April 11, 2007 3:56am CST
I have noticed the similarity of words like whole, holistic and holy. Then decriptions like "at one with" and atonement. For instance to "atone for one's sins" to me seems to be "become at one with those sins". In other words, do not judge, lest you'll be judged (many teachers have said this in different ways). My path in Zen is to the realisation that all is one, that the illusions of material life will be absorbed into one, so that separation disappears and therefore there is no need for discernment, just witnessing the disappearance of illusion. But as Zen can turn everything upside down in paradox, us practitioners need to aim to focus in a state of "not knowing" and avoid attaching labels, so that even Zen will be "in error". Please feel free to share insights.
• Cambridge, England
20 Feb 09
The etymology of 'holy' is interesting. It comes into English from O.E. halig "holy," from P.Gmc. *khailagas (cf. O.N. heilagr, Ger. heilig, Goth. hailags "holy") and possibly originally meant "something that must be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated." It seems to be related to words meaning 'health' in many Germanic languages. 'Heil' in German is a salutation meaning 'Good Health' and English has 'hale' and 'wassail' (from the old English 'wes hal' - 'be healthy'). Online Etymology says that 'whole' is from 'O.E. hal "entire, unhurt, healthy," from P.Gmc. *khailaz "undamaged" (cf. O.S. hel, O.N. heill, O.Fris. hal, M.Du. hiel, Du. heel, O.H.G., Ger. heil "salvation, welfare"), from PIE *koilas (cf. O.S.C. celu "whole, complete;" see health). The spelling with wh- developed c.1420.' It is obvious that both of these words have a common origin in meaning and 'whole' and 'healthy' are still often recognised as synonymous. Holistic and holism are quite recent words in English, apparently having been coined by General Smuts in 1926 from the Greek 'holos'. They should properly be 'holoistic' and 'holoism', I believe. The Greek 'holos' meaning 'whole' looks as though it may have come from a similar Indo-European word to the above and appears to be related to the latin 'solus' meaning 'one, alone' and also to 'salus', "good health" and 'salvus' "uninjured, healthy, safe". I have to confess that I borrowed most of the above from the Online Etymology and, of course, it's highly condensed and the reasoning behind the way that words appear to have changed (in sound, let alone in meaning) is not always obvious. I find it fascinating that, today, we find ourselves with a large assortment of words which sound the same or similar and yet do not appear to be related and as large a number of words which sound entirely different yet seem to come from a common source. I believe that, all through history, people have loved the sound of words and especially their similarities and have also often used metaphor to describe things. As a result, words and their meanings and entirely different words along with their meanings have become entangled (rather than confused). Having mentioned the word 'solus' above, I can't help noticing that the Latin for 'sun' is 'Sol'. According to OE, the word 'sol' comes from a word meaning 'to shine' but the fact that the sun was worshipped as a deity and that the same IE root meaning 'sun' came to be 'helios' in Greek and 'haul' (pron. ha-ool) and 'heol' in some Celtic languages, though it became 'sun' in Germanic languages. One should be aware of the danger of 'folk etymology', however. The word 'Hell' comes from a completely different root with a meaning that indicated concealment, so it cannot be related to 'helios' or 'heol'. That doesn't mean, though, that people will not link words and twist them from 'good' to 'bad'. The word 'devil' simply means 'little' or 'lesser' god and the very name 'Lucifer' (which is, I believe, a Latin translation of a Hebrew word meaning 'bearer of light') is surely a euphemism for a sun god who was deposed/supplanted by a later deity. How this might relate to Zen, I don't know. Some might say that it is because it is both intensely relevant to the understanding of humanity and completely irrelevant to Zen. In the end, we do not know why we have the word 'Sun' in English and know but do not know it's relation to the word 'Son'. Perhaps we might joke (in English) that there are those who live in the 'now' and those who live in Zen.
21 Feb 09
Thank you for a very detailed response. It is very informative. Zen actually is so paradoxical, that there is no right or wrong path. Zen is way, it can be applied to anything at all. It seems to be utilized quite strongly in Japan in the art of archery, flower arrangement, martial arts, Buddhism and bing that is is a "way of being" can be applied to any religion or practice at all. It is all about being mindful and focused. Now we seem to be applying to the art of word meaning. . Derek