Question: Here is an excerpt from an article I'm reading, and I am planning to pull from for an article that I am writing. My question is from page 488: “But if language is empty, that is, if it does not function to pick out essentialized entities, and if at the same time people are constituted by language-games and deeply attached to their linguistic categories, then what attitude ought one assume to language, to others, and to oneself?” Or in my own words, how do we detach from our thoughts without becoming nihilistic?
Reply: Perhaps it is more sensible to look at why & how one would come to the conclusion that such an experience is nihilistic, as opposed to trying to argue that it is not nihilistic...
First off, if there is observation OF the experience then it is not enlightenment. The reason for this is that enlightenment is devoid of the subject/object dynamic, as it transcends duality. If there is observation OF the experience, then that would imply that there is an observer apart from the experience offering it's opinion and then reacting on behalf of these opinions... With that said it is safe to say that what is being evaluated is not pure experience, but rather an intellectual position- a thought construct. So, why would the observer label such a philosophy as nihilistic, or come to the conclusion that if such a proposition were accepted it “would be” negative in nature?
The reason being is that enlightenment is an awakening to suchness, or truth as it is, and in suchness there are no distinctions to be made. With no distinctions to be made there is no room for a solid solitary observer, which exists apart from. If in truth there are no essential distinctions to be made then of what use is a distinguisher? So naturally the ego, being the solitary observer, is going to judge such a position negatively. To say that the ego is playing the role of a prejudice judge and jury would be an understatement because, the philosophy under evaluation is calling for the unconditional surrender of the evaluator!
Let us take a second and recall the five skandhas or aggregates which constitute the ego: 1) Separation/Ignorance (2) Interaction or contact (3) Judgment/Reaction (4) Conceptualization (5) Consciousness. In this case: 1) The ego (or personified institution of thought/memory) stands back or apart from the proposed enlightenment experience (2) There is contact or a feeling out of the proposal (3) Next the ego, realizing that the proposal demands it’s death, naturally judges it as a negative thing and reacts adversely (4) Finally, it is labeled as nihilistic, (5) which in turn leads to it being managed as such... From this perspective labeling it as nihilistic is reasonable, thoroughly reasonable. The only thing I question is whether there is a more intimate, more fundamental level of intelligence than reason/logic?
The steps involved in establishing a reasoned position seem to be no different than the steps that give rise to an ego-centric point of view: Standing apart from, analyzing, rendering a judgment, reacting to said judgment, and labeling the relationship produce a particular position. So the question becomes, is it possible to not be apart from? In reality am I intrinsically distinct? Is it possible to taste, touch, or have conscious-contact with the ultimate? It would seem, logically speaking that is, that the answer to such a preposterous question would be, “No! What would be the point?”
Reason or ‘language-games’ seek to impute upon processes ‘essentialized entities’ or static cores- points of reference which are measurable. These imputed characteristics, at the level of personal consciousness, transform verbs into nouns, which is to say processes into solid things and people. Then utilizing a subjective set of metrics, reason attempts to analyze and ascertain the value of these imputations. In other words, our metric system is established using the content of our memory. Thought being little more than memory in motion brings the past into the present moment as a yardstick used to measure the value of our current circumstances, defining the vast network of experiences as positive, negative, or indifferent. On the basis of these calculations a habitual or reflexive response is employed. If the experience is good then we cultivate it, if it is bad then we repel it, and if it is indifferent then we simply ignore it. This establishes the governing dynamics or the nature of our relationship with the world we inhabit. One of the more profound effects observable in this subjective system of measurement is the consequential belief that we must arrange the world in such a way that it fits the mold of our preconceived subjective preferences, a task which is impossible when you remember that there are 6 ½ billion people trying to accomplish this same end! However, the most pervasive and enduring product of this minimizing and oppressive institution of categorization is the establishment of the ego, or the solid/separate observer. “I’ or the self-image begins to be defined by the activities it participates in and the ‘essentialized entities’ it courts, and the worth of this self-image is estimated as the collective value of all its affairs. So, from this point of view “I” is reduced to nothing more than the static slice of psychological space and time invested in any given concern, the value of which is directly contingent upon the worth imputed upon the concern by expired information. It is no wonder that we continually feel frustrated and stuck. We are caught up in a system of intrinsic reason, one in which division or separation is the first pre-requisite, and therefore insists upon us living life as if we are cut-off from it, or as though we were dead! But without these language-games from where does purpose arise?
We easily get caught up in this business of trying to provide justifications or answers to being: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Where did I come from? Words certainly cannot accomplish this, so it should follow that neither can thought. With thought being indisposed it goes without saying that we cannot arrive at such an experience through sophisticated reasoning. I suspect that the most intimate answers to such questions come from being itself! Just as Alan Watts has said, “The point of dancing is the dance, and the point of music is music,” and so it should follow that the point of life is living. In other words, Being is who I am. Being is where I am at. Being is purpose. Being is where I came from! So this is the hypothesis: Is there life beyond the death of the ego? Am I so whole & complete that I myself am purpose and meaning, and do not need to go somewhere else for such answers? Meditation is the experiment used to test such a hypothesis.
Question: Ok, I get the idea of the ego not liking the idea of being non-essential or whatever. Sounds like Spong. And yes I can see the need to experience a non-ego state rather than talking about it - in order to have any understanding of it. Let's suppose that I decide that I believe that ego-lessness would be desirable. That's a big suppose because I don't know if I can convince my ego, haven't been able to all these years. Is it as simple as letting go? The big deal for me is your last hypothesis: Am I so whole & complete that I myself am purpose and meaning, and do not need to go somewhere else for such answers? I don't believe that, but I really, really want to. That's what I meant by, I'm done with all my rabbit trails. I've tried everything to find meaning, and I know that it can be only found within. But knowing and being are not the same thing!
Reply: Oh, yes!!! That’s it. Belief is meant not in the sense of, "I think this is true" or "I buy that", but am I willing to believe? Belief is a sincere question rather than a declarative statement. I think the purpose of a spiritual friend is not to convince or sell, but to encourage exploration into unexplored possibilities. You do not have to think that it is true- even if you did it wouldn't help any, in fact it would probably serve as just another reference point to bludgeon yourself to death with every time some perceived shortcoming surfaced! By belief I simply mean accepting that it is possible. It is all about possibilities, open-mindedness. This is essential.
In Buddhism the hypothetical stage is referred to as ground or view. It is nothing more than a hypothesis or testable proposition. Of course at this point you don't know that it is true, if you did then you would be enlightened, and these electronic exchanges would just be "Words. Words. Words!" But for now hopefully they are encouragement... Anyway, with accepting it is a possibility comes responsibility, and responsibility is the first step towards any realization or discovery.
Accepting this as a possibility means that I must test it, experiment with this view to see if there is any substance or truth to it. Thinking back to the previous email and remembering the proposed hypothesis- “Am I so whole & complete that I myself am purpose and meaning, and do not need to go somewhere else for such answers?” - Could there be something more worthy of investigation? Of course not! However, this is only obvious once naivety and denial subsist- When we accept that all our usual ideas and plans to create personal happiness are absolutely futile. So genuine honesty gives birth to responsibility.
“Is it as simple as letting go?” Actually it is simpler, but words won’t go there. There is in truth nothing to let go of, or anyone to accomplish the letting go. Could a wave let go of water? On that level we are still dealing with control, and the belief in control is an illusion. Simply give up the illusion of control and see what does or doesn’t happen... By give up, I mean do not try to reject thought, or cling to it. Complete and total surrender, with no conditions. Don’t even try to surrender, notice how any attempt to control thought, either assertively or passively, is still thinking.
The "I"/thinker and thought are one and the same. Perhaps it does not appear that way, but the same misunderstanding happens with phenomena like the wind. We say that, “the wind is blowing.” We act as if there is some “essentialized entity” called the wind that does the blowing. In truth, wind and blowing are one in the same. So it is with thought. It is not some-thing that the ego controls or produces, rather the thinker and thought are cut from the same cloth. Through assimilation to the dynamics of language thought has become personified- the pronoun "I" has attributed to thought “essentialized” characteristics, or personhood that isn’t really there. This is why "I" can't control thought- for the same reasons why a knife can't cut itself, nor can teeth bite themselves. When we try to control thought, it becomes inbred or tangled & chaotic, as thought (a) interprets and/or elaborates on thought (b), ad infinitum. This chain reaction removes us from life. We begin to live in our head instead of reality. We become disconnected, and as a result find ourselves discontented. Being discontented or without content is to say that we feel as though we are broken or missing something vital. Then we begin this endless search for some “thing” to fill the void or repair the damage. So, it makes perfect since that the ego would not resonate or relate to a worldview that suggests we are complete or whole- in need of nothing!
As stated earlier, responsibility or willingness creeps in through the gate of honesty and open-mindedness. Accepting the proposal as a mere possibility bestows upon us the imperative to investigate the claim. We must inquire as to whether discontentment is some intrinsic characteristic, or if it is simply the result of certain causes set in motion on the basis of confusion.
So in order to conduct the experiment, simply allow thought to arise and pass- Allow it to function freely, just as the heart beats and the lungs breathe- Effortlessly! Allow thought to function as it does- Spontaneously! See whether basic intelligence, the true nature of mind, is free of dualistic structures, and therefore the friction or conflict that inevitably emerges when life is experienced as though it were some “thing”, existing apart from, that “I” must do. Is it possible that “I” is nothing more than a word pointing at a manifestation of the infinite? Is it at all possible that “I” would be better understood as a limitless verb than a limited noun? Slip into the freshness of the present moment and see. There is no need to think about or reason out anything- simply watch. If the chain reaction that gives rise to discontentment dates back to confusion then obviously restoration begins with insight. Insight is silent, but unmistakable. There you will discover who and what you truly are, instead of what you have been in the past or want to become in the future. As Rumi said, we will discover "Silence that trumpets louder than sound!" Way beyond nihilism or hedonism, it is wholeness. Being, or silence is the answer to, "Who am I." Anything else is second hand knowledge. It is more than an understanding it is experience- it is Being. Or you will you see that all this "being" business is just Hogwash!