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.