Shul

Several blogs that I read have riffed around the idea of a desire line.

A desire line is a path developed by erosion caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width and amount of erosion of the line represents the amount of demand.

They are manifested on the surface of the earth in certain cases, e.g., as dirt pathways created by people walking through a field, when the original movement by individuals helps clear a path, thereby encouraging more travel. Explorers may tread a path through foliage or grass, leaving a trail “of least resistance” for followers.

I was struck by the similarity of the idea of a ‘shul’ which I came across in A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (an anagram of lost in…?), but which she was quoting from Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor.

“Emptiness” said the Tibetan philosopher Tsongkhapa, in 1397, ~is the track on which the centered person moves.” The word he uses for track is shul. This term is defined as “an impression”: a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by-a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there.
A path is a shul because it is an impression in the ground left by the regular tread of feet, which has kept it clear of obstructions and maintained it for the use of others.

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Shul

6 thoughts on “Shul

  1. It is a shame you have not had more visitors comment on this post because it is important to know. I remember ages ago that I read about the tracks and trails that were created in this country by bison and deer and other animals in the forests. Not so much the plains, but the forests and they were used by North American Indians and later by the first settlers and now some of our highways follow those animal trails and we ride along them in air conditioned cars and trucks. To be alive back then and to reflect on one’s future would never have included automobiles. But to think about it at all is interesting, and very interesting to me.

  2. What a beautiful, beautiful post, Mark. It itself is almost Buddhist-like in its pure complex simplicity. I can see why you would be “lost in” Rebecca. It’s also inspiring me to check out “Buddhism without Beliefs” – that quote, “Emptiness is the track on which the centered person moves,” feels like a bell of awakening for me.

    Actually, your post itself is the real awakening. I am truly taking it in at many levels – thank you.

    Shul, by the way, is also a Yiddish term for synagogue. Somehow the interplay of that with the Buddhist meaning – “the impression of something that used to be there” – is its own synergy.

    I am printing out your post so that I can continue to take it in. Curious how reading something on paper facilitates that. Maybe I’m still nineteenth-century after all.

    Thank you. Again.

    P. S. I’m wondering if you might like “Thoughts without a Thinker,” one of my favorite books about Buddhism. Actually, all Epstein’s books are wonderful.

  3. Hi Mark..
    I’ve never come across this word/meaning before.. but I like the thinking behind it.. I guess we’d all be lost without certain ‘Shul’s to follow.

    It as been great playing catch up, as you know my PC went a bit weird on me… I sent it to the back of the room with a pointy hat on its head…

  4. beatingthebounds says:

    Abe,
    I have a wonderful mental animation of a path through the woods being used by Elk and maybe the occasional Bear, then hunting Indians, settler’s in their wagons. The faint trod becomes a path, then a dirt track. A model T ford chugs past. It’s fascinating to think of how one route may have been used in gradually changing ways like this through history.
    Unfortunately, I can’t stop it ending with a six lane interstate and road-kill on the verges.
    There’s another version, no less chilling, where the interstate is cracked and beginning to grass over and Elk are beginning to use it again – as I believe is the case in the uninhabited region around Chernobyl.

    Cynthia,
    I know almost next to nothing about Buddhism, but have encountered it in so many places of late that I’m beginning to feel that I should take the hint and investigate.
    A further instance of Bhuddhism’s ubiquity in my gaze at the moment is this quote that I read just this morning, and which seems pertinent to this post:

    ‘You cannot travel the path until you have become the path’ – Gautama Buddha

    Tom,
    Ha! Glad that your PC is sorted. Did a stint in the corner make it see the error of its ways?

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