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The tension between poetry and truth

JeroenJeroen Do it with a smileNetherlands Veteran

Recently I’ve encountered a few places where Buddhism is described in somewhat poetic terms, like this piece of a meditation:

Effortless attention, unbounded awareness.
Recognise in the silence what you are at the deepest point within. Pure consciousness.

However, if you truly explore yourself within, you may find that attention requires effort to keep you from losing focus, or that awareness is not unbounded but that you exist within a pool of awareness centred around the body. So are those words true?

It occurs to me that the writers of the above meditation text may have just written the words because they looked beautiful on the page and appealed to their aesthetic sensibilities. It’s like composing poetry, where you try to evoke certain emotions in the reader.

But I think for a meditation text one shouldn’t be trying for a poetic angle, a true man of understanding will stick to the linear truth, what one might actually encounter in meditation. Otherwise the text isn’t much use as a guide, I would say.

So there is a certain tension between poetic writing and directly truthful writing, and for the sake of understanding and being able to apply what you read, you need to know which is which. It requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of language. It varies very much what you are reading, I find someone like Ajahn Chah to be very plain and explanatory, but a lot of Zen materials are more poetic.

Do you often make these kind of distinctions when reading texts?

Shoshin1lobster

Comments

  • It would be ideal if you could ask the person who wrote that about what they meant.

    lobster
  • My brain works on both spectrums at different times.

    So for example my more chaotic posts usually take far longer to compose even though they may seem random.

    Poetry, madness, emotions and The Path ... not always linear. The chicken does not always cross the road from side to side. It wanders ...

    Jeroen
  • I read somewhere that Zen is poetic ( expressed through poetry) ... Theravada is psychological ( expressed through psychology) and Tibetan is artistic ( expressed through art)...

    I can't remember where I read it but it went something along the above lines...

    lobsterJeroen
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @Jeffrey said:
    It would be ideal if you could ask the person who wrote that about what they meant.

    Well yes, agreed, but often the authors of these guided meditations are not available for comment, and even if they were it seems like quite a burden to place on the listener to each have to unravel these poetic references. It would generate a lot of email.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited January 22

    On one level, I agree. I think it's generally best to convey things in as clear and concise a way as possible, but sometimes people can get carried away with their own anesthetic embellishments. However, as I mentioned in another thread, poetry is a special language that can help us to express that which is difficult to express in precise, technical language, such as emotions, a sense of wonder, or deeply spiritual truths that transcend the limits of language. So I think it's appropriate in certain contexts to speak poetically. And if that sort of language confuses more than helps one, it can simply set it aside or else one can note how such language makes them feel and explore that. As for the quote in question, it reminds me of things Ajahn Sumedho sometimes talks about, such as here and here.

    lobsterJeroen
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @Jason said:
    I think it's generally best to convey things in as clear and concise a way as possible, but sometimes people can get carried away with their own anesthetic aesthetic embellishments.

    Mind still caught in the hospital perhaps...

    But yes, there is a time and a place for the poetic. When you want to convey emotion, or point a finger to the moon, then it’s great. Perhaps I was having a bit of a ranty moment because the meditation instructions weren’t instructing very well :)

  • Rob_VRob_V North Carolina Explorer

    I don't know that poetry has any particular claim on verity or insists on the truth of it's claims. Poetry in my mind is simply the clever rendering of idealistic, often fantastic thoughts.

    Jeroen
  • I don't know that poetry
    has any particular
    claim on
    verity or insists
    on
    the truth of it's claims.
    Poetry in my mind is simply
    the clever
    rendering of idealistic, often

    fantastic thoughts.

    Jeroen
  • Rob_VRob_V North Carolina Explorer

    @lobster said:
    I don't know that poetry
    has any particular
    claim on
    verity or insists
    on
    the truth of it's claims.
    Poetry in my mind is simply
    the clever
    rendering of idealistic, often

    fantastic thoughts.

    ONE of us is a terrible poet...

    lobster
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