Why Lazarus is Still Laughing ...

It may seem to be impossible to dispose of the notion 'I am'. It is like a cork. The moment one ceases to hold it down up it pops, and anyhow - who holds it down? One may say that there is only the void, but then there is the void and the sayer that there is only the void, which is a duality. And if one says that the void is I, then I am also the void. Therefore I still (objectively) am.

Quite evidently the inexistence of 'I' cannot be said. But can it be thought? That which is normally meant by thought is potentially capable of verbal expression, so that it cannot be thought either.

What is 'I' if it is not a presence? I am a presence, if anything. But where there is a presence there can be an absence. Therefore if I am a presence I can also be an absence. But then, of course, an absence implies a presence. An absence is also a presence, a presence an absence, and 'I' am not-I, and 'Not-I' am I. Non-existence implies existence, so that I cannot not exist without existing. No, I cannot be disposed of, for in disposing of me my existence is thereby posed. I am a concept, and all concepts are dualistic, so that my inexistence cannot be thought.

But to conclude from that dualistic analysis that I necessarily am in reality would be unwarranted. Dualistically I inevitably am, but, it seems to me, non-dualistically, and equally inevitably, that I cannot possibly be. The mere fact that dualistically I must be proves that non-dualistically I cannot be.

Have we not succeeded in establishing something that cannot be established in any other way? Manifestation is a manifestation of non-manifestation, and non-manifestation is a non-manifestation of manifestation: there cannot not be manifestation dualistically, and for that reason in reality there cannot be manifestation. So that is why 'from the beginning not a thing is' (Hui Neng). Neither thing nor entity, neither world nor I. The world is my concept, built of sense-perceptions: no concepts can be real. I am a concept, built of sense-perceptions: I cannot be real.

That, surely, is the whole truth? Conceptually I must be, and via me the world must be. But beyond conceptualism nothing is, and that is the void. The void is also a non-void, or a plenum, in so far as it is a concept. There is just absolutely nothing that can be said about this. But it can be cognised, by cognition that is definitely beyond thought. Trying to say it, trying to make it a concept is futile.

So what can we do? When the notion that I am comes to me - I can still laugh.

Having laughed at the notion that I am - and indeed it is far funnier, because more absurd, than the notion that I am not, which raised a good laugh when one first noticed it - what then? Conceptually I am, and how. Supra-conceptually there is laughter. Which do I choose? There is no choosing. I am and I am not - as long as I live.

(© RKP, 1963)

* * * * *