Where the mind cannot reach (Q. 307)

Q: I am allowing life to teach me as I go through it, but I’m not finding it easy.  Most of the time I feel I don’t want to even speak because I feel nothing I say is ‘correct’.  At the same time, however, I feel that even if I do speak, whatever I say would not be ‘wrong’ because ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ do not exist.  Words and concepts are a massive hindrance to my understanding, yet I cannot overcome them.

 I want to say that I know that everything is Brahman, but then something says, ‘you can’t ‘know’ that everything is Brahman because that cannot be known with the mind’, so I’m always hitting a wall.

 Even writing this email is not working out. I can’t express what it is I truly mean.  I’m afraid to speak because I fear I will say something that is not ‘true’. But then I realize that if I did say something, it wouldn’t be ‘true’ or ‘untrue’ any way.

 There is a subtleness to existence that I can’t put into words. There are problems that I’m coming across as I learn more that I can’t articulate.

 The only purpose learning has, I’m sure, is just to take you to the realization that the ‘learning’ was not necessary in the first place, but, at the same time, it was necessary. You see how that was kind of paradoxical? Well, I’m coming across the same kind of problems ‘in my mind’, the same kind of paradoxes.

 I guess I can articulate one question: In the Upanishads, it is said that Brahman cannot be understood with the mind. It also says that the empirical and metaphysical are one, that ‘ ‘that’ is this’. My interpretation of this is that Brahman is not only the thing we are indirectly aware of, the thing that we perceive on the periphery, but also the thing that we do perceive directly, this PC for example. So, in that sense, even this PC or the pen on the desk is Brahman. One of my problems is that I do ‘understand’ the pen on my desk, but why is that if the pen is Brahman and Brahman cannot be understood?

 I am thinking that there is a subtlety here that I’m not appreciating. I guess I understand my own concepts of the pen, e.g. it’s made of plastic, it’s long, it has black ink etc, but the Brahman that it really is, is what I would not understand?

 I’m sorry this email has been such a mess. I have so many questions in my head that I can’t put into words. I suppose some of this email has been about trying to express what I cannot express. I sometimes feel I should just completely surrender, let things be as they will be, don’t try to understand things or work things out, because things will always be perfect, no matter what. But then I feel lazy, like I’m not doing what I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing. My mind is full of paradoxes and ironies and questions I cannot express and it’s killing me.

 There is much I feel I ‘know’, but it is nothing I can put into words. When I try, the things I feel I ‘know’ break down and enjoy no kind of expression. At the same time, there is much I don’t understand….but then, in reality, there is nothing to understand.

 Please respond to this. Very little of what is written here in words has successfully expressed what I’m trying to get at. I hope, however, that you can read what isn’t written and see my situation for what it is. (May 2010)

A:  Language (and thought) can never describe reality. What we perceive (as separate objects) is always mistaken; we superimpose some memory or idea about what is in front of us with what is actually there. So, inevitably, whatever we say is wrong in the final analysis.

 But clearly language has utility – we would not function very well in the world without it! We just have to be aware of its limitations. And it has the ability to point us towards the truth, even if it cannot go there itself. So do not condemn words and concepts or underestimate their value.

 When you start to think about brahman, you will inevitably encounter paradoxes and places where the ideas cannot reach. It is rather like trying to investigate the self scientifically – you cannot, because in order to do this, you would have to objectify the subject and this is a contradiction in terms. You cannot ‘know’ brahman as an object. But this is not ultimately a problem – because you *are* brahman.

 You say: “The only purpose learning has, I’m sure, is just to take you to the realization that the ‘learning’ was not necessary in the first place, but, at the same time, it was necessary.” This is exactly right. Swami Paramarthananda tells a story to illustrate this. Here is how I related it in the second edition of ‘Book of One’:

 “It is an extension of the story mentioned much earlier about the lady who is looking everywhere for her necklace but then realizes that it has been around her neck all the time. This version has the lady discovering her loss after returning from visiting a friend, to whom she had been showing the necklace. She realizes that she must have left it there and runs out into the street and all the way back to her friend’s house only to have the friend point out that the necklace was around her neck the whole time. The question he now asks is: was it necessary that the lady make the effort of going round to her friend in order to find the necklace?

 “Clearly she already had the necklace but, equally clearly, she did not know that she had it. And this is the key point of the metaphor. We already are free but we do not know it. The effort of sAdhana and j~nAna yoga is to acquire the knowledge that will remove the notion that we are bound.

 “Enlightenment is of the mind, the self-knowledge that destroys the self-ignorance takes place in the mind. There is no frustration at all when advaita is taught correctly. On the contrary, it is a joyful process in which aspects that caused confusion are replaced by clarity. It is also the person that seeks enlightenment and the person that finds it, even though the ‘finding’ also includes the realization that there never was a ‘person’ in reality.”

 The point about your pen and PC: Yes, these are brahman. Everything is brahman. The problem is that you are caught up with the name and form. Everything has what might be thought of as five ‘properties’, according to the dRRigdRRishya viveka (a short scripture attributed to Shankara). These are asti (‘is-ness’ or existence), bhAti (‘shining-ness’ or cognizability), priya (‘dearness’), nAma (name) and rUpa (form). The first three belong to brahman (more usually described as sat-chit-Ananda), while the last two belong to the world. You miss those ‘attributes’ that would point you to satyam, the real, and get caught up with those aspects that enmesh you in the mithyA world.

 So thanks for the question – a very worthwhile one, because I am sure there are many in your position. Hope it has helped.