Ineffable

Written by on March 22, 2014 in Commentary with 9 Comments

Ineffable
by Christian Joore

The dictionary defines ineffable as:

“To great to be expressed in words” or “Not to be spoken because of its sacredness”

I have been listening to dialogues recorded in the 70s and 80s between Michael Toms, host of New Dimensions Radio, and the late Joseph Campbell, an american mythologist.

Joseph spent most of life traveling around the globe researching the world’s various religions, myths and spiritual traditions.

Early in his career he discovered a mythical story of a ‘virgin birth’ in ancient Native American culture. Of course this was a curious finding being that these people had risen independently of Christianity. What he then found across the world was disparate cultures having many common archetypes and themes built into their belief systems; eg. virgin births, forbidden fruits, great floods, serpents, the end of the world, etc.

It awakened in him the idea that there seemed to be a global human psyche that compelled people towards these expressive ideas. This had him believe that all religions are basically true. However, should not be taken as literal accounts of historical fact, but rather as poetic expressions pointing towards a more essential inward truth.

This is a grand realization. Although it does have a rather poignant consequence; many of the faithful will undoubtedly interpret their scripture as ‘literal fact’, through plotting it upon their cultures history. This happens due to the mechanics of understanding and how the human mind works. We use language to take ownership of meaning, and sometimes it gets mistaken for literal knowledge during the process. This is understandable, especially when passed down through the generations, the poetic sense or message that was originally intended falls deeper into a literal account as it is passed through the generations. What ultimately results is a political delusion that becomes a breeding ground for conflict. Whomever ‘owns the truth’, leaves others outside of it, hence a flashpoint for brutality and war.

Not all religions however are based on an outward understanding of God. Joseph explains that the major difference between western religion and eastern spiritualism is that for the West ‘God is out there’— external from you, and you are product of it. Then through a process of praise and worship you become ‘closer to God’ and are ‘granted entrance to the kingdom of heaven’.

In contrast, the Eastern mystic says that ‘God is already in you’, not external. Your quest is to realize your own divine path, one that you must seek for yourself and is as unique as you are as a person. The eastern way also emphasizes having compassion for others for they are also on a divine path as you are.

Joseph emphasizes that myths are meant to be taken as poetic suggestions that speaks beyond themselves to provide a transcendental spiritual insight. Because the eastern way is internal, there is no outward political conflict.

The eastern and western views of religion really show that there is a paradigm shift waiting to take place. I feel humanity in the modern era has arrived at a crossroads. There is an general disconnected feeling between us all, a lack of a healthy spiritual sense. I wonder if the ‘end of the world’ is a metaphor pointing to our humanity as it is now. That we will ‘inwardly’ come to an end if we don’t realize a global spiritual solution—not as a personal god, but that we are ‘god’— as an ineffable pointer that should connect us together, not keep us apart.

The truth in religion is not found in its ‘fact’, but rather in its spiritual message instead. Religion should not be taken as knowledge because knowledge is for the intellect, which is the surface of ordinary human experience. Spiritual matters are depth of human experience, and necessarily require an understanding beyond sense perception, beyond what can be described in words.

Below is an excerpt for the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Taoist text that was written around the 6th century B.C.E. It demonstrates this notion of what is the surface of humanity and what is its depth, and how they should be taken differently.

Here are the translated first lines of the opening Chapter:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

reference: (www.Taoism.net : Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths in 2006.)

The mystery is for our spirit. If you seek to name it, or bring into the world of human knowledge, it breaks into a myriad of things. However if you can know it without description you can connect to its unity, its mystery, the door to all wonders.

Ineffable
Poem by Christian Joore

As a Well is deep,
so too is the mystery of being,
To bridge over its chasm,
only brings another side.
So awaken then
and do not cross,
but step in
and feel its measure.
Clutch at no edge,
nor grasp what encircles you,
but float in quiet rapture,
with epic composition,
for this is you,
as the Way has elevated you,
as you have found it.

–CJ–

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  1. Tony says:

    I am becoming a fan of your site. I am a studying the Taoist works as well, and as a chemist, seeing more and more connections between the taos and quantum mechanics. The Great Tao could very well be the wavefunction of everything. Your pencil koan on the other page reinforced this, the pencil tao can also be thought of as its wave funtion. That one really got me going!!!

    Also striking is the point about naming you make – naming (wei) is analagous to collapsing a wave funtion. The Tao Te Ching predicts action at a distance in Chapter 2, and seems to offer a solution to the EPR paradox. So practicing Wu Wei (43), non-doing and non-naming avoids the collapsing… Focusing on solutions to wave equations -“grasping at thing-ness” – rather than the equations themselves (“suchness”)are what keeps us from enlightenment.

    Perhaps I’m babbling but it’s good to find someone on a similar “wavelength”.

    • Christian Joore says:

      Thanks Tony,

      I am really romanced by the notion of a re-emergence of ancient wisdom in modern times. I see it as a symbol of us ‘coming around’ to greater things. When you look at civilizations from the past you can really see what informed the people of those times by what building stands tallest in their centre, ie. medieval times had Churches and spiritual centers, 16th-18th centuries had the state, modern times it is the corporate. Yet, looking at our technological achievement over the centuries, you then wonder has our humanity evolved to the same degree?

      Speaking about waves, it makes me wonder if we’ve approached a crest (or trough) in a particular cycle, which has us a crossroads, armed with the knowledge of the past and the experiences of the modern, perhaps to now blend them in a new philosophy, one that will have us complete the cycle(?). Who knows.

      Thank you for your chapter references on the Tao Te Ching, I have only begun going through this myself and it is nice to have a little direction.

      May I ask if you are in medicine? Anesthesia?

      Glad you are fan – and I appreciate you taking the time to write. It means a lot to me.

      I am going to addressing the idea of Decoherence in an up and coming post. This is what has captured my interest lately too. So, please stay tuned.

      –CJ–

  2. Gordon says:

    Hi Christian,

    I just discovered your blog through a posting you made on printplanet.com

    If your description of Joseph Campbell’s idea that the major difference between western religion and eastern spiritualism is that for the West, God is out there – external from you, while the Eastern mystic ideal [sic] is that God is already in you is an accurate synopsis of his thoughts then I think that this is a misrepresentation of eastern spiritualism.

    The Buddha did not speak about God or the notion of God. Indeed It would be hard to conceive of a Buddhist believing in a God, whether internal or external. There is no personal search for a God AFAIK in either Buddhism, Taoism or Confucianism. I think that the only way to bring God into an eastern viewpoint is to stretch and distort the definition of “God” so as to make it meaningless.

    Probably the best and most succinct statement of the Buddhist attitude is found in the very accessible Dhammapada (a versified Buddhist scripture traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself) whose opening words are:

    We are what we think.
    All that we are arises with our thoughts.
    With our thoughts we make the world.
    Speak or act with an impure mind
    And trouble will follow you
    As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

    • Christian Joore says:

      Hi Gordon,
      Yes, I recognize your name from the printplanet forum. Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time for the comment.
      You are correct in your criticism to the statement that ‘God is in you’. I have taken that idea out of context, in that he (Joseph) then went on to say, ‘… and what is god? God is a personification of that world-creative energy and mystery which is beyond thinking and beyond naming’.
      I wrote that post with an allegorical use of God in mind, but forgot to qualify it with respect to eastern mysticism, my mistake. I was trying to be too figurative with my writing and it came across too literal. I didn’t mean to suggest that Buddhism had any conceptions of a god in their teachings, as I have learned they do not.
      Thanks.

      • Christian Joore says:

        Moreover, and to borrow some words from David Bohm, i took joseph’s comments to reference that which was explicate and implicate, in relation to our mysterious connection to this universe. In that, the west has an explicate idea of god as being something explained, real and separate, and requiring an adherence to rules in order that we may enter into the kingdom of heaven after we die.

        This is in contrast to eastern mysticism that is more inclusive to our being in relation to the universe – that we have a more intimate relation to it, I guess this is the idea of ’emptiness’ and ‘dependent origination’ in Buddhism – we are not just a product of an external god but interconnected more deeply in the workings of the universe. I hope I am clear here.

  3. Gordon says:

    Hmmm…
    You had it summed up quite well in the list in your posting: “East meets North” but you seem to slip back into god (unless I’m misunderstanding your meaning when you wrote: “in Buddhism – we are not just a product of an external god.” In Buddhism, as you noted in your “East meets North” posting – there is no god or not god. The subject of god is not the issue that Buddhism concerns itself with. Buddhists are not trying to have a more intimate relation to the universe. That is more of a Taoist focus.

    You have to be careful when using broad definitions like “eastern mysticism” because the main traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism) are quite different in their focus.

    BTW, care should be also taken for western tradition. For example, you wrote: “the west has an explicate idea of god as being something explained, real and separate, and requiring an adherence to rules in order that we may enter into the kingdom of heaven after we die.” Well, in contrast to Christianity, there is no heaven in Judaism. The Torah, their most important religious text is silent on the subject of an afterlife. There is no definitively Jewish explanation for what happens after death.

    You mention ‘dependent origination’. Perhaps I can clarify this concept.

    Dependent origination is a central and profound teaching that is unique to Buddhism – although I believe that it is also at the core of quantum physics (you would know better than I). Broadly speaking it is the doctrine of the conditionality of all the phenomena of existence, physical, mental and moral. It shows how everything in the universe arises, is supported and passes away dependent upon a variety of conditioning factors, which themselves are likewise dependent on other factors. Nothing can exist independently, unrelated to and unaffected by the other phenomena in its environment.

    Buddhism, being practical uses this principle specifically to show the origin of suffering and its cessation by the removal of its causative and supportive conditions.

    • Christian Joore says:

      Gordon, I think you getting too hung up on this word ‘god’. It seems to have a gravity that pulls at your attention … I raise the word with respect to what it is to some so that I may contrast it with what it isn’t to others. The two ideas are: for some god is out there, and for others there is no god, just being, in the universe, as a natural reflection and consequence of its nature. We attend to the great mystery differently, and it aggregates in different forms, this I guess is what I wanted to show.

      Perhaps I am confused about how the Buddhist sees the universe, I thought that it was through the idea of dependent origination that a Buddhist formulates a relation to the universe?
      The Buddhist sees the interdependence of all things and then tries act skillfully in relation to it, so that suffering is reduced. Is this not having a more intimate relation with the universe?

    • Christian Joore says:

      You’re right, there is no formal idea of heaven in Judaism.

  4. Gordon says:

    I hope I’m not hung up on the word god. I’m just trying to be clear. If you say “there is no god” you effectively create a conception of a god or gods that you then deny. There’s no point. It’s like bringing Santa Claus into the discussion. If you’re a Buddhist, or are speaking about Buddhism then the topics of discussion would not include the word – it’s irrelevant.

    The goal is not to have a more intimate relation with the universe.
    The point of the Buddha’s teaching is to control your own mind – to be free of delusion and ignorance which in turn reduces suffering.

    In that context, dependent origination is the law of cause and effect that governs the relationship between suffering and the causes of suffering. It explains the principle of causality – the law of cause and effect, of action (karma) and consequence (vipaka). So, dependent origination is primarily a teaching that has to do with the problem of suffering and how to free ourselves from suffering. It is a more detailed exposition of the first three of the four noble truths.

    The media (films, books, etc.) tends to portray Buddhism as somewhat of a mystical esoteric eastern (i.e. foreign) religion. However, at its core is very pragmatic, non-mystical, and non-eastern and equally (non-western).

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