Lightmind Extract 053
Broken Yogi 12.2.07
As I told you in a previous thread, I am not — NOT — a metaphysical materialist.
As I’ve told you several times before, I don’t think you are either. Certainly not in your personal life. But in these arguments, I think you do indeed put forward a line of reasoning which is hard to distinguish from materialism. Maybe you could address that? I mean, how is what you are saying actually different from materialism? As I also mentioned before, I think many people, particularly in the modern west, who are involved in spiritual matters have enough experience to feel fairly confident that materialism isn’t an accurate description of reality. And yet, they still put forward arguments based on materialistic presumptions, such as that the physical world is the “actual” world. I find the ambiguity more interesting than the conclusions.
If the monitor unexpectedly goes blank and you do things like check the power supply and connections, you are applying methodological naturalism. If on the other hand, instead of first checking things like the power supply and connections you begin to seriously speculate about how maybe Sri Yukteswar caused the monitor to go blank, or maybe Da is trying to send you a message, then you’re not applying methodological naturalism.
Well, I’m pretty much the same in relation to such things. I just don’t try to expand this practical view into a totalistic vision of the way reality is structured. I don’t conclude, based on fixing a computer by such methods, that everything in life is a merely material, objective problem that could be solved if we could just find the precise material mechanisms of this world and set them right. Nor, I think, do you. So the, what’s the point of your example? Well, I think it’s simply a matter of ontology. The problem with your computer was mechanical, and therefore it requires a mechanical solution. But most problems in life are not mechanical, and they are not fixed by mechanical solutions. It also depends on the context of things. If you only look at the physical aspects of the situation, it’s of course easy enough to ascribe the problem to physical causes. But beyond that, there are patterns in our awareness that we have to take into account. If things keep breaking down around us, I think we have to start to wonder if there’s a larger pattern going on, even if any one particular break down could be explained mechanically. A lot of what goes on in life does indeed seem to be related psychically to what is going on in our own internal mind and feeling relationship to things. Patterns can be discerned in our total conscious experience, including the physical, which are not themselves physical causes or effects, but waves of conscious and unconscious psychic experience. The broken computer can be just one element in such a wave, and being cognizant of these waves is, I think, very important to actually having a happy and successful life. When bad things happen, in other words, it’s a good idea to ask ourselves what’s really going on with us, and not constantly ascribe all problems to some external, objective world that is driven by purely mechanical processes. I simply don’t see that as how the world works. The material mechanics of the world are fine on the level of material mechanics, but they don’t explain why shit happens, and how to fix it. They only describe how to fix part of the problem, and usually the least important aspect of it.
That doesn’t mean that all psychic views of experience are equal. As with material mechanics, there’s many possible good solutions to most problems, but also many, many bad and useless solutions. It requires intelligence and sensitivity to discern which is which.
Most of us, if our car breaks down, call a mechanic unless we can work on it ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would just pray for a miracle or who would burn a stick of Nag Champa in front of the picture of the guru they have taped to their dashboard in hopes that any of this would be sufficient to repair the car problem. (Now of course, if a car gets flooded and you wait a few minutes, it will start again. But if someone said, “It started again because my guru fixed it by magic,” I’m sorry. . .)
No, but my wife has an uncanny ability to find parking spaces by methods as nutty as this. I also think you are reducing the notion of prayer to a kind of absurdity. Of course burning a stick of incense isn’t going to do anything in and of itself. Obviously a mechanic is going to be needed. But how does one find the right mechanic, and how does the mechanic come up with the right solution and implement it properly? As we all know, a million crazy ass things can go wrong, and often will go wrong, if we are being crazy ourselves. So there’s plenty of room for the notion that prayer can help these things end up working out smoothly – though in this sense I wouldn’t describe prayer itself by the merely mechanical motion of lighting incense and mouthing one’s wishes. It means re-aligning ourselves psychically in the proper way, in the moment, such that we have released a certain obstruction in our psyche that is coming up in the moment – in this case, a broken car. It’s a bit amazing how things tend to work out better when we are better. I’ve witnessed this kind of thing a million times, and I bet you have too. Eventually the point begins to sink in that this is a psycho-physical realm, not just a physical one. That doesn’t mean the physical dimension is ignored and not dealt with, only that it is dealt with as an aspect of a larger, psychic reality. In that way, when the computer breaks down, we both check the power cords and our own psychic state of mind, and put both of them to rights. Obviously, if we don’t put the cords right, the computer still won’t work, but it’s also true that if we don’t put our minds right, shit will pop up somewhere else, over and over again, until we do. We just won’t understand why this shit is hapening to us, and we will blame others, and even the mechanical universe itself, as if that’s the source of our problems, when in reality we are.
And how many times do I have to repeat to you that in the post I wrote to Heru that you responded to, I didn’t say anything about the ontological “basis” of anything? I talked about the “ontological status” of different kinds of experiences. This has nothing to do with what the ontological basis of anything might be. I keep saying this and you keep talking about “basis.” Maybe this is it, we just talk past each other and can’t go any further?
Basis, status, same basic thing. The point is that you made a good point, I thought, to Heru, which is that to deal properly with a situation you have to understand where it comes from and how it relates to everything else. In all the examples you have given to illustrate this, I generally agree. “Magical thinking” is false because it violates ontology. Or at least it is false when it violates ontology. But to figure out when it violates ontology, and when it doesn’t, one has to know what the structure of ontology actually is. That means one has to ask oneself what the ontological basis of the material world is, if one is going to approach it properly and understand what will work and what won’t. And that is where I believe we part ways. You keep bringing up examples that make such an approach seem ridiculous, and I keep reminding you that there are many, many ways in which it isn’t ridiculous at all. And the odd thing is, I think you agree with me there, but it doesn’t seem to change your argument. You keep trying to make it seem that all psychic approaches to life are just some absurd and childish fantasy, even when I think you know that isn’t the case. There is a mature, intelligent, and even highly practical dimension to the psychic approach that yields real results in life and relationship, and isn’t dismissed, easily or otherwise, by those who want to live a “good life”.
Why don’t you become a lawyer? If only I inspected the ontological basis for the material world as well? Have you stopped beating your wife? You’re making a leap when you assume that I haven’t inspected whatever the heck it is you are referring to when you say “the material world.” What is the material world? Give me a definition of “materialism” so I’ll know what you’re talking about.
Again, this is what I mean. You do seem to have inspected the material world and concluded, at least tenatively, that it’s not all there is. But then you aren’t sure. Materialism is simply the view that the only real phenomena in the universe are objective, physical and material in nature, that even consciousness is purely a material phenomena, like electricity say, that arises as a result of complex biological interactions, and comes to an end when those interactions cease at death. Now, I don’t for a minute think you buy into that, but then you keep talking about “actual” stuff, and the definition you seem to have for “actual” is not just “real”, but “physical, material things objectively experienced”. I would suggest that this is a materialistic point of view, almost by definition. And this is why I keep criticizing your arguments as materialistic, even if I don’t think you are actually a materialist yourself. I just think you are being a little schizophrenic here, arguing in one way because logic seems to force you to, and actually living and believing a different way because experience has taught you differently. The problem seems to be reconciling logic with experience, which means finding a larger logic that can include both, while yet respecting their ontological differences.
If I’m walking down the street with a friend and I say, “Wow, look at that young lady over there, she’s naked!” and my friend doesn’t look but says, “Yeah, the way some women dress these days they might as well be naked,” and I say, “No, she is actually naked,” I am not using “actually” in some ontological sense! And I was not using it in an ontological sense when I said “actual puddles.”
Yes, fine. But what if I say to you, “Remember that naked woman we saw walking down the street yesterday?” You look into your mind, conjure up an image of the woman, and say, “Yeah, she was actually naked. Amazing.” Now, how do we know this is true? We don’t have an “actual” woman in front of us anymore. All we have is an image in our minds. Is that image “actual”? Of course not. So how do we know she was ever actually naked? How do we know it ever actually happened? We don’t. We simply trust our mind, the images in our mind. Just as, when she was walking down the street, we trusted our eyes and senses and brain. But what makes us think our minds are trustworthy? Obviously at times they are not. Obviously at times our memories play tricks on us. What this tells us is that mind is the arbiter of what is real and actual. At some point, we simply trust what our minds tell us is real, and we accept that. This is what happens as we grow up. We tell ourselves that our minds, our memories, our perceptions, our senses, are actual, and we think we know the difference. In fact, our whole “world” is the creation of mind, memories, images, thoughts functioning together in such a way as to create a sense of coherent continuity. If that continuity is interrupted, all hell can break loose. Death is the ultimate interruption of that continuity, but it occurs in life as well.
The question I was trying to address with Heru had nothing to do with whether bardos and lokas are “actual” or “real.” It had to do with whether they have a mind-independent ontological status.
Yes, but that’s preceisely the basis you seem to have for judging whether something is real or not – whether it has a mind-independent status. What I’m saying is that nothing we experience, whether it seems to be internal or external, has mind-independent status, so the distinction is moot. The difference is merely on what level of mind it exists. There is a physical level of mind, and all kinds of other levels. It’s important to be able to differentiate between these levels, but none of them are ever “mind-independent. That’s the point I’m trying to make.
Now, there certainly is a distinction, on the physical level of mind, between things that are brain-dependent and brain-independent. I don’t suggest that the world around us is actually created by the physical brain. What I do suggest is that both the physical brain and the physical world exist in mind, rather than the other way around. It is mind which observes both, and it is mind that we are, regardless of what kind of object we are observing. We observe the brain, and the physical world through the brain. We observe the physical body, and identify with it, and suffer it empatheticaly the way we suffer the pains and joys of a character in a movie we identify with. The more we identify with it, the more “actual” it seems. And then we die, and all that we saw as actual falls away. What then are we? Death puts all these things to sleep. So how real were they to begin with? Well, they were real in the sense that we experienced them. But like a dream, we experienced them in mind all the time, and what indeed is the difference between the memory of a naked girl walking down the street, and the sight of a naked girl walking down the street? Not as great as we would like to think.
The first time I took mescaline over thirty years ago I was at one point in a room with a carpeted floor. I looked at the floor and with my eyes wide open I saw a built in swimming pool. It looked so real that I would have dived in except that I knew that I had to be hallucinating.
Suppose I didn’t realize that and I dove, broke my neck, and died. Would the hallucination continue to exist after I was dead? Now of course we can say that there is no way to know for sure, and that’s fine. There’s no way to know for sure that the universe didn’t come into being five minutes ago complete with our memories of it existing more than five minutes ago. This is called epistemological skepticism and it’s impossible to defeat.
Yes, this again is an example of ontological differentiation. Clearly, your hallucination of a swimming pool was not a physical phenomena. It was a real, actual hallucination, however. I mean, your brain really did trigger an image of a swimming pool in your physical brain that looked just as real as a physical swimming pool. You were cognizant enough to recognize the difference between an “actual” physical pool, and an “actual” hallucination of a pool. But both images were actually there. One was physical, and one was not. Which means that in relation to the physical, one has to differentiate between the two. But both actually were indeed experienced by you. One was mental, one physical. Two different categories. Both real and actual.
But I think it’s reasonable to infer that if I dove and died, the hallucination would go bye bye with me, which is to say that that particular hallucination did not have a mind-independent status. It was real. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether it would continue to exist after I’m dead.
That hallucination would probably go if you died. But so would the hallucination of the world itself. So on that level, they are equally unreal. If you die, so does the world. It no longer appears in your mind. The body no longer appears in your mind. The brain no longer appears in your mind, nor do any of its contents.
My experience of hallucinogens, though probably much less than yours, is a bit different. I hadn’t ever had any until a couple of years ago, and since then I took mushrooms, LSD, DMT, and X once each. Interesting experiences. It was kind of cool to observe how they interrupt the normal functioning of the brain and produce such different states of mind and reality. I didn’t have any problem differentiating between these hallucinatory states and physical reality. Maybe I didn’t take strong enough doses for that. But what I did see was just how obvious it was that our ordinary “world” is a brain construct. But even more I fundamentally didn’t feel any different, in that I was observing both from a position of simple consciousness. I recall the peak period of my mushroom experience, and thinking to myself, I don’t feel fundamentally different at all. I feel completely unchanged by this. My senses felt different, my brain’s ability to process things felt different, and I felt more opened up in those areas, but I didn’t feel any real difference in my basic state. And the same was true with the other hallucinogens. I didn’t really feel any different on X than I do in my daily life. I little more relaxed maybe. I did it with some friends who felt some kinds of amazing differences, but that wasn’t my experience at all. LSD was more powerful, and also more destructive to the brain I think, in that it really does break down the brain’s construct of the world more effectively than the others, but even there, fundamentally I didn’t feel different. I was the same conscious being I always was. And I think this is just the way all experience is. Whatever happens, we are the same being. We simply observe whatever happens, and if it persists for long enough, we take it for reality. This world is just something that has persisted, by our own choice to take birth, for a long enough to seem “actual”.
Some people believe — are convinced — that bardos exist in a mind-independent way. The lama or whomever is dying and having these experiences and perhaps gives first-person reports of going through bardos, and then he dies, and he is cremated. Do the bardos he experienced still exist? This has nothing to do with the basis of reality.
Well, I’m one of those people. I’ve had enough experience of bardos to recognize that they aren’t fundamentally different from this world. I don’t say that they are mind-independent, quite the opposite. But they are indeed brain-independent. In other words, they do exist “out there” so to speak. Except that “out there” is also “in here”, because or own consciousness is also brain independent. It’s just that our physical experience of bodily life is, indeed, brain dependent. Obviously those bardos don’t exist in the physical world we live in, so they aren’t verifiable by physical means. That doesn’t bother me much. It’s not like a spend my time shuttling between the two. It’s not as if I go around thinking about bardos. Its just that the experience of them, like the experience of hallucinogens, helps me to see that this world is also a construct of mind. It’s just the particular construct that I’m living in, that my deeper mind and karmas have combined with to create the feeling of being alive in a world. But I also recognize that I could get that feeling from all kinds of worlds or states or bardos, if I were to persist in one of them. This world is just one of many possible such combinations. It’s only special because its my particular experience. But there’s no absolutism to that, either on the material or the psychic level.
My only point is that if someone insists that the bardos still exist after the lama is dead, that’s fine, just don’t freaking call someone a “reductionist” because they are skeptical about it. What the heck would they be reducing?
I think skepticism is good. It keeps us on our toes. And yes, I do think this attitude is somewhat reductionist. That only means that I’m don’t reject reductionism. I think reductionism can be extremely useful. When I say that science or materialism is reductionist, I don’t think that’s altogether a bad thing. It’s only bad if you are trying to get a larger picture of things. If you are trying to get some kind of specific results, reductionism is generally essential. All results require discipline of some kind, even if its a “tantric” discipline. And all discipline requires the reduction of experience to a few key elements that are concentrated on, while others are excluded. Science achieves remarkable results by this reductionist approach. It’s just that this can be deluding if we take those reductionist results and try to apply them to those things which had been excluded to achieve them. So when science operates by reducing our experience down to the physical, its results don’t tell us anything about the non-physical. Likewise, if your skepticism is based on reducing experience to the physical and material, then you are not going to ever overcome it in relation to what is beyond the physical. So this kind of skepticism about bardos is, indeed neither provable nor falsifiable. On the other hand, one can also be skeptical of religious claims even while not being reductionist. One can simply say, for example, that some people are deluded, that some people’s interpretations are out of whack even with the psychic and subtle realities.
What interests me about the issue of reductionism is how it relates to this feeling of things being “real” or actual. My theory is that because birth and incarnation is itself a process of reduction from the infinite nature of consciousness, that we all tend to identify “reality” with a reduced state of experience. Take photography, for example. Photography is usually described as “realistic”, and we tend to think it’s because the photograph is simply a literal reflection of the light around us. But I think there’s much more to it than that. A photograph is a reduction, both in size and scope, of our experience. First, it is a reduction of experience to a single sense, vision, and it is likewise a reduction of vision to a single framed image in time, that persists beyond the moment. This combination of reduction and persistence makes the photograph seem even more real than experience itself. I think this is even further demonstrated by the difference between color and black and white photographs. For some reason, people generally consider black and white photography to be more “realistic”, even thought obviously the opposite is the case, in that our experience is not black and white, but in color. But the fact that black and white photographs reduce our visual experience even further, eliminating color altogether, gives it an aura of “reality” that color photographs tend to lack. I think it’s the process of reduction itself which achieves this – that we are inclined by human nature to identify “realism” with “reduction of experience”.
And I think this is true generally of the whole attitude of “skepticism”. Black and white thinking tends to feel more “realistic” to us. This is true not just in photography, but in religion, in politics, in personal relationships, in drug-taking, etc. When experience is reduced to a few basic elements, it somehow feels more real. When it is expanded to be inclusive of too many elements, it feels confusing and even “unreal”. So my take on this skepticism about bardos is that it’s just “too much information”. We don’t like too much information, because when we get that kind of overload, we can’t process it all, and things start to seem unreal. Unless we can reduce things to the level in which they all fit together neatly, we feel uneasy about it all. So we are more comfortable reducing everything to the simplest possible level. Look at Gaddy. All his arguments are basically a way of dealing with too much information. Throwing away things that overwhelm the mind makes us feel more “real”. And it has nothing to do with whether those things are actually real or not, we throw them away anyway simply to achieve a state of composure in which the feeling of reality can be enjoyed.
What needs to be noticed on an even deeper level is that nothing is real in and of itself. It is real only because we have imparted the feeling of reality to it. The origin of the feeling of reality is in ourselves, not in some world outside ourselves. We are the source of reality, and by giving that reality to the world around us, we empower it. Likewise, we can disempower it by taking that feeling of reality away. So it really gets down to recognizing the source of reality in ourselves, not trying to reduce the world around us to a level we can deal with. And the source of that reality in ourselves is our own conscious awareness, which can project that reality onto anything, or really, produce anything, create anything, even entire worlds, just like this one. It’s a miraculous power we possess.
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