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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·18 (the reverse side of Chapter 1·) of Turning Signs, as of 18 November 2022. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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I am simultaneously writing and being written.[next]— Hofstadter (1985, 11)
‘The answer is always there, but people need the question to bring it out’ (Cleary 1995, 164). We are always at the turning point; but more important, we are at a turning point now.
What difference does a belief make in practice? We can ask this question, but we can't escape the fact that any answer can only be another belief, another judgment of prior judgments, another current course adjustment. No feeling is final.
A turning word speaks from experience, carries it forward, and changes its actual context.
A situation changes itself in response to the words, and this change is their meaning. The situation absorbs the words that are spoken in it. The situation gives birth to the words that change it. Situation and words cross, so that each becomes part of the meaning of the other. As word after word comes, the situation reads ( ..... ) the words in its own way.[next]— Eugene Gendlin, in Levin (1997, 8)
Using the internet for this last and deepest kind of reading is certainly possible, but the practice seems to get swept aside by the habits of skimming and browsing encouraged by this medium. When we do get immersed in an e-text, it's often something we found by searching, or something we've been directed to by some algorithm based on some database of our browsing habits, and this makes it all too likely that it will confirm our prejudices (the ‘blinkers of habit’) instead of challenging them. This will discourage critical thinking – which is an important part experietial or deep reading – unless we make a conscious effort to choose with care what we read and how we read it.
The explosion of claims on our attention, and the resulting frustration, was noted even back in the 20th Century by Stanislaw Lem:
Because advertising, with monstrous effectiveness, attributes perfection to everything—and so to books, to every book—a person is beguiled by twenty thousand Miss Universes at once and, unable to decide, lingers unfulfilled in amorous readiness like a sheep in a stupor. So it is with everything. Cable television, broadcasting forty programs at once, produces in the viewer the feeling that, since there are so many, others must be better than the one he has on, so he jumps from program to program like a flea on a hot stove, proof that technological progress produces new heights of frustration.… There had to be a book, then, about what Everybody Else was doing, so that we would be tormented no longer by the doubt that we were reading nonsense while the Important Things were taking place Elsewhere.[next]— Stanislaw Lem (1986, 3)
To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions — there we have none.[next]But to enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, we have of course to control ourselves. We must not squander our powers, helplessly and ignorantly, squirting half the house in order to water a single rose-bush; we must train them, exactly and powerfully, here on the very spot.— Virginia Woolf, ‘How Should One Read a Book?’ (The Common Reader, Second Series)
A teacher always penetrates the sutras. To penetrate means to make the sutras the land, the body, and the mind. A teacher makes the sutras a structure for guiding others. A teacher makes them sitting, lying down, and walking; father and mother; and descendants. Using the sutras as practice and understanding, a teacher fully masters the sutras. A teacher’s washing the face and having tea are the ancient sutras. The sutras give birth to a teacher.[next]
…The sutras are the entire world of the ten directions. There is no moment or place that is not sutras. The sutras are written in letters of the supreme principle and of the secular principles. The sutras are written in letters of heavenly beings, human beings, animals, fighting spirits, one hundred grasses, or ten thousand trees. This being so, what is long, short, square, and round, as well as what is blue, yellow, red, and white, arrayed densely in the entire world of the ten directions, are no other than letters of the sutras and the surface of the sutras. Regard them as the instruments of the great way, and as the sutras of the buddha house.
Thus, buddhas and bodhisattvas make no contrivance of their own by way of thought or no-thought. Each makes a great vow to attain the sutras.The moment when you determine to attain the sutras is not past or present, because past and present are the time when you already attain the sutras. What emerges in the face of the entire world of the ten directions is the attaining of the sutras.When you read, recite, and penetrate the sutras, buddha wisdom, spontaneous wisdom, or no-teacher wisdom are manifested prior to the mind and prior to the body. At this time there is nothing new or extra-ordinary that makes you wonder. That the sutras are held, read, and recited by you means that the sutras guide you.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Bukkyo’ (‘Buddha Sutras’), Tanahashi 2010, 537-9
How can scripture reading come to pierce an ox hide?Where does a gnox hide? Who gnows?— T'ien-t'ung (Cleary 1997b, 322)
Our habit is to read utterances like these as rhetorical questions – as if we gnew the answers. A reading practice like Dogen's challenges this habit, challenges us to penetrate the shell of habits. Symbols which are only symbols do not act as turning signs: ‘Strictly pure Symbols can signify only things familiar, and those only in so far as they are familiar’ (Peirce, CP 4.544n, 1906). The turning symbol must involve an Index directing attention beyond the familiar, or penetrating the shell of familiarity.
Where is the Index in this sentence?
Nor are Symbols and Indices together generally enough. The arrangement of the words in the sentence, for instance, must serve as Icons, in order that the sentence may be understood. The chief need for the Icons is in order to show the Forms of the synthesis of the elements of thought. For in precision of speech, Icons can represent nothing but Forms and Feelings.How do you Feel? [next]
To recite scripture does not necessarily mean that just reciting with your mouth and turning the pages with your hands is actually reciting scripture. Be careful in the house of Buddhas and Zen masters not to waste time in sound and form, not to carry out your activities in the shell of ignorance. When knowledge and wisdom appear everywhere, and the mind ground is always open and clear, this is the way you should ‘recite scripture.’ As you practice this way at all times, if you are never dependent, then you will completely realize the uncreated original nature.[next]Do you not know that we do not come from anywhere even as we are born, and we do not go anywhere even as we die? Born wherever you are, you pass away on the spot; origination and annihilation as time goes by never rest. Therefore birth is not birth, death is not death; and as Zen students, do not keep birth and death hanging on your mind. Do not obstruct yourself by hearing and seeing. Even if it becomes hearing and seeing, becomes sound and form, it is your own storehouse of light.Emanating light from your eyes, you make arrays of color and form; emanating light from your ears, you hear the buddha work of sounds; emanating light from your hands, you can activate yourself and others; emanating light from your feet, you can walk forward and back.Again I want to add some humble words to point out this principle:Turning, turning, how many pages of scripture?
Revolving, revolving, how many scrolls?
Dying here, born there—
Divisions of chapter and verse.— (Cleary 1990, 58-9)
O Loud, hear the wee beseech of thees, of each of these thy unlitten ones! Grant sleep in hour's time, O Loud![next]That they take no chill. That they do ming no merder. That they shall not gomeet madhowlattrees.Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low!Ha he hi ho hu.Mummum.— Joyce, The Restored Finnegans Wake, 204
It has been said of Boehme that his books are like a picnic to which the author brings the words and the reader the meaning. The remark may have been intended as a sneer at Boehme, but it is an exact description of all works of literary art without exception.This would certainly apply to works of literary art – and to scriptures – which function as turning symbols. Do they differ in this respect from scientific works, or philosophical works, which can also work as turning symbols? That depends on the nature of the objects of these symbols, and the nature of the collateral experience of those objects which the reader brings to the act of meaning. That is always the reader's act, although the Truth of the symbol (argument or proposition) must be, for the reader, independent of the reader's personal belief. [next]— Northrop Frye (1947, 427-8)
Texts frequently say more than their authors intended to say, but less than what many incontinent readers would like them to say.Eco follows this up with an example of how some conjectural readings of a passage in Finnegans Wake – which is ‘itself a metaphor for the process of unlimited semiosis’ (Eco 1979, 70) – are tested and refuted by invoking the principle of ‘internal textual coherence.’ The scientific method of ‘conjectures and refutations’ (Popper 1968) also takes coherence as a leading principle, but it also brings experience of the external world to bear on the question: it requires the investigator to make observations which could refute even an internally coherent conjecture. The method of the artist is essentially the same, according to Gombrich (2002); he calls it ‘schema and correction’ or ‘making before matching.’ If the goal of a drawing, for instance, is an accurate depiction of an object, you have to make the drawing before you can see how well it matches the object.Independent of any alleged intention of the author is the intention of the text. But a text exists only as a physical object, as a Linear Text Manifestation. It is possible to speak of text intentions only as the result of a conjecture on the part of the reader. The initiative of the reader basically consists in making a conjecture about the text intention. A text is a device conceived in order to produce its Model Reader. Such a Model Reader is not the one who makes the only right conjecture. A text can foresee a Model Reader entitled to try infinite conjectures. But infinite conjecture does not mean any possible conjecture.— Eco (1990, 148)
A hypothesis is a model or theory on probation. “Proving” (or confirming or refuting) it requires attention not only to its coherence but also to the observable universe it claims to represent. [next]
Interpretative talent is not developed by mechanical practice of hermeneutical precepts; these must rather, after they become vividly alive through actual interpreting, become so familiar through practice that one unconsciously observes them.… The author composes according to the laws of grammar and style, but is as a rule unconscious of them. The interpreter, however, cannot fully explain without consciousness of these laws. The man who understands must reflect on the work; the author brings it into being, and reflects upon his work only when he becomes as it were an expositor of it. The interpreter consequently understands the author better than the author understands himself.Gendlin might say instead that the reader carries forward the work of the author. [next]— Boeckh (Mueller-Vollmer 1985, 139)
Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot.— Joyce, Ulysses (45)
What geomancy reads what the windblown sand writes on the desert rock? I read there that all things live by a generous power and dance to a mighty tune; or I read there that all things are scattered and hurled, that our every arabesque and grand jeté is a frantic variation on our one free fall.— Annie Dillard (1974, 70)
The world does not need more books as much as it needs deep readers; and what they most need to read is the book of nature. Turning symbols can be read as a guide to reading the world, to creative perception.
The deep reader of a symbolic text withdraws into a virtual (model) world, but her experience within that world is meaningful to the extent that it makes a difference to the percepts or precepts implicated with her practice in the real world. [next]
We read the world wondering
what it means by us.
The sense of wonder, which is the natural response to the Firstness of things, is a primary spiritual capacity. But we tend to waste it on extraordinary or imaginary phenomena, because our habits tend to blind us to the ordinary wonders right under our noses. Like all of our habits, we tend to take our perceptual reading skills for granted – especially our skills at reading the “texts” (such as other people's faces) that we are most predisposed to read.
The physicist Murray Gell-Mann describes an case of extraordinary perceptual reading skill:
The man in question, Dr. Arthur Lintgen of Pennsylvania, said he could look at a record of fully orchestrated post-Mozart classical music and identify the composer, often the piece, and sometimes even the performing artist. [Professional magician and debunker James] Randi subjected him to his usual rigorous tests and discovered that he was telling the exact truth. The physician correctly identified two different recordings of Stravinsky's ‘Rite of Spring’, as well as Ravel's ‘Bolero’, Holst's ‘The Planets’, and Beethoven's ‘Sixth Symphony.’ Naturally Randi showed him some other records as controls. One, labeled ‘gibberish’ by Dr. Lintgen, was by Alice Cooper. On seeing another control, he said, ‘This is not instrumental music at all. I'd guess that it's a vocal solo of some kind.’ In fact it was a recording of a man speaking …Gell-Mann comments, ‘This odd claim that turned out to be genuine violated no important principle’ – meaning that it didn't undermine currently well-supported models of either biology or physics. On the contrary, it shows that the natural semiotic processes by which people extract meaning from physical signs (sinsigns) can be more powerful and versatile than we usually think they are.— Gell-Mann (1994, 290)
One more specific example (from Wegner 2002, but also found in other sources): a horse called ‘Clever Hans’ became famous in Germany around 1900 because he could apparently add, subtract, multiply, divide, read, spell, and identify musical tones, answering questions by tapping his hoof. It took a persistent investigator named Pfungst to figure out that Hans was doing all this by reading very subtle body language cues from his trainer and other humans – cues so subtle that the trainer himself was wholly unaware of them. So Hans really was ‘clever’ enough to fool quite a few humans, but not because he was trying to, and not by violating any basic principles of equine psychology. This case does not undermine the consensus that using symbolic language is beyond the skill of a horse, but it does extend our understanding of how meaning can happen biologically (and without conscious intent) – because Herr Pfungst managed to explain the apparent anomaly by means of careful empirical observation.
Sensory perception is far more worthy of wonder than speculations about extrasensory perception. Ordinary experience of the natural world is infinitely more wonderful than conventional stories of the supernatural. Perhaps the greatest wonder of all is the continuous presence of the phaneron – if only we could look it in the face.
Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God.[next]Qur'án 2:115 (Cleary)
We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in their own souls, so that the Truth be manifest to them. (Qur’an 41:53)Sustainable reading of the text recreates its object as intelligible.
On earth are signs for those certain in their faith—As also in your own souls—while in heaven is your sustenance, and all that you are promised. (Qur’an 51:20–23)
According to the Qur’an, being human entails reading the signs of God. To such an extent is reading a religious discipline, one’s actual behavior may also be thought a reading, an interpretation, of the data of religion and being—the signs of God. These signs are in the external world, the internal world, and the Book itself. The believer therefore is a reader of several texts simultaneously: the natural, the existential, and the scriptural. These signs are thought of in many ways: signs of God as Truth, Light, Love, and Being are perhaps the most germane here. In Arabic, āya (plural āyāt) perfectly encodes and joins the important idea of divine miraculous portent, verse, and text. The universe is a dynamic luminous “cloud” of these self-referential and utterly meaningful signs. The picture that emerges is similar to the “chaos of light” of a Turner, except that the picture is textual. And just as the image of a “chaos” of light is paradoxical, a “chaos of text” is so a fortiori. Reading this luminous chaos, the raw, uninterpreted data of sense perception, called jumbled dreams according to the story of Joseph (Qur’an 12:44), is the quintessentially human vocation.— Lawson 2012, 134–5
You can read the signs. You've been on this road before.[next]— Laurie Anderson, United States
A miracle is a materialist's idea of how to escape from his materialism.[next]— G. Bateson (1979, 232)
Radical (‘hyperliteral’) readings of the Torah constitute much of the Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah.
The mystic who studies Torah is meditating on the Name of God. He sees through the text into the texture of divine life. … The Zohar may abandon the literal sense of a verse or, conversely, employ the technique of mystical literalness, reading hyperliterally.A ‘hyperliteral’ reading treats the letters of the alphabet as meaningful in themselves, actually as the fundamental units of significance. A focus on syntax can also furnish unconventional readings of scripture. The very beginning of the Torah, Genesis 1:1, receives such a reading in Zohar 1:15a:— Daniel Matt (1983, 31)
With this beginning, the unknown concealed one created the palace. This palace is called Elohim, God. The secret is: Bereshit bara Elohim, With beginning, _____ created God.The Zohar's Aramaic rendering takes the word order in the Hebrew as signifying that Elohim (representing the third sefirah, Binah) is created by means of (‘with’) ‘the point of Hokhmah’ (the second sefirah), but the ultimate/intimate source of creation is ineffable (yet can be called Keter (‘Crown’) or Ayin (‘Nothingness’)). The creative process here is one of emanation, not the act of an agency separate from what is created, as in the more conventional reading (which is often loosely called “literal”). [next]— ZP I.110)
Man does not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
These words have been widely quoted since the 1970s, and encapsulate much of the ecological awareness developing since then. They are usually attributed to ‘Chief Seattle,’ and thus taken to speak for authentic Native American culture. The real story (like the web of life) is a little more complex.
On October 29, 1887, Henry A. Smith published a column in the Seattle Sunday Star entitled ‘Scraps from a Diary—Chief Seattle.’ The column included Smith's reconstruction, based on his notes taken at the time, of a speech given in 1854 by Chief Seattle, or Seath'tl, of the Duwamish people. There is no other record of this speech. Blaisdell (2000, 117-120) reprints the Smith text as given in Frederic James Grant's History of Seattle (1891).
The Smith text was rediscovered, touched up and rendered into a more contemporary idiom by later writers, notably the poet William Arrowsmith in 1969. His version was used by screenwriter Ted Perry in producing the script for a documentary aired on television in 1971; and this is the source of the famous ‘web of life’ statement. But the producers of the film failed to credit Perry with the script, thus leaving the impression that the words were Chief Seattle's. Perry's text (given in Seed et al. 1988, 67-73), though doubtless quite different from whatever the Chief originally said, is now the most widely quoted version of it, and deservedly so: its power and beauty leave the Smith text in the dust. Many cite it as an authentic expression of Native American culture; Joseph Campbell, who recited it in his PBS TV series with Bill Moyers, attributed it to ‘one of the last spokesmen of the Paleolithic moral order’ (Campbell 1988, 41). Fritjof Capra helped to set the record straight by using it for the title and epigraph of his 1996 book The Web of Life, crediting ‘Ted Perry, inspired by Chief Seattle.’ There is no question that Perry's stirring words have inspired many others in their turn.
The Perry text is related to Chief Seattle's original speech in much the same way as the Gospels are related to the original words of Jesus. However much editing, translation and revision took place along the way, the resulting texts have undoubtedly served some readers as a revelation. The history of that revision process may not matter to those readers, but it's an interesting case study for those of us investigating the genesis of scriptures. [next]
But science students accept theories on the authority of teacher and text, not because of evidence. What alternatives have they, or what competence? The applications given in texts are not there as evidence but because learning them is part of learning the paradigm at the base of current practice. If applications were set forth as evidence, then the very failure of texts to suggest alternative interpretations or to discuss problems for which scientists have failed to produce paradigm solutions would convict their authors of extreme bias. There is not the slightest reason for such an indictment.Kuhn is surely right that for the student, “learning the ropes” of any special science is not an entirely logical or scientific process, in the Peircean sense of those words. Similarly in a religious path, deference and submission to authority is a standard part of apprenticeship. It is by this route that one learns the basic stance from which discoveries can be made (when the situation becomes too hot for the old paradigm to handle) or learns how to pass on the tradition (in more normal circumstances). More generally still, obedience to authority is probably a necessary stage in moral development. But if development gets arrested at that stage, the common ethos is bound to be corrupted. Obedience becomes unethical when bullies give the orders.— Thomas Kuhn (1969, 80-81)
Confucius said, When it comes to the practice of humanity one should not defer even to his teacher.— Analects 15:35 (Chan 1963)
In a mature guidance system, ‘there are experts, but no authorities’ (Popper 1990, 34) – ‘experts’ being those with extensive and intensive experience in a given universe of discourse. The real authority belongs to the experience. The experience of a turning sign is the experience of turning and being turned. The truth of a turning symbol and the guidance value of its interpretant depend on the determination of that interpretant by its dynamic object, through the medium of the sign. Authority does not belong to its author, nor wisdom to the wise, nor is prophecy embodied in the prophet, but only in the meaning cycle, the learning cycle. Worship of any human author is misdirected. In the idiom of the Gospel of Thomas,
Jesus said, ‘When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.’As DeConick (2007a, 92) observes, ‘not born of woman’ was the usual code for ‘not human.’ Only the Creator is worthy of worship – the one whose need to be known is the sentient being's need to know. [next]— Thomas 15 (Lambdin)
Let the action of natural preferences be unimpeded, then, and under their influence, let men, conversing together and discussing their opinions, gradually develop such beliefs as are fittest to survive. This is the Method of Dialectic; in philosophy called the a priori method. It springs up from the humus of decayed religions. Greek philosophy first appeared when the myths began to shock people; and modern philosophy trod hard upon the heels of the Reformation.That's one theory of how genuine dialogue begins. Is it reasonable? Why should we believe it? [next]Peirce, R 407 (Illustrations of the Logic of Science (Kindle Locations 1989-1992). Open Court. Kindle Edition.)
Vague as they are, these are quantitative estimates, and perhaps we can account for the difference between them by considering what their respective authors chose to count. Kuhn is looking primarily at the everyday lives of ordinary working scientists: Popper might agree that their work may not advance science very much, and Kuhn would certainly agree that ‘normal science’ prepares the ground for the revolutions which really advance it. The disagreement here is similar to the debate about “gradualism” vs. “saltations” or “punctuated equilibrium” in evolution; or the debate among Buddhists about whether “enlightenment” is sudden or gradual. [next]
Concentration/consecration is always a withdrawal of atttention from ‘the world’ outside the sacred circle, so that meaning space contracts to that First Circle which, being fulfilled, becomes The Point. [next]
Language is a very difficult thing to put into words.— Voltaire?
That which is unexpressed by the word, that by which the word is expressed, know That to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.— Kena Upanishad (Aurobindo)
Wipe your glosses with what you know.— Finnegans Wake, 304
What we know is neither purely fictive nor factual, but actual, the knowing moving always in circuits, in feedback loops. The problem for a culture trying to deal with mythic reality is that consensus on how to talk about it is much more difficult to achieve than consensus on reference to objects of sense experience. Hence the need for initiation, ritual, prayer, or “schools of thought” in order to create and sustain consensus on mythic matters. By integrating patterns of practice with patterns of language, and monitoring the connection closely, a community can create a common language within itself. The trouble is that outsiders have limited access to this common language, which is necessarily a symbol system or subsystem.
If you are developing a relationship with a person or community, you are working toward a sharing of intentions. One of the best methods of testing for consensus is to compare symbols, i.e. to take turns proposing mythic accounts or descriptions of the non-sensuous world and watching for confirming signs from the other. Consciously, then, you identify symbols with intentions, since sharing the one is naturally taken as a sign of sharing the other. Hence the idea that to understand an author's text is to know the author's intentions or ‘intended meaning.’ But when the text is written – especially if it was written long ago – you have to take your confirming signs from the context rather than the mutual exchange of responses shared in a conversation. The actual context of your reading is then your intent and your personal history of using language to represent that intent symbolically.
So the only real question you can ask of a turning sign is: What do I mean by this? For the ideal reader is the ultimate interpretant of the original Author.
… the Bible deliberately blocks off the sense of the referential from itself: it is not a book pointing to a historical presence outside it, but a book that identifies itself with that presence. At the end the reader, also, is invited to identify himself with the book.… the reader completes the visionary operation of the Bible by throwing out the subjective fallacy along with the objective one. The apocalypse is the way the world looks after the ego has disappeared.For the reader of scripture, the book becomes a whole world. And for the seeker of the logos (or in Sanskrit, dharma) which is common to all beings, the world becomes a Scripture: ‘the trees, the birds, the violet bamboo, and the yellow chrysanthemums are all preaching the Dharma that Shakyamuni [Buddha] taught 2,500 years ago’ (Thich Nhat Hanh 1995, 147). ‘The double metaphor of the world as a text and a text as a world has a venerable history’ (Eco 1984, 23). [next]— Frye (1982, 137-8)
All things speak this dharma. Who can hear it?
Investigate this question in detail throughout your life, throughout many lives. The question also can work as a statement. This statement is the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Mujo seppo’ (Tanahashi 2010, 552)
Actually, hearing dharma is not limited to ear sense and ear consciousness. You hear dharma with complete power, complete mind, complete body, and complete way from before your parents were born, before the Empty Eon, through the entire future, the unlimited future. You can hear dharma with body first and mind last.[next]
Such ways of hearing the dharma are all effective. Don’t think that you are not benefited by hearing the dharma if it does not reach your mind consciousness. Effacing mind, dropping body, you hear the dharma and see the result. With no mind and no body, you should hear dharma and benefit from it. Experiencing such moments is how all buddha ancestors become buddhas and attain ancestorhood.— Dogen, ‘Mujo Seppo’ (Tanahashi 2010, 553)
In conscious visual processing, for example, high-level information is dynamically mapped back to low-level information, but it all refers to the same retinal image. Each time your eyes land on a scene (remember, your eye makes about three saccades per second), there is a feedforward-feedback cycle about the current image, and that cycle gives you the detailed conscious percept of that scene. You continuously make conscious snapshots of the world via these feedforward-feedback cycles. In a more general sense, the principle is that the almost continuous feedback-loops from higher to lower areas create an ongoing cycle, a circular nested flow of information, in which what happened a few milliseconds ago is dynamically mapped back to what is coming in right now. In this way, the immediate past continuously creates a context for the present— it filters what can be experienced right now. We see how an old philosophical idea is refined and spelled out by modern neuroscience on the nuts-and-bolts level. A standing context-loop is created. And this may be a deeper insight into the essence of the world-creating function of conscious experience: Conscious information seems to be integrated and unified precisely because the underlying physical process is mapped back onto itself and becomes its own context. If we apply this idea not to single representations, such as the visual experience of an apple in your hand, but to the brain’s unified portrait of the world as a whole, then the dynamic flow of conscious experience appears as the result of a continuous large-scale application of the brain’s prior knowledge to the current situation. If you are conscious, the overall process of perceiving, learning, and living creates a context for itself— and that is how your reality turns into a lived reality.[next]— Metzinger 2009, 31-32
Metaphors of ‘nature as books’ are not only inaccurate, they are pernicious.— Gary Snyder (1990, 69)
True enough; but reading the Word and reading the World work on common ground, for both are read by the one bodymind.
Snyder's main objection to the ‘book’ metaphor is that nature affords no static text. But in the living culture, as in the living body, something needs to persist as a constant, even if only the name of a variable. Pattee's ‘semiotic closure’ guarantees that some kind of relatively static text must be involved in life, learning and evolution. Reading, like all semiosis, is a continuous process in which memory and anticipation must co-operate. In reading a printed text, the text provides the stability and the reader supplies the movement; in reading a cinematic or musical performance, the readers supply the stability while the projector or performers provide the dynamics.
Snyder himself recognizes the value of the ‘Classic’:
The Classic provides a kind of norm. Not the statistical norm of behaviorism but a norm that is proved by staying power and informed consensus. Staying power through history is related to the degree of intentionality, intensity, mindfulness, playfulness, and incorporation of previous strategies and standards within the medium – plus creative reuse or reinterpretation of the received forms, plus intellectual coherence, time-transcending long-term human relevance, plus resonances with the deep images of the unconscious. To achieve this status a text or tale must be enacted across many nations and a few millennia and must have received multiple translations.So if ‘nature as book’ is a pernicious metaphor, it is not because books have no value. The real problem for Snyder is the arrogance of ‘book’ people: ‘Those with writing have taken themselves to be superior to people without it, and people with a Sacred Book have put themselves above those with vernacular religion, regardless of how rich the myth and ceremony’ (1990, 69).— Snyder (1990, 72-3)
Arrogance like that is a long way from resurrection, or apocalypse, words we use to name the experience evoked by a Classic, or scripture, or any turning sign, whatever we call it. Some symbols have ‘staying power’ whether they are Books or not, whether they are considered Sacred or not.
Husserl has used the fine word Stiftung – foundation or establishment – to designate first of all the unlimited fecundity of each present which, precisely because it is singular and passes, can never stop having been and thus being universally; but above all to designate that fecundity of the products of a culture which continue to have value after their appearance and which open a field of investigations in which they perpetually come to life again.[next]— Merleau-Ponty (1960, 59)
The mind which entrusts itself to the operation of symbols acquires an intellectual tool of boundless power; but its use makes the mind liable to perils the range of which seems also unlimited. … you cannot benefit from the formalization of thought, unless you allow the formalism which you have adopted to function according to its own operational principles, and to this extent you must abandon yourself to this functioning and risk being led into error. … We must commit ourselves to the risk of talking complete nonsense, if we are to say anything at all within any such system.[next]This is true also for ordinary language applying to matters of experience. It contains descriptive terms, each of which implies a generalization affirming the stable or otherwise recurrent nature of some feature to which it refers, and these testimonies to the reality of a set of recurrent features constitute, as we have seen (p. 80), a theory of the universe which is amplified by the grammatical rules according to which the terms can be combined to form meaningful sentences. So far as this universal theory is true, it will be found to anticipate, like other true theories, much more knowledge than was possessed or even surmised by its originators. We may recall as a crude model of this how even a small map multiplies a thousandfold the original input of information; and add to this that, actually, the number of meaningful and interesting questions one could study by means of such a map is much greater and not wholly foreseeable. Much less can we control in advance the myriads of arrangements in which nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs can be meaningfully combined to form new affirmations or questions, thus developing, as we shall see, the meaning of the words themselves ever further in these new contexts. Verbal speculation may therefore reveal an inexhaustible fund of true knowledge and new substantial problems, just as it may also produce pieces of mere sophistry.How shall we distinguish between the two? The question cannot be fully answered at this stage; but from what has been already said, we can see, at least in outline, by what method the decision will have to be reached. Three things will have to be borne in mind: the text, the conception suggested by it, and the experience on which this may bear. [Semiotically: sign, interpretant, object.] Our judgment operates by trying to adjust these three to each other. The outcome cannot be predicted from the previous use of language , for it may involve a decision to correct, or otherwise to modify, the use of language. On the other hand, we may decide instead to persist in our previous usage and to reinterpret experience in terms of some novel conception suggested by our text, or at least to envisage new problems leading on to a reinterpretation of experience. And in the third place, we may decide to dismiss the text as altogether meaningless.Thus to speak a language is to commit ourselves to the double indeterminacy due to our reliance both on its formalism and on our own continued reconsideration of this formalism in its bearing on experience. For just as, owing to the ultimately tacit character of all our knowledge, we remain ever unable to say all that we know, so also, in view of the tacit character of meaning, we can never quite know what is implied in what we say.— Polanyi 1962, 94-5
Jesus said, ‘Blessed is the lion that a person will eat and the lion will become human. And anathema is the person whom a lion will eat and the lion will become human.’The final clause, according to 5G's editorial footnote, ‘could be a copyist's error that may have even occurred already in the underlying Greek Verlage, and can possibly be deleted.’ Whether we delete that clause or not, the lion is certainly a symbol in this saying – but a symbol of what? Patterson (5G, 43-4) offers a key to unlock this code:— Thomas 7 (5G)
This odd image fits into the religious environment one finds among the ascetic monks of upper Egypt in the second century and later, where the lion had come to symbolize the human passions those ascetics fought to resist.Like a “code,” a symbol generally comes to your attention as such only when it strikes you as an ‘odd image’ because you are not familiar with this use of it. As far as its semiotic function is concerned, every noun and verb in every language is part of a symbol system. The connection between a linguistic symbol and the experience it ‘stands for’ is conventional. Historical evidence indicates that the ‘lion’ symbol in Thomas 7 had a conventional meaning in second-century Egypt which was quite different from that of, say, nineteenth-century England. Reading the saying along those lines allows us to make more sense of it than reading it according to our more habitual conventions, and this symbolism tells us something about the whole Gospel.
If this saying represents a second-century addition to what is mainly a first-century text, as some scholars argue (5G, 44), then the Gospel of Thomas is a collection bringing together the work of multiple authors addressing various readers in various situations. In this it is like a microcosm of the whole Bible. [next]
Be well assured that for a Buddhist the issue is not to debate the superiority or inferiority of one teaching or another, or to establish their respective depths. All he needs to know is whether the practice is authentic or not. Men have flowed into the Way drawn by grasses and flowers, mountains and running water. They have received the lasting impression of the Buddha-seal by holding soil, rocks, sand, and pebbles. Indeed, its vast and great signature is imprinted on all the things in nature, and even then remains in great abundance. A single mote of dust suffices to turn the great Dharma wheel. Because of this, words like ‘the mind in itself is Buddha’ are no more than the moon reflected on the water. The meaning of ‘sitting itself is attainment of Buddhahood’ is a reflection in a mirror. Do not get caught up in skillfully turned words and phrases.[next]— SBGZ ‘Bendowa’ (Waddell and Abe 2002, 16-17)
We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not say they are not divine,
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still,
It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life,
Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from the earth,than they are shed out of you.— Whitman, ‘A Song for Occupations’
Turning signs return as the leaves to the earth, as scriptures to their trees of life. It takes the whole bodymind, living the time, to read a scripture and be author of its meaning (its interpretant).
The connection between the body and the letter of scripture was vividly expressed by the adepts of Kabbalah. Since each letter in the sacred Hebrew alphabet is co-ordinated with a special member of the body, according to the Yetsirah, Abulafia warned against moving a consonant or vowel from its position (in the practice of combining the letters), because that could tear a member out of its place and cripple the reader (Scholem 1946, 138).
Scholem (1960, 65) quotes Isaac Luria:
… there are 600,000 aspects and meanings in the Torah. According to each one of these ways of explaining the Torah, the root of a soul has been fashioned in Israel. In the Messianic age, every single man in Israel will read the Torah in accordance with the meaning peculiar to his root. And thus also is the Torah understood in Paradise.And Scholem continues:
This mystical idea that each individual soul has its own peculiar way of understanding the Torah was stressed by Moses Cordovero of Safed (d. 1570). He said that each of these 600,000 holy souls has its own special portion of the Torah, ‘and to none other than he, whose soul springs from thence, will it be given to understand it in this special and individual way that is reserved to him.’Matt (1995, 160) quotes Cordovero to the same effect: ‘Faithfully God will make you aware of aspects of the divine Torah that no one else has yet attained. For each soul has a unique portion in the Torah.’
And, if a reading is deep enough, even of a single verse, Paradise is here now. Scholem (1960, 76) quotes H.J.D. Azulai:
When a man utters words of the Torah, he never ceases to create spiritual potencies and new lights, which issue like medicines from ever new combinations of the elements and consonants. If therefore he spends the whole day reading just this one verse, he attains eternal beatitude, for at all times, indeed, in every moment, the composition changes in accordance with the condition and rank of this moment, and in accordance with the names that flare up within him at this moment.
All this is possible because we can dip into the implicit intricacy in reading, just as we can in the writing process as intimated by Eugene Gendlin:
The words retrieve themselves from their old schemes—by coming. What is this coming? How do the right words ..... come?
We don't control this coming. If words don't come, we have to wait for them. … It is bodily—not so different from how hunger, sexual appetite, emotions, tears, and sleep must come; we can't just will those either. … The new working of a word retrieves it from the schemes it brings. So also does the word ‘retrieve’ retrieve itself from earlier uses.— Gendlin (1992a, 56, 58)
Gendlin's retrieval is a semiotic redemption, and a resurrection of the body. [next]
For humans, the attributes of God can only be idealized human attributes. For instance, we take the human experience of knowing, make it absolute and all-encompassing, and call it omniscience. If we didn't start from human experience, we would have no idea what these attributes could refer to; but with it, we can imagine a kind of knowing that we know to be far beyond human capacity. We arrive at the concept of omnipotence in a similar way.
We make our God in our own image, then idealize the image by saying that God made us in His image. Our theories about the realm of the divine are likewise maps of our mystical journeys in those realms. Moshe Idel (1988, 29) makes this observation about ‘the theoretical element in Kabbalistic literature’:
Being for the most part a topography of the divine realm, this theoretical literature served more as a map than as speculative description. Maps, as we know, are intended to enable a person to fulfill a journey; for the Kabbalists, the mystical experience was such a journey. Though I cannot assert that every ‘theoretical’ work indeed served such a use, this seems to have been the main purpose of the greatest part of this literature.[next]
The problem is that natural selection among variant types causes the population to lose variation as the superior type comes to characterize the species. That is, selection destroys the very population variation that is the basis for its operation.This seeming paradox, which explains why the life of an organism or ecosystem tends toward senescence, also explains why any reading or explication has the effect of aborting other possible readings, in effect preventing what may have been equally implicit from ever becoming explicit. In the same way, the growth and development of the child progressively aborts most of the mature individuals he might have become. You don't get another chance at living this day. With a turning symbol, on the other hand, you can return to a replica of it and resurrect meanings that you missed when you meant something else by it previously. Turning symbols can grow on you in this way – and ward off mental senescence, for the time being. [next]— Lewontin (2001, 80)
This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience.[next]— Emerson, Essays (First Series) I
This means forgetting that you are the one turning the wheel of the Word
(as any observer can see).
Fortunately, no observer can observe himself observing.
The Book of God is known through them and they act in accordance with it. The Book of God makes mention of them and they make mention of the Book. Knowledge of the Book comes through them and through it they themselves acquire knowledge.Does this conflict with the principle that ‘You can't have your use and mention it too’?— Khalidi 2001, #52
Can you have your cake and eat it too?
Who is asking these questions? [next]
What does the scribe do when he comes across a text that makes no sense to him? He can assume that the text is sacred and has a sense higher than any he can make, and then he will copy it “faithfully” letter for letter, as it were. Or he may assume that the text is corrupt because of some copying mistake made by a prior scribe, and “correct” it by writing down what he feels the original must have been. But what if it's his reading that's corrupt? Then he will be corrupting the text himself by trying to correct it. And then any “faithful” scribes following him in the copying sequence will preserve the error – or quite possibly make it worse, because a text that doesn't make sense is much more difficult to copy accurately than one that does.
If you accept that even sacred texts are corruptible in tramsmission, it is always possible to reject parts of them as inauthentic. For instance, the last saying in Thomas is rejected by many scholars and readers because it seems “tacked on” at the end, and because it seems incompatible with others (especially Saying 22):
Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’Mary might well have retorted to this, like the famous nun Moshan in a story told by Dogen, ‘I’m not a fox spirit; why would I want to change?’ (‘Raihai tokuzui’, tr. Weinstein). On the other hand, the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 12 (Hurvitz 1976, 199-201), tells of an eight-year-old ‘dragon girl’ who turns instantly into a male and achieves Buddhahood. But why would she, or Mary, need to take this detour through maleness in order to ‘enter the kingdom’? Perhaps the superiority of the male is simply taken for granted here – although this is not the case elsewhere in Thomas – and Jesus concedes it in order to resolve the tension between Peter and Mary. Tension between these two is also evident in the Gospel of Mary, where it seems to reflect not only male chauvinism but also jealousy, on the part of Peter and other disciples, over the special attention given to Mary by Jesus. This does not seem to be the case in Thomas, however; in this Gospel as a whole, Peter seems rather obtuse but not especially jealous of Mary. Hence the suggestion that this final saying does not belong to Thomas at all but was tacked on at the end by some scribe. DeConick places it with other ‘encratic’ sayings, the point being that women should ‘resemble males’ by not having children. Or perhaps the point is that it's easier for a woman to become a man than for a male chauvinist to become impartial.Thomas 114 (Lambdin)
The interpretive problem here is really no different from that of reading Ephesians 5:22-32 (‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord …’) – in which Paul himself says that he is speaking symbolically ‘concerning Christ and the Church’ (see Pagels 1975, 126).
The lack of context does make some sayings in Thomas difficult to ‘decode.’ Saying 105, for instance: ‘Whoever will come to know father and mother, he will be called son of a whore’ (5G). DeConick takes this as an accretion attacking marriage, which was considered to be ‘an institution of prostitution’ by ‘Alexandrian encratic Christians’ (2007a, 284). Possibly ‘father and mother’ have a symbolic sense, as in the Gospel of Philip 52. Or perhaps this saying is in line with others urging a separation from family life, such as 55 and 99. This last option seems most plausible to me, but this is certainly a cryptic saying. [next]
Everything is a symbol, and while it perfectly presents itself, it points to everything else. In this posture I see a combination of the highest presumption and the highest modesty.This posture is the exalted humility of Chapter 5. [next]
A monk called Fada, a chanter of the Lotus Sutra, visited the assembly of Huineng, Zen Master Dajian of the Baolin Monastery, Mount Caoxi, Shao Region. Huineng taught him with a verse:When your mind is deluded, you are turned by the dharma blossoms.In this way, when you are deluded, you are turned by dharma blossoms. Further, when you leap beyond delusion and enlightenment, dharma blossoms turn dharma blossoms.
When your mind is enlightened, you turn the dharma blossoms.
If you cannot clarify the meaning after chanting the sutra at great length, you become its enemy.
Thinking beyond thinking is right.
Thinking about thinking is wrong.
If thinking and beyond thinking do not divide the mind, you can steer the white-ox vehicle endlessly.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Kankin’ (Tanahashi 2010, 223-4)
Living signs interpret living signs.
Every scripture recognized as such is an interpretation of prior scripture (though the original or ‘Mother Book’ may not have been written down).
What is Torah? It is the interpretation of Torah.[next]— Babylonian Talmud (Bavli), quoted by Armstrong (2007, 100)
If we are not careful in the way we practice, we may have the tendency to make the words of our teacher into a doctrine or an ideology.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 19)
In the idiom of the Diamond-cutter Sutra: A sacred text is not in fact a sacred text. It is sacred in the sacramental act of reading for meaning, carrying semiosis forward toward the ‘ultimate logical interpretant’ of habit-change. ‘So you should not be attached to things as being possessed of, or devoid of, intrinsic qualities’ (Price and Wong 1969, 31). [next]
Divine revelation is always human at the point of delivery.— Anthony Freeman (2001, 15)
No messenger is ever sent save with the tongue of his own people.— Qur'án 14:4
All inspired matter has been subject to human distortion or coloring. Besides we cannot penetrate the counsels of the most High, or lay down anything as a principle that would govern his conduct. We do not know his inscrutable purposes, nor can we comprehend his plans. We cannot tell but he might see fit to inspire his servants with errors. In the third place, a truth which rests on the authority of inspiration only is of a somewhat incomprehensible nature; and we never can be sure that we rightly comprehend it. As there is no way of evading these difficulties, I say that revelation, far from affording us any certainty, gives results less certain than other sources of information. This would be so even if revelation were much plainer than it is.[next]— Peirce (CP 1.143, c. 1897)
You know, I could write a book. And this book would be thick enough to stun an ox.— Laurie Anderson, ‘Let X=X’
To read one verse, or even one word, in a spirit of joy and radiance, is preferable to the perusal of many Books.[next]— Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Answer to Question 68
When we hear a Dharma talk or study a sutra, our only job is to remain open. Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing. If we read or listen with an open mind and an open heart, the rain of the Dharma will penetrate the soil of our consciousness.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 12)
Todd Lawson (1997, 174-5) quotes a ‘more or less standard Muslim guide to reading the Qur'án’ which is formulated differently from Thich Nhat Hanh's guidance, yet the actual practice of reading which follows from it may be essentially the same.
Be fully convinced that it is God's revelation.Compare also this Tibetan Buddhist intimology:
Be aware that you are always in God's presence.
Feel as though you hear the Qur'án from God.
Feel as though the Qur'án addresses you directly.
Consider each verse as relevant today, not as a thing of the past.
Strive to live by the teachings of the Qur'án, since it is God's guidance for mankind.
This is the way to get close to the Qur'án and to grasp its meanings.…
Those who have the essential concern to practice the stages of the path of enlightenment must understand that all the Victor's teachings of Sutra and Mantra are exclusively methods for their own attainment of enlightenment, thinking, ‘That compassionate Teacher taught this Dharma for the sake of liberating me personally from the suffering of the hellish states and the life-cycle in general and to establish me in the exaltation of Buddhahood.’— Tse Chokling Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsen (Thurman 1995, 93-4)
Of course there are differences among traditions in the way they conceive the reader's relationship to scripture. The Qur'án is perhaps unique in the degree to which believers venerate the Book itself as ‘co-eternal with the divine essence’ (Lawson 1997, 199) – though the Torah is similarly venerated in some Jewish traditions. In any case, the universal key to whole-body reading of scripture is an open-hearted trust in the text.
Next rePatch: The Subject of Selves →
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