Lao Tzu said, “The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things.”
We understand the world and the universe through a grid of language. It is definitely one of the valuable tools for ontology and epistemology. Only with this tool, we can ensure our existence and perception — how we are and what we see.
Language, however, is a mere grid to locate “something” behind and beyond it. Without language, what we see would be nameless chaos. Without it, we can’t understand that “something.” We can’t identify anything, including ourselves.
Without language, we would sink into the deep unknown mystery. Thus, “The named is the mother of ten thousand things.”
The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations. These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery.Verse 1, Tao Te Ching
The Gospel of John also started as follows:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.John 1:1-3
So, how can we see the two aspects around it — 1) behind and beyond language, and 2) language in itself?
Behind and Beyond Language
Because of language, we can see, recognize, signify the world and the universe as “something” that is named.
If we use a word like “God” for this “something,” indeed, as the Gospel of John stated, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And everything else followed by saying, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Because of language, we see life has meaning and purpose that is articulated. We do exist for our special articulation. Thus, we have knowledge and intellectual pursuit such as mythical narrative, religion, history, philosophy, and poetry, even science and technology.
With language, life becomes a story. Life is the story of someone existentially — your story, my story, our story, and their story. Life becomes a substantial entity that shines in the specific location of space-time out of the unknown mystery.
Language in Itself
On the other hand, language is a mere grid. What we see and touch is a series of grid lines, not “something” behind and beyond them.
Facing an empty space and time, only through a series of specific grid lines, we could recognize a particular topology — shape and location. We put our stories only in them, by them, and through them.
Without these grid lines, therefore, what we could see would be a mere blank, which is supposed to be “something” behind and beyond these grid lines. If ever we use language, then that “something” could be named at most as nothingness, emptiness, or profound mystery.
The grid is merely an illusion and delusion. It is the Veil of Maya. It’s up to us how we see it. At least, language could be in our control. Lao Tzu said as follows.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.Verse 1, Tao Te Ching
The Tree of Knowledge
If the grid lines are non-desiring and detached, we could sense a glimpse of the mystery, nothingness, and emptiness. If desiring and attached, our focus would inevitably be on the grid lines themselves –the words themselves, and their manifestations as such.
It doesn’t mean either way could be right or wrong. After eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge, we are “designed” to see the grid lines alone.
Because of the tree of knowledge, we gained self-consciousness and acquired language. At this very moment, God entered into our consciousness. As God to be named, we see Him in our consciousnesses. Whether we believe Him or not, even for atheists, the word and concept of God exist in consciousness.
Also, we can’t comprehend the world and the universe without language. As long as we call them so, they rest on our consciousness as the signified words and articulations.
Whatever we say and however we do, the words are always in our consciousness. We are focusing on the grid lines alone — language in itself. We can never go behind and beyond it, that is the prison of our self-consciousness from the tree of knowledge.
Emptiness is Form
We could call “something behind and beyond” Emptiness. These are, nonetheless, the words and names after all. We are naming them so only in our consciousness. Thus, “Emptiness is also form.”
The Heart Sutra cautions us as follows:
Here, Shariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form; emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness; whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form.The Heart Sutra
Saying emptiness or nothingness alone means that we are still in the prison of form. We are in the prison of language and consciousness. It’s never a sign of one’s enlightenment. Such a sign is also a name and form. Seeking a sign for enlightenment is a myth.
Buddha advised his disciples to observe their minds, words, and actions. We must think right, speak right, and act right. These are the three components of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Perhaps, Buddha knew that we could never get out of the prison of the language (grid lines, words, names, and consciousness).
As long as we see ourselves in consciousness with language, “something behind and beyond” is never attainable. It could scarcely be called or named God, Emptiness, Nothingness, Oneness, Nonduality, and so on.
Calling them so is not different from the endless language-game. We could never reach the signified, but a constant variations of the signifer. It’s impossibly elusive.
Knowing this impossibility, what we could do is our humble effort of taming language. Instead of seeking “something” behind and beyond it”, we must take care of it in itself.
That is why Lao Tzu said, “The named is the mother of ten thousand things.” The Gospel of John said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him.” And the Heart Sutra said, “From is emptiness, emptiness is form; emptiness is not separate from form, form is not separate from emptiness; whatever is form is emptiness, whatever is emptiness is form.”
Image by Gerd Altmann