(© HKU Press, 1966)
What-we-are cannot be comprehended because there cannot be any comprehender apart from what-we-are to comprehend what-we-are. If a comprehender could comprehend itself there would be a subject comprehender and its object comprehended, and the comprehending subject would again become an object, the object of a comprehender. A perpetual regression is then reached, as always.
Must not what-we-are, then, be that perpetual regression, the perpetual regression of subject becoming the object of a subject ad infinitum? Dialectically, dualistically, phenomenally, it must surely be so, for phenomenon is the appearance of noumenon which thereby itself becomes a conceptual appearance, or phenomenon, of noumenon, ad infinitum. Zenith has a Nadir which must have a Zenith, and so with all opposites and all complementaries for ever and ever.
That is surely why Shen Hui proclaimed the double negative, the absence of the absence of presence-and-absence, the absence of that (kind of) absence which is neither presence nor absence.
That is only a dialectical wheeze to get out of duality by means of duality? Perhaps it is. But out we must be got, for duality is the mechanism of bondage. Surely, however, it is not the concept that matters, but the fact that there always remains the conceiver of the concept, whatever it may be? And he it is who is bound. He, also, it is who is not, never has been and never could be, to be bound or anything else.
But he cannot even say 'I am not' for in saying it he demonstrates that he is. Nor can he get out of himself by saying that he is everything, for everything is as much a thing as nothing, and he is still a conceiver conceiving himself as one or the other or both or neither. Yet again he cannot be rid of himself by claiming transcendence, for then something transcends something else, and that remains as the transcender.
Can he disappear by means of immanence? Something remains immanent, some thing however tenuous and vague that dwells within something more solid, an absence within a presence. Even the most impersonal immanence as such is an objective concept, and that objective concept has a subject, which thereby becomes an object - and so on ad infinitum.
Does this demonstrate that it is dialectically, conceptually impossible to comprehend what-we-are? Having apperceived that the absence of the absence of nothing is the clearest indication of what non-conceptually we are, we can only abandon the search, and that, if it be an abandonment also of the seeker, is finding. It is finding that the seeker is the sought, the sought is the seeker, and neither is, was, ever could be, or is not, was not, or ever could not be, for each is the conceptual half of THIS which cannot be conceived, since THIS can never conceive itself without splitting into subject and object.
This conceptual not-ness is commonly regarded as some kind of catastrophe! But whyever should that be so? Surely it is no calamity not be a concept? Is it not ridiculous, rather, to imagine that what-we-are could ever be a fugitive imponderability?
Is it not the conceivable that is negligible, dream-stuff, whereas the voidness, conceptually, which we are is necessarily plenitude in non-conceptuality? That is not conceptual darkness, but in non-conceptuality is light, light which darkness can never know, since darkness is nothing but absence of light.
What we are phenomenally, what we appear to be, is conceptual, therefore what are non-conceptually is non-conceptuality as such, and if conceptually that is forever unknowable within the apparent confines of space and time, non-conceptually it is the not-knowing of knowing, non-finite and intemporal, neither anything nor nothing.
It cannot be cognised, precisely because what-we-are is we who are cognising, and 'cognising' cannot cognise 'cognising'.
Note: Phenomenally, split, we can be said to be what is conceptualising, and the concepts conceived; noumenally, un-split, we are up-stream of conceptualisation, and can neither conceive nor be conceived.
Therefore the difference, dualistically expressed, is that as phenomena what we are is conceptuality, and noumenally, non-conceptuality.
It is important to remember that 'we' do not conceptualise, for there is no 'we' as such, but that what we are is what is cognised as 'conceptualising'.
It seems to you odd that what we are should be described as 'conceptualisation'? Not odd, just factual. What else could we be?