Sunday, December 30, 2007


I actually wrote a post yesterday. It was somewhat political, a brief screed against the current anti-immigrant climate in this country, and a suggestion that we need to be more generous in our support of others in the world. But you don’t see it here because it felt half-baked to me. I took it down after about ten minutes.

It was the imprecision that bothered me, a sense that I was inviting controversy yet not quite saying what I wanted to say. Then, later in the day, as if by magic, I stumbled across this passage in Gary Thorpe’s book “Caught in Fading Light: Mountain Lions, Zen Masters, and Wild Nature”:

Many Zen teachers have cautioned their students against any dependence on words, either written or spoken. They have likened words to thorns and briars, and compared having an idle conversation to taking a walk through wild thistles and entangling vines. At the very least, we are told, we should give careful attention to what we say. This should be true at all times, but particularly so when we purport to speak the dharma, the real truth of things. When we speak to others with the intention of relaying or explaining Buddhist truths, we soon learn just how may traps and snares there are, and we learn the clever ways in which they can lie in wait, ready to spring upon us at the first sign of unsteadiness or hesitation. That we can be ambushed by our own words is one of the great lessons of Buddhism, and it is a lesson we learn constantly.

(Photo: Shadows on an old synagogue, Lower East Side, Dec. 2007)


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to think about that - about being ambushed by our own words. I guess I don't think words have any power at all, and are more or less immobile (they can't jump up ...)

In my experience it's never the words that matter, it's the intention and emotion behind the words. Acting unconsciously, which is, after all, a part of being human, is what causes the problems. The words are ... well ... just collections of symbols.

Wish you'd left your post up. I bet it was a lot more interesting and precise than you imagine. And, too, I 100% respect your right to say, or not say, anything.

Much love to you, dear friend!

Anonymous said...

love the picture and the briars.

Anonymous said...

What traps me is that at one moment something seems so true and the next I find that what I thought was true isn't.

Anonymous said...

it seems we hear too much from the people who want a Berlin Wall across our border--

what's so bad about peace love and understanding???

Anonymous said...

Reya: Perhaps attributing too much certainty to our words is where we get into trouble. Not everyone can look beyond the words and see the intention behind them, so words themselves do have great power. (And choosing one word over another can have a tremendous effect on the message!)

Anon: Thanks!

Merle: Amen! I often believe something, and then rethink it or get more information and come out somewhere else.

Ched: That was essentially my point, exactly. This whole idea of a wall just makes me crazy. I may go ahead and repost my entry after all. :)

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth (and a deep gassho to you and the Zen masters)...

...the sweetest berries are often found in the thorniest briar. (And in my part of the world, rattlesnakes along with the berries.)

What a thoughtful post about thoughtfully posting!

Here's hoping your briars are full of sweet berries, this year and on.