Mistaking the Container for the Content
By Brother Beatnik
March 17, 2004In the field of culture, the effects of mistaking the container for the content can be seen quite clearly: e.g. the obsession with celebrities, the obsession with externals, the obsession with fashion, cosmetics, status and 'image' and the general trend towards the 'Hollywoodization' of politics, to name but a few. But the effect of mistaking the container for the content can also be seen in religion. This happens when religious devotees become fixated on method, technique and dogma. Religious externals begin to obsess people, and they become obsessed by religious paraphernalia – by beards, bells, robes, and hats - religious rituals and religious formulas.
Literalism – meaning-blindness, a characteristic of all religious fundamentalisms – assumes that the container (words of the teaching) and the content (spiritual meaning) are the one and the same, and that there is no other meaning other than the surface, the external, the literal meaning. Mystics, on the other hand, understand that language is the container and the spiritual meanings are the content.
Different shaped containers (spiritual traditions) may in fact contain the same content (the same spiritual essence, truth and wisdom). Water can be poured into many different shaped containers. But because the shape of the container obsesses religious people over the content, religious people fail to see the content. Much religious grief and conflict has resulted from the obsession with containers.
To a thirsty man, however, whether the container is hexagonal or octagonal, blue or red, made by manufacturer X or Y, is irrelevant; what is important is that the container contains something that can satisfy one's thirst like water. A container full of sand would be of no use even if the container were of the "right shape". The content (the essence) is therefore the most important thing.
For an explanation of who Brother Beatnik is go here.