Table of Contents

Truth

Lao Tzu: The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao;
the name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The unnameable is the eternally real.

Words can only point. What Lao Tzu calls tao I call truth. The truth can't be named, it can't be put into words. Words can't hold truth. Words are empty, arbitrary symbols we humans have come up with to point to real things. Unlike the truth, word meanings constantly change, and the word for any real thing is different in each language. Words have no real content. The simplest real thing in the world is out of the reach of words.

How can I please you, Master? Most words don't point to real things. They're just words about words. Like generalizations, abstractions, categories: none of those are real. Take human, for example. That word is supposed to point to something that Ghandi and Vlad the Impaler have in common. We make up words that are blatantly self-contradictory, but we don't care. We are hypnotized by our words.

We can't change the world with words. We live in the real world, chaotic and mysterious. The real world is unpredictable. We use words to impose a sense of order on it: names and categories. But words don't impose order; a thing is not its name or category, it's a thing: unique, constantly changing, out of the reach of words. Words get in the way of seeing the chaotic and mysterious world, beautiful and terrifying.

Systems don't exist; science doesn't exist. We start with simple words like heat, or time. Neither of those is a thing you can point to; they're abstractions. We make up vastly complicated systems that those words are important entities in, but all of that is completely imaginary, made up by thinkers thinking in words. They're imaginary, creations of the human mind with no substance.

Even proper nouns can't hold truth. Proper nouns seem to point to something real: Louisiana, Jeff Fairhall. But these fail to hold truth because a person, a place, an object changes every instant. We usually can't see the change happening, but we see the change once there have been enough instantaneous changes. Louisiana in 1951 was not like Louisiana in 2020. Jeff before his tumor manifested was not like Jeff after. TH when I arrived in Boulder was not like TH when I left.

We can't bear more than an instant of it. When you encounter the truth, even for an instant, it's overwhelming; everything stops; it wakes you up. In Kenya I was shocked awake when I encountered a cobra that was way too fucking close to me in the coffee. That cobra was the truth staring me in the face. The truth takes your breath away, it stops your world. Rilke writes about this in his First Duino Elegy, with the angel standing for truth.

The cobra that took my breath away. A cobra is real, but "cobra" points to millions of real things. "Cobra" can't stop the world and take my breath away, for a moment or for good; a cobra can. But only a particular cobra at a particular moment and there's no word for that. The cobra that took my breath away for a moment existed only in that particular 1966 moment. A cobra is infinitely particular; there's no word for that one particular cobra at that one particular instant. A hundred people standing in a circle looking at a cobra each have a different cobra each instant. Each instant of my life has its particular truth; making progress with love is focusing my attention on that truth.

My wisdom is Lao Tzu's eternally real. Body sensations are expressions of truth. How I feel right now is unassailably true, and it can't be put into words. But if I pay exquisitely close attention to my body sensations, I can find truth; I can make progress with love. Paying that kind of attention is a way of getting in touch with my wisdom; "my wisdom" points to an infinitely particular connection I have with everything that exists. Because it connects with everything, my wisdom has the answers I need to make progress with love. My wisdom is my spiritual guide.

Everything is NOT gonna be all right. With all due disrespect for Bob Marley and drug culture, the pop cliché that all will be well, that we can right the world's wrongs is untrue. It's as untrue as the idea that fairness will eventually rule. Untruths like those get in the way of real action. Look around, study history. Life's not fair. Truth and justice do not prevail. The world is a big messy stew of contradictions and nastiness. And love.

No we can't do this. There's as much intolerance, greed, hatred, repression and injustice as there is goodness and fairness; maybe more. It's been that way since the neolithic revolution, when humanity began. None of those bad things will ever go away. If I say they will, if I say we can do this, I'm just showing my ignorance. History insists that revolutions and popular uprisings simply replace one brand of bullshit with another. Always been that way. Your revolution will not be any different.

I can do this. I can't make the world a better place; no one can. But I can make my own life better. I can stop drinking, stop taking drugs, get good exercise, eat healthy natural foods, and meditate. I can love not hate, be kind not cruel, be tolerant not judgmental. I can remember that all my fellow humans are suffering. I can't save the world, I can't save anyone. No one can save anyone else. But I can make my life better, and I can connect with other people who are making their lives better. I can make progress with love.