Plagiarism or Originality

The following is an article Paul Taylor, a Lay Minister in England, wrote in connection with his work with the University Chaplaincy in Lancaster. Hope you get as much out of his writing as I do. The sub title of the article is ‘A View from the Chaplaincy’.

I recently attended a session on ‘Plagiarism and how to avoid it’. The speaker had commented to us that academic work is an extreme case, and we usually don’t reference all our opinions in our normal life, although nearly all our ideas and opinions have come from others – parents, family, friends, the media, reading etc.

This set me thinking about what originality as a person meant. On ‘The Hits’ TV channel a repeated advert encourages people to download the latest ring tones to ‘stand out! – be different!’. A survey discussed on the BBC News reported that British 10-17 year-olds enjoy the highest average annual income in Europe and are very keen on spending it on personal care products such as cosmetics and grooming. The survey surmised this was because ‘it helps them combine two seemingly contradictory emotional needs – the desire to fit in and the desire to express their individuality’.

As a Buddhist, I wondered what inspiration I might draw from my own religious tradition, particularly with its easily misunderstood teaching described as ‘no-self’. It occurred to me that ‘original’ has the same root as ‘origin’, and that one of the famous Zen Ox-herding pictures has the title ‘Returning to the Origin, Returning to the Source’. An image commonly used in Buddhism is that of each of us being a facet of the One Jewel, both unique and, at the same time, intimately interconnected. The parable of Indra’s Net in the Avatamsaka Sutra describes the universe as if a net, at every intersection of which is a jewel, with each unique jewel mutually reflecting every other jewel – a metaphor for the experience of deep meditation.

What does this connote to me concerning my reflection on originality as a person? If we try too hard to differentiate ourselves from others we lose our inner sense of origin, of interconnectedness; if we allow ourselves to be manipulated or try too hard to get lost in the crowd, our jewel seems to us to dim and fails fully to reflect the unique contribution that is us. Maybe sadly for some, Buddhism would say that better ringtones and grooming alone do not reach this; getting drunk merely anaesthetizes our feelings of isolation temporarily and will not allow us to know truly our deep-rooted connectedness with others. It recommends developing deep intuitive inner listening, embodied in its practices of meditation, to enable us to truly experience what is already here – our uniqueness and our innate interconnectedness. From such listening arises compassion, wisdom, empathy and loving action.

Thanks Paul for giving your permission to publish this article.

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