Language: A Soteriological Approach

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In Park’s essay “Zen and Zen Philosophy of Language: A Soteriological Approach,” Park offers an alternative understanding of the role of language in Zen philosophy by examining it not in regard to the state of enlightenment but rather in the process of reaching this state. With this perspective, he disputes the claim that a linguistic and non-linguistic approach to enlightenment must be mutually exclusive and instead posits that they can both be understood as complementary aspects of the path to enlightenment, building his argument with the contradictory and paradoxical language of Zen doctrines, including the Diamond Sūtra and Heart Sūtra. Park then examines, under his soteriological lens, the illogical nature of language in the context of …show more content…
Between the subject and truth lies the medium of language, which Park describes within a postmodern context as merely representational (Park 211). Because of this factor, words can only grasp at truth but ultimately hinder one’s ability to fully understand it. By its very nature, language perpetuates a dualistic view of reality. Therefore, this non-linguistic approach leads to a rejection of the presence of a linguistic system in the enlightened state, describing it instead as a “pure experience,” in which words do not distort one’s reality (210). Despite its downfalls, this understanding of language as inextricably tied to truth leads to a linguistic approach to Zen …show more content…
He begins by calling attention to the numerous contradictions in Zen literature, wherein a rejection of something is often followed by an acceptance of it. In the case of language, Park turns to some passage from Bodhidarma which refer to the goal of Zen as “A special transmission outside the scripture, not dependent on words or letters” and appear to condemn language when he says, “The ultimate truth is beyond words… Linguistic expressions are illusions” (213). However, Park refers to a conflicting passage from Bodhidarma in which he says that “There is no language that is not Buddhist teaching… The original nature of language is liberation.” Park also includes passages from the Diamond Sūtra which demonstrate a system of logic built around even more of this type of contradiction. Park explains these passages as “evidence of how the simultaneous usage of affirmation and negation… a characteristic feature of the Zen attitude toward language, developed into Zen logic,” portraying a linguistic system similar to that described by Wright (214). As a consequence of breaking linguistic convention, the illogical language of Zen literature becomes meaningless, suggesting that the path to attaining enlightenment may indeed rely on linguistic training. Having concluded that there is a basis for both approaches, Park moves on to examine

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