Statement II

by zenquaker

Principle 2: God is Beyond Our Understanding (The Ineffability Principle)

So there I was, believing in a miracle after rejecting my culture’s explanations for such things. Hell, I was even rejecting my culture’s common perception of what the miracle was. Besides, I was (am?) too stubborn to give in on a point like that. So I was left looking elsewhere for answers. And looking around, I saw a veritable cornucopia of religions. How could I determine which one was true?

After thinking about the problem while dealing with more pressing issues (like quitting smoking while recovering from cancer), I came to the conclusion that God could not be understood. All of those prophets out there who started all of these religions were looking for the same thing. Most of them were probably even honestly trying to find the Truth, although even the honest ones are vulnerable to corruption through canonization, institutionalization, and other accidents of history. But God is beyond the human mind. Even the most honest of seekers could not hope to find the Truth, much less communicate it to others. But they all got a glimpse of God, an experience that gave them a blurred insight into the Truth. They interpreted that as best they could, and passed it on to those such as would listen. And that’s how the multiplicity of religions came to be.

Back in college, that was my reason/excuse/apology for the multiplicity of religions. And for years it drove me in a haphazard syncretism toward no useful end. Things solidified later when I went to my first Quaker meeting, but it wasn’t until I had kensho that I came to really believe it through experience. Kensho is a Japanese Zen term usually translated as “enlightenment experience.” Some Buddhists think they are the end game, others think they are a distraction. I tend to side with the latter camp, but that does not mean kensho is devoid of value. Those experiences were just not explainable. I have extracted meaning from them, but I have a hard time claiming that I understood any of them, especially since “I” wasn’t there for most of them.

Of course, The Ineffability Principle means that everything beyond The Ineffability Principle is a doomed attempt to explain an experience I didn’t understand in the first place. So why do it? First of all, because you have to. You can’t have an experience like that without it having a profound effect on you. You have to try to figure out what the experience meant so that you can respond to that effect. Furthermore, we may not be able to explain it to others, but we may be able to point them in the right way. One of my favorite Zen teachings was appropriated by Bruce Lee for the classic action flick Enter the Dragon. While teaching a student he says, “All the teaching is but a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t pay attention to the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” What I say is not Truth. But what I say may point others in the right direction so that they may see Truth for themselves.