Phenoscopy 5

All things and all phenomena are just one mind; nothing is excluded or unrelated.

— Dogen, ‘Bendowa’ (Tanahashi 2010, 15)

Everthing is related
to everything else. More or less.
All right. But do you see, feel or know
how this relates to that?
Do you relate to that relation?

Or as we say, Does it make any sense?

Sense-making is semiosis,
the Thirdness of things,
triadic relations
waking up the wind
making up the mind,
winding up the wake.


A seed, as ‘an embryonic reality endowed with power of growth’ (Chapter 18), is a symbol of the Point. Another is the dewdrop, as for instance in Yeats:

All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

— ‘Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors’

or in Dogen’s ‘Genjokoan’:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.

(Tanahashi 2010, 31)

The pearl in Thomas 76, the big fish in Thomas 8, the hidden treasure – each is a symbol of the phaneron.

The timeless thusness of this one bright pearl is boundless. It is just that the entire world of the ten directions is one bright pearl, not two or three. The entire body is one true dharma eye, the true body, a single phrase. The entire body is illumination; the entire body is the entire mind. When the entire body is the entire body, there is no hindrance. It is gently curved and turns round and round.

— Dogen, ‘One Bright Pearl’ (Tanahashi 2010, 37)


The end of a path is where it points,
the point where it ends.

Stops are punctuation marks (Latin punctum, a prick, point or spot). What is a period? A full stop, or a space of time? It comes from the Greek peri hodos, which means ‘road around.’ Think fast, or fast from thinking, and you find yourself back at the starting point before you’ve left. Stop here.

On a continuous line, a point is punctuation.
In speech, a pause is punctuation.
In written language a space is punctuation.


According to the Liddell and Scott lexicon, the word σημεῖον (the usual Greek word for sign and root of semeiotic) was also used by Aristotle for a mathematical point, or a point in time. In this sense it was synonymous with στιγμή (stigma).

Now upon a continuous line there are no points (where the line is continuous), there is only room for points,— possibilities of points. Yet it is through that continuum, that line of generalization of possibilities that the actual point at one extremity necessarily leads to the actual point at the other extremity. The actualization of the two extremities consists in the two facts that at the first, without any general reason the continuum there begins while at the last, equally without reason, it is brutally, i.e. irrationally but forcibly cut off.

— Peirce, “PAP” (R 293, 1906); NEM 4, 330

The same goes for time and semiosis.

Higher than existence

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places people reject and so is like the Tao.

Tao Te Ching 8 (Feng/English)

The same text translated by Red Pine:

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing

A comment on this text by Wang Pi (included in Red Pine’s edition, p. 17):

The Tao does not exist, but water does. Hence, it only approaches the Tao.

Charles S. Peirce would agree that the highest good does not exist, although it is real. In this he differed from most Western philosophers of his time.

The modern philosophers — one and all, unless Schelling be an exception — recognize but one mode of being, the being of an individual thing or fact, the being which consists in the object’s crowding out a place for itself in the universe, so to speak, and reacting by brute force of fact, against all other things. I call that existence.

— Peirce, CP 1.21 (from the “Lowell Lectures of 1903,” Lecture IIIa)

Turning words

‘“Turning words” are expressions that turn one to realization’ (Aitken 1991, 24) – whether spoken with that intention or not. Somehow they overcome the inertia that keeps you moving in the same habitual direction. But is this virtue, this power, to be found in the word itself? Perhaps it should be called instead a ‘pivot word’ (Heine 1999, 4): it marks the turning point.

From the Glossary appended to Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye:

turning point: 轉処 [tensho]. 轉機 [tenki], literally, turning event. A place where delusion is transformed into enlightenment.

— Tanahashi 2010, 1139

Only when you get here will you know (the meaning of the) ancient saying, ‘Mind revolves along with myriad phenomena; the turning point is truly mysterious.’

Blue Cliff Record, Case 22 (Cleary and Cleary 1977, 152)

How to discern the point? Even the Buddhas of the past, present and future, and even the Zen masters over the ages, cannot shoot this black star. How do you shoot it?

— Hakuin (Cleary 2002, 4)

Phenoscopy 4

The object of study in phenoscopy is any phenomenon (appearing), or all phenomena, or the phenomenon (as Peirce often put it), or the phaneron (the term coined by Peirce when he became dissatisfied with all of the above). What we are looking for is ‘the elements that are always or very often present in, or along with, whatever is before the mind in any way.’ Studying the phenomenon in this way, we can dismiss from our attention those aspects of the phenomenon which are unique to it; but uniqueness itself is more ‘elementary,’ being present in all unique phenomena – in every phenomenon which differs from every other in some way. (This difference or otherness, this being not something else, is the Secondness of the object, which may be more or less ‘genuine’ relative to other objects.)

This phenoscopic practice of dismissing some aspects of an object from our attention in order to focus on others is called prescinding: in the case above, we prescind uniqueness from the unique phenomenon because it is more elementary, being present in any and every unique phenomenon – and anything appearing as a phenomenon must be unique in some way. This practice may also be called ‘prescissive abstraction,’ or even simply ‘abstraction,’ except that the latter word has other uses, so that we must rely on the context to clarify exactly what practice we are referring to.

Phenoscopy being analytical and prescissive in this way, there are some common distinctions we can dismiss from our attention in order to focus on the more universal elements of the phenomenon. For example, we can dismiss the usual distinction between “appearance” and “reality.” We are accustomed to thinking that things are not always what they appear to be; but here we are attending only to the appearance itself, not asking whether it is the mere appearance or representation of “something” other than itself. We also drop the typical distinction between a “thing” and our experience of it. The phenomenon simply appears, or ‘is before the mind’: those expressions are two ways of saying the same thing. If the expression ‘before the mind’ is too suggestive of difference between the mind and the thing ‘before’ it, we can say instead ‘in the mind,’ or not mention “mind” at all; but no verbal expression is quite free of irrelevant suggestions, so we must be ready to improvise with language if we are to talk about phenoscopy at all.