The Answer

William B. Turner
3 min readJan 10, 2021

Is the aporia.

“Aporia” is not a word that one hears often, or perhaps at all. It is a philosophical term that denotes an irresolvable logical contradiction in an argument, theory, or text.

Buddhism and awakening in Buddhism is an experience. This might seem excessively abstract. But a logical contradiction creates a gap. There is no good reason why the experience of awakening in Buddhism cannot be explained in philosophical terms. Different explanations will work well for different people. This is an explanation for people who like philosophical explanations.

The Buddha used the word, “dukkha” to explain the human predicament. Buddhist teachers often use the word because it lacks a good English translation. Etymologically, “dukkha” denotes an absence or lack, a hole. Humans feel an insatiable lack in our being, in our heart center to offer a physical analog. This creates drivenness, or clinging, which is the source of human suffering according to the Buddha. We cast about incessantly looking for the thing — relationship, job, house, car, meal, drink, whatever floats your boat — that will fill the lack. The problem is that, even if you find something that does fill your lack, all is impermanence and the thing that fills your lack will not retain forever whatever qualities it has that allow it to fill your lack. We still suffer from old age, sickness,and death, the three human experiences that set the Buddha on his quest to awaken to begin with.

We can use “aporia” as a translation for “dukkha.” In some sense, Zen, with its emphasis on subverting our usual, daily, rational, or “rational,” procedures for thinking, already implicitly figures “dukkha” as a logical impasse. It indicates that, since reasoning will not lead to awakening and we have a strong tendency to resort to our reasoning capacity to solve our problems, Buddhists need some way to surmount or evade that reasoning capacity to achieve awakening.

Other schools of Buddhism do not as much emphasize the goal of defeating ordinary ratiocination as much as does Zen, but the practice of meditation always has that goal in some sense. The point of meditation is not to think one’s way to awakening, but watch the mind and its operations until one sees how they interfere with awakening, stop the interference, and awaken.

As typically happens in human history, the goal is less logical resolution of the logical impasse as escaping or evading it without resolving it, since it will not admit of resolution. The Buddha identified the basic, existential aporia that troubles all humans and discovered an ultimate method for escaping, not resolving it. He offers no logical solution. He just teaches us how to transcend it. The Buddha is no help for solving our problems. He tells us instead that they are only our problems because we choose to hold onto them and that we should just let go of them instead.

Or overwhelm them with the force of pure consciousness, which is impersonal and transcends all logic.

So keep meditating on consciousness and let it fry your aporia.

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