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Speaking the Unspeakable

If we reject the dual thesis, we deny, by definition, a reality of separation. Whether we do this as monists who positively assert that reality is One or we do it as more literal non-dualists and simply deny that separation is a definitive and absolute quality of Being, we are moving ourselves into a mode of reasoning whose articulation requires reason prior to separation.

But a word is a symbol whose meaning is some separated thing, quality, or action. While understanding this in a hard-and-fast manner is a mistake—a word more realistically means a sort of nebulous cloud of ideas—there is still, by necessity, a separation inherent in the act of articulation. When we cast ideas or trains of thought into language, we are imposing the semantic structure on reality; many non-dualist schools of thought spend considerable effort trying to bring the student away from linguistic thinking.

If then, as is said, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao,” and any articulation is of its nature incorrect, why should the philosopher—as thinker, teacher, shaman, or guru—bother, then, to speak? The answer, I think, lies in the capacity of the mind to abstract.

Immediately and selfishly, the articulating process allows us to see how close we can get. It’s a way of testing our own skill in a game of man-versus-reality, to see what we can, in our cleverness, capture about a non-dual structure in a dualistic system. It allows a game of thinking that hones the skill of articulation like no other, especially if the thinker can hold in mind the pre-linguistic structure of reality during the moment of articulation.

More usefully, however, if the philosopher views a non-dual framework as a way of seeing reality that can improve the lives of others, that philosopher may attempt to articulate the inarticulable in order to help paint a rough picture of the path of thought that should be taken for the student to reach that same understanding.

This seems like an inherently elitist undertaking, and I suppose that in a very real sense it is. The supposition that the speaker has achieved some kind of “secret knowledge” that he or she is attempting to impart upon the listener is without question presumptuous. But if the speaker speaks in recognition of the validity of an infinite array of paths, and speaks with humility in the knowledge that the path which he or she speaks may not be the path for the listener, then I think that the presumption is dissipated, and that the speaker then speaks as a person offering advice to a friend.

Words, then, can become a tool that we can use to shape an idea in the mind of another; we can use them to sculpt a form and to help develop a position that, when the other person reaches out and grasps it, allows the assumption of the positionless position, and steps the person through the gateless gate.

We do not believe ourselves to be speaking truth, because we understand that speaking truth is not something that is done. We believe ourselves to be a finger pointing towards the moon, and we try to remind ourselves and the person to whom we’re talking to not confuse the finger for the moon.

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