Negotiating Nothingness: An Intercultural Interpretation of the Ineffability of Nothingness in Martin Heidegger and Song Dynasty Chan Master Dahui Zonggao Open Access

Liang, Yuchen (Spring 2023)

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Nothingness is a central topic in many historical and contemporary philosophical and religious traditions. However, because the word “nothing” does not have a corresponding referential object in the external world. It is not possible to talk about it in conventional referential language. Thinkers who use nothingness hence must utilize innovative approaches to language. Those non-referential approaches towards language are usually seen as obscure for the users of referential language. I will argue that thinkers from different cultural-historical backgrounds tackle this problem of ineffability of nothingness differently. By bringing their different angles of approach together, we can thus have a more complete understanding of the idea of nothingness. In this dissertation I bring together two pivotal thinkers of nothingness, Martin Heidegger and Dahui Zonggong, and analyze their writings on nothingness in an intercultural manner. I will discuss their specific concepts of nothingness and the problems they incurred. This will be done in comparison to conventional reified conceptions of nothingness. Then I will talk about how they used poetic language and silence to deal with the problem of ineffability. Zonggao’s kanhua meditation can be better explained through the help of Heidegger’s theoretical concept of language and silence and Heidegger’s practical philosophy of language and silence can be better integrated with insights from kanhua. Then this problem of ineffability will be treated at larger scales, most prominently in the question of passing down the experience of nothingness through a tradition with non-referential language. I will show that Chan as a unique anti-traditional tradition transmitted its teachings in a way suitable to be explained with Heidegger’s destruction-repetition framework. In the end I bring them outside of their own traditions to show that true intercultural dialogue can be carried out on the topic of nothingness as well. I will explain how apparent confrontations can lead towards a harmonious co-development of both Heidegger’s and Zonggao’s thoughts. 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


1. Primary Materials:

2. Methods

3. Chapter Outlines

Chapter One: Nothingness and Ineffability in Chan and Heidegger

1. Introduction

2. A Representative Typology of Nothing in Contemporary Parmenidean Comparative Philosophy

2.1 Pang Pu’s Three Wu: Orthography of Nothingness in Classical Chinese Philosophy

2.2 Yao Zhihua’s Adaptation of Pang’s Scheme for Comparative Philosophy

3. Un/fitting Chan into the Framework

3.1 Not That Kind of Original Nothing

3.2 A Privative Nothing that Leads to Neither Absolute Nothing Nor Being

4. Heidegger’s Nothing as a Framework for Chan Nothing

4.1 Ontological Difference in Heidegger’s Nothing

4.2 Applying Heidegger’s Nothing to Chan Nothing

5. Nothing, Ineffability, and Soteriology in Heidegger and Chan Buddhism

5.1 Soteriology in Chan and Heidegger

5.2 From Soteriology to Ineffability

Chapter Two: Nothingness, Silence, and Poetics

1. Introduction

2. Zonggao’s Treatment of the Chan Language: Kanhua Chan

2.1. Influential Contemporary Interpretations of Chan Language

2.2. Kanhua Chan: Non-logical Treatment of Chan Language

2.3. Difficulties with Kanhua Chan

3. Heidegger’s Ontological Thinking on Language and Its Potential Use for Kanhua

3.1 The Root of the Problem: Zonggao’s Inherent Mistrust of Language

3.2 Heidegger’s Relational Theory of Language and Silence

3.3 The Unspoken Link: Live Words and Essential Language

4. Heidegger’s Sigetics-Poetics and Difficulties in Its Interpretations

4.1 Heidegger’s Silent-Illumination: Sigetics

4.2 Two Ways to Understand Heidegger’s Poetics: The First Way

4.3 The Second Form of Understanding Heidegger’s Poetics

5. Heideggerian Sigetics-Poetics as a Form of Kanhua Chan

5.1 The Similarity of the First Form of Heideggerian Poetics to Intellectual Chan

5.2 Silence Through Language and Sigetics Through Poetics

6. Language, Dialogue, and Tradition

Chapter Three: History of the Traditions of Nothingness

1. Introduction

2. Heidegger on History and Tradition

2.1 Three Options Before Heidegger

2.2 Destruction

2.3 Repetition and the Other Beginning

3. The Destruction of Chan History by Song Chan Buddhists

3.1 The Chan Revolution of Huineng

3.2 From Anti-Intellectualism to Intellectual Chan

3.3 The Pinnacle of Intellectual Chan and Zonggao’s Destruction

4. The Repetition of the Origin of Chan by Later Chan Buddhists

4.1 Two Styles of Chinese Thoughts

4.2 Conservation of the Lineage and the Ineffability of the Lamp

4.3 Zonggao’s Repetition of Huangbo’s Huatou

5. Zonggao and Keqin: A Case Study of Uniquely Chan Destruction-Repetition

Conclusion: Intercultural Philosophizing as Harmonious Accommodation Through Confrontation

1. Summary of Main Arguments

2. A Possible New Angle to Intercultural Philosophy in Zonggao’s and Heidegger’s Concepts of Constructive Confrontation

2.1 Enlightenment and Righteousness: What Kind of Synthesis is Zonggao’s Yuanrong?

2.2 Equal Importance of Theory and Practice: In Response to Guifeng

2.3 Sincerity in Synthesis: In Response to Accusations of Expediency

2.4 Comparison to Crude Syncretism

2.5 Zonggao’s Yuanrong as Kanhua: Harmony through Confrontation

3. Intercultural Philosophy as Harmonious Accommodation through Confrontation: Heidegger as a Case Study

3.1 Heidegger’s Position on East-West Dialogue and Its Critics

3.2 Yuanrong and Auseinandersetzung

Table of Some Major Tang-Song Chan Figures


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