Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition. Princeton University Press, 1993.
It was inevitable that poststructuralist theory would sooner or later penetrate Zen studies. Now that the inevitable has come to pass, in the person of Bernard Faure, it is idle to argue with the fait accompli. All Zen scholars will have to revise their hermeneutics in light of The Rhetoric of Immediacy (Princeton, 1991) and its sequel here reviewed. These are significant books: they articulate the original insights which contemporary intellectual culture can bring to Zen, but they also betray the blindness of a frenzied academia to all that Zen stands for. It is the Zeitgeist that speaks.
Faure has mastered a vast literature and every page of his book is bursting with ideas. He wants to open ‘the field of Chan/Zen studies to the questions raised in other academic disciplines’ and he does so with the greatest aplomb. But his ulterior aim of ‘bringing Chan/Zen closer to the mainstream of Western thought’ (3) is less happily conceived. There is a dimension of Zen which contradicts this mainstream as a powerful challenge to Western rationalism. This is never allowed to emerge in the course of Faure’s busy methodological reflections. The otherness and autonomy of the Zen tradition are smoothed away.
Postmodernism, which claims to allow a free play of interpretation, here turns out to be an enveloping hermeneutic which forces the texts to correspond to its categories. For all its championing of ‘heterology’ and ‘polyvocality,’ such writing remains reductive and monological. What is terrifying about this book is the possibility that it may mark the opening of a new epoch in Zen studies, their ‘coming of age’ as a thoroughly positivistic discipline. Just as positivist exegesis makes itself blind to the spiritual force of biblical texts, Faure prohibits all references to Zen religion or spirituality as pre-scientific. The criticisms I want to make here are undercut and discredited in advance by Faure as ‘Suzuki-ism’ and ‘Orientalist’ mystification. He has immunized himself against such criticisms by enclosing himself in a quasi-idealist cocoon, from within which the spiritual and physical reality of Zen can be seen only as a rhetorical and ideological reality-effect.
One is dazzled and dizzied by the performance of this light-footed Hermes, who glides from ancient Buddhist texts to contemporary philosophical ones, opening up hundreds of possible paths for the renewal of Zen studies. Racing to ‘put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,’ he never stops long enough to argue in detail any one of his suggestions. The ‘Faure effect’ is that of a bibliographical whirlwind, a busy switchboard, in which figures as diverse as Dogen and de Man (144), Barthes and Bodhidharma (131), Musil (The Man without Qualities) and Linji (‘the common man of no rank’) (262), are thrust into fleeting surrealistic conjunctures. The pace and tone are as remote as possible from those of Zen. Faure is a self-conscious theorist, often signaling biases implicit in his own positions. Whether this auto-commentary makes explicit limitations and contradictions which were genuinely inevitable, or whether it is a matter of covering his traces after venturing on thin ice, is difficult to decide, but one suspects that longer reflection might have won him a secure critical distance in regard to his sources. As it is, he abandons himself to every theoretical possibility that crops up, and can pull himself up only by adding extra pirouettes. After this saturation bombing, scholars need no longer rack their brains to find connections between Buddhism and postmodernism. They must take these connections for granted, and do what Faure has not done: choose one Zen text or topic and apply to it one line of poststructuralist questioning, in a patient and methodical investigation.
The first part of the book describes the gradual sighting and constitution of Zen as an object of study and criticizes the Orientalism that has shaped Zen studies, so as to overcome the contradictions of a ‘discourse that represses its own historicity’ (5). One or two historical points seem dubious. Given the papal condemnations of Jansenism, it can hardly be right to suggest that the most fundamental cause of the condemnation of Chinese rites (1742) and the suppression of the Jesuits (1773) was the Jansenist hostility to the Jesuits (26). Many of the criticisms made of figures such as Matteo Ricci are rather obvious now, but Faure claims they can alert us to analogous blind spots in our own attitudes. One wonders if the monitory value of this critique of Western Orientalism is all that great, even if it is true at a popular level – but surely not at a scholarly one – that ‘most people who look toward Eastern religions (and Zen in particular) are convinced of the failure of rationality and are searching for an “authenticity” that the West has supposedly lost’ (6). Orientalism may be the wrong target to tackle; the deeper source of misunderstanding of Zen, in the past and today, is arrogant rationalism. To brand as an Orientalist everyone who sees a spiritual or contemplative depth in Zen is a formula for hermeneutical suicide. Faure’s critique of Zen studies entails a hermeneutic of suspicion directed at Zen itself, one that leaves no room over for a hermeneutic of reappropriation. His method of dealing with an ancient religious tradition cannot be recommended to ecumenists, for it is that of Samson with the Philistines: careless of the destructive consequences for his own discipline, he pulls down three pillars by which Zen stands or falls, namely, the notions of tradition, spiritual enlightenment, and truth.
(i) Tradition. Faure notes ‘a continuity between Chan and Zen,’ but points out that ‘there are many historical, cultural, and doctrinal differences as well, and these differences are not merely superficial: they would surely affect the “essence” of Zen, if this term had any referent’ (3). His stress on the variety of Zen languages and cultures is welcome, as is his dynamic conception of tradition: ‘Tradition is not a clearly defined, ahistorical, entity: if it exists at all outside the mind of a few people, it is as a fluid network of relationships, an ongoing process’ (121). His dismantling of the ‘white metaphor’ of tradition, which imposes an idealized homogeneity on history, masking its contingencies and discontinuities, opens up the possibility of bringing out the heterological, nomadic or ‘interstitial’ dimensions of the Zen story (9). He wants scholarly writing on Zen to become ‘multivocal and nonlinear, aware of the powerful effects of their own rhetoricity’ (10). But he is obliged despite himself to speak of this nomadic Zen as a tradition, and this evidently entails some form of continuity that cannot be reduced to logocentric delusion. In that case, it is no longer necessarily an ahistorical delusion for Zen Buddhists to imagine that they are following in the footsteps of the Buddha himself.
I did not find a single reference to one feature of the tradition that could temper Faure’s radical anti-essentialism, namely the physical basis of Zen practice. This gives the Zen tradition a continuity comparable to the continuity of swimming throughout the centuries. There may be a great variety in the ideology of swimming, the images and rhetoric associated with it, the way in which swimming races are organized, the variety of strokes and methods, but none of this takes away from the essential identity of the practice. Faure seems to shy away from these basic facts when he dismisses Winston King’s judgment, based on experience of meditative practice in Burma and Japan, that Theravâda and Zen meditation are ‘similar in function and experience, although certain features of technique, modes of expression, and emotional flavour vary with their respective cultural context,’ on the ground that it ‘tends to reinforce claims that Theravâda and Zen are the earliest, that is, purest forms of Buddhism’ (44).
One can maintain that Zen reinvents the Buddhist tradition as Augustine or Luther reinvents the Christian one, and that in this sense there is no invariant essence running throughout Buddhist history. But this should not blind us to the undeniable historical phenomenon of the transmission of Buddhist wisdom. The dependence of Zen on what went before is as obvious as that of Christian theology on the Bible or Western intellectualism on the Greeks. Zen invention never occurs de novo, but only by drawing on the abundance of the tradition in a sophisticated way. An autonomous spiritual or theological creativity, sustained by tradition, is not recognized by Faure, who ‘explains’ Zen discourse in sociological, psychological, or literary critical categories.
His demonstrations that the Zen tradition is a fictional construct might claim to be an enactment of Buddhism, dissolving illusory ‘self-nature’ and uncovering ‘emptiness.’ But such a Buddhist hermeneutic would reinstate the Zen tradition as a ‘skilful means’ at the level of ‘conventional truth.’ If Faure ‘stops short of dissolving it into pure ideological discourse – a Buddhist emptiness of sorts,’ and retains Zen as ‘a specific, tangible object of study,’ it is only because he needs it as a juicy target for deconstructive exercises: ‘the deconstructive or performative/rhetorical level of discourse needs a metaphysical or hermeneutical level on which to operate.’ Zen tradition is essentially a congeries of illusory, ideological constructions: Suzuki’s mythical Zen-ideology is itself ‘part of the reality it distorts’ and well represents the way that ‘the tradition itself emerged from the repeated distortion of previous distortions’ (271).
(ii) Spiritual enlightenment. No credence is given to the idea that the Zen tradition, in all its fragility, is a vehicle for attaining and transmitting spiritual enlightenment. The only enlightenment Faure recognizes is rational insight; to which the only alternative is irrationalism. He himself seems trapped in the dichotomy that he uses to discredit Suzuki: ‘Suzuki’s Zen recalls Lévy-Bruhl’s characterization of the “primitive mind” as illogical (or rather alogical), and the criticisms leveled at Lévy-Bruhl’s dichotomization of primitive and civilized thinking might apply to Suzuki’s paradoxical dichotomization of nondualistic Zen and dualistic Western thinking’ (68). Here the wide-ranging associations gratuitously stir up of ideological suspicion, and suspicion is automatically proof of guilt. Faure repeats Mauss’s critique of James: ‘this theory of religious experience, as source of religion, considers only states rarely given, exceptional, that is, in last analysis, it rests on a pathological religious psychology’ (79). To equate rarity with pathology is to destroy all religion at its root~ and to contradict the fundamentals of Buddhism, which places such a high value on samâdhi and prajnâ. Following Steven Katz’s view that ‘there are no pure (i.e. unmediated) experiences’ (78), Faure discounts the basic thrust of Zen toward experiential immediacy. A hermeneutics of Zen experience must of course be aware of contextual mediations, but these do not diminish the most striking aspect of this experience, any more than the impossibility of isolating pure sense data diminishes the immediacy of pain when one puts one’s hand in the fire.
Suzuki succeeded in communicating the rare but indubitable reality of spiritual experience. Faure is blind to this achievement. He accuses Suzuki of believing in ‘a facile “fusion of horizons”’ (113), is not a lack of empathy with Zen a greater hermeneutic deficiency than the methodological fallacies Faure unmasks? Suzuki is seen as ‘speaking from within the discursive arena opened by Western Orientalism’ (53) and as relying on Christian categories even when rejecting them. Faure refuses to take Suzuki seriously as a representative of Japanese culture, seeing his ‘na(t)ivism’ as a ‘secondary Orientalism’: ‘He simply inverted the old schemas to serve his own purposes’ (64). Suzuki’s critique of positivism is ‘only’ an expression of a ‘discourse of modernity.’ It resembles Heidegger’s attitude to the human sciences, and ‘it may partly explain why the German philosopher saw in the Japanese scholar an intellectual (or rather anti-intellectual) guide (maître à penser or perhaps à ne pas penser)’ (90). For an adequate hermeneutics of the Zen tradition, there is much to be learnt from Heidegger, and especially from his conception of tradition. Faure’s dismissal (not shared by his mentors Foucault and Derrida) closes off an important Western avenue to a dialogue with Zen.
Faure makes much of the journalistic critiques of Etiemble and Koestler and even puts them on the same level as Suzuki. The ‘Suzuki effect’ is explained in reductive sociological terms: ‘the success of Suzuki’s work was not related to its literary or philosophical qualities; it was rather the result of a historical conjuncture that prompted the emergence in the West of a positive modality of Orientalist discourse’ (54). Faure uses sociology (chiefly Bourdieu) to debunk, and he does so without the restraints of the professional sociologist. For instance: ‘Kegon (Huayan) influenced Chan/Zen by providing it with a theoretical justification for its irenistic detachment from social problems. The Huayan advocacy of the harmonious interpenetration of the principle and phenomena is the kind of abstract and conservative view that one is more likely to take from a dominant situation’ (60). Claiming that Suzuki was blissfully unaware of the limits of his own historical context, Faure sees his thinking as ‘ideologically flawed, informed as it was by his culture, his social status, and his sectarian affiliations’ (54). Suzuki’s misconstrual of Soto Zen as ‘quietistic’ is deplored as a ‘sectarian bias’ (55), but it is not noted that Suzuki sometimes quotes Dogen as a respected Zen authority; few Catholic theologians, even today, would quote Luther as serenely. Faure notes that ‘the appeal to the “pure” tradition, to the “essence” of Zen, is a sectarian attitude,’ and concludes that ‘the assumption that there is an “essence” of Buddhism, a kind of perennial Dharma to which only “authentic” masters would have access, is to be rejected as ideologically suspect’ (57). He makes no effort to sift the truth of what Suzuki is saying from its ‘suspect’ forms of expression. He drags out the old warhorse, Hu Shih, as a more progressive thinker than the ‘traditionalist’ Suzuki. His account of Suzuki’s reply to Hu’s criticisms leaves the impression that Suzuki was bereft of a critical historical sense; a fuller account might have shown that Hu’s pretention to superior historical insight was naive and condescending.
Suzuki is presented as an anti-institutional rebel who preached ‘pure spontaneity’ and who later took fright at the libertarian appropriation of Zen, so that his attitude ‘changed drastically’ (58). This is to overlook the moralistic and disciplinarian tone of such early works as The Training of the Zen Monk. Again, is there a real contradiction between Suzuki’s stress on the ‘ahistorical nature of Zen’ and his explanation of the uniqueness of Zen through its historical development (65)? Does the ahistorical nature of Plotinus’s One contradict the historical uniqueness of the emergence of the idea of the One? Suzuki may downplay sociocultural determinations and tend to a mystical essentialism, but does this necessarily render absurd the statement that ‘if there is a God, personal or impersonal, he or it must be with Zen and in Zen’ (62)? Such statements are too lofty for Faure’s taste, or rather they have no meaning, since there is no such thing as Zen, and if there were such a thing it would certainly not have such a universal or transcendental status. But a little tinkering with the language Suzuki uses might make them quite tenable. Faure finds a contradiction between Suzuki’s statement that kôan are ‘utterances of satori with no intellectual mediation’ and his view of kôan systematization as a necessary evil (60); of course there is no contradiction here. Faure’s eagerness to see Suzuki’s work as a mass of contradictions – motivated by ‘a situational reflex to “cash in” on both sides of every issue’ (65) – arouses the reader’s suspicion; one would wish to see the point demonstrated in a close reading of the texts.
Rudolf Otto and Heinrich Dumoulin are characterized as ‘followers of Suzuki-ism’ (64) - as if only the bad influence of Suzuki could ‘explain’ why these scholars saw a numinous dimension in Zen! Dumoulin is accused of ‘reductionism’ - a careless misuse of this word - on the basis of the statement that ‘as a mystical phenomenon, the satori experience is imperfect’ (64). The claim that ‘Suzuki’s style does not rival Nishida’s’ (66) suggests that Faure has not read much of Nishida’s murky prose. If Suzuki is such a mediocre writer, one wonders why his works are still in print and why they were devoured by writers as talented as Toynbee, Merton and Heidegger. Faure notes ‘the recurrence of a certain Orientalist “esprit simpliste” in the interstices of Nishida’s complex thought,’ but he does little to undo simplistic stereotypes when he talks of a ‘Nishida effect’ and states that ‘Nishida’s disciples have merely amplified tendencies already present in his work’ (75). This does no justice to the originality of Hajime Tanabe and Keiji Nishitani. The recent discussion of these thinkers contradicts Faure’s judgment the Christian and philosophical dialogues with Zen have been ‘rather sterile’ (85).
Stressing the agonistic character of Zen writings, directed against the routinization of the tradition, Faure calls for a performative scholarship that can match this dimension of Zen. ‘Many Chan texts still refer to a primordial truth, a perennial Dharma to which the adept must conform,’ but the best Zen writing moves ‘toward a performative conception of truth’ (147). This distinction between ‘logocentric’ and ‘differential’ Zen permits a hermeneutic retrieval of the radicality of Zen, overcoming its occultation within the Zen tradition itself (if Faure will permit this Heideggerian way of putting it). But what is Zen radicality about? Faure refers to ‘a kind of weightlessness, a feeling of elation’ (149), which suggests a postmodern lightness of being rather than a rooted spirituality. Perhaps it is not so ‘unfortunate’ that ‘this feeling has not yet had a chance to pervade Chan/Zen scholarship’ (150).
(iii) Truth. Faure has little time for the idea of tradition as the transmission of truth. He transforms a provocative remark of Nietzsche into a dogma: ‘the historical approach provides an important insight when it rejects the “foundationalist” position to assert the historicity of truth. According to this model, truth turns out to be, in Nietzsche’s famous words, “a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms - in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people”‘ (90). If there is no more to Zen truth than that, then it is an ideological construct to be dismantled, not a precious tradition that still communicates to us truths of great importance for human existence. Still, the main emphasis in Faure’s writing falls on the more promising topic of the performative and historically embedded character of truth. ‘Chan discourse is not simply reflecting reality or expressing truths; it is actively producing them’ (149). This insight could bring about a refinement and revitalization of Zen studies, and even a more effective practice of Zen, but this is thrown away if one dismisses any objective goal to Zen practice, seeing it as based more on intellectual agility than on attunement to the real. The creative achievement of truth is enabled by prior tradition and is in turn enabling for our own creativity today. Even if Zen is seen as something as free as an artistic tradition, there is an element within which such a tradition moves, a certain constant concern, which needs to be focused. This concern, in the case of Zen, is not language or power or theories of space and time (see below) but the quest for awakening or enlightenment, conceived as an experience of true reality.
The second half of the book attempts a redescription of Chan, taking up the themes of time, space, language, writing, and selfhood: ‘Much of Chan discourse can be explained in terms of the emergence (followed by slow erosion and reinscription) of a new epistemological configuration marked by a certain dialectic of orality and literacy, a homogenization of space and time that gives primacy to spatial and visual imagery, and a predominance of rhetoric over hermeneutic’ (272).
The transformation of Chinese sacred geography brought about by Chan’s interaction with local cults is part of a larger movement of spatialization of thought, which was also a ‘delocalization’ (155). The ‘tension between localizing and unlocalizing tendencies, between a specific place and an abstract space, predates any polarization into “great” and “little” traditions’ and is essential to the vitality of Buddhism (156). ‘The ideal space of the Chan monastery was a negation of the dense and pluralistic space of local religion’ (162). The phenomenology of Chan space in this chapter might be more convincing if fewer Western philosophers were invoked and more material was provided from sources. Comparisons of Chan space with Newtonian space or the transformation of the perception of nature in nineteenth-century Japan (162) obscure the phenomenon named in utterances such as: ‘My body is empty and I see myself as no different from you: how could you destroy emptiness, or destroy yourself’ (163), or ‘The unlocalized is your mind’ (165). It is very misleading to describe this as ‘a clean, abstract space that could ideally be embraced at one glance’ (166) or to equate ‘the clear, haughty vision of the enlightened mind’ with ‘an almost Voltairian perception of reality’ (167), sweeping away the opaque mediations of local religion. The slippage here from spiritual freedom to a philosophical worldview, from enlightenment to Aufklärung, misses the point of the spatial metaphors in Zen. The conclusion that Chan masters ‘idealized space as something “beyond any viewpoint, any latency, any depth, without any true thickness” (Merleau-Ponty)’ depends on an equation of Zen space – the emptiness which is the goal of meditative striving – with the unquestioned frame of everyday inauthentic perception in the modern West. Similarly, the phrase ‘the Chan version of Descartes’s tabula rasa’ (175), which imposes Cartesian coordinates on Chan as if they had to fit, is redolent of cultural imperialism
The Chan approach to time also creates homogeneity: ‘all times are equal - and ultimately delusory’ (176). But in practice there is a ‘diversity of temporalities’ (182) in Chan, an intertwining of linear, circular and stationary conceptions of time. This discussion covers a motley collection of matters having a temporal aspect - historical consciousness, discounting of memory, ritual times, metaphors of germination and maturation; the subject, if it has any real unity, is too sprawling to be covered in one chapter. In Dôgen, ‘time is described as perfectly coextensive with the phenomenal world.’ The existential force of this notion of time-being is missed when Faure describes it as an ‘ontologization’ of time which is also a ‘spatialization’ (187). Dismissing Heideggerians who make Dôgen an ‘existentialist’ - an account that does not do justice to such a work as Joan Stambaugh’s Impermanence is Buddha-nature (University of Hawaii Press) – , Faure (himself a leading translator of Dôgen!) reduces the Zen master’s thought to a crude Parmenidism: ‘Dôgen stresses the immutability of things: “As the time right now is all there ever is, each being-time is without exception entire time... Entire being, the entire world, exists in the time of each and every now”’ (190); ‘the apparent changes in our environment mask a fundamental immobility’ (264). Surely the point is rather to awaken us to a demystified assumption of full present reality - the whole world is right now! To say that ‘Dogen substituted permanence for impermanence’ (190) hardly does justice to his subtle dialectic of permanence and impermanence, calculated to send us back to the present lived in whole-hearted practice. To cap all this, Faure quotes Ernst Bloch: ‘The primacy of space over time characterizes reactionary language.’ Any old slogan will do to beat a Dôgen!
On the relation between Zen and language, Faure states: Chan ‘was first and foremost a discourse on practice and a discursive practice’ (195). It is hard to make sense of that ‘first and foremost’: one might as well say that cooking or swimming or Carmelite mysticism is first and foremost a discourse. Faure’s discussion of the aporetic aspects of apophatic theology seems guided by the assumption that there is really nothing to be apophatic about. He sees this via negativa as a matter of political strategies, not a concern with die Sache selbst: ‘the denial of language and its “homeopathic” use appear to play rather ambiguous roles in sectarian strategies’ (201). He suggests that ‘the common assertion according to which neither the Dao or awakening can be spoken of reflects the reluctance of a spiritual or artistic elite to disclose its esoteric knowledge and constitutes an attempt to preserve its social distinction and symbolic capital (see Bourdieu)’ (197). If one disbelieves in any form of insight that cannot be captured in clear and distinct expressions, this is the only way of making sense of the rhetoric of ineffability.
Several Chan figures saw poetry as an upâya, ‘a means for both the believer to get closer to reality and the Bodhisattva to convey the truth to others’ (206), and ‘the equation between Chan and poetry became a commonplace in Japan’ (209). The tension between this and the apophatic line is resolved by the claim that ‘live poetry is a poetry the language of which is no longer language’ (211). The strong resonances between these thoughts and Heidegger’s meditations on die Sprache are not adverted to by Faure. Instead he discusses koan in terms of Lyotard’s idea that ‘to speak is to fight... and language acts belong to a general agonistic,’ and suggests that lesser Chan masters were ‘psychologically empowered by their confrontations with novices’ (213). They can also be seen as ‘a ludic activity, the parodic purpose of which was too often lost on later practitioners’ (214). Chan is thus ‘first and foremost a new “art of speaking”’ (216). There is no recognition that the raison d’être of this verbal art is the production of enlightenment, however pluralistically or contextually conceived.
Chan conceptions of writing ‘were always dialogical and performative’ (218). The orality of the Chan dialogues keeps knowledge ‘embedded in the human lifeworld’ (226). One might see the ‘sudden teaching’ as ‘a resurfacing of aural/oral elements within literacy,’ or as ‘just the opposite; namely, vision is simultaneous while sound in sequential, and therefore “sudden” awakening is fundamentally visual.’ This play of suppositions is rather tenuous, as it the association of the visual aspect with ‘a kind of total vision of space that, according to Ong, constitutes a by-product of writing’ (227). Moving from the oral to the textual, Faure next looks at Chan discourse as ‘a text resulting from a “writing-act” rather than from a speech-act’; ‘however straightforward and “realistic” it may appear, the text should be read as a self-referential literary work’ (233), concerned less with ‘reality’ than its own structural rules. Such a literary theory opens a paradise to the scholar but scarcely permits a spiritual or contemplative reading of a text. ‘The relations between one text and others – intertextuality – and the relations within the text itself – its structural constraints – come to predominate over the relations between the text and the (inner or outer) reality’ (234). The discussions of orality and literacy, writing and logocentrism, are so nuanced as to be self-canceling, and might better have been replaced by analysis of Zen texts.
‘To what extent can the emergence of Chan be seen as that of a new (conception of the) self?’ (243). An elaborate discussion of the history of selfhood East and West arrives at Zen from a Foucauldian angle: ‘The fact that a few rugged “individuals” denounced this logic [whereby according to Foucault the individual is an effect of power relationships] within Buddhism does not preclude the possibility that the Chan/Zen individualization process may by and large have served the growth of power relationships’ (258). Certainly, Zen selfhood is historically and culturally inscribed: but is this the central issue? Again, is meditation only ‘a disciplinary mise au pas of recalcitrant minds and bodies or conventional selves, in the name of a greater - and forever elusive - self’ (259)? In Zen monasteries, as in the panoptical prisons of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, the constant scrutiny exacerbates the monks’s sense of guilt and subjectivity (260). All is grist to Faure’s mill! Can one see monastic life as only a fascist indoctrination, ignoring the testimony of monks to the spiritual freedom they have found? I doubt if such phenomena can be grasped in terms of an opposition between individual spontaneity and institutional discipline. Faure sees spiritual freedom merely as what can be snatched from institutional control: ‘Linji was able to acquire his (relative) freedom by playing off conflicting networks of power, an achievement possible only during a limited period of sociopolitical instability - in the interstices of power’ (163). Conversely, ‘Linji’s advocacy of pure spontaneity’ is seen as ‘a denial of both agent and moral responsibility’ (263). The oppositions are simplistic, but they are whisked by so swiftly that one can hardly begin to query them.
Zen scholars will learn much from Faure’s suggestions for new approaches to their specializations. Indeed they are under an intellectual obligation to explore the perspectives he has opened up. But their and our loss will be great if they abandon the primary hermeneutical challenge, that of translating into the language of today the prajnâ-insight which is the heart of Zen and which is what most makes its study worthwhile.
Monumenta Nipponica 48 (1993): 521-6.