NOTE: Religious language is a path to religious experience. It is not a truth in and of itself.
Certainly I’m well aware of the fact that what it is I ultimately want to say about the validity of religious language will escape me. As I’m thinking about it I’m reminded of the 6 verbal methods used to impart an understanding of Zen Buddhism laid out by DT Suzuki; those verbal methods are as follows:
2.) Going beyond opposite
All of these represent a method of dialogue whose aim is to silence the intellect. An example comes to mind of looking at a picture, and one asking another, “What does it mean?” Now, it seems to me this question has a dual meaning, and at this point given the context of the question, we don’t really know what that is. I would presume that the duel meaning is:
A.) What did the painter who painted this mean by it?
B.) It’s a rhetorical question of the self.
“A” of course is simple, not that the answer is simple, only that the line of discourse is simple and natural. Both parties can talk about what may have been on Di Vinci’s mind, or what may have been his intended meaning when he painted the Mona Lisa. Following Pirsig, I’d say this is typical of the classic mind who wants to place things in nice little objective boxes such that we see meaning in the same way (it should be understood that for this, one doesn’t even need the picture). In other words it doesn’t matter what you think [feel] about it, this isn’t its’ meaning; however, Di Vinci didn’t write the book on “intended meaning” in art, the experience is still subjective. To say otherwise in a classic sense is only to say, this is what it meant subjectively to one such man, and to the rest of us, it will hold that one true objective meaning (what ever that may be). Well, where’s “goodness” in that? That’s like saying, the chef who made this stake intended it to have such and such a meaning (even sampled it himself to make sure he got it right) but lo, I put it in my mouth and it tastes like crap. Did I then miss the chef’s meaning? I suppose not if the intended meaning was crap, but surely it generally isn’t the case that a chef intends this (unless of course you’ve made a complaint before hand).
I suppose the bottom line with question “A” is that, in the case of art, there may indeed have been an intended meaning that the artist was trying to convey, but in determining that meaning one would then have to escape his own sentiments. Furthermore, simply because we may come to agree on whatever objective meaning we come to, doesn’t mean that that’s what you’ll see every time you look at it. This is much like the chef’s steak; where it may be the case that he intended a certain meaning, however simply because you have that meaning in mind as put it in your mouth doesn’t mean that you’ll ultimately “get it”. In this way, knowledge of intention doesn’t lead you to understanding the world YOU live in, only that other people seem to like shit. ONE A SIDE NOTE: my wife says I like ghetto food; this is true. I love those Salisbury steak meals out of a box, by On*cor. When my wife eats it, she doesn’t “get it”, but I do.
On to “B”: that the question, “What does it mean?” is a rhetorical question to the self. In the answer to this question may lie some of the essence that is the verbal method of imparting Zen. Of course, you cannot tell someone what something means any more then you can eat for them when they’re hungry. Answering the question directly only gives a person what your opinion is and an understanding that you have an opinion; but this gets them no closer to the meaning. My daughter, who’s 6 now, often asks me why I’m putting certain things on certain foods; for example, mayonnaise, mustard, so on. I never answer her directly, but simply say, “why do you like peanut butter on your sandwiches?” to which she responds, “because I like it.” Then of course I say, “then why do I like mayo on my sandwich.” Her answer to this is always the same, she “gets it”. My daughter understands that other people like other things, have different favorite colors and foods, yet she still asks these questions; which says to me, perhaps she’s continually wrapped up in question “A”. Anyway, I’m getting off track……
The purpose of the verbal methods is to silence the reason, to see without seeing, to “get it”. To answer the question, “what does the picture mean” under the paradox method one may simply say “it means everything, and yet it is entirely meaningless. The rest of the answers may flow as follows:
Going beyond opposites:
To paraphrase Kyogen - suppose there is a man over a precipice one thousand feet high, he is hanging himself there with a branch of a tree between his teeth; the feet are of course far from the ground and his hands are not taking hold of anything. Suppose another man coming to him proposes the question, “what is the meaning of the painting?”. If the man should open his mouth to answer, he is sure to fall and lose his life; but if he would make no answer, he must be said to ignore the inquirer. At this critical moment, what should he do? This is putting the negation of opposites in a most graphically illustrative manner.
Lets suppose that I know the answer to the question, “what is the meaning of the painting?” according to meaning “A” above. After all, I have just attained a degree in arts from an authority on Di Vinci.
So one asks of me according to “B”:
“What is the meaning of this painting”, to which I respond,
“one who understands Di Vinci has attained the secrets of the Mona Lisa”. Following this the individual asks,
“Have you attained the secrets of the Mona Lisa?”
“No, I have not”
“How is it”, asks the individual, “That you have not?”
I respond, “I do not understand Di Vinci.”
(To not understand, in this case, is perhaps to understand)
Plotinus states, “that the mind, when it turns back, thinks before it thinks itself”. One could also state, “The eye with which I see God is the same with which God see’s me.”
So again, to the question (changed for rhetorical purposes) “I understand that this painting means “Z”, but what does “Z” mean?” To which I may respond, “It looks like it’s going to rain this morning.
Consider the following – it is as if one stood before a high mountain and cried, “art thou there?” the echo comes back “art thou there?” If one cries “come out!” the echo comes back, “Come out!”
To the question, “what is the meaning of this picture?” the replay may be, “it is the meaning.” To which one may respond, “what is the meaning?” and one states, “it is the picture.”
Here I take a statement from the Simpsons after the question “what is meaning of this painting.” In which case I respond, “My cats breath smells like cat food”
So now then, what’s my point? As stated above, religious language is a path to religious experience. Religious experience on the one hand, is realizing for oneself the answer to question “B”, without the need for senseless rhetoric. The language is a tool for arriving there such that, once there, the language becomes unnecessary, and utterly meaningless. There is no meaning behind the statement, “the Chef’s steak is excellent!” on it’s own, or to anyone else but you until you put the steak in your mouth. Once you eat, there is no need to speak further. Once you’ve found God, you can pack your Bible away with all the other useless things you’ve tucked away throughout the years.