Referential Relation and Beyond: Signifying Functions in Chinese Madhyamaka

Journal of Indian Philosophy 47 (4):851-915 (2019)
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Abstract

The Chinese Mādhyamikas Seng Zhao 374–414, Jizang 549–623, and Zhiyi 538–597 try to demonstrate that the linguistic strategies in the textual transmission of the Buddha’s teaching give us access to a sense of “liberation” which reaches beyond language. For them, this ineffable sense is what constitutes the dharma in the shape of sūtra and śāstra. Liberation is considered the constitutive but hidden “root” of all the teachings transmitted via the canonical word, those again account for the Buddha’s “traces” guiding back to the meaning of that root. The practitioner’s comprehension of the dharma must embrace this circular mutuality of “root and traces,” reconciling speech with silence. The article discusses two philosophical aspects: Chinese Madhyamaka semantics and pragmatics exploring the various signifying functions in our use of language, and the hermeneutical approach that the Chinese masters develop in their exegetical works to unravel such a sense of “liberation” in reference to the textual transmission of Indian Mahāyāna thought.

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