Reification and Deconstruction of Buddha Nature in Chinese Chan

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Reification and Deconstruction of Buddha Nature in Chinese Chan
Citation: Wang, Youru. "Reification and Deconstruction of Buddha Nature." Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 3, no. 1 (2003): 63–84.

Article Summary

Although much has been said about deconstruction in Madhyamika Buddhism, very little has been done in the study of deconstructive strategy in Chan Buddhism. In his study of deconstruction in Nāgārjuna's thought, Robert Magliola adds several passages that discuss the same topic in Chan/Zen Buddhism. Magliola's major contribution is his distinction between logocentric and differential trends in Chan/Zen Buddhism (Magliola: 96-7). This distinction allows us to take a fresh look at, and to re-examine, those inner struggles in the evolution of Chan Buddhist thought. However, Magliola's study of deconstruction in Chan is not systematic, despite its insights. He uses only a few cases to show the deconstructive tendency in Chan, without applying his distinction to a closer examination of the different schools of Chan thought. Thus, his study leaves only the impression that the deconstructive or differential trend is connected with the Southern School of Chan. He does not justify this thesis through a closer doctrinal and textual-contextual investigation.
      Bernard Faure, on the other hand, touches upon the same issue of logocentric and differential trends in Chan in his comprehensive critique of the Chan tradition. Faure's study of this issue has two main problems. First, since his study is a criticism, he shows only what he thinks is the logocentric side of Chan, without providing a constructive study of deconstruction in Chan. Second, he criticizes Magliola for relating his logocentric/differential distinction to the historically well-defined distinction between Northern and Southern Chan. Faure believes that this hasty connection is "counterproductive" (Faure 1993: 225). His own approach, as opposed to Magliola's, is to suggest that it is impossible to identify one school or one figure in the Chan tradition as either logocentric or deconstructive. He asserts that there are "only combinations" of these two types in the Chan tradition (Faure 1993: 225). It appears that this position of "combination only" avoids a one-sided view and the error of jumping to a conclusion. However, by concluding that there are only combinations, Faure turns away from the necessity and possibility of analyzing and identifying individual deconstructive trends in Chan Buddhism, and from the necessity and even the possibility of a coherent reinterpretation and reconstruction of Chan thought. The coherent reinterpretation and reconstruction of Chan thought obviously demands more than a mere criticism. It is true that the thought of one school or one figure may involve elements of two trends; but this fact does not preclude the possibility of its being coherently interpreted as representative of one trend.
      This paper, therefore, will attempt to investigate a major deconstructive trend in Chan Buddhism, namely, that of the Huineng 惠能 and the Hongzhou 洪州 Chan, and its target—certain reifying tendencies in Chan. (Wang, preliminary remarks, 63–64)