Friday, March 22, 2013

The Words And The Messages

There are four great Master Teachers who have most extensively influenced religious thought in this world: chronologically, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad.  In each case, I find it beyond “coincidence” that none of these four wrote down their own teachings.  Moses and Buddha were each raised in royal households; Jesus spent formal study with rabbinical teachers in the synagogue.  These three Teachers were clearly literate and their lack of writing is presumed to be by deliberate choice.  Muhammad was an uneducated trader, though his wife and family had benefit of literacy.  His non-writing was structural, not chosen.

The result is that, in all instances, their great teachings come to us as a recaptured oral history, written down by their followers as remembered details.  In some instances this occurred hundreds of years after the fact.  As important as their teaching mission for God was, why were these teachings left to such chance, such potential for ambiguity and therefore misunderstanding or misrepresentation?

Language is an imperfect art, and is anything but a definitive way of accurately communicating a thought between two people.  Communicating a thought accurately in written form, without benefit of inflection, body language, tone or immediate give-and-take feedback is even more difficult, creating even greater opportunities for mis-communication.  Virtually all of the written teachings from each of these four Masters came as notes from their public talks, not from meticulously thought out creations of the scholarly written word.  In public discourse, these Masters could rely on all the verbal nuances to accompany their teachings.  In such settings, they knew that their listeners would be focusing on the comprehensive purpose, finding the overall point, of their message, not analyzing and agonizing over each tiny word particle and its many potentially shaded meanings.

Which is just what we see happening today.  Academic scholars, religious school instructors, and clerical leaders spend untold hours debating word etymologies and arguing over “precise” meanings and their diverse interpretations.  It is as if one particular word or phrase – likely translated through multiple languages several times over – is thought to hold the key to ultimate spiritual meaning.  Meanwhile, the real point of simply “be kind to one another” gets lost in the analytical exercise.  These Master Teachers spoke of spiritual forests; people today often fight about religious trees.  Which is why those Teachers avoided the temptation of the written page, knowing that such exercises would be best left to their followers to come.

When we do reading meditation, we avoid such limited wordsmanship.  We return to, and hear anew, the original lessons these Teachers spoke to us.  We read slowly, deeply, and repetitively enough so that we give up the words.  Instead, we listen to the sentences, hear the paragraphs, and then finally understand the meanings that these Teachers gave to us.  Words are the gymnastics of the mind.  The paragraphs are the messages of God.  Listen for the real point.  Consider that point deeply.  Thereby, walk a step closer on the path to being as One with God.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant Randy! So easy to get tangled up in words and their subtle variations of meaning in our own language and close to impossible with translations.

Dennis said...

Great points and timely. Also helps to have some backgound notes on the context and worldview as far as possible of the audience the teachings were first addressed to. EG the writers of the New Testament Gospels and Epistles had an audience in mind ,culture,and world view-not only for the writer(s) themselves but those they were writing for. Rome was always in the backgound for those authors as well as the destruction of the Second Temple-which for the Jews was the navel of the world.