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Eric, FBA Team
Mary, FBA Team
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Coleen, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Ratnachuda, South London, UK
Aileen, Shetland Islands
... Because you know that it sometimes happens that an expression, say a poetic expression,
communicates, even though if you take it literally it's nonsense. Or at least you cannot explain what is
communicated, or the fact the something is communicated, in terms of the literal meaning of the
language in which that communication is expressed. But something is communi- cated, something
passes across, even though, in a sense, looking at it logieally, it ought not to be able to. But it does. And
poetry, or poetic language, or metaphor, has that (sort of) capacity. It seems to transcend the distinction
between the description and the object described.
C~i ~r/~ IS-~
244Vessantara: You say under certain special a metaphor can be reality?
No, I didn't say that under certain special conditions a metaphor can be reality. But a metaphor
is a case of reality being under certain special conditions.
Abhaya: Perhaps it would help if you defined what you mean by metaphor. It's usually understood in
poetic terms: describing one thing in terms of something else.
Mmm. Well, if you say the Buddha was a lion among men, that is a metaphor. What it means
is immediately understandable. Linguistically you're not saying that the Buddha is like a lion, that's
another figure of speech. But you're saying that the Buddha is a lion among men. That is to say you
fuse these two ideas or concepts of man and lion. It is not that you are (as it were) comparing one
seperate thing and another seperate thing. You're identifying the Buddha and the lion in a certain
respect. And the metaphor enables you to see the common element in them - to see where man and lion
(as it were) or Buddha and lion overlap.
Abhaya: But not correspond - overlap.
But not correspond... yes, yes. Overlap rather than correspond. Because they overlap to some
extent because they do not entirely coincide, obviously. Because a lion is not a man and a man is not a
lion. But you can nevertheless speak of a lion among men. You can sort of (you know) analyse it
intellectually and say, well, the Buddha is among human beings (you know) just as the lion is among
the beasts. But if you break it down in that way, if you take it apart in that way, it loses its unity and its
immediacy and its impact, and it doesn't mean the same thing.
Abhaya: So would you say that ... I came across a phrase about the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Avatamsaka
teaching is a vast system of correspondences.
~haya: ... You would say therefore that's rather misleading, it would be a vast system of metaphors.
Ah, yes. A vast system of overlappings, with one thing being present, to some extent, in every
other thing. There is of course a teaching or doctrine of correspondences, but I think that can be
misunderstood. It's usually based on the Hermetic saying of (you know) "As above so below" and yes,
there is some truth in that. But one mustn't think of (sort of) one thing as corresponding to another in
the sense that, say, a reflection in the mirror corresponds to the object; the two stand apart. There is a
correspondence in the sense that where (say) the levels are different, one higher and one lower, there is
a correspondence in the sense that the higher is (as it were) in a sense actually present in the lower, and
the lower actually represents on a lower level, the higher itself. Do you see what I mean? Their being is
interconnected in that sort of way. Not that one is a copy of the other in a different medium (as it were),
while remaining quite distinct. So this is why I use the word sacramental, though, I also mentioned for
obvious reasons, I nearly always avoid using
LL ~/~ ~k '~-~
245this term. In some respects it's got entirely the wrong (sort of) associations. But I think what it boils
down to to some extent, coming back to a different langauge, is we have to try to realise that language,
even quite ordinary language, has a depth and a resonance that we don't usually appreciate. Even some
metaphors have become hackneyed and stale. And I think this is one of the secrets of good writing, that
you look at your metaphors all the time. For instance we've got this expression: He's as good as gold.
Now that expression must have been very fresh and original and striking at one time, but we don't
experience it as fresh and original and striking. It's just a (sort of, well a) dead (sort of) coinage. But if
you think about it just a bit more, well, "As good as gold". Well, what a (sort of) wonderful, precious,
beautiful thing gold must have seemed to primitive man. Gold was the chief ornament, the chief
adornment. Kings and queens and heros and such people, they wore golden ornaments, gold had all
sorts of wonderful associations. In Indian mythology there's the concept of a golden egg from which
the whole universe originated, even in folklore there's the goose that lays the golden egg, and so on. So
gold has got all sorts of archetypal connotations and so on. So if you say of someone "He's as good as
gold" well, it's a very (sort of) powerful expression. Well, we've lost the sense of that. So I think when
we're writing, and when we use, say, a meta- phorical expression, or a (sort of) disguised or submerged
meta- phor, we ought to (sort ~f) ponder it a bit, and say, well, is this really fresh enough to use, or, can
I use it in such a way as to communicate its freshness, to re-fresh it, to freshen it up, or at least to show
the reader that I'm not just using it in the ordinary hackneyed (sort of) way.
All these things, once
upon a time, were real discoveries. But we've lost the sense of that. I think this is one of the things that
one realises, that one recognises, when one reads, for instance, Milton ... carefully. Milton is very very
much aware of the meaning of the words, and even the origins of the words, that he uses. And of
course he was a very good linguist, knowing a large number of languages. At least eight or nine
languages quite well. So again this comes back to something we were talking about, without going too
much off the track: I was talking about vagueness and wooliness of thought, and one of the reasons for
vagueness and wooliness of thought is that people have not scrutinised the language that they use
nearly carefully enough. They do not ask themselves What do I mean by this? by this word or this
expression? (You know) they just (sort of, you know) vaguely utter (you know) certain vocables to
which they attach a minimum of associated (sort of) meaning. They're not able really to express
themselves. When two or more such people get involved in an argument - oh, that really is hilarious!
Well, you can see, if you listen carefully, how utterly, utterly, at cross purposes they usually are.
They're not even clear enough really (word unclear) to disagree. But very often they think that they're
disagreeing. And again this is really quite hilarious, because they can get very very involved in their
argument, and very heated, and become very convinced that they're right and that the other person is
wrong. But actually there's really not enough meaning in what they say for one to be able to speak of
what they're saying as being either right or wrong. Because really, much of what they say is no more
than noises. Almost animal-like noises, with a certain amount of meaning attached, but not very much
meaning very often.
~i ~(, I~- 5246Sometimes I've tried, as a sort of little excercise, listening to people talking and ignoring the meanings.
Sometimes this is quite easy to do because there' s very little meaning. And you can actually hear
people say "Qua qul qua qua qua qua qui quo quo quack!11 (laughter) And really it's that. You see
what I mean? (laughter continues) They don't speak, they just vocalise, if you see what I mean. So no
wonder there's no clear thinking, and no wonder there's muddles, and no wonder there' s confusion,
and no wonder there's misundersatnding betwwen people.
Greg Shanks: Is there a simple relationship between language and thought? What's the relationship,
say, between the development of language and the development of thought?
Well, I think there's a clue to this in what was said a little earlier on, about language going
back to certain basic forms. This means that language goes back to certain basic ways of looking at the
world. And surely that is connected with certain basic ways of (as it were) thinking. Though probably
if one goes back as far as that, one will not find that thinking is a (sort of) separate function from
emotion, in the way that it seems to be nowadays. One would probably find that the further one goes
back, the more these things fuse, and you've got certain basic ways of experienc- ing the universe, so to
speak. Though you don't actually think in terms of a universe out there which you experience, but
you've got certain basic ways of experiencing the universe which can't be described as exclusively (sort
of) intellectual or emotional or volitional and so on. It's just the (sort of) total you experiencing the
universe, though without there being that dichotomy between you and the universe which we at present
Padmavajra: Is this (unclear) in ancient times (unclear) words that could actually be thought to have
Very likely, this is a big and rich and complicated field, I wouldn't like to rush in, because as I
said a little ...