Thursday, 22 March 2012

Eastern Promise - Part II

This is part II of an answer to the question: 
You asked me what I think you are doing.

I think you are going down the same route many Eastern philosophies are.

Having outlined the basics of these schools of thought, we are in a position to look at some parallels and differences. One way in which we differ from these schools of thought is primarily in our methodology.

Where these schools focus on meditation, we undertake an ontological analysis of reality, with the aid of empirical evidence and direct looking in reality to demonstrate the no self insight. In that sense, the groundwork for this core insight can now be industrialised. We have managed to pioneer a methodology in which we can get the core teaching of no self transmitted, without having to resort to a formalised religious or belief system.

We have isolated the kernel of truth from these institutions and have managed to reduce it down to be encapsulated in one core insight which is “NO SELF”. Here we break rank with the Eastern philosophies again, since we see the inherent value of this. We would not say that this is equivalent with the main traditions, but it certainly seems identical to the Neo- Advaitan and Zen conception of enlightenment.  

At no point has anyone successfully argued against us about the merits of this insight. None of our critics have ever shown that we have not genuinely experienced a paradigm shift, nor have they managed to show that 'no self' is invalid in any way. It seems the only arguments people have levelled, is that no self is worthless on its own.

Which to be fair it actually is, if, it is merely held as a belief.

The evidence of no self can be demonstrated empirically very easily, even David Hume worked out that we cannot experience the self as far back as 1748. Julian Baggini, Derek Parfit are among notable modern philosophers who all believe the self is an illusion. They are not wrong in their reasoning in any way, but this is the point where we hit a brick wall of understanding. At this point there is a difference between simply believing and knowing this issue.

How do we illustrate this difference simply?

I decide to question my belief that the moon is made of rock. NASA has demonstrated reams of empirical evidence, to the point where we genuinely believe the moon is made of rock, and is not made of cheese.

However, this is a priori knowledge (The knowledge is independent of our experience).

We have not been to the moon to experience what it is like there, so we have had to form a concept about the composition of the moon from the available evidence presented to us.

Whilst the empirical evidence we have seen is posteriori (obtained from actual experience), this has only informed us with a belief about whether the moon is made of rock.

If we went to the moon in a rocket, I could still potentially encounter a giant piece of cheddar. All we have to rely on is the empirical evidence that we have encountered, and we have no guarantees that what NASA says is actually true, without resting on our belief about the moon. It maybe that NASA is secretly stockpiling crackers and red wine.

Until we can obtain our own knowledge about the moon by actually visiting it, we can never have any more than a belief about the composition of the moon. It may be well founded but we cannot guarantee the truth of our belief, without visiting the moon.

Consequently, anyone who merely only believes there is no self, is no better off than someone on earth making a priori conspiracy theories about the moon. Whilst we can assert that no matter how unlikely it is that this is true, we can never know for sure without seeing it first hand.

In that sense philosophers and spiritual folk who simply change their belief about the self accomplish absolutely nothing, and feel they are in a well placed position to question the idea of no self and argue about its merits. It is the same as me placing a box on the desk in front of someone and telling them to look inside. Instead they decide to lecture us and tell us about the contents of the box, whilst all the time ignoring the box they could open right in front of their eyes.

Yet, they will claim they are a rational person by imagining what is inside the box, and claiming that they do not need to look because they already know. There is no arguing with these folk quite simply, but it is worth remembering that looking inside the box rather than arguing about its contents requires courage. We do not mean super human courage, just a desire to face up to the truth whatever it may be.

In dealing with the no self insight, we find ourselves constantly trying to reiterate that the belief that the self is an illusion is utterly useless.
Only by obtaining an experiential encounter of no self, can we say anything about its value. This is where people miss the point, they often say “self is an illusion” is old news.

Yes it is old news.

Like 500 years BC old news.

The truth is, believing this news is absolutely worthless unless it is experientially validated. This is the point we constantly make about resting on assumptions and this is what any of the people who question the value of no self consistently fail to grasp in any capacity. This is simply because they are trying to understand a new paradigm, with the same tired conceptual distinctions. It really is as simple as that, it will never be grasped by conceptualising it from an old paradigm of thinking.

Most of the tired arguments levelled at us by the philosophical community have taken this form. Unfortunately neither side can win this argument, since language is merely representative of reality.

Language is not sufficient to convey experience, linguistic analyses teach us nothing new and our experience of reality cannot be captured by language.

Advocates of the spiritual community have levelled similar arguments too. In particular, one guy who slated us from his blog ages ago, claimed that no self could be realised over the course of a weekend Buddhist retreat. 
It actually could be, if, the people were engaged in looking at no self, and not trying merely trying to understand 'no self'.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what happens in a weekend Buddhist retreat. If one was to follow Buddhism eventually the self would be seen as false and no self would be realised. 
But as you know full well these people are stuck meditating for perhaps ten years or so. You get told at the start there is no self at the start and to develop the insight in to it, but they do not tell you to look because they want disciples. Seekers actually get stuck in the whole Buddhism lifestyle and take on misguided moral postures and metaphysical beliefs such as karma.

Essentially, Buddhism is just one way of arriving at the same conclusion there is no self, and the work over this time scale has been to break down the layers of ego, or get de-conditioned from their patterns of thinking that are based in ignorance. 
This aspect is a good thing. The core truth is not at fault here or anything, it is simply the Buddhist chooses another set of beliefs, to replace his original faulty ones, whilst breaking down the foundations of the false self. That is what really happens.

I am sure a few people will question me here, but there again, it will probably be people who have never even been to a real Buddhist retreat, and witnessed first hand the formalisations and money orientation of the temples. 
If you have lived in a Buddhist country, then you will know exactly what I am talking about. The beliefs the Buddhists adopt are very questionable and we will scrutinise this in the second half of the question related to Nirvana.

Where we have argued with spiritual folk in the past, has been on the merits of our status in relation to the main traditions. Now we can start to outline some conceptions and address them.


Neony said...

"the formalisations and money orientation of the temples"

Living in Thailand half of the year, and seeing my family's traditional Buddhist behaviour when they attend temple-retreats or go for a special Buddha-day (which is very very frequent)this is an obvious fact. The wealth of the Buddhist organisation is immense and mostly supported by the poorest uneducated people in hope of a better life (karma), promised by the very same organisation. It's beautiful ceremonies and beautiful temples but it's hollow. Truth covered with multiple layers of nice wishes, lotus flowers, loveliness, ceremonies, mistaken humbleness, worship, and meditating statues (not that this in it self is in any way wrong ,rather it's too often putting a
flower-decorated golden wagon in front of the horse, thus covering the innocent mover).

Gh0$T V1Ru$ said...

Totally Neony, this is a far better analysis than what I wrote.
I lived there for over a year and I was surprised at the extent that this institution wields so much influence and makes so much money. It is an institution that pervades many aspects of Thai culture. Whilst some of what they do is admirable, it seems to be dressed in trappings and seems to be concerned with aspects beyond dharma, in particular money trees!

It seems when you see all the golden Buddha statues they do well out of it and it also seems that they play on the belief of folk magic to get people to have their property blessed, I am sure you know people who paid to have their motorbikes and homes blessed, I'm sure Buddha never meant for monks to be doing this! Fortunately, in the UK we are slowly eradicating christianity and obtaining a more secular governance. It seems Thailand and Buddhism are inextricably linked for now.

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