Newpath Tenrikyo -  METAPHORS and IDIOMS IN THE POETRY OF MOONSUN -

a metaphor is

When metaphors and idioms are used in either speech, art or writing their use is intended to bring something to mind. The teachings of the Reason of Heaven are full of metaphors and idioms. It is instructive to recall that in most cases those metaphors and idioms did not work as they were intended. 

I have already told you and told you what is known to Me.
The teachings have been told, but you do not know what they mean.


"I have already told you everything but you have not understood at all. No matter how much I explain, there is no one who understands."

It is reasonable to ask why after almost fifty years of effort no one was able to understand what our God of origin was trying to teach. We know that every effort was made to reach out to those who expressed a willingness to learn and obviously anyone who ponders the poems of the Tip of the Writing Brush ("Ofudesaki") can see that they are both brilliant and for ease of access, written in the vernacular of time and place.

 We also know that very near the end of  the usefulness of Miki Nakyama's physical existence the mind of our original parent accepted the sincere effort of those who had gathered around Miki Nakayama and were willing to perform the Service that She had prepared for them. It is however important to note that though their sincerity was accepted there was no acknowledgement of their understanding. We will speak in more detail of what the metaphor "Service", "Work" ("Tsutome") brings and brought to mind but for now it is enough to note that even the intention and purpose of that idiom, used commonly in the world, can be misunderstood.

Before we look at our first poetic metaphor it might be a good idea to take a minute and review what a metaphor is and how metaphors function either in text, in speech or as a graphic representation. In brief, metaphors are used, particularly in poetry, to transfer meaning from a familiar idea or object to another perhaps less familiar idea or object. In the case at hand, through the use of simple, familiar concepts and objects, metaphors are always used to guide our self centered imagination into exposing and revealing the true ever present origin of our mind so that it can be realized, known and understood.

It is common for us to overlook and  fail to grasp and understand the truth of that origin because of the success of the creative ideas, concepts and truths of the world that flow up from it as the truths of our world view. Unfortunately that success has been accompanied by an unintended consequence. The marvelous fruits and truths of our self centered imaginations have large doses of  unintended and unnecessary suffering mixed in with them.  The promise is that all of that suffering can be removed by returning our mind to its origin, that is to its original condition.

Though it is the springwater that fills the pond in the
high mountains, yet at its spout, it is mixed with mud.

When you calm your mind step by step and ponder,
it will change into clear water.

It is both possible and likely that intelligent people when asked or told to ponder and make their make their mind "like clear water" might not have a clue as to how to do that. My wife, for instance, is smarter than I am by a lot and her mind is in much better shape than mine yet she steadfastly holds to the view that any instruction to ponder is meaningless for her. She feels that it is an old fashioned academic word that does not work for her. It stands to reason then that if we wish to intentionally know and understand the one truth of origin that is being offered we in all probability will need some in  kind of help in understanding what is meant by settling our minds "into clear water."

I shall go into the water in the mountains and make it clear,
whatever kind of water it may be.

We are not on our own in this task. Our original parent, the truth of our origin, the mind of God is on our side and is working tirelessly to use all means to purify all of the minds of the world. Though it is possible to unintentionally awaken to the truth of the origin of our mind, like Miki Nakayama did through Her truly sincere response to an instruction to clear her mind.  The purpose of the teaching that is the reason of heaven  is then by contrast the way of intentional awakening. Intentional awakening implies purposely and sincerely working ("tsutome") at totally calming one's own mind. Metaphorically making it into the "mind like clear water".

When you calm your mind step by step and ponder,
it will change into clear water

Intentional awakening begins with our effort to sincerely work on  the purification of our mind. Once our mind is purified, even for a brief moment (recall receiving the truth of the "Sazuke") we can then recall and revisit that original pristine mind often and by pondering and thinking deeply on what was known by that original state of our mind we can choose to intentionally replace the foundation of our thinking. That means replacing the our limited self centered foundation with a self centered foundation that is informed by the free and unlimited truth of its origin. It is that new self centered imagination rising up from the knowledge and understanding of  its free and unlimited origin that is the basis of  a new world as joyous life. As I wrote the last word of the last sentence the mental voice of my self image sang out "Kan ro dai" yet another metaphor that we will get to later, though it won't hurt the reader to go ahead and savor the meaning of the "Kanrodai" - the stand to receive heavenly dew- now as it has come to mind.

 For the reader of the poetry of Moonsun collected as the Tip Of the Writing Brush the proper understanding of the metaphors presented in the poems requires a certain amount of deep thinking, pondering or self reflection on their intended meaning. Of course a metaphor that is taken literally, at face value, is no longer a metaphor and loses its intended use making it very difficult to determine what its intended use actually is. For that reason a significant role in the Tenrikyo Dynamic Mission is played by the "Waka Sensei" or poetry teacher. I have had more than one such teacher and am grateful for their patient guidance and instruction.

Anyone can recite a poem and enjoy the lyrical sound of it, but not everyone can immediately grasp the intended meaning of metaphors that appear in poems. For instance, we all live under the same Sun and Moon and we all know what water is, however knowing their intended meaning when they appear as metaphors in poetry may not be so clear and we may need some help with them. That is particularly true if the metaphor is of a nature that made it appropriate for a particular time and place, idiomatic terms for example, as opposed to  universal metaphors such as Sun, Moon, Water, Parent and the like. Dealing with idiomatic speech is of course very difficult as the intended use and meaning can radically shift over time.

 An idiom is language usage that is peculiar to a people or class in a particular time and place. Idioms can be very difficult to make sense of and often require some scholarship to get to their intended meaning. For instance my father used to use the idiom "flash in the pan". I took the sense of it to be something that came and went rapidly and a frying pan came to mind however I was over sixty years old before I stumbled upon its root reference. A root reference is the original use of the language that would have been familiar to people of a particular time and place in such a way that they would easily get the intended meaning of it.  I then asked four educated people what they thought "flash in the pan" meant and got four different answers. One of which, though sensible, went off in an entirely different direction and implied success as opposed to the intended meaning of a big start resulting in a disappointing outcome.

So what does the idiom "flash in the pan" mean to imply?  In an old flint lock gun, a small amount of fine black powder is placed inFlash in the pan a pan below the hammer, so that when the trigger is pulled the hammer drops striking the flint, which sends a spark into the pan igniting the powder, which is then intended to send a spark into the powder in the barrel, igniting it and causing an explosion that propels the ball out of the barrel. If however the powder in the pan ignites without igniting the powder in the barrel, it is "a flash in the pan". That is to say, something that began with a flash and a small bang that was supposed to begin a larger further action but didn't. My point is that there is no way to work out that root reference meaning without help. The poems collected as the Tip Of The Writing Brush are full of beautiful metaphors and instructive idioms. The use of idioms in the poems reinforces the intention that the teaching was supposed to be quickly and easily understood by the first people to hear it at a particular time and place as the intended meaning of idioms tends to get distorted, and in many cases lost, over time and change of location.

Though the "Waka" meter of the original poems is lost in their translation, fortunately the meter is not important in conveying the meaning that is their intended use. A quick word on the style of poetry should suffice to make up for the loss of meter in translation. The "Waka" meter is characteristic of Japanese poems that are an exchange between two people, often lovers,  or an exchange between two differing points of view.

Each of the seventeen books of collected poems can then be viewed as presenting a single point of view, motivated by the author's single intention, in conversation with various points of view that were motivated by diverse intentions and which, according to the single point of view of the author, lack an understanding of what the author is trying to teach or convey. The conversation then falls into the category of the author's attempt to overcome the various objections that have been  raised in defense of either intentionally or unintentionally misunderstanding what the author is trying to teach.

 The collected books of poems are not cumulative in content. Each conversation is complete, the single point of view and intention of the author, though expressed in different terms, remains the same for all of the poems. Though it may seem like the poems address a number of misunderstandings particular to a specific time and place, the fundamental teaching is appropriate for all times, places and levels of maturity. For example, Heart (original consciousness), Mind (our self centered imagination ) and Understanding ( the mind that has replaced its strictly self centered foundation with a new self centered foundation that knows and understands the one truth of origin)  are native to all human beings equally, regardless of time or place. Heart, mind and understanding and their synonyms appear in all seventeen books of poems.

dig up the rootIt helps to recall that in this teaching there is only one original core truth that is intended to be revealed and there is only one idea that forms the foundation of the multitude of truths that stand in the way of revealing it.

This universe is the body of God.
Ponder this in all matters.

So long as you remain unknowing that the body is
a thing borrowed, you can understand nothing at all.

Quickly try the pondering and then hasten.
Why are you not preparing to dig up the root?

In every case the poems invite and hasten the reader to try out or test the single point of view, intention and way of reasoning in their own mind. Though simple, that test turns out to be difficult both to speak of and to implement because the intended goal was and continues to be entirely new to the minds of people that  hear it. The vocabulary necessary to show the way to open our minds to the way of reasoning that the poems intended to teach didn't exist in the common vocabulary of the first people to hear the teaching and had to be invented and defined and were often reintroduced as a metaphoric modification of worldly common truths that were already familiar to them. 

Our efforts to understand are also complicated by the fact that our current common way of learning and reasoning involves attaching new information to information and truths that are already existing in our mind. The new information then resting on a foundation that is already in place will as a matter of course have a reasonable premise that does not accord with the intention of the teaching. Our propensity to reason in that manner leads to worldly common shallow interpretations of the poems and metaphors as they can in every detail be interpreted from the point of view of existing premises or truths that we use as the every day common foundation for our reasoning. Because our minds commonly work in  that way those minds that wish to hear and learn of the original cause of all things in detail are asked to be truly and totally sincere in their willingness to abandon the current foundation of their reasoning and replace it with the knowledge and understanding of the deepest foundation, the original cause of all  things in detail that is known through the totally clear and  purified mind. Metaphorically the mind like clear water; yet another metaphor. 

Please keep in mind that unless we can clearly distinguish between the two sides of the conversation and make the effort to identify with the one intention and point of view side we will have a very difficult time benefiting from the intention that motivated the creation of the poems in the first place. With that in mind we turn to the graphic metaphors presented in the poems as they are easier for us to engage with in our efforts to know and understand the one point of view and single intention that is offered as the means for putting an end to suffering and dissatisfaction while renewing the joy in our life.

Out of our true origin rises a teaching the employs metaphors of person, place, things and concepts all meaning and pointing to the single truth that is the heart of our being as it can be known and understood at the core of our mind. 

Fire Water and Wind MOONSUN The Kanrodai

 

* I downloaded the very nice graphic metaphor at the top of this page from Facebook. If it turns out that I don't have permission to use it, I will remove it with a word of thanks as it is nicely done.