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learning cell 2 - Lauren Pearce 260262240 RELG 253...

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Lauren Pearce 260262240 03/10/08 RELG 253: Religions of East Asia The Utilization of Language in Ch’an Buddhism Buddhism first came into being in what is now Northern India and Nepal, but upon arrival to China in 50 C.E. was modified to amalgamate with the pre-existing Chinese schools of thought, Confucianism and Taoism, and Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism was created. This specific sect of Buddhism was particularly skeptical of the efficiency of language in the path to enlightenment, essentially because of the limitations resulting from its reliance on representative meaning and a dualistic notion of understanding. Despite these misgivings, language was still used as a tool in the process of freeing oneself from the attachment and specifically from language itself, the same way the Buddha advises to “Use a thorn to dig out a thorn”. For this purpose, language is most commonly utilized in the form of a kōan , a brief and seemingly nonsensical anecdote, which through understanding can unlock the wisdom of all past and present Buddhist and Ch’an teachers. While kōan is a linguistic tool, it cannot be understood through intellectualization of the meaning but rather through intuition. Through the understanding of kōan one can release oneself from the intellectual bondage of language and attachment and achieve true enlightenment. The religious thinkers of Eastern Asia, specifically in China, Korea, and Japan, had specific misgivings regarding the truth in understanding through the use of language. First of all, language is reliant on representation of experience to illustrate meaning; certain words cannot be understood without an accompanying experience. For example, the concept of cold cannot be adequately explained to someone who has never felt cold, 1
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Lauren Pearce 260262240 03/10/08 RELG 253: Religions of East Asia regardless of how thoroughly and concisely the feeling might be described. The experience of cold is critical in seeking the absolute comprehension of the meaning of the word cold. “Words and concepts, since they are derived from ordinary experience, cannot be applied to transcendental truth" (Pande 9). In other words, because of the reliance of representation, language cannot be used to understand enlightenment, because prior to
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