Words, Wittgenstein and the Way
Wittgenstein wrote that “philosophy is the struggle against the bewitchment of our intellect by mean of language.” By ‘language’ I take it he means all our ideas about what life should and shouldn’t be like; the beliefs we hold about the way the world works; the memories we have of ourselves and the world that influence so much of our present behaviour. This is all language, and it stops us from living in the present. Our addiction to language stops us understanding our true nature.
As Bodhidharma (the first Zen Patriach) said is his teachings; “The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions’.
Psychologically speaking, our identity – a cobbled together set of words about who we are – clouds our ability to see clearly what is happening right now. When we see our lover behaving in a way that reminds us of our father, mother or a loathed teacher from school, we react in a way that is not appropriate, or helpful, to the moment. Instead we run a train down tracks that were laid down a long time ago.
Where Wittgenstein may have himself been bewitched is in considering the Intellect synonymous with the rational part of our mind. In many of the wisdom traditions this rational, reasonable part of us can never know the Truth (God, Oneness, Tao, Buddha Nature etc.) as it is always distorted by our ego and its limited language of beliefs, opinions, problems and the like.
The Sufis believe that when we have ‘purified’ our personal intellect through surrender (when we let go of our egos desires, needs and opinions and bathe in the reality that we are truly part of the oneness) – then it can then act as the primary organ that can guide is towards Truth in all things, and at all times. The Sufis distinguish between what we might think of as our intellect – analytical, hard-nosed, all about the numbers, attempting to dominate Nature and other people with its smarts – which they call the ‘particular intellect’ – and the ‘Universal Intellect’, what I would call our intuition when we are tapping into the ‘still small voice of calm’.
This kind of intellect does not live in the head – with its noisy hubbub of competing ideas manifested in Wittgenstein’s ‘language’ – but in the heart. It is also called ‘heart-consciousness’. The heart has always been the traditional centre of our discriminating capacities. In Hinduism they talk about ‘knowledge of the heart’, which is also called ‘faith’. That means it is only through surrender that we can start really delve into the true nature of things. Science, therefore, and spiritual commitment, are co-existent, not mutually exclusive.
Early Christianity saw this too – where the Greek word ‘theoria’ (where we get our word theory, complete with its associations of irrelevance and ‘theoretical’ ideas) originally means a sense of seeing with the ‘nous’, the eye of the soul, after we have had our senses purified. It is only once our ‘nous’ has been cleared of distortions borugh about by the ego, that it can see clearly, and true illumination occurs.
Finally some Rumi;
‘The particular intellect has given the [universal] intellect a bad name… The particular intellect is not the intellect [capable] of creation; it is only the receiver of science and is in need [of illumination]… The particular intellect is a denier of Love, though it may give out that it is confidant.’