A Pointing Finger Kills "The Buddha"
A Response to Chung-Ying Cheng and John King-Farlow,
By James Sellman

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
V. 12 (1985)
pp. 223-228

Copyright 1985 by Dialogue Publishing Company


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"The statement is pointless
The finger is speechless"

R.D. Laing, Knots

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More than ten years ago Chung-Ying Cheng presented his logical rational explanation of Ch'an language and paradoxes ("On Zen (Ch'an) Language and Zen Paradoxes," Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 1, 1973, 77-102). Recently John King-Farlow posed his "Anglo-Saxon questions" for Chung-Ying Cheng ("On 'On Zen Language and Zen Paradoxes': Anglo-Saxon Questions for Chung-Ying Cheng," JCP, 10, no. 3, 1983, 285-298). Even though there has been a growing interest in Ch'an and its Kung-an (Jap. Koan) in the West which is marked by the publication of Ch'an collections of the Kung-an in translation (e.g. The Sound of One Hand, and The Blue Cliff Records) and a host of journal articles concerning them, still Cheng's and King-Farlow's papers are, to the best of my knowledge, the only logical rational attempts to explain the Kung-an. This is not to say that other writers on Ch'an and the Kung-an have not been logical and rational in their discussions, but rather that we have not attempted to apply modern logic in our discussion of the Kung-an.[l] Although King-Farlow's review essay poses questions toward and criticisms of Cheng's paper, nevertheless it is basically of the same nature as Cheng's paper in that both provide logical analyses of the Kung-an. What 'I would like to do here is: first, to show where I feel that King-Farlow has exaggerated and/or misinterpreted Cheng's project; and second, to point out from the Ch'an perspective the danger of attempting any form of explanation of the Kung-an.

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I.    Alphabet Soup

Professor Cheng distinguishes his logical explanation from the anti-rationalistic or irrationalistic ones before he sets out to disclose the form and structure of the Kung-an (p. 84). On this point he is primarily opposing D.T. Suzuki's presentation of Ch'an as irrational and/or illogical. It is important to keep in mind that Suzuki was not only a scholar but a Zen master himself which should encourage one to examine the Ch'an and Buddhist use of "negation". Even the Buddha's anatman (no-self) theory shows that Buddhist logic does not use negation to deny the existence of something, but points to a third or more alternatives. Nagarjuna championed this use of negation, e.g. "things have no intrinsic nature" does not deny an intrinsic nature; it only states its absence. It is regrettable that Suzuki did not choose his words a bit more carefully, and it is to Toshihiko Izutsu's credit that he typified Ch'an as a-logical (Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism). It is not that Ch'an denies or opposes logic, but rather that it is playing a different "game". However, as Cheng points out this does not mean that one cannot explain or discuss the illogical or a-logical in logical terms, and he is quick to distinguish his approach from the actual Ch'an experience (pp. 83-84). This is a most important point. In other words, the logical explanation will nor get one to the goal, even if logic must be applied during the process of enlightenment, e.g. at Cheng's stages I and 3.

    Cheng begins his analysis of the Kung-an structure with the extreme form of the logical paradox which is sometimes called an antinomy. That is his (A) proposition: "P is true if and only if P is false'' which would be expressed as:

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Since a material equivalent (if and only if) proposition is true when both sides of the equivalent sign are of the same value (i.e. both true or both false), it is clear that the formulation of the logical paradox would be false in all substitution instances-it is self-contradictory. His (H) proposition, i.e. P is q if and only if P is not q, where "q" is any one (or more) of a list of predicates based on semantics and pragmatics, e.g. meaningful, satisfactory, etc., would still be a contradictory proposition.

    King-Farlow's review is basically a question, namely, "How useful is

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the following body of comment?". The first comment King-Farlow makes is to draw into question the ". . .appropriateness of predicates ..." for some of Cheng's examples (p. 286). This leads King-Farlow to reformulate the schema for the Ch'an paradox (the Kung-an) as: "Apparently it is implied or contextually implicated that P is both q and NOT-q," (p. 286). This raises two important problems: first, how is one to properly and fully symbolize his statement; and second, what ramifications, if any, does this have for the area of logical paradoxes in general. To symbolize his formula in a simple and straightforward manner, I would relieve the formula of the "apparently" (or possibility symbol since it will not effect the truth value), and I take the expression "it is implied" to be a rephrasing of "contextually implicated". Thus, reducing the antecedent to one term, i.e. "contextually" or "C" I would then symbolize his formula as follows:

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Or if he does not mean the word "implicated" to be taken as material implication, then the symbolization might be:

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In either formula the substitution instances of true and false will yield a contingent statement form which appears to defy the notion of logical paradox-I can find nothing like it in John van Heijenoort's article on "Logical Paradoxes," in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, pp. 45-51. What King-Farlow has done then is to disregard Cheng's position at its very root. In other words he does not see the Kung-an as a logical paradox at all. In fact he says that they are paradoxical in a broad sense; and moreover that"... a gifted student need not find (them) very paradoxical in isolation ...." (p. 286). Then, his four "diagnostic responses" to the Kung-an follow from his formula, especially in that they deny the Kung-an any real contradiction.

    At this point it seems clear to me that, even if my symbolization of King-Farlow's formula is wrong, he has rejected, or disregarded, or gone around Cheng's interpretation and approach toward the Kung-an in a fundamental manner. Thus, it appears to me that Cheng's response to King-Farlow's question would be that: King-Farlow's comments are not useful at all in carrying out Cheng's project. Although this is the case, nevertheless both approaches are still of the same family. That is, they both provide

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highly logical explanations of the Kung-an. In the following discussion I will show that they are very distant relatives.

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II.    Family Resemblance: Adam-The Original Face?

The fundamental difference between these two articles is that Cheng's is offering an explanation or a disclosing of the structure (and function or shock-effect) of the Kung-an whereas King-Farlow's is providing responses which must be taken as answers to the Kung-an. In this respect Cheng's paper is phenomenological in that it attempts to uncover the meta-philosophical/ontological presuppositions of Ch'an. By doing this he hopes to dissolve (p. 78) and/or resolve (p. 90ff) the paradox of the Kung-an in a logical sense. His project is to teach us something about Ch'an, to illuminate our understanding of the nature and function of the Kung-an. He is not trying to give us a Ch'an experience, nor is he trying to answer the Kung-an nor provide a means for us to answer them. In fact Cheng states quite clearly that "... no regular answer will do the job . . . ." (p. 93).

    This is where King-Farlow's paper stands miles apart from Cheng's. King-Farlow's four diagnostic responses are regular, i.e. conventionally fixed procedures, answers. He even goes so far as to penetrate the "gifted student's" mind by describing its imaginate, looseness or openness, and humour qualities (pp. 286-87). Since King-Farlow wants to respond to the Kung-an and a logical contradiction cannot be responded to, he thus reformulates the Kung-an structure as a contingent statement, paving the way for his logic-rational responses. Is it not these very same logic-rational responses which the Ch'an masters reject and the strict ones reward with a sound blow or some other "imaginative" physical injury? King-Farlow is then led to argue that the shock value of the Kung-an diminishes (pp. 293 & 294). Theoretically speaking his point is well taken, and it must have been the same idea which motivated some students to start publishing the Kung-an for others to study before their confrontations with the master. Notice that the Ch'an masters of China and the Zen masters of Japan, and now America, did not try to prevent the publication of the Kung-an, In fact they have even encouraged it, even assisted in the translation and publication. If this would diminish the shock affect or hinder the enlightenment process, why would

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the masters themselves promote it? Why would they diminish the value of their own method? This question takes on a Kung-an-like quality in itself. However, the experiential event is quite the opposite. The more the Kung-an is THOUGHT about, the further the disciple is from giving his own unique LIVING statement. The deeper the disciple's logic-conventional analysis, the deeper the shock affect if and when his enlightenment begins. King-Farlow's analysis and responses would serve to promote this.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that King-Farlow has distorted the Kung-an in his response and analysis. For example, his analysis of the Kung-an, "What is the clapping-sound of one hand?", plays on different meanings of the English word "clap". From the context of this Kung-an, it seems inappropriate to take the word "clap" to mean something like "clapped his friend on the shoulder". Moreover, "thumping fingers on his palm ...or thumping something with ones only free hand ... " or snapping fingers is not clapping one hand; is it not thumping or snapping? Would not clapping one's knees, or feet, or a foot and a hand be analogous clapping? Literally speaking, clapping one hand would be to clap it against a "solid" wall of air, making a humanly inaudible sound. BUT this in no way responds to the puzzle in an acceptable Ch'an manner. In dissolving the logical paradox of the Kung-an, King-Farlow is directly avoiding Cheng's approach. In offering logical responses to the Kung-an, he is missing the a-logical nature of the kung-an. Moreover, King-Farlow is really missing the point, most likely (as he points out in his conclusion) due to the differences in the forms of life, when he contends that the Kung-an appears to be paradoxical "to pupils who know a lot about Taoism and Buddhism and philosophical reasoning, but do not yet know how to use such knowledge wisely and well .... " (p. 290). This is the very line of thinking which the Kung-an tries to dispel. For Buddhism, in general, and Ch'an, in particular, knowing how to apply knowledge is not the goal; enlightenment overcomes knowledge and knowing how- the knowledge, know-how and knower are rejected. There is a person weeding the garden; another is chopping firewood; another carries water!

    King-Farlow criticizes Cheng for not making the logical paradox of the Kung-an clear (p. 289). It is true that Cheng did not express the Kung-an in terms of the logical paradox; he took it as apparent. King-Farlow though has done the same; he has surely imposed his interpretation on the Kung-an to relieve it of its strong paradoxical sense. But neither of them has taken a

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Kung-an and expressed it (symbolically) in the form of their respective schemas.

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III.    Danger: Thinking Logically in an A-logical World.

Generally speaking, the Ch'an master could be easily construed as a sadistic monster. having his disciples hit (on the back) with a stick when found sleeping during meditation, historically noted for beating students into enlightenment, cutting a cat in half, cutting off a student's finger. and in medieval China and Japan even taking their students' lives when necessary! Such a construal, of course, is based on conventional standards and values imposed on the Ch'an activity from the outside. The Ch'an activity is, to use the worn expression, a WAY OF LIFE. It is not meant to be understood. known or intellectualized. It is to be lived, experienced, PRACTICED.

    As Cheng. King-Farlow, and many other writers have shown, one can logically and rationally discuss and even understand the Ch'an experience. Although Ch'an is a way of life and not a philosophy, religion or art, one can disclose its meta-philosophical points, describe its rituals and scriptures, analyze its literature. poems. and paintings. These are not, in themselves, the Ch'an experience-that is not to say that the Ch'an experience could not be found in and/or through them. Many Ch'an masters were/are scholars, philosophers. priests. monks. artists. However. if one only has an abstract intellectual idea about Ch'an and yet feels at home with it, then one is in DANGER.

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NOTES

1. I include myself in this group; see my "The Koan: A Language-Game," Indian Philosophical Quarterly Students' Supplement, Vol. vii, no. 1, 1979.