Saturday, June 2, 2012

What Things Mean

Tang Dynasty Tomb Guardian, detail
Shanghai Museum

It's a strange thing that we insist on trying to assign meaning to the external action of life, when it's so clear that man's affairs have relatively little meaning.

Meanings understood through the sciences, that is, meanings related to the biological and physical worlds—by this, I mean the world of chemistry, physics, and so on—are fairly objective. Contrasted, the day-to-day external events in life, which seem to be going in one direction or another (almost always an imaginary direction, which turns out to have been misperceived) are almost entirely subjective.

 Reality consists of relationships, not things. Everything, down to quantum interaction, is composed of relationship. It is the interaction of energies that creates what we perceive as things. So things in and of themselves have no meaning; relationship has meaning—action has meaning.

An inner sense of the world brings with it the understanding that it is the inner sense of the world that determines how relationship is received, perceived, and understood. None of this receiving, perceiving, or understanding can be readily expressed through any verbal constructions. Of course, we're left with the problem—and the responsibility—of trying to squeeze this verbal toothpaste out of the tube. One way or another, words need to be implemented in order to share relationship—yet by rights we ought to know quite clearly that meaning is not vested within the words. Ultimately, meaning is vested in the action, and words always remain a poor conveyor of what is actually taking place. 

We forget this every five seconds.

The Zen tradition, with its superficially baffling and essentially mysterious exchanges between masters—including questions that don't have any rational answers—is merely a reflection of this problem which are written in the texts of the practice. Over and over again, they allude to the fact that the practice is what is real, not the texts.

The danger with relying on texts is that we think this is what things mean. It's a danger with this space, because people read it, and somehow think that meaning can be gleaned here; it's a problem with books like Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, because once again, people think that meaning can be gleaned from it; it's a problem even with The Reality of Being, a book that quite forthrightly states that meaning arises through relationship, and not anywhere else—making the book, in a certain ironic sense, subtly and supremely superfluous to its own message.

One of the reasons that allegory more properly conveys meaning is because it is an action—its meaning arises through activity, not through a static statement of fact. The activity is an inner activity, not an outer one, and the meaning arises from within, not from outside. Every human being attempts to construct meaning from arisings outside of their inner life, rather than the other way around. Without a proper sense of the inner, the outer—the other—will never make sense. And since almost no one has a proper inner sense, no outer arisings ultimately fall into any kind of intelligible alignment. We are faced with the chaos of an external life that remains unpredictable and bewildering.

 We want meaning—but we can't get it. It can't be pinned down, and we can't hold it anywhere. Meaning is an evolving structure, and investing oneself in any particular part of it at the expense of the evolution carries a price.

The experience itself is the meaning in life. This has some subtle aspects be explored in the next post.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.