Expressing Experience: Language in Ueda Shizuteru’s Philosophy of Zen

In Gereon Kopf (ed.), The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 713-738 (2016)
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As the central figure of the third generation of the Kyoto School of modern Japanese philosophy, UEDA Shizuteru 上田閑照 has not only followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, NISHIDA Kitarō 西田幾多郎 and NISHITANI Keiji 西谷啓治, but has taken several strides forward in their shared pursuit of what can be called a “philosophy of Zen.” The “of” in this phrase should be understood as a “double genitive,” that is, in both its objective and subjective senses. Ueda not only philosophizes about Zen, he also philosophizes from Zen. Like Nishida and Nishitani before him, he has devoted himself to the practice of Zen as well as to the study of Western philosophy. However, what does it mean to speak, much less philosophize, about Zen experience? Ueda has in fact concentrated much of his attention on questions concerning the relation between Zen and philosophy or, more generally, between experience and language. Any development of a “philosophy of Zen,” Ueda recognizes, must begin with the question of what it means to “speak of experience.” What does it mean to express, that is, to speak from and about experience? This question has been at the heart of Ueda’s philosophical path from the beginning. His many works on this topic include a seminal early essay “Zen and Language,” later re-titled “The Language of Zen”, articles written in German including “Awakening in Zen Buddhism as a Word-Event”, and a recent article, “Language in a Twofold World,” which Ueda put together to represent his thought in a major anthology of Japanese philosophy. In these and other works, Ueda convincingly demonstrates that the question of the relation between language and experience has always been a pivotal issue for the Zen tradition itself. He also shows how this tradition can help us, in the wake of the “linguistic turn” in philosophy, to return afresh to this fundamental question.



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Bret W. Davis
Loyola University Maryland

Citations of this work

Sharing Words of Silence: Panikkar after Gadamer.Bret W. Davis - 2015 - Comparative and Continental Philosophy 7 (1):52-68.
Ueda Shizuteru’s Philosophy of the Twofold.John W. M. Krummel - 2022 - Comparative and Continental Philosophy 14 (2):153-161.
The Legacy of Ueda Shizuteru: A Zen Life of Dialogue in a Twofold World.Bret W. Davis - 2022 - Comparative and Continental Philosophy 14 (2):112-127.

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