Entering the Temple

Photo by Br. Paul Quenon

Most Sunday evenings, I sit and conspire with others.   I mean this in the sense of the Latin roots of the word con, with, and spirare, to breathe .  A group of monks sit quietly in a second floor yoga studio and breathe together.   As the French-born Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard explains in the current issue of Parabola, intelligence in our culture is usually associated with the acquisition of information or posited as a faculty of reasoning.  But real intelligence means understanding—and Ricard means seeing through the appearance of things, to the underlying nature of reality.  And you don’t have to travel to Tibet or Nepal to uncover the truth.  If you dig down to the roots of the English word, you come up with the Latin verb intellegere, which means to understand.

The yoga studio where we sit and conspire is on a busy block, just around the corner from the Tarrytown Music Hall.  But even when there is no famous old rock act playing, people fill the restaurants and cafes below us. The town is carved into a hill that runs down to a breathtaking view of the Hudson and the illuminated span of the Tappan Zee Bridge.   This is a place that flows.   Especially on warm nights, the sounds of laughter, shouts, talking, cars with radios blasting ebb and flow below us.

Yet for about an hour, we just let it be.  We sit in stillness and walk in stillness, and after about an hour we listen and talk in a new way, grounded in understanding.   If I leave you with nothing else in this post, let it be that the search for truth and meaning can be very, very local.  It doesn’t mean uprooting ourselves, but just the opposite: digging down into our experience right here and right now.   Words get a bad rap for being labels that we cling to rather than opening to the living experience of the moment.

But if we dig down to their roots, we often find that words—even plain old, seemingly uncool English words–are records of the experience in being here in the most basic human way.   Understanding comes from the Old English understandan, which probably literally meant stand in the midst of, from under + standan, to stand.  In other words, to stand under, to let the truth of what it is really like to be here to rain down on you.

Thomas Merton writes:  “We betray ourselves and one another in the No Man’s Land which exists between human beings, and into which they go out to meet one another disguised in words.  And yet without words we cannot find ourselves, without communication with men we do not know God: fides ex auditu [faith comes from hearing]….”

What if instead of trying to escape or nullify our experience with words, we could sink down into our most basic human experience and gently bear witness to it—breathing, the sensation of being present, alone or with others   Without going anywhere, right here and right now, wherever you are you can allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the truth, to go without the disguise of words, to be inspired, filled with life and spirit.

What we practice together when we sit and conspire in the yoga studio is the same as Parabola’s aspiration (there’s that Latin root spirare yet again, this time related to breathing into or infusing):  we seek to contact and communicate a deeper truth.   We cannot reach the truth without grounding ourselves in our own experience, literally humbling ourselves (from a root shared with humus or earth and human).   When we are grounded, even for a moment, we can listen in a new way.   And when we communicate with each other from that experience, the words can resonate like bells, sounding all the way back to their roots.

Mind you, I do not know Latin or Old English, and my daughter, who has studied both,  reminds me that what I’m sharing is really just someone’s opinion.  To that I say, Mea Culpa—my bad.  And yet, thanks to my long experience with English and with living and Phil Cousineau’s clever book Word Catcher, I have confidence (which comes from the Latin con, with, and fidere, “to believe in” or “have faith in,” that I have found something worth sharing.   Faith can start with what we can experience here and now.  Let yourself be vulnerable to  your  ignorance and inner emptiness or poverty.

The word “contemplate” does not mean to escape into grand cosmic thoughts.  It comes from the 13th-century contemplationem, the act of looking at, and contemplari, to observe.  From con, with, and templum, originally an open space reserved for observation of augurs.  When we meditate or engage in contemplative prayer , we have stepped inside a temple,  we enter an a special empty space where we may consider the signs, the underlying laws or reality of our lives.  Traditionally, this templum was marked off with a line drawn in the ground by the augur, and was later demarcated with stones, gates, and doors.   As most of us know, the temple later entered English as a place for the holy, from an Old English haelen, for heal  (which my daughter can pronounce in a wonderfully hale and hearty Old English way) and PIE kailo or whole or uninjured.  To enter the stillness and emptiness of the temple is to be healed, to be made whole…to be in accord with the deepest laws of reality (which the augus sought, throwing bones or sticks or whatever…and Merton found in solitude, in God).

I don’t mean to take it too far, but it strikes me as amazing that our words contain these depths.   Words like “contemplate” and “inspire” actually signify our deepest human capacity for observation and experience.  Of course words are just points on a map, and the map is not the territory. May we all come to know the ground for ourselves.  May we all enter the temple and conspire.  May we all be be healed and made whole.

13 thoughts on “Entering the Temple

  1. Going further into the question of the depth and profundity of words, one could ask where did our languages come from? They are not random collections of sounds. They didn’t just happen to grow from the instrumental daily living exchanges of hunter gatherers. They are too well put together and subtle. They embody deep conceptual structures. They must be the work of very high intelligences.

    Mr. Bennett (who spoke and read seven) said his research lead him to believe that the root languages we have were intentionally created between 10 and 12,000 years ago by the conscious men of that time who had led their tribes into remote places for the purpose of concentrating understanding and preparing for the inevitable development of the full peopling of the whole planet. These languages necessarily contain ideas, relationships and forms which open to to a finer perception of reality which could not be immediately realized by even a small cadre of their followers, but would require hundreds or thousands of generations of experience and suffering before they could flower.

    1. Hi Bruce, It’s fascinating to consider (contemplate) the conscious origin of language. It gives a new resonance to using words consciously, being with our words. It certainly does feel as if now is the right time for the lesson packed into a word like “contemplation.” It is time to seek inspiration and conspire.

      Also, I’m sure that some words just arose from hunting together, lving together–pass-me-the-wild-beast-chops, etc.) Also, I was just reading about the Spanish word “duende,”or life force, creative passion, the earthy deepdown juice inside great art, which seems to have arisen from the earth itself (or at least from the people) rather than from the top down. Thanks, for showing me there is so much more to this!

      1. P.S. I also think language arises out of the structures–and pulsations, melodies–of the brain.

      2. The men who put together the roots of our languages were very high beings. At that time there was no “middle class” of people like us “sort of interested” in spiritual ideas. There were animal-men/women and one or two actually conscious people who commanded great respect by their powers to see the future and where food and safety could be found.

        They had to have had ready access to what Gurdjieff called worlds12 and 6 where the reality of our being and being-bodies is directly observable. With this knowledge they could and certainly would have aligned their language creations with the structure of our minds. What better way to set the stage and open people to the higher?

      3. No ‘reply’ button in your last reply so we’ll see where this gets.

        To push my response a bit more, It is Gurdjieff’s idea that all worlds and events are brought about by the Law of Three: ‘the higher blends with the lower to actualize the middle’.

        Civilization is not something that could arise randomly from animals with big brains.
        Even the big brains were brought into being by conscious action.

        Mr. Bennett started with Gurdjieff’s ideas and worked out the mechanisms and details in his book The Dramatic Universe. I’m paraphrasing what he brings in Vol. 4 “History”

      4. I’ll definitely have to check that book out, Bruce. In the meantime, I’ll try to explore that extraordinary idea. I mean, I’ll try to observe how “the higher blends with the lower to actualize the middle” in my ordinary life.

  2. There is another aspect of this question of contemplation that is gradually being forgotten IMO. The modern spiritual search is the search for peace but at one time it was the search for the “question” that disturbs the peace. Of course Simone was a master at this and Gurdjieff taught and wrote of its necessity.

    Rather than comment on this appreciation and value of contemplation as leading to a question. Here is a link which reveals how some in the Work were brought to an essential question through contemplation and better able to understand “need.”


    In June, 1954, the de Hartmanns made a special visit to their newly constituted Toronto Group, to give a clear direction to our Work. On the evening of June 11, all the members met again in my parents’ apartment, where we had originally begun as a “provisional” group two years before.

    Expectancy was in the air. During the first hour, while Mr. de Hartmann gave a music lesson to someone else at a nearby hotel, Madame de Hartmann questioned each and all of us together, especially deeply: “Why are you here?—What is your aim?—And what do you wish?”

    Typical answers: “To be free from ups and downs” … “To get rid of negative emotions” … “To become something real” …

    To each answer she countered with: “Yes, but why? Why do you want that?—One can want all such things just to be approved of by others, just to get on better in life—but why do you want that? …”

    By the end of the hour, our minds were empty of answers. We had been brought to a level of pondering we had never before experienced. Finally she planted a seed that grew inside this silence: “There is only one important thing—to actually develop our possibilities. We should not be content with anything else, or anything less.”

    1. Hi Nick, I agree with you. Being is question–or finding that point where the question is the answer is the ultimate.

  3. The roots of our laguages are one thing but what about letters themselves. Could it be that the design of a letter is an objective description of a vibration


    Before we start with the Hebrew alphabet, I want to say here that as written language arose, people wrote down what they intuitively felt the sound looked like. Those with psychic vision could see the form of sounds and wrote them down too. That is why there are a lot of similarities between the form of letters of different languages. When I met the Hungarian shaman Joska Soos (see my article of the light-sound beings) he explained to me that he can see the form of sound and of letters and words in the spiritual worlds. Some of his paintings contain these sound forms.

    It does seem like the senses of ancient man were more highly developed and over the years civilzation has dulled our senses. Did conscious influences somehow invite ancient man to contemplate vibrations in this way so that an alphabet could express qualities of vibration?

    Who knows? But it may have been the beginning of objective language the essence of which was lost over time in the cause of modernization.

    1. Amazing to think that even the letters of words were symbolic notations–like mantras. And then we were buried by our own words, made dull by them. Is there a way to un-dull ourselves? For me, meditation is the key.

  4. Last night I was reading about Rene Daumal. He was very friendly with Simone Weil. I imagine probably because they were capable of understanding each other. He convinced Simone that she must learn Sanskrit since it is a universal language and blends science and the spirit. She did and they began their translations of the Bhagavad Gita.

    Naturally I superficially looked into it and Sanskrit does seem to be a language of communicating what we are largely ignorant of. Here is a brief explanation of Sanskrit.


    It’s amazing what I don’t know.

    1. Thanks, Nick. Pali, the ancient dialect similar to the language of the Buddhi, is a version of Sanskrit. T

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