Religions (Aug 2020)

Illuminating a Truth: <i>Dṛṣṭānta</i> and <i>Huatou</i>

  • Jeson Woo

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 9
p. 443


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In Chan/Seon/Zen (禪, hereafter referred to as Chan) Buddhism, the gongan (公案), a word that can be literally translated as “public case”, is conceived as both the tool by which enlightenment is brought about and an expression of the enlightened mind itself. Among the diverse styles of gongan, perhaps the most puzzling is a form of its key phrase, huatou (話頭), that utilizes specific things in the world. These things are either real and empirically observable, or conversely, unreal and merely hypothetical. A typical example is the figure of the “cypress tree in the front yard”. This paper tries to demonstrate that such a huatou has a structural similarity to the dṛṣṭānta (喩), an element within the three-part syllogism of Buddhist logic, insomuch as it functions as an epistemic instrument for the disclosing of a truth.