Friday, May 13, 2011

Spillover-Goblet Words

Spillover-Goblet Words
by Scott Bradley


The term 'spillover goblet words' is twice mentioned in the Zhuangzi, both with reference to the words of Zhuangzi. The accepted understanding of the word 'spillover-goblet', though it is not certain, is that it was a special vessel used in sacrifice. When wine was poured into it, it would automatically spill the contents and then upright itself. One could ever fill it, and it would ever empty itself. This became a metaphor for the use of words as an upaya (skillful means) to convey truth and yet to disallow those words becoming confused with the truth itself.

"These spillover-goblet words," wrote Zhuangzi or a later disciple, "give forth [new meanings] constantly...When nothing is said, everything is equal. But words and this original equality are not equal to each other. Thus it is that I speak only nonspeech. When you speak nonspeech, you can talk all your life without ever having said a word, or never utter a sound without ever failing to say something." (Chap. 27; B. Ziporyn) I'm tempted to continue the quote -- there is so much cool stuff -- but I best stop here.

'Nonspeech' is the use of words to convey a meaning in such a way as to facilitate the forgetting of the words once the meaning is understood (experienced). It is to allow the fish trap to be forgotten once the fish are caught. Zhuangzi used many tricks to do this. He'd tell you the truth, and then disprove it. He'd tell you you were dreaming and then assure you that he was, too. He'd explain how all perspectives are relative, and that there was a higher perspective, and then say that that, too, was relative. And he would just simply laugh at himself.

Words are great tools and great fun — the problem is not in the words, but what we make of them. "Words are for the intent. When you get hold of the intent, you forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words, so I can have a few words with him?" (Chap. 26; B. Ziporyn)

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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