STORY BY JAMES JOLLY
Gereon Kopf of Luther College spoke to a crowd of 50 people on Thursday night. Kopf gave an hour-long lecture on how humans talk about God and the nature of the ultimate being.
“How do we talk about what cannot be talked about?” Kopf said.
Kopf took the stage in lower Olmsted Center’s Sussman Theater, as part of the Comparison Project, a series of experimental comparative religion discussions, to deliver his speech.
The speech was titled “When Expression is Expressed, Non-Expression is Not-Expressed: A Zen Buddhist Approach to Talking About the Ineffable.”
It was an attempt to illustrate the complex and contradictory idea of talking about what cannot be talked about and expressing that, which cannot be expressed.
The subject material was of an advanced and complex philosophical nature, but Kopf worked hard to help people understand.
Tim Knepper, director of The Comparison Project and associate professor of philosophy at Drake University, was happy with the presentation.
“The subject material is typically difficult, but Kopf did a good job,” Knepper said. “He uses a lot of good metaphors. I really enjoyed it.”
Topics of the speech included the ultimate reality versus the subjective reality, the difficulties of discussion and the ineffable, which describes a concept too large or complex to be expressed.
Kopf opened up the speech with a chart comparing different styles of religion and how they view reality, transcendence and the ineffable. He said that western theologians usually asked two questions about the ineffable
“The first is, ‘What is the nature of ultimate reality?’ The second is ‘How do we talk about it,’” Kopf said.
Kopf then illustrated the difference between western and eastern religious philosophy.
He made frequent references to the Zen Buddhist master D?gen’s revelation on expressions of the ineffable and ultimate nature.
Kopf said that D?gen saw those two questions as the same problem and that expression of ultimate reality and the ultimate reality are the same.
“D?gen saw that expressions of totality were correct -— but only to the individual expresser at that particular time, and never anywhere else,” Kopf said.
Kopf ended the speech with a question and answer session. After a brief pause for audience members to collect their thoughts and digest the lecture, most members were only trying to see if they understood what had been said.
Knepper knew that the wording could get confusing.
“Language isn’t a good roadmap of reality,” Knepper said. “People try to pin these concepts down, but Zen Buddhism takes that idea and throws it out the window.”
Leah Kalmanson, an assistant professor of philosophy at Drake, helped organize the event to promote world religious views.
“I’m actually friends with Professor Kopf,” Kalmanson said. “We really try to get a diverse group of speakers for the project, and Zen Buddhism is very different from ours. Our religion has a god, but some others do not, and that is very interesting. It’s good to get some diversity.”