Saturday, 8 September 2007

language and mysticism

if we take a stance beyond language, in affirmations of silent awakening, then, it seems to me, we cannot engage in dialogue at all. After all, dialogue means "through words." All dialogue, therefore, is language-formed and conversational, even when it speaks about the ineffable. We must then confront the verbal differences and divergences that the traditions exhibit. Perhaps at their most fundamental level all traditions share the same ineffable experience. Perhaps all their experiences, even the basic paradigmatic experience of awakening and conversion, are so conditioned by the culture and language in which they are expressed that they are incommensurate. I would contend that the issue is beyond solution, for an ineffable experience, being unmediated in any language, can serve as no criterion for, or direct source of, dialogue. Dialogue is language, and the traditions are clearly not saying the same things. Dialogue entails the stance that we do not collapse doctrinal statements, either by a coinherent identity or by regarding them as secondary apparatuses. Even though they may be secondary, that does not mean they are not crucial. Even the inner dialogue that King speaks of is a conceptual dialogue, formed by the play of often unexpressed words in the mind of the thinker.

I suggest that we refuse to relegate language and doctrine to the periphery of our concerns, that we rejoice in the healthy tension that differences engender, without overcoming them by a further strategy. Such a strategy, although appealing to claims of mystic understanding, when expressed in words results in a mystic metaphysics of presence, replacing the living traditions with a theory or theology of world religions. And that, I suggest, is an impoverishment of the respective traditions. Allow the differences to fracture our points of view and burst our horizons. Such fractured points of view can no longer claim an absolutely true status apart from culture and language. Yet they remain as intelligent and persuasive models, some more and some less. The point is to maintain the tension between differences, for it is that tension which triggers breakthroughs in any fixed horizons or set points of view. It is, I think, the tension of living in and practicing the middle path, aware of the emptiness of ultimate meaning and engaged in the worldly and conventional discourse of codependently arisen and culturally formed ideas and judgments. Fracturing points of view is the practice of emptiness. Dialogue is all worldly and conventional and not a matter of direct mystic experience.
Dialogue and Language
John P. Keenan
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 14. (1994), pp. 169-172.

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