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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 13 - Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

Aveston, Greek Latin, Sanskrit. You can trace the whole thing, you can see this whole family of
words. And all the meanings expressed but all those different words belonging to that partic- ular
family, are (sort of) implicit in your one word in your language. It's a (sort of) leaf on that same tree.
Do you see what I mean? And that can give you sometimes a much deeper insight into things, into the
meaning of that word. Of course you mustn't apply in an unscientific sort of way, because sometimes
the meanings of words change radically. But sometimes it1s very interesting to see how they change.
And even the fact that they changed in a particular way has a significance - for instance the way that
the meaning of the word ahura changed as it moved away west into Persia and east into India. In India,
in Avestan and (you know) related languages, ahura means a good means a good spirit, but asura, as it
became when it came to India, is a bad spirit. In the same way deva, diva, in Avestan, is also a good
spirit, just as deva in Sanskrit, but devil in modern European languages... this is something bad,
something evil. So that also gives us matter for thought. So this is a fairly interesting study. And I think
as you (sort of) narrow the field, as you (sort of) go back in time and get back to fewer and fewer
words, or reduce (you know) the later richness to a more primitive (as it were) simplicity, as you
narrow it down more and more, you get down to certain basic concepts, which are absolutely essential
to (sort of) human thinking, which means human perception. And if you can identify those you can
understand quite a lot about your- self, and about all the universe, about religion, spiritual life,
philosophy, (you know) almost everything, if we had this (sort of) critical awareness of words on that
deeper level. Which means also a certain amount of intuition, a certain (sort of) almost poetic way of
looking at them, and not doing it as a (sort of) scientific study, even though, yes, a certain amount of
scientific information is also necessary and helpful. But you see the sort of thing I'm getting at. For
instance just to give you a simple example, what's the basic sound, the basic sound in a way? It's MA.
Because it's the simplest sound to make. Because theba~y goes AH, AH, AH, WA.... then gets its MA,
MA! So the firs~0~~~e baby makes is MA. So therefore, in practically every language I think, you've
got a word for mother which somehow is related to this basic syllable MA.
And then of course a
little bit more difficult is BA! BA! PA! So in that way you get another simple word. And of course a bit
more difficult is DA! DA! DA! And then (sort of) DE! DE! DE! DA is to give. Give. I want. So you
get back to (sort of) very basic needs and responses embodied in basic syllables. Anyway, no need to
say anything more about that. It's a very intersting study. I wish I knew more about the subject.
Devamitra: Are these reasons you mentioned in one of lectures on the Vimalakirti Nirdesa that
Bodhisattva studies etymologies. Or was that for a different...
Well, yes, the Bodhisattva is represented as studying etymology, which is 'nirukti'. And nirukti
is etymology in this sense that I've mentioned; that is to say the reduction of speech, the reduction of
words, or tracing them back to these basic (sort of) speech units, these (what do they call them?) verbal
forms, verbal roots, dhatus they're called in Sanskrit. That's another meaning of the word dhatu. It's a
verbal root, in the linguistic sense. So that is nirukti, the tracing of words back to their linguistic roots.
At least that's one of the principle elements of it. And there are a lot of writings on this particular topic
in Sanskrit. It's a
7 I~-
242very richly cultivated field... in ancient times, traditional etymology.
Abhaya: I think you said earlier that language conditions, not only reflects the way you see things,
conditions the way you see things. So that in a sense ultimately is (word unclear)
Well, yes and no. For instance what I was just thinking of was this: Because we' re not really
aware of the words that we use and their meaning and their origins, we often don't realise how
intensely metaphorical our language is. I think one could say there is no language which is not
metaphorical. Language is essentially metaphorical. Even our so-called abstract terms are basically
metaphorical, which I think is something that scientists are only just beginning to come up against. You
could of course take the view that if language is essentially metaphorical, how can language handle
reality? But that assumes a certain kind of conception of reality. You're assuming that Reality is not
metaphorical! You're assuming that reality is (sort of) abstract, as science thinks of it, or at least as
science thinks it thinks of it. But if language is metaphorical, well, this to me suggests that reality is
metaphorical. And perhaps one can get closer to reality by realising that ones language is, in fact,
metaphorical. So, for instance, take a word like 'undeThstand'. Well that's a good (sort of) intellectual
word, but look at it more closely: under-stand, stand under. That's an intensely metaphorical
expression. You're trans.. (~reak in recording)... essentially metaphorical, and that fact has all sorts of
interesting impli- cations. ~Pc 1+) Abhaya: But you wouldn't as a ... I mean, does the Buddha's
teaching (correlate?) with saying that reality is ultimately metaphorical? Absolute Reality? Is there any
relative (reality?) or is that...
Well, even relative is a metaphorical expression. Put it this way: You cannot say anything
about reality that is not metaphorical. Yes? of course Buddhism does at the same time say that (you
know) reality is beyond words. And that's a metaphorical expression: beyond. That's blatantly spatial.
(laughter) How can reality be beyond anything? You're suggesting that reality is (you know) way out
there is space. That's no more sophisticated, and no closer to the truth, than saying that God is in
heaven ~u there. The concept of God being in heaven up there in fact probably has a certain advantage
over saying that reality is beyond the world, because at least it's quite obviously mythological
language. Whereas you say, well, reality is beyond the conditioned, you think that you're speaking a
very abstract spiritual language which is much closer to reality. But you're still speaking quite meta-
phorically. So you can not in fact speak non-metaphorically about reality at all. So if there is any sort
of congruence between your statements about reality and reality itself, it can only be because reality is,
as it were, metaphorical, or of such a nature as to susceptible to meThaphorical statements. Which
really means that you get away from the correspondence theory of truth, this is what it really boils
down to.
Padmavajra: What's the correspondence theory of truth?
E~ ~~ 243S:
Well, the correspondence theory of truth is that, well, there's an object out there. And an
adequate description of it, that is to say a description that (sort of) fits the object out there, is an
instnce of the correspondence theory. The description corresponds to the reality. Suggesting two
different things, one of which corresponds to the other. We usually think of a full correspondence of
the description to the object described as constituting truth. But one need not think of truth in those sort
of terms. And in the case of metaphor you haven't really got that sort of relation. Because it's as though
in the case of metaphor the so-called object is implicated in the so-called subject. It's as though in the
metaphor you've already begun to transcend that duality, so you don't really need a correspondence
theory of truth. In other words the correspondence theory of truth is probably off the track anyway.
padmavajra: So could you describe metaphor as evocative?
You could say that. You could even describe (and this is a word I nearly always avoid, for
obvious reasons) you could describe it as sacramental. In other words it is not that the metaphor (sort
of) describes reality, or enables you to describe reality; a metaphor is a (sort of) specific form of the
actual presence of reality. Do you see what I mean? Or that reality is, in a sense, (sort of) present in the
metaphor itself. Not present in it as an object is present in a box, or anything like that; again, that's
metaphorical thinking in a different sort of way. But a metaphor represents the fact of the actual
presence of reality at a particular point, with a particular cross-section of events, or experiences.
Padmavajra: Could you give an example?
Well, all metaphorical expressions about reality are examples. Or you could say all
metaphorical statements about anything are examples. But do see the main point, which is that
speaking metaphorically doesn't mean that you hit upon a metaphor which corresponds to the truth, a
metaphor embodies the truth; in a sense, in a very (sort of) highly speclalised form, or a very limited
form, that is to say a form under certain conditions or within a certain context, is reality.
Padmavajra: Is that why poetry can come closer to truth than...
Well, you mustn't say closer to truth, at least, not taking it too literally. Because that suggests a
correspondence theory of truth. But you could say perhaps that it why poetry discloses truth more
effectively. ...

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