Saturday, February 18, 2006

Zen and evolution

Ok, I've written what I could on this subject on my own blog. You're invited to read & comment if it's of interest.

The short version is this: it's easy to discard the beliefs of a religion or the superstitions of a culture and many scientists and critical thinkers have done this - but it's hard to discard the beliefs programmed into us genetically - and it is from this programming, this trance, that students of Zen are working to free themselves.

To see how I came to this conclusion you're best bet is to read my original post. This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately - reconciling Zen with science, especially biology (since it seems the connections with modern physics are pretty well known).

I imagine there is someone who has reconciled biology and Zen before, but I'm clueless who this might be. I'd love to hear your feedback - I could be WAY off the mark (since I know a lot more about biology than Zen!)

68 Comments:

At February 19, 2006, Blogger ryunin said...

Thank you for the great article on evolution.

Science and Buddhism. I don't think there is a conflict between science and Buddhism. For example, when a Buddhist studies medicine, he or she studies medicine. As a Buddhist, he or she does his or her best to study medicine. When a car mechanic explains to a Buddhist, how an engine works, a Buddhist listens. When a Buddhist teaches Math, he or she does not teach Buddhism, but he or she expresses the Buddhist truth in the way he or she teaches
Math.

Evolution and intelligence. I think in the process of adaptation, people became intelligent, but something went wrong. With intelligence, they started to develop a lot of problems that were not based on reality. Most religions are based on these unrealistic views and maybe even some Buddhist schools are not based on reality. What Buddha did was that he woke up to the real and found out how silly people are in general. Anyway, he also knew that it is possible to use our best human qualities to discover the sickness and become real people living in the real world dealing with the world realistically.

Programs like eating, having children, protect the country etc. In Buddhism we can find out that we are biological entities and we have to die one day. Also we find out that we can cut our fingers or hurt another person's feeling. This is the law of cause and effect which we have to respect. Anyway, although we have to die and we should live in harmony with others, we can be free from any causality in this moment. If people discovered the freedom of present, we could all live in harmony with one another. We would be free as babies, we would be free as teenagers, we would be free having sex and we would be free as old people and we would be free in the moment of death. The situation in the world of people is very different, yet there are people who can understand and live without being slaves of their biological programs. We have to take biology in to account, but it is my free will to do something and I have to take responsibility for my actions.

Maybe ego exists, maybe ego doesn't exist, but here I am and I am responsible for my actions.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

There are two key books that cover this subject almost completely:

Zen and the Brain

The Psychology of Awakening

ZATB is a very technical book. Some of the Biochemistry was totally beyond me. It covers the physiology of consciousness, perception and awareness. It was written by a Buddhist who was also a MIT neuroscientist.

TPOA is much less technical but not quite Pop Sciene. This deals purely with the psychology of awakening and the nature of the Ego. It is a collection of essays by psychologists some who are also Buddhists.

Those two books alone will cover all the science that is involved in Buddhism.


I will issue two warnings:

1. If you believe that in Buddhism there is some metaphysical wonderful and mysterious thing going these two books will rip that belief apart. If you are not happy with the whole "Buddhism is Reality" idea then don't read these books.

2. Filling your head with all sorts of ideas about Buddhism will not help your daily practice. It may in fact get in the way. Regardless of what I believe about the existence of my cat and the kitchen and the relationship between them one still needs feeding and the other still needs cleaning.

I bought those books for my own practice :-)

I started from the premise that I did not want to take on any more 'beliefs' and that if Buddhism was not Bullshit then there must exist somewhere some scientific research that confirms or denies the basic methodology of Buddhism.

Borders were cheaper than Amazon for ZATB when I bought it.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger unclegeebo said...

Echo Johndoe re Zen and the brain. Interms of evolutionary views of mind, suggest The Tree of Knowledge: the Biological Roots of Human Understanding by Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J.Varela. Not overtly zen or buddhist, but very interesting.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

ryunin wrote "there are people who can...live without being slaves of their biological programs."

Please give me two specific examples of this happening.

My position is that such is just not possible. What is a "sentient being"? Exactly. I submit that all sentient beings are, in their fundamental essence, simply the operative innate conditiong-in-the-moment. Period.

Yes, I don't dispute the Buddha's "since thre is the conditioned, there is also the unconditioned." There is some...thing..that is the unconditioned. No problem. It's just that sentient beings, all of them, are part of the conditioned. The unconditioned is the Source, the Ground, out of which the conditioned (the ten thousand things) arises.

Ryunin wrote "We have to take biology in to account, but it is my free will to do something and I have to take responsibility for my actions." Even further astry you go my friend. Free will is a illusion (or delusion) and even responsibility is imaginary.

Free will, or choice, arises out of one's immediate programming. The term that I use for that programming as the "innate conditioning-in-the-moment" (ICITM). Choices, decisions, thoughts, arise from that ICITM and the ICITM is actually what each sentient being is. Nothing more. This is in regard to the differentiated state (the relative). In the perspective of the absolute, there are no "individual" sentient beings. There is just.......this! (As the Heart Sutra says, "No eye, ear, nose, tounge, body, mind.") For the sake of this dialogue I am focusing on the conditioned, the relative world of this-and-that which arises and coexists always with the absolute, the unconditioned.

You think something individual persists beyond a moment? It doesn't. Forget the soul, a notion that Buddha discarded as wrong thinking (he called it the "eternalistic view" and taught that it was erroneous).

The confusion arises when choices are thought to be "freely chosen." Oh, sure, choices happen. Clearly. But they are not "free" in the sense that they could have been otherwise. The choice (which is simply a specific thought) appears out of the ICITM which is the sum total of one's genetic, biological, and experiential "history."

Looked at closely it will be seen that the genetic, biological, and experiential "history" is not static. It changes, moment to moment (thus the innate conditioning-IN-THE-MOMENT). Each moment a sentient being is alive (that is, in the differentiated state of the relative), sensory input alters the ICITM and thus the sentient being is altered (usually only slightly), moment to moment.

Can you begin to now see why there is no "free will"? There is no persisting entity to have a "free will" nor to be responsible for its actions. I am not foolish enough to believe that this understanding will ever become widespread: it appears that society needs to believe it in order to function. But even if 50 million people believe a foolish thought, it is still a foolish thought (the world is flat).

So, if you are so compelled, look closely, very closely, at your own thoughts. Where do they come from? What provokes them? Where is the "control" in thought? What persists, moment to moment, that does not change, moment to moment? Is there anything that does? These may be useful pointers to clear understanding.

Cheers!

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

me, I think you've moved much close to what is. You note that "it's hard to discard the beliefs programmed into us genetically - and it is from this programming, this trance, that students of Zen are working to free themselves."

I would say that it is IMPOSSILBE to discard the programmed beliefs. "Impossible" in the sense that we can will them away (whether by drugs, zazen, psychotherapy, ... whatever). As if we have some choice to do so.

See my previous post for an elaboration. The bottom line is twofold:

(1) we (i.e., all sentient beings) are not "in charge" of how we act, the choices that we believe we make. Why not? Because we don't control thought. Thought happens (at times it stops of course, e.g., in deep, dreamless sleep). If you watch thought very, very closely, you'll see that "you" (whatever that "you" is) do not control it. I don't dispute that there is a feeling, a sense that we control our thoughts. But it is an illusion, a very powerful one.

(2)Every thought arises out of the innate conditioning-in-the-moment. What IS this "innate conditioning-in-the-moment"? It is the sum total of one's genetic, biologic, and experiential history. What we commonly call "me." But this "me" is always in flux, always changing (usually very subtly), and thus the innate condition-in-the-moment is altered, moment to moment. There is no stable, enduring, persisting "me" to HAVE a free will (or any other on-going aspect of a "self"). This is precisely the fundamental meaning of the term "impermanence" so often imployed by Buddhists. Impermanence is not that there are things that come (and go) and thus are impermanent. Impermanence is so pervasive that there isn't anything anywhere to be impermanent. Things (including sentient beings) only exist "in the moment." The specific thing (for example "me") doesn't reappear as itself in the next moment. What reappears is a new "me" a different "me." This "me" is led to believe in its permanence by thought-memory, which too is altered, moment to moment, but which carries with it enough energy to convince the newly-arising "me" that "I" am the same "me" that I was moments ago. It's a subtle, powerful, and compelling illusion, one on which the relative world (of this and that) is built. But it is still illusory. And anyone can see this if they look closely (and persistently) enough. Of course, the desire to DO the looking must be present. ;-))

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger ryunin said...

endofthedream, are you not simply a determinist? determinism points out causality, right? and buddhism says that causality is very important,but there is something beyond causality

free will - i can change the way i think - who decides if i watch porn or instead study Dogen? I have to decide and if i watch porno, my midn will be full of sex while if I study Dogen, my mind focuses on BUddhism.

I can decide on my own, if i go and put out the laundry out of my washing machine - but you say it is determined in me biologically - so the fact that i practice zazen every day and what i write here is all determined biologically - yes but then also my free will is determined biologically, i mean i was programmed to do things on my own, to practice zazen on my own and suffer pain in monasteries on my own
- is this all managed from a centre in the universe where somebody pushes buttons and makes me practice zazen or have sex or is there something individual involved in my activities? even if it was all programmed, even my free will is programmed, which means free will exists, no matter if it is programmed or not -even if Buddha was programmed to understand the truth, it was him who sat in zazen under the tree, and it was him who solved philosophical problems -
so as you see, determinism is just a n intellectual speculation, it has no meaning for our real life as we have to do something anyway, no matter if we are determined to do so or not and now i am going to hang the laundry, no matter if it is my free will to do so or not

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger ryunin said...

Michael Luetchford, my teacher ,wrote a very precise text on The Theory of No Self that relates to this issue of free will, I think.

Here is the link http://www.dogensangha.org.uk/PDF/theoryofnoself.pdf

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger Bob J. said...

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At February 19, 2006, Blogger Bob J. said...

Reading these comments makes my head spin. My only comment is that we are way into the zone of the ineffable. I took a shot at it in a couple of entries, "Riff-ing the Dalai Lama" parts I and II (to be found in the archives for my own blog for November, 2005). My own personal perception is that something very important happens when I sit in zazen with my spine straight, whose effect on my immediate perception and on my life cannot be described without distortion. For this reason, I follow Brad's adherence to Nishijima's insistence on the primacy of correct posture. However, I find Nishijima's talk about balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to be obvious category errors. All this talk about stuff that can't be described is very reinforcing for me, though. It makes me realize I just need to sit.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

me, in the article on his own blog, said,

"...there is no actual reason why we should care more about ourselves than others, other than our genetic programming."

Talkin' in a circle, me. What you've just said is, "there's no reason other than everything why we should blah blah et cetera."

You argue for Zen taking us out of the determinism of biology, but that won't wash.

If biology is deterministic, then your desire to escape from determinism is just the product of the determinism itself -- so, good luck escaping from the loop.

Does Zen even claim to help us "discard the beliefs programmed into us genetically?"

First of all, there are no beliefs programmed in, only traits. And nobody knows just what those traits are -- biologists and sociologists can argue endlessly about it, and do.

Second, according to the determinists, your genetic programming is you. It's your makeup, it's what you are. Does Zen want you to be something else? If it claims to free us from something, it must be from something other than the thing that defines us.

In taking a deterministic view of genetics, you bow to current pop-sci fashion. In trying to reconcile that with Zen, you've gotten tangled up in a logical fallacy.

But how about this: Zen doesn't need to be reconciled with genetics or quantum mechanics or string theory or anything else. When the world was flat, Zen didn't care; now that it's round, no big deal; and when science discovers that it's shaped like a burrito, Zen will yawn, because it's about something other than science.

Zen's very practical: it works, or it doesn't. If it does, it's not because it agrees with molecular biologists; and if it doesn't, then it's bullshit.

What's Darwin got to do with it?

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

Biology creates physical limits, such as the ability to remember, to hear a sound that's too faint, etc. It also creates drives: hunger, thirst, sexual, etc. But biology doesn't make us selfish. Selfish is too vague a term to have any biological correlate. What is the benefit that we selfishly desire? It could be anything from a cup of coffee to world peace.

Zen is about seeing the truth about ourselves and the world we live in. Nothing in evolution keeps us from seeing the truth. Any evolutionary change that kept us deluded would be extremely maladaptive.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

I think me's article was really interesting and well written. It was obviously thought-provoking; look at the comments above this one... :-)

The only thing I'd criticize was the assumption that nature is amoral, that we live in a cold, indifferent universe. While I don't think I can point to any real evidence that contradicts it, I would be hesitant to begin with that assumption.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

I said to Me,

"In taking a deterministic view of genetics, you bow to current pop-sci fashion."

I retract that comment. I can't accuse a genuine biologist of bowing to populist, middlebrow, science magazine fashion. I apologize: I meant no insult.

Nevertheless, my point holds. If we are the products of purely deterministic biology, Zen is no escape; for Zen itself is then nothing but the product of deterministic biology.

But biology isn't all that goes on inside a human. About the universal religious nature of mankind, biology has not much to say.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

rot-13 said, "Zen's very practical: it works, or it doesn't. If it does, it's not because it agrees with molecular biologists; and if it doesn't, then it's bullshit."

I wouldn't conclude it's bullshit. Just that it didn't work for such-and-such a person. What I find more compelling is the question: why is that for SOME people zen "works" and for others, not so?

I know of people who have been on spiritual paths (zen and others) for 20+ years and are still unhappy (some even miserable). Others, after 3-6 months of zazen or other spiritual activities, find a lot of "stuff" that burdened them dropping off. In areas other than spiritual activities this too shows up. It's like we each discover through our own lives a "formula" which "works" and then make the assumption that the formula will (or should) work for others.

It is almost as if the universe doesn't play "fair" (how come that dude gets to smoke a pack of cigs for 30 years and dies happy in his bed at 92 while this chump smokes half a pack for ten years and ends up with lung cancer). But "fair" is a thought-construct and doesn't necessarily correspond to the way the universe operates.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

rot-13 wrote, "But biology isn't all that goes on inside a human."

What else is?

And what is your evidence for what else is going on?

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

ryunin wrote, "free will - i can change the way i think - who decides if i watch porn or instead study Dogen? I have to decide and if i watch porno, my midn will be full of sex while if I study Dogen, my mind focuses on BUddhism."

This is not clear seeing I'm afraid. A decision MAY occur to not watch porn, and you MAY actualize that decision. But examine WHERE that decision came from? And explore how "you" produced that decision. Oh, you sat and tallied up all the pros and cons of each activity and came to the conclusion (you "chose") that one course of action was "better" than another. Yeah, I know that logic. But where did those pros and cons, those prior thoughts, come from?

And, more critically, where does thought, all thought, come from?

You wrote, "even if it was all programmed, even my free will is programmed." Wonderful! You grasp the absurdity of it! Issac Singer said, "Of course I believe in free will! ...... I have no choice." A notion you've encapsulated cogently.

But what is really being said is that the BELIEF is free will is programmed. And I won't dispute that. ALL our beliefs, all thought, is a programmed response arising out of genetics, upbringing, prior experiences, culture, etc. We believe what we are taught (via the mechanism elucidated above) to believe. It is really quite simple.

I was not positing a deterministic position. I'm not saying that "future" events (which don't really exist) are "set." I was referring to antecedent events and the role they play in a moment by moment choice-making.

Look, it's really very simple (if one looks at it clearly with a zazen mind): choices, decisions are thoughts. Examine the nature and source of thought. Where does it come from? What is it that thought is constructed from?

Explored closely, it may be discovered that the self (the "me network") is a thought (or, better yet, a collection of thoughts successively thought). What is there in the absence of thought?

No thought. No world. No me.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

rot-13......some thoughts on yours. :-)

You wrote, "me, in the article on his own blog, said, '...there is no actual reason why we should care more about ourselves than others, other than our genetic programming.'"

There are no others. There is an appearance of other forms coming and going. But there is only One. In taking care of others we are - quite literally - taking care of our"selves," although it may not feel that way sometimes.

And some bodymind mechanisms are so-wired as to be more inclined to extend the caring to others. The programming of other bodymind mechanisms prevents that (if and until that programming is changed sufficiently by Life).

You noted that "If biology is deterministic, then your desire to escape from determinism is just the product of the determinism itself -- so, good luck escaping from the loop." I don't disagree. There IS no escape! What can happen is that life withint the loop can be enjoyed (stress on joy) when the structure and components of the loop are better understood. Why do you think they're yucking it up so much in zen monasteries (or anywhere else where the joke is Realized).

You wrote, "there are no beliefs programmed in, only traits." The definition I was using of programmed is "to predetermine the thinking, behavior, or operations of" and this does account for thought (as well as traits).

You note "according to the determinists, your genetic programming is you." The understanding I was pointing to is broader, much broader, than that. It was that in addition to genetics there are a host of other influences which go in to making up you: your education, upbringing, culture, experiences, biology (which can be altered post genetic programming...what do you think chemotherapy does? it not only kills cancer cells but affects, permanently, the genetic structure).

The sum total of the above is "you." And since experiences occur moment to moment, what you are changes moment to moment. Even in deep sleep our biology alters. And thus we change. The person who laid his head down at 11:43 pm Sunday evening is not the same person that arises with a wooly mouth and foul breath at 7:52 Monday morning.

Much of that person is the same. Granted. But things have changed. And a thing cannot both be itself and not itself simultaneously. There is no abiding self, no persistent "me." What we call sentient beings are flux, flow, or, in Buddhist terms, impermanence.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

endofthedream said,

rot-13 wrote, "But biology isn't all that goes on inside a human."

What else is?

And what is your evidence for what else is going on?


Good Lord, endofthedream. Don't imagine that Buddhism is materialism. Some biologists want to take a purely mechanistic view of us, and they're free to do so; but Buddhists they ain't.

It's ridiculous to talk of "evidence." If there is something other than biology going on, then obviously it would be something invisible to the biologists, yes?

But it's not my purpose to show that humans are more than biology. My point is that materialism and Buddhism are at odds. If you want to take a mechanistic view of humanity, cool; but don't kid yourself that it's a Buddhist view.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

to rot-13

You made a comment earlier: "biology isn't all that goes on inside a human." Since that comment was unsubstantiated I inquired about it, asking you from where does this information, knowledge, insight,...whatever...come.

To which you replied: "It's ridiculous to talk of 'evidence.' If there is something other than biology going on, then obviously it would be something invisible to the biologists, yes?"

If there is no evidence you can point to, what is it that gives rise to your comment that there is something other than biology going on? Is it something you discovered in a dream? Did you learn of it via astral projection? I mean, c'mon now. Anybody can say anything.

Then, in your later post you added an "if" when before it wasn't merely a possibility. Back-pedaling?

You say "it's not my purpose to show that humans are more than biology."

I wasn't questioning your purpose. I was asking you to explain from whence you get the notion that ""biology isn't all that goes on inside a human." I am interested in pursuing dialogue that has some supportive basis behind the comments made. Anything else is just fantasy.

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger me said...

Wow. Thanks for the comments. It will take a while to digest them & it seems, not surprisingly, there's some difference of opinion.

johndoe in particular - thanks for those book recommendations.

Johndoe said: I started from the premise that I did not want to take on any more 'beliefs' and that if Buddhism was not Bullshit then there must exist somewhere some scientific research that confirms or denies the basic methodology of Buddhism.

This is partly my motivation as well. I'm not one to take a leap of pure faith, although that may be what is required in the end. And I expect that if I were in a temple in ancient Japan I'd get clobbered with a stick "sit down and shut up!"

 
At February 19, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

You know, endo, the burden of proof is really on you. The one who says, contrary to the tenor of all of human experience, that humans are pure biology -- that's the guy who has some proving to do.

Let's try again. The question is: Are humans just biology, or are they something more?

Here is the answer, and it's blindingly obvious: Nobody knows. By the very nature of the case, it's unknowable.

It's as I said: if there's anything nonphysical going on, then it's inaccessible to the physical sciences. Right? Science, by its nature, can't handle the question. All it can legitimately say is, "That's outside my domain." So there are no proofs.

But there is evidence. Example: we all seem to have will. The bulk of mankind takes this as evidence that we do have will -- that we aren't meat puppets -- that our choices are real choices. Everyone in history has had to act as if this were true. That's a pretty strong hint -- not a proof -- that it is.

You wanna believe otherwise? That's your choice. But it's up to you to explain why biology would program such a vast and unneccessary fiction into our mechanistic little brains.

Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, Buddhism will keep on knowing that materialism can't explain human experience.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

"Let's try again. The question is: Are humans just biology, or are they something more? "

All I can find in myself is a warm wet body that includes a brain that thinks.

With modern medicine I can deconstruct the body down to it's component parts. With modern scanners I can watch my brain think.

All I can find when I look is biology and chemistry.

There may be something else. I do not know. I do not care.

I can say that without this biological body I think my existence would be problematic :-)

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

MikeDoe said,

"... I can deconstruct the body down to it's component parts..... All I can find when I look is biology and chemistry."

Well, yeah, Mike. Forgive me, but: duh. When asked, "Are we more than our physical bodies?" it does no good to say, "My body is physical." What would you expect? If there were something extraphysical, you'd never find it by looking at the physical.

"There may be something else. I do not know. I do not care."

Now this is a very sensible thing to say. The question necessarily falls outside the domain of science, so all we can do, each of us, is decide a priori what seems sensible to believe, and then believe it. Or remain agnostic, a very sane option.

I'll say one thing further, though, about the notion of "proof." People talk as if scientific proof were the only valid kind. That's nonsense. There can be no scientific proof that Napoleon lived, because his life can't be duplicated under controlled conditions. Yet we know Napoleon lived. An historical proof is very different from a scientific one. A mathematical proof is something else again. Sociology and psychology have their own different ways of demonstrating truth.

And then there are completely unprovable things that one can know for certain, as for instance I know my wife loves me. Nothing on this planet is clearer to me than that, but I can't prove it.

Science is the sacred cow of those who don't know its proper domain. Most of the things of which we're certain, are things about which science has nothing to say at all.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

A quick postscript:

MikeDoe said to me,

"There may be something else. I do not know. I do not care."

And I replied,

"Now this is a very sensible thing to say."

Agnosticism really is sensible on a lot of issues. Zen is convenient in the same was as Episcopalianism is: you can believe practically anything you want. For nearly any position, you can find precedents within "orthodox" zen literature.

It's very handy that way.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

rot-13, you wrote:

"You know, endo, the burden of proof is really on you." And you followed that shortly by "So there are no proofs." Kinda ends the dialogue, eh? :-))

You wrote, "The one who says, contrary to the tenor of all of human experience, that humans are pure biology -- that's the guy who has some proving to do."

All I can say to that is: if 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

You know, I'm really not saying that humans are pure biology. I know quite well that nothing, absolutely nothing, is purely material. The relative world (of materialism) is born out of the absolute, Totality. It is never separate from it; it is a phenomenal manifestation of the Source. And that Source is beyond, prior to, material.

I was focusing on the fact that within the localized area of the relative world, a certain mechanistic behavior runs consciousness, that thought arises out of pre-established neural pathways AND that we don't have any say in the creation of those pathways. They happen as a function of the circumstances in which we find ourselves (not in which we place ourselves).

You wrote "we all seem to have will. The bulk of mankind takes this as evidence that we do have will -- that we aren't meat puppets -- that our choices are real choices. Everyone in history has had to act as if this were true. That's a pretty strong hint -- not a proof -- that it is."

I don't question that choices...happen. Clearly they do. Are they "free"? What do we mean by "free"? Could the choices have been otherwise? Thought tells us, sure, "I" coulda chosen differently. THAT is what I find deceptive. Every thought that arises (regardless of whether or not it is acted upon), is born out of the billions and billions of antecedent thoughts. And those thoughts were generated by circumstances way beyond "our" control. It's quite simple: there are thoughts, but no thinker. The thinker is, itself, just a thought or a collection of thoughts thought successively in very rapid motion (like the illusion of motion on a motion picture screen when, in fact, all there are are discrete, individual frames, no motion at all, in reality...but we are duped into thinking, temporarily, that there is motion on the screen).

You wrote, "You wanna believe otherwise?"

It's not a matter of belief. It is a matter of Seeing, clearly, what's so.


You wrote, "But it's up to you to explain why biology would program such a vast and unneccessary fiction into our mechanistic little brains."

Who knows why it is so? There are many stories that "explain" it. Each bodymind mechanism picks the story that it is so inclined to pick (and that inclination is a function of the bodymind mechanism's innate conditioning-in-the-moment).

The story that I find myself drawn to is that the illusion of free will, and the sense of separation which accompanies it, are present so that this version of phenonmenality, this particular relative universe, can function in the manner that it does. I'm not saying this is the "best" answer. It is the one that appeals to me. Why are there certain physical constants in this universe (e.g., pi or e or Eddington's fine structure constant)? One story is that these, along with the notion of free will and the sense of separation, were set, as constants, at the birth of this universe so that this version of phenomenality could proceed as it does. It's a story. That's all. It doesn't really matter to me why there is the illusion of free will; it is sufficient for me to realize it for the illusion it is.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

free will is such a boring issue. i had to do a module on it at uni. my conclusion is that strict determinists are wrong, libertarians are wrong. most compatablists are also wrong but i think that there is a certain element of truth in a few of the compatbilists' ideas. daniel dennett is one such compatiblist who made a lot of sense. compatiblism is basically: "ok everything is predetermined and i could never have done otherwise. so what? i still have free will because (insert long and complicated philosophical arguments here).

anybody interested should read dennett's book "elbow room: varieties of free will worth wanting."

on a separate note, the tendency of some people on these blogs to write as if they've 'got it' and others don't is really starting to bore me. it's just words one a screen. if i wanted to i could write a whole load of bollocks about why my views on all the 'deep' stuff are correct. but it's like that koan:

monk: what is the deepest truth?
joshu: have u had your breakfast?

in particular, all this talk about the 'absolute'. you know, ultimately there's no good or bad up or down black or white. w.h.a.t.e.v.e.r. that shit's so boring. i used to love all that talk about how everything's an illusion and how dualistic thinking is an illusion. but then i realised that all that thinknig about that crap did not make me happier in the slightest. forget about all the 'deep' stuff. it's all just fluff. have you had your breakfast? now there's a useful question.

i once asked my philosophy professor: suppose that right now incompatiblist determinism is right and i have no free will. she nodded. i said now suppose that actually we do have free will. she nodded again. i said, so what is the perceivable difference between a world where i have no free will and a world where i do? she said, ah well there isn't an actual perceivable difference. it's more of a metaphysical difference.

basically the difference between a world where free will exists and one where it doesnt is one that is purely of academic interest. so what the hell does it have to do with whether i've had my breakfast?

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

So Dan.. would you rather this blog become a discussion about what we've had for breakfast? Although perhaps such a blog would appease that fourth monk irritated by those flapping mouths, it would make for a fairly strange zen blog.

I understand your point of view, and often find myself anticipating a time when I stop all this thinking, but I enjoy the thinking (for now). I like hearing comments from others who sound as if they've got it all figured out.

I've suggested before in comment to ryunin's comment on the flapping mouths story that all this mouth flapping might be very useful for beginners so I'd rather not see the conversation turn to shallow subjects (despite their being more 'Zen'), just my 2 cents.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

Some of you say there is no free will, others say there is. Perhaps it doesn't matter.

If there is a distinction between the 'will' and the 'ego' I'd rather not emphasize it. Instead I'd like to consider them all as the 'self' that we think of when we think of our identity. When we say 'myself' or 'me' what are we referring to? (So I'd rather steer the comments away from the issue of 'do we have free will' to the larger but obviously related question of 'is there a self')

Some say there is no self. This is a very black & white statement - it's not that 99.999% of yourself is actually something else, but it's 100% - there is no self. Alan Watts held this position and I assume most Zen masters hold it as well. Endofthedream seems to hold this position.

This is a statement about reality and as such I want to question it.

Although most of what Zen says about reality does not conflict with what science says about reality - this one aspect is tough to reconcile (note I'm not interested in what science says about zen or vice versa, I'm interested in what each say about reality).

I suppose both viewpoints can be simultanesouly true (to various degrees). A question is then - which viewpoint is more true? And alternatively, Which viewpoint is more practical?

To return to a deeper source of my motivation on this issue, and one that Johndoe, reiterated - does zen cloud our perception (induce a trance) or clear our perception (awaken us from a trance)?

If zen produces comments about reality that conflict (too strongly) with science then we might assume zen clouds our perception. If zen produces comments about reality that agree with science then we might assume that zen clarifies things - awakens us from a trance.

But what is this trance? Why is it so common?

[Note that I am well aware that science cannot explain everything and that its explanations are always temporary - ready to be revised / improved as more study is done. So it is quite possible that zen can be correct and science wrong, in which case, we should be able to reconcile this - find out what is wrong with the view from science and fix it]

I apologize that I haven't yet digested most of what endofthedream wrote - it's a bit tough to get one's mind around. I'll work on it. Thanks.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

rot 13 said Most of the things of which we're certain, are things about which science has nothing to say at all.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. - Voltaire

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

endofthedream seems to be implying that everything that is going to happen might as well have already happened. It's movie that we're in and we're dying to see the end! :)

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

I guess I don't explain clearly. Oh, well.

I'll try again.

Two points.

First, it's really purposeless to talk about free will because all such dialogue presupposes some enduring, persisting, ongoing entity that HAS this free will.

If you look clearly, you will See that there is no such entity. All there is is flow (supposedly, Buddha called it "stream").

The illusory sense that I am an ongoing entity comes from a combination of thought and the "me network" that is built up to support this vague but powerful (and convincing) sense. The "me network" itself arises out of thought. It is thought spinning a web the essence of which is "I am a self."

Buddha disputed this, quite vociferously. He called it the "eternalistic view." (There is much in Buddhist literature supporting this. Narajuna's writings are quite insightful. But none of this will make any sense until one Sees it oneself.) And I'm not siding with da man Budda because I like zen, Buddhism, or whatever. I am agreeing with this understanding because I have repeatedly seen it as accurate.

Every moment a sentient being is alive it is changing. Input occurs via the senses and as a result, the being changes (usually slightly when the changes are measured moment to moment). A thing can't be itself and not itself at the same moment. Thus, from moment to moment, this "me" ... changes. Where is the persisting self if its nature changes moment to moment? (Albeit the changes may be minimal, but their cumulative effective can be profound.)

See? No self, no "person" or being. No "thing" to "have" free will. All this despite the "feeling" we have that we are in charge. :-))

The second notoin I've been pointing to is that we don't control thought; rather, thought creates us. What we are, when we think of ourselves, is a product of thought, or a collection of thoughts thought successively. Thought happens. It's biologically, mechanistically determined. It is born out of the innate conditioning-in-the-moment.

For those interested, read the experiments of Benjamin Libet and other neuroscientists. They have repeatedly shown, over the past 40 years, that thought is initially birthed in unconscious regions of the brain, prior to one's conscious awareness. And then, at some moment, a thought pops! into consciousness. Somehow our brains are so wired that we believe that the thought was actually created at the moment of that "popping!" into consciousness.

Not so, neuroscience has shown. It arose earlier, about 500 milliseconds. Granted, not a long time, but a gap nonetheless. It's not something we can know subjectively but it has been demonstrated and measured over and over in controlled studies. Whether or not you choose to "believe" it really doesn't change the fact that approximately 500 ms prior to the person becoming "aware" of a thought, that thought is already "in transit," moving along one or more neural networks, racing towards a region of the brain where it will become conscious.

As far as I know, the only way to become even slightly intimate with this is via some kind of open-ended meditation (meditative inquiry like Toni Packer teaches, or the plain, basic shikantaza). In that deep silence, watching thought after thought arise and decay, it may become clear and, possibly, some confusion will fall away (along with a loosening of the entrenched sense of self).

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

endofthedream said,

"rot-13, you wrote:

'You know, endo, the burden of proof is really on you.' And you followed that shortly by 'So there are no proofs.' Kinda ends the dialogue, eh?"


Yep, it most surely does. Or anyway, I thought it would.

Though I did think my implication was obvious: that if you say humans are mechanistic, you merely make a statement of faith. In this you're no different from the one who says the opposite.

endo said,

"It's not a matter of belief. It is a matter of Seeing, clearly, what's so.

Don't beg the question. Every believer thinks he sees, clearly, what's so.

endo said,

"Why are there certain physical constants in this universe (e.g., pi or e...."

Don't mix up your sciences. Those aren't physical constants true of this universe. They're mathematical constants true of any universe. No physical laws of any universe would change the ratio of a circle's circumference to its radius. That ratio exists outside of physics, because a circle is not a physical thing. (That's a sidetrack on my part, sorry. It's not germane to our discussion.)

me said,

"So I'd rather steer the comments away from the issue of 'do we have free will' to the larger but obviously related question of 'is there a self'"

That's really what endo and I have been talking about. The will is simply a case in point of the larger issue: if there's a will, there's a self.

"Self" is so problematic in Buddhism. I don't claim to have a handle on it. As near as I can figure, the notion of "no self" seems to be that the self exists, it's as real as anything, but it's empty.

But "emptiness" is a whole 'nother can of worms....

me said,

"rot 13 said, 'Most of the things of which we're certain, are things about which science has nothing to say at all.'

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. - Voltaire"


Nah. Voltaire was absurd. There are plenty of certainties in life, but he was too impressed with himself to bother looking at them.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

me:
my problem is that these kinds of questions have been asked and answered since at least the ancient greeks (in the tradition of western philosophy anyway). formal study of these kinds of 'deep' philosophical questions has lead to me to conclude that the truth of matters about whether there is a self or whether we have free will will never be found using philosophical arguments. if they could be then philosophical debate about these issues would have ceased in the same way that scientific debate about whether copernicus is right or wrong has ceased. every single metaphysical question that gets debated here has had yards and yards of words written about it over the centuries, from every possible view point. and yet still the questions are asked and answered. i cannot see how debating these issues can be helpful to anyone even 'beginners'. i am not a beginner in philosophy but i am a beginner in zen. these philosophical questions do not help me one bit in my understanding of zen. they have very little to do with zen as far as i can see. if they were particularly relevant to zen then professional philosophers would be wiser than zen masters. this is not the case but the philosopher would be able to run rings around any philosophical argument that the zen master could assert.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

Dan, I agree that there is a lot of philosophical wheel-spinning. This is why I prefer science and zen over philosophy and metaphysics - in my eyes both of the former are superior methods of understanding reality. I think a great deal of philosophy loses touch with reality in the same way that many religions do - zen and science try to cut through all the ideas by seeing which ones actually match nature/the universe.

This statement ignores the differences between zen and science but the differences, as great as they are, don't change the fact that they have this in common. Or so it seems to me.

As endofthedream and others have pointed out, the zen masters of old, from buddha himself, made statements that are not easy to understand. Like this:

No self, no "person" or being. No "thing" to "have" free will. All this despite the "feeling" we have that we are in charge.

We can either not try to understand them and just appreciate the plum tree in the yard, which may, eventually lead to an understanding in itself, or we can grapple with these statements using our flapping mouths and spinning minds.

I do see your point, and it's a good one. But I'd rather try to understand endofthedream's and buddha's statements with my mind and logic rather than giving up and waiting to see if they make sense after ten years of zazen. I might fail, but it's worth a shot!

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

While I continue to ponder - it seems that endofdream has been explaining buddha's realization as being in accord with modern neuroscience. This is exactly what I'm looking for, thanks.

I came at it from a different perspective - that of an 'ultimate' explanation rather than a 'proximate' explanation. The former being in this case an evolutionary reason for why a sense of self exists, whereas the latter is a mechanistic reason. Evolution is the cause (the 'why') of the mechanisms (the 'how') that generate this illusion of self - unless there is no adaptive value to this sense of self, which I highly doubt. (The unlikely alternative being that this sense of self is a mere coincidence of nature with no influence on survival & reproduction).

That buddha was a pretty insightful guy - to have hit upon this apparent truth so long ago...

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

Jinzang said: Nothing in evolution keeps us from seeing the truth. Any evolutionary change that kept us deluded would be extremely maladaptive.

This is totally contrary to my thesis. I contend that there is very little survival value in knowing the deep truths of the universe. Evolution only works on simple survival - if you produce offspring then your genes move forward, if not, your genes have lost. A quick fellow with strength and enough smarts to hunt will probably leave a lot more offspring than a deep thinking nerd who contemplates the universe and how it works. So a delusion, in this case, that the self exists, is actually not only not maladaptive, it's Critically adaptive!

If a child was born who had no sense of himself he wouldn't eat when hungry, he wouldn't seek shelter or mates (since there would be no self to shelter or self to enjoy mating) - so this sense of self is in my view both a delusion and an adaptation that is vital to our genes making it into future bodies.

[PS I think there are pyschological sicknesses in which people have no sense of themself - these people don't do very well in society. Anybody know more about this? It's only a vague memory for me.]

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger me said...

Regarding free will and genetic determinism: I agree with endofthedream that choices are heavily influenced by our genes, our history, our culture, our family, etc. BUT (and this is an important but) we can choose to go against our 'programming.' We can choose suicide or choose to go on a shooting rampage and kill everyone we meet - these things would go against most of our 'programming.'

So for any given choice we consider a variety of options. Most options are so undesireable we don't even consider them - but of those that are considered they have a variety of probabilities of being selected and those probabilities are influenced by our programming. So you could take a probabilistic view of this process, not a deterministic view, but a probabilistic view.

However, I disagree with endofthedream in that I think that althought impermanence is the rule, there is something that continues from moment to moment which we call the self - even if it's an illusion! It continues - it's a continuing illusion. Just like endofthedream's analogy with a motion picture (love that analogy btw).

So, I take the view that our genes and other influences will predispose us to certain choices at certain times (a perfect example is the genetic differences between males and females and how these influence their behaviors towards sex).

I don't know if endofthedream is arguing that it is impossible to chose against our programming, but that is what I think he's saying. Here I disagree.

A perfect example is a male who feels on a daily basis a strong sexual desire, generated by his genetic programming, who choses to be celibate. He may go a little nutty but he doesn't have to follow his programming.

Or someone who fasts, ignoring the constant hunger signals coming from their body.

I suspect that the only reason I seem to be disagreeing with endofthedream's argument is because I am not fully understanding his point. But it may also be because he, and Buddha, dare I say it, could be wrong?

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

What an awesome discussion!

Endo, I completely grok your perspective. Rot-13, although you say this perspective is not "buddhist," I would I would say it is very definitely buddhist, as long as you throw in one caveat, which I'd bet a flower from space that Endo would be willing to concede:

It is all biology, but my concepts and thoughts of biology are just that... my concepts and thoughts.

And for a little gratuitous nonsequitor that feels related in my warped perspective:

I have no soul, and if I do have a soul, it is not mine.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

anatman said,

"What an awesome discussion!"

Well, I've been enjoying it anyway, and endo seems to have been, too. (BTW, endofthedream: I hope you don't mind the nickname. It's just easier to type, is all.)

anatman said,

"Rot-13, although you say this perspective is not 'buddhist,' I would I would say it is very definitely buddhist, as long as you throw in one caveat...."

The discussion has wandered, so let me be clear on just what it is in endo's posts that I said was contrary to Buddhism.

In his first few messages to me, he argued for a purely materialistic view. Buddhism has never been materialistic. It teaches that matter isn't the only, isn't even the most important, thing going on here. Karma isn't material; causation isn't material; illusion isn't material; mind isn't material.

The sciences can say nothing about these ideas: they're metaphysics, not physics. They may be nonsense, but they are what Buddhism teaches. Not my fault, I didn't make it up.

But in his later posts, endo said,

" You know, I'm really not saying that humans are pure biology. I know quite well that nothing, absolutely nothing, is
purely material."


... which seemed like a switch to me. Be that as it may, he went on to deliver a good exposition of Buddhist orthodopxy. (Or, at least, pretty much orthodoxy as I understand it.)

He did turn around and say,

"approximately 500 ms prior to the person becoming "aware" of a thought, that thought is already "in transit," moving along one or more neural networks...."

... which begs the question. The question here is whether mind and brain are the same thing. Physical tests can't answer this metaphysical question. Trace all the brain activity you want, you still can't tell whether I'm writing a sonnet or a symphony; or why; or what my inspiration is. Episemology is tricky. "It comes from the unconscious" is not an answer.

But that's a sidetrack and probably not worth pursuing.

A couple of points are still a little muddy. The notions of no-self and no-mind and no-thought do not mean that there are no self, no mind, and no thought. These things (along with the entire physical world) are called "illusion," and that's a sticking point for a lot of people.

Illusion isn't nonexistence. My desk, if it's an illusion, is still real. Illusion means that, though the desk is real, it is "empty," that is, it has no "self-nature," no Platonic identity or "desk-ness." It has arisen due to causes, and due to causes it will disappear -- but meanwhile, it's real. And illusory at the same time.

Likewise with the self. In the grand scheme of things, yes, Buddhism teaches that there's no such thing -- no unchanging selfness. But at the moment, sure, there's a self. It's part of the world of illusion, it has no self-nature, it is in that sense empty (see Nagarjuna) -- but it exists.

Zen is existential, experiential, intuitional, is it not? What you know, you know because you've experienced it. When someone points to the plum tree in the yard, the assumption is that the thing exists, though it has no self-nature. Likewise the will, the self, whatever you want to call it.

I'm willing to be challenged on any of this. I don't really mind when someone shows me I'm wrong.

Tired now. I hope this makes sense.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

Me, (Or should I say 'Note to self:'?!?)

You should check out what Susan Blackmore has to say about Zen as an antidote to the domination of our minds by memes and especially 'the Selfplex'.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

To me:

You wrote, "BUT (and this is an important but) we can choose to go against our 'programming.' We can choose suicide or choose to go on a shooting rampage and kill everyone we meet - these things would go against most of our 'programming.'"

What you are postulating is sometimes called "soft determinism" and, for me, it begs the question and doesn't really understand the position being submitted. It's ok. I'm not suggesting anyone here is a slow learner or a stupid child or in anyway demeaning anybody. In fact, I have a great affection for anyone who looks at this stuff, really looks, instead of passing it off, willy nilly. I enjoy rot-13's challenges and he/she/it? is exactly on the mark when he mentions that what we're really exploring here is the notion of a self; that free will is secondary or even tertiary to the question "is there a self".

I had to work with these questions for over four years, full time, day in and day out, much of it with a personal guru, before clarity occured. (And that is on top of 16 years spent in zen, some of them living in a monastery.)

Back to your inaccurate comment.
:-) And, again, no disrespect meant, but when I encounter errors, I will point to them. Take it or leave it. It is with affection that it happens.

The point is this: there is no "me" to "change" "my" programming. The entire constellation of programming (genetic, past experiences, education, cultural influences, the whole shebang!) IS what we call "me" (or I). This "me" cannot do anything. It is a mental construct, an abstraction, a notion. It is not real, except at any given moment. The next moment, a new "me." There is no "me" persisting over what we fancifully call "time" (another abstraction).

Programming DOES change. Every moment it does. But you don't change it. It changes because as each moment is lived, new sensory input occurs, and this alters (usually only slightly) the previously-stored programming. In its changing, you change. This is a really important thing to see. If it is Seen, it will profoundly alter the way the universe is Seen and experienced.

You wrote, "However, I disagree with endofthedream in that I think that althought impermanence is the rule, there is something that continues from moment to moment which we call the self - even if it's an illusion! It continues - it's a continuing illusion."

Hahahah!! Nice! You say there is something that continues, that isn't impermanent: an illusion - the "self" -which persists moment to moment. You say something that is not real (an illusion) continues. I have no problem with that: you're saying that illusions persist in a continuing fashion. Just so. That is what the unawake live, that continuing illusion, and all the concomitant confusion and rage that arises thereof (because reality doesn't match the illusion in their thoughts). To the awake, there is no confusion, at least no on-going confusion. For the most part, there is clarity (with moments of obfuscation).

Me, you wrote: "I don't know if endofthedream is arguing that it is impossible to chose against our programming, but that is what I think he's saying. Here I disagree.

A perfect example is a male who feels on a daily basis a strong sexual desire, generated by his genetic programming, who choses to be celibate. He may go a little nutty but he doesn't have to follow his programming.

Or someone who fasts, ignoring the constant hunger signals coming from their body.

I suspect that the only reason I seem to be disagreeing with endofthedream's argument is because I am not fully understanding his point."

.......and in this you are correct, you don't understand it. I deeply respect the energy which is guiding you to at least LOOK at this, closely. As I wrote above, it took me months and months to begin to understand it and years for it to finally become clear.

I recommend you look at two books if you wish: "The User Illusion," and "The Illusion of Conscious Will" (the latter by a respected Harvard psychologist, Daniel Wegner). Neither book is easy; neither is a page flipper. And neither will produce clarity. But they might contribute. Zazen can help too.

For my part I'll try again, if you're willing. What really needs to happen, me, is for you to deconstruct thought, piece by piece, very, very carefully, as if you were handling a bomb that could go off if you lost concentration. You really need to See the arising and decaying of thought. And, perhaps, reread my long post from yesterday as well as what I wrote above. "We" can't "go against" "our" programming because "we" ARE the programming. It is a one-to-one correspondence. Programming = me.
Not something that most people are comfortable with, which is why it is not examined by much of humanity. Even the desire to look at such a question can't be manufactured by you; it must be given to you (as is everything).

Lest I be called on the carpet for being materialistic......again, in the paragaraph above I am speaking of the you, I, me, that arises in phenomenality, the relative world of appearances, birth and death, good and evil, right and wrong. The world of dualism. This "world" or appearance is birthed from That which is Unborn, Unchanging, Eternal. Call it the Self, Totality, Source, Consciousness...that is what we truly are. This is why Ramana Marharshi was able to say, "That which is not present in deep, dreamless sleep is not real."

In deep, dreamless sleep, there is no "you" present. It is like in deep meditation ("no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind/no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomenon"). The only thing present THERE is "It," and It is what we all are, ultimately. Every sentient being, every rock, every molecule. This "we" is the unconditioned that the Buddha pointed to.

And, by the way boys and girls, da man is not - by far - the first to do this pointing. 5000 years before him the rishi's were writing about this. For whatever reason, Buddha's delivery was better (he probably had more skilled speech writers and got more effective jokes, "did you hear the one about the monk who...").

So, in all of the above stuff, I'm pointing to the *relative* world which, in its very nature, is illusory. All that arises within (appearances) is also illusory.

I'll conclude by attempting, however futilely, to demonstrate once again what I've been reiterating here over and over. You mention a dude who is genetically programmed to be horny (ahhh, you know me well!!) but "choose" to go against his programming and live in a celibate manner.

What I am saying here is that the genetic programming changes due to a whole constellation of influences (listed earlier). If a choice arises to be celibate, THAT is NOW the operant programming. At THIS MOMENT the stronger thought-impulse is "I will have no sex" (why such a decision happens is beyond me!!! ... just kidding, I can think of a multitude of reasons). There are two competing thought-streams arising simultaneously: I want some pootang AND I want to abstain (yes, Nancy Regan, "Just Say No!"). On a biochemical basis, these two thought-streams, which are, in effect, neurochemical energy, are vying for dominance. I want to, NO! I will abstain. At any one moment, ONE of these two will have, what the neuroscientists call a greater "readiness potential." The one which the more powerful neurochemical charge, the greater readiness potential, will, like the sperm that beats out all the all the "swimmers" rushing to the egg, ... that more powerful mental signal ... will arrive in force in consciousness. The person will "have" a thought (although the person will believe the thought was willfully created) and that thought will be: "I will abstain" or "I will bop that chicky." One thought will have predominance (at any one moment). That thought arises out of the entire history of the universe, not just the individual's history because there is no "individual." The individual - that which appears to be separate and independent - is a construct of Totality and Totality is ALL THAT THERE EVER WAS IS OR WILL BE.

Perhaps this clarifies the situation. No person "chooses" anything. Choices happen. But not in consciousness. All thought (of which "choices" are a subset) arises prior to consciousness, before you or me are aware of them. You can't erase a thought because you didn't create it in the first place. It is for this reason that we have no control over thought nor our actions (which arise out of thought). And why holding one responsible for her actions is a misunderstanding.

Pleasant dreams. :-)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

Justin, thanks - Blackmore's books look very interesting. I noted in one of the descriptions (of Conversations on Consciousness) that of the 21 'leading' scientists she interviewed:

Most also agree that scientific evidence does not support the notion of free will, despite the gripping feeling that it exists.

So... I'm back in a muddle. Perhaps Dan's comment is helpful here - he pointed out it's an academic question only. There is no difference in our lives regardless of whether there is a free will or not. Hard to see why that would be so, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Rot-13. re: The metaphysics of Buddhism. Is this where the religion Buddhism parts ways with the practice of zazen? I thought that the practice of Zen does not involve necessarily accepting any metaphysical beliefs. Of course it doesn't preclude having such beliefs either.

Thanks everyone... I'm definitely not the same 'me' I was before we started :)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

endofthedream - thanks for your persistence! What you've written, and these exchanges, have been very helpful.

But the gulf is still huge and I'm afraid that reading (and re-reading) your words probably won't bring complete understanding - it's like you're in the tropics and I've never been, and I'm up in the arctic, raised with nothing but snow and ice and you're describing the forest as best you can but so much of it really must be experienced to be understood. (I expect I'm not alone in saying this).

I'm not going to drop it though. These comments might die down but I'll be working on this - I've swallowed that ball of hot iron...

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

to rot-13

No, I have no issue with your truncating my nic. As long as I know you're referring to me I can follow along the tune.

*****My understanding of what you wrote (below) is different than yours. We're in the same ballpark but we're located at different ends of the playing field. That's how it is in phenomenality. No one has a lock on the Truth. As the Taoists wisely noted, the Truth which IS the Truth, can't be spoken (or written). So you and I and Brad and ten thousand other supposedly aware people will ponder, debate, pontificate, postulate and express "how it is" and, in phenomenality, there will always be competing, disagreeing perspectives. The only error is in thinking "this is it." So I'll present an alternative understanding here, in contrast to yours, one which feels more "right" to me, and let the chips fall where they may.

You wrote,"Illusion isn't nonexistence. My desk, if it's an illusion, is still real. Illusion means that, though the desk is real, it is "empty," that is, it has no "self-nature," no Platonic identity or "desk-ness." It has arisen due to causes, and due to causes it will disappear -- but meanwhile, it's real. And illusory at the same time."

"Likewise with the self. In the grand scheme of things, yes, Buddhism teaches that there's no such thing -- no unchanging selfness. But at the moment, sure, there's a self. It's part of the world of illusion, it has no self-nature, it is in that sense empty (see Nagarjuna) -- but it exists.

*****I see Nagarjuna's teachings a bit differently and thus have an alternative appreciation for the scenarios you posit.

As I understand it, "emptiness" or "impermanence" refers to the fact there is nothing solid, enduring, or persisting in Reality (or that "It" or the Tao or, as Advaita calls it, Consciousness...none of these are "things" in the notional sense...they are the Ground out of which Everything, all forms and appearances, arises). There are, thus, two "worlds," one birthed of the other: the relative and the absolute. They are intertwined, like two threads creating a sweater's pattern. But the relative is a product of the absolute.

It is critical to be aware of from which perspective is being referred to, else confusion results. In the relative sense, the desk is "real." But from the more all-encompassing Understanding of the absolute, it is illusory. Why? Because it has no permanent deskness. Its deskness exists in a moment, a time-frame so brief as to be immeasurable. Any permanent sense of "deskness" which is attributed to it long term, only occurs in thought, that sticky substance which binds the past and the present and the future and creates the illusion of time. When it is examined closely, one may see that MOST of one's life is spent in this abstract, notional realm of thought, ... which is not real.

Nagarjuna's emptiness/impermance points to the fact that moment to moment the entire phenomenal (relative) universe is born and dies. Born and dies. How could there be anything permanent in such a state? Quantum physics has repeatedly done experiments which uphold this 7000 year old Understanding (the rishis of ancient India taught this).

For some reason the human mind is so wired that it gives solidity to things which are *processes*, we "see" stablility where, in fact, there is only flux, flow. And we take that visually-supported stability to be "real" and unchanging. But nothing is unchanging. And thus to believe that the wife we kissed goodbye at 8 AM on our way to the salt mines of Wall St. is the safe wife we kissed at 7 pm upon returning is a forgiveable mistake. But a mistake it is. Five seconds, no! five milliseconds after she was kissed at 8 AM she was no longer the same. But our minds give solidity to her. And we do this THROUGHOUT our lives: we ascribe attributes of mass to things which are processes.

THAT is what Nagarujuna was pointing to regarding emptiness and impermanence. It isn't that there are things which "come and go" in the universe. There isn't anything solid which can persist long enough to be called impermanent. The notion of the self existing at "a moment" he even disuptes. It is the *illusion* of the self that he says arises, not an "actual" self. In a moment, yes, the illusion/appearance of a self happens. But not the actual self. There is nothing solid (even for a moment) to be labeled "self" or "other." There is only flow.

Want an analogy: think of a stream. You're standing by it as it flows past you. You put your left foot down into it, up to the knee. Pull it out, shake it off. After a few minutes it begins to dry off (you haven't moved from the spot, ok). Now put your left foot down into the water again. And remove it. The common understanding would be to say that you put your foot down into the SAME stream. But, of course, if you LOOK closely, you'll understand that there isn't any SAME stream. Ever. Every moment water changes places, mud is displaced, molecules, leaves, twigs, move and are relocated. There is never, from moment to moment, the SAME stream. There is only....flow. THAT, my friends, is Nagarjuna's emptiness, impermanence, and that, my friends, is we.

Another way of looking at this is that this relative world of phenomenality is pretty much akin to a dream. In the dream the reality of the events, people, places, things, .... are rarely questioned. And so, in the context of the dream, they are taken to be "real." (So real that they can affect the non-dreaming body which awakens in a sweat, heart pounding, blood racing, from a nightmare.) And so, if one wants to conclude that the "self" is "real" in this relative world, go do so. It isn't your choice anyway. ;-))) You either will see it that way or another way.

Cheers!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

Ok, my wife asked about responsibility, and endo had written:
...holding one responsible for her actions is a misunderstanding.

Brad had written about innocence on his blog which generated a great deal of commentary indicating this is a TOUGH problem.

Are you, endo, saying what you seem to be saying (although it sounds ludicrous) - that people shouldn't be held responsible for their actions - that there should be no system of rewards and punishments? Of course this gets into another sticky issue - morality...

Karen has written often on this subject - recently she wrote: I wonder if when we get to the end of our lives if the zen double talk will have really mattered or if it will have mattered more that we tried our best to harm the least.

Sorry to ask you to write even more words!

I think I understand Brad's view that no one is truly innocent (but then people say 'what about babies?'). But there still must be "degrees" of guilt, no?

Of all the factors that influence a person to commit a murder, that person is still, usually, more guilty than anyone else involved.

Again it seems that the world of here-and-now, the practical everyday world that biology operates in, is out of synch with 'absolute reality'...

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

to me:

you wrote, "I'm definitely not the same 'me' I was before we started :)"

Ahhhhhh..........perhaps there is hope for you yet. Just shorten the (apparent) time cycles between "now" and "then" to nothing and you may get it. ;-)

Some thoughts on yours....

You wrote, "But the gulf is still huge and I'm afraid that reading (and re-reading) your words probably won't bring complete understanding - it's like you're in the tropics and I've never been, and I'm up in the arctic, raised with nothing but snow and ice and you're describing the forest as best you can but so much of it really must be experienced to be understood. (I expect I'm not alone in saying this)."

*****We can't ever know what will happen in "the future." A sage I like once wrote, "If you want to live in terror, get yourself a future." :-)

Of course what I've been pointing to must be experienced to be Understood. Words are only pointers, not the Truth.

Either you will persist in this questioning or it will fall away, no longer begging for attention. We'll have to wait and see.

I was unable to let this go for almost four years. Through two bouts of cancer and a host of other ups and downs, I persisted and, I was blessed with meeting a teacher, an Indian sage (just a regular dude, actually, a businessman, but one who was clearly Awake). He walked with me those four years, and, as I persisted, he was there for me, through thick and thin. At some point, there was no him & me (kinda like dharma transmission) and then, there were no questions any longer. Others who met him didn't hang on long. Why not? Well, there either is or there is no *resonance*. With the teaching. With the teacher. In its absence, one just passes it all by. We'll have to see what is so for you as the moments arrive. If you wish to continue this privately, let me know (others may not feel as compelled to further follow this inquiry). If you wish, I will share with you the turning point, the moment wherein the Questioning hooked me so deeply that there was no letting go (in Advaita, a 'cousin' of zen, this is said to be when one's head goes into the tiger's mouth and the jaws clamp shut).

"I'm not going to drop it though."

*****We will see. :-))

"These comments might die down but I'll be working on this - I've swallowed that ball of hot iron... "

*****And you may digest and pass it with no further comment. Or it may kill you (a consummation devoutly to be wished!) You know...sometimes there are good deaths. ;-)

Hugs!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

to me:

boy you ARE persistent! kinda reminds me of this guy i knew four years ago :-)))) he was filled with very similar questions (about responsibility, morality, blah blah blah)...just so you know i'm not mockin' ya.

OK...you ask: "Are you, endo, saying what you seem to be saying (although it sounds ludicrous) - that people shouldn't be held responsible for their actions - that there should be no system of rewards and punishments? Of course this gets into another sticky issue - morality..."


*****Hahaha!!! you ain't gonna corral me with that ole chestnut. I'm not saying anything should or shouldn't happen. I'm pointing to what IS. People AREN'T responsible for their thoughts, nor for their actions. They don't *choose* to have the thoughts they have (and what are actions? simply thoughts that are acted on because the impulse to act was too powerful to resist).

Society, and other people, on the other hand, DO apparently hold other people responsible for their actions (some even for their thoughts...I was speaking with this catholic chick and she said in 'her religion' the thought WAS the deed...so apparently just thinkin' about bopped the UPS delivery guy was AS BIG a sing in 'her religion' as if she did "it"...go figa).

Should there be a system of rewards and punishments. Another "should." Hump! There ARE systems. Many of them. Different ones for different cultures. That's how it is on planet earth right now. I'm not saying it should or shouldn't be. If you want to know how I think, what happens in this mind. That I can answer. But theoretically? There are all kindsa theories. Pick the one that most appeals to you! :-))

You quoted Karen's comment (which I liked), "Karen has written often on this subject - recently she wrote: I wonder if when we get to the end of our lives if the zen double talk will have really mattered or if it will have mattered more that we tried our best to harm the least."

My response: we'll have to wait and see (at the end of our life). No point in speculating about what "will be."

You wrote, "I think I understand Brad's view that no one is truly innocent (but then people say 'what about babies?'). But there still must be "degrees" of guilt, no?


*****I like Brad. A lot. During one of my bouts of chemotherapy I carried on an email dialogue with him. I enjoy his writing and would love to have a few beers with him. MUCH of what he writes is spot on. But some of it is, to use his words, "stupid." He walks right to the edge of the cliff and talks without going off the edge. He sees some things so clearly and is confused mightly by others. Or perhaps it is just a teaching tool. I dunno. I do know that I disagree with him on the responsibility thingy (he's written on it a few times). When I read his words in those regards I feel like I'm listening to a right-wing conservative. "Just Say No!!"

Everyone, in my mind, is innocent. NO ONE is guilty. Everyone does stupid, harmful, hurtful things, from time to time. Some bodymind mechanisms do more atrocious things (rape, mutilate, torture, sell the Watchtower door-to-door). Disgust and revolt arise in this bodymind mechanism when such thoughts arise. Sadness too. Bottom line: no one is in charge, not on a phenomenal level, and so, no one is to blame. Intelligence dictates that a response - a humanitarian response - occur. Take the pedophile away from children, remove the whip or knife from the torturer, protect all sentient beings from cruelty where possible. THAT sounds like intelligence operating. Punishment? Nahhh. Not more me. Yes, dear, the impulse to punish, the desire to harm those who have harmed others, arises here. And there is sufficient sensitivity to KNOW where that impulse comes from and to not want to follow through with it (those "others" are really only my own self...separation is only a temporary, delusional manifestation of What IS...so...in torturing the torturer, I'm only fuckin' up myself...there is too much sanity here now to want to do that!).


Of all the factors that influence a person to commit a murder, that person is still, usually, more guilty than anyone else involved.

*****It seems that way, sure. But look more closely at the ten thousand antecendent events that led up to the murder. Nothing is as simple as it seems, except to simple minds. I (and many people I personally know) have done some really stupid things in life. Things that, in retrospect, looking back, I think "how COULD I have done THAT?!?!" If you think you are "in control," you way off the mark.


Again it seems that the world of here-and-now, the practical everyday world that biology operates in, is out of synch with 'absolute reality'...

*****Not out of synch...it is an expression of, a manifesation of, the absolute. What you are beginning to see that is out of synch is the world of thought and the world of What Is. Most humans live most of their lives in the abstract world of thought. That ain't reality. Reality is, What IS. For good or bad. That is what all the zen dudes and spiritual masters are talkin' about when they refer to wakin' up. Moving out of the realm of thought and Seeing What IS.

I remember from my years in the zen monastery...3 pm in the afternoon, hot muggy, having been doing zazen for 2 hours...dozing off...and one of the upstart young monks shouting, at the top of her voice, "WAKE UP!......wake FUCKING up!" Jeez! And yet, she was right in a way. Thank you, Myotai. (And thank you, *me*, for your persistence. Maybe there is hope for you yet!)

Cheers!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

Very interesting discussion, I must say!

Thank you, endofthedream, for putting into words thoughts that I have experienced... but do not have the ability to express. The thoughts you have written here might be the clearest explanation of the benefits of zazen that I have ever read.
Unfortunately, readers will not truly understand this until they experience it firsthand. (Just like the frog trying to describe dry land to a fish.)

Many years ago, I developed my own little technique of zazen (influenced by my reading of zen and a new idea at the time... sensory deprivation tanks).
I was living in my own apartment for the first time, so I had the opportunity to develop a quiet mind. I would fill the bathtub with warm water, turn out the lights in the bathroom, and then lie in the tub so that my ears were underwater. Every so often I would run a bit of warm water, to maintain comfort. Otherwise, I just let my thoughts drop away. But I would remain vividly awake and aware. After a couple of months of this, it became easy to just "be". I could sense thoughts arising and falling. I observed them, but did not give them energy.
Gradually, my thoughts became clearer and clearer. My mind became much more quiet. I lived more consciously in the moment of Now than ever before. I became aware of my own illusions. I was able to trace thoughts back to their origins... seeing how I fed a tiny thought until it appeared to have a life of its own. I noticed how I affected others in every interpersonal interaction, as each day happened. I became more responsible in my actions, realizing that most people were lost in the relative world of thought, and were thus vulnerable to my input. I realized that everything effects everything else. I became truly alive for the first time in my life... yet realized that it was illusory.
Everything I had read about zen and buddhism and taoism suddenly made sense. I understood what people had been trying to communicate about ultimate reality. And I realized that I would have to continue the practice of zazen every day, or else I would get lost in the world of relativity again.

Thank you very much "endo", for reminding me. Your words are very clear and very helpful. This is a very difficult thing to explain. You have done a wonderful job. Please continue to do so.

p.s.
I think the original post concerned evolution and zen. I am currently reading a book called "The Rebirth of Nature" by Rupert Sheldrake. I think Sheldrake's thoughts might be helpful, or at least make one think a bit.
Here is a quote from and interview with Sheldrake:
"... the universe is not in a steady state; there's an ongoing creative principle in nature, which is driving things onwards. Cosmologically speaking, this is the expansion of the universe. If the universe had been in a steady state at the moment of the Big Bang, it'd still be at billions of degrees centigrade. We wouldn't be here. The reason we're here is because the Big Bang involved a colossal explosion, an outward movement of expansion of the whole universe, such that it cooled down, and virtually created more space for new things to happen. And in the ongoing evolutionary process, there's a constant destabilization of what's there through the fact that the universe is not in equilibrium.
This ongoing process in the whole of nature in itself tends to break up old patterns, and prevent things just stopping where they were. You see it in the history of the earth, the ongoing evolutionary process, through the catastrophic changes that have happened to the earth through the impact of asteroids and so on.
The cumulative nature of the evolutionary process, the fact that memory is preserved, means that life grows not just through a random proliferation of new forms, but there's a kind of cumulative quality. You start with single-celled organisms, and you end with complex multi-cellular ones, like there are today. New species arise usually when new opportunities appear, and the biggest bursts of speciation that we know about in the history of the earth are soon after great cataclysms, like the extinction of the dinosaurs, which create new opportunities, and all sorts of new forms spring up. Thereafter they tend to be fairly stable. So, quite often, the reasons for creativity depend on accidents or disasters that prevent the normal habits being carried out."

And...

I don't think that morphic fields are conscious. I think that some aspects of morphic fields could become conscious in human beings.
I think that the underlying patterns of mental activity that are ideas, thoughts, etc., depend on our morphic fields. I think they become conscious in us. But most of the collective unconscious, most of our habits, and most of the habits of nature, I think, are unconscious, and most of nature, I think, works much more like our unconscious minds than like our conscious minds. And after all, 90%, maybe 99%, of our own activity is unconscious. We don't need to assume that the kind of unconscious memories that we ourselves have are any different from the rest of nature.
We needn't assume that just because we have some conscious memories, all of the memory of nature must be conscious. In fact, most of our memories are unconscious, as are most of our habits, like the habit of speaking English, for example, the way one speaks, one's mannerisms, one's accent, or the habit of driving a car. When you drive a car, you don't have to be conscious of every muscular movement, or everything you're doing. Those habits unfold spontaneously. And the more deep-seated biological habits, like the functioning of our bodies, and our heartbeat, and the way our guts our working are completely unconscious to most of us."

and...

"If memories are stored in the brain then there's no possibility of conscious, or even unconscious survival of bodily death, because if memories are in the brain, the brain decays at death, and your memories must be wiped out through the decay of the brain. No form of survival in any shape or form, even through reincarnation, would be possible in such a scenario. That's one reason why materialists are so attached to the idea of memory storage in the brain, because it refutes all religions in a two line argument. But, in fact, there's very little evidence they're stored in the brain.
So if they're not stored in the brain then the memories won't decay at death, but there'll still have to be something that can tune into them, or gain access to them. So could some tuning system, could some non-physical aspect of the self survive death and still gain access to the memories? That's the big question. I regard it as an open question. I myself think that we do survive bodily death in some form, and that some aspect of the self does survive with access to memories. And that's a personal opinion. The theory as such leaves this question quite open."

(Sorry for such along post.)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

Me said,

"However, I disagree with endofthedream in that I think that althought impermanence is the rule, there is something that continues from moment to moment which we call the self - even if it's an illusion! It continues - it's a continuing illusion."

In a swift river, you can tell there's a rock just below the surface by looking for the standing wave. It's a stationary wave that just sits there in the middle of a smooth stream, caused by the rock disrupting the current.

The wave has no identity, it's not a real thing: it's made of different water from second to second. No particle of water "belongs" to it. It is not the river, it is not the rock. Yet you can treat it as if it were a thing: canoeists will know every standing wave on a certain stretch of the stream. They can map them out and give them names, and discuss them as if they were entities: "That one's harmless, but this one over here is killer. If there's froth on top of it, stay well clear." The water level changes with the seasons, and the standing waves change accordingly.

Likewise with the self: every instant it arises and decays, nothing in it persists from moment to moment -- and yet it can be treated as a real entity. It's there every day and the changes in it seem slow. You can say, "I'm not the same man I was a year ago," and that's a sane thing to say, even if it's true that you're not the same man you were an instant ago.

Like the self, the standing wave is real; like the self, it's an illusion; like the self, it persists; like the self, it doesn't persist; like the self, it is just the outworking of causes.

If we're in a deterministic universe, this is as close to an enduring self as you're gonna get. In that case, endo is quite right when he says,

"... we have no control over thought nor our actions (which arise out of thought). And ... holding one responsible for her actions is a misunderstanding."

And yet, and yet, and yet: one must act. One makes choices, one speaks and thinks of "I," one corrects the child or the student, one chooses chocolate over vanilla, one sits zazen or one doesn't.

A philosophy that cannot be lived is suspect.

If you want to hold the ax murderer responsible for his actions, it you think "he" "chose" to do "evil," if you want to jail him, then you're not a determinist. If you despise the pedophile priest or the philandering Zen master, then ipso facto you can't be a pure determinist.

Endo's stance is consistent, but not even the High Rinpoche Roshi Swami Dalai Whoeverthelell can brush his teeth in the morning without acting as if it were not so.

This doesn't mean that it's not true.

-----

Me said,

"Rot-13. re: The metaphysics of Buddhism. Is this where the religion Buddhism parts ways with the practice of zazen? I thought that the practice of Zen does not involve necessarily accepting any metaphysical beliefs. Of course it doesn't preclude having such beliefs either."

Important distinction you've touched on, Me. Zazen is a practice. Zen is a religion.

Western Zennies tend to think that Zen is without metaphysical beliefs, but that's just plain false. The Heart Sutra is as doctrinally loaded as the Athanasian Creed. It's a statement of faith: it makes a bunch of assertions that are no way provable, but that define the "us" of Zen. "Our belief in these things is what makes us Zennies."

Zen is like other forms of Buddhism in that it stands on a metaphysical foundation that can't be proven, only accepted or not. Take away the metaphysical underpinnings, and Zen topples (but zazen does not).

I suspect that the West wants Zen to be nondogmatic because most Western Zennies are disappointed Christians and Jews. They've had it up to here with empty doctrine, with some authority figure or other laying down The Law. Fifty years ago, when Zen first made inroads in the West, the missionaries saw this and accommodated us: they said, "Look, you can believe whatever you want and still practice zazen."

And that's true. Zazen has no philosophical content, it's just a technique.

For centuries, western Christianity has ignored its own contemplative tradition. In so doing, it has left an entire side of human nature unfed. Now here come some Japanese guys, teaching us to sit zazen and see what happens -- forget doctrine, just sit -- and lo, we discover that it's good. And it's good no matter what our philosophy.

But that's zazen, not Zen. Of course Zen is dogmatic. The Four Noble Truths, on which everything else depends, are nothing if not dogma. That doesn't say they're right or wrong, only that they are matters of faith, not proof.

Admirable people like Nishijima keep saying that zazen is Zen. They're right in the same way as one could rightly say that prayer is Christianity. But read Nishijima and you'll find dogma aplenty. When he says that zazen is Zen, what he means is that if you sit zazen you'll eventually realize the truth of Zen -- dogma and all.

-----

endo said,

"The common understanding would be to say that you put your foot down into the SAME stream. But, of course, if you LOOK closely, you'll understand that there isn't any SAME stream."

The old philosopical observation: you can't step into the same stream twice. The better statement: you can't step into it even once, since "stream" is an illusion, just a label for a bunch of water in a certain state. The Buddhist assertion: you can't step into it even once, because "you" are just as illusory as "stream."

-----

Waaaay too many words. Sorry. But it's delightful to discuss this stuff with serious, intelligent people.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Hey eardrum ~

I too am a big fan of Sheldrake. I discovered him about ten years ago when I became involved in watching tapes of David Bohm and Krishnamurti. I like his theories and think he's onto something regarding the relationship between humans and animals. But he doesn't go far enough. However, within the realm of phenomenality, he rocks. :-)

And you are spot on when you note that all this talk-talk, which perhaps helpful for some, won't produce insight. Something..........else...is needed. And that something is not up to us. Even the desire to pursue such a path is not our choosing. A thought arises. No guarantee it is acted on or actualized. It's not like we're in control: we are not the drivers; we are that which is driven.

You write that as a result of your sensory deprivation experiments (not zazen by the way) that "I lived more consciously in the moment of Now than ever before." I respectfully submit that Now is all there is. Even when you're doing dishes and day-dreaming about that wonderful pie-a-la-mode you had 20 minutes earlier (and wishing for another slice!), that daydreaming is NOW....the contents of the daydream are of the past, sure, but the actually daydreaming is happening Now...nothing happens other than Now...there's no escaping it.

You wrote "I realized that everything effects everything else."

*****Eggs-actly. That is because there is only one Thing (call it what you will, God, Source, Totality, Consciousness). It is one unified field. We are not merely interconnect; we are *that* which IS interconnected.

You wrote "I became truly alive for the first time in my life... yet realized that it was illusory. "

*****Excellent! It sounds like you got it (or it, you). Now.......got out any play with the other kids! It's a fascinating life, eh?

Cheers!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Hi rot-13...

Compelling post. Some comments on yours.

*****First...for me, not too many words. When that happens either I'll stop typing, or stop reading the posts, or both. But I agree, the words are not the thing. Talking about meditation is way different that actually DOING zazen. But to exchange notional ideas, words are required. The conflict between the two is nicely articulated when one views two respected zen texts side by side: Richard Strobe's "Open Mouth, Already A Mistake," and Katagiri's "You've Got To Say Something."

You wrote, "In a swift river, you can tell there's a rock just below the surface by looking for the standing wave. It's a stationary wave that just sits there in the middle of a smooth stream, caused by the rock disrupting the current."

*****Yes, I know of standing waves. But - and please correct me if I'm wrong (I'm sure you will!) - the actual molecular constituents of that "standing" wave also change, moment to moment. The wave appears to be a single, unchanging form, but water is actually rushing up and over the rock, ongoing, and thus it isn't a persisting individual wave; the fluid that makes it up changes as the water moves over the rock.

You wrote, "The wave has no identity, it's not a real thing: it's made of different water from second to second."

*****Right! "Wave" is a mental construct, and abstraction. The actual thing is...not! :-) Excellent dissection. Thanks.


You wrote, "Likewise with the self: every instant it arises and decays, nothing in it persists from moment to moment -- and yet it can be treated as a real entity."

*****Oh, it most certainly is! :-))

You wrote "It's there every day and the changes in it seem slow."

*****What is "there" every day? You've clearly shown that the self is not real so what is there that is "there" every day?

You wrote "You can say, "I'm not the same man I was a year ago," and that's a sane thing to say, even if it's true that you're not the same man you were an instant ago. Like the self, the standing wave is real; like the self, it's an illusion; like the self, it persists; like the self, it doesn't persist; like the self, it is just the outworking of causes."


*****Well...that is why I inquired above about the standing wave. My understanding -- and I could be wrong -- is that the standing wave is not a single, unchanging entity. The water flowing over the rock does change, moment to moment; it's just that the appearance is of a "standing" (unchanging) wave. Assuming this is accurate, the standing wave is NOT real; or, it's as real as the mirage of an oasis in the desert. From my understanding of "standing wave" I would say it is a thought, a mental construct, and such an object doesn't exist "in reality" (thus not real), at least, not real in the way that an "orange" is real.

You wrote, "If we're in a deterministic universe, this is as close to an enduring self as you're gonna get. In that case, endo is quite right when he says,

"... we have no control over thought nor our actions (which arise out of thought). And ... holding one responsible for her actions is a misunderstanding."

And yet, and yet, and yet: one must act. One makes choices, one speaks and thinks of "I," one corrects the child or the student, one chooses chocolate over vanilla, one sits zazen or one doesn't."

*****One acts only if that is in one's nature to act. Given a particular circumstance, the individual innate condition-in-the-moment will dictate how the organism "behaves," and that behavior may be to act or not to act.

You wrote, "A philosophy that cannot be lived is suspect."

*****This is not a philosophy. I am offering pointers, provocative notions that may get a person to look at what was not looked at before, to examine what was taken for granted previously, to explore unquestioned beliefs.


You wrote "If you want to hold the ax murderer responsible for his actions, it you think "he" "chose" to do "evil," if you want to jail him, then you're not a determinist.

*****Why not? You miss the point I think. Just as the ax murderer's actions arise from his/her innate conditioning-in-the-moment, so does the desire to jail him/her. One who Understands the scenario of phenomenality does not escape the "laws" of phenomenality. Conditioned beings ARE conditioned. From birth to death. Period. (True, all beings are something...more...than their conditioning; but in the relative world of this-and-that, they ARE conditioned.)

You wrote, "If you despise the pedophile priest or the philandering Zen master, then ipso facto you can't be a pure determinist. "

*****Again, you miss the point. Just as the pedophile priest's arise out of the innate condition-in-the-moment that he/she is, so are the emotional reactions (to despise) that arise in one witnessing the priest's behavior (or learning of it). A pedophile, hearing of the priest's action, would most likely feel envy. A non-pedophile, probably would feel disgust. The feeling (emotion-thought) is a function of the individual innate conditioning-in-the-moment.


You wrote, "Endo's stance is consistent, but not even the High Rinpoche Roshi Swami Dalai Whoeverthelell can brush his teeth in the morning without acting as if it were not so."

*****Don't be too sure. You can only speak for yourself.

You wrote, "Zazen is a practice. Zen is a religion."

*****I'm not so certain. I've read descriptions of zen (and lived in a zen monastery) so my experience is somewhat broad. I think the only way you can definitively say "zen is a religion" is if you first define "religion" and show how zen matches that. And you'd probably be hard put to do so since there are several "versions" of zen in practice. Frankly, I don't care, but that's my two cents.

You wrote, "Admirable people like Nishijima keep saying that zazen is Zen. They're right in the same way as one could rightly say that prayer is Christianity. But read Nishijima and you'll find dogma aplenty."

*****Absolutely! The only spiritual teaching that I know of that is absent dogma is Advaita which is a descriptive, not prescriptive, tool. Advaita (which shares much with "pure" zen), describes what's so, with no underlying assertions about why what is, is what it is. (Huh?) :-)

endo said,

"The common understanding would be to say that you put your foot down into the SAME stream. But, of course, if you LOOK closely, you'll understand that there isn't any SAME stream."

The old philosopical observation: you can't step into the same stream twice. The better statement: you can't step into it even once, since "stream" is an illusion, just a label for a bunch of water in a certain state.

*****You're almost there. "Stream" is not an illusion; it is an abstraction, a mental construct for something that - as you point out - is ever-changing. But good observation!

You wrote" "The Buddhist assertion: you can't step into it even once, because "you" are just as illusory as "stream."

*****Nice. Very nice. OK. I won't quibble. Stepping into a flowing body of water can happen. How's that? ;-))))

Excellent, excellent post, insights, conversation, dialogue. Thank you! It is what I came for.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

A few tidbits I hadn't gotten to yet:

Rot-13 said But biology isn't all that goes on inside a human. About the universal religious nature of mankind, biology has not much to say.

So... what else goes on inside a human besides biology? (I think this is the same thing as asking you to answer the question "What exists that cannot be detected?")

Regading the universal religious nature of mankind biology has volumes to say. Richard Dawkins, a prominent evolutionary biologist, has written a good deal on the subject for the public. He tends to view religions as akin to a virus but the virus replicates via memes (ideas) rather than genes. He tends to ignore a possible Darwinian advantage to religion but E. O. Wilson, another top biologist and writer for the public, explained the advantages of religion from an evolutionary perspective quite clearly in his book "On Human Nature" - a fairly depressing account of humanity but terribly accurate.

Wilson is famous for his work in sociobiology - which explains the social animals within an evolutionary framework. He then extended his work from ants and birds etc to humans. Lots of people like to ignore the fact that we're ape descendents but without this evolutionary framework a lot of human behavior cannot be properly explained. We are animals despite so many people's beliefs that we're some sort of realized idea of a omnipotent god.

And here is were there is a weakness in zen or so it seems to me. So much zen literature and thought would 'fit' the idea of us having a divine origin rather than the idea that we evolved from apes. Which, in my view, is a problem.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

Rot-13 said Does Zen even claim to help us "discard the beliefs programmed into us genetically?"

Again back to my thesis - that the illusion we all have that there is a persistant self and 'things' around us is the product of our genetic makeup. Our genes simply couldn't build functional bodies without this illusion of continuity in our consciousness.

Without the illusion of continuity we would be scared shitless that the world was actually vanishing everytime we blinked our eyes.

Although I've heard good commentary on how zen helps one awaken from this illusion no one seems to care why we have this illusion in the first place. And some have even gone so far as to dismiss it as unimportant (or as I think endo did, suggest a 'story' that ignores evolution and biology entirely).

endo and rot-13 seems to have suggested that one cannot be freed from their genetic programming. I agree in part, of course most of that programming is vital to our basic physiology and sanity - but some of it isn't.

Some of that programming is of the form "I am a self, I need food, I need to mate, I need to fight to protect myself and my territory" -These ideas are not unique to people. They are seen in almost all social animals, they have a genetic basis.

When one is awakened I suspect one associates more with the universe than with one's own body - and this is totally contrary to one's genetic programming.

Thus my argument is, in other words, that zen awakening is an attempt to use our consciousness to perceive reality in a way that our genes would disaprove of...

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

Me said,

"So... what else goes on inside a human besides biology? (I think this is the same thing as asking you to answer the question 'What exists that cannot be detected?')"

Some things that can't be detected can still be known. (Or sensed, or experienced, or intuited, if you prefer.)

But again, as I've already said: it's senseless to try and discuss metaphysics in terms of physics. If you've decided a priori that all reality is physical, you can save a lot of time by avoiding metaphysical discussions.

I'm not being snide, by the way. I'm serious.

Me said,

"Regading the universal religious nature of mankind biology has volumes to say."

Not really, no. The writers you mention have their own, unstated religious dogmas. It's silly to pretend that Dawkins approaches the subject with anything like the vaunted scientific objectivity. As you describe him, he's just another religious propagandist. Wilson is more level-headed, I think. But to explain the evolutionary advantages of religion is to say nothing, nothing, nothing about religion's truth or falsity. Logic 101.

Me said,

"We are animals despite so many people's beliefs that we're some sort of realized idea of a omnipotent god."

Fair enough: if that's your own (religious) creed, then by all means stick to it. But if you'll allow me to point out the obvious: if there were an omnipotent god, the physical sciences wouldn't be able to detect him. And if the universe were his creation, the physical sciences wouldn't be seeing anything different from what they see right now.

IOW (yet again I say) by definition, the physical sciences have nothing to say about metaphysics.

Me said,

"Thus my argument is, in other words, that zen awakening is an attempt to use our consciousness to perceive reality in a way that our genes would disaprove of..."

Wait ... your "consciousness" acting contrary to your genes ... aren't you the guy saying there's nothing going on but biology? What's this thing inside you that's going contrary to your genes?

Me said,

"So much zen literature and thought would 'fit' the idea of us having a divine origin rather than the idea that we evolved from apes. Which, in my view, is a problem."

Nah, not a problem. Zen denies a divine origin of anything. No god in Zen. It fits nicely with the idea of evolution. In fact, it fits well with a lot of different cosmologies.

But come to that, the Buddha was pretty sensible on questions like the Origin Of It All. He didn't answer them. Instead he said, "Don't know, don't care, not important. Knowing the answer to that wouldn't help you attain liberation. Fugeddaboudit."

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

Rot-13, I follow your arguments. As a scientist the whole notion of something other than the physical world is nothing but fluff - that's what we should forgedabout - fluff which we can't talk about because there's nothing solid under the words. This is why I say that these biologists have a lot to say about religion - religious folk and philosophers can toss the fluff back and forth but all they end up with is fluff in different shapes. Biologists can actually explain why there is religion - although it is an explanation that doesn't satisfy most folks who 'feel' (want/hope) there must be something more than the physical.

But I'm ready to drop this because as you say - I can save a lot of time by not getting into the metaphysical.

However, although I think you understood most of what I said, and I think I have done the same for you (tell me if I'm wrong) - this one point stood out as a misunderstanding of my view:

you said Wait ... your "consciousness" acting contrary to your genes ... aren't you the guy saying there's nothing going on but biology? What's this thing inside you that's going contrary to your genes?

I think you're working from what we call an adaptationist view - the notion that every aspect of an organism exists to benefit the organism in the Darwinian struggle for survival. No decent biologist thinks this - we are well aware that organisms posses tons of 'junk' traits that don't necessarily benefit them but aren't weened from the gene pool because they aren't terribly detrimental either. There are lots of redundant features of organisms (multiple versions of the same sort of gene or adaptation - and this redundancy allows evolution to tinker with bodies without ruining them). And along these lines it's quite possible for a biologically advantageous trait in one context to be disadvantageous in another context (just ask the peacock...)

So, regading the consciousness, I say it's an adaptation like the large antlers of an elk - so yes, it's beneficial to survival. BUT, it should be obvious that people 'use' this 'tool', the consciousness, for things other than simply benefiting their reproductive success. There is apparently nothing in programming to stop us from doing this. We may have urges not to kill ourself, and these urges are certainly genetically based, but we can over-ride these urges and commit suicide if we wish.

Or sit zazen when our bodies are saying, "Hey, feed me, WTF is going on here?"

Hopefully that clarifies my position on this issue. I really don't like the term 'determinism' which it seems people are equating with a purely physical universe (if there are no metaphysics then life is deterministic) - I say no, it's probabilistic. All about probabilities... and I'm approaching a 100% probability to decide to stop writing and get some food.

Thanks again!

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Me, you wrote "endo and rot-13 seems to have suggested that one cannot be freed from their genetic programming."

Let me be clear. Genetics CAN change. Chemotherapy does that. And random radiation present all around us in the atmosphere does that. Thus we get mutated cells and, on occasion, cancer.

What is being pointed out is that we are two aspects. Simultaneously. It gets confusing when the aspects are cojoined. On the one hand there is the absolute, what many spiritual traditions (esp. Eastern) point to as the Unborn, the Monobloc, Totality. This is all (All) that is 'really' Real. But, as it is all things and everything, there is no differentiation possible (can the eye see itself?...no, only with the help of a reflecting tool...can a knife cut itself?...it can only 'do' knifing in the presence of another object). Forget about attempting to 'find' one's True Self since it is all things and everything.

Then there is an apparent (and illusory) world of the relative. This is where we move, live, breathe, and die. It is real. As real as thought. ;-)) In the context of the relative world, what we (sentient beings) are is the sum total of the innate conditioning-in-the-moment. This changes, of course, moment to moment, and thus we are never a single, stable, abiding person. Nothing, in the relative world, is. The only constant in the universe is change. But most of us are so wired as not to be able to see this. It's not that we cannot be freed from the innate conditioning-the-moment. Properly Understood, it will be Seen that we ARE (all that we are) IS the innate conditioning-the-moment (which includes a genetic component).

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

A book I stumbled across that is related to this thread:

Strangers to Ourselves : Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious - by Timothy D. Wilson

Apparently he doesn't go so far as to say there is no free will but he emphasizes that our consciousness is a fairly weak and small portion of our "self" - most of which is our unconscious.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

Another related book (That I think endo would like):

The Illusion of Conscious Will
by Daniel M. Wegner

But a criticism from one of the reviewer's sounds familiar:

I will be surprised if this this theory turns out to be ultimately correct, mostly because Wegner seems to lack an adequate general theory of consciousness and its functions within which to house and understand will. Consciousness did not arise for no reason--any trait that occurs at a rate above chance must be naturally selected, hence evolutionarily important, and consciousness occurs in about 100% of humans and apparently huge numbers of other animal species.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

well i know that it's just wheels spinning but i do still love philosophy for what it is:

to call X (like our conception of free will) an illusion is to assume that there is a Y that is not an illusion which X can then be compared to. ie. a stick looking bent when underwater can only be called an illusion because we recognise that the way it looks in air is real or normal. however because of this fact the statement 'freewill is an illusion' is meaningless because there is no Y that can be commonly agreed upon as being what is the real or normal case when we are discussing the nature of free will.

There is no way in which free will can be called illusory if there is no tangible ‘real’ state to compare it to. In order to do this we would need a frame of reference that could be called real from which we could stand and objectively view our experience of free will and point to it and say, ‘ that is an illusion and I know this because this is real'. this is impossible to do since this would require a God’s eye view of how the world really is.


i like this:

a deer lives in a park that has a fence around it that is so far away from the deer that he will never encounter the fence because even if he walked towards it for his entire life he would die before reaching the fence.

is this deer free to roam where he wishes or is he imprisoned by the fence?

this fence is like the idea that we are not free. we will never encounter the fence. we can never prove that the fence exists and we can never prove that it doesnt. if we have no proof either way but accept that the question of the fence's existence can have no bearing on the choices we make, does it then make sense to argue about whether the fence exists or not?

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

But Dan, isn't the whole 'waking' up thing an attempt to see that fence? To see reality beyond the 'doors of perception', beyond the illusion that there is a distinct self?

I don't claim to be awakened but from what I've read about it your phrase:

this is impossible to do since this would require a God’s eye view of how the world really is.

sounds a lot like what people describe 'enlightenment' to be - having a God's eye view of reality.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

the statement enlightenment exists is false
the statement enlightenment does not exist is also false. having said that saying that it does not exist is probably harder to misunderstand. i don't believe that anyone will ever see the fence (or not see it if it turns out it doesnt exist) or that anyone has ever seen the fence. how could they? enlightenment is not some supreme god like state that we acheieve and are then able to look down at the world and be omniscient. as gudo nishijima said, eating an orange is real enlightenment!

there is no beyond. there just is

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger me said...

There's still unanswered questions on this thread for me - but first I'd like to take another stab at the whole determinism / free will debate. I am new to this debate and from what I've read it seems that folks have hashed this one out over and over (thus Dan's grief about doing it again...)

However, one thought struck me and that is "why does it have to be one or the other?"

Can't the conscious, as small and weak as it is relative to the unconscious, interact with the unconscious? Why can't we have a free will that is of variable strength - some organisms, like insects, are mostly hard-wired with instinct. These are the true organic robots that perform the same behavior given the same stimulus every time.

There is a scale up which one can move towards humans who have a much stronger consciousness and much stronger free will - but this 'will' is not 100% free. It is bound by tons of limits imposed by circumstances and conditioning and genes etc. It is only partially 'free' - and the 'conditioning' that is buired in the unconscious can be influenced heavily by the will.

For example. Let's say a person has the choice of going to a university for 4 years or going to the army. Let's say the person feels torn by the decision so much that each option is getting 50% support from the unconscious. So the person makes a decision using their conscious mind (and yes, endo, I know that that decision, the thoughts, pop up from the unconscious....). That decision will lead to a series of life-events that will shape that person's unconscious considerably. So all future interactions between the conscious and the unconscious will be influenced by this one 'conscious' decision.

I guess I hate dichotomies. I suspect most are false or at least unhelpful over-simplifications of reality.

This is why my description above appeals to me:

1. There is a free will

2. It's not as free as most would like

3. Most of our free will is driven by biology, circumstances, etc outside of our conscious control

4. Thus life is mostly 'deterministic', but not entirely so - it is more probabilistic - there are probabilities associated with every option considered - dice are rolled - the thought might randomly go down a different neuron and trigger an outcome purely by chance (of a limited number of possible outcomes). The unconscious may be the source of all thoughts but the conscious can 'pick' among the thoughts popping up from the unconscious.

5. Zen allows one to see this all happening rather than procede in ignorance - unaware of how one's consciousness relates to the unconscious and the external world

6. But it's so subtle and poorly understood that most folks, even most zennies, will continue to disagree and feel strongly they are correct

Have a good day!

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Me ~ ..... you're getting closer, but not there yet. ;-)

You wrote, "Thus life is mostly 'deterministic', but not entirely so - it is more probabilistic - there are probabilities associated with every option considered - dice are rolled - the thought might randomly go down a different neuron and trigger an outcome purely by chance (of a limited number of possible outcomes). The unconscious may be the source of all thoughts but the conscious can 'pick' among the thoughts popping up from the unconscious."


*****I don't disagree with the probablistic understanding. Where you veer off the 'straight and narrow' is the last phrase, "the conscious can 'pick' among the thoughts popping up from the unconscious."

You still wanna hold onto the cherished (and deeply embedded) illusion of personal doership, of being the Author. The conscious is a stage on which the actors (thoughts) perform their act. The conscious is a repository or, better yet, a film screen, on which the movie characters (thoughts) are splashed and "realized" by the bodymind mechanism. Does a movie screen have any 'say' in what is displayed on it? Neither does the conscious part of the mind, the one that believes (fallaciously) that it is the entity creating the thoughts. It acts out of the belief that it is the driver when, in fact, it is the driven.

Now, which particular thoughts have dominance, which reach and spill into the conscious region of the brain is, of course, probablistic. The weight of probability is determined at every moment, founded on the innate conditioning-in-the-moment of the particular bodymind mechanism. Far, far too complex for us to ever understand or predicate. But control it, we can not. We can't, in fact, control anything. We are responsive mechanisms, programmed by our genetics and the billions of resulting sensory inputs that constitute our "life."

Continue your exploration if you are still inspired to. You may find much release at the end. Or not.

 
At March 21, 2006, Blogger mobilefilter said...

i come here with nothing to post and whilst here see nothing. i passed through training called zen and much clever metaphysics of small and big complex kinds and all were fully inefficient. no longer do i look for support from symbols on the walls of what i call my head. instead i support myself and wander freely in the wilderness. i have no books at all to watch instead i watch my step. if you could be masters of yourself like this then we would all be very healthy. have a nice day please!

 
At March 28, 2006, Blogger catshopalong said...

I can't help but suspect that endofdream, in spite of the way he continuosly speaks from the perspective of someone enlightened, is still suffering from confusion about the self (or that when he knocks it down he's attacking straw men).

We are decision-making machines. Every day is a continuous process of choices. Granted, the universe may be purely deterministic and one might want to conclude then that free will is an illusion, but it's not-- rather, free will is a persepective. It's the perspective of limited information. All of us, being unable to take account of every subatomic particle in existence at once, cannot see clearly how things will happen. If we could we would have no concept of "choice" or "decision." But our brains are limited in their understanding and the information available to them, so we make decisions. So does free will exist? Of course. Bees stung us last time we went to a tree, so this time we go to a different one, etc. Is free will an illusion? No, it's a perspective. It's the human one. (Read "Is God a Taoist?" for a good encapsulation of this if I wasn't clear).

Second, this whole bit about the self being illusory. You seem to approach this from two angles:

First, the whole river concept and the idea of continuous change. Think of the self in light of a book, then. 200 pages in and it's a different page than the one before, no? Yes, it's even a different page than five minutes ago. But it's the same story! The wife you welcome home in the evening is the same story you sent off with a kiss in the morning. A different "page" but the same story. So don't reject everything based on the idea of impernanence and ever-changing, because there are themes in this world, patterns, and being one ourselves doesn't mean we're any less real.

Second, you talk about the whole dichotomy between the conscious and subconscious, saying the latter is equivalent to a movie projected on a wall. I'd say that's a fairly good analogy, but you take up certain conclusions from it that I don't agree with. I think much about the nature of consciousness still has to be figured out before one can talk like you do. For example, conscious thought does not occur in a separate place in the brain than subconscious thought. Nonetheless, you keep tossing off phrases like "you don't exist" but who exactly are you talking to? Do you think you're just talking to my conscious? Because that's the only case in which you could say I don't exist. But, of course, you're not talking to my consciousness. My consciousness is just my brain talking to itself. But my brain is an active, choice-making, thinking thing that is not illusory and is fully in control of this body. And, personally, I consider this body to be me. It is my self. Consciousness doesn't enter into any of this! And all this talk of illusion becomes a little tiresome and simple-minded, no? Like beating a straw man to death. A more modern and realistic concept of the self doesn't really fall into these traps.

At least that's my take. Is consciousness an illusion? Everything is an illusion. Reality is an internally consistent interpretation.

 
At March 28, 2006, Blogger catshopalong said...

One other thing: this notion of being different from one moment to the next is being taken a bit too far here. Let's use some common sense and scientific thinking:

The brain is an information system and so long as all neurons in it are the same in one moment as they were at the previous one, then the mind is functionally the same at both moments. It is the same brain, and thus the same self. It may be thinking different thoughts, but it's the same mind. It doesn't matter if certain molecules or electrons or what-have-you particles have degraded since then because neurons operate on a higher level than that! So long as the neurons are functionally the same (no matter if some atoms or ions are missing or now present), then the mind is the same in that moment as it was in the previous one. Think of it as a train network: the tracks may degrade and change from instant to instant, but so long as each track is still operational, the train network has not changed! River and stream analogies aren't of much use there, are they?

This idea that everything is always changing is a nice philosophical idea, yes, but it can be taken too far. I can put a can of fruit in a closet for 40 years and assume that when I open it again it will be the same can of fruit. Have some of the molecules changed? Some of those little quantum particles squirmed around unpredictably? Sure they have! But is it still functionally the same can of fruit? Yes. So does anyone need care about the impernanence of the can of fruit or compare it to a river? Not if you don't spill it.

Impernanence is an important lesson for dealing with problems of attachment, but it's not very practical. And life, being a process of filtering information and dealing with probabilities, is all about being practical.

So if thinking of yourself as "not existing" helps you to deal with things, fine. Go for it. But this isn't a "higher path" (who says we're measured by our thoughts, anyway?). Dealing with yourself as being a real thing is just as valid an interpretation (so long as you embrace your entire mind and body in your definition of self, because otherwise you'll run into problems and illusions that are indeed easy to fall into). So people that don't embrace this sort of no-self philosophy still have happy meaningful lives. It's not necessary to think in that kind of rhetoric, about illusion and impernanence. You can also just simply be, without thinking about any of this, and use your mind (not drawing artificial distinctions between "me" and the rest of my brain and body, of course). Such a life and mental framework can be EQUALLY authentic (and I think less likely to discount important and real emotions that overzealous labelling as illusion may discount).

Hope that doesn't read as a rant.

 

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