Wednesday 25 February 2015

"What happens when we die?"

Many people pose this question to me. First of all, as with most questions, it begs definition of its terms. What is meant by "we" and what is meant by "die"?

If by "we," one is referring to the physical body, well, clearly we already know that after the physical body dies, worms eat it. But I don't think people are talking about the physical body when they ask this question.

So, what are they talking about? When a man asked Buddha this question, he responded by saying something like: "So silly to ask what happens after death, when you don't even know what 
happens in life." 

What did he mean by that? Well, in reality, whether or not we call something life or death, still it all happens automatically with nobody in it. You are no more alive than the word "you" is alive. It is an illusion that there is a true "you" that the word "you" points to which itself is alive. In direct experience we can see that the concept of self is created in the brain/mind in order to integrate various streams of perception through time and space, but it is not any kind of essence that actually exists anywhere.

Now, there is a lot of literature on Near Death Experiences (NDEs) which I have read, so probably people are thinking in those terms. The interesting thing about NDEs is that they are very much influenced by culture. There are some common themes that cut across cultures, but a Thai NDE is nothing like a western NDE, is nothing like a Tibetan NDE. What does that tell us about the nature of the NDE? It tells us that what the mind expects to happen at death (even via subconscious things like hearing stories of others who have had NDEs) is very likely what it will get. There are actually some very strange and hilarious Hindu NDE stories. I've read numerous accounts of people going thru the whole life review process and seeing into the afterlife and all this, and then being told by some kind of cosmic clerk, "woops, sorry, we thought you were this other guy who was supposed to die (same name and town)... we're going to send you back now... sorry about that." 

The other thing about NDEs is that they are not true DEATH experiences. They are only NEAR death experiences. Nobody ever *actually* dies in an NDE. So what do I mean by "actual" death? Well first of all, we are now learning that it is almost impossible to define what physical death is, since people have been declared dead and then woken up a week later as if nothing happened. Brain death is a term which is quite difficult to define, since the brain may appear dead on an EEG or fMRI, and then later it may boot back up again. But again, I don't think most people reading this care about this idea of physical death. 

So what is "real" death then, if not physical death? To me, "real" death is when the sense of self is obliterated completely, at least for a period of time. The only way that it could get any realer is if the person physically died and did not have any more rebirths (no more identification), but then we would never hear from that person again so there would be know way of knowing what this state (called parinirvana) is, except to extrapolate from what we know of the state of nirvana that is experienced by many beings who are awakening today, as well as folks all thru the ages who have learned the nature of reality (dependent origination). 

The strange thing is that many people, including "myself" have "experienced" the obliteration of sense of self, either via psychedelics or meditation (like this technique that I employ) or just realization due to logical thinking. And this experience of no self can be somehow remembered and conveyed, although one who has not experienced it can not quite imagine what is being conveyed, generally speaking. Imagine everything in the universe, all appearances, instead of being seen from one point of view, are seen from every perspective, every angle, without any seer behind all the seeing. All the appearances (at every level, from atoms to stars) are self-seen without any reference point nor background observing awareness whatsoever. Since all the appearances are dependently originated, they are fully interpenetrating, tho still not simply One appearance. Depending on what kinds of traces of clinging remain in this state, there may or may not be infinite bliss associated with it--for "me," at first, there was not bliss, due to the habit of identity still remaining strong, but after time, the state was filled with infinite happiness. 

In my day-to-day waking life, as of this writing, I remain stuck in the self-delusion experientially, but my teacher, Soh Wei Yu, and many others on the facebook group Dharma Connection, are living day-to-day without sense of self interfering most of the time (in what is called "the natural state").

Monday 23 February 2015

Right View and Humility: The Middle Path Mind

Never trust the mind. It isn't your mind, yet it will do anything to make you think that it is. Unless the mind is unraveling itself with wisdom, it is not putting itself to proper use. Right View is the view which serves to eliminate all notion of any viewer truly viewing, while also being the source of infinite compassion for all beings stuck in self-view. 

It is easy to judge the monsters outside our "self" but hard to see the origins of similar monsters within our "self." Although I and others have always considered my "self" a loving and compassionate being, I have nearly been a serial killer, a thief, a rapist, a psycho, all kinds of things that looking back I can see I was on the verge of becoming due to various urges, thoughts, and justifications. Even now I am seen by many as an arrogant asshole, and by others as almost a saint. I have learned that we must always be on guard against self deception, and especially when we start to feel important. This mind can never fully trust itself. Remember that a truly insane person will never think they are insane.

Even Shakyamuni Buddha himself was often filled with useless pompous thoughts, such as "I am so wise, I should go back and take my rightful place as king." Or, just after becoming enlightened, when someone asked who he was, The Buddha told the wanderling that he was "the Victor and Conqueror of the World, superior to gods and men, an All-Enlightened One beholden to no teacher." The Buddha later realized that his answer only served to alienate the wanderling, who perceived the Buddha as merely another arrogant fool.

(This post is in relation to a previous post on the question of how can anything be known.)

Sunday 22 February 2015

But there are many paths to the mountaintop! No self is just one!

I get this response a lot when I talk to people about liberation from birth and death being only possible thru understanding No Self and dependent origination: "Well, that is what you may think, but I have my own path and all paths are equally valuable. If you can't see that then you are quite full of yourself indeed!"

So what can I say to someone like that? Sam Harris has written some convincing stuff in his book, so I'll just quote that, with the caveat that Harris obviously does not understand Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta well enough to realize that they are almost completely opposite in their teachings (Buddhism teaches NO self & dependent origination of all things including consciousness; Advaita teaches True Self and has no explanation for the nature of consciousness except assertions of its eternal perfection untouched by appearances). In the notes of Harris' book, he mentions that he would have distinguished between Advaita and Buddhism except that he thought it would only serve to confuse the average reader. Personally, I think Harris himself is a bit confused on the topic, which is why he would confuse the average reader if he tried to explain the difference. 

Anyway, most of the rest of Harris' argument is gold, so here it is:

We are often encouraged to believe that all religions are the same: All teach the same ethical principles; all urge their followers to contemplate the same divine reality; all are equally wise, compassionate, and true within their sphere—or equally divisive and false, depending on one’s view.
No serious adherents of any faith can believe these things, because most religions make claims about reality that are mutually incompatible. Exceptions to this rule exist, but they provide little relief from what is essentially a zero-sum contest of all against all. The polytheism of Hinduism allows it to digest parts of many other faiths: If Christians insist that Jesus Christ is the son of God, for instance, Hindus can make him yet another avatar of Vishnu without losing any sleep. But this spirit of inclusiveness points in one direction only, and even it has its limits. Hindus are committed to specific metaphysical ideas—the law of karma and rebirth, a multiplicity of gods—that almost every other major religion decries. It is impossible for any faith, no matter how elastic, to fully honor the truth claims of another.
Devout Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that theirs is the one true and complete revelation—because that is what their holy books say of themselves. Only secularists and New Age dabblers can mistake the modern tactic of “interfaith dialogue” for an underlying unity of all religions.
I have long argued that confusion about the unity of religions is an artifact of language. Religion is a term like sports: Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous (“free solo” rock climbing); some are safer but synonymous with violence (mixed martial arts); and some entail little more risk of injury than standing in the shower (bowling). To speak of sports as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do or the physical attributes required to do it. What do all sports have in common apart from breathing? Not much. The termreligion is hardly more useful.
The same could be said of spirituality. The esoteric doctrines found within every religious tradition are not all derived from the same insights. Nor are they equally empirical, logical, parsimonious, or wise. They don’t always point to the same underlying reality—and when they do, they don’t do it equally well. Nor are all these teachings equally suited for export beyond the cultures that first conceived them.
Making distinctions of this kind, however, is deeply unfashionable in intellectual circles. In my experience, people do not want to hear that Islam supports violence in a way that Jainism doesn’t, or that Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated, empirical approach to understanding the human mind, whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding. In many circles, to make invidious comparisons of this kind is to stand convicted of bigotry.
In one sense, all religions and spiritual practices must address the same reality—because people of all faiths have glimpsed many of the same truths. Any view of consciousness and the cosmos that is available to the human mind can, in principle, be appreciated by anyone. It is not surprising, therefore, that individual Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists have given voice to some of the same insights and intuitions. This merely indicates that human cognition and emotion run deeper than religion. (But we knew that, didn’t we?) It does not suggest that all religions understand our spiritual possibilities equally well.
One way of missing this point is to declare that all spiritual teachings are inflections of the same “Perennial Philosophy.” The writer Aldous Huxley brought this idea into prominence by publishing an anthology by that title. Here is how he justified the idea:
Philosophia perennis—the phrase was coined by Leibniz; but the thing—the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being—the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions. A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than twenty-five centuries ago, and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe.[2]
Although Huxley was being reasonably cautious in his wording, this notion of a “highest common factor” uniting all religions begins to break apart the moment one presses for details. For instance, the Abrahamic religions are incorrigibly dualistic and faith-based: In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the human soul is conceived as genuinely separate from the divine reality of God. The appropriate attitude for a creature that finds itself in this circumstance is some combination of terror, shame, and awe. In the best case, notions of God’s love and grace provide some relief—but the central message of these faiths is that each of us is separate from, and in relationship to, a divine authority who will punish anyone who harbors the slightest doubt about His supremacy.
The Eastern tradition presents a very different picture of reality. And its highest teachings—found within the various schools of Buddhism and the nominally Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta—explicitly transcend dualism. .... [Here Harris begins to show his ignorance of the difference between Advaita and Buddhism, so I'll skip it.]
Of course, it is true that specific Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have had experiences similar to those that motivate Buddhism and Advaita, but these contemplative insights are not exemplary of their faith. Rather, they are anomalies that Western mystics have always struggled to understand and to honor, often at considerable personal risk. Given their proper weight, these experiences produce heterodoxies for which Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been regularly exiled or killed.
Like Huxley, anyone determined to find a happy synthesis among spiritual traditions will notice that the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260–ca. 1327) often sounded very much like a Buddhist: “The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God, as if He stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.” But he also sounded like a man bound to be excommunicated by his church—as he was. Had Eckhart lived a little longer, it seems certain that he would have been dragged into the street and burned alive for these expansive ideas. That is a telling difference between Christianity and Buddhism.
In the same vein, it is misleading to hold up the Sufi mystic Al-Hallaj (858–922) as a representative of Islam. He was a Muslim, yes, but he suffered the most grisly death imaginable at the hands of his coreligionists for presuming to be one with God. Both Eckhart and Al-Hallaj gave voice to an experience of self-transcendence that any human being can, in principle, enjoy. However, their views were not consistent with the central teachings of their faiths.
The Indian tradition is comparatively free of problems of this kind. Although the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are embedded in more or less conventional religions, they contain empirical insights about the nature of consciousness that do not depend upon faith. One can practice most techniques of Buddhist meditation or the method of self-inquiry of Advaita and experience the advertised changes in one’s consciousness without ever believing in the law of karma or in the miracles attributed to Indian mystics. To get started as a Christian, however, one must first accept a dozen implausible things about the life of Jesus and the origins of the Bible—and the same can be said, minus a few unimportant details, about Judaism and Islam. If one should happen to discover that the sense of being an individual soul is an illusion, one will be guilty of blasphemy everywhere west of the Indus.
There is no question that many religious disciplines can produce interesting experiences in suitable minds. It should be clear, however, that engaging a faith-based (and probably delusional) practice, whatever its effects, isn’t the same as investigating the nature of one’s mind absent any doctrinal assumptions. Statements of this kind may seem starkly antagonistic toward Abrahamic religions, but they are nonetheless true: One can speak about Buddhism shorn of its miracles and irrational assumptions. The same cannot be said of Christianity or Islam.[3]
Western engagement with Eastern spirituality dates back at least as far as Alexander’s campaign in India, where the young conqueror and his pet philosophers encountered naked ascetics whom they called “gymnosophists.” It is often said that the thinking of these yogis greatly influenced the philosopher Pyrrho, the father of Greek skepticism. This seems a credible claim, because Pyrrho’s teachings had much in common with Buddhism. But his contemplative insights and methods never became part of any system of thought in the West.
Serious study of Eastern thought by outsiders did not begin until the late eighteenth century. The first translation of a Sanskrit text into a Western language appears to have been Sir Charles Wilkins’s rendering of the Bhagavad Gita, a cornerstone text of Hinduism, in 1785. The Buddhist canon would not attract the attention of Western scholars for another hundred years.[4]
The conversation between East and West started in earnest, albeit inauspiciously, with the birth of the Theosophical Society, that golem of spiritual hunger and self-deception brought into this world almost single-handedly by the incomparable Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875. Everything about Blavatsky seemed to defy earthly logic: She was an enormously fat woman who was said to have wandered alone and undetected for seven years in the mountains of Tibet. She was also thought to have survived shipwrecks, gunshot wounds, and sword fights. Even less persuasively, she claimed to be in psychic contact with members of the “Great White Brotherhood” of ascended masters—a collection of immortals responsible for the evolution and maintenance of the entire cosmos. Their leader hailed from the planet Venus but lived in the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, which Blavatsky placed somewhere in the vicinity of the Gobi Desert. With the suspiciously bureaucratic name “the Lord of the World,” he supervised the work of other adepts, including the Buddha, Maitreya, Maha Chohan, and one Koot Hoomi, who appears to have had nothing better to do on behalf of the cosmos than to impart its secrets to Blavatsky. [5]
It is always surprising when a person attracts legions of followers and builds a large organization on their largesse while peddling penny-arcade mythology of this kind. But perhaps this was less remarkable in a time when even the best-educated people were still struggling to come to terms with electricity, evolution, and the existence of other planets. We can easily forget how suddenly the world had shrunk and the cosmos expanded as the nineteenth century came to a close. The geographical barriers between distant cultures had been stripped away by trade and conquest (one could now order a gin and tonic almost everywhere on earth), and yet the reality of unseen forces and alien worlds was a daily focus of the most careful scientific research. Inevitably, cross-cultural and scientific discoveries were mingled in the popular imagination with religious dogma and traditional occultism. In fact, this had been happening at the highest level of human thought for more than a century: It is always instructive to recall that the father of modern physics, Isaac Newton, squandered a considerable portion of his genius on the study of theology, biblical prophecy, and alchemy.
The inability to distinguish the strange but true from the merely strange was common enough in Blavatsky’s time—as it is in our own. Blavatsky’s contemporary Joseph Smith, a libidinous con man and crackpot, was able to found a new religion on the claim that he had unearthed the final revelations of God in the hallowed precincts of Manchester, New York, written in “reformed Egyptian” on golden plates. He decoded this text with the aid of magical “seer stones,” which, whether by magic or not, allowed Smith to produce an English version of God’s Word that was an embarrassing pastiche of plagiarisms from the Bible and silly lies about Jesus’s life in America. And yet the resulting edifice of nonsense and taboo survives to this day.
A more modern cult, Scientology, leverages human credulity to an even greater degree: Adherents believe that human beings are possessed by the souls of extraterrestrials who were condemned to planet Earth 75 million years ago by the galactic overlord Xenu. How was their exile accomplished? The old-fashioned way: These aliens were shuttled by the billions to our humble planet aboard a spacecraft that resembled a DC-8. They were then imprisoned in a volcano and blasted to bits with hydrogen bombs. Their souls survived, however, and disentangling them from our own can be the work of a lifetime. It is also expensive.[6]
Despite the imponderables in her philosophy, Blavatsky was among the first people to announce in Western circles that there was such a thing as the “wisdom of the East.” This wisdom began to trickle westward once Swami Vivekananda introduced the teachings of Vedanta at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Again, Buddhism lagged behind: A few Western monks living on the island of Sri Lanka were beginning to translate the Pali Canon, which remains the most authoritative record of the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. However, the practice of Buddhist meditation wouldn’t actually be taught in the West for another half century.
It is easy enough to find fault with romantic ideas about Eastern wisdom, and a tradition of such criticism sprang up almost the instant the first Western seeker sat cross-legged and attempted to meditate. In the late 1950s, the author and journalist Arthur Koestler traveled to India and Japan in search of wisdom and summarized his pilgrimage thus: “I started my journey in sackcloth and ashes, and came back rather proud of being a European.”[7]
In The Lotus and the Robot, Koestler gives some of his reasons for being less than awed by his journey to the East. Consider, for example, the ancient discipline of hatha yoga. While now generally viewed as a system of physical exercises designed to increase a person’s strength and flexibility, in its traditional context hatha yoga is part of a larger effort to manipulate “subtle” features of the body unknown to anatomists. No doubt much of this subtlety corresponds to experiences that yogis actually have—but many of the beliefs formed on the basis of these experiences are patently absurd, and certain of the associated practices are both silly and injurious.
Koestler reports that the aspiring yogi is traditionally encouraged to lengthen his tongue—even going so far as to cut the frenulum (the membrane that anchors the tongue to the floor of the mouth) and stretch the soft palate. What is the purpose of these modifications? They enable our hero to insert his tongue into his nasopharynx, thereby blocking the flow of air through the nostrils. His anatomy thus improved, a yogi can then imbibe subtle liquors believed to emanate directly from his brain. These substances—imagined, by recourse to further subtleties, to be connected to the retention of semen—are said to confer not only spiritual wisdom but immortality. This technique of drinking mucus is known as khechari mudra, and it is thought to be one of the crowning achievements of yoga.
I’m more than happy to score a point for Koestler here. Needless to say, no defense of such practices will be found in this book.
Criticism of Eastern wisdom can seem especially pertinent when coming from Easterners themselves. There is indeed something preposterous about well-educated Westerners racing East in search of spiritual enlightenment while Easterners make the opposite pilgrimage seeking education and economic opportunities. I have a friend whose own adventures may have marked a high point in this global comedy. He made his first trip to India immediately after graduating from college, having already acquired several yogic affectations: He had the requisite beads and long hair, but he was also in the habit of writing the name of the Hindu god Ram in Devanagari script over and over in a journal. On the flight to the motherland, he had the good fortune to be seated next to an Indian businessman. This weary traveler thought he had witnessed every species of human folly—until he caught sight of my friend’s scribbling. The spectacle of a Western-born Stanford graduate, of working age, holding degrees in both economics and history, devoting himself to the graphomaniacal worship of an imaginary deity in a language he could neither read nor understand was more than this man could abide in a confined space at 30,000 feet. After a testy exchange, the two travelers could only stare at each other in mutual incomprehension and pity—and they had ten hours yet to fly. There really are two sides to such a conversation, but I concede that only one of them can be made to look ridiculous.
We can also grant that Eastern wisdom has not produced societies or political institutions that are any better than their Western counterparts; in fact, one could argue that India has survived as the world’s largest democracy only because of institutions that were built under British rule. Nor has the East led the world in scientific discovery. Nevertheless, there is something to the notion of uniquely Eastern wisdom, and most of it has been concentrated in or derived from the tradition of Buddhism.
Buddhism has been of special interest to Western scientists for reasons already hinted at. It isn’t primarily a faith-based religion, and its central teachings are entirely empirical. Despite the superstitions that many Buddhists cherish, the doctrine has a practical and logical core that does not require any unwarranted assumptions. Many Westerners have recognized this and have been relieved to find a spiritual alternative to faith-based worship. It is no accident that most of the scientific research now done on meditation focuses primarily on Buddhist techniques.
Another reason for Buddhism’s prominence among scientists has been the intellectual engagement of one of its most visible representatives: Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Of course, the Dalai Lama is not without his critics. My late friend Christopher Hitchens meted out justice to “his holiness” on several occasions. He also castigated Western students of Buddhism for the “widely and lazily held belief that ‘Oriental’ religion is different from other faiths: less dogmatic, more contemplative, more . . . Transcendental,” and for the “blissful, thoughtless exceptionalism” with which Buddhism is regarded by many.[8]
Hitch did have a point. In his capacity as the head of one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism and as the former leader of the Tibetan government in exile, the Dalai Lama has made some questionable claims and formed some embarrassing alliances. Although his engagement with science is far-reaching and surely sincere, the man is not above consulting an astrologer or “oracle” when making important decisions. I will have something to say in this book about many of the things that might have justified Hitch’s opprobrium, but the general thrust of his commentary here was all wrong. Several Eastern traditions are exceptionally empirical and exceptionally wise, and therefore merit the exceptionalism claimed by their adherents.
Buddhism in particular possesses a literature on the nature of the mind that has no peer in Western religion or Western science. Some of these teachings are cluttered with metaphysical assumptions that should provoke our doubts, but many aren’t. And when engaged as a set of hypotheses by which to investigate the mind and deepen one’s ethical life, Buddhism can be an entirely rational enterprise.
Unlike the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the teachings of Buddhism are not considered by their adherents to be the product of infallible revelation. They are, rather, empirical instructions: If you do X, you will experience Y. Although many Buddhists have a superstitious and cultic attachment to the historical Buddha, the teachings of Buddhism present him as an ordinary human being who succeeded in understanding the nature of his own mind.Buddha means “awakened one”—and Siddhartha Gautama was merely a man who woke up from the dream of being a separate self. Compare this with the Christian view of Jesus, who is imagined to be the son of the creator of the universe. This is a very different proposition, and it renders Christianity, no matter how fully divested of metaphysical baggage, all but irrelevant to a scientific discussion about the human condition.
The teachings of Buddhism, and of Eastern spirituality generally, focus on the primacy of the mind. There are dangers in this way of viewing the world, to be sure. Focusing on training the mind to the exclusion of all else can lead to political quietism and hive-like conformity. The fact that your mind is all you have and that it is possible to be at peace even in difficult circumstances can become an argument for ignoring obvious societal problems. But it is not a compelling one. The world is in desperate need of improvement—in global terms, freedom and prosperity remain the exception—and yet this doesn’t mean we need to be miserable while we work for the common good.
In fact, the teachings of Buddhism emphasize a connection between ethical and spiritual life. Making progress in one domain lays a foundation for progress in the other. One can, for instance, spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the world—having better relationships, being more honest and compassionate and, therefore, more helpful to one’s fellow human beings. Being wisely selfish and being selfless can amount to very much the same thing. There are centuries of anecdotal testimony on this point—and, as we will see, the scientific study of the mind has begun to bear it out. There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.
Although the experience of self-transcendence is, in principle, available to everyone, this possibility is only weakly attested to in the religious and philosophical literature of the West. Only Buddhists and students of Advaita Vedanta (which appears to have been heavily influenced by Buddhism) have been absolutely clear in asserting that spiritual life consists in overcoming the illusion of the self by paying close attention to our experience in the present moment.[9]

An honest comparison of spiritual traditions, Eastern and Western, proves equally invidious. As manuals for contemplative understanding, the Bible and the Koran are worse than useless. Whatever wisdom can be found in their pages is never best found there, and it is subverted, time and again, by ancient savagery and superstition.
Again, one must deploy the necessary caveats: I am not saying that most Buddhists or Hindus have been sophisticated contemplatives. Their traditions have spawned many of the same pathologies we see elsewhere among the faithful: dogmatism, anti-intellectualism, tribalism, otherworldliness. However, the empirical difference between the central teachings of Buddhism and Advaita and those of Western monotheism is difficult to overstate. One can traverse the Eastern paths simply by becoming interested in the nature of one’s own mind—especially in the immediate causes of psychological suffering—and by paying closer attention to one’s experience in every present moment. There is, in truth, nothing one need believe. The teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are best viewed as lab manuals and explorers’ logs detailing the results of empirical research on the nature of human consciousness.

What's wrong with just trying to "live the dream"? Forget liberation...

J: From the perspective of self, all is not perfect. All is really quite shitty but most people don't spend the time to think about it.

D: Not perfect, true, all shitty is perspective. All is clearly not any one thing except illusion, no?
One person says all is shitty, one says eighty percent shitty…etc… once says all is good…
one says all is mustard…

J: No, it is *logically* truly shitty from the perspective of self. Why? Because everything the self thinks is pleasing to it vanishes. The self never gets what it truly wants. The self never escapes death. The self can never hold on to any loved ones. In fact, even the self that thinks things are lovely is not the same self the next moment who thinks they suck, so what kind of insanity is it to say that the first self, the one who spoke  a minute ago, is correct that things are really great?

If we cannot see how truly shitty it is to be a self, then we have no desire nor hope for liberation. 

But I am not going to try to convince you to see it this way any longer. It's up to you (well, ultimately it isn't even up to you, it's up to conditions that nobody has any control over--again, that's why this self stuff is so shitty, we have no control over anything but we are so insane that we think we do). 

 J: Like I said, it's like a dream. In a dream, there are dream characters. Do they exist? Will they exist in the next dream?
D: Yes.

J: Hmm... that's pretty rare for me to have dream characters cross over from one dream to another and feel that they are the same people in each dream. Even the one I associate myself with is totally different from one dream to the next and generally has no recall of the past dream. 


J: The illusion goes on forever until it is seen thru. You will die when the body dies, and then someone else will be born in another realm, having no memory whatsoever of your life, but identifying due to you not quitting your habit of identification. Thus your selfishness now leads to the suffering of the "next" person who you think is you, but who really isn't you. Remember the analogy of the candle lighting another candle. The candle is the identity (you). You are helping to light up another suffering identity by not blowing out your own flame of identification.
D: Someone else? Again, perspective, someone else, you could say that sure. Still you, you could say that too. People have “past life” experiences… or, at least they say they do.

J: If you said that someone in a future or past life is "you" then you would have to define what you mean by that, because it makes no logical sense as I see it. What makes "you" "you"? Is it not the memories that you have and the feeling that these memories define you? Otherwise, how are you any different from anyone else? Indeed, even in this life, our sense of self is always shifting, so it is a stretch to say that I am the same person I was when I was a baby--there really isn't much at all the same about me. But to say I'm the same person I was when I was, say, a caterpillar, 3 million years ago, is really quite a stretch of the imagination, and I doubt the caterpillar (nor his friends & family) would agree with me. 

And I myself have past life memories. But I don't feel at all like those past lives are *me*. They are not this life. I am not a woman in love with a man from Mexico, heart broken that he lied to me about not being married already to a Mexican woman and maybe just using me to get a green card. I am not a dinosaur from the Cretaceous period. These are simply memories that somehow came across--anyone could have these memories. 

In fact, if I truly did feel that these past lives were me, then I might be in quite a mess, because I would probably still want to find some of these loved ones that I had and let them know that I'm ok and so forth. One guy did some 5-meo-dmt and came back with such vivid past life memories of "his" old family that he left his current family and tried to reconnect with "his" old one. It ruined his life to identify with "his" past life. 


D: I'm perfectly happy with illusion.
J: Sorry to hear that. Looks like LU hasn't helped you at all then, and neither have I.
D: Not perfectly happy. There are two of me, many in fact. One part says this, one part says that. They’re just words. Some aspects of life I feel happy with in some moments I think and as far as I can tell.

J: Ok, so now you see that the you who said you were perfectly happy with illusion is not even the you that you are now. So how on earth could you identify with a past life when you can't even identify with yourself from last night? 

So let's say there's one of you that is happy, and the others of you are not as happy. Which ones of you are seeing things more clearly? I'd say, the ones of you which see that they are only versions of you which come and go, are seeing things more clearly. Do you notice that those ones of you who know they are just versions who come and go are also the less happy versions of you, who are more interested in liberation from suffering?

D: I want to learn more about this letting go you speak of and don’t understand it yet. Never seeing the sun or the ocean, petting a cat, hugging someone... I'm not going to lie and say that sounds good to me because it doesn't but I am interested in understanding non-duality of that's what it can be called.

J: When I speak of letting go, I'm talking about letting go of delusion. It is delusion for you to see the sun, because the universe does not exist for you to see it. The universe is not revolving around you, even though it feels like that when you are identified as a self. You are not doing anything and you never have. You are a concept created in this brain to associate disparate perceptions with one unified subject.

In reality, the sun experiences itself, the petting experiences itself, every appearance is self-seen and already perfect in reality, none of it is yours, nor could it logically be so. Obviously it is hard to imagine what I'm talking about, so instead of imagining it, just look hard at this sense of *owning* experience. Look hard enough to see that it is a delusion and don't forget that. Wish only for an end to the delusion of owning experience.  


J: [Any view of ultimate reality, whether true or not, will] have the same results for someone who doesn't actually care, like you (or the you that just wrote that message, which kind of seems like a different you than normal). 
D: I forgot what I don’t care about but I’m pretty sure I care whatever it was.

J: So, you forgot what you don't care about, but you are pretty sure you still care about whatever it was. Hmm... why does that sound like a cop out to me? I was saying that you (the you who was writing before) don't care about liberation, since as "you" said, the illusion is (was) quite lovely. 

J: For someone who wants to stop birth and death, it is important to know the difference between God/divine intelligent planning/creator/dreamer and automatic perfection with nobody in it.
D: Would you explain the difference?

J: A creator God is an extension of the delusion of self-view. Because you see yourself as existing, then if you think about the death of yourself, you imagine that there must be some higher self which doesn't die. Because you see yourself as creating things with your will power, you imagine there must be a higher self that is creating things with its will power. 

Dependent origination/automatic perfection with nobody in it, is the understanding that nobody is creating anything and that such a view is completely illogical, since everything happens due to conditions. The appearance of "self" happens due to conditions, and it does not mean there actually is any true entity called self. Just as the feeling of divinity does not mean that there is a true entity called God who creates the universe. 

Liberation from delusion requires seeing things as they are, not from the perspective of fantasy. 

J: And btw, I'm no stranger myself to falling back into the illusion. So don't take it personally that I'm trying to slap you out of it. I wish I had a friend to slap me out of it on a daily basis. I guess that's why folks become monks.

D: I won’t take it personally and appreciate your help and friendship. But monks don’t go out and talk to people, they just stay home and pray, don’t they?

J: Monks are all different. But all of them have left behind the life of "someone" who has worldly goals, and have donned the robes to remind themselves of their purpose here. 

Some monks wander through forests, wishing to not get too comfortable in any one place. Other monks stay in a monastery in order to help each other remember why they became monks.  Other monks stay in caves for long periods in order to focus on the sense of self without the distraction of relating to others. 

Not everyone has the capacity to become a monk (due to family obligations, etc.), but those of us who are not monks actually have a much harder time letting go of delusion, because we still act in the world just like everyone else. We still have to get the same things others have to get accomplished. We fall into delusion and forget about liberation with nothing nor anyone to remind us, except for when we experience more suffering.

once read a quote from an elder monk regarding newly ordained monks. He said that 99% of the new monks end up quitting, because they are not yet done with their attachment to suffering. 

Monday 16 February 2015

Determinism vs. Dependent Origination

[quote]Are you clear here that there is no guiding?[/quote]
Everything is guided but no guider.

Or,  nothing is guided, because guiding implies that things can happen differently than they do if not for the guidance. Is a flower guided toward the sun? What guides it? The sun? DNA? We could say, yes, the sun and DNA guide the flower's growth. Or we could say that the growth is inseparable from its conditions, there's no split in reality. 

Determinism to most people implies causation, which implies causes separate from results. Dependent origination shows that there are causes & conditions, but those causes & conditions are not separate from the things they influence. In a sense, they *are* those things. Only by later designating one thing to be a condition, and another thing to be a result, can we split reality up into linear time and subject/object consciousness. 

My understanding of dependent origination is that of maybe a first-grader in public school. If you want a scholarly understanding, I suggest you read Nagarjuna. However, Nagarjuna is not just a scholar but also aims at breaking the mind almost koan-like. So logicians would probably not agree with much of what he is saying.

I did recently read a book which is highly revered by some folks as explaining the difference between determinism and the teaching of dependent origination from the Pali canon, but I found it lacking. Here's my review:

Isn't it selfish to seek my own liberation while others suffer?

No maker, no made, all unfolding perfectly... But how is that going to help me feel better about seeing someone suffer?

Why would you want to feel good about seeing someone suffer?? lol... you must mean, how is this going to help you to help others to be liberated from suffering?

If that's the question, the answer is that you won't be able to help others in most cases, because most people would not have any clue what you are talking about, and if anything they would be hurt by these ideas as their dreams would be shattered. On the other hand, sometimes you can help someone understand, but you think you can't. Like my neighbor--I forget his name now, but he is a real interesting guy from the little I know of him. He talks to me mostly about fruit that he likes. Strangely, he told me his favorite fruit was a pineapple one day, and I just happened to have just bought a pineapple for $1, even tho I don't like pineapple much. I gave it to him. Then a few months later (recently) he told me it was the best pineapple he'd ever had and he had to repay me with some fruit sometime. Somehow, he mentioned something about me being Jewish, and I said, "well, not really." And he said, "oh ok, but you believe in God at least." I said, "Well, not really." And he was flabbergasted. He said, "Well, you better, or else what will happen on judgement day?" I said, "There's nobody here to judge or be judged. If you pay attention to direct experience you'll see there's only the seen, the heard, the cognized, nobody in any of it." He said, "Wow, man, that's deep. I got to come over and talk with you sometime!"

Anyway, you may be able to help folks if you can first help yourself. Otherwise you'll be preaching a message that nobody will have reason to believe. I'd say just keep quiet until you have some true liberatory insight... until your intellectual understanding is confirmed by direct experience of the happiness of no self, no mind, automatic perfection. Even if that experience is only a brief one, it will shake the doubt right out of you. You'll be a true convert and nothing will ever be able to sway you from this understanding, no experience of God no matter how powerful. In fact, i recently (maybe 2 months ago) had my latest God experience while on ayahuasca (I wasn't expecting the effects to be so strong). It was foolish of me to have taken 1.5g of mimosa given that I was alone there to watch my sleeping baby. I was fighting it and God was right there, and I was bargaining with him/it. I said, look God, we both know that you and I don't exist and this whole dialog is an illusion, but can you please shut off this drug experience? I'll change my life if you want me to, just tell me what I have to do to shut this off. And God said, "Ok, then stop selling psychedelics to people and teach them the dharma instead. You already know that psychedelics are only confusing people if they don't understand reality to begin with." It was hard for me to accept because this business was providing most of my income, but I had no choice, especially because I knew this was truth being spoken. So I accepted, and shortly after, the experience was over. 

Now, back to this whole idea of helping yourself to be liberated. That sounds almost selfish to some people. But think of it like this... you actually are not really helping yourself, but rather, this body/mind being referred to as "yourself" is helping an infinite number of "your" future body/minds that would otherwise be enslaved to identity if not for "your" endeavors to untie the knot of ignorance in this very life. While it may be hard to see that this current body/mind is not you, it should be a bit easier to see that future body/minds are not you. Thus, liberating this body/mind is the opposite of selfishness, even if no "other" beings are helped in the process in this lifetime (altho in most cases, many "others" will be helped in the process). 

So instead of seeing liberation as selfish (which is an incredible trick the ego plays!) try to see clinging to identity as selfish. I once had an experience in which I was allowed to let go of identity in a dream, and I was *so* scared, but I had been training hard to remember that the whole point was to benefit all beings. So I said, "well, ok, I'll let go, since it is for the benefit of all beings." And upon saying that, I dissolved, painfully, into the universe. It was very painful, the letting go, that time. That was a dream (without drugs). Since then there's been a lot more bliss involved in these experiences, but usually still some initial trepidation. I always have to keep in mind how what I'm doing is for the benefit of all beings, to fight the illusion that it is selfish. 

But how can we *ever* understand the Grand Mystery, asks the kindergartener...

(This is a continuation from this post.)

The thing also is, all of this still doesn't explain anything because there's nothing to explain... ?? It still comes down to an unfathomable mystery but the mystery is solved by "there is no answer" but that's not an answer.

 The mystery is just the natural result of thinking you are separate from conditions. Is pooping a mystery? It is if you are trying to know it down to the smallest detail (i.e. why does my poop look 1cm longer today than yesterday?). The most you could ever hope to know are the general physical, chemical, or biological laws that make pooping happen (plus incidental details like what you ate for breakfast). You'll never know how each piece of poop is formed exactly. But what if the one who is studying the problem realizes they are not separate from it? Then there is no more "wondering", no more wanting to know. There is just the natural functioning of everything as it is. No more mystery, no more known/unknown split. 

When asked the nature of reality, Buddha once replied, "When this arises, so does that. With the cessation of that, this also ceases." So that is the nature of reality in a nutshell. At a kindergarten level or maybe pre-school. He could have gone deeper and tried to explain how all appearances are self-seen without any central or background reference, and there is no awareness apart from appearances themselves. But who could understand that? It's too much all at once for most people to have any idea of the meaning of that, and still it doesn't "answer" the question of the origin of it all. In fact, as I said,  Buddha investigated without finding any origin whatsoever. 

To say that there is no origin could sound like it is an unsolved mystery, perhaps. But on the other hand, the idea that there must be an origin is inherently illogical, because if there is an origin, what is the origin of the origin? So the "mystery" is basically a product of our illogical conditioning. 

Another question people ask is "why is there something rather than nothing?" But again, the question itself is illogical, because if there were nothing, then the question wouldn't exist. So as a result of their being (appearing to be) something, the question itself arises automatically. 

One may wonder, why is it that there is this incredibly divine aspect to reality that mystics can perceive? Doesn't that indicate a creator or something truly divine, something beyond all comprehension of these puny minds we have? And the answer is, the divinity is simply the way that reality must be--all atoms function perfectly, and it couldn't be any other way or else the universe would be nothing but chaos with no order at all. It is only by identifying with one little tiny part of reality that reality can be perceived as imperfect.

Finally one may wonder how identification can happen in this perfect universe. There are many hypotheses about that. I might answer (to a kindergartener) that dust naturally lands upon all surfaces. Imagine that each "surface" is self-aware without identity, in perfect seeing, until dust alights upon it. Now, instead of pure outward awareness, the dust is reflecting the appearance to itself, albeit in a very gross kind of way. The appearance has never seen itself, and it never imagines that what is happening is merely the natural accumulation of dust on its seeing surface. It begins to think it is quite a grandiose thing, almost a perfect thing, and it rejoices in knowing itself finally. But after many eons, it no longer finds itself feeling quite so perfect, with mountains of dust covering its view of reality. But by now it is completely forgotten that self-view is merely a result of dusty vision. Dust is not seen as dust, but as self itself. Every particle of dust is clung to, and the greatest fear is that the dust will somehow be removed and the appearance will no longer know itself. "Mr. Clean" becomes the greatest villain.

I didn't make that hypothesis up entirely myself--Buddha taught something like that; I simply embellished it.