We live inside the childhood belief that things exist on their side, by themselves, ‘over there.’ And we believe this is so, whether the ‘thing’ is a table, a tree, a person, or a thought. To the observer-self, they are all at the ‘other end’ of a subject-object polarity.

This separation underlies the categories that we have built up, and that we use to know what ‘kind’ of something we are encountering. The ‘subject’ end of the polarity (the observer-self) positions itself in relation to situations this way. As adults, our word-use continues based on these childhood foundations.

We apply pre-given labels to the objects in the world, and so tend to see the old categories in place of each fresh occurring. We usually don’t pause to learn how to language our situations freshly.

Let’s take another angle on the role which the ‘observing self’ plays in this. There’s a special angle on this ‘positioning’ process, which is called, by Tarthang Tulku, the ‘by-stander self.’ It’s an interesting term, because it brings in the fact that this false way of experiencing our sentient processes (false ego) treats itself as though it is outside the stream of experience; falsely timeless or eternal.

(I can’t go into the implications of this right now, but they are profound. For instance, this view helps us understand why people, before they act, can’t feel into the consequences that will flow from their actions; and why they don’t accept responsibility, once those consequences become obvious after they’ve acted.)

The ‘by-standing self’ applies all kinds of categories in its ‘kind-making,’ according to its history and conditioning. We are insulated from self-awareness of this deluding process by a belief about language, which the by-stander self applies; that is, that we use words to communicate between the subject and the object, and about the subject and object.

This communication theory is based on the idea that we are separate, and that words do something about the gap between the subject and the object. But, this supposed function of language is based on the false or dualistic ‘separation’ viewpoint.

There is a defence, which helps to keep the system stable and unexamined, and that is: When we do come to think about subject-object trance (perhaps prompted by teachings), we then blame the trance on language itself – as though the dualism is inherent in speaking and thinking.

Humans have an odd way of blaming the ‘other’ in all kinds of circumstances. In this seemingly innocuous case of blaming the ‘other,’ I hear even dharma teachers say (along with philosophers, linguists and psychologists) that: “Language brings the subject-object division.” Or, “Language gives a sense of ‘thing-ness.” As if language acted on its own. As though this misuse is intrinsic to language. Maybe the servant (language) has taken over the master (the person)?

Maybe that’s why we produce so many zombie movies, and robot movies? Because we’ve given our power over to concepts; and, in particular to the idea that there is a ‘me’ outside the flow of experience, which observes the flow without being in it? And that we are at the mercy of language?

Blaming language is possibly also a smoke screen. Why would we do this? Well, one reason is that the game has gone so far, now, that it is very scary to realise that we may be playing such a game. We’ve become so entranced – in exactly the way Narcissus did – with the dream of ‘observing, self-existing, by-standing, timeless self,’ that it looks like giving that up would be akin to suicide.

I’m going to be charitable, here, and suggest that this is because we lack insight into language use. Whatever the motivation, the real situation is the opposite: our trance has bestowed a false meaning on the word ‘death,’ so while we are in the by-stander trance, we are as if dead.

The real nature of timelessness (what is truly akālika), then, becomes lost to our perception, and a false version of timelessness holds its unconscious sway.

Those who go by names and concepts,
who abide in names and concepts,
by not discerning the naming-process,
they are under the yoke of death.
Having fully understood the naming-process,
one doesn’t conceive of one who names.
For, there is nothing (findable)
whereof one would say that
‘she’ or ‘he’ exists.
– Samiddhi Sutta
in the Samyutta Nikāya

– Translated by Christopher J. Ash.

Do I go by names and concepts? Let me see…. Do I ‘abide, dwell in’ names and concepts?

Imagine that I live inside my naming and conceptualising. What’s that like, to live inside my naming? Hm…

Am I conscious of my naming activities – continuously mindful of how I ‘kind’ situations and events?

What happens if, feeling in the middle of my body, where feelings happen… what happens if I say, ironically: ‘Naming has nothing to do with death, does it?” What happens in my body, in response?

And, am I okay with not depending on the naming for a sense of being here? If I don’t conceive of the subject pole of experiencing, but just leave experiencing freely open in the present moment? What fears come about this way of being?

If I don’t depend on naming for establishing existence, might not I, then, go beyond existence and non-existence, and therefore beyond death?

How else could we use language then?

We could think of language as gesture; as something new we do freshly in each situation, to carry these interactional situations forward. We can use the word ‘gesture’ to mean something very, very broad, here – and very alive, very present. Mindfulness of speaking can bring this about.

For my purposes, right here, as I write, I say that this gesture of speech, which I give you now, is a manner of carrying my life forward, in a holistic way. How else would I want to live, if these were my last months?