Zen Spot #128 — Mindfulness, meditation and the color of language February 13, 2018 00:05

Words are words

Frank Zappa, the late musician and savant, when confronted by pundits about his usage of the English language in his songs, with an emphasis on the words and ideas covered by those lyrics, offered the defense that words are just words. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Now, on most topics, I agree with Frank. And, in a world where almost everything exists on a continuum of shades of grey, I lean strongly in the direction of his opinion on language, in the context of the First Amendment. Our paths diverge at the point where a portion of humanity and dogma merge onto his autobahn — especially for those choosing to drive cars slowly, in the fast lane, because they are unable to take the vehicle beyond first gear.

Words are not words

A book was written, with words, a long time ago, that too few people have read and fewer of whom truly understand. I count myself among both groups.

The book has been read to me hundreds of times and I can mimic the sounds of the words by rote without ever considering the meaning. They are crickets on a summer night, or a waterfall, or wind chimes, or Kenny G. playing in the background at a dinner party. Of those who have read with diligence, I’ve met few who can read between the lines. 

This book could be any book. It is any book.

Order is critical

In a black and white world, Frank Zappa would be Right, if the order of words was as benign as his contention of the power of individual words portends. When ordered purposefully, individual words become more powerful — sometimes geometrically. And people do stupid stuff because of the order.

Order is not critical

In the world of language, order is a law of nature. Individual words are given power, as are phrases and paragraphs and books, based on billions of words written previous to their singularity or crafted order. Consider the influence of Hamlet on Huckleberry Finn, and Huckleberry Finn on Factotum. 

An argument can be made that these books exist as much based on the order of words spoken as the simple sum-total of all words ever spoken and written. 

Chanting and singing

Harmony and melody can invalidate language, especially when rote memory wrestles literacy to the ground. Songs sung from anywhere in front of an altar are particularly suspect — which would explain Zappa’s beliefs. No matter how purposeful and thoughtful the story told by a song, the story most often serves the music. 

Consider singing a song supported by a simple repetitive melody, in a language you can’t understand. Discover how little the words can come to mean to you. Further consider the possibility that those words could lead a native speaker to violence while driving in the fast lane, in first gear, on any autobahn.

Right speech.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?