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9/11/06


Mind Shadows      Zen teacher Charlotte "Joko" Beck: Dogs & The Meaning of Life

The term realization has come into vogue to replace enlightenment. Enlightenment, as the narrative goes, cannot occur because nobody exists to become enlightened. Realization, enlightenment, whatever: without language the event would not happen. Language depends on culture and culture has begotten those who seek the event. The event itself is regarded as the ultimate reality, but that reality occurs only within a context and is a creature of words.

As that which transforms understanding, the event is not a figment of imagination. It is not self-delusion. It does occur. It can be explained negatively. Quite simply, a dog could not experience it because the canine brain lacks language capacity—Wernicke's and Broca's areas and a sufficient frontal cortex.

The event itself is described as ineffable—beyond words—yet without them some key features could not be experienced. The experience involves the dissolution of concepts and conceptual boundaries, which is to say linguistics. As one example, personal narrative, one's life story, is seen as a fiction, something created by memory. This, because the self is understood as verbal fiction.

Language,then, provides the foundation for that which in certain quarters is regarded as the highest conscious experience. This experience can be seen as another dimension of the human experience of language. A form of Buddhist gratitude is that one re-enters the stream of life as a human so that he or she can transcend humanity by release from delusion. The release, though, cannot occur except within a world formed by words.

I remember fondly my conversations with Zen teacher Charlotte "Joko" Beck and recall what she once said: "My dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life."

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