Not The Wind; Not The Mind Part 2
This post will concentrate on the role of metaphor in Zen. This might seem an unwelcome detour into a fraught area of academic philosophy and linguistics . I hope to show that this is not a digression, and that it is an issue integral to any discussion of Zen koan training. Indeed, I should have raised the subject long before now.
When Zen Masters use metaphors, you should know that employing metaphors is as close as Zen Masters come to being “literal” when teaching the Dharma .
The Buddha taught almost exclusively with metaphors and parables. Why have all enlightened teachers freely used metaphors in their teachings? They use metaphors because, as we have seen, literal statements are propositions asserted to be “true”, and as such, can never capture all possible perspectives on any given experience, and therefore remain incomplete insofar as “truth” is concerned .
Such “literal” or “objective” propositions are “true” or “warranted” only in limited contexts and can never constitute an all-encompassing truth about “mind”. Here, it is essential to remember that in Zen rhetoric, “mind” is perfectly synonymous with “experience”, including all thoughts, sensations, feelings, and “qualia”.
The use of metaphor produces two beneficial results for koan training. The primary result is that because the metaphor is only “partially true”, the metaphorical statement exists in a kind of metaphysical limbo that people can immediately sense, even if they have no idea of what “metaphysics” means.
For those with enough philosophical training to get themselves into trouble, metaphors raise vexing philosophical questions as to the nature of “partial truth”. From a Zen perspective, these questions are rightfully ignored because metaphors are processed instantly at a preconscious level and obtain their desired effects without effort or deliberation. Questions about the nature of metaphor are, from this perspective, “meta-questions” and simply do not arise at this fundamental (i.e. preconscious) level .
For those with enough philosophical learning to get into trouble, metaphors raise vexing philosophical questions as to the nature of “partial truth”. From a Zen perspective, these questions are rightfully ignored because metaphors are processed instantly at a preconscious level and obtain their desired effects without effort or deliberation. Questions about the nature of metaphor are, from this perspective, “meta-questions” and simply do not arise at this fundamental (i.e. preconscious) level.
Second, because metaphors aren’t “literally” true, they have the desirable secondary effect of reminding hearers that they shouldn’t become attached to any proposition – literal or metaphorical – that purports to be a final truth. One of the “capping phrases” used in koan training lampoons dogmatic assertions of truth as follows: “A perfectly apt phrase – the eternal donkey hitching post!” 
By using metaphors instead of some “definitive” statement of truth that beginning Zen students long for, an enlightened teacher is in effect saying, “It is not possible to give you an adequate answer in conventional terms; I can only refer you to a familiar bodily experience that might help you find a way to embody the truth of this koan.” Even if the student does not consciously understand this subtext, they sense that their search for answers must venture beyond common sense reasoning and instead rely on bodily intuitions.
Despite any critique that may be made of metaphors, their use by enlightened teachers shows that they serve a profoundly positive purpose in guiding a student on the path to wisdom. By relying on other contexts that involve bodily experiences familiar to us, metaphors operate on a preconscious level to point us in a direction we find informative, even if we can’t explain why.
How is it that we can agree that metaphors are “informative” in the sense that we learn something from them? From a “cognitive linguistics” point of view, we can say that the shared similarities between the two contexts activate preconsciously-intertwined “semantic frames” (per Fillmore and Lakoff), or in Quine’s metaphor, unacknowledged “webs of belief” that we might not have noticed otherwise. Such discoveries broaden the “search space” of our inquiry as to what to do in a given situation. This extra degree of freedom is sensed instantly and provides the same subtle delight we find in great poetry.
Buddhism’s own version of cognitive science was laboriously elaborated for more than five hundred years following the death of Buddha in the “Abhidharma”, a body of Buddhist literature still important to Theravadin Buddhism and which attempted to identify every possible human mental state and classify it as either helpful or unhelpful in reaching enlightenment.
In contrast, Zen pragmatically pruned these fatiguing and overlapping lists of mental states under a prescient tacit version of Ockham’s Razor that can be attributed to the Daoist element in Zen. For Zen, the “question of truth” drops away because it doesn’t arise when we are discussing something as complex and multivalent as “experience”.
The question of truth doesn't arise because any experience is by definition already real or true in the sense that they were experienced by a subject, and can thus include mirages, hallucinations and other “figments of imagination” that are “false” in the conventional sense. Accordingly, truth is intrinsic to experience; it is already "baked in the cake", and when we imagine we extract truth from a proposition we are simply being redundant. (It is only in this sense that any “redundancy theory of truth" should be understood.)
By overlooking this point, we unwittingly end up talking about propositions, not the experiences themselves, and find ourselves at a meta-level with respect to those experiences. This leads us inevitably into the infinite regression posed by Tarski's hierarchy of meta-languages in an effort to capture the truth that was there to begin with. From a Zen perspective, such an infinite regression is unnecessary and can be abandoned in favor of correctly grasping the nature of the original experience. This stopping of an infinite regression before it starts surely offers a tempting benefit for Western philosophers.
To repeat for emphasis, "Truth" is a description applied to propositions about experience; it says merely that the proposition is warranted under prevailing conventions. Such propositions do not reach or capture the "happening" of the experience itself.
Even propositions of physics regarding causal relationships expressly exclude the subjective emotional contents of an experience and therefore do not qualify as complete descriptions of experience. Even neuroscientific mappings of emotions to brain circuits will be statements about circuits, not complete descriptions of experience itself. Even descriptions of the experience-of-the-experience (e.g. "It was frightening") are at one remove from the experience itself. It is not the intrinsic truth of the experience itself because it is not the experience of being frightened. The fundamental “truth” of “being frightened” is presented directly in being frightened at a given time and place, and need not and cannot be represented in words.
"Being" can only be revealed in a lived experience, that is, by being that experience. That is why I tediously repeat that it is the intentionality, or "aboutness" of conscious thought and language that prevent them from revealing our true nature in the way that Zen koan training can reveal our true nature.
Instead of determining abstract truth, what matters in Zen is that we find a handle for determining our actions in the wake of an experience. And it simply makes sense that we search for this handle among the broadest range of past bodily experiences. This is the pragmatism of Zen.
This is also what I mean when I summarize this dynamic by saying that the basis of meaning – and therefore of truth – becomes lost to conceptualization in what I call the preconscious “welter” of the body’s flesh and nerves. In the case of “mind”, the failure of Huike to find and present his mind to the First Zen Patriarch illustrates this dynamic in action .
It is our subliminal awareness of our own perplexity (i.e. the loss of our power of conceptualization in the face of complexity and multivalence) that triggers the use of metaphor in a completely natural way without effort.
Taking all this into account, let’s now try to unpack the metaphor that “It your mind that is moving” and thereby show how the search space for reaching a bodily understanding of a koan is thereby enlarged.
Let’s examine the Sixth Patriarch’s comment to the monks that “mind” includes both the wind and flapping flag that they are arguing about .
His comment in turn suggests – albeit again metaphorically – that it is their mind that is “flapping in the wind”. This implication of the “mind moving” metaphor will allow us to illustrate the pedagogical/epistemological role of metaphor in Zen rhetoric.
In extending this mind-is-moving metaphor by saying, “It is your mind that is flapping”, I am adding a farce-tinged metaphor that I can cash in immediately by pointing out that our minds are always “flapping”. Our minds are always abruptly shifting our attention from one “thing” to another “thing” (and toggle our mood between happy and sad) in a way that has a comical aspect – especially when our thinking reflects our own vanity and little else!
In its bathetic or comic aspect, the flapping metaphor suggests that this flapping is futile, as when a bird is too young to fly. In its pathetic or tragic aspect, it is like a bird on the ground with a broken wing trying to escape a predator.
Anyone honest person will admit that much of their thinking is both bathetic and pathetic. As a quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain puts it, “I have known many sorrows, most of which never happened!” 
But there is more than bathos and pathos to be harvested from the flapping metaphor. If we return to the image of a flag flapping, we see the flag as a passive agent of an invisible force, the wind. Then, if we are told that it is the mind that is moving, we are implicitly driven into a regress in which the question becomes, “What is the ‘wind’ that moves the mind?”
From our current quasi-scientific perspective, “fear”, or “anxiety”, is a plausible candidate, as we described in our earlier discussion of the amygdala as our pre-conscious “fear center” .
In Buddhism, the winds that drive our minds and bodies into harmful behavior are the Three Mental Afflictions: Greed, Hatred, and Ignorance. In Zen it is commonly said that, of these three, Ignorance (in the form of denial and self-delusion) is the source of the other two.
Yet, if we continue our regress by asking what wind drives our ignorance, it is again plausible to answer that it is fear or anxiety that cause us to act from greed (often translated as “lust”), or hatred (often translated as “anger”). Our ignorance (often translated as “delusion”) drives the other two tendencies because all three are forms that our reaction can take to something threatening.
Stated in its ultimate terms, the wind that drives our ignorance is our fear of death. Our common-sense fear of death is entirely natural, and our grief for the loss of a loved one is real. It is our nature. Still, the belief in a self that dies is a mistake in the same way it is a mistake to think that the universe dies. The universe in some form never disappears, despite its apparent comings and goings via singularities and hyperinflations. It remains a whole, whatever form it takes. Though we do die in conventional terms we also do not die because, as Dogen Zenji says, “The entire universe in all directions is your own true body” and the entire universe is undying in the sense just explained .
Let me conclude (for now) this examination of the role of metaphor in koan training by adding some explicitly philosophical points for you to consider if you are so inclined.
First, you should know that “much ink has been spilled” (itself a metaphor from the pre-digital age) by philosophers debating whether, or how-and-why, metaphors truly aid our understanding.
I won’t describe those complex debates except briefly in the Endnotes, but you should know that in his Poetics, Aristotle affirmed the role of metaphors in aiding understanding and considered the ability to grasp the relevance of metaphors in a given context to be a measure of a person’s intelligence.
You should also know that the philosopher-provocateur, Nietzsche, believed that our everyday language consists of “dead metaphors”, that is, of metaphors for bodily experiences that had been used so often that we no longer realize they are metaphorical. For instance, “He threw himself into the debate with gusto” may seem perfectly literal although both of the italicized words describe bodily and emotional experiences having nothing to do with a supposedly rational discourse.
It is the unsettled nature of our Western understanding of metaphors that makes their role in Zen koan training so significant for our Western philosophy of mind. Master Mumon, in his preface to The Gateless Barrier, warns us, “Even more foolish is the one who clings to words and phrases and thus tries to achieve understanding. It is like trying to strike the moon with a stick… It has nothing to do with the Truth”. Understanding the “truth” of Zen cannot be reached through “literal” clinging to phrases, described above as “eternal donkey hitching posts”.
Zen Truth is a somatic truth whose source can only be found in the interactions of one’s own body with the world. In this koan, Huineng tells us that this wellspring of truth should not identified with either body or world. It can be found only in interactions of the body-mind with the world, whose precise nature disappears into the welter of the body-mind .
To the extent that mind processes this interaction, it arguably must include the bodily feelings that accompany our encounters with the “things” of the world, with “things” broadly construed to include our own mental experiences. But how do we reach back into bodily memory to include those feelings? Insofar as words can be used, this can only be done through metaphors, which are imprecise mappings of past experiences onto current experiences.
But we can go even farther and plausibly say that it is exactly this imprecision (non-literalness) of metaphor that pre-consciously links our current experience, not only to a former particular personal bodily experience, but to every other possible human experience, past present and future. And it is this linkage to what I have called the “welter” of the mind-body unity that is the "Truth" of Zen realized in koan practice .
 These endnotes are largely meant for those interested in the interpretations of metaphor by Western philosophy and linguistics. The views expressed here are meant to be consistent in intent with the interpretations of the “cognitive linguistics” school that arose in opposition to the then-prevailing “generative grammar” school of Noam Chomsky. That debate is described online in Section 5.1 of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Metaphor. I should disclose that I audited several courses at U.C. Berkeley of two prominent leaders of the cognitive linguistics school, George Lakoff and Eleanor Rosch. I sought them out because their treatment of embodiment in language tallied so well with the dynamics of koan Zen.
 I should add a caution here about my loose use of the term “literal meanings”. The late Donald Davidson, from whom I took graduate seminars at Berkeley, famously believed that metaphors were “literal” because they depended on being taken literally in order to have their effects. Davidson holds that though they appear to be propositions, they are not propositions asserting a semantic truth. Rather, they are speech acts, part of linguistic “pragmatics” – uses of speech whose purpose was to notify the reader of similarities between disparate discourses, a purpose that was achieved precisely because they were false semantically. See Donald Davidson’s “What Metaphors Mean” in his Truth and Interpretation, pp. 245-264 (1984). Though he identified Lakoff there as one of his adversaries, I believe that, ironically, Davidson’s view is consistent with Lakoff’s to the extent that he holds that metaphors are not meant to be assertions of belief as to their truth. Because they are admittedly false, Davidson’s metaphors act as direct pointers to mental reality and are thus free of the intentionality that prevents us from connecting directly with reality.
 See the initial post of this blog, “A Course on Koans – Introduction”, where it says: “while conceptual explanations may be correct as far as they go, language cannot reach the fundamental point expressed by koans any more than one can reach the moon by climbing the tallest tree. Instead, the koan student must connect directly with the life of the koan, rather than talk about that [bodily] truth conceptually (i.e. indirectly, through the medium of language”). In philosophical terms, it is the intentionality of thought and language, it is the positing of a separation between subject and object that prevents us from making a direct connection to reality.
 As described in note , Davidson agrees this recognition of falsity is integral to the processing of metaphor by hearers and readers.
 It is high time I explain why I use the word “preconscious” instead of “subconscious” or “subliminal”. I avoid the latter terms because each of them comes with unhelpful baggage for my purposes. The Freudian subconscious is merely an unarticulated “truth” that needs to emerge in the form of words. Subliminal influences include marketing efforts to smuggle discursive content without our awareness. In contrast, preconscious mental operations include physiological inputs (e.g. emotional and “muscle” memories) that cannot be articulated in words.
 Under the system devised by Hakuin Zenji in the eighteenth-century revival of Japanese Rinzai Zen, The capping phrases were proverbs from Chinese literary tradition that could be allusively mapped onto each koan in the curriculum. Teachers in Hakuin’s lineage ask the student to pick a phrase from these aphorisms that fits the koan under study. This operates as a check on whether the student understands the point of Buddhist doctrine alluded to in the koan. The whole collection of capping phrases had to be memorized by the student, in part to assure that Japanese monks had some acquaintance with the Chinese literary tradition. See Victor Hori’s excellent study of the capping phrases in Zen Sand (University of Hawai’i, 2003).
 See the previous posts on “Bring Me Your Mind”, Parts 1 and 2.
 Again, the monks were arguing about whether it was the wind that was moving or the flag that was moving. The Sixth Patriarch corrected them by saying “it is your mind that is moving.” To see how both views are justifiable, and how the Sixth Patriarch’s correction embraces and supersedes both views, see Parts 1 of “Not Wind, Not Flag” in this series.
For an interesting history of this attribution see: [https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/04/never-happened ]Se
 See the earlier post “The Great Way is Not Difficult Part 2” at Endnotes  and  in the main body of the text.
 In traditional Buddhism, the origin of ignorance is explained by the Twelvefold Chain of Causation in which ignorance of our true nature is the effect of previous life cycles in which (here in brutally abbreviated form) our consciousness develops, in sequence, the delusions of craving, grasping, and fear of death. The fear of death is inherited in rebirth as a primordial ignorance of our true nature. In Buddhism, this primordial ignorance operates as a rough analogue of the “original sin” that inclines us to wrongdoing. This pernicious cycle continues endlessly unless and until we awaken to our true nature.
 Here, I will remind you once again that a single Chinese character stands for both body and mind. I use the term “body-mind” as other modern writers on Buddhism do, to indicate that in Zen, body and mind (“bodily” emotions and “mental” reasons) are in fact unified to start with. I argue in this blog that this unification is in accordance with the emerging findings of neuroscience. From a Zen perspective, this identity of the two from the very beginning prevents a “mind-body problem” from ever arising in the first place.
 In closing, I will add that one of my teachers insisted that there are no metaphors in Zen. He meant that when we make our physical (bodily) presentation of a koan’s meaning to the teacher, we are literally recreating the living reality behind the koan’s words. His claim deserves your careful consideration; it can help open your Dharma eye.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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