Fun and Games with Words and Letters
The first issue discussed in Chapter Two is ineffability versus speech, which concerns the role of language and discourse in a tradition that has produced voluminous texts despite an emphasis on being a special transmission without reliance on words and letters. This chapter considers the question of whether Zen literature is primarily used as a heuristic device, as claimed by the traditional view, or represents some kind of gibberish, as charged by critical Buddhism's harshest skeptics, by comparing the wordplay and allusions in Zen commentaries to the “nonsense” writing in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and the free‐floating surrealism of T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. By focusing on several specific kōan case records, the chapter argues that Zen literature is the product of carefully constructed narratives. The narratives are not nonsense in the conventional use of the term, but show the role of bizarre or outrageous personal interactions between masters and disciples that establish the value of radical anti‐structural behavior within the otherwise conservative setting of monastic institutional structure.
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