The following originally appeared on satyogainstitute.org
impossible to communicate the anguish of impossibility, even though — or
because — it is the central axis of what we quaintly, if unaquaintedly, refer to
as reality. Coming to understand the nature of impossibility is the essence of
education. This is no doubt why Freud said that education is one of the three
impossible professions. The other two are governing and conducting a
psychoanalysis. Freud's successor Lacan went further, and recognized that the
anguish that brings someone to psychoanalysis is nothing but the impossibility
of love, for which there is no cure. He affirmed that impossibility in his
famous apothegm, "il n'y a pas de rapport
sexuel" (there is no sexual relation).
But such assertions of the existence of specific dimensions of impossibility
evade the radical ubiquity of impossibility as the hallmark of existence tout court. Impossibility is always and
everywhere. There is no relation of any kind — not just sexual. Even friendships
are based on illusion. No colleagues are really in the same league. Our words
are riddled with ambiguities, our desires with unconscious conflicts and
counter-desires. Our identities are inauthentic. We are imitations of
imitations. Finding oneself is impossible. Discovering truth is impossible. There
is no credible knowledge. No scientific theory lasts for very long (although
its lifespan can be prolonged by being turned into an ideological given; in
other words, a religious belief, as has happened with Darwinism — which cannot
explain a long list of scientific observations, ranging from the Cambrian
explosion to the fact of eco-systems to the irreducible complexity of even the
most apparently simple microbiological structure). The impossibility of
understanding the world or each other or oneself is at least useful in
deflating the arrogance and grandiosity of the narcissistic ego. Unfortunately,
narcissists can easily remain in denial of their own impossibility for a long
time, until karma catches up with them.
This is what Miguel de Unamuno referred to as the tragic sense of life. It is
the authentic motivating power behind religion. Monks and saints have always
been those who have accepted the impossibility of sexual relationships and
mundane life, and have gone to monasteries to ponder the ultimate meaning of
the impossibility of existence, including the impossibility of the existence of
God. Impossibility, of course, is the mark of the presence of God, since
the world cannot be accounted for through any rational process of cause and
effect. Yet by the same token, God is an impossible concept. This has led, on
the one hand, to rampant agnosticism and, on the other, to the silence of the
Today, in our less contemplative era, we tend to face impossibility with anger
and projection. We see the impossibility of political change (or else we deny
the impossibility, and vote for someone who offers 'change we can believe in,'
and then suffer massive disappointment, but soon look for yet another false
messiah to save us). Yet, instead of recognizing and accepting the
impossibility, we defiantly demand the impossible. We project on the one per
cent' that they are the obstacles to change, when in truth, they are as
helpless as anyone else.
Impossibility is structural. It cannot be changed. We need to learn to live
with it, to understand it, to become it. Only then, as the embodiments of
impossibility, of paradox, of God's diabolical sense of humor, can the way out
be glimpsed. But let us not get too optimistic just yet. To become the
impossible is not so easy. In fact, it too is impossible, but this is where the
silence of the Buddha — and the incisive words of the few liberated sages who
have spoken about the issue — becomes of paramount importance.
Let us assess the issue more rigorously. What follows is a rough outline for a
treatise on impossibility.
We must begin by recognizing that reality itself is an infinite process of
enfoldment and unfoldment of an unknowable implicate order, a la David Bohm. It is impossible to put
limits on that order or its potential. Therefore, impossibility is itself
impossible to assert, except as an empirical observation. The unfoldment
process does tend to demonstrate archetypal moments, or folds. Each fold
reveals a deeper dimension of the Real. The folds, or pleats, must be linked
together in consciousness to unveil the hidden pattern of the implicate order
that the phenomenal plane can only at best symbolize to the very consciousness
that is being observed, in yet another incident of impossibility.
A compleat human life has seven pleats:
1. The innocent ignorance of impossibility
2. The denial of impossibility
3. The hatred and projection of impossibility
4. The anguish of impossibility
5. The acceptance of impossibility
6. The transcendence of impossibility
7. The attainment of the Impossible
In the first pleat, impossibility has not yet been consciously encountered. The
function of the parents is to delay the recognition of impossibility, so that
childhood innocence and joy can flourish, and the young mind has time to
develop resources to cope with the reality of impossibility when it is finally,
The whole significance of the story of the Buddha is that of the unfoldment of
the awareness of impossibility and its authentic treatment. The young pre-Buddha
is a prince whose father tries to protect the innocent eyes of the son from
seeing images of sickness, old age, and death, but to no avail. The boy
realizes the impossibility of sustained youth and happiness, and he falls into
dejection. But then he spots a wandering yogi, one who has renounced the
pursuit of jouissance for the
achievement of liberation from the realm of the impossible. He immediately
decides to become a yogi.
The meaning of yoga is encapsulated in the Buddha's three tests. He is first
faced with an attack by Kama, the lord of pleasure, in the form of three
beautiful young women who try to seduce him. But he has the sense to ask them
their names, which turn out to be Desire, Satisfaction, and Regret. Upon
realizing that he cannot get one without all three, he renounces sexual jouissance.
Next, the great spiritual warrior is faced with Mara, the lord of fear. He is
not intimidated by the power of the Other, by the prospect of pain and death,
nor by the desire for power over others. He scorns Mara and remains unmoved by
the display of military might. It is Mara who then becomes dejected and
The fledgling Buddha is then faced with the final test, the guilt tripping by
Dharma. He is a prince; he should be sitting on the throne, acting responsibly,
taking care of the kingdom; at least taking care of his own wife and newborn
son. How can he abandon his karmic responsibilities? Has he no conscience? At
this moment, the Buddha becomes even more deeply cognizant of the impossibility
of his situation, and realizes that the only way out is to dissolve his
identity entirely. Only by not existing can he attain freedom. But what does
not exist is clearly not his body, but the ego. In suddenly seeing through the
illusion of the ego, he becomes the Buddha in fact, not just in potentia, and a new world teacher is
Most of us, alas, are far more reluctant to become buddhas in fact, and need to
be dragged through the pleats of denial, anger, and anguish, before reaching
the bliss of liberation. The price of denial of impossibility is living an
imaginary life, a superficial life, a life led in bad faith, with an
unconscious split-off mind full of skeletons, traumas, and anxieties that can
come out only as physical symptoms, psychological problems, accidents, and
Eventually, with the help of an adept spiritual guide or even a good
psychoanalyst, one can come out of denial without falling into projection and
fury. But otherwise, the route of least resistance is to scapegoat someone else
for the impossibility of love and happiness and fairness and freedom, and to
live in a state of war. Interpersonal conflicts are always the result of
inauthentic existence, the cowardly failure to face the structural presence of
impossibility as the true face of the Real.
Now the phase of mourning begins, the anguish of recognizing impossibility as a
necessary, not contingent, condition of life. At last, one sees through one's
own imaginary narrative of egoic existence, and the futility of carrying on the
façade any longer. But the real anguish comes in the realization that one is
completely lost, that impossibility destroys the compass by which one has
navigated through time. All attempts at maintaining a semblance of meaning now
collapse in waves of anxious depersonalization.
It is at this point that the assistance of an authentic guru, someone who has
gone through this crisis and come out the other side, becomes valuable.
But trying to sustain a relationship with the guru is itself traumatic, since
the guru by definition is no longer a person. He or she is an impossible
object, ungraspable, uncanny, intimate yet utterly unknowable. And yet, you
feel that you are known — and loved — by the guru more deeply than anyone has ever
known or loved you. The relationship, though impossible, brings peace. And when
all else has fallen away, what remains of oneself is only love.
One's own impossibility, and that of the world, can at last be fully accepted.
And this is the real beginning of the spiritual pilgrimage. One becomes a
profound student of impossibility. One comes to appreciate the beauty of
paradox. One is drawn to the art of such creative geniuses as Escher, Dali,
Borges and other masters of paradox. One sees in impossibility the mark of a
superhuman intelligence. In the very chains of the most frustrating
impossibility, one comes to perceive the sublime presence of salvation, the
life breath of our liberating God.
Through surrender to that God who has inscribed impossibility into the very
structure of His Creation, we gradually — or suddenly, in an eternal moment of
satori — discover the patterns of the thought-waves of the mind of the Savior.
Then, in the wake of surrender of the ego mind to God, the created world is
recognized as nothing less than the eternal Tao. No longer is it perceived as
created, but now it is glimpsed rather as dreamed.
Chuang tzu dreamed he was a butterfly; then he awakened, and wondered if he
were really a butterfly dreaming he is Chuang tzu.
Acceptance of impossibility now morphs into transcendence of impossibility. If
it is all a dream, then, as in a dream, all is possible. One becomes as a
little child once more; now one can enter the kingdom of heaven. But where is
Innocence must evolve into utter egolessness. The last traces of entityhood
must evaporate in the silence of pure awareness. The mind based in language,
thought, imagery, emotion — must die. The Logos itself must ascend to the
Godhead. The Source of mind is Supramental Intelligent Presence. In full
surrender to the eternal, immovable Presence, the world itself dissolves.
The unsurpassable sage Sri Ramana Maharshi often proclaimed that to the gyani
(one who knows the ultimate truth) there is no world. There are no others. No
creation has ever occurred. This is the perennial doctrine of Ajata-all is
uncreated appearance. Time and space are both illusions. Even the most sublime
notion of God is an illusion. The Supreme Real is not a being.
Give up all concepts, all attempts to grasp, to control, to master. Renounce
even the saintly self that is willing to renounce it all. Realize compleat
Emptiness. This is the unfoldment of the final pleat, the attainment of the
Impossible: the Dreamer of the Dream.
Thou art That. No more should or can be said.
Image by Viajar24h, courtesy of Creative Commons license.