The pragmatics of 'never tell too plainly': Indirect communication in Chan Buddhism

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This is a philosophical investigation of the linguistic strategy of Chinese Chan Buddhism. First, it examines the underlying structure of Chan communication, which determines the Chan pragmatics of 'never tell too plainly'. The examination of the structural features of Chan communication reveals what the Chan 'special transmission' means. The Chan definition of communication is very different from the Aristotelian conception of communication in the West. The Aristotelian hierarchy of speaker over listener, or the direct over indirect, is absent is Chan communication. Communication in the Chan context is interactive, open-ended and determined by its existentio-practical concern. Second, this essay investigates the different types of the Chan strategies of indirect communication, such as the use of paradoxical, tautological and poetic language, which best demonstrate the principle of 'never tell too plainly'. The whole study indicates that Chan Buddhism provides the resources for our contemporary inquiry into the issue of indirect communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-31
Number of pages25
JournalAsian Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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