Essential things

My professor in college, N. Gordon Levin, used to require that our essays reflect the "essence of the essence of our thinking." This required focus and thought, to say the least.

This crystalline description is something I have continued to think about and use with my own students today when I describe what I want in their papers. I of course give Professor Levin credit.

(As long as I mentioned Professor Levin, I should note that he is a legendary professor who in addition to his influential work on Wilson, launched an incredible number of people into careers as historians. In the half century he has been teaching he also inspired who knows how many others who actually went on to get gainful employment in other fields. I meet people all the time who had his classes and were deeply influenced by them.)

Anyway, I put a section in one of my grade sheets that has different boxes to be marked for no essence, essence, pure essence, and essence of the essence. Few get to that highest realm, but it does happen. Most aspire to it, and it helps.

A cousin of mine married a guy she met in an ashram in India (an American) who had adopted the name Humkara. He says it means "sense of nonsense." I've been meaning to put a place on the grade sheet but haven't made that step yet.

I was thinking about all of these things when I saw that the Buddha had some thoughts on essence of the essence. This is no real surprise, but it is worth floating out there to place alongside Professor Levin's formulation:

"Those who mistake the unessential to be essential
and the essential to be unessential,
dwelling in wrong thoughts,
never arrive at the essential."

Its in the Dhammapada. You can hear it in the original Pali here.


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