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Unintended Baggage? Rethinking Yuanwu Keqin’s View of the Role of Language in Chan Gongan Discourse

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This essay argues that the distinctive literary voice of Yuanwu Keqin in Biyanlu is generally overlooked or blurred with the source materials. It seeks to understand Yuanwu’s view of Chan rhetoric seen in relation to Xuedou’s original verse comments. In one of Yuanwu’s prose remarks, he stakes out his view of the role of language in gongan discourse by valorizing the verse comments of Xuedou. But other passages stress that there is a difference between verse and prose commentary, or view both styles as positive. By engaging the views of other recent scholars, this essay demonstrates that it is crucial to see that from the start of his collection Yuanwu emphasizes the innate limitations of discourse, while at the same time shows how an appropriate use of rhetoric can be useful and necessary as a heuristic tool to guide disciples.


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