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A ZEN DESCRIPTION OF GOD

 
tenbones
 
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tenbones
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04 April 2014 15:41
 

I’ll take a shot at this.

First of all - as a philosophy (subject to all forms of fallible human interpretations) - Zen in particular is difficult for westerners because trying to understand the concept of the Tao or ‘Nothingness’ as transliterated into English - is at *best* difficult.

Because let’s face it, atheism/secularism primarily concerns itself with materialist/mechanistic views of the world (which I’m not saying is wrong - it’s obviously perfectly reasonable). However, as is also generally accurate, most atheist and secularists when speaking about “God” utilize the worst reference one could possibly make as a materialist: that of the western Judeo-Christian version.

Which is an odd thing. Many self-avowed atheists/secularists define their atheism by the knee-jerk definition of “I don’t believe in God.” with the presumption that “God” is the Hebrew Skygod turned Monotheistic super-tyrant.

Zen, strictly speaking, does not concern itself with Gods. In Zen it really is irrelevant. One has to be careful about lumping Eastern traditions together as filtered by western conceptual views. While it’s certainly true that millions of Eastern Traditions are practiced and believed in as literally as Western religions. However, the injunctions of Western traditions do not exist, likewise the Sutras and Vedic scriptures, the Tao Te Ching, exist to be read as metaphor. The lack of psychological/social evolution of “religion” (writ-large) among the worlds practitioners is separate from the practices of Eastern traditions specifically is the real issue here. The Platonic Myth of the Cave is very much alive, and we all stare at shadows on the wall. The practice of Zen and other contemplative traditions are the heart of what Zen (and to other extents - Taoism and other Eastern traditions) attempts to dispel.

What Zen, which I’ll speak to from experience, says about “God” is simple: Nothing. You can quote *any* Zen master, any Sutra, it ultimately does *NOT* *MATTER* - because the ultimate role of Zen is for you to do the practice. There is no proscription of “going to Hell” or anything of the sort. God is irrelevant, sure, when the Sutras were written, and when Gautama Siddartha was alive, (~500BCE) people believed in all sorts of crazy things. But the insights he gained through the practice is what is the core of Buddhism. And much later Zen.

So what does this all mean? Well the problem of talking about the Tao, Nothingness, etc. as co-equivalent to the clearly anthropomorphism of the Hebrew-spawned “God” (and subsequently defining ones non-belief BY this psychological effigy) is that ignores the entirety of what Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism are largely focused on at their core, which VERY much is the problem of Western religion. That problem is: Us.

By “US” I mean the very ego-identities that we identify our selves (small self) with. The self that grasps and clings to “things” to ideas propagated by, you guessed it, “us” - the very self-same, self-identifying ego-construct that does not in actual fact EXIST in any meaningful fashion other than in our own heads.

That is precisely why the Tao/Nothingness is so hard for westerners, generally to understand. Because the ego does not acknowledge itself AS the entity that is in control, when in fact it is. It sets up a duality, that informs *everything* about how westerners view reality. There is the UNIVERSE (a nice big general term) and then there is the entity that historically experiences it through ones fallible five-senses that constructs an identity that consciously and more importantly unconsciously is informed by those experiences and reacts accordingly (we call this conditioning).

Zen practice is sitting and meditation. It is about the subdual of the ego (the identity of the small self). The practice has repeatable results. And all of these results are well recorded and termed. But the practice goes on. Buddhism and eastern traditions have had literally centuries of exploring the very consciousness that obfuscates a deeper reality (Non-dual experience) much as atheists rail against the larger egoic stance of Biblical literalists that have their ego-selves clinging madly to a collective ego-construct of religion.

God as Non-duality. This is the road and the rubber that meets it.

What is it? it’s the point where ones ego is so subdued that one experiences the world free of the filters our ego-consciousness places upon us. The act of having a non-dual experience is found in the words Zen (and Buddhism in general) gives as “Drinking the Ocean in one sip”. it’s metaphor, it’s overwhelming, it’s sublime. *ANY* words I say do not fully convey the experience. It can only be conveyed in language by metaphor.

That a person has these experiences and calls it “God” - is something I wouldn’t be surprised at. Even in Zen, the first time you have this experience, the term is called ‘Kensho’ “One Taste” - it’s acknowledged and you’re immediately told to let it go, and keep going. Because the danger becomes that most practitioners think “Boom! I’m enlightened, I get it.” - that’s just your ego re-asserting itself which is the opposite of the real intent. The experience is like suddenly being non-separate from object or subject. It’s like you’re plugged into something larger, vaster. That’s precisely why they call it “Tao - the mother of all things”. It like a greater consciousness, Big Self. That is the closest to “God” a Buddhist could go, but it’s nothing supernatural or magic.

That is why the Tao/Nothingness is so elusive to non-practitioners. It sounds like “Magic” - it’s not. One does NOT need to be a Buddhist to have these experiences. One can be the most RAGING Atheist and sit and meditate. There is no injunction of ritual needed. There is no proscription of conduct REQUIRED. What anyone reads into Buddhism from a western perspective as a Commandment - has already failed. “Buddhism” is only a guidebook. A box of tools. The morality within Buddhism are the things that are universal, and only what was written/said from the great practitioners that helped them on the path. Ultimately YOU have to do the work. This is why the aphorism of “If you meet the Buddha on the road - kill him.” exists. The Buddha is NOT a god. He is not supposed to be worshipped. He is just a teacher.

That said - try sitting down and quiet your chattering mind down. It’s not easy. If you do it long enough, you’ll have “and experience”. Harris himself has done this and confirmed the phenomenon for himself. And that is the key. It’s easy to dismiss as subjective, when objectively it is there there for anyone. Of course YMMV - which is why Buddhism, and Zen in particular is a useful roadmap to this experience. If you make it that far, I guarantee it will change you.

 
sojourner
 
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04 April 2014 23:57
 

Enjoyed your summary. One point where I might disagree is in the idea that Zen and eastern philosophical traditions are 100% in line with what your average atheist or scientist might think and there is nothing ‘more’ about it to debate. I think this is only true if you think of meditative states as the equivalent of taking some really great psychotropic drug and nothing more. If morphine wasn’t bad for your body, we could really just replace Zen with painkillers, but since it is, well, we’ll stick with it until big pharma produces a substitute.


There are people who happily view it that way, and in that case, yes, no additional claims apply - but I think in many cases, there’s an idea that contemplative practices point to something more… I don’t know, something more something. Not necessarily something woo or metaphysical - meditation is a way to go meet the machine elves or whatever - but at least something more than taking a handful of soma. Being at peace with reality by understanding the true nature of reality, that type of thing. But that in and of itself is a sort of empirical claim that many might take issue with.


Regarding dualism - I find this interesting. I think there are two ways one could look at non-dualistic thinking here. The first is a sort of Nietzschian perspectivism, which is, to my mind, totally compatible with rationalism and makes no additional claims. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a more evidence based style of thinking - going from “This is a shoe” to “No, I can’t really be sure this is a shoe, all I have evidence of is that there is a perception of a shoe.”


And many schools of eastern thought seem to, more or less, posit this plus some additional element, some “ultimate truth”. From Sri Ramana Maharshi:

From the point of view of jnana or the reality, the pain you speak of is certainly a dream, as is the world of which the pain is an infinitesimal part. In the dream also you yourself feel hunger. You see others suffering hunger. You feed yourself and, moved by pity, feed the others that you find suffering from hunger. So long as the dream lasts, all those hunger pains are quite as real as you now think the pain you see in the world to be. It is only when you wake up that you discover that the pain in the dream was unreal. You might have eaten to the full and gone to sleep. You dream that you work hard and long in the hot sun all day, are tired and hungry and want to eat a lot. Then you get up and find your stomach is full and you have not stirred out of your bed. But all this is not to say that while you are in the dream you can act as if the pain you feel there is not real. The hunger in the dream has to be assuaged by the food in the dream. The fellow beings you found so hungry in the dream had to be provided with food in that dream. You can never mix up the two states, the dream and the waking state. Till you reach the state of jnana and thus wake out of this maya, you must do social service by relieving suffering whenever you see it. But even then you must do it, as we are told, without ahamkara, that is without the sense ‘I am the doer’, but feeling, ‘I am the Lord’s tool.’ Similarly one must not be conceited and think, ‘I am helping a man below me. He needs help. I am in a position to help. I am superior and he inferior.’ You must help the man as a means of worshipping God in that man. All such service too is for you the Self, not for anybody else. You are not helping anybody else, but only yourself.

...

You were not aware of the world and its sufferings in your sleep but you are conscious of them now in your waking state. Continue in that state in which you were not afflicted by them. That is to say, when you are not aware of the world, its sufferings do not affect you. When you remain as the Self, as in sleep, the world and its sufferings will not affect you. Therefore look within. See the Self! Then there will be an end of the world and its miseries.

....

If you remain free from pain, there will be no pain anywhere. The trouble now is due to your seeing the world externally and also thinking that there is pain there. But both the world and the pain are within you. If you look within there will be no pain.


That’s some extreme solipsism, really (ok, not really, I realize solipsism is subtly different, but still).

 
 
tenbones
 
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07 April 2014 16:53
 
NicLynn - 04 April 2014 09:57 PM

Enjoyed your summary. One point where I might disagree is in the idea that Zen and eastern philosophical traditions are 100% in line with what your average atheist or scientist might think and there is nothing ‘more’ about it to debate. I think this is only true if you think of meditative states as the equivalent of taking some really great psychotropic drug and nothing more. If morphine wasn’t bad for your body, we could really just replace Zen with painkillers, but since it is, well, we’ll stick with it until big pharma produces a substitute.

I certainly have not, and would not state that meditative states (and there are different kinds depending on what kind of meditation you do) are equivalent to “really great drugs”.

They’re not. Does meditation produce an altered state of mind? Depends on ones perspective, if by sublimating ones ego is considered altered, I suppose that’s about as far as I’d take it.

If you could have a non-duality pill, the government would likely lock you away.  Now, since you broached this point, I think there’s some interesting discussion points to be made here (though it might be off-topic somewhat), I do think there are some drugs that most certainly help break down egoic identification - and they happen to be the psychoactive ones like Ecstasy, Dimethyltryptimine (DMT, Ayahuasca) as well as Psolopsybin, again there is a very large difference. In one, you’re using a foreign substance to radically alter your perception of reality which will be, by definition, tempered by the level and capacity of your own consciousness. I.e. if you’re prone to religious literalism, and power-worship that kind of consciousness will color the experience more and might even reinforce it. While in meditative non-dual states, you’re not changing your perception of reality. You’re removing the things that prevent you from perceiving reality directly. It’s a subtle, but significant difference. Enough for me, and many others, to say - it is, itself, an experience.

As a side note - the fact that psychoactive drugs like DMT, LSD, etc. have never been proven to even be addictive beyond the norm of any activity - and is considered Schedule One by the DEA while it has led many researchers to believe there are very legitimate medicinal uses for them tells you even if big pharma made an “enlightenment pill” (which would probably not be in their longterm interest) - the government would never let it happen.

NicLynn - 04 April 2014 09:57 PM

There are people who happily view it that way, and in that case, yes, no additional claims apply - but I think in many cases, there’s an idea that contemplative practices point to something more… I don’t know, something more something. Not necessarily something woo or metaphysical - meditation is a way to go meet the machine elves or whatever - but at least something more than taking a handful of soma. Being at peace with reality by understanding the true nature of reality, that type of thing. But that in and of itself is a sort of empirical claim that many might take issue with.

Here’s the beauty about a claim like this: It doesn’t require *ANYTHING* to take. It doesn’t require anything to buy. It doesn’t require anything to read. It doesn’t require anything to watch.. You don’t need an outside agency. You don’t need to be a buddhist. You don’t need a magic meditation pillow. You don’t need a magic meditation hall, or guru. All it takes is one person, sitting their ass down. Shutting up. And listen to the incessant rambling of one’s own mind “yammering” non-stop to realize that indeed - your “mind” is not really under your control. The “game” is making it be quiet. And to do that - there are “techniques” - like counting your breathes. Like focusing your awareness is an actual attempt to wrestle the emotional beast of your “mind” that is thinking “things” - how long will I have to do this? My butt hurts. I have a cramp. This is stupid, Tenbones is an idiot, why did I ever try this? This reminds me of the time I tried to “Use the Force” to move something. OMIGOD It’s only been 2-minutes, I thought it’s been at least an hour.” blah blah blah. And at some point… you will experience “it”. THAT by definition is experience. Look you can be skeptical - I was. I still am. You can doubt - sure! doubt all you want. Doubt *IS* GOOD. If you don’t have it, you’re a fool. But that should never hold you back from experience. As I’ve said, it’s not easy (for some). The benefits, are for you to decide. I like the saying “Zen. It’s fucking boring. Until it isn’t.”

NicLynn - 04 April 2014 09:57 PM

Regarding dualism - I find this interesting. I think there are two ways one could look at non-dualistic thinking here. The first is a sort of Nietzschian perspectivism, which is, to my mind, totally compatible with rationalism and makes no additional claims. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a more evidence based style of thinking - going from “This is a shoe” to “No, I can’t really be sure this is a shoe, all I have evidence of is that there is a perception of a shoe.”

Even Nietzschean perspectivism requires its own unpacking. As a construct it makes sense in light of the concepts of such thinkers like Piaget, Clair Graves, with concepts like holonic thinking. The PROBLEM with Nietzsche’s Perspectivism is that it was too far ahead of Nietzsche’s time. He did not have at his fingertips the knowledge later thinkers would have access to. If he did - I’m confident he’d have been a big mover of transpersonal psychology and philosophy. The kernel of Nietzsche’s truth here is that perspectives are manifold, where he drops the ball (through no fault of his own) is in making the claim that we can’t objectively rank these perspectives. You most certainly can. If that were not the case, Sociology, and evolutionary biology and psychology and one could make a case for anyone who is a Historian - to be rendered inert and useless. The problem with Perspectivism from Nietzsche is while it’s reacting to the subjective philosophic memes of his time, it excludes his own subjective consciousness from the totality of the very philosophy itself. It’s not solipsistic - but to someone who identifies ones narrative mind as being objective when talking about reality, is simply fooling themselves.

He was certainly ON to something, but he simply did not have the information to synthesize a better conclusion. And as a Nietzsche fan - I’ll happily concede that he most likely would have.

Non-dualism isn’t this magic aha perfect truth in the sense most people fantasize. It simply is the stateless state of things. That sounds rather unsexy, I know. But that’s is only due to the fact that the cognitive filters most people see the world, through their ego, creates a much vaster illusion than one otherwise might understand. The illusion is VAST and COMPLEX. It’s not until you remove that filter and you have that glimpse of the world as it is - to most people, that first time, it’s AHA! That’s why the language relating to the outcomes of understanding the experience sound so cosmic and trippy. There is a present nowness that simply isn’t really perceived - so subtle. So sublime. Metaphor is the only real way to convey it. If you’re a die-hard materialist - it’s hard to accept. Fortunately, there’s a fix for that, as I indicated above.

[ Edited: 07 April 2014 17:12 by tenbones]
 
sojourner
 
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07 April 2014 20:40
 

Tenbone, thoughts:


- Apologies if I inferred something incorrectly from your post. When you said:

tenbones - 04 April 2014 01:41 PM

That is why the Tao/Nothingness is so elusive to non-practitioners. It sounds like “Magic” - it’s not. One does NOT need to be a Buddhist to have these experiences. One can be the most RAGING Atheist and sit and meditate. There is no injunction of ritual needed. There is no proscription of conduct REQUIRED. What anyone reads into Buddhism from a western perspective as a Commandment - has already failed. “Buddhism” is only a guidebook. A box of tools. The morality within Buddhism are the things that are universal, and only what was written/said from the great practitioners that helped them on the path. Ultimately YOU have to do the work. This is why the aphorism of “If you meet the Buddha on the road - kill him.” exists. The Buddha is NOT a god. He is not supposed to be worshipped. He is just a teacher.


...to me this invokes the idea that Buddhism is completely consistent with atheist thought, which I don’t know about, for the reasons I stated. One could also be a raging atheist and go to a church, or temple, or mosque, of course, there’s nothing stopping an atheist from doing that either. The rub is what ‘believers’ claim follows from there. I do think eastern philosophical thought makes some specific claims that you either believe or not. Of the “we invite you to look into this yourself” variety, but again, the same could sorta-kinda be said of religion. So unless you view it as “just a state like taking a happy pill and nothing more”, I’m not comfortable saying it’s necessarily consistent with certain things, i.e., staunch materialism, often associated with science.


- As background info, I’ve done a good bit of meditation and related reading / classes / instruction, so what you’re saying is not foreign to me (can’t speak to every poster, though.)


- I thought I read once that Nietzsche was a Buddhist at one point (if not, at the very least he was quite familiar with the philosophy) but decided it was too nihilistic. (Side note - I think this is a problem of treating Buddhism as a logical and not an ‘experienced’ philosophy - the concept of ‘emptiness’ as a linguistic concept only sounds very nihilistic, and I often start thinking this myself - but that’s different than the experience. Well, ok, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced what Zen types call emptiness, but as close as I’ve come to it. A better word might be ‘inherent potential’, or something like that.) So I don’t know what knowledge would have followed that would have changed his mind on that.


- “Objectively ranking perspectives”... by what objective or standard? I like the Buddhist concept of usefulness / does it serve / helpful, etc. Beyond that, this strikes me as contradictory.

 
 
tenbones
 
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08 April 2014 19:38
 
NicLynn - 07 April 2014 06:40 PM

Tenbone, thoughts:


- Apologies if I inferred something incorrectly from your post. When you said:


...to me this invokes the idea that Buddhism is completely consistent with atheist thought, which I don’t know about, for the reasons I stated. One could also be a raging atheist and go to a church, or temple, or mosque, of course, there’s nothing stopping an atheist from doing that either. The rub is what ‘believers’ claim follows from there. I do think eastern philosophical thought makes some specific claims that you either believe or not. Of the “we invite you to look into this yourself” variety, but again, the same could sorta-kinda be said of religion. So unless you view it as “just a state like taking a happy pill and nothing more”, I’m not comfortable saying it’s necessarily consistent with certain things, i.e., staunch materialism, often associated with science.

There is a common discussion point with Zen Buddhists as to those who come to take up the practice that often surprises theists. That is - Atheists often have a larger advantage starting out. The reason why, is because Theists generally have a *lot* more conditioning to unpack. Zen ultimately in practice is partially about deconditioning. An Atheist tends (but not always) to have divested themselves of a lot of these absolute assumptions. In psychological terms their rational intelligence is likely more developed. Theists on the other hand have a *lot* to reconcile. Religion itself is an emotional attachment that ultimately becomes transcended. The danger that atheists have is by clinging to the concept of atheism *as* a label that is simply as fictitiously defined by what they’re NOT ascribing to as those that ascribe to them. I.E. Ones “atheist” label only comprehends the rote definition of “God” AS defined by those that believe in “God”. The truth is - atheism is nothing. Like there are no non-astrologers. etc. Make a note of this idea here - we’ll circle back to it. Ones own CONSCIOUSNESS has differing capacities based upon ones experiences, understanding and level of conditioning.<—-mark that.

So in that regard, since Buddhists do not believe in the concept of “God” as understood by Western Religion - they get lumped into the Atheist camp, or worse the Pagan infidel heap or both.

As you astutely point out, like all philosophies and religions there are claims made in the name of the aforementioned philosophies and religions - but let’s not mistake the claims and the claimants as one and the same. This is EQUALLY true of Western Theological traditions. The crux here is understanding the history of the constructs in question. Example - Jesus never proclaims himself AS God. Nor do Matthew, Luke, or Mark. John does but only with a veneer of interpretation via some rather self-serving semantics. Buddhism is similar. As a philosophy, Buddhism’s claims are metaphor and allegory through and through. Among the claims about Gautama Buddha - from his own words, as the Sutras describe, he’s just a man. Nothing more. But the practices he espoused, much like Jesus attempts to (if you read the Bible as metaphor and allegory it takes on some pretty drastic differences than presented today), are useable by any culture.

But all cultures glom their own respective spins to a given idea. And let’s face it, not everyone inhabits the same realm of cognitive function <—remember the point I made above? So the short gist is - some people will NOT get it, but think they do. Its unavoidable. Just like the millions of people that think they can win the lotto, play as good as the pro-sports player that just screwed up on the TV, that believes they know more than scientists in a given field. Etc. There’s always the chance it *might* be true… but more often than not, it’s an ego-projection.

The same is true of philosophies that migrate through various cultures. Tibetan Buddhism has a plethora of bizarre hoodoo mumbo-jumbo glommed onto the Buddhist philosophy. Mahayanan and Theravadan sects have different emphasis depending on which school you wish to delve into. Like denominations in western religion. But he core conceits of Eastern and Western religions are vastly different. Where they share ground, you’ll see some rather disturbing patterns. And they all have to do with struggles of ego-primacy that proclaim things that have nothing to do with the practice itself.

And therein is the rub. This is why most Buddhists that do understand the basics and don’t go flying off into la-lal-land about My Sect is the One True Sect <—-by definition this is not a Buddhist concept - acknowledge freely, you don’t have to BE a Buddhist to do get the benefits of what Buddhism teaches. In fact - “Buddhism” itself is just a word. It’s not some holy thing that will magically make you enlightened. It’s a signpost, nothing more.

NicLynn - 07 April 2014 06:40 PM

- As background info, I’ve done a good bit of meditation and related reading / classes / instruction, so what you’re saying is not foreign to me (can’t speak to every poster, though.)

This is an important distinction to what I’m alluding to above. I make no assumptions on what your meditative practices have produced. But by your own words - you have been walking that path. By that alone your experience is different than someone who hasn’t. That is a crystal clear snapshot microcosm of how individuals inhabit different levels of consciousness by experience. Regardless if you’ve had some revelations or insight - the mere act alone sets you apart from those that make proclamations counter to those that HAVE and gained nothing.

Case in point - assuming you’ve gained nothing right now, what if you kept going and had a sudden insight to your own condition. Then what? Was it the practice that produced it? Was it coincidence? There is value to be had in merely doing. And then how does that comport with someone in the exact same circumstances that claims “Meditation is bullshit”? (as many do. - and I’m not saying you’re saying this. I’m just saying as point of reference)

NicLynn - 07 April 2014 06:40 PM

- I thought I read once that Nietzsche was a Buddhist at one point (if not, at the very least he was quite familiar with the philosophy) but decided it was too nihilistic. (Side note - I think this is a problem of treating Buddhism as a logical and not an ‘experienced’ philosophy - the concept of ‘emptiness’ as a linguistic concept only sounds very nihilistic, and I often start thinking this myself - but that’s different than the experience. Well, ok, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced what Zen types call emptiness, but as close as I’ve come to it. A better word might be ‘inherent potential’, or something like that.) So I don’t know what knowledge would have followed that would have changed his mind on that.

He studied what little he could about Buddhism existed in his time available. But as you have already seen - his conclusion was based purely from a Western conception. Emptiness does reveal something. Some might say it reveals everything. But it’s something to experience that words don’t/can’t really approximate.

NicLynn - 07 April 2014 06:40 PM

- “Objectively ranking perspectives”... by what objective or standard? I like the Buddhist concept of usefulness / does it serve / helpful, etc. Beyond that, this strikes me as contradictory.

Ahh yes. Here is the ground of being. Do you think our paleolithic forebears looked up at the sky and saw what we saw, understood what we understand? Of course not. They saw the world phenomenologically. Events were happening and it was completely unknown. Their world in their conscious capacity was full of mystery. Their primary concern was survival. And in surviving they learned to name things, see patterns, their consciousness of the world expanded. The consciousness of our ancestors was based purely on instinct.

But when those patterns became “understood” in their rudimentary way, their success at survival allowed them ample time around the campfire to make attributions to things like… well… the campfire itself, the stars, the wind, thunder, lightning, rain, the sun, the moon etc. Animism became the explanation. The world was magical. At this point our consciousness was Animisitic where we created rituals to beseech the spirits for whatever results we desired.

Animism gives way to more organized living - surprisingly long periods of time spent crating more legalistic views of reality. We have a more Mythic oriented view of reality. We anthropomorphize the animistic spirits as WE learn to dominate the world across all habitats. We invent Gods as ourselves. This is the impulsive era of consciousness. Don’t think of this as meaning “impulsive - to do things without thought, or whimsy” - this is the point of the beginning of self-understanding and self-mastery from an ego-perspective.

After more time we then begin choosing methods of primacy to dictate who among us are the chosen. This is the Mythic view of the world. Where we begin crafting cultural narratives and sealing gender roles and adding more legalistic views to our spirituality and ways of ruling. We begin to recognize authority though creating stable nations at this point is nearly impossible

After that we give way to pure Authority once we learn to do it “right” (i.e. after lots of bloodshed). We start looking at the world in terms of absolutes, and create narratives that make proclamations and injunctions on behavior as such. Authority is worshiped as both a spiritual and secular mandate.

That phase of consciousness lasted until about 300 years ago… then we started individual self-interest as a virtue. Self-organization, social constructs based on the individual need vs. the need of the Authority. Ideas like Capitalism, Democracy, etc. began to formulate as workable modern models we’d recognize today. Achievement became the primary monicker of this stage of consciousness. (And you’ll note great changes that were wrought across the globe during that era).

Starting about 150 years ago cultural cross-pollination began. We started measuring differences. Comparative discourse ensued and valuation of thought became possible. This is the era of sensitive relativism. In modern terms - it’s post-modernist valuation.

Now these are just very broad categories - but the fact is PEOPLE as individuals inhabit these conscious realms in various ways. Some people identify stronger in some areas and less so in others. Case in point - someone with a Mythic view of reality, like an Evangelical has an entirely different worldview than someone like yourself who might be Post-Modern that evaluates ideas against one another (which is what we’re doing now).

What is beyond Post-Modern is Trans-Human consciousness where one makes discrete distinctions between all the different constructs without succumbing to the pitfalls that each category produces as a byproduct (those that ‘don’t get it’ at each level)

and so on and so forth.

 
sojourner
 
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09 April 2014 03:59
 

Thanks for the reply Tenbones. Even more thoughts -


- As far as just how metaphysical or rigid Buddhism is, I don’t know. I recently found a page with some of the original (albeit translated) sutras, which I try to read through on occasion. There is a lot of traditional religiousness in many of those texts - one I remember reading, for example, talked about how if a man is truly good and virtuous, it will show because no one will ever lust after his daughters (among other things). You can get into “Oh, but as it happens this text was meant to a metaphor”, but again, that’s the same argument moderate Christians or any moderate religion tends to make. So I’m not comfortable saying the entire realm of Buddhism is simply ‘different’ in that regard, I think parts of it are very much the same. What is different, I think, is - once you get past the ‘religious’ part, what is left over? And I think there is a great deal of philosophy in Buddhism that one can separate from the more traditional religious element. Even this gets tricky, though. I think there are things that can be:


1) Easily separated by the most materialist scientist, i.e., the nature of conditioning in the mind. This is essentially psychology.


2) Not anything that people would consider ‘woo’, but still a rather specific claim, i.e. “The baseline state of the human mind when aware but free from conditioned thought patterns is intrinsic love and happiness”. That’s a claim that might be true or not true, but it’s still a pretty down-to-earth proposition.


3) Chains of reasoning that, honestly, lead somewhere that many would consider ‘woo’ and can’t really be proven or disproven. I.e., if you follow Buddhist reasoning on the nature of consciousness and the nature of causality, the idea of something like reincarnation follows. To my mind, for it not to follow, you kind of have to change a proposition, i.e., consciousness is contained in individual human heads in a materialistic sort of way.


There may come a time when I find all of this difficult to reconcile. Fortunately, points 1 and 2 are enough to keep a person busy for a very long time, before totally thinking through the logical conclusions of / taking a stance on those that fall into category 3.


- As to how much Buddhist philosophy Nietzsche knew, quantity-wise, I can’t speak to that. You could say he saw it with Western eyes or it could be, as Mark Epstein says:

(Interviewer): But are there other kinds of evidence, from the accumulation of thousands of years of Buddhist teachings that have survived, together with the Buddha’s injunction that each person must explore deeply the applicability of the teachings, rather than to accept them on faith? Is this a kind of empiricism, a kind of “single case study” that Buddhism encourages?


ME:  I think one has to be careful with this kind of reasoning. Just because something has survived for centuries doesn’t necessarily make it right. War has survived, for example. People thought the earth was flat for longer than they’ve accepted it being round. Buddhism has cultivated an introspective method over the centuries. It could just be a sophisticated kind of brainwashing. The scientific method is certainly capable of holding it up for study. That is already starting to happen.


...but either way, I’ll grant that his analysis appears to logical, not experiential. To be fair, the same could probably be said of Nietzsche as read by many or even most people, though. When I think of his work, I can’t get the intuition out of my head that Fred envisioned a world in which we all cage fight nonstop, even though at an intuitive, experiential level I doubt this was how he envisioned ‘will to power’.


- That’s an interesting idea on the evolution of human awareness. I must say though, I don’t see trans-humanism as you describe it being the ‘next stage’, necessarily. That seems like a simple rehash of what’s already around, which is not how such things have worked out up to this point. It seems that at every stage we’ve become aware of additional concepts (self-identity, for example) and increasingly larger patterns (societal structures, science, etc.) We didn’t create the capacity for any of these things, but we did become aware of them, and one concept builds on the next. If we knew what patterns we’d be aware of next, it would make no sense because then, obviously, we’d already know them, which we don’t. (As a fun side note, there’s a poster on this site, Greatest I Am, who also posits a ‘next stage’ and says it will be telepathy. I like this idea because then, instead of wasting time online all day, I can just go hang out in someone else’s brain and be all “Hi.hi.hi.hi. Watcha doin? I’m bored. Hey. Pay attention to me. Hey! I said pay attention to me! Still bored. Why don’t you have any Cheez Its in your brain, now I’m hungry. So. Watcha doing now? Now? Now? Now? Now?...... Now? Wanna play Angry Birds?” It’s gonna be epic.)

 
 
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09 April 2014 14:28
 

Fascinating discussion niclynn, tenbones, hope you keep it going a while.  Would have more to say but am on the road at the moment and have limited time. 

A comment I once heard on enlightenment:

“Well, there is the Buddha, and then there is the Buddha Pest.”

 
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09 April 2014 15:08
 
NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

Thanks for the reply Tenbones. Even more thoughts -

I’d like to thank you too. Nice to have such a pleasant discussion!

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

- As far as just how metaphysical or rigid Buddhism is, I don’t know. I recently found a page with some of the original (albeit translated) sutras, which I try to read through on occasion. There is a lot of traditional religiousness in many of those texts - one I remember reading, for example, talked about how if a man is truly good and virtuous, it will show because no one will ever lust after his daughters (among other things). You can get into “Oh, but as it happens this text was meant to a metaphor”, but again, that’s the same argument moderate Christians or any moderate religion tends to make. So I’m not comfortable saying the entire realm of Buddhism is simply ‘different’ in that regard, I think parts of it are very much the same. What is different, I think, is - once you get past the ‘religious’ part, what is left over? And I think there is a great deal of philosophy in Buddhism that one can separate from the more traditional religious element. Even this gets tricky, though. I think there are things that can be:


1) Easily separated by the most materialist scientist, i.e., the nature of conditioning in the mind. This is essentially psychology.

I’ll take these one point at a time.

That’s just it. Hermeneutic reading of Sutras in application is the exact issue. You, the state you’re in, gets to make the call. There is *no* proscription, no divine mandate, no metaphysical gun to your head telling you how to interpret the Sutras. Even the Dalai Lama, whose own tradition is rife with magic-believing ‘yahoos’ from his own nation - says flatly, succinctly:


“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

Now - let’s keep in mind, we’re speaking about Zen. Which is far far far more austere in its approach to Buddhism. The wacky cultural conceits of other nations that glommed onto Buddhist philosophy and practice as it migrated from Nepal and India through Tibet and China have mostly been scoured free in Zen. Zen is a leaner animal by comparison (though it does maintain a few conceits of its own).

That said - you have it a bit reversed - it’s not about conditioning the mind. Buddhism is the practice of removing conditions from the mind, and removing the notion of “mind” altogether - and cultivating pure awareness. To westerners the idea of “removing mind” is anathema. But consider the term “mind” and what it really represents. “Mind” in western parlance, regardless of what definitions one wishes to fill it with is merely a term to denote ones own ego-as-identity. That’s the collection of emotional resonances in reaction to phenomena that we cling to and call our “self”. By definition, it is meaningless on its own. You are quite capable of being aware without the notions of your ego-self. That state is conditionless. The psychology as practiced by western science concerns itself largely with the ego-construct of the ‘self’. Not with mere awareness as understood by Buddhist practice, since it does not require it.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

2) Not anything that people would consider ‘woo’, but still a rather specific claim, i.e. “The baseline state of the human mind when aware but free from conditioned thought patterns is intrinsic love and happiness”. That’s a claim that might be true or not true, but it’s still a pretty down-to-earth proposition.

It’s as “down to earth” as one can possibly get. It’s so down to earth, the people that float on their egos their entire lives rarely touch that ground of being.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

3) Chains of reasoning that, honestly, lead somewhere that many would consider ‘woo’ and can’t really be proven or disproven. I.e., if you follow Buddhist reasoning on the nature of consciousness and the nature of causality, the idea of something like reincarnation follows. To my mind, for it not to follow, you kind of have to change a proposition, i.e., consciousness is contained in individual human heads in a materialistic sort of way.

This is an interesting point. Zen doesn’t concern itself with notions about reincarnation (and most westerners get the concept wrong, often confusing the Hindu metaphors for it with the Buddhist ones - which are much more abstract). That said - the NOW is what concerns Zen. As I’ve mentioned, the idea is to subjugate the ego - not kill it. It has its uses. But for a LOT of people capable of attaining ‘kensho’ - that first non-dual experience (which in practice is usually very short lived, though it might not feel like it), it’s very much a “woo” experience. And in Zen in particular, it’s important to let that experience go, because it becomes a serious danger that the ego takes it and conflates it to being something more than it is: WOO! I’m ENLIGHTENED! Zen has stopped being fucking boring! I GET IT!” - to which we say - ‘No you don’t.” It only means you’ve made your ‘toe into the doorway.”

To the uninitiated I can very much see why through western eyes you would/could compare it to a ‘religious experience’. Simply put - there is no formal practice or even language to chart these landscapes of the mind and spirit. For good reason - there exists sects of Christianity, and Judaism and Islam that DO practice contemplative meditation (in one form or another) but they are generally ostracized by their mainline denominations. Gnosticism, Sufism, and Kabbalah have practices that could (and do) produce non-dual states. Which ironically probably could be the real point where spirituality between East and West meet - though by the standards of the East, the West largely have it wrong and have conflated whatever successes they’ve achieved into monstrous ego-projections to justify some pretty bad beliefs.

As another aside - there is another proposition about consciousness that you’re not considering: that consciousness is non-local. A common conceit of western insular thinking is that consciousness is something that resides within us materially. Eastern mysticism implies we, in our material senses, reside within consciousness. There is a hypothesis that is gaining some traction Orch-OR theory, that consciousness is the byproduct of microtubule interactions on the quantum level. By definition - that makes it non-material based. It’s been around for about 20-years or so, but very recently despite a LOT of criticism, some actual evidence has shown that the mechanism might be true

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm

This would have vast implications on the perceptions of material consciousness (indeed the entire western concept of self) - that comports pretty well with Eastern concepts of consciousness.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

There may come a time when I find all of this difficult to reconcile. Fortunately, points 1 and 2 are enough to keep a person busy for a very long time, before totally thinking through the logical conclusions of / taking a stance on those that fall into category 3.

Heh, sure. One can “think” about anything as long as they’d like. But until they *do* something about “it”, it will remain just that - a piece of conjecture. Let’s take non-dual states and Enlightenment off the table… let’s talk about SEX - how much thinking about what Sex would be like before we ever had it? How does that comport with actually doing it? (no pun intended). In other words reconciliation is only required if one never really intends to put their pre-conceptions on the line. The mere act of doing so is antithetical to ones own ego - no one likes to be wrong. Sam Harris himself was precisely in this camp. So was I. So were literally thousands of others that have taken up the practice. But ultimately, none of THAT matters, because it will always come down to ones own discipline to do the hard work of ‘doing’. It’s that simple.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

- As to how much Buddhist philosophy Nietzsche knew, quantity-wise, I can’t speak to that. You could say he saw it with Western eyes or it could be, as Mark Epstein says:... /clip

...but either way, I’ll grant that his analysis appears to logical, not experiential. To be fair, the same could probably be said of Nietzsche as read by many or even most people, though. When I think of his work, I can’t get the intuition out of my head that Fred envisioned a world in which we all cage fight nonstop, even though at an intuitive, experiential level I doubt this was how he envisioned ‘will to power’.

Again, logic without experience is just a thought experiment. It certainly has its uses, but it will remain just that. What I find funny about Epstein’s claim - ‘Buddhism might be a sophisticated kind of brainwashing.” heh, it makes this *GIGANTIC* assumption that his position isn’t one of a conditioned state that isn’t already “brainwashed” in the culture he rests in. It IS brainwashing - you’re washing your brain of pre-conceptions, of ego-bred cultural indoctrination (to what degree one chooses to believe this is good or bad notwithstanding). So while Epstein (and Nietzsche) are being perfectly logical - it’s definitely from their relatively limited perspective.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 01:59 AM

- That’s an interesting idea on the evolution of human awareness. I must say though, I don’t see trans-humanism as you describe it being the ‘next stage’, necessarily. That seems like a simple rehash of what’s already around, which is not how such things have worked out up to this point. It seems that at every stage we’ve become aware of additional concepts (self-identity, for example) and increasingly larger patterns (societal structures, science, etc.) We didn’t create the capacity for any of these things, but we did become aware of them, and one concept builds on the next. If we knew what patterns we’d be aware of next, it would make no sense because then, obviously, we’d already know them, which we don’t.

That makes an assumption that we are born into the conscious state we’re at and THAT’S ALL. When clearly this is not the case. In fact, let’s be clear here, we’re talking about 30-thousand years of human consciousness development. The mere fact that we have people who despite all the massive evidence for Evolution in its current state *BELIEVE* that the world is only 6000 years old. If our plurality of consciousness did not evolve - as you’re indicating - then we’d have long ago figured out these things without the social upheaval we experienced and continue to experience. Likewise, none of these things happened instantaneously. They happened when individuals conceived them (by whatever means) and started acting on them. And your point of building on a pattern is SPOT on. It’s holonic - your current state would *not* exist without encompassing a lower state. And so on. But individual consciousness/cultural consciousness does expand and create newer forms that envelop and absorb what has come before. Otherwise we couldn’t even have this discussion: just like you can’t explain classical logic to an native of the Amazon that sees reality as the only the jungle itself. It’s not within his/her consciousness.

 
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09 April 2014 15:24
 
burt - 09 April 2014 12:28 PM

Fascinating discussion niclynn, tenbones, hope you keep it going a while.  Would have more to say but am on the road at the moment and have limited time. 

A comment I once heard on enlightenment:

“Well, there is the Buddha, and then there is the Buddha Pest.”

Well thank you! niclynn is very enjoyable to talk to (good perceptive questions/counterpoints too!) I’m enjoying this very much, as where I live in the Bible-belt it’s… challenging, to have discussions like this.

I look forward to your joining us! (and anyone else who is reading, heh).

T

 
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09 April 2014 18:32
 

You guys might like Eckhart Tolle.  He says much the same thing…no?  And good ole Krishnamurti. I used to be a great fan of K., but I have only read Tolle superficially, so I am not sure. 

Good conversation, by the way.  I am enjoying it.

 
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09 April 2014 19:10
 
tenbones - 09 April 2014 01:08 PM

That’s just it. Hermeneutic reading of Sutras in application is the exact issue. You, the state you’re in, gets to make the call. There is *no* proscription, no divine mandate, no metaphysical gun to your head telling you how to interpret the Sutras. Even the Dalai Lama, whose own tradition is rife with magic-believing ‘yahoos’ from his own nation - says flatly, succinctly:


“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

Now - let’s keep in mind, we’re speaking about Zen. Which is far far far more austere in its approach to Buddhism. The wacky cultural conceits of other nations that glommed onto Buddhist philosophy and practice as it migrated from Nepal and India through Tibet and China have mostly been scoured free in Zen. Zen is a leaner animal by comparison (though it does maintain a few conceits of its own).


I still think this gets back, to some degree, to Sam Harris’s analogy of finding spiritual wisdom in a cookbook if you’re looking for it, or the whole ‘you can find the whole universe in a grain of sand’ saying. The ‘knowledge’, ultimately, is in the seer. So yes, you can find whatever in whatever, but there’s something to be said for the actual explicit claims any philosophy or religion makes. I find Buddhism a rather mixed bag here, I think there are things that have to be sifted out from the rest.

That said - you have it a bit reversed - it’s not about conditioning the mind. Buddhism is the practice of removing conditions from the mind, and removing the notion of “mind” altogether - and cultivating pure awareness. To westerners the idea of “removing mind” is anathema. But consider the term “mind” and what it really represents. “Mind” in western parlance, regardless of what definitions one wishes to fill it with is merely a term to denote ones own ego-as-identity. That’s the collection of emotional resonances in reaction to phenomena that we cling to and call our “self”. By definition, it is meaningless on its own. You are quite capable of being aware without the notions of your ego-self. That state is conditionless. The psychology as practiced by western science concerns itself largely with the ego-construct of the ‘self’. Not with mere awareness as understood by Buddhist practice, since it does not require it.


I’m not clear on what you mean by reversed, when I say ‘the nature of conditioning’ I’m not implying I think the point is to condition the mind, so I think we agree here. With the rest, I more or less agree, although I think ‘existing without an ego’ is a bigger claim than is often talked about when describing meditation. At a glance it sounds very nice - ego-free living! But in fact, actually existing without an ego, entirely, would cause one some severe logistical problems. You say something similar later in your post, though, so I assume what you mean is having an experience of ego-less-ness that causes one to hold the idea of ‘ego’ more lightly and relatively later. As if you’d spent your whole life concentrating on your left ear and thought this encompassed your entire experience and one day, voila, realized attention could travel elsewhere to a larger conception of ‘self’.

This is an interesting point. Zen doesn’t concern itself with notions about reincarnation (and most westerners get the concept wrong, often confusing the Hindu metaphors for it with the Buddhist ones - which are much more abstract). That said - the NOW is what concerns Zen. As I’ve mentioned, the idea is to subjugate the ego - not kill it. It has its uses. But for a LOT of people capable of attaining ‘kensho’ - that first non-dual experience (which in practice is usually very short lived, though it might not feel like it), it’s very much a “woo” experience. And in Zen in particular, it’s important to let that experience go, because it becomes a serious danger that the ego takes it and conflates it to being something more than it is: WOO! I’m ENLIGHTENED! Zen has stopped being fucking boring! I GET IT!” - to which we say - ‘No you don’t.” It only means you’ve made your ‘toe into the doorway.”


Yeah, pretty much agree. I’m not sure how useful the term ‘enlightenment’ is, ultimately. I suspect it’s one of those terms that’s needed “on one level”. I find many concepts like this in Zen and philosophy in general - one minute we talk about no free will, the next we use words like ‘choice’ and ‘decide’. One minute we talk about the illusionary nature of self, the next we’re using personal pronouns. There are what I think of as ‘emergent semantic’ realities wherein certain concepts are useful, but they only exist in a relative sense at those levels.

As another aside - there is another proposition about consciousness that you’re not considering: that consciousness is non-local. A common conceit of western insular thinking is that consciousness is something that resides within us materially. Eastern mysticism implies we, in our material senses, reside within consciousness. There is a hypothesis that is gaining some traction Orch-OR theory, that consciousness is the byproduct of microtubule interactions on the quantum level. By definition - that makes it non-material based. It’s been around for about 20-years or so, but very recently despite a LOT of criticism, some actual evidence has shown that the mechanism might be true

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm

This would have vast implications on the perceptions of material consciousness (indeed the entire western concept of self) - that comports pretty well with Eastern concepts of consciousness.


I’ve considered it. That’s a pretty big claim, though. I think your enthusiasm is great but I’m inclined to temper enthusiasm with a bit of conservativism. To conclude that wester thinking is ‘conceited’ on this topic, for example, implies that not only has eastern thought already been proven correct but that this infers something ignoble about western thinking. That’s a big leap based on some very preliminary findings. Again, I enjoy your enthusiasm and don’t wish to be a wet blanket, but if you want a description of how I view such things, there you have it. 

Heh, sure. One can “think” about anything as long as they’d like. But until they *do* something about “it”, it will remain just that - a piece of conjecture. Let’s take non-dual states and Enlightenment off the table… let’s talk about SEX - how much thinking about what Sex would be like before we ever had it? How does that comport with actually doing it? (no pun intended). In other words reconciliation is only required if one never really intends to put their pre-conceptions on the line. The mere act of doing so is antithetical to ones own ego - no one likes to be wrong.


You might enjoy the Mary’s Room thought experiment, if you haven’t seen it already (quick Google search will bring it up). Similar concepts would be the turing test and philosophers zombies - again, I, personally, tend to agree with eastern thought here, but I acknowledge there are many genius-y people out there who have concluded otherwise with logically consistent moves, so I don’t necessarily consider it a done deal.

Again, logic without experience is just a thought experiment. It certainly has its uses, but it will remain just that. What I find funny about Epstein’s claim - ‘Buddhism might be a sophisticated kind of brainwashing.” heh, it makes this *GIGANTIC* assumption that his position isn’t one of a conditioned state that isn’t already “brainwashed” in the culture he rests in. It IS brainwashing - you’re washing your brain of pre-conceptions, of ego-bred cultural indoctrination (to what degree one chooses to believe this is good or bad notwithstanding). So while Epstein (and Nietzsche) are being perfectly logical - it’s definitely from their relatively limited perspective.


Ok, on this one, I’m going to get downright feisty and say you have no way of knowing, 100%, if some fantastic meditative experience isn’t also conditioned, or, if not conditioned, if it’s nothing more than a burst of neurotransmitters that represents something like a runner’s high when you’ve bored the shit out of your brain for hours on end. What you can say is that when you’ve had a ‘good’ meditative experience, people generally say they feel significant, but then, ‘feels significant’ is yet another thought in the mind, another perception. Epstein and Nietzsche speak from their own limited perspective, yes, but there’s nothing to say the most advanced contemplatives aren’t doing exactly that as well. If a totally de-conditioned mind was a sort of be-all end-all in and of itself, we’d let newborns run the world. So I think there’s a lot to be said about this - how can one prove something is a ‘pure’ experience of unconditioned awareness vs. just another perception? If we agree that newborns should not be running the world, what does that say about the role of conditioning and perspective in anyone able enough to undertake contemplation in the first place? I think these are quandaries. 

That makes an assumption that we are born into the conscious state we’re at and THAT’S ALL. When clearly this is not the case. In fact, let’s be clear here, we’re talking about 30-thousand years of human consciousness development. The mere fact that we have people who despite all the massive evidence for Evolution in its current state *BELIEVE* that the world is only 6000 years old. If our plurality of consciousness did not evolve - as you’re indicating - then we’d have long ago figured out these things without the social upheaval we experienced and continue to experience. Likewise, none of these things happened instantaneously. They happened when individuals conceived them (by whatever means) and started acting on them. And your point of building on a pattern is SPOT on. It’s holonic - your current state would *not* exist without encompassing a lower state. And so on. But individual consciousness/cultural consciousness does expand and create newer forms that envelop and absorb what has come before. Otherwise we couldn’t even have this discussion: just like you can’t explain classical logic to an native of the Amazon that sees reality as the only the jungle itself. It’s not within his/her consciousness.


I think you think I mean something different than what I’m trying to convey. It’s sort of like the analogy sculptors like to use, when they say they simply take away everything that is not a horse or an owl or a face; or free the angel within the block of granite. Humans did not invent the laws of physics, humans did not somehow invent the possibility of politics and societal formations, humans don’t really invent anything. All we can ever really do is discover the potential that is already there. If democracy hadn’t already been possible in the universe in which we live, we couldn’t have ‘created’ it. If a child didn’t already have the potential to read, you could never teach him. So that’s what I’m saying - we don’t actually ‘make’ anything new in the universe, but as awareness expands, we develop the capacity to see it.


Thanks for the discussion / debate, tenbones, and the comment, burt. Although why are you traveling again without me, I thought we agreed that I was going to be your personal assistant and do important jobs like help you take wacky selfies in front of historical sites? Gosh darn it, I want to travel too! Well, hope you’re going someplace cool.

 
 
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09 April 2014 19:20
 
saralynn - 09 April 2014 04:32 PM

You guys might like Eckhart Tolle.  He says much the same thing…no?  And good ole Krishnamurti. I used to be a great fan of K., but I have only read Tolle superficially, so I am not sure. 

Good conversation, by the way.  I am enjoying it.

Tolle very much is personable in his approach, I think he gets swept into the “feel good” bin by a lot of skeptics. From a Buddhist perspective he does a decent job expressing the immediacy of what Buddhist practice tries to get you to. But if you’re the card-carrying skeptical western focused rational atheist? He won’t make any more sense without the gravity of a known tradition behind him (which can be even worse).

Krishamurti - yeah he’s pretty awesome. I wonder if Tolle will be looked at in the same vein years from now.

 
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09 April 2014 19:48
 
tenbones - 09 April 2014 01:08 PM

[As another aside - there is another proposition about consciousness that you’re not considering: that consciousness is non-local. A common conceit of western insular thinking is that consciousness is something that resides within us materially. Eastern mysticism implies we, in our material senses, reside within consciousness. There is a hypothesis that is gaining some traction Orch-OR theory, that consciousness is the byproduct of microtubule interactions on the quantum level. By definition - that makes it non-material based. It’s been around for about 20-years or so, but very recently despite a LOT of criticism, some actual evidence has shown that the mechanism might be true

burt on this forum takes a position similar to this.  He argues that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, like space-time.

 
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09 April 2014 20:27
 
NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

I still think this gets back, to some degree, to Sam Harris’s analogy of finding spiritual wisdom in a cookbook if you’re looking for it, or the whole ‘you can find the whole universe in a grain of sand’ saying. The ‘knowledge’, ultimately, is in the seer. So yes, you can find whatever in whatever, but there’s something to be said for the actual explicit claims any philosophy or religion makes. I find Buddhism a rather mixed bag here, I think there are things that have to be sifted out from the rest.

Buddhism, writ large, IS a mixed bag. I think I should be more clear, I’m mainly speaking about Zen. Though I’m conversational in most other schools of Buddhist thought, with a couple of love-affiairs with Vipassana. heh. So we’re in agreement here. There is a LOT of stuff to boil down in Buddha - no set of teachings or instructions goes 2500 years free of clutter.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

I’m not clear on what you mean by reversed, when I say ‘the nature of conditioning’ I’m not implying I think the point is to condition the mind, so I think we agree here. With the rest, I more or less agree, although I think ‘existing without an ego’ is a bigger claim than is often talked about when describing meditation. At a glance it sounds very nice - ego-free living! But in fact, actually existing without an ego, entirely, would cause one some severe logistical problems. You say something similar later in your post, though, so I assume what you mean is having an experience of ego-less-ness that causes one to hold the idea of ‘ego’ more lightly and relatively later. As if you’d spent your whole life concentrating on your left ear and thought this encompassed your entire experience and one day, voila, realized attention could travel elsewhere to a larger conception of ‘self’.

I’m not saying Ego-Free living. I’m saying Ego-Subjugation. There’s an extremely important distinction. If the premise of “our problem” (people in general) is suffering - and the ego (ultimately) is what is causing it (From the Buddhist perspective) - it demands we understand the ego, the small-self, in order to not let “it” control us. Don’t think of ‘ego’ as the term in the Freudian sense, that would not be accurate. Ego here is the identity we concoct about ourselves that our emotional desires define and we bind our “self-hood” - that which we define about our individuality to. That “thing” is not “you”. It is a collection of behaviors and conditional statements laid upon your “self” that you refer to. Sounds complex, but it’s not. This is usually a big stumbling block. I would say it’s the *only* stumbling block. Meditation or whatever contemplative practice floats your boat is what unravels this condition. What ego becomes from that point forward - is a matter of contraction which your own awareness uses to interact.

So short answer: you control your ego and not the other way around. Conditions are the food and lifeblood of the ego - it’s all that it desires. It wants sexy-time. It wants comfort. It wants you to watch your favorite show. It wants gratification. Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of those - but you’d be surprised how much lack of intent goes on in ones life. Meditative practice is not about spending your entire day doing nothing but meditation. It’s about cultivating your awareness to the point where the state you get into through the practice itself is always present. And yeah - that’s hard. Ever-present awareness.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

IYeah, pretty much agree. I’m not sure how useful the term ‘enlightenment’ is, ultimately. I suspect it’s one of those terms that’s needed “on one level”. I find many concepts like this in Zen and philosophy in general - one minute we talk about no free will, the next we use words like ‘choice’ and ‘decide’. One minute we talk about the illusionary nature of self, the next we’re using personal pronouns. There are what I think of as ‘emergent semantic’ realities wherein certain concepts are useful, but they only exist in a relative sense at those levels.

Yeah - ‘enlightenment’ is a highly dubious word. I’m being lazy to come up with a better one for the sake of yakking it up. Semantics are ugly business whenever one is talking about philosophical things. Especially beliefs. “Enlightenment” in the wrong perspective is, indeed, a bullshit term generally. And for the record, the confusion of the seeming paradoxical use of language in Zen is very much due to the fact the practice (again, not limited to Zen or even Buddhism) changes ones perspective but it doesn’t change the language. That is one of the hugest problems when trying to apprehend the principles from a Western standpoint. It’s much like trying to discuss interpretation with a Biblical literalist who doesn’t understand metaphor, or any rational application of logic. Except in Buddhism (and Zen in particular) the contradiction of a phrase is a tool used to jar ones awareness to other possibilities.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

II’ve considered it. That’s a pretty big claim, though. I think your enthusiasm is great but I’m inclined to temper enthusiasm with a bit of conservativism. To conclude that wester thinking is ‘conceited’ on this topic, for example, implies that not only has eastern thought already been proven correct but that this infers something ignoble about western thinking. That’s a big leap based on some very preliminary findings. Again, I enjoy your enthusiasm and don’t wish to be a wet blanket, but if you want a description of how I view such things, there you have it.

It IS a huge claim. I’m certainly not denying that. Please don’t mistake my discussion about it as enthusiasm, I don’t require confirmation bias as part of my mental state, heh. I’m DISTURBED by the implications of it. And I’m not implying Eastern thinking has always known this. I’m saying that Eastern meditative practices have INTUITED this. Eastern meditative (and Western ones too!) have caused people to experience this. By saying “Western thinking” I most certainly am speaking about empirical rational thought. In no way shape or form could that system reason its way through this without the continuing rise of technology and its ability to measure things. Case in point. The theory has been under fire for over 20 years - with justifiable cause. To me the only thing any of this proves is - it’s not just about logic or intuition - it’s about how they both can inform each other. No Buddhist sitting in perfect awareness would ever know the underlying mechanisms of Orch-OR by just sitting there. Arguably it wouldn’t matter.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

IYou might enjoy the Mary’s Room thought experiment, if you haven’t seen it already (quick Google search will bring it up). Similar concepts would be the turing test and philosophers zombies - again, I, personally, tend to agree with eastern thought here, but I acknowledge there are many genius-y people out there who have concluded otherwise with logically consistent moves, so I don’t necessarily consider it a done deal.

Yeah I’m pretty much with you. I’ve seen a philosopher co-hort of mine back in University, write a 4-page formulae in logician script trying to prove two-ness plus two-ness is not necessarily fourness. To me - this is equally about what is pragmatic in thought and actionable. To what degree one cares to do either is up to them. As long as we’re all honest about it.

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

IOk, on this one, I’m going to get downright feisty and say you have no way of knowing, 100%, if some fantastic meditative experience isn’t also conditioned, or, if not conditioned, if it’s nothing more than a burst of neurotransmitters that represents something like a runner’s high when you’ve bored the shit out of your brain for hours on end. What you can say is that when you’ve had a ‘good’ meditative experience, people generally say they feel significant, but then, ‘feels significant’ is yet another thought in the mind, another perception. Epstein and Nietzsche speak from their own limited perspective, yes, but there’s nothing to say the most advanced contemplatives aren’t doing exactly that as well. If a totally de-conditioned mind was a sort of be-all end-all in and of itself, we’d let newborns run the world. So I think there’s a lot to be said about this - how can one prove something is a ‘pure’ experience of unconditioned awareness vs. just another perception? If we agree that newborns should not be running the world, what does that say about the role of conditioning and perspective in anyone able enough to undertake contemplation in the first place? I think these are quandaries.

Well let’s do a ghetto-thought experiment (i.e. totally bullshit, but we’re on the internet so) - So my stance as a Zen practitioner and I do have non-dual experiences regularly, where I’m not making *ANY* claim that these things are the province of Zen Buddhism, or any other kind of Buddhism, or any kind of religion - you can even be a filthy pagan blood curdling human-sacrificing savage - and still have these non-dual experiences. So no one gets to lay claim on them. Now the QUALITY of the experience and the downstream effects will most assuredly color them. By making no proclamations about ones practice I eliminate the possibility of such experiences being conditional on the beliefs themselves. It’s *not* conditional. What IS conditional - is you must have a practice to do it. I don’t know of anyone that hasn’t. I’ve never read of anyone that didn’t.

So having enjoyed the position on both sides of the fence, which I fully cede is anecdotal, yet - then everyone else that has done the same has them too. I’m forced to look at Mr. Epstein’s position as someone that hasn’t had them, does not, to my understanding do anything that would generate this state, speak about it with any real authority? It’s much like the group of old white guys that makes decisions for women on women’s health issues.

Again the quality might be different - because having a non-dual experience is only the tip of the iceberg. But not having one at all… well kinda leaves one only in the realm of pure speculation. Right?

NicLynn - 09 April 2014 05:10 PM

II think you think I mean something different than what I’m trying to convey. It’s sort of like the analogy sculptors like to use, when they say they simply take away everything that is not a horse or an owl or a face; or free the angel within the block of granite. Humans did not invent the laws of physics, humans did not somehow invent the possibility of politics and societal formations, humans don’t really invent anything. All we can ever really do is discover the potential that is already there. If democracy hadn’t already been possible in the universe in which we live, we couldn’t have ‘created’ it. If a child didn’t already have the potential to read, you could never teach him. So that’s what I’m saying - we don’t actually ‘make’ anything new in the universe, but as awareness expands, we develop the capacity to see it.

Call it “discovery” call it expanding consciousness - whatever. Some people enjoy more efficient things. Some people enjoy Samsung Galaxies. Some people like rotary phones. We’re not saying different things. You’re hinging your point on the bottom rung of each stage. If everyone was on the same stage of consciousness development - would we really see reality as differently as we do? And I’m not talking about you and I - I’m sure we’d be right as rain. I’m talking about us and… you know… THEM. heh

 
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09 April 2014 20:29
 
EN - 09 April 2014 05:48 PM

burt on this forum takes a position similar to this.  He argues that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, like space-time.

It’s kinda scary in its implications. I’m curious to see how it further develops.

 
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