Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Interpretation: Literal or Figurative?

In my studies of different religions over the years, the aspect of religious studies that I find the most interesting is hermeneutics. Digging deeper until my shovel hits the treasure chest I have been looking for his a rewarding action. This is how I think of hermeneutics. Interpreting texts and practices respectfully can give us insight and understanding, which is crucial to the study of religion. You may see then why I found it interesting that there is a section in Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism called “The Literal and The Figurative in Tantric Hermeneutics. This section opened my eyes to different forms of hermeneutics. At this point, I have had the na├»ve view that all hermeneutics is more or less figurative. I personally practice interpretation by reading a section of text, for example, and finding alternative meanings and reading it solely figuratively. Seeing that there are literalists and on the other side, people who interpret figuratively, teaches me a powerful lesson about interpretation in all religions world-wide… some things mean exactly what they say. Some of the texts that I read and interpret to mean something that might be incredibly broad and vague might just be meant to take literally. Especially when it comes to a complicated idea such as tantric, this will be important to keep in mind. I am curious, now, to see if I continue to view things in a figurative sense or if I begin to interpret more literally. 

            Wedemeyer perfectly explains the literal and figurative by saying, “Many assert that the Tantras-being the secretive, esoteric scriptures they claim-express themselves via a kind of special code (twilight language or intentional language), which must be broken in order to understand what the real meaning is behind what seem, taken literally, to be antinomian statements or references to exotic meats or revolting bodily fluids. Others (currently among the most vocal) claim that the Tantras say exactly what they mean and this question of interpretation is ultimately an artificial one born of naively giving credence to the later, "bowdlerizing," "sanitizing," and/or "semanticizing" tendencies found in the commentarial literature” (Wedemeyer 107).

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