Can we speak and think (that is, can we ‘name’) with a lightness of touch, and yet also love precision? (Later we will explore where the healthy precision comes from.) Can we ‘name’ to nurture healthy lives, and avoid making the fundamental problems of human knowledge worse than they are? Of course we can; but we’ll need to understand the relationship of language to experiencing, first.
“All have gone under the sway/Of this one thing called name.” If we are seduced by our unskilful use of language – and by that I mean, language-use not in accord with the fundamental matrix of experiencing – then, we misuse our gift. Conceiving of things, in the way we do when influenced by craving, conceit and views, changes our way of experiencing the objects of our conceiving. Stated even more radically: However you conceive a thing, by that very thinking it becomes for you otherwise than it is.
The task, then, as the Nikāya Buddha presents it, is to disconnect our naming practices from a belief in the inherent existence of ‘things.’ It is neither the case that ‘things’ have a prior existence, and are there already to be named; nor that the naming creates them.
“Beings are conscious of what can be named,
They are established on the nameable,
By not comprehending the nameable things,
They come under the yoke of death.”
– Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda, Nibbāna – The Mind Stilled.
Try considering, instead, that our ‘naming’ can be a process way of using language. Quite radically, I propose (based on my reading of Gendlin) that language is what bodies do. Bodies gesture in this way that is peculiar to humans. Language is a self-reflexive gestural ‘strategy’ to work with experiencing; particularly, to carry our on-going interaction forward in a life-enhancing manner.
I take the view that language-use is a line of development; and an evolutionary gesture that needs its next step. By exploring this in our actual life, we might find that these gestures (our words) increase the power of experience. They change experiencing – one’s own, and that of one’s hearers.
We are well-compensated for the de-emphasising of our belief in ‘things,’ which this view entails. It is bondage to think that language establishes the existence of things – that the job of language is to establish ‘is’ and ‘is not.’ Freed from that yoke we step out, too, from under the yoke of death – for, what dies, if there are no absolute ‘things,’ and if there is only interaction, only process? An immeasurable dimension presents itself in the place of a fragmented world.
In a passage in the Anguttara Nikāya, the Nikāya Buddha says that “an arising is manifest, a passing away is manifest and an otherwise-ness in the persisting is manifest.” (Trans. Ñāṇananda) “Manifest’ I take to mean ‘occur.’
The profound personal realization behind this is that what is arising is ceasing. This ‘occurring’ is never established as anything existing; and, therefore can’t come from anywhere, nor go anywhere. That is, what is occurring has no tangible nature. We can say things arise, and that things cease; and that in the middle nothing becomes established. Are we willing, if we’d like to know what death is, to apply this to our personal existence?
I see a bird. The bird is looking back at me. Now, in the first moment, I don’t have any ‘bird’ concept, or ‘me’ (not ‘back’) – there is just the interaction. There’s no ‘here’ or ‘there,’ as well. If experiential space is named wrongly, then it becomes solidified into ‘mine’ and ‘not-mine’; and, ‘this’ and ‘here’ will be distinguished from the experience of ‘that’ ‘there.’ Anxiety arises.
But in the freshness of the first moment of intimate interaction, when I recognize the non-locality of experience, and I stay present for it, there is freedom to see the bird. The awakened factor if mindfulness is present. My heart is taking the beauty of its form, and its piercing, yellow iris. And, there’s the felt knowing of our intimacy. But, the ‘I’ who knows this has no location, and neither does the bird.
This spaciousness has the possibility of increasing our power of experiencing; but usually, by default, we make a ‘thing’ of space. By mistakenly naming experiences as existing in themselves, one makes ‘here and there’ in what has no ‘here’ or ‘there.’ One makes ‘mind’ into a personal box, with its locality, its limited contact, and its centre. And, the centre, we name as the perceiver; and whatever is outside the limit we name the ‘something contacted.’ For the Nikāya Buddha, there’s no such limit.
Much that I am saying is affirmed by the Nikāya Buddha in many places. For instance, in the Kālakarāma Sutta, a sutta which indicates the inner life of liberation, the Nikāya Buddha says the following (though not exactly in these words. I’m summarizing. You can find my complete translation here):
“I know things, just like anyone knows things, but I don’t cling to what I know. If you cling, you serve what you cling to. I live without conceiving of an independent reality in either the experiencer or the experienced. And, I don’t conceive of a reality elsewhere, an unexperienced something somewhere outside what is.
“Because of this, you can refer to me as one who is ‘such.’ And that is the supreme kind of person.”
It’s a lion’s roar: “A Tathāgata being ‘such’ in regard to all phenomena seen, heard, sensed and cognized, is ‘such.’” This way of being means that the liberated person (a tathāgata) is not limited by, defined by, nor identified by anything conceivable. As he says elsewhere, he is not identifiable by his form, his feeling-tones, his perceptions, his shaping factors or intentional factors, nor his consciousness. Hence, the concept of suchness.
When the Brahmin yogi Mogharāja asked, “By looking upon the world in which manner can one escape the eye of the king of death?”, the Nikāya Buddha answered:
“Look upon the world as void,
Mogharāja, being mindful at all times,
Uprooting the lingering view of self,
Get well beyond the range of death,
Him who thus looks upon the world,
The king of death gets no chance to see.”
– Sutta Nipāta, verse 1119. Translated by Ñāṇananda, quoted in Nibbāna: The Mind Stilled.
Dry up the remains of your past and have nothing for your future. If you do not cling to the present then you can go from place to place in peace. Verse 1099, The Sutta-Nipata: A New Translation from the Pali Canon; translated by Saddhatissa.
The speaker is the Budddha of the Sutta-Nipata. The Sutta-Nipata is a text which has been considered for a long time the oldest stratum of the Buddhist teachings.
I was with some friends today, and while with them I experienced several moments in my practice which, it seems to me, relate to this verse. I would like to tease out the meaning of the experiences; especially because, at first glance, the verse seems impractical. What can it mean, to let your past wither? To not go to a future?
I am with my friends. I have said something in the group. I can feel an ego-momentum, a thrusting onward build up in me, especially if I am clinging to what I said. Maybe I want someone to admire me. Maybe I want life to accord to my ideas, as I am representing them to my friends? Maybe it would frighten me, if life weren’t like I think it is? Right there, can my next moment not be carried forward by the clinging in/to the last event? By my concepts, including my self-images?
If there is a next moment, can it just be itself, free of my management? If there is a carrying-forward, can it be the implicit momentum of a level of ‘time’ which, while it personally experienceable, carries us all forward – that doesn’t belong to any of us?
I pause, come home to this breathing body, and someone else takes up the flow, and goes on in what I have said, just as I went on in what was occurring before I spoke. I didn’t have to explicitly remember what came before, to go on in it. If I am willing to go on in someone else’s offering, the flow emerges, and we are, all of us together, versioning a poetry sharing. It’s a dance, now. Dancers go on in each other’s going on in.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
– William Butler Yeats, Among School Children
The memory of the last moment needn’t determine the present; that moment dissolves so that I can say this thing that I’m saying now, in the group. And the past is in this present; it is saying. (And, that goes for this writing. Try Nathalie Goldberg’s writing exercises, as a demonstration of this principle.)
If don’t drag a contrived version of the past forward with me. It’s not the poet, the fighter, the father, the teacher who is speaking. It’s oneself as and in an interdependent process. They are just concepts, those roles. If I am not identified with those roles, I can let the last thing said wither and dissolve, like writing on water. The ripples belong to the water, now. (There’ more to it, of course – for instance, I have to be willing to let the old concepts of serial time dissolve, also.)
At one point, I got a little attached to an interpretation, and I could feel myself leaning in. You know, we even lean forward, don’t we? It started to be a ‘pushing a barrow’ thing. That’s a great sign. I’m contriving a future for myself, right here in the flow of a community versioning. Right in that moment of clinging is where my contemplative practice can help, if I find a way to remind myself of the big life process. (Re-minding is mindfulness.) I pause. I breathe. For me, today, it was a moment to remember to rest into Suchness.
‘Such’ is a great word. If I’m not dragging a self-image forward, and if I’m not contriving an imagined future, then in the middle, what is there? Suchness, including one who is such. With suchness comes calm. It’s a peaceful space. That very freedom from being imagineable is peace. It doesn’t sound promising, but the peace is exactly because there is no contriving a past, a present, or a future – no contriving an image to possess a craved continuity.
‘Such’ is a word that has various uses, but the Buddhists use it to indicate an experiential quality of being intrinsically ‘just so’; that one ‘just is.’ There’s no comparison when there is suchness. One is oneself, without any clue as to what that is ultimately.
It brings to mind a Marina Tsvetaeva poem, which I read to a meditation group close to ANZAC Day, this year. It was written in 1915. The poem is full of suchness, among its other wonderful qualities. She says, I know the truth.
I know the truth – forget all other truths!
No need for anyone on earth to struggle.
Look – it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what will you say, poets, lovers, generals?
The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep beneath the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.
– Marina Tsvetaeva (1915). Translation by Elaine Feinstein.
Throw away your images, poets, lovers, generals. We all of us die, here. Appreciate the wheeling of the Milky Way tonight. It and you are such. This such exceeds life and death.
Does this mean that there is no personal quality to one’s being? Not at all. This courageous woman says, “I know the truth.” The Buddha of the Kalakarama Sutta says, “I know many things.” But you won’t mistake an image for what you are – pure process. Then, then you can go from place to place in peace. There, as my friends enjoyed each other’s company, there was no need to struggle. How happy – what good hap – is that?