A recurring remark of mystics:
“There is no teaching to study. Only learn to avoid seeking something, to avoid becoming attached to something.”following Zen Master Huang Po (died ~850)
Why should I not study any teachings?
First of all, it seems to me that Huang Po’s hint does not refer to the beginning of the path, but is addressed to more advanced students. Almost all of us need hints that “there is still something there”, and need motivation to take first steps. Already there, however, it is essential “to avoid seeking something, to avoid becoming attached to something”. Both means “don’t stop on the way”, means “there is no goal, only a way”.
But the further I go on this path, the less all that I have learned so far about our ordinary world can interpret what I now perceive. There are no more abstract concepts, no more words, images, feelings,… that can grasp the new. In time, of course, I will use my previous words and images to point to new experiences for me, but these are just pointers to something, they cannot carry this something in themselves. With this I can neither communicate my experiences to others, nor can I learn about them from others.
Teachings of all kind, whether spoken, written, or shown, are exactly such abstract constructs of words, pictures, feelings,… which helplessly try to point to something deeper, to the underlying primary reality. But this vanishing point of all mystics they basically cannot touch. Even those with the deepest experiences here only stammer things like “no teaching to study”, “the secret of all secrets”, “the mystery”, “the cloud of unknowing”,… or they are silent altogether.
the concrete difficulty
Let’s take the three words (pointers) “Arolle”, “Angelus”, and “Dhikr”. Without being educated in the relevant culture, I have no idea what they are about.
The first word seems simple. Arolle is a tree, Pinus cembra, that grows at the tree line of the Alps, which also gave its name to Arolla.
The second word refers to the “Angelus prayer” in the Catholic tradition. One can easily look it up and will… understand nothing, even if one understands each word in its multiple meanings. There is nothing to understand. There is only to experience.
Similarly, “dhikr” refers to an often silent meditative practice in Islamic, especially Sufi, culture. Again, if I participate in a dhikr, I will not understand anything.
However, both in a true dhikr and in a true angelus, I will perceive something, as well as when I consciously face an arolle in the forest.
Whether I perceive the same as you, however, we both will never be sure.
The fundamental problem of communication is not only shown by the example of words. It is universal and independent of the elements used for communication, be it images, postures, a slap in the face, or a fart. The deeper reason is that my consciousness “lives” in my representation, not in primary reality, and you cannot communicate your representation to me, any more than I can communicate mine to you. What we can only do is exchange pointers to areas of our own representation – words, images,… – in the hope that they point to similar areas in both of us. If the pointer is “apple”, we can be quite sure, at least for superficial aspects. If, on the other hand, it is “love”, or even “soul”, then we will be very very unsure.
No teaching, no words, what remains to perceive the primary reality?
Just be! I am already primary reality.
I am separated from it only by my senses, my concepts, my consciousness, even though these are all part of primary reality.
Just being and perceiving myself in my primordiality. What sounds so simple is enormously difficult, because I am always captured by my words, emotions, and concepts, because my “machine” seeks to interpret and understand all perceptions on the background of my imagination.
“Just be”, however, aims deeper than my representation, aims into the core of the mystic, whatever its particular manifestation is for me. This is indeed the first, and ultimately only, meditation on the path.
To approach this meditation, I choose the complementary pair I–the Other. “I” whatever I perceive as such, “the Other” everything that is different from it, my cat, the universe, God. Obviously, these are all concepts, aspects of my representation, not of primary reality. Of course, they are all words that can only point to my representation.
Nevertheless, there is the temptation to point further than my representation, for example with “GOD”, or the “nameless”. This can lead to great confusion. In the meditation here the “Other” could be misunderstood as primary reality. If I then hear “the Other dissolves” I could understand that the primary reality dissolves, that it does not exist perhaps at all. All of these would be fundamental errors. “I” and “the Other” are concepts in my mind and what dissolves is my focus on them at the moment of meditation. The same is true for “pure primordial being,” which eventually dissolves as well.
All this shows the impossibility to get beyond words.
What remains? My practice and my immediate experience.