A Yogacara Buddhist Theory of Metaphor
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A Yogacara Buddhist Theory of Metaphor

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Item Code: NAR992
Author: Roy Tzohar
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9780190664398
Pages: 296
Other Details: 9.50 X 6.50 inch
Weight 680 gm
About the Book

Buddhist philosophy is fundamentally ambivalent toward language. Language is paradoxically seen as both obstructive and necessary for liberation. In this book, Roy Tzohar delves into the ingenious response to this tension from the Yogacara school of Indian Buddhism: that all language-use is metaphorical. Exploring the profound implications of this claim, Tzohar makes the case for viewing the Yogacara account as a full-fledged theory of meaning, one that is not merely linguistic, but also applicable in the world, as well as in texts.

Despite the overwhelming visibility of figurative language in Buddhist philosophical texts, this is the first sustained and systematic attempt to present an indigenous Buddhist theory of metaphor. By grounding the Yogacara pan-metaphorical claim in a broader intellectual context of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools, the book uncovers an intense philosophical conversation about metaphor and language that reaches across sectarian lines. Tzohar’s analysis radically reframes the Yogacara controversy with the Madhyamaka school of philosophy, sheds light on the Yogacara application of particular metaphors, and explicates the school’s unique understanding of experience.


Put simply, According to the Buddhists, at the root of human suffering lies a deep discord between how we ordinarily conceive of reality and how it truly is. Major factors in actively creating and maintaining this discord are language and the way in which our conceptual schemes parse, attempt to fix as permanent, and desperately hold on to what is by nature a fleeting and fluctuating stream of events. In this respect, language is not merely a veil that obscures true reality, but rather an active force (according to some Buddhist philosophical schools, a causal element) involved in its fabrication: It is the metaphysical workshop in which entities are forged and, once produced, are erroneously believed to be real.

Language is, therefore, part of the disease, but inevitably it is also part of the cure. This is because on the one hand, while Buddhist thought is underlined by a deep devaluation of language as a means for representing, describing, or reaching reality, on the other hand, insofar as it is required for any salvific discourse, language is viewed as necessary for liberation. The staunch antirealism of some Buddhist schools deprives language of its obvious referents, and Buddhist views regarding the basic inexpressibility of the ultimate reality further undermine its status; but at the same time, Buddhist thought faces the need to uphold the meaningfulness not just of ordinary language, but of the (often overtly metaphysical) Buddhist discourse itself.

At the heart of Buddhist philosophical thought, then, lies the para- dox that is language. As a consequence, Buddhist philosophical texts present a palpable tension that arises from the inherently paradoxical need to argue against words by using words, to devalue language through language. Resolving, or at least in some way containing, this tension was arguably one of the main challenges confronted by Indian Buddhist thought, the story of which can indeed be told through the successive strategies and solutions employed by its various schools to meet this challenge. This book focuses on the ingenious response to this tension that one Buddhist school, the early Indian Yogacara (3rd-6th century CE), proposed through its sweeping claim that all language use is in fact metaphorical (upacara).

Over the last several decades, the so-called metaphorical turn, propelled by a scholarly fascination with the fundamental role that metaphors play in our concept formation, has explored the implications of a similar pan-metaphorical picture. In a sense, this theoretical trend cast metaphor as a substance that is in many ways like the air we breathe: all-pervasive, essential to (mental) life, and transparent to us most of the time. But what if it ceased to be transparent? What if our awareness were awakened to the metaphorical nature of nearly everything we say, including our most prosaic utterances? What if our language—that "reef of dead metaphors," in the memorable image coined by the linguist Guy Deutscher—suddenly came alive? The Yogacara, this book argues, were keenly aware of this overwhelming pervasiveness of metaphor, as well as of the philosophical benefits of being made aware of it.

Exploring the profound implications of the school’s pan-metaphorical claim, the book makes the case for viewing the Yogacara account of metaphor as a broadly conceived theory of meaning—one that is applicable, in the words of the 6th-century Yogacara thinker Sthiramati, both "in the world and in texts." This theory of meaning, I argue, allowed the Yogacara to carve out a position that is quite exceptional in the Buddhist landscape: a position that views ordinary language as incapable of representing or reaching reality, but at the same time justifies the meaningfulness of the school’s own metaphysical and salvific discourse. This scheme, I hope to show, bears on our interpretation of the Yogacara by radically reframing the school’s controversy with the Madhyamaka; by reinstating the place of Sthiramati, who is known for his commentaries, as an innovative thinker in his own right; and by establishing the importance of the school’s contribution to Indian philosophy of language and its potential contribution to contemporary discussions of related topics in philosophy and the study of religion.

In this respect, this book is also about the wider Indian philosophical conversation about meaning that took place around the middle of the first millennium. Although some of what the Yogacarins had to say about metaphor was highly innovative, their reflections on this issue should be understood against the backdrop of, and as conversing with, specific theories of meaning put forward by such non-Buddhist schools as the Mimamsa, the Nyaya, and the Grammarians. By grounding the Yogacara’s pan-metaphorical claim in its broader intellectual context, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, the book uncovers an intense philosophical conversation about metaphor and language that took place in India during that time and which reached across sectarian lines. This picture reframes the usual depiction of the Buddhist thought of the period as somewhat isolated and less engaged in exchange with non-Buddhist philosophical schools. Integrating formal analyses of Indian philosophy with the history of ideas, the book thus functions as an argument for a deeply contextual consideration of Buddhist philosophy—one that looks beyond sectarian demarcations and traditional narratives of textual transmission, even in this early period.

Finally, then, this book is about how Buddhist thinkers reflected on and understood the metaphorical function of language, and about what metaphors mean and do within Buddhist philosophical texts. Figurative language is palpably present in Buddhist philosophical texts in general and in the Yogacara lore in particular, and yet there are relatively few existing studies of this topic, and when theorizing, these studies tend to appeal to contemporary philosophical and literary theories of metaphors. In the present study, by contrast, I attempt to reconstruct a body of theory on metaphor as formulated by Buddhist thinkers (i.e., using their own terms). My hope is that this book will provides readers of Buddhist philosophy with a fresh scholarly perspective for appraising not only the overall Buddhist understanding of language but also, more concretely, how particular metaphors operate within these texts.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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