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

Mindful in Relationship: The Biggest Spiritual Challenge We Face
Our closest relationships are often the most challenging places to be mindful. We may be prone to feelings of unworthiness, superiority, and fear as well as a host of other feelings that push us around. When we can bring equanimity to our relationships we are progressing along the path. When we c

posted 7:56:20pm Mar. 02, 2015 | read full post »

Translating the Experience of the Moment
Whether we know it or not, we are all amateur translators. Instead of translating a poem from one language to another we put into words what previously existed without words: we translate experience into language. Mostly, we are unaware of this process and mistake our verbal productions for a ironcl

posted 8:37:57am Mar. 01, 2015 | read full post »

The Three C's of Self-Forgiveness
Imagine a situation where you "lose it." You get angry, your blood boils, you may yell at the person who has occasioned this anger or you may throw something or swear in vain. This feeling is no stranger to me. Sometimes, a situation catches us off guard and we react instead of meeting it with equan

posted 4:23:27pm Feb. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Oliver Sacks Writes his Pre-Obituary
The neurologist and author Oliver Sacks recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about his impending death and the light this news casts on his life. His reflections are the epitome of equanimity. What we hear from him is not anxiety, rancor, or regret but rather gratitude, love, and reso

posted 2:23:00pm Feb. 25, 2015 | read full post »

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Finding Liberation in the Moment
If you are like me, you spend more time than you would like caught up in imagined stories that don't feel good and keep you stuck. How can you get out of your own way and stop beating yourself up with regrets. My mind can sometimes get stuck and I'd be in big trouble if I didn't have a mindfulness p

posted 7:44:24pm Feb. 23, 2015 | 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.