Thought as a Thought and a Word as a Word

American poet, writer, and Soto Zen priest Norman Fischer writes in the Summer 2011 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review,

In his discussion of right speech the Buddha also demonstrated the subtle and nuanced understanding that words do not have fixed meanings and ought never to be taken at face value. The meaning of a word depends on the context: who is speaking and listening, the tone of voice employed, the underlying attitude, and the situation in which the words are spoken. The very fact that the Buddha did not recommend that his words be written down and that he allowed others to explain the teachings in their own words, insisting that ordinary language, not special holy language, be used, shows that he understood language to be a process—essentially a dialogue, a dynamic experience—rather than a tool of exact description or explanation. The Buddha saw that far from being a neutral conduit for the conveying of preexisting meanings, language is an ever-shifting vehicle for the self, and that the way to clarify the self and the world is to hold language in an accurate and sensitive way.

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