Know That You Are Using Your Words

A while ago, Neil DeGrasse Tyson pissed me off. Let me first say that I have immense respect for Neil. I consider myself a fanboy of his. However, no one is perfect. Not even the Tyson.

People who follow Mr. Tyson will know that he has no love of philosophy and philosophers. I think he would echo the words of Steve Martin in saying, “That shit can really fuck you up.” (In fact, I think Neil paraphrased that very bit in one of his interviews.) He often goes on about how studying philosophy is a waste of time when you could be studying science. On the day he pissed me off whoever, the example he used wasn’t even philosophy. He used the example of the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That doesn’t come from philosophy, strictly speaking. It comes from Buddhism in general and Zen in specific. It is not a question to be answered. It’s a statement meant to stop the student’s mind for a moment. In other words, it’s not philosophy, it’s more like psychology. This stuck in my craw, but I didn’t quite realize why until today.

You see, I am veteran of many conversations where people claim that Buddhism is a religion, and then I (which is typical of most Buddhists, from what I’ve seen) answer something like, “Well, sort of, but not really. It’s more of a philosophy.” But on the other hand, I have also had many conversations where people make the claim that Buddhism is a philosophical system, and the context of the conversation made me say, “Well, sort of, but it’s a bit more like a system of psychology.” In these different conversations, I was correct(ish) for as far as those conversations went. But, this begs the question: What is Buddhism? Is it a religion? Yes, in a way. Is it a philosophy? Yes, in a way. Is it a system of psychology? Yes, in a way. Sort of. Kinda.

The trouble here is not with Buddhism being schizophrenic. The problem is not with Buddhism being very varied depending on the cultural context it lands in. (Though that is part of it.) The real culprit is me. I forgot I was using English. Buddhism predates English. By a lot. It started out mostly in the Pali language, then migrated to where Chinese was more popular, did a foray into Tibetan, then got some Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese in there long before it got any English. What I am saying is that the difficulty is not that Buddhism is hard to identify. The issue is that English does a poor job of identifying Buddhism.

I am not going to suggest a better way to refer to Buddhism and Buddhist practices and techniques in English. Frankly, I don’t have one. My point is that our language can very easily prejudice us against concepts and distinctions from cultures in another language group. Terence McKenna used to say that language is thought, and your thought can’t evolve faster than your language does. Language is what you have to think with. It’s best to not let that become a limitation on your exposure to the wider world of ideas floating in the human space.

So, it would appear that Neil DeGrasse Tyson makes me think deeply, even when he pisses me off.

Being mindful of your words can help you to stop the little buggers from biting off more than they can chew.

photo credit

To Dream To Be Human

Hupao

One of the things that happens when you spend a lot of time observing your own process is you get sensitive to those times when you make a big turn on your own path.

These often come along with some external event which opens our paradigm to a new possibility. Or, they come as an insight, or epiphany, that does the same thing.

I’ve recently had one of those insights. Not surprisingly it came to me during meditation. It has to do with the realms of consciousness we all have access to.

I’ve written about these before, but in a nutshell: According to lots of long term traditions that humans who look into such things, we have access to certain, distinct, realms of consciousness.

First is the Gross realm of physical things. Rocks, bodies, tennis shoes, and so on. It’s also called the Waking state since it’s the state we encounter when we are awake and walking about.

Next is the Subtle realms of ideas, images, impressions. It’s also called the Dreaming state, the one we go to nightly when we go to sleep. We also step into this realm when we day dream or contemplate while awake.

Then comes the Causal state. This is the blank space of potential. That which everything that could be stands upon. It’s also called the Deep Sleep state. This is where we go in our sleep cycles after we have dropped through dreaming. Everything at that point is “gone”. The only thing that is encountered is nothing.

Some of the traditions push these states further in accord with the findings of deeply dedicated explorers of these realms. The lineage of meditators who sit in caves for years on end and accumulate five, ten, or even twenty thousand hours of time on the cushion.

These “hard core” types have discovered, and mapped out, two further realms of consciousness.

The “fourth” realm is referred to in Hindu thought as exactly that, “turiya”, a word that means fourth state. This is the “pure consciousness” which observes, or witnesses the arising of the other three. This state can be confirmed by both non-meditators and advanced meditators. For non-meditators this can be confirmed by being awoken during deep sleep. Perhaps a sudden sound in the environment, or your room mate coming home late, or a fire alarm going off. If there was absolutely no consciousness present in you when you are in the causal state of deep sleep, then you would not note the experience that woke you. Advanced meditators often get to the point in their practice where their conscious awareness continues through all three states above. Meaning they are aware that they are aware even in deep sleep, despite nothing happening to notice.

The fifth state is referred to as turiya-tita, “beyond the fourth.” This state subsumes all four other states. Words fall short here, so we’ll just move along.

Since these states are so often described in an order of some sort, it’s easy to become locked into thinking that order is concrete. Ken Wilber, in his work with the Integral Model points out part of this stuck tendency. Many of the ancient traditions hold hard to the scheme that you get the gross realm before the subtle, then the causal, and so on. Some refer to an inversion of this order as the original creation myth; meaning that “God” sifts down into causal existence, which then sifts down into subtle existence, and finally shows up in gross existence as rocks, plants, and so on.

The issue is that the gross state is there as a framework throughout all the other states, as we humans experience them. Your body does not go away when you drop into deep sleep, for example. We also day dream while wide awake, just before we stub our toe on a gross plane coffee table. So these realms of existence then do not stack on top of each other, but rather they inter-penetrate each other.

So, back to my insight. I had been locked into relating to these realms in a stacked way that had the point of my human experience be at either end. I think that is missing the mark, because what we humans do that is radically unique to us has to do with what we do with our dreams.

Alfred Korzybski, father of General Semantic, suggested that one of the key things that makes humans unique among the species we know is what he called “time-binding.” We pass our knowledge, our culture, our technology, our dreams, from one generation to the next. We do this with language, story, and information storage techniques such as the printed word. This enables us to advance in ways that other species simply cannot. Animals do pass on acquired skills through the generations, but with no where near our speed and integrity.

Another unique thing about being human is that we are the “tool using ape.” We are not alone in that in the species that we share this planet with, but because of our capacity to time-bind we are orders of magnitude beyond what other species can muster.

We craft tools with which to craft our environment, our world. We build things conceived in our dreams.

In short: We humans bring the possibilities existing in the subtle realm into the gross realm.

We are world crafters who use the raw stuff of the dream space as templates for altering the worlds we choose to live in. There is an old saying that, “Life imitates art”, and I think that is precisely true. Life, the life we humans make for ourselves, comes from the dreams we have, the things we imagine. When a piece of art, a story, or a entertainment captures our hearts we find a way to make it real.

What are cell phones if not Star Trek communicators? What are smart phones, if not tricorders? The works in fiction pre-sage our works in science and invention because they come from the same source. The subtle realm of dreams, images, and ideas.

I think this is what we humans do most and best. We are explorers, first and foremost, of our dreams. I have a strong allergy to what I call the “human-o-centric” view, the philosophical position of putting humans as central to the reason for reality being the way it is. So, that gets me to wonder about portions of our perceived reality that seem to only be there because we can perceive them. With regards to the subtle realm, it does not seem like such a realm had any impact on reality here before some form of life came along that could access it. Meaning life with a brain capable imagining, and dreaming. Before there were creatures that could dream, the subtle realm seems meaningless. It’s really a chicken and egg issue, of course, but it makes me wonder.

Is the subtle realm some sort of “intrusion” onto our reality by another order of reality? Is it the case that the subtle realm represents a different dimension slowly coming into contact with ours? It makes me consider Terence McKenna’s idea of the “transcendental hyper-space object at the end of time.” The idea is that evolution, and the accumulation of novelty within our reality, is not a matter of pushing from the past, but rather being pulled from the future. In other words, we are under the influence of an attractor which is pulling us toward it, slowly transforming us as it does so. The fall, like one caused by the gravity of a massive object, is accelerating. Evolution is accelerating.

So, perhaps what is happening is that we are falling, ever more deeply, into the subtle realm. As we do so, this gross realm is being converted to comply with the dream. We re-shape the world in our own image.

Perhaps this is the “alien invasion” so often conjured up in science fiction and the hopes and prayers of UFO enthusiasts. Not the arrival of a new species, but rather the arrival of a new dimension of possibility.

The reverse is possible, of course. It may not be a case of the subtle realm descending on us. It may be a case of us elevating into it. From a relativity perspective this is the same thing. From a functional standpoint though, the difference is interesting and brings up different questions.

It’s those kind of questions that I have been pondering since my view on the realms of consciousness got shaken up. I find the image of the human as an explorer of the depths of the dream space, shaping the reality we live in to match up with what we find very compelling.

What do you think?

Yes, This Is Happening

assassin

Like a lot of people these days, I get most of the influx of world news from my friends. Through social networks, my feed gets peppered with items of note from all over the globe. Many of the postings include some expression of incredulity about what is being passed on. Many of them with lead ins such as, “Is this legal?, “This can’t be happening…”, “I don’t believe we are still this fucked up…”, and so on.

Side-bar here: Recently I started on a piece about Hassan i-Sabbah. You see, I am an avid gamer, as well as being a fan of fringe philosophy, whack-o epistemology, strange ontology, stripped down spirituality, shadow history, and the scientific method, all while working towards immanetizing my personal eschaton.

Recently, I caught quite a fascination about the original order of assassins by playing the “Assassin’s Creed” games (which are awesome, by the way.) In them, part of the credo of the assassins often quoted is the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” I had read that phrase before, of course, mostly in the Principia Discordia, and the works of Uncle Bob.

So, being the avid geek I am, I started researching. As I did, my romantic notions about the ideology of freedom that the phrase calls fort, and which the game creators emphasized, bubbled over. The idea of facing reality directly, without holding any one particular reality-tunnel as absolute, allows for a personal unbridled freedom. Our behavior comes under our full ownership and responsibility. We can begin to answer for ourselves to ourselves. For me, this formulation is right up there with, “The map is not the territory”, and “Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t” from Korzybski, alongside the offerings from Aliester Crowley, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and “Will under love.”

Hassan i-Sabbah, was the founder of the original order of assassins, and the apparent coiner of this phrase. Trouble is, no one really knows when he said it, or why. The most compelling version (for me anyways), is as follows: After winning the castle-fortress Alamut in a con-bet that involved the hide of a bull, Hassan took up residence and proceeded to run his group of assassin’s to make targeted eliminations for the purposes of forwarding the agenda of the Muslim world. He recruited soldiers and conditioned them by using drug enabled trips to “heaven”, a walled paradisiacal garden built to evoke the fantasies of what awaits Muslim’s who give their lives over to the service of Allah in the afterlife, complete with virgins to provide physical delights. Hassan employed a wide range of theatrical shows to convince his troops. Once, he had a pit installed in his throne room. He had a follower stand in the pit, then rigged a false floor that made it look like his severed head was sitting on a platter. Calling his troops in, Hassan claimed this was the head of a man who had failed to obey him. He then evoked his “magical powers” and commanded the head to speak, at which point the man in the pit began screaming and detailing the tortures that he was undergoing in Hell.

Once Hassan was installed in Alamut, he never left his chambers (aside from one trip to the roof gardens) for the remaining 35 years of his life. He sank himself into studies of the religion, philosophy, science, and mysticism of his time. Hassan was a deeply respected spiritual authority, and he turned to his studies with an unmatched fervor. On his deathbed he uttered the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Now, what did he mean by that? Was this a death bed confession that all he had believed in for his life was false? Or, was this some deep mystical revelation representing the culmination of his studies, and meditations? Or, was it the farewell of a con-man who wanted to assuage his guilt?

Who knows?

In any event, one thing is clear. Hassan was a confidence man of the highest order. He willfully used the fanatic religious conviction of his followers, which he magnified through genius level brainwashing, and spent their lives for his own ends. What he did was amazing, but it’s nothing to get romantic over.

This ended my fascination with Hassan i-Sabbah as a source of mystical insight. My respect for the insight remained, however.

Here ends the side-bar.

All of that was to illustrate the truth behind the term, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” You see, we all live in reality-tunnels sourced from our individual unique partial views. This reality-tunnel is colored by our physical and psychological structure, as well as the conditioning imprinted on us by our culture and life experiences. We each have a unique “take” on things, and none of them is ultimately true. They (at best) are just how things seem to us. This does not mean they are not real; it’s just that they are only real for us. In this way, “nothing is true.”

Each of us takes our actions guided by our own personal plum-lines. The thing is these conditions of morality, and ethics, and social norms, are installed in us during our upbringing. These rules of conduct dictate our actions to a large degree. If we had a glimpse (or maybe a good long look) at reality free of our conditioning, then we might understand that, “everything is permitted.” Then our actions become fully our own. That does not mean we will necessarily do good things. We can still be bad people. Some will take advantage of such freedom in service of their own needs and desires.

“There are trivial truths, and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” ~ Niels Bohr

It seems ironic to use that quote as a tool to look at an insight that states that, “Nothing is true…,” but to heck with it. Life is short. Following on with Professor Bohr’s line of reasoning, it seems to me that every deep insight can be implemented in a positive light and in a negative one. I am beginning to suspect that this insight, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is floating around out there in the noosphere with a negative inflection. Not in the foreground like the countless LoLCats, and Ikea Monkeys, but just like those memes, it’s being passed around in the background.

Those working with this idea have a free license to do as they please. With no truth holding them back, they permit themselves actions that most of us would balk at.

So, yes, this is happening.

Governments are breaking laws.

People are being locked up for no reason other than convenience.

Teenagers are bashing each other’s brains in, and people are using these tragedies as an excuse to promote racial profiling.

Corporations are poisoning the bio-sphere and exterminating species to increase their bottom line.

All of that is happening. Really. It really is.

As long as we deny it, what’s going to stop it?

This is not a call for some overt action, or screaming in the streets. But, what if we all let in the idea that maybe, just maybe, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” And, maybe if we did we could slow the tide of license and abuses, and expose them all to the light of our awareness. Not our hatred, or our revenge, but just our knowing. Maybe that light could be shined into the darkest crevices and if they want to take their actions, at least they will do so while we see.

Just a thought.