What are you? Are you a person? Are you a sage?
It’s an important question. Our identifications create our stories and our stories create our surrealities, which are the worlds we inhabit. Your life will likely be very different if you identify with a local gangster rather than a world-renowned sage.
We typically take ourselves to be making the judgments that create our stories. We typically take ourselves to be persons. Are we really?
It’s the primary (logically first, initial, primitive) applications of the concepts of identity and existence that create our understandings.
However, there are no criteria at all for the primary applications of these concepts. [See, Panayot Butchvarov, Being Qua Being, p. 80.]
This is always true in the case of the primary applications of, for example, ordinary color concepts such as red or taste concepts such as the taste of pineapple. How could such criteria be other than trivial? Unlike identity and existence, though, those concepts are not world-making; there can be worlds without color, tastes, or other ordinary qualities.
It’s an extraordinary and underappreciated fact that there are no criteria for the primary applications of the concepts of identity and existence.
They somehow just get applied!
How? How is it possible that that occurs?
For example, does a person apply them? Do I apply them? If not me, who?
Of course, about my own situation I could simply think or say, “I apply them.” Indeed, that’s what I would say if I were committed to a theory of personal agency. Why, though, be committed to such a view? Is it even intelligible? What is the concept of personhood being used? How could such a concept be sufficiently fundamental?
Somehow or other, they get made and revised. That’s puzzling.
We might ask, “What causes them to be applied?” The problem with such a question is the presupposition of causation. What is a cause? Are causes real? Even if they are, causes would be insufficiently fundamental in this context.
Some philosophers deny that there is any causation.
In our embarrassment, we might adopt the familiar tactic that many thinkers adopt when they need a global explanation of some kind, namely, “God applies them.” The problem here would be the presupposition that God exists. What or who is God? Is the concept of God even intelligible?
There are familiar conceptual difficulties here. For example, is God temporal, eternal (nontemporal), or both? If both, that’s contradictory. If temporal, then God is subject to time and cannot have created it. If eternal, then God is removed from being an agent, which renders God impersonal.
Many philosophers deny the existence of an impersonal God. Many find the concept of a personal God even more dubious because the notion of an eternal person seems to try to combine incompatible qualities, namely, the quality of being timeless and the quality of being a person. What sense does it make to claim that an eternal personal God does anything?
Think of any simple material identity judgment. Suppose I’m both seeing and touching a maple leaf. The visual object is the tactile object. It’s a real leaf. It’s a judgment that I so take for granted that the notion that it has anything to do with a God seems utterly farfetched.
Who makes judgments like this visual object is this tactile object? If you ask people, they’ll just tell you that of course what they see is what they touch. Expose them to skeptical arguments about delusions or dreams and they’ll still find it difficult to disassociate from such identities. (If you then tell them that God must be making such identifications, they’ll likely think you crazy.)
We’re aware of making judgments all the time about, say, our preferences. That’s quite a contrast to the case with primary identity judgments. It’s just not plausible that we’re making them. They seem automatic. We simply have no experience making them. We take them for granted. They are so natural that it’s difficult even to think of not making them. What would it be like not to make them? It’s even difficult to think fundamentally enough to understand what they are.
In fact, they are not personal. They are impersonal.
Those who are scientifically inclined might try to explain them by simply saying that our brains make them for us because they have proven their worth in evolutionary terms. Any such causal explanations or stories, though, would be insufficiently fundamental.
My purpose is to encourage you to question the assumption that you are a person. I do not believe that our essential nature is to be a person.
Do not confuse a being with Being. A being is just an object (a form, something “singleoutable”, something limited). Mountains, clouds, thoughts, rivers, trees, emotions, and tigers are all beings.
By way of contrast, Being is the limitless domain that includes no beings. It’s too simple to conceptualize in the sense that it’s like the background of all beings. It can be directly experienced or apprehended but it’s not singleoutable.
It’s a bit like the black background of the stars at night. The stars in this analogy are like beings. We can see them directly; they are singleoutable. We are able to notice them without thinking anything, without doing any conceptual work. They are singleoutable by noticing them standing out from their background, which is like Being. We are able to see the void behind the stars, but what is it to single it out? It seems to be nothing, emptiness, void. There’s seems to be nothing else to say about it. Of course, that’s just an analogy.
Being is usually (and wisely) described negatively in opposition to Becoming. The reason is that, although it can be directly apprehended, it cannot be singled out and, so, cannot be conceptualized.
Attempts to describe it positively don’t work well. We could say it’s the “fecund void” or “pure energy” or “shimmering with love” but such phrases are mere pointers that don’t work well.
The great contemporary sage Eckhart Tolle puts it this way: “All things are vibrating energy fields in ceaseless motion” [from A New Earth].
However unintelligible this question, could it be that Being is the source of primary identity judgments?
Are you familiar with David Hawkins’s Map of Consciousness? Everything real has a minute energy vibration that can be detected and plotted on that Map, which is a logarithmic scale from 1 to 1000. [To understand it well, read his trilogy of books in order: Power Vs. Force, The Eye of the I, and I. Cf. Chapter 4 in my How to Dissolve Unwanted Emotions for a short, simple explanation of it.]
At every moment each of us has a personal calibration. This calibration can increase or decrease until death, which is the point at which it becomes fixed.
What’s interesting in this context is that anyone whose personal calibration is between 600 and 1000 is a sage. Nobody is a sage whose personal calibration is between 1 and 599 – and that’s about 99.6% of human beings. In that sense, personhood calibrates at 599 or lower and sagehood calibrates at 600 or higher. Sagehood is experienced only by those who have spiritually awakened.
At each of the major levels of that Map, content is recontextualized. Truth is relative to the level of consciousness. Furthermore, at least below 999, not everything even sages believe is true.
What they believe, though, from their own experience is true about personhood: sages have transcended personhood. Although they can fall back into their egoic selves, anyone with a personal calibration of 600 or higher lives beyond personhood.
I myself am not a sage. I am just judging by what they say. For example,
Hawkins writes: “Below 600, self is experienced as ego. Beyond 600, self becomes the Self of the Love of God” [from I].
What’s it like to be a sage? We nonsages cannot clearly understand it. Furthermore, there are different degrees of sagehood as sages from The Buddha to Hawkins have pointed out.
Sages and nonsages share one critical characteristic. The essence (whatness, core) of every being is Being [cf. Chapter 7 of my Are You Living Without Purpose?].
Since Being is conceptually unintelligible, the statement in bold in the previous paragraph itself is conceptually unintelligible (and, so, neither true nor false). However, Being can be directly apprehended. [That statement calibrates at 956 on Hawkins’s Map.]
That’s the critical difference between sages and nonsages: only sages have directly apprehended Being. That’s spiritual “realization” as opposed to just trying to conceptualize Being. As all sages agree, although it can be directly experienced, Being cannot be conceptualized.
Being is unlimited. Being is impersonal. It is the ultimate source of all primary identity judgments, which are beings.
What if these statements are true and simply calibrate higher than your personal calibration at this time?
Would it really surprise you if Being were the source, the root and ground, the wellspring, of all beings?
Are we persons?
If so, what does that mean? If not, what, really, are we?
I argue in this post that, if you think you’re a person, you’re deluded!
The Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi praised the value of continually asking “Who am I?” as a means to spiritual awakening.
It’s also helpful in that context to ask “What am I?”
This is the third blog post in which I discuss identity judgments. It will be much less interesting and convincing if you are unfamiliar with the contents of the first two. Please permit me a quick review.
In the post “Identity Judgments” I attempt to expose the importance of identity judgments by arguing that they are “the most fundamental conceptualizations.”
The notion of fundamentality is a logical one: the answer to question A is more fundamental than the answer to question B if and only if B’s answer takes for granted or presupposes A’s answer.
For example, “What is a being?” is more fundamental than “What is a human being?” It’s impossible to understand the answer to the latter without presupposing an answer to the former.
Logical identity judgments of the form “a is a” that assert than an object is the same as itself and different from all other objects are less interesting and important than material identity judgments of the form “a is b” that assert that two objects are really one.
Suppose there is a maple leaf before me now. I see it; it’s an object in my visual field that I’m attending or paying attention to. It’s an object (a form, something “singleoutable”, something limited). It’s separable from its visual background. It has a shape, a color, a size, a weight, and so on.
There’s no issue about whether or not “this leaf is this leaf”. That’s not only true but usually uninteresting. We could say that this leaf is a “pure” object when considered in abstraction from its background and all other objects.
What about the judgment that “the visual leaf is the tactile leaf”? If that visual object is identified with that tactile object, then it’s real; in other words, it’s an entity, an existent. That’s not a matter of mere logic; instead, it’s a judgment about the world. What appear to be two different (pure) objects are really one entity.
If that judgment is true, then that entity is part of the world. If that judgment is false, then, although we could say that that leaf is part of your world or surreality, it’s false that it’s part of reality, part of the world. The visual leaf and the tactile leaves would be nonentities, nonexistent objects. In other words, if it’s false, then the two pure objects really are two and not one.
(When primitive identity judgments are made, then consistency requires making suitable secondary identity judgments. If so, those secondary ones are much less interesting and important than the primitive ones.)
A critical idea is that, once we make an identity judgment, we are able to enforce it. This is one of Butchvarov’s original and important arguments in Being Qua Being. No reason or justification can budge us if we don’t want to be budged. This shows the limitation of discursive rationality.
In the post “Primitive Identity Judgments” I invited you to wonder about the answer to the question, “How did you begin to understand or conceptualize?”
You’re thinking as you read this. To think is to conceptualize (categorize, sort, discriminate, classify). Since you’re now doing that, you must have begun doing it.
How? Presumably, you were born with the ability to conceptualize, but you had to learn concepts, which are the principles used for conceptualizing. How? What’s their logical origin?
In other words, what’s the origin of your world, your surreality? The answer is the logically first or primitive identity judgments that constitute it. When we go fundamental enough, the spade turns. That’s rock bottom.
If there were no primitive identity judgments that you take to be true, there would be no surreality whatsoever. You would not inhabit a world at all.
A critical idea is that the function of identity judgments is simplification. Once two pure objects are taken to be one entity, then what-is is simpler. What appear to be two are really one.
For example, the visual leaf is the tactile leaf. The visual leaf is a pure object. The tactile leaf is a pure object. If “they” are one, its different qualities fit together to constitute it. Again, it has a shape, a color, a size, a weight, and so on.
In this way, the concept of material identity “unpacks” the concept of existence. (Cf. my The Concept of Existence.)
So far, so good. Why keep discussing identity judgments?
I’d like you to wonder more about them. Who or what is doing the simplification? Who or what is doing the enforcing of primitive identity judgments?
It’s true that they’re getting made. As we’ve seen, there’d be no intelligibility and no world without them.
It’s insufficient just to answer, “Well, I’m making them.” Who or what are you?
I’m challenging your understanding of yourself as a person. Are you a person? Are you a separate entity standing outside the otherwise confusing flux of pure objects creating coherence from them by making primitive identity judgments?
If so, what criteria do you use to make them? Making them haphazardly won’t yield coherence.
If you’re using criteria to make them, how could you possibly have learned those criteria? How could they be justified?
Suppose, for example, that a skeptic asked you to justify your claim that the visual leaf is the tactile leaf. How could you reply?
You couldn’t. You’d be left in dumbfounded silence. How could you possibly prove that the visual leaf is the same as the tactile leaf?
If you’re not using criteria to make them, then the skeptic wins by default because then there’d be no connection whatsoever between your surreality created by your primitive identity judgments and reality. There’d be no coherence.
Something’s wrong here. We are at such a fundamental level that that’s a serious indication that something very interesting is at stake. There’s little conceptual room in which to maneuver.
The problem is with the assumption that we are persons making judgments. We’re not.
You’re not, in fact, a person. Ultimately, nothing is personal.
If it were just me suggesting this, you could easily ignore it. I’m a nobody.
However, it’s not just me suggesting it. For example, recent sages such as David R. Hawkins and contemporary sages such as Eckhart Tolle also have said it.
Is it conceptually challenging? You bet!
Does it shake your self-understanding to the core? I hope so!
If you’re not a person, what are you? Ultimately, what is your true nature?
My suggestion? Assuming that you don’t have an answer to the question concerning the justification of primitive identity judgments, you should ask and keep asking: Who am I? What am I?
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING: Panayot Butchvarov, Being Qua Being and Skepticism About the External World.
Truth and Its Apprehension
Truth is reality.
To agree to that is simply to agree to regiment the ordinary use of ‘truth’ in a specific way. It’s just a verbal agreement. Without specifying the content of the concept of reality (what-is), it’s hopelessly vague.
What is reality? Good question!
Reality is the subject matter of ontology, the philosophical discipline that investigates reality.
Suppose someone specifies the nature of reality and claims that to be real is to be _____. Once we understand whatever content fills in the blank, we should naturally ask, ‘How do you know that to be real is to be _____?”
Since people have all kinds of false beliefs, we shouldn’t believe anything just because someone else says it. It’s true that, sometimes, there are experts, but, if we are not experts ourselves, how do we recognize who is an expert?
Apprehension is the subject matter of epistemology, the philosophical discipline that investigates how we come to apprehend reality.
Ontology and epistemology are like two sides of the same coin. From a logical point of view, they are “first philosophy.” Everything else is secondary.
There’s a critical difference between knowing something and having an opinion about it, namely, while opinions can be false there’s no such thing as false knowledge.
Objects of knowledge (and true opinion) are real. That’s what connects ontology and epistemology.
Claims about what is real are worthless unless justified by evidence. Knowledge claims are backed by demonstrative evidence, whereas claims that are opinions are backed by nondemonstrative evidence.
To have demonstrative evidence that some judgment about reality is known to be true is to find mistake in believing it inconceivable (unthinkable, impossible). Demonstrative evidence is the unthinkability of mistake.
That’s a very high standard. For example, suppose that I see a tree before me now. Do I know that that tree is real?
Well, it certainly appears to be real. There’s no doubt about that. I know that I seem to see a tree before me now. However, is that visual perceptual evidence sufficient for knowledge?
No. As philosophers have realized for literally thousands of years, perception is not a source of knowledge.
One way to come to understand this is to realize that I could be sound asleep and simply dreaming that I see a tree before me now. Do I know that I am awake?
Well, no. I know that I seem to be awake. I remember waking up earlier and eating breakfast. Is it not, though, possible to dream that I awoke and ate breakfast?
It is. I may dream anything that I may experience when I’m awake.
Even if I had a test for telling the difference between waking consciousness and dreaming consciousness, there’s nothing to prevent me from misapplying that test by simply dreaming that I’m using it.
So, although perception is a source of nondemonstrative evidence and, so, a (partial) justification for opinions, it’s not a source of demonstrative evidence, a justification for knowledge. Why? It’s possible to think how I may be mistaken with respect to any perceptual judgment.
A similar argument rules out memory as a source of knowledge.
Connect this to time. Because memory is not a source of knowledge, I cannot know past reality. Because perception is not a source of knowledge, I cannot know present reality about the so-called external world. Because it doesn’t exist, I obviously also cannot know anything about the future. We should ask: is time itself real?
Let’s be honest. We don’t know as much as we’d like to know or as we ordinarily take ourselves to know. Let’s not live in bad faith with ourselves believing that our opinions are knowledge. Any opinion may turn out false. Humility should be our attitude.
Since science is based on perception about the so-called external world, science does not yield knowledge. Ever! At best it yields true opinion.
Even the criterion for knowledge is questionable: it doesn’t follow from the claim that a judgment is supported by demonstrative evidence that it’s true. Why? It’s logically possible that we are inherently defective such that, even though we find mistake in believing some judgment inconceivable, nevertheless that judgment is false.
That’s really a heavy dose of skepticism, isn’t it? Nobody actually believes it. It’s not possible to give an example of it. Why? Because to give an example would be to find mistake conceivable, whereas the criterion for demonstrative evidence is finding mistake inconceivable. So, we may set that aside and only pull it out when we get too attached to our own opinions.
We want to be honest with ourselves and we want to know the truth about the world. However, if knowledge is finding mistake inconceivable, it turns out that there’s not a lot we can know about the world.
So, let’s lower our epistemic standard and settle for having opinions about the world that seem to work reasonably well.
That’s what modern science does. It proceeds using the process of methodological materialism, which is the assumption or pretense that to be real is to be material.
What is it to be material? It’s whatever has material energy a la Einstein’s famous equation. We learn about matter by perceiving it directly or indirectly by perceiving machines that supposedly detect it.
Since we know about the material world ultimately via perception and since perception is not a source of demonstrative evidence, science cannot yield knowledge about the material world. Let’s not be confused about that.
Scientists seek to know the truth. We’ve just seen, though, that they cannot succeed to know the truth about the material world. Still, as Plato pointed out, since true opinion is as good a guide to action as knowledge, perhaps our position isn’t too bad.
The intellectual problem comes when we slip from methodological materialism to ontological materialism, which is the view that to be real is to be material. Many scientists (and others) actually do so slip.
The view is rampant in the so-called hard sciences such as chemistry, physics, and biology. It’s also popular in the soft sciences such as psychology and sociology.
The critical confusion concerns consciousness (awareness, attention).
You may think that the soft sciences can study it. Nope!
For example, suppose that a psychologist wants to study dreams. How?
Well, suppose he or she recruits you to be a subject, attaches electrodes to your head to determine electrical activity in your brain that connects to an EEG machine, has you go to sleep, and wakes you up when it seems that you are dreaming in order to determine whether or not you are dreaming. What’s wrong with that?
Notice clearly what the psychologist learns. What happens when you wake up? You either report that you are dreaming or that you weren’t, right? Therefore, the psychologist learns nothing whatsoever about your dreams.
What the psychologist may learn to correlate is the behavior of the machine that records the electrical activity of your brain and your linguistic behavior in which you report a dream or not.
The correlation is behavior-behavior. The correlation is not between the behavior of the machine and consciousness of a dream!
In this way, scientists are limited to the truncated world, the material world devoid of consciousness. They treat the world as if consciousness were nonexistent.
That can be a useful methodological approach. However, obviously, it’s an extremely limited approach and can never be more than that.
You may have noticed that scientists don’t like to talk about consciousness. They like to pretend it doesn’t exist. When pressed, they think that it is some kind of strange emergent quality that somehow came from the evolution of matter.
What if it were the other way around? What if consciousness were the root and ground of reality and that it is infinitely more powerful than matter?
What about causation? What’s that? Everyone assumes that scientists come up with causal theories composed of causal laws. The fact is that there is no clarity among epistemologists and philosophers of science about the nature of causation. More than one thinker has denied that causation even exists.
The big takeaway here is to be a lot humbler than we typically are when we are trying to apprehend what is real. Be a lot more open-minded.
When scientists or others claim to know the nature of reality, do not fail to ask them how they know. Is what they claim to know really knowledge or only opinion?
I’ve been trying to prepare the intellectual soil so that you’ll ask an extremely question: is it wise to assume that the best way to know reality is by trying to gain more and more conceptual understanding?
That’s what scientists and many people do. The alternative doesn’t even occur to them. What is it?
We already are reality.
If so, we do not need to seek reality somehow “out there.” What if there’s no “out there” out there? How then could we come to apprehend reality?
It’s by dissolving obstructions to our apprehension of reality.
What are those obstructions? They are our attachments, particularly our attachments to our opinions, our views.
What happens when we surrender all those attachments? Could it be that we apprehend reality?
Related and recommended post: Desire and Nasruddin’s Key
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING: Panayot Butchvarov, Skepticism About the External World, and David Hawkins, Letting Go.
Don’t we all have some Nasruddin in us?
Here’s another brief story about him:
One night some of Nasruddin’s friends came upon him crawling around on his hands and knees searching for something beneath a lamppost. When they asked him what he was looking for, he told them that he had lost the key to his house. They all got down to help him look, but without any success. Finally, one of them asked Nasruddin where exactly he had lost the key. Nasruddin replied, “In the house.”
“Then why,” his friends asked, “are you looking under the lamppost?”
Nasruddin replied, “Because there’s more light here.”
It’s natural and rational for us to be lazy, greedy, ambitious, impatient, selfish, vain, and ignorant — or so I argue in Mastery in 7 Steps.
Nasruddin desires his house key. Why? Presumably, it’s because he naturally and rationally thinks it would be good for him to be able to enter his house. So far, so good.
The problem comes because he’s looking for it the lazy way even though he knows he can’t find it there.
Don’t we all do that with happiness?
We naturally and rationally want to be happier. There are lots of things that we think will make us happier and, so, we desire them. So far, so good.
Even though we know better, we also foolishly look for happiness where it cannot possibly be found.
Are all our strivings only for brief bouts of happiness?
Isn’t what we really desire happiness that lasts?
If so, where can it be found?
It’s impossible for it to be found in temporary – even fleeting – experiences.
Yet, because it’s easy to look there, that’s where we insist on looking to find it.
To desire something is to be dissatisfied. If we lack, for example, enough love or sex or friendship or power or esteem or whatever we think will make us happier, then we spend life trying to arrange the world so that we get more of it.
While we are so striving, we are unhappy because we desire the world to be different than it is. If we manage to get what we want, we are unhappy because, since we understand that it’s temporary because the world is in ceaseless flux, we live in fear of losing it.
The problem is that temporal goods, even though they are valuable, are not really what will satisfy or fulfill us in a lasting way.
That’s impossible. Temporal goods are temporary. That’s true for friendships and love affairs and power and so on and on.
In that sense, their value is always only secondary. It’s not that they are not valuable; it’s that they are not what will really fulfill us in a lasting way. [See my
Once we realize that we’ve wasted a lot of life looking for lasting happiness where it cannot be found, doesn’t it make sense to begin to look for it where it might actually be found?
This supposedly true Japanese story has been retold by Stephen Mitchell:
“A hundred and fifty years ago there lived a woman named Sono, whose devotion and purity of heart were respected far and wide. One day a fellow Buddhist, having made a long trip to see her, asked, ‘What can I do to put my heart at rest?’
She said, ‘Every morning and every evening, and whenever anything happens to you, keep on saying, “Thanks for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.”’
The man did as he was instructed, for a whole year, but his heart was still not at peace. He returned to Sono, crestfallen. ‘I’ve said your prayer over and over, and yet nothing in my life has changed; I’m still the same selfish person as before. What should I do now?’
Sono immediately said, ‘Thanks for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.’
On hearing these words, the man was able to open his spiritual eye, and returned home with great joy.”
The reason for repeating this story is because stories are the usual way we learn easily and this story, properly understood, contains some valuable lessons.
Distinguish physical pain from suffering (sorrow, misery, discontent), which in this story understood as having an unpeaceful heart.
Is suffering optional? Yes. It’s curable.
Are there people like Sono willing to help you cure your suffering? Yes, there are qualified spiritual teachers, authors, and coaches available.
Could you find someone who will cure your suffering for you? No. Sono couldn’t make the man’s heart peaceful. Even though she was a wise, loving person, she was impotent to cure someone else’s suffering. The Buddha and all other sages have taught this lesson.
Could you find someone who will help you cure your own suffering? Yes. There are lots of qualified people who will help you IF you commit wholeheartedly to doing what is required.
There’s no magic bullet, no instant cure, no quick fix. The man spent a year repeating the words Sono gave him without wholehearted commitment. Nothing happened. It won’t happen for you, either, without wholehearted commitment.
Once the man really understood what was required, he made the leap. He let go. He surrendered. He did what’s required.
Overcoming selfishness is what is required. Detaching from self is what is required. Transcending the ego is what is required. Surpassing egocentricity is what is required. Practices that fall short of that fail.
If you are like me, you have a regrettable tendency to think that experiences happen TO you. “Oh, woe is me! Yet again the world is causing me to suffer.”
What if instead you believed, wholeheartedly, that experiences happen FOR you? “Thanks for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.”
Unconditional surrender to the form of what-is in the present moment is the beginning of living well. What?
‘Unconditional surrender’ means complete acceptance; there can be no strings attached. ‘What-is’ is reality. Ultimate reality is Being (Life, God, divinity, Consciousness). A “form” is whatever can be separated from everything else or singled out for attention; it’s an impermanent appearance. All forms are temporal; all forms exist in the domain of Becoming (as opposed to the eternal, formless domain of Being).
To be wise is to live well. Living well or wisely begins with the transition from time to timelessness (eternity), with the opening of Becoming to Being.
Total acceptance of whatever form Becoming has in the present moment does not mean acceptance of any story or interpretation or evaluation of whatever form Becoming has in the present moment.
All stories are temporal. All interpretations are conceptual judgments. All evaluations are impermanent. Total acceptance is beyond time, judgments, and evaluations.
How can we determine for ourselves what living well is like? How can we experience wisdom directly? It’s simple: detach from all stories, judgments, and evaluations, which, like sensations, perceptions, and emotions, are contents of Becoming. Doing so reveals Being, which is like an infinitely spacious container.
The most powerful symbol of the transition is Jesus on the cross. [I discuss this also in ARE YOU LIVING WITHOUT PURPOSE?] It’s not a matter of his will being done; it’s a matter of Thy will being done. The referent of ‘Thy’ is ultimate reality. Whole-hearted acceptance of whatever form Becoming has in the present moment is the uncovering of one’s essential or true self (Buddha-nature, Being, Self).
Unconditional surrender or acceptance, like life, can only occur now; it cannot occur in the past or in the future.
Since it is Jesus’ death, the termination of his person, why is Good Friday good? Because it’s Jesus’ opening to ultimate reality (transition from his little self to his big Self).
Merely thinking about complete acceptance should not be identified with actual complete acceptance. All thought, like all life, is restricted to Becoming, whereas Life is Being, which is beyond all thought (as Self is beyond self). Since Being is ineffable, the word ‘Being’ is merely a pointer. The same goes for all similar words and phrases. To confuse any of them with Being is to mistake a finger pointing towards the moon with the moon or reading a menu with eating the food described on the menu.
The pre-Christian symbol of the cross stands for the intersection of time, the horizontal, with timelessness (eternity), the vertical. [Please don’t confuse ‘eternal’ with ‘immortal.’]
“Spiritual awakening” is experiencing the intersection of time and timelessness. [Please don’t confuse ‘spiritual’ with ‘religious.’]
This is a rejection of the way of the world, which is constantly trying to gain whatever one likes (desires, values) and to avoid or lose whatever one dislikes. (The only exception, which is unrecognized anyway by those attached to the way of the world, is nonegocentric desire.)
This is a rejection of the someday syndrome, which is believing that “If only I could have X, then I could finally live well.” ‘X’ denotes something desired. [Please don’t confuse the object of a desire with its good. The good with respect to a desire is its annihilation. For example, food is the object of hunger, but the good with respect to hunger is the end of the hunger.] At this moment, none of us are actually missing anything required for living well.
This is a rejection of the restricted understanding of myself as ego (resistance, little self, egoic I). Instead, it points to realization that our essential (true, whole) nature is Being.
Why is this important? Since Being is formless and forms are required for separation, there is no separation in Being. Since all dissatisfaction (misery, discontent, suffering, unease) is caused by separation, realization of our essential nature dissolves all dissatisfaction.
The takeaway: when you are sufficiently sick and tired of being sick and tired, emulate Jesus, The Buddha, and all other sages by opening to Being. This is the critical difference between “sages” (buddhas, saints) and the rest of us. This is why they live well and we don’t (yet!).
The good news is that we are all potential sages. What is required for our transition is detachment from all forms. How is that possible?
Ego-death typically requires mastery of some classic spiritual (yogic, meditative) practice or other such as zazen, aliveness awareness, or tai chi.
Mastery of anything worth mastering is never easy. It requires the right kind of sustained practice.
Wisdom, mastering life, requires total detachment from ego. There’s no such thing as a selfish sage.
Since wisdom is not a matter of luck or happenstance, we are all capable of wisdom. We all have what it takes to live well. It’s false that the shift from ego to egolessness is commonplace, but, perhaps, it may become so.
That’s humankind’s only hope.
What’s the right dose?
Too little physical exercise isn’t good for us. Too much physical exercise isn’t good for us. What’s the right dose?
I have in other recent writings offered my exercise recommendations [see chapter 6 in Introduction to Living Well.] They are for 1 brief, intense strength training session each week [see my Weight Lifting] and for 2 brief, intense fitness exercise sessions weekly [see Sears’s P.A.C.E.].
What about the 6 days when there’s no strength training?
I recommend 4 daily physical exercises and a short relaxing exercise. If you want more, walk briskly for 1 to 4 miles one to three times weekly.
One-minute standing trot
First, a one-minute standing trot at an easy pace. This is not high-intensity exercise. It’s more like a physical wake up to get your blood flowing. If you become hot, it’s not a trot. Gentle and easy does it.
The other three should be done with perfect form:
One-minute of classic crunches
Second, one-minute of classic crunches done slowly. Lie on your back with your knees bent (to take the stress off your lower back) and arms straight next to your body. Use your abdominal muscles to pull your head and shoulders up; pull your abs towards the floor while you peel your backbone off the floor slowly vertebra by vertebra. Feel your abs working. There’s no need to lift all the way up. Lower and repeat. Stop after a minute.
One-minute of a classic plank
Simply hold the top of a push-up position. See the photo above. It’s important to keep your back and arms straight with your hands directly under your shoulders. (Alternatively, you may have your elbows on the floor directly under your shoulders.) Pull your abs in. It’s alright for your butt to be slightly high. When this becomes easy for you, go ahead and do classic push-ups without momentum for that minute. Stop after a minute.
One-minute of body-weight squats
Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart; they should either be parallel or have your toes pointing slightly outwards. Inhale and draw in your abs. Slowly bend your knees while keeping your arms out in front of you for balance as you sit back and down with your chest naturally forward and your head up. Use your butt and quads to return to a standing position as you exhale and drop your arms. Stop after a minute.
The usual technique guidelines for doing any kind of squats apply. For example, do not bounce at the bottom. Go as low as possible given your degree of flexibility. Do not lock your knees at the top; instead, keep them slightly bent to maintain tension on your muscles. Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your feet.
One-minute (or more) of relaxing meditation
[The following can be extended into an “aliveness awareness” session. I’ve elsewhere described how to begin to feel the aliveness in your motionless hands or feet. So it can be done separately as a spiritual and not just as a physical exercise. Working up to and doing 20 minutes twice daily is a great antidote to stress.]
The goal is complete relaxation at least until your breathing returns to normal. Lie back in a recliner or on the floor with a pillow or cushion under your knees (to take the stress of your lower back) and, if you prefer, with a small pillow under the back of your head. Breathe deeply. As you exhale, do a body scan to think about completely relaxing your body; begin with your feet and work up through your legs and back, from your hands up your arms to your shoulders, and then your neck. When distracting thoughts arise, simply return your attention to focusing on relaxing your body. You may stop after a minute. However, there’s no penalty for continuing it for 5 or 10 minutes.
That’s it! When you are finished, you should feel alert, refreshed, and energized.
If time, weather, and your situation permit, it’s also a very good idea regularly to get outside and get moving. Walk your dog, shoot some hoops, work in your garden – whatever you enjoy. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors weren’t sedentary and we shouldn’t be either.
reference: Steven R. Gundry, M.D., The Longevity Paradox
My best friend Humpty, the other members of The Group, and I used to mock the idea of living in sin fifty years ago.
Back then the phrase meant cohabitating with a lover to whom one wasn’t married.
In fact, we thought, perhaps secretly, that it would be preferable to doing what we were doing, namely, frequently hanging out with the same group of guys.
A few years ago, I did a post here entitled “Sin.” Its fundamental distinction was the critical one between Being and Becoming. It’s a distinction worth emphasizing.
Have you read A Course in Miracles?
If so, you realize that it’s not a work that would appeal to everyone. It’s long, full of Christian terminology that is used in a peculiar way, and lacks parables or stores that are easy to remember.
Despite its shortcomings, however, it’s a work that repays close study. [The direct quotes in this post are all from it.]
BEING (“reality”) and BECOMING (“unreality”)
It begins with the end in mind, which is “the peace of God,” in other words, the peace of mind (serenity, tranquility) that surpasses all understanding.
Is that something you’d like to experience?
The argument is very simple:
“Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.”
The idea of Being is the idea of reality, knowledge, or truth. Being is what is real. “Truth is unalterable, eternal and unambiguous. It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed . . . it is beyond time and process. It has no opposite; no beginning and no end. It merely is.”
The idea of Becoming is the idea of unreality, opinion, or dubitibility. Becoming is what is unreal. It is alterable, temporal, and ambiguous. It is the domain of opposites. Everything in it has a beginning and an end. It’s merely becoming, perpetual flux.
Being cannot not exist. Becoming cannot (really) exist.
If we assume that perception is the way in which we apprehend reality, we’re in trouble.
All perceptions are interpretations. That really means that they are illusions or, worse, delusions. How could there be any facts in a world of ceaseless change? There’s no stability.
“The world we see [perceive] merely reflects our own internal frame of reference – the dominant ideas, wishes and emotions in our minds.”
It’s a bit like trying to proofread something you typed. It’s nearly impossible. Why? You’ll read what you intended to type, what’s already in your mind, instead of reading what you actually what you typed, so you’ll miss your typing mistakes.
“Perception is a function of the body,” and, so, limits apprehension. When we limit our awareness to what we perceive, our awareness is inherently limited. Bodily vision cannot yield apprehension of Being.
Perception can be in the service of either self or Self. We have a choice.
self / Self
The ego (the “little I,” the self, the ego/I, the egoic mind) comes from “the little, separated self.” It has no Being and, so, is perpetually threatened with extinction. It’s incomplete and unsafe. It’s perpetually needy. It’s defensive and combative. It’s always afraid.
It’s therefore incessantly absorbed in seeking “to enhance itself by external approval, external possessions and external ‘love.’” Its essential task is to gain more and more. That seeking is the way of the world.
The ego is a slave to egocentric desires. It constantly pursues “special relationships” that “are destructive, selfish and childishly egocentric.”
By way of contrast, the Self is divine. It is Being and, so, lacks nothing. “It is forever complete, safe, loved and loving.” It is wholly without separation, which is the cause of dissatisfaction. It transmutes special relationships “into perfect lessons in forgiveness and in awakening.”
It’s therefore incessantly absorbed in sharing abundance, in loving. It’s completely free from egocentric desires.
Therefore, there are two visions, two points of view, open to us: There is the vision of the self and the vision of the Self.
Those fools (i) who live life pursuing the way of the world are enslaved by the vision of the self. Those sages (ii) who live with the vision of the Self are free from life condemned to the way of the world.
Avoiding the way of the world is sanity; it leads to an untroubled mind and a life of peace. Following the way of the world is the height of foolishness; it leads only to madness (insanity, dysfunction, mental illness) and a life of fear.
It’s only sages who enjoy love’s presence and the peace that surpasses understanding. The foolish are condemned to leading fearful lives without love.
The good news is that “love’s presence . . . is your natural inheritance.” All you have to do to claim that inheritance is to open to it.
The current rate of extinction shows how much trouble life on Earth is in.
- 40% of amphibians are threatened [with extinction]
- 33% of marine mammals are threatened
- 33% of sharks are threatened
- More than 90% of ocean fish stocks are being harvested at or above sustainable levels
- 33% of corals are threatened
- 10% of insects are threatened
- 9% of terrestrial animals are threatened
- 85% of wetlands have disappeared
These figures come from an article in The Economist (11 May 19) that obtained them from the “Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” published on 6 May 19. This report is based on 15,000 research papers.
Sadly, there’s nothing surprising about them. Yes, the figures are estimates, but they are the most reasonable guesses that science is able to provide. Yes, the figures involve assumptions and extrapolations, but the big picture is clear.
Ignoring bacteria, fungi, and unicellular organisms, Earth has about 8,000,000 species of plants and animals. (About 200,000 plant species and about 950,000 animal species are scientifically described.) About 1,000,000 of those species are threatened with extinction.
Are We to Blame for Extinction?
Human actions have “significantly altered” 75% of Earth’s land environments and 67% of Earth’s marine environments according to the report.
The Industrial Revolution began a little over 2 centuries ago. Prior to that, land and marine species found Earth’s environments a veritable paradise.
Of course we are to blame!
What Should We about Extinctions?
Obviously, we need to change our ways quickly and decisively.
While the ignorant and selfish continue to resist even admitting the problem, one minor encouraging note is that young, educated people in the U.S. seem to grasp the idea that the future will be a disaster for our species as well as for many other species without quick, decisive action.
Even if that’s the case, though, I’m skeptical. In general, human beings seem to have little capacity for even apprehending such large problems – much less acting in concert to ameliorate them.
It amazes me that humans are still breeding. Do those other people not yet grasp what Earth will be like physically even by the end of this century?
There is, though, a solution, namely, millions or, better, billions of us will wake up from sleep and free ourselves from the conceptual prisons in which most of us live (cf., e.g., Taylor’s Waking From Sleep).
It could happen. Or not.
Spaciousness is the gateway to wisdom.
Surprised? Really? What does that even mean?
There’s no standard terminology that is able to clarify this. So, keeping it simple, let’s agree to some.
Let’s use ‘spaciousness’ to refer to experienced space. Experienced space is perceived as three-dimensional distance. Since to imagine is to imagine perceiving, experienced space is the same as imagined space.
Therefore, spaciousness is not the same as conceived space, which is the space of plane geometry, solid geometry, trigonometry, and related mathematical disciplines.
Let’s agree to isolate spaciousness. Why? It’s important to distinguish it from such related ideas as motion, body, and spacetime. Since this involves setting aside physics, it means abstracting from all the interesting ideas of great physicists like Aristotle, Descartes, Newton, and Einstein.
THE NATURE OF SPACIOUSNESS
That nature of something is its essence, its “whatness.” What is spaciousness? What’s it like?
It’s vast. In fact, its unimaginably vast. It’s boundless.
It’s perfect. There are, for example, no gaps in it.
It’s empty. It has nothing in it. There are, for example, no bumps or imperfections.
SPACIOUSNESS CONNECTS WITH WISDOM
The word ‘wisdom’ can be used to refer either to theoretical wisdom, which is great understanding, or to practical wisdom, which is living well. Let’s agree that wisdom is not merely thought but practiced or lived.
Sages claims that spaciousness connects with wisdom. For example, in the oldest extant Chan [Chinese Zen] document, there’s an explicit analogy between the perfection of following the great Way of Buddha and “vast space.” What does this mean?
It’s critical here to distinguish the temporal domain of Becoming from the nontemporal (eternal) domain of Being [Beingness]. The former is the domain of motion and noise, whereas the latter is the domain of stillness and silence.
Typically, Being is defined negatively, in other words, in opposition to Becoming. For example, since it is not noisy, it is silent. Since it lacks motion, it is still. Since it lacks forms, it is formless.
Brentano’s famous thesis is called “Brentano’s thesis of the intentionality of consciousness.”
The word ‘intentionality’ is the name of Brentano’s thesis is not the ordinary use of ‘intention’ in statements such as “It’s my intention to eat after exercising.” Instead, it means ‘directedness’ or ‘aboutness.’ Brentano’s claim is that every episode of consciousness is directed upon or about some object [form, thing] or other. For example, in an episode of dream consciousness, there’s something the dream is about. In an episode of perceptual consciousness, there’s something the perception is about. In an episode of imagination, there’s something imagined. And so on.
Brentano’s thesis of the intentionality of consciousness applies in the domain of Becoming but not in the domain of Being.
Go ahead: challenge Brentano’s thesis. Don’t accept it just because an important philosopher said it. Are you able to think of an episode of consciousness that is not about anything? If not, it’s alright, tentatively, to accept his thesis.
There’s one standard objection to his thesis and that’s meditative consciousness.
The point of mastering meditation is to break thought addiction, to experience “no thought.” Most people think so compulsively when awake that they don’t even realize that they are addicted to incessant thinking (or “thoughting” as Roshi Kapleau used to say). It’s become so normal that they are wholly unaware of any alternative.
Thought addiction is an important problem. Why? Not only are thoughts [judgments, conceptualizations] “heavy” and burdensome, but also, because all thoughts separate and separation is the cause of dissatisfaction, incessant thinking spawns incessant dissatisfaction.
Thought addiction is the root cause of other addictions. For example, one way to escape the burden of compulsive thoughting is to have a few alcoholic drinks in an effort to sink below the level of thought in order to feel better. Doing that, however, can have deleterious consequences such as alcoholism.
The best way to escape all the burdens of Becoming is to rise above thought and it’s here that spaciousness comes in.
What form are you thinking about when you think about spaciousness?
Notice that there’s something odd going on. Suppose that you are enjoying an episode of visual consciousness and I ask you what you are seeing. You reply by telling me that you are looking at a tree or a deer or a stone wall or whatever.
Now suppose that you are wondering about spaciousness and I ask you what you are thinking about? What would you tell me? Spatial void or infinite emptiness? Are you really using words or phrases like that to denote forms that you are singling out for your attention?
The root of the problem is simple: spaciousness is formless. Since all language and thought occur in Becoming, there is no language or thought that can single out what is formless. The word ‘spaciousness’ is just another word that points beyond itself to a formless referent. In other words, we are here entering Being, which is beyond Brentano’s thesis.
Is this really so? According to sages, it is.
For example, Zen master Dogen wrote that, “To experience the world as pure object is to let fall one’s own body and mind and the ‘self-other’ body and mind.” In other words, direct (nonconceptual) experience of formlessness is beyond all conceptual distinctions. In Being, there is no distinction between, say, you and me or between mind and matter.
For example, in his famous commentary on MU (which is a name of Being), Zen master Yasutani Roshi asks, “What is the substance of this Buddha- or Dharma-nature? In Buddhism it is called ku [shunyata].”
Unfortunately, as Ekhart Tolle has pointed out, ‘shunyata’ has traditionally been translated as ‘emptiness.’ This has led to the unfortunate thesis that the Buddha was a nihilist. Not!
As Yasutani immediately continues, “ku is not mere emptiness. It is that which is living, dynamic, devoid of mass, unfixed, beyond individuality or personality – the matric of all phenomena. Here we have the fundamental principle of doctrine or philosophy of Buddhism.”
Following Tolle, I prefer the translation ‘spaciousness.’ (To distinguish it from mere void or emptiness, I have sometimes called it ‘the fecund void,’ which is of course a contradiction.) The critical point is that spaciousness [ku, Buddha-nature] cannot be thought.
Sages have stressed this repeatedly. For example, Yasutani: “Buddha-nature cannot be grapsed by the intellect.” The only way to grasp it is by dropping all thought, in other words, by the direct realization of no-thought.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, how can we think formlessness?
SPACIOUSNESS AS CONSCIOUSNESS
In Becoming, consciousness is directed upon some other form. In Being, consciousness is directed upon itself. After all, since there are no forms in Being, how could consciousness be directed upon something other than itself?
This explains why some sages identify Being and Consciousness.
How do we experience spaciousness? I like Steve Taylor’s initial description that “you might feel that your consciousness has expanded, that the black space inside your mind which is normally so cramped has opened up. There seem to be new vistas of space around you and you feel a sense of freedom” [Waking From Sleep, p. 24.].
This can be so profound that you actually experience an identity shift, a consciousness earthquake. It can feel as though the energy of consciousness has merged with the energy of the universe. Experiences like these raise an important question:
What is your nature (essence, whatness)?
It’s popular these days to think of your nature simply as a psychophysical form, in other words, your body and your mind, which is the set of thought-forms. Furthermore, it’s true that you are both body and mind.
Your physical and mental forms, though, are not your essence. You are not limited in that way – at least according to The Gospel According to Saint Bradford. In other words, you are not just Becoming; you are also Being.
Can I prove that? Certainly not. To give an argument for it would be to provide reasons or evidence for it, in other words, to offer a sequence of thoughts. Since all thoughts are limited to Becoming and the thesis goes beyond Becoming to Being, there cannot possibly be an argument for it.
Are you Being disguised as merely Becoming?
Good question! Seek to answer it for yourself. However, please avoid the important mistake of believing that you will be able to think your way to the answer.
I wish you well.