Wednesday, April 21, 2021

(Note: This is the final chapter in the series I have intended to post here.  I plan to add three more possible chapters to the book: 1) The Mind-Body Problem; 2) Other Persons (Minds); 3) Privacyand 4) My article on The Living in the Present in my proposed book as Parts II and III.  As they have already been posted in this blog, I am not repeating them.  If you notice any errors, or have any comments, suggestions or advice as to the compilation of the book, please leave a note and I would appreciate it.)

Some Final Thoughts:

Relating the Discussion to UG

The self being an Illusion:  The effects of the self may be quite evident, but it’s not so evident that it’s an illusion.  If it is a put together, as it must be, there is no special entity (a ‘ghost’ inside the machine) which puts it together or synthesizes it. Although all our thinking, feeling and behavior presume such an entity, actually there is no such thing.  As more than one philosopher pointed out, there are only thoughts, feelings and impressions succeeding one another, giving the feeling that there is a center or an agent behind them.  That’s where probably UG’s analogy is germane.  The computer runs by a program, and it can do the putting together of various sorts of information.  We too are run by programs contained in our genes and modified to varying degrees by environmental factors that govern our behavior.  That doesn’t mean there is a self behind the behavior. [1]

True, we don’t find any such thing as the self in introspection.  Does that mean it is an illusion?  How come all the thoughts, our behavior and our relationships to the world as well to life in general are as if there is one?  You could perhaps say that thought is the source of the self and if thought is not there, then there would be no self.  But even without thought there is self-preservation and propagation, and thought only extends these beyond the immediate present, creating the past and the future, mentally speaking.  But even animals remember the past and act on it.  So where’s the catch? Even UG has to admit that we cannot live without thought, and thought inevitably brings the idea of the self, self-centeredness and selfishness, only UG can tell what it would be to live without the stranglehold of thought.  I think that’s where the catch is.  The fact that UG uses all the benefits of thought, include money transactions, accumulation, bequeathing, (not to mention attempting to set up a virus research fund), travel plans, making arrangements for friends, or offenses and defenses, we just have to somehow take his word for it on faith that somehow we can be free from that stranglehold, and that if we do, we are somehow free from the self.

The most I could imagine is relative freedom from attachment to things, which is what makes us more or less self-centered or selfish.  But this may be a far cry from being free from the stranglehold of thought, which seems to be an either-or proposition.

Here is the final thought on the matter:  Freedom from the stranglehold of thought means acting and living without questioning, i.e. without the second level of activity of thought, i.e. self-consciousness, going on.  As, UG would say, unquestioning action is morality.  Then UG doesn’t need explanation of why he does what he does.  He doesn’t question it himself and has no answer to others’ question.  Any reference to self or awareness of what’s going on around him or inside him are all part of the movement of life, and he never questions it.  I think that’s more satisfactory an answer than anything else I have pondered so far.  The questions of self or self-consciousness, etc. all fly in the face of such a life.

The Nagging Question:  The perpetual intrusion into consciousness and the ‘I’ who manipulates the contents:

The whole discussion about the self is vitiated by the nagging question of the ‘willy-nilly’ intrusion into consciousness of various contents such as memories.  As they are already in the ‘intentional’ form, there is an observer of them, and ipso facto a manipulator.  And each time the manipulation takes place, the self is reinforced further and further.  This factor alone seems to override all the above discussions about the passivity, zero self, and what not.  This is truly where there is no ‘way-out’!

The Self intruding in recall or recollection or sheer memory in the form of (inner) speech:  Here it’s not clear to me whether there is a mechanism (like the ‘I’ physiologically speaking) that takes an active role in remembering or recalling, of course, using its past knowledge and experience, or if it is just knowledge or experience(s) from the past ‘looking at’ (reflecting on) what is present in or to consciousness and commenting, changing (using the thinking process) and projecting from it.  To use William James’s term, what is the ‘cash-value’ of saying that there is someone or something that does the watching, observing, reflecting etc. except the acts themselves?  As UG would say, we would never find anything that actually ‘does’ the action, except the activity itself.

The self-dialogue or self-talk has a lot to do with this question:  thoughts arising quickly in succession can surely create the impression of an active self conducting all mental activity in the background (with all its life, knowledge and experience at its disposal).  And yet, upon examination of the phenomenon of the will, we might think twice about this:  When we deliberately say, “I want this, I want to do this,” you might say that’s just a thought looking at something and saying this.  But yet the thought has the potency to control the body and its activity.  Therefore, it’s easy to conclude it’s not just an inert thought that’s doing the willing, but an active agent of some sort. The question cannot be resolved introspectively, for both sides seem plausible.  And it’s unlikely that neuroscience might be able to do that.  How would a bunch of neurons acting in unison create such an agency, or at least a sense of it?  The neuro-scientist, at best, can say there are such-and-such changes in the neuron clusters such as electrical and chemical changes, and then there are these other changes taking places in them.  But unfortunately someone has to make sense of these changes as actions.  The neuro-scientist is only supplying the neuronal correlates.

*                      *                      *

The ‘Thought Sphere’: Also, commenting on UG’s statement that he is freed from the all the experiences mankind ever had, seems like a hopelessly and dangerously vague and over generalized expression of what might have happened to him.  It seems rather farfetched.  You don’t even access to much of your own experiences, how could you even be free from them unless you know what they are.  Perhaps what he experienced in some process was myriads of images, visual or otherwise, of not just people whom he had known in his life (even that is an exaggeration), but other people like Buddha, Jesus, as well. 

Here what Krishnamurti describes as ‘cleansed of the past’[2] makes much more sense: in some moments you mind is not traveling into the past or future, and everything in you and around you becomes alive, raw and uninterpreted.  You ‘fly like a feather’.  May be I am putting words in the mouth of UG.  This may not be what he meant.  But being free all the experience of mankind doesn’t make much sense either.

When you recall or remember an experience, it is always tainted by your background, your idiosyncrasies, and so on, and never without a comment.  In order to be cleansed of some experience, you must first be aware of it.  It must be your experience from some time in your past.  How could you be aware of others’ experiences, even if you are familiar with those persons?  And to be cleansed of all the experiences of mankind you have to know or at least be aware of them.  How is that even possible when you can’t even be aware of much of your own past experiences?

One other problem is that somehow this is connected with UG’s idea that there is a thought sphere of some kind where all of mankind’s thoughts and experiences from times immemorial are stored and we draw from that sphere when it is appropriate, like a radio antenna receives vibrations from radio waves. 

There is also the ambiguity in the term ‘experience’ or ‘thought’.  UG seems to use these terms rather interchangeably.  Are they the same?  Thoughts may be ideas, but then they are different from experiences which more often than not involve our person one way or another, while ideas seem rather impersonal. 

I think there are plenty of problems in this area (of thought or idea) as well. To compound the problem, even in the dictionaries there is no clear definition of ‘thought’ or ‘idea’.

We make an attempt to understand what thought is by looking into what happens when we think.  There is some image, auditory or visual, (or simply said a sub-vocal sound or an image). We can call this a ‘token’ for something.  This something has to arise from our past experience (where else could it come from?).  There is the ‘seeing’ of relationships between items of thought, such as a thing and its property, its proximity to other things or to what I myself have said or done in the past, or what someone else has done or said in the past, and so on.  The list is literally endless.  This seeing is what is contained in a thought whether it is explicitly spelled out in consciousness (say subvocally or verbally) or implicitly ‘understood’. 

For example, I see two people standing next to each other.  And I see that one of them is taller or shorter than the other, or smarter or stupider, or whatever.  This comparative ‘seeing’ is a judgment and that’s what we call a thought.  The judgment, to repeat, may  or may not be made explicitly. To understand, to give another example, what another person said about what I said or did as an insult or compliment, is thought and my reflection on the understanding is another thought.

One might say that these understandings are experiences or ideas.  I think we tend to use these terms rather interchangeably.

Given this background regarding the terms, how can we give weight to UG’s claim that there is a ‘thought sphere’.  My answer is simply that these thoughts are so personal that it makes little sense to assign them an independent and impersonal status[3] such as a ‘thought sphere’

How does all this relate to the nagging question of the self?

*                                  *                                  *

From this above discussion I am tempted to conclude that the question of whether there is an active self is a metaphysical question, much like the question of Kant’s Transcendental Self, and is best left alone.  For practical matters of living, we can surely assume that you and I can by awareness, and actively withdrawing or detaching oneself and such, carry on the operations I described above to become at least relatively free. 

More on Thought, Self and Experience:  Any ‘objective’ discussion about thought is going to miss the crucial element of subjectivity:  the ‘interiority’ or ‘theater’ in which a constant dialogues take place.  If we don’t call these ‘dialogues’ then we will have to take, like UG, the objective approach saying that there is no one thinking the thoughts, only thoughts occurring in succession.  It will also miss the ‘ownership’ element of thought.  Each thought is ‘my’ thought.  And I am not only doing the thinking, but also feeling, willing, imagining a future or remembering a past.  Thoughts occurring in succession do not cover any of these items.  I am afraid there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. 

UG must have been utilizing both these approaches, i.e. the subjective and objective, to arrive at his conclusions:  when he says each thought splits itself into two, thought is matter, thought is sound, he seems to mean that it is physical. He also says you can’t observe thought directly, but only through another thought, and so on. He must have seen this in his personal observation, which is introspective.  Yet in this and other statements like there is no mind or self, he has to be taking an objective approach. 

*                      *                      *

One other reflection I need to mention about thought: When I notice something in my present world, or within my body, or in my consciousness (i.e. in my mental theater), I recall my past comments on it.  And that comment is form of thought.  Extend this notion of thought to imagining a future situation and commenting on it, or recalling a past experience and reflecting on it, and building on these.  These are also functions of thought.  As a calculating, reasoning mechanism, I (my self) can solve problems, device mathematical derivations or furnish proofs, and so on.  All the mental functions such as comparing and contrasting, analyzing, synthesizing, estimating, abstracting, generalizing and hypothesizing are all part of these functions. My thinking is also imbedded in my feelings and emotions as well as my desires, daydreams and fears. 

So thinking is this activity: the response of the background in the form of a comment or judgment to a given situation. And we call the verbal statement or comment which expresses that judgment a unit of thought. 

To come back to where we started, if this is what is meant by thought, by virtue of the fact that these thoughts are so personal, it doesn’t make any sense to say that they are all part of a ‘thought sphere’.

*                      *                      *

I notice in the above that I (as much as UG or anyone else) have combined the subjective or introspective approach with the ‘objective’ approach, especially when I am talking about the sub vocal speech or other movements of the body.  I don’t see how one can escape it, unless one takes a purely behavioristic or neuroscientific approach, neither of which adequately explain the many phenomena that we know.

No matter what approach we take, the one thing that any analysis or explanation can do is to actually capture the truly personal, the ‘I’, which is a residuum left over.  In other words, the truly subjective cannot be objectified. 

*                      *                      *

Two remarks to be added to the above:  1) By Experience I mean not just any situation that I recall or remember, but more often than not, the situation as it pertains to me – for example, it’s not just that someone said something to me or someone else that I remember, but the situation that includes its significance to me.  For example, someone’s words of praise about what I did.  I tend to recall these over and over and build on them, and react to them in different ways.  That’s also why someone’s saying something about me is not just remembered, but the pleasure or hurt it caused.  That’s what makes the memory personal.  It makes the experience ‘my experience’.

A corollary to this is that when I reflect on something, it’s not just another thought reflecting on that, but a thought which is ‘my’ point of view and which runs on the background of the vast knowledge I have accumulated over my life time.

*                      *                      *

Whatever be the discussion about the self, it must also include the idea of the person, as well as the considerations of how both of them are ultimately rooted in the body.  

It’s pretty obvious that if our notion of the self is based on our thinking and thought processes, they in turn are based on sub-vocal speech movements and other bodily phenomena as well as cerebral or other bodily processes. 

On the other hand, the happenings in our intentional, i.e., mental world, are bound to effect the body in terms of how we feel, our glands responding, heart-rate changing, or how they spur us to act in various ways, including further thought responses. 

Western philosophy muddled and complicated matters by creating the phony mind-body problem, by not recognizing the dimensions involved in the complexity of the human being, as if there are two different ‘things’ to be related.  There aren’t.  There is just one human being with a body and capacity for thought.  Thinking is a property of the brain.  That among other things is what the brain, especially the cerebral cortex, does.  This function also has the additional capacity to create the intentional world, in an attempt, in some ways or other, poorly or more accurately, to represent the world.  Once created, the human being feels on the one hand he is in this (‘objective’) world comprising things, people, events, relationships, and so on.  On the other hand, he also feels that he has his own private feelings, thoughts, intentions, desires, hopes and fears, thus creating what we might call the ‘personal’ or ‘subjective’.  Only when he sees a discrepancy between what his ‘subjective’ world and what he and other people as well see as the ‘real’ or ‘objective’ world, is he aware that there is a distinction between the two, and that his subjective world is really his own ‘interpretation’ or ‘construction’ of whatever is ‘out there’. 

Thus other people see his responses also as subjective or personal, i.e. special to him, and not necessarily shared by them.  I need not go into details as to what happens when the discrepancy between the two worlds grows wider and deeper and a person loses touch in various degrees ‘with reality’.

I can look at myself as a person living in my world, with my body, my mind, my thoughts and feelings and son, while at the same time be aware that from your point of view I am just another being, a person (by virtue of the fact that we can both converse with each other through language, giving meaning to symbols and sounds) or just another body (if I am dead, or am a patient in the hospital, and so on). And the ability to look at myself in both ways is in turn generated by virtue of my ‘intentionality’, this too being part of ‘my world’. 

(Notice that this theory or theoretical explanation is also part of my ‘intentional world’ or ‘personal point of view’, if you will.)

Although thought or thinking is a property or function of the brain, the intentional world created by thought should not be treated as something physical or mental.  To treat them as such, is to render them ‘objective’.  It’s not an objective entity or objective anything.  It’s something that exists only as ‘intentional’ i.e. as part or whole of the ‘subjective’ world.  The subjective world is not a ‘world’ to be reckoned as part of the furniture of the universe, although it’s the source of all products created by thought, such as culture, civilization, and its products, as well as social relationships and typically human enterprises, such as institutions and organizations. 

For just that reason, it’s tempting to treat the subjective world as another world.  Once again, I think that would be a mistake.  Yet, for each of us that’s the only world that’s available, although we don’t think it’s merely subjective. 

The discrepancy between my world and the inter-subjective world, i.e. the world we all share in, is not easily reconciled by appeal to the so-called facts, for they too are subject to interpretation and have to be accepted as facts, in order for them to be successfully utilized as the bases for reconciliation. 

In view of this, one might come to the conclusion, as UG would that the world, that my world only exists as my interpretation of it.  In fact, one might even go the extent of saying even the so-called sensations out of which one composes the world, are themselves products of thought.  In order to recognize something as a sensation, one must be able to point (even to oneself) that it is such and such, for which we need thought. 

Thought, in this context, would amount to nothing more than our past.  In other words, unless some mechanism in me translates the so-called sensation into something I can recognize as such, there is no such thing as sensation.  In fact, there is only an undifferentiated blob, a mere ‘nothing’,

But then, UG would jump in and say, even thought and your past are themselves constructions. They too have no existence before they are recognized by thought as such.  Here we get caught in a vicious loop and can never get out of it.  UG would leave us with no alternative except to raise our arms and give up.  In sum, we don’t know anything.

2) Thought as Matter: UG always said that thought is matter.  Yet, he too was not free from the intentional world or the world created by thought, for he used it all the time.  As he himself would say, he would not have been able to function in this world, which he very well did, without using thought and its products.

However, it is hard to understand how the intentional world, created by thought, is itself matter, if by ‘matter’ we understand something insentient, unthinking and unmeaning.  The intentional world is a world of meaning.  For anything to have meaning, whether it is sounds that I hear, or marks on paper, or gestures or sensations – anything – they must be understood, seen and responded to as such.  This can never happen in a material world. 

Once again, when we have to confront the very process that gives meaning to things, we have no clue what it is.  It just happens that things have or do acquire meaning, like symptoms in a diseased person give rise to their being interpreted as a symptom complex (a syndrome) that’s characteristic of a certain disease.  Outside of this mechanism of ‘interpreting’ or giving meaning, nothing would, and could, possibly make sense.  And only a hypothesis or a theory, which generally is a construct of the mind, can make a statement like this.  When we go to a higher level to make sense out of this mechanism, we are again at a total loss.  We don’t really know what it is that does the interpreting, except perhaps saying that our past somehow ‘sees’ it as such. 

*                                  *                                  *

Different Perspectives or Points of View:   Notice how the things get complicated by the introduction of various points of view or perspectives in the discussion of the various worlds:  1) there is the world as I see it, know it, believe that there is, operate in and talk about.  2) There is the world in general about which I have been hypothesizing and theorizing, talking about and discussing, which supposedly you understand as well, and relate to, because you can, at the least, reconstruct what I am saying, of course by interpreting it as meaningful, in your intentional world and evaluate it, and agree or disagree with it.  3) And there is the world from your point of view, which is part of the world I am theorizing about, which you create and interpret, and within that is the world you theorize about, just like I do within my world.  And there is the physicist’s, the artist’s, the scientist’s, or the architect’s world which they theorize about, based on what they consider to be facts, which in turn are part of their subjective worlds. 

4) And inter-subjectively, we all supposedly share a common objective world, which each of us interprets in his or her own way, from his or her point of view, the Kantian ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself), which he calls the noumenon. In this morass of interacting and intersecting worlds, myself as a self never really occurs as something we can perceive or deal with tangibly as an object.

5) If thought is matter, as is the brain of which it is a product, it seems as if we are not only doomed to be subject to the control of thought, including its byproducts such as the self with its various properties such as self-defense, offense, self-protectiveness, and so on, but also it would not make too much sense to talk about becoming free from the stranglehold of thought, unless there is a physical transformation of some sort.  Such a transformation does not, and cannot take place through any spiritual practice.  Any such possibility may arise in someone who is so genetically disposed to certain ways in which the brain functions are disabled.   Now we are going way beyond the realm of the known, and UG may very well have been so genetically disposed, the potential being realized gradually in course of his life time.  Who knows?

6) UG’s normal response to people who ask questions about being free the stranglehold of thought, not seeking goals, etc. is “do nothing.”  But if we are primed by nature, i.e. by our physiology to necessarily use thought, which cannot function without seeking goals, how does this admonition help?  He might possibly say, ‘understand’ the futility of goal-seeking.  What kind of understanding exists, which does not involve thought and thinking? 

Of course, all this has to frustrate the reader or listener.  But he and many others of his listeners do so that as they listen to him over time, their ‘baggage’ will become lighter.  But that still is a far cry from being free from the stranglehold of thought. 

7) i) The one thing that bothers me most is the question of thought:  UG says you cannot know thought; what you know is only about thought. It’s not clear how to take that statement.  The first question that comes to mind is, Isn’t knowing too a mental activity involving thought?  In which case, you have only a thought knowing another thought.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t know thought.  How else would you know except through another thought?  Or rather, how else should you know?

But I think here I should mention that for UG knowing really means some sort of direct apprehension of the object to be known.  As soon as the object is recognized it becomes part of the known, i.e. it no longer counts as something we know.  UG is putting us in a contradictory predicament:  if you recognize something, which can only be done through thought, it is not knowing, since it’s only knowing through another thought.  And you don’t recognize it, then there is no knowing either. What a predicament!

ii) Also, to all appearances, UG doesn’t seem to be bypassing the meaning-making mechanism.  Yet, his speech, actions and responses all seem to operate in the realm of meaning.  No wonder he says that it’s all our meaning-making that’s going on.  He has no part in it.  It’s all a giant interpretation on our part.  He even reports sometimes his own thoughts, such as his telling himself, “Buddy, you are not going to live that long, why bother to accumulate?” and such other things.  Are we supposed to take these as thoughts as nothing but noises he makes to himself?

It’s of course hard to fathom exactly what goes on in anyone’s mind from outside, especially in UG’s (if he has a mind at all).  In that respect, UG is no different from anyone else.  We all share the same fate toward each other.  Yet, in my own case, this intentionality seems to operate in a way that my world is a world of meaning, and I recognize and respond to people as though they are persons, and not just “dogs barking”. 

Actually, sense and nonsense, meaning and noise are all part of my world of meaning.  The world I have created for myself is my world of meaning.  Outside of that, I don’t really seem to have any way of knowing anything else directly, except through conjecture, inference or pure guesswork.  Does the inquiry end here?

iii) Just suppose there is no meaning mechanism or intentionality in UG.  How could then his responses and actions be explained?  Most importantly the move he makes.  His explanation is primarily to say that he is not doing anything.  Things just get done.  It’s life acting through him, and he has no say in the matter.  Part of his explanation is that he has no ‘interior’. 

This answer simply defies any explanation either in terms of intentionality, or in terms of any neuro-scientific methods. 

UG would also say he is not concerned about explaining anything, because by using the intellect you don’t understand anything.  And there is no need to understand.  Worse, there is nothing to understand.   All the questions I or you have about him or what he says or does are simply projections on our part to maintain our own ego or self. 

And that’s about where the discussion ends. 

On the other hand, notwithstanding all this, just suppose we try to devise a theory to explain all the factors known about UG.  What would the picture look like?  Just imagine UG to be a computer:  there is the input.  His brain cells, i.e. neurons in particular, organize themselves as a response to the stimuli.  The responses simply appear as recognition, judgments, actions (i.e. organized body movements), speech responses, attending to the needs of the body and situations as they arise, and so on.  And there is no further explanation as to how the neurons organize their responses, without any patterns of meaning, without intentionality, and without a need for an interior.  No picturing anything from the past or projecting into the future.  (Notice, how UG says he cannot form images).  All the seemingly introspective analysis of thought, self, matter, human problems, and his own behavior are all just responses thrown out by the computer called UG. 

And what’s more important is that the computer doesn’t respond in terms of a self.  There is no self-making mechanism present.  Only momentary self-consciousness or awareness.  All the products of intentionality are removed from the picture.  These include the fears, anxieties, depression, acquisitiveness, desires for fame, property, power, and so forth.

With this simple exception:  the ability to empathize.  This is explained by UG as “What happens there happens here.”  He would explain this further by saying there are no barriers between him and the rest of the world created by thought, although thought in terms of computer operations performs its functions necessary for survival. 


[1] Susan’s comment:  Looking again at the self-assembly model used in genetic research and especially in the use of technology being engineered by computerized genetic self-assembly,  it seems to me that this is the self--the program contained in the genes and modified to varying degrees...


[2] In his Commentaries on Living, 2nd Series.

[3] Philosophers would call that the ‘ontological’ status.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021



The Pathway to Nowhere

 The unexamined life is not worth living



 mentioned earlier in the book that the self is a conglomerate.  I’d like diverge here and say that in each of these elements of this conglomerate there is a division, which we might call the subject and the object.  What’s peculiar is that both sides of this division is the self, in as much as the self which is regarding anything as an object is itself an identification with something.  For example, when I am with my boy playing in the backyard, I am not just looking at some boy playing, but my boy, my child.  It’s the father in me who is looking at the boy with pleasure (or annoyance, whatever the case maybe), pride or worry.  The boy is of no interest to me other than as someone with whom I am identified.  My responses to what I watch are, of course, borne out of this identification.  If he is not my boy, he would revert to being just someone who mildly interests me, and if I am an elderly person, as someone longing for his lost his youth, a symbol of life and living, which might give me momentary joy.  And in the conglomerate, the self which is currently watching the kid play is one of the selves.

Most of our mental life is dialectical, a duality through which our relationships, travails, turmoil, fears, inadequacies, loves and hatreds and other psychological problems occur.  Our mental life is indeed run through the pleasure principle, pursuing what is pleasant and avoiding what is painful.  In all relationships, it is this principle which is responsible for our calculating nature, planning with strategies and tactics.  In all of them, there is a seeking of the self, attempt to assert oneself either overtly or subtly and covertly.  In all of them, I am not only at the center of my world, but through my relationships and activities I attempt to assert and maintain myself.  And when things go awry, or don’t go my way, at any rate, I struggle to restore the mental balance, dissolve conflicts, fight my way through by complaining about others, excusing or justifying myself, or explaining my behavior and so forth, the object always being getting my way, getting what I want, making up for my inadequacies and passing moral judgments on others, thereby feeling righteous or superior.   In this life, there is no peace, no true happiness.  For the happiness I seek can only result from my mind not seeking any further goals.  But unfortunately, even when I attain a state of peace, I turn that into a goal in itself, thus frustrating myself at every turn through this contradictory self-defeating process of perpetual striving for state in which there is no further striving. 

Check your premises:  This is an advice I gave sometimes to my students, as I found this to be true in my own life.  Here is an example:  I was frustrated in my love life more than once.  The first time which lasted more than a decade ended only by my moving to the US when I had no further opportunity to pursue the matter.  In the US, I ran into another crisis, primarily of unrequited love, in which one day the person involved would hang up on me 21 times, when I finally had the rude awakening that that was a dead end.  That night I would put my head on the pillow on my bed and moan and groan and complain about my life, saying to myself something to the effect: “Someone, somewhere must love me; life without love is not worth living.”  Then suddenly I had an awakening: “Why should anyone love me?”  The premise upon which my crisis was built, namely, “Life without love is not worth living,” was exposed in my consciousness, and, at that moment, as I would describe it later to others, my problem simply dropped itself out of me as a handkerchief would drop itself out of my pocket. 

A second example:  At my work, when there some problem in the workplace, especially concerned with authorities, or students, I would sometimes worry.  One of those times, it occurred to me that if I am not so attached to my job, worrying about what I would do if I lost it, if I would accept the possibility of losing it, I wouldn’t have any of those problems.  The mere awareness of the hang-up about my job was enough to free me from my worries.
Here is another example:  Today I was lying on my bed trying to take a nap listening to some beautiful music on the cello by Yo-Yo Ma on the YouTube.  I was pretty relaxed, but my consciousness was somewhat tinged with some mild disappointment or depression.  I looked at it.  It became clear to me that I was expecting something a bit interesting in life which wasn’t happening.  That expectation at the moment was my self, which I became aware of in reflection.  Then there is nothing clouding my consciousness.  It became quite clear.  There was an air of total peace.  You can say I entered the realm of nothingness.  Because there was no special interest, even the interest of listening to the music, which was still playing in the background that was engaging my attention. 
In my opinion, it’s always such baggage we carry on our backs, of course stemming from our past experience, which creates the duality and hence the lack of peace or mental turmoil.  When the particular past becomes the focus of our attention, there is not any specific action that we need to take to become free from the background.  The mere awareness is the action. 
Although I have been talking about specific problems, this is perhaps true about life in general.  At least in moments when we are not involved in any specific thing, and when nothing is bothering our mind, we can be in this realm of peace. 

Passivity and Activity:  At times, with no volition on my part, I could ‘drop out’ of a situation, an involvement or entanglement of any sort, and remain passive, merely watching.  One could feel this physically, as attention which has been active so far, using the thought mechanisms to assess or react to a situation, turns passive.  You no longer ‘care’. Maybe prior to this moment, I was just tired to struggling with someone or something over an issue, and suddenly I perhaps just ‘give up’. 

This passivity could also be a preamble for a moment of peace within ourselves and with our surrounds or other people. 

The one problem with any of these solutions is that we tend to turn them into formulas and try to apply them mechanically.  There are no mechanical solutions, because the sooner we try to apply them, the sooner we find that we generate another conflict, another duality, instead of solving the one we were already involved in.  The application is an attempt to change the given situation.  Any such attempt is bound to backfire.  What I am suggesting here is a non-doing, just being and just being aware, and let the problem tell its story.
Self, Meaning and Fulfillment:  The self derives its meaning in life through movement toward goals or aims.  I am not hear talking about meaning of life in general, which is a generalized and abstract notion which we apply to our entire life, past, present and future, but meaning in the sense of self-worth.  The assumed goal of life may in to gain God’s grace, to attain moksha, to be the richest or most famous or most powerful man in the world, to be the greatest author, and so on.  More specific goals are also things we identify with for which we strive.  Without the striving, moving toward the goals, and measuring our progress from time to time in our achievement of the goals, we might not only feel unfulfilled, but also worthless.  And to add to this, if we are serving no useful purpose in society, and are looked upon as worthless, that’s double damage.  We feel wasted.  And we struggle to find some goal which is worth pursuing.  What’s interesting is that the goal may be very trivial or artificial, such as winning a scrabble or card game;  it’s OK as long as we keep gaining points.  If we lose, we get discouraged, disappointed, or even depressed.  Any striving toward goals gives us a sense of purpose.

Release:  Release in the atmosphere of the above discussion is not some kind of mokhsa which would turn us into some kind of liberated person, a jivanmukta, as he or she is called in Indian philosophy.  It’s just a process of releasing ourselves from duality, or dissolving it, as it were, as and when it arises.

Perhaps we all experience moments of total peace at times, where nothing seems too important, nothing seems to bother us, where we are in love with life, just being and living.  Things are neither easy nor difficult.  But to ask for a permanent life of that sort is plain greed and is bound to frustrate us. As UG would say our misery is primarily due to wanting to be permanently happy without a moment of pain.

There is no permanence in any release that I can see because of external and internal changes that constantly keep happening in and around us.  For one thing, circumstances change, and new challenges present themselves.  Someone’s dear one has died, someone contracted Covid-19, or you yourself have, and such.  And internally, the past pleasures and pains, as well as conditionings keep popping up willy-nilly, creating new pressures. There is no way one could permanently be rid of them.  Same with pleasure-seeking or pain-avoidance. No matter what we tell ourselves these are bound to happen.  The challenge is always coping with these new challenges as and when they arise. 

There are several possibilities here: 1) the previous release we had experienced remains in our memory.  And the memory of it is enough to question our present entanglements.  2) Also, desires and motivations that have been previously hidden or unconscious can thrust themselves into our consciousness and create fresh conflict.  But the memory of what happened before can certainly help us to stay afloat in the present situation.  3) Or the present situation demands a fresh inquiry into what our present entanglements are.  And this might hopefully help us release ourselves from them, i.e. what we hold on to.  4) Find practical solutions to problems, such as for example, offering an apology, do what the other person needs you to do, and so forth.  The point of any of this is to find a way to diffuse the conflict or duality. 

No permanence: All this goes to show that there is and can be no permanence to any state of mind, let alone permanent peace or release.  The only possibility is the possibility of dissolution of duality when and where it occurs.



Monday, April 19, 2021


Knocking at the Door of the Unknown 


his morning, I had a brainstorm for a new project:  How about describing the moves the mind makes from the past and taking them all into a timeless horizon?  Much like the Buddhist meditations on the 32 parts of the dead body or cremation ground meditations.  It will be a good way to phase the time-bound thoughts into the timeless, which could also serve as a meditation. 

For example: I was watching a young woman carrying a plastic bag of cans and bottles for recycling and making some money.  Thoughts that occur in this context include:  men and women in different cultures all the time scrambling for a livelihood.  This phenomenon happens in the U.S. as well as anywhere else. 

Here is another example:  I am watching the TV.  I have to focus or pay attention to respond to any scene that’s going on the TV.  When you don’t focus there is no time.  You are in the timeless zone.  Then you can’t make head or tail out of movie that’s playing, nor do you respond by being involved in, identifying with or reacting (by tensing) to the events that happen on the screen.  You are in the timeless zone. 

Take the movement of pleasure, for instance.  In fact, I know by now that every movement of thought is a pleasure-seeking or pain-avoiding (which are one and the same thing) maneuver.  You can say that it is also at the same time a replay of the past.  And that, of course, serves the function of providing a support or ground for the ego, for its continuity, for its expansion, growth and protection.  

There is, however, a constant knocking at the unknown (or shall we say the timeless) at the doors of the self which shows itself in the form of bursts of energy.

I noticed today, for example, when I was listening to a piece of music, vibrations (jerks) surging though the body, which coincide with the moment when I reach the end of my mental activity, because of the notes I was listening to, or just also a prelude to falling asleep. At the same time the mind was also beginning to cease its activity.  In either case, it’s the touching  the unknown (and of course the unknowable) that seems to trigger this response.

This is so in spite of the fact that the center of the self keeps itself sustained. It’s still there, cunningly maneuvering infinite number of details including enlightenment, liberation and the unknown. 

In fact, the whole of this enterprise can fizzle into nothingness.  It has no substance; no inherent validity.  It’s just like any other enterprise of the self.  In the ocean of the timeless where there is no meaning (nor its opposite – meaninglessness, which is just a mode of the meaning), this is just a ripple. 

Successive abstractions make you withdraw from the world of experience.  But the voice which gives the various commands still remains.  But you can withdraw from it too.  Then there is no ‘you’.  You don’t know what moves you.  You are just like a thing, a conscious, living thing.  It’s not just that the energies get united, you bliss out, or the ‘nectar’ pours into you. Life and death don’t mean a thing; but there is ... 

This blank doesn’t get filled any more.  

You have to close your eyes and cut out the external impressions.  The body relaxes totally.  In the total relaxation there is the state of being like in death.  

Detachment, withdrawal, asking who am I (Is that me?), etc. all mean and come down to the same thing.


Sunday, April 18, 2021




he Experience: UG says this, when somebody asks him about “the Experience Of Oneness”:

‘UG: Let me interrupt you. The oneness that you are talking about is something which cannot be experienced at all. 'That there is an integral relationship with everything' is something which can never, never be experienced by that experiencing structure. So, to talk of oneness has no meaning.

Visitor: But don’t you feel one with all you see?

UG: Not at all. The separation is not there, but that doesn’t mean there is oneness. What creates the separation is very clear, but what is there when the separation or the division is not there is something nobody can talk about. The divisive movement that comes into being is all that you can understand. When that movement is not there, what is happening in that situation is something that can never be experienced by you; it can never be talked about. It’s not a mysterious, mystifying thing. Don’t call it love, compassion and all that kind of a thing. You cannot talk about it, you cannot experience it, and what it is you will never know.’

There is light. If the light is not there, you have no way of looking at anything. The light falls on that object and the reflection of that light activates the optic nerves which in turn activate the memory cells. When the memory cells are activated, all the knowledge you have about that object comes into operation. It is that process which is happening there that has created the subject and the subject is the knowledge you have about it. When you reduce it to that, you feel the absurdity of talking about the self. The lower self, the higher self and self knowing, self-knowledge, knowing from moment to moment, is absolute rubbish, balderdash! You can indulge in such absolute nonsense and build up philosophical theories but there is no subject there at all, at any time. (The Natural State, p.41)

So not only the ‘I’ but all the physical sensations are involved in this. Sound, smell and the sense of touch -- the operation of any one of these sensations necessarily creates the subject. It's not one continuous subject which is gathering all these experiences, piling them up together and then saying, ‘This is me,’ but everything is discontinuous and disconnected. The sound is one. The physical seeing is one. The smelling is one. They come and go. There is no permanent entity there at all. What is there is only a first person singular pronoun, nothing else. If you don't want to use that word it is your privilege. That's all that is there. There is no permanent entity there at all. (p.42)

All these quotes above assume that there is some state or something in which all these things are happening or not happening.  All these are projections of what you might be when none of the other things exist from where you are.  But the problem is there may be nothing: no consciousness, non non-dualtity, nothing.  You can’t say you will be dust and there may be just the universe going on without you.  All that is mere talk, a mere projection.  You can’t utter a word, or even possibly think, about what might be the case when you are not there.

Now, you ask the question what about this ‘me’, ‘this’ point of view, ‘this’ angle.  In the vast scheme of things, processes and interactions are taking place.  The ‘this’ question simply does not arise unless there is a duality in the first place.  The question of the self ultimately boils down to the question of duality, and no one can answer the question how or why this duality occurs except simply to say that the duality occurs when thought exists, as brains are capable of thought, as a representation of the world through image or sound or a repetition of past experience.  All the neuro-scientific or other explanations of thought do not really address the problem, i.e., the duality which creates the ‘me’.  All that is absolutely irrelevant when it comes to this question. Duality cannot arise except when thought arises, as also does the intentional world.  It’s only in the intentional world that there is duality.

*                           *                           *

When one transcends the world of name and form, i.e. the realm of thought, there is neither thought, nor duality, nor even consciousness, for to say there is consciousness one has to use a name.  The moment you use a name, you not only bring in consciousness, but also something it is aware of, and someone who is aware, because naming is a product of the thought process which has to imply the subject and the object.[1] The Upanishads said, “Not this, not this.”  But that too implies duality, meaning that there is a ‘this’ as opposed to something else (‘that’). 

*                           *                           *

As I said before, traces of past experiences which made physiological imprints, by their sheer force and strength thrust themselves into consciousness through our thought process.  And in the cases of experiences of oneness, it’s not that there is no such experience, but whatever it is, it is not in the realm of the known, but as soon as the physiological traces of it turn themselves into memory traces and impinge themselves on consciousness in the form of recognition and other forms of thought, which necessarily imply duality, we are no longer in the realm of oneness of being.

*                      *                      *

What remains after all this discussion?  Nothing.  It’s foolish to ask fundamental, metaphysical questions about the self, what it is, or why it is there or how it comes into being.  Any answer that is given is an objective abstract answer and does in no way address the real problem.  Because, the real problem is the subjective feeling of ‘I’ or ‘me’.  Nothing can explain it away.  The ‘objective’ does not and cannot explain the ‘subjective’.

You can’t even ask the question of how you live without the feeling of the ‘I’.  We cannot live without it.  The fear of death, however, remains.  It’s not just the fear of the loss of the known, as both Krishnamurtis point out. It’s primarily the fear of the ending not just you, but of everything.  It more than that.  The feeling of the ‘I’ is independent of all that is known and experienced.  You can feel states of pure consciousness (without the past or time), still there is the self-reflexive ‘I’ in all that.  Of course, you lose that in states of unconsciousness (of which there are many sorts).  I think there is no alternative in all this to just accepting that as long as we are aware (conscious), the ‘I’ remains and that it, as well as everything else, can go some time or other.  The mere acceptance of that is all there is to the freedom from the fear of death.  There is nothing else that can be done.

*                      *                      *

In a sense, this is also true of any explanation of the particular:  You can explain ‘this’ in terms of a set of events, but that’s not really an explanation of the ‘this’ per se: for it can only lead to a regress of explanations.  Why ‘this’ or why ‘that’ will remain.  Explanations are always relative.  There is no absolute explanation of anything.  The ‘killer ‘whys’’ persist because they are all ultimately traceable to the duality between myself and the world I experience.

*                      *                      *

The inner space is just as mysterious, if not more, as the outer space.  All kinds of things are borne practically out of nothing there, such as creative things, innovations, and various novel ideas. This is neither subjective nor objective.  It’s just there.  But thoughts do arise in it, in the form novel ideas and various combinations of elements of experience, and there is no way to account for them as to how or whence they arise.

*                      *                      *

Here is an interesting contrast between the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’:  This morning in bed I was in a sense ‘spacing out’, imagining myself out of this body and what constitutes ‘my world’ into the vastness of the universe, and thinking how I was not only tiny, but ultimately nothing but the energy or even just the vast space of the universe.  In that moment, I could feel the ‘energy’ or whatever flowing through me, causing reverberations through my entire body.  But ‘objectively’, i.e., ‘outwardly’,  an observer could perhaps notice some changes, such as differences in the flow of electrical energy, a state of the body more relaxed, and temperature and pressure dropping somewhat or changes in alpha, beta or theta waves of in the brain.  ‘Subjectively’ the divisions that would have normally existed were washed away, and I get up from bed, utterly refreshed.  But the ‘significant’ moment, which someone might even call a mystical or whatever special experience, would be nothing but a relaxed state of the body.

This state might result in my transformed dealings with myself and my surroundings and other people in such a way that I am in harmony with myself and the rest of the universe, but all that would be reduced to a mere state of relaxation objectively.  How does one account for this difference?

*                      *                      *

Perspective on Neuroscience: I think what all this points to ultimately is the role and status of neuroscience in our lives.  No neuroscientist would probably want to invalidate these experiences as such, for such an attempt is bound to fire back on the scientist himself, but he or she would only use the discipline to achieve specific behavioral changes in subjects, such as for example, solving problems of autism, sleeplessness, epileptic seizures, and so on.  In other words, the neuro-scientific investigations would and could have a significant role in human life in making people’s lives better, without necessarily translating or reducing all human experience to mere neural changes without a remainder.  The neuroscientist, being a person in a society, would perforce have to live a double life:  one in which he deals with scientific investigations in which values have no place, but only effects or results of his or her investigations, and the other in which he lives in the world among other human beings as a member of a society, with his personal values, goals, experiences he cherishes, his personal judgments, prejudices and so on.

*                      *                      *

The temptation is to say that at Ground Zero, there is neither the subject nor the object or that it is both subjective and objective.  But the reality is that Ground Zero is a subjective experience, not shared by others, although it is subjective to others, from their point of view, it is not for me.  In my own experience there is neither the subject nor the object, should I say?  Only if I remain there and never move out of it.  As soon as I am conscious of it as such, I have to fit it in the framework of the subject (‘I’) and the object (the Ground Zero).  And we are back to square one! Ah, c’est la vie!

Letting Nature Take Its Course:  To let things be when they happen is to let Nature its course.  However, sometimes you’re so moved to take some action in a given situation.  In those circumstances, where do you draw the line between what you do and what Nature does or what just happens to you?

The interaction between the subjective and the objective can flow easily into the various aspects of life: say, caring for your own health, or determining what foods to eat, or how to interact with people and so on.  This is reflected often in taking a “third person’s point of view”.

*                      *                      *

Dissolution of the Self: If you totally objectify thought, which is the basis of the self, thought dissolves itself into waves of energy. UG would say thought is sound.  I would add image to it. 

To dissolve thought, if that can be achieved, is at the same time to dissolve the self.  This may not be possible except in moments of total abstraction, for we need thought to function in this world.  But this temporary dissolution is sufficient to realize that in those moments not only the divisions between the self and the world, but also divisions of any sort, as well as the world we built on our values, all disappear.  Perhaps it is in those moments where meaning itself is dissolved. It also gives a glimpse into our value system, personal as well as social, and its total conventionality and arbitrariness.  Perhaps that’s when we realize the possibility of total reconciliation with existence and life in harmony. Such a state of stasis may, of course, may only be registered or recorded by a neuroscientist as changes in the EEG or fMRI or brain waves.


[1] Notice how in Vedanta philosophy consciousness is self-revealing.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


The Self and Enlightenment

Then father is no father, mother is no mother; worlds disappear, gods disappear, scriptures disappear; the thief is no more, the murderer is no more, castes are no more; no more is there monk or hermit.  The Self is then untouched either by good or by evil, and the sorrow of the heart are turned into joy.

 – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad[1]



hether or not the self exists in a state of enlightenment has been a classic controversy:  St. John, for example, says when you are suffused with the light of God, it’s like a pane of glass is illuminated by sun’s light, yet the pane does not lose its identity. Similarly, Ramanuja says that the state of release without the ‘I’ makes no sense, and any person who is taught that doctrine would turn and walk away.  Sankara and others, on the other hand, believe the sense of the ‘I’ is an illusion which has to be transcended in the state of enlightenment.  Only Brahman is real.

Whether the moments of such awareness are called enlightenment or not, it does not make much difference.  What makes a difference in day-to-day life is the relative (or total) freedom from the processes of the self one could live with.  And that to me is what matters, not whether this is called enlightenment or liberation or something else.

There are three possibilities open here: 1) I accept the inevitability of the self and the consequences thereof.  2) I find some way of ending, at least temporarily, the thought process. 3) By some miracle something happens, hits me like a ton of bricks, as UG would say, and I become totally free.  At the moment, I don’t see any other possibility than the second.

*                      *                      *

Bondage and Freedom: True, in the practical world we can only live with such freedom as a matter of degree, for one has to live in this world in relationships, and survive.

All this may just be a far cry from the breakthrough such as what UG represents.  But thinking about UG and the differences is only bound to create further divisions, duality and internal conflict.  It doesn’t help.  One is where one is.  There is really no other state.  We work with what we have.

The alternatives are endless and lead into various blind alleys:  One can, for instance, say, how could you stop thinking about UG, judging him, or comparing yourself with him, ponder over the differences and strive to bridge the gap?  That track of thinking, unfortunately, will have to create further grief and turmoil in one’s life, for whatever that state UG might have been in is not something one can attain to by striving.  So, the wisest thing is to realize that and stay where we are.  Of course, the mind will keep making its mischief.  Let it.

*                      *                      *

The question ‘Who am I?’ is inevitable as long as there is reflection or self-consciousness, in spite of the momentary respite when there is no thought, and hence no self-consciousness.  In a state of mere consciousness there is awareness, but you can’t say that there is self-awareness,[2] because you are not aware of yourself as anything; therefore, you are not aware of yourself. 

But that doesn’t seem quite right.  Can there not be just ‘me’, whether as body awareness or just awareness and still ask the question, who is this ‘me’?  But the question has to be asked in the form of a thought.  That shows that you are not any more in a state without thought.  The question does not, and cannot, exist in just the pure state of awareness.  In other words, whether or not there is the ‘I’ in that pure awareness is a meaningless question.  It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t make any difference.

How thought (or thoughts) puts together the ‘I’ is not an easy question to answer either.  It’s an imaginary center of gravity (as Daniel Dennett says) to which all the mental phenomena or classes of phenomena are drawn.  Mental faculties such as memory and imagination help the process, so that all our past experiences and knowledge are brought into service.  Of course, this answer really doesn’t satisfy my quest for myself, because it’s an objective answer.  Nothing will.  There simply ends the inquiry.

*                      *                      *

The freedom from the self also means becoming free from the barriers and divisions between ourselves and others and the rest of the world.  In this process, we may find ourselves more open to others feelings, what they say and do, and also less likely to judge them.  Just for that reason alone, our knowledge of others and the world is bound to improve.  We also tend to feel for them more than we have ever done before.  As UG might say, “What happens there happens here.”  One might think that this is more like identification with the other person. 


[1] The Upanishads, Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, Mentor Book, 1948

[2] Actually, you can’t even say there is awareness without reflecting on the previous moment.