Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Metaphor as Upaya (Skillful Means)

posted by exquisitemind

Much of what we communicate relies on comparing one thing to another; something known to help us understand something less known. This is the most basic sense of metaphor: understanding one thing in terms of another. When the Buddha gave his first teachings some 2500 years ago, he made ample use of metaphor. He continued to rely on metaphor throughout his long teaching career. Buddhist scholar Damien Keown emphasized this when he said, “The Buddha’s skill in teaching the Dharma, demonstrated in his ability to adapt his message to the context in which it was delivered. Parables, metaphors, and similes formed an important part of his teaching repertoire, skillfully tailored to suit the level of his audience.” Upaya or skillful means is embodied by the Buddha’s use of metaphor in his teaching. When it comes to understanding mindfulness – a core component of the Buddha’s teachings – it is hard to do so without turning to metaphor. I would dare say it is impossible to do so, and I have explored a variety of ways in which this can be done in my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness (Wisdom Publications).
Some metaphors are dead. The imaginative power they once invoked has long been worn down by the passage of time. For instance, we are unlikely to think of our heads when we refer to the head of a table. Other metaphors are not dead but remain hidden from view. These are everyday metaphors such as the notion that the mind is a container that things can come into and out of; a space where things can happen and do happen like thoughts and images. Some metaphors are deliberate and obvious, as the ones we use in poetry. Indeed Robert Frost warned, “Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” Metaphors powerfully influence everything we think and say, and the metaphors we use can determine our happiness—or lack thereof. Recognizing and changing our metaphors can move us toward greater joy.
In a modern day context, Shinzen Young, engages upaya by using mindfulness of music meditation to reach young people. This adaptation helps troubled youths get the benefits of mindfulness without having to cut through any of the cultural obstacles that may stand in the way of embracing meditation. They are understanding one thing (mindfulness) in terms of another (music). This transfer of meaning from one domain to another facilitates learning. These kids get wise without having to try to do so. We all use metaphors and follow in the steps of the Buddha when we do so.  I humbly follow in this tradition and invite you to do the same.
———————————–
To learn more about metaphors read Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness and attend the workshop based on the book Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: Metaphors for Mindful Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains, 12-14 March 2010.



Previous Posts

Turtles Don't Surf is Now Available!
  Jamial Yogis, author of Saltwater Buddha (SWB) and The Fear Project, has written his first children's book, Turtles Don't Surf (a sort of SWB for little ones) I read an advanced copy of this book last summer and it is a lovely and touching tale about going beyond our limitations in

posted 6:18:47pm Apr. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Transitions Into Spring
The weather is such a great metaphor. Spring is reluctant to arrive. On a Monday it was 80 degrees and then on Wednesday it snowed several inches. The nights have continued to be below freezing and the greening landscape is shy to come forth. We are variations of energy, mood, and awareness. Unli

posted 7:39:13pm Apr. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Transitions, Attachments, and Hope
It's been a long winter here in Northern Vermont and elsewhere around the country. The mountain is still frozen and buried in snow. In the valley, the long buried grass, brown and tired, is emerging from under the receding glacier, yet my yard is still buried in snow. The calendar reads April but

posted 3:02:56pm Apr. 07, 2014 | read full post »

A Special Opportunity for Opening Your Heart in Relationship with Tara Brach
I'd like to let you know about a special opportunity with my charma friend Tara Brach who is one of the more authentic and beloved mindfulness teachers. She is author of the bestsellers Radical Acceptance and more recently, True Refuge. Please read about this special program below. It’s often

posted 8:12:05pm Mar. 26, 2014 | read full post »

Equanimity in the Face of Adversity, Controversy, and Memory
The Dalai Lama recently visited with President Obama. Not such an unusual event since they have visited before, but the Chinese Government used this as an opportunity to complain, threaten, and

posted 7:24:11pm Mar. 14, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.