Dead Words, Living Words, and Healing Words: The Disseminations of Dōgen and Eckhart

By David R. Loy

Healing Deconstruction: Postmodern Thought in Buddhism and Christianity

pp. 33-51

Atlanta Georgia: Scholars Press (1996)



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    What does Derrida's type of deconstruction imply about religion and for religion? Recently this issue has become more important to Derrida and some of those influenced by his work. [1] In his most protracted discussion to date on the relationship between deconstruction and religion, "Comment ne pas parler: Dénégations" (translated as "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials"), Derrida has been primarily concerned to distinguish deconstruction from negative theology. The apophatic language of negative theology suggests a project similar to his, yet the uses to which that language is put have been quite different. Negative theologies tend to conclude that, since all predicative language is inadequate to express the nature of God, only a negative attribution can approach him; this denies God any attributable essence, but merely to reserve a hyperessentiality, a being beyond Being. Derrida refers specifically to Eckhart and we can see his point in Eckhart's great sermon on the text "Blessed are the poor...", where Eckhart declares: "Therefore I pray God that he may rid me of God, for unconditioned being is above God and all distinctions." That we can refer to any such unconditioned being is incompatible with Derrida's argument that there is no

1. See, for example, Harold Coward and Toby Foshay, eds., Derrida and Negative Theology (Albany: State University of New York, 1992). This includes two essays by Derrida: "Of and Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy" and "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials"; Christian, Buddhist and Hindu reactions to those essays; and responses by Derrida.



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"transcendental signified", since every process of signification, including all supposed self-presence, is an economy of differences. "There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of differences." [2]

    Even if this particular point is accepted, however, a great deal remains to be said on the issue and, needless to say, we are not limited to considering Derrida's own views. One place to start -- or rather (since we never begin at the beginning) one textual strand I would like to continue spinning -- is a fine paper by John D. Caputo titled "Mysticism and Transgression: Derrida and Meister Eckhart". [3] In this essay Caputo is concerned that Derrida's deconstruction has been too easily tied with the familiar death-of-God scenario and used to refute the possibility of God or the sacred. Criticizing this as reductionist, Caputo argues for what he calls the "armed neutrality" of Derrida's différance: armed because it holds all existence claims suspect, yet ontologically neutral because it does not imply the existence or non-existence of any entity. Différance establishes the possibility of a language that addresses God just as much as a discourse that denies God, for it does not settle the God-question one way or another. "In fact, it unsettles it, by showing that any debate about the existence of God is beset by the difficulties which typically inhabit such debates, by their inevitable recourse to binary pairs which cannot be made to stick" (p. 28).

    It is easy to see why deconstructionists might be uncomfortable with this conclusion, inasmuch as the God-quest has usually been our search for an Unconditioned which grounds us. Nonetheless, I think Caputo is correct, and perhaps more so than he realizes. It may be easier to see this if we shift from God- talk to Buddha-talk, for the point I want to make has been expressed more clearly in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism, like many other Asian traditions, does not accept the distinction that the West has come to make between religion and philosophy, which is why what needs to be unsettled in Mahāyāna is neither the God-question nor the Buddha-question but most of all the "commonsense" everyday world, riddled as it is with unconscious, because automatized, ontological committments. Mādhyamika can argue that the limits [koti] of

2. Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (University of Chicago Press, 1981), 26. The Buddhist doctrine of pratītya-samutpāda makes the same point about consciousness.

3."Mysticism and Transgression: Derrida and Meister Eckhart" in Derrida and Deconstruction, ed. Hugh J. Silverman (Routledge: New York and London, 1989), 24-39.



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this world are the same as the limits of nirvāṇa [4] because our everyday world has been mentally-conditioned and socially-constructed by our delusive attribution of self-existence to objects. So we experience the world as a collection of discrete, self-existing things which interact causally in objective space and time; and that leads to suffering insofar as we understand ourselves too to be such self-existing things, who are nonetheless subject to the ravages of time and change -- who are born only to become ill, grow old, and die.

    This implies a more radical possibility for the unsettling that Caputo refers to and that différance certainly implies: for merely by subverting such ontological claims, and without making any metaphysical claims of its own, the Buddhist deconstruction of all such self-existence (especially our own) can allow something else to shine forth -- something that has always been there/here yet has been overlooked in our haste to objectify things in order to fixate on them. Such deconstruction can heal us by revealing a less dualistic way not only of understanding but of experiencing the relation between ourselves and the supposedly objective world.

    For Buddhism this sense of separation between me and the world lies at the heart of our duḥkha, i.e., of our notorious inability to be happy. Buddhism relates our dis-ease to the delusive nature of the ego-self, which like everything else is a manifestation of the universe yet feels separate from it. The basic difficulty is that insofar as "I" feel separate (i.e., an autonomous, self-existing consciousness) I also feel uncomfortable, because an illusory sense of separateness will inevitably be insecure. The unavoidable trace of nothingness in my fictitious (because not really self-existing) sense-of-self is therefore experienced as a sense-of-lack; and in reaction the sense-of-self becomes preoccupied with trying to make itself -- it's self -- self-existing, in one or another symbolic fashion. The tragic irony is that the ways we attempt to do this cannot succeed, for a sense-of-self can never expel the trace of lack that always shadows it insofar as it is illusory; while in the most important sense we are already self-existing, since the infinite set of differential traces that constitutes each of us is nothing less than the whole universe. "The self-existence of a Buddha is the self-existence of this very cosmos. The Buddha is without a self-existent nature; the cosmos too is without a self-existent nature." [5] What Nāgārjuna says here about the Buddha is equally true for each of us,

4. Mūlamadhyamikakārikā 24: 19.

5. Mūlamadhyamikakārikā 24:16.



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and for that matter everything in the universe; the difference is that a Buddha (and a Christ?) knows it. I think this touches on the enduring attraction of what Heidegger calls onto-theology and what Derrida calls logocentrism, not just in the West but everywhere: Being/being means security to us because it means a ground for the self, whether that is understood as experiencing Transcendence or intellectually sublimated into a metaphysical principle underlying everything. We want to meet God face-to-face, or gain enlightenment, but the fact that everything is śūnya means we can never attain them. We can, however, realize what we have always been/not been. [6]

    In accordance with this, Mādhyamika and Ch'an Buddhism have no teaching to transmit, no doctrine that must be believed in order to be a Buddhist, or that must be grasped in order to be saved. If our ways of living in the world are what need to be unsettled, what is to be taught will vary according to the person and the situation, because people fixate on different things. "If I tell you that I have a system of dharma [teaching] to transmit to others, I am cheating you," declared the sixth Ch'an patriarch Hui-neng. "What I do to my disciples is to liberate them from their own bondage with such devices as the case may need." [7]

    This type of unsettling does not leave the God-question or the Buddha-question in abeyance: it resolves it -- not, however, by giving us an answer to those questions in the place we look for it, but by providing a different way of experiencing, by deconstructing our everyday world into a different one. At the same time (and this reappropriates Caputo's point ) it must also be said that from another perspective this nondual way of experiencing nonetheless deepens the religious question, because it still leaves the world essentially mysterious in a fashion that cannot be resolved -- but does not need to be resolved: every nondual "thing" or

6. The self-existence (Sanskrit, sva-bhāva) that Mādhyamika refutes corresponds to the "self-presence" which Derrida criticizes in textual terms, by showing that every process of signification, including self-consciousness, is an economy of differences. Self-presence" has never been given but only dreamed of and always already split, incapable of appearing to itself except in its own disapperance." Discussions of this argument tend to focus on the -presence of self-presence, but the self-needs to be emphasized as much. It is "the hunger for/of self" that seeks fulfillment in "the absolute phantasm" of "absolute self-having." (Of Grammatology, 112; "an Apocalyptic Tone', 90,91) For more on the Sense-of-lack as "shadow" of the sense-of-self, see David Loy, Lack and Transcendence, (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996).

7. The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui Neng, tran. A.F. Price and Wong Moulam (Boston: Shambhala, 1990),132.



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event acquires a numinous quality which cannot be fully understood causally or reductively.

    What does this Buddhist deconstruction imply about language? How does it affect the ways we hear and speak, read and write? There is some support in the Buddhist tradition, as in negative theology generally, for denying or at least depreciating the value of language. The implication is that linguistic meaning is so inevitably dualistic that it can never adequately describe or express reality; therefore a wise person speaks seldom and little. Nāgārjuna denied that he had any views of his own: "If I had a position, no doubt fault could be found with it. Since I have no position, that problem does not arise." How could he avoid taking a position? "Ultimate serenity is the coming to rest of all ways of taking things, the repose of named things; no truth has been taught by a Buddha for anyone, anywhere." [8] This "coming to rest of all ways of taking things" is also found in Ch'an -- for example, in the way that Tung-shan Shou-ch'u (d. 990) distinguished between dead words and living words: "If there is any rational intention manifested in the words, then they are dead words; if there is no rational intention manifested in the words, then they are living words." [9] Tung-shan does not deny the usefulness of language but does question its "rational" function -- which seems to mean, he denies its validity as a way to understand or "take" things. More recently, the Japanese Zen scholar and popularizer D. T. Suzuki has perpetuated a similar distinction in the way he explains the process of working on a kōan: the purpose of a kōan is to subvert all rational attempts to solve it, he claimed, whereupon we may be transported into a different and nonrational way of experiencing it and the world, including language.

    There is a problem with this understanding of "enlightened language", and it is a mistake to conclude that Tung-shan's or Suzuki's view is the Buddhist or the Mahāyāna view of language (even if we ignore the obvious contradiction that would seem to involve!). The difficulty with denigrating "rational intentions" and trying to "end all ways of taking things" is that this tends to reinforce the deluded dualism we already make between words and things, between thought and world. The danger is that we will "take" language/thought as a filter that should be eliminated in order to experience things/the world more

8. Vigraha-vyāvartanī 29; Mūlamadhyamikakārikā 25:24.

9. In Chang Chung-yuan, Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism (New York: Vintage, 1971), 271.



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immediately -- an approach which unfortunately reconstitutes the problem of dualism in the means chosen to overcome it. An alternative approach was hinted at by Ch'an master Yün-men Wen-yen (d. 949): "There are words which go beyond words. This is like eating rice everyday without any attachment to a grain of rice." [10] Hui-neng tells us how words can go beyond words, in the process of explaining why he has no dharma to transmit to others:

Only those who do not possess a single system of dharma can formulate all systems of dharma, and only those who can understand the meaning [of this paradox] may use such terms. It makes no difference to those who have realized the essence of mind whether they formulate all systems of dharma or dispense with all of them. They are at liberty to come or to go. They are free from obstacles or impediments. They take appropriate actions as circumstances require. They give suitable answers according to the temperament of the inquirer. [11]

    For Caputo, following Derrida, Eckhart's "godhead beyond god" is another signifer with transcendental pretensions (p. 33), which needs to be deconstructed and shown to be the function of a network of differences (a deconstruction that, for example, Nāgārjuna performs on nirvāṇa in chapter 25 of the Mūlamadhyamikakārikā). For Derrida no words go beyond words, yet these words of the sixth patriarch imply that for Buddhism there is another perspective where one signifier does not necessarily equal another or simply reduce to being a function of others. I think there is no better way to gain an appreciation of how words can go beyond words than by considering how Hui-neng, Dōgen and Eckhart understood language. And the best way to understand their understanding of language is, of course, to look at how they actually used words.



    Hui-neng, Dōgen and Eckhart: arguably the greatest Chinese Ch'an master, the greatest Japanese Zen master, and the greatest medieval Christian mystical writer. They are so elevated in our pantheon of religious heroes that we are apt to overlook how opportunistic -- indeed,

10. Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism, 271.

11. The Sutra of Hui Neng, 132.



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how completely unscrupulous -- they were in the ways they employed language. [12]

    Hui-neng's opportunism is obvious in the two passages from his Platform Sutra already quoted above. His own words provide some excellent instances of language "free from obstacles or impediments", of teachings that "give suitable answers according to the temperament of the inquirer." To cite only one example, in one place the sixth patriarch does not hesitate to contradict received Buddhist teachings, in response to the question of a monk, Chang Hsing-ch'ang, who could not understand the meaning of the terms "eternal" and "not eternal" in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra.

    "What is not eternal is the buddha-nature," replied the patriarch, "and what is eternal is the discriminating mind together with all meritorious and demeritorious dharmas."
    "Your explanation, sir, contradicts the sutra," said Chang.
    "I dare not, since I inherit the heart seal of Lord Buddha... If buddha- nature is eternal, it would be of no use to talk about meritorious and demeritorious dharmas; and until the end of a kalpa no one would arouse the bodhicitta. Therefore, when I say 'not eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant for 'eternal.' Again, if all dharmas are not eternal, then every thing or object would have a nature of its own [i.e., self-existence or essence] to suffer death and birth. In that case, it would mean that the essence of mind, which is truly eternal, does not pervade everywhere. Therefore when I say 'eternal' it is exactly what Lord Buddha meant by 'not eternal.'... In following slavishly the wording of the sutra, you have ignored the spirit of the text."

    From this passage alone it is difficult to understand why Hui-neng reversed the meaning of the two terms; we would need to know more about situation within which this dialogue took place, the con-text of the text. But apparently it worked: "All of a sudden Chang awoke to full enlightenment". Whether we find Hui-neng's explanation helpful or not, the most important point here is that, by his own criterion, there is no arguing with such success.

    In his final instructions to his successors before passing away, Hui-neng taught more about how to teach: " Whenever a man puts a question to you, answer him in antonyms, so that a pair of opposites will be formed, such as coming and going. When the interdependence of the two

12. Scruple is from the Latin scrupulus, itself derived from scrupus a rough or hard pebble, used figuratively by Cicero for a casuse of uneasiness or anxiety. The Latin opportun-us means fit, suitable, convenient, seasonable; advantageous, serviceable.



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is entirely done away with there would be, in the absolute sense, neither coming nor going." [13] If someone is fixated on one view, challenge him with the opposite view -- not to convert him to that view but to unsettle him from all views, so that one might slip out between them.

Language and symbols circumscribe; but, as living forces, they are dynamic enough to open up, constantly re-expressing, renewing, and casting-off, so as to unfold new horizons of their own life. In this way language and symbols know no limits with respect to how far they can penetrate both conceptually and symbolically. No Buddhist thinker was more intensely and meticulously involved with the exploration of each and every linguistic possibility of Buddhist concepts and symbols -- even those forgotten, displaced ones -- than Dōgen who endeavored to appropriate them in the dynamic workings of the Way's realization. (Hee-jin Kim) [14]

    Many Buddhists believe that concepts are inherently delusive, that they should be eliminated in order to realize our true nature. Dōgen's approach was the complete opposite, and he devoted much energy to demonstrating the importance of language and its possibilities. Before discussing his understanding of language, however, we must notice how he used it.

Throughout the Shōbōgenzō, Dōgen painstakingly dissects a given passage and explores its semantic possibilities at every turn, literally turning the conventional diction upside down and inside out. The result is a dramatic shift in our perception and understanding of the original passage. One of the most rewarding aspects of translating Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō is his radical challenge to ordinary language. To Dōgen the manner of expression is as important as the substance of thought; in fact, the experimentation with language is equivalent to the making of reality. Furthermore, Dōgen frequently puts forth deliberate, often brilliant, "misinterpretations" of certain notions and passages of Buddhism. This distortion of original meaning is not due to any ignorance of Chinese or Japanese (indeed, it testifies to a unique mastery of both) but rather to a different kind of thinking -- the logic of the Buddha-dharma. (Kim) [15]

13. The Sutra of Hui Neng, 134-135, 142. My italics.

14. Hee-jin Kim, "Method and Realization: Dogen's Use of the Kōan Language", 9, presented at a conference on "The Significance of Dōgen", Tasajara Zen Mountain Center, October 8-11,1981.

15. Hee-jin Kim, "The Reason of Words and Letters": Dōgen and Kōan Language", in William R. LaFleur, ed., Dōgen Studies (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1985), 60. My italics.



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    Among the many examples which may be cited, here are some of the most interesting:

    Dōgen's discussion of tō-higan ("reaching the other shore") transposes the two characters into higan-tō, "the other shore's arrival" or "the other shore has arrived." The transcribed term no longer refers to a future event but emphasizes the event of realization here and now.

    Seppō "preaching the dharma" is reversed in the same way to become hō-setsu "the dharma's preaching." This allows Dōgen to say: "This 'discourse on the Dharma' is 'the Dharma's discourse.'"

    Dōgen takes the term arutoki ("at a certain time, sometimes, once") and recombines its components u "to be, to have" and ji "time, occasion" to make uji, "being-time", which he uses to signify the nonduality of existence and time.

    Perhaps the best known example of this particular technique is in the Busshō fascicle, which quotes from the Nirvana Sutra: "All sentient beings without exception have Buddha-nature". Dōgen rearranges the syntactical components to make them mean: All sentient beings, i.e., all existence, is Buddha-nature. As Kim points out, this changes potentiality into actuality, and it liberates us from anthropocentrism. Sentient beings, everything that exists and Buddha-nature all become nondual.

    Like Heidegger, Dōgen converts nouns into verbs and uses them to predicate the same noun, in order to say, e.g., "the sky skys the sky." This allows him to escape the subject-predicate dualism of language and point out that, for example, spring "passes without anything outside itself."

    The Zazenshin fascicle of the Shōbōgenzō reinterprets a kōan about thinking (shiryō), not-thinking (fu-shiryō), and non-thinking (hi-shiryō). The original kōan, which Dōgen quotes, reads as follows:

After sitting, a monk asked Great Master Yueh-shan Hung-tao: "What are you thinking in the immobile state of sitting?" The master answered: "I think of not-thinking." The monk asked: "How can one think of not-thinking?" The master said: "Nonthinking."

Dōgen transforms Yueh-shan's "I think of not-thinking" into "Thinking is not- thinking." Fu-shiryō becomes fu no shiryō: the not's, or (as Kim puts it) the absolute emptiness's, thinking. That is, fu-shiryō no longer refers to the absence or denial of thinking, but suggests instead that authentic thinking is "the not's thinking".

    What ties together all these remarkable examples is more than that Dōgen unscrupulously twists traditional texts to make them mean



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whatever he wants them to say. In each case Dōgen is conflating a problematic dualism, that is, a deluded way of thinking which causes problems for us. Higan-tō denies the usual duality between practice and realization. Hō-setsu denies any duality between the one who preaches the dharma and the dharma that is taught. The Busshō fascicle denies the duality between sentient beings and their Buddha-nature. Uji denies any duality between beings and their temporality; converting nouns into verbs allows Dōgen to deny, e.g., the duality between springtime and things in springtime. Fu no shiryō denies the especially dangerous dualism (for Buddhist practitioners) between thinking and not-thinking (as it occurs in zazen); practice is not a matter of getting rid of thinking but realizing the "emptiness" of thinking. In each instance Dōgen does not allow himself to be limited by the usual dualisms of our language, and of our thought, but concocts expressions that leap out of the bifurcations we get stuck in. For Kim it is "abundantly clear that in these linguistic and symbolic transformations Dōgen acts as a magician or an alchemist of language conjuring up an infinity of symbolic universes freely and selflessly as the self-expressions of Buddha-nature." [16]

    One more type of conflation (or deconstruction) should be noticed before we attempt to characterize this way of using language. In Buddhism a number of metaphors have become traditional as ways to contrast this world of suffering with the realm of enlightenment: for example, gabyō (pictured cakes, which cannot satisfy us when we are hungry), kūge (literally sky-flowers, seen when the eye is defective, hence a metaphor for illusory perceptions), kattō (entangling vines, meaning worldly attachments), and mu (a dream, as opposed to being awake). Dōgen elevates all these depreciated terms by revitalizing them. Instead of dismissing pictures (i.e., concepts), he emphasizes their importance: "Because the entire world and all dharmas are unequivocally pictures, men and dharmas are actualized through pictures, and the buddhas and patriarchs are perfected through pictures." Kūge, usually castigated as illusions, he revalorizes as "flowers of emptiness"; in place of the typical Buddhist duality between reality and delusion, "all dharmas of the universe are the flowers of emptiness." Instead of the usual admonition to cut off all entangling vines, Dōgen emphasizes the importance of worldly relationships. And "all dharmas in the dream state as well as in the waking state are equally ultimate reality... Dream and waking are

16. "The Reason of Words and Letters", 63.



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equally ultimate reality: no largeness or smallness, no superiority or inferiority has anything to do with them." [17]

    These last examples, in particular, leave us no doubt about Dōgen's understanding of language. Concepts, metaphors, parables and so forth are not just instrumental, convenient means to communicate truth, for they themselves manifest the truth -- or rather, since that way of putting it is still too dualistic, they themselves are the truth that we need to realize.

Words are no longer just something that the intellect manipulates abstractly and impersonally but something that works intimately in the existential metabolism of one who uses them philosophically and religiously in a special manner and with a special attitude. They are no longer mere means or symbols that point to realities other than themselves but are themselves the realities of original enlightenment and the Buddha-nature. (Kim) [18]

    "Metaphor in Dōgen's sense is not that which points to something other than itself, but that in which something realizes itself", summarizes Kim. "In short, the symbol is not a means to edification but an end in itself -- the workings of ultimate truth." As Dōgen himself puts it: "The Buddha-dharma, even if it is a metaphor, is ultimate reality." [19] If the metaphor is not used to compensate for my own lack of self-existence -- which makes me try to get some graspable truth from it -- it can be a way my mind consummates itself: although symbols can be redeemed only by mind, the mind does not function in a vacuum but is activated by symbols.

    In the Sansuikyō fascicle of the Shōbōgenzō Dōgen criticizes those who have an instrumentalist view of language: "How pitiable are they who are unaware that discriminating thought is words and phrases, and that words and phrases liberate discriminating thought." Kim provides a valuable gloss on this memorable phrase: "In spite of inherent frailties in their make-up, words are the bearer of ultimate truth. In this respect, words are not different from things, events, or beings -- all 'alive' in Dōgen's thought." [20]

    Alive, because language, like any other thing or event, is (and must be realized to be) ippō-gūjin, "the total exertion of a single dharma." This

17. "The Reason of Words and Letters", 66 ff.

18. Hee-Jin Kim, Dōgen Kigen-Mystical Realist (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975), 110. When was the last time your Zen master told you that?

19. In the Muchū-setsumu fascicle, as quoted in "The Reason of Words and Letters", 73.

20. "The Reason of Words and Letter", 57, 58.



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term, a key one for Dōgen, embodies his dynamic understanding of the Hua-yen doctrine of interpenetration. According to Hua-yen, each dharma (here meaning any thing or event, and for Dōgen this explicitly includes linguistic expressions) is both the cause of and the effect of all other dharmas in the universe. This interfusion means that the life of one dharma becomes the life of all dharmas, as there is nothing but that dharma in the whole universe. Since no dharma interferes with any other dharma -- because each is nothing other than an expression of all the others -- dharmas transcend all dualism; in this way they are both harmonious with all other dharmas yet function as if independent of them. [21]

    If we apply this Hua-yen view of dharmas to language, words and metaphors can be understood not just as instrumentally trying to grasp and convey truth (and thereby dualistically interfering with our realization of some truth that transcends words) but as being the truth -- that is, as one of the many ways that Buddha- nature is. A birdsong, a temple bell ringing, a flower blooming, and Dōgen's words too blooming for us as we read or hear them... if we do not dualize between world and word (and Dōgen shows us we do not need to dualize between them), then we can experience the Buddha-dharma -- our own "empty" nature -- presencing (but not self-presencing: each manifests the whole universe) and playing in each.

    Dōgen is more literary than Hui-neng, yet I do not see any fundamental difference in their teachings and in their views of language. Like Beethoven and the Romantic tradition that followed him, Hui-neng forged a path that others explored more fully, in this case by developing the Ch'an tradition... Is there anyone comparable to Hui-neng and Dōgen in Christianity?

He is a master of life and a master of the letter who plays with the syntax and semantics of the scriptural texts and the texts of the masters before him in order to tease out of them ever new senses. He is a master of repetition who knew well that his commentary was not to be a simple reproduction

21. This apparent paradox is a crucial point, yet explaining it and defending it would shift the focus of this essay. It may be understood as the Chinese version of Nāgārjuna's argunment in the Mūlamadhyamikakārikā, which uses causality to refute the self-existence of anything, and then denies causal relationships: "That which, taken as causal or dependent, is the process of being born and passing on, is, taken non-causally and beyond all dependence, declared to be nirvāṇa." (25:19) For more on this, see my Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (Yale, 1988) chapter 6, and "The Deconstruction of Buddhism" in Derrida and Negative Theology (cited in fn 1).



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but a new production, a new rendering which made the old text speak anew and say what had not been heard. He was constantly altering the syntax of a text, rewriting it so that it said something new. He would fuss with trivial features of a text to which no attention at all had been paid and make everything turn on them, even to the point of reversing their traditional meaning... He would invert sayings to see what fruit they would yield.

Is this more of Kim on Dōgen? It could be, but in fact it's Caputo on Eckhart. Let us let him finish his point.

There is no better example, to my knowledge, of a certain mystical dissemination and a religiously joyful wisdom than the brilliantly, playful virtuosity of Eckhart's German sermons and Latin treatises. He rewrites the words of Scripture, turns and twists the most familiar sacred stories, reinterprets the oldest teachings in the most innovative and shocking ways... And always with the same effect: to prod the life of the spirit, to promote its vitality, to raise its pitch, to enhance its energy. Like a religious answer to Nietzsche six centuries before the fact, Eckhart engages with Dionysian productivity in a multiplication of religious fictions which serve the interests of a "life" which lives out of its own superabundance, without why or wherefore, for the sake of life itself... [22]

"There is a grammatological exuberance, a transgressive energy, in Eckhart", summarizes Caputo, and because of his own exuberance we can readily forgive the trendy vocabulary (today everyone seems rather too eager to transgress!). However, we need some examples.

    Eckhart reads mutuo (reciprocal) as meo tuo et tuo meo (mine yours and yours mine). He plays with the name of his own religious order (ordo praedicatorum, order of preachers) to make it an "order of praisers", i.e., those who offer divine predicates. In the Vulgate version of Romans 6:22, Nun vero liberati a peccato ("Now, however, you have been liberated from sin'"), Eckhart discovers eight different grammatical functions in vero, including: truly (vere) delivered from sin; delivered from sin by truth (vero, the datum of verum), and so forth. At the beginning of the Gospel of John, In principio erat verbum, the words principium, erat and verbum are submitted to similar readings, multiplying and disseminating their meanings. Perhaps the most shocking of all, Eckhart presumes to change the opening lines of the Pater Noster (believed to be the only prayer we have from Jesus) so that "thy will be done" becomes '"will, be thine [i.e.,

22. "Mysticism and Transgression," 35.



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God's]", because he believed that willing to do God's will is not as good as getting beyond willing altogether. [23]

    In the famous story where Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part (the vita contemplativa), Eckhart reverses the traditional understanding by explaining that the repetition of Martha's name ("Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things") means that she had two gifts, the vita activa as well as the vita contemplativa, and therefore Martha had chosen the better part! This follows from Eckhart's emphasis on spiritual vitality, his teaching that true thankfulness is fruitfulness (i.e., to be made fruitful by the gift one receives, to give birth from it in return). Caputo concludes his article by praising this typical "mystical perversity" whereby Eckhart argues that the better part belongs not to Mary "languishing dreamily at the feet of Jesus, trying to be one with the One" but to Martha who rushes here and there preparing for Jesus' visit "with all the energy and robustness of life."

    Perhaps the most significant instance of Eckhart's unscrupulous use of language is the way he plays with the binary terms Being and Nonbeing (or Nothing) by nonchalantly reversing their meaning. Sometimes he refers to the being of creatures and describes God as a nothing, without the slightest bit of existence. At other times he contrasts the "nullity" of all creatures with the being of God, in which case it is not that God has being, or even that God is being, but that being is God (esse est deus). Caputo says that Eckhart "understands quite well that the terms 'Being' and 'Nothing' are functions of each other, that each is inscribed in the other, marked and traced by the other, and that neither gets the job done, alone or together." (p. 31) Well put, yet Eckhart, like Dōgen, plays with syntax and semantics not just to tease out ever new senses, not just to see how many meanings he can make dance on the head of a pin, but to develop some special types of expression, particularly those which can help us to see through the duality between ourselves and God. In the Busshō fascicle Dōgen reorders syntax to make "All beings have Buddha-nature" into "All beings are Buddha- nature"; Eckhart is happy to reverse the referents of Being and Nothingness to the same end, without ever asserting that both God and creatures have being, for that would involve a dualism between the two: if God is nothing it is because he is our nothingness, and if we are nothing it is because all our being is actually God's. The same denial of that same duality occurs in reading "thy will

23. "Mysticism and Transgression," 37. Caputo refers to Frank Tobin's study Meister Eckhart: Thought and Language (Philadelphia: Unviersity of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 171-179.



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be done" as "will, be thine [God's]". And Eckhart uses the story of Mary and Martha to deny a derivative dualism between the contemplative life and the active life.

    Caputo does not deny a orthodox side to Eckhart, which denies God (Deus) the better to assert the Godhead (Deitas) and which understands that Godhead as a super-essentiality more real than reality. That is one tendency in Eckhart's writings, yet it is not the only aspect or for us the most significant aspect. "'I pray God that he may make me free of God' is an ongoing prayer which keeps the discourse open. This is a prayer against closure, against turning the latest and best creations of discourse into idols. It arises from an ongoing distrust of our ineradicable desire for presence, of our insidious tendency to arrest the play and build an altar to a produced effect." (p. 34) This is so well-expressed that I hesitate to quibble; yet, again, I think that Eckhart is concerned with more than resisting conceptual closure. Although he doesn't want to build altars to the products of his originality, his linguistic play is happy to produce them because he wants to do something more than keep the conversation going. Like Hui-neng and Dōgen, he wants us to change the ways we experience and live "in" the world.

    That brings us to a crucial question which can no longer be avoided. If, as I have been trying to show, Hui-neng, Dōgen and Eckhart exemplify a freedom with language that Derrida has more recently celebrated; if their writings contain some of the best examples of the liberated kind of dissemination that Derrida's deconstruction implies, which is not pious of any produced effects but is ready to challenge them all; then what is the difference, if any, between what Derrida is doing and what they are doing? What makes their deconstructive disseminations "religious" and Derrida's not?



    The answer to this question is most evident in Dōgen, although a similar response is implicit in Hui-neng's and Eckhart's writings.

    Earlier, in a discussion of ippō-gūjin ("the total exertion of a single dharma") aspect of language, it was emphasized that language for Dōgen does not just instrumentally attempt to grasp and convey truth, it is truth: that is, one of the ways that Buddhanature is. But of course that is not to deny that language is instrumental as well. The point of the Hua-



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yen doctrine of interpenetration is that each dharma is both the cause and the effect of all other dharmas. One way to understand this is that linguistic expressions are at the same time both means -- they refer to other things -- and ends in themselves. This dual function is even embodied in the term dharma, which (as we have already seen) for Buddhism means both things themselves (what really is) and Buddhist teachings (what Buddhism says about what is). Both meanings are necessary. To dwell only on the instrumental and referential aspect of language overlooks the ippō-gūjin of words; yet to emphasize only ippō-gūjin ignores the ability of words to affect the way we perceive things "in" the world. That latter function is also crucial for Buddhism because Buddhism as a religion is primarily concerned with helping us change our way of living in the world, which is usually duḥkha, dissatisfied. `Sākyamuni Buddha said that he taught only duḥkha and the end of duḥkha.

    Distinguishing these two inseparable aspects of language enables us to clarify the differences between Buddhism and Derrida. On the one side, Derrida's writings are not aware of the ippō-gūjin aspect of language. From a Hua-yen perspective, it may be said that Derrida demonstrates how each linguistic-dharma is an effect of all other dharmas, but he overlooks the other aspect equally essential for Mahāyāna: that each linguistic-dharma is at the same time the only dharma in the whole universe. Yes, every signification is a function of a network of differences, yet for that very reason each transient produced effect is also an end in itself, in fact the only end in itself, the sole reason that the cosmos exists. [24]

    Perhaps a favorite metaphor may be used to illustrate this point. The musicological analysis of a score may reveal interesting and important things about the text, but that analysis can never convey the living experience of listening to that music, of actually hearing (for example) that climactic moment in classical sonata-form when the key returns to the dominant and the tension that has been building up is resolved harmonically. Yet there are also different ways of hearing that harmonic resolution. Although we usually retain a sense of ourselves as enjoying the music, there are those all-too-rare moments when we forget ourselves

24. On Grammatology privileges writing as a better metaphor for understanding language than the supposed self-presence of speech. Yet speech remains a better metaphor for the ippō-gūjin of language. Of course, speech does give us an illusion of wholeness and unity, but the point of ippō-gūjin is that that is not merely an illusion. There is more on this argument in the two sources cited in fn.21.



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and become the music, when we forget past and future to regain a no- longer-falling-away "eternal now" that flows, as notes no longer succeed each other but the same note dances up and down. This reveals the nondual ippō-gūjin of music, which at that moment is not different from our own "empty" nature.

    Words and symbols can be ippō-gūjin as well because as well as instrumental they are, like music and everything else, groundless: that is, without any self- nature or self-presence, which fact Mahāyāna expresses with the term śūnya "empty". From a Buddhist perspective, our intellectual quest may be seen to derive from a sublimated version of the same duḥkha that haunts the rest of our lives; in response, we try to fixate ourselves somewhere, if only (for intellectuals like us) on some produced linguistic effect. But as all our various searches for unconditioned grounds and origins are doomed to fail, our philosophizing too sails in an unfathomable ocean without any permanent harbors to cast anchor in. It is only when language is not used as a way to compensate for my own groundlessness -- which makes me grasp at it in order to try to get some truth from it -- that language can become a way the mind consummates itself.

    We might want to say that this epiphany involves more than a dance with words, but we can just as well call it a special kind of dance. The playfulness of Hui-neng, Dōgen and Eckhart is an end in itself, to be sure, yet it also embodies an understanding of our duḥkha and is a considered response to our duḥkha. The deconstructions of dualisms that we find in these religious innovators can help to free us from our own "mind-forg'd manacles" (as Blake put it), from chains of our own making (the Zen metaphor). For Buddhism, and apparently for Eckhart as well, the most important dualism that needs to be deconstructed is that between myself "inside" and the rest of the world "outside". We have noticed how Dōgen devises numerous linguistic devices to subvert the usual dualisms of language, to make language reveal instead the nonduality between us and the world. Eckhart does the same when, for example, he changes "thy will be done" into "will, be thine", and when he refuses to grant being both to God and to creatures at the same time.

    Their projects are religious, and Derrida's is not, because this other aspect of language -- which works to deconstruct the duḥkha of our lives -- is also lacking in Derrida. Derrida in effect deconstructs the subject-object opposition by disseminating it, because he does not believe that it can be recuperated or regathered, for we have no access to any



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nonduality prior to that duality. [25] As a consequence, his deconstruction is more focussed on the duḥkha that operates in language, which is the place we intellectuals search for a truth to fixate on; his philosophical critique does not address the role of grasping and fixation in the rest of our lives. Dōgen's Buddhism and Eckhart's Christianity are religions because they offer much broader critiques of attachment intended to inform and alter the ways we live "in" the world. Buddhist usage of language and claims about language are part of a larger, indeed holistic practice -- including moral precepts, ritual, meditation exercises, etc. -- that develops nonattachment in all our activities and is therefore able to discover and liberate the ippō-gūjin in all of them.



    In conclusion, we can distinguish not only between dead words and living words, as (in very different ways) Tung-shan and Derrida do, but also between living words and healing words.

    We know dead words well enough. The problem with academic discourse is that it flattens language into the one-dimensionality of objectified texts. Our intellectual concern to study and dissect such texts "rigorously" makes this type of discourse paradigmatic for us. The ability to do this well, or cleverly, has become the academic meal-ticket: those who play the game skillfully get published and invited to conferences.

    The fact that this is the dwelling-place within language where we have learned to dwell comfortably, and which helps us get tenure, does not deny the other possibilities of language. One such possibility is the dissemination exemplified by Derrida's type of deconstruction and now practiced by many other postmodern writers, not usually so skillfully. That language is certainly more alive than the chess-board rearrangement of jargon predominant in academia. Nonetheless I find something lacking in most of it. One way to express it is that, when merely an end in itself, grammatological freedom quickly becomes boring, like those postmodern novels I can never quite finish, which are stylistically very ingenious yet seem to have little else to communicate besides celebrating their cleverness in transgressing conventional forms.

25. I am indebted to Professor Caputo for this felicitous way of expressing the difference (in a personal communication).



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    Such vitality should not be confused with the nondual ippō-gūjin that Dōgen describes and Eckhart also exemplifies. The deconstructions and disseminations we find in Hui-neng, Dōgen and Eckhart are certainly playful, yet they gain their force -- a power that survives through the centuries to touch us today -- from their ability to rub against the grain of our duḥkha, from their challenge to the deadened categories and automatized dualisms which structure the ways we live and suffer in the world.