Thursday, 22 August 2013

Divine Schizophrenia

I may have thought of a slightly different angle on the Christian Trinity. The Jews, including Jesus, Peter and Paul, were, and still are, pure monotheists, like Muslims and Sikhs. Peter and Paul regarded Jesus as a man raised up by God, not as God.

However, the author of the Fourth Gospel deified the Son of God and personified the Spirit of God but remained monotheist. Thus, he had three divine persons but only one divine being. Is this a contradiction?

Can there be three human persons but only one human being? Yes, in schizophrenia, originally called demonic possession: "My name is Legion for we are many..." So the Johannine God might say, "My name is Trinity for We are three." Maybe this is divine self-possession?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Getting Serious About Meditation

Meditate early in the day. If it is left too late, it might not happen. Easier when you are retired.

Two kinds of thoughts come up during zazen:

unimportant, superficial, trivial, fleeting;
deeper problems.

Maybe both kinds are equally serious but we don't realize it?

Deeper problems need to be addressed only when they arise. They are addressed only by sitting with them until they pass, not by thinking about them.

I must accept responsibility for my actions but must also differentiate between the self that acted in the past and the self that is aware now. Total identification with a past self impedes present awareness.

The word "I" connects present awareness to a set of memories but does not refer to any permanent entity. There is a different "I" in each organism. Organisms change and end. I do not think that consciousness continues after an organism dies any more than that the message in a letter continues after the letter has been burned. A letter can be photocopied but what evidence is there that memories are copied either in a psychic medium or in later organisms? - and, even if they were, later bearers of the memories would not be identical with the original.

There may be some evidence but it is outside my experience. The Buddha taught that:

karmic consequences affect later organisms (yes);
such consequences can include memories (?);
the later bearers of the consequences are not the originals (yes).

Thus, I accept teachings 1 and 3 but question 2.

Was his rebirth teaching based on his experience or merely on his reinterpretation of the reincarnation teaching?
Was reincarnation teaching based on any experience other than that the psyche seems to leave the body temporarily in sleep, therefore is inferred to leave it permanently at death?

It is easier to say, "That was not me," when remembering the actions of a young child. It was not the present "I" - it was an earlier cross-section of the same world-line or an earlier event in the same causal sequence. A character in a Maigret TV episode said, "A child with my name did it."

Eternally present awareness receives memories from the temporal past but needs to let them go.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Time And Eternity

We live simultaneously in time and eternity although usually we notice only the passage of time. The intersection point is the present. We are always in the present although everything is always changing.

The dead are only in the past because they are not alive. However, everyone is alive at some times and dead at others. Most potential people are not born but can be represented by fictitious characters. Birth as a human being is a rare opportunity. We cannot choose who we are born as - life is born as everyone - but we can do something with life while we have it.

These statements are tautologies which are the most basic kind of truth.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Not Death But Life

This psychophysical organism is an instrument of consciousness and needs to be preserved as such. Within it, biological/psychological processes and interpersonal/social interactions generate the image or idea of a separate self. This illusory entity or fictitious character, the subject of attachments and aversions, suffers in accordance with the First Noble Truth and is ended either by physical death or by spiritual liberation.

However, the need to preserve the organism precludes suicide. Therefore, the only legitimate way to the end of suffering is spiritual practice. Zazen is the practice of immediate awareness, therefore is the temporary and partial cessation of psychological processes based on the illusion of a separate self. Thus, it is also a way towards their permanent and complete cessation before physical death.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Darkness And The Light

In the allegedly factual Tibetan Book Of The Dead, as in CS Lewis' avowedly fictional The Great Divorce, individuals entering the hereafter are offered the Light but might be unable to accept it. Although I am sceptical of a hereafter, I think that these accounts express an experience in the here and now.

We do not realise our enlightenment in the first moment of meditation because our past actions and present thought processes hold us back. Meditation prepares us for a hereafter if there is one but meanwhile is also an enlightened and enlightening act here and now.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Pages, Screens And Walls

We can look at a page, a screen or a wall. Writing was the earliest information technology. Screens are on TV's or computers although these are becoming interchangeable.

When we face a wall with eyes open in Zen meditation, we attend not to textual, visual or audiovisual products of mental labour but to the mental states and processes of a psychophysical organism which is a natural sensitive recording device. This is inner subjective, not outer objective, knowledge.

The wall is like a blank page or screen. Thus, attention is focused not on externally generated information but on internally generated responses. It is appropriate to look both without and within, like heeding the mirrors and understanding motor mechanics while driving a car.

The characters in the Chinese Buddhist fantasy novel Monkey are told that the true scriptures are written on blank sheets and Zen Buddhists talk about a direct transmission of truth outside the scriptures.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Why We Are And How To Be

Animal species exist because of natural selection.
Humanity exists because of "The Part Played By Labour In The Transition From Ape To Man" (Engels).
Individuals exist because of a genetic lottery.
Collectively and individually, we were active organisms long before we were reflective subjects.

We must live with consequences of previous actions (karma).
We can try to understand the world and to respect its other inhabitants.
We can try to become the kind of beings that a deity might have designed.
Anthropomorphic myths inspire literature, art and public rituals.

Politics: building a society where every person is an end, not a means.
Religion: meditation and ceremonial without literal theism.
Speculative fiction: myths retold; dystopias; utopias.
Practice: meditate and organise.

Monday, 18 February 2013

What Is The Self?

What is the self? I can discern six strands of an answer:

experiences reported in a meditative tradition;
the teachings of a meditative tradition - in Buddhism, no soul and rebirth.

My own philosophical reflection and limited understanding of science incline me to accept no soul but not rebirth. In fact, I think that no soul entails no rebirth. It seems contradictory to acknowledge that consciousness is conditioned but to expect it to outlast its conditions.

I believe that:

being determines consciousness;
more specifically, some organism-environment interactions generate and sustain psychophysical states which cease when organic matter reverts to an inorganic state;
thus, individual actions and consequences begin and end within a single lifetime, not in a series of lifetimes;
each individual either does or does not realise enlightenment before death;
there is no intermediate, bardo, state;
if I am wrong about the bardo, then I will find out and hopefully will be as prepared as I can be by regular meditation.

The only fly in my ointment is that some people report apparent memories of previous lives. There are other reported experiences that I do not have and cannot account for as yet but this is to be expected. Omniscience is impossible. We inhabit the intersection between known and unknown.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Ends And Means

Only conscious beings have ends and therefore also means. However, teleological language can be applied metaphorically to pre-conscious evolution. For example, mobile marine organisms were naturally selected for increasing sensitivity to environmental alterations. Thus, sensitivity and survival were pre-conscious analogues of a means and an end. Sensitivity quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into sensation which was then selected because pleasure and pain have survival value.

Pleasure is metaphorically a biological means to survival and literally a psychological end in itself so it is the point at which the conscious seeking of ends in themselves replaces the unconscious selection of means to survival. However, pleasure is the start but not the end of teleology.

Humanity has survived by cooperating socially and communicating linguistically. Therefore, human consciousness comprises not only immediate sensations, including pleasures and pains, but also intellectual understanding, abstract knowledge, social identities, personal relationships, self-awareness and self-reflection.

We can:

value our fellow beings as end in themselves, not just as means to our ends;
value knowledge and understanding for their own sakes, not just for any practical applications that they might have;
practise immediate awareness in meditation.

To value conscious beings, pure knowledge and immediate awareness is to value consciousness as such and thus to regard it as an end transcending mere individual pleasure. So the teleological hierarchy is:

in pre-organic matter: energised complex molecules changing randomly until one becomes self-replicating;
in unconscious organisms: survival as an accidental byproduct of unconscious processes;
in sensitive organisms: pro-survival sensitivity increasing until it becomes sensation, including pleasure which is an end; 
in sentient organisms: pleasure and survival as ends;
in self-conscious organisms: consciousness as an end.

In individual and collective self-determination, freedom transcends necessity, subjectivity transcends objectivity and mind transcends matter, at least temporarily. Longer term, can entropy be reversed and new universes created? Did the current universe originate thus? We do not know yet.