Walking home, I suddenly experienced myself as a river. I am flowing, leaving every moment behind me. It arrives, it is gone. How stupid to try to hold on to things! The things are past the instant I think of them. A thought. Already Gone. A moment. Already Gone. A conversation. Already Gone. A person. Already Gone.
And there’s not sadness about this ever-passingness. Sadness would also be stupid, misplaced. There’s recognition and more flowing.
I think the river metaphor may be used in a few contexts in Buddhist literature. But the concept of it and the experience of it are worlds apart. Like the moment I was sitting in the Landmark Forum eight years ago and the leader up the front suddenly started quoting Heidegger and I realised, “My god, it’s about my life!” Three years of study, a quarter of a million of words in thesis drafts, hundreds of books read, and suddenly I realised I hadn’t understood a thing. I’d been thinking of a concept, and it was nothing to do with a concept! And it wasn’t until that moment when I stepped out of the concept that I saw I’d been in a concept.
There’s an ancient Greek word used in philosophy, aporia. It means something that cannot be reconciled. Whenever someone used it in lectures, I’d think of a chasm. There’s a proposition on one side and another on the other side, and nothing can be made to cross the gap. They just can’t go together.
It’s a bit like an aporia, the relationship between a concept and the thing itself. There’s an unbridgeable chasm between the two. You cannot get to the thing itself through the concept. In fact, you’re never further from the thing itself than when you have the concept, the thought, of the thing.
The only passage to the thing itself is the abandonment of the concept, the giving up of the thought.
Image: Paul Klee, Bird Garden, 1924