You do not have to leave the room. Remain standing at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait. Be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
– Franz Kafka
On the 3rd of January 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin.
What happened remains unknown, but an often-repeated tale from shortly after his death states that Nietzsche witnessed the flogging of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect it, and then collapsed to the ground.
For one reason or another, possibly merely because they have floated to the top of my long bookmarks list in an arbitrary manner or by means of some devious plot of which I am unaware, ahahaha, I visit some sites fairly frequently. Others, perhaps much more worthy and entertaining, have drifted down to the bottom where I rarely scroll, and so get neglected.
And so thus it is that I read the thoughts of certain people, and have encountered them regularly, over a lengthy period,
I use these websites to triangulate my own position, kinda like doing the Ordnance Survey trig marks…
I do not necessarily agree with anything much that they think or say, but there they are, visible features in the virtual landscape, as points of reference, useful, to get my bearings. This is helpful to me. Because I have to say, I do travel ‘far out’, and sometimes I have not the slightest idea who I am, where I am, when I am, or anything else at all… and mostly, this does not bother me, I do not care… I am alive…
Is this good ? Bad ? Or what ? I really do not know. If I had to function in a more intimate relationship with soceity, it would be a disadvantage.
I don’t think the authors of the sites I read have common features, other than being somewhat eccentric and willful and determined to speak their own mind, regardless of how others react, I read people who appear to me to be authentic, genuine, with some compulsion to spit it out, some chip, parrot, monkey on their shoulder, that will not be still…
The Saker, he did give out his real identity, but I have forgotten, not that I care anyway, he’s some sort of unorthodox Orthodox christian, if you see what I mean, hahaha, well, I can’t help liking him, he’s a classic loon, he’s striving to follow the fundamental principles of the early church, as I understand it, which I probably don’t, and he carries a gun…. And living in Florida, well, maybe makes sense, if Jesus lived in Florida, what would he do ? I dunno. But if I was Jesus and I lived in Florida, I’d have emigrated by now, somehow, so it would not be a meaningful question. Saker must be crazy. But he stays in tune with current events, which is useful.
Niqnaq is probably even more crazy, he seems to love and hate the jews, via a sort of Stockholm syndrome he’s accumulated over many years, but I have not read him over those many years, so I have no idea how it developed into the fantastic lurid form that it now illustrates, if Lacan were alive he might explain, perhaps, or Reich, I dunno, the Lurian kabbalah has kidnapped his Jungian Anima and holds her hostage in some dank cellar somewhere, where ghastly arcane rituals are performed, as featured on Psychic TV, Mick Farren and Crowley wrestle and groan, and there’s a lot of macabre screaming and jibber in yiddish and I do not understand any of it…. It’s sort of Salvador Dali giving birth to the geopoliticus world of Salvia Divi every unfolding day, and we try to keep up….
And Vinay Gupta, the unleashed one, who startled me, with his exuberant enthusiasm for Sagan… dear me, I was also captivated at the time, but now I take a very different view, I think it was all Hollywood-style corporate media hype, to sell a grand narrative, a myth, in Mary Midgley’s sense, in Joseph Campbell’s sense, and like any other text, deserves, requires, application of Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutic of suspicion….
the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is “a method of interpretation which assumes that the literal or surface-level meaning of a text is an effort to conceal the political interests which are served by the text. The purpose of interpretation is to strip off the concealment, unmasking those interests.”
They left out all the ugly dodgy stuff, they sanitized, they censored, they imposed a completely fake narrative onto the history to suit an agenda. Imo, Gupta bought it, and he’s reselling the product.
You know, a sort of quasi-teleological view of scientific progress ‘This was man’s destiny, it was written in the stars’ bullshit…. With all those close up movie shots of our hero, the handsome Carl, wide eyed with wonder… It was ALL bullshit. He became very rich and famous, he smoked pot every day, it all went to his head, he had a plan to blow up the Moon with nuclear weapons, to show to everyone on Earth how incredibly powerful the Americans and their science were, as a sort of super firework display.
Imagine what that would have done to life here, when there were no more tides. The man was totally barking. Not that it could have been accomplished, but he wanted to do it.
He had a book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as Candle in the Dark. This is an interesting title, because it suggest how ‘religious’ that whole thing is, the religion of scientism. Because there are many similar equivalent books which make that same claim for CHRIST JESUS, who supposedly rid the world of the fear of demons, and is our spiritual candle in the dark.
We have all these damn gurus on their plinths selling this same crap, popularising the religion, or the ideology, of scientism, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Dawkins, Brian Cox, etc, preaching this mythology, which it is, a story, of some sort of inevitable ‘progress’, where heroic brilliant minds lead us all forward into a better future. It is absolute bullshit. It has nothing to do with science as a methodology, for discovering information about the natural world. It is propaganda.
And this becomes very clear the moment that you challenge that religion, that ideology, because the supporters immediately lose all their reason, rationality, logic, and objectivity, and become just like all the other fanatical fundamentalists, nasty vicious and abusive. What happened to Rupert Sheldrake is a good example.
You know, they still complain about what happened to Giordano Bruno at the hands of the Catholic Church, centuries ago, but when Rupert Sheldrake, a Fellow of the Royal Soceity, points out that the so called ‘physical constants’ are not constant, and have to be constantly adjusted, they fly into a rage and want him burned at the stake. Metaphorically. Banned from TED.
Anyway I must be grateful that these people exist, as I stumble around in the Fog of Creation, mumbling and muttering to myself, and cursing when I stub my toes on invisible fragments of materiality that some Demiurge had strewn upon my path.
That Saker, Niqnaq, and Leashless will feel patronised that I explain Demiurge, because as highly educated, well read, erudite fellows, they know all this stuff already, no doubt. But for the neophytes, I have to draw them into the circle, gently initiate them.
In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge (/ˈdɛmiˌɜːrdʒ/) is an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics. Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the familiar monotheistic sense, because both the demiurge itself plus the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are considered either uncreated and eternal, or the product of some other being, depending on the system.
If you care to take the trouble to read that page, you will discover that the picture it reveals is hopelessly confused and confusing.
From the time of Plato, c. 360 BC, right up until the present day, because it is easy to place Jung into that tradition, as a sort of neo-Gnostic, there were numerous philosopher-mystics who attempted to revise or reconcile the various strands of thought that they had inherited, and make some sense of what it all meant.
And, really, what we have, the legacy, is an interesting, fascinating, but hopeless, mess.
In my very humble opinion. It’s interesting, because it tells us a lot about human culture, like wandering around the galleries in a museum. But it is all obsolete, isn’t it ?
A mish mash of archaic superstition and misunderstood mythological motifs that accumulated over millennia.
This whole essay could be devoted to trying to untangle some of that cultural history, for example, the overlap between the Greek and the Hebrew/Judaic traditions, and inputs from other cultures, indeed, it could grow to a book, and scholars spend their lives specialising on such areas. I don’t have a spare life for that.
So I want to simplify, as much as I can.
The first person that I met, whom I would regard as a zen master, was a small American man, with wire rimmed glasses, who giggled and laughed all the time. That’s how I remember him. And when we pupils at the retreat sat around and asked questions, each time, it was ‘Splat !’ Kind he was not. Every one who dared to ask had their head chopped off and was left humiliated, embarrassed and trembling.
As he explained, he had been trained by the US Army, in Vietnam, to interrogate prisoners, and to do that he first broke them down, by destroying their ego, so that’s what he did to us. It was his method for teaching zen buddhism. A very savage way to be very kind. Because it was very fast and efficient. The retreat was very short, there was no spare time to be wasted.
He had decided that interrogating prisoners was not a good way to spend his life so he left the military and trained as a buddhist monk. He was extremely intense.
You are here to become Buddha. Or else, you die.
The founder of the zen school about which I know most said that if you are not kind, then you are not a zen master.
What is a zen master ? I think zen, broadly, means meditation. So it means to have mastery over all the facets and aspects of human consciousness, everything that human consciousness encounters or experiences. The complete full spectrum.
But I think that is a very great demand, and that individuals get ordained as priest without ever having attained that lofty goal, and then spend their lives working as devotees of their religious calling and maybe they learn some portion of what it is to be a zen master. Some percentage are great people and their teachings have endured over the centuries.
It has nothing, or very little, to do with being intellectual, or with scholarship. It is something different. That is very clear and agreed by all who encounter the tradition.
My impression is that the Soto traditions are quite soft and gentle. The Rinzai traditions are perhaps rather more fierce and harsh. But I don’t know what happens in the traditional Japanese schools these days first hand. It does not matter.
I think all of us, the whole of humanity, everyone who is sensitive, who cares, who worries about loved ones, we are all going to be under ever increasing stress, because the strains are not going to diminish, are they.
So, where do we turn, how do we deal with this ?
I mean, your problem, is here and now, and looking into the future, and trying to make some sense of all the incoming information. And the mechanism that you use, to filter and organise and contemplate, well, that’s based on your beliefs and cultural heritage, which is all stuff from the past, the legacy of history. Which has gone. Vanished.
What zen does, it just sits in the moment. Empty and marvellous, as they say. Free from the past and the future. So it is a kind of liberation.
You are not trying to attain some distant Enlightenment. You are not trying to abide by some set of rules that will get you into Heaven. You are just here, now, in perfection, in this immediate moment, where everything exists, just as it is. Not trying to be perfect, not trying to be anything at all.
It might be awful, ghastly, it might be a charnel ground, rotting corpses. Or it might be a wonderful Spring garden, full of blossom and butterflies.
It is whatever it is, and here you are. It is only ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’, if you pass judgement and decide it is so. And of course, you are free to do that. Nobody compels you to like what is repulsive or to dislike what is delightful, do they ?
But then, who is it, who likes and dislikes ?
What this teaching says, what it insists upon, is that you must look very closely into the matter, and observe what occurs. It’s a sort of practical philosophy, akin to practical phenomenology in the Western tradition. You watch the thought that arises and the result that follows. Sometimes, the link is so daft, you cannot help but burst out laughing.
This zen attitude or teaching is not the same thing as classical buddhism, is it. Classical buddhism, as a religion, a cultural artefact, spread across many countries, with temples and institutions, and all kinds of complex ceremonial affairs, is often the very opposite of the austere simplicity that zen seeks. Part of that, I believe, is the influence of taoism upon zen. Zen is Hindu buddhism filtered through Chinese taoism. Imo.
Tao or Dao is a Chinese complex word which cannot specifically be fully explained except it signifies ‘way’, ‘path’, ‘route’, or sometimes known as a ‘principle’ laid down by Heaven to assist mankind back onto the righteous path. Within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion, The Tao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that of which cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but known nonetheless through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
Cosmologically, Tao signifies the primordial essence or fundamental nature of the Universe.
It is not easy for Europeans to get to understand what is meant by Tao. Here’s a glimpse of what you are up against, 175+ different translations of the opening of the Tao Te Ching to compare.
You can see the struggle illustrated here, on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on T/Daoism.
So what is Laozi denying when he is made to say “names that can be named are not constant names?” The skepticism here can be read in two ways. One is there is no correct way to use a name so contrary to Mohism, no standard is “nature’s” constant standard of choice of a dao. The other reading is interpretive—no pattern of correct past use (no social practice) uniquely determines what concrete behavior counts as correct here-now (or in the future). So, as Mozi had argued, tradition cannot determine what is the correct dao, but, the Laozi seems to add, that is so even presupposing a tradition. There is no constant (correct) way to interpret that practice/dao into action.
The negative result may be read in several ways.
- It may be pure nihilism—there is no such thing as correct dao.
- It may be skepticism—correct dao can never be known;
- Or as anti-language—correct dao cannot be put in words or conveyed as guidance to another.
The article attempts to use the Western left brain logical rational intellectual philosophical tradition to analyse something for which that tradition is entirely unsuited and incapable of addressing, and the result is a hopeless and meaningless hodgepodge of nonsense.
So why has this happened ?
It’s because of the tragic and disastrous division that followed from Descartes.
The Cartesian dualism, so called, that split mind and body, and divided the person, the observer, from the world, the observed. It can’t be denied that some success followed, the rise of Western empirical science. But we know, from the very science, that the division was mistaken and nonsensical.
The thinking of thoughts changes the thinker, they effect the DNA, they change the metabolism of the body, they are not some separate disembodied process, the physical material structure of what you are is altered by what you think. The example Mary Midgley gives, is the enlarged hippocampus of London taxi drivers who have to learn ‘the knowledge’, that is, internalise a map of all the roads and streets. There are many other examples.
And the whole body-mind being is not separate from ‘the world’, the gases of the atmosphere enter the lungs, the blood, and reach every single cell. None of us exist as isolated ‘things’, we are all products of the Mother Earth, made from chemicals created in stars, descended from generations of earlier beings which accumulated knowledge which is embedded within us, in forms which we do not normally consciously access.
But something, somehow, some force, which the doctors and scientists cannot explain, keeps homeostasis going, so that we do not disintegrate, the vital systems remain more or less coordinated.
There are divisions in nature which make some sense, like the division we make between the ocean and the sky and the land, and the more precise divisions scientists make between degrees of temperature or the angles of gradient, and so forth. But the Cartesian divisions were philosophical and political, they were made to cater for the social circumstances of the time, as much as anything, because of the enormous tensions that had arisen between the secularists and the Church. And we got stuck with that nonsense ever since.
You see a glimpse of the historical debate here
The proto-scientists, the materialists, the atheists, were determined, one way or another, to get God, (or the corrupted versions of the God concept that prevailed) and ideas of ‘the supernatural’, of the divine, of any kind of spiritual aspects, out of the culture, out of the dominant public discourse. They saw all of that as ‘primitive superstition’.
This struggle is illustrated in, for example, the thinking of Auguste Comte, as it developed, following the French Revolution. He can be considered as the founder of sociology and perhaps the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.
The main focus of the Plan was how to reorganise the spiritual power in order to complete the historic mission begun by the French Revolution. One striking aspect of this work is that Comte’s anti- democratic tendencies come to the fore more clearly than ever, indicating the trajectory his thought was taking. He contended that sovereignty of the people would put power in the hands of those unfit to rule both morally and intellectually, “replacing the arbitrariness of kings by the arbitrariness of people, or rather, by that of individuals.” What was needed was a new “organic doctrine” that would be supported by all, kings and ordinary people alike. Rather than limiting the power of the state to protect people from arbitrary authority, Comte now argued that the government should be made the “head of society,” uniting people and focusing everyone’s activities on common goals. He was also highly critical of the notion of freedom of conscience: “there is no liberty of conscience in astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology, in the sense that everyone would find it absurd not to believe with confidence in the principles established in these sciences by competent men.” Thus even the right to question science on the basis of one’s own rationality that Comte had retained to some degree in the First Opuscule seems to have gone out of the window. In a similar vein, he argued that only an educated elite should be entitled to freedom more generally:
- “Liberty … in a reasonable proportion is … useful to … people who have attained a certain degree of instruction and have acquired some habits of foresight … [but] is very harmful to those who have not fulfilled these two conditions and have the indispensable need, for themselves as much as for others, to be kept in tutelage.”
With his newly discovered law of three stages, Comte was convinced that politics could now be raised to “the rank of the sciences of observation.” This would enable the scientists to create the spiritual doctrine needed to replace religion. These scientists would be generalists trained in all of the sciences – this idea, first proposed in the Plan, was to become a key theme in his later work. Political science, based on a historical understanding of the past (and future) would ultimately provide a blueprint, or at least some clear ideas, for what a new society would look like. It would provide a guide for practical action and would make it possible to maximise useful activity by directing society towards humanity’s “natural” tendency to modify nature to suit its needs.
That entry gives some impression of the turmoil of ideas that prevailed at the time.
We have had at least two centuries (in Britain) of fairly intensive propaganda and campaigning by the materialist rationalist capitalist lobby, to insist that their world view, their belief system, their meta narrative, is the correct and superior one and that all others are to be dismissed and denigrated.
Nothing that is taught in this culture is neutral, it is all weighted by political and ideological leanings, consciously or not, and this must also apply to what is not taught, everything that is omitted, the absences of certain material. You do not know, what you do not know, do you.
Here’s an example where someone found out that what he had been taught was not necessarily correct. The eminent professor of archaeology at Queen’s University, Belfast, J. P. Mallory. recently wrote a book, In Search of the Irish Dreamtime, which has been reviewed.
The reviewer states ‘When I was at school the scheme of a first colonisation by Cesair, granddaughter of Noah, and her companions, who all drowned in the flood, followed by successive invasions of Nemedians, Partholonians, Formorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha Dé Danann and Milesians, was still fairly seriously taught.’
You know, rival accounts of the past. This is a common familiar occurrence. The past is a contested landscape, a battleground. As is the future.
We get taught these narratives which give us context for our lives, give us meaning, make some sense of what we experience. But when there are choices of stories that conflict, stories that are mutually exclusive, like say the Genesis version of Creation, versus the Big Bang, or some of the others, then how do choose ?
The children of the Enlightenment will say that we have to use reason, rationality, and logic, the tools of science.
However, as those who clamour for the virtues of reason, rationality and logic, almost invariably fail to understand, reason depends upon the context that contains it.
As the brilliant Ian Welsh recently pointed out, within, for example, a certain extreme Christian context, it makes perfect logical sense to burn someone to death, if by doing so, under your sincerely held beliefs, you are saving their soul from eternal damnation. This is the problem we have. All of our rational belief systems are nested within their larger contexts, like Godel’s sets, they are consistent within the brackets, but from outside the brackets, they cannot be shown to be true and correct.
See, when someone from the Western, Cartesian philosophical tradition tries to approach the opening of the Tao te Ching, as in the example above, and uses Res Mensa, the analytical logical mind, this is what you get
- It may be pure nihilism—there is no such thing as correct dao.
- It may be skepticism—correct dao can never be known;
- Or as anti-language—correct dao cannot be put in words or conveyed as guidance to another.
The trouble is, that the Taoists never made the Cartesian division. So their teachings are not amenable to that kind of intellectual mental analysis. To try and understand Taoism using rational logical propositions, of the sort that Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted in their Principia Mathematica, is a fool’s errand, it’s like trying to describe the taste and effects of food, but without actually eating any food, it simply cannot be done. Because Taoism is a teaching that involves the whole body, the whole being, it’s not a teaching about ideas, or mental constructs.
For example, here is a monk, he is not a taoist, but the same principles apply, this is how you learn about Tao, these kinds of techniques, not by analytical logic.
It does not follow that Western intellectual philosophy cannot or could not have interesting things to say about Taoism and Zen, there could be a glorious discussion, but first Western philosophy would have to understand what the impediments are, and at the moment, most of Western academic philosophy is moribund, clueless about Eastern traditions, what gets taught is just the same old crap, that will keep a tenured teacher safely in his or her job until pension time, there are a few radicals who are so far out on limbs, nobody can understand anything they say, it might mean something, or not.
As I understand it, to follow Taoism, really means that you have to follow your own personal tao, and that means that you practise some sort of actual embodied form of activity, whereby you demonstrate ‘the truth’ as it were, of the knowledge, the insight, that your devotion has given you. So this could be almost any of the jobs that humans do to have a livelihood, but probably it’s much easier if there is some physical or creative aspect. In the sense that if a person is a potter, like Bernard Leach, and makes a perfect pot, then everyone can be witness to the mastery.
Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, have thought about these matters in great depth, probably far more than I know about, because there are untranslated texts. There is the idea of the ephemeral masterpiece, that only exists for a brief time. The perfect action. There is the idea of the bonsai tree, which relies on many generations to keep it perfect.
This is such a big subject, I don’t want to address it. What could not be a way ? Well, something that you did for money, as the sole motive, would not. I think ‘a way’, means ‘cultivating your inner being, whilst tending the world’, something like that. You have to find your calling, your vocation, some sort of activity that sparks you to respond. It might be to be a soldier, or to keep some sort of animals, or to garden, or to make things, or to entertain people, there is such immense diversity to human activity.
If there is no possibility of practical or physical expression, what could you do ? I don’t know. Maybe, for Western people, theopoetics, at least it seems to be open and unconstrained…
But money ? Well, first learn what money is, and why the liars and fraudsters have mislead us all about what it really is. If you really understand everything about money and you think it is really interesting and worth accumulating, more interesting than other pursuits… well, do that, I suppose. I’d rather be fetching ancient shipwrecks from the sea bed, or finding lost cities in the desert, or sitting here on this mountain, thinking about nothing…. Nothing… more nothing… nothing…