locutionary and the perlocutionary in the koans of
Chan. It is clear that the Chan discourse is
composed of both. There interplay serves also both
the purpose of canonizetion and the purpose of
re-oralizing the scriptual tradition. Perhaps by
exploring into tunctions of rhetoric and hemeneutic
one can make a good and useful distinction between
the in-scribing and the de-scribing. Other useful
paradigms such as speech and writing, space and
time, reason and history, immediacy and mediation,
identity and difference, presence and absence,
performance and exegesis, can be brought in
alignment to form a co-logic of practice and theory
in the Chan discourse.(6)
The overall significance and insight of this
book can never be overstimated. But it is also a
book which is heavily leaning on contemporary
European philosophy for explaining the formation,
the transmission, and the transformation of Chan as a
tradition and as a discourse. Oftentimes it is
unclear to a reader whether he is more informed about
Chan or about contemporary European philosophical
issue. This is a book of insights which are derived
from methodologies and strategies


of a prismatic analysis as well as derived from
theories of discourses in postmodernist literature.
Suspicions could arise as to whether there are often
ovekills of simple and practical questions through
extensive use of theoretical and methodological
tools. Consequently, the main thesis or the main
body of these on Chan remain, in the end, scattered
and dispersed. Perhaps, it is a matter of writing
style and a case of a post-modern epistemology oof
Despite what I have said about Faure's numerous
insights into the Chan tradition and the Chan
discouse, and apart from other comments in the
above, there remain also three oversights which
perhaps can be said to result from these insights.
First, Faure has focussed on topics of interest from
contemporary postmodernist European philosophy and
methodology, but how Chan is related to the native
Chinese philosophical tradition was not even
touched. It shows how Chan tradition is in-scribed,
de-scribed and discoursed but not how Chan works to
produce enlightenment. In this connection, we notice
that Faure has used almost exclusively Western and
Japanese resources for reference while only three or
four books written in Chinese are included in the
bibliography. All interesting books on Chan
published in China and Taiwan before 1993 were
ignored. Although we cannot say that Faure is
exactly gulty of cultural bias, he has done nothing
to avoid this perception.
Second, the central question of enlightenment in
Chan-Zen is only peripherally discussed. Hence
Faure's elaboration of Chan "insights", no matter
how interesting in his talk on language, writing and
self, camouflage an oversight toward the core
question. Questions on how these insights are
related to enlightenment remain unanswered.
Finally,although Faure has made some distinction
between the Chinese Chan and the Japanese Zen
traditions in the beginning of the bllok, this
distinction is not clear nor explicit. Consequently,
he seems to develop a pattern of making Dogen a
singularly outstanding representive for the whole
Chan-Zen tradition at the expense of those who were
more collectively or severally representative.
Granted that the Chinese literature on Chan is
enormous, important Chinese Chan figures from


the two hundred years of the period of late Tang and
early Song (800-1000) should be able to yield more
excerpts and cases for analysis, illustration and


(1).See my article "Chan/Zen languages of paradoxes",
in Journal of Chinese Philosopjy, Vol.1, Issue 1,
(2).As is known now,Bodhidarma's essay "Two Entrances
and Four Practices" is a latter day attribution
to him.
(3).These two dimensions should not only balance
each other but also should generate each other
to be capable of balancing each other so that
one could both separate from thought at the
thought and separate from the form at the form.
(4).This is my translation from the original Chinese
text : Rentian Yanmu,(al) copyredited by Pa
Hutian(am) and Lin Yizheng,(an) Mingwen(ao)
Book co.1982,63.
(5).Reference is made here by Faure to Ricoeur's
Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. and
trans. John B. Thompson, Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1981.
(6).This would also provide a basis for Faure's
explaining the formation and perception of self
and individuation in the Chan tradition. On this
important topic, I shall reserve a future occas-
ion to make my comments.