Examples of Metaphor in Religious Language

journey and movement Metaphors

If the above description of the source—path-goal schema and its significance is correct, metaphors drawing on the journey source domain should be present across a wide range of religious texts and discourse. This is in fact the case, as the following brief survey demonstrates.

First, many religious texts are framed by journey metaphors. One classic example is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, written in 1678. It recounts the story of a man’s journey to the Celestial City, intended as an allegory of the Christian life from conversion to death. Journey metaphors are also a key theme in many sacred texts, such as the comparison of the “broad way” and the “narrow way” in the sayings of Jesus (Matthew 7:13), the paradoxical notion of the “gateless gate” in Zen Buddhism (Kapleau, 2000), or the tariqa, or path leading to God, in Sufi Islam (Shepard, 2014). Religious testimonials are also structured through the use of journey metaphors. Consider this extract from a Roman Catholic testimonial entitled “Walking to the End” (Edmisten, 2011):

Family and friends were concerned I was making a huge mistake, but I felt God’s guiding hand. I’d prayed repeatedly for him to lead me to the truth. Repeatedly he dropped me on the front steps of the Catholic Church. Maybe it was time to go in. I had one more obstacle to overcome: the doctrine opposing birth control. I couldn’t enter the Church and knowingly be unfaithful to one of her teachings.

(p- 70)

This extract is a good example of how movement metaphors can sometimes saturate a stretch of text.The words “guiding” and “lead”, the implication of being carried prior to being “dropped”, and the use of“go in”, “obstacle”, “overcome”, and “enter” all rely on the conceptual metaphor becoming a Christian is a journey, which can be more broadly characterized as spiritual.“Go in” and “enter” have been classified as metaphors because the capitalization of “Church” suggests that the author, rather than referring to physically entering a particular church, is abstractly expressing becoming a member of the Roman Catholic Church. This extract also contains several examples of metonymy, which is addressed in greater depth in Chapter 4.

Returning to a consideration of Zen journey metaphors related to the achievement of kensho, note the figurative use of“step” in the extracts below from two Zen Buddhist testimonials taken from Kapleau (2000):

In the evening at dokusan I told the roshi what I had felt about the tree and asked him what it meant. “You have reached a decisive point - there is only one more step! This is the last evening of the sesshin. Do zazen all night.” Fired by the roshi’s“one more step!” I was now ready for an all-night,all-out attack on Mu.

(p. 264)

After the morning chores, and just before the roshi’s talk, a university student sitting near me (who got kenslw at this sesshin), suddenly yelled out: “You foolish, foolish, stupid guy!” referring to himself. “Go on, on! One more step, only one! The summit! Die if need be, die!” The strength of his desperation flowed into me and I began to concentrate as though my very life depended on it.

(p. 276)

Here, again, spiritual life is a journey underpins the descriptions of reaching a particular point and the requirement of one more step to reach the final goal. The second extract combines this with the metaphoric scenario of climbing a mountain and the conceptualization of kenslw as reaching the top. This highlights the role of metaphor in representing religious language as something concrete and tangible. In this case, something as abstract as the process of achieving kensho is being visualized as mountaineering, one of the most physical and concrete activities imaginable.

This brief survey of common examples of journey metaphors can be further consolidated by an overview of the analysis of such metaphors in cognitive linguistic studies of religious texts and conversations. In terms of Christian and Muslim language, Charteris-Black (2004) found that 5% of the metaphors identified in the Bible involved the journey source domain, with most of these occurring in the Old Testament. These occurrences drew on a combination of


path toward a goal. He also found journey metaphors to be important in the Qu’ran, with the notion of divine guidance (represented by the conceptual metaphor allah is a guide) being especially frequent (Charteris-Black, 2004). Along similar lines, Kcivecses’s (2011) conceptual analysis of Christian doctrine views the words attributed to Jesus in John 8:12 and 14:4-7 as involving life is a journey and jesus is light. These are conflated in the sense that Jesus is the guide that shows people the correct path as well as being figuratively represented as the path itself (“I am the way”), or the manner by which Christians should live, in addition to being the final destination, or the purpose of the Christian life (Kovecses, 201 l).This notion of a divine entity serving as a guide has also been explored in Christian and Muslim testimonials (Richardson, 2012) and Christian gospel songs (Huang & Chiang, 2018). More generally, journey metaphors have also been identified in conversations between Muslims and Christians (Richardson, 2017) and in Christian sermons (Richardson & Nagashima, 2018).

Research has also shown that Buddhist and Hindu texts are rich in the use of movement metaphors. For example, Lan (2012), in an analysis of figurative language in the Buddhist sutra Bao Ji Jiug, describes how the sutra depicts the body as a boat that enables the bodhisattva to cross over the river, going from the current state of reincarnation and suffering to the other side (nirvana). The passages are based on the conceptual metaphor life is a journey across a river. In other passages, the sutra presents Mahayana Buddhism as a boat, in which case the teachings ferry the Buddhist to nirvana. In their analysis of the Heart Sutra, Lu and Chiang (2007) discuss a similar conceptualization revolving around the construal of suffering as a space that needs to be crossed in order to reach the other side. At one point in the sutra, the end point of achieving a state of wisdom is described using the term paramita, which Lu and Chiang translate as “the far shore”.

While the focus in these particular scenarios is a linear representation of life (moving from one shore to another), Buddhist discourse commonly focuses on life and death as a continually repeated cycle with enlightenment as the only means of exit. Gao and ban’s (2018) analyses of the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, for example, relate the life is a journey mapping with the more elaborate formulation found in their data: life is a cyclic journey in the wheel of six paths. These consist of three good and three evil paths (or realms), with the good paths being conceptualized as located above the evil paths. This adds the possibility of downward and upward directionality in the form of the conceptual mappings rebirth into a good life form is rising to an upper path and rebirth into a bad life form is falling to a lower path.

spiritual activity is traveling along a path toward a goal is also a highly productive mapping in Buddhist texts. Studies related to the practice of meditation note that progress is conceptualized as forward movement along a path (Richardson & Nagashima, 2018; Silvestre-Lopez & Ferrando, 2017). However, when the context shifts to concentration, the language can switch to positively evaluating stillness, with movement occurring as a challenge to successful practice in the form of uncontrolled thoughts and sensory stimulation. This can set up a tension between the person having the thoughts and the thoughts themselves, so mappings such as thoughts are objects and thought is an animated entity come into play. This also develops further in some texts into a metaphor scenario where attachment to thoughts creates a prison in which the person is no longer able to figuratively move freely.

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