I recall sitting in my advisor's office a few weeks back, discussing research topics. He suggested that I look at the role of meditation in Buddhism, particularly that of the Chan school. I remember thinking to myself that there was nothing really exhilarating or intriguing about the topic. I reluctantly accepted it, thinking that I would be reduced to restating the common fare argument that meditation is typical of  "a special transmission outside the teachings" and that it leads to some mystical nonconceptual, nondiscursive, and unmediated inner experience that Buddhists qualify as "enlightenment." Little did I know that I had internalized the very fallacies and sophistry that I had been assigned to deconstruct. Through years of improper training and conditioning, I had grown to accept the view of Buddhist meditation that Western scholarship had offered me as accurate. The following is thus an attempt to debunk many of the misconceptions that a generation of scholars and thinkers have imparted us with. More specifically, it is the object of this discussion to disprove the view that meditation is the central focus of Buddhism and to show that it is not, as often misconstrued, a catalyst for a nonrational and insightful immediate experience of some higher "truth." In fact, it will be demonstrated that meditation is highly ritualized and dependent on, and informed by doctrinal, discursive concepts. As a result, the epistemological validity of mystical experience will be called into doubt, or at the very least, redefined and qualified, but only after a summarized analysis of the historical factors and conditions that led to a misunderstanding of the meditative experience in the first place.



Monastic Life and Meditation: Defining Ambiguity

There is no need to practice the way or sit in meditation: not to practice and not to sit is the pure chan of the tathagatas.    

-Mazu Daoyi

Hangin' in the Hermitage

It is customary in the West to view Buddhism as a tradition whose central focus is meditation and the mystical experience that arises from its practice. Closer inspection however, reveals a more ambiguous stance towards meditative practices. Meditation has always been a source of contest in Buddhism. One would expect however, that Chan Buddhism would escape debates surrounding the question for it is after all, the "meditation school." Contrary to popular belief however, Chan, like the rest of Buddhism has always been ill at ease with the notion of employing meditation in defining the tradition. After all, meditation has always been an intricate part of other traditions such as Jainism, Daoism, and even Christianity, just as much as it has more or less been a defining part of Buddhism. Despite this malaise vis à vis meditation, the practice has nevertheless played an instrumental role in the tradition as Welch testifies in a qualified statement: "The heart of Buddhism is enlightenment. The heart of the monastery was the meditation hall where enlightenment was sought. It could be sought elsewhere and we cannot say that a monastery without a meditation hall was not a Buddhist monastery. The traditional Chinese view has been that one could make progress toward enlightenment in many ways" (1967: 47). This would explain the "love-hate" relationship that Chinese Buddhism has had with meditation and the fluctuations in its practice and sanctioning.

Holmes Welch has provided a detailed account of monastic life in one of China's foremost meditation monasteries during the first half of the twentieth century. Even in this "model" monastery, the Buddhist ambivalence towards meditation is betrayed. According to Welch's investigation, Chinese monasteries that had any pretension about seriously practicing meditation would typically hold a one hour long morning meditation session. This session was usually held at seven in the morning, roughly four hours after the monks had awakened for the day. It was preceded by the recitation of morning devotions, a short rest period, the first meal and the visit to the latrines. Then followed three identically formatted one-hour cycles of sitting. After lunch and the drinking of the "two stroke tea" follow the "noon meditation period" and the "fourth and sixth periods". The fourth period is often introduced by an "Explanation on how to meditate" which typically makes use of gong an or "Recorded sayings" (yulu). By noon, most of the day's meditation had taken place. The afternoon is devoted to eating, tutorials or discussions rest periods and afternoon sutra recitations. Evenings consist of a meal, the abbot's lecture and another one hour long sitting. At ten, the drum resounds and the lamps extinguished (Welch 1967: 74).
The daily schedule greatly varies throughout the year, often in accordance with the weather and the amount of sunlight. Sitting periods come to be replaced by sutra recitations and the evening meditation period is sometimes omitted when the temperature is too high or mosquitoes too numerous (Welch 1967: 74). However, meditation periods are prolonged or added, particularly during the "meditation weeks" of winter months. At this time, sleep is reduced to two hours a night and two hours in the late after noon; monks customarily sit for up to fifteen hours a day. However, Welch himself concludes that at other monasteries, the meditation requirements were far less rigorous; in fact, "there might be none at all except for occasional meditation weeks in winter" (1967: 77). From this we can discern that even monasteries that deemed themselves "meditation centres" would allocate their time towards other activities and accord a proportionate (sometimes varying) weight to meditation. In other words, while meditative practices were a definite component of monastic life (in most temples), they were far from the central practice. [1]


Histories of chan


There was never a sage who sat alone in meditation behind closed doors.

-Zhu Xi


The relative import attached to meditation in contemporary Buddhist monasteries seemed to have been much more tenuous at other stages of Buddhism's development in China. The Chan school, which is arguably the school of Buddhism that attributes the most weight to meditation has at times totally relinquished its association to chan (a term that originally denoted dhyana, or "meditation"). As Bielefeldt notes, there is a sense in which Chan Buddhism presents itself as an "anti-meditation" school, going out of its way to distance itself from the conventionalities of samadhi exercises and the cultivation of dhyana (129). Meditation has always consisted in a fault line for Chan Buddhism, across which dialectics of praxis and doctrine, insight and knowledge have arisen. The practice of kan hua and the belief in mo zhao ("silent illumination") are but two examples among a veritable plethora of polemical discourses symptomatic of Chan's discomfort with meditation.

During the Sung Dynasty, the Chan school had come to define itself as a cohesive (although divided into plural sects) entity with a definitive character. By that time, most Chan masters reneged any special affinity with chan in the sense of dhyana or meditation. The rationale behind this claim was that their lineage had transmitted the buddha-dharma in its entirety while chan is merely one of the "six perfections" (sad paramita, ch. liu boluomi) and "three teachings" (trini siksani, ch. san xue) (Foulk 2000a: 13). Others argued that chan (viz. meditation) was a skilful means (upaya) that could be dispensed with since the transmission that they had received was pure and unadulterated enlightenment. Regardless of what justification was given, masters of Chan Buddhism, at the time of the school's inception were not expected to excel in meditation or any other particular practice for that matter. As Foulk notes, some were indeed meditation specialists, but others were known as Pure Land devotees, tantric ritualists, poets, artists, experts on monastic discipline, or exegetes of sutra and doctrinal literature (2000a: 13).

Similarly to Welch's rendering of the situation, in early Chinese Buddhism, meditation was an important element of the Buddhist path to liberation; but by no means was it indispensable. Alone, the practice of meditation was considered insufficient to achieve Buddhism's soteriological end. In the Buddhacarita, one of the first texts to relate meditation to other Buddhist modes of praxis, Asvaghosa recounts how Sakyamuni reached illumination through the aid of meditation; nonetheless, it is clearly knowledge, rather than any state of mental concentration that renders him enlightened (Foulk 2000a: 19-20). Indeed, in the context of the samatha/vipassana debate, meditation was often considered of less necessary and urgent than attaining "insight-knowledge" or "discernment."

In other instances, particularly during periods of subitist influence, meditation was (de)valued as a mundane practice. The prosaicness of meditation (and often, the enlightenment that ensues) was expressed by juxtaposing the practice to tedious quotidian acts or banal rituals:

But it should be known that at the time that ancient monasteries flourished, old

sages […] heaved stones, moved earth, drew water, cut firewood, and

grew vegetables. When the drum of the work period sounded, they tried to make

progress in the midst of  their activity. That is why Po-chang said: 'A day

without work, a day without eating.' This practice is known as meditation in the

midst of activity, the uninterrupted practice of meditation sitting

(Hakuin, from Gimello 1983: 86).


Dao Xin (Tao-hsin) (580-651) for example, the famed dhyana master who later became the "Fourth Patriarch" of Chan, defined meditation in a sense that surpassed simply sitting to include everyday acts including "lifting or lowering the foot"  (from Faure 1986: 105). Far from denigrating meditation, such rhetorical stances merely contextualised it in binary oppositional relationships between theory and practice, or doctrine and action. Along such vectors, Buddhist schools took the opportunity to emphasize one polarity more than the other. Some views of meditation were typically more conciliatory. Rather than subordinating meditation to other constituents of the Buddhist path, Zhi Yi introduces it in a salvific equation:

There are many paths and theories concerning entry into nirvana, but basically

they do not extend beyond the two methods of calming and contemplation.

That is because calming is the initial gateway to loosening bonds, and

contemplation is the chief requirement for cutting off karmic retribution.

Calming is beneficial relief for consciousness distressed by affection, and

contemplation is the marvelous method that gives rise to spiritual understanding.

Calming is the excellent cause of chan concentration (chan ding), and contemplation

is the source of wisdom (zhi hui). Anyone who becomes accomplished in these two

methods of chan and wisdom is thereby fully equipped with the means of

benefiting self and benefiting others. Thus the Lotus Sutra says, "When a Buddha

resides in the Mahayana, he is adorned with the power of chan and wisdom that

he has attained and uses it to save  beings." It must be understood that these two

methods are like the two wheels of a cart or the two wings of a bird. If people

practice one of them more than the other, they will fall into error and ruin. Thus the

sutra says, "If one inclines only to the practices of chan and merit-making

[good works] and does not cultivate wisdom and does not practice chan and

merit-making, this is called profligacy (Essential Methods of Seated Meditation

for Practicing Calming and Contemplation, Xiuxi zhiguan Zuochan Fayao,

 from Foulk 2000a: 23).

Regardless of the stance adopted towards it in Chinese Buddhism or Chan, meditative praxis has been a source of contest throughout its existence. But whether it was emphasized, relegated to the backburner, or redefined, it remained a defining and enigmatic component of Buddhism. However, it was far from holding the romanticized position that Western thought has devised for it. Moreover, many of the fluctuating convictions with regards to meditative praxis can be explained by sectarian affiliations and tenets. Hence to some degree, practice is related to doctrine. This latter point will be explored in fuller detail in the following pages, but for the moment, let us focus attention on  the  results of  meditation.


The Fruits of Meditation.


The Buddhist tradition has an ambiguous relationship with Buddhist ritual--practicing it with its institutional right hand, condemning it with its doctrinal left

-Luis Gomez.


Welch makes a point of expressing his disappointment with the answers he elicited when inquiring about "the fruits of meditation." Indeed, monks and masters alike were reticent in articulating any accomplishments. They were even more shy about implying that somehow enlightenment might occur as result of meditation. Welch muses that it is perhaps because nothing was achieved: "Were my informants simply too embarrassed to admit that the work of the meditation hall was […] merely external exercises, carried out in a prescribed order? This is a possible explanation," he concedes (1967: 80-81).

The daily monastic regimen is one of rigorous, almost obscene ritualization. It goes without saying that every action the monk will pose is one of extreme ritual importance; from cleaning one's teeth and defecating, to reciting scriptures and of course, meditating. As Welch attests, "the system of precedence, while its details may seem tiresome, is extremely important in the meditation hall […] In a well-run hall, the monk should be able to forget his body and let it be run like an automaton by the by the bell and board" (Welch 1967: 64).  Welch provides a brief description of meditation rigmarole, the minutiae of which even extends to prescriptions on beating:

            He [the monk] sits erect on the narrow bench, eyes fixed on a point no further than

 the third and no nearer than the second row of tiles on the floor. He tries to keep

 his spine perfectly straight and to control his respiration. Talking is forbidden.

The silence must be absolute. If a monk in the east makes a sound, the preceptor

goes over and beats him then and there with his incense board--and beats him hard.

If it is a monk in the west, the blows are administered by the senior instructor

            present. But the blows may not be struck with the sharp edge of the board,

nor is boxing the cheeks allowed, as it is outside the hall (Welch 1967: 64).


Meditation can be valued and practiced simply for its performative function. It becomes a metaphorical, almost prescriptive repository of knowledge, thus paralleling the function of doctrines:


            I noticed that when he [an older monk] performed even the simplest ritual,

there was a withdrawn look in his eyes and a deliberateness of in his manner

that made him seem larger than he was, as if he were saying to himself:

'These ritual movements are something precious that must be revered and preserved,

and I am the vessel of preservation.' Sometimes I wonder if the routine of the

meditation hall did not have some of the same fascination and give some of the same

satisfactions as the routine of the Masonic Lodge--ritual for the beauty of ritual,

            expertise for its own sake (Welch 1967: 88).


Once again debunking a common misconception, meditation seem to have been practiced, at least according to Welch's understanding, with some concept of ritual in mind.



The Ritualization of  Insight



The meaning of ritual is deep indeed. He who tries to enter it with the kind of perception that distinguishes hard and white, same and different, will drown there.

--Xunzi, Basic Writings


In his turn-of-the-century rendition of Buddhism, Heinrich Hackmann remarked that meditation had become " a lifeless and formal thing […]. They are merely external exercises, carried out in a prescribed order" (223). His disappointment in the revealed disenchantment of meditation is typical of much Western scholarship, but the ritualization and demystification of the practice need not be disheartening "discoveries." Every facet of life in a Chan monastery was and is governed by meticulous rules of decorum, extending to the most mundane tasks such as relieving oneself. Rules of ritual propriety in Chan monasteries were compacted into various codes including the Chanyuan qinggui, the Jiaoding qinggui, and the Zhixiu baizhang qingui in which all monastic activities were highly regulated and performed in accordance with procedural standards. Even the most insignificant actions were to be ceremoniously undertaken, as illustrated by the following passage from the Daily Life in the Assembly (Jiuzhong riyong) which relates returning to the hall after the morning ablutions:

            Having wiped your face, return to the [sangha] hall. If you are in the upper section,

            enter with your left foot first. If you are in the lower section, enter with your right

            foot first. When you get back to your blanket place, take your sleeping mattress,

            fold it in half, and sit in meditation (from Foulk 2000a: 20).


It is the habit in Western circles of learning to distinguish between meditation and ritual. This distinction is imposed upon a culture that has no notion of it; the practice of meditation in a Buddhist monastery is as much of a ritual as sutra recitations or circumambulations. Ritual formalism thus extends even to meditation. Despite the evidence, the equating of ritual with meditation remains problematic since mediation is customarily (at least in Western circles) said to incur mystical insight. Mystical insight a prioi appears antithetical to the calculated repetition of ritual, but upon closer inspection of the term, and some clever reasoning, ritual can be said to actually foster it.

Hori, an experienced Rinzai monk, argues that modern Japanese Rinzai monasteries contain both mystical insight and ritual formalism, and that in fact, they teach mystical insight by means of ritual formalism (1994: 5). In such a model, mystical insight is imposed from outside pressures. This might seem hard to digest for those with little familiarity with Buddhist monastic traditions and abundant preconceptions of what mystical experience should consist of.  Such pundits will quickly point out that mystical insight or experience cannot be imposed by an extraneous social construct, system, or ritual. Mystical insight should consist in the inner inarticulate self-breaking through the shell of externally imposed self-images, morality, and conventional knowledge. In reality however, mystical insight and by extension, enlightenment are far removed from what Hori terms as imaginative products of a "culture of romantic individualism" : zen is not areligious, it is not iconoclastic, it is not antiritualistic, it is not individualizing (Hori 1994: 22).

Ritual formalism, at the base, is composed of rote repetition and memorization. In the Buddhist monastery, these components are implemented on a large scale, by means of various rituals such as meditation. In meditation, the practitioner is conditioned to cultivate his feelings (compassion for example) or guide his consciousness toward a particular goal. The practitioner repeats the prescribed act with the prescribed state of mind until he or she no longer has to will them consciously (Hori 1994: 24). To use Hori's illustration, if one can calculate in one's head

     25 x 500   = 25

      50 x 10

it is because they have already memorized the multiplication tables and can "just see" that fifty multiplied by ten is five hundred and therefore five hundred and fifty times ten can be cancelled out of the top and bottom of  the fraction. To someone who had not been through the ritual formalism of memorizing the multiplication tables and performing many similar algebraic exercises, the answer would be exceedingly mysterious and "just seeing" it would seem to that person to be a result of mystical insight (Hori 1994: 8). The Buddhist monastery is definitely a long way from a mathematics classroom, and while the dynamic operating in monasteries is far more complex and subtle, it remains nevertheless, a similar dynamic; spontaneous or mystical insight is built on rote learning, hence ritual formalism.. Instead of memorizing numbers however, the meditation practitioner repeats and memorizes certain states of mind or consciousnesses.

Faure views the ritualization of meditation from a different, yet not necessarily conflicting angle. The intentional formalization of meditation is designed to generate a predetermined mystical insight, but the same formalization also fathers unwitting results, particularly when viewed through the lens of semiotics:


Sitting Chan (zazen) can also be seen as a ritual reenactment of the Buddha's

awakening, or even, as in esoteric Buddhism, as a  ritual identification with the

            cosmic Buddha. As noted earlier, sitting meditation […] is also a form of

"suspended animation" or temporary death. Like the samadhi of the mummy or

of the icon, it is supposed to regenerate life. In other words, we have

            an iconization of the "flesh-body." The practitioner has metonymically become,

like the sarira, the stupa or the icon, a "living grave," and has in this way--

            at least symbolically--transcended time and death (Faure 1991: 296).


In the end, the "irreducible excess of the syntactic over the semantic" remains (Derrida 1981a: 221). Ritual is never hermeneutically transparent; it retains its opacity for the participant as for the observer because of the basic serendipity of ritual innovation (Faure 1992: 297).

From the Meditation Semiotics to Koan Semantics


An interesting parallel to the ritualized practice of meditation is that of the koan. Prevailing accounts, both scholarly and popular, make of it a clever meditative device designed to focus the mind, confound the discursive intellect and eliciting "a ball of doubt" or paradox before eventually triggering an awakening (satori or kensho). It is commonly held that the koan breaks through the barrier of rational intellection to the realm of preconceptual and prelinguistic consciousness. However, this awakening is predicated by familiarity with a broad range of old cases and a meticulous command of the genre's rhetorical devices. The koan genre, "far from serving as a means to obviate reason, is a highly sophisticated form of scriptural exegesis: the manipulation or "solution" of a particular koan traditionally demanded an extensive knowledge of canonical Buddhist doctrine and classical Zen literature" (Sharf 1993: 2).

Koans it seems are more a matter of literary framing and formal positioning rather than semantic content. As Foulk notes, the outcome of a master exchange with a student is a foregone conclusion. Once the student engages in the ritualized exchange he accepts the master's authority and relegates himself to the position of disciple; whatever he responds, it will ante facto be deluded (Foulk 2000a: 325). Indeed, the tradition requires that the master dismissively rebuke whatever comment the disciple makes on the first koan he is given to ponder. The koan, like meditation, has an instrumental function. Wittgenstein taught that the meaning of a word often came from its use rather than that which the word referred to or denoted ("the meaning of a word is its use in the language") and much in the same way, koans are performative rather than descriptive (Hori 2000: 285). Rosemont makes an interesting point when he states that  "questions like 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?' or 'what was your face like before you were born?' have no cognitive answer whatever, so a fortiori they have no answer that might express some principle of Zen Buddhism, transcendent or otherwise" (from Hori 2000: 285).

Kensho or Satori, in other words enlightenment cannot exist beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness; particularly not in the case koan-prompted awakenings--which depend on (an opposition to) language--and likewise, not in the case of meditation-induced enlightenment. Instead of denigrating thought and language for besmirching pure consciousness, it should be acknowledged that only through thought and language can enlightenment be realized/constructed. In the end, accepted proof of satori and kensho is a highly formalized, ritualized and memorized set of literary and rhetorical skills that take years to acquire (Foulk 2000: 42). Enlightenment is a skill to be learned or level of schooling to be attained.


Collapsing Thought and Action: Meditation as Doctrine

Habitus and the Ritual Embodiment of Doctrine

Beliefs could exist without rituals; rituals, however, could not exist without beliefs

-Edward Shils


As seen in Faure's semiotic analysis, his ritualization of meditation can be interpreted through a more anthropological lens, doing away with the epistemological complexities of mystical insight, or at the very best, cataloging it as a mere self-induced ecstasy and by-product and of meditation. This stance views the body as the main arena for ritual and the inscription as a social and institutional exercise of control or authority.  By this reasoning, sitting meditation for example can be seen as a physical and acted-out metaphor for one pointedness of mind, quiescence, or whatever doctrine the practice has as its aim.  Zhang lu Zongzi's Zuo Chan Yi for instance cautions to "keep your hips, back, neck, and head in line, making your posture like a stupa." (from Bielefeldt 159). Pierre Bourdieu suggests that "when elementary acts of bodily gymnastics […] are highly charged with social meanings and values, socialization instills a sense of equivalence between movements (rising, falling, etc.) in the two spaces and thereby roots the most fundamental structures of the group in the primary experience of the body which […] takes metaphors seriously" (Bourdieu 1990: 71-72). According to this definition, meditation can fall under the heading of Bourdieu's habitus. Habitus is described as "the durable and transposable systems of schemata of perception, appreciation, and action that result from the institution of the social in the body" (Bourdieu and Wacquant from Reinders 246). It is in Wacquant's words the "internalization of external structures" and "the collective embodiment of the biological individual 'collectivized by socialization' " (from Reinders 246). This establishes a relationship between practice and thought; a relationship in which action, ritual, and in this case mediation, are passive receptors of imposed or reproduced external structures, in short, thought. Reinders discusses how the bowing, and by extension the topographic positioning of the body is infused with social meaning and the politics of power.  While meditation practice is less susceptible to perpetuating social contrast (if anything, it would tend to collapse it) it consists in nonetheless, much like bowing, a ritual appropriation of the body in which external structures and socio-doctrinal systems are imposed upon it.  In this sense, meditation as ritual is not merely a form of ritualized practice. Since it "embodies" structures of thought and doctrine, at a more fundamental level, it is actually another form of "thought" or representation of doctrine, an implicit ideology. As Faure points out, the distinction between theory and practice is itself theoretical and hence, if ritual is taken as a form of thought (ideology) or writing, there is fundamentally no need to oppose ritual and doctrine (Faure 1992:299).


Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form


As Bourdieu has agilely pointed out, formalization is rarely exempt from ideological motivations (1977: 128). The tie that binds meditation and doctrine is stronger than most Western scholars might have originally anticipated. For instance the doctrine of the tathagatagarbha came to pervasively underlie many of the meditational practices of the new schools of Chinese Buddhism that arose during the Sui and T'ang dynasties (Gregory 10). Another example of how doctrines informs meditation practice, or rather, of how meditation serves as a locus of doctrinal dissemination is found in the Platform Sutra. The Sixth Patriarch castigates the Northern School's meditation technique and redefines practice in the terms that are proper and specific to his own school. 2 One notable passage is that which makes use of one-practice samadhi for litigious purposes. Rather than fulfilling a soteriological purpose, one-practice samadhi is in most cases discussed in works relating to the transmission of Chan orthodoxy and the establishment of Chan lineage (Faure 1986: 119). It is often implicitly associated with the transmission of the Lankavatara Sutra and is historically interpreted as a hallmark of Indian transmission. The following excerpt is a concrete example of how meditation, in this case the one-practice samadhi, can serve as an instrumental vehicle for polemicists:


The deluded man clings to the characteristcs of things, adheres to one-practice

samadhi,[and thinks] the straightforward mind is sitting without moving and

casting aside all delusions without letting things arise in the mind. This he

considers to be one-practice samadhi. […] This kind of practice is the same

as insentience and is the cause of an obstruction to Tao. If sitting in meditation

without moving is so good, why did Vimalakirti scold Sariputra for sitting in

meditation in the forest (from Faure 1986: 120).


This sharp criticism of Northern Chan meditation is nothing more than a contest for orthodoxy in which Shen Hui is attempting to establish himself as the Seventh Patriarch and Hui Neng as the Sixth Patriarch. Faure discusses the exact mechanics of this polemical use of practice in more detail, but the main point to retain here is that one-practice samadhi meditation is much more than a technology towards mystical insight. 3


By the time that Chan had developed a self-consciousness and capacity for self-reference, meditation and doctrine had grown closer together, almost to the point that both had to be mentioned in the same breath. The rapprochement was fortified by Chinul (1158-1210) the influential reformer of the Buddhist church and systematizer of Son (Chan) Buddhism in his native Korea. After years of contemplation, Chinul came to a well balanced synthesis of the meditative techniques of Son (implying sitting) and kyo (teaching or doctrine ch. jiao). Despite unique dispositions, Son and kyo are not ultimately opposed in their goals, practices and attitudes (Buswell 1986: 229). In fact, the Korean monk insists that a combination of the theoretical and practical stances is the most effective medium of advancing spiritual growth among the majority of practitioners:


            Thus we know that, whether Son adepts or scholastics, all men past or present

            whose contemplation practice is satisfactory have penetrated to their own minds,

where false thoughts and mental disturbances never originate. In the functioning

of their noumenal wisdom and phenomenal wisdom there is never an interruption,

and they realize the Dharmadhatu[…]. Consequently, we know the teachings are

established according to the differences in individual capacities; in their broad details

the teachings might differ slightly, but their source is one […]. The thousands of

different ways of explaining the holy teachings are adaptations made according to

people's faculties and none of them fails to point the way to return to the

Dharmadhatu of your own mind (from Buswell 1986: 228).


Some currents in Chan Buddhism totally dispensed with the practical aspects of praxis, thus collapsing the theory/practice dichotomy. Chan came to be equated with purely ideological and doctrinal concepts. Behind that logic lies the reasoning that any deliberate effort to still or focus the mind is actually agitation, hence sitting meditation (during which the practitioner attempts to still his or her mind) is a conventional, inferior form of chan. Ultimate chan does not even involve praxis since it is the original nature of the dharmas which are originally empty and quiescent. The same theme reverberates in the apocryphal Vajrasamadhisutra when the Buddha instructs Simwang Bodhisattva that because all dharmas are by their nature unproduced and unmoving (wusheng wuxing), the bodhisattva does not need to enter samadhi (san mei) or sit in meditation (zuo chan) (Foulk 2000a: 61).  In texts such as the Chan Gate Sutra (Chanmen Jing), the Meaning of the Three Categories of Dharmas (Sange Fayi), Mahayana Three Categories (Dasheng Sange), or the Treatise on the Enlightenment Nature (Wuxing Lun), chan is just another name for the true nature of dharmas while the actual practice of seated meditation or any other modes by which the mind is "stilled" or fixed on an object (internal or external) are useless. The fact that chan is not considered to be an actual practice is closely associated with the subitist notion of enlightenment, which began to take shape in the seventh and eight centuries. According to the subitist arguments, meditation is a means to an end (upaya, ch. fangbian) without inherent spiritual worth. Gradually, the Chan school came to dispense with the actual practice of meditation (particularly in the lineages of Hui neng, Shen hui, and Mazu Daoyi) altogether. Chan was conceived of as prajna (ban ruo) thus operating on purely conceptual, intellectual, discursive and doctrinal levels--with, of course, some physical or external manifestations (Yanagida Seizan, from Foulk 2000a: 67). Later on in the Song, chan completely lost any reference to meditational practice, at least in the context of the Chan school. By reasserting chan as a reference to Buddha-mind (foxin) the newly emerged spiritual elite of the time, the cadre class of "Chan masters" (chanshi), consolidated their power and legitimacy on the basis of a (fictitious) patriarchal lineage (zushi chan), and cut off all ties with the remaining practitioners of meditation (xichan).


Context Within Text


The concern for lineage that characterized much of the development of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism had a significant effect on meditation.  Meditation became intricately linked with doctrine, as many meditation manuals of practical concern came to betray denominational biases. In other words, doctrine or theory informed the specific practice, and by extension the meditational experience of specific schools. This is reflected in the fact that modern Buddhist communities and masters are often hard-pressed to find a consensual definition of meditation-induced states of consciousness and the psychotropic procedures that lead to them. The practitioner's lineage, specific ritual practice, and beliefs that underlie the practice seem to account for most of the discrepancies between denominations. These variations are thus, as Sharf concludes "predicated on prior ideological commitments shaped by one's vocation, one's socioeconomic background, one's political agenda, one's sectarian affiliation, one's education, and so forth." (1998: 107). In the end, the Buddhist rhetoric of meditation is informed by and forged in to the interests of personal, institutional, and doctrinal authority. Beliefs, creeds, symbols, and myths emerge as forms of mental content or conceptual blueprints: they direct, inspire, or promote activity, but they themselves are not activities. Ritual, like action, will act out, express, or perform these conceptual orientations (Bell 19).

Hence, meditation is not, as some might argue contextualised through doctrine. Doctrine informs its very core and circumscribes its experience. Much like Derrida has shown, descriptive or "constative" discourse is "always already" inscribed within according to the specifications of prescriptive rhetorical discourse; in other words "context" is always, and has always been at work within the "text" and not only around it (198). Ritual is actually a functional or structural mechanism that aims at reintegrating the thought-action dichotomy and hence reconciliating theory and practice (Bell 20).

Other scholars have pushed their musings further and have reiterated the dichotomy that meditation collapses; if meditation is to be thus understood on dual level of thought-action, it is far from resolving the theoretical polarity between doctrine and praxis; it ends up both denying and reconciling epistemological couples. Ritual can serve as a pivot between different levels of subjective realities, mediating for example, between belief and unbelief (van Gennep 12-13). The practitioner of meditation can thus adhere to one program of truth or another, and meditation is in and of itself both a process of deconditioning and reconditioning, an instrument of personal freedom and social control (Faure 1992: 316). While the scope of this work precludes us from delving further into the problem and considering the abstract contemplations of van Gennep or Faure, we should entertain the idea that the interaction between meditation, ritual and doctrine can be potentially much more complex than outlined above. However, the general sketch that I have outlined can serve as an accurate, although less detailed working model: meditation as ritual and the ensuing "fruits" are informed by doctrine.


Western (Mis)Conceptions of Meditative Practice

The Origins of Ignorance


Buddhism and meditation have become virtually indissociable in Western constructs of the religion. This view has been propagated to such an extent that Buddhism is often typified as an "atheistic religion", primarily concerned with an abandonment of doctrine and avant-garde technologies of cultivation. While such stereotyping might offer more insight into Western and Western-influenced misrepresentations than Buddhism itself, meditation nevertheless remains relevant to Buddhism. It is crucial to recognize the interpretative concept of meditation as a construct relative to our own contemporary culture. For example, meditation is a term that is notoriously vague and imprecise. What Western languages refer to as "meditation" is often far from the signified in the original tradition. The fact that the term lacks any clear and normative referent in Western culture actually enhances the attractiveness and polyvalence of its use; meditation is an indispensable category precisely because it can be interpreted so multifariously. Because of their respective cultural and historical contexts, Western languages are ill equipped to deal with such subtle and complex concept as meditation. Conversely, even the most limited group of technical Sanskrit words that would refer to meditation include dhyana, samadhi, samatha, vipasyana, samapatti, anusmrti, yoga, and bahavana (Sponberg 17).

A large part of this paper has been allotted to debunking some of the myths that Western scholarship, thought, and even popular culture have generated with regards to the role of meditation in monastic or soteriological contexts. A better understanding of these misconceptions and the answer in how to avoid perpetuating them lies perhaps at the very source in which all this confusion about meditation arose.

 Robert Buswell has discredited many of the stereotypes and myths revolving around meditative practice and broached the subject of dubitable scholarship in his work, The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea. In his work, the issue of meditation is raised from the dual perspectives of Western scholar native and practitioner. While there is a perceivable tension between both modes of discourse in the volume, Buswell's work remains nonetheless a perceptive piece of work which manages to peer into the problematic of relating doctrine to practice. In chapter five of his book, Buswell argues that meditation has come to play an ambient, yet still important role in monastic life. The typical Korean monastery actually houses many monks whose lives are far from dedicated to meditation. Many officer monks forego meditation in order to carry out sundry "support" responsibilities that serve other monks as well as administrators. The various monastic tasks that Buswell mentions range from combating forest fires to construction, and preparing kimch'i. In short, his point is that meditation has receded in the curriculum of monastic praxis. This contributes to Buswell's general claim that Son monasteries in the latter part of the twentieth century are deritualized (implying that meditation is indeed a ritual) and more "authentic" repositories of  Zen tradition. While the second premise is harder to substantiate, the first is more than sustainable. Despite the deritualization of Son monasteries, meditation is still an active component of monastic life, but not in the way that Western scholarship would conceive of it. Buswell notes that "many Western writers depict Zen as radically bibliophobic and advocate that doctrinal understanding has no place in Zen training" (217). Under the influence of writers such as William James, who was avidly interested in transformative religious experience, Western scholarship has " promulgated a naïve view of the tradition as literally iconoclastic" and "focused purely on the goal of enlightenment" (Buswell 222; 218). In contrast to this belief, Buswell reports that Korean Son monks are actually well-versed in classical Chinese and doctrinal literature. In actual practice, they spend a relatively small amount of time in meditation.

Some schools of Buddhism have actually reproduced these Western constructs and adopted without questioning their veracity. They have internalized and externally imposed structures and constructs and made them into native elements of the religion, as if they had been there all along. This infectious trend is also noticeable in Asian, particularly Japanese, scholarship on Buddhism where it is likely to have originated. Indeed, Japanese scholarship, imitating its Western counterpart, has been known to anachronistically apply modern models to traditional histories, thereby feeding the original (Western) misrecognitions and diffusing them.

Undoing the Past: D.T. Suzuki and the Kyoto School


The Kyoto school, mainly through translation, managed to reach the West in the early eighties, thereby escaping the stigma of Japan's rightist postwar intelligentsia. Nishida Kitaro, Tanabe Hajime, Nishitani Keiji, and Abe Masao to name a few, seemed to offer exactly what the wide-eyed West was craving. Although it painted itself as a philosophical and quasi-religious Zen movement, its nature was surreptitiously political, more precisely, nationalistic. 4 To make a long story short, many of those responsible for popularizing Zen in the twentieth century, lacked formal institutional sanction and training themselves (Sharf 1994: 43). The claim is that Zen is some sort of ahistorical and transcultural "pure" spiritual experiencing of the world free from sectarianism and the restrictions of formality is serves its own purpose. Such a rhetorical stance is self-serving for two reasons: the first is that it exonerates its proponents from any accusation that would question their authority to speak and behalf of Zen; and secondly, by severing all links to a monastic, cosmological, soteriological and ethical tradition, Zen can play host to a number of potentially dangerous social, intellectual and political movements.

The popular image of Zen as a mystical introspective experience is largely a self-serving and "utilitarian" twentieth century construct. Sharf has outlined it’s the Kyoto school's development of modern Zen rhetoric in four major stages which are drawn from Western philosophical and theological strategies in an effort to cater their faith to the Western-dominated modern age (Sharf 1994: 44).5 Western scholarship unfortunately took a liking to the polemical musings of modern Zen nativists because they offered the solution to a global discomfort with scientific reason and modernity.6 As Sharf notes, the "notion of a "pure Zen--a pan cultural religious experience unsullied by institutional, social, and historical contingencies--would be attractive [to the West] precisely because it held out the possibility of an alternative to the godless and indifferent atomic universe bequeathed by the Western enlightenment, yet demanding neither blind faith nor institutional allegiance" (1994: 50).

It goes without saying that the same reasoning lied behind's the West fascination with meditation; in fact, the Western thought often equates Buddhism (especially Chan/Zen/Son) with meditation. Following the same line of thought, Suzuki contended that Buddhism is not a dogmatic creed, but a mystical experience, thus lying the foundation for a new mode of Japanese exegetical discourse that privileges "pure" or "unmediated" or "nondual" experience over ritual performance or doctrinal learning (Sharf 1993: 20). Ironically enough, the word that allegedly informs the very nature of Zen or Chan, namely "experience," is itself a modern construct in Japanese (or Chinese thought) with no precedence in Buddhist history. Keiken or taiken (ch. jingnian and tiyan), the common translations for "experience" only gained currency in the nineteenth century, when they were adopted to translate Western terms.7 Nonetheless, Suzuki and his cohorts maintain that "without experience, there is no Zen one can study" (Suzuki 123).

Most of Suzuki's the Kyoto school's ideology was to be organized and condensed in the nihonjinron intellectual movement. Spreading to literature, philosophy, and politics, nihonjinron was largely a Japanese response to modernity which gave, as Sharf words it, "the sense of being adrift in a sea of tumultuous change, cut off from the past, alienated from history and tradition" (Sharf 1993: 36). Modernity also entailed the imposition of hegemonic Western discourses; by defining the essence of "Japaneseness" as experience, a realm that was absent and much in demand in the modern West, Japan effectively turned the tables on the West. It now had something which was conveniently out of the reach of foreigners, it had something which West wanted.

As had been the case with nihonjinron thinkers in Japan, the educated elite (sometimes spiritual) in other Asian countries embarked upon the Protestantisation of Buddhism. This was chiefly achieved by means of defining meditation as the principal component of Buddhism and glossing it as a mystical experience divorced from doctrine or tradition. Such a deconstruction and reconstruction occurred as a reaction to encounters with Western thought and culture. Ironically, it was attained in a rhetoric primarily appropriated from Western mentors. The educated proponents of reformed Buddhism (whether trained locally, in Western modeled institutions, or abroad) were concerned with simultaneously gaining acceptance, and autonomy from Western scholarship and popular opinion. In a nutshell, they strove to make Buddhism the hallmark of their identity by reasserting the value of a seemingly distinct and proud national (or at the very least Asian) culture in the face of Western--whether economic, cultural or political/military--colonialism. Additionally, they strove to render this culture and its figurehead, namely Buddhism, socially and intellectually respectable in the modern/Western age. Since the technologically afflicted West was longing for a mystical yet scientifically compatible cathartic epistemological outlet, many thinkers, whether religious or purely philosophical, sought to resolve all issues by forwarding Buddhism as a solution. Unfortunately, history, tradition, culture and to a certain extent "truth", were all compromised in the process. Buddhist meditation, which was constructed as independent from doctrine and universally areligious, inspired the West and captured its imagination primarily as a mystical experience. The elements that were most alluring to Western audiences, such as the accentuation of experience and the discrediting of formal institutions, were in large part Occidental derivatives. Western enthusiasts were narcissistically enthralled by their own romantic projections.

Even today, scholarship has not yet shed its prejudice against ritual and institutionalism in favor of unmediated experience. At best, ritual is perceived as a sort of empty formalism, a "pious lie" as Faure puts it, elaborated purely under the banner of upaya for the sake of the unenlightened (1991: 285). Western scholarship must abandon its distrust of formalism and re-evaluate their treatment of the symbolic order as a purely expressive and secondary one. To say that meditation is a ritual and that it resides in doctrine, by no means denigrates it.

The Politics of Experience


Many scholars have fallen victim to what Sharf calls the "politics of experience" by imposing recent Western models such as those inspired by post-Enlightenment Christianity, in a phenomenological approach to the Buddhist rhetoric of meditative experience. A large part of Western and Japanese scholarship's misconceptions about meditation are founded on the idea of experience. According to customary yet erroneous thinking, since experience is ineffable, texts that discuss mystical experience are inevitably descriptive and thus, meditation is simply framed or rendered by (but entirely divorced from) doctrine. This is a clever rhetorical move to make because "by situating the locus of religious signification in phenomenological "inner space," religion is securely sequestered beyond the compass of empirical or social-scientific modes of inquiry" (Sharf 1995: 229). However, rather than being denotative or referential, terms applied to and works concerned with the definition of mystical experience are prescriptive and directly influence the experience itself.

Sharf entertains this possibility and in fact buttresses it by raising the logical impossibility of describing nirodha in the first person (1995: 237). By this token, magga treatises and texts dealing with mystical experience might very well be prescriptive systemizations of spiritual materials instead of actual lived experiences. Hence these texts are not to be taken as personal testimonials attesting to the veracity of the experiences they narrate. Authors often go to great lengths to render the texts impersonal and prosaic. Perhaps this passage from Sharf's article can prove more eloquent and authoritative than my own comments:

Nowhere in Buddhaghosa's works does he claim to have relied upon personal

 inspiration or meditative insight. The situation is, in fact, quite to the contrary: by his

 own account, the Visuddhimagga was composed on the basis of his study of the

available commentarial and commentarial corpus: 'I shall expound  the comforting

Path of Purification, pure in expositions, relying on the teaching of the dwellers in the

Great Monastery [Anuradhapura]…' (1995: 239).


What once might have been thought of as phenomenological description, is revealed to be ideological prescription. 8 The transforming experiences that mystics or meditation practitioners encounter are thus a function of the kinds of discourse they learn and use. Gimello similarly insists that "mysticism is inextricably bound up with, dependent upon, and usually subservient to the deeper beliefs and values of the traditions […] which harbor it. As thus it is intricately and intimately related to those beliefs and values, so it must vary according to them" (Gimello 1983: 63). 9 The formative influence of doctrinal discourse on meditation and its expected "mystical insight" relies not only on the content of scriptural texts as well as their imagery, formulation, style, and so on. Mystical experience encountered through practices such as meditation is simply as Gimello words it, "a psychosomatic enhancement of religious beliefs and values" (1983: 85). The success of the meditative experience as it seems, hangs by the thread of rhetoric.10



Ritual Theory, Doctrinal Practice


The four-verse formula often employed to define Chan Buddhism ("A special transmission outside the teachings (jiaowai biechuan), Does not depend upon words and letters(buli wenzi), Points directly at the human mind (zhizhi renxin), Buddhahood attained by seeing one's own nature " (jianxing chengfo).) has frequently been taken at face value rather than as a polemical and rhetorical stance. This in effect, has corrupted a whole generation of scholars into accepting and disseminating skewed definitions of Buddhism, Chan Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. One of these skewed definitions rests on the presupposition that meditation is central to Buddhist religious praxis. This belief is a potentially dangerous one for it could imply that Buddhism, as a whole is oriented toward mystical or meditative experience. In reality, while meditation may have been an undeniable component of monastic, or even ascetic life, by no means did it occupy the dominant role that it is often ascribed by scholarship. Moreover, Buddhism and the Chan school (which is conventionally defined as "the meditation school") have ambivalent attitudes towards meditative praxis and varying ideas of the weight that should be attributed to it. Much of these fluctuating approaches towards meditation have to do with sectarian affiliation and a specific period's dominant Buddhist ideology. Meditation was employed as a vehicle for polemic discourse, and was therefore inextricably linked to the intellect and to doctrine. Doctrine, as it were, actually informed and continues Buddhist meditation and its resulting experience.  The unitive thread that runs through doctrine and (meditation) practice is that of ritual, for meditation is the ritual embodiment of ideology. In this sense it is a ritualized performance of doctrine more prized for its performative values than for its practical remunerations. The mystical experience or insight that one gains through the practice of meditation or any other ritualised representation of thought, such as koans for example, is a rehearsed and pre-determined state. The ensuing implication is that enlightenment itself, has little to do with actual experience and much to do with attaining a ritually defined status.

Such arguments would destabilize the traditional scholarly understanding of Buddhist meditation and Buddhist experience that came to the fore as a result of Asian Buddhist cultures coming into contact with the modern, disenchanted West. However, there are points of prudence that should be considered before we debunk further misunderstandings by replacing them with new ones. Hori insightfully maps out what could be a rhetorical one-upmanship on the part of scholars that challenge the "meditation as mystical experience" position held by practitioners and question the legacy of the Suzuki and the Kyoto school:

            Such criticism implies that those people presently engaged in Buddhist meditation

            seeking enlightenment are doing the Zen version of waiting  for Santa Claus to

            come down the chimney. If these criticisms are correct, then whatever it is that

            present day practitioners are doing, is not real Buddhism but a projection of their

            fantasies. What real Buddhism is, is left undefined in this criticism but, by

            implication, it seems it is that Buddhism which is recorded in premodern

primary texts. This way of strategically redefining boundaries means that only

Buddhist scholars who can read those premodern primary texts will be qualified to

speak about Buddhism; practitioners are disqualified. Strategically speaking, this

argumentative position is the counterpart to those who claim that enlightened  practitioners

and only enlightened practitioners have to right to speak about Zen; scholars are disqualified

 (Hori 1996: 257).


In turn, this simply pushes dualistic categorization to a higher level, essentially distinguishing between action and thought, object and subject, practitioner and observer (theorist). At this level, which is chiefly concerned with the knowledge and the practice academia, the theorist sees the result of what he or she intended to accomplish (in this case overcoming dualisms between Chinese Buddhist practice and doctrine in the context of meditation), without consciously perceiving the mechanisms employed to reach the conclusion. Essentially, the theorist will impose a dualism on the object of the study, without there ever being one in the first place. The observer will “give an answer to a question that was never posed: the effectiveness of practice is not the resolution of the problematic to which it addresses itself but a complete change in terms of the problematic, a change it does not see itself make” (Bell 87). This, in turn raises complex issues of scholarly self-deception, self-reflection and self-representation revolving around the I/Other dichotomy. The "meditation as mystical insight" theory is a clear orientalist imposition of modern and contemporary notions such as experience for instance, onto a practice, time and place that do not have  the slightest concern for matters of the kind. But perhaps the "meditation as a ritualised expression of doctrine" theory also relies on the imposition of modern Western constructs. In this case, there is a definite chance that an original dualism between theory and practice was adapted to meditation for the sole purpose of defeating it. Even by studying scholarship on a practice, which is to a certain extent, what I have undertaken, the vicious circle of misrepresentation is inescapable since scholarship itself, in opposition to the observer or critic, becomes a practice and object. The “ academic blind spot” is therefore seemingly inescapable, but then again, do we really need to escape it?  Catherine Bell seems to believe that the homologisation between thinking theorist and acting actor is precisely what makes of ritual such a privileged vantage point on the meaningfulness of cultural, social and historical phenomena (31).



1 After 1949, monastic life in China was considerably disrupted due to repeated government intrusions. "Ch'an Buddhism was destroyed in China, while still alive, by the land reforms of 1950. Meditation takes time, and time takes unearned income" (Welch 1967: 47). Residents of monasteries however, made conscious efforts to preserve meditation as part of the daily routine. Despite their efforts, sitting sessions dramatically decreased in number and duration. For more on the topic of Buddhism under Mao and the daily life of monks during that period, consult chapter 10 "the individual Buddhist" in Holmes Welch, Buddhism Under Mao. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

2 For an in-depth discussion of this polemic see Philip B. Yampolsky's The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, New York NY: Columbia University Press, 1967.

3 See Bernard Faure, "One Practice Samadhi in Early Ch'an," in Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism. Peter N. Gregory ed. Honlulu HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

4 The question of the Kyoto school's political inclinations is a eerily parallel to Martin Heidegger's case; after revelations of his associations with the German Nazi Party, inclinations towards Heideggerian thought greatly declined, retaining nonetheless, some legitimacy. For a thorough discussion on the Kyoto school and its views on zen, nationalism, and modernity, see James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School and the Question of Nationalism. Honolulu HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

5 The first stage involves the distinction between a faith's "pure origins" and "contingent manifestations," dissociating any period of spiritual decline from the "essence" of the given religion. The second stage in the construction of modern Zen rhetoric consists in identifying the religion's essence as an experience. The third stage would entail universalising the experience by claiming that Zen is in the end, not really a religion per se. The final stage consists in asserting that this universal Zen experience is the metaphysical ground for Japanese culture, thereby consigning the Japanese to a sphere of spiritual, not to mention cultural elite. For an ample discussion on the modern construction of Zen, see Robert H. Sharf, "Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited," in Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School and the Question of Nationalism. James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo eds., Honolulu HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

6 For an in-depth historical account of the development of Zen nationalism, see Robert H. Sharf "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism," in History of Religions 33:1 (1993): 1-43.

7 Sharf notes that keiken or jingnian has no premodern Japanese or Chinese equivalents. Taiken or tiyan is occasionally found in Song Neo-Confucian writings meaning "to investigate firsthand" (1993: 22).

8 For a more ample discussion on the topic of meditation and experience see Robert H. Sharf, "Experience," in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Mark C. Taylor ed. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, (1998): 94-116, and "Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience," in Numen 42 (1995): 228-283,by the same author.

9 Despite the a priori resemblance with Sharf's convictions, Gimello seems to represent a more probably the most academically stable ground. Instead of advocating a universal mystical experience upon which the filter of ramified language or doctrinal relativity is affixed, or negating the existence of experience divorced from that which describes it, Gimello argues that mystical experience is informed by language and concepts, yet, in some sense, its ultimate "reality' remains divorced from them. Language and concepts are, truly enough, the purveyors of conventional truth (samvrti-satya) however, they only means by which the ultimate truth (paramartha-satya) can be known. As Nagarjuna concludes "ultimate truth is not taught except upon the foundation of conventional knowledge." By focusing on "positive, if qualified, evaluations of language, and yet not lapsing into naïve assumptions of its definite referential capacity, we can get some purchase on the mystical efficacy Buddhists are willing to attribute at least to the judicious use of discourse, notwithstanding their sense of its limitations" (Gimello 1983: 71). Language is impotent in describing the "reality" of any experience. Regardless, it performs other paramount functions such as shaping and directly informing one's view of experience. In this sense, the value of language lies in its connative, corrective and performative functions (Gimello 1983: 72). In Gimello's view of things, the mystical experience is, in the end, indescribable and cannot be relegated to the simple apprehension of language. But none of this mollifies the efficacy that language does have in generating the goal of mystical experience.

10 On the mysticism and experience debate, see Robert M. Gimello, "Mysticism and Meditation," in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Stephen T. Katz ed. New York NY: Oxford University Press, (1978): 170-199 and "Mysticism in Its Contexts," in Mysticism and Religious Traditions, Steven T. Katz ed. New York NY: Oxford University Press, (1983): 61-88.

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