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Inshin
04-11-2021, 12:43 PM
An interesting article on how the use of "We" instead of "I" in spiritual texts may have implications on readers.

https://matthewremski.medium.com/editing-spiritual-teachers-for-grammatical-honesty-12baa888053c

The author argues that the use of First Person Plural Omniscient is part of the New Age spirituality patois.

I hypothesize that learning how to detect the FPPO can be a powerful tool for examining the banalities of the privileged on one hand, and resisting the totalizing jargon of a cult on the other. But more importantly: it may give readers some insight into what many content-producers in the spirituality world might be up to: telling their followers how they are wounded, and how they should do what they themselves yearn for, and may find out of reach.

I couldn't pin point why many Zen books seemed to me very different to other spiritual writings, now I know it perhaps may be due to this subtle grammatical use of "I" or "We".
I realised that there's a lot of "I" in quite a few zen authors including Jundo's book and in Okumara's books, who stress that they're only presenting their version and understanding and avoid catchy generalisations.

Gassho
Sat

Kokuu
04-11-2021, 01:01 PM
That is really interesting! Thank you, Inshin!

I have noticed several other things around this. Long before coming to Treeleaf I ran a spiritual sharing circle in which we took turns to lead a discussion or practice which we had experience of or interest in and one woman was particularly interesting as she would refer to times when she was angry as having "angry energy" and this seemed to me to be a way of totally avoiding any responsibility for it. Although we know from practice that it could be a way of not identifying with the anger it did not feel like this. Similarly when someone made jokes she would say that there was a lot of "playful energy" and, again, it seemed to me to be a step removed from just saying someone made a joke or was jokey. It sort of 'spiritualised' everything in a weird way.

There is also someone who puts his Buddhist blog posts on Facebook and one thing I noticed with this particular person, and have seen elsewhere, is that he always talks about "you" in terms of practice eg. "you will find", "you will see" and it feels like he is excluded from this, having already learned the lesson and is no longer part of this. For some time I was put off his writing and eventually saw that this was why as it was coming from a place of superiority. If he had written exactly the same but used "we" it would have taken on a completely different tone in including him among those who he saw as needing to practice. Perhaps it was not meant that way but it is how it comes across to me.

Anyway, all this is to say that I agree that language and pronouns matter and the use of "I" in Zen writings shows that someone is writing from experience rather than from book learning. They are talking from a place of practice. I suspect I often use "we" as a way of avoiding taking ownership of opinions and this is a useful pointer in not doing that.

Gassho
Kokuu
-sattoday/lah-

Jundo
04-11-2021, 01:41 PM
I feel that it is a bit of a non-issue and a little bit baloney. There are times to speak for the human condition and what is common to sentient beings, in which case the teacher might speak of "we (humans) do such and such" or "we (ordinary people) feel so and so." Of course, one may do so and still admit of exceptions, whereby "we" still serves for a valid generalization.

It is not the "royal we," so it is fine. [whopper]

At other times, when speaking only of the individual, then we (;)) might use "I" or "you."

In reality, a good deal of Buddhism involves dropping nouns and pronouns, verbs and adverbs and adjectives, and even must verbs, to find to great Buddha Verb that becomes the whole dictionary!

That is what we think. :p

Gassho, J

STLah

https://i1.wp.com/www.thetruewmscog.com/wp-contento/uploads/2016/08/Queen-Victoria-We-are-not-Amused-e1472169209423.jpg?fit=376%2C347&ssl=1

Inshin
04-11-2021, 02:08 PM
I feel that it is a bit of a non-issue and a little bit baloney. There are times to speak for the human condition and what is common to sentient beings, in which case the teacher might speak of "we (humans) do such and such" or "we (ordinary people) feel so and so." Of course, one may do so and still admit of exceptions, whereby "we" still serves for a valid generalization.

It is not the "royal we," so it is fine. [whopper]

At other times, when speaking only of the individual, then we (;)) might use "I" or "you."

In reality, a good deal of Buddhism involves dropping nouns and pronouns, verbs and adverbs and adjectives, and even must verbs, to find to great Buddha Verb that becomes the whole dictionary!

That is what we think. :p

Gassho, J

STLah

https://i1.wp.com/www.thetruewmscog.com/wp-contento/uploads/2016/08/Queen-Victoria-We-are-not-Amused-e1472169209423.jpg?fit=376%2C347&ssl=1

:D where do you find those memes?

Gassho
Sat

Ryumon
04-11-2021, 03:01 PM
Hmmm... Several things to point out here. First of all, first-person plural omniscient is not a common term; if you google it, you only get a couple dozen hits, many of which are this story or related to this story. I'm a professional writer, and I never heard this term.

It's actually a misunderstanding of the term "omniscient" in writing: that refers to a voice that knows what all the characters know, and is a very common device in fiction writing.

What the article is really about is a change of pronoun for someone giving their opinion, and, in that, I have to disagree. When someone uses "we" as in the examples, it's more of a suggestion than a relation of their own experience. It's the voice of most philosophy (though one notable exception was Thoreau in Walden, who said this to defend his use of the first person: "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience."). It's also the voice of most non-fiction, which tends to be general, not particular.

As such, it comes off as testimonial in the examples in the article, rather than natural. In other words, using "I" in these texts means that the experiences and recommendations apply to the I, and not as suggestions to others.

Interestingly, many other languages have non-specific third-person pronouns for this sort of writing. In French, it's "on" which gets heavy usage for texts like this. (Often translated as "one" in English, though we rarely use that pronoun, unless we are the Queen.)

So I'm with Jundo on this, and my opinion is that of one who works with words professionally.

Gassho,

Ryūmon

sat

Naiko
04-11-2021, 03:21 PM
That was an interesting read, Inshin. Thank you for sharing it. I'll be noticing the FPPO voice now, for sure. On one hand, I can see his point and imagine it must have been very painful for him to comb through his friend's writings looking for clues/answers to explain his loss. On the other, looking at his byline, he has a particular interest in cults and perhaps is biased to see this. It may be that spiritual writers are damned if they do/damned if they don't in this case. My base assumption is that most people come to Buddhism or other teachings seeking something, including those who take on the task of teaching, and the teachings speak to our common experience of life, so I can't fault the use of we. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to anyone who wrote or spoke only I I I I I meeeeeeeeee. It must be a difficult task to balance using I/you/we in spiritual writing and teaching. Also, I would not wish to write off his friend Michael Stone as a "false prophet" because of his personal struggles. It doesn't mean he wasn't a good and sincere teacher or that what he was teaching should be discredited. It means he was all too human.
Sorry to ramble on (thought provoking piece!).
Gassho,
Naiko
stlah

Seikan
04-11-2021, 03:47 PM
...to find [the] great Buddha Verb that becomes the whole dictionary!


And such is my ultimate non-goal as a wannabe poet. ;)

There is good food for thought in this discussion, but on the whole, I'm leaning toward Jundo's and Kirk's perspective. I also spend most of my work hours writing and proofreading other's writing. While proper use of pronouns is critical to ensure clarity of meaning/intent, we can also read far too much into word choice/diction too. Also, as Kirk notes above, pronoun use can vary greatly by language, so we must remain mindful of those distinctions, where relevant. I imagine that can lead to some serious headaches for translators.

Gassho,
Seikan

-stlah-


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Tai Shi
04-11-2021, 09:52 PM
I wish to make public apology to rash uninformed comments yesterday in first-- in appropriate manner, second-- a young man I did not realize is disabled, third-- my ignorance of an important cultural tradition. Please, someone direct me by link so I might make a Pay Pal contribution.
Gassho
sat/ lah
Tai Shi

Jundo
04-11-2021, 11:30 PM
I wish to make public apology to rash uninformed comments yesterday in first-- in appropriate manner, second-- a young man I did not realize is disabled, third-- my ignorance of an important cultural tradition. Please, someone direct me by link so I might make a Pay Pal contribution.
Gassho
sat/ lah
Tai Shi

Hi Tai Shi,

A lovely Spanish expression is "no te precupes," or "don't be concerned" TS. However, I am truly not sure what you are apologizing for, so be at peace.

Gassho, Jundo

STLah

JimInBC
04-12-2021, 03:21 AM
Hmmm... Several things to point out here. First of all, first-person plural omniscient is not a common term; if you google it, you only get a couple dozen hits, many of which are this story or related to this story. I'm a professional writer, and I never heard this term.

It's actually a misunderstanding of the term "omniscient" in writing: that refers to a voice that knows what all the characters know, and is a very common device in fiction writing.

I guess this is my starting point. First Person Plural Omniscient isn't really a thing, and as a coined term loses me because it misuses what omniscient means when applied to POV.

I think of using "we" in certain sorts of new-age writing as more of a genre affectation. One either finds it blends into the narrative, or it calls too much attention to itself and pulls one out of the narrative to wonder about the writer's stylistic choices.



(Here is a question that is rarely asked in Buddhism, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened to the historical Buddha himself if subjected to sufficient life strains or mental health issues? We are hesitant to admit any weakness of the mind or flesh for the Buddha in Buddhism, but I see a human being even if a very adept and wise one. A human being has limits of what can be endured under extreme conditions, has mental limits, and is subject to the changes of mental and physical health.)

Well, he suffered from a bad back. And he certainly had to struggle to figure out how to structure monastic life and deal with the problems that arose leading a large number of men and women. So there isn't evidence his life was particularly easy or comfortable.

At what point - if you kept adding additional stressors - might he have broken? Seems largely a question of perspective. To someone in the Theravada tradition, he would never break. Other Buddhism schools, the answer differs. Given there is no evidence to answer one way or the other, answering that question is less about studying the Buddha and more about studying your own beliefs.

Gassho, Jim
ST/LaH



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Inshin
04-12-2021, 07:57 AM
Thanks everyone for sharing your perspectives, there's been quite a lot recently about the play of language and politics, so when I read Matthew's article I thought he might have a point.


(Here is a question that is rarely asked in Buddhism, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened to the historical Buddha himself if subjected to sufficient life strains or mental health issues? We are hesitant to admit any weakness of the mind or flesh for the Buddha in Buddhism, but I see a human being even if a very adept and wise one. A human being has limits of what can be endured under extreme conditions, has mental limits, and is subject to the changes of mental and physical health.)

Did Buddha by any chance had less favourable life conditions in his previous lives? Did he had to "work" through bigger hardships on his Boddhisatva path before being born as Gautama? Isn't it a part of karma that if you didn't manage to awaken in this lifetime, the sum of your good deeds and selflessness will grant you next life with more favourable conditions to realise the Dharma, so there's hope if not in this lifetime then in the next one?

Gassho
Sat

Koushi
04-12-2021, 09:23 PM
After reading the article Matthew wrote, I wanted to say a few things from my own writing and sharing experience. I tend to share a lot of my own personal life, experiences, and thoughts via social media, newsletter, etc. When I write about say, depression or suicidal ideations, I specifically use the word "I," since that is my life and interpretation of what's going on in it. When I talk about more universal things, such as interdependence or general bad/good days, I specifically use the word "We," which includes myself as well as the collective since it affects the whole.

What concerns me about the article is where Matthew says:


At that time, we were all contemplating the paradox of how he had been so adept at speaking to and for the spiritual relief that he himself, in hindsight, so desperately needed. How was it, we asked, that he was able to speak in collective terms so compellingly, even as he was so alone.

Feeling alone, isolated, or apart from others does not separate one from being able to speak in collective terms. It's not that one doesn't want to acknowledge the help or advice that they give to others applies to themselves — they know all too well that they need the help or advice they're giving to others. In my personal experience, it's primarily because I'm fully aware of my own shortcomings and feelings that I'm able to have empathy for and speak in such broader collective terms at all.

In all of the article's examples of changing "we" to "I," the only thing Matthew is doing is taking the "implied I" from the word "we" and just using "I."

That said, one word that I try to rarely use is the word "you." That comes from my time with non-violent communication, and seeing how a direct "you" can shift the tone of what's being said. There are times and places for it, sure, but in the sharing and writing sense we see with most spirituality or religious writers, folks tend to use "we" because they don't separate themselves from what's being said, usually.

As far as what Jundo asked:


(Here is a question that is rarely asked in Buddhism, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened to the historical Buddha himself if subjected to sufficient life strains or mental health issues? We are hesitant to admit any weakness of the mind or flesh for the Buddha in Buddhism, but I see a human being even if a very adept and wise one. A human being has limits of what can be endured under extreme conditions, has mental limits, and is subject to the changes of mental and physical health.)

I'm just reminded of the suffering Jesus experienced and went through during the crucifixion, and as a human man broke and cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I'm in the Buddha, Jesus, most important spiritual figures, were simply human camp. And as such, there's always a point the hardships would get to them. Details aren't as important as knowing we all experience the same things.

Apologies for running long,
Gassho,
Koushi
STLaH

Tai Shi
04-13-2021, 01:29 AM
Sounds like me seven years ago. Itís so much fun telling others how I think. Thatís why I am trying not even to make a decision. I am not sure how much time I could take to find a magazine to take my writing. For a publisher to take my work professionally takes hundreds and hundreds of hours for one essay.
Gassho
sat/ lah
Tai Shi


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