This list is an ever evolving dialogue, between you and I. See a question I haven't answered? Ask me a question.
- Could you provide a brief précis of your thinking, and an overview of the key principles in your writing on the topic of consciousness, happiness, morality and self-realisation?
- What is the origin of these answers? What are your sources?
- What is the relationship between self-realisation, the heart and compassion?
- Is self-realisation pragmatic?
- Is it necessary to have many years of accumulated contemplative practice?
- Is self-realisation without thoughts?
- Can self-realisation occur without seeking it?
- Is contemplation necessary for self-realisation?
- If self-realisation is an illusion, why do I need contemplation?
Is there nothing to do?
- Could there be ignorance of self-realisation?
- How is stable self-realisation possible through an unstable form?
- Why is self-realisation paradoxical?
- Why is it sometimes said, that one should "make no effort"?
- There is much contradiction between teachings; How is one to ascertain which teaching is correct?
- Is life meaningless?
- What is emptiness – no-thingness – void – formless?
- What is ignorance – unenlightenment?
- Does one need a teacher for Self-realisation to occur?
- How can I find a teacher?
- You present many ideas that pertain to the behaviour of the human mind. What credentials do you have in psychology, and what is the relationship between your own work and that of the psychological sciences?
- Why do you sometimes mix spiritual, scientific, religious or New Age terminology in your writing?
- Would you describe your work as philosophical, esoteric, spiritual, mystical or scientific?
- You seem to espouse a view that consciousness, or perhaps spirit, is the most fundamental ‘ontological primitive’, that is, in contrast to the perhaps more widely accepted mainstream view that contends that reality is funamentally material. Would that be a correct assessment of your work, and if so, could you give us an overview of your rationale for this perspective?
- Is there a hidden purpose for my life? Why am I here?
- How should I make decisions? How do I determine a life direction? How do I make the right decision?
- Is the future going to be better than the past? Where am I going? What is our fate as humanity?
- Is it not callous to be so direct and calculating about our fate? What about the suffering?
- How can I deal with difficult emotions, like guilt and regret? How can I make amends when I have wronged someone – be it someone else, or even myself?
- There are so many places where I realise I have acted irrationally. Is there any hope? Is it realistic for an individual such as myself, to break free of a lifetime of allegience to the personal ego?
- How can I reconcile the structures of society and my own conditioning, with my desire for autonomy and freedom of expression? How am I free?
- So what do I do next?
- How do I balance a desire for individual fulfilment with a desire to be a better person, for the good of society? How do I draw wisdom from philosophical, spiritual and religious discourse into the fray of everyday living? How do I live a good life?
- ‘Immortal souls’, spooky phenomena, spirit – are these a necessary implication of your philosophy? What are you saying, if anything, about the nature of reality?
- Why is there suffering? Is suffering innate to the human condition, and if not, why do we suffer?
- What kind of ‘shift’ in consciousness should be my goal state? How do I know when I have 'arrived'?
- I got it, I lost it! As soon as life got difficult, I was overwhelmed again. Can understanding really have a profound impact on mundane living?
- Can I, should I, be happy? Is individual happiness a worthwhile goal? How can it be defined? How can it be pursued? How is my own pursuit of happiness to be reconcilled with the happiness of others? Is there a conflict?
- How can I deal with difficult people?
- Some contemporary philosophers have suggested that consciousness is an illusion. What is your response to this suggestion?
- What is your definition of consciousness?
- What are some of the issues that you believe are most confusing in the general discourse of consciousness and its relevance to mundane life, morality and ethics?
- Is free-will an illusion?
- You assert that there is no personal free will. How do you know for sure? Does this mean there is nothing we can do to improve our circumstances?
Could you provide a brief précis of your thinking, and an overview of the key principles in your writing on the topic of consciousness, happiness, morality and self-realisation?
The central claim of my work, and indeed that of countless others in this discipline, is that there is much we can learn from a close examination of our subjective experience, having profound practical implications for the meaning, morality and enjoyment of human life. The flip-side of this claim is that there is much that is unknown, or chronically misunderstood, about the nature of our humanity and that evidently not many people are actually looking at their own foundations – if they were, I and many others would not have found the subject sufficiently interesting to write about!
Key principles in this discourse include: First, the nature of self and its relationship to what we call consciousness, and the human mind-body experience. Second, the idea that genuine happiness is actually without a cause in phenomenal reality. Third, the idea that the basic facts of the human condition can teach us many things about moral and ethical concerns. Forth, that spirituality need not be an excuse for belief in ideas for which there is either no compelling evidence, or for which the evidence is overwhelmingly contradictory.
What is the origin of these answers? What are your sources?
My answers to these questions are derived from my own immediate subjective awareness. They have relevance to you too, by way of our common, shared foundation – consciousness.
The answers I have written have emerged from the intersection between many of the most fundamental empirical facts of the human condition, and the fact of human consciousness itself. It is because we are conscious, that such questions and answers emerge and may be perceived.
An acknowledgement of the fact of consciousness itself is the only fundamental pre-requisite to a pragmatic and rational discourse on reality. While I have experienced ‘non-ordinary’ states of consciousness, I have purposely avoided using my own interpretation of such in the rationale of my answers. It is important that people from all walks of life can engage with such materials. Such experiences, though often insight-provoking, are not fundamental to any such discussion.
The answers we seek are all immediately available within ordinary, waking consciousness.
Such answers are always coloured and textured by the human psyche through which they emerge. In my own case, I have long enjoyed the practice of writing, and discourse relating to the meaning and mode of human existence – who am I, what am I doing here, and how am I to make life both tolerable and meaningful for myself and the other beings with whom my person relates?
Many years I have had first-hand exposure to the challenges of mundane living.
In my own search for answers, for truth and authenticity, I have encountered many a cul-de-sac, and many misleading, confusing, overly complicated or ungrounded works by well-meaning individuals. Indeed, I am under no illusions as to the relative utility of my own contribution to the discourse.
In some regard, it is my wish that people of a similar sensitivity to the relevance of such questions, and with a similar psycho-spiritual disposition, might find my work helpful in clearing the path of unnecessary distractions and confusions. In years gone by, I have often longed for solid, practical advice or counsel. It can be especially difficult, I think, if your experiences on this journey include ‘non-ordinary’ states of consciousness and you struggle to find an appropriate forum for discussion.
This is an evolving dialogue between me and you. I try different analogies and phraseology as they come to light. Regardless of my inspirations, and the language or terminology used, my writing is my own (in so far as one can make such a claim – language does not belong to the person.)
I wish you well in your journey.
What is the relationship between self-realisation, the heart and compassion?
If self-realisation is about anything, it must neccessarily be congruent with a progressive refinement of the human embodiment of truth.
The truth of who we are, is not discriminatory. It is not simply the truth of emptiness, nor the rigid imposition of premature cognizing about Nonduality. Form does not triumph over the formless, nor the formless over form. The truth is as much multi-dimensional as it is unitary. Thus it both a paradox, and not - quite confounding to the mind.
To walk the approach to self-realisation takes great courage, and great compassion. Self-realisation is tantamount to death for the much maligned and impoverished ego. Yet it is only in the presence of compassionate awareness that the mechanism of ego can be allowed to subside.
Truth is love. It is total unconditional acceptance. In this way, in the presence of suffering or pain, this love - this sentience - effortlessly and implicitly becomes compassion.
Critically, the manifestation to which we are pointing is transcendental. That is, it may not be recognisable for what it is, from the limited perspective of the personal-conceptual, which by definition does not reflect the truth.
On a more mundane level, the diminishing appearance of the epicentre of self, or the illusion of ego identification - marks the end of all ego-centric phenomena. In this way, self-realisation is synonymous with selflessness and forms the foundation of genuine (unconflicted) altruism.
Thus self-realisation marks the coming of age of a number of qualities in the human being, not least of which is compassion.
Is self-realisation pragmatic?
This question stems from the personal concept, as it interacts with descriptions of self-realisation that posit ignorance of Self as the principal cause of all problems. From this perspective, still not in comprehension of the full import of the facts, it can seem that self-realisation is a highly pragmatic way of being.
In fact, self-realisation is pragmatic, but not in any sense necessarily recognisable by the personal-conceptual.
Self-realisation is transcendentally pragmatic, and even then, only provisionally so, because pragmatism itself constitutes limitation within the conceptual realm.
To be precise, and quite paradoxically, self-realisation is transcendentally pragmatic when viewed from a personal perspective.
Without a limited perspective, however, self-realisation simply is. The Self simply is. Reality simply is.
Is it necessary to have many years of accumulated contemplative practice?
That which is the subject of self-realisation, the Self, is always evident.
All apparent obscurations are illusion. A prolonged practice would only be necessary if that which was to become evident was a skill or characteristic that could be acquired – it is not.
Fundamentally, to suggest that you need practice at being that which you are is intrinsically absurd, and can arise only from incomplete realisation.
A contemplative practice will very soon lead to a deeper realisation, to the degree that there is clarity and sincerity.
Is self-realisation without thoughts?
This is a popular misconception of self-realisation as it is with meditation.
The incidence of self-referential thought will subside as a symptom of self-realisation. Since by common accounts, upwards of ninety-five percent of thought is probably self-referential in the majority of human beings, most thought will subside.
Thought itself, however, is not a problem. Nor for that matter, is self-referential thought!
Can self-realisation occur without seeking it?
Yes – though it is perhaps unlikely, surprise self-realisation is theoretically possible.
All self-realisation is spontaneous and uncaused. Though for most people, it would appear that inquiry is a neccessary and deliberate precursor to the spontaneous appearance of self-realisation. The practice makes apparent the illusion of the seeker and the presumed imperative for seeking.
Is contemplation necessary for self-realisation?
If you are asking the question, then yes.
All self-realisation is spontaneous and uncaused. Though for most people, it would appear that inquiry is a neccessary and deliberate precursor to the spontaneous appearance of self-realisation. The practice makes apparent the illusion of the seeker and the presumed imperative for seeking.
If self-realisation is an illusion, why do I need contemplation?
Is there nothing to do?
You do not need to do anthing – however...
If you are asking the question, indeed, if you are asking any of the questions canvassed herein, then sincere and ernest contemplation (as described) will necessarily bring an end to your incessant, confounding and unsettling questions.
If the question arises, you should ask it.
Could there be ignorance of self-realisation?
For our definition of self-realisation to make a meaningful distinction between humanity and other animal life, a self-reflexive aspect of awareness is intrinsic.
Self-realisation implies that the self knows itself.
How is stable self-realisation possible through an unstable form?
The direction of realisation is always toward a lower potential for dischord – a reduced energy expenditure – through decreased investment in the false. Though it can often feel counter-intuitive to the personal ego, energy consumption is always higher to run the ego identification. Ego identification is fundamentally a resistence to what is.
The possibility of regression or instability, is, as with ego delusion, akin to water flowing up a hill.
Stability occurs because it requires no effort.
Why is self-realisation paradoxical?
Self-realisation is paradoxical.
The functioning of the conceptual mind and the appearance of the personal identity, are irreconcilable with the truth in which they appear. Mind is intrinsically divisive and symbolic. It works upon opposition and exclusion, and upon contrast, separation and relationship. Moreover, the mind appears within that which is the subject of self-realisation. Mind cannot encapsulate the truth of that in which it appears, precisely because to do so would constitute an infinite regression. The appearance of the machinations of mind is of a profoundly distinct, higher and intrinsically inaccessible ontological order to the mechanism, meaning and functioning of the machinations themselves. No concept is equivalent to the reality at which it points.
The pattern of personality that remains may be quite astonished to discover that self-realisation itself is an illusion - the self that was to become 'realised' is not real, nor does the pattern of the person have any hard boundary whereupon a state of 'realisation' could be determined. The very notion of self-realisation is merely another empty appearance within the play of reality.
Nevertheless, paradoxically, stability of the mirage of self-realisation appears.
Why is it sometimes said, that one should "make no effort"?
"Make no effort", is a very concise pointer to the truth of self-realisation.
Like all teachings, it can only point at the truth. The teaching cannot be 'understood' by the conceptual mind, until the reality at which it points is no longer ignored through allegiance to the false.
To make no effort is not an injunction against activity. To make no effort is an injunction against the apparent resistance of what is, by the fictitious entity most of us know as 'I'. The appearance of 'I', in all its myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle forms is wasted effort for the body-mind - it serves no useful purpose.
There is much contradiction between teachings; How is one to ascertain which teaching is correct?
Each teaching is unique, as each seeker is unique. The relative utility of any specific teaching is always in relationship to the relative definition of the student. In the relative play of form, there is always variation in the relative utility of any particular pattern.
The reasons for conflict are numerous. Infinite variability, leads to apparently contradictory teachings. (Including teachings that deny the utility of teachings.) Some differences are merely the blind machination of the conceptual mind, picking over the specific terminology used. Other differences appear because self-realisation is not a limited phenomenon, and one might readily characterise differences in both the breadth and depth of any appearance of realisation.
All teachings of self-realisation are merely pointers to the truth. They are invitations to fall back from habitual infatuation with the play of form, and in so doing, to rest within the sure and immediate truth of what is.
Any apparent conflict between teachings is dissolved in self-realisation, whereupon it is seen there is and never was any conflict.
Use the confounding nature of this paradox to dive inward, seemingly to become self-reliant for your truth.
Always be sure to examine the nature of appearance, not merely the appearances themselves. To become entirely self-reliant without recognising any difference between the substrate and the appearance, is merely a fast track to mystical self-delusion.
Is life meaningless?
To the small ego, to the conceptual mind, any approach toward fundamental truth seems to render life empty and meaningless.
To the real Self – the subject of self-realisation – this question is nonsense. The question is like a mathematical divide by zero, or asking a dancer for their destination. It is akin to a tree deliberating over the aesthetic placement of its flowers.
If life seems to you to be utterly meaningless, dive deeper.
What is emptiness – no-thingness – void – formless?
Emptiness, no-thingness, void, or the formless, is a characterisation of reality that is an artefact of communication wherein all appearance is form. Language is intrinsically dualistic – relying upon the complimentarity of relatives or opposites – such that the formless is necessarily implied by the definition of form (appearance).
In practical terms, emptiness is a pedagogical counter to the phenomenon of ignorance. Ignorance of emptiness, or an infatuation with form, is the nature of the obscuration the seeker is unknowingly attempting to address. There is nothing particularly special about emptiness per se, it is just that we are conditioned as if to be infatuated with its conceptual opposition, such that we loose sight of the forest for the trees.
It is sometimes said that form is emptiness. This is in recognition of the fact that no appearance has any substantive reality of its own. With respect to the person, it would be equivalent to say, there is no self. Certain questions behave as if to draw the attention toward emptiness - for instance - where is the happiness in happiness, where is the pain in pain? What is good and what is bad?
Paradoxically, because of the intrinsic inability of language to represent the whole truth, it can also be said that emptiness is form. The distinction is a conceptual one. Such distinctions are a merely tool of teaching.
Further refinement of this kind of definition is counter-productive.
What is ignorance – unenlightenment?
Ignorance is the characterisation we apply to patterns of behaviour in the human person, wherein the conceptual and emotional psyche fails to comprehend its own limitations, and fails to represent the reality or truth of its appearing with any accuracy. In so doing, the blind machinations of mind give rise mechanistically to the abject futility of personal craving, and a severely impoverished perspective of self and reality.
Ignorance, or unenlightenment, is really the phenomenon that we are seeking to address. It is a substantially more precise and more representative formulation of the difficulty in self-realisation, than notions of awakening, liberation or enlightenment. This is because, ignorance is really an illusion that appears real only in the context of the apparent reality of the seeker. Paradoxically, there is literally nobody who awakens or attains liberation.
There is no substance to ignorance. Nevertheless, the mind-body organism is engaged in a ceaseless and futile struggle to arrest the appearance of ignorance, until the phenomenon is understood. This is suffering.
Unenlightenment is perhaps a useful pedagogical tool for self-realisation. It is useful to investigate from a presumption of wholeness and fundamental integrity, rather than separation and poverty.
Does one need a teacher for Self-realisation to occur?
Strictly speaking – No. The truth may be reflected sometimes, even in those who were not at all looking for it.
In practice, however – Yes. The problem with going it alone is you have nobody to keep you on track. Paradoxically, the truth is a slippery character. So long as you are looking for it, it can never quite be reached.
A teacher is likely to poke you to elicit a reaction from the I self-complex that you consider synonymous with you. Though a teacher may come in a wide variety of guises; a relationship, an animal or a book, these too may constitute a teacher. In that sense, the whole of life is your teacher.
Only when there is no longer any hint of a reaction – when your organism responds with minimum effort – the teacher is no longer your teacher, and instead, you are recognised as simply friends.
How can I find a teacher?
A teacher is someone who helps you to go beyond that which you both took for granted. A teacher acts as a mirror to your most cherished beliefs about self and reality (obscurations). A teacher will contextualise a teaching to your unique obscurations and personality.
A teaching may provide guidance to focus the search, so one is not unnecessarily distracted by superficial conceptual irrelevancies. Teachings of self-realisation are intrinsically confounding to the mind.
In this way, the most eloquent teacher is silence.
You present many ideas that pertain to the behaviour of the human mind. What credentials do you have in psychology, and what is the relationship between your own work and that of the psychological sciences?
I have no formal qualifications in psychology.
You are correct in your assertion that there are many ideas presented of a psychological nature. Although they are also as much philosophical as pscyhological – in that they relate directly to the nature of existence and what it means to be human. Unsurprisingly, there is substantial overlap between these two disciplines, since it is human minds that are engaged in this discourse.
The difference between myself and a psychologist is significant. We differ in the method and modes of study, the reliance upon empirical data, the depth and breadth of study and the ‘invasive’ nature of my work.
While a psychologist must work always with indirect observation of the mind (via behavioural observation and self-reports), I study my own mind, and the reported commonalities between my own mind and other people. Everyone is apparently equipped with a mind. The very subject of study is always available, first-hand. In fact, the psychologist is forced to work through a significant intermediary layer of abstractions, whereas the mystic is one who works directly with the empirical reality of mind and consciousness. In this regard, everyone is poised to develop significant and meaningful insight into human psychology, and it emerges, into the nature of reality itself.
A psychologist is interested in theorising to create tools of therapy for a variety of specific human dysfunctions (for example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for treating depression). Meanwhile, I am merely the conceptual conduit through which a discourse emerges, whose only aim is to act as catalyst for unfettered perception of the Self. The empirical basis for which are merely the most rudimentary and fundamental facts of the human condition, in so far as we can reach agreement. My work may only be viewed as indirectly theraputic, and the goals of the two disciplines are actually quite different.
A psychologist is interested in theraputic tools that may be used to improve functioning within established society. I am interested in truth; in pedagogical tools that may be used to radically over-turn all of your most intimate, deeply cherished beliefs and notions of self, identity and reality. The former are nice-to-have for the person. The latter represent, quite literally and rudely, the end of your world.
Both dialogues, psychological and pedagogical, are about enabling the interlocutor to pose and answer their own questions. Both conversations may be had superficially, or deployed as tools for the cultivation of deep insight, and behavioural change. Though the latter tends to be more radical and provocative.
Why do you sometimes mix spiritual, scientific, religious or New Age terminology in your writing?
I use a variety of terminology in an attempt to make my work accessible to a wider audience. The central subject around which all my philosophical writing revolves is The Subject – Self or consciousness – and more specifically the human condition. Consciousness, whatever it is, is a universal foundation for human discourse.
Having rational-scientific-materialist roots, I have a tendency to try and elucidate my points using only these principles. The alternative would be to rely upon ‘special’ privileged experiences. Doing so would elevate such phenomena to an relevance that does not accord with truth, and would alienate anyone who did not themselves have similar experience to draw upon. When I began exploring this subject for myself, initially I had no idea whether it would be possible to speak purely from first principles. Fortunately, many years later and after much tedious consideration, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is no need to rely upon privileged experiences (although much of the discourse in this area may seem to suggest otherwise.)
In certain contexts I may use the words God, spirit or soul as reasonably analogous synonyms for Self. For those with a religious background, it may help to articulate the relationship that may readily be made between the origins and philosophical tenets of our major religions, and their spiritual or philosophical roots. Likewise, for spiritual and New Age discourse, the use of such terminology may help to articulate a similar connection.
The point of making such a connection is to make the discourse more accessible. Though the sanity of this approach may not become completely evident until one has considered and effectively implemented the principles which are discussed.
Nevertheless, my tendency is toward a reliance upon certain basic facts of the human condition in so far as you and I are able to reach agreement. Obviously if we cannot entertain an accord on the basics, it will be very difficult for us to proceed further.
Likewise, if we are to be sincerely concerned with truth, there is no point in trying to work with your beliefs, or mine. Beliefs are intrinsically inaccessible and at variance between individuals. If you are sincere in this pursuit for truth, you will set your beliefs aside.
Would you describe your work as philosophical, esoteric, spiritual, mystical or scientific?
You seem to espouse a view that consciousness, or perhaps spirit, is the most fundamental ‘ontological primitive’, that is, in contrast to the perhaps more widely accepted mainstream view that contends that reality is funamentally material. Would that be a correct assessment of your work, and if so, could you give us an overview of your rationale for this perspective?
Is it not self-evident?
You are conscious before you are anything else. For all practical intents and purposes, however, the principle of conscious experience is the ontological root of existence. It is essentially meaningless to speak of existence absent the perceiver – the subjective-qualitative, the incidence of qualia. Our investment in outcomes and meaning stems from the very fact of our consciousness.
Every moment of every human life plays out upon the stage that is backgrounded by the principle of consciousness. In fact, you never experience anything ‘out there’ at all. If you stop to consider it carefully for just a few moments, it is obvious that ‘out there’ is really ‘in here’ in a strictly primitive ontological sense. Your body, the World and all of phenomenal experience occur, ‘in here’, along with thought, primarily as the qualia of a kind of waking-dream.
This is to say nothing about the potential or supposed metaphysical ‘structures’ of reality. Such speculation is interesting to the mind, and our theories can form the basis of practical technology. The precise relationship between consciousness and the brain is irrelevant to this discourse. It matters not, the fine nuances, distinctions and conceptual schema we create to partition reality into this and that – consciousness, matter, energy – these are all just labels for human constructs. Again, this partitioning is a necessary basis for all manor of practical technology. Nevertheless, it turns out to be irrelevant to a discussion of the fundmental nature of self.
That consciousness may be considered the first principle is merely another an idea for your consideration. To realise the utility of this idea, it is necessary to take it in tandem with a modest ensemble of facts pertaining to the human condition. For instance, it is a fact that we experience thoughts, feelings, sense perceptions and something peculiar we call volition. It is a fact that we experience a body.
You are invited to take a closer look at these phenomena.
In the consideration of this discourse, you are invited to suspend your existing prejudices and beliefs and to entertain an alternative view of reality. To the degree that you embody this hypothesis in everyday life, the meaning, intent and utility readily become apparent.
We may reasonably claim consciousness as the ontological or spiritual primitive. It does not follow, however, that we ought to claim it as the primitive for any other discipline, such as the physical sciences.
To take consciousness as the primitive, is to adopt a position of profound honesty and sanity with respect to the investigation of sentience.
Is there a hidden purpose for my life? Why am I here?
How can you come to know that which is unknown?
What kind of acquisition, of knowledge or material posession (if any), could possibly give you genuine and lasting freedom? (Hint: it’s a trick question.)
What purpose can there possibly be, besides well-being – contentment – peace – happiness?
There are a few angles from which to approach the question of life purpose, and ultimately the meaning of existence.
There is what we might call the transcendental perspective. That is, human life reflecting upon itself within the context of that which is ontologically prior to phenomenal reality (prior to both mind and space-time.) From this perspective, the ultimate meaning is none other than the play of form itself. In essence, there is nothing to be accomplished, because change itself is the only possible goal. There is no meaningful imposition of better or worse within the context of eternity. Whilst this has a certain significance, by way of being the fundmental ground of all being, the human being is not at liberty to find this perspective satisfactory, nor should it.
Obviously there is also the very human perspective. That is, human life as seen from the context of the human condition – being defined by birth and death, health and disease, mood, relationship, environment, conceptual and creative mind, instinct and intuition, and at base, ceaseless change. From this perspective, the ultimate meaning is well-being, or contentment. Importantly our notion of well-being is wholistic; for instance, well-being necessarily includes human inter-relations (society). To the degree to which communities interact (even in principle), the individual is entangled with the well-being of the many. In this way, the responsibility of the individual extends to society as a whole. Society is merely the aggregation of many individual human relationships and the manifestation of the degree of our collective (mis)understanding of such.
This human perspective is premised on the most funamental facts of both the human condition, and of the transcendental perspective which pertains to the very fundament of being – that is, the fact of consciousness itself.
Realising the Self is implicit within this human perspective. Only to the degree of experiential realisation – a cessation of false belief – can well-being be optimised.
Understanding evolves from a limited, individualistic and ego-centric perspective, toward a wholistic, self-less perspective. Responsibility evolves likewise. Evolution in this sense means change. Given the transcendental perspective, it is important to recognise that this change is not toward an intrinsically ‘superior’ state.
Paradoxically, the ultimate understanding is perhaps best articulated as the disappearance of any trace of the individual as a separate agency or will, or locus of existential judgement, craving or intent. That which remains is what has always been – the will and intelligence of reality itself – some might call it divine will.
Many spiritual traditions speak of learning life lessons. Each individual human being is itself a deep and broad microcosm of manifest reality – the psyche is complex and layered, almost without end. That this is so, enables the rise of more intricate, complex and nuanced notions of self-development. Yet fundamentally, these smaller goals, objectives and life lessons can be seen across the vastness of time as merely smaller movements in service to the evolution of the fundamental realisation of Self. The spiritual journey, such as it is, is a journey of Self-discovery.
The purpose of human life is self-realisation – abiding well-being.
How should I make decisions? How do I determine a life direction? How do I make the right decision?
What motivates the question – what is it that you want? What is it that asks the question? Why do you presume that you are lost?
At the core of this question is a lack of insight into the decision making phenomenon. Fundmentally, you do not understand how you make decisions. Clear and suscinct understanding of the significant limitations of conscious human decision making is a necessity. Understanding the impact of these parameters in your own mind is a prerequisite to the absence of significant futility and dischord.
While it is important to recognise that you are not conceptually transparent to yourself, there are many objective facts that can be subjectively observed, or implied, about human decision making. Of particular interest should be the limits of the known and knowable, the finite and divisive nature of conceptual thought, the origin and functioning of discontinuous or creative insight, and the absence of any intrinsic distance between the witness of any decision and the knowing of that decision. Why is it that one moment you are undecided, and the next, you have decided?
One should make an alert study of the behaviour of mind. Focus not on the specific details of decisions and actions, but on the meta-psychological description, limits and control of these events, in so far as they can be observed. Pay particular attention to the dichotomy between the known and the unknown, and how this is handled (or not.) Use tools to assist you – sometimes – for instance, write notes, keep a journal, or draw a diagram. Constrain your investigation to that which you actually observe. Focus upon the way of mind, not its contents.
What are your limitations? Are you making efficient use of both the conceptual and the creative, and are you aware of the strengths and limitations of each? Is it possible to misuse a mental faculty – to use a faculty in a manor which magnifies weakness and inhibits functioning? What is the nature of worry or psychological anxiety?
Further, one should clarify the intended meaning of “right decision”. What is meant by “right”? If you mean that you want to optimise the well-being of yourself and all those to whom your person is in relation (inclusive of society at large), then you must also consider what it means to be happy. In this way, it is necessary to develop greater insight into the nature of Self – and not just in relation to your capacity for decision making.
Is ‘mood’ the principle anchor point for our understanding of well-being, or is there a deeper dimension? Is there a component of human well-being that is not dependent upon circumstances?
There is no fundamental and tight causal relationship between psychological well-being, fulfilment and meaning, and life circumstances. The strength of any such relationship is contingent upon many factors, not least of which is our embodiment of self-realisation.
Your well-being and the well-being of society are contingent upon your rejection of any hard relationship between well-being and circumstance. In so being, there is freedom to be as you are.
Understand your self, the nature of well-being and the choice phenomenon. When there is no longer any significant psychological effort or anxiety, you have understood.
Is the future going to be better than the past? Where am I going? What is our fate as humanity?
Our perception and relationship to time is very much contingent upon our understanding of Self. The future is always imagined, as is the past – memory is not immutable.
There is no evidence that the future will be better than the past. In fact, in certain scientific and philosophical contexts, it is actually a highly dubious proposition. Recorded human history is marred by war and unrest, current science tells us the lifetime of the known universe is finite, and from a certain transcendent viewpoint, whatever has been born must eventually end. Even the apparently lofty attainments of ‘spiritual development’ are no less subject to the imperative for continual change, nor the constraints of the mysterious play of form – stability is death.
Your person, the World, the cosmos and humanity are doomed.
The more important question is, “Why are you anxious?”
The answer can only be found in a deeper understanding of your own psycho-spiritual foundations. What is anxiety? What are the underlying assumptions? What is your relationship to it? Why do you resist?
Do not fall into the trap of relying for your answer upon the mere conceptions of mind, nor your social conditioning. Turn toward your first-hand subjective awareness. Watch your anxiety. How does it manifest in the mind and body – genuine answers will only come from paying attention to the phenomenon itself, rather than the habitual tendency to immediately identify with the details.
Human life is a journey of self understanding. The journey itself is the point – the same can never reliably be said of the destination.
Is it not callous to be so direct and calculating about our fate? What about the suffering?
There is significant confusion in the hidden premises of this question. Firstly, there is the implicit assumption of a cold and callous attitude. This is something the questioner brings to their projection of the author; it is a conflation of honesty with callousness.
Second, and most importantly, this kind of question emerges precisely because of the condition of ignorance. We are fundamentally confused about the nature of sentience. The presumption is that the organism is sentient, and by way of empathy and our own (mis)understanding, we infer suffering upon other beings. The tendency of beings to move away from pain and disease is quite mechanistic and distinct from the reality of awareness that perceives.
When emptiness is glimpsed, the assumption of this kind of question is fatally undermined.
Moreover, the being that is free of the delusion of separation, is far less restrained in any natural movement of compassion because it is as concerned with the 'other' as it is with its 'self'. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the premises of this type of question are unreal.
Nothing in this discourse is an injunction against compassionate action. On the contrary, it is the sanity upon which such action must be grounded to be effective.
How can I deal with difficult emotions, like guilt and regret? How can I make amends when I have wronged someone – be it someone else, or even myself?
Can you allow yourself to feel – to be as you are? If not, why not?
Dealing with difficult emotions is, as with everything else, a matter of clear understanding. You must see the emotion to understand it. That is, you must first allow it to be. To do this you must understand the nature of Self, so that you neither cling to, nor suppress the emotion. When you do not misunderstand your own nature you will see emotion clearly for what it is. It is only because of our confusion about our fundamental identity that emotion becomes overwhelming or misleading.
Most people attribute characteristics to the Self that simply do not accord with reality. In the final analysis, these characteristics constitute a belief in an autonomous person, engaged in an often combative relationship with their environment. Surprisingly perhaps, there is no evidence for such. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that the autonomous, separate person is an illusion. Some notion of the individual is a necessity for human functioning; beyond the most superficial linguistic and social constructs, the notional individual constitutes a misapprehension of reality. Critically, the individual has no substantive sentience of their own.
Your thoughts do not belong to you, the person. Nor do your actions, nor your emotions. Except in the most superficial and notional sense, the conscious experience of reality is inherently impersonal. It is not simply a matter of where we stake our ‘truth’ or identity. The interface between the individual mind-body organism is always porus. Much of your knowledge is imported, verbatim, from your society. Your humanity is defined by your relationship to others. Your activity always follows inseparably from your circumstances, to the degree that you rely on knowledge, memory and conditioning. Even the creative faculty that grants you a certain autonomy from these binds of cause-and-effect is on close inspection, inherently impersonal. The human body exchanges matter (and energy) with the environment continually. Your mind exchanges information with the environment continually. The mind-body organism is literally defined by way of the context in which it appears and the events of the inner life are no less universal than personal.
It is the nature of the personal to be in conflict. The Self, however, is not limited to the person, nor is it personal.
A ‘person’ is a merely symbolic or linguistic label, a convenience. The person is really a process. Further, that process is ontologically inseparable from the larger process of the universe in which they appear. There is no autonomy in this picture. The person is a cosmic event – as are his thoughts, feelings and actions.
All beings are fundamentally innocent – they are characterised by a common basic goodness. Even the most malevolent force of human nature is always the best malevolent force it can be. There is always a fundamental drive toward well-being and harmony. That anything appears to contradict this statement is merely a result of our conditioned belief in the fundamental autonomy of the individual person.
Emotions are misleading to the extent that one misunderstands the utility of any notion of individual agency. Agency and responsibility are useful concepts; society would not function without some notion of responsibility. When the notion of personal responsibility is mistaken as real, we have misunderstood the fundamental nature of Self.
What is guilt? What is regret? If individual autonomy is an illusion, what are we to make of emotions like guilt and regret?
You feel guilt when your person appears by personal subjective account, to be responsible for the suffering of another. There is no problem here. The dysfunction occurs when the burden of guilt is taken upon the notional individual – attributing absolute responsibility to an entity that has no real freedom is cause for significant turmoil and wasted energy. We develop strategies to try and defend ourselves. We may seek to justify by telling a story that revolves around our own essentially arbitrary and ego-centric perspective. We may try to burry the shame in our activites. Sometimes we lash out in anger in an attempt to shirk the responsibility upon the shoulders of another.
Guilt and regret are not invalid emotions. The difficulty we have with these emotions occurs because we generally begin with a presumption of the substantive reality of the individual.
When the Self is no longer conflated with the person, there is space to let the emotion be. In this space the emotion can be finally understood – seen for precisely what it is. There is no longer any need to defend ourselves. Our heart opens.
When the heart is no longer sheilded by our defence of an illusory personal identity, it breaks open willingly in the presence of difficult emotions like guilt and regret. Instead of judgement, anger, shame, fear or turmolt, we are free to engage the best of our humanity. An undefended, broken heart, gives rise to compassion, humility and genuine wisdom.
Understand that all beings are possessed of a fundmental innocence. Seeing this opens the door to genuine Self-love.
The way of the heart is not to be found in the conceptual mind. Allow your heart to be broken, without limitation.
There are so many places where I realise I have acted irrationally. Is there any hope? Is it realistic for an individual such as myself, to break free of a lifetime of allegience to the personal ego?
It is the nature of the personal to be in conflict. The person is literally defined by contrast with all that they are not.
In this regard, there is no hope.
Nevertheless, there is freedom in consciousness itself. This is the basis for our ability to learn to approach the inevitable conflict with an attitude of peace and discernment. One can approach conflict with warfare, or with quiet diplomacy. In the context of the human being, the former leads to prolonged and habitual conflict, the latter leads to habitual contentment, and an opportunity for inspired activity.
The final goal of philosophical, spiritual or religious discourse cannot be to achieve a perfect human being – no such thing could exist and the goal itself draws one into games of judgement and futile aspiration. Rather, the goal must be to walk each moment of the journey of life with clear understanding, honesty and an open heart.
It is necessary for the human being to completely accept the present, as it is, before it is possible to see with sufficient clarity to initiate meangingful and sane activity. Clear perception of reality is a pre-requisite to sane action.
The only sane, pragmatic response to the paradox that is human nature, is compassion. One must adopt a patient, abiding alertness, so that understanding may arise in its own time, in its own way. Essentially, the psyche will relax when it is seen that the Self is already just so.
How can I reconcile the structures of society and my own conditioning, with my desire for autonomy and freedom of expression? How am I free?
Know thy self! Investigate and experience your most fundmental (mis)understandings. Watch the appearance of reality like a hawk – with alert presence, but without tension or effort.
Knowing the self, be and act without worry.
Take time to stop and be still. See the equality of the neurosis in your person, and in others, and develop compassion. Be patient, and listen for a creative response, or a sudden insight.
Know the self in more than one dimension, as more than a simplistic dichotomy between this and that, more than mere form. See through the illusion of the personal like you see the light through a stained-glass window. Give no blind allegience to the illusion that is the play of form, the eternal dance of contrasts and polarity, the waking dream.
Watch your person flourish and become the most authentic you, that only you can be. See through your own authority, justifications, petty desires, fears and excuses, to bloom in your own way.
Cultivate a sense of gratitude for all that you are.
Recognise the full import of the fact that life is always lived in the eternal now. The human being is an aperture between form and formlessness - between the mundane world and the transcendent deathless primordial mystery that knows no bounds.
Recognise the full import of the appearance of the most ordinary.
Paradoxically, it is by allegience to the known that you become bound by conditioning, and by surrender to the unknown that you recognise you have always been perfectly free.
You are always free to be.
So what do I do next?
Have you been listening?
If you are sincere, you must inquire into the nature of Self. Do not ask or look elsewhere. There are no answers in this text, or that book, or this video, or that talk.
What you seek is right here, with you, always.
How do I balance a desire for individual fulfilment with a desire to be a better person, for the good of society? How do I draw wisdom from philosophical, spiritual and religious discourse into the fray of everyday living? How do I live a good life?
Why do you want to be a better person? Why do you want to help society?
Wisdom cannot be drawn down, because wisdom already is. That which is drawn down into the domain of mind is not wisdom.
All of these questions arise from a psyche that is fundamentally convinced that the self is personal, separate, limited and autonomous. Indeed, the understanding of such a psyche is implicitly ignorant of the breadth of its own limitation. Some of the limitations of the personal are recognised, but many are not. For instance, you may intuit that your own knowledge in any area is quite finite, yet fail to recognise that consequently the attribution of a fundamental willful ignorance to such a limited personal makes no sense. Failing to recognise the full extent of the limitation of the personal, we fail to uncover that the personal is merely a mask, having no substantive autonomy or independent existence whatsoever.
Most of us are not significantly lucid or cognizant to the fraud of the personal self. Although we live always from the transpersonal, the transpersonal is often only a vague intuition or something understood to be distinct from us. Our understanding of self, and by extension, reality, is seriously impoverished. For this reason, we are frequently inclined to pose questions often out of a chronic sense of lack or a certain spiritual poverty.
To draw wisdom from the traditions is to make their teachings your own. This is not fundamentally about the acquisition of knowledge. It is about using such tools as an injunction and a compass to meditate and contemplate upon your own sense of Self – to observe and reflect upon your identity throughout every available moment of everyday life.
How will you do that? Can you do that in a way that is sustainable?
Arguably, the primary context in which such traditions have merit is that of everyday life. Most of us are not going to become ascetics. The challenges of mundane living, particularly in relationship to other people, are a potent source of insight for the searching mind, and an endless source of delight for the Self, regardless of whether that psyche is still held captive to its own ends. A psyche no longer burdened by belief in separation is merely an instrument of service to the society in which it appears, and moreover, to the unfettered truth of the Self.
Be here now, to dismantle all that which would obscure your essential nature.
When you understand the reality of the Self, you understand the reality of the ‘other’. When you understand the nature of the Self, you understand that the real needs of society have also become the objectives for the mundane life of the person – there is no conflict.
The essential wisdom of a tradition resides not within the tradition but within your own heart.
‘Immortal souls’, spooky phenomena, spirit – are these a necessary implication of your philosophy? What are you saying, if anything, about the nature of reality?
There is no such implication. Though such phenomena are not incompatible with the truth, there is also no need to complicate matters such.
Fundamentally, to say anything concrete about the appearances of reality is always speculative. That said, there are two distinct categories of claim that we can reasonably make in this context. First, the fact of consciousness itself – you are conscious, if you were not, we would not be engaged in this dialogue. Second, the basic facts of the human condition, in so far as we might agree – I am conscious too, you and I exist, you feel, you think, you act, and so on.
The primary purpose of this discourse is not to make claims. The primary purpose of this discourse is to challenge the interlocutor to take responsibility for answering their own questions, and to provide a hint as to the most pragmatic orientation of mind in realising the most pragmatic answers (though not necessarily always the most pleasant answers.)
The discourse has a profoundly empirical and rational basis. The basis for what is, or is not deemed pragmatic, are the common facts of our shared human condition. The basis for the suggested orientation – a focus on the nature of Self – is the rational interface between these facts and the fact of consciousness itself.
It is quite possible, and indeed, quite pragmatic, to negate understandings (in body and mind) which do not accord with the common facts of the human condition. This is what is meant when it is said that our understanding of Self does not accord with reality – at the very least it is impractical.
Our definition of pragmatism is rooted in the facts of the human condition. Such an understanding is inclusive of matters of both heart and mind.
The nature of Self and reality may not be meaningfully distinguished if we are to be pragmatic. Any understanding that represents a separation between the Self and reality is not pragmatic.
Why is there suffering? Is suffering innate to the human condition, and if not, why do we suffer?
It is prudent to make a distinction between suffering and pain. Pain is not suffering, though it is possible to experience suffering because of pain. This distinction is important, because pain does not itself constitute a problem of the human condition. Pain represents a potential problem for the body-mind organism. As such, it is an important signal. If you place your hand upon a hot stove, pain is an important signal to remove your hand to minimise injury. Though intense pain may be decidedly uncomfortable for the body-mind organism, it does not follow that it should be at all uncomfortable for the human being – there is no such intrinsic relationship. When pain becomes a problem for the human being, it is what we might call the ‘suffering of pain’, which is a distinct psychological phenomena that we may remedy.
Suffering is a peculiar kind of psychological discomfort. All suffering comprises two key premises (usually implicit.) There is a mind-body dissonance – that which most people generally attribute as the principle cause of their suffering. This represents a dischord between how at some time or another we supposed that reality ought to be, and how it currently presents. For instance, if I check my bank balance and find that I have insufficient funds to do my grocery shop, I may experience a tight feeling in the stomach. The combination of this cognitive discernment and the accompanying bodily sensations constitute a mind-body dissonance. This is the causal premise.
The lesser known premise of suffering is the illusion of substantive reality of the separate, limited and autonomous individual self. It is not that there is no person, but that certain characteristics we generally and implicitly attribute to the person do not accord with our experience. So we say they have no substantive reality – they are not instrinsic to our sentience. Implicit in all suffering is a resistance to the aforementioned causal premise and an aggitation to placate this suffering through a change in our circumstances. This is the ego premise.
It is intrinsic to any meanginful definition of suffering that both premises must be present. Causal and ego premises are both required to constitute suffering. Mind-body dissonance is not suffering because there is no element of personal will – no personal basis for escape.
Being unaware of the ego premise, the causal premise becomes a misdirection of our attention. Experiencing a conditioned body-mind in a dynamic and ever-changing world of form will always give rise to discomfort, as the body-mind organism continually adapts to changing circumstances. The causal premise is a given. Nevertheless, in the absence of clear insight into the nature of suffering, the causal premise is all that is obvious. So our actions are dictated to a significant degree by our attempts to neutralise or avoid what we believe is the principle cause of suffering – unsatisfactory circumstances. There is a significant futility here because there is no stable state wherein our personal circumstances will remain consistently satisfactory. The epitome of this fact is the final and quite insurmountable challenge – death of the body-mind.
It is difficult to entertain that there might be something we have misunderstood. After a lifetime of being hung-up on this pattern of avoidance, we habitually do everything we can to avoid being honest with ourselves about the extent of our ignorance. In this context, the prospect that we might somehow eventually be free of suffering, can itself be a potent cause for anxiety, because all we know is that we are not there yet!
Focused inquiry into the nature of Self has the potential to undermine the phenomena of suffering. The ego premise of suffering is the unsubstantiated belief in a separate, limited and autonomous individual person – that they have a substantive and concrete sentience or reality beyond mere mind-stuff. This is why a focused inquiry into the nature of the Self will plant the seeds for a prolonged revolution in the way the blind mechanism of the personal mediates our perception and engagement with the world. Only through focused investigation does the fraud of separation become apparent. With progressive insight into the underlying truth, the ego premise of suffering is erroded from all the facets of our life where it yet persists.
The ego premise of suffering actually has far greater depth than can be conveyed with words. Only through contemplation does it become evident that, not only is there no self, but there is no real suffering either.
Suffering is a very specific mind-body tension whose predicted means for resolution have no significant impact upon the well-being of the individual, nor the well-being of society. Suffering is in essence, a chronic futilty. Suffering is in no way innate to the human condition, though it is highly prevalent in our culture.
We suffer because we are conditioned to react to the content of experience as if it were the predicate of an existential threat. We suffer because our understanding of reality makes a fundamental distinction between self and ‘other’. Our mind-body behaviour implies a fundamentally impoverished existence where the Self is assumed to be intrinsically personal. A personal self will always be engaged in a dance to the death, and so when our understanding of Self is bereft of genuine insight there is the presumption that we are trapped without hope.
There is an opportunity to respond to the content of consciousness when absent the futile antagonism of an inappropriate existential investment in the personal.
Suffering appears real, and occurs, because we are ignorant of the fundamental nature of Self.
What kind of ‘shift’ in consciousness should be my goal state? How do I know when I have 'arrived'?
This question emerges from an entirely counter-productive approach to self-realisation.
Instead, focus on investigation and patient, alert presence. Watch the play of inner and outer World like a hawk, but make no psychological or physical tension in doing so. Be of the attitude that you are listening or watching intently for something to happen – listen as the ears hear, see as the eyes see. Drop your preconceptions and assumptions. From this you will develop insight. Human consciousness always reflects this experiential understanding.
If you seek an imagined or remembered state, your activity will be futile – you will continue to chase a mirage.
I got it, I lost it! As soon as life got difficult, I was overwhelmed again. Can understanding really have a profound impact on mundane living?
Yes, genuine insight will have a profound impact on mundane living.
The key is to understand what is meant by understanding. Throughout this discourse, the word understanding almost always refers to an embodied sense of the word. That is, understanding is not mere recall of accumulated ‘facts’, nor necessarily an ability to engage in a discussion of such.
Concepts as articulated by this discourse are a neccessity of communication in this way. The acquisition and conceptual understanding of these concepts is not the endgame of this dialogue. They are a kind of word salad. You do not get any benefit by saying, “this is a tomato, and this is a lettuce”, nor by describing that “the lettuce sits beneath the tomato and the cheese,” nor by saying that “the cheese is yellow.” Rather, you must digest the content within your own body-mind. You must follow the recipe, and make the recipe your own.
Always be mindful of your existing prejudices, assumptions and accumulated knowledge. It is preferable to set these things aside (as far as you are able) if you are to really appreciate the full import of this discourse. You should be mindful of what you consume with the salad. If you dress the salad with tomato sauce and red wine, the salad will taste rather strange. Likewise, if you cannot temporarily suspend your blind conviction in the reality of a separate autonomous body-mind, you will have no way to appreciate the value of this discourse.
It is common for realisation to take time to stabilise. The reason for this, is that the psyche is broad and deep, and harbors many apparent obscurations. Self-realisation is a progressive dissolution of the false. The false will not withstand careful scrutiny. The truth needs no belief, no defence - it stands impenetrable and self-evident, and reflected within the body-mind in the absence of the false.
To what are you still clinging? What beliefs are you holding about the Self, and about self-realisation?
The ideas presented herein will have a measurable impact on your sanity and your happiness, to the degree that you are able to ground your conceptual understanding in everyday experience.
To abide as the Self is to have surrendered the personal. There is nothing here for the personal.
What does it feel like, within the body, to believe yourself to be a separate, limited, autonomous body-mind? Take a good look next time you notice suffering.
Be aware of the tendency to always begin on the wrong foot. When you notice that you suffer, the implicit assumption tends to be the unquestioned validity of the illusion – the belief in the substantive reality of the ego. Try turning this around – next time you notice suffering, what happens if you assume even a less defined, more impersonal and transcendent perspective?
Suffering and its egoic causes are rooted as much in the body as in the mind. Do not underestimate the ability for the body-mind to hold conflicting beliefs.
Can I, should I, be happy? Is individual happiness a worthwhile goal? How can it be defined? How can it be pursued? How is my own pursuit of happiness to be reconcilled with the happiness of others? Is there a conflict?
There are a wide variety of emotions that are usually considered synonymous with happiness – joy, elation, excitement, to name a few. While these are all wonderful, they do not last. All emotions – positive and negative – are the ‘condiments’ of life.
Happiness in this context is perhaps better defined as well-being, or contentment. One can be as content in joy as in sadness. Moreover, well-being is not merely concerned with the superficial flow of fickle emotions; well-being is representative of both psychological and physical health, and entails some notion of stability too.
Genuine happiness is a way of well-being. Unlike the emotions, such a way is not fundmentally predicated upon the circumstances of the body-mind organism. Suffering is optional – though it is not by force of will, but through the grace of understanding that happiness becomes manifest.
Further, there is a scent of peace and joy that is the background of all conscious phenomena, irrespective of their timbre.
Well-being is not constrained to the individual. Genuine happiness is a goal absent egoic concern or desire. Implicit in individual well-being, is the well-being of the relationships, both practical and merely conceptual, between that person and society. Implicit in well-being is a stability and an absence of pathology that simply cannot coexist with any form of contempt. An individual obsessed with hedonistic pursuit of pleasure is pathological with respect to any sane definition of well-being – they are necessarily blind to both the well-being of their individual organism, and that of the wider environment.
The pursuit of genuine happiness is not in conflict with the happiness of others; the pursuit of genuine happiness is actually inseparable from the pursuit of well-being for all. The keyword here is genuine. In this way, there is no conflict.
As with every human activity there are caveats. One can be a better or worse relative example of the pursuit of any goal.
Key to the realisation of happiness is an absence of self (mis)understanding. It is necessary to recognise the possibility of a way of well-being that is not fundmentally dependent upon circumstances. It is necessary to investigate the nature of unhappiness, of suffering, to understand that our unhappiness is merely the way we have adapted to our conditioned view of reality. Our conditioning is not fixed. There is the opportunity, through an investigation of our nature to witness our insanity. In so doing, we can always begin anew.
To be happy is a way of being. It is not an object or a transient emotional state. It is spontaneous joy in the presence of great beauty, spontaneous equanimity amidst the daily grind, and spontaneous compassion in the presence of great suffering. Genuine well-being is to be without the self-deception of separation or limitation. It is a quiet recognition of unconditional abundance and a graceful, loving acceptance of what is.
Well-being is implicit to the degree that you do not embody a (mis)understanding of your own nature.
Happiness is sanity. Genuine happiness is beyond ego.
How can I deal with difficult people?
Learning to deal with difficult people begins with learning to recognise and meet your own insanity. If you cannot meet yourself, how can you possibly hope to meet anyone else?
Being able to meet the depth of your own insanity is a pre-requisite to humility and forbearance. Human beings are all broken. In some situations, some may appear more broken than in others. None of us is entirely sane.
Wisdom arises from a clear insight into your own nature as a conscious human being.
The human being is characterised by a fundamental innocence – a basic goodness. Though the personal is that to which language necessarily attributes responsibility, genuine accountability can only be had at the level of the impersonal – consciousness itself. In this, is the recognition of fundamental innocence, and the humility and forbearance to finally meet the full depth of your own insanity. In this, is the recognition that in this regard, we are all alike.
Understanding the nature of Self is of twofold benefit. One, such insight will quell the incessant and futile chattering and antagonism of the ego-centric mode of being to which most of us are well accustomed. Two, such insight entails an understanding of our psyche that naturally enables us to leverage the strengths of all our psychological faculties and avoid their respective weaknesses. It is within this space that we can touch sufficient inner stillness to remain patient with our person, and others, and to allow for open resolution of any functional impasse.
A certain difficulty or conflict is intrinsic to the way of the conceptual mind. It is inherently judgemental and divisive. As much of our practical lives and our personal narrative are heavily dependent upon this mechanism, difficulty is inevitable. This is the functional impasse.
The conceptual mind must always be grounded in something. There must always be a ‘stake’, around which functional meaning is inferred. To the degree that this metaphorical stake is planted with sufficient depth in the facts of the human condition, human reasoning is functional. By the same token, if the depth of our understanding of Self omits certain fundamental details, or admits certain fallacies, human reasoning necessarily becomes dischordant with reality.
The conceptual mind is a technology. As a service it has tremendous practical utility. As an unmediated master it quickly becomes tyrannical or nonsensical.
Resolution of the functional impasse necessitates the deployment of an under-utilised faculty that is adept at building bridges between seemingly unrelated ideas and generating creative solutions. Moreover, the creative faculty has a natural tendency to ‘zoom-out’ for greater perspective. Use of this faculty is a necessary counter to the natural tendency for the rational faculty to ‘zoom-in’ to the details. Without this counter-influence, the endgame is always insanity.
Inner silence is the origin of intuition, insight and creativity. To routinely fall back to this space is to employ a faculty of mind that is appropriate to the task of meta-cognition – the sane on-going mediation of the inner and by extension, outer spaces of the human condition. To be without sufficient inner space is to gradually amplify the divisive and repetitive nature of the conceptual mind until it ceases to be either rational or sane.
Inner stillness is also the doorway to a transpersonal wisdom. It is the gateway to a non-conceptual intelligence that is not limited to the mind-body in which it appears.
Touching inner stillness, you have the potential to remain silent. You have the potential to actually hear what another person has to say. You have the potential to witness the partisan contrast-dependent functioning of personal identity. You have the potential to rally for a cause, with the respect and compassion appropriate to your shared humanity. You have the potential to be honest about your person, and with others. You have the potential to delay or bring to a conclusion, with good grace, any engagement to attend more practical concerns. Above all else, you are responsible for your way of being – no one else.
Learn to meet your person with the attitude of a friend, and a genuine respect for the deeper intelligence which insanity sometimes seems to conceal. Only to the extent that you can meet yourself, you can meet the ‘other’.
To meet the ego self is to know the insanity of all people.
Some contemporary philosophers have suggested that consciousness is an illusion. What is your response to this suggestion?
The suggestion is absurd.
In the simplest sense, if consciousness were an illusion it is somewhat implicit in the very definition of illusion that it shall be an illusion appearing to someone, or something, which is conscious. The question therefore arises, “To whom is consciousness an illusion?” So we may end very quickly where we began.
In a deeper sense, it is possible, albeit briefly, to ‘entertain’ the idea that maybe the questions around consciousness are much ado about nothing. Perhaps the proponents of the illusion hypothesis are trying to argue that there is nothing at all peculiar or mysterious about consciousness, or that consciousness is a kind of conceptual mistake. Such an argument would probably assert that the only reason we appear to have a problem is because we have coined a concept, consciousness, that does not represent any relevant or actual underlying reality.
The irony here is that this line of argument parallels the very ignorance at the heart of any discussion of self-realisation.
Regardless, the problem will not go away. If I ask you, “Are you conscious?”, you will hopefully reply “Yes”. The fact is, there is something it is like to be you – this is the incidence of qualia, or what I sometimes call the subjective-qualitative. There is something it is like to see red. There is something it is like to feel surprised. There is something it is like to hear these words.
Sentience is premised upon consciousness. Any serious concern for human or animal welfare only makes sense in this light. If the concept of consciousness is demoted to representation of mere information processing, then as absurd as it is, we might as well do as we like, without any regard for the consequences. Most of us do not regard the welfare of our information technology in the same way we regard ourselves. If I drop my phone, it is at worst an expensive inconvenience. If I fall and break my neck, it is arguably somewhat more of a concern. The only meaningful difference is the presumption of sentience - or consciousness.
The idea that consciousness is an illusion is patent nonsense.
Fortunately, it is intrinsic to truth presented herein, that the occurance of proponents of such baffling claims are anticipated, and something with which we need not be existentially concerned. Though it is worth pointing out the elephant in the room, lest anyone else be tempted to ignore it.
The basic fact of consciousness is something which in this discourse I will assume we can agree upon. We can agree on the basic fact, even if we differ in our theory about the specific details – the what, the how and the why of consciousness. These metaphysical details are largely irrelevant to the pragmatics of everyday life for most people. Nevertheless, the basic fact of consciousness is essential to our discussion.
If we cannot agree on the subjective-qualitative character of conscious experience, then it will be very difficult for us to proceed in this discourse. Even if you like or accept my conclusions, you will not follow or appreciate their derivation.
What is your definition of consciousness?
Consciousness is the mysterious fact of the subjective-qualitative in which reality appears to Self, and which stands simultaneously both intimate with the content of experience and independent of it.
It is important to note that in this discourse I generally use the terms consciousness, Self and reality, as a reasonably analgous synonyms. There are obvious contextual exceptions. The use of these terms in this way is deliberate. For the secondary purpose of my work, which is the grounding of a practical exploration of the nature of Self in everyday affairs, for all practical intents and purposes it can be asserted that these terms are generally interchangable. Though in the context of a deeper metaphysical discussion, it would be necessary to again make an appropriate distinction.
What are some of the issues that you believe are most confusing in the general discourse of consciousness and its relevance to mundane life, morality and ethics?
There are a number of potentially confusing issues, I think:
The understanding of understanding is a most peculiar issue. We often seem to have an intuition that because the articulation of an idea seems relatively simple, our ability to recall and discuss such facts constitutes understanding. Likewise, there is also the implication that our ability to integrate appropriate narrative about our experience with certain discussions constitutes understanding.
For instance, it is common in many traditions to present the idea that the independent reality of the ego is an illusion. It is often suggested that by making this one simple observation, the root of various kinds of human pathology may be cut. This claim is made by philosophers, scientists and spiritual teachers, in support of their respective objectives – self knowledge, well-being and enlightenment. Coupled with a naive understanding of understanding, many students of these ideas often quickly intuit that the elegance and simplicity of the key observation will carry over to the relevance of this idea to everyday life. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, it is far more helpful in this kind of context to think of understanding as something that is embodied, and having many subtle nuances or dimensions like the personality. The extent of understanding of any given idea is thus proportional to our ability to find its reflection in our everyday thoughts, feelings and actions. To really understand the self, is to seamlessly embody the truth beyond our mere conceptions of it.
It is for this reason that we can, for instance, talk about beliefs being held in the body. Ordinarily you might describe belief as an allegience to some conceptual fact (often with poor evidence.) On the surface, this appears to be a mental phenomenon. In this space, however, we can also readily attribute belief to a specific tension, sensation or emotional response. The fact is that if the body-mind behaves predominantly as if it were a real, separate autonomous entity, then for all intents and purposes we can also say that this body-mind harbors a belief in the substantive reality of the ego. To uproot this belief is usually more involved than ‘changing your mind’.
Another issue, I think, is the issue of dimensions. In this case I do not use the word dimensions in any spooky sense. I intend the literal, conceptual and spatial interpretation. Given such a definition, the human being could readily be described as multi-dimensional – irrespective of familiarity or otherwise with certain New Age philosophy, or a background in theoretical physics.
Human beings are multi-dimensional not just in the sense of our material presence in space-time. The first principle, which is the very basis for our discussion is consciousness. The principle of consciousness, quite apart from its unique and interesting manifestation in humans is applicable to all beings – it is the subjective-qualitative. And consciousness is arguably as integral to our humanity as our body-mind apparatus. In this important respect, consciousness consistutes what I might call the zeroth dimension. It is the dimension equivalent with the essential nature of Self, and which necessarily exists coincident with, or prior to, all experience.
To characterise the human condition in this way is not a concession to spiritual or New Age dogma. To point to the multi-dimensional nature of human consciousness is to draw our attention to the significance of consciousness. To do so in this way, is to suggest that one may not have considered or thus been able to integrate into their understanding, the full import of this fact and its relevance to everyday affairs.
A third issue is the issue of ‘special privilege’. The idea that such discourse is off-limits to all but an elite few in one discipline or tradition is particularly unhelpful in some sense, as it encourages people to become mindless and unquestioning slaves to an authority. Likewise, the idea that a specific work of literature, such as the Christian Bible, or the Islamic Qur’an, is somehow imbued by an other-worldly or divine authority is equally problematic for the same reasons.
There is also a particular danger, I think, that spiritual discourse becomes yet another trap for the restless futility of ego. The treatment of transcendent or spiritual experience, and non-ordinary states of consciousness can be particularly misleading and distracting to the curious. Particularly amongst students of the spiritual traditions. In many cases, there is the implication of the potential for some profound ‘shift’ in consciousness. Whilst in some sense this implication has a basis in fact, it is also grossly misleading to the student and usually not at all helpful as it forms yet another object to which the grasping-mind will try to become attached. This simply perpetuates the suffering of the student and misdirects their attention from that which ought to be their focus – the Self.
Is free-will an illusion?
That really depends on how you define free-will. For most of us, our intuitive understanding would probably encompass notions of freedom to choose and to make decisions independently of others. Perhaps surprisingly, we can comfortably assert that the individual person has no free-will.
Every action and decision you make, is generally woven into a self-narrative, which relates your past experience to the present situation. In that sense, any decision you make now is strictly speaking, the product of your knowledge of the past. And your knowledge of the past, is itself built upon prior knowledge, ad infinitum – so there is no freedom here.
Fundmentally, you do not understand how it is that you make decisions. In the prelude to a decision, you may deliberate between various alternatives. Yet you do not understand how it is, that you decide which alternative to consider, nor how it is they are recalled. Further, when the final decision is made, it occurs quite spontaneously. You do not understand why it is that deliberation concludes at that point. If you look upon decision making and deliberation as a series of moments, in this way, it is necessary to conclude that in so much as you make decisions, you do not understand how you do it – it just happens. Under such conditions, that which most of us consider our intuitive understanding of free-will comes into serious doubt.
In essence, it becomes essentially meaningless.
Indeed, if reason is the sole faculty – whose logic is merely a formalised rule structure – then we can say quite categorically, against our intuitions to the contrary, that there is no freedom.
Critically, reason is not the sole faculty. Reason is always governed by what we might posit as ‘hidden control parameters’ – for instance – how long should one deliberate over a given decision? Further, new ideas, intuitions and discontinuous leaps of inspiration do occur. Collectively, these are what we might describe as the Creative faculty.
Though we do not, indeed must not and cannot ever understand this faculty – it is by very nature off-limits to the abstract mind – it is the only faculty by which we can revise our conceptual understanding free of the shackles of prior understanding. In this regard, creativity is freedom – freedom from cognitive limitation.
Interestingly, it can be discovered that creativity is free from limitations in space and time too.
So in this way there is no true personal freedom. Personal freedom is a notion probably best replaced by something more precise, such as responsibility. Note that it is still possible to entertain notions of personal responsibility, even absent any real freedom. There is, however, a freedom of being, which is essentially uncaused, spontaneous and impersonal. In a sense, it is this very freedom that we are.
You assert that there is no personal free will. How do you know for sure? Does this mean there is nothing we can do to improve our circumstances?
Why in one moment do you say you are undecided, and in the next, that you have made a decision? How do you decide how long to deliberate, or when the moment of decision will be?
The reality is that you do not know how you decide. You may say, “I considered all the evidence, thought about it for a time, and then I made my decision accordingly,” or simply, “I picked from the available options at random.” Regardless, you do not know how you concoct these ‘explanations’, how you decide what evidence to consider, any of the specifics of such consideration, nor how it is that you were apprised of all the ‘options’.
The story that you are the author of your actions is just that. There is no fundamental difference in agency between the beating of your heart and your decision to read or hear these words. When you say that you have decided, or that you were in control, that is merely another impersonal cosmic event to which you bare witness.
Personal free will or agency is an illusion.
Though the truth of the matter may seem unsettling and our intuition may suggest otherwise, the facts speak for themselves. The truth does not care if you agree.
Actually the discovery that free will is fundamentally an illusion is not bad news. In a significant variety of everyday scenarios, it does not really matter. Though if you say, “free will is an illusion” and try to act upon this assertion, your actions become contrived. The pragmatic benefit of this apparently superficially useless truth is born of our potential for a deeper understanding of Self.
The fact that there is no real personal agency is a hint at a more potent truth – that the independent reality of the personal self was always an illusion. It is this deeper truth that has the potential to liberate personal responsibility from the existential burden of personhood.
Somewhat paradoxically, personal responsibility can only be exercised and carried with clarity and good grace to the degree that the illusion of the independent reality of the person becomes translucent to the underlying, impersonal and transcendent reality. Personal responsibility is more effectual in the absence of the unnecessary suffering that misunderstanding the self necessarily precipitates. The person is also more readily compassionate when the seeing of the illusion of personal agency enables one to recognise the common bind of innocence for all beings.
Free will is merely a poorly-defined conceptual game.
We are better able to improve our circumstances, and that of our society, when we are not burdened by the illusion of free will.