‘According to the Wisdom Sutras, one of the reasons that profound questioning is required is that the practice of inquiry brings us to an awareness of the role of language in our experience of the world. These sutras, along with other Buddhist texts, are extraordinary in the extent to which they have engaged in penetrating reflection on language. The bodhisattva is pictured as understanding what few of us ever encounter, the connection between what we experience and our language about it. Although these can never be entirely separated, bodhisattvas are pictured as able to see that bearing one has on the other and to avoid mental mistakes that arise from assuming their identity. In teaching, therefore, bodhisattvas show others where language is blocking rather than enabling insight. They realize that the language in which the perfection of wisdom in articulated can either prevent or evoke the dawning of insight.
In order to call attention to the role of language in shaping human experience, one sutra has Subhuti say: “To call it ‘perfection of wisdom,’ that is merely giving it a name. And what that name corresponds to, that cannot be got at.”‘ (The Six Perfections)
I find it easy to spot when a student is getting caught on words to the extent that it is preventing them really meeting the moment, so I appreciate this passage, which also serves as a nice companion to the one from Jenny Odell last week.