#4658 - Thursday, July
19, 2012 - Editor: Gloria Lee
The Truth About Truth
The dangers of literalism
by Rita M. Gross
One of our most urgent tasks as modern dharma
practitioners is to
learn how to take traditional stories seriously without
literally. That is to say, we need to learn how to live in the
of both the European Enlightenment and Buddhism, without one
negating or subjugating the other. One of the wisest statements about
history and story that I have ever encountered was spoken by Black
a holy man of the Lakota nation during the 19th and 20th
centuries. In Black
Elk Speaks, he narrates one of the Lakotas most
important stories, a story
about how the sacred pipe first came to the
people. This story is filled
with events that are difficult to take
literally, such as women turning into
buffaloes. At the storys
conclusion, Black Elk said, This they tell and
whether it happened so
or not, I do not know; but if you think about it you
can see that it is
The main point made in this simple statement is
that, contrary to
literalist suppositions, truth is not always about
observable facts or
events. Truth can also reveal itself in deep
contemplation of stories
and symbols. The truth of a story does not depend
on whether it could
have been captured by a camcorder. Its truth is found in
imagination and contemplation, in its symbolic meanings. Even
much of his spiritual life is based on the symbolism and rituals
associated with the sacred pipe, Black Elk himself is skeptical about
his narrative as a factual account of its origins. Thus the same story
can be regarded as both true and false: false as a factual account of
empirical event and true as the symbolic charter for ones
in the wake of the European Enlightenment, with its
according of sole
prestige and validity to facts, people have come to
see things otherwise.
photo by Alan Larus
The poet lives and writes at the frontier
between deep internal
experience and the revelations of the outer world.
There is no
going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a
new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid.
discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult
which it is impossible to retreat. Poetry is a break
for freedom. ...In a
sense all poems are good; all poems are an
emblem of courage and the attempt
to say the unsayable; but only
a few are able to speak to something
universal yet personal and
distinct at the same time; to create a door
through which others
can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable
realms, in the
passage of a few short lines.
via Rashani Réa on Facebook
There is nothing in this world which does not
Every thing and every being is continually
calling out its nature, its character, its secret;
the more the inner sense is open, the more
capable it becomes of hearing the voice of all things.
If the soul were awakened to feel what the birds
feel when singing in the forest at dawn,
man would know that their prayer is even more
exalting than his own, for it is more natural.
There is nothing in the world which is not the
instrument of God.
Sound is the sign of life; in the temples of
gods and goddesses,
in Hindu churches, bells ringing show life even
in the silence.
Sound is hidden under words, and words are
hidden under sound.
When one perceives the words, one does not
perceive the sound underneath,
and when one perceives sound, one does not
perceive the words underneath.
When the poet perceives words, the musician
perceives sound underneath.
The mystic perceives even in that sound a Word
which was God.
Tone continues, time expires.
Tone lives on time, time assimilates
God is not in time. Therefore He is in the
Sound is part of the world of time.
Rhythm cannot exist without tone, nor tone
They are interdependent for their existence, and
it is the same with time and space.
Noisiness comes from restlessness, and
restlessness is the destructive rhythm.
Man's atmosphere explains the condition of his
The further we go, so the more our disputes and
They fade away until there is no color left in
them; and when all the color has gone,
the white light comes which is the light of
Nirvana means no color. What is color? Right or
wrong, sin or virtue - all this is color,
and in the realm of truth they fade away, as
every color fades in the brightness of light.
He who has realized this has entered
A Sufi must always recognize in God the source
of all things and the origin of all beings.
A Sufi must observe in the continual unfoldment
of the spirit the birth of the soul.
~ Pir-O-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan
photos by Alan Larus