Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Apophatism

Scott Bradley


Raimon Panikkar (A Dwelling Place for Wisdom) tells us that “not-knowing”, which he calls apophatism, has been near universally understood as a window to wisdom (“the art of living well”).

“The person who is truly connected to God in this life, is united with God as totally unknown.” (Dionysius Aeropagita)

“Blessed is he who has reached an infinite ignorance.” (Evagrius Ponticus)

“It is not understood by those who know it; it is understood by those who do not know it.” (Kena-Upanishad)

He also makes the point that to know that one does not know, as advocated by Socrates for instance, still leaves one on the side of knowing. Knowing that one does not know may be the beginning of wisdom, but it is not wisdom. Wisdom is harmonious living rooted in a mystical, which is to say existential and organic, connectedness with reality.

The perfection of understanding, Zhuangzi tells us, is first to know its limits, and secondly for that not-knowing to occasion an openness to what in us lies beyond cognition.

It might be argued that we have various mystical traditions largely as a consequence of our failure to remain not-knowing. We emerge from the mystical and knowingly articulate what we have experienced. Yet, since we usually enter the mystical under the influence of a tradition, it would seem that these two complement each other. Just as we may be more than flesh, though nothing about us completely transcends the flesh, so also our experience of the mystical necessarily takes on the flesh of words and apparent knowing when shared in the world.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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