Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Sense of Separation

Something you might consider...

If you're here, reading (and perhaps posting), you are surely familiar with the notion that All is One, or we are One. This is the basic tenet of all teachings founded on nonduality (and zen is one of these teachings).

And yet, I don't feel the hunger of a starving child halfway across the world in South Asia. I don't feel the post-chemotherapy sickness of a cancer patient halfway across the country. I don't even feel the headache of the person sitting next to me on a bus, even if we are in physical contact.

To be sure, there are some people who say they feel some (or all) of these things. Perhaps they do. Though I can't imagine how they could survive feeling all the world's pain.

But I surely don't. Certainly I can imagine another's pain. I can fantasize about it, and, in doing so, possibly create a similar sensation in this bodymind mechanism (isn't the mind is an amazing tool!). But that is thought functioning, imagination operating, and not a Reality of genuinely knowing another's pain.

So, if we are all, actually One, how is it we don't actually feel, experience, know our neighbor's pain, distress, upset, fear? If we are all, actually One, how is it that we do all the senseless, stupid, mean, vile, cruel things that we do to each other, and other sentient beings?

Some might answer, "We behave as we do because don't know that we're One." And why is that? When did that not-knowing happen? Or was it always there, from birth? (A psychotherapist I worked with was fond of saying We're always in our own blind spot.)

And finally, consider: if, in fact, the above explanation is accurate (we behave as we do because we are not aware that we are One), it is certainly not an "unawareness" that we made happen, that we chose to import into our localized consciousness. So then what makes us think we can do anything to dispel it, that we have the power to do something (pray, meditate, chant, bow, do affirmations), that will lift the hypnotic trance which encapsulates (and defines) us?

19 Comments:

At March 15, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

So, if we are all, actually One, how is it we don't actually feel, experience, know our neighbor's pain, distress, upset, fear?

What does 'we are one' mean? If it is true it evidently doesn't mean that we are telepathic or that reality is homogenous soup or that there is no differentiation or distance.

Are we 'one' at all? Or is that just an idea we get from somewhere?

 
At March 15, 2007, Blogger me said...

Good post & glad to see you again.

This post speaks to my stance that the duality we feel is a product of the economics of our genes. DNA is a senseless molecule that propegates itself into future generations without intention simply because those solutions (such as a strong sense of self/duality) that work, work and those that don't aren't here.

The strong sense of self is an adaptation to keep a conscious mind attentive to the fate of its genes. Have you heard of people who can't feel pain? these people don't live long - they mutilate themselves unintentionally and die of infections etc. Pain is an adaptation too.

Our selfishness, which is the greatest source of misery for humanity, is due 100% to our genes - but our genes are a product of the universe itself, to the 'everything is one' of totality.

So, we behave in our genes best interests most of the time, but religions like Zen try to help people shift their focus from their self to the greater source to which we also belong.

Losing one's self-focused view is hard, or possibly impossible, except temporarily.

And Justin - 'we are one' is inescapably true unless someone can demonstrate that a person or thing has its source or origin outside of the cosmos. Everything that is here, all the mass & energy, is part of the same thing - the cosmos/universe. And so far as we can tell, there's only the one.

 
At March 15, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

That's a great koan, Endo. Wish I could offer more, but here's the best I can do under current conditions:

That sense of separation is what defines us as individuals. Just like my hand feels no pain as a result of my sinus infection, but my head sure does hurt!

 
At March 15, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

We exist both separately from each other and as different aspects of this here whole.

"I" don't feel like "I" am one with everything (when I'm not on acid ;) ) because what "I" call "I" relates to things, is relative to things. It's very nature implies "not-I", when there is "I", there is "not-I", or "other".

With inspection, the boundaries between self and other are pretty hard to find, I'm still lookin'.

Back to my "joke" about acid. I had a few really strong experiences while on drugs back in the early 80s of being a part of a whole. I might not have felt what it was like to experience other people's lives directly, feel another's pain or share "their" consciousness, I somehow "knew" we were all one. Drops of rain falling into the ocean. That's when I decided I was a Buddhist. The way I perceived the universe and myself changed irrevocably with that experience.
Of course, this bit of "enlightenment" didn't do me any good!


gotta go, timer just went off, lunch is ready!

 
At March 15, 2007, Blogger MikeDoe said...

You've hit on some crucial points here.

There can be a belief that "we are all one" that many buddhists adopt. It will make fuck-all difference as to whether or not you adopt such a belief.

There is also an experience of a lack of separation. To say "We are all one" implies two distinct entities.

I do not say "I am at one with my hand". It's a nonsense.

So, when you experience the lack of separation in the same way as you don't feel any separation with your hand then that will change your behaviour.

At the moment even if you believe such a thing you do not experience it. Therefore the default beliefs exist - that you have needs and desires and that I have needs and desires and that they are different and that yours are probably for whatever reason more important than mine.

Now, let's look at the concept if you experience you and I as not in fact separate but saw me in part as no more than an extension of yourself. If I was upset or happy or whatever you would be able to relate to it as spontaneously and as naturally as if your finger was warm or cold or hurt. There would be no thought about what you 'should' do or anything else.

Likewise if someone behaved in a threatening way to you there would probably be no emotional reaction. It would be like you had become angry at your hand for being too cold - silly!

Dualism is a side-effect of the existence of self. It does not matter whether you believe or know that the self is a construct and not real and imperment. Whilst something still exists that can be associated with an 'I' there will always be a Not-I. When there is no 'I' there is no Not-I either.

The "We are all one" is probably one of the most pointless and pernicious ideas to adopt as a belief. It is much more honest to yourself to say "Even if it is true I have not experienced it".

I do not know if we are all in fact one or whether such a thing is merely an artefact of perception. It does not matter. Perception leads to action.

 
At March 15, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

To me, "we are one" is a recognition of the fact that we all suffer at some point (or at many points, in some cases). Though I can't physically identify with another's pain to the extent that I can feel it, the recognition that we are one serves to remind me that we are all in this shitstorm together, a shitstorm interspersed with moments of joy. By all, I mean all living things.

I believe that if I see something that I admire in another person -- a physical ability, a state of mind, a way of reacting to unexpected situations -- it's because I see the potential for these things in myself. Similarly, if I see something in another person that I don't like -- an attitude, a mannerism, etc. -- it's because I see that same potential in myself. In short, you are a mirror for me, and vice versa.

I believe we are one because we all are reflections of each other.

I'm not articulating this the way I want, because it is something that I feel, not something I can intellectualize or explain. Anyway, your mileage may vary.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger gniz said...

ME,

I really, really liked what you wrote on this subject. True or not, it has a ring of authenticity to it.

Thanks!

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger gniz said...

How ironic that I wrote to "ME" saying i liked your post about us being one!

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

LOL!

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

BTW, I wanted to tell you guys how much I've enjoyed the conversations here thus far, and to thank Atman for inviting me to the party.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

Thank you Mudderpugger. I think you will find that there are some very good minds and hearts that lurk about this corner of the Internet.

Sometimes things go in the direction of "This is all bullshit anyway, so why do we talk about it?" But this even happens in verbal interactions.

While sometimes it does feel like bullshit and mental masturbation, it also serves as a glimmer of Dharma, always in the corner of my eye, encouraging my practice and challenging my dogma. I think you'll appreciate the sincerity of many of the people in this neighborhood.

Things had gotten stale for awhile, so I am greatful to you and Endo for stirring the pot and sharing your insight and experiences. You even managed to pull ME back into the mix, causing him to set aside his research for a few moments ;-). Nice to see you again, ME!

Also looking forward to input by Tedinanacortes who emailed me yesterday. I read some of his comments on Gudo Nishijima's blog, and I think he has some very powerful perspectives that will make for excellent conversations here.

I tried to contact ZM around the same time I reached out to you, but never heard back from him. If you are ever in touch with him, maybe you can convince him to come visit the Flapping-Mouth Bar & Grill from time to time.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

I think ZM would love this place, lots of smart people here, unlike the dumbasses we used to have to hang out with. Good conversation, and no Christian trolls (or wheelermouths).

I'll give him a buzz also.

Fig, too. He's studying with some Adyashanti dude right now, so his mind's still on this crap, and he, like you, was always good for cutting through my bullshit.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

Okay, cool. I am very interested in hearing about Fig's experience with Adyashanti.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger endofthedream said...

Sometimes things go in the direction of "This is all bullshit anyway, so why do we talk about it?"


Because we have no choice.

Period.

It's really as simple as that.

Wanna make a lot of complicated foolosophy out of it. Go ahead. That game has been going on for millennia.

But when it becomes clear, it will be clear that we do not choose the thoughts that arise in the localized consciousness that we are. Each action (other than reflexive ones like pulling your hand away from a burning object) is preceded by a thought. As we don't choose our thoughts, we don't choose our actions. We do what we are compelled to do by the innate conditioning-in-the-moment that we are at any given moment.

We didn't create it and we don't control it. We are simply the actualization of it.

Some won't accept this. Some will see it intellectually (it's often that way at first). Some will grok it in a transformative way. Others , even "good spiritual seekers," will never see. Even the ability to see it has to be given to you: you can't manufacture it on your own.

Why are we here, at FM, at any given time?

Each of us can construct complex, philosophical-psychological justifications and rationales. The answer is much, much simpler. (And very humbling if there is a trace of ego invested in the justification.)

The answer is, in fact, profoundly simple (nice oxymoron):

We are here at FM at any moment because we didn't get a better offer.

That's really it.

It's truly that simple.

And when it's seen, it's also Amazing!

Sweet dreams.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

"We are here at FM at any moment because we didn't get a better offer."

Conversely, you could also say, "We are here at FM at any moment because this is the best thing going."

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger endofthedream said...

Conversely, you could also say, "We are here at FM at any moment because this is the best thing going."


Yes.
Quite so.
Different but the same.

But for me the primary understanding is that there is no choice involved, and by that I mean no conscious choice.

Clearly choices happened: pc was turned on, internet was logged onto, web site was accessed, posts were read, some responded to by typing on keyboard.

Certainly each of these are choices, decisions. One would be delusional to say they weren't. I am just acutely aware that these...choices...arise prior to conscious awareness and are not in any way subject to "my control. (This has been verified by neuroscience over and over since 1968 when Benjamin Libet first ran simplified brain scans and quantified how the mind makes decisions.)

And this is so for all actions, thoughts, movements. There really is no responsibility. But we hold each other to it as if there were.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

I agree with you completely Endo. When I first read about this phenomenon a few years ago in some science journal, it resonated with me and my experiences meditating, as well as my philosophical considerations. Over the past few years I have examined this concept regularly, and it still rings true.

How does this realization affect my life? In most ways, not at all, and in some ways, immensely. I fret over decisions less, but this lack of fretting does not seem to affect the quality of my decisions in any way.

It also takes me a lot less time to place my order in a restaurant ;-)

This is one example of how the exchange of ideas and subsequent analysis and consideration of those ideas can have a *real* impact on my life.

 
At March 16, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

ioooooooooooo

I know that makes no sense. My cat wrote it. Seriously.

 
At March 17, 2007, Blogger endofthedream said...

Anatman,

Your cat is very wise. :-)

I agree with you completely Endo. When I first read about this phenomenon a few years ago in some science journal, it resonated with me and my experiences meditating, as well as my philosophical considerations. Over the past few years I have examined this concept regularly, and it still rings true.

It rings true because it IS true. And because you are awake.


How does this realization affect my life? In most ways, not at all, and in some ways, immensely. I fret over decisions less, but this lack of fretting does not seem to affect the quality of my decisions in any way.

How would you know this? Can you see that this last comment is imagination talking, thought thinking, generating more of its silliness? And it is not a problem, of course, if the thought is not attached to.



It also takes me a lot less time to place my order in a restaurant ;-)

Yes. One of the by-products of an acceptance of what is.


This is one example of how the exchange of ideas and subsequent analysis and consideration of those ideas can have a *real* impact on my life.

Excellent!

A really fundamental confusion is the notion that "I have to do something to get this...understanding." I gotta meditate, pray, chant, do good deeds, submit to my Guru...whatever. And if you're driven to meditate, pray, chant, whatever...then you'll do it. No ifs ands or buts. And that is how it is.

But, as the British sage Tony Parsons has noted, "The emergence of liberation is not affected by [anything that one does], and once you come to believe that you have to be a certain way, you have entirely missed the point."

If a bodymind mechanism currently has a deep investment (attachment) in the notion of meditation as The path to awakening, that one must do something to cause the falling away of the illusory sense of self, then these words will be lost on you.

But if one is in a place where there is some tentative opening, some .. space ... for it to arise, then one may get the gist of it.

Let us be clear about this: the infinite is all there is, and as a consequence the rules or standards that our minds would set up for any kind of awakening simply do not apply.

Cheers!

 

Post a Comment

<< Home