Note: I wrote this post a few days ago, and sort of abandoned it. Then I had a conversation with my favorite expat gringoid, who said a bunch of stuff that I’d said in parallel in this post. I’m posting it now mainly for his amusement. It’s unfinished, but there’s some gold flakes mixed in with the silt, if you don’t mind doing some light sifting.
We humans are tool-using beings.
We are such profound tool-users that the boundary between our own being and the being of the tool is blurry. A good tool in use becomes an extension of our mind, our body, our attention, our intention. We do not know where we stop and where the tool begins. And the better the tool, the less we perceive it.
The very best tool, the one that extends us best, the one least distinguishable from our own being is language. Some of us identify with our language so thoroughly that when we have a question, and ask it and answer it with language, we think the language itself asked and answered it.
Most of our life is lived beneath language, beside language, and beyond language.
But to language all life is words, and it is language who says what is and is not real and true.
A bad tool, including bad language, requires us to use language in order to operate the tool. We have to ask ourselves questions and answer them before we can do the next step. Or we have to recall instructions to execute. It is this that makes a sharp boundary between me and the thing I am trying to use. But on this side of “me” is a set of language tools, that seem part of my own being. But they are not really me. They are only my favored tools — so favored that I forgot there is a self beneath them who could use other language and interact differently with the real beings around me, if only I could “open the hand of thought” and let these old interceding words drop away.
This is what we do when we meditate. We let being be. And we let language chatter alongside the being, or we let it stop chattering. We do not let language absorb our being, or we at least allow being to notice its accidental absorption. No, Language: Shhhh… the point of meditation is not (as you assume) to give us a nonverbal experience that we can know about. No, we cannot read books on meditation and get the same knowledge about meditation that we get from doing it. It is not for that.
But it cannot occur to our language-using being to stop using language to think about being. Language uses language to keep using language to use other language. Many of us — most of us — are trapped inside a linguistic machine that moves us more than we move it. When we try to understand ourselves we use words to think thoughts about the object of our thought, Me, what makes me identical to other subjective objects (“Others”) and what makes Me and Others identical to one another (“Identity”). The transcendental subject who uses and cannot stop using its words to do all its understanding cannot comprehend the word-using, word-used transcendental subject behind the word use, because understanding is its words.
If you know what I mean here, this will be, at best, a redescription of a truth you know well.
If you do not know what I mean here, this will be, at best, a redescription of a truth you understand differently and better. You prefer a third-person scientific mode of explaining mystical, existential truths, but beneath all the descriptions we refer to the same deeply mysterious object underpinning all reality. We are all referring to the same Tao, the same Ein Sof.
But this is not about referring — or not only about it. It isn’t even mainly about it.
It is about participating in what transcends our being and what transcends our language.