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Camparing Christian Mysticism and Buddhism

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What can be said about the unspeakable? How does one begin to describe the

indescribable? The very act of discussing ineffability questions whether anything can be

truly ineffable in the first place. Religion almost always critically depends on the

ineffability of some experience or entity. This is a widespread tendency, but some would

argue that it is a rule for all religions. That there must be the recognition of something

“beyond,” “transcendent” or “pure.”

Prior to judging Christian or Buddhist beliefs, it is necessary to understand

ineffability itself. Generally speaking, it is unspeakable. Conceptually, it is not attainable.

By our standards, it is beyond our human realm.

To speak is to make distinctions. As soon as you try to explain, it is already not

so. This occurs because language is assumed to be limited. Words are merely inference

and speculation, a construction we make ourselves. Words cannot accurately present

what is true reality. They only give a blurred picture of a filtered reality. We are the

filters to our language. Each of us must experience the world from a different light and a

different bias. Therefore, how can our descriptions be pure?

It may not be possible to faithfully depict the ineffable nor comprehend it truly.

Like language, and possibly with the development of language, our conceptions have also

narrowed to exclude what is ultimately real. There is the conventional reality that is

accepted within a group of people but it is flawed. The application of categories and

frameworks onto what is real doesn’t just make placeholders for thought, but it constrains

thinking beyond (Donahue). For each person, reality is different because “Things known

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Language." Comparison Project Event. Drake University. 3 Oct. 2013. Lecture.

Fanning, Steven. Mystics of the Christian Tradition. Routledge: London, New York. 2001.

Forman, Robert K. C. The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy. New

York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Hick, John. An Interpretation of Religion Human Responses to the Transcendent. Basingstoke:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Pseudo-Dionysius. Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Trans. Colm Luibhéid and Paul

Rorem. New York: Paulist, 1987.

Thurman, Robert A. F. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti: A Mahayana Scripture. University

Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1976.

Tilakaratne, Asanga. Nirvana and Ineffability: A Study of the Buddhist Theory of Reality and

Language. Sri Lanka: Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of

Kelaniya, 1993.
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