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Buddhist Semiotics

Instructor: Fabio Rambelli

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Lecture 2: The Ontology of Language and Signs

In the first lecture we have seen that several authors identify what they call a double structure of language within the Buddhist esoteric tradition. Language is an instrument either for salvation or for suffering and rebirth. Its soteriologic function seems to depend primarily on ones spiritual capacity and intellectual development. In this lecture I will investigate the ontological status of language and signs by addressing a number of different but related issues: the origin of language, the pansemiotic nature of the esoteric Buddhist universe, the semiotic articulation of reality, and the status of language among the various semiotic systems. It is interesting that the double structure finds an equivalent in traditional accounts on the origin of language, which present the latter either as a conventional product of human or superhuman activity (the result of a kind of semiotic labor) or as an unconditioned entity always/already present in the universe that can be used by the Buddhas to offer spiritual guidance to sentient beings. The unconditioned nature of language(and signs in general) opens the way to a radical form of pansemioticism, according to which everything in the universe is structured as a polysemic and polymateric discourse defined as the preaching of the Dharma (seppø) by the Buddha Mahåvairocana (Jpn. Dainichi) in its absolute modality, that of Dharmakåya (hosshin). If everything is always/already semioticized and meaningful, verbal language then is just one of many ways in which Dainichi preaches the Dharma ina sort of internal dialogue with/within itself. According to Shingon esoteric Buddhism, the capacity to recognize such a cosmic sermon and participate in it is essential for the attainment of enlightenment.

1. The Origin of Language

Accounts of the origin of language according to the Buddhist esoteric tradition are directly related to the ontology of signs. Language is always understood as a combination of linguistic sounds, written signs, and conceptual meanings; such a complex entity is believed to represent or, rather, to reproduce in quasi-iconic way the state of the world. Since the beginning, thus, language is part of a complex and polysemic semiotic process. There are two basic models in the Japanese Buddhist tradition describing the origin of language. According to the first model, language was created by a deity (usually the Indian god Brahma) or a semi-divine being. The second model presents language as an absolute unconditioned and non-created entity. It is important to investigate the philosophical consequences of esoteric models of the origin of language and signs, because they affected directly the discussion on the ontological status of semiotic entities. Let us discuss these two models more in detail.

1.1. Language as Gods Creation

Our investigation into the origin of languages and signs will take us first to a detour through mythology an important component of esoteric Buddhist discourse, where it is often intermingled with philosophical discussions, anecdotes, and historical accounts. A text entitled Bonkan taieish¥, written in 1581 by the Buddhist priest Ryøjø, presents an interesting synopsis of several accounts scattered in many texts throughout East Asia over several centuries:

According to Bodhiruci Tripitaka, King Bråhma was the first to write characters, which he inscribed on Tåla tree leaves. It is also said that the bodhisattva Fugen [Skt. Samantabhadra] appeared as Bråhma [and created the writing system]. [According to yet another account,] at the beginning of the present kalpa [cosmic cycle] King Bråhma and Vi”–u got married and gave birth to three children, namely, Bråhma,Kharo” ha, and Cangjie. Bråhma created the bråhmi script in India the forty-seven syllables of Sanskrit still used today. Kharo” ha went to the Dragon Palace and created the kharo” hi alphabet,written left to right. Finally, Cangjie was Iýåna/Maheývara, that is, the Lord of the Sixth Heaven; he later flew to China where he invented the Chinese characters written vertically. 1
A full understanding of the above passage would require an extensive commentary on subjects that go beyond the scope of this lecture. To the present discussion, the following points are particularly important. This citation refers to a text by Bodhiruci (d.527), a monk from northern India who translated several Buddhist texts into Chinese. However, it is not clear which text Ryøjø refers to (or even if such a text exists). The leaves of the tåla tree were used in ancient India as a support for writing letters and documents. Mahåyåna scriptures were also written on those leaves. Kharo” ha is the name of an legendary Indian ascetic. 2 Some sources attribute to him the creation of the kharo” hi alphabet, a form of writing used in north-western India and parts of central Asia between the fourth century BCE and the fourth century CE,probably based on ancient aramaic. This alphabet was written from right to left, not from left to right as Ryøjø writes; but the aforementioned passage probably refers to other alphabets, more exotic to the Japanese, from the West, written from right to left. The Dragon Palace (ry¥g¥) is a mythological place located at the bottom of the sea where Buddhist scriptures and magical objects are kept. Cangjie is a Chinese legendary figure: as a minister of the mythological Yellow Emperor, he is attributed with the invention of Chinese characters. As another medieval text, written in the mid-thirteenth century, reports,One day when he [Cangjie] was flying over a beach he saw the footprints of birds [on the sand] and[on the basis of them] he invented written characters. 3

Several medieval texts also emphasizes that the language of India(Jpn. bongo, that is, Sanskrit) is the correct language (shøon), as opposed to that of China which is a marginal language (bøon)a theme that recurs in many medieval discussions on the subject. Annen adds that Sanskrit was originally taught by the buddhas of the past to give religious instructions. However, after the buddhas left this world, Bråhma sent his three children to the realm of desire [our world] and spread the three writing systems. 4 In other words, medieval Japanese scholars thought that Sanskrit was the true language, as the language created directly by the buddhas and the gods; Chinese was a kind of counterfeit language created through imitation of nature and therefore was unable to tell the ultimate truth about things. 5 This idea was developed by esoteric Buddhism in its doctrines on mantras.

There are several interesting elements in the mythological account I have quoted. Perhaps the most striking one is the fact that Indian deities are attributed a sort of universal presence, as the creators of all writing systems in the world as it was known to the medieval Japanese. Chinese and non-Indian legendary figures are manifestations in one form or another of the major Indian gods. Some accounts attribute the invention of the Chinese script to Maheývara, that is, Shiva. In the Buddhist mythology Maheývara is often identified with Måra, the archenemy of the Buddha, a demonic figure ruling over the Realm of Desire (our universe of suffering) from his place in the Sixth Heaven. 6 Language thus appears to be one of the instruments used by Maheývara to keep beings from attaining enlightenment and escaping from his realm of desire and suffering. However, as Annen wrote, language was used with buddha of the past a tool for the attainment of enlightenment. Another medieval text, the Yøtenki, even considers the Chinese Cangjie as a manifestation of the Buddha Såkyamuni. These contrasting visions reflect the traditional Buddhist ambivalent attitude toward language and signs. This ambivalence appears in many ways. For example, a medieval Shintø-Buddhist text, the Bikisho, states that Måra is a manifestation or variant form of Bråhma. Bråhma appeared in our world in three different forms: as Bråhma proper (Jpn. Bonten) he descended in India and created the Sanskrit alphabet; as Vi”–u he descended in central Asia and created the barbarian letters (probably a reference either to the karo” hi or to other non-Indian alphabets); finally, as Bråhma (the text has Harama which appears to be a transliteration of Bråhma, probably a wrong reference to Måra?) he descended in China and created the Chinese characters by looking at the traces left by birds on a beach. 7 Furthermore, that language was directly related to salvation and suffering is a point made forcefully by K¥kai: To the fool, signs are objects of attachment and desire. Signs generate greed, rage, madness, and all sorts of afflictions, and cause beings to commit the ten evil acts and five cardinal sins. 8 K¥kai also wrote:

Whenever people hear a language spoken, they hear the [mystical] sound A.In the same way, whenever people see things being created, they see there the originally unbornness... Yet ordinary people fail to see the source of all things and therefore they falsely see instead creation taking place... These people are just like a foolish painter who paints a colorful picture of a dreadful demon. When the picture is completed, he observes his own work: his mind becomes horrified and he falls to the ground unconscious. Sentient beings are just like this. They paint the threefold world with all its things, which are originally non created, then bury themselves therein and develop their fiery deluded minds, which receive [in retribution] all sorts of suffering. 9
This passage indicates in a very powerful way the problem of representation from a Buddhist perspective. If one becomes prisoner of ordinary language,he will undergo suffering and rebirth. For K¥kai, the prison house of language is no else then the world of saµsåra, the Realm of Desire controlled by the demon Måra. However, those who understand the real meaning of language and signs can here the mystical sound A in all words and use them to attain enlightenment. A question then arises: why are demons less real than buddhas? However, an exploration of Buddhist demonology lies beyond the scope of this lecture. What I would like to underscore here is the fact that the double structure of language seems to permeate all sorts of accounts.

1.2. Language as an Unconditioned Entity

The fact that written language was based on the imitation of natural patterns seems to be an old Confucian idea. K¥kai wrote that the Confucian teachings are presented through natural patterns drawn on the backs of tortoises and on dragons. 10 More specifically,

When [the ancient rulers] had observed the changing of the seasons in the sun, moon, and stars, and the process of transformation at work on the nine continents, then with the sounds of metal and jade, of pipes and reeds, they forged their patterns (wen, Jap. mon) in order to nurture the common man. 11
K¥kai contrasted the Confucian teachings to the Buddhist doctrines. He wrote that the Buddhist truth is transmitted through letters [mon] which spontaneously appeared in the sky and among men. 12 This passage refers to the appearance in the sky of Sanskrit letter A as the result of esoteric practice. 13 According to an Indian doctrine, reported in the Mahåvairocana S¥tra (Jpn. Dainichikyø), Sanskrit letters are not the product of conditioned causation, but spontaneous and autonomous (høni jinen) entities. 14

In this way, Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism in particular is intrinsically superior to other teachings because of the ontological status of the linguistic medium which transmits it. While non Buddhist teachings are based on conventional sign systems derived from the imitation of natural patterns and regularities, Buddhism is conveyed byan unconditioned and spontaneous language. While non Buddhist languages are marginal and fallacious, Buddhist language is able to speak and manifest the truth. In particular, that of mantras is the true language because, as K¥kai wrote, it alone can designate infallibly the reality of objects as they truly are.

According to K¥kai, the Dharmakåya immersed in deep meditation (samådhi) utters mantras, that is, actualizes already existing unconditioned linguistic entities. These mantras, in turn, gradually transform themselves (through a degenerative process) into the worlds everyday languages. In other words, language outflows from the Dharmakåya. 15 The Mahåvairocana s¥tra gives us an account of Mahåvairocana samådhi which generates language:

In order to fulfill his original vow to save sentient beings, he [Mahåvairocana] practiced [the recitation of] this mantra [the letter A]. Immersed in the samådhi, from all his voice organs he uttered the mantra in sounds analogous to all the voices of all living beings. With this utterance, new karmas rose and ripened in sentient beings in accordance with their original nature [i.e., the originally enlightened mind]. As the fruition of these karmas, all sorts of letters of diverse colors and shapes, all sorts of speech, and concepts corresponding [to these signs] manifested themselves. By means of these letters, forms of speech, and concepts, he expounded the Dharma for the sake of all sentient beings and caused them to rejoice. 16

As Ry¥ichi Abé explains, This appears to be the s¥tras mythopoetic depiction of what K¥kai has referred to as the generative process of signs (gonmyø jøritus [sic] sø), at which the primordial, protosemantic voice transforms itself into signs via letters.* We have here a clear connection between soteriology and linguistics; languages and signs appear to be a manifestation of Mahåvairocana Buddhas original vow to save sentient beings. The description of this process of manifestation is particularly interesting. First of all, Mahåvairocana chants the sound A which presumably exists spontaneously and unconditionatedly. As a karmic consequence of this primordial utterance, letters, speeches, and corresponding concepts appear. As K¥kai wrote,

The origin of names is in the Dharmakåya. They all issue forth from him and turn into the languages circulating in the world. If one knows (the words) true meanings those words are called mantras (shingon); if one does not know (the words)ultimate origin, those are called false words (møgo). 17

The Mahåvairocana S¥tra continues:

No sooner had [Mahåvairocana delivered his teaching of the Dharma] than he came to issue forth from his pores all his transformation bodies [of buddhas and bodhisattvas], immeasurable as empty space. Amidst this boundless world, he pronounced the single syllable [A] indicative of his permeation in the universe, a syllable heard by his audience as a verse, the procreation ofTath[a]gåtas. 18

Here we find several important elements: the universe is created by Mahåvairocana immersed in samådhi; the tool he employs in his mythopoetic act is the mantric seed letter A; and creation is the result of semiotic articulation, what Ry¥ichiAbé calls semiogenesis. I will address more in detail the issue of semiotic articulation later. Let us now turn our attention to the Sanskrit letter A. Why is it so important in esoteric Buddhism? As Abé explains, the letter A

is the origin of all the alphabets letters,yet it stands at their origin only as a mark of absence that is, the negation of unconditioned identity, immediacy, and permanence. The letter A is the origin of no origin. It is, quintessentially, the originally nonarising. In other words, the letter A... stands for the very movement of differentiation. 19

To this I would add that the movement of differentiation articulating language and the world is, at the same time,a centripetal movement toward homogeneity and undifferentiatedness.

2. A Pansemiotic Universe

K¥kais most important semiotic text, the Shøji jissø gi, is an extended exegesis of a short philosophical poem:

The five great elements have vibrations;
Each of the ten worlds has its language;
The six kinds of objects are expressive symbols;
The Dharmakaya Buddha is the Reality. 20
This is a summary of K¥ka is esoteric semiotics. The first verse indicates the material basis of signs and semiosis. The five great elements, 21 that is, the very substance of the universe, spontaneously produce vibrations that turn into sounds. This sounds in turn constitute the languages of the ten levels of existence (the ten worlds); this fact implies that human beings, animals, deities, and so forth, all have their own language;one of the functions of religious specialists will thus be that of communicating with other levels of being and interpreting messages coming for the other world(s). The totality of reality as subject of perception and intellection is articulated into signs (monji); these signs are produced by the Dharmakåyaor, in other words, are Dharmakåyas marks. Interestingly, K¥kai indicates signs with a term used to refer to writing but also decorative patterns: a visual, graphic design trait is the metaphor for the main entity of semiosis.

As we have already seen in Lecture 1, K¥kai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon tradition of Japanese Buddhism, was particularly concerned with problems related to the broad research field we call today semiotics and cognitive sciences. When examining the connection between language and reality (shøji jissø), 22K¥kai thought it was necessary to deal at length with the ambiguous and polysemic concept of mon and its synonym monji, not easily reducible to the mere linguistic realm. 23 According toK¥kai, mon/ monji are the material, sensible elements without which the preaching of the Dharma by the Dharmakåya himself (hosshin seppø) cannot exist. The doctrine of hosshinseppø, one of the foundations of K¥kais esoteric system, and the practices it presupposes and determines,constitutes the esoteric communicational paradigm within a pansemiotic universe conceived of as an intentional manifestation of Dainichi Nyorai. In order to describe such a universal communication, K¥kai hypostasized and extended on a cosmic scale features and characteristics of human language and semiotic activity or, rather, he turned the human language into a particular instance of amore general and vast semiotic process. At the end of his hypostatic process, mon/monji turn out to designate the articulations of reality. They are meaningful forms iconically representing different elements of the semiotic codes in which the esoteric cosmos is organized.

2.1. The Semiotic Relevance of Hosshin Seppø

Hosshin seppø refers to the idea that the preaching of the Dharma is made by Dainichi Nyorai, the Dharmakåya Buddha himself and not just by the Nirmå–akåya, his temporal manifestation. This concept is stated for the first time in the Ben kenmitsu nikyø ron (814 A.D.), 24 where it constitutes a powerful doctrinal justification of the salvational supremacy of the esoteric teachings. Most scholars agree in ascribing to Huiguo (746-805 A.D.) the emphasis on the identity of the Buddha Dainichi with the Hosshin Nyorai and the idea that the esoteric teachings report the word of the Hosshin himself, not just that of the historical Buddha or of mere phenomenal manifestations of the Dharmakåya. It is not clear, however, why K¥kai did not write about this essential concept until eight years after his return to Japan.

The idea that the Dharmakåya, eternal and immutable, keeps preaching the Dharma in some way, even after the nirvå–a of Såkyamuni, was already circulating in Japan also at a popular level before K¥kais esoteric doctrines became the predominant Buddhist paradigm. The Nihon ryøiki, for instance, compiled around 822 but containing older stories, 25 was not written under the influence of the new esoteric Buddhism of the Heian period. Nevertheless, the compiler often talks about rihosshin (Dharmakåya-as-principle, that is, the Dharmakåya in its absolute form) as an entity manifesting itself in the world through signs and various kinds of messages (not just verbal ones) for the salvation of sentient beings.* Obviously, it would have been difficult to explain to non-Buddhists or toa wider audience of Buddhists that the Dharmakåya was an absolute attributes without entity. Anyway, it is likely that a relatively organic theory of Hosshin seppø, grounded on the identification of Dainichi Nyorai with the Dharmakåya (Jpn. hosshinbutsu) originated in Tang China esoteric circles and then was developed in Japan by K¥kai, in the light of pre-existing conceptions widespread among his contemporary itinerant priests (ubasoku) and mountain ascetics.

In order to outline the semiotic characteristics of Hosshin seppø, a useful starting point could well be the stimulating distinction proposed by Yoshito Hakeda, between the two senses attributed by K¥kaito the term seppø (preaching of the Dharma). Considered literally as enunciation, speech act, seppø was related to the nature and significance of mantric expressions, its main components. Nevertheless, this restricted meaning was not enough. And so, Hakeda writes,

K¥kai expanded the meaning of the word preaching. He interpreted it as the acts of communication of the Dharmakåya Mahåvairocana. Oral preaching is only one of the means of communication [...] K¥kais speculation along this line culminated in [the Shøji jissø gi, where he] asserts that the Dharmakåya Mahåvairocana is Reality and reveals himself through all objects of sense and thought [...] All phenomena point to the underlying Reality,Mahåvairocana, and at the same time are expressions of that Reality. 26

Now, Mahåyåna texts describe the preaching of the historical Buddha as a complex and polymateric act of communication, for Såkyamuni made use of various semiotic substances: verbal language, silence,gestures, colors, lights, and smells. 27 These manifold dimensions of Buddhas preaching may well have fascinated K¥kai, according to whom the senses and the sensible world were not only causes of delusion and suffering, but privileged vehicles of Hosshin messages. Hosshinseppø seems then to reveal the mystic, esoteric meaning of the vast bruit de fond, the cosmic sea of never-ending communication,described by Michel Serres. 28

2.2. Pansemiotic Ontology: The Three Modalities of the Universe

Shingon texts establish a complex connection between cosmology,soteriology, and semiotics. Mandala is the primary representation of such connections. Since phenomena are considered to be meaningful manifestations of the Dharmakåya, the universe plays an endless salvational activity. It is a sort of fractal cosmos, in which each phenomenon is formally similar to all the others and to the totality. Such a recursive cosmology,peculiar to esoteric Buddhism, is related to a recursive soteriology based on ritual practices and visualization in which gestures, images, and words (signs)have an important status. 29 As Charles Orzech has written, 30

in the performance of ritual, then, the attainment of siddhi is the realization of asoteriology in a recursive cosmos. The realization of ones basic divinity is the realization of ones own enlightenment and the simultaneous purification of ones world.

Raihø offers a similar position in the Shingon myømoku, according to which becoming buddha in this very body (sokushin jøbutsu), the soteriologic goal of Shingon Buddhism,

whether innate or produced through practice, whether pertaining to inner realization or outer manifestation, is the result of unconditioned activities [taking place] within the undifferentiated Dharma-world; it is the becoming of non becoming, an adamantine dance performance. 31

Salvation is never individual, but a part of a more general soteric activity of the cosmos, in which each being (sentient and non sentient) is engaged; Becoming a buddha (jøbutsu) is therefore the result of an unconditioned, natural, and spontaneous function of the Dharma-world (Skt. Dharmadhåtu, Jpn. hokkai) triggered by ritual action centered on the mandala. At the basis of esoteric ritual is the usage of certain symbolic entities which embody the deep structure and the power of the universe. These symbols accurately reproduce absolute and unconditioned cosmic structures only known to the buddhas. Once used in the proper ritual and initiatory contexts, they enable the practitioner to gain control over reality and ultimately to become buddha himself.

Mikkyø soteriology presupposes a pansemiotic universe in which everything is organized in a systematic way and endowed with meaning. In contemporary semiotics, only the Italian film director, writer, and cultural criticist Pier Paolo Pasolini tried to outline a theory of pansemiosis. In several essays on the semiology of cinema, 32 Pasolini presented his project of a semiology of the language... of reality. 33 According to Pasolini, reality, the world out there perceivable by the senses, is the fundamental structure of communication and meaning, to the point that all of life in the entirety of its actions is a natural, living film, 34 and cinema is nothing more than the written manifestation of a natural,total language, which is the acting of reality. 35 More explicitly, the phenomena of the world are the natural syntagmas of the language of reality.* In other words, it is not that nomina sunt res, butres sunt nomina. 36 Pasolini recognized that human language is itself part of reality, 37 one of the means through which reality itself speaks. 38Thus, linguistic signs merely translate the signs of the language of Reality. 39 How does such a language of reality operate? According to Pasolini, Reality doesn't do anything else but speak with itself using human experience as a vehicle;* actually, there is no signified: because the signified is also a sign. 40 As we shall see later, this intuition is useful to understand an important category of esoteric semiotics that I call macro-sign.

In the late sixties and early seventies,Umberto Eco judged Pasolinis ideas as of a singular semiological naïiveté, for they were in contrast with the most elementary aims of semiology, which is to eventually reduce the facts of nature to cultural phenomena, and not to bring the facts of culture back to natural phenomena. 41Pasolini replied to Eco that his own aim was precisely the definitive transformation of nature into culture, 42 a clear pansemiotic project. He then criticized Eco for his refusal to deal with the metaphysical issues of semiotics, such as the ontological ground of meaning, significance, and communication. Umberto Eco refused in fact the notion of an Ur-code, a code of codes in which meaning would be transcendentally grounded. 43 According to Pasolini, such an ontological basis of semiosis and meaning could only be found in atheistic entity. Pasolini argues in his characteristic half-mocking and provocative style: 44

Let us therefore suppose, per absurdum... that God exists [...] [L]et us limit ourselves to calling God Brahma,and let us shorten this to B. The existence of B. (whose character is Vedic-Spinozian) causes the statement reality is a language to no longer be apodictic and unmotivated, but [to be] in some way sensible and functional: reality is the language of B. With whom does B. speak? Let us assume with Umberto Eco. [...] Let us assume that in this moment B. speaks with Eco, using as sign, as ultimate sign, the hair of Jerry Malanga [an actor whom Pasolini liked]. But what difference is there between the hair of Jerry Malanga and the eyes of Umberto Eco? They are but two organisms of reality, which is a continuum without any break in continuity; a single body... The hair of Jerry Malanga and the eyes of Umberto Eco therefore belong to the same Body, the physical manifestation of the Real, of the Existing, of Being; and if the hair of Jerry Malanga is an object that reveals itself as sign of itself to the receptive eyes of Umberto Eco, it cannot be said that this is a dialogue; [it is] a monologue which the infinite Body of Reality has with itself.

Significantly, Pasolini refers to such a supreme entity as Brahma or B., and explicitly calls reality the language of B., ina move which closely resembles classical Shingon theoretical positions clarified for the first time in Japan by K¥kai in his Shøji jissøgi with respect with the semiotics and ontology of Mahåvairocana.* Pasolinis words uncannily echo K¥kais doctrine of the hosshinseppø, according to which the Dharmakåya as the Dharmadhåtu continuously speaks the Dharma to itself in a pleasurable and salvific monologue a monologue spoken in all possible languages and sign systems, i.e.,through reality itself, and perceived by itself, as the totality of reality, in the shape of a perceiving subject. 45 According to the esoteric Buddhist ontology, in fact, all entities in the universe are parts of the same macro-entity, the Dharmadhåtu, which is in turn coextensive and identical with the Dharmakåya. 46 One cannot but think to a sort of ur-matrix generating pansemiotic positions and practices that might have lingered over Eurasia for centuries. In Eco's words the underlying idea here is one of the universe as a Body which signifies to itself; 47 according to this view, reality speaks with itself since perception is a response to signification that reality addresses to itself in the shape of a perceiving subject. 48

The ontological foundation of Shingon pan semiosis is provided by the doctrine of the sandai (Three Great principles, i.e., the three modalities of the universe),which concerns the three modalities of existence and manifestation of the cosmos: material substance (taidai), semiotic manifestation (sødai), and function y¥dai). The sandai doctrine sub specie semiotica was propounded for the first time by K¥kai in his Sokushinjøbutsugi as a development of some concepts in the Dashengqixinlun and the Shimoheyanlun, and became one of Shingons central tenets. 49 The Shingon sandai doctrine is an original reformulation of the classical Buddhist distinction between substance/essence (shøtai) and manifestation/function (søy¥), often used as a hermeneutic device opposing the way a thing is to the way it appears. In K¥kais treatment, such a hermeneutic device became the ontological structure of the universe a clear move towards a pansemiotic theory.

Taidai (the substance of the universe) is the collective name of the six elements(earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness), the cosmic substance which produces the phenomena and their characteristics; it is variously equated with the Tathatå (shinnyo), emptiness, and the Dharmadhåtu (hokkai). In a way, taidai is a sort of pre-semiotic continuum constituting the stuff of signs and signification. Raihø writes: 50

The six elements pervade sentient and non sentient beings. Their substance [taishø, Skt.åtmakatva or dharmatå] is so immense that there is no larger mundane or supramundane entity. This is why they are called six great [elements]. They are the foundation of everything, from the Buddhas down to the sentient beings: all beings are constituted by them. This is why they are called Great substance. According to the exoteric teachings, Suchness [shinnyo, Skt. tathatå] and Dharmic-substance [høshø, dharmatå] are mere principle, colorless and formless. According to Shingon, the[universal] substance [tai] is made of the six great elements. Endowed with colors and forms,substance fully encompasses all powers and virtues. Being immense and unlimited, it is called Dharma world [hokkai, Dharmadhåtu]... Karma and the myriad virtues are grounded on this Dharma-substance, called Dharma of Self-Enlightenment [jishøhø].

The six elements are endowed with intrinsic and essential qualities (hardness, humidity, heat, mobility, unobstructedness, understanding), which manifest themselves in visible and perceivable forms (activities,geometrical forms, colors, mantric seeds, deep meanings, and so forth).* In other words, taidai is not a chaotic and a-semiotic matter. It is so to speak always-already semiotically organized: the material/mental stuff is naturally and originally articulated in forms and contents. Moreover, qualities and characteristics are originally correlated to each other. This explains the peculiar nature of the esoteric cosmos, at the same time singular and plural, as the totality of meaningful and structured differences, which in turn lies at the basis of the correlative kind of semiotics proper to Shingon: every sign-function (the correlation of a signifier with one or more signifieds) is actually a macro-sign, a combination of several semiotic orders, and a microcosm in its own right. By its nature, taidai appears as a complex combination of semiotic structures, known assødai.

Sødai (the semiotic configuration of the universe)refers to the countless alterations and transformations of taidai. Such transformations are perceived on an ordinary level of consciousness as independent from taidai and therefore as differentiated forms the superficial characteristics appearing on the six elements. The term sø, as the Sino-Japanese rendition of the Sanskritlakýa–a and nimitta, is usually translated as characteristics, aspects, marks, or shapes. However, mikkyø exegesis in general, not only Shingon, attributes to this term an explicit semiotic value. A Tendai text defines as that which through analysis [bunbetsu] produces meaning[gi], 51 a definition not too distant from that of modern Western semiotics,according to which a sign is interpreted and can be invested with meaning on the basis of systems of expression and content. Also according to K¥kai, in fact, differential traits are systematically organized in coherent structures, and possess both a form (an abstract position within a structure) and a substance (a set of elements that fill that abstract position). 52 Therefore, sødai constitutes a semiotic system; it is a ma–?alaor, rather, the mandalic structure of the universe. As such, sødai is coextensive to taidai. The Shingon exegesis distinguishes between the unconditioned and spontaneous ma–?ala (hønimandara), i.e., the esoteric cosmos as the absolute and supreme Ma–?ala, and the conditioned ma–?ala (zuienmandara), the ma–?ala as it is reproduced or represented. 53 In a way, this is a difference between an abstract model and its concrete manifestations, although these two different categories of ma–?ala are posited as ultimately identical, each being the reflection of the other.

In addition to sødai, taidai also manifests itself as endless movements and activities, known asy¥dai. Y¥dai, the endless soteric activity of the universe, refers to the incessant transformation of differentiated forms in which taidai manifests itself. This unceasing operativity aimed at universal salvation is represented by the Three Mysteries (sanmitsu) of body, language, and mind, the three foci of ritual practice according to Shingon soteriology. The Three Mysteries are the deep aspect of the Three Karmic Activities (sangø), the sources of rebirth and suffering. As a consequence, every activity in the universe is an act of Mahåvairocana aimed at the salvation of all beings (initiation is necessary in order to realize this). Thus, the Shingon universe is an enormous recursive soteriologic machine, in which everyone is endlessly engaged in the salvation of everyone else;also, everything has meaning as part of an ongoing cosmic sermon of the Dharmakåya (hosshin seppø).

It is clear that mandala plays a central role in esoteric Buddhism as both the underlying structure and sensible apparition/representation of the cosmic substance and its endless salvific activity. I will examine more in detail the semiotic status of mandala in a subsequent lecture.

2.3. The Status of Buddhist Scriptures

Pansemioticism and the idea of language and signs as originally unconditioned and spontaneous entities predictably also affected esoteric Buddhisms concept of text, and of sacred scripture in particular. K¥kai wrote:

There are three versions of this s¥tra [Mahåvairocana S¥tra]. The first is the spontaneous and unconditioned (høni) and permanent text, that is, the Dharma-ma–?ala of all buddhas. The second is the large version circulating in the world, that is, the s¥tra in hundred thousand verses transmitted by Någårjuna. The third is the abbreviated text of some three thousand verses. Even though it contains three thousand verses in seven fascicles, this abbreviated version embraces the larger ones as the few contains the numerous. One character contains unlimited meanings; one single stroke contains innumerable truths. 54

For K¥kai, the original and complete text of the scripture is the entire universe; this scriptural modality of the universe is defined by K¥kai as the Dharma mandala, one of the four kinds of mandala in which the esoteric cosmos is structured. The Dharma mandala, in particular,represents/manifests the linguistic and graphic modality of existence of the cosmos. This modality is conceived of by K¥kai as spontaneous and unconditioned (høni) and permanent a veritable absolute entity coextensive with the body of the Dharmakåya. The second version of the scripture is the written text supposedly transmitted by the mythological figure Vajrasattva to the philosopher-bodhisattva Någårjuna inside the Ironst¥pa in Southern India; in other words, this amounts to an abridged semiotic translation in human language of the cosmic text. 55 The third version of the s¥tra is a further abbreviation transmitted to East Asia and translated into Chinese by Subhakarasimha (Ch. Shanwuwei, Jpn. Zenmui, 637-735), the founder of Chinese esoteric Buddhism. What unites these three versions is a logic not of abridgment but of condensation; 56 the three versions, in fact, are not separate entities but three mutually inclusive levels of the same s¥tra. 57 The same model was used by K¥kaialso concerning other scriptures.* The idea that the entire universe is a sutra actually appears in India in the Avatamsaka philosophy systematized in the Buddhåvataµsaka S¥tra (Jpn. Kegonkyø). 58 AsRy¥ichi Abé explains,

K¥kais text strives for totality not in its representation. His model of the text is not encyclopedic, for it is neither self-contained nor completed. On the contrary, K¥kai approaches the text as a yet-to-be-bound or, perhaps more appropriately, never-to-be-bound constantlyreworked manuscript [...] the world is made of texts and only of texts not of their representational function but of their materiality. 59

This is a very productive suggestion that forces us to revise our received ideas of texts and textuality. Buddhist scriptures(and esoteric Buddhist scriptures in particular) did not always have a more representational or cognitive function. They needed to be constantly reworked: in commentaries, in rituals, in painting and sculpture. As such,they generated a boundless proliferation of sense. However, it is also true that the scriptural text was closed, after all, as a replica or, rather, as a textual modality of existence of the entire universe. What mattered was the materiality of the texts themselves, a materiality that generated labor (semiotic, manual,ritual, performative). Such materiality was also expressed by K¥kai inverses:

Mountains are brushes, the ocean is ink
Heaven and the earth are the box preserving the s¥tras;
Each stroke of a character contains all things in the universe. 60

In this way, nature is not the opposite of culture, but, on the contrary,the substance, the materiality of culture, the source of cultures continuous productivity. Labor is an important metaphor for textual production as it was envisioned by K¥kai. In particular, he was fond of comparing scriptures with brocade: The mantras are the woof, the sacred mudrås are the warp, and the samådhi is the shuttle; they weave the brocade of the ocean-like assembly [i.e., the mandala]greatly admired by sentient beings. 61In another text he wrote:

The word s¥tra means stringing or weaving tight. The [Dharmakåyas] secret voice is the woof, and his secret mind is the warp. The silk threads of the three karmic activities weave themselves into the brocade depicting the ocean-like assembly [i.e., the mandala] [...] Even though the brocade patterns have thousand differences, they are all designated with the same name, brocade. Even though the buddhas have ten thousand differences, they are still called buddhas. in this way, the various aspects of the Dharmakåya are mutually interpenetrated, just like silk threads are woven together to form a tightly knit brocade. This is the meaning of the word s¥tra. 62

In these passages we find an interesting correlation between a scripture and a ma–?ala, each being a semiotic translation of the other in a different semiotic system (linguistic vs visual) and support (paper vssilk brocade). Both, however, share the same substance as the semiotic modality of the existence of the universe. This is what makes their translation possible; after all, all signs, for the enlightened ones, are manifestations of enlightenment. Moreover, s¥tras and ma–?alas are both produced by a complex kind of labor: manual work, design, correlation (patterns=buddhas and bodhisattvas) and ritual/meditative: finally, s¥tras and ma–?alas. that is, the entire universe, are produced by the Dharmakåyas meditation. The fact that the entire universe can be envisioned as a text implies that it is a semiotic entity and, therefore, it is always/already articulated in expressions and contents. The semiotic articulation of reality is, in fact, one of the main subjects of esoteric Buddhist semiotics.

2.4. Semiotic Articulation of Reality

K¥kai referred to the sensible world using the obsolete term jin (dust), with strong negative connotations, instead of the more neutral kyø (realm, field). This paradoxical vocabulary is meant to stress the fact that the sensible world (precisely dust and rubbish, according topre-Mahåyåna Buddhism) can express the highest truth, being a complex communicational act of Dainichi Nyorai. This is the reason why, at the beginning of the Shøji jissø gi, perhaps the only text in which a fully detailed account of Hosshin seppø is given, K¥kai wrote:

The Buddha [Mahåvairocana] reveals his teachings [seppø] necessarily by means of monji. These monji are constituted by the Six Kinds of Objects, whose origin lays in turn in the Three Mysteries of the Dharmakåya. 63

Thus, an interpretive study of the concept of mon/monji would provide elements for understanding the structure and the articulation of Hosshinseppø, and at the same time would shed light on the semiotic conceptions this doctrine presupposes and makes possible.

DEFINITIONS

There is in practice an almost total agreement among contemporary Mikkyø scholars about how to interpret the meaning attributed by K¥kai to the two terms mon and monji: both would be referred first of all to linguistic entities, although someone interprets them as writing, written language, script, and someone else as verbal language. 64 Many scholars, however,realize that the semantic extension of K¥kais mon/monji is far wider, and try to explain them as words in the broadest sense, or as language in a broad sense. This amounts to a not better specified kind of language which would include virtually everything, and above all objects most different from ordinary linguistic units, such as mantric expressions, and even all phenomena. 65

If referred in this way to every aspect of reality, monji ends up by losing its conceptual pregnancy. Besides, although there is a a general tendency among the authors to tinge their interpretations with Heideggerian or Derridian overtones (of the type, everything is language, everything is the word/writing of the Hosshin), as a whole, the theoretical investigation of the issue is rather poor [the basic assumption is that K¥kai was saying the same things as other Western thinkers].

In practice, the implicit scheme of all current interpretations of K¥kais mon/monjiis the following metonymical series ideally organized in concentric circles: written signs words words in a broad sense all phenomena. But current interpretations seem inadequate for at least two reasons:

(i) They do not explain satisfactorily what K¥kai meant by writing that monjiare constituted by the Six kinds of objects. To say, as it is usually said, that particularities and differences of the objects are words in a broad sense rooted in phenomenal reality is quite vague, unless it is meant that, in the context of Hosshinseppø, each phenomenon can be compared with the words of human language. However, in that case it is necessary also to explain the nature of thissimile, to study how Hosshins language is organized.

(ii) They explain neither the semiotic nature of the metonymical series offered as interpretive key, nor its articulation.

A close examination of K¥kais definitions of his polysemic concept of mon/monji will lead me to propose a different interpretive scheme, articulated in many levels and centered on the idea of semiotic pattern. In my opinion, monji are meaningful forms characterized as analogical and isomorphic representations of reality, condensations of the many orders in which the esoteric cosmos is divided. Therefore, every phenomenon, as part of Hosshin seppø, can be made the subject of meditation and put within the same network of cosmic codes. The concept of mon/monji appears then to be the visual and grammatological equivalent of shøji, a term which refers on the contrary to the phonic-linguistic nature of reality. 66

Before we proceed with our interpretive study, it will be necessary to present a taxonomy of the semantic uses of mon and monji.

The character mon 67 occurs as many as forty-three times in the Shøji jissø gi, isolated or in the compound monji, with various meanings, some of which are not to be found in dictionaries and are probably the result of K¥kais own speculation. 68 It is possible to divide the numerous meanings of the term as it is used by K¥kai into at least four main semantic fields: 69

[A] (i) paralinguistic features,suprasegmentals (tones and inflections of spoken language);

(ii) phonemes and syllables;

(iii) words (corresponding roughly to the second and eighth definitions [kotoba, words] given in the Morohashi dictionary);

[B] (i) patterns, expressive forms(corresponding to the first definition [aya, pattern] in the Morohashi);

(ii) differences and particularities of visual objects (shikihø);

(iii) differences and particularities of all six kinds of objects (rokujin) (similar to the sixth definition [araware,genshø: phenomena] in the Morohashi);

[C] (i) graphemes, ideographs,pictograms (related to the seventh definition [fumi, writing] in the Morohashi);

[D] (i) written sentences (as inbun [also read mon]), texts or parts of texts (as in kyømon, passages from the scriptures) (corresponding to both the seventh [fumi] and ninth [inbun, poetry, sanbun, prose] definitions in the Morohashi).

The Morohashileaves uncovered the greatest part of field [A], because the usage of mon as phoneme and syllable is peculiar to Buddhist literature; field [B] was developed primarily by K¥kai also as a way to clarify the nature of Hosshin seppø.

MON/MONJI AS SEMIOTIC ARTICULATIONS OF REALITY

As we have already seen, mon/monji is not provided with just a linguistic sense, because K¥kai also called monji the particularities and differences (shabetsu) of all the six kinds of objects (rokujin). Actually,K¥kai examined in detail only the visual objects (shikihø), the material entities (dharmas) of Buddhist phenomenologies: 70

All percepts of sight (colors, shapes, and movements) result from the operations of the eye [Jpn. gan, Skt. cak”us] and form the field of visual entities [gankyøkai]. [At the same time,] they are the result of the operations of the eye-consciousness [Jpn. ganshiki; Skt. cak”ur-vijåna], constitute the field of entities pertaining to the eye consciousness, and are caused by the eye consciousness. [At the same time,]they are the result of the operations of the mind-consciousness [Jpn. ishiki; Skt. mano-vijåna], constitute the field of entities pertaining to the mind-consciousness, and are caused by the mind-consciousness. Entities resulting from this process are called differences [shabetsu]. Such differences are signs [monji], because each individual aspect is a semiotic pattern [mon]; that is why they are called signs. These are the signs of the three kinds of visual objects.*

As examples of visual objects K¥kai indicates paintings, decorative patterns on textiles, colors, and every particularity of visible forms; 71obviously, these are not words in a broad sense, (a term that does not make much sense), but, more generally, signs. The same interpretive direction is expressed also by both Yoshito Hakeda, who translates monji as expressive symbols, 72 and Miyasaka Y¥shø, according to whom monji are not only written letters, but all systems of signs and thus can be defined as signs which convey a meaning. 73

The concepts of aya and iroai, introduced respectively by Toganoo Shøun 74 and MatsumotoShøkei 75 to explain the meaning of monji in the sense I have called the semantic field [B], are useful in order to understand the status of sign in K¥kais thought. 76Aya and iroai are almost synonyms meaning pattern, figure, design, chromatic tone, aspect, air,appearances, sign, and signs can also be defined as

des formes organisées (patterns); ils constituent des systèmes de différences/similitudes qui peuvent éventuellement correspondre à desdifférences/ variations/discontinuités et à des similitudes/répétitions/continuités qui se manifestent dansle monde extérieur. 77

While this definition is rather heterodox within Western semiotics, it seems to me a good representation of K¥kais concept of mon/monji, as it is based on the vision of the cosmos as constituted by correlated regular forms. From the perspective of Buddhist semiotics, monji can be defined as follows:

particularities, characteristics, modalities of the material dharmas, determined by the discriminative activity of consciousness on the basis of general categories.

The above definition can be further articulated as:

(a) synonym of (lakýana or nimitta), aspects and particularities of the objects, patterns identified on the things(according to the state of consciousness of the interpreter)

and

(b) representations of the above material patterns, images produced by the activity of consciousness on the basis of abstract categories (semantic fields such as colors, forms, and movements 78 and semantic axes 79 such as high/low, to go/to come. etc.).

The concept of mon/monji is thus a general label for many different phenomena, ranging from the semantic markers of the objects (marks of the properties making it possible to discriminate between phenomena), to the semantic axes and fields in which these marks are structured. These are the most elementary levels of the series of orders and codes in which the esoteric cosmos is articulated.

According to the Yogåcåra epistemology, which played a very important role in K¥kais conceptual framework, there is in practice no distinction between the above[1a] and [1b] aspects of mon (the patterns on the objects and their representations), both being considered as images and, therefore, as forms and material entities. 80According to Yogåcåra, in fact, and to Mahåyåna Buddhism in general, the objects that appear to be out there in the world are not represented by mental images. On the contrary, they are created by the mind through an hypostasis of the meaning of the words used to refer to those objects. 81 The main cause of suffering for the deluded mind consists in attributing the characteristics of concepts and words autonomy, immutability, homogeneity to their presumed referents (reality), which are characterized instead by instability and change. 82 Objects are sets of relations determined by the play of discriminative consciousness articulating (bunbetsu) reality on the basis of abstract categories and formulates judgments. In such an epistemological framework, in which language cannot provide any foundation of true knowledge, the concept of reference loses its use.

The universe of the material entities (dharmas), envisioned by K¥kai in terms of monji (their articulations)constitutes, according to Yogåcåra Buddhism, the world such as an ordinary human being conceives of it. The articulated realm of semiosis exists only as a product of consciousness. 83 In the mental process of world-making, sensory stimuli, generated by each of the six sense organs (rokkon) through contact with entities of a specific kind (the six kinds of objects, rokkyø or rokujin) are interpreted by the related consciousness (one of the six consciousnesses, rokushiki) on the background of pre-existing data and categories, in turn restructured in the light of newly acquired information. This work of discrimination and interpretation results in the construction of a simulacrum of a real world. Indeed, true reality,the Void, lies beyond articulation, signs, and names produced by and producing ordinary knowledge. This is the reason why K¥kai wrote that monji can lead to ignorance. 84 In Buddhism, therefore, ignorance is a metaphysical error, for it consists in mistaking the true reality of the universe with the cultural realm of semiosis, articulated and articulable, and even with psycho-mental phenomena, that are representations generated by the deluded mind.

And yet, K¥kais monji are not just elements in a semiosic process resulting infallacious representations. As articulations of reality, monji are also articulations of Hosshin seppø and endowed with an ontological value. K¥kai refused to consider the words said by the Buddha as mere skilful means (Skt. upåya, Jpn. høben), that is, conditioned expedients, and preferred to give them an absolute value, thus opening the way to the transformation of the universe in a hierarchy of structured salvific messages, and of the Dharmakåya in a colossal semiotic machine.

Ry¥ichi Abé has written:

K¥kai thus presents his perspective on signs,in which differentiation is the heart of languages signifying practices; in which the letter, or, more generally, writing,is the primary topos of differentiation; and in which differentiation of the letter makes possible articulation of the world by names that is, the signs work of dividing the world in the primordial state of a nebulous whole into discrete parts and categories, which in turn give rise to cosmic order. That is, the rise of signs is coterminous with the formation of a cosmos the procreative process that I shall refer to semiogenetic. With this paradigm of language as differentiation,K¥kai translates the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness into a semiological theory, which he develops along two distinct strategic paths, each of which constructs the other as its inverse mirror image.

The first is K¥kais deconstruction of sensory objects as but signs, objects [entities] that manifest themselves as they were things. For K¥kai... being is antedated by language [...]This is a transposition into semiotic terms of the principle of dependent co-origination (engishø, prat?tya-samutpåda) [...] The second strategic path is K¥kais method of reading and reconstructing a text... as the very field at which the doctrine of emptiness actualizes itself. 85

Communicational behavior, not only human, but also of all nine lower levels of beings as well, is a simplification of Dharmakåyas universal communicative practice(hosshin seppø). Phenomena are articulated on the basis of linguistic and semiotic codes proper to the Dharmakåya and thus situated on a higher level than those valid in everyday communication. The minute articulation of phenomenain semantic markers, axes, and fields, in dharmas, group of dharmas,constitutive elements (rokudai), modalities of manifestation structured in ma–?alas (sødai),activities and functions (y¥dai), and so on makes it possible, on a different level of consciousness attained in samådhi through esoteric practices, to situate every single phenomenon or event ina vast framework of interrelations, and to present each one as mirroring all the others. A complex network of articulations, codes and orders of reality is thus the presupposition of its own dissolution in the identity of reflection which occurs in samådhi. 86 In this way, the absolute truth can be found among the sensible objects of the world of suffering in K¥kais words, monji can lead to enlightenment. 87

Thus, K¥kais system can be understood as an attempt to carefully define a different cognitive modality outside the ordinary logical principles, manipulating symbols, rather than signs, and related to the potentiality of mind to become transformed into a pure mirroring consciousness.*

WRITING AND REALITY

As we have already seen in our discussion of the status of written text and Buddhist scriptures in particular as coextensive with the totality of the world through various degrees of condensation, it is clear that writing and reality are in a very close relationship in the semiotic doctrines of esoteric Buddhism. Let us investigate this issue more in depth.

When explaining the meaning of the termbunshø, translatable as writing(literary activity), K¥kai made some important considerations on the concept of mon:

Buddhist truth is transmitted through letters[mon] that spontaneously appeared in the sky and among men, while the Confucian teachings are presented through natural patterns drawn on the backs of tortoises and on dragons. 88

As we have already seen, the Mahavairocana S¥tra claims that Sanskrit letters are spontaneous and autonomous (høni jinen)entities, not the product of conditioned causation. 89 The latter part of the quotation is about two Chinese traditions on the origin of Chinese characters. K¥kai further expanded on the natural aspect of writing:

When[the rulers of old] had observed the changing of the seasons in the sun,moon, and stars, and the process of transformation at work on the nine continents, then with the sounds of metal and jade, of pipes and reeds,they forged their patterns (wen, Jap. mon) in order to nurture the common man. 90

and also

Pattern (wen) gets its name because the five notes do not compete and the five colors find their place [...] By following the wen[Jap. mon], one scrutinizes names; by chanting the names one attains the meaning. 91

These two quotations are rather obscure,until we place them on the background of the well known Chinese traditional view of writing that dates back to even before the Shuowenjiezi (around AD 100). Wen (Jap. mon) are images and figurative patterns that reproduce the forms of the objects or, in other words, the original graphemes, the pictographs. They are in contrast to zi (Jap. ji), the characters that result from the combination of the primitive graphemes or from invention, without any direct relationship to the phenomena they stand for.

According to K¥kai, who grounded the above considerations on old Chinese texts on the origin of writing and on the nature and meaning of literature, mon, the patterns of writing, are the distillate of the process of observing the universe, polymateric orderly forms, condensations of various different semiotic orders (phonic and musical matter, colors...), reproduction of natural phenomena. If literature can nurture common people, it is possible also because its characters are in themselves analogic patterns reproducing nature. This ideas were quite pervasive in pre modern Japan. A medieval Tendai Shintø text, the Yøtenki, states:

writing (mon) generates and expresses reality; written characters (monji) generate and represent meaning [...]: characters are all created according to the their meaning or to the shape[of the things they refer to]. 92

According to this vision, all Chinese characters are either ideographs (representations of their meaning) or pictographs (pictures of the things they represent). However, it is well known that only very few Chinese graphs can indeed be thus characterized; the large majority are, in fact,phonographs, that is, they are used for their sound as the sound of the spoken words. It is significant, though, that pre modern Japanese linguists chose to emphasize motivation, spontaneity, and in general a mimetic principle of their written language, as a way to consolidate their vision of a pansemiotic cosmos. The Chinese writing system, thus, was envisioned not just as one semiotic system, but as the primary semiotic system: it went far beyond a transcription tool of oral language to attain the status of a mimetic system for the reproduction/ regeneration of reality, constituted by expressive forms in which sounds and colors are in harmony.

Another aspect of writing that was underlined by Japanese authors is their connection with mind as the source of meaning. For instance, K¥kai wrote: All letters (monji) issue forth from the mind. Mind is the root, the letters are the branches [...] the mind is internal, letters are external. 93 In other words, signs are not just mimetic representations of the external reality (things); signs are also externalized doubles of the mind,which is the internal origin of letters. In this way, esoteric grammatology is based on a mimetic continuum centered on signs (written signs in particular)connecting reality and mind. This is not at all surprising, given the fact that the dominant form of Buddhist epistemology stated that everything is a product of the mind and that the human mind is a condensation of the cosmic Mind of the Dharmakåya, in turn coextensive with the Dharmakåyas body (reality).

K¥kai and other esoteric Buddhist thinkers applied this old Chinese conception to esoteric doctrines on the Indian writing system, 94 whose characters were known in China as xitan and in Japan as shittan. The Chinese realized that the Indian grammatologic system was different from their own. However, in accordance with the esoteric doctrines, which more than any other stressed the study of Sanskrit pronunciation and writing as indispensable in order to perform religious rituals properly, they thought that their difference was due to the greater profundity of the Indian letters, more directly and immediately in touch with the mystical source of reality. Van Gulik has already pointed to the fact that, according to the Chinese, the Indian script was not a phonetic transcription system, but another outright ideographic writing regulated by different general criteria and different codes of iconic reproduction. 95As a consequence, meditative practices related not only to the recitation of Indian mantric expressions, but also to the writing of shittan characters developed. It is well known that the shittan units constitute the hø mandara (Sanskritdharma-ma–?ala), one of the four kinds ofma–?ala representing the formal aspects of the esoteric cosmos as a manifestation of the Dharmakåya. Moreover, according to K¥kai, the titles or even certain excerpts from the s¥tras, written in Chinese, also had the value of mantric expressions and could be made the subjects of meditation.

Luis O. Gmez has rightly defined the mantra as a multivalued icon embodying a system of sacred identities. 96 The same is true in Japanese esoteric Buddhist semiotics,not just as far as the phonic aspect of shingon is concerned, but also and perhaps most of all as for their written representations. As we have seen, each character (mon) has its own form,sound, sense, 97 and appears to be the intersection and the condensation of various codes of reality (phonic, chromatic, and so on). Graphemes, in particular shittan characters, are many microcosms containing the fundamental principles of reality. 98 This is clear when we read K¥kais comparison of Indian letters with the semiotic systems of Chinese divination:

each shittan letter possesses the deep meanings of all the other letters. It can be compared to the lines of the Yijing hexagrams containing the forms of all phenomena, and to the crossings on the backs of tortoises from which one can know past, present, and future events. 99

and also,

in the sermons delivered by the Tathågata,a single syllable […], like the signs on the back of a tortoise and the diagrams of the Yijing, bears the endless multiplicity of reality; like Indras net and Sakradevas grammar text, it contains countless meanings. 100

Chinese divination was able to explain the complexity and the integration of the universe through a limited repertory of discrete expressions, because it presupposed the existence of isomorphisms among the phenomena (and also of codes of transposition). K¥kai¹s identification of the signs of divination (among which there are the ancient Chinese ideographs) with the mantric expressions is most telling,as an attempt toward the integration of the Indian Tantric cosmology with the Chinese correlative one.

However, one should not forget that the esoteric practice does not just lead one to discover the hidden relations among things. The essential identity of the whole is related to the dissolution of differences. As Yamasaki Taikø puts it, in the mantric dimension, a single syllable can represent the totality of meaning that exists as the background to any single meaning. 101Meditation methods of proliferation and dissolution of sense involve the transformation of every mon/monji (graphemes) into a sort of black hole in which the whole semantic encyclopedia of Esoteric Buddhism collapses. Thus, in meditation, every phenomenonjust as the related shittan characters can be visualized, decomposed in its own monji(articulations), and gradually dissolved into the cosmic identity.

3. Sounds (shø), Letters (ji),and Reality (jissø):
The Status of Language in Esoteric Buddhism

3.1. Mon/monji as Linguistic Entities

Semantic field [A] is related to the linguistic aspects of mon/monji, the ones most usually dealt with in critical literature. In the classification of Abhidharma and Yogåcåra Buddhist phenomenologies, mon (phonemes) is one of the three linguistic dharma, along with myø (words or syllables) and ku (nouns or sentences), and belongs to the Objects Non-dependent on Mind (shin fusøøgyø hø), a kind of catalog of incorporals. The term mon translates both Sanskrit words vyajana (consonants) and ak”ara (vowels or syllables), 102 and the Tang commentators of the Abhidharmakoýa identified it also with Chinese zi (Japanese ji). According to Buddhist phenomenology, therefore,mon is the phoneme or unit of second articulation, and as such devoid of meaning. Sense is in fact a function of the combination of many mon in words and sentences (myø and ku). Mon and ji in this acceptation are then to bedistinguished from their transcription in Chinese characters, meaningful in themselves and part of material aggregates (shikiun or visual objects (shikihø). 103

K¥kai was conscious of this peculiarly Buddhist meaning of the term mon; yet, he modified and generalized it. He also included into the category of mon tones and inflections of ordinary speech, thus unifying the different levels of second articulation units, distinctive features, paralinguistic and suprasegmental elements. Moreover, and this is perhaps even more significant, K¥kai abolished the traditional distinction between myø and ku (linguistic units provided with meaning) on the one hand, and mon (figures of the expression) on the other. According to the esoteric theory of mantric expression, all sounds, not just linguistic ones, are significant, and each phoneme or syllable is provided with a complex esoteric sense as a seed (shuji) of a deity and semantic condensation of texts and doctrines. 104In this way, the double articulation is eliminated from K¥kais mantric language as non-pertinent, 105 for all forms, all linguistic expressions,even the most minimal ones, are provided with infinite meanings, as cosmic resonance (kyø or hibiki), sonic substance of the universe.

One of the central concepts of esoteric Buddhist philosophy of language is shøji, literally voice and written characters. This term is used in the Commentary to the Mahåvairocana S¥tra (Ch. Darijing shu, Jpn. Dainichikyøsho) by Subhakarasiµha and Yijing to discuss the nature of language and its relation with reality. However, that text employs more frequently several other terms to refer to language, such as yuyan (gogon), yinsheng (onsei), yingxiang(onkyø), wenzi (monji). In Japan, K¥kai made shøji into one of the key concepts of one of his most important works, the Shøji jissøgi. In this text, K¥kai examines the nature of linguistic and semiotic expressions in general (shøji and monji), and investigates their relation with absolute reality (jissø). This text proved immensely important in Japanese Buddhism, and is still studied and commented upon even today. 106 The composite concept of shøji jissø lies at the basis of the principal issues of Shingon philosophy of language, such as polysemy and polymatericity of signs, relation between ordinary and absolute language and between language and reality.

3.2. Linguistic Sound (Shø)

Shø is the Buddhist (go) pronunciation of a character normally read sei and koe, respectively in the Sinitic (on) and Japanese (kun) readings. In modern Japanese it means sound produced by phonatory organs of human beings and animals, voice, but also sound produced by the vibrations of things, phonic vibration, sound. 107 As many of K¥kais metalinguistic terms, shøji is also complex and polysemic, and is used to indicate a number of different phenomena within a unified linguistico-semiotic perspective. K¥kai writes:

The bases for the return [to the original condition, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment] can be laid only through doctrines based on names, 108 which cannot exist apart from voice and letters [shøji]. Since language[shøji] is transparent, it manifests true reality. Language and reality[shøji jissø] together are the Three Secrets [sanmitsu] forever interpenetrated of the absolute Buddha [høbutsu], and constitute the innate nature of living beings. Therefore, the Buddha Dainichi awakens living beings from their long slumber by explaining to them the meaning of voice, letter, andreality. Who, in expounding a doctrine, be it exoteric or esoteric,Buddhist or non-Buddhist, would not take such approach? 109

This passage, which appears toward the beginning of the Shøji jissø gi, contains several striking points: in particular, language is defined as transparent and capable of manifesting true reality. In fact, language and reality are two different modalities (the Three Secrets)forms (or substances?)of the unconditioned Buddha. Furthermore, the teachings of the absolute Buddha are characterized as a metalinguistic discourse on the nature of language and signs, and their relations with true reality. Enlightenment is thus envisioned as knowledge of the true nature of language and signs.

K¥kai also provides a more detailed definition of linguistic phenomena:

It is called shø the phonic vibration (kyø) that is produced necessarily as soon as breath and air are set in motion,no matter how minimally. Sound thus depends necessarily on shø; shø is therefore the origin of phonic vibrations. Shø is never produced in vain; it is called ji because it necessarily explains the name (myø) of something. A name always evokes an object (tai). Objects are called true aspect, reality (jissø). This threefold distinction of shø, ji, and jissø is called meaning(gi). 110

This is the general definition of language given by K¥kai. There are several obscure points, and it is not surprising that commentators have struggled with this text for centuries. Shø is defined as the basis of, and therefore distinct from, the phonic vibration (sound)of language; shø is also called ji (syllable) when it functions as a name (myø, probably a general term for linguistic units). Names in turn always refer to an object, defined as an external substance(tai).

The aforementioned syllables(ji) are also complex entities in K¥kais philosophical system. It is used to indicate the linguistic units of both first and second articulations, that is, both nouns and phonemes/syllables. From this fact we can infer an important feature of esoteric linguistics, namely, the idea that sound (not only linguistic) is always the signifier of a noun,or, in any case, of a semantic entity. In this way, there is no distinction between levels of articulation. Every linguistic entity, every sound,signifies something. Some scattered references in K¥kais work also suggest another possible meaning for the term ji, that of written signs the graphologic representation of shø. However, this latter meaning does not seem to be as important as the first one in K¥kais system. Interestingly, most premodern commentators agree that ji in the Shøjijissø gi does not merely refer to written characters or letters; 111 nevertheless, contemporary authors usually interpret K¥kaisji precisely as the written transcription of linguistic sounds (onsei moji), in what seems to be a significant misunderstanding.

The term shøji immediately reminds one of the auditive and visual signifiers of human language (voice and writing). However, as Henmi Søhan and Tanaka Chiaki suggest, shøji refers primarily to the articulations of sonic objects and only in a secondary way to verbal language. 112 In this sense, if monji indicates, as we have seen,the articulations of the field of visual objects and, by extension,all signs, shøji is the specialized term to indicate phonic signs. In any case, K¥kaidefined shø also as tones and inflections of language perhaps with a special reference to the Chinese language: 113 among shø there are long and short, high and low, straight and bent, all of which are called mon. 114 Even when it refers to verbal language, shø has a very general meaning, since it is at the basis of all languages in the universe: 115 all words in the ten realms are produced by shø. 116

Let us now discuss the various meanings that K¥kai attributed to the complex concept of shø. I think we can identify at least four different but interrelated semantic area, ranging from the sound of human language to the all-pervasive cosmic sound constituted by eternal, sacred words.

VOICE

Voice or, in any case, the sound of human language seems to be one of the primary meanings of K¥kais shø, even though it is not clear the relation between the voice and the phonic vibration (kyø or hibiki); are these two terms synonyms, or do they refer to two different but related physical phenomena? Either way, it is well known that in Indian Tantric philosophy of language, very influential in K¥kais esoteric Buddhism, voice, in an almost Husserlian sense of phonè, 117 reaches that originary level in which sound is at the limit of sense: the mantra being chanted thus becomes the echo of the whole body,* a part of the cosmic sound pervading the entire universe. Or, as Ry¥ichi Abé has written, the materiality of mantra becomes the very somaticity of the practitioners. The letters are now the physical constituents of the practitioners. 118 However, this is not the only meaning of K¥kais concept of shø.

LOCUTIONARY ACT

K¥kais concept of shøjijissø seem to describe a locutionary act, that is, a speech act in which an expression is uttered for the sense and reference it has. According to John Austin, locution involves three different acts: phonetic,phatic, and rhetic. 119 The phonetic act consists in uttering certain noises: in our case, in producing the phonic vibration that manifests theýabda cosmic words. The phatic act consists in uttering... noises of certain types belonging and as belongingto a certain vocabulary, in a certain construction, i.e. conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar, with a certain intonation, &c; in our case, it corresponds to the utterance of shø that are also ji, elements that are, or concur in generating, words and sentences. The rhetic act is the act of producing the above linguistic sounds with a certain more or less definite sense and amore or less definite reference; 120 as K¥kai wrote, ji... necessarily explains the name (myø) of something. A name always evoke an object (tai).

SABDA

Several authors have suggested that shø can be understood as a translation of the Sanskrit term ýabda. 121 Sabda refers to certain eternal words, also known as våc, that are supposed to pervade the Vedic universe. They manifest themselves through the uttering of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet (var–a), thanks to a specific quality (nada) of the air, the physical basis of phonic vibration (dhva–i). Sabda were the subject of philosophical discussions of the M?måµså and Vaiyåkara–aschools in India. In a passage of the J¥j¥shinron, K¥kai mentions some Indian theories of language in order to criticize them, thus showing that he had at least some knowledge about them, 122 but it is not clear which is the doctrine that he himself supported. Højø Kenzø, for instance, has identified several affinities between the conception of language of the Indian Grammaticians school (vaiyåkara–a) and that of the Mahåvairocana S¥tra, in particular as it was developed by K¥kai. 123 According to Højø there are enough reasons to believe that K¥kaisupported the doctrine of immutability and eternity of language (ýabda-nityatva, Jpn. koe jøj¥ ron). If this is correct, shø would thus also refer to phonemes and words understood as abstract types actualized (i.e., made audible) by being uttered. In this sense, shø also shows affinities with Saussures concept of langue, even though the system of shø is not social and conventional but natural, a-temporal, and immutable. Actually, Frits Staal has noted that the Grammatician's conception of language seems to involve a confusion between language as an infinite system and a finite corpus of language. 124

THE COSMIC SOUND

K¥kai also gives another definition of shø, probably influenced by Indian ideas of universal, all-pervading sound:

The term shø also refers to the sounds produced by the mutual contact of the four material elements [i.e., earth, water, fire, and air]. The five notes of the musical scale, the eight kinds of sounds, the seven or eight cases [of Sanskrit declensions], are all generated thanks to the shø. A shø expresses a certain name through monji[signs]. 125

This definition has a more general and concrete character. If previously shø referred to linguistic expressions as abstract types, endowed with a potential existence but not directly perceivable until uttered, it now becomes the sonic matter in general as a set of expressive possibilities,as the substance of sonic expression, and also as concrete occurrences of sounds articulated by a form (the five notes [goon], 126 the eight kinds of sounds [hachion], and so forth). 127 Again, as we have seen at the beginning of our discussion, shø can be envisioned as the generic term indicating all sound objects (shøjin o shøkyø), one of the six fields of sensorial objects (rokujin or rokkyø).

3.3. Language and Reality

It is perhaps possible to formulate an interpretation of the triad shø-ji-jissø on the basis of Hjelmslevs categories. 128 In this perspective, shø would refer to the substance of expression, the totality of expressive possibilities of the linguistic system that are actualized as concrete sounds and phonemes; 129 ji would refer to the form articulating such possibilities by organizing them into a lexical (or even musical) system; finally,jissø would be, depending on the point of view, either the content of an expression or the external referent, or even the thinkable or the expressible. I think that Umberto Eco's idea of the substantial identity of the two matters, of expression and content, 130 is a good way to understand K¥kais identity of shøjiand jissø.

THE STRUCTURE OF SIGN FUNCTIONS In the semiotic system of esoteric Buddhism,shøji sign functions are constituted, in hjelmslevian terms, by two main levels of expression (phonetic and graphologic), each structured in a form* and a substance, 131 and by a plane of content, in turn articulated on several levels, and structured in form and substance of content. I will discuss more in detail the structure of esoteric signs in lecture 3. For the moment, it is enough to mention the following points.

At the level of phonetic expression we have a substance of phonic expression (the linguistic sounds constituting the phonic signifier of mantras) organized in:

(i) a syntactic form which allows for the generation of sequences of terms of the mantric dictionary; scholars disagree on whether mantras are syntactically organized, but in Japan at least it is possible to identify at least some simple rules of juxtaposition that control the succession of mantric terms for the creation of a particular linguistic space;

(ii) a phonological form of syllabic kind that allows for the generation of the minimal terms of the mantric dictionary(matric seeds or shuji and mantras proper or shingon).

At the level of graphologic expression, we have a substance of graphologic expression (the total of graphic possibilities of the system, their materials, etc.), and a form that allows for the construction and recognition of siddhaµ characters (the particular writing system of Indian origin used in Japan to graphically represent mantric expressions) on the basis of minimal components (calligraphic strokes).

The plane of content is in turn articulated in substance (the terms of esoteric semantic system, but also objects, cosmic series, etc.) and form (the structure that organizes the units of content). For example, in the Shingon lexical system the semantic space occupied by a term such as (Skt. ý¥nyatå, emptiness), for example, is marked off in opposition with the semantic space of the term u(positive presence, [provisional] existence), and the semantic space of both is in turn marked off in opposition with that of the term honpushø (originally non-created, that is, unconditioned); 132 in addition, the content of these three terms is determined by the combination of other semantic units (=absence of individual substance; u=conditioned existence; honpushø=absolute nature), that are in turn further decomposable.

In this way, the presence of a form of the content implies a systematic organization of the esoteric Buddhist universe. An important feature of the Shingon semiotic system, however, one which is not part of hjelmslevian categories, is the fact that the soteric system aims at the dissolution of the very semiotic structure with which it articulates reality: enlightenment, and absolute wisdom, is precisely the result of the collapse of the articulation of the form of content a collapse that is itself produced, through ritual and meditation, in a rigorous and systematic way. I will address this issue in Lecture 6.

LANGUAGE AND REALITY

K¥kai explains the relationship between,respectively, shø and ji and shøji and jissø through the grammatical rules for the analysis of Sanskrit compound terms known in Japanese as rokurigasshaku (analysis of six combinations). 133 In other words, K¥kai uses a Sanskrit grammatical rule as a tool to interpret reality, thus showing the particular role he attributed to the language of Buddhist texts.

In particular, K¥kai considers superficial the result of the application of søishaku(dvandva) mode, 134 according to which shøji are provisional and do not attain the truth, true reality is deep and silent and transcends words; shø resonate in vain and do not signify anything, while ji, high and low,long and short, form sentences. 135 According to the commentators, this vision refers to the traditional Mahåyåna ideas of language we have discussed in the previous lecture. In contrast, the application of jigasshaku (karmadhåaya) 136 produces a profound interpretation: since there is noji outside shø, ji are shø; since there is no true reality outside of shøji, shøji are the true reality; this is explained in detail in the Commentary to the Mahåvairocana S¥tra, to which I refer. 137 The ringonshaku (avyuy¥bhåva) mode* also yields a profound interpretation: shoji and true reality are extremely close and inseparable (ibid.). The results of the remaining two modes, eshushaku (tatpuruýa) and uzaishaku (bahuvr¥hi), 138 can be either superficial or profound; their results can be reduced to the cases already mentioned.

What is particularly interesting in this use of the six combinations(rigasshaku) is the fact that it presupposes a conformity between syntax and meaning of the words on the one hand and the structure of the real on the other. 139 The underlying assumption is that a given syntactic structure can explain the meaning of the terms involved and also reveal the true nature of the objects to which those terms refer. Accordingly, meaning is motivated and isomorphic with reality. Such an essentialistic vision of language was certainly not K¥kais invention, but was widely widespread in pre modern Japan as a fundamental epistemic element. Its Buddhist origin can perhaps be traced to the 39 Shi moheyan lun, 140 an apocryph attributed to Någårjuna but probably composed in China towards the first half of the eighth century. In the first half on the twelfth century, another important Shingon author, Kakuban(1095-1143), further developed this idea of the consubstantiality of language and reality through a discussion of the Buddhist concept of names and forms (Skt. nåma-r¥pa, Jpn. myøshiki). Kakuban wrote:

shiki, forms, refers to the five elements and the five senses, whereas myø, names, refers to the four mental aggregates (ideation and soon). 141

In the Buddhist philosophical tradition, names and forms is used to refer to both the five aggregates(Skt. pañca skandha, Jpn. goun) and the six fields of objects (rokkyø). In particular, forms (Skt. r¥pa, Jpn. shiki) indicates the six fields of objects and the first aggregate (shiki, that is, forms and material objects in general), whereas names (Skt. nåma, Jpn. myø) designates the remaining four mental aggregates(perception, ideation, action, and consciousness) controlling perception,thought, and volition. As we have already seen in Lecture 1, Mahåyåna Buddhism associates naming with the cognitive process in which the world is articulated; in non-Buddhist Indian thought, especially in the Upanishads, nåma-r¥pa is the general term designating the empirical world, the appearance hiding the Absolute. 142 Kakuban uses the expression myøshiki in a Tantric sense to emphasize the nondualism of body and mind, of words and things, of phenomena and absolute reality. As a consequence, he can state that the expression shøji jissø means that human beings and things are all the true reality, the absolute, the sea of essence, the original ground. 143 However, Kakuban also states, reversing K¥kais position, that names and reality are secret and non-manifest; both names and reality are profound and mysterious and there is nothing which is not an esoteric designation. 144 In this way, Kakuban emphasizes his radical nondualistic perspective on names and reality, and the need for a particular way to interact with signs in order to realize ones enlightenment. We will address the interactions between semiotic practices and soteriology in a next lecture.

Conclusions

As we have seen, the entire universe of esoteric Buddhism is an immense ma–?ala, produced by the Dharmakåyas meditation by manipulating semiotic substances that are already preexisting as unconditioned entities. Accordingly, the esoteric cosmos in one which is always/already structured on a deep level; semiosis is the manipulation/transformation/simplification of the structure of the underlying cosmic substance. Moreover, semiosis is no else than the Dharmakåyas soteriology: one the one hand, everything the Dharmakåya does, thinks, or speaks, is for his pure pleasure of the Dharma(høraku); on the other hand, all this is for the benefit of sentient beings who can thus attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is defined by K¥kai as a knowledge concerning the functioning of languages and signs and their relations to the absolute reality of the enlightened universe.

FOOTNOTES

1 Translated from the version of the text that appears in Iyanaga Nobumi, Harukanaru shittan moji,Gendai shisø vol. 11/9,1983, pp. 121-131; the reference is on p.122.
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2 He is mentioned for instance in the Daijikkyø fasc. 41.
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3footnote * Ryøch¥, Kangyø gengi bun denz¥ ki, fasc. 3. Other Chinese texts further specify that site as the place where Mahåkåýyapa, a disciple of the Buddha, preached the Dharma (Døsen risshi kants¥ roku). These texts are mentioned in Iyanaga, Ibid., pp. 124-125.
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4 Annen, Shittanzø, fasc. 1, in Taishø shinsh¥ Daizøkyø (hereafter, T)vol. 84 no. 2702.
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5 Another medieval text attributes the invention of the Chinese language to the Yellow Emperor himself who took inspiration from the trails of wild geese flying in the sky: Yøtenki, Sannø no koto, inIshida Ichirø, ed., Shintø shisøsh¥ (Nihonno shisø 14) Tokyo: Chikuma shobø, 1970,pp. 39-105: citation on p. 58. The same text, however, also says that Cangjie was a manifestation of the Buddha Såkyamuni and invented writing upon the order of the Yellow Emperor: Ibid. p. 66.
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6 On Maheývara, see Iyanaga Nobumi,Récits de la soumission de Maheývara par Trailokyavijaya Dapres les sources chinoises and japonaises. in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R.A. Stein. Edited by Michel Strickmann (Mélanges Chinois et Bouddhiques vol. 22), pp. 633-745. Bruxelles: Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 1985;Iyanaga, Daijizaiten, in Høbøgirin, vol.6, pp. 713-765;
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7 Bikisho, in Shintø taikei, Shingon shintø vol. 2, p 507.
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8 K¥kai, Shøji jissø gi (hereafter SJG) in T vol. 77/2429: p. 403c. The soteriologic role of semiotics will be developed in a subsequent lecture.
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9 K¥kai, Unjigi, in T 77/2430:405a.
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10 My translation is indebted to the interpretation of Fuse Jøkei in K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron, (annotated edition by Fuse Jøkei), Købø Daishi K¥kaizensh¥, Vol. 4, p. 6. Tokyo: Chikuma shobø, 1983. See also Købø Daishi Zensh¥ (hereafter KDZ) vol. 3: p.1.
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11 K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron,in Købø Daishi Zensh¥ vol. 3: p. 1. Translation by Richard W. Bodman in his Poetics and Prosody in Early Mediaeval China: A Study and Translation of K¥kais Bunkyø hifuron, Ph.D. diss., Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1978: p. 162.
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12 K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron,(annotated edition by Fuse Jøkei), in Købø Daishi K¥kai zensh¥, Vol. 4, p. 6. Tokyo: Chikuma shobø,1983. See also KDZ III: 1.
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13 According to Fuse, this is a reference to the Rishukyø (in T vol. 8 no. 244:p. 789c).
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14 T vol. 18 no. 848: p. 10a.
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15 SJG: 402c.
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16 T vol. 18: p.31a. Translation by Ry¥ichi Abé in The Weaving of Mantras. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 301.
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17, language was also considered as a tool for the attainment of enlightenment; the Yøtenki even considers Cangjie as a manifestation of the Buddha Såkyamuni. In this contrasting visions we can see the traditional Buddhist ambivalent attitude toward language and signs. This ambivalence appears in many ways. For example, a medieval Shintø text, the Bikisho, states that Måra is a manifestation or variant of Bråhma. Bråhma appeared in ourworld in three different forms: as Bråhma proper (Jpn. Bonten) hedescended in India and created the Sanskrit alphabet; as Vi”–u he descended in central Asia and created the barbarian letters (probably a reference either to the karo” hi or to other non-Indian alphabets); finally, as Bråhma (the text has Harama which appears to be a transliteration of Bråhma, probably a wrong reference to Måra?) he descended in China and created the Chinese characters by looking at the traces left by birds on a beach.* * Bikisho, in Shintø taikei, Shingon shintø vol. 2, p 507. That language was directly related to salvation and suffering is a point made forcefully by K¥kai: To the fool, signs are objects of attachment and desire. Signs generate greed, rage, madness, and all sorts of afflictions, and cause beings to commit the ten evil acts and five cardinal sins.* * K¥kai, Shøji jissø gi (hereafter SJG) in T vol. 77/2429: p. 403c. The soteriologic role of semiotics will be developed in a subsequent lecture. K¥kai also wrote:

Whenever people hear a language spoken, they hear the [mystical] sound A.In the same way, whenever people see things being created, they see there the originally unbornness... Yet ordinary people fail to see the source of all things and therefore they falsely see instead creation taking place... These people are just like a foolish painter who paints a colorful picture of a dreadful demon. When the picture is completed, he observes his own work: his mind becomes horrified and he falls to the ground unconscious. Sentient beings are just like this. They paint the threefold world with all its things, which are originally noncreated, then bury themselves therein and develop their fiery deluded minds, which receive [in retribution] all sorts of suffering.* * K¥kai, Unjigi, in T 77/2430:405a.

This passage indicates in a very powerful way the problem of representation from a Buddhist perspective. If one becomes prisoner of ordinary language,he will undergo suffering and rebirth. For K¥kai, the prison house of language is no else then the world of saµsåra, the Realm of Desire controlled by the demon Måra. However, those who understand the real meaning of language and signs can here the mystical sound A in all words and use them to attain enlightenment. A question then arises: why are demons less real than buddhas? However, an exploration of Buddhist demonology lies beyond the scope of this lecture. What I would like to underscore here is the fact that the double structure of language seems to permeate all sorts of accounts.

1.2. Language as an Unconditioned Entity

The fact that written language was based on the imitation of natural patterns seems to be an old Confucian idea. K¥kai wrote that the Confucian teachings are presented through natural patterns drawn on the backs of tortoises and on dragons.* * My translation is indebted to the interpretation of Fuse Jøkei in K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron, (annotated edition by Fuse Jøkei), Købø Daishi K¥kaizensh¥, Vol. 4, p. 6. Tokyo: Chikuma shobø, 1983. See also Købø Daishi Zensh¥ (hereafter KDZ) vol. 3: p.1. More specifically,

When [the ancient rulers] had observed the changing of the seasons in the sun, moon, and stars, and the process of transformation at work on the nine continents, then with the sounds of metal and jade, of pipes and reeds, they forged their patterns (wen, Jap. mon) in order to nurture the common man.* * K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron,in Købø Daishi Zensh¥ vol. 3: p. 1. Translation by Richard W. Bodman in his Poetics and Prosody in Early Mediaeval China: A Study and Translation of K¥kais Bunkyø hifuron, Ph.D. diss., Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1978: p. 162.

However, K¥kai contraposed the Confucian teachings to the Buddhist doctrines. He wrote that the Buddhist truth is transmitted through letters [mon] which spontaneously appeared in the sky and among men.* * K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron,(annotated edition by Fuse Jøkei), in Købø Daishi K¥kai zensh¥, Vol. 4, p. 6. Tokyo: Chikuma shobø,1983. See also KDZ III: 1. This passage refers to the appearance in the sky of Sanskrit letter A as the result of esoteric practice.* * According to Fuse, this is a reference to the Rishukyø (in T vol. 8 no. 244:p. 789c). According to an Indian doctrine, reported in the Mahåvairocana S¥tra (Jpn. Dainichikyø), Sanskrit letters are not the product of conditioned causation, but spontaneous and autonomous (høni jinen) entities.* * T vol. 18 no. 848: p. 10a.

In this way, Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism in particulars intrinsically superior to other teachings because of the ontological status of the linguistic medium which transmits it. While non-Buddhist teachings are based on conventional sign systems derived from the imitation of natural patterns and regularities, Buddhism is conveyed byan unconditioned and spontaneous language. While the formers language is marginal and fallacious, the latter is able to speak and manifest the truth. In particular, that of mantras is the true language because, as K¥kai wrote, it alone can designate infallibly the reality of objects as they truly are.

According to K¥kai, the Dharmakåya immersed in deep meditation (samådhi) utters mantras, that is, actualizes already existing unconditioned linguistic entities. These mantras, in turn, gradually transform themselves (through a degenerative process) into the worlds everyday languages. In other words,language outflows from the Dharmakåya.* * SJG: 402c. The Mahåvairocana s¥tra gives us an account ofMahåvairocanasamådhi which generates language:

In order to fulfill his original vow to save sentient beings, he [Mahåvairocana] practiced [the recitation of] this mantra [the letter A]. Immersed in the samådhi, from all his voice organs he uttered the mantra in sounds analogous to all the voices of all living beings. With this utterance, new karmas rose and ripened in sentient beings in accordance with their original nature [i.e., the originally enlightenened mind]. As the fruition of these karmas, all sorts of letters of diverse colors and shapes, all sorts of speech, and concepts corresponding [to these signs] manifested themselves. By means of these letters, forms of speech, and concepts, he expounded the Dharma for the sake of all sentient beings and caused them to rejoice.* * T vol. 18: p.31a. Translation by Ry¥ichi Abé in The Weaving of Mantras. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 301.

As Ry¥ichi Abé explains, This appears to be the s¥tras mythopoetic depiction of what K¥kai has referred to as the generative process of signs (gonmyø jøritus [sic] sø), at which the primordial, protosemantic voice transforms itself into signs via letters.* * Abé, Ibid., p. 301.
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18 K¥kai, SJG, p. 402c.
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19 T vol. 18:p. 31a. Translation by Ry¥ichiAbé in The Weaving of Mantras p.301.
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20 Abé, Ibid., p. 290.
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21 Translated by Yoshito Hakeda, K¥kai. Major Works. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972: p. 240.
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22 The five great elements (godai) are, in order, earth, water, fire, wind, and space. They embody the main features of enlightenment and therefore are considered to be endowed with a sentient nature as well. They also represent the five essential aspects of emptiness: originally unborn (earth), transcending designations (water), freedom from taint (fire),being devoid of primary cause (wind), and being formless as space (space).
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23 This is an expression from the Commentary to the Mahåvairocana S¥tra by Subhakarasiµha and Yijing(Ch. Darijing shu, Jpn. Dainichikyøsho), in T. vol. 39, no. 1976: p. 657a. It is somewhat similar to the classic Mahåyånashohø jissø (all dharmas[entities] are the true reality) but shows clearly the overwhelming importance of language in Mikkyø doctrines and practices. The relation between language and reality is the subject developed in the Shøji jissø gi, a work by K¥kai dating back to 817 or 818 A.D. I will refer to the edition of the text published in T vol. 77 and to the one in KDZ, Tøkyø: Yoshikawa Købunkan, 1910, Vol. I: pp. 512-534. Modern Japanese translation edited by Matsumoto Shøkei in Købø Daishi K¥kai zensh¥,Tøkyø: Chikuma shobø, 1983, vol. II, pp. 263-298. A partial English translation can be found in Yoshito Hakeda, K¥kai. Major Works, New York: Columbia University Press, 1972, pp. 234-46.
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24 In the present article, both terms mon and monji will be considered as virtually synonymical expressions. K¥kai himself wrote that differences are monji, because every particularity is mon; each mon has its own name, that is why it is called monji (KDZ, I: 528).
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25 KDZ, I: 474-505.
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26 The original title is Nihonkokugenpø zenaku ryøiki. For a critical edition,see Endø Yoshimoto and Kasuga Kazuo, eds., Nihonryøiki (Nihonkoten bungaku taikei 70). Tøkyø: Iwanami, 1967. English Translation: Nakamura Kyøko Motomachi, Miraculous Stories from the Buddhist Tradition. The Nihon Ryøiki of the Monk Kyøkai. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973.
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27 On this problem, see for instance Nakamura Kyøko,Ryøi no sekai: Nihon ryøiki (Nihon nobukkyø 2). Tøkyø: Chikuma shobø, 1967: 219-223; and also Fabio Rambelli, Ilpotere karmico della parola. Elementi per lo studio della concezione del linguaggio nel Nihon ryøiki,Annali di Ca Foscari Serie orientale, vol. 29 no. 3, 1990,pp. 271-289 On ryøi as marvelous signs which reveal the law of Karma and the action of the Buddha, see William LaFleur, The Karma of Words. Buddhism and Literary Arts in Medieval Japan. Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 1983: pp. 26-59.
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28 Y. Hakeda, op. cit.: pp. 78-79.
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29footnote * According to the sutras, the preaching of the Dharma by other Buddhas was also done by the use of many different,and, for us humans,difficult to understand semiotic substances. An interesting case is the Yuimagyø (Yuimakitsu shosetsu-kyø, T.vol. 14 no. 475: pp. 537-550). In the translation of the La–kåvatåra S¥tra by Bodhiruci (Ny¥ ryøga kyø, T vol. 16, no. 671: pp. 514a-586b), besides the description of polymateric sermons, there is also a controversial statement (quoted by K¥kai) concerning the preaching of the Dharmakåya.
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30 Michel Serres, Hermès IV. La distribution. Paris: Minuit,1977, in particular pp. 257-72.
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31 On recursive cosmology and soteriology, see Charles D. Orzech, Cosmology in Action: Recursive Cosmology,Soteriology, and Authority in Chen-Yen Buddhism with Special Reference to the Monk Pu-k'ung. Ph.D. diss.: University of Chicago, 1986; Id., Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism: Traditional Scholarship and the Vajrayana in China,History of Religions 29/2 (1989): pp.87-114. On Buddhist cosmologies, see also Randolf Kloetzli, Buddhist Cosmology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,1983.
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32 C. Orzech, Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism., p. 100.
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33 Raihø, Shingon myømoku, in T vol. 77 no. 2449, p. 731a.
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34 These essays are collected in Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988 (original Italian edition 1974). The quotations are all taken from this book; the numbers in brackets refer to its pages; the italics are in the original.
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35 Ibid.:204.
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36 Ibid.
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37 Ibid.: 205.
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38 Ibid.: 230.
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39 Ibid.: 255.
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40 Ibid.: 261.
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41 Pasolini lamented: In the long history of cults, every object of reality has been considered sacred: this has never happened with language. Language has never appeared as hierofant (Ibid.: 261). Obviously, Pasolini was not aware of the semiotics of Tantric Buddhism, which focus precisely on the sacred and unconditioned nature of language and on the fact that language is only one of the numerous modalities through which reality speaks.
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42 Ibid.:262.
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43 Ibid.:247.
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44 Ibid.: 262.
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45 Umberto Eco, La struttura assente. Milan: Bompiani, 1967, p. 152. See also U. Eco,Segno. Milan: Mondadori, 1980 (original edition 1973): pp. 95-96.
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46 Pasolini, ibid.: 278.
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47 Eco, La struttura assente, cit.
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48 Pasolini, ibid.: 278-279.
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49 T. vol.77 n. 2429: pp. 401-404.
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50 K¥kai provided a complex account of the cosmic voice of the Dharmadhåtu in his SJG; we will discuss this subject below in this lecture.
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51 This idea is expressed in more systematic terms in Kakubans doctrine of the Five Buddha-bodies, the so-called goshinsetsu. According to this doctrine, a fifth and more fundamental modality of existence and manifestation of the buddhas exist, variously called musø hosshin (Signless Dharmakåya), rokudai hosshin (Six Element Dharmakåya), and hokkaishin(Dharmadhåtu-body); cf. Kakuban, Gorin kujimyøhimitsushaku, in T. vol. 79 no. 2514: pp. 11-22. See also Fabio Rambelli, Segni di diamante, cit., first tome, pp. 125-126; Kamei Søch¥, Køgyø Daishi nokyøshugi, Mikkyø ronsø22/23 (1942): pp. 27-59; Katø Seiichi, Købø Daishi to Køgyø Daishi nobusshinkan, Buzan kyøgaku taikaikiyø vol. 6 (1978): pp. 41-47; Matsuzaki Emizu, Køgyø Daishi no busshinkan, Indogaku bukkyøgaku kenky¥ vol. 10/2(1962): pp. 637-639.
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52 U. Eco,Segno, cit., p. 95.
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53 Ibid., p. 96.
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54 K¥kai, Sokushinjøbutsu-gi, in T. vol. 77 n. 2428: pp. 381b-384a (partial English translation in Yoshito S. Hakeda, K¥kai. Major Works, pp. 227-228). Dasheng qixin-lun (Daijø kishinron), T. vol. 32 no. 1666: pp. 575b-583b(English transl. by Yoshito S. Hakeda, The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, New York: Columbia University Press, 1967); see also T. vol. 32 no. 1667:pp. 583b-591c. Shi maheyan-lun(Shaku makaen-ron), T. vol. 32 no. 1668: pp.591c-668c. See also Hirakawa Akira, ed., Daijø kishinron. Tøkyø: Daizøshuppan, 1973.
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55 Raihø, Shingon myømoku,p. 730a-b.
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56 For a summary of the different aspects of the six elements see Ui Hakuju,Himitsu mandara no hømon, in Id., Bukkyø hanron. Tøkyø: Iwanami, 1919, pp. 801-802.
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57 Shoke kyøsødøish¥, Taimitsu yøsh¥ 4,in Koji ruien, Sh¥kyøbu vol. 1, Sh¥kyøbu 8, Bukkyø8: Shingonsh¥, p. 570. Expanded edition, Tøkyø:Yoshikawa Købunkan, 1977 (first ed. 1896).
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58 See Umberto Eco, A Theory of semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.
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59 On this issue, see for instance Raiyu,Sokushingi g¥sø, Kyøto:Shingonsh¥ Chisan-ha sh¥muchø, 1994, pp. 224-229. See also UiHakuju, Bukkyø hanron, cit., pp. 808.
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60 K¥kai, Dainichikyo kaidai (hokkai joshin), in Købø Daishichosaku kenky¥kai, ed., Teihon Købø Daishizensh¥ vol. 4: p. 4. Køyasan: Køyasan DaigakuMikkyø bunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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61 On the esoteric transmission inside the Iron St¥pa, see Charles Orzech, The Legend of the Iron St¥pa, in Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, pp.314-317.
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62 Abé, p.276.
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63 Ibid.
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64footnote * SeeK¥kai, Kyøøkyøkaidai, Rishukyø kaidai, in Købø Daishi chosakukenky¥kai, ed., Teihon Købø Daishizensh¥ vol. 4. Køyasan: Køyasan Daigaku Mikkyøbunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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65 See Luis O. Gmez, The Whole Universe as a S¥tra, in Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Princeton: Princeton University Press,1995, pp. 107-112. See also Fazang, Huayantanxuanji (T vol. 35:pp. 122a-b), Tamaki Køshirø, Kegonkyø ni okerubutsudakan, Kegon shisø(Køza Daijø bukkyø vol. 3), edited by Hirakawa Akira and Kajiyama Y¥ichi: pp. 170-172. Tøkyø: Shunj¥sha, 1983.
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66 Abé, 276.
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67 K¥kai, Yama ni asonde hijiri o shitou no shi, in Henjø hakkiseireish¥ fasc. 1, in Købø Daishi chosaku kenky¥kai, ed., Teihon Købø Daishizensh¥ vol. 8: p. 10. Køyasan: Køyasan DaigakuMikkyø bunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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68 K¥kai, Kyøøkyøkaidai, in Købø Daishi chosaku kenky¥kai, ed., Teihon Købø Daishizensh¥ vol. 4: p. 104. Køyasan: Køyasan DaigakuMikkyø bunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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69 K¥kai, Dainichikyo kaidai (hokkaijoshin), in Købø Daishi chosaku kenky¥kai, ed.,Teihon Købø Daishi zensh¥ vol. 4: p. 9. Køyasan: Køyasan Daigaku Mikkyø bunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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70footnote* KDZ vol. 1: p. 521.
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71 In most Japanese studies on the subject, K¥kaisterm monji intermingles with the contemporary Japanese word moji, written in the same way.
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72 See for instance OnozukaKichø, Shøji jissø gi ni mirareru K¥kai no sh¥kyø. Hosshinseppø ni tsuite, Taishø Daigaku kenky¥kiyø 52 (March 1967): 85-90; Morimoto Kazuo, K¥kai to Derida [Derrida] no gengo shisø, Episuteme (July 1976): 126-145; Kamata Tøji, Shinpi taiken to gengo. Yakøbu Be-me [Jokob Boehme] to K¥kai nohikaku shisøronteki køsatsu, Kokugakuin Daigaku yøji senmon gakkøkiyø 3 (October 1989): 117-171; Yamazaki Seiichi,K¥kai no gengo tetsugaku, in Id., Gengo to satori. Shutaisei no tetsugaku no hakai to saiken.Tøkyø: Asahi shuppansha, 1977: 123-152; Miyasaka Y¥shø andUmehara Takeshi, Seimei no umi: K¥kai(Bukkyø no shisø 9). Tøkyø: Kadokawa shoten, 1968, p. 137 et passim.
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73 This is a very general definition of shøji, an obscure and controversial term that has been explained in many different ways. See for instance Henmi Søhan, Shøji jissø gi ni okeru shøji nogainen ni tsuite, Mikkyø bunka 39 (Dec. 1957): 62-74. I address the problem of shøji in the final section of the present lecture. It is significant that K¥kai felt the necessity to devote half of the Shøji jissø gi to the explanation of the concept of mon/monji.
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74 Usually pronounced bun in modern Japanese; cfr. Morohashi Tetsuji (ed.), Daikanwajiten. Tøkyø: Taish¥kan, 1957 (rev. ed. 1984)[hereafter abbreviated to Morohashi], Vol. 5,pp. 560-602, entry. no. 13,450.
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75 The polysemy of the character mon is not peculiar to K¥kai, because Morohashiitself attests some thirty definitions.
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76 A semantic field is a set of logical units which are supposed to share an underlying structural organization. See A.J. Greimas, J. Courtés,Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. Paris: Hachette, 1979: p. 50.
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77 Although K¥kai stated the importance of all the sensible world, he dealt almost exclusively with the audible and the visible. On the other hand, it is also true that in general esoteric practices are based on peculiar treatment of sound, on visualization and on meditation, and the other senses have a mere auxiliary role.
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78 K¥kai, SJG: p. 403a;translated by Ry¥ichi Abé, op. cit., p. 279.
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79footnote * KDZ vol. 1: p. 530.
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80 Y. Hakeda, op. cit., p. 234 and passim.
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81 Miyasaka Y¥shø, K¥kai no gengo tetsugaku,Episuteme, July 1976, p. 26.
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82 I have not been able to locate Toganoos original quotation, but the attribution is made, for instance, by Tanaka Chiaki, Shøji jissø gi køwa,Mikkyø bunka 81, February 1967, p. 1-8.
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83 Matsumoto Shøkei, in his modern Japanese dition of SJG: see n. 23 above.
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84 The examples of monji proposed by K¥kai are typical decorative patterns, called in modern Japanese Japanese moyø, a synonym of aya.
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85 Edgar Morin, La méthode 3/1: La connaissance de la connaissance. Paris: Seuil,1986: 38. It should be noted that, according to Morin, this definition refers to the semiotic aspect of every semio-simbolic unit, as he calls it. We will see later that K¥kais concept of monji reveals itself as a dual entity as well.
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86 KDZ vol. 1: p. 527.
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87 A semantic axis is the relation between two contrary or contradictory terms: see Greimas-Courtés, cit.:13.
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88footnote * As K¥kai quoted from the Yuga shichiji ron(T. vol. 30 no. 1579: p. 279b), what is understood through the working of visual consciousness is also considered as a color(shiki), one of the three main articulations of visible objects(shikihø): KDZ vol. 1: p. 527.
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89 Izutsu Toshihiko, Imi no fukami e: Tøyø tetsugaku no suii. Tokyo: Iwanami, 1985: p.70.
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90 For an analysis of these concepts from the stand-point of Mådhyamikas theory of language and logic, see Kajiyama Y¥ichi, K¥ no shisø. Kyøto: Jinbun shoin, 1983.
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91 Yogåcåra doctrine can be understood in fact as a kind of radical constructivism, much in the sense of Nelson Goodman or Paul Watzlawick.
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92 KDZ vol.1: p. 527.
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93 Abé, op.cit., pp. 279-280.
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94 On polysemy and dissolution of sense in esoteric Buddhist practice, see Fabio Rambelli, Il gioco linguistico esoterico. Per una teoriadel linguaggio del buddhismo giapponese shingon, Versus. Quaderni di studi semiotici no. 54,September-December 1989, pp. 69-96.
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95 KDZ vol. 1: p. 527.
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96 In my opinion the main theoretical originality of East Asian Mikkyø lies in the explicit acknowledgment of a different cognitive mode beside the ordinary one, and in the rigorous attempt to specify it.

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97footnote * K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron, (annotated edition by Fuse Jøkei),Købø Daishi K¥kai zensh¥, Vol. 4,p. 6. Tokyo: Chikuma shobø, 1983. See also KDZ vol. 3:p. 1.
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98 T vol. 18no. 848: p. 10a.
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99 K¥kai, Bunkyø hifuron, in KDZvol. 3: p. 1. Translation by Richard W. Bodman in his Poetics and Prosody in Early Mediaeval China: A Study and Translation of K¥kais Bunkyø hifuron, Ph.D. diss., Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1978: p. 162.
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100 R.W. Bodman, p. 166: KDZ vol.3: p. 2.
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101 Yøtenki,Sannø no koto, in Ishida Ichirø, ed. Shintø shisøsh¥ (Nihon noshisø vol. 14) Tokyo: Chikumashobø, 1970, p. 67.
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102 K¥kai,Issaikyø kaidai, in Købø Daishichosaku kenky¥kai, ed., Teihon Købø Daishizensh¥ vol. 4: p. 271. Køyasan: Køyasan Daigaku Mikkyø bunka kenky¥jo, 1995.
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103 Sanskrit syllabaries were translated into Chinese with semantic glosses for each letter since the third century A.D.: Paul Demiéville, review of Robert H. van Gulik, Siddham, in Toung Pao, Vol. XLV, 1957: 241-249.
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104 Robert H. van Gulik, Siddham: An Essay on the History of Sanskrit Studies in China and Japan, Savasvati Vihara Series 36, Nagpur: International Academy of Indian Culture (republished in Sata-Pitaka Series, Indo-Asian Literature, Vol.247, Delhi: Jayyed Press, 1980).
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105 Luis O. Gmez, op. cit. (see n. 3 above), p.449.
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106footnote * Morita Ry¥sen, Aji honpushø to chidai nokankei, Mikkyø kenky¥ No. 19(1925): 41-57. It will be interesting to study the modalities of this correlation, in order to understand how graphemes have been correlated to their sounds and to the other orders of reality. Perhaps it will be possible to discover the working of semi-symbolic processes of remotivation of language.
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107 It is not by chance if the attention of Japanese medieval Mikkyø schools concentrated mostly on the secret of speech (gomitsu), that is,semiotic manipulations of language and signs in ritual contexts, to the point of making it the privileged way to salvation.
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108 K¥kai, Bonji shittan jimo narabinishakugi, KDZ vol. 2: p. 721.
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109 K¥kai, Hannya shingyø hiken, KDZ vol. 1: pp. 555-556.
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110 Yamasaki Taiko, Shingon. Japanes e Esoteric Buddhism. Boston & London: Shambhala, 1987: p. 79.
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111 According to Nakamura Hajime, the use of the term vyajana with the meaning of syllables is peculiar to Buddhist texts: Nakamura Hajime, Bukkyøgo daijiten. Tøkyø: Tøkyø shosekikan, Vol. 2: 1368-9.
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112 See the entry Mon in Mochizuki bukkyø daijiten, Tokyo: Sekai kankø kyøkai, Vol. 5, pp. 4872-3.
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113 This orientation is not original of K¥kai, since the meaningfulness of every linguistic expression is explained in various esoteric texts. But K¥kai realized the full implications oft his doctrine, making it an important basis of his own semiotic system.
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114 According to some influent Western theories, double articulation is a necessary characteristic of language. As a consequence, many Western scholars refuse to consider mantric expressions as constituting a language. Anyway, since K¥kai made it explicit that shingon area different sort of language, the task of the interpreter should not be that of criticizing K¥kais own opinions from a different point of view, but trying to explain his different concept of language.
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115 For a list of the most important pre modern commentaries, see Katsumata Shunkyø, ed.,Købø Daishi chosaku zensh¥, vol. 1. Tøkyø: Sankibøbusshorin, 1968: pp. 581-582.
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116 Shinmura Izuru, ed., Køjien. Tøkyø: Iwanami, 1983 (3rd edition): p. 829.
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117 Another possible meaning is doctrines concerning names, with implications related to the Confucian philosophical theme of the rectification of names (sheng ming) to make things adequate to their definitions.
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118 SJG: 401c.
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119 Ibid.
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120 Henmi 1957.
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121 Tanaka Chiaki,Shøjigi no yøshi, Mikkyø bunka vols. 69-70, 1964, pp. 98-103, esp. p.101.
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122 K¥kai devotes several pages to the tone structure of the Chinese language in his poetry treaty Bunkyø hifuron.
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123 SJG: 402b.
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124footnote* On the languages of the various levels of existence in the Buddhist cosmossee for example Kegonkyø, Fugenbon fasc. 12-2, in T vol. 10: p. 80a.
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125 SJG:402b.
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126 See Jacques Derrida, La voix et lephénomene. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,1967.
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127 José Gil, Corpo, in Enciclopedia vol. 3.Torino: Einaudi, 1978, pp. 1096-1160 (the citation is on p. 1142).
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128 R. Abé, Ibid., p.303.
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129 John L. Austin,How to do Things with Words. Second edition. London-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975: pp. 92-3.
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130 Ibid..
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131 According to Yamazaki Seiichi, this interpretation appears to have been formulated for the first time by UiHakuju (Yamazaki 1977: p. 126). It is widely accepted today: see for example øyama Køjun, Køso no shøji jissøron, Missh¥ gakuhø no. 81, 1920, pp. 130-148; Yamazaki 1977; Miyasaka Y¥shø 1976; Højø Kenzø, Shøjijissø gi wo meguru ichi-ni no mondai, Buzan kyøgaku taikai kiyø no. 4,1976, pp. 107-122; K¥kai no gengo riron,Risø no. 594, 1982, pp. 39-50; Mantora wo megutte: Indo dentøteki gengo shisø to K¥kai, Hikaku shisøkenky¥ no. 10, 1984, pp. 63-71; Tokunaga Muneo, Koe to moji matawa ekurich¥ru, Hikaku bunkazasshi no. 2, 1984, pp. 36-51.
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132footnote** K¥kai, J¥jshinron, in Katsumata Shunkyø, ed., 1968: p. 334.
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133* Højø Kenzø 1976, 1982,1984. Yamazaki Seiichi believes in a possible influence of the mimåmså school(Yamazaki 1977).
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134 Frits Staal, The Meaninglessness of Ritual,Numen vol. 26 no. 1, 1979, pp. 2-22 (the citation is on p. 11).
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135 K¥kai, SJG: 401c.
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136 According to the traditional Chinese musical theory, the five notes correspond to the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth degrees of the Western major scale.
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137* The eight kinds of sounds(metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, leather, wood)are classified according to the material of the musical instruments producing them. The same term refers also to the eight modes of court music and to the eight virtues of Buddhas voice. Both the five notes and the eight kinds of sounds constitute structures articulating the phono-musical matter.
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138 * See Louis Hjelmslev, Prolegomena to a theory of Language (or. ed.1943). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961.
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139* The examples of shø given by K¥kaiare all systematized sounds, such as the five degrees of the musical scale and the eight kinds of sounds.
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140 Umberto Eco, Semiotica e filosofiadel linguaggio. Torino: Einaudi, 1984: pp. 52-53.
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141 The form of expression is a system of empty positions, a structure, through which the expressive occurrences... [of the substance of expression] acquire their positional and oppositional character" (Umberto Eco, Trattato di semiotica generale. Milan: Bompiani, 1975: p.76).
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142footnote * The substance of expression is a set of concrete occurrences of expressive artifacts... representing elements selected from an original amorphous material, that is, the matter of expression. The matter of expression is a continuum of physical possibilities that is used as amorphous material... for pertinent and discreet elements to be used as expressive artifacts (Eco, ibid.).
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143 These terms constitute the esoteric meaning of the mantric expression A.
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144 On the six kinds of compounds (sat-samasa ) that constitute the Sanskrit analysis system (vigraha), see Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland, Devavå–?praveýikå: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language. Berkeley: University of California, Center for South and South-East Asia Studies, 1987: pp. 198-229; Mikkyø daijiten. Mikkyø daijiten hensankai, ed., 1931. Revised edition by Chishakuin Daigaku Mikkyø Gakkainai Mikkyø daijiten saihan iinkai, ed. Kyøto:Høzøkan, 1970 (reduced size reprint 1983), p. 2330a. For K¥kais usage, see Thomas B. Hare , Reading Writing and Cooking: K¥kais Interpretive Strategies, Journal of Asian Studies vol. 49 no. 2, 1990, pp. 253-273,esp. pp. 256-268.
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copyright 2000, Fabio Rambelli.
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