December 5, 2013

Changing Our Language Can Change Our Lives. ~ Jake Eagle

Would you like to present your problems to Buddha so that you could hear what he would say?

I can tell you what he would say—well, more or less, I can tell you.

Here’s what Buddha would say:

There is no such thing as Nirvana (a static state), but there is such a thing as “Nirvana-ing” ourselves, which means actively putting out our fires of greed, hatred and delusion.

Here’s what Buddha would say: there is no such thing as enlightenment (a static state), but there is a path for enlightening ourselves—an active, continuous process, created moment-by-moment.

Here’s what Buddha would say: there are not Four Noble Truths, there are Four Ennobling Truths. The first truth is not suffering (a static state), but rather “suffering myself”.

This way of using language is explained by Lily de Silva, a Pali scholar (Pali is an ancient form of language that Buddha spoke during his lifetime). She says,

“Though we use a noun called ‘rain’ which appears to denote a ‘thing,’ rain is nothing but the process of drops of water falling from the skies. Apart from this process—the activity of raining—there is no rain as such.”

Am I being grammatically incorrect—turning nouns into verbs? Not according to Buddha.

This small change in the way we use language has huge implications.

These changes began during Buddha’s lifetime.

Many followers of Buddhism were waking themselves up during the Buddha’s lifetime, precisely because the “language-ing” they were beginning to use was so radically different. People expressed themselves—ideas, feelings, emotions—by “verb-ing” themselves. This helped people recognize that “self” was an active process, arising and passing away.

The idea that the self was not fixed was hugely liberating at a time when people thought they had no option but to be locked into a caste system never to be changed, not even with rebirth.

Today, most of us are not locked into a caste system, but many of us lock ourselves into a victim orientation. We feel as though the world out there, or people out there, are acting out against us and the way we use language reinforces these feelings.

Nouns are passive. Verbs are active and in motion.

Buddha knew that by changing our language—by “verb-ing” ourselves—we could empower ourselves.

In the 1960s, a psychology professor at Caltech, who was also a student of Buddhism, created a modern-day version of the Pali language. His name was John Weir. He was a brilliant psychologist and a creative linguist. He and his wife, Joyce, spent almost fifty years teaching people a new way to speak. When the Weirs were 85 years old, getting ready to retire, they invited my wife and me to become stewards of their work.

At the heart of this new way of speaking are six simple things we do to speak differently. I will share three of them with you.

  1. To verb ourselves.
  2. To speak about what’s happening now, using present tense as much as possible.
  3. To replace “it” with “I” or “myself” when appropriate.

What does this sound like? The following paragraph is written using ordinary language, followed by an example using ReSpeak:

I love it when I speak this way because it is empowering. I change the nature of my relationships with other people, switching from a victim model to an empowerment model. I find it frustrating that so few people use language in this way. I am delighted to share this with people in hopes that they will feel liberated.

I love myself when I speak this way because I empower myself. I change the nature of my relating with other people, switching from victimizing myself to empowering myself. I frustrate myself that so few people language themselves in this way. I delight myself by sharing this with people in hopes that they will liberate themselves.

What would Buddha say? I think Buddha would have delighted himself—in moderation, of course—to see a new way to speak that captures many of the elements of the ancient Pali language.

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Editor: Bronwyn Petry

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