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Inexpressible

November 19, 2013

The deeper I go into the teaching of the Buddha, the more convinced I become that it is something quite unique and special. The most profound teachings of the Buddha are inexpressible in words; they cannot be described, only experienced. We don’t possess a proper ontological category for them.

The Buddha’s teaching is beyond being and non-being; beyond becoming and non-becoming; beyond self and not-self. This is the profundity of the Middle Path. When I contemplate it, I feel like I am surfing on a knife edge of energy. At any moment I could die; each breath, every heartbeat could be my last. Yet I emerge from these deep contemplations refreshed, with a feeling of renewal, a sense of having gone beyond.

Words have meaning, and their meaning is derived from etymology and ontology, which creates systems of terminology defined in terms of one another. As soon as I speak a word, I imply all that it is not. To say ‘white’ implies ‘not black’; to say ‘being’ implies ‘non-being’, and so forth. This dualistic aspect of language is inescapable.

Yet the Buddha’s teaching is not monism either. It is not about ‘oneness’, ‘becoming god’ or ‘merging with god’. Coming in to manifestation and going out of manifestation, creation and destruction, being and nonbeing are part of this teaching; but there is also something beyond them.

Sometimes people ask questions like, “Does the Tathāgata exist after death?” or “If there is no ‘self’, then what is reborn?” Questions like this are invalid, because they are based upon incorrect assumptions. There is a level beyond ‘self’ and ‘no-self’, beyond ‘being’ and ‘nonbeing’. This is inexpressible by definition, because it transcends the duality of language.

But it is possible to experience, and that is the point. When I write articles or make videos, sometimes I get the feeling that I am talking completely over people’s heads. Only one or two brave folks have the courage to discuss their impressions in the comments, so it’s hard to know how well I am getting through.

I am now at the point where I am directly seeing this condition beyond duality. It is quite awesome, and it kind of takes the wind out my sails. Even if I talk about it, I can only talk around it; the state is quite inexpressible in words. And although it is certainly possible to talk about the process that gives direct experience of this transcendent state—the Noble Eightfold Path—I feel that others have already done that in sufficient detail, especially the Buddha himself.

Any intelligent person with a good stock of pious activities and sufficient motivation can study the Buddha’s teaching and put it into practice for himself. There is a stream, a current of truth flowing from complete acceptance of the Buddha’s teaching to complete enlightenment. Once one enters this stream, he progresses inevitably to nibbāna. The current pulls and pushes him along; even when he is out of meditation, contemplation continues deep in the mind, ultimately revealing everything.

Maybe the best service I can provide is to encourage by saying, “It works!” There are many directions I could take my teaching work. But currently I feel rather disconnected from my audience. That makes it hard to decide what to talk about and how to present it.

As a monk in an obscure forest monastery high in the tropical mountains of Sri Lanka, I’m sure my daily concerns are vastly different from people just starting out on this path. I have tried various devices to stimulate feedback and discussion, but thus far they have not worked very well. So I think I’ll just sit here for a while and contemplate the inexpressible self-revealing transcendent beauty of the Buddha’s great teaching.

From → Buddhism, Ontics

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