I really liked my response to something a commenter on a recent post said.
This isn't terribly surprising, since I usually like what I say. After all, there's not much point to saying stuff that makes me feel "I shouldn't have said that." Occasionally that happens. Usually, though, what I say is something I want to say.
So like most people, I've got no problem with saying. There's a time to say. And a time not to say. Thus I replied to the commenter this way:
I wasn't implying that it is truly possible to experience God.
Maybe it is. More likely, it isn't. I was just arguing that if it is possible, I don't agree with the oft-heard assumption that anyone who says something about their experience didn't really come to know what God (or ultimate reality, for the nontheistic) is all about.
Picking up my well-worn copy of the Tao Te Ching translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English, I found that the first few lines speak about this saying/naming/knowing issue.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Okay. This is totally consistent with my point.
There's a difference between what we say about Tao or God, and what Tao or God is in itself. Pretty obvious, really.
Such is the case with everything. I can guarantee that no matter how many wonderful things someone says about me -- and feel free to do this -- the sum total of all those sayings won't add up to the feeling I have of being "me."
After all, I know myself subjectively from the inside.
All the words that can be used to describe me are attempts to name discrete features of me that are evident from the outside. Another "philosophical translation" of the first lines of the Tao Te Ching by Roger Ames and David Hall seems to reflect this notion.
Way-making (dao) that can be put into words is not really way-making.
And naming (ming) that can assign fixed reference to things is not really naming.
Interestingly, both translations make clear that the named and the nameless are essentially co-equal.
These two [named and nameless] spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
These two -- the nameless and what is named -- emerge from the same source yet are referred to differently.
Together they are called obscure.
The obscurest of the obscure,
They are the swinging gateway of the manifold mysteries.
Now, the Tao Te Ching is just words.
I'm a big admirer of Taoism, and an avid Tai Chi practitioner (Taoism expressed in motion, some call it). But I'm not about to claim that the Tao Te Ching expresses any sort of unique understanding of reality.
I'm just arguing there's no way the Tao Te Ching can be used to bolster a belief that "Those who know, say not. Those that say, know not." Saying and not saying in Taoism are just two different things. Both valid. Both real. Both expressions of the same source.
Which is mysterious.
I pretty much agree with what Alan Watts says in "Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking."
So the Taoist, in common with the Hindus and the Buddhists, is a great advocate of intellectual silence. Mind you, one doesn't say that the intellect is a bad thing, or that one should be an anti-intellectual. Not at all.
Thnking is just as much a part of the process of nature as a web woven by a spider is. The spider weaves the web to make a net for flies, and the mind weaves a net for catching the universe. And that is fine, but there is something more to the universe than the net made for catching it.
But in order to find this something else, you must temporarily stop using the net, just as, if you want to hear what other people have to say, you have to stop talking. And if you want to talk, you must also know what you are talking about.
In other words, if words represent the real world, then you must be open to the real world in order to translate it effectively into words. But we are not taught to do that. Most of us think compulsively all the time.
That is to say, we carry on a perpetual interior conversation, because we are afraid that if that conversation were to cease, we too would cease. And, in a way, we would.
So, the Taoists speak constantly of being thoughtless, of having an empty mind, so that one can communicate with the real world without distortion.