I begin a lot of my talks with this apology:

We’re going to talk about a lot of stuff that can’t be talked about.

This is the starting point for a lot of Greek Orthodox theologians, and I’ve always respected that. They are basically saying, “Okay, nobody get all bent out of shape here. Whatever we say will be, on some level, totally wrong. The alternative, however, is to not say anything at all. That’s the only way to be safe, and that isn’t safe, either.”

If you have a copy of the Gateless Gate, you might recognize the following koan or case:

Kyogen said: “Zen is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another person asks him: ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China from India?’

“If the man in the tree does not answer, he fails; and if he does answer, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?”

Doesn’t that case speak pretty clearly to the problem we are faced with right now? We can either speak (or write, in my case) about things that can’t be put into words, or we can remain silent. Either way, there is significant risk. So here we are in our own tree. Nobody is going to ‘get it right,’ and anybody who doesn’t speak also doesn’t get it right.

I think that is honest. I also think it sets the stage with a little bit of humility, and if you can’t approach topics like the nature of life, the universe, and everything with a little humility and willingness to get it ‘wrong’ along the way, you’re really not fit to participate in the conversation. I mean, you’re certainly not fit for company.

I like starting this way for another reason: it separates those who are simply feeding their addiction to ‘being right’ from those who are actually pursuing ‘wisdom and true understanding.’(1)

So don’t take all this talk too seriously. The pages that follow are going to be full of words, and none of them are going to be ‘the eternal word.’ If I could speak that word, it would probably blow up peoples’ heads or melt faces like the Ark of the Covenant.

This is the starting point for the Tao Te Ching, too:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. Words can be spoken, but not the eternal word.

As long as we all lighten up and enjoy the discussion, it can be really helpful. Just don’t take it, or yourself, too seriously. I’ll do my best to do the same.

(1) The second vow chanted in one of my tradition’s common dedications of merit: “I vow to attain wisdom and true understanding.”