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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Kalyanavaca, London, UK
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Viriyalila, FBA Team
Kamalashila, Catalunya, Spain
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Coleen, FBA Team
... while ago, I don't really know very much about this field. But certainly it would seem that
there is some connection of that sort. And one knows that primitive man, who wasn't so primitive after
all, attached extraordinary importance and significance to speech, to the spoken word. A speech was
regarded as having a (sort of) magical potency. And this is why even as late as the gospels, even as late
as the gospel according to St. John you've got "In the beginning was the Word", you know, the logos,
which isn't just word in the ordinary sense. In Egyptian mythology you have the idea (so to speak) of
creation by means of the word, the powerful magical word. You find traces of that (sort of) way of
thinkina evervwhere. And it's bound up with keepincr your name, vour real name, secret, because of
someone knows your name, or can speak or pronounce your name, he has a sort of power over you. So
language is an extraordinarily important instrument. It has been described as the most important
invention of the human race. I mean language constitutes our world. Ken Wilbur's got some interesting
things to say about this in some of his books, though he puts it in a rather roundabout sort of way.
Language does (one might say) our world almost literally, because language (sort of) mediates
the world for us. In a way it filters (you know) reality for us. So we live not in reality, but we live in, so
to speak, (I'm not subscribing here to the
247correspondence theory of truth)... we live, so to speak, in the world according to language. Language
lays down, as it were, the lines along which we run, the lines along which our experience runs. I think
we find it very difficult to experience something for which we don't have a word.
Vessantara: This is part of the reason why dhyana experiences are an important prerequisite for us. That
you step outside that sort of...
Mmm. You step outside it, or perhaps to begin with you expand Tt, you refine it, (but
eventually?) yes, you step outside it - which can be a quite terrifying experience because (you know)
you lose all your landmarks. You can't find your bearings, you' re quite disoriented. So therefore one
might even say paradoxically, if you say to them "Ha ha, here I am meditating. Ah yes, here we are,
here's the third dhyana'1 you1re probably not there, because you're still within that framework or
network of thought. If you actually were within the third dhyana you wouldn't be thinking of it as the
third dhyana, because you would be referring to that particular (sort of) framework of reference. You
might find the third dhyana is quite different from what you had thought, the way that it was described
in the Pali texts. It may not (as it were) correspond at all, but nonetheless you'll see that, well, why in
the Pall texts it is described in the way it is.
Greg Shanks: My question about the relation of language and thought wasn't quite to do with the origin
of language and thought. It was more in that area that you just mentioned of... it's difficult to describe
an experience, or difficult to relate to an experience of you don't have the right word for it. It's more in
that area of language and ...
Of course, if one (you know) thinks too much or too rigidly Tn terms of this correspondence
theory of truth, nothing can be described. There' S a sort of hiatus between the object and your
description of the object. And the only way in which you can actually describe the object is to lessen or
diminish that hiatus, and get to a more (as it were) unified, more integrated way of experiencing the
world. And you will then resort to a more and more metaphorical mode of expression. It's interesting
(well, this is a bit related) that poetry seems to come before prose. You have poets in all literatures long
before you have prose writers.
Prasanasiddhi: Isn't that partly to do with memorising texts?
It's partly to do with it. But suppose you go back to the ancient Sanskrit literature you get, say,
poetry - to begin with you get, say, the hymns of the Rigveda(?) - and these are in a way quite
sophisticated. They show a extraordinary command of language. But then you come on much later to
prose, and the prose is quite poor, the prose is quite, well, it's not sophisticated at all, it's quite clumsy.
And this is what one usually finds. So it would seem that (you know) people didn't just (you know)
have recourse to poetry, that is to say to meter - meter and rhyme one is thinking of in this connection -
because it was more convenient and because it helped their memory, but mainly because it was more
natural to them. One gets the impression when one moves from the ancient poetry to the ancient prose
that prose was not a natural medium at that time, people handled it very awkwardly. And you find this
even in comparitively late periods: that prose is still
WT %Thf~ ~Q 248quite undeveloped and quite clumsy when poetry is already highly developed. And that would seem to
suggest that it is more n~tural to man to ~express himself in a poetic way. Which doesn't (sort of) mean
poetic in the modern (sort of) high flown sense, it doesn't necessarily mean in rhyme and meter, though
meter is almost always there, not so much rhyme. But poetry means a (sort of) tendency to express
oneself in this rhythmical, imaginitive, mythical, metaphorical sort of way, because that is the way -
basically, or originally perhaps - that one apprehends the world, the universe.
Padmavajra: Is it because of the greater degree of sympathy, in the sense of a higher degree of
identification with ones environ- ment.
Hmmm. That no doubt is a very big part of it, the so-called participational mystique of some
anthropologists. I think there is some truth in that. I think we can experience that even today
sometimes. There are days, I think, on which you do feel in harmony (as it were) with your natural
environment, and other days when you don't. And I think when you feel more in harmony with your
natural environment are days when you're more in touch, so to speak, with your own emotions. And
perhaps on those occasions you feel (as it were) in a more poetic mood, you're more able to write, say,
poetry, if you ever do write it, and it flows more naturally. I know that I myself have had the
experience sometimes of being in that sort of mood. Not that it necessarily makes one a great peot or
even a good one. But being in that sort of mood to such an extent that it seemed that everything that
you experi- enced, everything that you were in contact with, was material for poetry. And that you
were able to turn into poetry instantly (you know) whatever it was. It just (sort of) flowed into poetry.
So sometimes one does have that sort of experience. And I think that was very likely the experience of
(so to speak) primitive man to a very much greater degree. And this is why the poets, especially the
romantic poets, are not just people who are cleverer with language than we are. They are people who
experience the world in a different sort of way because they're a different sort of person, a different
kind of person. It's not that they've just got a knack of rhyme. It is much much more than that. And that
is why (you know) people like Shelley made claims about the poet being a sort of prophet and all that
kind of thing - well that can be overdone, some of the romantics did overdo it - but yes, the poet does
have that sort of nature. He's the vates, the prophet, not just the poet in the very limited modern sense.
Padmavajra: Hence the connection with the imagination being a faculty for perceiving reality.
Ah, that's too abstract. I thought you were going to say "faculty for perceiving images". That
word would have been better.
Not images in the (you know) "Thou shalt not worship images"
sense, but images in the sense of - well, what would one say? - objects of the imagination simply.
Will Spens: Did you not say in one of lectures on the (unclear) of the Buddha's enlightenment He
actually spoke in verse.
That's true, yes, yes. That is perhaps not without significance. And I've mentioned this too,
you know, the Udana. And the Udana consists of verses spoken by the Buddha under intense emotional
RT C~~/~ P~Q 249pressure, as when he breathed them forth, which is what Udana means. And each little chapter consists
of one of these verses followed by a sort of prose circumstances under which the Udana was in fact
breathed forth. So one can think of the Buddha in a sense as being a sort of- inspired prophet or a poet.
That isn't the usual way of thinking about the Buddha but perhaps that will help (sort of) restore the
balance (as it were). Otherwise, I mean, often the way people write about the Buddha you get the
impression that the Buddha was a rather schoolmasterly sort of person, sort of going around taking
people to task and all that sort of thing.
Anyway how is the time going?
Vessantara: Twenty five past nine.
Then I -think we've begun to come to the end haven't we? We've got a few more questions left
Vessantara: We've got another five left.
I think we'd better leave them. We've gone - I won't say thoroughly - well, we just touched on
this question of language. I think it's very important, or some of its implications are very important.
And I think it is a field that we do need to investigate much more. I can't say ...