Semiology of the Dharma; or, The Somaticity of the Text

Ryuichi Abe
Chapter 7 of The Weaving of Mantra.

At this play of mimesis, the practitioners’ cultivation of samadhi through their recitation of mantra, the materiality of mantra becomes the very somaticity of the practitioners. The letters are now the physical constituents of the prac­titioners. That is, the practitioners realize that they, too, are signs of scripture, which constitute the “body of the text.” Embodying in their recitation the breath of the mantra’s letters, the practitioners become the movement of differentiation itself (the originally non-arising, which simultaneously generates their own identities and those of other things as signs of the world-text.

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Kukai’s construction of the interpenetrating relationship between the text and the world calls for an expansion of the concept of language, for not only spoken words or written characters but all sorts of things and events in the world are, for Kukai, signs of the cosmic text. Kukai explains this point in his celebrated verse at the opening of Voice, Letter, Reality.

Vibrating in each other’s echoes are the five great elements
That give rise to languages unique to each of the ten realms
All in the six sense-fields are letters,the letters
Of the Dharmakaya, which is reality.

Excerpted from The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the construction of esoteric Buddhist discourse, Columbia University Press, 1999.