Buddhist Hermeneutics

Richard Nance

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Buddhist Hermeneutics

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Etymologically derived from the Greek ἑρμηνεύειν, to interpret, the term “hermeneutics” is often presumed to gesture to Hermes, messenger of the Gods. Although the historical validity of this connection with Hermes has been questioned by contemporary scholars, it suggests an abiding concern with the interpretation of messages (and messengers) of purportedly divine origin. Since the 17th century, the domain of hermeneutics has been extended to the interpretation of texts more generally: to questions concerning their nature, principles to be used for making sense of them, and guidelines for selecting among alternative interpretive options. Still more recently, hermeneutics has focused on the nature of interpretive practice: what interpretation is, and whether and to what extent interpretation is correctly understood as central to the human sciences or, more broadly, to human experience. The phrase “Buddhist hermeneutics” may be used to reference any of these aspects of hermeneutics, but for the purpose of this article it will be generally understood as marking the specific principles and practices that Buddhists in various places and times have used to make sense of the texts and experiences that they count as important to their lives as Buddhists. The principles and practices at work in Buddhist hermeneutics exert their effects at various interrelated personal and social levels. They contribute to the construction of a conceptual framework in light of which persons understand themselves and the world around them: how things are, how things could be, and how one should go about settling competing claims to authority. This framework facilitates a sense of community that functions both synchronically and diachronically, as practitioners of diverse backgrounds are joined with each other and with Buddhists of the past in the pursuit of coming to understand the meaning of Buddhist teachings.

Article.  7669 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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