The question motivating this essay is how tantric Buddhist practitioners in Japan understood language such as to believe that mantra, dhāraṇī
, and related forms are efficacious. “Extraordinary language” is introduced as a cover term for these several similar language uses found in tantric Buddhist practices in Japan. The essay proceeds to a critical examination of Anglo-American philosophy of language to determine whether the concepts, categories, and concerns of that field can contribute to the analysis and understanding of extraordinary language. However, that philosophy of language does not contribute to this analysis, as it is constrained by its continuing focus on its founding concepts, dating particularly from the work of Frege. Comparing it to Indic thought regarding language reveals a distinct mismatch, further indicating the limiting character of the philosophy of language. The analysis then turns to examine two other explanations of tantric language use found in religious studies literature: magical language and performative language. These also, however, prove to be unhelpful. While the essay is primarily critical, one candidate for future constructive study is historical pragmatics, as suggested by Ronald Davidson. The central place of extraordinary language indicates that Indic reflections on the nature of language informed tantric Buddhist practice in Japan and are not simply cultural baggage.
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