The following excerpt is from the unpublished manuscript of a book about early Buddhist thought, entitled The End of the World. The Experience of Reality in the Discourses of the Buddha, written during the fall 2019 and then set aside. It articulates a very baffling and yet profound insight, emerged in the early morning of November 17, 2019. A published articulated version of this insight is included in the third part of Teoria del Silenzio (2020). The first encounter with something unsettling and immensely deep is often awkwardly expressed. Yet, there is perhaps a beauty even in that stammering.
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Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing.
This, in short, is all that needs to be said. Obviously, at first, this saying is completely unintelligible. First, then, pay attention to this unintelligibility. There is a saying (it is inevitable to being by hearing a saying), but the saying is not understood. Something appears (a saying) and it is supposed to have a meaning (otherwise the saying would not be a saying). However, the meaning of the saying does not appear: the saying is unintelligible. Observe how the unintelligible manifests: by means of the appearing of something that is supposed to have an intelligible meaning (the saying: ‘Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing’), although that intelligible meaning itself does not appear. The unintelligibility of the saying is the non-appearing of its meaning. As one understands that this much is intelligible: ‘the saying is unintelligible’, then that non-appearing of the meaning no longer appears (because now that minimal meaning ‘the saying is unintelligible’ appears: this at least is understood about the saying, this at least is intelligible about the saying). This non-appearing of the non-appearing of the meaning of the saying is precisely the appearing of the meaning of the saying: ‘Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing.’
By not understanding the saying at first, one might realize that in what appears there is something that does not appear (the meaning itself). Because this meaning is not appearing, it appears that the saying is in fact saying something that is not understood. Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing. In short, this is all that needs to be said. Any saying is just the occasion to pay attention to what is not said in that very saying. Only because something is not said (and cannot be said), whatever is said receives its proper meaning. More profoundly, whatever is said is saying that there is something that is not said; and yet, only in virtue of what is not said, the saying can be said. Silence is not outside, above, elsewhere from the voice that says something. True silence is where silence is silent, where silence cannot be heard: precisely in that voice that is not silent. Right there, there is silence. Asking: ‘Can language speaks about silence? Can language say anything about what cannot be said?’ is a wrong asking. This asking is wrong because it presupposes that there is language here and there is something else, elsewhere, which language might or might not reach. Language can indeed speak about silence, it can point towards what cannot be said, not in virtue of what language actually says, not in virtue of the content that is said, but because whatever is said (any appearing) is the manifestation of the silence of the silence (the non-appearing of the non-appearing). It is possible to speak about silence only because it is possible to pay proper attention not to what appears (to what is said), but to the fact that the appearing of whatever is said is the non-appearing of what does not appear.
Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing. This saying is all that needs to be said. However, it might take a significant amount of time, effort and patience to actually understand the vastness and depth of what this saying is saying. In the attempt to understand the saying and listen attentively to what is not said, one is confronted with the need of going against the most obvious of all the obvious habits, namely, looking at and for particular contents of experience.
All forms visible with the eye are contents. All sounds hearable with the hear are contents. All tangible and sensible objects that fall within the scope of the senses are contents. All thoughts, ideas, emotions, hopes, fears, loves, dreads, are contents. All wishes, all promises, all of that is just content. By caring for contents, by engaging with contents, by becoming absorbed in contents, one might forget that caring, engaging, becoming are possible only because contents appear in the first place. Without any appearing, contents would not be at all. However, appearing itself is not a content among others. Appearing is the horizon within which all contents can manifest and appear. As a horizon, the appearing itself is not a thing, is not graspable, it does not offer any space where a foot could land or stand. In itself, the horizon is almost nothing, except for its appearing as the non-appearing of the non-appearing. Because the non-appearing does not appear, there is the appearing of whatever appears.
Why should one bother for all of this? Properly, one should not bother for any of this at all. In fact, understanding the saying (‘Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing’) is the way that gets one beyond the possibility of being bothered by anything. Only contents can bother. When one can observe contents and listen to them as the non-appearing of the non-appearing, then being bothered by anything becomes impossible. Any content is just a messenger, an occasion to come back to the same horizon, to float on that horizon looking at the other side of it. The other side of the horizon does not look any different from this side, except for the fact that anything that appears on the other side is understood as the non-appearing of the non-appearing.
One might wonder: ‘isn’t this non-appearing of the non-appearing a content in itself? Isn’t this saying itself a content as anything else?’ This is an inevitable worry, since inevitably one can only start from the complete absorptions in contents, being able to see only contents. The saying ‘Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing’ is indeed a content insofar as it is a saying. As a saying, the saying appears. Whatever appears is the appearing of some content, in this case the content is the saying: ‘Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing’. The experience of the meaning of this saying, its full understanding (Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing) is an experience that happens, as any other experience, within the horizon of appearing. The non-appearing of the non-appearing cannot be found anywhere else in the whole boundless landscape of appearing. Precisely this, the fact that it cannot be found anywhere in any appearing, is the non-appearing of the non-appearing.
Stepping back from contents (not engaging with them, not get absorbed in them) and turning to the appearing (the non-appearing of the non-appearing): this is the most radical revolution that one could bring about in one’s experience. This revolution does not happen by itself, it is provoked by a call, by someone else telling you: ‘look there!’ Experiencing this revolution is like emerging from a dream, being aware of what dreaming is, what it means, how it feels, and how different it is from being awake. One is really awake only when one can tell the difference between dreaming and being awake. A dream is the non-appearing of being awake. Being awake is the non-appearing of the non-appearing of being awake. Any appearing is the non-appearing of the non-appearing. This revolution is an awakening.