Concepts are tools. A hammer is a tool that can help us build a chair, but a hammer does not resemble a chair. Suffering ensues when we confuse this relationship. If we mistake a hammer for a chair, the outcome will be quite painful, probably involve a trip to the emergency room, and add another object to the hospital worker’s collection of objects removed from inappropriate orifices. That may seem like a painful exaggeration, but pause and think about your life for a moment, and all the suffering that has occurred throughout its long or short term. Seems a little more pertinent, doesn’t it?
Concepts are not bad anymore than hammers are bad, but they can cause suffering when we ignorantly and intentionally mistake our concepts about reality, for reality. Moreover, while a hammer can be used to build a chair, concepts cannot be used to build reality. But because we are all essentially tool-using monkeys, we fall back on our evolution. We use our concepts to build a reality, which is often contrary to the reality. We need to find better ways to use concepts to understand reality.
I like to take a deconstructivist stance. The more I study a concept, the more I see through it. The more I categorize my world, the more unnecessary categories become. Through a very slow process of elimination, I am seeking what reality is by discarding what it is not. This approach is often described as a way to understand non-self, by continuously breaking down the self into its component parts and then asking “Am I this?” In the end we are left with emptiness (so I’m told), which is an basic form of interdependence. These things, too are concepts – perhaps, essential, even, but we must understand them as such.
Stop sitting on the hammer.