Is Zen Fraught with Tautologies?

In my book class the other night one of the instructions mentioned that Uchiyama Roshi uses a lot of tautologies.

I thought I knew what that was.  It turns out I was wrong. It think it's possible that I'm splitting hairs here but it seems like phrases like "It is what it is," are not tautologies.

Here's the definition: a statement in which you repeat a word, idea, etc., in a way that is not necessary [count A beginner who has just started is a tautology.

So free gifts or learning learners or idiotic idiots are all tautologies.

However, phrases are generally not considered tautologies (despite the example from the lovely MEriam Webster's) and, moreover, in further research (read wikipedia), I discovered that a tautology is specifically a rhetorical device where-in the repetition is needless.

Another point for Zen masters don't use tautologies. 

So what are these useful summaries. I know I shouldn't be hung up on naming them. 

I'm not really I just find language and it's uses interesting. 

So maybe these are tautophrases, then??

Willam Safire, in his New York Times column, On Language: Tautophrases, specifically mentions the co-opted  and oft-mentioned Zen phrase It is what it is. At first I dismiss his categorization because he incorrectly assumes that the phrases is dismissive or evasive, which it isn't, when used by Zen practitioners.

Safire goes on to allow that tautophrase, as opposed to a tautology can be used for emphasis. I think in Zen we use it for emphasis but also to point out that seeking intellectual meaning is often pointless when dealing with concepts which are beyond rational thought. 

If you're a language geek, like I obviously am, read the rest of Safire's article here.

Uchiyama Roshi uses tons of these phrases, some of them cribbed from Dogen Zenji or his teacher Sawaki Roshi, known more commonly as Homeless Kodo. 

Here's a few I like:

Zazen is doing Zazen.

Self doing itself by itself

Self making the self out of the self

Self that is is only self

I recommend reading Uchiyama Roshi's book Opening the Hand of Thought, if you haven't. I'll post a full review when I have finished it. 

I'm also going to finally finish reading Poplop's Rebel Buddha soon, I swear. 😛


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