Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Don Salmon, a clinical psychologist and composer, received a grant from the Infinity Foundation to write a comprehensive study of yoga psychology based on the synthesis of the yoga tradition presented by 20th century Indian philosopher-sage Aurobindo Ghose. Jan Maslow, an educator and organizational consultant, has, with Dr. Salmon, given presentations, classes and workshops in the United States and India on this topic. Both have been studying yoga psychology for more than 25 years.
I'd like to thank David Lane, 'anonymous' and Andy Smith for their responses to my earlier paper, "Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor" (posted 9-23). I'm particularly grateful for the very detailed comments Andy provided in an email exchange we've had over the past week. As always, I'm interested in receiving comments and criticisms, so please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The "Greg-Goode-and-Alan-Wallace-Wield-Ockham's-nondual-Razor" Rondo
(rondo: a musical form in which a main theme or "refrain" alternates between varying "episodes" or variations; the rondo "form" is often described as ABACA or ABACADA, etc)
In the "Shaving Science" essay I made use of a combination of logical argument and experiential exercises. The aim of this essay is primarily to invite you to explore the nature of your experience. It will be helpful, as you read through the series of meditative exercises and contemplative practices, to read slowly, letting the words soak in rather than trying to analyze them.
But before starting the contemplative practices, I offer the following comparison to give you a feel for the difference between understanding through analysis and understanding through experience.
Analysis of the opening 5 measures of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
The sonata starts out with a series of triplets in the right hand, with the notes "G#, C#, E", repeated 8 times. This is an inverted C# minor chord with the 5th on the bottom.
For the first series of 4 triplets, the left hand plays the key center, C#, once, sustaining it for the full measure. In the second measure (the second series of 4 triplets) the left hand plays 1 whole step lower, B, again sustained for the whole measure.
In the third measure, Beethoven continues with the triplets, but now switches chords, starting with the 6th in C# minor, A major (notes of the triplet being A-C#-E) repeated twice. Then he moves on to one of his favorite devices, the Neapolitan 6th, in this case, a D major chord in second inversion (with A on the bottomA-D-F#) repeated twice, and in the last introductory measure, a dramatic switch to a series of 4 different chordsG# major, C# minor, G# suspended 4th, G# 7th, and then settles back into the opening C# minor chord in preparation for the opening melody.
The transition from the D major to the G# major is particularly dramatic, as the interval D-G# is the famous "diabolus in musica" that was thought in the Middle Ages to evoke the devil and was thus forbidden (though Wikipedia claims that this idea of it as a forbidden interval is rather "fanciful"). In any case, it is a nice dramatic touch.
Now, listen, and notice the difference. Reading yogic/contemplative texts without developing the ability to "hear the music" is likely to lead to the same result as someone with no knowledge of music theory reading the above description without actually listening to Beethoven's music.
Reading yogic/contemplative texts without developing the ability to "hear the music" is likely to lead to the same result as someone with no knowledge of music theory reading the above description without actually listening to Beethoven's music.
THEME "A": Time to pause
It is well that we should find time to pause and remember that the world as a thing-in-itself has no existence. We mean that there is no such thing as a solid globe of earth, spinning its way on an orbit around another globe called the sun in a detached, self-existing, and quite impersonal manner. Notwithstanding all that may be written by scientists upon the nature of such a globe, there is no such thing... There is no floor on which we sit, no paper on which we write, no hand which guides the pen, no separate self which guides the hand...
THEME "B": Samatha, calm abiding
In 1996, I attended a Dzogchen workshop given by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Alan Wallace at the New York Open Center. He taught a meditation technique which he referred to as samatha. Those of you familiar with Zen meditation practice may recognize this as being very similar to shikintaza. In fact, there are many meditation techniques which are very similar to what Alan taught. However, he taught a slight variation I had not come across before. When you try this, the difference may seem so slight as to be meaningless; however, I found it to be very powerful.
Before starting the actual practice of samatha, Alan recommended a period of simple breath watching. That is, just sitting for 5 or 10 minutes, calmly observing the flow of breath without trying to manipulate it in any way.
I've found, both in my own practice and in talking with others who have practiced this, that there are times we may believe we're concentrated on the breath, but the mind is actually wandering quite actively through various realms of the imagination. For this reason, I suggest a simpler practicebreath countingas a preparation for samatha. It's a little bit harder to fool yourself into thinking that your mind is focused when you're counting each breath.
Typically, it's recommended to count up to 5 or 10. However for this exercise, I suggest the Tibetan practice of counting up to 21.
Here's how it worksit's really simple:
Exhale, count "1.
If you lose track, go back to "1."
I suggest doing this four times consecutively without losing count before attempting samatha. That way you'll know your mind is focused.
Sit in a comfortable position (cross legged or in a chair is fine; otherwise, don't be concerned about your posture).Keep your eyes open, and direct your gaze slightly downward, resting your eyes on a "neutral' area a few feet in front of you. At Alan's workshop, we sat in a room with a beautiful wood floor, which served nicely as a "neutral" area. A carpet would work, or a patch of grass if you're sitting outside.
Now, here's the main instruction... ready?
Really, that's all there is to it.
Well, OK, not all there is. But keep that instruction in mind. It's very important.
As you sit calmly, comfortably, your gaze gently focused a few feet in front of you, thoughts will pass through your mind, emotions will come and go, images will arise and pass away, sensations will ebb and flow. Don't make any attempt to stop them, control them, follow, or even observe them. Don't do anything at all. Just let them be. Don't try to achieve a certain state of mind. Don't try to make something, anything happen.
With one exception.
You will notice, that at some pointprobably within a second or two, perhaps longerthe passing, disconnected thoughts will begin to link up, coming together as a coherent set of thoughts, with a particular object or focus.
Here's the only occasion you will actually "do" anythingbut be VERY careful, it's a doing that is so gentle and so almost completely effortless that it might be better described as a non-doing doing:
Just ever so gently, when you become aware that thoughts have begun to link up, let go.
I can't tell you how to do this, but will just say thisif it feels even remotely tense or effortful, you're doing too much. It's like with a tiny fraction of your awareness, you're "looking" out of the corner of your mind's eye, and 'blip"in a fraction of a second, a release takes place, and now you're simply present, not doing anything once again.
The words really can't convey what it's like. You have to just jump in and do it. Or don't do it, as it were:>))
At some point, if you manage to sustain this state of non-doing/doing, you may find that the sense of duality, the feeling of being a subject relating to an objective field collapses. Or you may notbut don't do this with that as a "goal".
All of this is a very important preparation for the exercise from Greg Goode that follows.
THEME "A": Time to pause
It is well that we should find time to pause and remember that the world as a thing in itself has no existence. We mean that there is no such thing as a solid globe of earth, spinning its way on an orbit around another globe called the sun in a detached, self-existing, and quite impersonal manner. Not withstanding all that may be written by scientists upon the nature of such a globe, there is no such thing. .. The descriptions of [the earth] as a globe and as moving on an elliptical orbit are convenient schematizations of our experience, but they are not more than that and should not be taken as such. ... There is no floor on which we sit, no paper on which we write, no hand which guides the pen, no separate self which guides the hand...
THEME "C": Greg Goode's "Experiment with a cup"
In my paper, "Shaving Science with Ockham's Razor," I suggested that everything scientists study is "known" within a particular perceptual-conceptual framework. The main idea I intended to convey was that although there seems to be fairly widespread agreement about existence of this framework, scientists all too often talk (at least in practice, when they're ignoring all that has been discovered about the perceptual/conceptual filters through which they understand their objects of study) as if they have direct evidence of a 'reality"that is, an "Absolute"a purely material/physical/naturalistic Reality which exists altogether independent not just of their particular perceptual/conceptual framework but independent of all perceptual/conceptual frameworks.
Applying Ockham's razor, I suggested that there is no evidence produced by scientists that requires (or warrants) this act of faith, this belief in a purely material reality which exists in itself, apart from all knowing/feeling/sensing, all experience, all awareness.
I suggested an exercise for exploring this, but I think Greg's exercise here is much better. I strongly suggest, before trying it, to establish some measure of samatha as described above), beginning with a few rounds of breath counting, followed by at least 5 minutes of unbroken calm abiding (that is, 5 minutes without awareness being sidetracked by, or wholly immersed in, a series of connected thoughts). Experiment with a cup (Greg's writing is in italics; my comments are inserted in non-italicized words; in respect to the copyright, I'm only presenting short excerpts, within the fair use standard for quotations).
Let's start with a tiny piece of the physical worlda teacup!
If you can, go get a teacup or a coffee cup and put it on an uncluttered area of the table or desk in front of you.
Sit down with your hands in your lap. Look at the cup with a soft, open focus What is directly given in your visual experience of the cup?... There are color and shape, which together are often called 'form'... Notice that what you take to be the shape of the cup is actually based on the interface between two shades of color.... You can notice that where the cup ends and there the table around it begins is actually based on where one color comes to an end and another color begins.
If you can, go get a teacup or a coffee cup and put it on an uncluttered area of the table or desk in front of you.
Sit down with your hands in your lap. Look at the cup with a soft, open focus(or, to put it another way, rest in samatha, calm abiding, as you do this. Of course, you need to go back and forth from the cup to these instructions. No matter, you can rest in moments of calm abiding and alternate with slightly more discursive mental activity as you consider Greg's questions). Notice that there may be thoughts arising, perhaps thoughts about where the cup came from, what it is made out of, etc. Notice that these thoughts could still arise even if your eyes were closed, so they are not part of your direct experience of the cup. Let these thoughts pass by and attend only to the direct visual experience of the cup.
What is directly given in your visual experience of the cup?... There are color and shape, which together are often called 'form'... Notice that what you take to be the shape of the cup is actually based on the interface between two shades of color.... You can notice that where the cup ends and there the table around it begins is actually based on where one color comes to an end and another color begins.(be careful here not to get caught up in analyzing Greg's words. Stay calmly abiding, to whatever extent you can. Stay calm, stay "in" experience. Let the words guide your attention rather than serve as a jumping off point for analysis.)....
Notice that various "objective" characteristics you normally attribute to a cup are here based on color. This includes "distance," "size," ..."height," "depth," "roundness," "texture," "smoothness" and "hardness." (take time with each one of these; there is a lot that will seem highly counter-intuitive here. It may take quite well-developed "calm abiding" to work through this and not get caught up in old habits of thought).
Greg makes a number of very interesting observations following the experiment. I'm only going to quote the main points. It's worth getting his book, Standing As Awareness, to work through the examples in much more detail. Here he describes the process as going through a series of stages: (again, his words are italicized, mine are non-italicized)
Greg suggests you try this experiment with other senses, particularly with hearing and touch. If you like, you might go back to the "Shaving Science" paper, armed with your mastery of "calm abiding," and try reading throughvery slowlythe section on the rainbow and the tree, taking it as a basis for examining experience, rather than a purely logical argument. If you find that logical objections keep arising, making it difficult to stay with experience, you might try doing Greg's experimentor the "rainbow and tree" exerciseimagining that you are in the midst of your 57th consecutive false awakening, and you've figured that, since you failed the previous 56 attempts to establish definitively whether you are awake or dreaming, "what the heck, I might as well have some fun exploring the nature of this experience.
"THEME "A": Time to pause
It is well that we should find time to pause and remember that the world as a thing in itself has no existence. We mean that there is no such thing as a solid globe of earth, spinning its way on an orbit around another globe called the sun in a detached, self-existing, and quite impersonal manner. Not withstanding all that may be written by scientists upon the nature of such a globe, there is no such thing... The descriptions of [the earth] as a globe and as moving on an elliptical orbit are convenient schematizations of our experience, but they are not more than that and should not be taken as such. ... There is no floor on which we sit, no paper on which we write, no hand which guides the pen, no separate self which guides the hand... The world of common-sense experience, the world of solid material objects, of separate individual selves, is not the true world... there are no solid material objects; there are no separate individual selves. All that is illusion, illusion seated in the senses, or rather in that aspect of the mind that unites with them.
THEME "C": Alan Wallace, on "What is really there"
Alan has written many practical guidelines to exploring "emptiness." As he describes it in his book, Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up, "emptiness is far more than just an interesting idea, one among many." Not just Buddhists, but sages and contemplatives of all spiritual traditions have probed the nature of suffering, "especially the mental afflictions of ignorance, hatred, and desire," and their conclusion is that these afflictions "stem from the ignorant reification of ourselves and other phenomena." Or, in the language I've been using, we take ourselves and the things of our world to be "things-in-themselves," absolutes.
Reification, he goes on to say, is the root of all our ills, dividing our sense of self from everything else. Once that division is made, the next step is attachment to 'my' side, to what I mistakenly believe is inherently mine. From this springs hostility toward whatever seems to come in conflict with my side, with me and what I think is mine. This root ignorance gives rise to confusion, to attachment, to hostility, and to all the other mental afflictions such as jealousy, conceit, arrogance, and selfishness. And he concludes, leading us toward practice, that the antidote... is to experience the emptiness of all phenomena, and to recognize their nature as dependently related events.
As with Greg's book, I strongly recommend getting Alan's book. It was published more than 15 years ago, and Alan has written a number of other books that include similar material. But I've found that this chapter on "Emptiness and Fulfillment" is one of the most effective foundations for exploring emptinessparticularly in regard to scientific biasesI've ever found.
The Real Location of the Perceived World (my words are non-italicized; Alan's are italicized)
He begins by asking, Where do the objects that make up our experiential world truly exist? He begins with the whiteness of the page of a book, moves on to the color of a coat, the location of stars we see at night, and the image of a rose. You could apply Greg Goode's experiment to each of these visual experiences, so I'm going to move on to Alan's brief examination of sound.
(again, I would suggest doing some breath counting and then resting in calm abiding for awhile before reading this, and then, taking the words not as a logical argument but rather a means of directing attention to experience)
Alan writes, We... have the impression that sound is out there somewhere, but this... collapses under closer scrutiny. We can say that the sound of snapping fingers is produced by the fingers, but is that where the sound is? The physical basis of sound consists of oscillations in the atmosphere, traveling at about 650 miles an hour, but if there are no ears around, there is no perceived sound to be heard. The oscillations may ripple off walls or shatter buildings, but without the essential ingredient of an auditory faculty to sense them, these oscillations are not perceived sound but only oscillations. The experience of hearing is a dependently related event, produced in part by our auditory faculties.
This isn't really that complicated, right? The problem is not that it's a complex logical problem, but that, we only read this with a tiny portion of our mind. As Owen Barfield put it, "We know, but our basic assumptions remain opposite to what we know. They arise therefore, not from clear thought but from force of habit; and they are all the less easily eradicable and all the more compulsive because they are only half conscious."
Despite what we may know, we do not act as if experiences really are dependently related events. Most of the time we treat sensory phenomena as if they are exactly what they seem to be. We hear sounds and we say, 'What a noisy place!' never considering what role a listener might play. This process is called reification, in which we imagine something to have a substantiality, or tangibility, that it in fact does not have. Through reification we ignore the subjective contributions to an event, seeing it entirely as an objective entity. (or as Schrodinger said, we forget "the subject of cognizance").
Alan then goes on to address scientists' attempt to discover "objective" reality. We get the senseand it is widely promoted by sciencethat by using mechanical instruments and mathematics we stop being subjective and instead become objective. Everybody knows the sense can be misleading... so let us dispense with the senses. They are giving us only appearances anyway.
He then notes that this view gradually broke down as scientists came to understand that their instruments of measurement were themselves contributing to the data they were detecting... in quantum mechanics, attributes of mass, speed, shape and location vanish as purely objective entities (and we saw, without using any mechanical instruments, something like this in doing Greg Goode's experiment).
Alan concludes, with regard to the knowledge that science provides, the subjective element seems to be inescapable on all fronts. In no facet of science, whether we are dealing with astronomy, physics, or medicine, do we get even one bit of information about any reality existing independently of our modes of questioning... All of our sensory experience consists of appearances that are contingent upon our sense faculties. Even by reducing everything to the subatomic level of electrons, quarks, and so forth, we are still left with nothing but appearances... to mind.
The concept of reification, Alan says, is applicable to all that scientists have discovered. We look out on the world and view perceived objects as if they existed inherently in objective space... we view things like electrons and sound wave as if they existed independently of our conceptions of them. Perceived objects exist in relation to our perceptions of them, and conceived objects exist in relation to the conceptual schemata within which they are understood. We reify an object by removing it from its context, by ignoring the subjective influences of perception and conception.
But what about the mind? Is it all "in the mind?"
I won't cover too much of this section, as the critique of science I've been presenting is primarily in regard to the notion of an inherently existing, purely material/physical world. Alan goes on to examine the mind, and concludes that just as with perceived objects, we cannot find any purely self-existent mental event or "mind. He concludes the chapter by offering an exercise drawn from the mainstream Tibetan tradition (it is quite similar to the Dzogchen "dream yoga" practices, some of which I was trying to evoke in the "Shaving Science" paper).
Sitting quietly, eyes downward, gazing a few feet ahead of you, begin by spending some time breath counting, then resting in "calm abiding."
Now, look around you, bring to mind people you know, and recognize that these are all "appearances of the mind, with no intrinsic existence."
Now, relax. Direct your awareness to the simple fact of awareness, and rest there. When you get up, maintain this sense of things and people around you as having no intrinsic existence. If it helps, bring yourself back to that 57th false awakening, and recognize that simply by observing subjective and/or objective phenomena in the present moment, there is no phenomenon that presents you with irrefutable evidence that you are awake or dreaming.
Try to whatever extent possible to remain in calm abiding. Do not "overthink" this exercise, but, also do not try to "create" or "evoke" a particular state of mind or consciousness. You are not seeking a "higher consciousness" or "greater reality." Just relax.
THEME "A": Time to pause
It is well that we should find time to pause and remember that the world as a thing in itself has no existence. We mean that there is no such thing as a solid globe of earth, spinning its way on an orbit around another globe called the sun in a detached, self-existing, and quite impersonal manner. Not withstanding all that may be written by scientists upon the nature of such a globe, there is no such thing.
The name 'earth' is given to a certain way of looking at reality, a certain partial integration of reality, made under the forces of desire and therefore springing from ignorance. The descriptions of [the earth] as a globe and as moving on an elliptical orbit are convenient schematizations of our experience, but they are not more than that and should not be taken as such. ...
What [is this] desire?... The desire for personal safety, the desire to establish our illusory personal egos firmly and, so to say, on the solid earth, in a world that is changing around us at every moment. It is this desire that leads us to see the seamless garment of reality as a thing of shreds and patches, as cut up into so many stable, or at least relatively stable, objects which by their mere enduring can reassure us that we too endure. That is why we like to surround ourselves with a host of familiar objects and why, the older we get, the more apt we are to dislike their being changed or broken. Their impermanence reminds us too painfully of our own essential transiency.
But there are no such objects in reality. There is no floor on which we sit, no paper on which we write, no hand which guides the pen, no separate self which guides the hand...
Deep within us there is that which knows this. Our superficial ignorance of it is 'a sleep and a forgetting', and we forget it just because we wish to live a life of separated selfishness. All such wishes are doomed to ultimate frustration because they go against the nature of reality which is one without a second. If we assert the right to live as separate beings... we must pay for it by being tied fast to the chariot wheels of Fate. As Christ said to Peter, we gird ourselves to go whither we wish and, in the end, we are bound by another to be taken whither we wish not.
Lightly we leap into the sunny air of separate life, and heavily do we fall back into the dark waters of death. This is the [Buddhist] wheel [of life[. But, as the Buddha states in [Edwin] Arnold's poem, [The Light of Asia], we are not truly bound. The wheel has no reality for, in truth, separation itself is unreal.