Beyond Words:

The Experience and Expression of Truth

Justin C. Maaia

On Sunday, I received a package from a graduate school in the Boston area.  As I flipped through the pages of the course description, I was fascinated by the program that was offered at this school.  I began reading about the faculty, the concentrations offered in the field, and the requirements for the degree.  These requirements seemed impressive and quite challenging to me—that is, until I read the last item on the list.  This was the section regarding the dissertation, and it described the scope of a paper of “no more than three hundred pages.”  This seemed to me to be the easiest requisite for the degree: After all, who couldn’t ramble on for 250 pages on a particular research topic, whether he or she really knows anything about it or not.

There isn’t any subject about which I would want to write three hundred pages.  In fact, there isn’t any subject worth writing three hundred pages about.  Even if there were a subject worth that much verbiage, such as Love or God, three hundred pages would not do it any more justice than one page would.  Or one word, if it were the right word and said in the right manner.  This is because words are inadequate for expressing the Truth.  This is characteristic of all forms of expression.  While a word, a picture, or a song may act as a catalyst for another person to seek out the Truth, the medium itself cannot imbue someone with the understanding that the Truth itself can instill.  This is why the only way to understand the Truth, or any other concept, is through direct experience.  Any means of expressing it should be tailored to the purpose of inspiration.  In this way, another person can be convinced to seek out the Truth.  Attempting to capture its essence through some medium other than itself is futile.  The Truth cannot be communicated.  It can only be experienced.

            This “Truth” is the truth or reality that is inherent in any particular subject.  There is a truth in music, and one cannot experience it by reading a review in the Boston Globe.  One must hear the music for oneself.  There is a truth in art that cannot be absorbed, except by looking at the piece of art itself.  There is also a truth inherent in childbirth, but only someone who gives birth can know it.  These truths cannot be known through any amount of discursive thinking or reading about their subjects.  Just like these three examples, so too is there a truth in each thing.  And there is a collective Truth that can be thought of, a Truth underlying Reality—a Reality that is a sum of all of these things and yet perhaps more profound than their sum.

            This collective Truth, or Ultimate Reality, is the world as it really exists.  It is the universe as seen objectively, stripped of the layers of subjectivity that each person applies to his/her life. This concept will be referred to simply as “Reality,” for to say “objective reality,” or “ultimate reality” is redundant.  It must not be forgotten that the root of “reality” is “real.”  It is like the case of two students.  One student, David, retires to bed late at night, after going out drinking with his friends.  He sleeps through his alarm and wakes up late for class on the next day.  After throwing on some clothes and skipping breakfast, he runs to class and takes the last available seat in the corner of the classroom.  David is consumed by his exhaustion, dehydration, and anxiety.  Catching his breath, he looks around the room and mutters, “Why the hell is it so hot in here?”  A second student in the class, Linda, had a different reaction to the same situation.  She had gone to bed early the night before, after having a cup of herbal tea.  Having had a good night’s sleep, Linda woke up, took a relaxing shower, and ate breakfast.  She took her time getting to class and when she got there, she was able to sit next to her friend.  After taking a deep breath, she turned to her friend and asked, “How was your night last night?”

Here are two completely different reactions to the same situation, the fact that it was seventy degrees Fahrenheit in the room.  One student’s subjectivity caused him to react to the situation in a hostile way.  The other student did not even notice the temperature of the room.  Neither of them, however, realized the Truth.  David was affected by his mood and disposition, while Linda was distracted by how perfectly her night and morning had gone (although Linda did come closer to the Truth by accepting the room the way it was.)  An enlightened person would not have been annoyed by the temperature, nor would she/he have been oblivious to it.  Enlightenment is realizing that the room is neither hot nor cold, but that it is seventy degrees.  Nay, enlightenment is even more than that.  The enlightened person walks into a room, sees the beads of sweat on his hand, or the goose bumps on her arm, and realizes that he/she is alive.  This is the Truth, the Reality.

In order to study this primary Truth, it would probably be helpful to examine instead a particular component of Reality.  This example would have to be one that is somewhat elusive, like the concept of Truth, but more tangible.  Some examples are concepts such as Love or God or Enlightenment.  Each may be found to be a part of the Reality, and to express some of its qualities.  The case of Love is a valuable one to study.  This is not because it is necessarily more important than any of the other concepts (that is the topic for another paper), but because it is a universally thought-of concept.  Some philosophers would choose a different case to examine, but philosophers and non-philosophers alike devote time to the subject of Love, and so by studying such a universally pondered example, perhaps something can be learned about the case of Truth in general.

            First, consider the search for Love.  It is much like the search for Reality.  One can walk the streets of the world, running up to people and asking them, “Are you the ‘love of my life?’ Are you my soul-mate?”  However, it is not any more likely that one would find his or her soul-mate in this fashion than if one simply walked around twiddling one’s thumbs, and bumped into someone.  That is actually how it happens much of the time.  Of course, it does help to be open to the idea of finding a soul-mate in order for it to occur.  This is the same with Reality: Having an open heart might allow one to more easily experience Reality, but no amount of searching will help one to see it.  It will spontaneously happen, just like Love.  This is certainly what must have been meant by John Coltrane, a great saxophonist and very spiritual man, when he said, “I am [Christian] by birth; my parents were and my early teachings were Christian.  But as I look upon the world, I feel all men know the truth.  If a man was a Christian, he could know the truth and he could not.  The truth itself does not have any name on it.  And each man has to find it for himself, I think.”

            To extend this case, one should think of a time when he or she fell in love, if one can recall a time.  When one falls in love, he or she does so without any communicable reason.  Yes, there may be many reasons why a person loves another person, but there is a part of love that appears at first sight, even before any of the communicable reasons are identified.  It is this initial Love that is like Reality, while the communicable reasons for loving a person are like the attributes identified with Reality.  For example, a lover could try to explain his/her love to a third party.  The lover could relate how beautiful the beloved is, how he or she has gorgeous hair and breathtaking eyes, and a wonderful personality.  The third person can understand these reasons.  He or she may even agree that the beloved has all of these qualities.  However, understanding those reasons and even agreeing with them will not make that person love the beloved as the lover does.

            It is the same with Truth.  Truth is something that can only be experienced.  Someone who knows the Truth can talk about it, and another person can understand it intellectually.  However, doing that will not make that person enlightened.  One “falls into” enlightenment much like one “falls in love.”  One must be open to it, but no amount of effort will help one to find it.  The Truth has an intellectual aspect, but its essence is something that can be known only through one’s mind, body, and soul.  One can understand the intellectual aspects of the Truth, but that does not mean that one is enlightened.

            Many of the world’s greatest thinkers knew and expressed this quality of the Truth.  Some talked about the Truth more than others did, but almost all of them knew that this communication could not instill enlightenment in another person. That person would have to experience it for her- or himself.  The thinkers who have expressed this condition for knowing Truth are found throughout the world and throughout history.

            The sages of ancient India make one of the earliest claims that knowledge can only be attained experientially.  The Upanisads, for instance, were written by those who were afflicted by “the hunger of the mystic for direct vision and the philosopher’s ceaseless quest for truth.”[1]  All of the inspiring passages contained within the Upanisads could only have been written by sages who “spoke out of the fullness of their illumined experience.”  The Upanisads do not offer any systematic course of reasoning to support its claims about Truth.  While there is some philosophical reasoning, the main purpose of the Upanisads is to provide inspiration and practical advice for someone who would search for the Truth for her- or himself.  “The real which is at the heart of the universe is reflected in the infinite depths of the self.  Brahman (the ultimate as discovered objectively) is Atman (the ultimate as discovered introspectively).  Tat tvam asi (That art thou).  Truth is within us.”[2]  “When we realize the universal Self in us, when and what may anybody fear or worship?”[3]  The word that is emphasized in these passages is “realize.”  One must realize the Truth for oneself; it cannot be known through someone else’s teachings.

            Likewise, the Bhagavad-Gita in the Hindu tradition emphasizes each individual’s need to practice in order to realize the Truth.  In this epic, different disciplines and their value in helping one to realize Reality are offered.  Some passages are dedicated efforts to describe Reality, but the better part of the epic is devoted to illustrating the three “ways” of discipline.  These are jnana-yoga (the way of knowledge), bhakti-yoga (the way of devotion), and karma-yoga (the way of action).[4]  Three different ways of knowing Reality are offered because of the diversity of people.  One may not be predisposed to the way of knowledge, but may be able to apply her- or himself to the way of action.  Some people can apply themselves to reading scripture, while others are more comfortable with a physical practice such as that contained in yoga postures.  In this way, the all-important component of practice is made available to everyone who would seek the Truth.

In the same proximity of time to these Indian sages, a group of Greek thinkers were making similar revelations about the nature of Truth.  One of these was Pythagoras, who lived in ancient Greece from about 570 to about 495 B.C.  He, too, stressed the importance of practice.  In his belief system, it is the practice of purification that is necessary for one’s soul to experience Reality.  It is known that the rituals associated with this purification were extensive, but little else has been discovered of them.  This obscurity is due to Pythagoras’ realization that the Truth cannot be expressed.  The only people allowed to know of his prescription for realizing the Truth were those initiated into his religious order.  Pythagoras obviously knew that making his idea of Truth public would only result in its bastardization.  Because the Truth cannot be expressed, any attempt at expression could result in a misinterpretation.  Consequently, Pythagoras knew that he could speak of the Truth only with those who at least were initiated into his way of thinking.

            Other Greek thinkers realized this same characteristic of Truth.  Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.) alluded to his conception of Reality through aphorisms and obscure sayings.  The reason for this obscurity is his pessimistic view “about the ability of people to grasp the truth even when they hear it stated.”[5]  About his conception of Reality, called the logos, Heraclitus himself stated in Fragment 1 of his work, “Though this logos is always so, men never understand it, neither before nor after they have heard it.  For although all things happen in accordance with this logos, it is as if other men had no experience of it when they meet those words and acts which I set forth, distinguishing each according to its nature and saying how it is.”[6]  Heraclitus tries to explain the Truth of Reality, but those around him obviously do not understand it, either on their own or with his help.

            Parmenides, too, admits this shortcoming of humankind.  In his poem in which he sets forth the only true way of thinking, he also states, “It is proper for you to learn all things: both the unchanging heart of complete truth and also how things seem to mortals, in which there is no truth.”[7]  The goddess in Parmenides’ poem teaches him not only the Truth, but also the false ways of thinking.  She does this because the false ways are so widespread that he also needs to be aware of them.  Parmenides realizes that Reality is not seen by the majority of people.

            Socrates was also both aware of the Truth and the Truth’s reluctance to being expressed.  For this reason, he never wrote anything.  Socrates knew that, as Plato recalls in Phaedrus, “…when [true words] have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them…and if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.”[8]  It is for this reason that Socrates stressed the act of “knowing thyself.”  Human beings are a part of Reality, and so by looking inwardly the Truth may be known.  For Socrates, the Truth could only be known experientially, not through rhetoric, or writing, or someone else’s words.

            Plato was not so harsh in his treatment of expression of Truth.  However, his description of Reality as containing a world of perfect Ideas that parallels the world of matter says something of his characterization of Truth.  Plato held that there is a perfect Idea or Form that corresponds to each of the particular things here on earth.  There is the Form of a person, the Form of a horse, the Form of Justice, the Form of Freedom.  He said that the human soul was of the realm of Forms and therefore could know of this perfect Reality.  The way to accomplish this was through contemplation of the Forms, something that can only be done individually.  No amount of description of their likeness can enlighten one to their nature.  What Plato was talking about was that there are certain things and aspects of things that cannot be known through science or through the knowledge of another person.  They can only be known inwardly, intuitively—through the knowledge of one’s self.

            One more Greek philosopher who claimed that the Truth could not be expressed but only experienced was Aristotle.  He wrote on a great variety of subjects, and one of his writings was devoted to the art of music and poetry.  In his Poetics, Aristotle analyzes these arts and prescribes the formula for their success.  But he also states the limitations of such a book.  “No man, so soone as he knowest this or reads it, shall be able to write the better; but as he is adapted to it by nature, he shall grow the perfecter Writer.”[9]  Here, Aristotle refutes the importance of techne, or technical knowledge, in favor of real knowledge of the Truth.  As he states in the Physics, in order that the “Understanding” maybe correctly impacted by its contact with objects, it must, before the process begins, have no determinate character of its own[10].  The mind must be free from influence in order to see reality objectively.  It cannot be taught the Truth.

            Modern Western thinkers also stress the importance of this idea.  The experience and expression of Truth is what led Immanuel Kant to write his Critiques.  In the Critique of Pure (Theoretical) Reason, Kant reminds us of the limits of our reason, its limits according to speech and communication.  He says that reason can be applied to things as they appear—as it is applied in science and in everyday life.  However, he says, this type of reason cannot be used to talk about things-in-themselves, beyond their appearances.  “Noumena”, as he calls things viewed from within themselves, cannot be known to others except by their appearances.  Consequently, ultimate things—God, morality, freedom—cannot be proven or disproven in the same way that a scientist might try to prove a theory about “phenomena”, or the appearances of things.  Kant then goes on to write, in his Critique of (Pure) Practical Reason, about how reason can be applied to Noumena.  It is too long a method to duplicate here, but Kant shows how certain things can be proven by using reason in a different way.  A person may only be able to know another thing as an appearance, or phenomenon.  He or she cannot know that thing noumenally.  Kant shows, however, that a person is also a noumenon, and so he or she can know his or her self in that way.  Certain things follow from this.  For example, Kant is able to prove that freedom exists by the fact that one is “free” to choose whether or not to use reason in these two separate ways.  Kant then gives a similar treatment to God, morality, and metaphysics, saying what can and cannot be known about each.

            Another modern philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, talks about the Truth from within a Christian framework.  He quotes St. Paul, who said that “Only one attains the goal.”  Kierkegarrd goes on to explain that St. Paul did not mean this in a comparative sense.  He was not saying that if one-hundred people tried to attain the goal of becoming like Jesus, that only one of them would make it.  What he meant is that each one of those people can be that one, and that each one should be that one.[11]  However, only an individual—a “one”– can achieve the goal.  The one-hundred cannot do it together as a group.  The group, or “crowd” as Kierkegaard calls it, is actually far worse off.  The crowd often acts as a mob, and the goodness of the individual is easily lost.  The Truth can only be reached from within each individual, without the influence of the crowd.

            As for the limits of the expression of Truth, Friedrich Nietzsche has much to say.  In Schopenhauer as Educator, he states that “Every great philosophy… always says only: this is the image of all life, and from this learn the meaning of your own life!  And, conversely: Read only your own life, and from this understand the hieroglyphs of universal life!”  And in Ecce Homo, “In the end, nobody hears more out of things, including books, than he knows already.  For that to which one lacks access from experience, one has no ears.  Let us then imagine an extreme case: that a book speaks of all sorts of experiences which lie utterly beyond any possibility of frequent, or even rare, experiences—that it represents the first language for a new sequence of experiences.  In that case, simply nothing is heard; and people have the acoustic illusion that where nothing is heard there is nothing.”[12]

            Moving towards the East in direction, we have the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus, like Socrates, did not write anything; what we know of his teaching is to be found in the writings of his disciples.  There is an observation concerning Jesus’ teachings that has been put forth by more than one scholar: “Jesus never taught morality, only mystery.”[13]  Perhaps the reason underlying the focus of Jesus’ teachings can be found in the nature of Truth.  Jesus, aware of the Truth of Reality, could have passed on moral codes of conduct for the masses.  However, he knew that people would have the choice to follow these codes or dismiss them.  Even those who would follow them could potentially debase the codes by following their “letter” rather than their “spirit.”  There is an infinite range of circumstances surrounding each action.  Consequently, strict moral codes can guide a person only most of the time.  Rather than preach such codes, Jesus instead chose to teach mystery.  He knew that spiritual mystery could ignite the spark of inspiration in someone.  After experiencing that initial curiosity, a person will be eager to unveil the mystery for her- or himself.  To do this, the person will have to live his or her life in the manner that Jesus did.  By living in this way, a person is inherently living a morally good life.  Therefore, by teaching mystery, Jesus is able to inspire people to seek the Truth and also to live morally good lives.

            Expressing this sentiment further to the East are the mystics who contributed to the Tao Te Ching.  Traditionally attributed to Lao Tzu, this collection of poems was probably written by a number of mystics who wanted to be left anonymous.  They claimed to have discovered “Something for which there was no word or name.  A name for it is ‘Way’; pressed for designation, I call it Great. (Italics mine)”[14] The mysticism underlying the words of the Tao Te Ching is of a tradition that is at least two-hundred years older than the text.  Here it is obvious that these writers were reluctant to commit their observations of Reality to paper.  They knew that something would be lost in the process, but they wished to preserve the teachings of the old masters so that new students could contemplate this wisdom.

            The zenith of this belief about the nature of Truth is also found in the East.  It is the Zen Buddhists who are most wary of their use of both the spoken and written word.  They continually emphasize the inadequacy of words to express the Truth.  Their faith lies in a personal experience of Reality.  They do not only defend this concept, but offer a practice whereby one may encounter it.  This practice involves two applications of meditation, that of living mindfully and of sitting meditation.[15]

            The Truth cannot be communicated. It can only be known through direct experience.  This experience is divided into the two aspects of sitting meditation and mindfulness because of where the Truth is to be found.  By living each moment in a mindful way, one is able to appreciate the Truth that is present in all things—in actions, in events, in living beings, in objects.  This is the immanent Truth.  Because each person is a part of the immanent Truth, the Truth can also be known by looking inwardly.  This is done through sitting meditation.  The practice of meditation serves two purposes: to help one to see the Truth immanent in oneself, and also to experience the transcendent Truth.  The transcendent Truth is truth in its purest form.  It is unaffected by the perceptions of a person.  Nor is it obscured by the layers of subjectivity created by the selfishness of one’s ego.  Through meditation, one can scrape oneself clean of these layers and experience the unaffected Reality.  A balance is sought between experiencing the unaffected, pure Truth and seeing that the immanent, “affected” Truth is also divine.[16]

            The validity of these two Buddhist practices can only be proven by the individual.  Each person needs to commit her- or himself to these practices and will then be convinced of their effectiveness.  It is not known precisely what makes a person take up these practices, as no amount of discourse on their validity can capture what it is that happens during sitting meditation and mindful living.  This is again due to the impossibility of expressing the Truth.

Perhaps mindfulness can be more easily understood than meditation.  The object of mindfulness is to keep one’s mind focussed on the moment at hand.  This is practiced because the present moment is the only “Real” moment, considering that the past exists only in one’s memory and the future in one’s imagination.  Cluttering the present moment with the hopes, fears and disappointments of the past and future will prevent one from making the most of the present moment.  By being mindful of that moment, one can focus all of one’s energy on it.  Each moment can be made a masterpiece.  By stringing together enough of these moments, one’s life can achieve a sort of perfection.[17]  This may in some small way explain mindfulness.  The task of explaining the effectiveness of meditation is somewhat more involved.  It is best to start at the beginning.

(The following may be but a myth.) [18]

Truth cannot be expressed.  It can only be experienced.  As was stated before, this experience of Reality can be attained through living mindfully and through meditation, in the Zen-Buddhist sense.  To try and explain the meditation aspect, it is helpful to begin with the thoughts of a Greek thinker, one whose ideas were in the same spirit as that of the Buddha.

As Parmenides stated, the cosmos could never have come-to-be from a state of non-being.  This is because the very definition of non-being implies that a state of non-being could never exist.  That the universe came from non-being is a dualistic notion that can be proven false.

A state of non-being is something that cannot be talked about because if it is non-being, then it never existed.  One may argue that non-being could have existed using the following two examples.  One may say that an extinct animal, like the Dodo bird, does not exist any longer, but that it can still be conceived of.  This is true because the bird did exist at one time.  However, non-being by its definition has never been, and so has never existed.  One may also say that the mythological unicorn has never existed, but that a discussion about unicorns could still take place.  This is true because the idea of a unicorn is a product of one’s imagination, and so it exists in that form.  The idea of a unicorn is real, but the unicorn itself is not.  Likewise, the idea of non-being can be thought of, but non-being itself cannot exist.  It is an empty notion; the careless stringing together of a word with a prefix that does not belong.

This argument defends the idea of the infinite nature of the cosmos.  It has always been.  More importantly, it is at every moment in time.  It exists right now as these words are being read…and now…and now…and now.  Furthermore, if one continues in this fashion backwards, stating that the cosmos existed a moment ago, and another moment ago, and another, one will realize that there could never have been a moment in which the universe was not in existence.  It changes ever so slightly from moment to moment, but there never could have been, or never will be, a moment where there is non-existence.  That is non-being, and non-being simply cannot be.  Even if, at one time, the universe did not exist as we know it because it came from some almost incomprehensible dimension, it still did not come from non-being.  It would have come from something, namely the original form of the same universe with which we are familiar.

What is this original form?  In order to determine that, one should look to the beginning of oneself, for the workings of the atoms in the body mirror the operation of the cells, which mirror the operation of the body as a whole, which in turn reflects the operation of the different classes of beings in nature.  This operation again mirrors the operation of the earth, and also the solar system, the galaxy, and, finally, the universe.[19] So, it is to the beginning of one’s life that one might go to induce the origin of the universe.

A human being is made up of many cells in its adult state, but at one time it was one cell.  This one cell, located in the mother’s womb, is made up of two smaller half-cells, called gametes.  These two, the sperm and the egg, each come from corresponding processes in the man and woman.  It is sometimes said, in a romantic way, that the true beginning of a person is as “a thought in the minds of the mother and father.”  This is much truer than one may think, as can be seen by tracing the origin of these two gametes.  Their paths are identical, and following that path will help in determining the origin of the universe.

The reproductive cells are produced by the reproductive organs.  By determining the absolute origin of each of these half-cells, perhaps a clue will arise as to the origin of the universe.  So, one may ask, “Why is the gamete produced in the reproductive organs?”  It is produced here because the brain sends impulses to a certain gland that secretes hormones.  These hormones eventually trigger the production of gametes by the reproductive organs.  The next logical question would be “Why does the brain send these impulses?”  Within the answer to this question lies the truth of the statement that a person has his or her origin as a thought in the minds of his or her parents.

It is a thought that triggers the brain to send an impulse to the body to produce gametes.  This thought is not the conscious thought of a cute little baby boy or baby girl.  It is an instinctive, intuitive Thought.  It is the type of thought that comes from the part of the mind that thinks without consciously thinking.  It is the part of the mind that knows the necessity of breathing, eating, and loving.  It knows these necessities without having to reason-out their importance.  This Thought is of a higher level of thinking than we are accustomed to recognizing.  It is at this point, when a Thought becomes an electrical impulse of the brain, that a person has his or her physical origin.

One cannot ignore this Thought, however intangible it may be.  It cannot be dismissed, just as scientists cannot ignore the fact that a person’s emotions begin as thought and end up as tangible hormones in the body.  Experiments have been done that show that a person feels an emotion—happy, sad, depressed—at precisely the same moment that the physical substances related to that emotion are detected in the brain.  The conclusion that this experiment implies is that abstract Thought has a counterpart that is seen as physical, tangible reality.  It can be seen, touched, measured, and felt, but it is also recognized as what may be called Thought.  This is akin to the statement that a child was once “A thought in the mind” of his/her parents.[20]

So, is it to be said that the cosmos began as a Thought?  This is conceivable if one remembers that Thought has Matter as its counterpart, or rather its other aspect.  Now the question is, “Who’s Thought was it?”  Well, since humans are of the class of physical bodies that occupy the cosmos, then it must have been our Thought that became the universe.  And, since animals and plants are also present here, then it must have been their thoughts, too.  The same must be true of each object in existence, both animate and inanimate, as all Matter must have this Thought aspect to it, however hidden it may be.

The world as it is known is not the first generation, if you will, that has been in existence.  There have been people and plants and animals and rocks that have precluded what is present right now.  Each generation begets the next through the type of profound thought that was spoken of earlier.  One should now go back, then, to the original generation of the universe.  Whatever beings and forms were present then must have come from somewhere—some Thought, to be specific.

The variety of the cosmos is like a pyramid.  The cosmos as we know it has a myriad of different beings in it.  Each generation of beings would necessarily have had less variety than the one after it.  Therefore, the first generation must have had but a few beings in existence (whatever they might have looked like or been classified as), going all the way back to the beginning of the universe and its origin as Hydrogen and other elements.  This type of consolidation of variety as one looks to the past—coupled with the idea that all physical things begin as profound Thoughts—necessarily means that the existence of the universe had not only Matter, but also Thought at its origin.  One single, profound Thought coming from where?  Coming from the same place that each person receives his or her profound Thoughts to reproduce, to breath, to love—from the divine mind of what may be called Truth, or God, or the Undifferentiated, or a myriad of names corresponding to the myriad of beings that have come from and still share that same Mind.

            Throughout the life of a human being, there is an evolution in the capacity to think.  This is true both of each individual human being and of the human race as a whole.  Does this not imply that sentient beings are progressing toward a realization of their Thought-aspect?  This idea can be coupled with the theory that the material universe is moving toward a sort of “Heat death.”  The law of entropy suggests that the energy of the universe is being transformed from dynamic, useful forms to less useful forms.  For example, areas of heat—according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics—naturally and necessarily flow into areas of cold.  This reduces the ability of energy to perform work, reducing the dynamism of the universe.  It is progressing toward Thought, toward heat, and, if it contracts after expanding, toward a high density.  With this in mind, one may suggest that perhaps the universe has a telos, a final cause, or that it will be in a perfect state of condensed Thought/Energy/Matter to start another cycle of the universe. 

            The question that now arises is “Why would either of these options take place?”  A particular answer cannot be proposed to this question, except that there must be a reason.  This necessity is evident because of the nature of Thought.  For why would something known as pure Thought do anything without an all-encompassing Reason?  Thought must manifest itself as matter for some purpose, or number of purposes, which contribute to a final Reason.

            This is where the practice of meditation may make sense in the attempt to experience Reality.[21]  Through meditation, one is able—hopefully—to quiet the multitude of discursive and random thoughts that rule the mind each day.  By observing these thoughts, one is able to be more aware of the Thought that is Matter and that is at the center of each person.  Whenever one is able to experience this Thought—the Thought aspect that most people neglect—one is able and compelled to fulfill one’s purpose here on earth.  Having a material aspect allows one to interact with others in order to fulfill one’s purpose. This fulfillment is furthered through meditation because it allows one to be aware of Thought- and Matter-aspects at the same time. 

Part of this purpose is certainly to help others realize their purpose.  There are many ways that a person may be able to make others aware of the Thought in them.  In the end, though, every person must experience it for themselves, as the Truth cannot be explained, but only known.

            This explanation also shows why many people who do not meditate or think about such things are able to fulfill their purpose.  One reason is that each person may have a meditation that is not known as such.  For some it is music, for others it is cooking or cleaning, still others athletics, etceteras.  Although focusing on nothing may be ideal, concentration on one thing is still a form of meditation.  A second reason is that there are people who, while they do not think about the act of meditation, similarly do not analyze any other thing that they do.  When these people act without rightly or wrongly discursively examining the action, they are able to fulfill their purpose.  This is what children often do.  They do not let discursive thought or reasoning get in the way of the purpose for which they are here.[22]  Therefore, they are able to act toward this purpose.

            This is an attempt to offer a reasonable explanation for why one can experience Reality through sitting meditation, or the practices of other traditions.  The Zen Buddhists have faith that one can experience the Truth through this practice and through living mindfully.  It cannot be known in any other way.  This entire paper was written with inspiration from Zen and its emphasis on the simplicity of Truth, the necessity of practice, and the futility of words.  However, the spirit of Zen has been lost merely in the act of writing such a paper.  Perhaps the Zen saying, “That stone Buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets,” applies to this situation.  Words, like the stone Buddha, are representative of the Truth and may help one to focus on it.  However, words are not the Truth.  They do not even come close to describing it, just as worshipping a stone Buddha will in no way bring one closer to Reality.

Is then all written and spoken word futile?  What of the arguments put forth by the various philosophers mentioned earlier?  Are they to be ignored because the arguments themselves are verbal?  The answer to this question is, of course, “No.”  It must be remembered that the Truth is immanent in everything.  The stone out of which the Buddha was sculpted does contain an element of immanent Reality and so it is not totally devoid of Truth.  There is Thought as well as Matter in everything that exists.  Therefore, even people are a part of the Truth of Reality.  Because this Truth is something we already have, a sort of memory of it can be aroused.  A famous Zen master was quoted as saying, “The Buddha’s smile can only be a result of his realization that he spent his whole life looking for something he already had.”  Words are not spoken or written in vain.  They can act as a catalyst to make someone realize their part in the Truth, or to put someone on the path towards it.  Words cannot express the Truth, words cannot teach the Truth, and words cannot imbue the Truth.  But, while they can be distorted and their message deviated from, words can serve a purpose.  They can inspire someone to begin the quest for Truth, a journey that must be made by each individual.  For the Truth cannot be communicated.  It can only be experienced.

Works Cited

Aristotle, On the Art of Poetry with a Supplement on Music, trans. S. H. Butcher, Milton C. Nahm, ed. Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1956.

Deshimaru, Taisen and Amphoux, Nancy, Questions to a Zen Master. Arkana, 1991.

Edman, Irwin, ed., The Works of Plato. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1928.

Hackett, David G., The Silent Dialogue: Zen Letters to a Trappist Abbott. Chiron Publishing, 1991.

Lao Tzu, The Way of Life, trans. R.B. Blakney.New York: Penguin Books U.S.A Inc., 1983.

Radhakkrishnan, S., The Bhagavadgita, with an Introductory Essay, Sanskrit Text, English Translation and Notes . New York:  Harper and Bros., 1948.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Moore, Charles A., eds., A Source Book in Indian    Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.

Ring, Merrill, Beginning with the Pre-Socratics. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000.

Trans. Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New Tork: The World Publishing Co., 1956.

A.E. Taylor, Aristotle.  New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1955.

Beyond Words:

The Experience and Expression of


Justin C. Maaia

[1] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, eds., A Source Book in Indian Philosophy  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957)  37.

[2] Radhakrishnan and Moore  38.

[3] Mundaka Upanisad  III.ii.4.

[4] Radhakkrishnan, S., The Bhagavadgita, with an Introductory Essay, Sanskrit Text, English Translation and Notes  (New York:  Harper and Bros., 1948).

[5] Merrill Ring, Beginning with the Pre-Socratics  (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 2000) 62.

[6] Ring 62.

[7] Ring 84.

[8] Irwin Edman, ed., The Works of Plato (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1928) 324.

[9] Aristotle, On the Art of Poetry with a Supplement on Music, trans. S. H. Butcher, Milton C. Nahm, ed., (Indianapolis, New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1956) x.

[10] A.E. Taylor, Aristotle.  (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1955)111.

[11] Trans. Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. (New Tork: The World Publishing Company) 319.

[12] Kaufmann, 104, 111.

[13] David G. Hackett, The Silent Dialogue: Zen Letters to a Trappist Abbott (Chiron Publishing) 176.

[14] Lao Tzu, The Way of Life, trans. R.B. Blakney (New York: Penguin Books U.S.A Inc., 1983) 77.

[15] Each tradition has its own practice that facilitates an experience of Truth, for example, the practice of “Centering Prayer” or “Contemplative Prayer” in Christianity.  I have chosen to speak about Zen meditation only because of Zen’s emphasis on the experience of Truth versus the expression of it.

[16] To use our example of the classroom again: One must be able to see that the room is actually 70 degrees.  However, it is equally important that one be attuned to the fact that other people’s perceptions of hot and cold are “real” too.  Their perceptions are caused by their life experiences.  When a person realizes both of these aspects of the Truth, he/she is enlightened.  An enlightened person experiences Reality, but also understands how other people can see things in the way that they do.  Because of this understanding, he/she can have compassion for all beings. 

[17] Taisen Deshimaru and Nancy Amphoux, Questions to a Zen Master (Arkana, 1991) 66.

[18] I would like to preface this next part of the paper where I explain the benefits of meditation.

You see, here I am very close to making metaphysical assumptions, something that strays from the teachings of the Buddha.  However, I am trying to illustrate why the Zen Buddhists emphasize direct experience in the form of meditation in place of the spoken or written word.  To do so, I need to offer an explanation of meditation that remains true to the Buddhist practice, but which can be understood by all, including myself.

If someone had asked the Buddha, “Why should I meditate?” the Buddha would have probably answered, “You should meditate to meditate,” or “You should meditate for the sake of meditation.”  Now, this answer may be the best answer, and it may be quite appealing to some people.  However, it seems to me that the vagueness of this answer will be quite troubling, especially to people who are not familiar with Buddhist thought.  Consequently, I am offering an explanation of meditation.  I have tried to illustrate how it may offer a direct experience with Reality.  This is Reality as different from the subjective reality that each individual perceives because of their likes, dislikes, dispositions, and prejudices.  By examining and explaining meditation in this way, I feel that a greater number of people may be able to intellectually see its value.  They may even be prompted to try it.

The only true way of knowing the value of meditation is to practice it.  Even then, its vast impact can probably never be known.  Hence I offer my explanation of it only in the hopes that it may make the practice seem logically beneficial.  (It should be kept in mind that this explanation does not apply exclusively to Zen Buddhist meditation, but to others as well.)

[19] By “operation”, I am referring to the generation, growth, function, movement, decay, and death of all of the parts of each of the above-mentioned systems.

[20] Keep in mind that this thought is not a fleeting, changeable thought like those that we consciously think of and construct, but a profound Thought that one does not think as much as one knows without thinking.

[21] By now, you have probably forgotten what this paper is actually about!

[22] Reason can be a helpful tool, but it relies on the examination of circumstances.  Since the human brain can only be conscious of a small fraction of the circumstances of Reality, it cannot always properly assess a situation.  Using reason is like trying to put together a puzzle when half of its pieces are missing (and most of those pieces can only be found somewhere in the future or the forgotten past).