Do Words Have Meaning?

Q: I have gotten to the point where I realize that the intellect is incapable of understanding what I thought needed to be "understood." Based on all that I have learned, what apparently is actually needed is for something to be "seen"—or perhaps "grasped" or "intuited" is a better way to describe it.

I have known for many years (from way back in my philosophical days, and well before I began any kind of spiritual searching) that words and concepts are, at best, useful conveniences, and that they do not actually contain/communicate/connote/convey truth—let alone "concrete" truth, as we are so ardently taught and conditioned to believe. As such, I developed my own personal definition of truth (and yes, I am aware of the irony of doing so):

truth | that which is the case, regardless of what any mind may believe

And as an extension of this definition, I also developed the following corollaries, regarding the relationship between truth and language (Yes. More irony. I'm aware.):

Corollary 1 The only truth that language communicates are the sounds and symbols of language themselves.

Corollary 1.1 Our perceptions of the sounds and symbols that we identify as language are only shades and shadows of the sounds and symbols as they truly are.

And finally (hang in there, you're in the home stretch), I adapted something that Churchill once wrote about democracy, to sum up (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) my philosophy of our use of language to communicate ideas with one another:

"Language is the worst form of communication, except for every other form of communication."

All of this to say that, while I have held the above concepts and beliefs intellectually for years (decades, actually), I now recognize their practical implications, and that I have to stop trying to answer the questions that I've been asking by using my intellect. (To which my mind, of course, immediately responds, "And how the hell am I supposed to do that?" ... Ugh. Stupid mind! You are the intellect! Ya big dummy.)

Anyway, I hope this gives you some additional insight into where I've been, and where I currently am, so when I do ask you a question, you'll have a bit more context within which to frame it.

A: What exactly is it that you think the intellect cannot know? Try to be concise and precise.

Q: I think that the intellect cannot know anything.

A: If the intellect cannot know anything, what knows the meaning of these words you're reading?

Q: Nothing knows their meaning, because words don't have meaning.

A: Oh, okay, I see what's going on. I'm glad we narrowed this down.

You're confusing
satya (the "truth" as you defined above; what is real) with mithya (what is apparently real).

Sorting out the real from the apparently real is the crux of liberation. When we confuse what is unreal with what is real, we imagine ourselves to be bound, and we suffer. That's the extent of it!

Words are apparently real, and so they have apparent meaning, on the relative level of apparent things.

You can't apply
satya qualities (limitlessness, formlessness, timelessness) to mithya things, or vice versa. Sorting this out is known as discrimination, and it's the very essence of the Vedanta teaching. This would explain where I would guess mostly all of your questions about Vedanta have been springing from – just this one source of confusion. Clear this up, and all that other stuff will be clear.

Here's a quote from James' book The Essence of Enlightenment, Chapter 6: "When we talk about liberation we mean one thing and one thing alone: the discrimination between
satya and mithya – awareness, and the objects appearing in it."

If you are so inclined, you could parse your statement above and apply this discrimination to it, and see where you went wrong. If you want more on
satya and mithya, it's basically just the whole Vedanta teaching – satya is awareness, above the line; and mithya is below the line, all the objects appearing, including the personal you, mind, intellect, language, Vedanta, world, cosmos, you name it. All of mithya has its own whole apparent operating system (Maya), and within that, things like meaning are apparently real.

Keep it up! It works!