All thought is in signs.
— Peirce (EP1:24)
All things have no signs:
This is the real body of Buddha.
Avatamsaka Sutra (Cleary 1984, 380)
The usage of the sign ‘sign’ in this sutra seems to differ from the Peircean or semiotic usage deployed in Turning Signs. Thich Nhat Hanh (2017) associates it with distinction-making, and ‘signlessness’ with interbeing and impermanence:
A sign is what characterizes the appearance of something, its form. If we recognize things based on their sign, we may think that this cloud is different from that cloud, the oak tree is not the acorn, the child is not the parent. At the level of relative truth, these distinctions are helpful. But they may distract us from seeing the true nature of life, which transcends these signs. The Buddha said, “Where there is a sign, there is always deception.” With the insight of interbeing we can see there is a profound connection between this cloud and that cloud, between the acorn and the oak, between parent and child.
— Hanh, The Art of Living (p. 45)
All things have no signs is a sign, namely a proposition. Is it true?

If that cloud up there has a sign, its form has a name, a label. Semiotically, the subject of the proposition has a predicate attached to it. But this attachment is deceptive. Even if we don’t call it (recognize it as) a “cloud,” we might see it as a particular thing having a visual form, but that momentary form is in no way essential to it, doesn’t really belong to it. It is only a “cloud” – or whatever we call it in whatever language we are speaking – in relation to us, to our bodyminds. It has no name or form that is essential to it, just as you have no essential self.

On the other side, that cloud is ‘a phenomenal manifestation of ourselves,’ just like any and everything which is present to us. It doesn’t have a real name or sign, but it may be a sign, of rain for instance, or of the direction of the wind up there. Likewise we might say that it is a form of water, and see the ‘profound connection’ between it and other bodies of water, including the contents of our own skin-bags. This is how we read the signatures of all things: we read them as signs, not as having signs or fixed identities. In genuine mindfulness we see through signs just as we see through deceptions.

How do we do that? Here is Dogen’s Zen advice:

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?
— ‘Fukanzazengi’ (Leighton and Okumura 2004, 533)
Is there any connection between this practice and phaneroscopy? Peirce used the word phaneron ‘to denote the total content of any one consciousness (for any one is substantially any other), the sum of all we have in mind in any way whatever, regardless of its cognitive value’ (EP2:362). Could it be that ‘the phaneron’ is another name for ‘the real body of Buddha,’ or for what Dogen called ‘One Bright Pearl’?

Can this question be investigated?

The investigator would have to practice both phaneroscopy and zazen, and be fluent in both Peircean and Buddhist terminologies.

Is it possible to investigate such a question while practicing zazen or phaneroscopy?

Fayan, Great Zen Master of Qingliang Monastery, said, “If you see that all forms are beyond forms, you don’t see the Tathagata.”
These words by Fayan are words of seeing the Buddha. When we examine these words, they stand out and extend their hands. Listen to his words with your ears. Listen to his words of seeing the Buddha with your eyes. …
See thoroughly that all forms are Tathagata forms and not beyond forms. See the Buddha in this way, make up your mind, realize trust, and maintain these words. Chant these words and become familiar with them.
Thus, keep seeing and hearing these words with your ears and eyes. Have the words drop away in your body, mind, bones, and marrow. Have the words seen through your mountains, rivers, and entire world. This is the practice of studying with buddha ancestors.
Do not think that your own words and actions cannot awaken your own eye. Turned by your own turning words, you see and drop away your own turning of buddha ancestors. This is the everyday activity of buddha ancestors.
— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Kembutsu’ (Tanahashi 2010, 597-8)

Body image

The whole body senses because it is a self-organizing process. Your current experiencing is in your bodymind not as things are inside containers, but as a move is in the game, a scene in the play, an episode in the story. The game has room for more moves while you live: its emptiness is your freedom, for the time being. The ‘third-person’ view of your body from without is in another, more public process, and only from there can we talk about your brain as ‘constructor’ of your experience.

Turning Signs, Chapter 4

In his 1993 ‘Afterword’ to A Leg to Stand On (p. 192), Oliver Sacks remarks that ‘body-image may be the first mental construct and self-construct there is, the one that acts as a model for all others.’ This view seems to be corroborated by Damasio (2010, 2018) and other neuroscientists. The self-construct which is the body-image, the brain’s mapping of the body as a whole, is the ground floor, so to speak, of consciousness itself as ‘constructed’ by the bodymind.

Consciousness, thus conceived, is essentially personal: it is essentially connected to the actual living body, its location and positing of a personal space; and it is based on memory, as a remembering which continually reconstructs and recategorizes itself.

— Sacks (1984/1993, 199-200)

The brain’s construction of the body-image as a whole continues when some part of the body is cut off from the brain for some time by neurological damage. This results in the mental phenomenon called neglect, in which the person does not feel as if that part of the body is missing, but rather does not feel that any such thing exists or has ever existed. For instance, when Sacks saw his badly injured left leg (made visual contact with it), he did not feel that it belonged to his body. Brain damage can also cause such neglect of half of the visual field. When neglect of a body part collides with visual or tactile experience of it, this can lead to alienation, as when Sacks could see his leg but felt as if it belonged to somebody else, perhaps a corpse. A third-person neurological account of such phenomena can explain the experience but does not change how it feels. (Nevertheless, we sometimes resist or reject a theoretical explanation of a valued feeling, as if the theory could “explain it away.”)

If the wholeness or integrity of the body-image does ‘act as a model’ for one’s mental construct or model of the whole world, it is the primary meaning space. No wonder then that we often neglect parts of the external world, or feel them to belong to somebody else’s world, even when we know of their existence and connection to us at some intellectual level. Your world and my world are felt as wholes, even though “everybody knows” that some parts of your world are absent from mine and some parts of mine from yours. We can’t help being partial to our own point of view, but we can make some meaning space for others by allowing for the felt integrity of their experience as well as ours.


The body of the world which is broken into pieces is the body of the god. As the Christians say: others bequeath to their heirs their property, but he bequeathed himself, that is the flesh and blood of his body. The fall is the Fall into Division of the one universal man.

— N.O. Brown (1966, 21)

Literally, the Bible is a gigantic myth, a narrative extending over the whole of time from creation to apocalypse, unified by a body of recurring imagery that ‘freezes’ into a single metaphor cluster, the metaphors all being identified with the body of the Messiah, the man who is all men, the totality of logoi who is one Logos, the grain of sand that is the world.

— Frye (1982, 224)