In his book In Our Own Image (2015), the artificial intelligence expert George Zarkadakis describes six different metaphors people have employed over the past 2,000 years to try to explain human intelligence.
There are a lot of very clever people who write on this internet. Many of them try too hard to show off how clever they are, which makes it hard to understand what they are saying. I’m not very impressed by that – intellectualism – I like very clever people who can put over their ideas in easily accessible form. Ian Welsh is one of those, he’s brilliant, and it is easy to understand what he means.
There are, ultimately, two dominant strategies: cooperate or compete. If you want widespread prosperity, the dominant strategy in your ideology must be cooperation, though competition has its place. And ultimately the difference between the right and the left is this: The right thinks you get more out of people by treating them badly, the left thinks you get more out of people by treating them well.
An ideology that believes in treating people well is a lot better to live under. And as a bonus, happy people are a lot more fun to be around. And societies with that ideology, all other things being equal, will tend to out-compete those who believe that fear, misery, and the whip are the best way to motivate people.
I recommend paying attention to Mr Welsh, send him some pennies or whatever, if you have some, so he can keep his site shining, as a dispensary of wisdom, intelligent analysis, and good advice.
Anyway, why I thought of him, I recall a tweet, some weeks ago, he said something like ‘meditation is hell’. And I thought about that. It sort of is, and isn’t. It’s more like, being human, is hell.
That’s because, even if you are not in hell right now, even if everything is wonderful, business is prospering, everybody loves you, the sun shines, you can be 100% certain, it ain’t going to last !
So there’s always the nagging impermanence, and no sooner have you won the big prize that you worked so hard for, then, just like snakes and ladders, along comes the terrible bad news, ‘I’m so sorry to have to inform you, but…’
People try to take out insurance for this crap, they try to get very rich, or have some sort of back up that’ll see them through a bad patch, and probably, people in my own lifetime, in Britain, have had the most prosperous and secure existence that any humans have ever had, on this Earth, regarding material standard of living and health care and so forth. There are no longer hordes of roving bandits, when there are floods, efficient emergency services emerge, and so forth.
But still the hells exist. The hells of meditation.
I know meditation is hell, because I have been into it, doing it, for a very long time, I know a lot about it. I think it does not have to be hell. We can minimise some of the hell. But hells are good ! We have to go there too ! 🙂
I have not written recently, because my Cluster Headache illness is so bad, it’s been going on since shortly after Christmas, and sometimes I get an attack every couple of hours, non stop. This is not something any human being can be expected endure, is it ?
But I have no choice. So this is a sort of hell. My torturers arrive, suddenly, grab me, and subject me to extreme pain. When they have finished, the pain ends, and I am broken. Like some sort of Phoenix, I have to find something, amongst the ashes, that I can use, to restore myself, as a human being. What if there is nothing there ?
When this happens over and over again, with no real opportunity for any proper sleep, there is nobody to think or analyse, it’s just the same procedure, exhaustion.
If there were real torturers, an enemy to hate, some secret to keep, then I could fight them, but…. As far as I know, I am innocent, I have committed no crime, this is, according to the materialist, mechanistic paradigm, nothing to do with demons, it is biochemistry gone awry….
The fine endings of this major facial nerve, around the eye and the nose, tell my brain that a red hot nail is being forced into my skull, and I feel the pain of that event, but it is not, it seems, really happening, this is a lie, nothing occurs at the nerve endings, there is some malfunction at the other end, deep inside the brain, where some gremlin has passed the wrong molecule to the wrong handler, and that screws up the entire working procedure in a cascading algorithmic fuck up, that escalates and brings the entire organism, ME ! to a state of non functionability.
So, where’s Tech Support ? Well, they are reminiscent of Microsoft. Effing clueless. ‘Have you tried switching yourself off at the wall ?’
I mean, the handful of brain specialists who have taken an interest… it’s all so unbelievably complicated, it makes anybody dizzy….
But zolmitriptans are good. Yes. When they work. But then they stop working, from over use, and make it worse. And anyway, they are dealing with the effect, not the unknown root cause. Topimarate has been marvellous for a couple of years, presumably doing something for the root cause. But then it stopped.
So, yes. Hell. Extreme very severe pain, is one of the hells. Intolerable suffering that makes you want to end your life so that you can end the suffering, is hell. Meditating is hell. Not meditating is hell.
Nothing really works to prevent or avoid this pain. So I may as well pay attention to it, take an interest in it, for something to do, makes it less boring, I study it closely.
Because I have suffered from this affliction all of my life, I have learned many different techniques for dealing with it. In recent years, with effective drugs, I didn’t need to use them so much. When the drugs stop working I have to remember what I used to do. That’s quite hard, because it’s not like ordinary remembering. I’ve mentioned this before, re ‘leaving the body’, it’s similar to going to sleep, you just detach from the normal connection to the nervous system, so you don’t feel the pain, and it’s one of the levels in jhanic meditation.
But this is hard to do, hard to learn, I had a very strong motivation to learn it, way back before I was even a teenager. It needs a lot of concentration.
Some monks can sit still whilst they burn themselves to death. I tried working on that technique. I focus on the pain, until I have nothing in my sphere of sensation other than the pain, it’s isolated, as pure intense pain, the very epitome of pain. It’s not easy to do, I mean, it’s quite hard to retain consciousness, it needs strong discipline, because what I really want to do is fall over onto my sofa, sobbing and writhing and holding my head, and desperately trying to find some escape or relief or exit from the experience.
What this involves is excluding everything except the pain, focussing on it, looking into it, and then I say ‘Ok, just you and me, and we sit here, for eternity, and see who remains….’
I know I can do this, because I have often advanced to the furthest limits, so I sit, with endless patience, burning, and if there is any wavering, I say, as in the Spinal Tap movie ‘Okay, crank it up to 11’…. Hahaha
Because I know, there is nothing here, except this burning agony, which will eventually subside, and then I have won dominion, victory, the Supremacy of the buddha dharma.
But the trouble is, for me, anyway, this requires enormous effort, to maintain the concentration. So, when, an hour or two later, the damn thing comes back, I cannot repeat the performance, I am just a poor whimpering thing, it wears me down, I don’t have the stamina to be burned alive 12 times in 24 hours, hahaha, it’s asking a lot of an old man, I suppose…
Anyway, that’s physical pain. Back to ‘meditation is hell’. It’s best if meditation does not hurt, if it is comfortable. But some discomfort is a good challenge to overcome. Riding a bicycle, horse, any arduous exercise, your body will be sore, and that’s a good thing to get used to. I think you build up gradually, don’t damage yourself.
Tai chi is good. Hatha yoga is good. Gently get strong. Then stronger. Then very strong. It took me six months of trying, for a few moments each day, to learn to sit in lotus posture without being in agony. With a zafu. But it is all hassle and off putting, and you can sit in a chair or stand, or lay down. There are problems with all the postures I think. You have an external energy field around you body, that has to be ‘got right’, and you have the internal energy flows inside your body, which also have to be ‘got right’, and these are quite hard to ‘get right’, even small things make a difference.
Basically, you have to do this on your own, so the first step is always cultivating the correct positive attitude, so you do not get daunted. You start out with the expectation, that very soon, something nasty is going to hit you. That’s because you are learning, and you are not experienced, you are exploring, this new path will be full of traps and potholes, and you are going to fall into them, and get very unpleasant surprises. Expect that, then it will not BE a surprise, and you will immediately recover, learn, never let it catch you again. Others, without that attitude, give up, go home. They fail the test. This is Beginner’s Mind. Old Masters keep Beginner’s Mind, which is how they survive to become old.
Point is, for this particular view of meditation, whether you stand, sit, kneel, lay down, or find some other posture, the underlying principle is that you can be introspecting, that is, have your eyes closed and be absorbed in your inner world, and safely forget about your physical body, which is comfortable, relaxed, and safe.
It’s better if you train yourself into a habit where you can do this for lengthy extended periods, but for beginners, it’s better to BEGIN, and they’ll never do that, unless it’s interesting, or there’s some progress, if the first attempt is nothing but devastating joint pain and pointless boredom, then it’s a waste of time.
You know, I got forced into this stuff by a cruel, vicious route, that’s why I say I am a shamanic type of person, it was not really my personal choice, it was suicide, or else. So, I’m not the most tender-hearted and sympathetic kind of person, toward those who are, well, wimpish, perhaps is the word. I try to make an effort to be kind and compassionate.
The Soto teaching says that the kindest Kanon appears in the deepest hell. Kanon is the Japanese version of Chinese Guanyin, who changed gender on the way from being Avalokitasvara in India, the goddess of kindness and compassion.
I suppose the idea is, that the more ghastly your suffering is, then the more you are going to appreciate any appearance of kindness and generosity that happens to come your way. I have to admit, I have a lot of trouble with this conception. I’ve got nothing against being kind and compassionate, the more the better, really. But I don’t seem to see it, as any kind of generally operating ‘rule’ inherent in the Universe, so to speak.
I have yet to read or hear any philosopher or religious authority say anything which adequately addresses this problem, the appalling suffering that sentient beings go through, especially as they die.
The Buddha’s formulation is totally inadequate, it’s a copout. It states how suffering can be minimised, in certain respects, by following certain practices. Nowhere does it ask the basic question, as to why the system is structured with such appalling suffering built into it, in the first place. There’s an awful lot of lame waffle.
Sure, the individual Enlightened Saint can rise above it all. According to the Jains, there have only been TWO of them, in the last 2,500 years, according to Vinay Gupta’s take of Hinduism, many people can do it, but still only a tiny portion, and then they are still going to have horrible experiences, the only difference is that they have a calm, insulated inner space, from which they can observe the misery and horror.
You watch the dreadful terror and pain of a human or animal going through death throes, over a prolonged period, as they get torn away from this ‘reality’ and pulled into whatever it is that happens to them as they expire. The distress, anguish, sheer ugly horror of it all, is something that needs to be explained, and I have not found ANY adequate teaching coming from the wisdom traditions. Most of the platitudinous infantile claptrap provokes me to fury.
Think of those Tar Pits, where archaeologists find massive troves of fossilised well preserved skeletons of creatures like Dire Wolves, surely at least as intelligent and sensitive as contemporary Wolves, and consider what kind of death that entailed.
That kind of dreadful suffering is built in to this system, as an inevitable part of the way that it is constructed. Whether you want to be part of nature, or apart from nature, there it is. A few billion years of it, happening every day of the week.
Let’s move on.
The statements that Enlightenment is to be seen as this, or that, are, in a sense, of the same sort of status as urban legends, they are gossip, embedded in culture.
If a person says ‘I am enlightened’ or ‘I am not enlightened’, having that thought, expressing that thought, it does not make it so, does it. It’s merely the transition of a thought.
The actual state, the condition, of being Enlightened is not captured or contained by a thought, or any textual description.
Vinay Gupta tries to describe and talk about Enlightenment within the particular context that he learned his understanding, many other people do likewise, they have a pre-conceived notion of what Enlightenment is, or what it might be, and then they strive to follow various practices which they hope will assist them to find or attain that state or condition, whatever it is.
My personal view, it’s mostly misguided nonsense. You can be instantly liberated from all of it, if you want to be, if you know how. You can have your instant Complete Enlightenment. You just let all thought forms, all knowledge, all physical attachment, all material connection, absolutely everything, fall away, just let go of everything, and there you are, nothing except some sort of infinite vibrating awareness…. Sort of thing… As you were in your mother’s womb. Once.
Well, it does not do you much good, does it ? It lasts a few seconds, if you don’t know how to sustain it. If you work on the techniques, it’s not so hard to maintain it. You can walk around ‘being God’ or ‘as God’ or something to that effect, because you are totally pure, unsullied, uncontaminated.
Lots of drugs will give you brief hit of that, but it’s better to ‘just do it’ really.
You still have to deal with this dirty material world, and you still have to have wisdom, and where do you get that ? Being naive, innocent, pure, is not the same thing as being wise, is it ?
I mean, if you find yourself in what you believe to be a totally enlightened state, then perhaps what you need to do, is like Zeno’s Effect, is to keep watching it very closely, so that it stays frozen and fixed, so that you do not lose it ? 🙂
I often get sucked into a rant about the great disaster that befell Western culture when Cartesian dualism split the mind from the body, and the observer from ‘the world’. We are all having to cope with the results. Instead of me, here’s someone else with their version, with is quite well written and full of interesting snippets.
The Renaissance idea of caring for and cultivating the world was not to last long. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a new analytical spirit emerged that was highly mathematical. Associated with the great geniuses of the Scientific Revolution, this new way of looking at the world portrayed the cosmos not as alive but as a dead, clockwork mechanism, perpetually ticking along according to eternal laws. The French philosopher René Descartes summed up the mechanistic worldview perfectly in one line—“I have described this Earth, and indeed this whole visible world, as a machine”—the exact opposite of Plato’s view that the universe is “a Single Living Creature that contains all living creatures within it.” Moreover, with Descartes, a new image of human nature also emerged. Human beings were now pictured as rational spectators, who now had no intrinsic relationship with the world. For Descartes, the world was something we could only now understand through the disembodied mind, which was different in nature from everything else.
At this key turning point in the development of scientific awareness, all of reality came to be increasingly pictured in terms of two main principles: dead, inanimate matter, and motion, the external cause that powered it. In this process, nature came to be seen as radically other and different from humanity. According to Descartes, animals were only unconscious machines (Figure 3). If you hit a dog and it cried out, it was only an automatic response, just like the sound given off by a mechanical doorbell. The cosmos could now be modeled mathematically, and mathematics gave us control over the external world, which was coming to be pictured more and more as an exploitable resource rather than as a living community of which we are a part.
Emerging with the new scientific worldview was also a new spirit of utilitarianism. While the Greeks had sought to enjoy and understand nature through contemplation, the modern question came to be, How can we make use of nature? Francis Bacon wrote that organized scientific research and experimentation would establish “the Dominion of Man over the Universe” and render nature “the slave of mankind.” Later utilitarian philosophers would argue that nothing in the natural world had intrinsic value in itself and only became valuable if it could be used or turned into something else. Culturally, this idea gave rise to the myth of progress and sanctioned the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the transformation of our planet through mass manufacturing. This struck a second blow to human nature. The first blow, from Descartes, suggested that human beings were different, with no real connection to the world. The second blow, struck by utilitarianism, was that nothing possesses any real value—including our lives—as it exists in the present moment. To possess real value, things needed to be transformed into something else, and the real measure of value was money.
In the human sphere, utilitarianism sacrifices leisure to work. Free time should not be enjoyed for its own sake but should always lead to a future outcome that can be evaluated and measured. Every dimension of life then becomes a ‘bottom line’ situation that is all work and no play. For the modern, secular world, what we have is never enough. The future beckons. Everything becomes an investment, an opportunity, a leverage point for some future ‘utopian’ state we are promised but which can never ultimately be situated in the world.
The greatest achievement of the mechanistic worldview was Sir Isaac Newton’s model of celestial mechanics, which allowed for the precise, mathematical prediction of the planetary movements. Suddenly, it seemed that a scientific revelation was at hand. Poets sang of Newton’s intellectual greatness and even Newton himself proclaimed, “O God, I think thy thoughts after thee!”
Newton’s theory, while it worked very well, was based on underlying assumptions that would all later be shown as false. These assumptions included the beliefs that matter was dead and inert, only acted on by external forces; the universe was rigidly ordered and strictly deterministic; the observer was objectively distinct from the world under study; space and time were absolute, unchanging realities; and no creativity existed in nature, only in the mind of God at the beginning of time.
By radically oversimplifying the world, classical physics contained the seeds of its own undoing. The entire edifice rested on a reductionistic dualism that separated spirit from matter and self from the world. Because of this dualism, the cosmos was not a unified, organic phenomenon in which humanity and life even had a place.
As I understand it, what happened at the time of Descartes, was essentially a political accommodation between the Church and the rising power of the secular forces in soceity. It was a very complicated time, of social upheaval, with the arrival of the printing press. Prior to that invention, when books were written by hand, it was relatively easy for any power, be it a king, or a pope, to know who was writing what, and where, and where the information was going.
I was listening the other day to Terence McKenna’s amazing lectures on hermeticism and alchemy, where he mentions ancient Syrian texts, the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, being obtained by the Medicis in Florence, where they were translated.
That must, at the time, have been almost like getting hold of the plans for nuclear power stations, I mean, the information is radically subversive, contrasted with what the official Church of Rome held to be the only acceptable belief. You know, God spoken of as ‘your brother’.
Powerful people like the Medicis could keep that kind of info securely under lock and key, but once there was automated printing, if someone transcribed a few pages of anything, in days, thousands of copies could be made and spread all across Europe, a lot like the internet today. This was a catastrophe for the established power structures, because all their secrets were leaking, and when people invented glass lenses for microscopes and telescopes, suddenly new questions about ‘reality’ arose, which the priests could not answer, and once the wider public read about all of this, the whole situation got out of control.
So, as I said, a political accommodation. The secular scientists got the material stuff that everybody could see, and the Church kept the invisible immaterial stuff.
And thus it remains, even unto this day, a totally absurd and farcical historical cultural tragedy.
It is not as clear cut, as I have portrayed it. The Jesuits were always highly educated, they soon saw how things were going, and many became great scientists. And plenty of others have got along with their work, regardless of this fundamental nonsense. But in the general popular culture, and in science itself, the madness remains.
So for many in the West, there’s the rift, the silly either/or, where children are forced to choose between rationalism, materialism, secular atheism, and what I’d call scientism, or else they can opt for some form of the established religions, and some try to put a foot in both camps, and that’s a fairly uncomfortable stance.
We hear this in Vinay Gupta’s talk, re Enlightenment, the strange postmodern mish mash of ancient hindu beliefs from the Mahabharata, and hi tech sci fi transhumanist meld together, and he apologises for mentioning certain ideas which he knows are simply outside the scope of acceptability to a Western audience that has just received 400 years of heavy indoctrination to persuade them that their ‘folk lore’ is all superstitious rubbish and must never be taken seriously.
So, officially, in Britain, ‘spirits’ do not exist. And the spiritual is all about spirits, is it not, I mean, by definition, the non-material, the dis-embodied, all the stuff that you cannot get hold of and hit with a hammer, the stuff which the scientists cannot grab and put onto a bench in a lab and measure.
Children get indoctrinated into this belief system, materialistic scientism, from an early age. They are told that ‘It’s their imagination’, that ‘All that stuff, ghosts, etc, is nonsense, not real’. And anybody who persists in taking it seriously gets a barrage of derision. I know this from personal experience. Hahaha. It’s deeply embedded into the culture. If you want to ridicule someone, accuse them of believing in Santa Claus or Fairies or any so-called ‘Supernatural’ entity. It’s a slightly less offensive way of saying that they suffer from a mental illness, and therefore anything they say is of no value, in fact, they are probably going to knife some unsuspecting passer by in the back….
This is British culture. It mostly stems from the long running attack by the secular atheistic supporters of science, especially of Darwin, against anyone who wanted to stay with the Biblical account. But, the Biblical lot, the Protestant Church of England and the Catholics, and several other minor denominations, have been trying to eradicate all other beliefs ever since they arrived on these islands, so both these camps will very happily join forces in an alliance to attack, say, the use of ouija boards, or anything else that they don’t approve of. They both have the same totalitarian dynamic, they want complete victory, everyone must believe what they believe, no exceptions.
My claim would be, that to be a ‘spiritual’ person, means to have insight and understanding of the domain of the spirits. That is, the realm of the entities that have no material substance. If you have no knowledge or connection to that dimension, then what claim can you possibly make to ‘spirituality’ ?
This means that, although Vinay Gupta may well fit the requirements of Enlightenment under his own, his tradition’s, definition of the term, that is, getting the insight that you are not your mind, that you can, so to speak, sit inside yourself, as a detached and serene observer, attending to your senses and your mind, as if it is one of your senses, and so forth, as he describes, in my model, there is more to it than that.
For example, Vinay mentions that one teacher died, and was regarded as an immortal, and made a joke that this was sort of disappointing, and he just accepts that some folk believe there are gurus who are millions of years old living in the Himalayas, etc. He invited immortals to his bedroom, they never showed up, etc.
Well, this, to my mind shows lack of insight. (I never heard anyone say ‘millions’, only ever thousands. I think there is a difference. But those who sneer will sneer at both.)
Look, the spiritual domain is not the material domain. The rules are different. I mentioned immortal, or rather, exceptionally long lived beings, in the Irish tradition, here, Fintan and the Hawk of Achill
It is said that Gautama said he could have become an immortal being, but nobody asked him so do. There are numerous so called immortals in the Taoist tradition, there’s plenty of discussion related to the subject, I doubt there was ever any cultural contact with the Celts, unless in Palaeolithic shamanic deep history. These people were not stupid, they did not indulge in whimsical fanciful nonsense, they took their spiritual affairs seriously.
What this involves is far deeper than what V G describes, which is really just the fruit of mindfulness training. Once the inner self, if we can call it that, as a secure independent observer, independent of the mind, is established, it can then connect to what is perhaps most conveniently called the Subtle Body. This has many different names, in many different traditions, so how you speak about it, and what techniques you use, vary from culture to culture, tradition to tradition, and between the schools and sects which specialise in these esoteric practices.
There are teachings which aim specifically at cultivating immortality. But I am not going to talk about that here, where out of the 150 or so regular readers, only a handful are known to me personally, and I am not in the business of teaching people this stuff, anyway. I just want to make it clear, that in my personal understanding, there are spirits, there are spirits which persist, that is, they last, in some sort of intact or continuous form, for prolonged periods, meaning centuries. Maybe millennia.
You don’t ‘invite them to your bedroom’, such stupid infantile rubbish is typical of the crass attitude that this culture has toward everything spiritual. Cheap trashy magic is for people who want kicks, like money, power, sex, and in my opinion, that’s a waste of time. If you think that’s why you exist, then you are operating on a low plane, so to speak, and you will encounter the beings that exist on that plane, and they are all equally grotty and sordid. That’s why I don’t like or rate Crowley and his fans, he seems to me quite a shitty little man, who had quite a squalid life. But it was in the context of the times, early last century. It makes more sense when you read the biographies of others who crossed his path. It was all grim, from my point of view, very few people who seem in the least bit admirable.
I believe that the spirit domain is absolutely real, important. Half the people in this country – well, I have no idea what the percentage is, but some large portion – will see that as a symptom of mental illness, hallucinations, pathology, because it clashes with the paradigm of reality that they have been taught. But another large portion will be quite comfortable with the proposition, especially in private, because I have rarely met anyone who did NOT have a weird tale of the paranormal to tell, given the chance. Everybody has had everykind of weirdness happen in their lives. Unofficially.
But scientism rules. So you better keep your mouth shut, if you care.
See, what we have got, came from this sort of thing, illustrated here
I am unable, when I turn to myself, to recognize any of my faculties or my capacities. The inner sensation which I have of myself informs me that I am, that I think, that I will, that I have sensory awareness, that I suffer, and so on; but it provides me with no knowledge whatever of what I am – of the nature of my thought, my sensations, my passions, or my pain – or the mutual relations that obtain between all these things […] I have no idea whatever of my soul.
It’s more or less a beginner’s position, and if he has no idea what ‘soul’ IS, or how to seek it, or what to do, then it’s hopeless. The whole of Western culture is spiritually illiterate. It’s dismal.