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“the answer is blowing in the wind.”

May 20, 2013

That line is one of the most famous song lyrics ever, I think. Most of you who pop by this blog have probably heard someone quote it, or heard the song the lyrics are from.

The song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan, was released in 1963, almost a decade before I was born, but I’ve heard it many times.

I’ve for many years puzzled over the lyrics. The song poses many many questions, and then, in the chorus, we hear.. “the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

What does that mean?

I’ve never looked up possible interpretations, just wondered about the song, and could not figure out my own interpretation until this past day.

I was thinking about the song was because this past day was quite windy. I sat for awhile on my bed and looked out my window. Lots of trees in the neighborhood and landscaping. I watched and listened to the wind blowing through the leaves and branches. It was beautiful, and I started thinking about that Bob Dylan song.

I went upstairs to clean the kitchen and fix myself something to eat, and thought some more. I finally got it.. or it least, for me, I finally got it.. my interpretation to the lyric. I will try to put my thoughts into words.

I feel that there is a time when all philosophical questions.. and any questions at all.. should be put away. There is a deeper reality in nature that cannot be explained entirely with words. Sometimes it is best to put away all questions, and sit and listen to the wind, experience nature directly, leave questions and ignore the clinging, grasping, torturous analytical mind.

I haven’t as yet read much at all by such famous Transcendentalist authors such as Emerson and Thoreau, and have only spent a bit of time reading works by such Romantic poets as Wordsworth and Keats. However, it does seem to me that the writers from both the Transcendentalism and earlier Romanticism movements revered nature and direct experience. I am wondering if Bob Dylan, being a poet himself, was inspired by these writers. I wonder if he got his idea for “Blowin’ in the Wind” from them.

It is not only Romantic and Transcendentalist writers who have come up with the idea that nature should be experienced, and that we can learn directly from nature.. that words get in the way. Buddhist and Taoist philosophers also have this view of nature as being beyond words. It is my impression that Buddhists, Zen Buddhists especially, believe that grasping, being overly analytical, clinging to views and so forth are bad things to do. These things keep our mind fettered, produce negative karma, etc. Better to sit down, meditate, listen to the wind, turn inward, cease all questioning, reach a deeper reality.

Taoism and Buddhism are two different traditions, but Buddhism in China, called Chan, which eventually reached Japan, where it is called Zen, has some Taoist teachings in it.. or perhaps I should say, some of the teachings of Zen are similar, if not identical, to some Taoist teachings. Taoism and Zen both teach the importance of moving beyond words and the rational mind.

The most important book of Taoism is the Tao Te Ching. This book opens with the lines:  “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

There is one other quote I’d like to bring up: “He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”

Yes, I am using words here to try to explain something that goes beyond words.. but that’s just how it goes. Words are limited, but sometimes we are stuck using words to try to convey ideas, concepts, feelings, emotions, and other things not fully describable by words.

The first line, in my opinion, makes the point that words fail. The Tao, which can be interpreted as ultimate reality, cannot truly and fully be named. To label something is to limit it. If it is a “this,” it can no longer be a “that” as well. It certainly cannot be everything.

And “he who says does not know” .. same interpretation here.. words fail.. the ultimate Tao cannot truly be spoken of.

As Bob Dylan sang, the answer is blowing in the wind. The wind does not use words. Nature does not use words. Ultimate reality is not answers to questions, no matter how deep the questions are. Ultimate reality can only be experienced.

Experienced.. by being still.. paying attention to nature.. by listening.

Dylan is right.. the true answer is putting away the questions, avoiding going on a quest for answers.

The answer is blowing in the wind.


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