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  • Washing the Dust from my Mirror:The Deconstruction of Buddhism—A Response to Bronwyn Finnigan
  • Chad Hansen

I thank Professors Finnigan and Garfield (Jay) and the editors of Philosophy East and West for inviting me to join in this discussion of Chinese Buddhism. I have not taken many opportunities in my career to write about Zen Buddhism and Daoism, although I have been fascinated by their connection. I remember quite clearly a discussion I had with Jay some years back in which I broached the idea that Daoism had contributed important dialectical steps leading to the formulation of Zen, which I join the Chinese tradition in regarding as the highest version of the Buddhist insight. Jay argued to me at that time that the necessary insights were actually all available in Nāgārjuna. I am accordingly pleased to see him exploring the idea of the contributions that features of Chinese thought might have made to this development in Buddhism, although I don’t assume that he needs to repudiate Nāgārjuna’s depth of insight or the claim that it contains all that is strictly necessary for the Zen account of insight or enlightenment.

Accordingly in my discussion here, I will focus on how I see features of Chinese Daoist thought facilitating, if not providing necessary and sufficient conditions for, these insights. The account I will give targets neither Buddhist epistemology nor the state of mind of one who achieves the insight. Nor, strictly speaking, is my account focused on Buddhist ethics, which in my view would be the deontology of the Eightfold Path. However, along with Professor Finnigan, I will take the Four Noble Truths as the beginning point. Chinese schools tend to treat this as kindergarten Buddhism. I would agree that the other three noble truths raise issues in meta-ethics and the quasi-ethical issue of the meaning of life (is it meaningless suffering from which the only goal is escape?). The problem of Buddhism from China’s point of view was how to reconcile the deeply pessimistic, nihilistic, and decadent (apologies to Nietzsche) tone of Buddhism with the upbeat, humorous, joyful exuberance of Chinese Daoism.

Despite their different settings, my narrative will still pass through and deal with Finnigan’s worry that some alleged tension in wu-wei is not resolved in Chinese thought and thus cannot resolve the deeper problem in Buddhism. I was invited [End Page 160] mainly to discuss my theory of linguistic functionalism in China. I will spell out important details of my theory relevant to this issue in section 1.

Then, in section 2, I will discuss how the details of Chinese functionalism intersect with the central role of dao in Chinese thought that gives Daoism its status as the quintessential expression of Chinese philosophical insight. This will ground my elaboration and clarification of the Daoist theory of wu-wei and its use in adapting Buddhism to a Chinese context of thought.

In section 3, I will use Daoist wu-wei to explain the Chinese approach to the question of what nirvana is—which I take to be the opening wedge that brought Buddhism into contact with the Daoist problem of you-wu and leads eventually to our discussion of the state of mind that Zen calls Enlightenment. I will collapse this process to the beginning and end points and concentrate on the Zen account of that state, then explain how I see Daoist arguments, drawn from the combination of functionalism, dao, and mature wu-wei, contributing to that insight.

Finally, in section 4, I will bring this line of reasoning back into contact with Finnigan’s epistemic concern about universals. There I will argue that the combination of features of Chinese thought provide a natural antidote to any temptation we may have to commit ourselves to the reality of universals or to employ them as the objects of intentionality. Mine will be easily recognizable as Wittgenstein’s argument in Chinese Daoist clothing, and I’ll only hint at why this is. I hope, and suspect, that the thrust of my account here will largely coincide with Garfield’s approach. I suspect it may not conflict that much with...