LIMITATION OF HUMAN LANGUAGE

Using a limited number of words, we describe the Unlimited Truth (Parameshar...)!
The ignorant one is without Understanding (ਅਕਲ ਹੀਣ...).
Without the Gur-Giaan (Divine Knowledge, Aatam Giaan...),
Divine Understanding cannot happen (ਕਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਅਗਣਤ ਹੈ - that the Lord is Unlimited,
beyond words or description or counting, etc.). (sggs 934).
<><><><>

Timeless Consciousness alone is real and is free of any modification, disturbances or agitation. Being beyond time, space, causation, logic and speculations, the Timeless is beyond the mind and its language. Hence inexpressible. For the Timeless knows the time and the space, but the time and the space does not know the Timeless!

But, unfortunately, the world Masters and the scriptures have to use man's finite language to explain this undifferentiated and inexpressible Infinite Truth. Therefore, they have to invent and use words like "God", "Self", "Soul", "Super Soul", "Jeeva", "mind", "ego", "Maya", "Light", "Joti-Svaroopa", "Allah", "Raam", "lotus heart", "lotus feet", "inner", "outer", "Infinite", and so on, just for the sake of communication or instruction as aids to instructing the unawakened, not to raise notions of one and two (duality or Doojaa Bhaav).

But, as we are "ignorant" and lack "Understanding", we run off with words or terminology; creating mess within our own bosom and in the world. It is our mind's preoccupations that do not allow us see beyond limitation of words. The results are in front of us!

If the Absolute Realty could be known by means of words, then there would be no need for the annihilation of the divided mind — Haume, "I-ness", egocentric consciousness, individual or unenlightened existence, unawakened state etc.! As indicated in the Gurbani, our words cannot even describe the state of a God-conscious person, let alone treatising the Lord!

  • ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕਾ ਕਥਿਆ ਨ ਜਾਇ ਅਧਾਖ੍ਹਰੁ ॥: Braham giaanee kaa kathiaa na jaai adhaakhyar: The God-conscious being cannot be described in words (sggs 273).
  • ਤ੍ਰਿਬਿਧਿ ਮਨਸਾ ਤ੍ਰਿਬਿਧਿ ਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਮੋਨੀ ਥਕੇ ਚਉਥੇ ਪਦ ਕੀ ਸਾਰ ਨ ਪਾਵਣਿਆ ॥੫: Tribidhi manasaa tribidhi maya. Parhi parhi pandit monee thakke chaouthe pad kee saar na paavaniaa ||5||: The mind's desires (ਮਨੋ ਕਾਮਨਾ) are bound by the three dispositions—the three qualities of Maya. Reading and reciting, the Pandits, and the men of silence (ਸਮਾਧੀਆਂ ਲਾਣ ਵਾਲੇ) have grown weary, but they have not found the Essence of the Chaouthaa Pada - the Fourth State (ਆਤਮਕ ਅਵਸਥਾ, which is beyond Maya). ||5|| (sggs 117).

Man's language is limited for it is a conscious-mind language. To put it otherwise, in the forms of words, language is the mind. Therefore, the perspective of language is structured only to make the conscious mind ("I-ness") and its objective experiences look like the real or permanent thing. As a matter of fact, this is how we are taught from the very childhood that the mind and the entire world is real, and anything other than this real mind should be doubted. But the truth is to the contrary. That is to say, our conscious mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, and the manifestation of thoughts are words. Since the conscious mind is nonentity (the false or impermanent knowledge of "I-ness"), its manifestations such as words or languages are limited, mere symbols and patterns related by habits to repeated experiences of the five senses. This habit with time gets so strong that we dare deny the truth that the limited language of the conditioned mind cannot verbalize the Absolute Reality — Unmanifested cannot be represented by the manifested for the words are limited and the other is Infinite.

  • ਜਹਾ ਬੋਲ ਤਹ ਅਛਰ ਆਵਾ ॥: Jahaa bol tah ashar aavaa: Wherever there is speech, there are letters (sggs 340).
  • ਤੋਲ ਅਤੋਲ ਨ ਤੋਲੀਐ ਤੁਲ ਨ ਤੁਲਾ ਧਾਰ ਤੋਲਾਯਾ ॥ ਲੇਖ ਅਲੇਖ ਨ ਲਿਖੀਐ ਅੰਗ ਨ ਅਖਰ ਲੇਖ ਲਖਾਯਾ ॥: Tol atol na toleeai tul na tulaa dhaar tolaayaa. Lekh alekh na likheeai ang na akhar lekh lakhaayaa: God's extension can in no way be measured. By no account it can be understood because all numerals and letters come to an end for this (Vaars Bhai Gurdaas 16).
  • ਅਲੇਖ ਹੈਂ ॥: Alekh hain: God is indescribable (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Jaap Sahib 30).

Simply put, that which can be verbalized is not Real. Only an object limited in space and time can be described. Words are mere pretexts. Words, descriptions, expressions, opinions, verbalization, etc., refer to the state of the outer mind (Maya...), not to the Absolute Reality. Also, that which is applicable to one person only cannot be Real; for the Reality is eternal and All-encompassing. But the Timelessness Reality being beyond the reach of words — beyond the rule of the physical senses and the mind — is inconceivable and cannot be harnessed to purpose.

  • ਕੇਤਾ ਆਖਣੁ ਆਖੀਐ ਆਖਣਿ ਤੋਟਿ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥: Kataa aakhan aakheeai aakhan toti na hoi: How can we describe Him with words? There is no end to the descriptions of Him (sggs 18).
  • ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੀ ਅਗਮ ਅਗਾਧਿ ਕਥਾ ॥ ਸੁਨੀਐ ਅਵਰ ਅਵਰ ਬਿਧਿ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਬਕਨ ਕਥਨ ਰਹਤਾ ॥: Parabh kee agam agaadh kathaa. Suneeai avar avar bidh bujheeai bakan kathan rahtaa: God's sermon is profound and unfathomable. It is heard to be one thing, but it is understood to be something else; because it is beyond mundane description and explanation (sggs 498).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਕਾਗਦ ਲਖ ਮਣਾ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਕੀਚੈ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਮਸੂ ਤੋਟਿ ਨ ਆਵਈ ਲੇਖਣਿ ਪਉਣੁ ਚਲਾਉ ॥ ਭੀ ਤੇਰੀ ਕੀਮਤਿ ਨਾ ਪਵੈ ਹਉ ਕੇਵਡੁ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਉ ॥: Nanak Kaagad lakh manaa parri parri keechai bhaaou...: O Nanak, if I had hundreds of thousands of stacks of paper, and if I were to read and recite and embrace love for God, and if ink were never to fail me, and if my pen were able to move like the wind, even so, I could not estimate Your Value. How can I describe the Greatness of Your Name? (sggs 14).
  • ਦੇਵ ਭੇਵ ਨ ਜਾਨਈ ਜਿਹ ਬੇਦ ਅਉਰ ਕਤੇਬ ॥: Dev bhev na jaanayee jih Beda or Kateb: The mystery of God is unknown to any Deva (demigod) and it is also indescribable by any scripture (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Jaap Sahib 82).
  • ਐਸੋ ਬੇਢੀ ਬਰਨਿ ਨ ਸਾਕਉ ਸਭ ਅੰਤਰ ਸਭ ਠਾਂਈ ਹੋ ॥ ਗੂੰਗੈ ਮਹਾ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਰਸੁ ਚਾਖਿਆ ਪੂਛੇ ਕਹਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਹੋ ॥੩॥: Eso bedhee barani na saako sabh antar sabh thaaee he. Goongai mahaa amrit ras chaakhiaa pooshe kahan na jaaee he ||3||: I cannot describe such a Carpenter (God), who is in everything, everywhere. (If) a mute tastes the most sweet thing (ਸੁਆਦਲਾ ਪਦਾਰਥ), but if you ask him to describe it, he cannot (similarly, I cannot describe the Divine Carpenter) ||3|| (sggs 657).

Therefore, since all world scriptures are revealed and recorded in human language, it is imperative to understand its limitation. Spiritual Beings have discovered and revealed to us that the words of human language can be employed only in expressing four types of meaning; beyond these, man's words are just helpless sounds. Specifically, the words can only describe the substance (Padaarath or Vastu), the properties (Gunas), the activities (Kriya), and the relationships that exist among the finite objects of the world (Sambandh). These fourfold capacities of the words together constitute the entire world of finite objects, beyond which human language cannot express anything at all. However, the Absolute Conscious Principle being without Gunas, Kriya, and Sambandh is not a finite Padaarath.

  • ਬਾਵਨ ਅਛਰ ਲੋਕ ਤ੍ਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕਛੁ ਇਨ ਹੀ ਮਾਹਿ ॥ ਏ ਅਖਰ ਖਿਰਿ ਜਾਹਿਗੇ ਓਇ ਅਖਰ ਇਨ ਮਹਿ ਨਾਹਿ ॥: Baavan ashhar lok trai sabh kashu in hee maahi. Ae akhar khir jaahigae oue akhar in mahi naahi: Through these fifty-two letters, the entire world and all things are described. (But) these letters will perish (ਨਾਸਵੰਤ); and That Unperishable (the One, Aatma...) is not in these letters (sggs 340).

Consequently, owing to its finitude, human language is available and capable only for expressing man's experiences in the finite field. The theme of the scriptures, however, is the Transcendental Truth, which is Eternal and Absolute. Therefore, the Absolute Truth the scriptures or the Masters try to impart to us cannot be fully expressed by gross finite words of any language in the world. Beyond the purview of our unawakened state, it lies outside the perception of the gross equipment of our body-mind-intellect. Thus, the language, words or phrases of any sorts can never hope to express, define or report upon the Formless Principle.

  • ਗਣਤ ਗਣਾਵੈ ਅਖਰੀ ਅਗਣਤੁ ਸਾਚਾ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਮਤਿਹੀਣੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥: Ganat ganaavai akharee aganat saachaa soi...: Using a limited number of words, we describe the Unlimited Truth (Parameshar...)! The ignorant one is without Understanding (ਅਕਲ ਹੀਣ...). Without the Gur-Giaan (Divine Knowledge, Aatam Giaan...), Divine Understanding cannot happen (ਕਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਅਗਣਤ ਹੈ - that the Lord is Unlimited, beyond words or description or counting, etc.). (sggs 934).
  • ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕਵਣ ਕਹਾ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥: Kudrati kavan kahaa veechaar: What capacity have I to describe Thee? (sggs 3).
  • ਕਹਣਾ ਹੈ ਕਿਛੁ ਕਹਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥: Kahnaa hai kish kahan na jaae: (People) describe God, but (He) cannot be described at all (sggs 151).

To look at it from an another angle, the worldly truth is based on relativity. However, the Absolute Truth is self-existence. But due to our body-consciousness, the majority of us can only appreciate relative knowledge. On account of our relativist consciousness, the mind's all thinking is in plurality (Doojaa Bhaav). Therefore, all thoughts, words, notions, concepts, precepts, ideas, abstractions, etc., are limited in the framework of time and space, hence unreal (transient). However, the Pure Awareness being Unlimited, Formless, Undivided, without beginning and end is Unthinkable; therefore, beyond all mundane thinking or experience of the physical senses. Baabaa Nanak puts it as follows:

  • ਜੇ ਹਉ ਜਾਣਾ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹਣਾ ਕਥਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥: Je haou jaanaa aakhaa naahee kahanaa kathan na jaaee: Even knowing God, I cannot describe Him; He cannot be described in words (sggs 2).
  • ਜੇ ਕੋ ਕਹੈ ਕਰੈ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਕਰਤੇ ਕੈ ਕਰਣੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਸੁਮਾਰੁ ॥: Je ko kahai karai veechaar. Karate kai karanai naahee sumaar: No matter how much anyone tries to say and ponder, God's expanse is unlimited and cannot be enumerated (sggs 3).
  • ਲੇਖਾ ਹੋਇ ਤ ਲਿਖੀਐ ਲੇਖੈ ਹੋਇ ਵਿਣਾਸੁ ॥: Lekhaa hoi ta likheeai lekhai hoi vinaas: If you try to write an account of this, you will surely finish yourself before you finish writing it (sggs 5).

Perhaps we can appreciate now as to how Absolute cannot be limited to the hollowness of the gross finite words of any language in the world. But to change this impossibility into possibility, the Spiritual Masters have employed the suggestiveness of the word used and not because of the literal word meanings of the language employed! What it means is that a language which is generally used to express the finite experiences, is employed in the scriptures with a difference - it is reinforced with suggestions. That is to say, in addition to direct literal meaning, every word has an indirect pregnant suggestion, which helps go beyond the limitation of the human language. This is why when any scripture is studied with a mere dictionary meaning, our study dumps us in a morass of confusions, misunderstanding, and chaos. In addition to employing suggestiveness, the Masters also invent and use different methods including various analogies, similes, allegories, metaphors, figurative and mystic representations etc., which are meant for most of us who can only appreciate the relative knowledge.

  • ਬਾਵਨ ਅਖਰ ਸੋਧਿ ਕੈ ਹਰਿ ਚਰਨੀ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਇ ॥੧੭੩॥: Baavan akhar sodi kai hari charanee chitu laai ||173||: Searching the fifty-two letters of the alphabet (i.e., through the Spiritual Inquiry into what's written), focus your consciousness on Hari (Mool). ||173|| (sggs 1373).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਸਾਤ ਸਮੁੰਦਹਿ ਮਸੁ ਕਰਉ ਕਲਮ ਕਰਉ ਬਨਰਾਇ ॥ ਬਸੁਧਾ ਕਾਗਦੁ ਜਉ ਕਰਉ ਹਰਿ ਜਸੁ ਲਿਖਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥: Kabeer, if I could change the seven seas into ink and make all the vegetation my pen, and the earth my paper, even then, I could not write God's Praises (sggs 1368).
  • ਦੇਹੀ ਕਾਚੀ ਕਾਗਦ ਮਿਕਦਾਰਾ ॥ ਬੂੰਦ ਪਵੈ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਢਹਤ ਨ ਲਾਗੈ ਬਾਰਾ ॥: The body is frail and perishable; the paper is limited. When the drop of water falls upon it, the paper crumbles and dissolves instantaneously (sggs 1048).
  • ਕਾਗਦਿ ਕਲਮ ਨ ਲਿਖਣਹਾਰੁ ॥: No paper, no pen, no scribe can record the state of the faithful (sggs 3).
  • ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕਵਣ ਕਹਾ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥: Kudrati kavan kahaa veechaar: How can (God's) Creative Potency be described? (sggs 3).

Accordingly, the Gurbani urges us not to run off with the words or terminology. That is to say, we should not take everything stated in the scriptures literally. If we do, it would be suicidal. Therefore, instead of mechanical reading of the scriptures, over and over again, we must allow the scriptures to read us and go through us! To put it otherwise, in addition to listening and reading, one must realize intrinsic meaning to get to the Spiritual essence of the scriptural words, without which one will end up further polluting his head. What's needed is cool headedness, open mindedness, and inner simplicity. But, on account of inner "garbage" of false ego - lust, greed, selfishness etc. - such commonsense is not common anymore.

  • ਕਥਨੀ ਬਦਨੀ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਜਾਇ ॥: Kathanee badanee na paaeeai houmai vichahu jaai: God is not obtained by mouthing mere words, but by rooting out ego from within (sggs 32).
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਤਤੁ ਗਿਆਨਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੇ ॥: Antari tattu giaani houmai maare (sggs 128).
The state of higher awareness which the scriptures aspire us to attain is beyond words - the state where one identifies with Inner Purity and Peace. As stated in the Gurbani, there is no intuitive wisdom without realization of one's real Self within. With the rise of Spiritual Wisdom sets the sun of duality; then the mundane mind (thoughts-stuff) disappears leaving behind the state of thoughtlessness ("Sunn Samaadhi") where there is nothing left to be described by limited words of any language. To say it otherwise, when false ego is desuprimeposed, no instinctive mind survives. There one's speech expands without words!
  • ਕਿਆ ਪੜੀਐ ਕਿਆ ਗੁਨੀਐ ॥ ਕਿਆ ਬੇਦ ਪੁਰਾਨਾਂ ਸੁਨੀਐ ॥ ਪੜੇ ਸੁਨੇ ਕਿਆ ਹੋਈ॥ਜਉ ਸਹਜ ਨ ਮਿਲਿਓ ਸੋਈ ॥: What use is it to read, and what use is it to study? What use is it to listen to the Vedas and Kateb (Bible, Quraan, etc.)? What use is reading and listening, if naturally or spontaneously (Sahaj) the Self is not realized? (sggs 655).
  • ਹਰਿ ਗੁਨ ਕਹਤੇ ਕਹਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਜੈਸੇ ਗੂੰਗੇ ਕੀ ਮਿਠਿਆਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Hari gun kahate kahan na jaaee. Jaise goonge kee mithiaaee ||1|Rahaaou||: (The taste of) God's Glorious Praises cannot be spoken by speaking. It's like the sweet candies given to a mute (who cannot describe the taste of the candies) ||1||Pause|| (sggs 659).
  • ਆਖਣੁ ਵੇਖਣੁ ਬੋਲਣਾ ਸਬਦੇ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਇ ॥: Aakhan vekhan bolanaa sabade rahiaa samaai: In speaking, in seeing and in words, remain immersed in the Shabad (sggs 35).
Thus, the description of God-experience is not in words of any language for it can only be experienced within by transcending all limitations. One has to "Be" (Sahaj Avasthaa). In other words, to know the Truth, one must pass through his own experience within by shifting attention from the flowery words to Inner Essence and Purity. This is why it is repeatedly emphasized in the Gurbani that the one who has Realized the True Nature of our Mool (Source, Origin, Jot...) cannot convey it to the other person like an empirical knowledge, or give it to the other person like a gift. Because by speaking and describing, the Absolute cannot be understood - only one who intuitively experiences Him Realizes Him. Therefore, as indicated in the Gurbani, by becoming a true Spiritual Being (Gurmukh), we must transcend limitations of the human languages and realize the Spiritual meaning of the scriptural words.
  • ਜਿਨਿ ਰਾਮੁ ਜਾਨਿਆ ਤਿਨਹਿ ਪਛਾਨਿਆ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਗੂੰਗੇ ਸਾਕਰ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥੧॥: Jini Raam jaaniaa tinahi pashaaniaa. Jiou Goonge saakar mann maaniaa ||1||: Only one who knows God (within) realizes Him. (That person's mind is satisfied and satiated, but he cannot descrobe his experience to others) like the mind of the mute feels satisfied and satiated after eating the sugar candy (but he cannot describe the taste of the candy to others) ||1|| (sggs 327).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਤਤੁ ਹੈ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ॥: Gurmukh tatu hai beechaaraa: The Gurmukhs contemplate the essence of reality (sggs 119).
  • ਬੇਦ ਕਤੇਬ ਸਿਮ੍ਰਿਤਿ ਸਭਿ ਸਾਸਤ ਇਨ੍‍ ਪੜਿਆ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਏਕੁ ਅਖਰੁ ਜੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਪੈ ਤਿਸ ਕੀ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਸੋਈ ॥: Bed kateb simirat sabh...: One may read all the books of the Vedas and Kateb (Quraan, etc.), the Simritees and the Shaastras, but they will not bring liberation. By bcoming the Gurmukh, who understans the One Imperishable Lord (ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ), acquires a pure glory (ਪਵਿਤ੍ਰ ਸੋਭਾ). (sggs 747).
  • ਏਨਾ ਅਖਰਾ ਮਹਿ ਜੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਸਿਰਿ ਲੇਖੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥: Enaa akharaa mahi jo gurmukhi boojhai tisu siri lekhu n hoee ||2||: By becoming the Gurmukh, who understands (the Mool-ਮੂਲ, Aatm-Giaan...) through these letters, no accounting (of Bikaars...) is due from him. ||2|| (sggs 432).

— T. Singh
www.gurbani.org