Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Reflections on UG and the Scientific Approach

[The following article was prepared with the aim of posting in the blog of a scientist friend of mine. For whatever reason, that did not happen. I am posting this just so readers here will have a look at it. Any comments, of course, will be welcome.]

UG operated from both the subjective and objective points of view in his approach to various issues:

A) He would take the objective, scientist's point of view at times and say: 1) Man as a product of evolution is born with a neurological defect, viz., of self-consciousness that creates the self and its concomitant self-protectiveness which go above and beyond the evolutionary needs of survival and reproduction. 2) The self and self-protectiveness operate through man's development outside his organism through his culture. 3) Man's internal and external conflicts are a consequence of this self-protectiveness which creates offensive and defensive mechanisms as well as a civilization which is ultimately destructive of the human kind.

Once I also heard him say that scientists will find out one day that consciousness is everywhere.

UG's teachings, however, cannot be judged or measured by any scientific (or for that matter any rational) means, because they are not, as he would say, "based on logically ascertained premises."

Man, according to UG, is unique in creation because of his self-consciousness. Self-consciousness has not only provided his superiority to better control nature to his advantage but also has generated all his typically human individual and collective problems. Thanks to the internalization of the cultural influences in him, he formulates his goals for perfection and strives to live according to them. It is indeed such goal-seeking that is the source of his problems. If it is just goal-seeking like food gathering or procreation, which we also find in the animal world, there would have been no problem. But the goals that man seeks are set by his culture on the model of other personages in his culture who have succeeded in molding society. The goals create a past and a future in his mind and become an endless source of conflict. These goals operate through his self-consciousness with the help of his thought process which splits up each thought into the self and the goal, something that he has to become or achieve. They also create his sense of time. Once the self is formed thus on the basis one's past experiences, it becomes the basis of assigning meaning to the world around us and finding a place for itself in it.

The self is formed through the operations of the thought process which includes goals inculcated by one's culture (such as becoming a perfect man), goals which not only are used to promote one's pleasure and avoid one's pain, but create an effort to ensure that pleasure or happiness over time (hence the quest for permanent happiness) and thereby achieve a permanent place in the scheme of things. This is essential for the "survival" of the self, as opposed to the survival of the organism of the individual, which is normally taken care of by the biological functions of self-preservation and procreation. Endless search for a non-existent permanent happiness, "without a moment of unhappiness," becomes the main concern of life and a source of conflict.

UG's views about modern medicine parallel his other views. He himself would never take medicines or see a doctor if he ran into any problem. But he doesn't recommend the same for others. He would say that the body knows how to take care of itself (and heal itself), that pain is a healer, that the (psychological) problem of pain is created by connecting one sensation with another in our minds, and that when the body finds itself unable to take care of itself, it will gracefully give up and die. At other times, he would say that you sometimes need "to give a helping hand" by taking medicine. When a person has cancer or suffers an injury, his advise to him, more often than not, is to seek medical help, especially by getting a diagnosis and go through surgery, if necessary. In case of mental illnesses, he always held that most of them are due to genetically determined chemical balances and have to be treated with drugs.

He would use scientific facts he collected from newspapers, magazines or people visiting him sometimes to bolster his own position, or sometimes to show that the scientists don't always know the depths of things.

B) UG also often takes the subjective (or rather, his own personal) non-dual point of view, i.e., point of view and says that 1) evolution and even cause-effect relationships are all thought-created, that unless in thought you concatenate one event with another, there is neither evolution nor cause and effect; and that 2) there is no such thing as a third or fourth dimension (if he saw Einstein [who talked about the three dimensions of space and the fourth of time], he would "shoot him on sight". As far as he was concerned there are only two dimensions, implying that the third (and the fourth) dimensions are interpolations of our thought process.

Thus UG discards the idea of evolution, especially when it came to the universe: according to him, the scientists' theories about the origins of the universe and big bang are all bunkum; scientists will never find the fundamental particle from which supposedly everything came. He says that the universe has no origin and has no end. It always has been, is and will be. There is no sense in asking the whys and wherefores of creation.

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On the other hand, if someone complained about his personal problem such as deteriorating vision, he would counter with the objective point of view: "I don't see any blindness in you," or "I don't see any problem," or "You have no problem." Or, if someone speaks of how he experiences duality in response to UG's claim that he himself doesn't experience any duality, of how there is meaning in his experience and so forth, UG would counter him by saying that that the person's understanding of him and attributing meaning to his statements was only an "interpretation," that there is no meaning, that he (UG) was only making noise, "barking like a dog," that the other person was doing exactly the same thing, and that "they are only two dogs barking at each other."

In all this, UG's attempt is not so much to prove a certain point of view, position or claim, but to disarm the listener's intellect, so that he can stand without any ground whatsoever. UG is not so much interested in winning the other person to his side, either. His efforts were all directed toward dismantling the belief structures and mental edifices people have built in their minds. However, one can't say that UG has a set agenda of doing such things. It's more appropriate to say that that's how he operated.

Much like the dialecticians of the past like Nagarjuna, he didn't have a set position of his own. And whatever operated through UG, if it ever succeeded with anyone, would not only disarm the person's intellect as well as his mental edifice in general, unglue him from his attachments and conditioning, (it's not that the person wouldn't operate through them any more, but that he is not determined by them), but would prompt him to revert to what was his original state, i.e., the Natural State. Whether or not this individual will be able to function in the world as a natural individual largely depends on if and how much from moment to moment he has freed himself from his conditionings and attachments.

The natural state, if it could be called such, is not achieved through any conscious (or unconscious) effort on one's part. It is something we are already in and we revert to it only when all effort based on goal-seeking ceases. UG, however, cannot be understood to be supplying a set method or recipe to achieve such a state. He only states the necessary condition for it to occur. That doesn't mean that you can achieve that result by practicing a certain method. A method presupposes a calculated goal to which it is supposed to lead you. And, UG would say, as long as a duality exists in your mind between yourself as you are and a state such as the natural state, so long there is bound to be conflict.

Of course, in UG, this would be seen as a fundamental solution to the problem of conflict in man (within and without), although it's hard to visualize how such a person would live and function in this world. All the goals and ambitions that would mark the life of a modern man would have no meaning for this individual. (Note that this does not mean that he would not have goals as such making a living, having a family or other such finite goals; only he will be free of the goals which can in principle be never totally realized, goals such as becoming perfect or permanently happy, or totally fulfilled.) We can't see that there will be any civilization as we know it, if the world were populated by such men.

This doesn't mean that the situation is hopeless either. It just means that there is nothing we can consciously or deliberately do to achieve such a state. Does this mean that if a person realizes his true state, it's only by good luck or chance? UG often said that "'It' chooses you, you do not choose it," that is, if you are lucky.

Then what did he hope to achieve through all this? Was he aiming at some result or goal? He wasn't even interested as much in changing or transforming people. In his final years, he used to say that what he says would "unburden" you, meaning unburdening you from your past.

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Comments and Reflections: My quarrels with scientific method, particularly as it is applied to human sciences, is that it almost totally neglects to take the subjective fully into consideration. While many scientific studies in medicine, neurophysiology, psychology or sociology have to take into account the subjective "input" to verify and validate its results, the subjective understanding of an issue is undervalued to the extent that results are either distorted or partial, or simply inapplicable. Scientific method in these areas is glaringly conspicuous for grossly ignoring or underestimating both commonsensical introspective reflection and inter-subjective verification, and philosophically esteemed phenomenological method, after it had abandoned introspective method in psychology in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Of course, the subjectivity of the human being can never be objectified. Yet, that ultimately is the basis for my dealings with myself and the world as well as for utilizing scientific findings. So, what does that mean for scientific investigation? As a scientist you may solve all my psychological or social problems, but they remain outside solutions to me, unless I see them as solutions and try to adopt them. In the ultimate analysis, scientific findings have to be seen by a person as valid and applicable to himself; he has to find a way translating them into his personal life and its problems. Also, contrary to appearances, science cannot solve existential problems; at best it gives the illusion of solving them, by creating a hope for final solutions sometime in an indefinite future.

It's not that the objective scientific discoveries and inventions about the human being, and the physiological or neurological equivalents of mental states are irrelevant or useless. They have their place in the realm of knowledge. But the problem with these researches is that it leaves any problems that the individual has to deal with largely in the hands of the experts in the respective field and the person involved is hopelessly dependent on the expert to solve any of them. And the expert, more often than not, is dependent in his turn for the funding of his research on commercial and governmental sources which tend to monopolize and control the discoveries. And only the rich can afford any help from these experts. Man thus becomes a commercial and political slave. In my opinion this is a misled enterprise. As UG would say, all those discoveries "do not percolate to the level of the common man." Not that every man on the street is interested in attaining spiritual liberation or gaining self-knowledge. But not all those who do are necessarily rich. And even if they could get some help from the experts, they would still lack the insight and understanding of how the duality with its consequent problems of conflict is generated in their own minds.

I am not saying that UG cared much about advocating understanding or self-knowledge. As I mentioned above, he rejected the idea of any effort directed to change anything in man's condition to arrive at what he called the "natural state". At the same time, he would also denounce scientific efforts to study the human being as an objective entity, say by establishing correlations between subjective, personal reports of mental states or experiences and the neurophysiologic states or centers of the brain. He is more interested in helping a person realize how all effort is ultimately futile (although it may take a lot of effort on one's part to realize that!).

As I said above, UG only offered the necessary condition to be in the natural state: (To repeat, "'It' chooses you and you do not choose it.") There is nothing you can do to achieve it, because it is not a state to be achieved, nor an experience to be had. When all your goals drop, then the mind is freed from the trammels of the past, automatically. But unfortunately, you cannot willfully drop your goals without the ulterior motive of becoming free. In other words, the process of becoming is still going on. When that ceases, what there is is the natural state.

Science may create through its scientific method a technology by which a human being may mimic such "effortlessness" or even "the absence of the domination of thought processes", but from what we have seen in other areas, the result may be a mock human being, but will not be a full-fledged flesh-and-blood person. Any scientific attempt to modify the brain may produce some result, but would it be the same as the natural state? Would it truly release one from the bonds of day-to-day existence? Of course, the scientist would say that it's always possible and offer us hope. Then we begin to live in hope and would never face the realities of our existence.

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The most frustrating part about listening to UG is that there is really no "directive" you can derive from his teaching: you cannot say he is advising you to do this or not to do that. Yet, he kept talking to people, exposing to them their assumptions and belief structures and yet, telling them there is nothing the person can do ("no way out"). As far as he was concerned that's the mode of his operation. He wasn't trying to change anyone or provide a belief system for people to take home and adopt or apply to their lives. What effect his teaching had on others was not of concern to him. ("It cannot harm anyone;" "I sing my song and go.")

All right, if there is nothing one can do, why is this better than relying on the scientist (or the expert) to solve one's problems?

One common admonition of UG is that "you don't have the hunger, you are wasting away the precious time of your life in pursuing trivial pleasures... etc." Saying this and saying at the same time that no effort of yours is of any use is not very helpful. In fact, they seem contradictory, as the former implies that there is something better, more worthwhile that you should be doing.

Should I just sit tight without doing anything, then, without pursuing any specific goal? Suppose I am reverted to such a passive state. Then either I instantly fall asleep, or some thought, past habit or memory grabs me and takes me to another place (in my mind), pushes me to pursue something, or go after something. Should I just sit here consciously and avoid pleasure- or goal-seeking? But that too is done with a motive. How is that helpful?

The paradox here is resolved in my mind in the following fashion: Actually, the whole dilemma is created by the thought process which is driven by the motivation of trying to find liberation (and find some sneaky way of getting there) and being frustrated about it. Or else, why bother what you do or don't do? When the goals themselves aren't important, it doesn't matter. You could just as well "waste" your life and go when you have to. No meaning, no questions and no quest. If you are at peace with yourself, then where is the problem?

Then, surely, the duality between bondage and freedom would have to disappear, because there is nothing else that one has to become or achieve. There is no 'this' (bondage), because the 'that' (liberation), as a goal, does not have any significance.

The little restlessness that you confront in day-to-day life can easily be resolved by changing the lifestyle or reorganizing daily life slightly differently. There is no fundamental dissatisfaction (or satisfaction) in life. That may be all there is to life. It's neither good nor bad, it just is.

I have to resolve the problems of my life and existence now, while I am still alive, and cannot afford to wait for the scientist to come with some promised solution in some far off future.

When there is no duality in life, there are no problems. Then it doesn't matter if you are liberated or in bondage.

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