Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few Words

Scott Bradley

"Words are for the intent. When you have got 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?" (Zhuangzi, Chap. 26; Ziporyn)

The primary intent of these words is, I think, to remind us that words are the proverbial finger pointing at the moon; when we see the moon we can forget the finger. If, however, we link finger to moon, we will never truly see the moon for ourselves. Once seen, the moon- experience lies beyond every finger.

However, I am sharing these words here to consider another dimension of their possible intent. This has to do with the quality of words as determined by our emotional and motivational attachment to them. Why do we say what we say and ask the questions we ask? Ultimately, in the context of our discussions regarding things 'spiritual', this awareness is of far greater importance than whatever our words may say or the conclusions we might draw. This is, for me, the true work.

A great deal of what I write here is reactive. Though I sometimes might succeed in concealing this fact, more often than not my 'yes' is also a 'no'. I say this as a confession and make it, in part, to help illustrate what I mean when I say that this is the work — to be free of this emotional need for a 'wrong' that I might be ‘right’, for an 'other' that I might be me.

We can discuss and debate; if there is a problem it is not in the words or the back and forth of argument. If there is a problem, it is in us. "When two people test their skills against each other, it starts out brightly enough but usually ends darkly. . . . Words are like wind and waves, and actions are rooted in gain and loss," wrote Zhuangzi. (4:15)

Having spent so much time living on a boat, an appreciation of the amazing power of the wind to raise waves has become second-nature. Always, whether sailing or at anchor, one must keep a weather eye on the speed and direction of the wind. When our words are driven by the wind of our attachment to egoic identity, the need to be ‘right’, or the need to be esteemed, they soon become destructive waves. And here, too, we need to keep an ever vigilant weather eye.

It is seems ironic that when Zhuangzi happened by the tomb of his friend and debating partner Huizi, he is said to have lamented, “There is no longer anyone I can really talk to.” (Chap. 24) This is the man who told him his words were “big, but useless”. It would seem that neither agreement nor ‘winning’ was the real point of their debates, but rather, that they should together grow in understanding of their own perspectives through the back and forth of light-hearted debate.

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


  1. When the baroness stops commenting on your posts maybe you'll stop finding winds to tack.

    Hope not though!

  2. Actually, I love this post (I grew up around boats). Everything we write and say is reactive, and probably not very original, though as writers and communicators we try to be original. (And I'm sure that someone will say that by "trying" to be original, we cannot be. There, I've said it.) And we are not be the same. As Bob Dylan said, if I was like you, "Why talk to me, it'd be the same as talking to you."

    If I provide wind (or possibly hot air in the doldrums), I think thats just what yin is supposed to do. Or maybe it's just feng shui.


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