September 29, 2010

The Power of an Open Question - Beyond Words

Beyond Words

When the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath the Bodhi Tree, he couldn't put words to the  profundity of his experience. He resolved to keep his discovery to himself, assuming no one would understand. This, of course, didn't last long. Inspired by his presence, many came to see him to request teachings. Touched by the pain of the human condition, he taught them with great clarity and tenderness.

However, the Buddha's initial concern raises an important question: how do we describe an experience beyond words? How can we speak about something that cannot be objectified? The moment we try to wrap our conceptual mind around an experience, we lose it. We reduce the limitless quality of being to a thing.

-Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, The Power of an Open Question

Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel’s Tricycle Retreat is happening now on! Join the Tricycle Community to enjoy the retreat and get her book, The Power of an Open Question, at 30% off.

[Image: mystical child]

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Dean Crabb's picture

If you've never tasted an apple before and you ask me "What does an apple taste like?", although I could use all the words in the world it would never allow you to know apple. The Buddha faced the same dilemma, it is no different. All experience is like this. But take a piece of apple and put it in your mouth "Ah, yes, this is apple" So simple! The natural point then rises, how do we do this with enlightenment? This at first doesn't appear so easy, but the process is identical as explaining apple. You need to show someone how to take a slice of life and experience it.

Celeste's picture

This question is a paradoxical oxymoron. Obviously, you cannot describe an experience beyond words. One can only guide a listener towards a petite version of the experience until consciousness slowly expands.

Cris Holanda's picture

When dharma-body is part of us, it is expressed not with our words but in dharma words. That is the reason Buddhism urges us to "deep hearing". Hear, understand and act.

universal law's picture

"How do we describe an experience beyond words?"

In the case of the life condition of buddhahood (which Shakyamuni "discovered" exists in himself as well as in other people), by your behavior as a human being.

"How can we speak about something that cannot be objectified?"

The so-called "84,000 teachings (sutras)" Shakyamuni expounded during his lifetime as well as the countless commentaries, treatises, books, articles, lectures, blogs, etc. written about the dharma since then indicate that isn't a problem. :-)

dawna's picture

The convention of language, convenient and necessary day to day, yet the inexplicable and it's awesome moment cannot be so conveyed. I find the genius in Buddha as teacher to be his ability (and choice) to reveal the Four Noble Truths as the first teaching. Grace cannot be told, only felt deeply in heart/mind. This effort, demonstrates reification failure ... LOL so 'it' comes and goes!