A student said to Yunmen, ‘The radiance serenely illumines the whole universe…’ Yunmen interrupted him and said, ‘Aren’t those someone else’s words?’
The student replied, ‘Yes they are.’ Yunmen said, ‘You have misspoken.’
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 39
The word thing has been trying for me in recent months. With all the verbal invective in the news, I have at times felt we as a society has sunken to new lows with regard to truth and respect for debate and discussion. And by extension, respect for each other. Even the last redoubt of the English language, the New Oxford Dictionary, has recognized this trend by giving the word-of-the-year award to post-truth, (def: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief). But in the long arc of history, the world has been here many times before.
The above exchange with Yunmen has personally moved me to understand the deep authenticity of our words, and how they speak directly and with honesty to our life experiences, whatever those experiences might be. Rather than a shallow rebuke, Yunmen is holding a mirror up to the student and asking, ‘Are those really your words? Are they really true for you?’
Margaret Mead said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ She also said, ‘We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.’ Are those someone else’s words? No, gentle reader, they are mine, originally mine, post- or pre-truth