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Saturday, April 15, 2023


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Would I be able to email you directly? I can't find an address.

Your blog (and now substack) keep me close to my philosophical roots, and bring me home when I sometimes wander too far afield.

i've never understood this passage: given that "idle", in this context, must mean something like "without purpose", then what word uttered by man is idle?

all language is intentional (i.e. uttered with at least the purpose of communicating a thought), or it isn't language (parrots aren't linguists).

that said, i understand the sentiment, if not the ethical stricture: there is simply not much worth saying.

BUT: of the not much, there is much to be said.

hence (thankfully), your blog.

Sutta-based Buddhism is equally strict, requiring that the serious practitioner refrain from four kinds of wrong speech. Lying is the most serious, the only one to feature in the five lay person's precepts, and the only one universally proscribed. "Not even in jest...". But there is also divisive or slanderous speech; harsh speech; and samphappalāpa, pointless idle prattle unconnected with the goal of nibbāna.


I would be happy to receive your e-mail. Go to the right sidebar, click on About, and you will find will address in the Biography section.

Here is the passage in the Biblia Vulgata: 36 dico autem vobis quoniam omne verbum otiosum quod locuti fuerint homines reddent rationem de eo in die iudicii.

'Idle word' strikes me as a good translation of verbum otiosum.

Sometimes we utter words without any intention of expressing a thought, expressions of surprise, disgust, pain, etc. Holy moly! Ugh! Ow!

Suppose there is a woman named 'Conny Lingis.' I say to you, 'That name reminds me of cunnilingus.'That remark would at least merit the censure of being pointless, otiose, superfluous, etc., and in that sense 'idle.' But if I make my remark to Conny Lingis, the remark would not only be idle but also immoral.

Christ's dictum sets a very standard for human behavior: every thought, word, and deed must be in the service of the unum necessarium, to save one's soul and live in accordance with the Two Greatest Commandments. So I am not puzzled by what Christ means; living up to it is an entirely different matter and impossible without special grace.


Very good comment. With respect to speech, serious Buddhism and serious Christianity are very close. They differ of course with respect to the ultimate Goal, nibbana for the Buddists, visio beata for Catholic Christians.

Thomas Merton, Seven Story Mountain, page 410:

"By this time I should have been delivered of any problems about my true identity. had already made my simple profession. And my vows should have divested me of the last shreds of any special identity.

But then there was this shadow, this double, this writer who had followed me into the cloister.

He is still on my track. He rides my shoulders, sometimes, like the old man of the sea. I cannot lose him. He still wears the name of Thomas Merton. Is it the name of an enemy?

He is supposed to be dead.

But he stands and meets me in the doorway of all my prayers, and follows me into church. He kneels with me behind the pillar, the Judas, and talks to me all the time in my ear.

He is a business man. He is full of ideas. He breathes notions and new schemes. He generates books in the silence that ought to be sweet with the infinitely productive darkness of contemplation.

And the worst of it is, he has my superiors on his side. They won't kick him out. I can't get rid of him.

Maybe in the end he will kill me, he will drink my blood.

Nobody understands that one of us has got to die.

Sometimes I am mortally afraid. There are days when there seems to be nothing left of my vocation — my contemplative vocation — but a few ashes. And everybody calmly tells me "Writing is your vocation."

And there he stands and bars my way to liberty. I am bound to the earth, in his Egyptian bondage of contracts, reviews, page proofs, and all the plans for books and articles that I am saddled with." (1948)

It is said of Abba Agathon (may he pray for us) that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he learned silence.

Following upon grodrigues and the connection with non-discursive contemplation, St. Isaac the Syrian says something like the following:

If you love truth, love silence.

Give yourself over to the practice of silence, and out of this silence something is born that will lead us into Silence itself

(quoted from memory)

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