The Philosophical Assumptions behind the Non-Cognitive Use of Scriptures in Eastern Religions

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Zavaliy, Andrei
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It is well-known that sacred scriptures play a dual role in many religions – cognitive (or informative) and non-cognitive (or performative). Arguably, the non-cognitive use of scriptures is especially prominent in Eastern Religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. The use of a text as a talisman to ward off evil forces, the uttering of mantras and sacred formulas, and the spinning of the “prayer wheels” containing scrolls of paper with excerpts from various sutras, are all examples of the use of the religious text in a non-cognitive manner. The paper aims to examine the philosophical background of such practices, and to identify the implicit metaphysical assumptions that allow the practitioners to use the word, whether in its written or spoken forms, as a sacred ritual object with real powers. The Mimamsa school from the Hindu tradition and the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism are selected as representative examples, and their respective approaches to language are examined. My further goal is to encourage a fresh look at the Eastern religious traditions, where local practices are not evaluated and categorised according to western standards, but are rather approached from the philosophical background of an indigenous tradition per se.