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Buddhist Semiotics

Instructor: Fabio Rambelli

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Lecture 1: Introduction: Buddhist Ideas on Language and Signs

This lecture is a sort of conceptual map of Buddhist semiotics. In it, I address the most influential semiotic theories and visions of language in Buddhist philosophy and religious practice. I also introduce the main tenets of esoteric Buddhist semiotics -- the main subject of the course.

1.1. Introductory Remarks: The Buddhist Tradition

Buddhist semiotic ideas and practices developed in a wide variety of cultural, historical, and social contests. There are essentially four canons of Buddhist scriptures: in P‘li, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese; in addition, the Korean and Japanese canons respectively include works written in Korea and Japan not available in any other earlier canon. Modern texts on Buddhism are written in most languages of South, East, and South-East Asia, in addition to western languages. Furthermore, Buddhism never had a central authority, but tended instead to develop in regional forms, so that we can speak of for example of Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism, each with striking historical transformations. Within these larger regional categories, we find several sectarian differences. Even though it is possible to identify a basic vocabulary underlying most, if not all, of these local Buddhist formations, their differences make it almost imposible for the observer to identify anything more complex than superficial resemblances.

This course presents the semiotic doctrines and practices as they developed within Japanese Buddhism, especially in its esoteric tradition (mikky¿), and in particular in the Shingon school. Japanese Buddhism is interesting also because it developed out of Indian, Chinese, and Korean elements, and it thus constitutes a sort of compendium of Buddhism -- even though such compendium is organized from a particular cultural perspective. Esoteric Buddhism in particular generated an interesting and very powerful semiotic model, that spread to other Buddhist schools and also outside of the Buddhist discourse. It is my hope that this introduction to the semiotic ideas and practices that developed within the Japanese Buddhist tradition will stimulate further researches into simlar topics of other regions of the Buddhist world. The term "esoteric" in the Shingon tradition has very little to do with the range of neo- or speudo-gnostic positions that developed in the West and are at the basis of Wester occultism. As Umberto Eco and others have shown, western esotericism is founded on an "empty secret" and the endless quest to recover it. In contrast, Japanese "esoteric Buddhism" is founded on a particular semiotics of disclosure, not of hiding. The term "mitsu," which is commonly traslated as "secret" or "esoteric," suggests, rather than empty secrecy, density and superimposed layers of meaning. Esoteric Buddhism is the totality of discursive practices used to construct such a multilayered signifying system and to decodify it.

An organic and systematic study of Buddhist semiotics is still to undertake. Until now, only a few scholars have dealt with aspects of Buddhist cultures with a semiotic eye: among them Stanley Tambiah, Malcom Eckel, Alexander Piatigorsky, Donald Lopez, Bernard Faure, Allan Grapard, and Ryuichi Abe; in addition, the work of several Japanese scholars provides us with important contributions to the understanding of Shingon semiotic issues.

1.2. Japanese Shingon Buddhism

A few words on the Shingon tradition are in order here. Shingon, the school of the "True Words," was founded by K´kai (774-835, also known with his posthumous, onorific name as K¿b¿ Daishi) in the early ninth century, and is one of the most important and influential traditions of Japanese Buddhism. Even today the various Shingon branches together form the third largest Buddhist denomination in Japan,with a strong presence all over the territory, missions abroad, and very fervent cultic centers. Publications about Shingon and K´kai in particular occupy an important niche in the editorial market in Japan. As the term "Shingon" -- a Sino-Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word "mantra" -- suggests, this school employs a particular kind of signs that are considered to be embodiments of the enlightened truth of the cosmic Buddha Mah‘vairocana (Jp. Dainichi Nyorai). As the school of the true words, the Shingon tradition in Japan developed an interesting complex of cosmology, semiotics, and soteriology, in which specific manipulations of particular signs in ritual, envisioned as an imitation of Mah‘vairocana enlightened actions, enabled the practitioner to attain liberation from ignorance, suffering, and ceaseless rebirth -- a condition of liberation known as "becoming buddha in this very body" (sokushin j¿butsu). In the course of these lectures, Shingon capitalized refers to the Shingon school, whereas shingon in lower case indicates te Japanese form of mantras.[See Note 1]

1.3. Buddhism and Semiotics

How is communication explained by Buddhism? What are the characteristics of signs? What are their status and functions? In which ways does semiosis -- the cultural practice of creation and interpretation of signs, and transmission of knowledge -- occur? And further: which are the strategies employed in 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 both to general semiotics as a theoretical discipline and a philosophical activity, and to the interpretation of cultures in which Buddhism developed as well, since Buddhist philosophical reflection on sign and related practices probably constituted the predominant semiotic paradigm (or, at least, part of it) in those cultures for many centuries.

At first sight, nothing would seem more distant from semiotic concerns than Buddhism. As it is commonly known in the West, at least, Buddhism is essentially a spiritual technique aimed at by-passing thought and signification to produce an experience -- enlightenment -- that supposedly consist in transcending rationality and language and attaining a state of direct and pure awareness of reality.[See Note 2] D.T. Suzuki wrote: "The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded... When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man lives as he ought to live."[See Note 3] That explains the anti-intellectualistic stance proposed by the most influential proponents/divulgators of Buddhism: there is no space for philosophical speculations, critical reflection, etc.: what really matters is "practice" which is in and of itself productive of such an experience of liberation. In spite of its lack of concerns for semiotics, isn't this a veritable semiotics in itself? It presupposes a radical separation between experience and conscious thought; by transcending (shutting off) thought one can attain a pure, unconditioned experience, which is defined as enlightenment and liberation from reincarnation and suffering.[See Note 4] It had been noted that such an interpretation of Buddhism -- and Japanese Zen Buddhism in particular -- is heavily influenced by a modernist, Western religious discourse. As Robert Sharf explains, "Suzuki began to render any and all Zen cultural artifacts -- from k¿an exchanges to dry-landscape gardens -- as 'expressions of' or 'pointed toward' a pure, unmediated, and non-dual experience, known in Zen as satori ."[See Note 5] However, as Bernard Faure and Sharf have shown, Suzuki's interpretation of Zen, as based on Nishida Kitar¿'s philosophy, is totally unwarranted by the history of the Zen tradition in East Asia. The concept of "experience" as used by these authors is especially problematic in its anachronism.[See Note 6]

Other forms of Japanese Buddhism well-known in the West, such as those connected to the thought of the thirteenth century thinker and activist Nichiren, focus on the recitatio and study of a particular scripture, the Lotus S´tra. They claim that the scripture itself is a condensation of the wisdom and the powers of the universe, and as such is productive of salvific effects. This strikes me as an interesting semiotic theory a well: what is connection between text, cosmos structure, and salvation? Still it is possible to find references to a semiotics of pure experience, of immediacy, in the Buddhist tradition of the past. As Bernard Faure has made clear, Zen Buddhism struggled with the impossible task to "construct" a "direct experience" of the Buddha-mind, and ended up developing what he calls a "rhetoric of immediacy."[See Note 7]

Malcolm Eckel has pointed to the semiotic relevance of a large part of Buddhist philosophy and religious practice: that which deals with the absence of the Buddha (when the Buddha entered nirvana he literally became "extinct" -- absent) and the numerous attempts to recover his traces. The whole problematic of the relics of the Buddha (one of the main features of traditional Buddhist cult) as "presences of an absence" -- traces of the absent Buddha -- indicates a strong semiotic concern. The doctrine of the Buddha-bodies, according to which the Buddha manifests himself in various forms and modalities according to his audience is also directly relevant to a semiotic approach,[See Note 8] but given the complexity of these theme, it will be addressed in this course only insofar as it concerns the Japanese Shingon tradition.

One of the most striking characteristics of each Buddhist Canon is its heterogeneity;[See Note 9] even the doctrines traditionally attributed to the teaching of the historical S‘kyamuni are often in overt contradiction. The Buddhists gave such doctrinal heterogeneity a pragmatic and communicational meaning. One of the core tenets of Buddhism, in fact, is that the Buddha taught many different doctrines according to his audience's faculties and possibilities of comprehension. This is in accordance with Indian cosmology and psychology, which recognize various levels of existence and stages in the development of consciousness: a certain truth and a certain set of doctrines correspond to each one.[See Note 10] Therefore, Buddhist exegesis presupposes some interesting points for the semiotician: different levels of truth, and a semiotics of textual cooperation.

Numberless Buddhas at the same time are believed to be preaching the Law to multitudes of beings living in countless worlds systems making up the Buddhist cosmos; each Buddha is teaching the Dharma using a peculiar language (and verbal language is just the most unsophisticated). The semiotician is confronted here with two problems: the semiotic status of these languages, and the unifying principle of all cosmic discourses. In Mah‘y‘na Buddhism the Buddha is no longer simply a historical person, the teacher, the Enlightened One, but is transformed into a manifestation of the universal principle of enlightenment, a silent, eternal, numinous presence, called Dharmak‘ya ("the body of the Dharma"). This transformation tended to make the Universal Buddha the ultimate subject of all discourses, the universal principle of articulation of discursivity. This is shown in many texts, where the Buddha says nothing until the epilogue, but silently empowers the characters of the text to ask and answer, thus revealing themselves certain difficult doctrines.

1.3.1. The Fundamental Semiotic Model of Buddhism

Perhaps the most influential Buddhist model of semiosis was developed by the Indian Yog‘c‘ra school by AsaÃga (IV century), Vasubandhu (IV-V century), and later by Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Tibetan scholar monks. Yog‘c‘ra epistemology emphasized the connections among three different layers of psycho-physical reality: the material world, the mind, and the set of perceptive, intellective, and volitional activities connecting them. The so-called outside world is not believed to have an autonomous existence. Organized in categories, it is not independent from mind articulating them.

According to the Yog‘c‘ra epistemology, semiosis (and knowledge) is a complex process of interaction between various levels and functions of mind with a supposedly "outside" world through the mediation of senses. Each one of the six sense organs (Jp. rokkon: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, intellect) perceives qualities among six perceptual fields in the "outside" world (rokky¿: forms, sounds, flavors, perfumes, tactile qualities, the thinkable). Perceptual data of direct experience (preceding the attribution of a name) are further elaborated by six sense consciousnesses (rokushiki) corresponding to each of the six sense organs; in particular, the sixth consciousness unifies the data, attributes names and formulates judgements. These six superficial consciousnesses are based on another consciousness, called mano-vij­‘na (Jp.manashiki), which is the center of the I-consciousness, creating the distinction between subject and object. But all these processes are possible because of the existence of a still deeper consciousness, the ‘laya-vij­‘na (Jp. arayashiki ). This is the core of the Yog‘c‘ra epistemology and semiotics. The ‘laya-vij­‘na is postulated as the store of sign-seeds that act recursively on perception and volition, and in this way de facto governs the interaction of one's mind with the world. Alaya-vij­‘na is often interpreted by modern commentators as a sort of Freudian, or perhaps Jungian, unconscious, but it is more accurate to consider it as the mental centre of semiosis. It contains the seeds of all perceptions, objects, thoughts, deeds, volitions accumulated by the subject. Past experiences influence the future ones, and future experiences reorganize in turn the deposit of seeds. In this way, and interestingly, time and karma have a semiotic foundation.

The basic tenet of Yog‘c‘ra epistemology is that only mind exists, and the world is the result of the articulating activity of the mind (vij­apti-m‘trat‘). The image that a person has of the ordinary world is nothing else than a transformation of ‘laya-vij­‘na. External reality is non existent, because the objects appearing to ordinary beings are created by consciousness through a complex work of articulation and organization. Usually described as a form of idealism, this view seems rather to be closer to constructivism. In any case, the Yog‘c‘ra school emphasizes that, from the point of view of enlightenment, also mind and consciousness are ultimately non-existent -- as products of one deluded mind's discrimination. In enlightenment, everything is not different from Emptiness -- which could be approximately described as semiosic potentiality and mirror-like quiescence. We will return to the attempt to give a semiotic description to Emptiness (1Ž2unyat‘, Jp. ), which is one of the fundamental concepts of Buddhist philosophy.

We have seen that ‘laya-vij­‘na is a store-consciousness of mental semiotic seeds. Yog‘c‘ra semiotics actually posits two different kinds of signs: signs as characteristics of the objects (lak1Ž2aÃa and nimitta, both rendered in Japanese as s¿ ), and signs as cognitive and passional potentialities stored in ‘laya-vij­‘na (bÆja, Jp. sh´ji ). Lak1Ž2aÃa is the name of signs characterizing the essence of things (such like the thirty-two marvelous marks of the Buddha-body), and has positive overtones. Nimitta are superficial, external characteristics of things. We could defined the former as signs of the essential qualities, and the latter as the signs of the accidental qualitites of an entity. The power of ‘laya-vij­‘na to create all things, thus producing a kind of virtual reality, is rendered metaphorically through the image of the generative power of seeds. The generative faculty of ‘laya-vij­‘na depends on the semiotic seeds called bÆja (sh´ji) that it stores. There are two kinds of bÆja: (i) linguistic and karmic seeds; (ii) innate and newly produced bÆja. The phenomenal existence of the subject and the outside world are closely related to the language which articulates them; language is stored as linguistic seeds. Linguistic seeds are in turn sown by good or bad actions (one's vision of the world determines one's actions), thus producing what are called "karmic seeds," which affect the subject's karmic becoming. Innate bijas are those that determine one's spiritual capacities and the level of attainment one will eventually be able to attain in soteriology. These seeds include the seeds to become a Buddha; lack or destruction of these Buddha-seeds prevents one from attaining Buddhahood and keep one forever prisoner of the cycle of rebirths. Newly produced bijas are seeds "sown" (deposited) after an experience, and produce a general transformation of the entire seed store. In fact, seeds produce the phenomenal world, but at the same time the phenomenal world affects ‘laya-vij­‘na by "sowing" (storing in it) new seeds. Production of new bÆja depends on perceptual and cognitive contact with external signs (lak1Ž2aÃas and nimittas); but at the same time, recognition of objects consists in the identification of lak1Ž2aÃas and nimittas through bÆjas already stored in ‘laya-vij­‘na.

The production of new seeds is called "perfuming" (v‘san‘, abhy‘sa, bh‘van‘, generally translated in Jp. as kunsh´). As a perfume lingers on a dress, so the impressions of experienced things remain in the consciousness and affect mind and body. The cognitive and affective contents of phenomena, through the power of karma, perfumes the knower's ‘laya-vij­‘na, thus producing new bÆjas, which in turn give rise to phenomena. It is this recursive circuit of subject and object that generates the ordinary world. In this way, semiosis, as the discriminatory process articulating the world, is the cause of ignorance, attachment, illusion, and suffering -- resulting in further ignorance and rebirth. However, the fundamental teaching of the Buddha is that it is possible to escape from such vicious circle of ignorance -- suffering -- rebirth. Buddhism recognizes the existence of two radically different cognitive modalities corresponding to two different kinds of semiotics: while one is related to what could be called "ordinary" semiosis (semiosic processes occurring in ordinary states of consciousness -- that is, semiosic processes usually studied by semiotics), the other form of Buddhist semiosis refers to the interactions with reality in altered (meditative) states of consciousness.

Ordinary knowledge (in Sanskrit j­‘na ) is considered fallacious because it mistakes a presumed ontological reality of the universe with ordinary psycho-mental phenomena and processes (modalities and functions of mind) creating such reality. In contrast, true, absolute knowledge, called praj­‘ or bodhi, is the product of the performance of religious practices (meditative, devotional, and ritual practices in general), resulting in altered (non-ordinary) states of body-mind-language. Usually translated as "enlightenment," it is often confined by scholars among various dubious phenomena pertaining to irrationality and mysticism, thus ignoring its semiotic and cultural interest. Such an absolute knowledge implies and presupposes a "catastrophic" transformation of the human cognitive apparatus. ?laya-vij­‘na as an ideative device, source of illusion and suffering, is transformed through the practice of Buddhist Yoga (this is the origin of the name Yog‘c‘ra) into pure mind, a clear mirror reflecting everything without formulating interpretations or judgements. The more superficial consciouness apparatus becomes the agent of good and pure actions. Ordinary consciousness becomes thus the instrument to attain Buddhahood and liberation from suffering. Once human cognitive apparatus has been transformed, once ‘laya-vij­‘na has turned into a supreme mirror-like organ, semiosis (as the activity of creation, interpretation and transmission of sings) is brought to an end by the attainment of Emptiness. What remains is only the ritual reiteration of cosmic processes and the reflection of the absolute and undifferentiated World of the Dharma. Buddhist texts describe this situation defying human possibilities of comprehension through the metaphor of Indra's Net: each pearl reflects all the other pearls, without interpreting or modifying them. The Buddhist universe in its absolute modality is made of reflections reflecting reflections, in a cosmic interplay of pure light.[See Note 11] In any case, it is clear that language plays an essential role in Yog‘c‘ra semiotics, as a key element for the formation of the ordinary world of delusion from which it is necessary to escape in order to attain liberation. In this sense, Buddhist soteriology is a liberation from ordinary ways to conceive and use language. Let us address some general Buddhist views about more in detail.

1.3.2. Buddhism and Language

Debates concerning philosophical problems on language occupy a large part of Buddhist theoretical reflection. What follows in an overview of the most important Buddhist approaches to linguistic problematics. According to the Buddhist phenomenologies (Abhidharma, Yog‘c‘ra ), language is not a dharma (constitutive entity of reality) in itself.[See Note 12] Linguistic substance is articulated in phonemes (mon), words (my¿), and sentences (ku). These three linguistic dharmas have a peculiar nature as a sort of Incorporeals (fus¿¿ gy¿ h¿), entities which are neither material nor mental. As such, they are different from material entities (shikih¿ in Japanese) -- forms of articulation of reality, from mind -- considered by Buddhism as pure consciousness (shinp¿), and from mental factors -- affective and intentional states (shin shou h¿). Thought is essentially a manipulation of syllables or phonemes to form words and sentences -- or, in other words, to combine sounds into linguistic structures endowed with meaning.

1.3.2.1. Language and articulation of reality

Buddhist philosophy envisions language as the main tool for the articulation of phenomenal reality -- which is, accordingly, essentially linguistic and therefore not ontologically real. The fourth element in the chain of the twelve factors of causation (pratÆtya-samutp‘da), n‘ma-r´pa ("names and forms") expresses the interdependence of cognitive processes and external reality, phenomena and discriminating mind, names and things of the ordinary world of suffering.[See Note 13] In this sense, the deluded realm of ordinary life is, in an important sense, a semiotic construction that needs to be deconstructed in order to achieve liberation from ignorance, suffering, and the cycle of rebirths.

Not only linguistic descriptions of the world have no absolute truth value, but language is in itself an instrument of fallacious knowledge because, through the categorization and conceptualization of perceptual data and their semantic articulation, it creates the very reality that is perceived in ordinary states of consciousness.[See Note 14] According to theYog‘c‘ra epistemology, which configures itself as a form of radical constructivism, language also has the function of articulating a world of illusion (the world of our ordinary experience) through the power of semiotic "seeds" (bÆja) -- basic elements of percetion, language, cognition, memory, and self identity (see previous section). Ordinary, non-enlightened people consider their own image of the world to be true and corresponding to reality since they attribute to objects the characteristics peculiar to linguistic expressions (autonomy, immutability, homogeneity) used to refer to them.[See Note 15] This kind of confusion of ontology with epistemology, of reality with its linguistic descriptions and mental images is called by Buddhism avidy‘ (Jp. mumy¿), "ignorance" -- the first ring the chain of the twelve factors of causation. Epistemologic ignorance is the first cause of existential suffering. Therefore, there is an absolute hiatus separating language from true reality -- the world of enlightenment; more precisely, language sets human beings apart from true reality. Mah‘y‘na Buddhism, and in particular the M‘dyamika school, the tradition of the great Indian philosopher N‘g‘rjuna (ca. 150-250 A. D.), sistematically developed this philosophical position.[See Note 16]

According to a well established doctrine, quoted in some Buddhist s´tras and widely accepted also by the esoteric tradition, the words of ordinary language are (i) related to superficial aspects of phenomena (s¿ gonzetsu), (ii) uttered in dreams (mu gonzetsu), (iii) conditioned by fallacious attachment to wrong ideas (m¿sh´ gonzetsu), and (iv) forever conditioned by the seeds of suffering (mushi gonzetsu).[See Note 17] The meaning of this doctrine is clear. If the world produced by the discriminating activity of consciousness -- that is, the world of our everyday experiences -- is illusory, the words spoken in such a world -- that is, language in all its forms -- are also illusory and empty; like words uttered in a dream, they have no truth-value. Words only refer to the superficial features of things, not to their essence (which, by definition, is Emptiness -- lack of any positive, linguistically definable quality). These words, which concur in creating our illusory reality, are in turn the product of ignorance, attachment, and suffering, which they contribute in perpetuating. These words are therefore "always-already" the seeds of negative passions (kle1Ž2a, Jp. bonn¿). There is no beginning and no end in this vicious circle -- unless one is able to escape from it by transcending language and its delusory reality -- through the help of Buddhism.[See Note 18] Language is relevant to Buddhist soteriology also in another, more direct sense. Buddhism recognizes three main factors of karmic causality (sang¿): the body, the mouth, and the mind. In other words, phyical actions, thoughts/ideas/desires, and speech determine the body, spiritual capacities, and physical/social enviroment -- that is, the concrete situation -- of one's next reincarnation. It is therefore extremely important to control one's words, also because among the ten evils (j´aku, the ten evil deeds that can cause rebirth into hell) four concern language and speech:[See Note 19] respectively, to tell falsities (m¿go), to tell lies in order to alienate a person against another (ry¿zetsu),to slander people (akku), and to use extremely flourishy language (kigo).[See Note 20]

1.3.2.2. The Word of the Buddha

Such a position concerning ordinary language forced Buddhism to question radically the status of the word of the Buddha. If language is separate from true reality -- if language, by creating a false reality contributes to human beings' ignorance and suffering, what about Buddha's language? Did the Buddha contribute to sentient beings' suffering and illusion by speaking words devoid of truth? As one can easily understand, this was no mere rhetorical question. Complex matters of pedagogy, epistemology and soteriology were at stake here, affecting also speculations on the nature of the Buddha and the status of his historical and provisional manifestations. Obviously, it was not possible to completely deny the value of the word of the Buddha, because this would have meant the self-destruction of Buddhism. The word of the Buddha must have a special status. Thus, a distinction was made between the wisdom of the Buddha and the signs conveying it. Texts such as the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedik‘ Praj­‘p‘ramit‘ S´tra),[See Note 21] the Vimalakirti Nirde1Ž2a S´tra,[See Note 22] and the L‘nkavat‘ra S´tra,[See Note 23] sanction in an inevitably paradoxical way the ineffability in human ordinary language of the wisdom of the Buddha.

Particularly relevant in this context is a short scripture, the Buddha Word S´tra, which summarizes the main points of the issue.[See Note 24] This metalinguistic scripture attempts to explain the statement, attributed to the Buddha, that "The words of the Buddha are non-words." The texts emphasizes the beneficial effect of the words of the Buddha: "These words bestow material happiness upon all sentient beings and open their minds, steering them towards enlightenment (Buddha-bodhi)..." And yet, the words of the Buddha are radically different from ordinary language: "all the words of forms (words concerning material entities) are not the words of the Buddha"; words concerning the "realms of earth, water, fire, wind, and space [are not] words of the Buddha"; "words of the activity of body, speech, and mind... cannot be called words of the Buddha". The words of the Buddha, on the contrary, are "neither defiled nor undefiled," "neither phenomenal nor non-phenomenal," "neither independent nor dependent," "neither inner nor outer," "neither true nor non-true," they are spoken "neither by the common people nor by holy men," show "no distinction between high and low," "do not ask for anything," and are "unrelated to any of the factors of ordinary knowledge." To the question "Venerable, why are there linguistic expressions? What are linguistic expressions?", the Buddha answers: "Son of a good family, they are demonic entities (M‘ra-p‘pÆyas). [...] Good sons of good families, if you want to become superior beings (that is, bodhisattvas), you shall cut off all words, cut off all hindrances, remove all vanity, get rid of all the nets, remove all wrong theories, remove all activity of discriminative thought. Since there are no words, what is there to say? There is nothing to talk about. In this way, non-words are called words of the Buddha. Son of a good family, for this reason, you must realize that such are the very words of the Buddha. Son of a good family, when the bodhisattvas have completely learned this doctrine, what they have learned are the so called 'utmost words of the Buddha of the light of supreme knowledge,' 'pure and refreshing words of the Buddha.'"

Such paradoxical status of words spoken by the Buddha were interpreted in three different ways, all very interesting for the semiotician: (i) the Buddha does not speak, (ii) the Buddha speaks a particular, non-ordinary language; and (iii) the Buddha speaks but does not communicate anything. According to the first view, the Buddha conveyed his experience in non-linguistic ways, because his wisdom cannot be communicated through language. This view was developed in particular by the Chan and Zen traditions.[See Note 25] A famous example is the so-called "sermon of the flower," in which the Buddha remained silent but held a flower in his hand and showed it to his disciples; only Mahaka1Ž2yapa understood, and smiled, without saying one single word. Another example is Vimalakirti's "thundering silence" -- the protagonist of the scripture's refusal to say anything about the nature of the world.[See Note 26] In this case, refusal of language still allows for some form of semiosis. However, radical tendencies refuted even semiosis as a delusion -- as the fundamental delusion -- since it was the effect of ‘laya-vij­‘na. It is the very production of sense which is targeted by iconoclastic Chan/Zen -- but more as a rhetorical strategy than as a systematic effort.

A second position, in contrast, maintains that the Buddha does speak, but uses a peculiar language consisting in special systems of signs, which 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 in fact agree with some basic hermeneutic assumptions, according to which the Buddha explained many different doctrines in consideration of circumstances and contest of speech, and competence and salvational needs of the audience.

A third, important position can also be identified: Buddha's words have no communicational function, no meaning: they have a direct salvific power; when reproduced -- in various forms: chanting, in thought, in written form, etc. [sutra art], they release their salvational power.[See Note 27] The Heart S´tra (Jp. Hannya shingy¿) can be (and has been) studied and interpreted as an attempt by the Buddha to express the truth of the Dharma in linguistic terms; more often, however, this scripture is used for chanting, a practice that does not require understanding and that produces the purification of one's body-speech-mind through incessant repetition of the Buddha's words. In this case, to most people, the words of the Buddha don't mean anything, they just operate a soteriologic transformation.[See Note 28] Chanting the title of a scripture (Namu My¿h¿ rengeky¿) or the invocation to a Buddha (Namu amida butsu) are other ways to put into practice such conception of the meaninglessness and lack of communiational purpose of Buddha's word.

The first sanction of ineffability (communication through language is impossible) was developed by the tradition ascending back to N‘g‘rjuna, aimed at the attainment of the Emptiness through the incessant deconstruction of assumptions, concepts, meaningful practices. The second option (the Buddha speaks a different, higher kind of language), in turn, opened the way to two different interpretations:

(a) the language of the Buddha is a mere up‘ya (Jp. h¿ben ), a "skillful means," an expedient devoid of absolute value but necessary in order to help the humans to attain a truth transcending every language (gengo d¿dan): this is the doctrinal position of most Buddhist schools;

(b) absolute truth can be communicated, and the Buddha speaks peculiar words of a non-ordinary language in order to lead sentient beings to salvation: this is the basic assumption of the teachings of esoteric Buddhism.

In both cases, a sistematic manipulation of linguistic signs was put into practice, in order to bring language beyond its limits, and force it to speak the absolute. In fact, Buddhism makes a clear distinction between the Dharma, that is, the wisdom of the Buddha, which is absolute and unconditioned, and the linguistic and semiotic tools (Skt. up‘ya, Jp. h¿ben, "skillful means") employed for its transmission. The choice of the historical Buddha to preach in the dialect of the kingdom of Maghada, and especially the subsequent decision by the Buddhist elders to transcribe the Buddha's teachings in P‘li, a vulgar language, and not in Sanskrit, traditionally the language of the learned and of religion, shows a refusal of older vedico-upanishadic beliefs in the existence of an absolute language, priviledged site/vehicle of the Truth. As Frits Staal writes, "in India, once you dispense with Sanskrit, you have abandoned all fixedness of language."[See Note 29] The choice to privilege contents to expression, doctrines to the language that conveys them, was extremely important for the diffusion of Buddhism, since it allowed the translation of the sacred scriptures -- an operation which is impossible when the doctrines are related to a sacred, absolute, and therefore immutable language. Esoteric Buddhism will later modify in part classic Buddhist attitudes toward absolute language, since it emphasized the importance of original Sanskrit formulae that were not to be translated.

1.3.2.3. The Abolute Words

Certain Mah‘y‘na scriptures mention special words, variously defined as nyogigo ("words that are identical to their meaning"),[See Note 30] himitsugo ("secret words"), and mitsug¿ ("twilight language" or "intensional language," Skt. samdhabhasa or samdhyabhasa ),[See Note 31] that would express the absolute truth of enlightenment. It is words of this kind, comprehensible only to beings endowed with superior spiritual capacities (kikon), that would transmit the most profound teachings of the Buddha. However, these doctrines were not fully developed by classic Mah‘y‘na, which in general tends to consider language at most as a provisional tool (h¿ben) to point to the absolute principe of Tath‘t‘ (shinnyo: the things as they are, the absolute reality), which nevertheless transcends language and signification.[See Note 32] Since Mah‘y‘na usually considers voice, sounds, and words as entities endowed only with a temporary existence -- in the momentariness of their utterance -- , irrevocably destined to immediate extinction (setsuna metsu), language is ontologically not able to communicate anything absolute transcending the laws of karma and impermanence. As a consequence, the problematic of the "secret words," "identical with their meaning," expressing on a deeper level of meaning the real intentions of the Buddha, remained quite vague and not very well defined within the Mah‘y‘na tradition.

Mah‘y‘na also began to develop another linguistic/semiotic trend that originated outside of Buddhism. The Indian religious experience attributes a major importance to a set of words called mantra, used in meditation and in rituals.[See Note 33] This peculiar kind of words were used also in Mah‘y‘na Buddhism as tools for meditation and as amulets protecting the believer -- in these cases, such words and expressions are known as dh‘raÃÆ. It was Tantric Buddhism that systematically developed the doctrines and practices of the absolute language, which was identified with the Indian mantras and dh‘raÃÆs.[See Note 34] The word of the Buddha was no longer a mere expression of an individual's thought; it was considered to be a reality in itself, the objective expression, the double of the reality of enlightenment.

1.4. Semiotic Innovations in the Shingon Tradition

K´kai (774-835) is considered to be the founder of the Shingon school of Japanese Buddhism. One of the most fascinating figures of the entire Japanese history, he was a subtle philosopher, an endowed artist, an ascetic, and a shrewed politician who was able to gain the imperial support for his new school. His numerous accomplishments have become the source of countless legends about his life, and for many centuries K´kai, commonly known with his posthumous, highly onorific name of K¿b¿ Daishi ("the great master who has spread widely the Buddhist teachings"), has been perhaps the most venerated saint in Japanese Buddhism. A large part of his philosophical and religious production is animated by semiotic concerns, and focuses especially on the nature and functioning of the absolute language of mantras. K´kai was actually the first Japanese philosopher to explicitly outline the fundamentals of esoteric Buddhist semiotics. He authored several texts dealing with semiotic problems, such as the status of language and its relations with reality, the structure of the esoteric semantic system, and the role of practices consisting in the manipulation of esoteric objects and symbols to attain liberation. The soteriological goal of the Shingon school, defined by K´kai as "becoming buddha in this very body" (sokushin j¿butsu) is a transformation of the body/speech/mind of the practitioner that enables him to acquire a Buddha-body in the present lifetime. It is very interesting that such a goal was achieved mainly by semiotic manipulation of images and objects. By "semiotic manipulation" I mean the processes that took place in rituals, in which concepts, images, and objects were subjected to various kinds of manipulations, among which semantic analyses and visual transformations played an important role, that turned them into direct instruments of salvation. Medieval and early modern authors such as Kakuban and others developed K´kai's doctrines.

K´kai found an interesting and productive way to overcome the limits of classic Mah‘y‘na philosophy of language we have discussed above. Systematized for the first time by Kukai in the early ninth century, Shingon semiotics maintains that languages and signs are fallacious and sources of ignorance and suffering only to those who don't understand their origin and their real meaning. K´kai wrote that only if language and reality are closely and deeply related to each other can the Buddha show the way to salvation through his teachings.[See Note 35] This idea was further developed by K´kai in his doctrine known as hosshin sepp¿ (the preaching of the Dharmak‘ya), according to which Buddha, far from being silent or from using language as a mere provisional tool, preaches the Buddhist teachings in his absolute modality of existence -- the Dharmak‘ya, which does not transcend thought and representations as classic Mah‘y‘na maintained. In other words, the entire universe, as the body of the Buddha, preaches the Dharma and leads beings to salvation. According to Shingon philosophy, thus, the Dharmak‘ya is engaged in an endless and universal semiotic activity; each single thing in the universe is part of this ongoing self-referential and cosmic speech act called hosshin sepp¿. I will address this pansemiotic position in a subsequent lecture. Such a doctrine is clearly based on an idea of the identity of language and reality. Nevertheless, in order to acquire a direct salvational value, that is, in order to actually contribute to the attainment of the goals of esoteric Buddhism (becoming Buddha in this very body -- sokushin j¿butsu -- 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 result really efficacious and instantaneous. No wonder that Tantric Buddhism devoted major efforts to rearticulation and remotivation of signs, conferring them a particular status as microcosms. We will return to the semiotic value of the doctrine of hosshin sepp¿ and on esoteric Buddhist semiotics of motivation in subsequent lectures.

Shingon semiotics, initially outlined by K´kai on the basis of Indian and Chinese doctrines, was further developed by numerous scholar monks, both inside and outside the Shingon school, throughout premodern Japanese history. Kakuban (1095-1143), in particular, developing contemporaneous Chinese ideas, 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, orients, seasons, and so on. Meditation on these microcosmic letters produced a "symbolic" assimilation of the whole cosmos within the ascetic. In this way, Kakuban condensed in mantric expressions the whole esoteric knowledge of his time, making each linguistic unit a minimal maöala. We will further analyse such a correlative semiotics in a subsequent lecture.

1.4.1. The Twofold Structure of Language

We have seen that Japanese esoteric Buddhism postulates the existence of two structurally and functionally different languages: one for the deluded world of ignorance, and the other for the wisdom of the Buddha. However, as K´kai made clear, these two kinds of language are not ontologically different; their differences depend of the spiritual and intellectual capacities of their users. This semiotic position immediately raises two questions: what is the status of ordinary language in esoteric Buddhism, and what is its relation to the language of mantras? Everyday language's relationship to the world of delusion is not questioned by any Buddhist school. However, K´kai suggests that ignorance and wisdom depend exclusively on one's degree of understanding of the nature of language, to the point that wisdom is a semiotic knowledge. Scholars have variously defined the relation ordinary language / absolute language within esoteric Buddhism. The remaining part of this section is deveoted to the most interesting formulations of this relationship.

Miyasaka Y´sh¿ explains the differences between ordinary language and mantric language by employing the concepts of logos, ethos, and pathos. Ordinary language, which Miyasaka calls "language of logos," constituted by signs-signals that are unambiguously decodifiable on the basis of logic and dichotomic rules. Ordinary language is a mere tool for the transmission of knowledge and information, and is uncapable of transcending the limits of phenomenal world. To this purely instrumental language, Miyaasaka opposes a "mystical" and Òirrational" language that he calls "language of ethos" or "language of pathos." According to Miyasaka, while everyday experience employs the "language of logos" to exchange concepts and information, religious practice, which is based on the direct experience of a different order of reality, requires a higher form of language as the pure and immediate expression of the practitioner in mystical harmony with the absolute.[See Note 36] There are a number of problems with this vision; her I would like to emphasize, in particular, (i) the overly simplified picture of ordinary language (which is not only logos, as Roman Jakobson has showed with his theory of the six functions of language), (ii) the fact that Miyassaka does not explain how the language of pathos is structured, (iii) the dubious nature of his idea of a religious practitioner in mystical harmony with the absolute, (iv) whether such a mystical harmony (be it possible or not) requires a language or not (Michel de Certeau, in his magisterial study of early modern European mysticism, has showed that one of the main features of mystics is the lack of a language to express their experiences), and more generally (v) the vagueness of the concepts of religion, mysticism, and pure experience employed.

Okamura Keishin proposes instead to consider esoteric expressions (mitsug¿) as cryptograms, "keys to access a mystical world, linguistic entities bestowing upon their users superhuman powers" The interpretation of mitsug¿ gives one the key to penetrate the esoteric cosmos and constitutes a transformation process of the subject through esoteric Buddhist practices.[See Note 37] Even though the idea of "superhuman powers" is very dubious, Okamura's concept of cryptograms is quite productive, especially in order to make sense of Shingon correlative semiotics; unfortunately, he does not develop his promising interpretation deeply enough. Okamura's notion of the use of esoteric formulas as a transformative process of the subject is also very interesting, and is related to Kajiyama Y´ichi's formulation, according to which mantras "are not language as logos, but mystical revelations, events, actions."[See Note 38] Kajiyama also emphasizes the active aspect of mantras, used not only to acquire and transmit knowledge (even though of a special kind), but especially in ritual and religious action.

From the interpretations offered by Miyasaka, Okamura, and Kajiyama it is possible to gain a general picture of the characteristics of esoteric linguistic expressions such as mantras: as a particular kind of signs related to religious practice, they can represent the esoteric cosmos in peculiars ways (cryptographs presuppose a decyphering code), but they also play important roles in Buddhist ritual. However, tese indications are not yet enough to understand the structure of mantras, especially in relation to ordinary language. K´kai's doctrine that language is one, but its function and cognitive content change according to the usages and the users, can be clarified by what H¿j¿ Kenz¿ has called "double structure of language." Language is essentially one--the ceaseless cosmic activity of Mah‘vairocana Buddha--, but it is strucutred in two different ways; accordingly, it can express totally different contents on the basis of what we could call two different cognitive and pragmatic modalities.[See Note 39] Whereas language in its "ordinary" modality expresses contingent truths related to the phenomenal world, in its "enlightened" modality as shingon it conveyes the absolute truth of Dainichi Nyorai. However, the main problem with H¿j¿'s theory is that he "explains" the transformation of an expression from one modality to the other through the intervention of "empowerment" (kaji). Kaji is a key concept in Shingon ritual theory and soteriology: it implies a ritual interaction between the practitioner and a deity in the Tantric pantheon (according to esoteric Buddhism, all deities and buddhas are local and partial manifestations of Mah‘vairocana) that operates a transformative effect. In other words, therough kaji an entity abandons its profane dimension and becomes part of the sacred world (mandala) of Dainichi Nyorai. Since H¿j¿ limits itself to invoking kaji and to assuming the presence of the supernatural, his is not really an explanation. An particular investment of value is indeed necessary to constitute shingon as units of a sacred language; however, often, if not always, mantric language is characterized not by supernatural intervention of a deity, but by a conscious recognition in shingon of a direct and necessary relation with the segment of reality it stands for. In other words, I think that language in its esoteric modality--or, to put it differently, esoteric interpretation--is based on the awareness of some form of motivation that renders language a copy of reality. I will expand on this point in a subsequent lecture.

As is well known, esoteric Buddhism maintains that an infinite number of mantras exist; such multiplicity, however, is the result of the combinatory of the Sanskrit alphabet as described in the Dainichiky¿ and in the Kong¿ch¿gy¿, the two main scriptures of the Shingon school. H¿j¿'s concept of the "twofold structure of language" is useful to understand that mantras and words of ordinary language differ only structurally and not ontologically. To summarize, I could say that their respective differences are (i) semiotic: motivation vs arbitrariness, natural vs conventional; (ii) formal: phonological and syntactic configurations; (iii) semnatic: different meanings; (iv) epistemologic: as related to the cognitive state of their respective users; (v) pragmatic: different contexts and usages. To the enlightened one there is no difference between ordinary language and mantra, because according to the pansemiotic metaphysics of Shingon Buddhism, all words, all signifying expressions are part of the multisemic "preaching of Dharmak‘ya" (hosshin sepp¿). Religious practices enable one to understand the mantric language and, with it, the true reality of the cosmos. At that point one will realize that everything is part of Dainichi's cealess communicational activity, and that all words cannot but be mantras.

1.4.2. Ordinary Language and Absolute Language in Medieval Shingon

One of the fundamental tenets of Shingon philosophy of language is that all words (gogon), all sounds, are no else than mantric expressions (shingon). However, Shingon theoreticians often stress that esoteric truths transcend the possibilities of ordinary language (gongo d¿dan). Let's consider, for example, the following two passages by Kakuban:

Buddha's inner proof [enlightenment], when it shows to the outside, transcends language, is beyond the possibilities of mind's everyday activity. Isn't it beyond the reach of ordinary people's mouth and mind?[See Note 40]

The expressions of ordinary language are the teachings that the Buddha has left us.[See Note 41]

How does the inner proof of the Buddha show outside if not through language and signs? But what kind of signs? If Buddha's enlightenment transcends language, how can enlightenment be expressed by the Buddhist scriptures, and especially by ordinary language? We can interpret the above passages in the following way. Kakuban is not invoking here an ontologic impossibility for human beings to understand the semiosis emanating from the Buddha; simply, a metalanguage as weak as ordinary language is unable to translate and explain mantras, which are veritable microcosms and therefore they are characterized by polysemy and polymatericity. The aura of ineffability and secrecy that shroud the Shingon doctrines concern exclusively the non-initiated; initiation consists also (if not primarily) in receiving the semiotic keys to understand the mantras. Furthermore, the identity gogon (ordinary language) = shingon (mantras) is used by Kakuban in order to emphasize the salvific power of the latter. In the above passage, Kakuban does not explain or describe enlightenment; he wants to provide a simple and certain tool for salvation, and nothing is easier to use than linguistic expressions. Accordingly, the identity gogon=shingon has a primarily soteriological value.

In other words, ordinary language and shingon all come from the same source, and therefore have the same salvific power, even though they have important differences, as I explained above. It is clear, however, that there is an oscillation in Shingon between emphasis on and refusal of everyday language. This is probably due to the sociolinguistic situation in Japan, where shingon were a foreign language (or fragments of a foreign language) that were used in a religious, non-ordinary context. The category of "ordinary language," in contrast, referred to various dialects, forms of written Japanese (the so-called "classical Japanese"), and a form of written Chinese (kanbun). The most obvious point of contact between these three languages was their pronunciation, which was based on the Japanese phonological system. In other words, even Cinese or Sanskrit expression were pronounced in the Japanese way. Furthermore, the Japanese phonological system came to be organized along a system mutuated from Sanskrit linguistics. On this basis it was possible to operate a soteriologic identification: since Sanskrit, that is, the language of mantra, is at the phonological foundation of all languages, whenever one speaks, he utters a mantra.

In addition, towards the eleventh century Japanese intellectuals began to apply principles from the esoteric Buddhist hermeneutics to interpret texts of the Japanese literature (especially waka poems).[See Note 42] As a result, such texts acquired esoteric value, and around the twelfth century authors began to theorize the identity of waka poems and dharani mantric formulae. We will examine this important aspect of Buddhist semiotics later in the course. For now, it is important to emphasize that the impact of Shingon semiotics went well beyond the small circle of initiated and scholar monks: as a way to relate texts and cultural practices to cosmologyand soteriology, it affected the ways in which premodern Japanese saw their language, their literary production, and also their country.

1.5. Conclusions

I think that at the background of the various avatars of Tantric Buddhism (at least in Japan, and probably in the Chinese cultural sphere, too), lay certain general concepts concerning cosmology and soteriology, both of which are related to a semiotic nucleus defining issues such the status of phenomena, the role of subjectivities, and the power of ritual practices. The semiotic tradition of Japanese esoteric Buddhism--what I have called elsewhere "exo-esoteric episteme"[See Note 43]--in fact carried out a systematic semiotization of the cosmos on the basis of numeric series and attributed soteriologic value to symbolic expressions and to signs in general. In this course I would like to show that, in the esoteric episteme, the function of signs is not only cognitive, but also and especially related to soteriology.

The special soteriologic function of signs in esoteric Buddhism opens many questions. As Stanley Tambiah has pointed out, this may well be one of the apparently most paradoxical aspects of Buddhism. In other words, entities belonging to the order of knowledge are transformed, during rituals, into entities endowed with power upon reality.[See Note 44] Received explanations of this process, when they do not refer to it as "superstition," usually stress the importance of "belief" and "faith," meaning that the attribution to signs of salvational power occurs through a sort of "investment of value." Tambiah and Sasaki explained very well the cultural and ideological background of such an investment. But I think that such an investment of soteriologic value, both necessary and undeniable, is also related to a reformulation of its sign-vehicle. Such a reformulation is semiotic, because it transforms not just the content of its object, but also its form.

In this course I will outline some possible aswers to the following questions: How is the transformation knowledge-salvific power carried out? How do signs (expressions, images, deeds, objects...) acquire salvational value? Moreover, on a more specific level, what are the semiotic concepts and strategies peculiar to the esoteric Buddhism? I believe that we are facing here an issue concerning the remotivation of signs and languages. According to the esoteric episteme, entities as salvific signs acquire esoteric value only after they have been acknowledged as elements of the scheme, at the same time communicational and salvational, of Dainichi Nyorai--the cosmic Buddha of esoteric Buddhism. As parts of that cosmic sermon which is the hosshin sepp¿, esoteric signs have a particular semiotic structure which distinguishes them from "ordinary" signs (signs are "ordinary" as long as they are not yet understood to be part of Dainichi's cosmic preaching). Their salvific power, then, is not just the result of an investment of "faith" in them, but is acquired also through a transformation of their semiotic status. By "re-motivation" I mean the complex effort aimed at overcoming the arbitrariness of language and signs, by finding a special "natural" relation between expression, meaning, and object.[See Note 45]

Notes

1. An introduction to the Shingon tradition, with its main doctrines and ritual practices, can be found in Yamasaki Taiko, Shingon: Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1988; a good study of K´kaiÕs thought, with the translation of some of his most representative works, is Yoshito Hakeda,K´kai: Major Works. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972; however, the best study in any language of the Shingon tradition from the perspective of intellectual history, is without any doubt Ry´ichi Abé, The Weaving of the Mantra: K´kai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
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2. The main proponent of such a view was perhaps Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro, especially in his Essays in Zen Buddhism, three volumes originally published in London by Luzac between 1927 and 1934. Very influential was also Alan Watts, The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work, and Art in the Far East, originally piblished in 1958.
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3. In Robert H. Sharf, ÒThe Zen of Japanese NationalismÓ in Curators of the Buddha. The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism : 107-160 Ed. by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995; the citation is on pp. 127-128.
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4. Roland Barthes, in his Empire of Signs (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982) proposed a semiotic version of this vision.
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5. Sharf, ÒBuddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience,Ó Numen 42 (1995): pp. 228-283. The citation is on p. 248.
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6. See Sharf, cit.; also Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. Nishida Kitar¿ is perhaps the most influential modern Japanese philosopher, the founder of the so-called Ky¿to School. On Nishida, see Robert E. Carter, The nothingness beyond God : An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nishida Kitaro. New York: Paragon House, 1989.
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7. B. Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy, cit.; Idem, Chan Insights and Oversights. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992..
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8. See Malcolm David Eckel, To See the Buddha. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, especially pp. 51-113.
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9. As we have seen, there are several canons according to the geographical and cultural regions of Asia. Throughout this course, I will refer to texts in the modern Japanese canon, known as Taish¿ shinsh´ daizoky¿ as T.
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10. On these issues, see Buddhist Hermeneutics. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Honolulu: University of HawaiÕi Press, 1988.
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11. On Yog‘c‘ra philosophy and related aspects of Buddhist thought, see for example Gómez, Luis O., ÒBuddhist Views of Language,Ó in Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 8: 446-451. New York: MacMillan, 1987; Hirakawa Akira, Kajiyama Y´ichi, Takasaki Jikid¿, eds., Yuishiki shis¿ (K¿za Daij¿ bukky¿ 8). Tokyo: Shunj´sha, 1982; Piatigorsky, Alexander, and Zilberman, D. B., ÒThe Emergence of Semiotics in India,Ó Semiotica 17:3 (1976): 255-265; Piatigorsky, Alexander, The Buddhist Philosophy of Thought. London and Dublin: Curzon Press, and Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Nobles Books, 1984.
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12. On Buddhist phenomenology, see Takakusu Junjir¿, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1975 (original ed. 1947).
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13. The twelve factors of conditioned causation are (i) ignorance, (ii) potential action, (iii) discrimination, (iv) names and forms, (v) sense organs, (vi) contact, (vii) perception, (viii) desire, (ix) attachment, (x) existence, (xi) birth, (xii) death.
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14. See Kajiyama Y´ichi, K´ no shis¿. Ky¿to: Jinbun shoin, 1983.
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15. See Kajiyama, cit.: 32.
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16. See Murti, T. R. V., The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. London: Unwin, 1955 (reprint 1987).
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17. See for example the Lankavatara S´tra: Ry¿gaky¿ "Sh´ issai bupp¿" III-2, T 16: 371a; Kong¿ sanmaiky¿, T 9: 371a.
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18. For a general introduction to Buddhist philosophy of language, see Luis O. Gómez, "Buddhist Views on Language," in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 8: 446-451. New York: MacMillan, 1987.
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19. On the soteriologic power of words, see Fabio Rambelli, "Il potere karmico della parola," Annali di Ca' Foscari. Rivista della Facolta' di Lingue e Letterature Straniere dell'Universita' di Venezia -- Serie Orientale, vol. 29/3, 1990: 271-289.
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20. The other ten evil deeds are: murder of sentient beings, theft, lasciviousness, greed, anger, and stupidity. The first three are related to the body, whereas the latter three are related to the mind.
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21. English translation and commentary in Buddhist Wisdom Books. Translated and explained by Edward Conze. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1975.
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22. The Vimalakirti Sutra. Translated by Burton Watson from the Chinese version by Kumarajiva. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
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23. The Lankavatara Sutra. Translated by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1932.
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24. Butsugoky¿, in T 17/832: 832b-833b.
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25. See B. Faure, cit.
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26. See The Vimalakirti Sutra. cit.
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27. We will return to this issue when we discuss the nature of mantric linguistic acts.
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28. On the Heart S´tra see Conze, ed., Buddhist Wisdom Books, cit.; see also Donald S. Lopez, Jr., The Heart Sutra Explained: Indian and Tibetan commentaries. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988; Id., Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
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29. Frits Staal, "Oriental Ideas on the Origin of Language," Journal of the American Oriental Society 99/1, 1979: 1-14; the citation is on p. 9.
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30. See Shaku makaen ron, T 32: 605b.
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31. See Agehananda Bharati, The Tantric Tradition. London: Rider & Co., 1965; Kajiyama Y´ichi, cit.; Roderick S. Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox, The Twilight Language. 1986.
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32. An interesting exception is the Shakumakaenron, which recognizes the existence of true and eternal words. This text, attributed to N‘g‘rjuna, is an East Asian apocryph, and is recognized as a textual source only by the Shingon school.
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33. On mantras, see Harvey P. Alper, ed., Mantra. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
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34. Katsumata Shunky¿, "K¿b¿ Daishi K´kai no mikky¿kan," in Mikky¿gaku mikky¿shi ronbunsh´. K¿yasan: K¿ysan Daigaku, 1965: 1-20; the reference is on p. 8.
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35. K´kai,Sokushin j¿butsu gi, T 77: 402a.
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36. Miyasaka Y´sh¿, "Mikky¿ no shinborizumu," in Miyasaka Y´sh¿ and Umehara Takeshi, Seimei no umi: K´kai (Bukky¿ shis¿ vol. 9). T¿ky¿: Kadokawa shoten, 1968 (10th ed. 1984); Id., "K´kai no gengo tetsugaku," Episute-me- n. 7, 1976: 20-31; Id.,Mikky¿ shis¿ no shinri. Ky¿to: Jinbun shoin, 1979.
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37. Okamura Keishin, "Mikky¿ shugy¿ no h¿h¿ to shis¿," in Yuasa Yasuo, ed., Mitsugi to shugy¿: Bukky¿ no mitsugisei to sono shins¿ (Bukky¿ to nihonjin vol. 3). T¿ky¿: Shunj´sha, 1989: 79-117; the reference is on pp. 86-87.
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38. Kajiyama 1983, cit.: 140.
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39. H¿j¿ Kenz¿, "Sh¿ji jiss¿ gi wo meguru ichi-ni no mondai," Buzan ky¿gaku taikai kiy¿ vol. 4, 1976: 107-122; Id., "K´kai no gengo riron," Ris¿ 594, 1982: 39-50; Id., "Mantora wo megutte: Indo dent¿teki gengo shis¿ to K´kai," Hikaku shis¿ kenky´ 10, 1984: 63-71; Id., "Gomitsu to sono tenkan genri wo megutte," Buzan gakuh¿ 28-29, 1984: 19-45; Id., "Sokushin j¿butsu gi ni mirareru gengokan no shiza," Mikky¿ bunka 150, 1984: 74-93.
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40. Kakuban, Abankai mandara ryakushaku, in K¿gy¿ Daishi senjutsush´ [hereafter, KS] Tome I: 65. T¿ky¿: Sankib¿ busshorin, 1989.
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41. Kakuban, Kenmitsu fud¿ sh¿, in KS, Tome I: 4.
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42. Kakuban is the author of two esoteric commentaries to the well-known "Iroha uta," a poem that expresses a Buddhist oulook on life by using all sounds of the Japanese phonological system -- thus establishing a direct connection between Japanese language and Buddhist doctrines. See Kakuban, "Iroha shaku arubeki koto-ra," in KS II: 84-86; "Iroha ryakushaku," in KS II: 86-88).
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43. "True Words, Silence, and the Adamantine Dance. On Japanese Mikky¿ and the Formation of the Shingon Discourse," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21/4 (December 1994): pp. 373-405
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44. Stanley Tambiah, Buddhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Sasaki K¿kan, referring to Tambiah, wrote on this problem within the Japanese context: Sasaki K¿kan, "S¿ no jushika to ¿ no saishika. Bukky¿ to ¿sei to no musubitsuki ni kansuru ichi-shiron," in Kuroda Toshio, ed., Kokka to tenn¿. Tenn¿sei ideorogÆ to shite no bukky¿ (Bukky¿ to nihonjin 2). T¿ky¿: Shunj´sha, 1987: pp.49-91.
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45. See "Motivation," in A.J. Greimas and J. Courtés, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. Paris: Hachette, 1979.
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copyright 2000, Fabio Rambelli.
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