Monday, February 25, 2019

ZEN: What is a paradox? (video)

Brilliant (Vsauce2, 4/18); Philip J. Bossert, "Paradox and Enlightenment in Zen Dialogue..." Journal of Chinese Philosophy (; Bob Gavagan; Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

What if they were to make a Zen movie? (imdb)
Dr. Chung-ying Cheng discussed the seemingly paradoxical use of language in Zen dialogues and suggested a means for understanding this paradoxical quality.

The "principle of ontic non-commitment" and the method of "ontological reduction" he described as an approach to resolving the paradoxical qualities of Zen language appear to be quite similar to the phenomenological technique of epoche and the method of phenomenological reduction the German philosopher Edmund Husserl developed early in this century to deal with certain paradoxes of subjectivity and objectivity.

A discussion of this issue of language and paradox might provide a fruitful point of comparative philosophical dialogue between Zen Buddhism and phenomenological philosophy.

Hence, using Dr. Cheng's article as a basis, there are various similarities.... After mentioning how these methods are used to treat seemingly paradoxical situations, the notions of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism and transcendental phenomenology deserve remark.

Dr. Cheng points out that the paradoxes of Zen dialogue are due to an attempt to understand an utterance in terms of its surface semantic structure and the common-sensical ontological structure that normally provides the referential framework it.

However, instead of the semantic structure of an utterance ("Listen to the dog") referring to some past or present ontological event (the experience or concept of a barking dog), the Zen koan ("Listen to the sound of one hand clapping") appears to refer to an ontological absurdity (neither the concept nor the experience of a clapping sound can be meaningfully associated as originating from a single hand).

10 Brain-Splitting Paradoxes

The semantic structure of the utterance does not seem to "point to" anything and is thus an apparently meaningless use of language.

This means that the language of the Zen paradoxes contradicts the background reference presuppositions of surface-level terms in ordinary usage and by doing so points to the singular absence of reference or that of reference framework for the language of the paradoxes.

But the insight that the Zen dialogue seeks to offer is not at the common sense level of ordinary linguistic usage.

And it is precisely the first step toward enlightenment to realize that the paradox is valid only as long as one remains at the common sense level of understanding.

The Zen koan uses language not to refer but as a tool or a dialectical process for revealing a very deep ontological structure by means of or in virtue of the incongruity of the surface semantic structure of the paradoxes in reference to a standard framework of reference.

To get at this deep ontological structure, the surface level of understanding must be sundered, and it is precisely the paradoxicality of the language of the koan that accomplishes this.

But this is only the negative side of the paradox, that is, its destruction of the common-sensical understanding of the world.

If the listener does not retreat from the apparent absurdity of the paradoxical statement but instead grapples with it, the positive side of the paradox may have the constructive effect of producing in the person an insight into this deeper level of understanding.

A paradox is something that is "contrary to common belief," that is, something that does not have a place in the ontology of everyday life.

The destruction of this "common ontology" as a basis for understanding leaves one open for understanding at a different level.

The insight into this deeper level of understanding is a result of a shift in attitude toward the language of the utterance, a shift that separates the semantic structure from its ordinary ontological framework of reference. This shift resolves the paradox.

It does not solve it or dissolve it by explaining away the incongruity involved but resolves it by clarifying the paradoxicality of the paradox. At the level of common sense understanding and ordinary linguistic usage, the paradox still remains. The individual who has mastered the koan, however, now understands... More

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