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Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism (Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions) Hardcover – November 13, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


"This book...will be most attractive to those with interests at the interface of philosophy and Asian studies." Choice

"Required reading for all scholars and teachers of Asian religion, and highly recommended for advanced students." Religious Studies Review

Book Description

This book is the first to engage Zen Buddhism philosophically on crucial issues from a perspective that is informed by the traditions of western philosophy and religion. It focuses on one renowned Zen master, Huang Po, whose recorded sayings exemplify the spirit of the 'golden age' of Zen in medieval China, and on the transmission of these writings to the West. While deeply sympathetic to the Zen tradition, it raises serious questions about the kinds of claims that can be made on its behalf.

Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions (Book 13)
  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521590108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521590105
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,623,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Dale Wright has engaged with the Zen Buddhist tradition with a powerful and sophisticated hermanuetic analysis. Based on Blofield's influential translation of Huang Po's Transmission of Mind he delivers a masterful exploration of Zen thinking. Zen's traditional claims to transcending words and concepts is closely scrutinized. Wright cleverly uses the Buddhist concept of dependent origination to add a further explanatory dimension to the role of language and its context in reading and understanding Zen. He rightly points out that Zen Buddhism is deeply intwined with language and that whilst Zen Koans are presentations of extra-ordinary human experience, their oddness is not meaningless cryptic, but instrumental in communicating insight gained through meditative practice using ordinary language in non-ordinary ways. The book challenges romantic and historicist conceptions of Zen which hold to something like a universial "spirit" or experience which transcends historic time and location. And it challenges the disembodied "objective" analysis of scientific approaches which set upon "facts" and "historical data" as though they can be simply "read" without reflection on the frames of interpretation of the observer. Instead Wright exposes the reader to an important dimension of reflexivity which comes with a post-modern sensibility. Zen emerges the wiser, without a romantic and naive sense of transcendence and a firmer understanding of importance of understanding the historical context of Zen writing. We are also reminded of how our own modern context colours how we make sense of Zen as well as nonsense of it.
My sense is that this book it is a major landmark in the meeting between Western Philosophy and Buddhism.
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Format: Paperback
I took a number of courses from professor Dale Wright while studying at Occidental College.
He's an amazing teacher and that comes through strongly in this book.

We were never assigned this text in class, but I can understand why.
It took me a few years of both Zen practice and study to really appreciate the subtlety of the arguments Wright
makes in Philosophical Meditations. Additionally I found that it actually requires the practice of mindful-reading to follow each argument-packed sentence and absorb the insights therein.

Wright really applies the notion of historicity honestly and rigorously to his own thinking.
In doing so he actively illustrates, as opposed to simply arguing, that hermeneutics can be a powerful guide to understanding the dependent-origination of our own thinking about Zen and the world in general.
I think he is wildly successful in that pursuit. Give it a read!
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Format: Paperback
Dale S. Wright's, Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism, is an important book--and not just for scholars but for Zen students/practitioners as well.

Using the classic Huang Po texts (especially John Blofeld's translation) as his touchstone, Professor Wright examines some of the most significant issues concerning the authentic message of Zen Buddhism.

His excellent book illumines many of the seemingly contradictory stances that have arisen due to the dynamic interplay between history and tradition, fact and fiction, as it has been transmitted to the West as well as through time itself.

After lucidly outlining his intentions in the introduction, Wright provides a wonderful lesson on "meditative reading" that reminds us of Moritmer J. Adler's revelations on the necessity of "active reading" for authentic communication--or should we call it transmission. In any case, his points are well taken. After all, Zen records are not mystery novels; they are the basic texts of a spiritual tradition that many people base their lives on.

His approach to "meditative reading" is outlined with three basic points. First, it should be "thoughtful." That is, the reader needs to do what the author has done: think. Second, it should be "reflexive." In that the reader's own self-awareness must be functioning in the activity of reading. Third, the reader must be open to "self-transformation." If the reader is to actually learn anything, they must be willing to let go of old ideas.

The book opens with a discussion about the fact that the Huang Po text (as well as many of the records of the great Zen masters) does not come directly from the mind of Huang Po. Instead, this record is the result of thousands of "mediations.
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A zen teacher recommended the book to me. However I found the book to be mis-titled as philosophy and not very rewarding.

Wright is correct in pointing out that terms like Absolute are not consistent with Zen or with Buddhism for that matter. However, Wright misses the point that the translator he critiques (despite infelicitous phraseology and incomplete understanding) was trying to make. The understanding of emptiness that Chinese Zen teachers were espousing is not the "negative connative content" of Nararjuna (to borrow a phrase). Emptiness has many meanings, and Nagarjuna's understanding of emptiness in terms of codependent origination and lack of inherent existence is completely correct but limited.

Chinese Zen teachers and their students, influenced by Taoism and the principles of li/shih and t'i/jung, came to a positive understanding of emptiness as li and t'i; as source and principle. The Korean Chinul is an example. Some understood l'i or "source" to be "mind", but Shibayama explains that the expression "everyday mind is the tao" does not mean the everyday deluded mind but rather the mind source. Some, including myself, understand "source" not in terms of the individual mind (except analogously) nor as the dharmakaya but rather as the source of the dharmakaya, the source of all existent beings who are the three time periods.

Wright disparages the principle of t'i/jung stating that it emphasizes what one does, one's actions (jung), over one's being (t'i). A correct understanding of t'i/jung is that one's being is jung and t'i is the origin or source of one's being. That is a far deeper philosophical understanding. The philosophical question then is to inquire into the source of one's being (li or t'i") and the source of all existents.
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