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date: 26 June 2022

Abstract and Keywords

The well-known dictum that Zen is “not founded on words and letters” would seem to make Zen Buddhism inaccessible to philosophy, yet scholars have applied Western philosophical concepts to Zen. Do these philosophical concepts accurately characterize Zen kōan training as it is actually practiced in the Rinzai monastery? Introducing an autoethnography of the author’s own experience in Rinzai kōan practice, this essay provides an account of the moment of “seeing a kōan” and of the considerable literary study required at advanced stages of kōan practice. This autoethnography provides the basis for evaluating some of the philosophical concepts that have been used to characterize Rinzai kōan practice, including J. L. Austin’s notion of a performative speech act and the concept of a pure experience. Finally, Robert Sharf’s charges of phenomenological reductionism are evaluated.

Keywords: Zen, kōan, meditation, performativity, pure experience, ineffability, nondualism, phenomenological reductionism, ideological reductionism

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