Whenever conflict erupts between two individuals or between two cultural groups, it is generally because their respective claims and ambitions have been somehow denied and their self-images consequently bruised. Contraventions to the more inflated self-images generally generate the greatest hurts, in turn leading to the most violent reactions of withdrawal or retaliation. These relational dynamics between individuals and groups with differently conditioned images of themselves have spawned immeasurable disorder and violence throughout the ages. Nevertheless, since the general norm is to preserve and gradually augment the value of the self’s cultural identity (and of the experiences it can afford), even the worst grief is not reason enough to question or openly transgress this identity. For example, to doubt or outright negate the value of patriotism to the point of refusing to participate in war, that obscene legalization of homicide, is in most societies an intolerable offense. The punishment of dissent within religious groups is also common, and is applied in a multitude of different psychological, social, and post-mortem forms.
To question the formatting of the human mind by any culturally enforced belief, and thus to reject the inevitability and goodness of most aspects of human civilization as we know it is an even more radical act. Such questioning is not perceived as just a rebellious transgression of established values and norms, but as a form of insanity so bizarre and rare that no predetermined sanction exists for it—at least, not yet. The mental conditioning of the individual mind by culture simply falls outside the realm of what human society at large presumes is licit and reasonable to criticize, and this is one of the reasons why it still occurs so rarely and is so readily shrugged-off. Common sense in any society assumes that the self is an inextricable aspect of consciousness as shaped by experience and acquired knowledge. From that it easily follows that to question this notion and, worse yet, to suggest the possibility of an unconditioned, selfless, and in many important ways culture-less form of consciousness is sheer madness.
The secular experts and religious authorities of all times have assumed or been entrusted with the task of helping us, the masses, overcome disorder and suffering, and to judge by the state of human affairs today, our trust in our “superiors” and their greater experience and knowledge has been a grave mistake. However, not knowing anything else, we continue to depend on different forms and sources of authority for moral and every other conceivable form of guidance. The unfounded eagerness with which we allow others to dictate the way we perceive, think, and act makes plain the general willingness of the conditioned individual to forgo independent awareness and mature responsibility. If closely examined, submission to the force of tradition and external authority shows itself to be one of the main ways in which just about every human being comes to embody the far from innocent claim to a separate existence. A claim that the individual sees as unquestionable given that it is upheld by the particular cultural tradition (and the secular and religious or “spiritual” authorities) on which his personal identity depends.
Even arduous efforts to rid oneself of this general phenomenon of mental formatting, with its attendant dependency on external or internalized authority and its inherent divisiveness, conflict, and violence, do not generally succeed because the entity intending to clear the mind of the imprint of past tribal and personal experience is only an aspect of this same recorded experience. As we already seen before, the self, the “me,” is no different from the entire evolutionary, historical, cultural, and biographical record etched in the human mind/brain. The division, discord, and violence afflicting the human species as a whole have their source in every particular instance of personal existence and social status (every “I”), so who would be the internal authority, the enlightened executive force that would affect the eradication of such conceit?
You are probably well aware that one cannot simply decide to stop getting overtly or covertly angry or upset with other people, or even with oneself. It just does not work that way; psychological reactions happen automatically and do not yield to previous interdictions or subsequent commands. Even after long years of therapy or the application of other methods (secular and/or devotional) designed to curtail powerful emotional surges and manage the confusion, pain, and unwise reactions they bring about, most people continue to suffer both the aftereffects and the ever-unexpected circumstances that continue to elicit them. When somehow breached, the half-hidden and inherently inadequate psychosocial self-image of the well-acculturated (or rebellious) person reacts in predetermined and mechanical ways to protect and perhaps expand itself.
There is no such a thing as a controlling “me” standing behind the process of conditioned thought that knowingly cowers, flees, or counter attacks when feeling somehow endangered. Enraged or frightened reactions are mechanical; there is no personal agent behind them while they are occurring. Therefore, anything “I” may do to exercise control and manage the results of such reactions is an afterthought, and only amounts to a relatively minor adjustment of self-definition and an a posteriori assessment of the defense or attack tactics deployed. In societies with relatively less overt control over their constituent members, some individuals manage to gradually move from one self-image and from one tribal context to another, but the new personal costume inevitably proves to be no less shallow and no less vulnerable to injury, humiliation, and mechanical reactivity than the previous one.
Overall, anything we do to avoid conflict, fear, and violence invariably turns out to be but a modified version of the servile submission, passive-aggressive withdrawal, or hostile self-assertion that is observable in the species as a whole throughout time and space. Furthermore, any reaction to actual or imagined psychological injury informed by previous experience inevitably generates new external challenges provoking equally mechanical reactions, themselves leading to new variations of the same unending cycle.
The futility of superficial (reactionary) psychological reform becomes obvious when thought itself confronts the fact that the source of mental suffering and social disorder lies in the image of the person with its willful desire for self-fulfillment validated by gods, authorities, family members, compatriots, and peers. And when this happens —when our present mode of isolated, divided, and divisive psychological being is seen as the source of all mental and social ills— the possibility of living sanely in this chaotic world is also illuminated. In this peculiar, seemingly crazy context of radical self-inquiry, sane means free; a mind that is sane is a mind that is free of unnecessary psychological and cultural content, free of external authority, and free of the subtler but often equally toxic authority of projected idealizations of oneself born of nostalgia and ambition. If this possibility of mental health and wise freedom is merely an intellectual formulation with seductive emotional overtones, it will yield nothing but the projection of yet another idealized self-image and the taxing effort deemed necessary for its realization. The maximum operational capacity of self-centered thought lies in the process of pre-programmed becoming that is the central axis around which personal existence revolves, sometimes at great speed, but without ever getting anywhere truly good.
There is no gradual and well-reasoned way whereby sectarian self-centeredness can end itself. Mental conditioning cannot decondition itself; an entirely different, unprecedented factor must intervene if a new and free mind is to emerge. Now, if this is an evident fact, then there are no follow-up questions; the mere notion of self-development or transcendence of the self (or the “ego” as it is often conveniently termed in order to externalize the problem) by the self is meaningless, and so thought itself instantly blocks any movement in this direction. With nowhere else to go, the personal content of memory becomes irrelevant and the restless process of self-centered thought comes to a final stop.
If the mind is free of the recorded experience that determines and sustains separate personal consciousness by fueling its distinct fears and desires, life and death have an entirely different significance but, again, this is not something to learn or to accept on faith. Either the illusion of separation is independently and instantly verified, and destroyed by the very same lucid perception, or the gradually evolving constraints of the conflicted and ever-straining process of tribal and self-centered thought go on undeterred. In this matter, there is no time gap between perception and action. The movement of personal consciousness ends in the impersonal perception of its illusory, damaging, and irredeemable nature. To endlessly practice, work, pray, or meditate in order to transcend the self is a fool’s errand. There is nothing that can be gained through gradual means, and it takes just an instant for the fool who lives in time to see this and perish. (123)
This is the central issue put in the simplest terms: A process of inquiry motivated by a serious interest in finding the truth inevitably leads to the realization that the self and the truth are incompatible. They are incompatible because, even in its most generous and knowledgeable actions regarding personal development and social progress, the person remains caught in the fantasy of separate existence, perennially limited and, hence, perennially pinning for more and better experience. There are practically as many theoretical versions of the truth as there are individuals and tribes embodying and asserting them—and this mental and social division is a bottomless source of the strife and sorrow that quietly, but permanently attests to the absence of truth. There is no point, then, in straining oneself any further trying to reach something that by definition is not within anyone’s conditioned mental capacity, and not just here and now, but at any point in space and time. In the many separate historical attempts to find an ultimate and therefore unifying reality, we have only found exclusive refuge in contradictory tribal ideologies and personal narratives, and absurd relief in that strange insistence with which we continue to plant the same rotten seed to then gather the same insufficient and bitter fruit.
Aware of this, we warily ask again, what is the state of a mind that is no longer isolated and conditioned by previous knowledge, and therefore free of any preconceived idea of the truth and the effort deemed necessary to gradually become the better or new self who would eventually embody and experience this truth? What is the state of a mind that, precisely because it is passionate about the possibility of truth, is no longer foolishly pursuing, defending, or trying to invent a mere simulacrum of it? What is the state of a mind not grounded in previous knowledge or the idealized psychological future projected by this same rancid knowledge; a mind that while still living in the splintered social and cultural reality created by thought, no longer belongs to that world through either conformity or resistance? (124)
No one’s ideas about the nature of relevant personal change can have a revolutionary effect on someone else’s consciousness. Only if the futility of the closed-loop relationship of the self to ideas and to others with their own ideas becomes apparent, there is a chance that memory-based fear and desire will stop projecting idealized self-images onto an imagined future. What is more, clarity about the limited content, structure, and projections of the self-centered mind explodes into an impersonal awareness of the fluid order of the material cosmos and its mysterious and formless source. Only foolishness, especially extremely well educated foolishness, believes that what is personally known, experienced, and desired is all that matters or all that is. Sensitivity (intelligence), on the other hand, naturally questions all self-protective and self-enhancing aspects of cultural and personal memory and thought, especially the most subjective.
By the way, the word culture is used here to refer to the sum total of information, ideas, beliefs, emotions, projections, and physical settings generated and sustained within the normative grid of a given society. It is taken for granted that all human societies are inseparable from life, and partake of the same general mental and behavioral condition of humanity. They only see themselves as different and separate from each other through an extremely superficial and biased assessment of some of their particular characteristics.
Awakening to the divisive character of the knowledge with which different individuals and social groups secure, expand, and project their respective identities naturally takes the mind away from its narrow social context and puny personal space, and certainly not in the direction of new forms of identified being and exclusive becoming. Awareness also kindles a strong but passive (not memory-based) interest in what is off limits to consciousness predetermined by experience. All that is left is a state of heightened attention in which there is no anxious self-reflective center bound by memory and energized by the urge to achieve pre-established material, psychological, and “spiritual” goals. When the antecedents and febrile agendas of personalized thought dissolve through direct perception of their mental, social, and ecological inadequacy, then a quiet and empty mental space alert to its oneness with life naturally attends to everyone and everything with the utmost accuracy and care.
Natural sanity and goodness is what emerges when the self-centered process of thought is no longer occupying the mind with its endless and quarrelsome back and forth through mental time (the remembered past, pre-programmed present, and pre-imagined future). Free of personal identity and unnecessary cultural content the mind is free of insecurity and conflict, and therefore timeless. Thought remains to carry out practical tasks when such are in order, but it is no more the locus of an imaginary separate existence endlessly reinventing itself while just as tirelessly resisting others and their own labor-intensive but equally futile attempt to get more and become better. (125)
What kind of human being can make the future of our species a likely and enlivening possibility? The chronic general state of cultural fragmentation experienced by the species, and the high incidence of conflict presently affecting every level and every sector of human society make clear that there is no explicit, positive answer to this question; an answer of which there is already a memory. Our persistent inability to straighten out the disorderly and often chaotic social and personal circumstances in which we have historically lived determines that there is relatively little that can be salvaged from what we have been in the past and continue to be today. General precedence also strongly suggests that what we are presently planning to become in the future in our usual exclusive ways will turn out to be just a modified reiteration of what we have always been. Have all the initiatives for psychological improvement and social change undertaken in the past not left the fragmentation of the species intact, and all of us facing immense threats, nuclear or ecological catastrophe among them? Why then do we still feel compelled to double down on the same type of traditional and exclusive efforts?
Our mental condition is the source of all the interrelated challenges we face today, and survival itself demands the decisive negation of what has conclusively failed in the past. Nothing but a radical break in psychological and cultural continuity at the level of the individual will do. Please notice that the operative words here is break, and not resistance. A mind that has broken away from the particular cultural affiliations, memories, and ambitions that define all traditional forms of personal and group consciousness is no longer fighting itself or others; it is free of internal and interpersonal contradiction, and is therefore sensitive and nimble, ever fresh as life itself is ever fresh.
Minds that assert and work tirelessly to protect and expand a separate identity based on allegiance to a particular faith or tradition are inevitable prisoners of themselves and no more than obedient echoes of their parochial chambers of resonance. Consequently, the caring, intelligent, and harmonious unity without which the species might not endure for long cannot manifest through them. The only possibility of true human collaboration lies in the emergence of individuals who do not subscribe to the predetermined norms and traditions of any gender, nation, ethnicity, religion, race, profession, cultural organization, or group. The well being and very survival of humanity depend entirely on a level and quality of freedom, intelligence, and responsibility that can only come into being through mind(s) free of the personal and societal authorities and traditions invented, protected, and carried-forth by egocentric thought. An all-encompassing love and responsibility emerge from the setting aside of all forms of secular or religious pre-determination chasing after their own realization. Freedom then is the action of life on behalf of life.
The rapid convergence of interconnected psychological and social pathologies amplified by grave ecological hazards clearly threatens the very physical integrity of just about everyone on the planet. And these deeply intertwined problems can only be properly seen and perhaps neutralized by individuals capable of standing alone; alone, not because they are isolated and anti-social, but rather because they are free of the particular blinders and irrational demands of any particular social consensus. Only a radically different mind is unencumbered by the blind urge to earn, defend, and grow a respectable place in any sector or level of any social group. What grounds and lights this mind is the timeless mystery of life and death, and not a limited and self-serving consciousness in which the present is only a convenient bridge stretching between an exclusive past and a largely imaginary, and just as exclusive, future.
The fundamental question confronting each one of us is whether we are happy to continue being the reliably myopic robots that everyone (even ourselves) expects us to be, or are literally possessed by the urge to find the independence, sensitivity, and vitality that cultural and psychological predetermination denies. Everything seems rigged on the side of staying the familiar course in which life stays reduced to fixed memories, irrational ambitions, and the absurd cultural patterns enforced by the experts, leaders, ministers, gurus, friends, and family members who have, for millennia, satisfied our desperate need for security and self-importance. However, if we sense that what life demands is action based solely on the fundamental facts of our present condition —namely personal egotism, cultural fragmentation, and the mental obfuscation and hypocrisy that shield them— this very insight will jump the mind away from the doomed double track of habit and tradition, and it will do so easily, without a thought involved. (126)
Most everybody who lives even a bit beyond the basic battle for survival seems beholden to a life-long struggle to attain security and perhaps also some measure of personal fulfillment through the acquisition of material and non-material symbols of status. Why is this? Not matter what we do, below the floating line of separate individuality and social position we are, and remain, equally insignificant. We refuse to see the inescapable fact of personal insignificance, and this is why we insist in our contradictory and outlandish attempts to fulfill ourselves, even though the loneliness, frustration, conflict, and fear we all suffer from are not eliminated, kept alive and strong by these very efforts. What is worse, the stubborn and barren deployment of self-expansive desire is dense enough to restrict or entirely hide the boundless meaning and value of the life we equally share. Is not the fantasy of future self-realization merely an escape from the core of our common being, and thus a senseless betrayal of the timeless truth of life? (127)
Would you exist psychologically if no longer addicted to the pseudo-protection of cultural and psychological security blankets? Who would you be once no longer dependent on the scarce mercy of ideological promises and delusional hopes for a better future incarnation of yourself? Who are you when no longer expecting that someone else, human or divine, will remedy your personal issues, A.S.A.P., and eventually also the ever more pressing problems of the world at large? Do you still exist if no longer a member of a self-deluding social and cultural consensus? Will you perish from the shock of seeing the tragic nature of humankind present in your peculiar secular and/or religious aspirations du jour? Or, will the shutting down of the little spigot of illusory cultural identity and deluded personality enliven the mind while integrating it into a body that is already submerged deep within the impersonal stream of life? Our unrelenting fear and suffering is a clear warning symptom of a mind severely ill by its constriction within the time-bound realm of the personally known. Mental health is no longer dreading what the natural unfoldment of life may bring because there is no further investment in the forced maintenance of achieved personal security, or the hoped-for realization of future personal success or otherworldly relief to be merited from the agency of a made-up god or principle.
It is impertinent to ask how a mind free of the constrictions of the personal and tribal mental record would act in the world, if the question comes from the greedy/anxious narrows of personal thought looking to first scope and then establish a secure future nest. The fundamental issue begging for resolution is not that of what to do and, much less, of what is the effect of doing whatever “one” may conclude must be done, but rather of whether the evolving egotistical and provincial self that operates in this timeworn, obligatory manner is true, and therefore the only possible mode of human existence. (128)
What makes us who we are is exclusive identification with a personal story inscribed within a larger cultural narrative, itself unfolding in the evolving material cosmos (as the stage is set by empirical science) or transiting in accordance to the benevolent will of god or a predestined cycle of reincarnations (as religious authority will have it). Enduring meaning suffuses both story lines highlighting their respective distinction and similar concern with the meaning of the human phenomenon, this notwithstanding the presence of questionable and contradictory elements in both. Relatively few individuals seem willing and able to defy and then abandon their cultural convictions, habits, and norms, and when it does occur, it is generally not in order to live free of belief and the unsound obligations and complications of identity-based fear and ambition. Personal change is usually limited to the assumption of new forms of social and psychological meaning full of restrictions and demands similar to the ones they replace, but nevertheless seduced by their promise of a more comfortable state of mind and improved social status and material circumstances. Needless to say, the presumably new invariably turns out to be just a different version of the same old sense of vulnerability and dissatisfaction that provoked their adoption in the first place.
Traditional social progress is the result of the massive influence of “successful” groups and individuals on the lives of other groups and individuals over a given period. The value of this progress depends, of course, on the point of view that may be used to assess particular historical events and processes and the new realities they foster. For example, what powerful countries and outright empires consider triumphs in their military, cultural, and economic colonization of other peoples, the vanquished and colonized generally characterize in a very different manner. For peasants and workers living in externally and internally colonized nation states where they live deprived of basic freedoms and brutally exploited, the idea of progress and democracy means very little. The great success of corporations dedicated to the financial gain of their executives and investors through the extraction of natural resources, obviously does not extend to the people that may lose their health, livelihood, and homes as a result, and much less to the animal species that may suffer or go extinct, or the lands, rivers, and oceans defiled by this travesty of economic and human development.
Although there has always been and continues to be a significant amount of social and geopolitical change both progressive and regressive, this type of change has never been, and will never be, a solution to the great human problems that have remained constant over the centuries producing the most strife and sorrow. Tour fundamental problems remain unsolved simply because even our best-intended and most generous efforts do not properly address the source of all that ails us: the isolated and conditioned human mind cruelly alienated from its source. In fact, the very efforts we make to develop our respective groups and societies and to fulfill ourselves are, largely, the means whereby personal egotism and the conflictive cultural fragmentation of the entire species protect and prolong themselves in mental and chronological time. (129)
It is essential to look deeply into the relationship between the personal mind and life as a whole. The self is, to a great extent, a representational narrative selectively remembered and furthered along by its own projective movement, all occurring in life and in contact with actual events and circumstances. However, the self-centered mental movement and the actual unfolding of life are experienced, not only as separate from one another, but with the former taking precedence over the latter. That is, the mental back and forth of the “me” in mental time is experienced more intimately and intensely than even the small slice of life with which it is in contact at every instant. Life itself —the rest of existence categorized as “not-me”— become just the stage in which the all-important drama of the self plays itself in contact, and more often than not in friction with other equally symbolic and progressive personal narratives. The linear narrative of the person is, of course, contained within the actual flow of life, but its representational and insular character blinds it its actual living source.
What lies beyond the ideas, beliefs and desires that words and images knit together as a cover-all of personal identity proudly worn on the body till death do us part, or beyond? Is there a mode of human existence beyond the self? Who can ask this question, and from whom? (130)
Life is unthinkable, whereas what we each happen to think —what we personally remember, opine, love, hate, fear and desire— creates “your” life and “mine.” Seen from the other side, as it were, the undivided flow of cosmic physical and mental life practically disappears behind whatever exclusive experience, conviction, and possibility defines the identity and very existence of the separate self. The narrative sustaining the thinking person glide over the surface of life is a mental recollection of what no longer is (if it ever was) projecting itself through what is desired but still is not (and may never come to be). Naturally, such a hermetic and almost purely mental or representational sense of being cannot possibly be aware of the actual, moment-by-moment miracle of its seamless insertion within the mystery of life.
That the wholeness of existence fails to register adequately in the interest gauge of the species is the first and most tragic consequence of our obsession with ourselves and the cultural distance that separates the groups on which our respective identities depend. Others consequences follow from insensitivity, among them the life-long mental confusion and antagonism to which we have grown accustomed and the wholesale destruction of the life support systems of the planet. The self-sustaining alienation of the human mind is one with the habitual indifference with which we regard our co-existence with everything else in the cosmos, and from this indifference flows the torrent of strife, sorrow, hope, and effort in which we swim till we drown.
How is this possible? How is it that inflexible records of personal and tribal experience expressed in thought and animated by fear and desire are able to maintain such a delusional preeminence in the mind? How can something as insubstantial and unstable as self-centered thought block from sight the actuality, multidimensionality, and non-linearity of the entirety of actual and potential being? Well, once the otherwise admirable problem-solving faculty of though dedicates itself preferentially to the protection, expansion, and projection of a personal identity, it cannot help but generate an unending stream of irrationality that thinking self cannot significantly rectify, let alone transcend. Reason operating within personal fragments of a largely irrational division of the human mind and its social expression is anything but reasonable. This, in part because particular instances of the isolated and conditioned mind must look away from the general mental dysfunction in order to protect the evolving existence of their particular self-image. Thus, although we all suffer the general condition of the species and try very hard to solve the problems afflicting our selves, and the families, clans, and nations with which we identify, our thinking and feeling remains constricted, our relations prone to conflict, and our existence essentially cut-off from its source. Again, we routinely blind ourselves to the mystery of life that is our true ground and essential significance just so that we may be instead who we think we are and feel entitled to become, even though this half-conscious act of self-enclosure condemns us all to an on-going hell of fearful and aggressive self-progression full of unnecessary physical and mental pain, both suffered and inflicted.
The tragic consequences of a species-wide state of alienation do not yield to topical and gradual treatment. There is no other fix for it than the loss of our most highly regarded treasure —ourselves— and so we balk. We think and then think some more and the more we think, the more self-involved, confused, and conflicted we become. Only complete awareness of the terminal insensitivity, cruelty, and impotence of self-centered thought —an awareness necessarily unrelated to the self’s memory base and its penchant for idealized projection—has the power to free the mind from the strangulation of the mind by egotism and sectarianism.
The key to truth and freedom lies then in the paradoxical erasure of much of the biographical trace from the brain/mind. All the religions, organized and not so organized give some lip service to the need for self-abnegation, but since allegiance to a religious faith or tradition is a traditional pillar of personal identity, after millennia of contradictory pious belief and countless forms of devotional practice, the self still stands separate and continues to dominate the mind. We have forever sensed that there has to be more than what we think we are and want to become, but remain mortally afraid to fully yield to what seems to be silently asking us to see and go beyond ourselves. The only optics we are willing to employ are the very forms of secular and religious knowledge that, being the foundation and destiny of our particular identities, prevent us from seeing that the ground of our being is not in personal consciousness, but in life as a whole.
We have no choice then. Only the dissolution of the internal and external attachments on which the self relies to define and project itself can reveal that life does not separate, rank, catalog, and give independent management capabilities to any aspect of its self. (131)
If humanity has, over the ages, remained unable to eradicate suffering and the mental and social disorder from which suffering originates, it is largely because each one of us remains a cumulative set of selectively recorded and projected experiences of pain and pleasure, both physical and psychological. The mental residue left by previous cultural and biographical experience determines the sense of separate personal existence and how we each interpret, and react to our moment-to-moment contact with the actual flow of life. A great part of this idiosyncratic response to actual events and circumstances lies in the compulsion to experience more of the security and pleasure (and less of the pain and discomfort) already familiar to us personally. At the societal level, countless forms of traditional cultural activity (again, “cultural” in the anthropological sense, and so referring to action in the religious, scientific, political, economic, educational, military, and artistic fields) provide the general terrain on which our personal and sectarian hopes race to reach often disputed and necessarily contradictory versions of a dangerously exclusive and idealized future.
Unsurprisingly, the collisions and derailments in this insane race are frequent and costly and yet, regardless of the pain endured and often because of it, we go on blindly asserting ourselves and doubling down on selfish ends that, while benefitting some for a period of time, will also hurt others, perhaps many more, and for a longer time. With personal desire and its attendant fear and hostility as our standard operating procedure, the psychological distance between us remains or steadily widens while our interpersonal, institutional, and inter-tribal relations continue to unfold in an almost permanent state of tension, if not outright crisis. The same insane conviction that an exclusive set of traditions, diagnostic tools, and particular solutions will eventually deliver —for each one of us— the security and happiness we all commonly want determines the character and behavior of our concentric groups of reference: nations, alliances, religions, organizations, clans, and families. Naturally, the assertion of antagonistic claims to wealth, knowledge, righteousness, and power at every point of space and time can only deliver slightly modified versions of the general mental and social disorder the human species has forever known, suffered, and contradictorily attempted to overcome.
If for some reason you become aware that self-centeredness and tribal jingoism are responsible for the ills of the world, you may feel compelled to alert others to the limitations and dangers of a mind isolated and desensitized by its experience. However, even if the attempt to share this vital insight with others is motivated by the best of intentions, expressed with the most careful reasoning, and deployed through the most effective means of communication, it is quite likely to be perceived as a direct and unwarranted attack on the self and its cultural sources. If incisive and charismatic enough, a voice raised to reveal the absurdity and perils of self/sectarian-righteousness will evoke some form of aggression. Ostracism is the most common, and perhaps the mildest response; it can be a lot worse.
In widely different settings ranging from the family’s living room, to corporate boardrooms, church councils, the sanctuaries of revolutionaries or so-called “terrorists,” and the deliberative chambers of universities, corporations, and national governments, the causes of psychological and social problems are routinely identified according to different intellectual schemes and traditions. Once diagnoses are established, and blame adjudicated, modified versions of proven problem-solving methodologies are routinely rolled-out and implemented. They range from holding new elections to erecting barricades; from improving education to denying it; and from flying commercial airplanes into buildings to destroying entire nations with the legal and lethal means of counter-terrorist state terrorism. Again, unsurprisingly, nothing works. Actions undertaken by separate individuals and by organizations and sovereign nations all set in their respective parochial ways can never change the thought and behavior patterns of other individuals and groups equally set in their own ways.
Disparate and at best insufficient and partial solutions proposed by different and opposed groups can hardly remedy the fundamental problems affecting a given society, let alone those hounding humanity as a whole. Pseudo solutions merely prolong our fundamental problems. They can also become serious problems in their own right. War, ecological devastation, abject poverty, violence, and unending relational and mental problems have forever ravaged the species as a whole, and yet we continue to cling to our psychological and tribal sanctuaries, convinced that there is no alternative to our ancestral penchant for isolation, competition, and violence. Nothing seems to awaken us to the fact that it is from the presumably “safe” buffer zones created by our respective personal identities and tribal sanctuaries (all integral parts of the same system of self-centered thought) that we abuse and hurt one another while desperately attempting to possess whatever money, success, status, love, and “spirit” we can enjoy in relative isolation and for as long as possible.
Clearly, unless we somehow manage to see through the darkness produced by effort, strife, and sorrow, and thus abandon the false protection of our respective mental ghettos, our antagonism and mutual laceration will continue to stretch far into the future, as far as their historical record stretches back into the past. One need not be a genius to figure out that the dysfunctional manner in which we think and relate today is the net result of all the seemingly innocuous personal development and social progress that preceded it. Every generation merely constitutes the latest incarnation of a chronically deranged mind, a mind that remains committed to making slight improvements to itself and the social reality its every thought and action generates, while remaining unwilling to see and overcome its characteristic divisiveness and insensitivity.
The immediate truth is that the ideas and ideals with which we define and project ourselves in exclusion of most everyone and everything else, impede clear and complete perception, and hence nullify the possibility of significant change. Even if we are in some hidden way a special fruit of cosmic life (for sure not its axis and apex as we pedantically assume to be), our respective identities, thoughts, and behaviors remain particular manifestations of a persistent mental illness that is in our day seriously damaging the Earth’s ecosystem and also in other ways endangering the very survival of the species.
The very nature of this perception of what is false and dangerous in us implies that it cannot possibly be the outcome of just another turn in the revolving door of geopolitical power or another paradigmatic shift within some segment of the same divided and conditioned intellect. Full insight into the conditioned mind cannot emerge either through yet another set of therapy sessions, longer periods of premeditated meditation , or a new prescription for a more effective mental energizer, anti-depressant, or tranquilizer. Nothing will do, short of the implosion of competing personal agendas and ideological remedies from the sudden exposure of the vacuum of their falseness and the very real horror of the damage they habitually do.
The fundamental question to pose is whether the source and destiny of our participation in being is something other than the sectarian and egocentric consciousness created by thought. This radical question does not involve time because its answer cannot possibly reside in memory and the desire-borne projections of this same memory. Therefore, the query must begin and end with the realization of the inadequacy of all forms of knowledge and the absurdity of pretending to have or desiring to attain any exclusive form of personal/tribal fulfillment through additions or extrapolations of this knowledge. Self-centered thought cannot ever solve or transcend the division, the mental and relational problems, and the suffering it has itself created; period. There is no more therapeutic, corrective, creative, or evasive action to play out in time, and in this cancellation of mental projection the fantasy of a separate and evolving personal existence is left no more mental space to occupy. If this death of the pre-programmed process of self-centered thought occurs in enough human organisms, actual demonstrations of a sane and therefore peaceful and harmonious human coexistence will rapidly emerge to replace the corrupt mental and social reality that is still dominant. There is significant indication that this is already happening. (132)
Two billion people live on less than US $2.00 per day; over a billion of them suffer from chronic hunger, and thousands die from malnutrition and preventable diseases every day. This and a host of other similarly scandalous and largely unnecessary situations remain relatively constant, in part, because those of us not directly afflicted by them generally are not aware of what happens to those who are, and therefore do not care or do much about it. Our indifference is a form of violence responsible for untold suffering and our own mental degradation, both of them a threat to our own safety. Miserable living conditions and war are nothing new to humanity, nor are abuses of power and the destruction of young minds through inadequate or insufficient education. We have lived with these obscenities for centuries. We have so desensitized ourselves to their horror that it does not have the power to pierce our defenses, touch our hearts, and galvanize our minds. We have so dulled ourselves, that we miss what our personal embodiment of the general division, conflict, and sorrow says about our much vaunted intelligence and capacity for love. The chaotic state of humanity is routinely assumed to be a natural, and therefore necessary part of life, and under this general cover we all hide our overt or covert participation in the chaos and cruelty of the world. The last thing we want is to be personally disturbed.
It is true that many give money to charity or directly participate in brief or long lasting reform efforts deployed to ameliorate the effects of injustice and war, but even if partially successful these often admirable efforts to reduce the painful consequences of particular, local problems have an negligible effect on the deepest source of disorder and suffering. Most forms of charitable or educational action are not designed to treat the social division and psychological isolation that is at the very root of all human wrongdoing and misery. Individuals and social groups change somewhat, and the latter also divide and multiply as new idealists and their ideals succeed old ones in the never-ending struggle to reform the inadequate results of previous reforms or undo the abuses of previous rebellions and revolutions. Thus, a permanent process of false or superficial change sustains the status quo of conflictive disintegration characteristic of a mind conditioned by exclusive experience and driven by self-serving desire.
Generation after generation, we go on doing whatever we are told will increase the pleasure and reduce the pain we experience while battling ourselves and one another over the acquisition of material goods and the signs of psychological, cultural, and ”spiritual” success. A mountain of evidence makes evident that despite all the happy noise we like to make about how civilized we have become (not our enemies, who are always angry barbarians, totally lacking our exceptional qualities), we have not transcended the primitive division, the irrational violence, and the sorrow of the generations that preceded ours. In our own day we continue to work as hard as we ever did in order to insure the continuity of the same monstrous program in the mind of our young. After thousands of years of reform and development, the old and primitive human beast still reigns supreme today, only that protected by more subtle hypocrisy and armed with infinitely more lethal technology.
Minds still tightly identified with particular sources of meaning, pleasure, and self-importance may find this portrayal of the human condition depressingly cynical and largely unfounded. However, others will instantly recognize the tragic correspondence between insensitivity to the general mental and social reality of our species, and the failure to see ourselves as an inextricable part of it—both cause and consequence of its perdurable existence. The world is the brutal mess it is because we each insist on perceiving, thinking, and behaving in strict accordance with who we think we are and feel entitled to become. This central fact determines that the only adequate approach to human suffering and our chronic incapacity to overcome this suffering is simply to see both facts for what they are. Proper awareness of the impotence of self-centered thought is all that is necessary to stop reacting to particular events and circumstances in life (mental, interpersonal, social, geopolitical, ecological, and cosmic) in the same rigidly conditioned manner. Which simply means staying passively with (one with), not just the most salient present realities of mental degradation, poverty, exploitation, and war, but also the entire historical tragedy of humanity and its extension into the future through our common attempt to exclusively protect and enhance our families, clans, tribes and, at the center of it all, ourselves. In the absence of hyperactive memories, fears, and desires beefing-up and energizing an agitated personal psyche, a quiet and supremely alert impersonal awareness blooms.
It would be incorrect to assume that the ending of self-centered thought in a given brain/mind is irrelevant because it would not have a significant and immediate impact on others and larger social conditions. But that is like arguing for continuing to eat from a poisoned dish because one is hungry and not all parts of it may be equally toxic. Given that beyond superficial divisions and a made-up sense of time, mind is essentially one, the impact of provincial self-centeredness ending in any one particular human organism is immeasurable. Probability assessments and cost-benefit rate analysis are irrelevant when it comes to the only possible solution to the problem of human alienation and suffering. (133)
If I change by means of a projection of thought (an extrapolation of memory in relative contact with certain aspects of actual life), the new version of the self remains within the limitations and bias of previously experienced and acquired knowledge, and so it is hardly an adequate or sufficient change given the nature of the general challenge confronting us. As soon as the futility of personal reform becomes evident, one is confronted with the necessity of a change that is radical to the point of being unprecedented—unprecedented not in the sense that it has never occurred, but in that it is not informed by preexistent personal/tribal knowledge. The mind isolated and conditioned by experience and book learning, and now keenly aware of its incapacity to alter itself in any significant way, stays quietly with things as they are within itself and in the world. That is, the unveiling of the absurdity of straining in conflictive and contradictory directions dries up the habitual stream of preferential craving and condemnatory aversion that has forever weakened and afflicted the human mind and heart.
Sadly, most of us are not interested in the possibility of a complete perception of the barrenness of the self, much less, if this peculiar manner of seeing is said to yield an impersonal mental stance of which no image or idea may be formed. In fact, mere exposure to a written or verbal presentation of such possibility is usually enough to trigger the response that mechanically avoids, removes, or destroys whatever may hinder the all-important project of worldly or otherworldly personal fulfillment concocted in every brain by self-centered thought. The typical argument goes something like this: “Why would anyone want to give up the record of what has already been experienced, achieved, and learned, plus whatever could be acquired in the future, all without gaining anything in exchange?” The personalized psyche demands guarantee that it will gain something from quietly abiding with itself and the world as they actually are, a mirror to one another, and a general reflection of humanity loveless addiction to egotistic tribalism. Habit and fear thus continue to avoid what is paradoxically available at every instant, namely, the immensely affective intelligence of a mind that is one with the unthinkable potency and beauty of what is immediate and actual.
A passive and impersonal insight into the human condition as it actually is destroys the false sense that the self is different from others and distinct from the world we create together, thus ending the self-projecting endurance of memory-based consciousness. What remains is an impersonal and, therefore, boundless and timeless reality that none of the formal (traditional) modifications in personal consciousness can ever access. An unthinkable mutation in both the brain and the mind has occurred. Has it? (134)
Because we conceive of ourselves and the world in terms defined and handed down by others, we end up living and dying just as we are told. Some of us may question our prescribed identity and the experience it grants, but generally do not go far enough because a rebellious reaction to the particular circumstances of a given moment usually only cares to replace one set of cultural parameters with another promising greater advantage and more visible and enjoyable self-esteem. Thus, those who are discontent are easily seduced into a “new” identity characterized by predetermined forms of perception, thought, and behavior as limited and limiting as those that gave shape to the old self-image. Individuals who presently think of themselves as revolutionary, creative, or “spiritual” have merely gone from one set of previously established conclusions, norms, goals, and authorities to another; and “new” ideas, ideals, and practices invariably yield the mental dullness and relational strangleholds that once motivated their own adoption. The style or rate of change is to a very significant degree what makes particular personal and cultural forms appear so different from one another, however the mental conditioning that underlies all gradually evolving forms is itself impervious to change. Life undivided is on the other hand, unthinkably different from conformity to tradition or rebellion leading to a new form of conformity. There is a manner of seeing the truth in the falseness of personal and ethnocentric being/becoming that is, in itself, the instant unraveling of this falseness, but without substitution, without further option. It is the undivided awareness of life from moment to moment that has no fixed subject and object and is, therefore, nor constrained by spatial boundaries or alternative temporal trajectories. (135)
It seems evident that nothing exists in isolation from anything else, and yet the notion that the cosmos is just a mechanically coordinated collection of disparate things, events, and phenomena is quite common. This sense of a fragmented existence may be a fundamental failure of perception and logic with roots in the primordial conviction that the self is a discrete entity existing in comparative (knowing) separation from whatever else the conceit of its isolated presence may bunch together as “not-me.” Once the fiction of the existential singularity and relative independence of an exclusive cache of recorded personal experience has taken hold of the mind, it quickly follows that whatever its divisive optics determine to be other inter-related but relatively autonomous entities, must also be granted a similar proprietary existence. It is in this manner that the mental reality of the entire species comes to be the sum total of separate and contradictory versions of an atomized and largely mechanical universe believed into existence at any given point in time by different groups and individuals.
A deeply fractured experience/knowledge-based reality is not, for sure, conducive to good relations, and so human beings live in a permanent state of conflict with one another. Worst of all, the infinity of life that obviously allows for and contains this thought-fabricated human reality, practically does not exist for the individual person whose dominant, yet consistently limited and broken-up perception and cognition is responsible for this reality.
Let us look at this same issue from a different perspective. The complete set of rather crude and conflicting maps representing what different groups and individuals have come to perceive and think of life cannot but destroy the integrity of humanity and interminably dictate divisive action in the present and the conceivable future. We never seem to stop confusing the fragmented mental, social, and physical reality created by images and ideas, with the ultimately indivisible, and therefore undecipherable actuality of life. Worse yet, as information grows exponentially larger (especially in the more privileged sectors of so-called advanced societies), this confusion only deepens, and those most affected by it, grow more and more alienated from others and the actuality of life itself as the source of all.
A simple example may be enough to illustrate this ingrained map/territory muddle and its relation to our on-going state of psychological isolation and interpersonal conflict. It is common to depict and understand the landscape as a collection of separate things: clouds, sun, trees, houses, animals, etc., when in reality all these seemingly disparate entities are deeply interwoven with one another, each inconceivable in isolation. It is especially absurd to assume that the human being observing the landscape is himself not an integral part of it, just as that particular landscape is inseparable from the planet, and the planet from the cosmos. The larger point being that the totality we may tentatively agree to call “truth” or “life” transcends all abstracted physical form and all possible human knowledge and understanding of form. This, not only because the whole of existence is immense, complex, and dynamic, but also because its ultimate nature or source is formless; nothing exists in separation from it.
The existence of separate entities is largely imagined by an alienated human mind that is, in itself, an abstract construct, something very slight existing only in the realm of time-bound representation and, hence, hardly actual. This is not to say that all abstractions are groundless and all forms of knowledge useless. However, the general psychological distance created between the observing self and the presumed external (and intra-psychic) objects of its observation is largely unreal, permanently biased, and in many others ways constrained and distorted by previous knowledge. The division between the self and the world is false, and as anything false it has real consequences; the entire human species is tormented by these consequences, even its fate is threatened by them.
An insight revealing that separate personal existence is created by the particular accumulation of memories and their projection through self-centered thought topples the fantasy of separate existence and the mental process that sustains it. Thought survives this collapse, but only as an impersonal mental function. It is clear that the human organism must have thought to respond to the practical challenges that require the application of previously acquired knowledge and the rational projection of sequential steps leading to predetermined goals in the physical world, and to a much more limited extent in the realm of relationship. Once restricted to its necessary functional role, memory and thought will never again be the ground of a separate personal in opposition to other similar entities engaged in the same exact process of self-serving material, social, intellectual, or “spiritual” progress, only that in slightly different terms. (136)
An instant of intense and direct observation suffices to make plain the extent to which thought is both, conditioned by experience, and not under the control of what we all call “me.” The self is not the mind’s manager, but rather just a highly dynamic aspect or layer of the memory (and projection) of experience and knowledge from which it selectively draws its peculiar shape and its sense of continuity in time. This dependence of the self on the rest of memory/thought is the reason why we can seldom think ourselves out of the mental and relationship problems the same general mindset endlessly generates. Our thought-full personal isolation and its attendant compensatory, and highly reactive ambition (always tinged with fear) also block the unity and cooperation without which basic security and peace for humanity as a whole remain a dream. This, of course, barring the revolution in consciousness we are suggesting is not only possible but urgently necessary. Even as the interconnected dangers we face grow out of control, our personal/sectarian optics remain unable or highly reluctant to focus on the general situation and its otherwise obvious source in what we each identify with, think, feel, crave after, and do, at every instant. The problems we face are not out there, but between our ears. The most dangerous threat to human well-being is the fixed patterns of thought and behavior that tradition and personal experience determine.
Anything that would challenge or disrupt personal/tribal memory and its insane desire to control the future by means of exclusive projects, instantly triggers a loud danger alarm telling the same mental conditioning that it is time to fight, flee, or play dead. We do not question our distinct sense of personal being and social position because we are terrified of seeing the truth of our physical and psychological insignificance and the futility of any effort we can make to modify or transcend this condition. Rare moments of clarity, occurring generally during a time of crisis, may make this essential truth evident, but once circumstances change, we generally manage to crawl right back under the cover of our respective and evolving conceit of ascribed or earned personal value and social status. It is only in the absence of habit and fear that the double illusion of unique individuality and cultural exception is exposed to a light it cannot survive. This light is the accurate and complete realization that the knowledge stemming from previous and inherently limited experience cannot ever solve the psychological, social, and ecological problems self-centered thought and a splintered human culture have brought into being. In other words, the multiple and irreconcilable ideological and experiential bunkers in which personal/tribal consciousness lives and from which it fights and projects itself, cannot be expected to deliver, ever, the unity, affective intelligence, and peace without which we will never be at ease with ourselves and each other.
At the geopolitical level, the dominant segments of our fractured species try with all their might to increase their power while simultaneously attempting to control the growing disorder in the world by different means, many of them violent. Needless to say, regardless of how powerful they may be, essentially uncaring and therefore unintelligent self-serving actors will never attain the integration of humanity, and with it the communion with life that their very presence and bullying action denies. Without this unprecedented affective communion bringing integrity to the mind and real love to our relations, we are doomed to continue endlessly blocking, harming, and destroying each other and ourselves. Further exercise of will and might on the part of particular individuals and groups is useless. The only way out of the terrible impasse in which we are all caught is the irreversible surrender of the self and its groups of reference.
Even as billions of individuals identified with exclusive sets of psychological and tribal knowledge continue to struggle with each other (and with themselves) in the insane attempt to defend and expand their own peculiar but equally false version of what is known, the unknowable continues to exert irresistible attraction on the human mind and heart. Were this not so, would we be investing as much energy and resources as we are in things like orbital and land-based astronomical observatories, particle accelerators, and genome mapping—all efforts overtly or covertly intended to enlighten the confused and aching mind by connecting it to its source in life as a whole? Unfortunately, the great mental bridges proposed and engineered by the hard sciences are not, in that intent, very different from the theories and methods with which philosophies and religions have tried for millennia to heal the animosity between individuals and bridge the great divide between suffering humanity and the presumably redemptive truth each one of them claims to represent. Unfortunately, none of the remedies created by thought are capable of integrating the mind or softening the heart they themselves divide and harden. They may intend to bring unity to humanity sometime in the future, but in the meantime the alienation implicit in their representational nature, their exclusive character, and fragmentary observation can only continue to produce the greed and fear and the hatred and violence we have always known.
Direct and non-reactive perception of the psychological and cultural division of the human species is in itself the cancellation of the urge to belong to something greater than oneself, and from that thought-based platform attempt to improve what thought itself has torn asunder. Free at long last from the absurdity of having to find an exclusive way out of the endless disorder and pain generated by the exclusive self (exclusive redundancy intended), the mind turns effortlessly away from the narrows of personal memory and wildly imaginative and exhausting fears and desires, and is swallowed whole into the unfathomable reality of life itself. (137)
What is the meaning of our collective presence in this mysterious universe? Why does this presence mean such different things to different people? The dire general situation of the species, and the confusion and anxiety —or the perplexing indifference— it generates fills this question with urgency.
If one looks at oneself intensely and in an unpremeditated way, as if for the first time, what comes first into focus are the general circumstances and the traits and proclivities by which we recognize ourselves as members of the same species. We inhabit the same location in cosmic space, our lives are equally and vitally dependent on the Earth’s biosphere, and we are the common outcome of the evolutionary process that has produced our bodies including, evidently, our brains. If duly attended to, the enormity of what we have in common also makes plain that we humans are not as special as we like to think we are. Our species is not all that different from other species in several accounts but, fundamentally, in that all animal organisms share the same existential source, a similar physiological transit, and the same final fate. Moreover, as individual members of the human species, we are not very different from one another, either. Our bodies and their life cycle are fundamentally the same, and we are largely without choice over our individual expression of the basic instincts, drives, and reactions that characterize the species as a whole. Enfolded in our common brain is the entire evolutionary record of the species gathered through the endless reiteration of the same generic experiences of pain and pleasure; and this sorry record is still mechanically adding to itself through the same reckless pleasure seeking and pain avoidance patterns that the phenomenon of psychological isolation and cultural fragmentation established long ago.
We are, in many ways, just like any other animal, but there is a difference, and a non-trivial one for sure. Basic animal needs and drives have been, in us, psychologized; that is, extended in many different ways into the construction of a separate personal psyche, and often left somewhat beyond the usual range of inspection and control of its more conscious layer. For example, the ranking of a person’s or a tribe’s traits, interests, values, and sense of status over and above those of others is but an extension of the territorial instinct of the animal, but armed with a capacity for sustained greed, grudge, and hostility that makes even the wildest animal type seem tame by comparison. Only human beings are capable of mental injuries and neurotic claims so deep and long lasting that their dissolution often comes only with the death of the particular identity that depended greatly on these injuries and claims to be what it thought it was.
We commonly assume that that the presence in us of reason establishes a radical difference between ourselves and all other living beings. This assumption is true to some important degree, but it disregards the extent to which fixed images and ideas distort perception and trigger off unwise thought processes in a manner that severely curtails sensitivity (intelligence) in our relationship with one another and with everything else. This bears repeating: the presumed uniqueness and cleverness of a specialized personal intellect (“my” mind) is given so much importance that we remain largely unaware of the loss of perceptual acuity, intellectual rigor and, perhaps most damaging of all, affective intelligence brought about by this overbearing focus on personal experience and its projection through desire and fear. This constriction of the natural intelligence of the human mind has many implications, the most critical one being that it is not up to the memory/desire-based self to transcend or override to any significant extent the limitations of this condition. The chronic nature of awful psychological and relational problems attests to this built-in inability to solve fundamental mental, social, and ecological problems of our own creation.
Personal identity implies contrast with others by reference to distinct (though relatively superficial) physical, psychological, and cultural characteristics, and by ignoring fundamental commonalities, central among the very mystery of life. The overbearing presence of identity also involves thinking that the eventual solution for whatever torments “me” as a particular individual embedded within particular groups and tribes lies in making slight modifications to those same characteristics and, often enough, also to “my” capacity to impose them on others. The problem with gradual self-modification is, of course, that other persons, other groups, our own minds, and certainly life itself resist, sometimes quite violently, the aggressive and constant assertion of a predetermined mental configuration with an egotistical goal in mind. Self-assertion and the resistance, conflict, and violence that invariably come with it constitute an enormous waste of psychological and social energy that severely curtails the sensibility and capacity for reason and love of the individual organism and species as a whole.
We begun by asking about the meaning of our collective presence in this mysterious universe, and then went on to review how this presence has become so fragmented and antagonistic that it cannot see itself beyond its acquired personal and tribal limitations. We are a presumably intelligent species that is curiously unwilling to use its intelligence to find a source of unity, a common ground. Notwithstanding our many and rather obvious advantage over other species, our dimwitted division and consequent incapacity to find a global solution to the psychological, relational, and environmental problems created by our contradictory thinking and irresponsible behavior makes us the most tragic of all animal species. It seems clear that the potential granted by life to our large and highly differentiated brains will remain largely unrealized for as long as our egotism and internecine division remains. For what if not enduring conflict and sorrow can result from competing cultural groups all harboring the same phenomenon of narrowly self-reflective and largely self-serving individuality perennially engaged in attempting to validate its absurd claim to a unique and possibly superior life.
If surveyed from the vantage point of life as a totality, the meaning and value of our presence within it would have to be its own, would it not? However, if we continue giving our particular cultural and biographical narratives the weight, meaning, and projection of particular acts of existence, this magnificent, actual, and readily accessible truth remains far from apparent and thus out of reach. The mental disorder and relational conflict that countless acts of insular psychological being and predetermined becoming generate block the organismic sensitivity and impersonal intelligence that would otherwise naturally create and preserve a steady state of caring coexistence. Given the intellectual and affective capacity we human beings occasionally exhibit in certain cultural activities, one can only wonder why we go on living with our backs largely turned to each other and to the all-inclusive mystery of life.
There is unimaginable light and grace in the simple act of seeing one-self as the deepest root of the ill mental health and consequent relational dysfunction afflicting the entire species. With the same light and grace one drops fearlessly into that immense and unknowable space in which the fantasy of particular existence and hard to earn but easy to lose psychological value and social status does not exist. The dissolution of the particular is the plenitude of life. (138)
Seeing does not require adoption and exercise of a better visual system, but immediate removal of what is obstructing and damaging the eyes.
We are not generally aware that our personal discomforts and sorrows are only a tiny drop in the ocean of human suffering, an ocean that is as long and deep as all pre-historical and historical time, and as wide as the inhabitable surface of the planet. Everyone suffers the insularity of personal/tribal being and the largely futile labor involved in the mechanical urge of acquiring more and becoming better taxes. Separate being and becoming also makes us insensitive to the suffering of most others and the responsibility we may bear for their grief. We pay little attention to how common loneliness, hardship, fear, and sorrow are, because we are far more interested and greatly occupied in improving the chance that the future (pre- or post-mortem) may hold some form of exclusive liberation/happiness for us. As a result, we are seldom present to one another (and to ourselves) and remain incapable of the level of collaboration and affection that the solution of fundamental and global problems requires. While feeling permanently vulnerable to loss, failure, and accident, and without choice regarding the ravages of old age and the final obliteration of personal body and mind, we generally live and relate to one another as if this feeling did not exist or involve as much pain and sorrow as it does.
The intimate connection between the psychological and the social manifestations of insensitivity and disorder is also generally lost on us. We do not quite see, or care to see, that the chaotic and violent world we share is one with the quality of our personal minds and relationships, and only the most recent incarnation of the long and tragic experience of the species that is deeply embedded in our common brain. Despite undeniable scientific and technical development and the successive religious and political reforms implemented over millennia, we remain unable to solve chronic problems such as inter-personal violence, addiction, injustice, poverty, and war; problems that for millennia have created unspeakable anguish and grief for billions of people. We have grown accustomed to the steady presence of personal and social afflictions, and are generally content with the momentary relief we can be attained through intense occupation (often-in partial and pseudo-solutions) and distraction (both secular and religious).
Unsurprisingly, the escapes we have found from the fact and consequences of self-centeredness and divisive parochialism do nothing but reinforce these ills. Thus, under the thin veneer of distinctive style, cleverness, and respectability, a dark stream of insensitivity and violence continues to run. The saddest fact of human existence is perhaps that the illusion we share of being free agents in relative control of our worldly and otherworldly destiny is so strong that we remain in many ways oblivious to facts. We are not the thinkers of thoughts or the managers and beneficiaries of the consensual sanctuaries that endorse these thoughts and their attendant emotions and behaviors. Much less are we masters of the larger historical variables routinely clashing on the world stage and wreaking havoc in the lives of countless people.
Why do we tolerate this falseness and the unending stream of banality, discord, and grief it engenders? What is wrong with us? After thousands of years creating and suffering unspeakable horrors, we remain largely unaware of the general state of mental disorder and pain afflicting the species as a whole because our very existence and perdurability depends on this insensitivity. We are carefully conditioned to disregard the fact that individuals at every sector and level of every society are afflicted by slightly different forms of the same dependency, fear, conflict, and sorrow, and that the morsels of happiness we occasionally manage to attain for ourselves do not for an instant justify the insanity of our sustained common alienation from each other and from life. With the thick wool of contradictory forms of religious and/or secular ideology tightly pressed against our eyes, we live to protect and expand our personal narrative and its distinguished perch in the collectively held illusion of separate existence.
At this stage of history, it is relatively easy to realize that thousands of years of so-called progress have failed to grant the species even the most rudimentary unity, and that none of the grand promises held up by particular religious or secular ideologies and their institutional incarnations will ever bring about the level of cooperation and love that is increasingly urgent. Cultural ghettos exist to grant exclusive identity and a false sense of security and superiority to the brainwashed agents of global division, falseness, and insecurity who live in them. Seen from the opposite side, as it were, the central concern of all forms of chauvinism and sectarianism is their own survival and expansion, and this depends on their capacity to control the thought and behavior of those human beings who depend on them for their sense of identity and security (mostly psychological). How then could any of them be expected to bring forth the global collaborative unity without which the mental health and general well being of a great majority of human beings will just continue to deteriorate? Bad as they are, some aspects of our present circumstances make it relatively easy to see that our cultural division and psychological isolation have always been the central obstacle to the emergence of an intelligent human mind capable of integrity, caring intelligence, and harmony with life as a whole.
There is the flowing totality of actual and potential existence —what we may tentatively agree to call life, or even the sacred, if you do not find that word too dangerous or offensive— and then there is the seven billion (and counting)-ring circus created by the system of self-centered thought that has conditioned the mind and splintered human society. So convinced are the multitudes that this circus is the highest expression of life (or even life itself) that they remain absorbed by particular roles in its countless acts and practically blind to the actual mystery of life undivided unfolding right outside the representational tent. Unable or unwilling to see our presence as one with the unthinkable infinity that fact or fantasy-based knowledge denies, we condemn ourselves to a life-long struggle with others and ourselves over the signs and symbols of an elusive worldly success or a delusional otherworldly salvation.
There is no getting out of this pathetic merry-go-round of experience- and tradition-based personal consciousness, because there is no one there within the mind who can choose to be on or off its vicious circular ride. The human mind is essentially one, but it has broken up into billions of exclusive memory sets, each mechanically projecting a particular self onto the imagined future with the force and always mistaken direction of proprietary fear and ambition. No one will ever come out of the sorrowful chaos of the world and into the truth of life through any predetermined initiative of personal development or social progress. The mystery of undivided existence is an immediate and evident truth, but for us its wayward human offspring hanging “for dear life” onto the tragic comedy of separate existence, this mystery is out of sight in the worst possible sense. We either ignore its existence, or think we exist outside of it and either are progressively getting to know it, or will come to experience it sometime after death.
The conditioned and self-centered mind cannot ever heal itself, nor can it fix the mess it has created in the world. Only a complete awareness of just this fact —the terminal impotence of thought— has the power to free the mind from the compulsion to use every living moment to extend modifications of the tribal and psychological past into the future. Life does not hold within itself separate entities of any type. For reasons that are perhaps obvious by now, this awareness of the indivisible nature of life cannot be the privilege of any one. (139)
Do you not also have the feeling that there is something terribly wrong with the way we see life and live, and the way we fear death and die, and wonder how widely shared this feeling may be? Something immense seems missing from our sense of reality. How could life possibly be as routine and shallow as we generally experience it, and death as meaningless? It is certainly a great paradox that the mystery of existence with its formless source and its infinite potential for further manifestation seems to have no power to rescue us from our self-imprisonment in the little mental categories, stories, and ambitions with which we construct and prolong what we take to be our particular lives and ourselves. Just as some insubstantial cloud can easily blot out the sun, the blatant presence and noisy affairs of the self somehow manage to overshadow the unfathomable depth and richness of both awareness and life; better said, of life aware of itself.
Even though an unthinkably different mode of existence may well be the natural birthright of the human organism and of human society as a whole, there is no external or internal agency of salvation —no god, principle, soul, theory, or method invented by thought— that could free us from our mental shackles and take us there. The mind itself must somehow awaken to the false sense of separate personal being that the ever-busy shuttle of memory and desire creates and protects. Either the light of truth exposes and dispels the pretense of existential uniqueness, or we continue to live in the darkness of our false being. There is no dimmer switch in this matter, no gradual transit between dark and light, between the false and the truth, between the absence of love and its presence—and no one has the power, let alone the right, to force or seduce the witlessly or willfully blind into seeing the light.
Our senses are too heavily doctored and specialized by the influence of cultural and personal experience to have an accurate and complete perception of the unity of life, and our capacity to learn can never grasp this unity with its conventional representational hooks to then transfer it to some separate compartment of our memory bank. The particular conceptual versions of reality that we each know about and regard as “my” life have little or nothing to do with the all-encompassing actuality of life itself. What we each hope to accomplish or realize in the future —tomorrow, in ten years, or in the convenient fantasy of an eternal afterlife— is not life either. Life is unthinkable because it is infinitely complex, undivided, and actually happening. Symbols, comparisons, equations, and metaphors can provide some approximation to aspects of it, but representation is and will forever remain fundamentally unrelated to the vibrant and all-pervasive reality of life. Nothing exists outside its relentless, unbroken flow, so the notion that one can come to know the manifest and nonmanifest energy of life and death from the outside, as it were, is pure foolishness. The entity that collects data, formulates ideas, and cooks up partial portraits, clever theories, and fascinating fantasies about “life” does not exist as anything other than a perennially inadequate collection of contradictory images and concepts bent on looking for more and better versions of the same experiences it has already recorded and classified.
And yet, and yet, this very realization of the unbridgeable chasm between the knowledge-based self and the unassailable mystery of life is like the light of a thousand suns blasting its way through a crack in the compacted accumulation of memories and desires that condition and isolate the mind. To see through the fantasy of separate existence is to die, and only this death ends the division, antagonism, and suffering implicit in the false existence and violent overreach of the self. (140)
The conditioned person permanently strives to attain a more pleasurable state of consciousness by attempting to enhance or correct certain personal traits and simultaneously avoid the social constraints that stand on the way of this achievement. But the realization of greatly improved circumstances and an idealized self remains an endlessly taxing, elusive, and distant goal, attractive enough to keep everyone striving, but ultimately unattainable for most, if not all. This tense distance between the actual and the ideal self makes it appear as though there were not one but two personal entities in every mind, one who is permanently discontent with what it has been and presently is, and another —an idealized, better one— imagined by the first but permanently receding into the imaginary future that fear and hope generate.
There is no such a thing as a psychological being somewhere in the brain/mind. What is felt as a distinct personal entity is really a dynamic and highly reactive personal narrative that is an integral aspect of an only partially conscious reservoir of recorded pain and pleasure. In contact with the actual unfoldment of life events, this mental narrative interprets present experience on the basis of previous experience, and works to attain a future imagined as containing more security and pleasure and less fear, frustration, and pain. We cannot desire or fear anything that is totally other than what we have already experienced or learned about, thus our efforts to move and change in any predetermined direction only yield relatively minor additions or subtractions, superficial modifications, of who we already are. In other words, whatever change we manage to engineer and realize is always within the realm of our limited experience and knowledge, or within the equally limited realm from which others advice, preach, and proselytize.
If I am an unhappy Muslim, I may want to try out what it is like to be, well probably not a Jew, but perhaps a Buddhist, a sun worshiping surfer, or an atheist. The same is true with nationality, profession, morality, social class, and even other more inelastic personal characteristics such as physical appearance, character, gender, age, and race. All the available alternative components of psychological identity seem quite different from one another and display a wide internal spectrum of slightly different possibilities. However, these components and their countless variations are fundamentally the same in that their source is, without exception, the same system of experience-based thought that conditions the mind and splinters humanity forcing it to live eternally at odds with itself.
Different and relatively stable ideological forms collect, interpret, and systematize the entire experience of our species, and it is into these collective mental containers that new “individuals” are born, educated, and given the instructions that will guide their thought and behavior. Freedom is not an option for the newborn if all that is possible is to grow into a predetermined mental story, a person, who will then labor, also in pre-established ways, to improve some of its contents or to trade it in for a slightly different and, hopefully, better one. The conflicted world we share clearly reflects how different traditions and ideologies grant identity to children gradually adding to the primary level of distinction that comes with a personal and family name a (false) sense of purpose and status that makes adult individuals too tightly programmed and too frightened to stand on their own, see things as they are, and seriously question who they have become and how. At the macro level, the sense of meaning, security, and direction given to billions of individuals by different and contradictory secular and religious ideologies constitutes (and preserves) the fragmentation of the species, with its endemic lack of intelligence and its sometimes fratricidal turmoil.
Can awareness of the futility and ultimate danger of living according to any conventional pattern of being and becoming dispel the cultural and psychological conditioning isolating and diminishing the particular mind and atomizing society? Can a human being not be anything in particular and consequently stop trying to improve or become someone else through sheer willfulness and sustained effort? Evidently these questions are not meant to suggest the desirability of wanton behavior, amnesia, or catatonia. They are aimed rather at highlighting the possibility of a profound insight into the nature of tribal and self-centered thought powerful enough to instantaneously and irreversibly annul the relevance of psychological memory and stop the phony evolution of any claim to a separate personal existence occurring within the protective cocoon of a particular group or society. This collapse would not, as we have repeatedly stressed, annihilate thought in its entirety, but merely restrict its operation to the practical, impersonal matters for which it is indispensable.
Can the human being, any human being, live without committing herself to any of the divisive, identity-giving mental compartments (produced by religion, politics, race, ethnic group, gender, age, education, class, et cetera) from which flow the division, confusion, antagonism, and fear we all suffer from? Can a perfectly common individual be free from the constraints of unnecessary mental and behavioral patterns established by particular cultural traditions and her own biographical record of physical and psychological pain and pleasure? Can anyone stop striving to experience preconceived forms and degrees of pleasure while simultaneously struggling to avoid the repetition of already known forms and degrees of psychological insecurity and suffering? These questions are enormously relevant yet the boundaries that define the reality of any given cultural context make them appear as unrealistic or outright insane. Our marked preference for staying well within the clearly demarcated palisades of our respective cultural and personal experience and projected desire is, after all, an integral aspect of the general conditioning of the human mind and its highly reactive defense mechanism. To be lost in the immensity of the unknowable is something that inspires fear, which is paradoxical given the terrors created by the constant, pathetic clash of opposing personal agendas and ideologies and, more importantly, the fact that this mysterious immensity we fear is that of life itself—all there ever is and all we have ever been and timelessly are.
Are we doomed to keep running down the labyrinthine corridors of a conditioned mind closed in on itself? Cannot the insensitivity and the often sheer cruelty hard-wired by habit into the very physiology of the brain be somehow undone? Every existing and potential social structure, cultural tradition, and personal thought and feeling, supports this mental rut in an endless feedback cycle. Therefore, the very impossibility of this challenge demands that it be approached, not by burdening oneself with further learning and procedural tasks, but rather by leaving alone our confinement to a made-up past, present, and future determined by memory and thought, and looking entirely beyond it. Is our cosmic origin and presence to be ignored on behalf of a skin-encapsulated sense of physical presence, the flimsy record of particular experience presently indoctrinating and atomizing the brain/mind, and a parasitic representational self pretending to be the one who knows and has the right to want and earn exclusive security and happiness? Asked the other way around: is there a radically different mode of human existence? The mind free of all the useless traditions and selfish and contradictory thoughts and desires that create the disorderly self and its disintegrating reality, is this unthinkably different mode of existence.
As noted before, a few noteworthy human beings have consistently declared over the centuries that beyond the habitual hurts, pleasures, and fears that characterize the life of the self-centered psyche lies a boundless emptiness that is the ground of material existence and the essence of a profound and all-encompassing love and intelligence that no person or culture can possibly appropriate. While extremely alluring, it would be foolish to merely accept this notion on faith and then somehow strive for its eventual realization. The dissolution of the existential separation allegedly experienced by these historical icons of wisdom and compassion is not to be taken as an example to be merely believed-in or imitated because this only serves the same dysfunctional phenomenon of cultural and personal identification that has kept us forever apart and at odds with each other and ourselves.
More explicitly said, the historical record of Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and others said to have undergone a mutation in consciousness deserves to be careful studied for what it is worth, but then it must be set aside with the rest of recorded human experience because what is necessary does not reside in the realm of representation, it is alive and ever-fresh. The discordant identifications, projections, and sorrows that make up the self’s apparent existence and its duration in mental time cannot survive this insight.
Whether there is a final and irreversible end to the dysfunctional tribal and psychological mode of existence we have always known is the only essential issue confronting us as individuals and as a species. We must attend to it, not so that some of us may enjoy the exclusive privilege of yet another exclusive reality, but simply because the most basic physical/mental health of the organism demands that what is false and harmful be detected and instantly set aside. (141)
What is a sane and full response to an atomized human consciousness and the disorder and sorrow this consciousness creates in the world? And what impact could this response be expected to have on the future of humanity and the fate of all those innocent species with which we share planet Earth? Evidently, no individual action, regardless of how smart and well intentioned, can have a direct and decisive effect on enormous problems such as global climate disruption or rampant tribalism armed with lethal technology and primitive ambitions. These and other similar threats to the well-being and very survival of humanity did not appear overnight, and our presumed personal “right” to assert a particular identity, acquire higher social or spiritual status, and eat a bigger piece of the economic pie at whatever cost, keeps worsening the risk for all.
The division of humanity along psychological and cultural lines, and the ceaseless disorder that springs from it, are so old and pervasive that they pass for normal. We know nothing else, and so we only desire slightly improved modifications of what is more familiar to each one of us. In fact, we would not know who we were or what we should do (doing has become such a disproportionate part of our sense of being) if our personal and cultural isolation were to cease, along with the mental and interpersonal affection/friction they generate—and that, we find terrifying. In other words, our reluctance to get to the truth of things stems from fearing a total disruption of the sense of “normalcy” on which our identity and very sense of existence depends.
Fairly well-educated and informed individuals are generally not exempt from this aversion to profound self-inquiry and the disturbance it brings. Thus, they too tend to remain unaware that the roots of our most serious global problems grow out of our own identification with particular experiences, ideologies, and plans for the future. If at all concerned about social issues and the patent suffering of so many others, we invest our energy almost exclusively in working to achieve gradual solutions to particular problems occurring in specific places. The possibility of a holistic solution seldom arises because we insist in seeing ourselves as external to the general problems we face, and that creates a certain superficiality that is coherent with the fragmentary reality we embody and generate, but that remains ignorant of the general truth.
A piecemeal approach to psychological and social problems is at some level necessary and its results often admirable, but it is never sufficient. Besides, it is quite easy for extreme dedication to (and identification with) remedial efforts to coalesce with other factors all together blinding us to the divisive and destructive power of self-centered thought and action. Especially obfuscating is the common belief that the synergy created by many good people acting simultaneously on a great diversity of technical, scientific, political, economic, and religious projects and causes will eventually stem the torrent of disorder and violence overwhelming the world. It will not. Patching up the status quo does not, in the end, do much more than sustain sequential modified versions of the same status quo. Something entirely different is necessary, and it has less to do with any conceivable form of ameliorative social or religious action than with simply seeing the fact that what we are —the divisiveness and disorder of self-centered thought— is what the world is.
Again, none of this is meant to cynically undermine the work of well-meaning people helping others in need, but rather to bring to the fore that partial and gradual actions in any particular place and regarding any particular problem are not commensurate with the core issue of human existence. It is just not sufficient to lend one’s time and energy to a given social project, or even a whole set of them, if the central cause of the human mess sitting between our ears and flowing out into the world through our thoughts, feelings, and actions remains unattended. The difficulty experienced in letting go of attachment to the social status and mental comfort that work and other respectable cultural roles provide is clear indication of their direct contribution to the conditioned psychological isolation that is at the core of all human problems and yet refuses to question itself, and do so regardless of the consequences.
No one can make light of the awfulness of feeling impotent in the face of great responsibility and extreme danger. We all abhor the frustration of not knowing what to do, and know of our proclivity to fall apart when confronted with a situation that does not yield to anything we may do to resolve it. However, in facing, not parts, but the totality of the problem of being human, and in realizing that its magnitude, depth, and complexity is entirely beyond our intellectual capacity, we discover that we are not external agents facing this great problem. We are the problem, and so further efforts undertaken along traditional lines to remedy the presumed causes and effects of different symptoms and cases of this suffering will never eliminate the fact of our deeply interconnected psychological and social pathologies.
There are precious few trustworthy sources urging concerned individuals to disregard tradition and psychological knowledge so as to be able to approach the problem of being human in and by themselves, and not hampered by prejudice or self-serving desire. The correct solution to any problem depends on a thorough and accurate perception of it, and this rule applies to the fundamental issue of false existential conceit as well. As we have repeatedly seen in preceding pages, the problems afflicting humanity arise from the misguided and contradictory ways in which different individuals, groups, and nations attempt to protect their identity while simultaneously working to attain some progress through the conception and implementation of different secular and/or religious reform projects. Evidently, none of the competing and warring national entities that make up this chaotic world of ours will ever be able to bring to it unity and peace. Nor will the feuding religions, each with its own creed, redemptive fantasy, and methodological discipline, ever be able to bridge the distance that separates them from each other, and heal the damage done to the individual minds identified with their divisive beliefs. For the same reason, it is highly unlikely that our hearts and minds will ever be fully awakened through ever more fervent identification with any of the sciences, the humanities, the arts, different gender affiliations, political parties, or the proliferating technologies endlessly serving up further upgrades and presently threatening with practically substituting the human mind itself.
All the knowledge compartments and cultural factions into which the species has fractured itself throughout its long history have had the common function of providing their adherents with a sense of personal identity and the dubious sense of security that comes from bogus distinction and predetermined instructions to reach a better future. Throughout human history, some of these tribes have tried to impose themselves upon some or all of the others and, so far, they have all eventually failed. However, the consistent record of failure in military, economic, or ideological conquest has never been able to strip from the human mind and, hence, from different cultures the toxic desire for power over others. Identity remains separate and able to find the way to survive and even thrive when afflicted by recurrent failure, and the general system of self-centered thought depends on that malignant resilience for its continuing existence. To be (separate) is to become, and sorrow perversely adds itself to other central traits of the mind, such as pleasure, fear, exclusive love, and the quest for power, in ensuring the perdurability of self-centered thought and its broken-up reality.
Our bond with the images and ideas constitutive of our respective identities and their projection is so strong and dear to us that it is relatively common to choose death or murder over a breach of self-esteem. This is no exaggeration. Injury to an inflated sense of personal/tribal self all too often provokes, and even justifies, the destruction of self and others. Furthermore, any form of aggression, from gossipy character-assassination to war, contributes to our general incapacity to detect, not just how poisonous is the esteem with which we distinguish ourselves, but the far more shocking fact that our separate and evolving existence is a delusion affecting the species as a whole. The chronic failure of contradictory attempts to eliminate conflict and violence, alone, warrants acknowledgement of our false personal being and its projection in time as the source of everything that has afflicted humanity since the very beginning.
None of the particular combinations of authority and group think characteristic of traditional human projects can heal this willful blindness to the truth of the human condition and our responsibility for it. Again, the particular experience and knowledge that formats every brain/mind and informs its thoughts, perceptions, and actions also impedes an accurate and complete assessment of itself (the mental conditioning) as the central cause of all psychological and social ills. The very nature of mental programming determines the impossibility of any personal action capable of un-conditioning (or de-conditioning) the self. It also determines that this action cannot be delegated to others, because such transaction —the submissive acceptance of someone else’s knowledge and power— reinforces, rather than eliminates, on both sides, the same self-sustaining conditioning of the mind by the representational dregs of experience and knowledge. Moving from one form of mental imprisonment to another promising better amenities and more reliable authorities is no change at all.
It is, therefore, essential to realize early in one’s query into these matters that positive motivation —self-created or stemming, as it more generally does, from affiliation with a particular group and ideology— can play no role in unburdening the mind from the limitations of unnecessary memory/thought and the fixed bias and punishing obligations imposed by self-centered desire. Any form of identification with a predetermined course of action leading to an equally predetermined goal of personal development or liberation is indicative of the avoidance or misunderstanding of the peculiar challenge that mental conditioning poses. Different mental representations of what may lie beyond the familiar pleasures and pains of the self-centered and ethnocentric mind are just more of the same predigested mental fare on which we have grown mentally fat and complacent. The same goes for any methodology promising the docile follower the gradual realization of a selfless mind. However, awareness of the absurdity of any thought-based projection of the self is, in a seeming paradox, the liberation of the mind from any conceit of existential separation extending itself in mental time through slight modification of itself and its sources of identification.
There is no end to the past, present, and future identification of the self without the wiping away of all traditional theories, occupations, and wishful desires, and a full realization of just this fact is all anyone needs. Only this liberation of the mind from the encroachment of particular personal content and the burden of carrying this content into the future will do. Anything else is merely a reiteration of the same old routine of gradual personal reform according to a predetermined goal and following an equally predetermined method or practice. It is sheer nonsense to say that a given mind is in the process of disabling the ego or de-programming itself. The mind is programmed and egocentric or it is not; there can be no time lapse between the two states because the illusion of gradual psychological change is precisely the factor that sustains self-centered thought through fear and desire. (142)
Practically all human beings are concerned about their place in society, but those of us who are better off from an educational and economic perspective seem to spend an inordinate amount of energy on improving our social and financial standing and chasing after predetermined experience. Despite our privilege, or because of it, we are routinely indifferent to those whose lives do not merit our attention, let alone our love and respect. We are also prone to suffer anxiety and/or depression when the fulfillment we seek proves to be out of reach. For example when individuals whose praise we conceive as vital to our success fail to comply with our overt or covert demand for validation, we respond with hurt and anger, and without properly understanding that we are simply not good enough to adequately contribute to their own equally pressing need for attention and validation. In general, the more psychologically insecure we are, the more we tend to rely on the opinion and support of others and, evidently, emotional and intellectual dependency is the source of much antagonism and consternation.
This quite prevalent dominant/dependent relationship with others mirrors a similar phenomenon occurring within the personal mind itself. The extent of our discontent with who we actually are from day to day generally determines the extent to which we subject ourselves to the neurotic demand to become pleased with ourselves in the future. The task of realizing a greatly idealized self-image is inherently contradictory, and therefore a permanent source of personal tension and interpersonal dissension.
A negative assessment of the actual situation of the person projects onto the future a goal that is just a figment of the memory-based imagination, then the possibility that this fantasy of psychological fulfillment might never be realized worsens what is already an almost permanent state of mental obfuscation generating systematic misperceptions of actual reality leading to incorrect actions and further fear and insecurity. In general, the more psychological security and social status we covet, the more we torture others and ourselves with absurd, neurotic demands. No matter what we do we remain uncertain and insecure, because the psychological isolation common to us all is the very source of both, irremediable uncertainty and insecurity and the insane urge to find an exclusive escape from them.
The foolishness and danger of personal/sectarian memory and its mechanical projections is evident to a mind fully aware of the world as a battlefield in which billions of human beings fight with each other in order to obtain, defend, and increase their peculiar forms of material, social, and even “spiritual” distinction. A lucid mind is free of identity, and so it does not respond to slight or criticism with hurt and hostility, and to deserved or undeserved praise with foolish displays of arrogance and further power grabs. Intelligence in the awakened mind is not so much the ability to accumulate and deploy knowledge, as it is direct perception of self-centered thought as nothing more than a given set of mechanically self-projecting images and ideas opaque enough to block the cosmic embrace of life.
In a mind that is free of self-enhancing knowledge and belief, and therefore unoccupied with non-essential aspects of a personal life and a tribal culture, there is no favorable or unfavorable comparison with others or with idealized images of the self, and therefore no frustration or conflict either. The propensity to suffer from barren effort, confusion, fear, and discord is no longer present. The religious or meditative mind, in the best sense of those words is impersonal, quiet, spacious, attentive, one with life as a whole. (143)
Starting from the mental and cultural reality created by thought, there is no path to truth. All that thought can do is to attempt to shape future experience through the projection of modified versions of the images and ideals left in memory by personal experience and cultural tradition, and the very presence of predetermined intent and preferred outcome is indicative of separation and contradiction and, hence, of the absence of truth. There is division between the seeking self and the truth that is sought, as well as in the time and distance separating the self who lives in falsehood but wants the truth, and the idealized self that would presumably and eventually come to possess this truth. This is not an edict voiced from the high ground of morality and wisdom, but rather a simple expression of the fact that self-centered thought is intrinsically limited and deceptive. Limited and deceptive, not only because the personal experience from which it emerges is necessarily small and isolated, but more fundamentally because it is not actual but representational and because it creates a false sense of time—the time “I” need to cover the distance that separates me from truth. The fragmented material, social, and mental reality created by symbolic representation and self-expansive projection determines the thinker, and its thoughts, and actions. The world is what we are and vice versa, and in this constructed reality nothing appears as it actually is, least of all the fact and significance of the impersonal human presence within the totality of life.
Awareness of the irredeemable inadequacy of personal thought necessarily implies, therefore, an irreversible and passive negation of all its past, present, and possible future versions of meaning, success, liberation, redemption, or truth. The awakened mind thus abides quietly with itself and with the world as it is, not accepting, condemning, or projecting anything, but simply aware that there is nothing that can be done by thought about the chaotic reality it has itself created. If there is such a thing as the truth, it might understandably manifest only in a mind not willfully searching for it within the realm predetermined by the pleasures, pains, fears, and desires of a particular instance of accumulated personal knowledge.
What you have just read in the last paragraph is itself just another thought form that must, as such, be taken with a full measure of skepticism, for while it may be a valid sign pointing in the right direction, it does not in itself constitute a means to the truth, much less the truth itself. At some point, the mind must directly confront the fact of its conditioning by recorded experience and projected desire/fear, and move into an unthinkably different realm of existence where words and concepts matter little if anything. (144)
Everybody knows that there have been religious or spiritual teachers who broke away from their respective cultural traditions to assert that the termination of the self-serving insularity characteristic of the human being was the only way to reach its full potential, and this, in an unimaginably different dimension. Unfortunately, subsequent interpretation and institutionalization twisted and corrupted their example and message. As a result, most of the people who join or are inscribed at birth in traditional religious organizations derive from them a very significant part of their identity and security, which then prevents them from going beyond the representational version of the good news. Their submission to authority and their contentment with a second-hand version of their humanity make them unable to actually live the emptying of the self that the great teachers presumably experienced and taught.
Both the tergiversation of the mystical messages and the general lack of interest in accessing the metaphysical reality to which they allude, point to the inability of conditioned tribal and personal thought to see its own limitations. We are generally not aware of the extent to which the acuity of perception and the natural ability of thought are constricted and corrupted by the ideas and beliefs that make up the person. Much less are we aware of what other depths of matter, mind, and beyond, may be blocked by our self-absorption and the multiplicity and banality of our personal and sectarian concerns.
By granting the significance of existence to an ever evolving but always small proprietary deposit of knowledge, belief, sentiment, desire, and will, personal thought isolates and encloses itself, and this deluded but highly dynamic self-encapsulation dictates, for the species as a whole, a tragic historical continuity without alternative. The perceptual and mental dullness that the psychological isolation of the mind and the resulting cultural fragmentation of the species generate is so strong and pervasive that even the extremes of antagonism and suffering that result from it generally fail to motivate proper consideration of the possibility of an entirely different mode of existence.
The only space true and hospitable to both the individual organism and the human species is the mystery of conscious life as a whole. However, the conditioned mind abhors what is not within the grasp or reach of knowledge, and so generally remains satisfied with the cartoonish versions of life it adopts and projects by virtue of its ability to learn and add to (or subtract from) what it already knows so as to reach whatever better future it may imagine for itself. Fortunately, this wishful and secretly or overtly frightened mindset is not insurmountable or universal. Careful consideration of the limitations and dangers of self-centered knowledge, past, present, and future does lead to the realization that the incremental betterment of the self is a dead-end. If not just a theoretical conclusion, but an actuality, this dead-end is the beginning of something unthinkably new. (145)
Despite the difficulty of our current circumstances, most individuals remain firm believers in progress. They think that the ethics and practices of the most advanced or enlightened sectors of human society will, at some point, prevail over the immoral resistance of lesser people. Naturally, their choice of the probable victor is nearly always the secular and/or religious tribe that determines their own identity. This commonplace and contradictory optimism is groundless; it is also dangerous. It rests on the naïve assumption that the “good guys” (us) will in the end defeat and convert, assimilate, or destroy the bad guys (them).
However, the central issue of human existence is not primarily a moral one. It is precisely the false opposition of good versus evil and right versus wrong that in its many gullible and conflicting versions, sickens the mind and splinters the species. Unless we somehow manage to see that underneath our seemingly important and insurmountable cultural and psychological differences we are fundamentally the same, this false opposition will continue to make life difficult for everyone, but especially for those who are already experiencing the worst circumstances.
We are the same in several respects, but most immediately in that mental conditioning has the same isolating and dulling effect on everyone’s perceptual and cognitive capacity. In other words, differences in mental programming do not alter the general fact that conditioning, per se, disturbs the mind and ravages the relationships between individuals and groups. If the deployment of the word evil could ever serve a useful purpose, it would have to be in the indictment of the rigid programming of the mind by the cumulative record of particular experience and learning from which specific individuals and groups derive their separate identity and particular prejudice.
Because mental programming is additive it can, in some limited sense be described as having different strata, as the Earth’s crust does. The entire prehistorical, and historical evolution of the species conditions the generic brain/mind at its core. At the intermediate level, the brain/mind is further determined by the particular cultural heritage of the tribes into which each one of us is born, and also by whatever additional belief systems one may later adopt as a dilettante, convert, migrant, or refugee. Finally, and at the most superficial and apparent level, what each one of us selectively remembers, fears, and covets based on biographical experience also informs our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Recorded experience, especially the greatly cultivated and defended upper levels of biographical experience and cultural extraction, determine our thought and behavior to such an extent that, overall, freedom and intelligence are not actual options open to us.
The general reality of the human species remains as atomized and messy as it has always been because our personal perception also remains narrow and inaccurate, and our action not prompt and based on relevant facts, but gradual and biased by the stale ideas and licentious goals dictated by our exclusive experience. This systemic mental dysfunction cannot significantly improve or overcome itself. It can only generate and project onto the future superficial modifications of the same irrational division, contradiction, and conflict that have characterized life on the human plane since the very beginning. One general example will suffice to illustrate this assertion. Nation states and religious groups base their decisions and actions on whatever they perceive as complying with their own convictions and interests, and their inevitably narrow angle of view naturally contributes to the on-going general incapacity to fully see and properly attend to increasingly pressing mental, social, and ecological problems affecting the species and the biosphere as a whole. The reason why we remain personally stuck in the narrows of sectarian and provincial thought is that an all-encompassing mind alert to the threat posed by inter-related global problems and therefore capable of dealing with them has not yet fully arisen.
Again, the clash of separate and contradictory psychological and cultural realities will never produce a real solution to the woes of humanity. The common, though seldom openly proclaimed notion that a final solution will eventually come through a given cultural fragment of humanity (hopefully the most exceptional, “ours”) gaining predominance over all others is worse than infantile. It is essential that we become aware of the terminal impasse of a divided and conflicted humanity but, even as our general circumstances become more trying, we entrench ourselves further in our personal and tribal ways and interests—such is our propensity to avoid anything that may disrupt our routine ways of thinking and behaving. With a trite avoidance maneuver that keeps us blind and unfeeling, we ease our minds of responsibility and keep doubling down on the absurd hope that an improved version of our present personal form and/or cultural allegiance will eventually set straight what has forever been crooked.
For as long as we as individuals (and by extension all the different families, clans, and tribes that make up humanity as whole) remain attached to particular and equally false versions of what is true and right, the species will remain divided and, hence, cut-off from the affective intelligence that is only fully present in the integrity of life. Throwing oil on the fire of our long-standing animosities, and insisting on giving local, partial, gradual, and insufficient solutions to increasingly interconnected and virulent variants of chronic human problems is what we have always done, but it will never do.
For the individuals who somehow come to realize by themselves —and in themselves— the absurdity of blind loyalty to tradition and habit, only one essential question remains. Can rigid representational ties to a proprietary past, present, and future be undone by evidence of their falseness and the danger they pose? That is, can there be an end to the use of the present to protect and extend in time variations of the particular material gains, and especially the psychological comforts and extravagant claims gathered in the past and projected into the future? This end is no other than a terminal head-on confrontation with the lack of intelligence and love that oozes from this process of separate being that cannot stop itself from corrupting the mind and corroding the very fabric of life.
For thousands of years now, the process of self-centered thought has been extending itself forward, effecting certain modifications along the way, both relevant and irrelevant, but never challenging the nature and negative effects of its insular continuity. In every circumstance, but especially when we feel physically comfortable and secure, we doggedly continue doing whatever we think will make us feel psychologically more comfortable, certain, and secure, and this usually implies preserving and expanding our foothold in the familiar narrative of our evolving personal and cultural sense of self. We are generally very proud of our rationality, but this rationality is systematically undermined, if not completely obliterated by the reluctance to see that, dipping again and again into the same database of limited and largely contradictory knowledge will never solve our fundamental problems and thus put a definitive end to our common anguished and sorrowful isolation. Only the end of sectarian and ethnocentric self-centeredness and the consequent emergence of an unprecedented level of unity, peace, and harmony, can do that.
Within the confines of the conditioned personal consciousness it is possible and absolutely necessary to realize that the self is only a particular and insignificant manifestation of the general dysfunction of the human mind and that, therefore, further idealized psychological projections will only compound the already familiar mental and relational suffering. When thought itself realizes the absurdity and danger of self-projective alienation, it restricts itself to those areas that warrant its relatively harmless operation, thus freeing the mind from its captivity in the forced-labor camp of culturally determined psychological becoming. Thus, even though this new and free mind must still dwell in the world as it is and “think through” the practical challenges that come with every new day, it is no longer determined by personal memory with its characteristic tribal allegiance and its unrelenting urge to avoid pain and attain personal fulfillment at any cost. No longer hoping and struggling to reach a future predetermined by what is already known, the selfless mind freely and easily turns towards the unknowable. In its impersonality this mind is, in fact, nothing but that unthinkable immensity, life.
No “one” can describe the plenitude of life, or whatever else could be said in reference to the truth. Much less can anyone authoritatively assert its existence and claim to possess it. However, anyone can see that the conditioned mind, with its intrinsic self-isolation, strife, fear, and sorrow, stands in the way of the possible manifestation of the truth.
This complete but hope-less insight into the restricted and restrictive reality of what the self (any self) pretends to be and become terminates the fantasy of separate existence. To passively own up to one’s own falseness regardless of the consequences is also the most genuine expression of concern for humanity and its fate, because a mind free of cultural and psychological programming is the only effective (affective) antidote to the endless sorrow that division creates. We have never been anything other, or anywhere else, than the depths of the unknowable, the impersonal, so there is no reason to be afraid of dying to the conflicted, conflictive, and self-perpetuating isolation imposed by the known. (146)
Whether or not our respective mental enclosures can have the truth of life shoehorned into them is definitely not the issue. They cannot. The issue is rather whether direct awareness of the limitations of these personal enclosures opens the way to their obliteration by the truth.
It is only wise to give death a chance. Let us not cling to whatever you and I may think life is to the point of recklessly postponing or altogether denying death, which anyone can see is an integral, moment-by-moment, part of life. So, let us give death a chance, and not at the end of the physical life of the organism, but at every instant—right now. Death makes every day and every instant new and fresh. It is only the dregs of memory—the self with its biting nostalgia, its reckless ambition, and its ever-present fear of life and death—that is always old and never fully alive. (147)