The Hermeneutics of Chan Buddhism: Reading Koans from The Blue Cliff Record

Asian Philosophy 21 (4):373 - 393 (2011)
Abstract
Despite the fact that Chan, especially koan Chan is highly unconventional and perplexing, there are still some principles with which to interpret and appreciate the practice. Each of the five houses or lineages of Chan has its idiosyncratic hermeneutic rules. The Linji House has Linji si liao jian, si bin zhu and si zhao yong among others while the Yunmen House follows Yumen san ju as one of its house rules. Moreover, there is a general inner logic that seems to apply to understanding Chan encounters across lineages. The opportune moment (Chan Ji) of responding swiftly and skillfully and yet always grounding oneself in the openness and flow of the mind highlights the inner logic of the cognition and behavior of Chan Buddhists. This paper attempts to read koans from The Blue Cliff Record in the light of Chan Buddhist hermeneutics. Some aspects and patterns of Chan encounters may appear as rituals that serve either as a provisional means for common people or as an embodiment of enlightened behaviors. Routinized ritualization of Chan life, however, runs counter to the fundamental spirit of freedom and spontaneity of Chan way of life. Much can and needs to be elucidated about the mystified koan Chan experience before we finally resort to the transpersonal experience of noble silence
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