Thursday, 17 May 2012
I walked around a lake near my house with an old friend. We were talking about our wives and children. I am reaching an age where, although odd, it is not unheard of to have a friend lose a partner. She was young, in her mid thirties, and she died of stomach cancer. At the funeral her husband heard story after story that he did not know. They were sweet and bitter; they were sweet because of the revelation that her kindness and gentleness were not biased to specific relationship but were wide spread and natural to her, it was bitter because of obvious reasons. My friend, of whom I have not spoken to for years, used this story to tell me that no matter how deeply I knew my wife, or thought I did, she would, to a greater or lesser degree remain a mystery to me. Her stories are out there beyond even her own control. This came about because he asked me how my relationship with my wife was and I replied that it was amazing. That she was my favorite person. He wondered what we spoke of after all these years, not just children he hoped. I lifted his spirits in telling him that it wasn't just children we spoke of, but that our children catalyzed deeper conversations on what we thought was right and wrong, of revealing misconceptions we have had, or illuminating insights that we had previously. We also are able to see our childhoods through the lens of our children now (man my kids are lucky in such a lens!). Also dreams and fantasies, of travel and projects, and things like that.
What this got me to thinking as we passed by a family of ducks was the idea of how we recognized anything in this conceptual world. We have a sense recognition of what we are perceiving, whether this recognition is internal or external does not matter e.g. a memory or a family of ducks external to me. This sense recognition then sparks a concept within the mind which then catalyzes an emotional response (I like it, I don't like it, I am neutral etc.). How we know an object is, minus the emotional connection, is through a definition. What that duck or memory to me is an idea with evidence. This evidence is strongly linked to culture and experience-an example that comes to mind is the coke bottle in the 80's film The Gods Must Be Crazy. The main character was not wrong to see it as a rolling pin nor was the pilot who threw it out of his plane incorrect in viewing it as a bottle. However, there is a boundary to what it can be-and this is evidence, I cannot call that bottle a bird, if by bird I mean it is a living being with feathers, warm blood, and a gizzard. If by bird I mean something in the shape of a bottle, it could be filled with liquid, or be used to roll out dough then it is just semantics and not a definiendum problem. This is both empowering and limiting, limiting, at least, at the conceptual level of existence. It is empowering because this inherently gives the construction of reality to the individual in the sense that each concept must be defined/accepted. The evidence used to do so can be weak or strong, like any argument, but the individual has to accept it, whether it is passively or actively. This gives rise to the communal nature of reality where we empower our mutual agreement to what a certain thing is, this hat on my desk right now, for example, and act as if the smudginess of the concepts does not exist. What is disconcerting to some is that we are not really, at the ultimate level, able to express, exactly, what this hat is Really through this means. It is not wrong to say that, in essence, by conceptualizing we are always incorrect because of this issue of conceptual identification. The Etymologists are always hollering at us that this is the truth of language, that language, words, are not revealing what an object is but is, in fact, representing or symbolizing what it is.
Why I thought of this is because when I think of many things, most especially my wife, I am always dissatisfied with the extent of my abilities. There is a discontent with my poetic language, with anyone's to describe her, or my feelings, or our relationship. There is only a profound silence that, if I was to be honest, that can explain what I feel. The Mahayana Madhyamika Prasangika tradition it is rooted in a brilliant and immensely profound philosopher Nagarjuna. I have read this often but recently I read an introduction of a commentary on Nagarjuna and the author stated something that seemed so appropriate and, to put mundanely, cool. The Prasangika thrust is the elucidation of the Buddha's silence (specifically on 14 questions in the Sandskrit texts and 10 in the Pali Texts). This is not just some esoteric explanation to leave one befuddled, The Buddha said that it is a net of dogma that these questions cause, and that to posit an answer will lead one further away from the Truth because positing is conceptualizing which, as we have explored above, is, at best, hinting at a truth but is because of the nature of conceptualizing, ultimately in error.
What my wife is in the Truth of the Buddha's silence.
She cannot be known in the mundane methods. She slides away from my grasp.
She is only known when concepts are set aside and the Truth arises seemless
Light, Bliss, Peace.
When I meditate in the light of the summer sunshine and feel a presence of profound nature even within the motes of dust that play in the beams. I see Her there. Until I know that, that which cannot be encapsulated by a structure and only hinted at by the grandest of our poets. I cannot know her.
I would love to know her.
Thus I meditate and seek. To find her.