Buddhism - Buddhist Philosophy of Language., Buddhist Semiotics., Buddhism in Semiotics., Episteme

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BuddhismBuddhist Philosophy of Language., Buddhist Semiotics., Buddhism in Semiotics., episteme?, abhidharma, yogcra, dharma, dharmas:, dharmassocial perception psychology encyclopedia attribution theory buddhist language buddha world reality semiotic semiotics

How is communication explained by Buddhism? What are the characteristics of signs? What are their statuses and functions? In what ways does semiosisthe cultural practice of creation and interpretation of signs and transmission of knowledge occur? Further, which strategies concern the discursive transposition of Buddhist religious experience? What kind of relationship connects cosmology, ontology, soteriology, and semiotic concepts and practices within the Buddhist episteme? All these questions are relevant to the interpretation of cultures in which Buddhism developed, since Buddhist philosophical reflection on sign and related practices probably constituted their predominant semiotic paradigm (or at least part of it) for many centuries.

Buddhist Philosophy of Language.Debates concerning philosophical problems on language occupy a large part of Buddhist theoretical reflection. According to Buddhist phenomenologies (abhidharma, yogcra), language is not a dharma (a constitutive entity of reality) in itself but a combination of three different dharmas: phonemes, words, and sentences. These three linguistic dharmas have a peculiar nature in that they are different from material entities, from mindconsidered by Buddhism as pure consciousnessand from mental factors, which are affective and intentional states. Every concrete activity of thought is a manipulation of syllables or phonemes into words or sentences, the only structures of ordinary language endowed with meaning. For this reason, linguistic dharmas belong to a group of incorporeal entities, neither material nor mental. Buddhist thought conceives of language as the main tool for building up and articulating phenomenal reality. The fourth ring in the chain of conditioned causation (prattya-samutpda), known as names-forms (nma-rpa), represents the inextricable interdependence of cognitive processes and external reality, phenomena and discriminating mind, names and things of the ordinary world of suffering. Linguistic descriptions of the world have no absolute truth value; language is an instrument of fallacious knowledge, for it creates reality as perceived and constructed in ordinary states of consciousness through categorization and conceptualization of perceptual data and their semantic articulation. For the yogcra epistemology, a radical constructivism, language has the function of articulating a world of illusion through the power of semiotic seeds (bja). Nonenlightened people consider their own ordinary image of the world to be true and corresponding to reality since they attribute to the objects characteristics peculiar to linguistic expressions (autonomy, immutability, homogeneity). Such confusion of ontology with epistemology, of reality with its linguistic descriptions and mental images is called avidy (ignorance) in Buddhism. Epistemologic ignorance is the first cause of existential suffering. Therefore, there is an absolute gap separating language from true reality. The tradition of the great Indian philosopher Ngrjuna (c. 150250 CE) in particular developed systematically this philosophical position (Murti, 1955). According to a traditional doctrine quoted in some Buddhist texts, ordinary language is made up by words that are1. related to superficial aspects of phenomena; 2. uttered in dreams; 3. conditioned by fallacious attachment to wrong ideas; and 4. forever conditioned by the seeds of suffering.

Buddhist linguistic speculation thus had to face the question of the status of the word of the Buddha. Did the Buddha contribute to the suffering and delusion of sentient beings by speaking words devoid of truth? Doctrinal matters of pedagogy, epistemology, and soteriology were at stake here that also affected speculations on the nature of the Buddha and the status of his historical manifestations. Obviously, it was not possible to deny completely the value of the word of the Buddha, because

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Buddhism - Buddhist Philosophy of Language., Buddhist Sem...


this would have meant the self-destruction of Buddhism. Thus, a distinction was made between the wisdom of the Buddha and the signs that convey it, and the word of the Buddha was given a peculiar status. Texts such as the Diamond Sutra, the Vimalakrti Nirdea Stra, and the Lakvatra Stra sanction in an inevitably paradoxical way the ineffability of the wisdom of the Buddha in human ordinary language. This sanction of ineffability can be interpreted in two ways, both very interesting for the semiotician:1. the Buddha does not speak and conveys his experience in a nonlinguistic way because ultimate communication through language is not possible; this view was later developed in particular by some Chan and Zen currents, which rigorously attempted to deconstruct and dissolve every semiosic practice; 2. the Buddha uses a peculiar language consisting in special systems of signs, which it is possible to know and understand. These opposite positions both presuppose a theory of communication and a semiotics of initiatory transmission of meaning. In spite of doctrinal differences, all Buddhist traditions agree upon the basic assumption that the Buddha explained many different doctrines in consideration of the circumstances, contexts, and the competence and salvational needs of the audience.

The first sanction of ineffability (communication through language is impossible) was developed by the tradition ascending back to Ngrjuna and was aimed at the attainment of emptiness through an incessant deconstruction of meaning. The second option (the Buddha speaks a different, higher form of language) could yield in turn two different interpretations:1. the language of the Buddha is a mere upya (skillful means), an expedient devoid of absolute value but necessary in order to help humans attain a truth transcending every language (this is the doctrinal position of most Buddhist schools); 2. absolute truth can be communicated, and the Buddha speaks peculiar words of a nonordinary language in order to lead sentient beings to salvation.

This is the basic assumption of the teachings of esoteric or tantric Buddhism. In both cases, a systematic manipulation of linguistic signs was put into practice in order to bring language beyond its limits and force it to speak the absolute (see Grapard, 1987; Rambelli 1991). The Indian religious experience attributes major importance to a set of words called mantra, used in meditation and in rituals (Alper, 1989). This peculiar kind of words has been exploited also in Mahyna Buddhism as tools for meditation (dhra) or as amulets. The profoundest teachings of the Buddha were thought to have been transmitted by this kind of twilight language or intentional language (sadhbhs or sadhybhs), comprehensible only to those endowed with superior faculties. In any case, theoretical and ritual problematics of mantras were not developed clearly by Mahyna Buddhism, which tends on the contrary to present language as a provisional means (upya); the absolute principle of tathat (thusness; absolute reality) remains beyond language and signification. Tantric Buddhism, especially in its East Asian forms, has developed systematically the doctrines and practices of the absolute language, which it identified with mantras and dhras. The word of the Buddha was considered to be a reality in itself, which cannot be reduced to mere expression of an individual thought: It was the objective expression, the double of reality as experienced after enlightenment. As the great Japanese monk Kkai (774835) wrote, only if language and reality are closely and deeply related can the Buddha show the way to salvation through his teachings (Hakeda, 1972). The esoteric Japanese Buddhist notion of hosshin sepp (the preaching of the Buddha in its absolute modality of existence) is based on the identity of language and reality (Rambelli, 1994a). However, for the attainment of the goals of esoteric Buddhism (becoming Buddha in this very body [sokushin jbutsu] and obtaining worldly benefits [genze riyaku,] it is not enough to simply postulate the deep identity of language and reality: such identity must be evident from the structure of language itself. This is the only way for Tantric symbolic practices to have efficacious and instantaneous results. It is not surprising, then, that Tantric Buddhism devoted great efforts to the

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rearticulation and remotivation of signs in order to give them the status of microcosms (doubles of the enlightened universe). As far as Japanese esoteric Buddhism is concerned, Kkai was the first who explicitly outlined the fundamentals of an esoteric semiotics. Kakuban (10951143), by developing Chinese ideas of his time, opened the way for the introduction of mantric expressions into a complex network of correlations. Sanskrit letters were correlated to natural elements, parts of the human body, stars, orientations, seasons, and so forth. Meditation on these microcosmic letters produced a symbolic assimilation of the whole cosmos within the ascetic's body. Kakuban was able to condense in the mantric expressions the whole esoteric knowledge of his time, turning each linguistic unit into a minimal maala. According to esotric Buddhist teachings, language is true because once its ordinary laws have been deco


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