Beliefs and Words

 

I ended Chapter 2 with a phrase in my poem which, even out of context, may still resonate for some and not for others: “Knowing our oneness in Life’s Eternity”. For most current belief systems that is generally agreed upon. Our oneness. Life’s eternity. In faith, whether religiously based or spiritually created, we can imagine where we’ve come from, our place in this waking moment, and can envision the infinite moments to come. That combination of words speaks truth as we know it and want it to be.

You know the old saw question, much trivialized over time: “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” What came first, the knowing or the words?  Clearly, we can agree that “words” have meaning and that their meaning is important, shapes our lives, guides our behavior, and often determines the course of history and, more importantly, our evolution. How we have come to know a word’s meaning, value it, and act on it is less commonly understood.

So one might ask: where did words come from? I’m sure there are many answers and spirited debates emerge. Let me take you down a simple path and leave the complex argumentation to more scholarly writers. My wife and I were listening recently to a series of lectures by a historian, an expert, on Chinese history. Some 5000 years described in some 32, 45 minute segments. He spoke early about the role of women in Chinese pre-history. That’s before writing or codifying with symbols and characters (carvings, wall drawings, pottery etchings, etc.) emerged to be discovered by archeologists. So it was in the beginning for the Chinese. Sort of their “Genesis”.

It seems that women, as shaman or spirit leaders, played a dominant role in formation of beliefs and rituals and interpreting signs and symbols. Their “reading” of those communicated meaning about past events and predicted futures, small and large. And that meaning was passed on, held onto, and guided the beliefs and behaviors of small and then larger groups of people. We can’t be sure if language, as we know it, had yet been created. Probably. And probably more than grunts, whistles, gesticulations (signing).

This “language” guided “higher level” belief about the unknown, spiritual world. It came to make sense to collectives of individuals albeit extended families, perhaps villages of relatives but nothing of any great size. Still, this language, and the belief system it embodied, held them together.

I haven’t attempted here yet to describe my views on language and behavior’s role in our evolutionary journey of survival, adaptation, and progress toward civilization. That is for another chapter. But I’d like to leap from the pre-historical example above to a later, higher level of social thought and organization using the history of China.

In that same lecture series, the historian talks about the impact of Confusionism and Taoism on the emerging, evolving Chinese culture as we’d see it between 500 BCE and 100 BCE. One could say that these two philosophies, quasi-religious belief systems, and descriptive word constructs brought different approaches to describing the reality of the time. They offered a way for people to communicate, believe, and behave around organizing concepts, symbols, and stories that united them and offered templates at differing times. While not yet codified as “laws” as we know them, they were however a foundation upon which emperors and kings could formulate rules their subjects were bound to follow or suffer consequences.

Subsequent emperors, kings and leader-challengers, built on those early words and belief systems to mold their kingdoms, empires and dynasties. As China passed into the 2nd and 3rd Centuries CE, emperors blended Confucianism and Taoism with realistic techniques of Legalism to hold allegiance to their far-flung empires. And in later centuries, these morphed into new words and beliefs of Buddhism and spiritual explanations. But they were never totally lost as guides to present life, as depictions of the eternal future and connections to history, ancestors, and the spirit world.

As my wife and I talked about those lectures on 5000 years of Chinese history, we were struck by similarities and parallels to our Judeo-Christian history. One world mostly untouched by another. One much older and yet not unfamiliar when looking at the patterns of evolution building two different civilizations and quite different cultures. If one thought of those as unconnected universes as they evolved and then discovered the broad brush similarities, it might raise a question about the convergence of human evolution along a predictable path which unites our oneness and ties it together for eternity as we conceive it today. Thus, “Knowing our oneness in Life’s Eternity”.

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