One of the beautiful things about writing is that it’s a dynamic creation between writer and reader. Everyone creates a different world in their mind, everyone sees things in a story or poem that you never envisioned when you wrote it (just ask your beta readers).

I’ve mentioned before that I’m getting back into Zen lately, both reading about it and actually practicing. Of course, when you think about something a lot, you start to see it everywhere. I’ve noticed more and more quotes – from songs, poems, movies, everything – remind me of Zen, especially when snatched out of context. So yesterday I compiled a list of all such quotes I could think of.

I’d wager that few, if any, of these people had Zen explicitly on the mind when they wrote (or spoke) the words, but what’s a little subversive interpretation between friends?

The stars are far brighter
Than gems without measure,
The moon is far whiter
Than silver in treasure:
The fire is more shining
On hearth in the gloaming
Than gold won by mining,
So why go a-roaming?
O! Tra-la-la-lally
Come back to the valley.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

There is another world, but it is in this one.
-Paul Eluard

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
-Jesus (John 8:32)

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
-William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
-Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts

Do, or do not. There is no try.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
-Jesus (John 13:35)

Let it go
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don’t you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in
Let your clarity define you
-Rob Thomas, Little Wonders

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
-John Lennon, “I Am The Walrus”

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, “First Fig”

How I love the simple things,
The simple things just are.
-Rebecca Lynn Howard, “The Simple Things”

The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.
-Leonard Nimoy

Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
These simple blessings of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.
Spontaneous joys, where nature has its play,
The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;
Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind,
Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined:
But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,
With all the freaks of wanton wealth arrayed, –
In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,
The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;
And, e’en while fashion’s brightest arts decoy,
The heart, distrusting, ask if this be joy.
-Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”

If you can’t do it in Fortran, do it in assembly language. If you can’t do it in assembly language, it isn’t worth doing.
-Ed Post, “Real Programmers Don’t Use Pascal”

Okay, that last one’s not really Zennish. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

You tell me: are there any quotes you’ve given special meaning, beyond their original context?

2 responses to “Zenterpretation

  1. “…real memory, at the cost of much effort, learns to remember but not to forget.” – Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

    There’s one from a fantasy book I can no longer remember, and my quoting of it may be imprecise. I wish I could recollect the author or title or ANYTHING, but this is all I can recall, which is a story one of the characters is telling another (and yes, the language is a little odd; I think the narrator here is someone trying to sound smarter than they are?):

    “Beyond the walls of this city, little one, there are great fields, and in those fields are bunnies. Bunnies live in holes in the ground, without doors, without locks. Predators get some of them, and others die of disease. But bunnies do not spend all their lives in fear.
    “In this city, there are rapers and murderists and other gentlemen and ladies of undecorous habits. But they will always be outnumbered by the bunnies.”

    And almost anything written by Dorothy Parker, but especially the poems Coda, Symptom Recital, and Observation.

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