Ineffable F***ing Stupidity

“There is no self, but you can get enlightened.”

“All is one, but my sect of Buddhism is the correct one.”

“The dharma is timeless, but it can be accessed as particular phenomenal events.”

“There is no separation, but there is a pure consciousness, not of this material reality, which you can recede into.”

These are some examples of statements that, according to many Buddhists, do not require any clarification. Take, for example, the first statement. When asked to clarify how, in the absence of a self, it is sensible to say that a person can break free of conditioned reality by practicing meditation, the response is typically to assert that language is inadequate for explaining this ostensible contradiction. Such understanding, we are told, is ineffable. This is, apparently, considered an acceptable defense.

Similarly, commonly described “awakening” experiences are said to be beyond language, though they allegedly provide access to some ultimate truth. These experiences (and by extension, the truths which they reveal), we are once again assured, are ineffable, and therefore cannot be philosophically or logically challenged.

Strangely enough, spiritualists seem to be quite fond of effing. The number of bookshelves that can accommodate ineffable material is virtually infinite. Indeed, spiritualists want to eff, but do not want the responsibility of having their effings be subject to criticism. The brilliant solution to this tension, it seems, is to simply declare one’s ramblings unbeholden to linguistic critique.

I can, in some sense, apply some minuscule amount of sympathy here. There is certainly a way in which language ensnares and obscures. The history of philosophy is one of an interminable creative re-arrangement of symbols, and the subsequent attempt to impose those symbols on reality.

Where Buddhists, and spiritualists broadly speaking, lose this sympathy, is when the reality upon which our language is imposed is cleaved off and raised to sanctity, primacy, ultimacy. The mistake is, ironically, a profession of spiritualism’s worst enemy: dualism. In imagining a “real” reality, which is “out there”, existing apart from our ordinary experience and transcending the realm of symbols and language, Buddhists back themselves into a corner, hitting the back of their heads against the wall and declaring victory over their own brains.

From my (admittedly primitive) understanding of his work, this is along the lines of what Laruelle refers to as splitting, or scission. It is an artificial partitioning of the world into the category of uncontaminated, a priori, reality on the one hand, and the one of concepts and symbols on the other, which is then followed by a placement of these categories in opposition, and a manufacturing of a longing for their reunion or some resolution. For Buddhists, it follows from this dichotomy that the former realm is inaccessible to concepts, providing fuel for x-buddhist repudiations of analytic critique, or indeed, of thinking altogether.

When x-buddhists say that their privileged truth is a result of an ineffable experience, what they are really communicating is their impotence in resolving a dilemma which they have themselves invented, and upon which their entire ideology depends.

Is it not tragically inconvenient that the major sin which x-buddhists accuse philosophy of committing — that of conceptual circularity and confusion — is required for x-buddhism itself to maintain its own coherency? Quite so, and the ineffability armor is nothing more than an attempt to protect x-buddhist ideology from being exposed as hypocrisy.

 

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