Speaking of Enlightenment: A Simple Rule

Is there some ineffable It – some deep and transcendental aspect of our being that is distinct from samsara?


Buddhists are not nihilists; we must answer yes (or answer I don’t know) to the above question. However, if we answer yes then we must answer yes with qualification. The qualification being that we are not to qualify It, for It does not exist (standout) in such a way that our minds or brains can perceive It as having any qualities. It is ineffable because it lies beyond the range of objectification (i.e. it is not an experience or object of any kind).

Attempting to speak of that which is ineffable causes serious problems. (The problems start the moment we make It into a thing that possesses attributes.) However, not speaking of It has led to a more serious problem – nihilism. Therefore, I think we should speak of It, but carefully – by observing the following two-part rule:

i) Speak of It only in terms of what it is not. For example, in the suttas the Buddha sometimes calls It the unmanifest (not manifest) or the unaging (not aging). (S.N. 43)

ii) Do not use attributes (qualities, characteristics, or properties) to describe It. When, in the suttas, you come across terms such as ‘the peaceful’ or ‘the wonderful’ (S.N. 43) used synonymously for ‘nirvana,’ realize that these words are not actually describing It, but rather they are describing the liberated state (i.e. the free flowing experiences and actions) of an awakened person.

Again, the two-part rule is as follows:

i) Speak of It only in terms of what it is not.
ii) Use attributes to describe the experiences of an awakened person or moment, but not the It itself.

It is a simple rule and observation, but it has really helped me to keep things straight.



P.S. I feel as though there might be a third component to this rule. Is there something I am missing? That is very likely, for sure. Maybe making some sort of subjective/objective distinction is in order here. I’ll consider it over the Christmas break. Oh yes, Merry Christmas everyone!


  1. Hi Tallis,

    I very much appreciate what Master Dogen offers on this central matter:

    "The mind of the buddhas is fences, walls, tiles and pebbles" [i.e. real things real-ised]



  2. I like simplicity and I like your two simple rules...Merry Christmas to you and your family.


  3. Harry, is the mind of the buddhas also verbs, nouns, adverbs and adjectives (i.e. the thinking mind)? Thank-you for your insight.

  4. Thanks Alan,

    I hope you had a nice Christmas. Happy New Year!

  5. Hi Tallis,

    Yes, the mind of the buddhas is already every real thing (every dharma) whether we realise them or not or use them correctly or not. Nothing can possibly be excluded, reality excludes nothing, despite what we may think and percieve to the contrary.

    The central matter seems to me to be: How do we real-ise/actualise this mind of the buddhas?