Losing hope is generally perceived as tantamount to death because belief in a better future is such an integral part, not just of who we are and why we do what we do, but also of our very sense of existence. In fact, the greatest part of humanity holds the loss of hope as even worse than death, given that they faithfully expect to overcome death through resurrection or future incarnations and thus win the ultimate personal victory: eternal life. Without challenging for the moment the reality of life after death, it seems pertinent to point out that any hope of attaining open-ended psychological continuity tends to distort perception and block accurate thinking and pertinent action at every instant of life. Hope, whether worldly or otherworldly, is the negation of actual (moment to moment) attention, for regardless of what form it takes, hope involves the projection onto an imagined future of a state of consciousness and circumstances believed to be other than, if not a significant improvement over what this state of mind and this situation actually are, right now. In other words, what we hope to become or achieve in the future is in direct contradiction with all there ever is, namely the unthinkable breadth and depth of actual life and our mysterious presence within it.
The person who hopes to change is the same person who, being whatever she presently is (and in some way wants to remain), also resists change. Thus, when we seduce ourselves with different sequential versions of an idealized self-image projected onto the future, we only manage to live at the margins of our actual mental and relational circumstances, and therefore in conflict with others and at odds with our selves. To complicate matters further, we also have to contend with doubts and fears related to the possibility that our hopes and ambitions will be frustrated. Frustration is common and frequent, and it comes through our own incompetence, other people’s greater ability to realize their own hopes and aspirations, and the (understandable) indifference of the invented gods or “principles” we adopt to facilitate our habitual escape from who we actually are and are actually doing or leaving undone.
Let us take another quick look at this aspect of psychological pain and pleasure. Since the security and fulfillment we each crave seldom materializes in full and as expected, if at all, we suffer not just particular frustrations, but also from an almost permanent state of dissatisfaction with our social status and the inter-personal and intra-psychic experience we actually have. In this yearning for a better state of consciousness, the same alternating current of pain and pleasure that attends to the satisfaction of the more fundamental needs of the physical organism is extended onto the psychological field. The problem with this is that in the realm of the psyche there is nothing as simple and effective as a scratch response to an itch stimulus, or the eat command issued by an authoritative hunger pang. Hope and desire promise a state of enduring psychological satisfaction, but cannot deliver it because it does not exist. Even when realized, the desires issued by fear and over-compensating ambition only lead to the next stage of the same fundamental dissatisfaction and insecurity that will, in turn, formulate the next hope for enduring security, certainty, and pleasure. This endlessly frustrated personal craving for psychological wellbeing and social/”spiritual” status is bad enough at the level of the individual life, but at the level of the species it is a historical tragedy—the tragedy of our permanent division, conflict, and alienation from the mystery of life.
Through the accumulation of symbolic representations of previous experience, the narratives of our presumed separate existence appear as extending back in time while all-along moving forward through the laborious spooling-out of what we desire in terms of achievement and destiny. Thought’s habitual recognition/deciphering, evaluation, and manipulation of what is actually occurring at every moment obscures the fact that the insertion of the human organism in life has a depth that goes infinitely beyond what we know, think, and hope. What is most familiar to us —what we know and, in fact, what we are— is a record of previous experience that desire and will extend almost indefinitely. However, this type of knowledge has very little to do with existence itself, and this is why a veritable mutation in consciousness occurs when there is a full insight into the nature and consequences of our alienation. The disconnection between the actual territory of life and the mental maps (the symbolic representations) with which we are all identified generates and sustains, at every moment, this alienation from the real ground of our existence and, with it, the hurtful psychological distance between us and the general conflictive division of the species as a whole.
Consider for an instant the possibility that the isolated and conditioned self is essentially a mental creation with no other reality than its deeply rooted identification with a given set of mental representations. Prominent among these are an arbitrary and enormously constricted sense of the physical organism and its cosmic insertion, and the gradually recorded and projected images and ideas (the memories and desires) constitutive of a phantom sense of separate personal existence. A host of familiar painful and pleasurable physical sensations is mechanically triggered by different states of mind and these sensations help corroborate the claim of distinct identity and existence.
Consider further the possibility that the seven billion plus human forms presently assumed by this arbitrary psychosomatic construct we all call “my” self, are blocking —in essentially the same manner— the manifestation of the unthinkably larger and undivided (impersonal and impartial) reality of life as a whole, organic and inorganic; manifest and non-manifest. The sense of vulnerable and sorrowful existential isolation that every human being feels, however obscurely or secretly, is the fundamental symptom of this alienation, but we generally fail to pay sufficient attention to suffering for fear that, in doing so, one may be straying away from the familiar realm of cultural tradition and personal experience: the known.
Thus, instead of dealing head on with the collective disease of personal isolation and the suffering it generates, we concentrate on personal symptoms of this general sorrow, and absurdly attempt to overcome them by achieving whatever measure of exclusive security and happiness may be described and prescribed by our contradictory hopes and fears. We are so mechanically inclined to pursue the projections of our limited experience and knowledge that we fail to see that in doing so we condemn ourselves to suffer and make others suffer, also contributing to the permanence of the whole mental disease.
A single, species-wide, phenomenon of self-reflective and self-projective accumulation of exclusive experience manifests in each one of us as the extremely dynamic illusion of being someone. Someone grounded in proprietary memories and greatly involved through hope and fear in the effort of becoming someone better or someone else altogether. Someone who lives hoping that others will eventually come to accept, admire, love, envy, or fear in recognition of his or her past, present, or future position in the sliding scales of beauty, strength, wealth, intellect, or spirit that every cultural context determines. What is even more paradoxical than our collective indifference to our constant division, conflict and grief, is that this bizarre sense of unique and self-modifying existence could so effectively obscure life itself, the ever-present matrix of our mental/physical presence.
We generally live and suffer in isolation and tend to rationalize both, the suffering and our loneliness without fully realizing that this is common lot to everyone. Everybody lives and suffers the same mind encapsulated in an idiosyncratic and self-projective mixture of tradition and experience. We all try very hard to free ourselves from loneliness, fear, and sorrow, but can never fully succeed because even our most clever and well-meaning plans do not go far enough. They do not consider that what is necessary is the collapse of the walls of psychological and tribal separation, and the terminal interruption of the demand for exclusive security and control from which new reasons to isolate, fight, and suffer interminably flow.
Anyone willing to look at the world and at himself seriously enough will inevitably come to see how, at every instant, the particular mental content and projected time we assume to be the fundamental reality of our existence takes precedence over the mysteriously all-encompassing flow of life and death. Our self-inflicted blindness remains only because we avoid systematically the impersonal and, and therefore impartial mental space in which this fearless and penetrating vision is, not just possible, but already present. In opting to stay uncritically with what we each particularly know, cherish, hate, desire, and fear, we fail to see our shared alienation from life and our steady participation and contribution to the permanent splintering and sorrow of humanity.
An awakened mind is one that sees the false division and very real strife and suffering curtailing and dulling the self-isolated human mind. In our personal mental attire, we are the collective conflictive separation that inexorably creates the interpersonal, social, and geopolitical darkness in which we have always lived, strived, and died, and this is the reason why, no one can have an awakened mind.
You have most probably wondered why the human mind, that seems so intelligent in certain areas and ventures, has remained incapable of a level of psychological and social change commensurate with the challenge posed by our chronic discord and suffering. Why is the connection between our alienation from the source of our common physical/mental being, and our inability to relate rationally, and therefore lovingly, with one another and with the ecosphere as a whole, not evident? Why do we go on trusting that the struggle to turn exclusive experience, knowledge, and faith into just as exclusive peace and happiness will eventually succeed, when it is patently clear that this endless battle can only produce new iterations of the same division, fear, and violence we have always known and suffered?
In other words, if the cruel reality created by our antagonistic identities can be readily traced to the way our particular experience and knowledge condition and isolate our thought and action, why do we insist in believing that further and “better” knowing, thinking, believing, and acting along the same egotistical and provincial lines will eventually solve our problems?
It is irrational to reduce the totality of existence —the being and nothingness of life as a whole, if you will— to just those characteristics of matter and mind different groups and individuals may contradictorily perceive and conceptualize at this, or at any other point, in time. What we still do not know and what may be entirely beyond the grasp of knowledge is infinitely larger than what we presently know, think we know, and hope to learn in the future. For example, while it might be abundantly clear that co-evolution has occurred and is still occurring in aspects of reality that the human brain/mind can perceive, name, measure, and to some extent inter-relate, the same phenomenon cannot be predicated as well of levels of reality much less readily accessible to our perceptual inspection, cognitive understanding, and manipulative intention. This restriction of the meaning and significance of the theory of evolution applies, not only to material “things” and phenomena seemingly impossible to fully detect and predict (for example, the behavior of the so-called elementary particles), but also to human consciousness itself. This, simply because while it is evident that our scientific knowledge and technological capacity have increased and evolved exponentially, it is just as evident that in many other essential respects the human mind remains as primitive as it was five or ten thousand years ago. Besides, a consciousness determined by its time-bound content can never come to know, assess, and improve itself in a manner free of limitation and prejudice.
Today we stand as far from a steady reality of peace and physical security for everyone as we ever have in the past. We have become so accustomed to placing ourselves and our vaunted intelligence at the service of exclusive interests, that we cannot see that improving our capacity to disregard, exploit, or destroy one another is completely irrational and will come back to haunt us. Given the deterministic and divisive character of knowledge and thought, there is no reason to believe that further enlargement and refinement of what we each know and think will ever improve significantly the quality of our mental state and our relationships with one another. Put the other way around, if there was any truth to the notion of human evolution towards greater intelligence, we would not still remain chronically and complacently divided by the recorded experience and projected desire that determine the sense of proprietary personal and tribal existence that is the root of our persistent and suffering lack of intelligence. The separate sectarian self, and its constant defense and expansion denies the possibility of relevant change because its very existence depends on the marginalization of most others and the negation of life as the common ground of all being.
Without access to this ground of undivided existence, humanity will remain unintelligent and therefore incapable of unity and peace. Who can believe anymore that the United Nations, the Catholic Church, or the sole super-power will ever bring about rationality, peace, and harmony to humankind? There is nothing “united” about sovereign nation states, as there is nothing catholic (universal) about the Catholic Church or any other religious tradition. While still prey of this systemic irrationality, the human species will continue to disintegrate, fight itself, and suffer and, given the damage it has already done to itself and the biosphere, it may not survive for long. To see the danger implicit is holding on to the false attachments and false hopes of an illusory personal and tribal existence is to act, and for reasons that ought to be obvious by now, this unprecedented action is free of any assessment of personal loss that would revert to the habitual muddle and procrastination of self-centered thought. Unity cannot come from separation, just as intelligence cannot come from stupidity, or good from evil. Immediate and full perception of this evident fact does not stop to think, it acts.
Psychological/tribal identification necessarily leaves the totality of life (that which is irreducible to knowledge) outside our sense of ourselves and of our reality as if it did not matter or even exist. Existence in personal isolation perpetuates the division, conflict, and suffering that point, in turn, indicative of the absence of the unifying truth in one’s experience of mind and life. For the same reason, if this tragic oversight is somehow undone by direct awareness of the actuality of the cosmic movement of life, then thought limits itself to the rational satisfaction of the basic needs of the organism, and this unthinkably spacious, impersonal, and affectionate awareness unfolds as the undivided mystery of life itself.
To be sure, this invitation to awaken to the limitations and dangers of exclusive psychological knowledge is not an endorsement of ignorance, naiveté, or plain obtuseness. The most fundamental freedom and intelligence easily concedes an essential place in life to thought and the type of objective, desire-less, practical knowledge necessary to safeguard the physical wellbeing and interdependent survival of human organisms. However, at a much higher level of freedom and intelligence there is no place for the absurdity of an isolated and permanently conflicted and hyperactive entity born from and sustained by mental identification with particular forms of knowledge. It is only by the light of this perception that the illusion of separate existence dissolves leaving front and center what its limited memory and self-serving cognitive reach had so persistently obscured: the mystery of undivided existence.
To come full circle, let us finish by saying that even though many of us may have some intuitive sense of the living totality pulsating beyond our cognitive reach, it is a terrible mistake to simply wait —again on the flimsy ground of personal hope— for full disclosure of its existence sometime in the future. Any theoretical assertion of the desirability of eventual communion with an unknowable reality should be instantly recognized and discarded as just another instance of egocentric, pie-in-the-sky thought seeking to isolate, protect, expand, and prolong itself. Evidently, the self that would find it interesting or convenient to try and gradually morph into whatever idea it may have acquired or concocted about the whole of existence is only projecting onto the future yet another modified, but still imaginary version of itself. It is precisely by abandoning any inclination for a preferred (or feared) outcome that a thorough and impartial self-examination puts in evidence the irrationality of the human mind conditioned by experience and its estrangement from the unthinkable unfoldment of existence as a whole. Learning, knowing, and thinking are mental functions that have and must retain an essential role in the practical problem solving necessary for the survival and wellbeing of the species but, again, they must not be the source of a false sense of separate personal existence necessarily insensitive to the mystery of the seamless presence of this species in life.
The shock of seeing directly the fact and consequences of self-centered and self-projecting separation eradicates from the mind the multiple and contradictory forms of pre-informed expectation that fuel the interminable process of self-centered becoming. A mind fully aware of the fractured condition of the species and the danger its unchecked continuity poses to the fate of humanity and the rest of the biosphere is an impersonal mind, a mind free of psychological time and therefore free of fears and the labors of self-serving dreams. (94)
Honesty demands that “I” see myself completely and as I really am, and what this thorough vision reveals is that I am essentially the same as everyone else in body as well as mind. Not only am I a physical organism that is nearly identical to everyone else’s, but that is quite similar to that of other animal species. Moreover, like every other organism that has ever lived and will ever live, I cannot opt out of the basic characteristics and stages of its life cycle, nor escape its seamless cosmic insertion. Whatever and whomever is born must labor to feed and protect a physical organism whose very nature is to thrive, reproduce, age, and die. It is particular to us, human beings, to enjoy and suffer this life cycle in a cosmic environment our minds cannot ever fully experience or comprehend.
Honesty also makes evident that the brain/mind “I” call mine is a peculiar, but nonetheless integral part of the material universe; one that has been deeply conditioned by the general record of the evolutionary experience of the species and the more evident and reactive trace left by more particular cultural and biographical experience. No one can reasonably claim to have a brain/mind that does not bear the imprint of this multi-layered experiential conditioning or that stands, even marginally, from the cosmic unfoldment of life. It is in this fundamental sense that we are the same.
“I” am a sexual being, like everyone else; and like everyone else, I suffer from loneliness, insecurity, and other kinds of psychological fear. “I” am as attached to whatever I deem lovable and important as anyone else; and my identity depends greatly on these attachments, as is the case with them and theirs. Envy, ambition, jealousy, hatred, and concealed or overt violence are not foreign to me, as I suspect they are not to anyone else either. “I” look around and see everybody pursuing their particular pleasures and loves and doing whatever they can to avoid or stave off discomfort, pain, sorrow and death, just as I do. “I” can be overly fond of my rationalizations and the absurdly idealized projections I make of myself, and I can easily see everyone else being equally fond of theirs. We all suffer the insecurity produced by our presumed physical, psychological, and cultural isolation, and we all similarly attempt to overcome this insecurity by strengthening and expanding the walls that presently distance us from one another, and by cultivating fantasies of personal/tribal power, liberation, virtue, fame, or transcendence that only extend these walls into the future.
Honesty —sanity is perhaps a better word— is naturally humbling. It makes plain that each one of us is like everyone else; unique only in a very superficial and comparative manner that misses the miracle of shared existence. Practice and discipline are never the way to honesty and humility; in fact, the very effort to become gradually honest and humble is an indication of their absence. The claim to a separate and distinct self is crushed by the revelation of its false nature and awful consequences, and this radical mental revolution is in itself the honesty and humility without which the plenitude of life undivided is just a nice idea, not an actuality. (95)
When the superficial consciousness is relatively idle, the psychic field is often flooded by images and ideas coming seemingly out of nowhere —certainly without any summons from the executive who presumes to be in control of mental operations. Once on stage, most of these figments (though interestingly not all) can be recognized as echoes and re-combinations of previous experience and learning, but they remain far from docile to commands issued by the center, the “me” now back from break and straining to re-cognize them. The capricious autonomy of day dreaming is very much like that of its nocturnal sibling, and we often relate in the same way to the extravagant displays of both—as though they were curious externalities only peripherally related to us, the mental capos acknowledging them not without a certain unease. “What are these crazy images and thoughts, anyway? Why can “I” not get them to go away or be and do what I want them to be and do? Are they part of me, or what?”
One of the main characteristics of thought is that it isolates, compares, measures, evaluates, and appropriates anything it can name and subsequently re-cognize by checking it against the record of previous experience. Another important trait of thought is that what it does externally with things and events it also does internally with intra-psychic constructs and events. As it puts together a particular version of the world through the accumulation of countless images and concepts, thought also comes to know itself; that is, it becomes divided within and self-reflective. A dominant fragment or layer of thought identifies itself as the thinker, thus taking the distance necessary to claim a unique existence over and above the world, and even the knowledge and thinking, it deems “external” and subservient to it. The division of the function of thought along the lines of specialized, practical knowledge could have simply served the satisfaction of common human needs, unfortunately it did not stop there. the Quite early on, this instrumental differentiation of the brain/mind begun to serve preferentially the exclusive interests —the psychological fantasies and ambitions— of particular “me” entities gathered in exclusive groups that stood increasingly in oppositional contrast to other similar groups made distinct by their own divisive identity.
Once the split between center and periphery was well established in the human mind, the centric “me” started to assert the false claim of separate existence and autonomous control of the development of knowledge and the direction and general operation of thought. Of course, this presumption of separate being and managerial control of thinking continues to be expressed to this day with little if any consideration for thought’s deep and common roots in general and particular human culture, and almost completely ignoring the ultimate source of mind —and human consciousness within mind— in the entire cosmic evolution of life and beyond. In other words, the idiosyncratic mental differentiation gained by the human organism, so intelligent and necessary in certain areas and respects, became an outright liability to itself and others as it became increasingly self-serving. Self-centeredness has dulled the human mind to the fact that the “person” does not exist in and of itself, that it is only a particular combination of images and ideas (of traditional and personal knowledge) predating its birth. Worst of all, self-centered thought is tragically unaware that its presence implies alienation from life.
The encapsulation of knowledge/thought/desire in different and often opposed groups and individuals determines, at the level of the species, diminished sensitivity, contradictory and rigid thinking, conflictive relationship, and erroneous or insufficient action. Given that thought is a memory-based, problem-solving mental function capable of visualizing future outcomes and of effecting their realization, its tight identification with self-propelled psychological and tribal entities also guarantees the largely unquestioned continuity of egotism. The pretense of free and righteous agency contradictorily claimed and asserted by every group and every “one” upholds through time the collective belief in different forms of on-going religious and secular progress. It also makes the chatter of thought a permanent and impertinent presence in the mind every “me” proudly claims as private property.
It is incorrect to say, “I think,” because the self is a creation of thought, not the other way around. What we all take to be “my” private thought is really a trivial reflection of a massive mental phenomenon that secures its own permanence through the constant generation of different groups integrated and energized by the fantasy of independent thinkers permanently engaged in their own development. We —the multiple creations and largely compliant vehicles of the general system of thought— naively assume that our personal doing, learning, achieving, acquiring, feeling, and believing are the expression of freedom and creativity. In fact, they are the outcome of very limited and uniform forms of cultural and biographical experience meeting actual events and circumstances and reacting to them in very mechanical, predetermined ways. Alliances formed at every level of every society with the intent of attaining the exclusivity and pleasure granted by prestige, profit, and power routinely disregard others aspects of life, as well as the fundamental needs and basic rights of other human beings, all of which is less a sign of freedom and creativity than of insensitivity and irrationality. The entity that claims independent existence and the power to subject to its will a world of external objects and internalized ideas is, by virtue of the same delusion, unwilling to see itself for what it is. Namely, an automaton obediently following the commands of the particularly toxic form of mental constriction that has come to control what most human beings foolishly call “my” brain.
Is this a preposterous statement? How could we possibly be largely indistinct manifestations of a mostly robotic general consciousness? Well, this take on the nature of the personal self is not an article of faith. It is up to whomever is concerned about the truth to check whether every one of us is an idiosyncratic mixture of generic instincts, emotions, and psychological attributes that only manage to stand out as “me” in loaded comparison with those claimed by others. Who can reasonably claim exception to being, mentally, a particular constellation of memories gathered over the lifetime of the organism? We may differ from one another in certain details (to which we grant exaggerated importance because in doing so we get to claim particular identity and a separate act of existence), but in a much more fundamental way we represent a collective phenomenon of mental representation of experience that hides itself through the artifice of plural personality and experience. The real issue is whether there is no alternative to merely being who we think we are. If this is not the case, then who are we? Are we something other than a collective illusion or nothing at all?
Although generally quite stable, personal and tribal characteristics can change over time—sometimes dramatically, if these changes reflect the rejection of difficult physical or mental circumstances, or if they are the outcome of intense ambition. However, because personal change is, by definition, restricted to the parameters determined by tradition and prospective memory, it never goes far enough. Thought and will may occasionally modify certain aspects of personal conditioning, but they cannot ever be factors in the complete elimination of this conditioning in the psychology of the individual and the very circuitry of the brain. For example, one may stop indulging in a particular habit through someone else’s warning about its deleterious physical or psychological effects.
The same outcome may accrue from intense feelings of guilt and shame stemming from a pre-existing moral judgment about this habit. At a deeper and more complex level, new commitments may replace habitual, long-standing commitments to a religious tradition, a political affiliation, a particular career path, or a “significant other.” However, important as some of these changes might be, they leave untouched the self’s permanent existential dependency on intrinsically limited memory-based attachments and the harmful chauvinistic and egotistical behavior that emanates from them. Periodic and progressive changes in the cultural/psychological identification of the self are only part of what sustains an illusory sense of existential separation based almost exclusively on symbolic representation. There is no actual, independent person, only the incessant movement of a collective and blindly self-centered movement of thought.
Insight comes from the simple willingness to look beyond the false safety and absurd arrogance characteristic of our respective, ascribed or chosen, modes of self-isolation. Insight unveils the reality of division, disorder, violence, and suffering created by thought while at the service of a false, and falsely evolving personal identity. The same unveiling makes manifest the mystery of life undivided that is the source of insight. Humanity can only find integration, that is, common ground, through freedom from the illusion of egocentric and ethnocentric separation, and this freedom can only come seeing things completely and just as they are. (96)
Success is not a personal or a collective achievement. It is not the capacity to demonstrate to others one’s superiority in any given field of endeavor. Success is not what calculated association with some and dissociation from others may yield. Looking up to some while looking down on others, and away from most, is not an indication of success, but of dependency and insensitivity.
Success lies rather in personally yielding to a perception of the sectarian egotism characteristic of human reality that is so acute, accurate and complete that it frees that particular brain/mind from further participation in that reality.
Success sees, and may help others see that all the honor anyone needs is already fully present in simply partaking of life that being all there is, is common to all. Life does not divide and rank aspects of itself; being whole and unimaginably creative it does not lean back towards an idealized past or move forward to reach an equally idealized future. Success lies in being nothing but life. (97)
There is no particular escape plan from limitation and sorrow that has ever worked or will ever work, because the plans we conceive and the efforts we make to escape only serve to prolong the same mental bind. The self is its own prison cell, and the process of becoming, its life sentence. To surrender to this fundamental impotence, to see the truth in our ignorance —our ignorance of the truth— is to be turned inside out and devoured by a vital force that moves infinitely beyond the serial instances of pain, pleasure, conflict, and fear that we have always known as our personal lives, as our-selves. (98)
The human brain is conditioned by the entire experience of the species and, as in every other brain, in this particular brain (index finger pointing to “my”/”your” head) this conditioning includes the dominant presence of a personal entity that, being overwhelmingly identified with a particular and self-projective biographical narrative, thinks itself separate and special. The experience of painful vulnerability characteristic of an isolated mind seems good enough reason to doubt that this condition is healthy, or that it represents the only possible mode of human consciousness. There is clearly something seriously lacking or seriously wrong with a mind whose intelligence, obvious in certain fields, is tragically inoperative in other, more significant realms of life and, most importantly, in its general incapacity to perceive its permanent disorder and suffering as the tragic byproduct of its alienation from existence as a whole.
Whatever “I” (or anyone else) claim to see and know about life is hardly related to what life as a whole might actually be, therefore the possibility of a direct contact with the totality must require that the most restrictive and damaging aspects of psychological, cultural, and trans-personal human experience lose their tenacious hold on the brain/mind.
Does this mean that freedom from the general bias and other limitations of conditioned psychological isolation is necessarily equivalent to a mental field concurrent with life itself? Vital as it is, there is a significant problem with this question because if we can only experience and desire according to what we already know, then the truth of the totality is forever out of the limited reach of the human mind, both personal and collective. Nevertheless, it is precisely awareness of the impotence of the intellect shaped by and held captive in its own knowledge and desire that, in blocking further movement of thought, brings about an unprecedented mental transformation. ‘Transformation’ is an inadequate term in this context, however, because awareness of terminal personal incapacity is not yet another transition from one psychological form or state to another, but rather an abrupt rupture in the habitual continuity of self-centered thought. Full insight into the terminal barrenness of the separate and conditioned mind ends the process of assertive personal becoming without which the dysfunctional mental and social system in which we still live begins to unravel and turn into a subtle reality that thought can never discern.
No one can “know” what a mind free of fixed content ―a mind free of self― might be because such mind would be devoid of self-reflecting knowledge and intention and, therefore, essentially formless, though extraordinarily aware. And if there is anything we can say about life as a whole, it is that it too is essentially unconditioned, without particular form, indivisible and, therefore, unknowable. Thus, a clear perception of our psychological presence as the permanent and perplexing absence of the unknowable is, in its blasting away of the self with its limited and limiting knowledge, the manifestation of the mystery of undivided life. (99)
If what is going on in one’s mind from moment to moment is duly attended to, it soon becomes apparent that everything that comes up, willed or not, is a residue of transpersonal, tribal, and strictly biographic experience. Even the more subtle and further extrapolated aspects of consciousness (imagination, intuition, and creativity) are informed by previous experience and the projection of relatively minor modifications of this experience through fear or desire. The thinker, the personal self, is nothing but a dominant aspect of memory-based thought reacting to actual experience. Now, if the “me” is no different from the contents of consciousness and their projection in mental time, then not only is there nothing anyone can do to directly improve or transcend this state of consciousness, but there is no individual self in control of much of anything.
What occurs to the mind when the illusion of the autonomous, commanding self becomes apparent? And even more to the point, what would occur if there were less and less sectarian and egocentric selves contradictorily attempting to “improve” their situation to suit their own taste and advantage? Would the human condition continue to be what it is now? Would there not be a seismic shift in the character of human reality if everywhere enough individuals started to “disappear” culturally and mutate psychologically from the shock of seeing the falseness and harm of their respective forms of self-projective secular and religious identification? Isolation, greed, aggression, and sorrow would most definitely stop ruling the Earth in the absence of the impostor who has all along accepted these miseries as the cost of complying with the mandate to become “better” within the norms of cultural conformity and in comparison with others, who for that reason have to be proven inferior and treated accordingly. (100)
A dispassionate and deep enough observation of oneself exposes the common characteristics of our humanity. First, there is the half-conscious imprint left in the brain by the evolutionary experience of the species as a whole. There is, secondly, the seemingly indelible mark left by the selective internalization of tribal norms and mores throughout the long process of socialization of the individual that peer pressure and the inner urge to conform continuously police. Lastly, there is the more readily available imprint of a host of particular memories related to positive and negative (pleasurable and painful) psychological experience. This uppermost mental record left by direct experience provides the conscious self with its most recognizable character and its most readily available script. Among many other components, it includes a particular set of gradually morphing defensive, offensive, and charm maneuvers essential in the search for the ever-elusive modicum of security conferred by status and other various forms of psychological and physical defense and pleasure.
The knowledge and thought necessary for practical problem-solving and basic interaction with other human beings are an integral part of the cultural and biographical conditioning of the brain/mind; however, this aspect of memory/thought is essentially impersonal, and thus it cannot be easily appropriated by anyone in exclusivity. Unfortunately, even though specialized knowledge and practical skill are impersonal components of the conditioned psyche, more often than not they are displayed and treated as attributes of personal identity meriting higher social status and unreasonable recompense and privilege. This privatized use of functional knowledge is most prevalent in the elites of most modern societies that instruct their young to make professional expertise and performance central to their identity, while relegating being —participation in existence— to a hardly noticeable position in what they each “their” life.
It is impossible to see ourselves clearly if we cannot distinguish between the more objective and practical knowledge (that we cannot do without), and the images and ideas with which we subjectively “know” the self and others (both particular individuals and particular groups or societies), and that we would do a lot better without. Impersonal knowledge is a prerequisite to proper social participation, whereas sectarian and psychological knowledge desensitizes the mind and produces the biased isolation, affective limitation, and reactive aggression that by undercutting relationship and ignoring the plenitude of life is responsible for our suffering.
The body, including the brain of course, is an actuality, but the psychological being that has somehow burrowed into the material substratum of the brain is clearly representational, not actual. It depends for its existence and action on the flimsiness of past memory and on memory’s ability to project itself through positive and negative desire onto a similarly non-actual (equally representational) future. Strangely, this distinction between what is mental and what is actual is hardly ever a matter of investigation. Our identification with tribal ideologies, personal narratives, and manufactured appetites (both physical and psychological) is so intensely immediate and demanding that we do not pay enough attention to its negative impact on the actual quality of our relationship with others and with life as a whole.
If you insult “me”, the sound of your voice entering the ears and reaching the brain is an actuality, a presently occurring physical phenomenon. However, what a second later might be a frightened or hostile reaction on “my” part is the mechanical product of a set of images and ideas describing who “I” think I am, and who I think “you” are and how you ought to behave in regards to my self-image. If the brain/mind were free of self-referential symbolic representations of this sort, your possibly harsh and humiliating words or, alternatively, your expression of adulation and praise, while attentively listened to and properly understood, would have no psychological impact meriting a defensive, offensive, or overly pleased reaction leaving its own memory footprint.
“I” ask myself, how do I know that I exist, and the answer is full of all the stories and opinions that I hold about my self, others, and the world at large. In fact, there is not a lot more to me than these impressionistic, mostly false mental constructs. Proof of this is that in those rare occasions that “I” do not stand in comparison, opposition, or open conflict with myself, others, and life itself, I am hardly there. (A little discussed but even more radical absence, not just of the self, but of the entire reality created by personal/tribal consciousness occurs in deep sleep.) Conversely, “I” am most painfully self-conscious when feeling psychologically insecure and, therefore fearful, needy, and perhaps hostile as well. Heightened self-consciousness clearly represents a division within the psyche between the entity that is aware (“me”) and whatever the internal or external object upsetting this awareness might be. When it becomes evident that “I” am angry, happy or unhappy, frightened, dissatisfied, jealous, bored, depressed, or anxious, I have already split myself off from whatever the active experiencing might have been. At the instant in which something is actually occurring —for example, anger or fear—no independent observer is present. The presence of the observer manifests as a necessarily pre-informed but ex-post-facto positive or negative response to what has just occurred extra or intra-psychically. Charged reactions to actual intra- or extra-psychic experience always come after and from outside the experience, as it were, and express the emotional charge and the fixed ideology of previous experience.
The actual fact is your voice calling “me” an idiot. It may also be something a lot subtler than an audible insult. A peculiar gesture or just a certain look on your face interpreted as a reluctance to grant me the attention “I” crave may be all the evidence I need of you branding me an idiot, even if that is the farthest thing from your mind. Humiliation and anger erupt in whatever form previous experience may determine, followed instantly by an inner voice (also unrelated to the actual experience) declaring: “I am angry.” A second later, the same voice might say, “I should not be experiencing angry feelings, they are not coherent with my sense of being a moral, cool, or enlightened person.” Or, alternatively, “I have every right to be annoyed and to react this way because if I do not let this person (this idiot) know how I feel right now, s/he will continue thinking that I am an idiot.”
We say that a given fact or event is ex-perienced which implies that the self is outside and entirely other than what is actually happening at every instant. The self-centered mental process mechanically perceiving and reacting on the basis of predetermined information and preset intention blocks full perception, not just of the incontrovertible reality of actual events, but also of the human condition as a whole. The enormous limitation and bias of dualistic perception and reaction go unchallenged for the simple reason that the identity and very existence of the person depend on them to be what they are taken to be. What little “I” know and believe is who I am. It is also the means (the ideas, opinions, and plans) with which I defend and project myself as I go about relating to other human beings and everything else.
Let us imagine now that “I” make fun of “you” because I think you are ugly and your clothing unfashionable. Whether I intend to hurt you feelings or not with my comments, it is clear that I cannot laugh at your appearance unless I am comparing you with some image of what I think your appearance should be. This means, of course, that I am not sensitive to the fact that there is no alternative to the way you look when I happen to lay eyes on you and react mechanically with some silly or outright cruel remark. The contrast between the actuality of your appearance and the idea of the way you ought to look clearly reflects that I am seeing from a distance that does not exist and through the opaque lens of prejudice. This pre-existing idea in my head has, of course, a lot more to do with my lack of attention and petty malice than with the unfathomable phenomenon of your presence in the psychic field—let alone your presence within life that, being all-inclusive and actual, is antithetical to the fundamentally exclusive, time-bound, and idea-based self.
Let us take this example one step further. Let us say that it happens that “you” are well aware that, according to the dominant cultural standards, your face does not rank well and your attire does not match mainstream expectations, but that since you do not in the least identify with those standards and expectations, my derisive words do not have any effect. Since you have no idealized self-image and no predetermined comparative reaction to other people’s possible neurotic claims, your mind is as impermeable to humiliation and hurt as it is incapable of retaliatory aggression.
Psychological offense is only possible if previous personal knowledge (identity) remains engaged in a highly defended process of idealized self-projection. In this mental stance, the blame for what torments the self goes automatically, not to the conditioned, divided, and intensely self-reflective and reactive psyche where it actually belongs, but rather to the affronts it may receive from another person perceived as comparatively alien and hostile to the self. If “I” think anything about myself, any word or action on your or anyone else’s part that does not take into consideration or, worse, that actively disparages the images and ideas I have constructed about myself, will inevitably make me suffer. If “you” chose instead to adulate me by praising this same overwrought notion of myself, I may become infatuated and dependent on you for further praise. Needless to say, the resulting combination of your possible manipulative intent and my lack of attention will soon have us both walking together down a relational minefield.
Psychologically, we are isolated deposits of previous experience that crave the pleasure of praise and fear the pain of humiliation with the same obstinate intensity. This alternating current of desire and fear cannot help but usher in conflict and sorrow while simultaneously disregarding what is actually going on at every moment. What is true of preset bias in our relationship with others is true as well of our relationship with ourselves, because the simultaneous presence of self-indulgent and self-critical images divides and conflicts the psyche, generating confusion, anxiety, pleasure, frustration, and pain. To make matters worse, the self sustains its separate identity by granting itself whatever imaginary time it may deem necessary to comply with the gradual realization of an idealized image of itself. The efforts made on behalf of this realization are usually steadily boycotted by resistance stemming from other aspects of the psyche intent on contradictory goals, or simple protection of the status quo. The battle between the memory-based self and the simultaneously fearful and ambitious projections it makes of itself, accounts for much of the dysfunctional mental and relational reality in which we party, work, suffer, and finally die.
Only minds free of the influence of past, present, or future personal versions of themselves are immune to hurt and conflict and, therefore, capable of full, undivided, moment-by-moment attention and truly creative action. There is no other intelligence and no other love than this impersonal attention, and unless a critical mass of human beings stop being involved in the insensitive racket of being and becoming, there is no bright future for humanity. (101)
A pervasive melancholy may come with the realization that actions informed and propelled by memory/desire will never eradicate or significantly alleviate the afflictions that are the natural outcome of their exclusive cultural and psychological source. The belief that there must be a solution to every problem is part of our mental programming, and so it is natural that we would react with an especially heavy heart to evidence of our incapacity to solve the fundamental problem posed by our own overreaching insularity. It is sad indeed that despite thousands of years of every imaginable type of discovery, reform, and revolution, the sorrows of loneliness, insecurity, corruption, anxiety, violence, and other psychological ills are still very much with us, regardless of who we are, and where and how we live. The technological progress of humanity has been extraordinary, yet even in the most scientifically and technologically advanced nations there is hardly any evidence of truly significant psychological and social progress. Disorder, banality, and sorrow are everywhere.
We have not evolved as much as we generally like to think we have, and we hate to admit it. We abhor seeing in the chronic nature of our most critical psychological and social problems, irrefutable proof of our incapacity to change ourselves and our behavior. And this unwillingness to see our selves for who we really are tragically sustains our participation in secular and religious efforts aimed at predetermined goals of gradual self-improvement and social development deployed in an endlessly futile reaction to the failure or insufficiency of similar previous efforts.
The pursuit of exclusive fixes to personal suffering and cultural disorder are forever condemned to fail because the root cause of all that ails us lies in the psychological distance we have created within ourselves, between one another, and between ourselves and the wholeness of life. The self-isolating and pre-programmed mind can only be and remain what it thinks it is by associating with some people and disassociating from most others, and this odious discrimination leaves all of us equally caught in the same bitter pursuit of exclusive security, power, and pleasure. Nothing but acrimony and suffering can be the outcome of a universal culture of personal egotism and tribal chauvinism, yet this same culture persists throughout the world by means of the multiple pseudo solutions with which the same provincial selfishness projects itself in mental and chronological time.
A full insight into the state of our personal and collective mind operates by exposing and thereby destroying the illusion of gradual psychological and cultural perfectibility on which the whole rotten system depends to survive. Put the other way around, the deeply ingrained propensity to identify and buttress ourselves with particular methods of personal and social development promising greater pleasure/status and the avoidance, diminishment, or outright escape from suffering cannot survive a clear and complete perception of the wrongheadedness and ultimate futility of this propensity.
All that we need to see is that the dangers and sorrows of separation cannot ever find a conclusive solution from projects conceived and implemented from within the same separation. However, this perception of the impotence of the self must be complete and irreversible. If even a glimmer of predetermined hope remains, self-centered thought will just continue rolling along, determined to find a solution for its multiple psychological and relational problems through improved compliance with equally barren existing or revamped methods. (102)
Another year is ending, and everyone is expected to voice a general message of hope for the New Year to family, friends, and whoever else may happen to be standing near. The din of celebration is everywhere as different groups gather to express, in earnest or not, a common expectation that things will be better in the future than they have been in the past. So why not join the chorus of well-wishers? There are several good reasons to restrain oneself, central among them the wishful thinking on which the celebration rests. A glance at a calendar may suffice to predict certain change in the weather, but suffering is not like that; it does not appear or disappear according to preset convention. The most basic solidarity with the countless victims of war, injustice, and poverty, illness and loss, also recommends end of year restraint; their pain and sorrow will not abate just because it is the dawn of a new year.
It can be argued that this is a silly argument presenting an even sillier position, because no one in his right mind expects change to follow a conventional call to merriment issued mostly for merriment’s sake. However, this counterargument misses the fundamental point made here. Different groups and individuals do project onto the new year relatively small variations of their present realities that, being exclusive and often opposed to one another, will inevitably bring about new instances of the same conflict and grief that regularly makes people project onto the future new but still contradictory or outright opposed forms of hope.
Hope in resurrection, hope in reincarnation, hope in “my” nation achieving regional or world supremacy, and hope in “me” finding fulfillment by winning the lottery, finding the perfect mate, or experiencing the best drunk; they all emerge from the same conditioned and divisive mindset. Which is why any person aware of the damaging effect isolated memory and self-serving desire have in human affairs naturally shuns the deceptive rose-tinted glasses of personal and tribal hope. It is only freedom from the bias and absurd expectations of any particular point of view, that is capable of seeing the world and the self with independence and objectivity and, thus, also integrally.
Again, unwillingness to join in mindless traditional celebrations does not imply incapacity to socialize or feel joy and, much more importantly, insistence on freedom from biased interpretations and biased projections is not an indication of a morose and uncharitable spirit. In a mind aware of the chronic crisis in human consciousness and the resulting disorder and suffering in the world, there is simply no place for even slight expressions of self-centered and provincial thought. Perception of the on-going absence of unity, peace, love, and truth is one with the negation of the familiar self-projective isolation that sustains that absence, even when hope and celebration mask its divisiveness and indifference. A mind free of proprietary hope is not a despairing mind but a timeless and therefore free, selfless, and loving mind. Just as the presence of exclusive hope is the hallmark of a separate entity bent on fulfilling its particular fantasies of self-realization, its absence is the emergence of a mind free from the restrictions and projections of personal and tribal memory, and therefore capable of acute perception and truly caring action. (103)
There is a single system of human thought, and its most salient characteristic is its division into several billion personal incarnations that, while slightly different from one another, equally serve to hide and sustain the dysfunction of the general system. In other words, we all assume to be living private lives and thinking private thoughts, when in reality it is through this naïve assumption that self-centered thought as a collective and greatly dysfunctional mental system manages to protect and preserve itself. Instead of endeavoring to find security and wellbeing for the human organism through the natural intelligence of unity and collaborative, thought most unreasonably sustains a great diversity of personal and tribal entities all equally addicted to the illusion of exclusive self-fulfillment, and therefore jointly condemned to live in a permanent state of insecurity, competition, and outright conflict. Needless to say, within this intrinsically flawed system, all initiatives aimed at attaining a better state of affairs socially and psychologically are only an integral component of the same general mindset, paradoxically the one most responsible for securing its fundamentally unchanged continuity in time.
Within the isolation of personal thought, it is quite common for us to feel that, if only this or that were to happen or could be achieved then “I” would be much better off mentally, socially and, perhaps, also spiritually. In the secrecy of our minds, we also commonly blame many of our problems, failures, and sorrows on our personal inability to procure, in competition or outright battle with others, the particular measure of certainty, power, pleasure, and general self-fulfillment we feel we need and deserve. There is no rest and no real success in this mad collective struggle for exclusive happiness we dare call life, because even when somehow capable of manipulating our lives and the lives of others well enough to procure for ourselves a sizable measure of the security and happiness we all commonly crave, this achievement is never lasting. Nor is it ever good and sizable enough to completely blot out of our minds the general malaise that comes from our fear of failure and our general estrangement from life. The occasional attainment of what we personally want in terms of status and pleasure merely serves to strengthen the psychological, cultural, and existential alienation responsible for the insecurity, disharmony, and sorrow that is everyone’s lot.
For eyes willing to see, it is clear than none of the secular and religious plans concocted by the human mind to achieve worldly or otherworldly success can ever deliver —here and now— the secure and pleasant state of mind they assume is possible. Ideological constructs have never managed to free individuals or particular groups, let alone the species as a whole, from divisiveness, discordance, and fear. And they will never be able to do so in the future for the simple reason that they are, just like our personal psyches, representational, multiple, contradictory, conflicted, and conflictive. The impasse is general and nearly impregnable. No matter how strong and well intended, our efforts cannot override the presence of exclusive memory determining the psychological and physiological operation of the brain. And yet, an acute realization of this fundamental impotence of thought and willful effort may free the mind/brain by annulling in a single blow the pursuit of further installments of self-fulfillment.
Do not take anyone’s word for any of this. Any version of this argument is, in the end, irrelevant if the words and concepts used in its presentation fail to trigger a direct perception of the actualities to which it points. The pertinent and actual details that will give specificity and real life to the abstract and general picture sketched here can only be found in the way you actually think, feel, and relate with others and the world at every moment.
We will continue to suffer and make others suffer for as long as we hold on to the insane conviction that we exist in separation from one another and that life is just the stage on which we play out our conflicting personal narratives while marching in lockstep towards a commonly abhorred death. How much longer must we blind ourselves to the tragedy of a fragmented and antagonistic humanity drunk on false conjecture and selfish expectation? The ground of our existence is not in self-centric and tribal consciousness, but in life as a whole. (104)
The substitution of the unthinkable actuality of life by what we each remember, learn, and desire is the main source of our isolation from one another. The larger truth is not a matter of concern for entities living within self-centered and provincial realities each convinced of itself as the truth. In the circumscribed and far more “manageable” reality of the sectarian self, all that matters is the narrative of identity that unfolds guided by the pursuit of the greater security and well-being most desirable to each instance of person, family, clan, and tribe. In the general context of the species as a whole, the importance granted to the exclusive ownership of money, knowledge, belief, and status —the axis of separate identity— spells a concomitant blindness to our common and anonymous participation in being. In other words, our ethnocentric and egocentric versions of reality are so dense and dominant that they are able to obscure what is present in all and in the same measure: the mystery of life beyond form.
Again, the concepts used to present the fact of selfless participation in the mystery of undivided life can be easily rejected if this participation is not directly perceived, and the terms used seen as depicting instead a foolish religious fantasy, which it is not, or as a terminal threat to our psychological security, which it certainly is. Direct, unmediated perception of this fact occurs when that same perception dissolves the one who would make an idea of it and then think about this idea, while the fact of undivided participation slips away through doubt, postponement, or rejection.
A powerful and insistent sense that there is more to life than what little we personally know, experience, and covet does lead to the realization that the larger and deeper reality that may be somehow beckoning us cannot be approached with the reductive categorization of our perennially insecure and avaricious intellects. Because of what it is, life offers no psychological protection, let alone social status. Its all-encompassing presence demands the rejection of all the abstract functional divisions and hierarchical comparative distinctions and ambitions characteristic of human thought and its illusion of separate personal existence.
We are not isolated instances of being standing inside or outside of life. Now, if this is just another theoretical affirmation and not an actuality, then we are back to questioning if our trivial biographies encased within the equally petty histories and traditions of our respective tribes are all there is and will ever be to life. (105)
“I” cannot find myself; I cannot tell myself apart from the geyser of images, ideas, and emotions spurting almost randomly from the inscrutable depths of the different levels of memory shared by everyone: pre-historical, historical/cultural, and biographical. I am just one of the several billion highly subjective narratives with which the very recent past of the generic self-centered human organism identifies. Like everyone else, I use a personal story to distinguish myself from others and, even worse, to tell myself apart from the rest of existence, actual and potential. Who am I and why do I labor, fret, and suffer so intensely? Why am I hurt, for example, when other human organisms identified with preferences, aversions, and peculiar ambitions that make up their own life stories, so consistently treat me, not according to who I think and feel I am and am planning to become, but rather according to what they think and feel about themselves, their reality, and last of all, me? Is not the protection and enhancement of their present and future image of themselves the essential purpose of their overt or covert disregard, manipulative behavior, or outright aggression? Much more to the point, am “I” not customarily behaving in exactly the same way towards them? (106)
Despite all our strident claims to personal uniqueness we are, without exception, the outcome of a cumulative process of experiential data collection that has, over millennia, given general shape and a common orientation to the human brain and psyche. The rather vehement way in which each one of us seeks, way beyond survival, specific forms of personal fulfillment, is one of the most salient aspects of this collective and self-sustaining mental programming. Without cumulative and specialized learning and the capacity to project the future, we would not have survived. However, this mental capacity has become so beholden to particular physical and psychological interests, and so indifferent to the fundamental needs of great sectors of humanity and the delicate balance of life on the planet, that a life of almost permanent dissatisfaction, anxiety, and conflict is now our common lot. It is heartening to know that the slow, co-evolutive development of our visionary intelligence once made possible our survival in times of great pressure from the elements and other species. However, today we must confront that this same intelligence has splintered beyond all reason, thus unleashing an ever-growing wave of greedy recklessness and a turbulent reaction from the rest of the biosphere that, in our day, has placed humanity back in great jeopardy.
The experience of loss, frustration, and sorrow of any one person or group is almost invariably related to the experience of gain, power, and pleasure of others. And the relentless “progress” of certain groups and individuals almost inevitably elicits passive or violent resistance from those they leave behind or, worse, turn into mere instruments of their exclusive “right” to the pursuit of power, pleasure, and happiness. In other words, our common claim to the fulfillment of exclusive material and psychological goals irrational, and cruelly justifies inducing or forcing others to behave in ways that propitiate the realization of our desires by denying, not just their own, but often enough also the satisfaction of even their most fundamental needs.
Being equal inheritors to the conditioning of the human brain by particular experience, practically no one is innocent of self-serving desire and its consequences. Even young children show a marked proclivity to cheat, humiliate, and abuse one another when they play or when placed in a situation in which adults expect them to collaborate. As adults we are, of course, much more adept at disassociating from and hiding from selected others odious thought, feelings, and behaviors. In one way or another, and whether we chose to know it or not, most of us are engaged in the practice of objectifying others in order to satisfy our ambitions, especially if these ambitions are perceived as being perfectly respectable because they serve the presumably exceptional secular or religious ideology corroborating our personal identity and world view. It is only the hatred and violence of those not chosen by the proper god or the right political system that is objectionable, and therefore deserving of the most hateful and violent punishment.
The problem is not only that what we do to fulfill unjust and neurotic claims brings harm to others. Much worse is that that our ambitions and methods are such an important aspect of our identity and very sense of personal existence that we resist acknowledging their consequences and fear parting with them as if to do so was equivalent to death itself. The self-centered mind will generally avoid a full insight into this whole situation, even when its responsibility for both the tragic crib to crypt battle we have made of life and the unwillingness to own up to it has become evident. Insight will certainly cost you “your” life and me “mine,” but the mind that is no longer bound by the effort and strife characteristic of particular being and exclusive becoming —the mind that being free of self is also free of conflict and sorrow— is what humanity, and the Earth itself, desperately need.
What will make us challenge the nonsensical and increasingly dangerous claim to a separate existence, along with our equally absurd dedication to the struggle that the satisfaction of irrational desires demands? Would an undivided mind, a mind free of personal identity and the indentured service to that identity not be, by necessity, the loving embrace of life for all that life is? And would this impersonal mind not make appropriate use of thought to satisfy the fundamental needs of human beings everywhere, so that we may all experience the vital plenitude already present in us without exception? (107)
We remain enslaved by what we each think (perceive, believe, feel, and want) until a point is reached in which thought itself realizes the enormous harm implicit in creating mental representations (images and ideas about self, others, and the world at large) that obscure rather than illuminate the actual realities to which they merely point. How would our psyches and societies change as the result of many people coming to see this crucial difference between actuality and representation? What would result from having the brain’s natural capacity to make and utilize accurate representations of things and phenomena restrict itself to the realm of practical problem solving, where it belongs? Would such a radical detribalization and depersonalization of the psyche not lead directly to the all-inclusiveness of life, being that the actuality of the latter is, of necessity, beyond the reach of any form of conceptual representation, let alone any attempt of manipulation? What would any one of us want to become if our particular sense of psychological existence were to be suddenly uncovered as nothing more than the experience/time-bound representational security blanket with which we have all along covered up the all-encompassing mystery of life, all there actually is? (108)
How one thinks about oneself, the world, or life itself is largely irrelevant. What is of critical importance is how life might see itself. However, there is a shattering caveat to this seemingly straightforward and desirable shift in awareness, and it is that it is irrevocably outside human consciousness as this consciousness is presently constricted and forced to indefinite reiteration by exclusive experience and knowledge.
Not to know psychologically, not to identify with anything preexisting within the psyche (or within culture as it relates to and serves the self) is a form of death. However, this psychological death is not total annihilation or madness, but rather freedom from the sense of isolation that exclusive mental constructs create and sustain in time by craving a psychological security that does not exist. A mind that is knowledgeable, specialized, and capable in the realm of function, but that does not belong to any “one” in particular, and is therefore free of the struggle to become more or better, is a mind that in the silence of its non-being is already one with the mystery of life. (109)
Not to live under the influence of cultural forces or in a quixotic quest to replace them with new and better ones seems like a tall order, but how good is it to continue enduring the dull conformity or hapless rebellion this preprogrammed mental servitude imposes? Can an ordinary person be entirely free from the many unnecessary tribal values and imperatives already lodged deep within brain and psyche and, at the same time, be impregnable to others still outside but pushing mightily to enter and exercise their own brand of control? More directly put, is liberation totally outside the purview of the conscious self?
One of the greatest impediments to freedom is, paradoxically, the rather common desire to play a significant role in societal progress and one’s own betterment. This seemingly noble impulse generally stems from a misunderstanding of the general problem confronting us individually and collectively, and it leads to superficial and misguided efforts that, far from solving this problem, merely extend its life while adding to its virulence. The self-centered and self-perpetuating programming of the human mind by previous psychological experience is our root problem, and there is no other possible solution to it than its dissolution. In other words, if the source of our chronic inanity, conflict, and suffering lies in a mind conditioned by previous experience projecting onto the future slight modifications of its dysfunctional self, then it is absurd to continue on the same sterile path of exclusive self-improvement and tribal progress. Self-centered existence and the process of self-determination widely presumed to lead to eventual fulfillment are constitutive parts of the same fantasy, and the end of either one is the end of the fantasy.
When the conceit of existential singularity collapses the mind is left empty and quiet, but for the same reason fully alive and alert; able to use thought as a practical tool necessary to meet the challenges posed by life, but never again subsumed and controlled by a self-serving version of it. Free of the bind of psychological and historical time, the particular mind dissolves in the unfathomable depths of impersonal mind, the ever-present revelation of the mystery. (110)
If the sacred exists at all, then all must abide within it, and this all-inclusiveness implies, among other things, that no one can take the position of adoration because the duality implicit in such a subject-object relation negates the sacredness (the wholeness) alleged. At its deepest core, the human being —any human being— cannot possibly be anything but the sacred, the undivided; but, of course, the divisive intellect cannot ever verify this fact; it must make itself manifest in the stillness that marks the absence, or at the least the irrelevance of thought. (111)
What is within, around, underneath, in front and back of us at any given moment, is indifferent to, and out of the range of the knowledge constitutive of every human being. Put the other way around, what we know, believe, feel, and want —the mental constructs that make up who we think we are— are hardly even related to the unthinkable mystery of what simply is, alive and present for just an instant at every instant, ready to die, never to come back again. And yet, the knowledge we have gathered about ourselves, others, and the world at large, plus whatever we may want to acquire, experience, or learn in the future, generally overwhelms, and thereby disregards, not just what is right there just this instant, fresh, unknowable, and about to flow into something else, but also the empty, timeless awareness that witnesses it.
The map is not the territory, and the ground of being is infinitely beyond both. In unknowing, impartial awareness mental representation stands apart from the evanescent actuality of life, and this actuality stands apart from its mysterious source. When the thinking self dissolves into this awareness, thought and knowledge take their proper place and only come into service when appropriate. Were we to live and relate free of mental time, that is, without personal memories or their projected (desired or feared) future impinging on what is actually there at every instant, the life we share would be free of the conflicted loves and sorrows characteristic of self-centered isolation straining after the illusion of preordained fulfillment.
To test this, simply look at those who are closest to you as if you were seeing them for the first time. Are they not unpredictable, constantly changing, utterly unknowable manifestations of life, and therefore free, in this sense at least—certainly meriting liberation from whatever claims and demands you may have on them? Now, look at yourself, and find out if the same is not true of you. Is the knowledge you hold about yourself exhaustive of the nature and significance of your insertion in life? Does anybody else know who you are at every moment of the fluid existence we all share together?
Knowledge is not the correct approach to the mysteriously interconnected presence of everyone and everything in life. When this becomes evident, the mind is relieved of the burdens of the recorded past and the abusive obligations demanded by a personal future that is simultaneously craved after and feared. The conflicted distinction between subject and object dissolves, and only an impersonal and therefore extraordinarily ample and sensitive psychic field remains. This boundless beam of unknowing awareness is the only real freedom: freedom from separation, freedom from conflict, freedom from oneself—the liberty and plenitude of life itself. (112)
The torrent of thought dries up to a trickle at that moment in which the evidence pointing to the insignificance of the constructed self becomes overwhelming. The busy and self-obsessed thinker cannot withstand the revelation that all human beings have fundamentally the same psychological form, a common by-product of common evolutionary, historical, and biographical processes. Seeing this, the separate person, “one” self, is finally lost in humanity; dissolved in the millenarian and ever-deepening division, confusion, love, violence, and sorrow of the species, itself lost in the wild cosmic stream of being and non-being.
Although we have a powerful sense of private existence and personal uniqueness, what is psychologically particular about each one of us is but an insignificant wave in an ocean of mental sameness. And, just as our physical bodies are miniscule particles lost in the immensity of the material universe, our minds are miniscule echoes of the history of humanity that, etched in gray matter, is part of the same physical immensity. We are all equally trapped in a self-dividing and self-replicating mental process in which the conceptual displaces the actual and creates the widespread illusion of discrete being—an illusion that sustains itself in a time of its own making, the time necessary to have been, to be, and to become. The images and ideas constitutive of the ever-changing personal psyche project a shadow so opaque on the mind that life itself disappears.
We may each call it “my” brain as if it were an item of personal property, but as already mentioned, the organ the cranium cradles is generic and fruit of a long evolutionary process in time, as is the case with the heart, the liver, the sexual organs, or any other part of the physical organism. It may be annoying for some to admit, but the truth is that there is no particular or personal brain, and no one can reasonably argue that there could be such a thing as an “I” without this generic brain. There is no personal self without culture, either.
There are essential psychic traits (such as memory, anger, fear, pain and the habitual quest for pleasure and power) that are present in everyone and that, contrary to popular opinion, are not separate from the entity that presumes to be separate from them and in charge. In fact, the “I” is itself one of these common attributes of the thinking and feeling process of the human psyche. Thus, just as “my” brain is the brain of humanity, “my” self is indistinguishable from all the mental traits that make up the human psyche, per se. Furthermore, since the observing self, the “person,” is no different from what it pretends to observe and control intra-psychically, nothing of what it may do to remedy or transcend aspects or attributes of the psyche and its social order will ever amount to truly relevant change.
Freedom, in the best sense of that word, is inconceivable in a consciousness that is determined by the experience of a general, transpersonal past and a particular, biographical past and that endures by projecting a modified extension of this same past onto the future. The same goes for intelligence, peace, and goodness; an isolated and conditioned mind is equally incapable of hosting them in any full measure. If this is evident, there is no way to dodge the question of whether a free, unconditioned mind is just another carrot at the end of the imaginary self-development stick, or a real possibility. Everyone can, and should, pose this question, and in that very act realize that, if it has an answer, it must be impersonal, and therefore out of the reach of any “one.” The end of the searcher resolves the search. (113)
Politicians and social reformers exercise power over entire populations thanks to the common belief that an authoritative set of ideas and methods suffices to change social structures and that this change will, in turn, improve the lives of individuals and their immediate groups of reference. The underlying assumption is that what determines the nature and quality of individual life is the ideology and operative structure of the society to which the individual belongs; the individual being merely an expression of the predetermined contents and dynamics of tribal thought. This false premise is the foundation of our herd mentality and its stubborn trust that it will be the next —for it is always the next— institutional change, reform, or revolution that will usher in a new and brighter time for each and every one of “us”.
It is true that revolutionary or merely reformist modifications in judicial, political, educational, religious, and economic practice have an appreciable influence over the shape of the societies in which they occur, and the life style they can afford their members. However, in whatever shape they come, these social modifications have never attained relevant, extensive, and perdurable peace and justice because they leave largely intact the conditioned, isolated, conflicted, and over-reaching personal mind that is in the end responsible for everything that is wrong and hurtful in every cultural/historical expression of human society. We would not be the problematic beings we are, and the world would not be in the awful mess it is, if all the social innovations, reforms, and revolutions that have led to our present situation had been able to produce instead a truly intelligent and caring mind fully aware of its undifferentiated presence in the mystery of life.
We are so set on our respective ways that after millennia of “progress” with its unremitting division and suffering, we are still largely unwilling to see that the root of our relational dysfunction lies primarily in the conditioned isolation of the individual psyche, and not in the social institutions and traditions that merely reflect and prolong this mental dysfunction. Societies do not exist by themselves. At the most fundamental level, they are only particular manifestations of a general human mindset that appear somewhat distinct from each other only because they reflect the sum total of the relatively similar memories, thoughts, actions, and relationships of their particular constituent members. Put differently, societies appear and feel significantly different only because they all hide their common source in life behind the same superficial (historical, ideological, and institutional) comparison with the others.
At the personal level, we all think of ourselves as unique and perhaps special, and yet we all live in the same dangerous mental and social reality that results from the greed, division, and conflict implicit in what we each claim to personally be and deserve to become, acquire, and experience. The expectation that significant psychological and social change will someday be realized in a world permanently divided and conflicted along the fault lines of tribe and self is a persistent and increasingly dangerous illusion. We will not survive our own folly as a species unless we somehow manage to acknowledge and dispel this illusion individually, and at any cost.
If any projection of a better self in a better world is a fool’s errand, then all ideologies of psychological, social, and political change must be instantly set aside in favor of a change in consciousness so radical that ”change” is not the right designation for it. What we are talking about is not just the possibility, but the urgent necessity, of a veritable mutation of the individual brain/mind capable of bringing health to every society and peace and harmony to the species as a whole. Now, who may be the catalysts of this unprecedented transformation? For sure, they are not the traditional teachers, healers, leaders, and reformers whose authority we have grown accustomed to blindly obey and whose example we try to imitate.
Regardless of the level of charisma, no authority figure has the capacity to directly transmit to its students, patients, or followers the intelligence necessary for radically altering their mental state, the condition of any particular society and, by logical extension, that of humanity as a whole? As already repeatedly suggested, in matters of personal mental health and social development, knowledge and authority are not much help: they are, in fact, responsible for much of the chronic division and strife of humanity.
Let us assume, for the sake of this argument, that the handful of reformers and revolutionaries who have had over the centuries the most appreciable impact on the minds of huge numbers of people were significantly healthier mentally than the rest of the human population. Let us assume further that the gift of some of these great leaders transcended any conceivable personal capacity for love and intelligence, and that they were therefore worldly incarnations of an entirely different dimension of being eager to transmit itself to humankind. Still, even with these assumption in place, it is necessary to acknowledge that what remains as the most notable characteristic of the religious and political realities these extraordinary individuals engendered is the extraordinarily cunning ways with which the rest of us have all along resisted, deformed, and defanged their message, while still using it for the purpose of identity, status, and psychological continuity. Despite the remarkable initial impact of the great sages (Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Gandhi, etc.), nothing much has changed in the human mind and heart. In fact, the institutionalization of their example and message, and the subsequent fragmentation experienced by these ossified traditions has, if anything, worsened the simultaneously arrogant and sorrowful insularity of the personal mind.
Physical evolution is unquestionable, as is some important but uneven measure of social progress and truly astonishing, but far from evenly shared, advances in science and technology. However, there is little evidence of truly significant psychological evolution—the kind that would have long ago eradicated all traces of egotism, fear, and violence from the human mind. The secular and religious projects of psychological development and social reform on which we still invest so much of our time and energy merely give continuity to a widespread mental pathology that is, for the most part, too deeply ingrained to be noticed, let alone critically questioned and rejected. Even when the negative consequences of our full-bore dedication to projects of this type are somehow and somewhat apparent, we are hard pressed to let go of them because to do so mortally threatens the sense of ongoing stability and special identity that we crave, and that only ideological commitment and intense occupation can grant.
All in all, our present situation is irrefutable proof of the futility of any particular solution emerging from the same divisive and dysfunctional process of self-centered and tribal thought that is at the source of all the ills we suffer. Because this mental impotence is real, all anyone can reasonably do is somehow gain full awareness of the appalling level of mental and behavioral disorder at which we have arrived after millennia of successive insufficient, partial, and contradictory fixes. This alone will stop the strain and energy waste, and thus enable a full moment-by-moment impersonal, and therefore humble and loving participation in the undivided and ever-unchanging plenitude of life.
As in every other time in history there is in our day an abundance of teachers, healers, and leaders, all eagerly willing to feed those hungry for whatever available dogma and practice may best fit their particular experience of life, their fears, and their ambitions. Unsurprisingly, their contradictory influence is far from benign. They present themselves as capable of healing multitudes of confused and suffering individuals, but often they too are inmates, along with the rest of us, in this psychiatric ward of planetary dimension, we call reality. The overall situation is bad, but still fluid given that its location remains, even if widely overlooked, the streambed of life.
For all we know there may well presently be a non-trivial number of individuals whose brains are no longer controlled by previous personal experience and cultural tradition, and who may be doing their best to help the rest of us get rid of our own venerated version of the same dead weight. While some may find it useful to find these special cases and listen to what they have to say (especially at the onset of interest in these matters), it is still very much the case that, in the end, we each have to find by ourselves what may blast ourselves out of the small place of internalized personal and tribal servitude. It bears repeating again and again that, in this matter of full and clear perception, authority and method are counterproductive because truth and direction cannot come from fear, insecurity, and the hard of hearing dependency they foster.
There is no other alternative. Self-centered thought moving within the mental time/space of remembered and projected experience must come to an end, and this can only happen when its own dogged sense of special and perfectible personal identity has a head-on collision with a clear view of the entire tragedy of humanity and of itself as the fundamental cause and effect of this tragedy. This full revelation of the truth about the personal and collective condition of humanity is obviously not a product of memory or of the movement of thought propelled by fear or desire, and is therefore not directly transferable from one person to another. Insight is embedded within the gift of life itself and, as such, available to anyone simply willing to see, by and in herself, that separate existence is an illusion created and sustained by thought.
To be sure, to speak of the possible end of self-centered thought is not to invite amnesia, a sense of fatalistic predetermination, or a wanton embrace of base animal instincts. The intent is merely to share in the most lucid and succinct way possible the necessity of a mind not occupied and ruled by personal memory and, therefore, no longer propelled forward by an irrational desire to protect and exalt itself through conformity, reform, creativity, revolution, or self-serving devotion. All plans of evasion from the dire consequences of psychological and ethnocentric isolation collapse from the weight of their own absurdity when the mind awakens to the tragic error of knowing and prolonging itself through its identification with them. All divinities also collapse when their clay feet are found firmly planted in the fear and greed of self-centered and tribal thought. In the end, only a passive and utterly impersonal awareness remains. Neither tradition nor ambition filter or direct its unknowing, but all-pervasive gaze. (114)
Anything projected by self-centered thought bears the imprint of its divisiveness, insensitivity, and recklessness. What memory wants for today or for tomorrow is still yesterday, and therefore an inert, useless thing. Only freedom from the representational strictures of the self and their modified reiterations projected in psychological time/space is significant; everything else is just more of the same old and ultimately banal history of personal pleasure and pain, strife, success, frustration, and sorrow. (115)
A flight of the imagination is all that is left to a bird that has shunned air currents, clipped its own wings, and caged itself in the vagaries of nostalgia, hope, and desire. Even if we have some sense that pleasures bred by illusion can only yield the sorrows of regret and disillusion, the compulsion of being “someone” and becoming progressively better is generally so strong in us that we find even the suffering of its inevitable hangovers preferable to the sobriety required to see ourselves, first, and then look beyond ourselves. The small mindedness of separate being and exclusive becoming is all we know, it is all we (think) are.
This very difficulty of this situation demands that we find out what happens if all that is limited, chimerical, or false about the isolated psyche is somehow made apparent and consequently abandoned or set aside as irrelevant. Would not thought then restrict itself to the relatively simple task of satisfying the fundamental needs and functional obligations of the organism living in society with other organisms similarly attempting to take care of the same basic needs? With thought in its proper place, the human mind loses itself naturally and easily in the infinite stream of the unknowable: life undivided dying at every instant and reviving through every death. (116)
How does a mind free of divisive conviction and fervor (secular or traditionally religious) address someone still trapped in such mental ghettoes? How does a mind for whom personal, psychological knowledge has little relevance in the realm of relationship speak to someone who is beholden to a particular body of information, both objective and subjective, and entirely committed to its expression and expansion through her relationship with others? How does the awakened mind speak to others about there being nothing within tradition that can be done to alleviate the sorrow of humanity because its source lies in each egocentric and sectarian psyche? How can others hear the message that the self must end, if they are still fully amalgamated within the particular faiths, professions, institutions, hobbies, entertainments, reforms and revolutions that give shape and substance, not just to their action, but to their very sense of unique and evolving identity? (117)
Here are some interesting questions to consider. What is it that continues, psychologically? Why does self-centeredness persist in time if all it can do is experience a few accomplishments, unstable loves, and ephemeral pleasures in exchange for a lifetime of alienation, antagonism, toil, and sorrow? Why is the human being generally so hyperactive, at all times invested in multiple projects and chores if, in the end, all this commotion is just the sorry expression of a massive phenomenon of self-serving and suffering mental insularity? Are we filling up every available moment with reactive activity just to avoid confrontation with our bloated self-image and the horror and danger of the general state of humanity? Are we permanently on the run from something deep within us that is as unavoidable as it is common: the natural emptiness and stillness of impersonal mind, the source of existence, the only truth?
Is life an interactive collection of separate organic and inorganic entities permanently involved in the process of randomly becoming something else, or doing so in accordance with a master plan? If not that, is the separate and continuous existence of “things” and relational events merely an illusion created and observed by the prominent center of an alienated and extremely unstable mental process madly overstepping its proper functional boundaries? Why is the self the only “thing” presumably existing steadily and largely in and by itself in a cosmic realm where nothing else seems to claim similar perdurable and unique character?
The crucial question is whether the person exists as an independent and self-sustaining entity. Is the presence of mind in us merely a memory bank that prolongs itself through the selective and tendentious projection of revamped versions of its limited historical contents? Why should the personalized mind be so intent on keeping and improving upon an exclusive experiential record if it does so at the expense of alienating itself from the undivided immensity that lies beyond the reach of its limited experience, its paltry knowledge, and inconstant, mostly self-serving affections?
What is this self of ours? Why do we think one’s self is different from that of others when they all seem to be, fundamentally, the same phenomenon of trans-personal, cultural, and selective biographical memory endlessly adding to itself in the irrational hope of exclusive improvement or transcendence? And, finally, who is asking these questions, and who will answer them? (118)
We are largely unaware of existence as an infinite ocean permeating everything and everyone because, at every instant, each one of us is forcing this undecipherable deluge of liveliness into the diminutive receptacle of personal memory to then channel its flow through the two-inch pipe of self-serving thoughts and desires. This collective insanity determines the early onset of physical insensitivity and mental atrophy that will later on dash just about everyone of us against the solid obstacles the same insanity works hard to both create and hide.
Sanity takes in and ends the falseness of an existence lived in separation, and it does so in an insight that occurs without any prior notion of what, if anything, may lie beyond. Any option of moving away from what is false informed and motivated by a previously acquired notion of what might be true and right, is only yet another necessarily doomed attempt to know and control what is (and will always remain) beyond the reach and will of self-centered thought; beyond “you” and “me.” (119)
Not far underneath our additive and highly defended psychological and cultural differences lies the astonishing fact that we are not at all that different from one another that we are all immersed in single evolutionary and historical process occurring within the infinite unfoldment of existence. If seeing oneself and the world accurately and completely is given priority over everything else, the sham of our sense of progressive individuality is suddenly as evident, unavoidable, and devastating as an incoming blow to the head.
There are no good brains and bad brains. There are no saintly and evil brains. There are no French, Kenyan, and Argentinian brains. Nor are there Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian brains. For better or for worse, every human organism has the same physiological/mental crown, which makes all of us slightly different manifestation of the same phenomenon of conditioning by recorded experience. In other words, a thick psycho-cultural blindfold created by the biographical and tribal experience etched in every particular serving of gray matter blocks our underlying unity from sight. Our particular memories and ambitions, our achievements, fears, loves, and frustrations have the nefarious power to blind us to the otherwise obvious fact that we are the impersonal life we share.
The identification with the personal record of knowledge of pain and pleasure and the peculiar strategies with which we mechanically defend, cultivate, and otherwise treat this knowledge creates the sense of identity and private existence exhibited by every person alive. The enormous prehistorical and historical record of the species lies underneath this thin but seemingly insurmountable partition of particular and self-projecting psychological characteristics. Much of this common mental deposit is filled with memories of the suffering resulting from the violent clash of countless separate forms of the same personal egotism and the equally separate and antagonistic families, groups, institutions, and tribes with which the self identifies to gain greater protection. The same insane personal and sectarian encapsulation of the human mind closes the tragic loop of our collective blindness by desensitizing us to the horror and self-projective nature of this immense river of human suffering, which thus remains perennially unattended.
All this implies, of course, that conclusive action about human sorrow begins with the end of any sense of unique personal existence destined to enjoy some form of exclusive privilege expected as an ascribed, earned, or divinely granted right. The irruption of sanity brings about a wise disregard or outright collapse of the cultural and personal memories that determine with their particular likes and dislikes and their self-pitying sorrows and fears, the myopic projection of the isolated individual psyche and its cruel indifference to the fate of others. Put the other way around, only keen awareness of one’s willing complicity in the self-sustaining suffering of humanity throughout space and time can shock the mind out of its falsely evolving isolation and concomitant insensitivity.
To take time to think about this perceptual somersault in order to intellectually assess its possible advantages and disadvantages may seem like a reasonable decision, but it is only more of the same self-blinding procrastination characteristic of self-centered thought. Regardless of how learned and elegantly abstract our cost-analysis and safety considerations may be, they invariably work to reconstitute the false separation established by thought between the thinker and the image of suffering considered. And once this separation is reestablished, more imaginary time will be created and then filled with an action inevitably more related to the self’s craving for identity, status, and security than to the crying need to actually end suffering. There is no sense in thinking about this matter, just look and see how the sense of personal and tribal separation deploys multiple, contradictory and insufficient actions that simultaneously sustain and occult the persistent division, irrationality, violence, and sorrow of the conditioned and fragmented human mind.
We are what we suffer from. No conditioned self stands outside this collective tragedy and its persistence in time. To be and to strive to become better or someone else altogether is to suffer, even if there be some joy and love mixed in with it, and this is precisely why a profound and complete awareness of this extraordinary fact ends the illusion of the eventual improvement of self-centered consciousness and its particular social and cultural reality. (120)
The notion that the mystery of life is reducible to what scientists know, and may expect to learn in the future about mind and matter is incorrect, and is increasingly turning science into yet another domineering orthodoxy with catholic pretensions. To assume that all there is to life —and therefore, all that matters— is cumulative knowledge, its projections, and the atomized natural, mental, and social reality that results from it, strains rationality and is dangerously hubristic.
Why should not every child learn, early on in life (along with basic science) that what the human brain is able to observe, compare, measure, codify, and theorize about in any field of human knowledge is, and will always remain, small and tentative in contrast with the indivisible matrix of life and its formless source? If we were educated to see ourselves primarily as an integral part of the unknowable, we certainly would not feel as distant from one another and as alienated from life as we feel today. Early acknowledgement of the primacy of the mystery poses no danger to the intellect. In fact, if competing personal and sectarian versions of the known and the knowable were to stop tearing humanity apart, the entire realm of objective knowledge would grow much further and at the service, and not the detriment of humankind and all other forms of life.
No one can doubt the essential role theoretical and applied scientific knowledge plays concerning our awareness of the universe, let alone our wellbeing and very survival. However, we must be weary of the growing cultural and psychological influence of a scientistic mindset that, in assuming that empirical knowledge constitutes the only way to bridge the distance between humanity and the truth, recklessly relegates the unknowable to the pile of the uninteresting or the non-existent. It is clear that to the scientific method what lies beyond the reach of experience and thought is, by definition, irrelevant, but this particular way of seeing life is not the only one, nor necessarily the most useful and profound.
It is only sane to conceive the human presence as inseparable from the mystery of life. It is also urgent. However, this integration implies setting aside or putting in their proper place all forms of cumulative and verifiable knowledge, not because they are necessarily false or irrelevant, but simply because they constitute and sustain the separation between the known and the entity who knows and identifies itself with what it knows.
In many social and cultural contexts, this is not a popular stand to take. However, no one seriously interested in the fate of our species should be afraid of accusations of obscurantism or stupidity when politely putting science in its proper place. Science will never prove to be a reliable source of effective solutions to fundamental psychological and relational problems —problems from which scientists are hardly exempt. Nor is science the agency capable of getting to, and mending, the deeper mental source of the ecological problems for which it (science) is so greatly responsible in the first place. The ecological crisis we face is the net result of our general and notorious incapacity to relate harmoniously to other species and aspects of life generally perceived as external to ourselves, therefore the rather exclusive and fragmented practice of science can hardly be the solution to this crisis.
Scientists may well be able to provide non-scientists with a correct reading of the damage we have done so far to the Earth’s life support system and in suggesting possible corrective measures. However, they will not be the ones (at least not as scientists, per se) who will free the human mind from the division, conflict, insensitivity, and alienation from life that is the source of this immense problem (and all the rest). That freedom can only come through the direct and critical examination of one’s personal mindset conditioned and isolated by limited and exclusive knowledge, and quite willing to continue plundering the planet to satisfy its appetites and add to the glory of the particular groups and orthodoxies sustaining its identity and very sense of being.
As already mentioned in an earlier essay, this criticism of false scientistic claims and aims is not an endorsement of the contradictory interpretations of the significance of the human presence put forth by organized and not-so-organized religious ideologies of any kind and of any time. Since the self-isolating dulling and corruption of the mind is the source of humanity’s chronic disorder and suffering, it is of critical importance to realize that no particular expression of this mind can claim exception to this core problem, let alone the capacity to solve it.
We are, in every conceivable way, only an infinitesimal and indivisible part of a living totality irreducible to either knowledge or belief. Thus, by identifying with exclusive forms of cumulative knowledge and belief and by drawing from them a sense of continuous and separate existence, we condemn ourselves to the division, conflict, and inevitable sorrow that constitute the only reality this self-isolating fantasy can afford. Life has created the human species and thus far yielded generously to its insatiable demands, however, our participation in life will never be stable, reasonable, and happy if we insist on impersonating conflicting cultural and psychological manifestations of the same dysfunctional mental system. We are, of course, free to continue clinging to the knowledge-based illusion of existential separation we each may favor; there certainly is no direct and non-violent way to prevent anyone from doing so. The problem with the unchallenged continuity of this dysfunctional mental and social reality is, however, that we have reached the limit of life’s tolerance with the abusive demands of our claims to separate and especial being and our absurd plans for exclusive becoming.
To see one’s particular sense of psychological being (past, present, and future) as the source of this horrific danger presently threatening the very survival of the species, and to do so without any premeditated reaction, can bring that particular illusion of existential separation to an end, and thus stop and reverse the damage being done. The dissipation of the self opens the mind to a living mystery as formless, timeless, and creative as the awareness with which it regards itself. (121)
The future of humanity demands unity, and this unity demands awareness untrammeled by the record or the promise of previous experience, that is, not an enhanced personal awareness, but awareness per se. Being nothing in itself, this impersonal consciousness is naturally aware of existence as a whole, which is also not a “thing” in itself. In other words, the awareness of (an) undivided mind, a mind without particular locus or character, belongs to existence. Existence itself is aware, and it is aware of itself. No “one” can ever be fully conscious of existence for the simple reason that any form of separation is a falsification of full awareness. Impersonal awareness can detect even the subtlest of forms and phenomena, yet it is neither object nor subject. Because it is without (personal) form it is also free of time, and therefore not engaged in becoming better or someone else. This all implies a mind free of the fear and desire (and the attendant effort, strain, conflict, and sorrow) that propel the person forward in time.
Our great tragedy is that the experience and desire (both positive and negative) that give particular form and projection to every one of us also obstruct the undivided awareness that is out fundamental birthright. The separate existence that the conditioned mind claims and the identity that expresses this claim in society, come at the immense cost of an almost permanent sense of insecurity and vulnerability that only the hard labor of comparative and competitive becoming can assuage. The constant effort made by the ever-insufficient and unhappy personal consciousness in the hope of finding exclusive fulfillment sustains the general division, acrimony, and grief of humanity and renders impossible the manifestation of undivided and timeless awareness. There is no choice then, our false sense of psychological separation must end along with any futile urge to fix and prolong ourselves. There is nothing to lose. Undivided awareness is a quintessential human birthright and its advent inevitable. (122)