Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I've recently finished reading Awareness by Anthony De Mello. It's easily some of the best writing I have ever read. It is so insightful and also expressed so clearly that I will probably dedicate the next few posts to his writing. Every page of that book is filled with ideas that just illuminate things for what they are for me at least.

The overall goal of this book is to uncover the misconceptions that we all share about reality. Here I'm just giving one idea that the book explains. Next, I will probably just go through the book from the beginning giving my thoughts about the ideas I find most useful.

In the book De Mello says that the deepest truth about life and about who we are is not something that can properly be expressed in words. I thought it is interesting that a similar conclusion was reached in the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, that truth cannot be adequately expressed in words. Rather we naturally see things as they really are, but because we misuse concepts and develop corrupt ideas, we lose sight of reality. We will again be able to see reality when we understand what it is not.

De Mello explains: "Every time I have a concept, it is something that I could apply to a number of individuals. We're not talking about a concrete, particular name like Mary or John, which doesn't have a conceptual meaning. A concept applies to any number of individuals, countless individuals. Concepts are universal. For instance, the word "leaf" could be applied to every single leaf on a tree; the same word applies to all those individual leaves. Moreover, the same word applies to all the leaves on all trees, big ones, small ones, tender ones, dried ones, yellow ones, green ones, banana leaves. So if I say to you taht I saw a leaf this morning, you really don't have an idea of what I saw.
"Let's see if you can understand that. You do have an idea of what I did not see. I did not see an animal. I did not see a dog. I did not see a human being. I did not see a shoe. So you have some kind of a vague idea of what I saw, but it isn't particularized, it isn't concrete. "Human being" refers not to primitive man, not to civilized man, not to grown-up man, not to a child, not to a male or a female, not to this particular age or another, not to this culture or the other, but to the concept. The human being is found concrete; you never find a universal human being like your concept. So your concept points, but it is never entirely accurate; it misses uniqueness, concreteness. The concept is universal.
"When I give you a concept, I give you something, and yet how little I have given you. The concept is so valuable, so useful for science. For instance, if I say that everyone here is an animal, that would be perfectly accurate from a scientific viewpoint. But we're something more than animals. If I say that Mary Jane is an animal, that's true; but because I've omitted something essential about her, it's false; it does her an injustice. When I call a person a woman, that's true; but there are lots of things in that person that don't fit into the concept "woman." She is always this particular, concrete, unique woman, who can only be experienced, not conceptualized. The concrete person I've got to see for myself, to experience for myself, to intuit for myself. The individual can be intuited but cannot be conceptualized" (Awareness 119-120).

"The guru cannot give you the truth. Truth cannot be put into words, into a formula. That isn't the truth. That isn't reality. Reality cannot be pur into a formula. The guru can only point out your errors. When you drop your errors, you will know the truth. And even then you cannot say" (Awareness 99).

This seems to be true to me, and is something most people probably don't realize (at least I didn't until just recently).

Anyway, this is a little abstract compared to the rest of the book. I'll start from the beginning next post.