The truth of attachments, or attachments to Truth?

Knight of Swords I woke up this morning with an inner agitation that began with yesterday’s encounter and I knew I’d taken the bait, against my better judgement, once again. It wasn’t enough to sit with, feel, and name my anger. It was necessary to act on it. I wasn’t sufficiently present.

This morning, I didn’t have to pull a card from the tarot to know that the card for the moment is the Knight of Swords (though I did). Biddy delineates the Knight of Swords as:

When we are possessed by a pure idea, and wish to manifest that idea in reality, we are often so blinded by the desire for its fulfillment that we fail to see the difficulties we may encounter or the consequences for which we may be responsible. The Knight of Swords is a powerful figure full of life and energy who needs to be balanced with a realization of responsibility and compassion. Pure intellectual energy is a double-edged sword which has the potential for either great good or great evil, and this power must be tempered with feeling and spirit so it doesn’t create pain for ourselves or others.


The Wise tell us to seek balance – the middle path of moderation. Well…the Knights don’t agree! They want to do things all the way, not half-way. They push the energy of their suit as far as it will go, maybe farther. That’s why each Knight has a positive and negative side. On the positive side, the Knight of Swords is a master of logic and reason. He has a keen intellect that grasps the fine points of any subject. He speaks clearly, directly and always with authority. His judgments are sure and free of emotion. Others rely on his lucid analyses of problems and solutions. On the negative side, this Knight is not a master of diplomacy. He can be downright tactless and rude. When he thinks you are wrong, you’ll know it. He’s convinced of his own superiority and has little tolerance for stupidity. He expects others to comply with his views. To him, feelings are irrelevant and illogical.

The Knight of Swords is also the one associated with the astrological sign of Gemini:

Within the Suit of Swords, the card associated with GEMINI is the Knight (sometimes also referred to as the Lord of the Winds and the Breezes and/or King of the Spirits of Air). This card belongs to the Court Cards of the Tarot and is known to be The Decider. It is the fiery part of air…the winds and the storms…the violent power of motion applied to a manageable element. The Knight of Swords is skillful, clever, decisive, fierce and courageous, possessed with a swift and bright energy. The individual represented by this card will be fair-minded, considering all relevant points of view and unswayable once the decision has been made as to the best course of action. Here, goals will be pursued with a single-minded purpose. This card is indicative of goal-oriented activity. Such an individual will have his or her feet planted firmly upon the ground. Inherent in this character is the knowledge of realizing exactly what is wanted and there will be no rest until such is achieved. To the Knight of Swords, ideas come like bolts of lightning from the heavens. This is a personality who tempers goal-oriented mentality with emotional awareness. When called for, passion is lent to set goals and this makes for not only a single-minded nature but also one which can be fanatical at times. Of all the cards found within the Suit of Swords, it is the Knight which possesses the greatest undercurrent of duality. The Knights of the Tarot represent some type of release from the past. This release may be from a relationship, employment or residence, for example. Thus, Knights are symbolic of “clean breaks.” Each one appears upon a steed and bears a symbol of the Suit he represents. The Knight is a defender of his Queen.

That description pretty much describes my motivations to be ‘defender of the Truth’, right? The choice of words, the first I’d used only yesterday, is directly reminiscent of the Knight of Swords. Even though I am willing to temper my behaviour, and attempt not to beat other people about the head with it (too much), I don’t actually relinquish the desire to be right, and ‘truthful’.

Of course, one could well be attached to notions of this elusive (illusive?) ‘Truth’. Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen is a book I dip into from time to time. Beck’s approach is very straightforward, almost mundane, in it no-nonsense attitude to Zen practice. She says:

We all want a life of freedom and compassion, a fully functioning human life. And a fully functioning human life can be attached to nothing, not to a practice or a teacher or even the Truth — if we’re attached to the Truth, we can’t see it. (186)

So, then, the truth of attachments is, we should become aware of being attached to the Truth… A circular argument? What could be more Zen? The goal, I think, is to transcend attachment, rather than eliminate it. Because attempting to eliminate attachment (played out as desire) is: 1) unnatural, 2) prone to unhealthy repression, and 3) denies our humanity. We may, for example, desire to do good in the world, but an excessive attachment to such a desire can result in martyrdom and dogmatism. Transcending the desire — that is, by being aware of the desire — allows a certain detachment from it, without disavowing its presence. It is for this delicate balance that Zen practice works towards, I think. Where the boundaries lie between one state and the other will vary from individual to individual, which is why it is difficult to formulate fixed ‘commandments’ in Zen. Every recommendation will have an opt-out clause, subject to context and circumstances.

Queen of Swords For this practice, we would need to evolve from the Knight of Swords to the Queen of Swords. The Queen in Tarot expresses the qualities of the suit as introspection and internal awareness. The incisiveness and intellect of the Swords is not brandished about with abandon by the Queen as they are with the Knight, as she internalises these qualities, rather than project them on others:

Within the Suit of Swords, the card associated with LIBRA is the Queen (sometimes also referred to as the Queen of the Throne of Air). This card belongs to the Court Cards of the Tarot and is known to be The Crystallizer or The Judgment. It is the watery quality of air, representative of its elasticity and transmissive power…it cuts through the masks and securities of the old world. The vision of this card is far-sighted and cannot be trapped by the illusions of the present. The Queen of Swords is symbolic of risk-taking by the acceptance of new roles and the breaking of old habits. In doing so, lies the promise of understanding and liberation. The individual represented by this card is constantly attempting to separate from old roles and habits. However, since there is an acute personal awareness of this individual’s position in family, friendships and society as a whole, such a separation will not be achieved without pain…nevertheless, the rewards will prove to be worth the suffering. There is an accurate perception here of the world and its people, coupled with a razor-sharp ability to get to the heart of any given situation. The Queen of Swords is a private person, unwilling to allow others to get too close until she is satisfied that she thoroughly understands their motivations. Once won as a friend, however, this card is indicative of unfailing loyalty, honesty and a character who will always lend support. The Queen of Swords is intelligent with a dry sense of humor. She has strong powers of observation, passionate individuality and confidence in her actions. On the negative side, however, this card can indicate coldness, a judgmental nature, cynicism and sharp tongue. Of all the cards found within the Suit of Swords, it is the Queen which is most concerned with right thinking and justice. The Queens of the Tarot represent not only women but anyone…male or female…who has reached a level of growth and maturity on both the spiritual and material paths. Queens are representative of power, authority, fulfillment and competency. (see)

Note that the Queen isn’t perfect. She can be prone to cynicism and sarcasm. But in practice, we don’t seek perfection, except in imperfection. What the Queen of Swords reminds us of is perpetual vigilence, or as Joko Beck puts it (and Beck strikes me as the personification of this Queen of Swords), to walk the ‘razor’s edge’. To walk the razor’s edge is to emerge from the illusion that we are separate from our lives:

Practice is about understanding the razor’s edge and how to work with it. Always we have an illusion of being separate, which we have created. When we are threatened or when live doesn’t please us, we start worrying, we start thinking about a possible solution. … We dislike being with life as it is because that can include suffering, and that is not acceptable to us. … How do we bring our separated life together? To walk the razor’s edge is to do that; we have once again to be what we basically are, which is seeing, touching, hearing, smelling; we have to experience whatever our life is, right this second. If we’re upset, we have to experience being upset. If we’re frightened, we have to experience being frightened. If we’re jealous we have to experience being jealous. And such experiencing is physical; it has nothing to do with the thoughts going on about the upset.

Of course, it’s not easy, and there may be times when we are off the razor’s edge far more than we are on it. But the goal of practice is to stay on the edge for longer and longer periods of time while we are on it. And not cut ourselves up if we don’t. Perhaps that is the only ‘truth’ worth defending?

Image: The Knight of Swords, and the Queen of Swords (Rider-Waite tarot deck).

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