There is overwhelming evidence of the irrationality and cruelty of the human species, yet most of us act as if this evidence did not exist, or as though it pointed its accusing finger only in the direction of others. For the most part, we prefer to focus on noteworthy accomplishments of entrepreneurship, knowledge, and kindness that, while perhaps real, make our general and serial insanity all the more evident. The same species capable of great generosity, miraculous surgery, and space travel, is incapable of ending the injustice and violence that is endemic to its personal isolation and cultural fragmentation and that overshadow its most noble endeavors. The divisions among us are so many and the distrust so profound that we have been thus far incapable of producing a reputable and stable forum that, at the very least, would help us acknowledge the damage done to the brain by the fears, sorrows, and brutal ambitions of thousands of years of mental isolation and cultural fragmentation.
As with any other organ in the body, the misuse and over- or under-use of the admirable capacities of the brain can adversely affect its health and function. The present state of human affairs (the product of some fifty thousand years of “progress”) is eloquent proof that the entire species is suffering from a chronic, yet still undiagnosed brain disease. Generally unwilling to seriously question why we are and remain so insular, conflictive, and sorrowful, we remain under the control of a largely dysfunctional mindset with deep roots in the physical configuration and electro-chemical operation of the brain. The material structure and psychological function of the brain has been shaped by the record of division, disorder, and grief suffered by humanity in ways that tend to replicate the same division and the same mental and social disorder, albeit with superficial modifications. Thus, the conflictive fragmentation, dishonesty, violence, and sorrow we are experiencing today are essentially the same that our ancestors suffered a thousand years ago.
We do not know for sure the extent to which the damaging effect of accumulated experience on the brain can be undone, but the possibility of erasure represents the only real solution to all that ails the species. Therefore, to seriously consider the possibility that the brain/mind may be free of the imprint left by divisive and conflictive experience, does not necessarily imply madness or simply the advent of yet another instance of the wishful ideological thinking typical of the conditioned mind. It is simply what a direct and thorough assessment of our situation demands. More bluntly put, the very fact that the conditioned and self-centered process of thought is incapable of ridding itself from the chronic division, conflict, and sorrow it has itself brought about, makes its termination an inescapable necessity.
There are many reasons why this assessment is correct. Not the least of them is that it takes into consideration the intelligence and potential for good of the same process of thought evident in certain aspects of human life, even though in stark contrast with the prevalence of its reiterative stupidity and cruelty in other more significant aspects. Again, while we are able to land a spaceship on Mars, harness the energy of the atom, and improve exponentially the quality of our means of communication, we are still woefully incapable of stopping war, eliminating injustice, or helping our children to grow up healthy and sane by giving them the conditioning-free education they deserve and a healthy planet. This ample perception of both the apparent potential of the mind/brain and its propensity for systematic and sustained error makes it quite reasonable to suspect that there is something seriously wrong with the cumulative psychological and cultural programming that presently determines, not just our thought and behavior, but our very sense of existence. Under all the layers of recorded and projected experience substantiating and energizing personal and tribal thought, there may well be a recoverable core guarding the full measure of the natural sensitivity and affective intelligence of the brain/mind.
Mystics of every age testify to the existence of this core and an entirely different mode of human existence free from the restrictive and highly fallible sense of physical and self-conscious separation produced by ethnocentric- and self-centric thought. They also assert that this free mind is naturally one with what we have already tentatively referred to as the wholeness of life, or the sacred. Though compelling, this influential but relatively rare testimony of undivided existence does not, by itself, change the fact that the thought and behavioral patterns displayed by the greatest majority of people gives a very different account of what is possible and desirable, an account dominant enough to reduce the mystical testimony to near irrelevancy. The brunt of human history recounts and confirms the trajectory of a species stuck since time immemorial in cultural fortresses and memory trenches occupied by individuals armed with separate identities, opposed ambitions, and the insane urge to fight, exploit, love, protect, and destroy all at the same time.
Our chronic incapacity or unwillingness to undergo a fundamental mental change capable of eradicating unnecessary suffering is in our day producing increasingly dangerous psychological, social, geopolitical, and ecological circumstances. Unsurprisingly, a dim sense of this dire general situation is driving most people to seek protection in their more familiar values and ways. However, an almost infinitely keener perception of the same situation is compelling an indeterminate number of individuals to find their bearings in life outside familiar cultural quarters and psychological burrows—that is, beyond the oscillating realm of pain and pleasure prescribed by exclusive memory and desire. The possibility that the tragic conditioning of the species may be undone lies in the willingness of these individuals to see the danger of blind obedience to tradition and habit, and their concomitant capacity to break consensual ranks and set aside fixed patterns of thought and behavior. In the eyes of these truly free individuals all the pretensions of “highly developed civilizations”, including the extraordinary (though always ambivalent) capacities and gains of science and technology, cannot hide the ugliness of our hostile separation from one another and the social violence and reckless ecological destruction this separation engenders. They are awake and independent enough to see that the intelligence that seems to work so well in the development of “smart” phones and bombs is at a loss when it comes to bridging the psychological and cultural animosities responsible for our chronic mental and social plagues. They will never again place their trust in the falsely redemptive powers claimed by opposed or openly warring factions equally caught in the countless varieties of secular and religious folly. Their non-reactive awareness of the self-replicating conflict and sorrow intrinsic to a self-serving mind and its fragmented society is the first sign of the impersonal intelligence capable of ending the history of cruelty and despair, victory and defeat to which we have grown accustomed.
Let us explore a bit further this awareness and its implications. Sensitivity arises with the realization that the psychological and cultural battle for wealth, status, pleasure, power, and “love” that we have been waging for millennia has forced a fixed configuration, and therefore damaged, the brain cradled in every human cranium. Strong and sustained negative emotions and over-indulgence on engineered pleasures and fantasies are monkey wrenches thrown into the immensely complex mechanism of the brain, disrupting its delicate operation, and corrupting its natural capacity to perceive fundamental facts and act intelligently and without delay on the basis of those facts alone. Isolated delusions of tribal superiority and psychological grandeur in all their multiple and cantankerous forms configure neurons in particular ways and force them to fire mechanically, and therefore inappropriately, along the dysfunctional pathways determined by exclusive memory and preset whim.
All the different moral optics available are equally aberrant when it comes to unearthing the deep physiological, psychological, and cultural roots of the idiocy of a self-centered and sectarian mind. For example, the condemnation of the ethical system governing a given society always comes from a different group or society ruled by its own brand of moral chauvinism. All ethical systems have a common source in the general division, insensitivity, and lack of intelligence of the human race as a whole. The divisive obsession of the self with itself is clearly not a moral problem present in some individuals and groups, but not in others. It is, rather, the most common expression of the general phenomenon of recording and broadcasting of particular physical, psychological, and cultural experience. This phenomenon manifests in each individual organism as a separate personal entity that, in the attempt to maximize security and pleasure and minimize uncertainty and pain uses fear and desire to project the future.
This universal conditioning of the brain/mind along the lines determined by pre-personal experience (the experience of the species as a whole), and the more specific cultural and biographical experience of each particular individual, accounts for the narrow perceptual, cognitive, and operational field of any given personal mind at any point in time. We are all born with essentially the same brain, a physical organ that is as common as the heart or the liver are common, and that, like them, evolved through millennia of evolution. Immediately after birth, the particular cultural values and mores of our families, clans, teachers, and tribes are further incised into our brain/minds. Topping off this thick mental sedimentation is the rather mechanical recording of personal experience with its self-isolating history of successes and failures, securities and insecurities, loves and hatreds, pains and pleasures.
Ethnocentric self-centeredness has such a strong hold on our brains and minds and determines our reality to such a degree, that to question its validity is hardly ever an apparent or viable option. Serious self-inquiry does put in jeopardy the most basic premises upholding who we personally are; that is, what we think, fear, want, do, and abstain from doing within the normative palisades of our respective groups of reference. Just as birds do not concern themselves with the possibility of an environment devoid of large open spaces, human beings do not generally concern themselves with the possibility of an entirely different intra-psychic and social reality, one not ruled by memory and tradition through the self-centered and self-projective process of thought. Thus, it generally seems abnormal to conceive and concern oneself with a radically different reality, one in which the self, the family, the clan, the institution, and the tribe, with all their particular associations, disassociations, and projections, no longer occupies the mind and dictate its operation.
The very invocation (this invocation) of the possibility of an impersonal, mentally timeless, and therefore wide-open mind, is bound to elicit the tossing of a book aside, a quick detour in a conversation or even a hurried exit justified by the feeling that the possibility of a revolution in consciousness invoked is an unacceptable risk, not merely a pointless proposition and waste of time. Only those who, for some reason, are already relatively alert to the danger inherent in tribal and personal isolation, can respond to the challenge with a keen and passive interest; that is, an interest not molded by past experience and predetermined future outcomes.
Undivided attention to the facts does end the senseless run of the self and intelligently restricts thought to the assessment and prompt resolution of the practical challenges of day-to-day life. Given that our sense of existential separation is an illusion, nothing much is lost with its demise, except insanity. (79)
Perhaps one has suffered bad relationships long enough, and finally come to realize the proclivity of preplanned physical and psychological pleasure to turn into frustration, conflict, and pain. Perhaps it is also evident now that the intellectual and emotional shadow cast by self-importance renders practically invisible the life of most others and the immensity of life itself. Suddenly there is a seismic mental shift and a particular brain/psyche is no longer in the tight grip of the widespread conviction that what is personally known, believed, and desired is all there is or all that matters. The innumerable taboos and mandates of cultural tradition and personal experience, with their built-in fears and imperative desires, no longer rule an insensitive and blindly compliant (or just as blindly rebellious) mind. The frantic mental and emotional maneuvering of the thinker comes to an end, and this end ushers-in, not anti-social behavior, madness or death, but an unprecedented and ever-new manner of being in which personal memory has no role to play.
Our sense of reality emerges from the general conviction that the body and the mind is inhabited by an original and autonomous entity that thinks and feels its way through life en route to the fulfillment of its own personal or divine potential. However, this sense of reality is very far from the truth and cannot survive the force of life that floods the mind once the damn of psychological alienation is no longer in place. A single flash of understanding blows away mental record obstructing the mind, and simultaneously reveals our participation in the indivisible and therefore ultimately formless nature of the cosmic flow. The ground of human existence lies, not in personal/tribal consciousness, but in the mystery of life as a whole. Consequently, no one can turn this mind-shattering realization into an exclusive possession conferring exclusive distinction, wealth, and power.
The same inquiry can be served by questioning the distinction routinely made between me and myself. If enough energy is invested in it, this approach soon makes apparent that what we all call “me” is not at all different from what this entity presumes to remember, know, think, believe, perceive, feel, like, dislike, fear, desire, love, and suffer. It is the contents of consciousness that give rise to a central thinker, not the other way around. The subject/object division within the psyche is a generalized illusion. While there are evident differences in the conditioned psychological recollections and projections from which thinkers derive their imaginary sense of unique identity and particular purpose, below these differences the immense deposit of prehistorical and historical experience of the species determines thought and behavior in every brain/mind. Every particular psyche is made distinct and propelled forward by the same force of fear and desire through which the record of pre-personal/transpersonal experience and the more apparent body of biographical knowledge—both subjective (psychological) and relatively objective (functional/scientific)—automatically project a slightly modified form of themselves onto the future. The fact that we all experience similar pleasures and joys, pains and sorrows, hopes and frustrations is clear proof that there is nothing unique among different psychological instances of what is essentially a single system of self-centered memory sustained by thought.
The unquestioning human being has no reality other than the fragmented, conflicted, and therefore pleasurable/maddening mental and social world in which s/he lives. There are those, however, whose discontent with their petty, claustrophobic minds and the violence and chaos of the world, leads them to suspect that life could not possibly be what we have made of it; that the mental and social reality constructed by thought is not the truth. In an abrupt and unexpected transition away from the known and into the immensity of the unknown and the unknowable, their sense of separate and evolving existence quietly ends.
Of course, we can all go on indefinitely living and dying convinced that we are different, and perhaps better, than others are. Such presumption only requires holding on to what we think we are and want to become, thus granting preeminence and full authority to the particular experiences, thoughts, emotions, and feelings certifying our self-image at every point in time and at any cost. However, when it becomes apparent that every one of us is as mentally isolated and as prone to sustained insensitivity and suffering as everyone else in the world, the illusion of the separate existence and the particular value of an evolving personal entity is left with nowhere else to go and nothing else to reach.
It is the greatest blessing to realize that the personal memory that fear and desire protect, expand, and projects is a general problem for which there is no proprietary solution. It is a blessing because only this realization of impotence has the power to unburden the mind from the false claims and aspirations that constitute and prolong the path of the deluded separate self. A mind no longer drained by the suffocating constraints and struggles of separate being and permanent becoming has already merged with the mystery of life. (80)
There is thought—the response of memory (and, within it, fear and desire) to whatever the organism may perceive of life at any point in time and space —and then there is the unthinkable totality of life itself extending infinitely beyond what we singly or collectively can ever sense, experience, know, or imagine. We generally refer to “my” life as if it were an item of personal property made intelligible and valuable by whatever ideological interpretation gives “me,” my experience, and my reactions to my experience a corroborative cultural context. We generally do not care much that each personal narrative and each cultural myth stands in contrast or outright opposition to countless other similar stories and myths pumping up the identity and sense of separate existence claimed by other individuals and other cultural groups. It is then our very unfaltering dedication to ourselves and what we each know and believe about life, that prevents us from seeing that in doing so we lock ourselves inside ourselves and out of actual life, becoming lifers in the many-celled prison complex created by a severely distorted use of thought.
Despite its overwhelming dominance and stringent defense system, the process of self-centered thought is vulnerable to a deep, impersonal, perception that lays bare its phantasmagorical character and its responsibility for all the division, conflict, and sorrow afflicting humankind. If this perception occurs, all the descriptive and proscriptive versions of life thought has already produced (and may produce in the future) lose their relevance and fade away. Naturally, it is not thought but the wholeness of life that is the source (and destination) of this insight that uncloaks and dissolves self-centered knowledge and belief. At every point in time it is the mystery of life, and not our fragmented society and its opposing ideologies, that is our source and natural habitat.
Home for the human being is the living and aware integrity of existence, but this fundamental truth remains elusive for as long as we take a proprietary identity, and the opportunities and restrictions that come with it to be our place of residence and the moving target of our destination. Occasionally we may be touched by some sense of the inadequacy of our personal and tribal mental versions of life, but if it is only a partial and frightened glimpse it generally leads straight into yet another chapter, or a slightly different version, of the same personal identity straining after a more desirable and secure state of mind. The struggle to attain and retain some form of exclusive self-esteem and social respectability is the only way we know to relieve painful feelings of insufficiency and insecurity, so we consistently fail to detect their source in our made-up and life-denying existential conceit. The additive record of personal experience can only add new distinction to itself and new chapters to its life; it does not much care if its own situation and the general condition of the species are desperately signaling the need for an unthinkably different mode of existence. Conditioned thought operates very much like a computer, but the mind is not a computer, and unless it somehow stops functioning according to a set program, it will just continue to malfunction producing further self-replicating division, illusion, and sorrow. What is urgently necessary, then, is not further cosmetic alterations of personal psychology and human relations, but an end to this endlessly incompetent serial effort to mitigate the bottomless insecurity of separate existence through new theories and equally limited and contradictory efforts. The chaotic state of humanity is sustained by our personal unwillingness to see that the evolving façade of identity, be it secular and/or religious, only serves to protects the lie of the self’s separate existence, while simultaneously hiding our unthinkable presence in the totality of life.
The ability to circumvent automatically any challenge to its personal conceit is an integral part of conditioned and fragmentary thought. Thus, a serious external challenge to one’s self-image will elicit a defensive or outright hostile reaction equivalent to that necessary to fend off a real existential threat to the organism. Conversely and somewhat paradoxically, a simple willingness to attend to such a challenge (such as it is issued by this book) can only be present if there is already in place a healthy measure of skepticism regarding the self’s vaunted significance and manifest destiny. If this skepticism gains enough independent strength, it is bound to erupt in an act of quiet but radical disobedience to habit and tradition unmarred by any preset consideration of what the social and psychological consequences might be. This act of disobedience implies, of course, impersonal awareness of the self’s imprisonment in a collective, unredeemable, and otherwise inescapable misrepresentation of the truth of life, and this awareness implies, in turn, the collapse of the fantasy of personal existence. None of the remembered or foreseeable ways whereby the person propelled herself forward is in operation now.
To wake up to one’s own active contribution to the condition of alienation, conflicted atomization, and suffering in which humanity has lived since its inception is absolutely necessary, and therefore the essence of sanity and freedom. It is simple, in seeing the danger of action informed by the presumed superiority of a particular gender, race, nationality, faith, or educational level, a sane mind instantly stops identifying with these or any other source of division and violence. Complete insight into the dire state of human affairs acts with the affective intelligence and the promptness demanded by the situation, and its first action is to help dispel the toxic fantasy of a separate, self-centered existence evolving within the ideological cocoons of family, clan, and tribe. (81)
The conflictive fracturing of egocentric thought has engendered suffering for thousands of years, and during the same time it has responded to this suffering by creating and implementing a huge variety of social and personal plans intended to reduce its incidence and the pain of its bite. The suffering continues, however, and the divisiveness at its root does not get any less entrenched and dangerous with time. The present situation of the human species —perhaps the most dangerous ever due to the highly destructive capacity of the military, extractive, industrial, propagandistic, and financial technologies developed in the last few decades— is the net outcome of a long historical succession of secular and religious plans intended to ameliorate, if not eradicate, insecurity and sorrow. These plans are exclusive and progressive schemes (progressive, not in the political sense, but as prescriptions of gradual change over time) designed to improve the reach and influence of different ideologies and thus reduce the insecurity and sorrow of the particular sets of human beings who derive from them much of their identity and sense of particular existence.
Throughout the ages, many different forms of religious and secular ideology have attempted to coax their adepts into acting “morally” or just rationally and, to judge by our present circumstances, they all have failed quite miserably. Among the secular orthodoxies, science has been amassing for a long time now data about every conceivable aspect of organic and inorganic matter, including the human being and its behavior. With this data, it has also developed all kinds of interrelated theories and technologies leading to new hypotheses, new technological applications, and further accumulation of ever-incomplete knowledge. Scientific discoveries and their practical applications have brought significant to some sectors of humanity and regions of the planet, but they have also had profoundly negative and destructive effects, both intended and unintended. The problem is not only that the benefits of great breakthroughs in science and technology are ill distributed, but also that all too often these same notable means serve the most nefarious ends. A great part of our intellectual prowess routinely goes into the profitable creation and deployment of increasingly horrendous weapons systems, the cruel manipulation and exploitation of millions and millions of people, and the reckless exploitation of natural resources demanded by extravagant consumerism —all evident symptoms of the chronic mental illness afflicting the species as a whole.
Science has also failed to deliver on its increasingly insistent claim to be the only human endeavor capable of finding —in the depths of matter— the ground of our existence and, therefore, also the significance of our cosmic presence. However, the more we learn, create, and do, the more meaningless and endangered human existence seems to become. Our dogged insistence in proving the virtue of rationality still cannot escape service to our chronic fractious, confused, and violent irrationality. The contemptuous and often aggressive reaction of certain sectors of the scientific community to certain expressions of the old notion of a divine creator and other traditional religious ideas and practices is nothing short of appalling.
This criticism of science ought not to be taken, however, as an endorsement of religious dogmas and their own hostility to the overreaching orthodoxy of their scientific siblings. It is meant rather to shine a light on both, the pointless bickering about the relative merit and righteousness of opposing ideologies, and the general and sustained failure of the human species to attain unity and solve its persistent and increasingly dangerous problems. The latter is the one that is clamoring for, and deserves, our undivided attention.
The first sign of real intelligence lies in the willingness to see the dismal nature of our general condition —the full spectrum of humankind’s persistent division, conflict, and suffering— and at the source of this condition our own personal irrationality. At the level of the individual mind, honesty and sensitivity (intelligence) are the undoing of the self-isolation, indifference, confusion, and conflict that make sanity, and the collective cohesion and order that hinges on this sanity, impossible. At the level of the species as a whole, the minimum expression of rationality is a degree of affective integration and rational action sufficient to insure that every human being enjoys basic physical security and the right to a sane and therefore just and loving mind. Anything other than this is just further expression of the insular pretense and contentiousness at which the irrationality of personal and tribal consciousness, both secular and religious, has excelled for millennia.
Despite the dismal historical record of the myriad personal and cultural efforts to control our lunacy and find remedy for its worst consequences, most people continue to hope against all reason that renewed efforts within the same traditional parameters will eventually deliver better results. We all want a more secure, pleasant, and meaningful life, but we want it in the absurd terms determined by divisive ideology, exclusive accumulation of wealth and power, the exploitation or outright destruction of other individuals and groups, and other forms of insensitive, reactionary behavior. Is it not irrational to continue expecting that top politicians, economists, lawyers, scientists, corporate executives, religious gurus, and other such “experts” will eventually help each one of us leave the darkness of our own isolated, provincial minds so that we may then untie our knotted relationships and do whatever is necessary to let our devastated planet heal? We continue identifying with opposed traditions and ideologies and their power hungry leaders with the same naïve hope that has already created untold suffering for thousands of years. It is no wonder then that the endless and endlessly stupid battle fought to assert the presumed superiority of what we each happen to know, believe, and desire, also continues indefinitely.
Seeing human reality as the outcome of an immensely complex and toxic mental system and ourselves as pseudo-independent and contradictory splinters of this system makes instantly obvious that —as presently constituted— we will remain forever incapable of solving our fundamental personal and social problems. Mere mention of this general and critical vision of reality may seem appalling or terrifying to some, but its actual occurrence alone frees the mind to raise fundamental questions without fearing how offensive or threatening they might seem to the identity, self-esteem, and social status of the experience- and desire-based person. These are some of these questions:
Is the phenomenon of human existence necessarily limited to a vast collection of separate and antagonistic personal and tribal entities engaged in a permanent struggle to defend and expand themselves through exclusive alliances, reckless competition, and violent conflict?
Can a mental faculty that relies on previously recorded experience and fixed, predetermined future scenarios for its response to emerging challenges be primarily trusted with the task of understanding and solving the general mental, social, and ecological problems affecting the species as a whole? And, if the futility of exclusive forms of thought in these crucial areas becomes evident to thought itself, will it then not immediately limit itself to those areas and problems in which memory and foresight are clearly effective as well as relatively harmless?
Can concerned but regular people, like you and I, yield effortlessly to a state of mind that, being nothing and desiring nothing in terms of status and power is therefore one with the facts themselves and never in conflict with itself and others?
Finally, would such an empty, silent, and timeless mind (timeless in the sense that mental representations of a personal and a cultural past, present, and future do not determine its nature and exhaust its capacity) be anything other than the mystery of life and death? (82)
There is enormous economic, political, and cultural turmoil in the world today, and the brutality of war never abates. Despite the considerable improvement in quality of life attained by certain privileged sectors, humanity as a whole continues to suffer from manufactured economic and ecological crises, endemic oppression, poverty, and disease. To the ones on top of the many social pyramids into which the species has divided itself, and who are still not directly affected by the gravest ills of the species, it is easy to disregard the injustice and violence afflicting others. Absorption in things and issues to which relative isolation grants great importance, easily justifies a sense of superiority and further distances us from the disturbing consequences of our indifference and ambition. A common argument is that it is pointless to waste one’s life worrying about somebody else’s misery when there is so much work to do and so much wealth and beautiful experience to be had.
There are those, seemingly always a minority, who are relatively able to see and care about the sorrow of others and who sense that indifference or outright complicity in injustice inevitably bring about psychological injury and almost guaranteed blow back. However, we too can lose ourselves in the work demanded by a socially conscious career path or a significant voluntary commitment to a civic cause of one type or another. The same turning away from the total breadth and depth of human suffering and our chronic incapacity to put an end to it, can be paradoxically favored by any kind of social or political service —especially one that is high in status and stern in its demands. The point being that, even if we are partially aware of the real state of human affairs, we generally still manage to avoid the shock of seeing that our partial and gradual solutions do not address the false existential separation from which all our endemic and interrelated mental and social problems emerge along with our insufficient and gradual solutions.
Because of their age and enduring influence, traditional religions remain the main culprits when it comes to preventing people from seeing clearly and independently. They are massive forms of mental deception granting identity and a durable sense of dubious hope and righteous self-importance to billions of people who are thus unable to assume full responsibility for the mental, social, economic, and ecological disorder in which they themselves live and suffer. Life is always baffling and often painful, and the protection offered by dogmatic belief experienced in the comforting company of multitudes of “like-minded” people is often the only thing that makes it bearable. Why one then attempt to see, by oneself, all the division, fear, struggle, and suffering in the world plus our permanent inability to get rid of them? It is always easier to go on with the program and, at every moment, surrender anew to traditional theories of reality and the authority of predetermined methods offering a better experience of the same reality. Who can resist the attraction of these theories and methods if they are guaranteed to deliver, sometime in the future, awareness, goodness, happiness, or even the exclusive favor of an omnipotent god or great principle granting, to some but not others, a life of plenitude after one or many deaths?
Self-encapsulation, competitive or outright antagonistic tribal boundaries, and a general alienation from life, permeate our sense of being and our relationships, and so everything seems stacked against independent awareness and responsibility. And yet, it takes only an instant to gain awareness of the falseness of all the different “reasons for being” invented by thought, and thus never again be seduced by any barren form of secular or religious distinction meant to pull attention away from the truth of who we are and the consequences of our actions and omissions. Once it is clear that the fundamental problem of humanity is the fragmentary and conditioned process of self-centered thought, it simply follows that action plans emerging from this same process cannot ever hope to solve the division, conflict, and general disorder we suffer from. Once thought is no longer the depository of personal/cultural identity, nor the launching pad for its fantasies and pseudo solutions, all that is left is a complete, accurate, and passive perception of the splintered and suffering condition of humanity across space and time and, in this, an enormous gathering of impersonal energy. Nothing else is necessary.
The essential problem we confront individually and collectively is the false existence of an isolated, disorderly, and violent mental entity that prolongs itself (along with its fears, pleasures, and suffering) by imagining the worldly or otherworldly solution it hopes to eventually experience. A sick brain suffocating the mind with its divisive confusion cannot see what is actually going on, nor can it heal itself regardless of how many more contradictory plans of gradual psychological development, social reform, artistic creation, scientific innovation, and spiritual salvation it may generate. Only complete and completely passive exposure to this fact has the power to end the illusion of evolutionary psychological separation and put thought in its proper place. A new human culture unsoiled by the acrimonious divisions of the past can only emerge from this complete and completely rational confrontation with what is actually occurring right now. (83)
What does it mean it to get from under the undue influence of cultural roots, personal memories and their hidden or well-publicized agendas; that is, what is life without the representational past, present, and future that make up the history of the self?
Is there freedom from psychological comparison, and hence a mind not driven by the imperatives of personal fulfillment and their attendant fears, inhibitions, and misperceptions? In other words, can a human being survive in the world as it is, free of the labors of particular being and becoming? These seemingly odd questions are perfectly relevant because the chronic disorder in human affairs is clearly tied to the overabundance of “unique” individuals who live at odds with themselves and others over their presumed right to continuously increase their material loot, add to the height their social position, and in other ways improve their state of mind. What other than further fragmentation, conflict, and violence can come from billions of us competing, often viciously, to acquire more wealth and power, more knowledge and talent and, at the height of absurdity, greater virtue and spirituality? Our sectarian self-isolation and shared alienation from life does not come cheap. We pay for it with forced reliance in the shallow certainties and tight mental and social controls of whatever secular and/or religious orthodoxy we choose to identify with.
It may not be the easiest or most popular thing to do, but it is certainly possible to live in this insane world free procuring only what is strictly necessary to satisfy the essential needs of an anonymous organism, and therefore free of the insensitivity and violence intrinsic to set sectarian norms and egotistical appetites. Such natural mode of existence remains elusive only because, when offered, the acquired instinct for psychological self-preservation mechanically turns our eyes away in an instantaneous rush —backward or forward in mental time— to the false protection granted by readily available room in any given ideological asylum. (84)
To be human, as our humanity is traditionally known, involves the predominant presence of a presumably unique identity fully occupied with a self-directed, and hopefully self-fulfilling, plan of existence. Thus, if someone happens to request evidence of the existence of another person, the answer is typically a biographical narrative; lists, short or long, of personal likes and dislikes, associations and disassociations; and, finally, a description of current plans intended to procure what may be desired while avoiding whatever is disliked or feared. In other words, not being able to give unequivocal evidence of who we actually are in and by ourselves —that is, who we are without association to anything else— we invoke mental representations of who we think we are, namely, the particular things, groups, persons, theories, experiences, skills, activities, and goals with which we are positively or negatively identified.
“I” am clearly not the people I associate with, nor am I the positive reflection of those whose existence I may negate or disregard. “I” am not a particular gender, nation, race, age group, economic class, religious faith, political affiliation, talent, profession, or trade; nor am “I” whatever events I may have experienced or happen to know about and would like to experience again, perhaps greatly improved, before (or after) the organism comes to an end. All of these characteristics are ascribed or learned attributions of a gradually constructed persona, however it is commonly felt that the idiosyncratic psycho-cultural configuration that emerges from the self’s identification with these characteristics, constitutes a good enough self-portrait capable of providing any interlocutor with a perfectly reasonable sense of who “I” am. Beyond that, it is also commonly expected that the verbal representation of the self will be found deserving of the steady admiration its fine pedigree and great potential deserve. The urge to create a good impression with my personal description may be so strong, in fact, that the person “I” introduce as myself begins to sound more and more alien to the intimate and private reality of my much less glamorous and intelligent day-to-day mental and interpersonal reality.
“You,” the person who may be requesting information about who “I” am may react, in turn, to the curriculum vitae provided by rapidly contrasting it with your own record of experience and learning. Like my own, your personal representation includes the claims, values, preferences, aversions, and projects that give familiar shape to your every present moment and project the future you covet and fear in equal measure. If there is nothing much in common between the two of us —that is, between the set of images and ideas describing your identity and those describing mine— indifference, dislike, or even fear and antagonism are almost sure to emerge. The complex psychological comparisons automatically occurring in any such encounter may trigger, of course, a wide range of rejection and attraction responses, but it is fair to say that extreme opposites tend to reject each other, and that similarities tend to confirm familiarity, and therefore elicit comfort and interest (at least initially). The want ads for singles, the timeworn motives for discord between domestic partners, and the long history of relationships between nations or regions with very similar and vastly different histories and cultural characteristics seem to corroborate this generalization.
Something else altogether would occur if, after a succinct exchange of personal information, you and I were to set aside our respective cultural/biographical narratives and relative psychological affinity or aversion and see if we can find actual common ground. This deliberate disregard of our respective identities would make our common humanity immediately apparent and, beyond that, the otherwise glaring fact that life indivisible is all there is. “You” and “I” are, along with everyone else, organisms gifted with an extraordinarily sensitive field of awareness and share, at every moment, a common existence and a common death. We are nothing much in ourselves, but in the undecipherable flow of cosmic life, we are fellow travelers ultimately indistinguishable from it.
Sadly, this joint exploration, and the extraordinarily profound and loving truth in relationship it inevitably engenders, is still exceedingly rare. We generally rather stay within the familiar boundaries of our particular mental narratives and blindly obedient to their distinct agendas, this, even when it is increasingly apparent that this rigid mindset has terrible mental, relational, geopolitical, and ecological consequences.
The clash of competing identities and contradictory desires is not reserved only to the realm of interpersonal and inter-tribal relationship. The personal psyche is itself torn by contradictory memories, ideas, and hopes. Unsurprisingly, the mind at odds with itself displays behaviors that are very similar to those accruing from the conflict between small and large groups identified with different and opposed interests and values. The dissension that often disrupts or destroys couples and other small groups (this, even when the same ideological and experiential consensus shaped and sustained the individuals involved) is even more intimately related to that experienced mentally by the conflicted individual. Anyone who cares to look deeply and extensively enough soon becomes aware that all instances of division and conflict (psychological, interpersonal, and inter-cultural) have their root in the made-up reality of self and tribe.
Now, if this is true —if the self is merely an artificial mental construct shaped and sustained by a limited record of exclusive experience that creates untold disorder and suffering that in turn renders invisible an infinitely greater underlying reality— then there is no choice: the self must end. Contrary to everything far too many of us still believe and hold dear, the fate of humanity is not primarily in the hands of heroes, saints, brilliant politicians and scientists, wise environmentalists, and genial intellectuals. It is, primarily, in the hands of common individuals open to the sudden realization that the illusion of separate personal existence is the source of all conflict and sorrow afflicting humankind. The direct and discriminating perception of fact and fancy has the power necessary to dissolve the particular images and ideas that give shape to the self and sustain its participation in the struggle to become psychologically and/or materially “better” in loaded comparison with others engaged in a different version of the same delusion.
The atomized and belligerent world in which we live is the out-picturing of minds conditioned by particular experience, knowledge, and desire, and therefore desensitized, not just to the reality and fate of others with different identities and claims, but to their source and inclusion in life. Therefore, it is insane to continue expecting that further modifications of particular individuals and their groups of reference will eventually put an end to the mental disorder and consequent physical and psychological insecurity now experienced by nearly everyone on the planet. The only real solution to our global crisis lies in minds cleansed of unnecessary cultural conditioning and its source in the delusion of separate existence, and this can only come through an insight that, by virtue of what it is and does, cannot have knowledge or desire as its source. Mental health, peace with others, and unity with life itself are all rendered impossible by any sense of existential separation unfolding within the made-up timeframe of thought. The infinite wholeness of life/death flowing timelessly in and out of form is our only common ground, the only source of intelligence and love, the only truth. (85)
We live within the tight, for some outright claustrophobic enclosure of cultural and biographical conditioning. If we feel asphyxiated by what we think and feel, it is because what little we each have experienced and learned about ourselves and everything else is a brutal reduction of the dynamic wholeness of existence, and has nothing to do with its formless source. Beyond this self-conscious knowledge, but still within the mind conditioned by experience, lies the entire heredity of the species —the unconscious or subconscious imprint left in the transpersonal brain by the co-evolutionary transit of the species through time— a heredity that is still informing perception and greatly influencing the way we think, feel, and act.
The images and ideas held at the uppermost level of consciousness are the means whereby the experience afforded by every fresh instant of life is re-cognized, evaluated, recorded, reacted to, and utilized. These images and ideas are also the source of the powerful sense we have of being separate and distinct from everybody and everything else. Thus, a necessarily biased and reductive experience of life is the source and support of our experience-based personal identity and our very sense of existence. This highly reactive deposit of psychological and practical knowledge with an existential conceit —“me”— deeply believes that what it knows and craves after represents (or will eventually come to represent) reality or even the truth itself. Comparative judgments made about the identity of other people and their groups of reference help strengthen personal bias and our often-hostile isolation from them. Add to this the troubling comparisons we routinely make of our actual selves with overwrought ideals of who we ought to become, and you have a good understanding of why we are so confused, overworked, and conflicted. Naturally, caught in this messy and hyperactive mental state we are incapable of seeing the appalling fragmentation of the species and the extent to which its most primitive mental roots still influence our thoughts, emotional states, and behavior. How much “love” does our practice of sex contain, and how much justice is there in our exercise of war? How is our insatiable exploitation of human beings and natural resources a sign of our rationality, and how caring and intelligent is our stubborn pursuit of success and “spirituality”?
Many prefer to obfuscate on this matter, but the fact is that we all share the same brain, an organ that, as just mentioned, holds the physiological/mental sedimentation of the entire prehistorical and cultural experience of humanity that we are still utilizing for the interpretation of actual events and the projection of future ones. Very early on, and for reasons perhaps impossible to discern, this process of mental registration and accumulation acquired a sense of particular existence experienced in relative isolation from everything else, including memory. The outcome of this division was self-reflective consciousness with all its possibilities and fallibilities. One aspect or layer of recorded experience somehow separated from the rest and became the dominant observer, the thinker, the “me,” the entity that is convinced of being the “one” who, over and above everything else, remembers, knows, desires, and acts.
The separate existence of this central subject is a chimera, the result of turning the whole of life, and the rest of the psyche itself, into a mere collection of equally separate and potentially knowable objects relatively open to its control and manipulation. In remembering and projecting knowledge of its self, and of this world (and the next), self-reflective consciousness effectively isolates itself away from everything else that is then largely perceived as “not-me.” The positive and negative images and ideas depicting at every point in time what it thinks itself to be and not-to-be (and to be in the process of becoming or avoiding) further buttress this self-encapsulation along the way.
Closely identified with symbolic representations of selective aspects of the material, psychological, and cultural past, the personalized accumulation of experience in every brain routinely diminishes and distorts the present and mold or resist a future that —as desired or feared— cannot possibly be anything other than a modified version of the same record of previous personal experience and tribal tradition. In other words, just as we can only be (within this conditioned mindset) slightly different versions of what we have already experienced and learned, we can only desire to experience, achieve, and become some slight alteration of what we already know and believe. Thus, while tirelessly striving to achieve an imagined better version of ourselves and our material and social circumstances, we remain ensconced within the same narrow and rigid boundaries that the intrinsic limitations of self-projective knowledge determine.
This existential grounding of the thinker in the mental time created by previously acquired and self-projecting private ideas and desires is the reason why, after eons of “progress,” we remain in so many ways painfully separate from, and possibly in conflict with, those who identify themselves with different ideas and desires. Self-reflective thought, conditioned by experience and learning, is itself rife with contradictory ideas and conflicting desires, consequently we live at odds with ourselves in a manner that, along with our conflict with others, is an almost permanent source of fear, confusion, and sorrow.
Despite endless psychological fluctuations, the image and idea-based insularity of our psyches remains constant, as does the insecurity fostered by this unnatural isolation and the futile efforts we make to secure some form of stable security and certainty where there is none to be had. Unable or unwilling to own up to the fact of our mental separation and its harmful consequences, we choose instead, and at every instant, to remain mired in the same psychological, relational, social, and inter-social pathologies that have for so long defined and afflicted the human species as a whole. Despite prodigious amounts of data gathered over the last hundred years in different fields of learning, and despite all the great efforts we make to solve particular mental and social problems, nothing works conclusively because the alienation from life that is at the root of our chronic acrimony and grief remains unseen and untreated.
In failing to see ourselves as just superficially different expressions of a species-wide phenomenon of division and alienation —that is, in believing ourselves unique and destined to greener pastures whatever the consequences— we also remain fundamentally primitive and irrational. Even a peremptory look at current world affairs provides ample evidence of the deviousness and violence intrinsic to our ethnocentric egotism and its absence from the all-encompassing and inter-penetrating complexity of life. It is the cruelest paradox that the puny capacity of an intellect obsessed with its own experience and desire can consistently disregard the creative mystery of life. What “I” think is happening (“my” reality), disregards the unthinkable truth of what is actually happening. Tragically, this willful blindness to our own conceits and deceits, and in that, to our seamless inclusion in life, results in an ever-dissatisfied and insecure psychological entity that has to forcefully defend and improve itself from day to day and from birth to death. (86)
Since self-centered thought is the source of all the division, confusion, and hostility in the world, anything we may think to do about our mental and social problems is doomed to fail. In fact, all our remedial actions end up strengthening and prolonging the sectarian self-isolation that is the self’s past, present, and only possible future. If this impasse is seen as a fact and not just as another useless theory, the mind is instantly freed from the memories, associations, attachments, and falsely positive actions posturing as a separate personal existence and sustaining its continuity. How could our lives and the state of the world change drastically if the divisive and conflictive conditioning of the mind remains undetected and the future plans of the personal impostor behind whom it hides, undetected.
What is at issue here is not the discovery of the truth as such, but rather the direct and complete unmasking of the isolated psychological entity that depends on illusion to be and remain what it thinks it is and is its right or duty to become. It is not that the self finally finds the truth, but rather that the truth finally overcomes the self. (87)
An uncomfortable, restless state of consciousness seems to be the common lot of humanity. Our fear and violence, and our constant discontent and just as immutable pursuit of security and pleasure, are all signs of an existence that we endure far more than enjoy. We live preoccupied and frantically occupied with the effort we each deem necessary to stay more or less safe while simultaneously reaching towards some ideal form of personal happiness and security. This continuous effort consumes most of our energy, but seldom brings ease to our minds, peace to our interaction with others and, least of all, and all-embracing love to our hearts and resolution to the biting enigma of our mortality. We have become used to the strictures of this life, and so we take them for normal. However, the myopia of personal mental content and idealized self-images prevents proper vision of the disarray gripping the species as a whole that is product of the exact same myopia multiplied by billions. The mental time on which our individual existence rests and unfolds stretches along the inalterable and unbridgeable distance separating a sorely felt lack of security and happiness and a commensurately crazed pursuit of a state of future self-realization that only exists in the imagination.
To be human, as our humanity appears through the aberrant optics of self-centered thought, is to embody and implement a gradually evolving personal agenda of pursuit and avoidance in a manner generally indifferent to the impact of this ambition on the lives of other people and on non-human aspects of life. Furthermore, the desire for the psychological and physical pleasures associated with a given material, intellectual, social, economic, and/or “spiritual” position limits and distorts perception. It also compels the individual to side with those with the same narrow angle of view and approximately the same goals. Most people take their particular participation in this general phenomenon of social agglutination around consensus, not just as a good and desirable alternative but as the only possible manner of human existence, and this is simply not true. Existence and consciousness per se are prior to and infinitely greater that any personal identity supported by ideological consensus.
The division and conflict that characterize humanity originate in the isolated and conditioned mind of the individual. The idea of the freethinking and choosing self is just that: an idea, and a wrong one at that. The self, any self, is merely a particular manifestation of a general system of conditioned thought comprising countless different levels and components of culture, all caught in an almost permanent state of contradiction and friction with one another. As such, we live lonely, confused, and perennially needy lives, most of which are spent in a perennial battle in which our fears, ambitions, loves, and hates are, along with those of others, a constant source of aggravation and perceived or real danger. A full view of the dysfunction of self-centered thought is rare, but when it occurs, it makes plain the unimaginable extent of the suffering created by thought’s chronic violation of the mental and social integrity of the species, its willful disregard of the ecological equilibrium of the planet, and its rejection of the democratic embrace of life and death.
Our sustained and conflictive psycho-cultural isolation creates and recreates a frantic and violent world in which newborn are generally subject to the same process of forced social adaptation that “educated” their parents to fit in, comply with, and contribute to the same sick general reality. Those who actively disobey the norms, values, and “morality” of a given group, and who also resist the imposition on their minds and lives of the designs and priorities of others (the “better” ones), will only merit identification as misfits or troublemakers, and therefore also the harshest punishment. In relatively more open and pluralistic societies, idealistic counter-culture movements easily conscript rebellious youngsters desperately seeking for the secure identity and status that can only be found by complying with their own orthodoxy. Angry and maladapted young people may manage to drop off the social/mental grid of any-class respectability, but only to fall into the nether world of political radicalism, gangs, occultist sects, or substance addiction. Still others end up physically and mentally restrained in institutional and chemical jails. It is fair to say that, in most societies and groups, the pressure to conform is so strong and pervasive that even the most intelligently maladapted eventually succumb to the overwhelming social and economic pressures brought to bear on them. The very nature and multiplicity of social groups demand that their members restrict themselves to “proper” roles through which they may hope and strive to achieve, in this or perhaps a future life, the forms and levels of personal realization deemed respectable, and therefore licit, by each group. As far as this general mental and cultural reality is concerned, to be nothing and to live free of particular identity and competitive becoming is not an option.
Regardless of how much they may differ among themselves, and of how wide their peculiar latitude for mental independence and cultural change may be, traditional social and cultural forms cannot tolerate the manifestation of an empty, impersonal consciousness —the most radical possible degree of personal alteration short of physical death— because if they did they themselves would cease to exist. The brain itself bears the deep imprint of intolerance for extreme independence from culturally approved patterns of thought and behavior. Thus, individuals who reject rules and authorities they deem unbearable, generally do so only to regain a secure sense of personal identity and social position in the fold of a different group and in exchange for compliance with a different set of demands still inscribed within the same general system of conditioned personal and collective thought. Just like their better-behaved brothers and sisters, individuals who adopt reformist or revolutionary ideologies do not question the self or the general mindset that creates the obedient/disobedient self. In their idealistic urge to change or overthrow the leaders, institutions, and rules they disapprove of, they fail to see that the status quo they deride is not an external enemy structure, but rather the human mind programmed by experience that informs their mind and their pseudo radical action. Behind the pathetic consistency with which today’s revolutions become tomorrow's tyrannies, stands the fact that while ideas and social forms do change somewhat, the general mental system that rules humankind, and produces them as part of this rule, remains essentially the same.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this consistent failure to do anything conclusive about our deeply set insecurity and concomitant discontent is that we do not see it as a clue to do something entirely other than keep chasing ever-receding mental idealizations of personal contentment and tribal progress. The drive to procure physical pleasure and the far more important psychological sensations expected from status and power (in this world or the next), effectively cloaks the absurdity of the mind’s identification with personal experience and the danger involved in the steady projection onto the future of this same alternating current of painful and pleasurable experience.
Clear perception and understanding of this general system of self-projecting mental determination is both, a lucid diagnosis of its insanity and its prompt cure through the terminal block of further personal thoughts and actions seeking to attain predetermined goals. This single, instantaneous, and unprecedented event —the perception of the insanity of self-isolation and the cancellation of psychological desire— spells the collapse of the entire edifice of the time-based personal consciousness generally perceived as the fundamental ground of human existence. Naturally, this insight and the undoing of redundant personal being it brings with it is not something open to speculation and imaginative forecast for the simple reason that it does not come by way of memory and desire. Any attempt at illumination by insight is merely a new expression of the same mental illness this inquiry is trying to bring out from the shadows. The impotence is total; the only rational stance is a passive awareness of things as they are, mentally and socially. However, this non-reactive attention of actual fact is in itself a mode of existence unrelated to the isolated, time-bound consciousness we have always known as ourselves.
If our dire situation stems from countless personal and tribal actors all simultaneously attempting to reach the exclusive satisfaction of contradictory goals then, as already repeatedly suggested, the only way out of this mess must involve the disappearance of the experience- and desire-based thinker, and the consequent circumscription of thought to the assessment and solution of practical problems. Regardless of how clear the argument pointing in that direction may be, this wily mechanical thinker, if still present, will do the impossible to avoid something it cannot recognize, experience, improve upon, and use for its own benefit. Theoretical speculation about the best method to overcome the self and the peace and beauty that expects the one who manages to achieve this feat, is as old as it is diverse and contradictory. The irrelevance of this type of speculation is amply demonstrated by the sorry state of the world which is due in no small part to the persistence of contradictory theories regarding personal liberation and cultural supremacy. As with any other form of psychological projection, culturally sponsored and self-induced personal abnegation and the half-hearted actions they sponsor, yield only minor modifications that, more than anything else strengthen the separate and pre-programmed personal and tribal mental configuration that is the problem in the first place. However, if independent, passive, and complete, this very realization that any instance of psychological projection merely guarantees the continuity of conditioned and self-centered thought is the emergence of a radically different mind, a mind free of the “me” and its predetermined process of exclusive becoming.
Let us go through this one last time. To ask what exactly will facilitate going beyond the culturally sanctioned value and untrammeled continuity of personal consciousness is to fall back into the anguish and contradiction of psychological becoming from which this question emerges. Such an approach to the problem wrongly presumes the existence of an agent who is simultaneously independent enough from this suffering consciousness to be in charge of transcending and deserving to somehow profit from doing so. The memory-based entity that may be carefully considering the possibility of a unitary mode of being in the future is not at all different from the sense of time that articulates its sense of on-going existence, and is therefore incapable of doing anything outside of it. A given instance of mental conditioning (a person) can effect some superficial change in its thought process and its behavior; however, no direct action can uproot conditioning itself from the mind and the brain. As noted before, the very nature of this impasse interdicts any further personal projection. No new version of the same chronic and collective mental dysfunction is now an option.
There is no “one” beyond the symbols, images, and ideas that represent the psychological past and that perform a constant interpretation of the present in hot pursuit/avoidance of what is desired/feared in the future. The ending of self-conscious psychological time involves a radical change in the mind/brain; it is the onset of a mental state in which action is not determined by the particular habits, desires, and fears engendered by recorded pleasurable and painful experience. Confronted with this, there is no time to fret and wobble, or to posture and make plans. Either the self dies to itself or it does not. If it does not, what continues is the old struggle to achieve the improved state of consciousness that “one” fears one might not be able to achieve or that may be lost as soon as attained, or some time thereafter.
No one can know, and much less transmit to another what a mind not based on separate self-awareness might be. Words or images are, by definition, incapable of expressing the nature and value of an unprecedented mental state, and to the one still mired in separate consciousness, any such description becomes yet another theoretical goal to be eventually and laboriously achieved, and thus only a new chapter of the on-going saga of self-contradiction and barren effort. (88)
What is radically different between us is that you are a particular instance of human experience desperately reaching out for personal fulfillment within the parameters determined by your specific cultural environment and without much caring for what happens to me and just about everyone else, while I am a particular instance of human experience desperately reaching out for personal fulfillment within the parameters determined by my specific cultural environment and without much caring for what happens to you and just about everyone else.
We argue interminably about the value of the image one has of oneself, and do so in concept-bound comparison with the images one has formed of others, and this futile exercise makes us unable to see that the fundamental ground of human existence is not the familiar experience- and thought-based consciousness, but the actual totality of life itself.
In other words, the made-up identity of the combative but eternally isolated and needy person is necessarily unrelated to the non-hierarchical, anonymous, and undefinable (unthinkable) participation of the human organism in life. No matter how hard they may try, the self-improvement and social/religious climbing efforts characteristic of a separate personal existence can never attain the mystery of undivided life. The disorder and suffering in the world is the net outcome of this self-propagating phenomenon of seemingly plural and diverse, but entirely common mental alienation from the totality.
The situation of the human species is increasingly dangerous, and so it must change, but change in this matter is far from personal or institutional. It certainly is not the pre-ordained and gradual transit of individuals from the psychological and cultural forms determining their present being, to other, presumably better, forms. What is required is a veritable mental mutation whereby the falsely evolving process of self-centered thought presently animating the separate self each one of us claims to be dissolves into the mystery of life indivisible. (89)
The experience that becomes knowledge, including the experience of the physical body, determines our self-reflective and self-projective identity and the small web of our more intimate relationships, and with that most —if not all— of what we make of existence. For this reason, what is not strictly within the realm of the self and its immediate groups of reference is perceived as having little significance and is treated accordingly —unless it is seen as a threat. What matters is what “I” know, what I like, and what I want; what others know, like, and desire, I hardly know or care about, unless it happens to get in my way. “My” failures and losses, my pains and sorrows, have a tremendous significance; those of people not closely related to me, little if any. At a more general level, the great significance each one of us grants to his or her particular life and proximate relationships makes life itself —the flow of the totality of manifest and non-manifest existence present at every instant and in every “thing”— too abstract and unfamiliar to deserve much attention.
This tragic oversight is not, however, the end of the story for several reasons. One of them is that, amazingly enough, human history holds prominent record of a few keenly aware individuals who somehow came to see the falseness of this collectively enforced sense of reality, and were thus able to challenge the blind sectarian egotism of their peers. Their noble example of selflessness and their incisive teaching profoundly changed the hearts and lives of many people, and have for millennia kept doing so, albeit greatly distorted by the progressive institutionalization to which they were subsequently subjected. Now, is the keen awareness necessary to see and transcend the general division and mental stupor of humanity a rare gift reserved for the privileged few —the likes of the Christ, the Buddha, and a few others— or is it the natural expression of a mentally healthy organism, and therefore already potentially and widely present and available?
At some level of consciousness, most people seem to suffer the alienation inherent to an inflated sense of personal identity and the status conferred by membership in a particular cultural fragment of a demented humanity. In some, this suffering is strong enough to trigger an identity crisis that makes them permanently unable to cope with life, or that is gradually resolved through re-adaptation to their original and most familiar cultural context, or through their assimilation into a different context granting them a new identity and a new life. In others, however, the pain and discomfort experienced is not a transitional crisis leading to death, madness, or a better-adjusted, “healthier” personal and tribal identity, but rather an intransitive and therefore irreversible collapse of identity itself. It is important to note here that, never before in history have there been as many human beings painfully aware of their own small-mindedness and the absurd strictures imposed by their particular social and cultural extraction. Nor has there been before a time in which the predicament of humankind has been as dangerous as it presently is. Seemingly, out of nowhere, an auspicious sign of health appears in the midst of a deepening collective illness. It is not that a long search has culminated with the discovery of the cure for this disease, but rather that in particular organisms the virus occupying and degrading the human mind and splintering the species is suddenly disappearing.
There are two very different approaches to the question of personal identity and separate existence, and they yield very different answers. The first one is dominant in most cultural settings, and it is not so much an approach to an open question as a fixed determination of the nature of the self; one that that makes it largely unquestionable. Tradition simply decrees the self to be the main protagonist and raconteur of a historical narrative that tells the distant and recent experience of the tribal and personal past, and that interprets and utilizes the present on behalf of whatever future experience may appear most suitable to its culmination. In the great majority of cases, this cultural/personal narrative is seen as valuable enough to deserve eventual transcendence from the physical and temporal limitations of the organism.
The psyche isolated and fixed by a given definition is intrinsically insecure, which explains the enormous importance granted to exclusive relationships with other persons, social institutions, property, and ideas, all of which promise to solidify, protect, and perhaps increase whatever physical, social and, specially, psychological worth the self may attribute to itself. The mental insecurity and unstable relational reality generated and sustained by the claim to exclusive personal worth is, however, seldom significantly improved, and never eliminated by the contradictory search for certainty and stable status. Personal knowledge unspooling in psychological time as it comes in touch with the actual unfolding of life is the permanent backbone of this narrow and absurdly grasping psychological reality. Which means that the self is never anything other than what the self knows, believes, and desires consciously and less than consciously about its exclusive sense of past, present, and future experience of itself, others, and life itself. Furthermore, whatever does not pertain to the little consecrated sphere of “me-mine-us-and-ours” only deserves different degrees of indifference or suspicion, and this tribal/personal strangulation of human consciousness naturally has a very restrictive and therefore damaging impact on the quality of life we all experience.
The other approach to the same question of who am I, is much less common and knows better than to seek an answer, because it doubts, not just the worth and of the self, but its very existence. Profoundly skeptical of the many traditional and contradictory answers granted to the question of the nature, significance, and future of personal being, this approach asks instead whether the historical and self-projective self is real or just an extremely convincing illusion upheld by actual physical sensations and perdurably corroborated and protected by mental habit and cultural tradition. In this perception of the phenomenon of the self and the world the self creates, a critical distinction is made between knowledge-based reality and the unthinkable truth that lies beyond the reach of thought, a distinction that breaches and ultimately abandons the falsely protective pale of tradition and habit. Awareness that the reality generated by the self and its physical, social, and “spiritual” buttresses is not all there is to life leads to a mode of existence inseparable from life itself —a realm that is entirely and forever beyond intellectual understanding, and yet increasingly and clearly felt. The indivisible fabric of life and the its formless source is the truth, a truth unrelated to the artificial and atomized reality continuously created and recreated by our knowledge-based sense of separate and autonomous existence, both personal and tribal. We are all responsible —though not in a strict moralistic sense— for the persistence of the perceptual and cognitive error behind this ancient human disconnection from the truth. The discovery that personal consciousness is not the seat of our being, and better or more fervent knowledge not the key to deciphering the mystery of life and our presence within it dissolves in a single blow this persistent error. Nothing is what we “know” it to be, and we are definitely not who we think we are.
However reluctant it may be at first, the mind finally opens to the fact that the “reality” of separate consciousness —personal identification with a limited definition of the physical body and privately held references to non-actualities— is the obfuscation of truth. The truth lies, then, in and at the end of the entity that, prominently perched on a privately owned body and mind, uses images and ideas to observe and interact with restricted parts or aspects of itself, a few others, and an extremely reduced section of the indivisible and therefore unthinkable matrix of life.
There is no time in this radical probe into the self, because at its point of incandescence, it is nothing but an unknowing, and therefore timeless, awareness seamlessly embedded within the whole. Memory/thought remains as a specialized mental faculty capable of applying recorded and extrapolated experience (knowledge) to the detection and resolution of practical challenges related to the wellbeing of the physical organism. However, no trace is left of psychological knowledge projecting itself onto a pre-determined future through fear and desire. Awareness is nothing in itself, and therefore not engaged in recording experience from which to project onto the future idealized versions of itself. It is infinitely sensitive and ultimately indistinguishable from the impersonal and timeless flow of life as a whole.
Peace and freedom are not attributes waiting at the end of the laborious and time-consuming path designed and pursued by the thinker who may want to realize them along with others aspects of its imagined potential. Peace and freedom are rather the very essence of a mind that is keenly attentive precisely because it is not identified with a particular body and the “I” entity hitching a ride within it. (90)
The general phenomenon of the human mind conditioned by recorded experience is comprised of billions of personal psyches deeply identified with a particular physical body and a proprietary set of self-projecting memories. Consequently, the life of each person is limited to a relatively small set of relationships with other equally conditioned individuals. Within this general mental system the greatest majority of human beings live convinced that that both body and mind end, in space, at the boundary where the sense of “me” meets “not-me” and, in time, at that moment at which death interrupts the journey of personal becoming or extends it in a realm far beyond the unfolding of chronological time. The notion of the transmigrating soul, or some other similar mental construct, provides the traditional religious believer with this convenient extension into an ultimate reality that will fully manifest immediately after the physical death of the organism, or following a prolonged transit through purgatory or a long cycle of reincarnations. These projections of the self onto an after-life are ancient fantasies sustained to this day at ever increasing psychological, social, and environmental cost by the same ignorance and fear that created them thousands of years ago.
As with any other psychologically functional but false creations of thought, these major religious fantasies quickly dissolve when their source, motive, and damaging consequences become apparent. For those who feel compelled to question their cultural sources, this puncturing of the bubble of self-deceiving religiosity is often a major first stage in clearing the mind from ascribed or personally adopted cultural programming. However, when the falsity of religious and/or secular becomes somehow apparent causing their complete or partial disappearance, the separate person whose dubious existence they helped buttress may continue standing supported by still other memories and desires.
It is not true that the body ends at the edge of the epidermis, or that mind is necessarily limited to the perceptual and cognitive reach determined by a given cultural and self-centered condition, whether extended or not through the illusion of a religious afterlife or the enduring fame of its secular counterpart. We are no exception to the axiom that nothing exists in isolation, therefore it is not strange to discover that the body is coextensive with the whole of existence, and (the) mind something infinitely greater and more mysterious than what our provincial self-centeredness has decreed it to be. The psycho-somatic presence of humanity is inconceivable outside the ecological context of a planet nestled within a solar system that is, in turn, inextricable embedded within a relatively small galactic component of the multidimensional and inter-penetrating matrix of the cosmos. When this overwhelming actuality becomes directly evident, that is, when consciousness is that actual cosmic flow, there is no further thought of ourselves as unique and independent acts of physical and mental existence.
What we generally sense and know as “my” self and my world is very far from the truth. All instances of self-centered consciousness are only slightly different versions of the same thought-based process of pre-personal, tribal, and biographical accumulation of experience. All along this process, we have created and gathered the crude knowledge (both faith-based and empirical) needed to carve our separate identities out from the totality of existence, which we are then able to ignore largely. The idiosyncratic constellation of images and ideas that constitutes the mental and much of the so-called external reality of the person is only tangentially related to the unthinkable totality of cosmic existence. What is even worse, we are almost completely alienated from the formless ground from which, and into which the undivided movement of manifest being timelessly arises and falls.
The peaceful reintegration of humanity and its fully aware reinsertion into the totality of manifest and non-manifest being is possible, but obviously cannot come from a greater quantity or better quality of knowledge/belief, for that is the very source of our alienation, division, and friction. One need not be a genius or a saint to realize that there is a whole lot more to life than what our limited perceptual capacity can capture and our cognitive mapping mania can interpret and extrapolate. Intellectual prowess is unable to cancel the gap between “me” and “myself” or eliminate the division and conflict separating us from one another; much less can it bridge the abyss between our splintered and acrimonious knowledge-based reality and the undecipherable truth of life. It is, therefore, mad to continue hoping that a solution to our fundamental problems will eventually come from the ever increasing amplification of our senses and intellect through endlessly upgradeable instruments yielding immense volumes of data, and rigorous methods and extraordinary computers that turn this data into new concepts, theories, predictions, and projects. What we already know and may learn in the future may accomplish much in certain sectors and aspects of society, but it will never overcome the division and antagonism created and sustained by what we each know and believe. Much less will we ever reach, through the deployment of our accumulated knowledge, the source intelligence of the ever-unfolding universe, and our mysterious conscious presence within it.
At the core of thought’s failure to understand the nature of existence and solve our chronic mental and relational problems is the false separation from this existence and these problems assumed by the one who believes himself capable of eventually knowing everything and solving all problems. As already repeatedly suggested, no matter what shape it may take, the knowledge and projections that give form to and sustain our separate tribal and personal identities can only continue to generate fundamentally the same division, conflict, and sorrow —and the same general alienation from the truth— in which we have already lived, struggled, and died for thousands of years. By the truth, we mean here not just what results from the willingness and capacity to discern fact from fiction in the realm of day-to-day experience, but the actuality of an all-inclusive totality that lies utterly beyond our “normal” perceptual and cognitive reach. It is important to note here that there are credible reports of human beings who, throughout history, found somehow their way into the mysterious wholeness of existence. They seem to have done so in a manner not mediated by the traditional naïveté, fear, and wishful desire that animate the traditional forms of religiosity that crystallized following their disappearance. There was an element of passionate affection in these individuals’ absorption into the mystery, but it was not the love of someone for something or someone else. It was rather the integral quality of universal wholeness: the all-encompassing love of life for life.
It may be worthwhile to run quickly through this argument once again before we move on. The knowledge, both functional (scientific/technical) and psychological (but especially the latter) that creates our limited and disparate sense of the world and of ourselves will never be commensurate with the truth. This, not only because conventional representation is never what is represented, but also because the separate psychological entity that would presumably come to “know” someday the ever unfolding whole —that is, the unfolding material universe and its seemingly immaterial, formless ground— is an illusion. An illusion that “exists” only as a private constellation of symbolic representations that in its gradual evolution enables the permanent separation of the centric self around which it revolves from the unknowable, actual whole. Put differently, any form psychological identity based on knowledge implies a false separation from life and for several reasons, but principally because, in order to know, it must necessarily stand apart from the objects of her knowledge (herself, others, and the universe at large), and even from knowledge itself. This self-isolating division intrinsic to a subject-object relationship and mediated by different and contradictory types and instances of progressive symbolic interpretation and projection is inconsistent with the truth as an ever-unknowable, all-encompassing, and living totality.
Identification with what we (each) perceive, experience, believe, know, and desire isolates the mind, and this isolation keeps it in the state of insensitivity, confusion, conflict, and sorrow that is at the very root of the chronic and ever-expanding disorder characteristic of human relationship. While trapped in an alienated, segmented, and limited consciousness, it is impossible to see that the chaotic world we are all continuously re-creating with our superficially different memories, and our contradictory thoughts and actions is not a necessary reflection of “human nature,” but rather a tragic general error operating under the cloak of respectability in each one of us. A mature, sensitive, and responsible human being has no other choice than to directly confront psychological and cultural separation as a form of mental illness affecting each one of us, and therefore the species as a whole. This confrontation is, therefore, the first sign of sanity, and costly as this sanity may appear to be at first, it is the only force capable of granting integrity to the species, and with it the wisdom necessary, not just for its survival, but also for full participation in the plenitude of life.
Relatively well-educated people have a keen sense that knowledge ought to be a relatively accurate representation of what has actually happened, is actually happening, or, in some restricted cases, is most likely to happen. Were it otherwise, the scientific method of inquiry would seldom yield viable results, and no judicial system could ever function with a significant degree of fairness and, therefore, ample social acceptance. But, if good scientists, legal professionals, and conscientious witnesses, realize that inaccurate, incomplete, or biased versions of the truth will come back to haunt them, why is it that in a much more fundamental context practically all of us still assume that we are essentially separate from everyone (and everything) else despite all the evidence to the contrary?
Another and intimately related indication of our collective irrationality is that not even the enormous suffering we have for millennia endured and inflicted seems to have the power to open our eyes to its source in our exclusive and largely subjective identification with contradictory bodies of dead but still obdurately self-projecting knowledge and belief. The record of our psychological and tribal experience still dominates the mind to an enormous extent. As a result, we are generally blind, not just to our amalgamation within the realm of matter, but also to our seamless mental inclusion within the infinity of non-manifest existence, the formless ground of being. In other words, identification with the limited and fragmented version of the self and the world created, developed, and experienced by thought is so strong, that the undivided existence underlying both mind and matter is largely undetected.
We overplay enormously the differences between the cultural and biographical experience with which each identify without realizing that in doing so we allow these superficial differences to determine —across the board— the actual and potential content of personal thought, as well as the character of the behavior that emanates from this divided thought. Furthermore, the dangerously restrictive influence of this diverse and contradictory mental conditioning endures because we each unwittingly credit the tribal and personal content of consciousness with our very existence. The strong sense of separate and distinct being granted by identification with exclusive, and therefore divisive personal and tribal recollections and ambitions cannot but produce relationship and mental problems. The insecurity and grief that come with these problems then elicit an even greater investment on the same shaky sense of existential separation that is permanently at their source, along with the imperative urge to overcome them but without ever coming even close to acknowledging the absurdity and futility of such demand. We are the very incarnation of these culturally prescribed verities and values, so it seems not just normal but admirable when, on behalf of all of “us,” some surrender their very physical existence as a propitiatory sacrifice to their presumed honor and eternal glory. To make this graphic and direct, picture for just an instant the countless people, mostly young, that over the centuries have given up their lives and destroyed the lives of others in idiotic battle over the presumed superiority of their respective secular and religious ideologies. So profound is our personal identification with tribal property, images, ideas, and their projection in historical time that we generally think nothing of brainwashing our young with the same provincial and toxic content that must occasionally be also introduced into the minds of members of others who, for that purpose, must be forcefully emptied of theirs.
In this general context of conditioned personal identity and tribalism, serious dialogue about the possibility of actually losing oneself to a largely undifferentiated and therefore unknowable participation in life is still relatively rare, and when it happens, it seldom goes deep enough to reach its natural, bottomless and boundless end. Yet, for anyone who has had enough of insular banality, conflict, fear, and grief, it is just in this type of conversation that he or she may find the integrity and wisdom necessary to move instantly away from what is clearly insufficient or outright false. Full insight into the human condition is timeless because it does not arise from accumulated knowledge and is not motivated by the urge to reach some equally predetermined goal. The additive continuity of self-centered thought with its obsessive occupations, preoccupations, faiths, and dreams cannot survive the irruption into the mind of the timeless mystery of life, our ever-present common ground.
The irrational division, endemic conflict, and ecological irresponsibility presently threatening the wellbeing of billions and, perhaps, the very survival of the species, are becoming evident to more and more people. For many of us this awareness signals the urgent need to abandon particular sources of psychological and cultural identification. However, the possibility of life not mediated by the memories, experiences, and projections that make up who we think we are —the habitual self as we may still know, enjoy, and suffer him/her— generally triggers feelings of distress strong enough to scuttle serious self-inquiry and provide a prompt return to sources of false but familiar certainty. It takes a very quick mind, a mind somehow aware of the mechanical tricks of thought, to remain passive before these feelings (and they are just that, passing feelings) and thus impede a return to a reactive mental identity inserted within a social status quo both absurd that their very sight, not just argues for its overturn, but determines it.
Regardless of how voluminous and sophisticated it may be, analytical thought cannot properly see and overcome the half-truths, fantasies, and outright lies created and sustained by its own dynamic projection through fear and desire. This means that there is no positive reason for the emergence of an unconditioned state of mind, for any such reason would imply yet another false imaginary goal demanding pursuance by self-centered thought and for its own benefit and self-additive endurance. If closely and passively examined, all available and potential representations of success or “the truth” are finally seen —and immediately abandoned— as nothing more than speculative decoys deployed by different traditions to subject the innocent and the naive to the particular type of obedience (and passive or active aggression) their own need for survival demands. All that matters is the end of separation, and that can only come when the progressive self and its sponsoring tribes are seen directly and impersonally as the constant source of the conflicted division and irrational action that have forever afflicted humanity while simultaneously keeping it sealed away from the truth.
What blocks the manifestation of the actual and ultimate living truth valid for everyone anywhere and at any time is the multi-faceted reality created and sustained by superficially different cultural and psychological identities, each characterized by an exclusive and therefore false and conflictive claim to truth. This is why rational interest in the possible manifestation of the actual truth —truth beyond the reach of proprietary knowledge and thought— can have no antecedents, motives, or goals. Any alluring description of the nature and the comparative advantages this truth might grant whomever may come to possess it is clear indication of a misleading interest. The only correct approach to the possibility of truth unconditioned by experience and positive or negative desire is strictly negative, and when this fact is evident all forms of gang-protected psychological certainty and security collapse from the weight of their own falseness, and therefore without eliciting fear or regret. All this merciful catastrophe leaves is an unknowing, empty, but extraordinarily alert and sensitive mind.
After going through all this it would be good to verify if we are actually embodying this critical view of tribe and self, or merely emitting and absorbing a bunch of theoretical assertions (mere knowledge) possibly leading to the formulation and futile pursuit of yet another useless psychological goal. In this matter of radical mental change, words and ideas —even if well intended on one end and properly understood on the other— are useless or counterproductive if they do not resonate beyond the realm of thought, fear, and desire. A direct and profound perception of our own psychological and cultural reality as a particular manifestation of a general and tragic human condition is necessary, and that perception inevitably also reveals the futility of trying to achieve in the future a reformed version of the same alienated, “me and my life,” process of thought. Again, no one can know beforehand whether this awakening is the expression of the self-less, unconditioned, and living truth. What is at issue here is not how the egocentric self can gradually improve or transcend itself in order to find or be the truth, but rather full, and hence terminal disclosure of the irrelevance of any form this deceitful, reactive desire for self-improvement may take. Only a lucid, complete, and immediate perception of the limitations and dangers of self-centered thought may end its domination of the mind and perhaps usher in something truthful beyond words. (91)
We are not different from the knowledge we say we “have” about our own psychological and social reality —in fact, we are this knowledge as well as the experience of its inherent limitations. What we each know: the periphery of the psyche, the cultural environment, and the physical world deemed external to “our” body, determines our false sense of separate and unique existence and the way we act on these objects from the outside, as it were. In the broadest sense possible, we are individual deposits of the entire experience of humanity, topped by particularly combined layers of cultural indoctrination and selective recordings and intended future broadcasts of biographical experience. In order to think about “my” self, “I” must use knowledge that is part of this same self, yet the limitation and dubiousness of transactions made between “me” and “my” self are not generally apparent. This is further complicated by the fact that the empirical and the imaginary representations that anchor personal identity are also utilized to re-cognize, evaluate, and relate to other people who, more often than not, know and think of themselves in very different, though equally limited and equivocal terms. The people and things whose presence may enter the psychic field at any point in time, but what one may think they are is never what they actually are.
Again, what we feel, know, fear, and desire at any moment (what we are) is an idiosyncratic imprint of pre-personal human, cultural, and personal experience. We would not exist psychologically as we presently do without the incisive mental (non-actual) trace of a particular historical/biographical experience inscribed on top of the deep mark left by the general evolutionary journey experienced by the species as a whole. This means, among other things, that we are far, far, less unique and self-determined than we generally like to think we are. There are so many different constraints on personal freedom and virtue that what is remarkable is the number of people that lay claim to both, freedom and virtue, especially in certain cultural contexts. For example, middle and upper class sectors of human society generally claim to enjoy a great deal of political and personal autonomy, without realizing how much of this impression is derived from unhinged comparisons with other social sectors. Privileged participation in societies and economies based on highly manipulated electoral events, constant manipulative advertising, deeply damaging consumerism, and the exploitation of workers (most of them foreign) is hardly an expression of authentic freedom and goodness. Injustice and licentiousness often puts on the mask of freedom and personal rights responsibilities, and predilections in order to pass as moral virtue.
It should not come as a surprise then that even the people living in the wealthiest, better educated, and presumably more virtuous sectors of any society cannot rid themselves from serious psychological and relational problems and the sorrow they engender. The difficulty we experience in getting rid of what hurts us (fear, hatred, jealousy, reckless ambition, aggressiveness, insensitivity, emotional dependency, or addiction) lies, then, not so much in the nature of these problems, as in the fact that they are an inextricable aspect or part of the one who may trying to get rid of them. In other words, no significant difference exists between those areas of the psyche that “one” may think need to be changed, and this central entity presuming to know the reason and nature of the necessary alterations as well as the logistics and goal of their implementation. The mental and relational problems we suffer from are an integral part of the entire evolutionary and historical trajectory of humanity, and therefore not at all original to the individuals who may be afflicted by them at different points in time and space. No one can claim exception to the general psychosomatic reality of the species, and a significant change in consciousness must already have occurred if this fact is evident.
Our central problem then is a collective case of severe myopia—a shared incapacity to see the incompetence and hypocrisy of the entity pretending to play an executive role in overcoming the mental, interpersonal, and social circumstances it suffers. As already mentioned, the disparate efforts made to solve problems at every level of human existence are, more often than not, just a further expression of the same illusion of separate existence and executive capacity and, as such, mostly the way whereby the entire dysfunctional system prongs itself. If this were not so, if we were even remotely willing and able to actually solve our mental and social problems and stem the suffering that emanates from them, we would not be as divided, antagonistic, hurtful, and hurt as we are. If we were as virtuous and as intelligent as we often think we are, we would not be still holding on to nuclear weapons and increasing our capacity to plunder the planet while either ignoring or exploiting the poorest and weakest amongst us.
If experience is the factor uniformly conditioning the human brain, albeit in different ways, then the old dictum that freedom lies in knowing oneself is false if it means that it is “me” who is getting to know “my” self. Why, simply because true freedom from mental programming implies the disappearance of both, the dysfunctional mental content and the falsely independent entity who, for a very good reason, could never quite gather the quality, kind, and quantity of information necessary to know this programming and be free from it. Traditionally, it is assumed that self-knowledge is a process whereby the “I,” the central and dominant component within the psychic field learns, first, about the condition and circumstances of its internal periphery and external environment, then defines what needs to be changed and how and, finally, proceeds to implement this change over a period of time. The dismal state of human affairs today attests to the inefficacy of the type of change that this version of self-knowledge can afford. The many different religious practices available alongside countless forms of therapy and self-help techniques have not brought about a mentally healthy human being, much less a harmoniously interconnected and ecologically wise human presence. In fact, shallow and incremental psychological modifications tend to disguise, and often worsen mental and social problems and the consequences of not dealing opportunely and properly with them. Even if at some level well designed projects created and carried out by well-intentioned people gain positive results, at a more significant level, they merely extend the reign of self-enclosed and provincial thinking from which all problems arise. Again, ample proof of this is readily available to anyone who cares enough to look at the difficult psychological, social, and ecological circumstances in which we find ourselves today, after thousands of years of personal “development” and countless attempts to improve the way in which we relate with one another.
A great mental shock results from the realization that there is no significant difference that can be made between the executive ego and other layers of consciousness (all) thought to be there merely to be known and acted upon by this dominant center that is, like them, product of the same experience. True self-knowledge is then not a gradual self-reflective mental examination leading to informed corrective action. It is, rather, this shattering realization that, first, the root of all our problems lies in a human psyche uniformly conditioned by experience and, second, that efforts made to modify and improve different types of tribal and personal conditioning do not, in the least, alter the central fact of conditioning itself. The entity we all call “me,” is only an insignificant aspect of a species-wide phenomenon of culturally and biographically conditioned thought incapable of significantly improving itself through further thinking. Not all is lost, however, because complete, direct (non-conceptual), and passive (non-reactive) awareness of this seemingly terminal impasse ends the process of exclusive and gradual change through which the fantasy of the independent self ensures its continuity, even though in doing so it also helps sustain the very real misery of humanity.
No organism exists in isolation from the infinitely complex and ever-unfolding biological, mental, ecological, and cosmic context: an indivisible reality that no form, quantity, or quality of thought can ever fully decipher. Within the particular human realm, it is fair to say that, just as no particular psyche can exist for long outside a given cultural environment, no particular cultural environment is conceivable outside the general matrix of human history, itself tacked onto a prehistory dating back to the very beginning of our time on the planet and beyond. Therefore, it is improper to refer to the brain as “my” brain, on at least two counts. The first one is that the brain is a generic component of the human organism. The second reason why the self cannot claim property of the brain is that this peculiar organ common to all human organisms is impersonally and massively programmed by the mechanically acquired record of the entire experience of the species and the more recent historical record of cultural and psychological experience. What the self’s exclusive identification with selective parts of the experience recorded by a particular brain serves, is its own sense of separate existence and, unwittingly, the perdurability the general system of conditioned and self-centered thought. Personal attention fixates mentally on the visible tip of the iceberg of existence while mostly ignoring the immensity of its lively cosmic base. The fact and significance of the human presence in the cosmos is definitely not what we personally “know” ourselves to be in the mental past, present, and future.
For example, it is common to consider one’s sexual experience as unique and therefore of great personal significance. “I” am who I think I am, in part, because I can recall this or that erotic experience, or because I associate my sexuality to a long-lasting and otherwise intimate and valuable relationship, and also perhaps to children, offspring of this relationship, whom I love. Granted, sexuality is the gateway to existence, and many good and necessary experiences and relationships stem from it. However, one must also consider the horrors that have come about by the way in which different cultures and individuals repress or exploit sexuality. Picture for an instant all the unwanted children, born and unborn; all the broken unions between man and woman, the violent fights, the betrayals, the humiliations, the abuse and murders; genital mutilation, prostitution, venereal disease and, in the widest context, millennia of unabated conflict between the members of each gender and everything else in between. Every individual who has ever lived has known something of the pleasures and torments of human sexuality because sexuality, per se, is a common and therefore, impersonal human trait. The same is true of all the rest of the mental and behavioral traits characteristic of the human species, they are present and active in all of us. The fact that we each experience and act out instincts and culturally predetermined behaviors in different ways does not alter the fact of a commonly shared condition and the lack of freedom, intelligence, and compassion intrinsic to it. The central point being that the widespread notion that we are all separate entities with widely divergent experience is a falsehood permanently upheld by archaic tradition and self-deception.
The mental and social reality we each take to be distinctly ours is only a particular instance of a general system of self-centered and tribal thought hidden behind the falsely proprietary experiences, ideas, feelings, and reactions constitutive of a fake personal entity existing in profound alienation from the all-inclusive matrix of life. The use of the word “reality” in this context obeys the need to establish a distinction between the unknowable, ultimately unconditioned totality —the truth, proper— and the state of a mind conditioned and splintered by the mental representations of experience gathered in every brain and every sectarian collection of brains. It is essential, therefore, that this psychological reality that is most intimately familiar to each one of us, comes to see itself as the source of the mental confusion, the interpersonal friction, and the intertribal conflict that afflict the human species as a whole and blocks the manifestation of the truth that lies beyond its constricted perceptual and cognitive capacity.
There is enormous resistance to losing one’s illusory sense of separate and valuable existence through this radical self-knowledge. However, this resistance also comes to be seen as only another defensive maneuver of the same conditioned personal mind desperately attempting to protect itself and its place in the illusory reality generated and sustained by thought. Nothing is lost, and there is neither pain nor pleasure in this transition between the false mental and social reality of the self and the truth because this truth is impersonal and therefore entirely beyond the realm of “them” and “us,“ “you” and “me,” and “me” and “myself.”
Who would we be without language? If you can picture the difficulty of living in a culture with unfamiliar customs and rituals and a language you do not understand, you can easily imagine what would happen to your identity and very sense of separate existence if your own language and particular cultural mores and values were to become unintelligible. The point being, once again, that the separate self is just a personalized mental projection of culture that cannot survive this realization, let alone, the larger fact that its presumed physical/mental existence is only an irrelevant little bubble lost in the turbulent ocean of life.
To be sure, this radical takedown of the self is not yet another path of personal development, therapeutic rehabilitation, or spiritual redemption. It does not involve a prolonged process of learning about the personal psyche, and its very nature interdicts any idealized projection of the self and its social circumstances. It is rather a sudden, complete, unmerited, and passive perception of the human condition that dissolves whatever personal form the general illusion of self-projective psychological being may have taken hold in a particular mind/brain.
If you find yourself not quite understanding or strongly objecting to this view of the self and culture, it might be because you feel that, though seemingly logical, the argument does not affect the strong, familiar sense of yourself as an independent entity existing in contrast with the “not-me” of everything and everyone else. If that is the case, you may want to look again and verify how real this sense of yourself is. Is there really some intimate personal essence there in your head or your chest that is issuing this disagreement and that is entirely other than the images and ideas (knowledge) descriptive of its self and its sense of the world “out” there? If such an entity does indeed exist, is it free and able to utilize its knowledge at will in order to change itself and the world it has created in any significant measure?
The truth of the matter is that there is no actual “person” outside the verbal description anyone can provide by referencing representational sources of identification. There is only an illusion of personal existence, a generic fantasy felt as a concrete and discrete entity, but only made tangible by what thought as a mental function perched in every particular organism knows, owns, and projects. This illusion is responsible for the persistent disorder of the human mind and its notable incapacity to eliminate division, conflict, violence, and suffering afflicting the species as a whole. Only a vital question remains, can this fantasy of separate personal existence disappear? The particular constellation of transpersonal, instinctual, and exclusive (functional, biographical, and cultural) information genetically transmitted and accumulated in memory during however many years the physical organism has been in existence cannot possibly be all there is to the human presence in the cosmos and to awareness, that most sublime flower of life.
To make sure this argument is not overshooting its target, let us again hasten to add that everyone is perfectly capable of gaining some new knowledge about his or her psychological reality or of disposing of some habitual or otherwise vitiated or unnecessary information. For example, one may be able to abandon a particular grudge or habit, and can certainly add almost indefinitely to the trove of practical knowledge and skills acquired previously. However, additions or subtractions to a consciousness conditioned by transpersonal and personal experience do not ever change the fact of conditioning itself, nor do they make a bit of difference to the destructive divisiveness and general alienation of this pre-programmed consciousness. The possibility that changes made to improve personal consciousness and develop particular ideologies and societies might eliminate the division and conflict created by a system of thought conditioned by experience is as promising as waving a feather around with the intention of blowing off global warming.
The deep imprint left in the human brain/mind by the general experience of the species and by particular cultural and biographical experience endures in its fixed and conflictive isolation precisely by endlessly engaging in different types of superficial personal modification and localized and partial social development. The moment it becomes clear that each one of us is as programmed and isolated by privatized cultural and biographical experience as everyone else, and therefore fundamentally indistinguishable from each other, thought itself rejects any claim of separate and distinct personal existence based on subjective superficialities, past, present, or future.
Given the high degree of intelligence we human demonstrate in science and many other practical matters, it seems reasonable to assume that, were our delusion of psychological separation to disappear along with the violent interpersonal and inter-tribal relationships this delusion generates, that same practical intelligence would promptly wipe out cruelty and misery from the face of the Earth. On the other hand, if the human propensity for division, conflict, greed, and sorrow continues in its same ancient and destructive path, it will be because individual persons —you and I— who both act out this propensity and suffer its consequences, have madly chosen to remain blind to their role in keeping this whole nefarious mental system in operation. We are, quite literally, what we suffer from, and the only reason why this is still not apparent is that full and instantaneous awareness of the fractured and painful world we create and re-create with our every thought and re-action implies the end of the self as we each know and embody it.
Awareness of the entire phenomenon of conditioned consciousness is freedom from the mental imprint of time-bound experience that creates the sense of evolving personal separation. There is no one who can claim to be aware of everything inside and/or outside itself, because the separation implied negates the claim. Given that complete awareness can only exist in a realm beyond the limited reach of any form of knowledge, its presence implies the absence of the self. (92)
We are so used to equating life with the struggle to attain some measure of physical and, especially, psychological security and pleasure that we hardly ever question the validity of this equation. True, existence itself demands from all its creatures the satisfaction of primary needs, but why has this demand not brought forth in us increasingly intelligent collaboration and therefore loving unity, rather than the persistent conflict of entrenched psychological and cultural entities? Why has our intelligence dedicated itself so persistently and preferentially to the pursuit of exclusive security and social status, if that has multiplied interpersonal and inter-tribal conflict and made the suffering of all so unnecessarily prevalent and severe? More to the point, why are we still not intelligent and caring enough to see the necessity of putting our energy into the balanced and sustainable generation and distribution of knowledge and wealth that the world so desperately needs.
Once the seed of separate being fell and prospered in the fertile soil of the human mind, every branch and every leaf of the resulting tree began to suffer from insecurity as well as the irresistible urge to attain some perverse version of its opposite. The desire for certainty and security was common to all human beings, but the ideologies, methods, and goals created to satisfy this desire were, and remain, multiple and therefore enormously prone to conflict and violence. The contradictory nature of exclusive desire is, along with the ever splintered and unstable memory at its source, responsible for the frequency and intensity of dispute between needy and frustrated individuals living within particular groups —themselves in chronic conflict with other similar groups. Whenever unfulfilled, desire is also the source of animosity between the individual and its social context because the latter appears as an externality blocking personal dreams and ambitions. This animosity obscures the fact that the individual and the social context are one; neither one exists in and of itself. A single mental system conditioned and fragmented by previous experience is their common source and sustaining force.
Psychologically, we are nothing more than the images, ideas, fears, sentiments, and desires that coalesce in fear and desire to form and prolong our identities in time. Similarly, different societies are fundamentally the outward manifestation of the particular images, ideas, fears, sentiments, and desires that characterize their constituent members, people who organize themselves in competing families, groups, and institutions all simultaneously attempting to reach contradictory goals of exclusive and lasting fulfillment. The permanent clash of plural and opposed personal/tribal ideas and efforts unfolds in planetary space and historical time as both a physical creation and a shape-shifting web of relationships, occasionally happy and loving, but permanently weighted down by an endemic proclivity for dissatisfaction, dissension, and outright violence. We deceive ourselves when we assume that life cannot be anything other than the fragmented and largely sorrowful reality product of our disorderly mind and, therefore, most familiar to us. We deceive ourselves still further when we attempt to improve on the conditions generated by this deception because, more often than not, our efforts in that direction end up solidifying even more our lines of separation and our general alienation from the intelligent order of life. In placing our trust in the powers of our fragmented and fragmenting intellect, we keep ourselves cut off from the mystery that lies beyond its reach and seems indifferent to the never-ending drama in which we have chosen to live and die.
For us life produced, first, the physical and mental faculties we needed in order to survive. Then it saw fit to provide us generously with whatever else we demanded as we clawed our way to the top of the food chain and crowned ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. We did not stop there, however, because we were now prisoners of an all-consuming appetite for wealth, power, and knowledge. Although we had progressively gained the technological ability needed to satisfy everyone’s physical needs, somehow we never developed the affective intelligence, the compassion, necessary to overcome our primitive personal insularity and stratified tribal sectarianism. As a result, the possibility of granting physical security to the entire human population never became a reality.
Either unwittingly or stupidly (that is not the most pertinent question) we had fallen early on into the habit of giving priority to desires unrelated to the satisfaction of basic needs. Especially damaging were the ever more extravagant desires of those who, in just about every group and society, managed to accumulate greater wealth and greater knowledge, a tremendous power that was then used to further their already unjust advantage mainly through the exploitation of others. The social and mental fragmentation of humanity, and the persistent demand for exclusionary power and status that came with it, gradually took the instrumentalization of other human beings and the extraction of natural resources to increasingly reckless levels. With this mental and social aberration firmly in place, the physical evolution of the human species, so successful in many ways, did not lead to a corresponding psychological maturation. The functionally self-reflective human mind splintered along the fault lines of diverse, insular experience, and went on to ensnare itself further and further in a continuous process of false development, a permanently self-modifying dead-end characterized by the incapacity to resolve fundamental problems—self-propelled conflictive division, chief among them.
Despite the extraordinary volume of knowledge humanity has managed to accumulate, it has remained extraordinarily insensitive to the integrity of existence in general and, in particular, to the delicate ecological equilibrium required by life on Earth. In our day, extraordinarily destructive tools and weapons feed the insatiable ambition of separate and opposed national tribes, groups, and individuals by transgress even the most basic physical and chemical laws of life. This reckless greed most of us of fundamental dignity and integrity, and is putting in jeopardy the very survival of countless species, including our own. Many still manage to ignore the rather blunt message expressed through the extensive, interconnected, and rapidly cascading natural and social consequences of our irresponsibility. However, but for the growing number of individuals sensitive enough to feel the impact of this message in their physical surroundings, and in their very minds and lives, the unsustainability of today’s mental, political, economic, geopolitical, and environmental trends is evident. Unfortunately, even with this level of awareness, we often manage to again externalize, and thus almost entirely avoid the source problem, which is our own unstable and needy personal and sectarian insularity. When this occurs, the same old separate and conditioned mind simply goes back to the naive hope that the present threats may still be circumvented through the creation and implementation of the same type of progressive or adaptive maneuvers that created them in the first place. Generally, we are too culturally brainwashed and self-involved to see that what the general challenge we face demands is the termination, and not merely further securing or remodeling of our particular comfort zones. The harrowing circumstances we face today are only the newest face of the chronic condition of humankind that has forever called for nothing short of an unprecedented mutation: the irreversible end of a mind circumscribed and sustained by the personal record of self-centered experience and other forms of proprietary knowledge.
Given our long and tragic history and our dramatic current situation, it is indeed strange that we remain unwilling to see that we are never going to extract from the world, others, and from our own selves the exclusive fulfillment we each want and feel we deserve. Life has never ceased in its attempt to awaken us to its intrinsic unity and its complex dynamics, but we have systematically resisted even its most painful alert calls. So addicted are we to our tribal enclaves and personal ways, that when pain and sorrow illuminate the absurdity of our identification in exchange for protection, we just modify or increase the dose of limited knowledge and exclusive desire needed to sustain ourselves as a particular instance of the general tragedy of mental isolation. Perhaps the most eloquent example of the conceit of separate personal existence and its obsession with self-fulfillment lies in the fact that fear and desire infused by tradition are still keeping billions of people trapped in the fantasy of a post-mortem extension to the story they tell others and themselves about who they are and are meant to become. To be sure, the desire for open-ended psychological continuity is not exclusive to the conventional religious mind. Most non-religious human beings alive today help sustain the tragic division and suffering of humanity by subscribing to secular ideologies that support the same general illusion of security and fulfillment through idealized projections of the self. Fame, a perdurable existence of our worldly success in the memory of our descendants is the secular equivalent of what heaven or nirvana is to the traditionally religious mind.
All we know is this illusion of existential separation and the necessarily distorted and diminished experience of life it affords, and because we define ourselves and our presumed virtue by the “truth” of what we know, even when relatively aware of the painful and dangerous circumstances in which we live, we still resist a true awakening. We resist, in great part, because we fear that a more penetrating perception of our mental and social reality may demand the abandonment or lessening of the particular roles without which our identity and very sense of existence would perish. Thinking that these roles respond effectively and benignantly to particular personal and social problems, we fail to notice that in their extreme demand of our energy and attention they may be preventing us from seeing the fundamental problem of self-centered separation and tribal fragmentation and its nefarious impact on the species as a whole.
The isolated and restricted efforts demanded by traditionally determined family and/or social roles certainly limit the mind to the defense and modified expansion of an extremely limited vision of the human presence in life. To see this, to somehow open ourselves to a complete insight into the insurmountable falseness and futility of struggling to be and become whatever we each think our absurdly separate existence ought to be and become, is of incalculable importance. Our joint failure to see the connection between the uninterrupted tragedy of the human species and the small-mindedness of self-enclosed lives is what maintains the illusion of the independent and perfectible self. We pay for this reluctance to simply look and see with permanent residence in an impregnable mental trap. Terrified as we are of any slight to our sense of self-importance, we tend to recoil at just the notion of a general, transpersonal mental system that exists and endures by fragmenting itself into “thinking” units falsely convinced of their separate existence and their capacity for self-improvement and social progress. Afraid of fear, we continue relying on our particular brand of consensual blindness to sustain a personal existence made of endless repairs to the same confused mental state and the same impossible life conditions this same self-inflicted blindness has already imposed on billions of hapless human beings. The truth is, nothing will dispel this fear and this blindness but the demise in every particular mind of the illusion of existential separation and its stubborn projection in time.
There are those rare moments, I am sure you have also had them, when you are so free of conflict and striving that you are hardly there. There is then no overwrought awareness of a separate existence, and consequently no fear; no resistance; no happy, sad, guilty, or angry memories; no nervous expectation of future events; no mental agitation of any sort. It does not take the mind of a genius to be free of conflict, ambition, and fear—it takes an unconditioned mind, a mind free of self. (93)