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An Essay On Chan

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Autor:  anton  07 October 2010
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An Essay Answering Questions From the Assigned Text by Faure

This essay will attempt to answer questions coming from the Bernard Faure text assigned in class. The questions are as follows: How does Hu Shih's approach to Chan differ from D.T. Suzuki's? Why was the scholarship of the Japanese on Zen not objective? What does Faure mean by the teleological fallacy? What does he mean by the two alternative approaches he suggests: structural analysis and hermeneutics?

How does Hu Shih's approach to Chan differ form D.T. Suzuki's? To answer this we must first recognize that Hu Shih emphasizes the historicism of Chan, meaning he places great importance on the historical aspect, while Suzuki aligns himself with the metaphysics aspect. Suzuki states that there are two kinds of people who can talk about Zen: The first(Suzuki), which is one who has a firm grasp on the concepts and greatly understands Zen, the other(Hu Shih), someone who is utterly unable to grab the concepts. Suzuki states that Hu Shih may know Zen historically, but that he does not actually know Zen. Suzuki says about Hu Shih that "it is not a historians business not talk about Zen." Hu argues that В‘a historic approach to Zen cannot be reduced to the circumstances of its emergence and how it "transmits its situation of departure into a means to understand itself and others.'" Since Hu Shih is from the academic world, his approach to Zen is more factual, while Suziki, coming from a Buddhist institution, relies more on the teachings of Zen and what some see as a certain mysticism around it. Hu Shih sees Chan as a result of Chinese culture, politics, and philosophy, while Suzuki believes it to have just rejected the deviations found in Mahayana while keeping its cardinal truth. Both Hu Shih and Suzuki feel that Chan is a "practical" Chinese way of thinking.

Why was the scholarship of the Japanese on Zen not objective? The Japanese scholars approach Zen as intellectual history. They refused to judge the materials they study. Nietzchse says they are like "eunuchs in the harem of history," meaning they have no desire for history itself, like the eunuchs of Rome, castrated men hired to guard harems. But in there defense, pure objectivity is very close to impossible, these scholars are greatly influenced by their own culture, which in turn, is greatly influenced by Zen. Faure points out that the scholars do not critically evaluate the ideological content of what they are studying (i.e. Dunhuang manuscripts), instead they just search for an undisputable truth that will no doubt make them the authority on the subject. In doing this, they position themselves as right and get lost and become subjective of what they are studying rather than the objective.

What does Faure mean by the teleological fallacy? The definition of teleological fallacy is an erroneous view that does not relate to the design or purpose of Zen. Faure points out that the teleological fallacy he discusses is the "propensity to read the past in terms of the present, to read early Chan as having its finality in modern Japanese Zen. Faure is referring to historicist scholars' tendency to forget that the present from which they look back into the past constructs an unquestioned end from which none can escape. This means that scholars view is too narrow, becoming "objectivists" and imagining an "original text" from which all Zen comes from. In reality, there is no such text because every text is regulated by hermeneutical tradition, therefore proving Faure's teleological fallacy.

What does he mean by the two alternative approaches he suggests: structural analysis and hermeneutics? Faure states that there is a two alternative approach: structural and hermeneutic. He gives an example of incomplete skeletons completed with bones from other skeletons. Analyzing which parts of Zen are the "incomplete skeleton" and which parts are the "add-in bones" is basically what the structural approach to Zen is. Another example is given, this time using characters from Zen texts and stories. When analyzing the characters, one must observe the following; name, position compared to others in the story, the character of the character, and the functions and actions of the character. You must study all of these together and separate, for if one part is transposed, then the whole may be transposed. Thus, in this example, structural analysis is the study of underlying structure that regulates the transitions of actual biographies.

The hermeneutic approach is a bit different; it is the study of the methodological principles of interpretation of texts. It comes from the "will to take seriously the truth claims of tradition and the literary or philosophical nature of Chan texts." The hermeneutic approach is often dialogical, meaning that the message of Chan/Zen is found in the dialogue between two characters in a text or between the text and the reader. A combination of both, structural and hermeneutic, is needed when assessing Chan texts, teachings and history.

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