NDPR Review of Roy Tzohar’s A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor

Review by our own contributor Malcolm Keating.

Indian philosophy has a history of sophisticated linguistic analysis (Pāṇini’s grammar being the usual example), which includes theories of reference, polysemy, ellipsis, sentential unity, figurative language, and more. Roy Tzohar’s A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor is a sustained argument for attending both to the intertextual nature of Indian philosophy and to the philosophical importance of topics such as metaphor and figurative language. Tzohar’s central thesis is that Sthiramati, a second- or third-century CE Indian Buddhist thinker, has a theory of metaphor (“metaphor” being Tzohar’s preferred translation of the Sanskrit upacāra) which can be understood more broadly as a theory of meaning.

Full text here: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/a-yogacara-buddhist-theory-of-metaphor/

About Matthew Dasti

Matthew R. Dasti is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

5 thoughts on “NDPR Review of Roy Tzohar’s A Yogācāra Buddhist Theory of Metaphor

  1. Dear Malcolm, dear Matthew and dear Roy,
    I could (at last!) read the main chapter (chapter 5) of Roy’s book, but I have a main doubt, insofar as the theory of Sthiramati seems to be a theory of cognition, not of language. I could not find anything in the quotes Roy reports that is clearly linguistic. Loka and śāstra, for instance, designate two domains of experience, not only of linguistic usage. Perhaps Roy could point out to specific passages where the reference to language is clear?

  2. Dear Elisa, I’m happy to hear you agreeing with my reading–as I suggested in the review, it seems like Sthiramati is presenting a theory of intentionality, which includes cognitive superimposition, rather than a theory of meaning in the strictly linguistic sense. I, too would be interested to hear more on why Roy thinks what’s at issue is specifically linguistic.

  3. Thank you Elisa for your comment, and Malcolm for the interest you have taken in my work, it was interesting to see our differences.
    Elisa, as to the specific passages where the reference to language is clear, please look at the fifth chapter, section 5.2 (pages 161-166, not mentioned in the review) which is a detailed account of Sthiramati’s refutation of what he takes to be his opponent’s misguided theory of meaning, and the entire discussion overwhelmingly referring to upacāra in linguistic terms. For Sthiramati, upacāra is not a psychological notion (like a mental construction), but constitutively a linguistic referential one, although he then uses it also generate not only a theory of meaning, but a sophisticated theory of perception, content, understanding, etc (he is after all, a Yogācārin) .
    Furthermore, Sthiramati (who lived around the fifth-sixth century Ce and not in the ” second- or third-century CE” as the review mentions) made his arguments often with reference to a number of other Buddhist and non-Buddhist sources, a detailed study of which is presented in chapters 1 , 2, and mostly in chapters 3 and 4 of the book, the latter including, for instance, Sthiramati’s specific references to upacāra in his commentary on Vasubandhu’s AKBh.
    This contextual analysis and approach is important o me, not just because it shows upacāra to be understood as primarily a linguistic term in various Buddhist sources (on which Sthiramati is explicitly drawing), but also as a methodological constraint for us, the readers of these works. Apart from giving us an intellectual history of sorts of the Buddhist use of the term upacāra , this contextual analysis serves us to avoid anachronism by understanding Sthiramati’s use of upacara, a ubiquitous term is śāstric lore, in light of, for instance, its later Mīmāṃsā or Vedānta understanding . I
    for understanding Sthiramati’s arguments, we need to address the reading of his text as a whole in the context of the literature to which it responds. Cherry picking passages and interpreting them in isolation, I feel, does not really contribute to our understanding of these issues.

    • Hi Roy, thanks for drawing attention to the inexcusable error in dating Sthiramati at the beginning of my piece. I don’t know how that slipped through, and my apologies.

      Since I’ve had my say in the NDPR, I will let Elisa reply here, though let me not that space constraints in the review prevented me from taking on every chapter of your book in detail. I pushed for a longer review, and got some, but not all. Perhaps sometime when I have time, and if there is interest, I can comment on the other chapters.

      I will note, though, that nowhere in the piece am I appealing to later Mīmāṃsā or Vedānta (if that’s the implication in your comments), but only to your discussion of early Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya, and your understanding of upacāra there, which is where we do appear to have differences of opinion.

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