The linguistic penny drops!

If you have listened to any talk James has given you will have noticed that he has a very particular way of speaking.
When I first started to edit transcribed recordings I spent some time cutting and pasting and fiddling with the words so that they sounded more normal to my ears. Then I realised that  it no longer sounded like James speaking and that, more importantly,  there is an unusually extreme precision in his use of language…which is not something to fiddle with.

In learning from him, when something is not clear, sometimes I interrupt the flow and ask a direct question but more often it’s either that clarification comes during the course of later conversation or I wait for the penny to eventually drop. When I have a little more clarity myself there may be a lightbulb moment –  mixing my metaphors wildly here.  I think its a sign of good teaching to encourage the stretch to a higher shelf rather than just handing things down. So here’s what was on the shelf…


In English language lessons we are taught the singular and the plural of many nouns and so i had  a little puzzle because, no matter what the circumstance, although the singular seemed to be called for James always uses the plural – phenomena.

So, some time ago, although fairly sure what his answer would be, I  asked him a question. In the past he has said that one could refer to Noam Chomsky as a bodhisattva of language. and looking at what he, Chomsky, has written about language is a revelation…just a quick look was enough to my eyes water! There is clearly a lot more to communication than the surface construction. So it was unlikely that he doesn’t know the singular…

so i asked… ” you do know that  that the singular of phenomena is phenomenon?” He just smiled and said “yes” and we left there.

For a while the situation was that he continued to say the plural “phenomena” no matter what the context  and i continued to twitch slightly whenever i thought it should be “phenomenon” singular. Maybe its just an anomaly, best ignored … i thought.

Eventually my ‘school trained’ knowledge succumbed to dharma understanding and the penny dropped…there is no such thing as ‘a phenomenon’. The word is suggestive of something discrete and discontinuous – separated out from other phenomena… whereas the experience of phenomena is always plural… each being dependant upon other phenomena for their arising together…kerr-chink!

Using the scissors or ‘biscuit cutters’ to abstract phenomena from the arising field and then reifying them and ascribing value to them are steps in the instructions in the popular “Create your own Samsara” kit. The result is not real but suffering, arising from misapprehension, is woven into its apparent structure because, as there is neither reality to the building blocks nor cement in the mortar, it cannot bear any weight. Not that hopes and fears and expectations have any more weight than other thoughts but there seems to be quite an energetic charge to them…

Whether or not to use this kit is the choice which mediation offers.
To begin with the misapprehension, being habitual, is continuous…and it takes a lot of mediation and examination, slowing things down before we can see what we’re doing. Then, with practice, we can see through  ‘the rabbit/thought hole’ and choose not to go down it.
If we do its like putting our attention into a little vortex where the thought you’ve caught plays around with other thoughts taking our energy into a spin and  the actuality of the spacious, open, astonishing  revelation from which we are never apart is occluded…
but its always there… even when we’re forgetting…just a little release and we’re back home.