Feelings of insecurity are an inevitable result of our sense of existential alienation and the distance we keep from other human beings, and these feelings generate in turn the imperious need to establish, defend, and if possible expand the neurotic claims that a particular identity lays on the world and life itself. Many of the heavy burdens we assume and the conflicts we each experience refer directly to the imperious need to prove and increase the value of who we think we were in the past, are right now, and hope to become in the future. This irrational urge keep us necessarily trapped in the contradiction between a false and therefore irredeemable sense of separate existence, and the mechanical command to assuage or overcome the resulting insecurity by achieving some imaginary secular or religious fulfillment. Given that our sense of well-being and our very psychological existence depend so much on the approval of others, the desire for this approval and the fear that its promise of a secure and pleasurable state of mind may go unrealized can easily lead to conflict and outright violence. Whenever a person or an event goes against what we think, believe, and desire, we react to the experience as if the physical organism itself were under attack, and that is a clear indication of the extent to which we believe our existence lies in what we (and others) think and feel about who we are and want to be.
At a deeper level, this reduction of existence to the conceits and demanding hopes and ambitions of personal consciousness tends to obscure for everyone the otherwise obvious presence of life as a whole, resulting in a general state of mental obfuscation that sickens our minds and undermines our relationships. We have abandoned the cosmic reality of life undivided that is, not just our proper realm, but also our most intimate being, choosing to live instead in the fragmented, delusional, and highly acrimonious platform constructed and sustained by self-centered thought—what each one of us thinks has been, is, and ought to be “my” life. This devastating case of mistaken identity that we each embody in our alienated personal minds and disorderly relationships, in turn generates the deranged state of the world at large, a broken-up and delusional reality incapable of healing itself. Unity, peace, and harmony are forever beyond the reach of division and friction: however, they are instantly present when the mind goes beyond all artificial restrictions and opens up to its all-encompassing ground in life/death.
The realization that accumulated sets of self-centered and tribal experience are not the proper basis for being and acting in the world also makes plain that one’s sense of responsibility is largely wasted when placed at the exclusive service of particular causes that are themselves integral part of divisive identification and contradictory and competitive action. Responsibility, well understood, is predominantly for the state and fate of humanity as a whole, and it necessarily begins by discarding personal identification with divisive and conflictive attachments and commitments. Thus, a truly mature human being does not hand her mind and her life over to any religious, political, or occupational faction or any other source of psychological security and social respectability. Her responsibility begins and ends with a single act of irreversible divestment from anything and anybody demanding ideological allegiance, personal distinction, respectable obligation, and an exclusive sense of manifest destiny. A reasonable mind does not justify, defend, or improve upon a particular psychological and cultural identity because it does not have much of either one. Thus, fundamental responsibility—the ability to respond accurately and completely to what is actually going on in the mind and in the world—implies the disappearance of the separate self, and with this disappearance, mental freedom: freedom from conflict and aggression, freedom from ambition and frustration, freedom from boredom, fear, and anxiety, freedom from cruelty and personal sorrow.
This does not mean, of course, that the non-aligned human being does not have to get out of bed every morning and take care of every day’s demands, or that he does not have responsible relationships with a few or many people. It means, rather, that her presence and actions in the world have nothing to do with the procurement of security of the type conferred by divisive alliances, the accumulation of unnecessary knowledge and wealth, and the exercise of power. (148)
To do whatever we do vocationally or professionally for the love of it, and not for some ulterior motive is basic goodness and intelligence. Yet far too many of us (most conspicuously political, business, military, and religious leaders) disguise a crass pursuit of power and privilege with the claim of having placed ourselves at the service of others. Everything would be far clearer and easier if we could simply use whatever particular skills and talents we may each have to serve the fundamental needs of others, expecting nothing in return except the satisfaction of our basic needs. Whenever the urge to attain psychological security and social power through status and wealth motivates function, this function becomes toxic. A self-serving “social service” does not serve either provider or recipient well.
It is hard to argue reasonably against the fact that equal participation in the mystery of life is the only possible foundation of human equality. However, those in charge of any group or society cannot present this fact to their subordinates without losing their power. Their principal concern is to protect the sense of distinct identity held by their followers , and that protection (on which their authority depends)can only occur within a species-wide mental context that is itself blind to the fundamental equality of human beings and therefore characterized by division, inequality, fear, conflict, and dependence. It is very important to see that the responsibility for this systemic blindness lies more with the multitude of those who follow and obey than with those who find the way to lord over them, for it is the identification of the former with particular social and cultural fragments that creates and sustains the power of the latter. Human beings able to see themselves and the world directly and with their own eyes do not allow anyone else to tell them what the “truth” is. Nor do they assume, by simplistic opposition, that “false” is whatever others—in their own provincial insecurity and subservient dependency on authority—uphold as their own truth. The whole structure of dominance-dependency is false, unstable, and dangerous.
One who has seen by himself, and primarily in himself, the falseness of our general sense of enduring physical and psychological separation, has already renounced the guidance of all types of leaders, experts, and gurus, and the authoritarian influence of the small-minded and divisive orthodoxies they represent. The truth is that nothing exists outside of everything else, that life does not compartmentalize and much less rank and favor aspects of itself. The externalized and broken-up world familiar to most everyone is the absence of truth, a painful fantasy created by the mind conditioned and isolated by particular experience and the insane pursuit of security, certainty, and control. The realization and simultaneous negation of the fixed limitation and bias of any particular form of personal knowledge based on experience and the authority of others is in itself the action of an undifferentiated presence in life. The old Cartesian dictum “I think, therefore I am” (the notion that being is conferred by the accumulation and projection of particular knowledge in time) instantly yields to the impersonally perceived fact that there is no particular being in existence, that the undivided and creative unfolding of life is all that is. (149)
Regardless of whether its content is positive or negative, any opinion formulated about someone else is inadequate. Personal judgments rob the other person of the freedom to change that is implicit in every instant and at every occasion. They also reduce the mystery of life incarnate in him or her to a necessarily shallow caricature representing, more than anything else, the small-mindedness of the one issuing the opinion. The judgmental mind is like a jail cell in which the self-appointed judge will serve a life sentence of solitary confinement filled with disappointment and the harmful consequences of flawed perceptions and erroneous decisions.
Because it does not have any fixed content of a psychological nature, the unconditioned mind does not know itself and does not make the mistake of thinking it knows anyone else. Every moment is new, as is every interaction with another manifestation of the same being and the same fundamental awareness. The possibility of a life free of the limitations of self-centered thought might be presented to another, but a rejection of this presentation will not be suffered or resisted because any such reaction would be immediately seen as incompatible with what is being offered, which is not as a representational gift from one to another, but free access to the truth of mind and life that is everyone’s birthright. (150)
There are certain perceptions without which one remains irretrievably stuck in the shallow muck of the self-projective narrative of personal and tribal identity. The first thing to perceive is the constant experience of psychological vulnerability and its built-in propensity to intense defensive reactions, reactions that often disregard the far more real vulnerability of the physical organism. The second essential perception is of the compensatory process whereby the self, in permanent search of pleasure, security, and certainty, progressively modifies its particular form in accordance with the guidelines issued by any given cultural setting. Finally and intimately related to the other two, there is a perception of the way in which this reactive process of self-protective identification and attempted fulfillment embodies and sustains the general atomization of human society and the chronic disorder permeating every one of its levels and sectors. Together, these three layers or fields of perception converge in a deep impersonal insight into the human condition and its constituent tribal and psychological components living the same chronic state of isolation, division, and conflict, and sharing the same terminal incapacity to bring about intelligent, harmonious action. Paradoxically, the end of the process of self-centered becoming implicit in this insight is the only gate to unconditioned freedom and wise action.
We have lived from the very beginning ruled by the assumption that psychological isolation and cultural segmentation constitute our only possible reality. Because of this myopic assumption, today we find ourselves facing a real threat to the very survival of our species while lacking, for the same false assumption, the capacity to trace its cause to our personal insensitivity and discordant over-reach. We remain unable to see that the “external” reality of the world is the intrapsychic and relational reality of the self because clear sight puts in evidence the fiction of the individual able to significantly control thought, action, and circumstances within the parameters provided by the cultural groups corroborating its identity and anchoring its very existence. We abhor seeing that the world is the hopeless mess it is because we each insist on being what we think and want to be, and because we relate to each other and to everything else in the same old and largely self-serving and provincial way. Those who are relatively aware of the dangerous global challenges we face today still resist seeing the irrelevance of what they do about our general mental and social circumstances acting from within these same conditioned and atomized mindset. Cultural and personal isolation does not get better or transcend itself with the successive allotments of time and effort we grant ourselves in order to improve ourselves and be of value to our societies or even the world at large.
This seemingly cruel vision of the limitations of who we think we are and are capable of becoming and doing does not exclude responsibility for the sorry state of the world. However, this responsibility does not involve moral guilt or the urge to adopt a new set of predetermined and anxiety producing goals and methodologies presumably leading to a better state of consciousness and an improved social reality. Awareness of the fact that we all embody the same conditioned isolation and suffer the same social mess simply cancels one’s participation in the ancient and futile debate that to this day is still trying to determine in every problematic instance who is innocent and who is to blame. This passive independence, in turn, deals a definitive blow to the separate sectarian psyche whose identity and very existence depends on moralistic self-assertion and commitment to gradual and partial actions of personal development and social action. With all possibility of judgment and positive action finally off the psychic field, only facts remain and it is only they that speak and act, not the biased and self-serving process of personalized thought.
The history of our presence on the planet is made of two intricately braided strands. One is the phenomenon of mind conditioned by experience and splintered in multiple personal manifestations, all equally enclosed within themselves, alienated from life, and thus necessarily caught in a chronic state of painful insecurity that includes the on-going attempt to secure its opposite: pleasurable security. The other strand of human history is the phenomenon of culture itself splintered according to the different formulas developed by different and contradictory religious and secular ideologies (including science). These different ideologies share a common reason for being, which is the definition of the general contours of individual identity and the determination of the social and cultural reality of a particular group of people including the guarantee of progressive improvement for both, the individual and his social circumstances, and perhaps also spiritual fulfillment in this or another life. History is best deciphered when seen as the record of the tight interplay between the being and becoming of the personal mind isolated by biographic experience and cultural experience, and the being and becoming of the countless cultural entities into which the human species has divided itself.
This general matrix of human existence is generally invisible to the person, trapped as she is within the limited reality and biased optics of her most intimate thought and the echoes of its cultural chamber of resonance. However, if self-centered thought gets somehow out of the way, thus allowing for a full, unvarnished, view of the human condition at large, it also becomes evident that the division, dissension, and suffering characteristic of this condition cannot possibly be overcome by and from any position within the same general system of memory/thought. The only possible solution to all that ails humanity must involve an end to the process of becoming that keeps the illusion of separate being alive. Such a radical break with the fantasy of continuous personal existence cannot possibly come, then, from the field of projective traditional morality that is an integral part of the ideological division and self-centeredness characteristic of the general matrix of thought. When the truth of who we are is finally there plain to see, only fools need sign up for further consecutive efforts in the direction of gradual and partial personal rehabilitation inspired by guilt, self-pity, and the false but always seductive images of exclusive religious redemption and private success of the secular garden type variety.
Tribal blinders and myopic psychological projections collapse when the person is confronted with the realization that greater knowledge and further thinking cannot solve the fundamental problems that thought itself has created. The brain and the personal psyche (everybody’s brain and psyche) are the conditioned result of an ancient, generic process of cumulative and fragmented learning that, applied to actual experience in personal and social matters, generally produces frustration, interpersonal friction, and slightly modified versions of the same tragic phenomenon of psychological isolation and cultural division. The claim to a unique personal existence evolving in time through an ongoing process, moral or immoral, of exclusive becoming, cannot survive the realization that a single system of thought operating out of harmony with life determines every personal instance of memory, identity, cultural allegiance, and conditioned behavior.
More succinctly put, the ongoing processes of psychological becoming and social progress cannot ever solve the problems generated and suffered by multiple and conflicted forms of personal and tribal being. Being and becoming are the two sides of the same coin of pleasurable and conceited privacy and painful and humiliated isolation. The coin that for millennia has uselessly wobbled towards an imaginary future that, regardless of our best intentions and more strenuous efforts, still persistently turns out to be a different version of what we have forever known and suffered in the past.
Radical change has nothing to do with any attempt to ignore or rationalize our trivialization or suffering of life. Nor is it related to planning and implementing renewed efforts to effect gradual personal and social change on the basis of the particular understanding, goals, and methods of a given ideology opposed to all others. Radical change is the collapse in each particular brain and psychic field of the general pattern of personal isolation, cultural identification, and illusory becoming that has forever dulled the mind and deadened the heart. (151)
The crucial question is whether personal consciousness is the ground of our conscious existence, and what the implications of a negative answer to this question might be. If self-centered memory and its predetermined projections are all there is to human existence, then there is nothing essential to discuss. The isolation, self-serving exclusivity, conflict, and sorrow characteristic of this condition will simply continue to torment us, personally, until we die, and collectively, until our inter-tribal violence and ecological recklessness finally manage to blow the entire human presence off the surface of the Earth. However, if we allow ourselves to question the ingrained belief that the only possible mode of human existence is determined by what we each know, believe, and desire then the inquiry is, by its very origin and nature, already beyond the realm of self-centered thought. The fundamental issue is, therefore, whether a mind circumscribed to the self-projective content of memory can look beyond itself without merely incurring a further projection of a modified version of the same content. Before going any further, it may be useful to state that whenever we look at any part or aspect of the cosmos susceptible to our gaze, we are seeing glimmers of something that is ultimately prior to and independent of the contents of the human psyche. We may have developed sophisticated conceptual descriptions of what we are able to sense in the world around us, but the actual objects of our observation are not fundamentally the creation of our collective or personal mind. The well-known dicta that the map is not the territory and that anything anyone may say something is, it is not, apply well here. The first thing to notice is our common tendency to make what we know—the manner in which we reflect mentally about what little we perceive—far more important than the ultimately unknowable cosmic reality that seamlessly contains our physical-mental presence. Our inquiry into the nature of our conscious being must begin then by awakening to the fact that we generally confuse the minuscule abstract reality created by our limited perceptions and symbolic conceptualizations with the actual flowing mystery of life as a whole.
It is relatively easy to see that a tree is not a product of human thought because there it is, a given tree standing “outside” (in some sense at least) the psycho-physical organism that is making the observation. I can walk up to a tree, name it, and touch it; I can see it grow, give fruit, change with the seasons, and perhaps I may even see it die. I may also cut it down myself and use it for heat or for profit. I can do all this without having any real sense of what the deep truth of that particular tree is in itself, let alone in relation to “me” and the rest of existence. Considering our appreciable capacity for selective genetic “engineering,” it would only be fair to acknowledge that certain human beings have had something to do with the “creation” of this or that particular type of tree. This notwithstanding, it remains true that the trees, forests, and jungles of the Earth are far from being a human product. Their presence in the world precedes ours and is independent and probably vastly more significant than what we may ever know. Besides, and this is a huge “besides,” the presence of trees, like our own presence, is only properly conceived as an integral aspect of the totality of the cosmic flow. Thus, to claim knowledge of a particular tree is not in any trivial way equivalent to claiming to know the entire universe. Such a claim is nonsensical for many reasons, not the least of which is that the knowing entity (“you” and “I”) cannot disentangle the tree, let alone ourselves, from this infinite totality to which everything belongs without distinction or rank.
Nowhere is the limitation of our knowledge more apparent than in the curious phenomenon of one layer or aspect of consciousness claiming to know and control the rest. We are incapable of knowing ourselves fully—that is, with integrity and total clarity and, again, there are many reasons for this ignorance. Topping the list is the fact that, just as the particular human observer does not exist apart from the “external” world thought to be the object of its observation, at a more intimate level there is no difference between the mental layer that looks and knows and the mental layers that are presumably passive objects of its observation and knowledge. Furthermore, since all “I” am is a particular set of selectively remembered and symbolically represented and reactive opinion and want, I am inherently limited and especially prejudiced in the way I look at what is strangely called “my” self. It is not only that one looks through the narrow and aberrant optics of previous experience, but also that pain and pleasure, and reward and punishment (powerful determinants in the politics of psychological desire in relation with others made distinct by their own bias and cravings) are rigidly built into my way of looking.
In other words, the prejudice with which one looks at oneself extends well beyond the loaded mental representations that might be issued about what is being looked at, and determines how these images and opinions function in regards to predetermined (favored and feared) outcomes that are equally not actualities, but mere mental representations. For example, if I want to become someone better than I may think I am presently, and fear not being able to achieve this goal, then both the ideal and the fear fleshing out and energizing this basic impulse to change psychologically severely conflict the mind and distort my perception of who I actually am at any given moment.
Can there be a complete and objective observation of the psychological self if the observing subject is not different from its object? Does a full and accurate perception of the self not imply its integration, and therefore the impossibility that this perception may come from within the self? For, who would then be looking, and at what? Objectivity presumes an unbiased observer, so if this objectivity were in place in the case of the self observing himself, would it have a subject and would this subject have anything in particular to look at? Would not the very innocence required for full and accurate perception annul the content of personal consciousness and cancel its projection onto the future? In other words, the self could not possibly be the source of such examination of the entire personal phenomenon, nor could it survive its gaze.
The psychological emptiness implicit in an insight ending the conflicted and conflicting division between the observing and the observed “me” is in fact the true ground of our presence within the totality, and therefore also the only possible platform from which all our problems can be clearly seen and collaboratively solved conclusively and without delay. (152)
The psychological isolation and cultural fragmentation that characterizes humankind is like an immense mosaic that is always in a simultaneous process of both seeming improvement and disintegrating decay. At every point in time, this mosaic portrays the sum total of personal and tribal incarnations of the same deception, dissension, confusion, joy, pleasure, and suffering experienced by the species throughout history. To identify with a piece and one or more sectors of the reiterative human mosaic is, of course, to blind oneself to the general scope and misery of the human condition and the rigidity of its construction and self-projection. We render ourselves not just blind but stupid when continuing to opt for a personal and provincial view of both the human psyche and its out picturing in humanity as a whole. Even though it is increasingly evident that isolated instances of psychological and cultural progress constitute no progress at all, we remain stubbornly loyal to the collective and insane conviction that “I” will eventually attain the fulfillment that I deserve and “my” group the superior state of development we are working for. Do our constant bellicosity, bottomless greed, and permanently unjust distribution of wealth and practical knowledge not amply attest to the fact that we have not really changed that much after thousands of years of presumed psychological refinement and cultural progress?
Now, simple awareness that this collective phenomenon of psychological alienation nested within distinct fragments of human culture cannot ever become “better” implies an instantaneous dissolution of specific cultural and experiential (biographical) sources of identification and the abandonment of any predetermined path of illusory self-improvement. Beyond the necessarily limited and biased perspective that the open-ended narrative of every conditioned glass chip can afford, lies an insight into the entire human mosaic and its possibly catastrophic future. This insight is as wide, deep, and accurate as it is impersonal, and that is why it alone has the power to free the mind of harmful experiential conditioning and make it one with the flowing mystery of life that is all there ever is.
It is tempting to say that awareness of life undivided is inversely proportional to ethnocentric self-centeredness, but such a declaration is incorrect, for it carries within the subtle implication that both exist on the same plane and that a gradual change from lesser to greater awareness is possible. It is far more accurate to state that complete and accurate awareness implies the absence of the one who would do whatever he was told to do in order to possess it, sometime down the line. This means that one can only stay with the fact that all efforts made to improve or transcend the self in pursuit of the ultimate truth only manage to strengthen and give further continuity to the same self. The precious gift of life ought not to be wasted trying to fix the same hopelessly inadequate mosaic we have made of it. Improving the look of the chips and repositioning them within the same rigidly predetermined design means very little. We have no option but to lose our distinctive, small-time form and fall back into our unmistakable source in the unthinkable, flowing fold of life. (153)
Contrary to popular belief, thought is not a tool at the service of the self. It is rather a faculty of the generic, evolving brain that is strangely characterized by the dominant presence within itself of a layer or entity (the self) falsely convinced that it is him that generates and controls thought (and, therefore, “his” life) as experience and acquired knowledge meets the actuality of life. Even though defined, broken-up, and guided by its relatively conscious content (tribal and psychological), self-conscious thought is a universal phenomenon, and not the unique personal reality it is generally perceived or “felt” to be. Just as there is no personal blood, there is no personal thought. Even though widely seen as the source of reason and the preeminent flower of human intelligence, splintered and self-centered thought is also remarkably incapable of putting an end to the division, violence, injustice, and suffering that, in one way or another, sickens everyone’s mind, upsets everyone’s life, and embitters everyone’s death.
While still young you may be full of idealism, trusting that whatever personal problems may ever arise will be eventually solved, and that progress will in due time also take care of the social ills that, unless you are brain dead, become progressively more apparent. However, as you age and come closer to death, you begin to realize that it is highly unlikely that there will be within your lifetime any resolution to the countless mental and relational problems that torment you and others around you. You also come to see the improbability of a definitive end to the general disorder afflicting the world and increasingly threatening to engulf you and your life with its violence. To receive the full charge of this perception without automatically reacting in some predetermined way is to realize that self-centered thinking has never solved and will never solve any of our fundamental psychological, relational, geopolitical, and ecological problems. After all, whatever afflicts human beings anywhere on the planet and at any point in time is part and consequence of this same thought process atomized, biased, and otherwise corrupted by its dedicated service to exclusive personal and tribal precedence and interest. Conditioned thought has so thoroughly displaced the field of impersonal awareness with the intensity and noise of its evolving self-centeredness that the all-encompassing embrace of life is hardly in evidence. This general disregard of our common source is the reason why we live in a world without mystery, a world made unquiet by countless problems and ambitions and the separate individuals who live and die trying to solve the first and satisfy the latter at whatever cost.
In the realm of science, it is the factual observation of the nature of any question or challenge that often enough comes up with an effective answer/solution. This, of course, unless the selfish interest of a particular scientist happens to disrupt the correct application of the scientific method, or if a given solution adequate from a scientific point of view is put at the service of an unjust, improper, or destructive purpose—as it is all too often the case. In general terms, it is hardly a matter of contention that while thought is not just adequate but essential in meeting scientific questions and technical challenges, it is woefully inadequate when it comes to conclusively solving the psychological and relational problems experienced at every level and in every sector of society. If the rigorous intellect required for scientific research and the development of technological applications were equally proficient when applied to the field of mental health and relationship, scientists and technologists would have an extraordinarily lower incidence of neurosis and relationship problems than the general population, which is certainly not the case. Nor is it the case that all scientific discovery and technological creation is at the service of the unity and well-being of humanity as a whole, or that it is only a matter of time until all of human beings have been converted to the scientistic catechism and to great advantage.
Given all this, it is nothing short of remarkable that so many people are still shocked or annoyed by anyone simply questioning the dogmatic assertion that more knowledge and “better” thinking will eventually solve the problems that knowledge and thought have themselves generated throughout history and have never been able to conclusively resolve before. At the level of mental health and general social well being, there is no such thing as better or freer thought. Nor is there thinking out of the box. Thinking is the expression of a mind boxed in by its identification with a particular set of experiences and a given body of knowledge. Thinking is the box, and prominent among the contents of this box is the absurd belief that the thinker is so much in control of thought that it stands outside of it, as it were, directing its operation, and setting its direction and moral quality.
A few simple examples may help clarify why some of our most fundamental mental and behavioral challenges remain unresolved. Let us say that a person is violent (as we all are in one way or another) and that, being somewhat aware of this tendency and its negative consequences, decides that it would be a good idea to become less violent or altogether non-violent. In this seemingly commendable decision, this individual is erroneously assuming that violence is something external to him, and therefore ultimately under his control. The truth is that the overt or covert aggression displayed from time to time is inseparable from this person. This inseparability of the actor and its presumed attributes and reactions rules out the theory of a particular moral failing on the part of the first, putting the cause instead in that universal sense of vulnerable existential insularity that, in the seclusion of thought is prone to nurture strategies of self-defense and self-expansion that inevitably involve some form of violence. The insecurity intrinsic to the fantasy of a separate personal existence breeds an interminable stream of overt and covert violence intended to bring about a modicum of security and self-fulfillment. The remedy prescribed is for the symptoms of self-centeredness, and so it consistently fails to detect and cure the disease.
After the withdrawal of the British from India, how could the message of non-violence articulated by Gandhi have taken root in a population so culturally divided and conflictive? Beyond the assassination of the well-meaning holy man and the nearly instant eruption of political and religious violence of the ensuing civil war and partition, it is sadly sobering to see in the present nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, and in the chaos and injustice of their respective social realities, the utter failure of the doctrine of non-violence.
Violence is an integral part of self-centered thought and the desires with which it defends, asserts, and furthers itself, and this is why no one can simply think and will himself away from it. At a more general level, while most people seem eager to declare that they want peace in the world, few are willing to relinquish the exclusive commitment to the countries and groups (each with its peculiar ambitions, traditions, and ideologies) to which they have pledged their allegiance in exchange for identity and a largely false sense of security. We find it extremely hard to see that the reason there is no peace in the world is that we all insist in being whatever we think we are, apart from and often enough at odds with just about everyone else.
The tragic habit of thinking of oneself as a unique individual by automatically referencing particular memories, attachments, commitments, and desires, blinds everyone to the otherwise glaring fact that the fundamental physical and mental traits of the entire species are present in everyone, determining most of our thought and behavior. Moreover, in failing to see ourselves in depth and for who we really are, we help sustain the divisive thoughts and dysfunctional actions that are, not just the common source of all our problems, but also the very essence of our self-serving being and willfully progressive becoming. The inefficacy of even our best attempts to modify our own thought patterns and straighten out the crooked behavior they spawn, is the clearest evidence that we are what we suffer from. We often deny, ignore, or rationalize our psychological and relational problems, and when the situation becomes untenable, we naively try to do something gradually about them ourselves, but, again, when it comes to psychological and relational problems, there is no “myself” apart and distinct from these problems. Hatred, envy, addiction, violence, fear, guilt, and jealousy are all conditioned mental reactions, and there is no acting manager capable of dealing with them properly and independently. Were this not true, our proclivity to such ugly reactions would have disappeared from our minds and from the face of the Earth a long time ago, and we would all be living secure and beautiful lives in each other loves company.
The challenge of, let us say, driving a nail into a concrete wall or cooling a large volume of hot liquid is radically different from that posed by recurrent anger or dishonesty. When the problem is of a material or logistical nature, and therefore relatively stable and external to the self, thought immediately assesses the character of the situation as accurately as possible, to then deduce from that evaluation and previous experience the remedial action most likely to succeed. But if “I” become verbally abusive whenever I do not get what I want, it is highly improbable that anything I may do to temper or get rid of this violence (of which I may also be terribly ashamed) will be completely successful. The desire of an ambitious person to become less ambitious is nothing but a different expression of the same ambition; and ambition always involves violence in one way or another. What is even worse, any desire to effect psychological change from within, as it were, implies a mind torn by two mutually opposed desires, the desire to change and the adamant or covert desire to stay the same by resisting this change.
Contradictory desire has plagued humanity for thousands of years, dulling every one’s mind from childhood on. This seems especially true in the most affluent groups and societies in which individual ambition is encouraged as a great virtue without which the social status associated with security, respectability, and a pleasurable state of consciousness cannot be secured.
The negative impact of contradictory desire is equally apparent at the geopolitical level. Take, for example, the case of the nuclear super bullies that want to stop proliferation, but without divesting themselves of these monstrous devices of mass intimidation and murder. They want to keep the arms no one should have while simultaneously preventing others from acquiring them. They allege that blocking less affluent and developed countries from acquiring nuclear weapons is justified by the fact that they (the prospective countries) cannot be trusted to use such power responsibly. Ironically, the members of the jealously exclusive nuclear club see themselves as the only political and cultural entities rational enough to further the cause of peace and justice in the world, to a significant extent, through the exercise of this very form of nearly absolute power over others. They are incapable of seeing that this form of thinking is hypocritical and deeply irrational, as well as the very reason why other nations may want to defend themselves or bully their neighbors through the acquisition of the same weapons.
“I” observe, first, that I am locked within myself and unable to get out from under the psychological and interpersonal problems created by limited and mechanical thinking. I observe as well that this self-isolation and ineptitude is true of most if not all other human beings, which explains the general disorder and suffering in the world. This very realization erodes and then suddenly dissolves the sense of being a distinct individual. Only a single phenomenon of mental conditioning exists, and it does so through countless individual persons who are separate from one another; fearful, confused, ambitious, and violent in particular ways; unwilling or unable to change in any significant manner; and, therefore, directly responsible for maintaining with every thought, feeling, and action, the chaotic situation of the world. The problem of conflictive separation and the suffering that results from it is immense and inextricably bound up with the very nature of personal identity, thought, and desire. This means, in turn, that any action based on my own or someone else’s experiences and projections and designed to ameliorate or overcome this situation at whatever time, level, or place, is bound to fail. What is worse, actions isolated and conditioned by exclusive experience and knowledge inevitably give further strength and continuity to the same cultural fragmentation and egotistical personal isolation that is at the root of the whole phenomenon of human disorder and sorrow. If “I” am the problem, then anything I may think or do about “my” self and the world as I see it will merely worsen the effect of the same problem while extending its life.
The realization that self-centered thought is terminally incapable of changing itself is the greatest blessing because it ends the pattern of idealized personal projection, and it does so in a manner that does not involve conflict, sorrow, or undue effort. For this realization is not the self’s gradual and laborious abnegation of itself while pining for higher moral ground and a better social or “spiritual” position. It is, rather, the sudden and irreversible collapse of the fantasy of separate being.
A complete insight into the tragic consequences of the aberrant back and forth of thought within mental time dissolves identification with any particular biographical or ideological source of meaning granting any “one” a false sense of security and an illusory promise of eventual fulfillment. There is no longer any sense of a past, present, or future with exclusive personal characteristics because memories that were once struggling to attain extension or cancellation in an imagined future, and for an imagined “better” self, no longer have a central personal axis on which to ground and project themselves. The self, habitually frightened, greedily dependent, and therefore prone to do and receive violence, is no longer present. (154)
To see the dreadful situation of the world—a strange mixture of largely pointless industriousness, exclusive and short-lived loves, banality, indifference, and monstrous suffering —and the futility of our efforts to reform or escape from this situation—is to admit the necessity of an unthinkably different manner of being. Having realized that knowledge and belief, no matter how great and well-intentioned, cannot ever bridge the conflicted separation between human beings, nor the gap between humanity and the mystery of life (the abyss between the conditioned brain/mind and the truth), thought itself surrenders its irrational extension into an exclusive and neurotically self-reflective consciousness. The self that is indistinguishable from what memory has inherited, accumulated, and projected through thought and time quietly dies in this revelation of the falseness and danger of psychological representation. What makes this a true death, and not just one of the long-winded conversion to a higher self typically advertised by the traditional religions and the more user-friendly versions of modern spirituality, is that there it does not have a built-in mental future. It is not a new shot at becoming a little more efficient and generous and a bit less violent and self-involved; the common expectation of reward or punishment has nothing to do with it.
To avoid considering the possibility of a definitive end to the stream of self-centered thought by pointing out the absurdity of an indiscriminate loss of knowledge is an easy and convenient thing to do, but entirely misses the point. Clearly, without language, technical/logistical knowledge, and the basic reasoning necessary to relate with others and adequately satisfy the basic needs of the physical organism, we would not be able to survive, let alone have conversation such as this. What concerns us is whether the mind/brain can be free of the exclusive content of personal consciousness without becoming amnesiac or unconscious, and only the simultaneous perception of two essential and interrelated facts can properly pose this fundamental question. The first one is that the self is not a real and unique entity, but a generic and insubstantial constellation of biographical memories topping and centralizing other layers of mental sedimentation stemming from prehistorical and cultural experience. And the second is that both the illusion of separate being created by this mental accumulation, and its characteristic propensity to conflict and violence are extended in time through a compensatory process of self-projection that, in aiming to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, only guarantees the continuity of the whole conditioned mindset. Complete awareness of the falseness of separate existence and the futility of all possible future efforts geared to improve or escape the necessarily painful process of self-centered becoming is possible and obviously necessary.
Habitual psychological being has a tremendous forward momentum that will just drag on undeterred unless clearly seen and understood. So let us attempt to clarify further the necessity for an abrupt and terminal break in the process of personal becoming. The self would not be able to survive as a distinct entity if its alienation from life and others were complete, thus association with a large social consensus is necessary to deal with the insecurity and vulnerability generated by a self-centered process of thought. However, the measure of security and self-esteem granted to the individual by a predetermined social consensus is never quite enough to make the mental discomfort proper of its isolation disappear. Furthermore, the identity and status acquired by anyone through exclusive cultural association is necessarily different from (if not opposed to) other similar forms of tribal identity and security satisfying the need other people feel for the same sense of enhanced security.
This means, of course, that the modicum of exclusive certainty and security gained through cultural identity is, in other ways, a source of division and conflict that almost permanently threatens psychological well-being and, sometimes, physical integrity as well. Thus, while one may feel relatively safe standing within the mental/physical confines of a specific combination of cultural allegiances (patriotic, religious, educational, racial, economic, professional, and related to gender, age, class, and small group) it is precisely this separate identification with particular forms of self-sustaining cultural consensus that creates the division, antagonism, and sorrow afflicting humankind as a whole. This reciprocal connection between human suffering and the personal mind conditioned and only relatively protected by psychological/tribal identification is what determines the imperative necessity of an end to the self as the linchpin of the entire mental system responsible for the plight of the species as a whole.
When confronted with this kind of argumentation the conditioned mind typically reacts with a counter-argument that may sound more or less like this: “Perhaps putting an end to different forms of an equally false sense of personal and tribal security is a noble thing to do, but what could be the ultimate advantage of a state of mind without traditions, memories, and desires? What could possibly motivate anyone to move into an unconditioned mind no one knows anything about?” Put in other words, what better state of consciousness would justify leaving a present state that, while admittedly narrowly conditioned, and therefore unfree and highly prone to insensitivity and erroneous behavior, is what defines my very being and makes possible some indispensable chartering of the future?
The only response to this objection is that to demand an intelligible goal for the end of an entity that, while generous and compassionate in some ways, and from time to time, is essentially divisive, greedy, conflictive, and therefore an almost permanent victim of fear, violence, and sorrow, is simply to argue for the continuity of the same entity. To move instantly away from falseness and irrationality is the only option open to a mind aware that sanity lies precisely in the simple willingness to disregard stale ideologies and unfounded idealizations in order to simply look and see things as they actually are. The presence of any positive motive that would serve to justify the surrender of “this” particular separate self on behalf of a better model indicates a grave misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. In this context, irresistible ulterior motives are just what the biographical and ethnocentric thought process has counted on forever to guarantee its permanence in significant isolation from others and the maelstrom of life’s undivided impermanence.
The built-in propensity of the personalized mind to find motivation for an action by foreseeing the future it is supposed to usher in is, perhaps, the greatest barrier to the possibility of a life free of division and unwise claims and ambitions. The radical deprogramming or depersonalization of the brain/mind is both a revolution in consciousness and a radical change in the configuration of brain connections and, therefore, obviously not something open to the planning and the subsequent implementing will of even the most saintly or knowledgeable person. The implication is that the ending of the self must come about through a perception/action that is not mental and, therefore, not in time. Not in time in the sense of being without precedence in thought and without future projection for the particular mind-body in which (or to which) it occurs. We are speaking then about a direct and immediate insight, not in any way mediated by memory and thought, of the nature and consequences of the conditioning of the mind and of the fact that the self is incapable of doing anything about this situation, for the simple reason that there is no difference between the two. The conditioned mind is all there is in this context; the “me” is just an integral part of this species-wide mindset, and it is easily identified by its pretense of being in charge of the mind as a whole.
Therefore, any approach to the central problem of on-going mental and behavioral predetermination that is based on an incomplete and tendentious evaluation of it, and motivated by the attraction of a foreseen reward (or the fear of an equally foreseeable punishment) must be instantly set aside. This, simply because any such approach denies full insight into the otherwise evident limitation and disorder of the self isolated and conditioned by transpersonal, personal, and cultural experience. The only correct approximation to the problem of being human begin, therefore, with an across the board rejection of all ready-made theoretical explanations of the nature of this problem and their equally predetermined prescriptions for its solution. A sudden perception of the reality of the conditioned human mind, and the awful consequences of its untrammeled projection in time, denies thought itself recourse to further instances of the same maneuver of idealized self-projection that, through false change, keeps facilitating the continuity of the same toxic mindset. The alienated and egotistical person cannot in any way become a better or an altogether different creature in the future; and that is why its demise—right now—is urgent and involves the end of psychological time.
If it is clear that any psychological projection motivated by an ulterior end is self-deceptive, we can move on to carefully consider something that, although out of the realm of memory and desire (personal consciousness), can nevertheless be dimly perceived by anyone, whether interested in these matters or not. Let us first trace back our steps a bit. What we have been doing all along is question the veracity of the commonly held belief that the ground of human existence lies in consciousness, including in this consciousness all the multiple redemptive or salvific plans that human thought has devised to give itself importance as well as perdurability beyond both birth and death. We have asked what could possibly lead anyone to sensibly question his own existence as the story of a “me” entity that rolls out from the past and into the future (in the mind of many, for all eternity). And we have answered that this radical query emerges from the realization that the record of experience and acquired knowledge that conditions our minds and our respective present and future lives is, not only extremely limited and dangerously divisive, but also infinitesimally smaller than and curiously unrelated to life. In this context, the word life is meant to denote that totality or infinite “everything” that includes the human mind/brain, and is its deepest source at every instant. It does not matter which words we may choose to point to this “total actuality.” We may refer to it in whatever way we may fancy: the sacred, the source, the totality, the truth, the absolute, ultimate reality, infinity, or god. What matters is that, without necessarily relapsing into the fantasies of wishful thinking, anyone can have some sense that there is indeed something (the inadequacy of the word “something” in this context helps us see the limitations of language) present at every moment that cannot be fully perceived with the senses nor be reduced, ever, to an intellectual formulation possessed by some and not by others.
The facticity of this all-encompassing presence that our sensory and cognitive ability cannot fully grasp, but that is nonetheless not just fancy speculation on our part, (take for instance, the mind-boggling multidimensional interrelationship of matter and mind in the cosmic flow), puts in evidence the absurdity of attributing our existence to what we each perceive, know, and crave after. On just this basis, one can then in all honesty ask some simple, but very pertinent, questions. Why is being the son of so and so, or a citizen of this or that country, more descriptive of who I am than the fact that I share being—life and death—with everything else that exists? Why do I consider myself different from the air I breathe (or that breathes me), if all my intellectual acumen would not be worth a rat’s ass (to put it as delicately as it deserves) if deprived of oxygen for just a few minutes? How could human consciousness not be at the deepest level the consciousness of life itself?
Even a small shift of attention away from the familiar trappings of the self and its social and cultural demarcations, and towards the unfamiliar vastness of what lies beyond knowledge, shakes the very foundation of the self without providing new buttresses of illusion and false personal hope. The humble silence of the earnest “I do not know”—impossible to confuse with the loud braying of the ignoramus and the indifferent—erodes the identity and then destroys the very sense of autonomous existence of the “I” who is nothing but knowledge and desire of this or that type, and of greater or smaller magnitude. A sound and measured skepticism towards the presumed value of the additive contents of personal consciousness frees the mind from the domination of any one particular version of supreme and particular meaning, and therefore devoid of social status and the highly-demanding and falsely comforting prospect of fame, redemption, resurrection, or reincarnation. Once no longer knowing “my” self and no longer fretting about the quality of “my” performance and achievement relative to that of others and, especially, to that my own idealized projections of myself, “I” am not. Terminally dis-illusioned, the self dissolves in the timeless nothing from which the unthinkable everything flows in and out of form.
The first implication and, paradoxically, the first step towards the actual (as opposed to the merely theoretical) realization that there is no such a thing as a discrete (particular) being, is an end to contradiction within and conflict with others. To be nothing culturally and psychologically naturally implies the sudden end of the process of personal becoming that desperately searches for whatever thought may deem capable of relieving acute feelings of insecurity and vulnerability; the process that in projecting a better self in an improved future is at the very root of everyone’s persistent isolation, hostility, anxiety, and suffering. Once emptied of the psychological content and the unnecessary cultural information responsible for on-going conflictive self-assertion, the mind is no longer at odds with itself and no longer resisting others and the world at large, and in the absence of friction, there is vast energy—the energy of life itself.
Free of the absurd demands of psychological desire and cultural pressure, the body is fully incarnate in material reality without resisting its vexing aging process or fearing its unavoidable annihilation. And the mind, finally freed from its terribly constraining mooring in a self-reflective consciousness conditioned by limited experience and made perdurable by irrational desire, easily loses itself in the formless realm of cosmic liveliness (to call it something) that anyone can sense exists beyond knowledge and the illusion of separate physical and psychological form.
The self cannot but wither with a full glance directed at the inconsistencies, limitations, and ultimately toxic nature of the knowledge and fixed thought patterns that support its feeling of separate existence and propel its often-desperate craving for secular and religious status. And the jump between being something and being nothing—between the known and the unknown—means just that, an instantaneous mental somersault of such potent abandon that nothing much is left of anything subject to subjective personal knowledge and control. Thus, the sustained presence of any pleasantly alluring or terrifying image of what “nothing and the unknown” might mean for the self is clear indication that the jump has not and will not take place while these images and ideas perdure. That is all.
There is life beyond the familiar but not, for sure, as the result of a positive gesture of thoughtful assertion and deserved conquest, but rather by virtue of a complete negation of the known. Thought itself suddenly sees its own limitations and dangerous bias, and in that the certainty that any projection of itself onto a foreseeable future will only amount to yet another extension of these same bias and limitations under a slightly modified personal cloak. It is not even correct to speak in terms of taking a step or making a jump between one state and the other, because putting it that way still presumes the continuity of thought and a separate actor making an informed choice. The simple fact is that there is no separation, this said in full cognizance that the words employed are not the fact towards which they merely point.
The inherent limitations of a self-centered and provincial past endlessly desiring to reach in the future modified versions of what it already knows, has no way and nothing to learn about what may lie beyond this invariably limited point of view. There is no valid ideological or methodological bridge between unconditioned freedom and imprisonment in the words and images of one’s thoughts and desires. Transit between our knowledgeable ignorance and the unknowable truth necessarily implies seeing that, in this respect images and words are useless, and that the self is nothing but that. (155)
The views and opinions that result from a lifetime of personal experience not only contribute to the fragmentation and contentiousness of social reality, but also distort and diminish the full range, immediacy, and purity of perception. Perhaps the most salient difference between thought and perception is that the first, being representational in nature, exists only in the mind and operates in psychological time, whereas the latter occurs only at every instant in chronological time. Thought records the past, and with this record interprets the present and makes conjectures about the future, while raw perception—which is nothing in itself—is one with the permanent fluctuation of actual reality and, therefore, ignorant of the division of mental time. This is why when thought is actively occupied with its past record and future agenda, that is, with its self, perception is severely hampered. We have no way to know the nature of the perceptive ability of a mind free of the specialized limitations of the needy thinker (oneself), and therefore still and silent.
Innocence is the word we have for the absence of preconception and fixed agendas, and it denotes intense and full perception. Another word that, if properly understood, can do justice to this quality of incandescent attention is love. Love, not as it is commonly used to describe the affective relationship between two individuals or between a subject and an object, but love as an unimaginable state of non-dual awareness, ignorant of itself, and therefore uncontaminated by fear, contempt, and desire. Still another good synonym for innocence is wisdom, a natural, unlearned, ability to see truth beyond appearances.
Beyond the familiar experience of the time-bound person, permanently struggling to avoid pain while gaining pleasure, power, and the exclusive forms of love, lies a boundless space of impersonal and therefore intense and affective perception. Remarkably, even though self-conscious thought has enormously obscured and distorted pure perceptual awareness, this faculty remains as the proper and far more intimate and natural mental state of the human organism. The significance of impersonal perception indicates that the fundamental challenge we face is, not to become better persons along the line dictated by thought’s particular record of experience and desire, but simply to see the absurd mental isolation and consequent perceptual and affective limitation of the person struggling to fulfill herself. Would any problem or sorrow remain unsolved for long if we were seeing and loving beyond the strictures of tribal and self-centered thought?
There are, of course, those practical challenges posed by life that require the mixing of perception and previously acquired knowledge to properly evaluate practical problems and thus find rightfully desired outcomes. But when everything we see and everything we think and feel about what we see (especially in our relationship with one another) is mediated by previous psychological knowledge, and thus turned into an object of indifference, fear or desire, our senses deteriorate, our minds become increasingly muddled, and the world remains what it has always been: the chronically disorderly and violent reflection of immature, stunted minds and conflicted relationships. This much we must see and, again, to see this much is already the impersonal action of love. (156)
Words, images, and ideas are all you get in this book and everywhere else because that is all we have ever been and will ever be—unless there is a profound upheaval in our brains and minds. Typically, our relationships hinge on the exclusively held words, images, and ideas that flesh out who we each think we are, and thus there is precious little communication between us that is complete, accurate, and significant, and practically no collaboration that is truly selfless. The déjà vu pictures and stale ideas that fill our heads rob mind of its natural spaciousness and silence, making equanimity and full spectrum attention (affection) extremely rare. We look at the material universe around and within us and reduce everything it holds to words, pictures, and numbers without much real feeling for the unimaginable vastness and sheer mystery of the living totality seamlessly comprising our presence. We look at the disorder in our societies and in the world at large and think of nothing better to do than hide even deeper inside whatever secular or religious bunker is more familiar and comfortable to us, and more impregnable to our presumed enemies. Some, disenchanted with their previous psychological and cultural fortification, join new groups and adopt new ideologies promising, like all others, to protect them and conclusively improve or reform what has already been previously and unsuccessfully improved and reformed a thousand times before. With our minds almost permanently in the grip of anxiety and confusion, we often turn to experts who are always more than happy to prescribe for us different therapies, occupations, liturgies, technologies, distractions, and pills. All excellent cures guaranteed to help pacify and develop our minds in accordance with pre-approved models of respectable self-realization. Throughout this nearly robotic process of personal becoming, words and ideas invariably articulate and animate our efforts, just as they do our pleasures and conquests, uncertainties, failures, and hostilities.
We motivate, confuse, and please ourselves with words, images, and ideas, and it is with them that we confuse, gratify, and torment one another. We conceive, project, and pursue our physical and social pleasures with the same representational currency with which, later on, we almost invariably come to recognize that they have grown stale and turned back into the same insecurity, pain, and loneliness that motivated our desire for them in the first place. “The lifestyle of the people of this country is not negotiable,” pompously declared the head of state, presumably unaware that the extravagant lifestyle of some brings insensitivity to the privileged, misery to many, as well as inevitable blowback violence and perhaps irreparable ecological destruction that ultimately will afflict everyone.
And yes, glad you asked, it does feel absurd to be throwing words, images, and ideas around trying to help myself, and perhaps you and others, see that self-centered thinking can only create conflicted and conflictive personal and social realities that lead inevitably to sorrow and further compensatory thinking and striving. Even modest awareness of the limitations and dangers of thought cannot help but urge independent and direct connection with the actuality of life, and this connection can only occur within each personal mind as the inadequacy of its particularly patterned reaction to every moment of life becomes evident. Thus, if you read here that a significant part of human identity is based on national chauvinism, which is a permanent source of biased perception, separation, injustice, wasteful competition, and war, then perception of the actual truth to which that notion refers cannot but eradicate all vestiges of patriotism from your mind. Regardless of what form it takes, the unreal self-protective isolation of the mental person produces very real frustration, fear, and violence. This is not an idea that is true to some and not to others, but an actuality true in itself and alone capable of unraveling the representational nature of the existential separation claimed by everyone.
Direct perceptual awareness of the central problem of human existence is the only correct approach to it, because in this matter, a gradual intellectual understanding is only a reaction intended to prolong the life of the status quo under a slightly different guise. When confronted with a factual problem, to interpose a dilatory and mental process prejudiced by previous experience and fixed expectations, is a sure recipe for failing to solve it. The second-hand and plodding “me” is always thinking how to protect, extend, and otherwise improve its own separate life—what it knows, likes, and dislikes, what it wants to get and hopes to avoid—by avoiding fundamental facts that would immediately unveil the falseness of its separate existence. Only a direct and complete perception can bypass knowledge and thought and so free the mind from any personal identification with recorded psychological experience and desire for predetermined future experience. (157)
Regardless of what form it may take, the exclusivity and self-sustaining character of personal memory/thought is largely destructive of perceptual sensitivity and affective intelligence, and hence bound to produce unwise and harmful actions. Put differently, the cause of all mental and social disorder lies, primarily, in the failure of intelligence implicit in psychological and cultural isolation, and only secondarily in the particular content and projection of the personal and ideological fragments with which this fundamental lack of intelligence divides and conflicts human society as a whole. Given that we all derive our personal identity and sense of certainty and security from attachment to a particular biographical narrative and specific forms of ideological consensus both of which use overt or covert violence to exclude and utilize others, no one can claim innocence on this primary count of mental and social alienation. The charge is not a moral one, however, because mental conditioning is not a personal option, but a historical and cultural imposition. No society aims to free its members from its own determinants and the dysfunctional thought and toxic behavior produced by personalism and tribalism of any type.
Having made the general case that the divisiveness of personal memory/thought is responsible for the chronic conflict and sorrow that afflicts humanity as a whole, perhaps we can briefly explore a particularly virulent component of this characteristic without losing sight of its general nature and its presence in each one of us. Because the particular knowledge and way of thinking associated with the accumulation of wealth and power is particularly divisive, it has a nefarious impact on the species as a whole. Born of the insecurity and self-deception that underlies all forms of greed, excessive wealth accumulation infects the mind and relationship with particularly virulent forms of insensitivity, paranoia, and violence. The ill-distribution of wealth could not do the social damage it does without first disabling perception and understanding of the pain and, eventually, the resistance it eventually engenders in the multitudes it treats as mere means to its irrational ends. The immense sorrow of the poor, the weak, or the otherwise unrepresented generally goes undetected by the rich and powerful, and this insensitivity is, of course, the key to the perdurability of their abuse. Any gesture of discontent appears as a sign of intolerable disobedience and disrespect generally demanding immediate repression lest it manages to simply put in evidence the cruelty of great economic disparity and the appalling inner poverty of those most responsible for it. The fear of such revelation is such that truly brutal forms of repression are routinely deployed in case of open rebellion against unjust obligations imposed and maintained through more subtle forms of segregation and intimidation. Even torture and murder will find justification in the firm belief that their dispensation in the case of a few “rotten apples” works for the good of those who might follow their example and dare question the inherent righteousness of superior wealth, knowledge, and power. After all, how else would insignificant people learn that the actions of their exploiters and oppressors represent superior forms of religious, political, and economic culture all charitably attempting to impose the rule of reason on unreasonable sectors of their society or of the whole world?
Everyone is responsible for the confusion and pain that comes from their particular act of personal and cultural separation, but there can be no denying that those of us who are significantly better off than most, and therefore enjoy greater latitude of learning and action, bear greater responsibility for the sad state of humanity. The carefully educated pseudo-intelligence that rises to top tier in every social sector does more than disregard those in misery and coax a great number of others into participating in the creation of wealth from which they will hardly partake. It is also one of the most important factors preventing the emergence of a natural, impersonal and non-ideological intelligence compassionate enough to end injustice in the economic realm (thus ensuring survival and basic security for all human beings), and meek enough to prevent the irresponsible exercise of power in all other areas of human life. (158)
Reckless human appetites are harming the biosphere to the point of putting in jeopardy, not just our relative well-being, but also our survival. Irrational exploitation of natural resources on behalf of excessive consumption is contributing to global climate disruption and several other dangerous and interrelated ecological variables. Polarized ideologies of every secular and religious stripe remain covertly or openly committed to either ignore or destroy one another. After all, their very existence depends on each making sure that the unity of humankind never becomes the only reasonable goal in the minds of their respective devotees. The systematic neglect or active exploitation of the poor, the uneducated, and the weak remains a historical constant, as does interpersonal friction and open conflict at every level and in every sector of society, from legislative bodies to the family. And at the root of all this destructive division stands the personal mind, isolated by its heavy load of experience, ambition, fear, conflict, dependency, and sorrow.
This general state of mental and social disorder is quite evident, and yet most human beings—even those who, in different respects, live and suffer at the bottom of the heap—would still argue against this description of human reality, claiming that it is too somber to be true. They would say that things are not that bad, or that while, yes, there might be some serious problems in specific regions of the planet, in certain aspects of human life, or at particular times in everyone’s life, there are human and extra-human efforts under way that will eventually or ultimately resolve most problems. Meanwhile, all that matters is whatever measure of personal security, certainty, and happiness each one of us can achieve within our respective groups of reference. Who has the time and disposition to consider personal responsibility in the face of a practically suicidal species? The idealized personal projections offered by different programs of secular progress or religious redemption (these last, armed with the ever alluring promise of an afterlife —fame, salvation, reincarnation, or whatever else), still blind billions to the unsustainable contradiction and violence posed by our fanciful representational presence in actual planetary and cosmic reality. That we are largely unaware of the tragic dimension of our general reality and, often enough, so alienated from our own selves that we can hardly feel our own pain and sorrow, attests to the fact that we are chronically insensitive, that we live life half dead.
In an article appearing in, of all places, an explicitly “liberal” publication, a sports coach and inspirational writer exalts personal success above all, and argues for the virtues of optimism and effort even in the worst of circumstances. He offers the example of his own wife, who rose by the power of positive thinking and hard work from the squalor of a ghetto in a major city to the power and wealth of the corporate boardroom, and from there to the prestige of her own private practice as a business consultant. Not for a second does the man wonder about the social, ecological, and mental price generally paid for this type of personal success. Nor does he seem to care or even notice that many people do not have the physical, emotional, and intellectual characteristics, let alone the social connections and the economic resources, that a slot at the middle or the very top of the social and financial pyramid demands. Hope, single-minded determination, and hard work is the obligatory recipe, and all that matters is the success to which this recipe is invariably supposed to lead. In this mindset dominant in the upper echelons of practically every society, self-fulfillment is not just a possibility, but a duty, for it constitutes the only clear indication of socially approved moral virtue, and the only viable path to the sustained status and pleasure that human beings everywhere blindly desire. Those who do not reduce the meaning of life to personal success and social respectability are all too often disregarded as negative or depressive thinkers, and brutally marginalized if they make explicit their concern for the present condition of the species and the dismal future that awaits unless there is a radical change in consciousness.
As members of a modestly intelligent species caught in the same existential predicament of living and dying on a planetary speck hurtling within and across unthinkable layers and dimensions of cosmic space-time, we are naturally prone to experience some measure of confused isolation, vulnerability, and sorrow. Amazingly, after thousands of years in this exact same condition, we are still unable to accept it with an open mind and great feelings of loving solidarity for all its manifestations. Despite all our difficulties, we still find it more reasonable to keep entrenching ourselves further and further within different and rigid personal stories and cultural tall tales. Why is it that we refuse to see that separate and relatively autonomous entities cannot justify and sustain their existence without incessant hard labor and obscene struggle among themselves, each life-project guided and animated by contradictory idealizations of material circumstances and personal states of mind? This drive to reach a pre-determined point of exclusive and stable psychological security and physical well-being is so self-isolating and all consuming that we can hardly see and feel the extent to which it is responsible for the general insecurity, fear, and sorrow of the species as a whole.
Naturally, an accurate and complete perception of the negative psychological, social, and ecological consequences of the clash of our personal and tribal compensatory actions would not just dampen the enthusiasm with which we pursue our dreams, it would also bring down the false existential foundation of the separate self. For the sake of clarity, let us look at this again from a different perspective. Our personal hopes and ambitions are more than just fuel for action in the general direction of secular self-fulfillment and/or religious redemption and eventual immortality. They are an essential component of who we think we are; they are the launching pad, vehicle, and destiny of our on-going identity, a mainstay of our absurd claim to a separate act of existence pointed towards an equally exclusive and improbably exceptional future. The shifting boundaries of our respective psychological enclaves and the movable feast of what we claim and want for ourselves are the main reasons we cannot see clearly and completely. If we actually look beyond ourselves and see the truth of our common insignificance and the horror of a divided humanity chronically at war with itself and with life over who is who and who deserves the most, our identities instantly crumple along with their unwise aspirations. The importance of this insight into the nature and consequences of who we each think we are and deserve cannot be overstated—our deepest well-being and the very fate of humanity depend on it.
The conditioned mind, bent on self-fulfillment and ensconced within the protective and constant mantle of family, clan, and tribe, is the source of all the disorder, conflict, and suffering that has forever afflicted humanity and is now actively harming the biosphere. The only solution possible to this immense problem is not an improvement of self-centered thought, but its termination. That is, that is, there must be an end to the proprietary experience and the exclusive fantasies that constitute and sustain a false sense of personal existence. To stay the habitual course propelled by multiple and conflictive forms of the same delusional hope will, in some not too distant future, make life unbearable, if not impossible for all. (159)
How can one see oneself as essentially memory and the projection of modified versions of this same memory through thought/desire? How does it become evident that thought bends back and over itself to reflect, with the past, about the past; that it interprets and evaluates the present with the experience (the knowledge) of the past; and that it uses every moment trying to build a future imagined also on the basis of previous knowledge? Is there anything in self-consciousness and in the pre-personal (animal), cultural, and biographical strata underlying the conscious mind that could possibly venture into something not within its own (and proximate others’) realm of experience and knowledge? If the contents of memory are the ground of being and projected becoming of the self-conscious mind, then this conditioned mind can hardly conceive of any reason why it should go beyond this ground except, perhaps, if it bothers to trace all angst, violence, and sufferings to this manner of being. The individual suffers, along with billions of others, the negative consequences of an isolated and ever- striving mental (representational) existence, and he also suffers the relatively hidden incapacity to do anything truly effective about this condition, partly because of its complexity and magnitude, but mostly and more intimately because no distinction can be made between this condition and him. The conditioned mind is not something that is occurring to the self; it is the self. Paradoxically, it is precisely by making evident the irrelevance of the self that this realization of impotence in the face of chronic isolation, conflict, and suffering is capable of uncovering an unthinkably different dimension of being.
Is living within the claustrophobic confines of a particular psychological and tribal context, and therefore distant from most others and alienated from life itself, the only possible way of being human? Given the many unresolved problems and endless apprehension and conflict generated by the limitations of personal knowledge, why is it that we continue to trust that thought (the dynamic expression of this limited knowledge) is the only place and best hope of our existence? Is it because life—clearly the fundamental ground of our being—with its all-inclusive depth, magnitude, and flowing actuality is necessarily and forever out of the reach of the intellect and therefore not a possible source of personal identity, as stored and projected experience is? Must we treat what we ignore and what lies utterly beyond the reach of knowledge as if it did not exist or matter just in order to protect the familiarity of our flimsy sense of being in separation? Are our personal narratives and their imagined continuity in mental time the treasure we make them out to be? Are they worth the madness of a willfully sustained alienation from each other and from our deepest source in life itself?
Anyone can gain awareness of the low threshold of our perception and the limitations of the cognitive edifice that our introspection, empirical observations, and theoretical elucubrations have gradually built over centuries. We can also realize that regardless of how much we may increase, edit, cross-reference, theorize, computerize, and otherwise refine the information we gather about the world and ourselves; this approach is inherently inadequate when applied to fundamental aspects of human life. The knowledge that is the stuff of personal thought and identity cannot ever remedy the conflicted mental state and the social division it necessarily generates and sustains. Finally, we can also come to see that self-centered knowledge cannot ever bridge the distance separating us—its largely disassociated storage units—from the infinitely complex and ever changing totality of existence, actual and potential.
The relatively recent appearance of the Internet, that global out-picturing of our personal and provincial brains, has made more evident than ever before that wider access to ever-greater quality and quantity of information does not significantly decrease our solitary mental isolation, nor increase our capacity to find fully participatory and efficient solutions to the myriad interconnected problems that beset us. Clearly, differences in the quality and quantity of the information or religious unction we each embody and play out in thought, feeling, and action are not in themselves responsible for the persistence of human division, conflict, and suffering. This means, of course, that new, different, and “better” forms of knowledge and belief will never solve our problems because all their conceivable manifestation will only undergird the same entrenched existential alienation that is at the root of all our problems. With its source unchallenged, irrational and hurtful personal seclusion knows nothing better to do than strengthen further its identification with old, remodeled, or new—but always exclusive—claims and pseudo-solutions that merely recreate the division and suffering they pretend to overcome.
An entire universe of intractable problems came into being when, early on in our development as a species, practical knowledge became personal psychology, and psychology, society. That is, the knowledge the mind had started to gather from experience, and the very mapping ability of the human brain became self-referential, personal, enclosed within itself, and self-projecting; and this transit occurred without human beings having any realization of its consequences. Thousands and thousands of years after this early transition from empirical knowledge and functional thought to dysfunctional tribal individuality, it is with the same fragmented accumulation of knowledge (especially exclusive personal knowledge and tribal tradition), that we are still constructing a future that, just like the present, is only a relatively slight modification of the past. Trapped within the dysfunctional mental and social reality created by our being and becoming, and insanely believing that we are external to and in charge of this reality, we are truly what we suffer from. We only think that we are fundamentally different from one another, we are not. The same contradictory, confused, and inherently adversarial personal stance created by knowledge/thought within the constraints of particular secular and religious enclaves operates in each one of us.
However, quietly hidden in the limitation of knowledge and the absurdity of divided and contradictory progress lies the possibility that freedom from suffering and freedom per se, can come from the disappearance from the brain and psychic field of those aspects of thought conditioned by psychological/tribal experience. The pinched life experienced by every conditioned individual, and the general human reality this sad cellular experience of life determines, would be unimaginably transformed if the psychological and tribal dimension of knowledge were to somehow dissolve, relegating thought to its proper role as an effective mental tool necessary to extract practical solutions from well-diagnosed practical problems.
Is this break of psychological and cultural continuity possible, and if so, does it come with a guarantee of subsequent connection to the order and intelligence that permeate life as a whole? Who could possibly answer these questions and how could the answers—necessarily couched in the symbols of pre-determined knowledge and desire not immediately become as divisive and ineffective as all other forms of thought presently crowding, desensitizing, and antagonizing our minds?
Basic logic and, beyond that, accurate, impersonal observation, can take anyone up to the point at which it is impossible to continue denying the small and dangerous reality created and recreated at every instant by a brain/psyche made separate and irrational by the images and ideas that occupy and control it. If this realization is not just another set of words in search of a more pleasant state of mind, but an actual jolt to the brain, the physical and psychological conditioning may come undone. To ask about the theoretical nature and probable outcome of a deep insight into the human condition is useless and counter-productive, because that is obviously thought doing more of the only thing it can do: create more ideas, likes and dislikes, fears and desires. The same goes for asking for a well-defined method that will lead one to insight because, as we have repeatedly said, positive descriptions of goals and procedures are, in this matter, mere reiterations of thought and extensions of personal identity, and therefore not the radical departure from the known that is so necessary.
All anyone can do, and must do, is see what is limited, divisive, illusory, and false in himself and in human reality as a whole, and do so while refraining from reacting to this perception in any predetermined way, for any such reaction is a return to the usual pattern of self-centered and self-projecting personal thought. An accurate, complete, and passive perception of what is actually happening at every instant is already an entirely different mental state, one that is free of stale knowledge and the clattering back and forth of self-centered thought. (160)
Direct awareness of a frightened and painful personal existence seamlessly unfolding within a species-wide state of somnolent alienation from life can shift attention to the possibility of an awakened state that must, in some sense, be already present as the natural, healthy state of full integration in life. Clearly, if recorded tribal and personal experience has so disturbed the operation of thought that it is no longer capable of self-correction, then there is nothing to do beyond staying with the facts, while dimly seeing the possibility that an entirely different state of being may somehow displace self-centered thought and heal the damage it has brought about. The main difficulty here is that the self, who can hardly conceive of a revolutionary event of which it is neither agent nor beneficiary, is generally prone to loose sense of the gravity of the general situation, disregard its own impotence, and dismiss offhand the fact that its disappearance is the only possible solution. However, if the chronic state of atomized, conflicted, hostile, and suffering human existence is somehow perceived along with its habitual defense system, with full and undivided attention, this attention is in itself the irruption into the mind (or the sudden unfolding within it) of something utterly beyond personal experience, and yet completely natural and timelessly present. In other words, our tragic situation definitely warrants unprecedented attention, and this quality of attention is both the collapse of the phenomenon of personal isolation and cultural fragmentation, and an unthinkably different mental state that is in complete harmony with the all-encompassing order and force of life.
Just as we say that a heart is sick when it has lost its normal rhythm, we can say that a brain heavily conditioned by the general experience of the species and the particular experience of the self has a severely frayed connection to life, and is consequently quite ill. The question is whether the mind/brain is condemned to the rigidity of its self-obsessed programming, or can somehow yield to its proper place in the general torrent of life and, in that, regain its heath. (161)
Is it possible for a human being to be free of all identification? Can you and I live in the world with all its divisions, disorder, banality, hypocrisy, and violence, but be free from its influence? Can anyone survive the erasure of previous psychological experience and further personal projections, and thus be released from all affiliation to (and antagonism toward) different groups with their particular distinctions, ideologies, methods, and projects? Could the brains sitting within “our” respective skulls suddenly break ranks with the conditioned mind of humanity except for what it may take to keep the physical organism alive, and perhaps be of some assistance to others for whom the personal enclosure and the group constraints may be already intolerable?
Let us underline once again that it would be erroneous to assume that any “one” in particular could ever find a way out of cultural and psychological predetermination. If the possibility of a radical deprogramming of the mind can actually occur in a particular brain/mind, it is foolish to expect the same person coming out at the other end, free of conditioning. Put in a different way, the conditioning of the mind that determines its self-centered separation from life is not something that Joe or Jill can overcome or survive, as they could overcome hepatitis, or survive an earthquake or a bad marriage. No “one” can say with certainty what an unconditioned mind might be but, clearly, it could not possibly be a personal mind defined by a particular cultural and biographical identity and a given set of predetermined but gradually evolving attachments to different persons, things, institutions, ideas, and plans.
Personal isolation, cultural chauvinism, and the general human alienation from life are not subject to improvement; that is one essential point. Another essential point is that either there is, or there is not, a unitive state, no intermediate state is possible. There is no way to move gradually away from being a separate and particular human being and towards life as a whole. The mystery of life is all there is, but this fundamental truth is overshadowed by the opaque, second-hand symbolic reality of human thought into which we are born and where we generally spend all our days until we die. What is illusory and false can have no contact with the truth, and the separate self is the axis around which all that is illusory and false revolves. Nothing positive can be done about this tragic state of on-going alienation, for it is, at every point in time, the accumulation of all previous remedial actions undertaken by the separate self and operating within different tribal sanctuaries. Any projected action would only add to the dysfunctional mental heap that is already firmly in place. All that is possible, then, is to see oneself as a highly reactive bundle of irrelevant memories and desires and the world as the moment-by-moment sum total of our thoughts, feelings, actions, omissions, and interactions. Through this perception there is an emptying of personal mental content that is unprecedented (not memory based) and passive (non-self-projective). Without fossil memory fuel and a crazed personal pilot to run its course, the mind stops grounding the deadening maze of self-assertive and time-bound action. (162)
Someone takes a photograph, quite a beautiful image of great white summer clouds sprawled over valley and lake, just as the darkness of an approaching storm slowly overtakes them. One instant in time and one point in space seen and frozen from one of a zillion possible points of view. One resulting image forever disconnected from, and utterly incapable of adequately representing, the unthinkable depth and mystery of that instant now forever gone, dead.
An image such as this one could be made at every instant in time, at every point of space, from every possible point of view, and for a million years, and the resulting collection would still be largely unrelated to the passing actuality of life as a whole.
Even though we have trusted our very existence to it, representation (thought) has very little significance. What is essential is the presence of the unknowable totality at every instant and in everything. In this insight, the brain is flushed clean of all the recorded images and ideas that may well describe and articulate the self and its evolution in time, but that in doing so, dull the mind, desensitize the heart, and mess up the world. The noisy, hyperactive, and permanent presence of self-centered thought blocks from sight the unimaginable light of the truth; thus, if this light is present, there is no “one” seeing it. (163)
“I” wanted to know what is it that is intrinsically “me,” that is, who “I” might be without reference to anything else. Once all past, present, and possible future sources of identification (associative as well as dissociative, and intra-psychic as well as social) were carefully reviewed and discarded as essentially external to “me,” there was hardly anything left. Mind (consciousness, awareness) has no occupant, no center, and having no center, it has no periphery, either. Mind is, it exists, but it is not fundamentally personal. It can contain compartmentalized, and therefore limited and relatively fixed, sets of personal data armed with behavioral instructions, but such storage units are not even descriptive of its nature, let alone actual or potential depositories of the truth itself.
The “I” only exists in flimsy symbolic reference to remembered and imagined things and events; and because this essential fact is generally ignored, the presumed importance of the person grows and grows, and is able to encapsulate mind and, in that, to obscure life itself. If there were someone who knew the illusory nature of “my” existence, it would still have to be “me” identifying with this new bit of information and trying to do something with or about it, and therefore constituting only another act of the same old multi-ring circus program of self-centered thought displaying the same divided and chaotic humanity.
Nothing and no one exists in isolation. The cosmos, even in its most opaque material expression, is not just an expanding collection of discrete entities connected in local, mechanical, and predictable ways. The notion of separate and largely self-sustaining and self-controlling entities is a creation of human culture that while valid and useful, even essential, in certain areas of our life, is deleterious to mental health and a great obstacle to immediate (local) and extensive relationship. It is clearly necessary that the mind be able to separate itself from what it observes in some instances and aspects of our lives, so that in isolating, conceptualizing, and comparing what it perceives on behalf of what is needed, it may understand and profitably tinker with certain things, events, variables, and circumstances. However, at other levels and with other things, especially with other human beings and with the self as far as the self knows itself, this same capacity to isolate, conceptualize, and project is responsible for the unending friction, confusion, and pain we all know so well. What else could result from the permanently wrongheaded attempt to defend and expand some illusory sense of personal and tribal identity, certainty, and security, while remaining fundamentally alienated from most everyone and everything else?
Paradoxically, real security may only exist in what to our blinkered eyes appears as the total insecurity of a mental state free of an occupying process of separate being/becoming laboriously attempting to control its own private mind and life. The only real security there is resides in direct and anonymous living awareness that the mysteriously undivided movement of life is all there is. (164)
When has the corrupting force of the profit motive not in the end destroyed the predator as well as the preyed upon? How often and for how long has humanity not been at war, and the wealthy, the learned, and the strong not exploiting the poor, the ignorant and the weak, or been (just as violently) indifferent to their plight? And, how often and for how long have the poor, the ignorant, and the weak not expected their deliverance to come from those who so often ignore, deceive, harass, rob, and destroy them? When have religious ideologies and their secular counterparts not lied to gullible and suffering multitudes, all too eager to believe that they will eventually enjoy the peace and happiness (temporal or extemporal) promised to them in exchange for obedient compliance with the right pre-established programs of personal being and becoming? When have the genders ceased their tired hostilities; when have the old and the young? When have different races, and different ethnicities, and different social, economic, and educational classes ever closed the mental and material gaps separating them; when have they put an end to their mutual aggression? When have the nations of the world ever been truly united and, therefore, at peace? When has humanity ever stopped exploiting and destroying the natural world as if it were a dead thing existing outside itself, useful only in its seemingly unending capacity to satiate absurd appetites? When have our many cultures, the glory and pride of human “civilization,” with all their traditions, their ever growing scientific knowledge, their great economic, political, educational, and military institutions, their multiple art establishments, and the rest of their near infinite attractions and distractions, ever managed to find reconciliation and enlightened collaboration? When have our cultures been even partially successful in their tireless effort to “civilize” and pacify the poor human beings who embody and sustain them through avid consumption of their material, intellectual, and “spiritual” products, naively convinced that ideological conformity and obedience to tradition and authority is the path to security, freedom, and worldly or otherworldly self-realization?
When and for how long has the human being been truly happy and good, when at peace with all other human beings and at ease with himself? Is not the present mental confusion and social disorder the result of thousands of years of contradictory and ultimately failed attempts to straighten ourselves out so that we may experience some measure of security and peace? Why is it that we still trust that whatever we each happen to project onto the future will prove to be the way out of this ancient, pervasive, and self-sustaining purgatory? (165)
What positive action is there that is available to everyone, commensurate with the problems we face, and able to set straight the abysmal record of its antecedents? Should we start a new political party or a new religion? Should we work on poverty relief or retire to what is left of the wild to meditate or pray? Should we join an environmental organization, an Internet chat room, or a sports club? Should we make more science and literature, more music and art, or should we just drink, drug, and entertain ourselves into bittersweet oblivion? Should we trust technology upgrades for the realization of our hopes for lasting happiness and eternal personal redemption, or should we go back instead to plead with our old fashioned and half-forgotten, never so responsive gods and principles?
What is one to do? —that is the silent cry resonating, if not in every mind, at least in those even minimally aware of the dismal record of our efforts to find a reasonable way to live and relate to others and the rest of existence. We have tried forever to find peace and harmony, and all our efforts have culminated in the permanent sense of impending disaster with which most of us live in the so-called post-modern world. It is absurd to talk of “the ascent of man and the rise of human civilization” when nothing we have achieved has come even close to bridging the internecine division of a species. After thousands of years of “progress” we still are, personally, enormously distant from most others and, socially, a disjointed collection of hopelessly conflictive and lethally armed jingoistic tribes. Our far from trivial achievements in the domain of science, technology, and social organization have remained exclusive in many important ways, never extended, or accepted, to benefit everyone in equal measure and, worse yet, all too often used to intimidate, exploit, and destroy others. None of our serial reform efforts in the realms of mind and human interaction has ever managed to eliminate the anxiety, the reckless over-reach, or the antagonism regularly distressing our personal psyches and degrading or wrecking the relationships that, altogether, account for the reality in which we all live.
In fact, what keeps this whole self/tribe centered system moving implacably forward, despite its invariably mediocre or appalling effects, is the different and often opposed efforts we all make to develop our particular groups of reference and improve ourselves materially, psychologically, and “spiritually.” In other words, our personal belief in the redemptive capacity of the imagined future is what keeps humanity moving forward, but only towards slightly improved or significantly worse versions of the same past experience. Despite enormous evidence to the contrary, we go on wondering what course of action might be better suited to solve the myriad problems we each suffer from most, but without ever touching the psychological separation and species-wide tribal division and animosity from which they all emerge. Generally desensitized, confused, and weakened by the record of our previous failures in getting along well with others and ourselves, we insist, against all reason, that what we ought to do is work even harder. Work harder in reforming our respective groups of reference, and even harder yet in complying with their respective methods promising the realization of our exclusive material, intellectual, aesthetic, or religious ambitions.
The answers we give to the perennial question of what to do about our isolation, pain, fear, and frustration are never right, and this is simply because their conception and implementation take place within the field of cultural fragmentation and personal alienation from which all our mental and relational difficulties emerge and in which they remain. A much more pertinent and vital approach to this issue of appropriate action is to question what it is about us, personally, that makes finding a true and final solution to the general discomfort and suffering of humanity as a whole seemingly impossible. Is our personal and collective impotence not the result of the egotism and conflict we all embody and suffer, as the disorderly social reality and compromised ecology in which we all live is the natural consequence of the irrationality of our personal and tribal claims and ambitions?
There is, however, bright news in this lugubrious human reality. A full insight into the human condition and our contribution to its permanence dissolves the identification with the divisive mental record and contradictory agendas on which we depend for the fantasy of an evolving existence, and it is solely on this collapse of the illusion of separate and evolving personal being that the future of humanity depends.
It would take far more than the absence of war to attain peace. Such peace implies a global condition of non-ideological and, therefore, all-encompassing, rational, and caring collaboration between human individuals, national, and regional groups mindful of the obscenity of unnecessary suffering, the frail singularity of the Earth, and wholeness of life. Preventing this real peace is, of course, the persistence of the personal memories and internalized cultural forms from which we each draw a particular sense of on-going personal identity and relative security. We can deceive ourselves for as long as we want, but the truth is that no further tweaking of specific instances of psychological separation and cultural division will ever solve the mental and social disarray they themselves generate regardless of what form they may exhibit at any point of space and time. Sanity and, consequently, harmony only come into being, and do so instantly, when particular human beings stop identifying with anything deemed to be greater than themselves, and live anonymously, simply, and quietly, one with life. An unattached, undefined, timeless, and therefore unselfconscious human mind is naturally sensitive, not just to all other human beings and their fundamental needs (equal to its own), but to all other living beings, and the totality of life.
Peace is, therefore, never the result of a wish, a hope, or a discipline. Nor is it an interval of relative duration wedged between periods of personal, interpersonal, or inter-tribal turmoil and violence. Along with goodness and intelligence, peace is the outcome of no longer attempting to be “someone” while simultaneously striving to become someone better, or someone else altogether. The end of the anxious and violent urge to extract from others and ourselves incremental service to an artificial sense of personal being and superior social standing is the reinsertion into life of the fully integrated organism, and vise-versa. A sane, free, and caring human being, while perhaps still placing natural talents and learned skills at the service of others, has absolutely no need to claim, defend, change, or work to expand and improve the material and symbolic visibility of a separate being occupying a particular social position in a given cultural context. The social service such a human being provides lies, not in what s/he might do for others (which she may nevertheless do, if only to earn an austere keep), but in the presence (for some evident) of a wisdom and love of unspeakable value. Humanity will stop fighting, cheating, seducing, and hurting itself only as the illusion of psychological separation disappears in one individual after another making evident the blessing of our common presence within the mystery of life.
Again, it is always far easier to remain blind to mental isolation and the harm it does. This, even as it becomes increasingly obvious that no positive personal or tribal action can ever put an end to the conflict and sorrow in which humanity and each one of us have always lived. It is only by negating the multiple and equally false positive choices created by self-centered thought that the necessary immersion in the infinite and orderly inclusiveness of life becomes apparent.
There is endless joy and peace in the realization that the flowing embrace of life does not demand from anyone justification through special effort or sacrifice. Life has not established self-conscious hierarchies within itself. It does not make the odious comparisons and classifications that have damaged our sensitivity and trivialized or embittered so many of our relationships. The plenitude of life has only one requirement and it is a negative one: no separation and, therefore, no distinction, no rank, no exclusive alliances for the purpose of advancement over others, and no time. No time, meaning a manner of being that does not stand on the mental record of a private past projecting itself into the future by using the present as a functional bridge between those two: the past “I” remember and the future “I” think I deserve and simultaneously fear I may fail to attain.
Life is a happening thing; it is the undivided awareness of love and the enlivening force of death. There is no one living life as there is not one who dies to it; life and death are not objects of personal preference or aversion. Life is all there is. Life that comes and goes, appearing and disappearing as it pleases, and certainly doing so in total disregard for what any isolated set of half-dead self-projecting memories calling themselves “me,” may know, believe, think, fear, or want. (166)
Life is not what any religious or political ideology says it is. It is not either what any particular science or art, or science as a whole and art as a whole, may say it is now or a thousand years from now. The distance that separates us from life, from the truth, is simply unbridgeable by belief, including that more sophisticated and, in some realms, useful cumulative form of belief we call science. Life is necessarily out of the reach of a mind constructed from the symbolic record of experience, and gradually expanded through the additional acquisition of extremely subjective forms of hope and faith, as well as different types and levels of more objective information. The narrative supporting our sense of psychological and tribal existence is well served by what we each personally know and believe—who we think we are and want to become—but none of that has much to do with the mystery of life itself.
The most extraordinary paradox of our experience- and desire-based existence (our self-definition and self-projection) is that our armored and weaponized identity bunkers separate us, not only from one another, but also from life itself. We exist, psychologically, as particular stories that can only assert and prolong themselves in separation and almost permanent competition and opposition with practically everything and everyone else. I am who I am because I am this, that, or the other. I am who I am because I am not you: you being someone else identified with your own peculiar this, that, and the other.
We are like fragile little boats made of images and ideas crisscrossing cultural lakes made of the same mental material. Both the psychological vessels and the cultural lakes are inconceivable not in relative isolation from others like them. The very existence and form of every one determines its separation from others and vice versa. Practically invisible to the world created by (and made of) symbolic representation flows the seamless actuality of life, its liveliness all-inclusive, and therefore irreducible to the dead symbols, formulas, metaphors, and theories fleshing out our particular conceits. Paradoxically, our self-regarding and evolving insularity is dense and persistent enough to obscure life indivisible, the absence of separation. Just as a relatively weak hand can pull a lever that drains a whole lake or launches a missile armed with a nuclear weapon, the idea of “my” autonomous and enduring presence can create the deadening illusion of life’s absence. In the definition and on-going assertion of our personal lives—in what we think about our particular past, present and future, and in what we busily do on that basis—we disregard the ocean and darken the sky. This endlessly recurring betrayal of our mysterious participation in life is the root cause of all our animosities, fears, and sorrows. If anything, we are life. (167)
It does not matter what “I” think about anything, because nothing is what I think it is. This also means that I am not what I may think I am. My knowledge is limited and knowledge is, in itself, limited in that it is never what it is about; thus, the most significant function of my many opinions, beliefs, and desires is to create the blurry, particular notion I have of myself and everything else. There is no such thing as “me” and “myself.” There is only a thought process occurring in a particular brain (as it does in most other brains); a self-isolating process that persistently projects itself from what “I” think is my past, through what “I” think is this present moment, and towards what “I” think (desire or fear) is my future.
This self-encapsulation of the mind by thought is not, however, a necessary condition. Thinking can be limited to the rational treatment of practical, impersonal, matters. This occurs when it ceases to be the ground (the time and the space) of an isolated and self-reflective personal existence endlessly pursuing status and pleasure in the gradually evolving maze of obligation, banality, and sorrow created by its own limitation and prejudice. What remains when there is no longer anything personal to remember or desire, when the time needed for personal becoming is no longer there? Is there anyone, anywhere, who can rightfully ask this question, let alone answer it? (168)
Globalization via a corporate takeover of the world has already proved to be even more malign than the types of globalization routinely attempted in the past by imperial nations in their particular areas of influence and “catholic” religions in theirs. The very corruption and inevitable decline of every expansive and self-serving psychological and social form is a dramatic sign of distress calling for the uncovering of life as the natural global phenomenon that the heavy shadow of irrational isolationism obscures.
The insularity that distinguishes the individual person breeds strife and sorrow, as does just about every social form the self creates and sustains through its ideological agglutination with others. However, since we do not know of anything other than the pleasurable superficialities, loves, and sorrows of our respective forms of self-modifying alienation, we call them reality and stay with them to keep our certificate of tribal membership in good standing. To leave this reality by ending our association with particular material and ideological sanctuaries and the measure of certainty and predictability they grant is never a respectable option, especially if it is not motivated by a transition to a new haven. This action of setting aside what is not strictly necessary and good is generally seen, rather, as a reckless act, possibly one inspired by madness. We usually live and die convinced of the all-importance of the character and degree of isolation that determines who we think we are and are meant to become, which disregards the otherwise indisputable presence of our tiny and vulnerable organismic selves in the indecipherable infinity of a flowing cosmos. Thus, our true ground in the boundless ocean of life rushes into the brain/mind when it is suddenly apparent that it is being held-up by the psychological/ideological dykes to which we grant super-personal or even divine significance to assuage the fears and fulfill the dreams of separate existence. In other words, the reductive infatuation of the mind with particular experience, knowledge, and desire as sources of exclusive identity and security finally succumbs to the quiet pull of life in whose embrace everything is contained, enlivened, and destroyed, and for which a distraught humanity has always darkly hankered.
As we approach, as individuals and as a species, a level of mental instability and physical danger capable of destroying us, we may easily perish by persisting in the habitual misguided effort to protect individual versions of the same blindness. However, this immense challenge may also help turn-on the light we desperately need to see, and abandon, the insanity of our exclusive affiliation with exclusive and conflictive sources of psychological and social being and becoming. If the absurdity of the struggle to be psychologically safe and socially respectable becomes apparent to at least some of us, one by one (as seems to be already happening), the human mind will soon rouse itself from its provincial stupor and selfish delusions to be one with the unthinkable stream of life and death. (169)
Self-centered thought is memory using consciousness to look at and react to itself and everything else it sees. “I” say that I can look at my body and think about it. I also say that I can look at my mind, at you, at society, and the world at large, and then think about all of that. To think is to remember, name, compare, evaluate, and ponder about the significance of everything, including perception, memory, thought, and emotion in oneself and others. And since thought can only operate with representations of the past assessing the present and projecting the future, its more salient characteristic is that it constrains the mind, and life, to the reduced mental space-time of the thinking self’s version of interior and exterior reality. Particular notions of “my” past, present, and future, clearly shape personal consciousness and the psychological and tribal boundaries separating each one of us from most others and from the wholeness of life itself, which, needless to say, escapes representation and any other form of control and limitation.
Identification with the contents of memory and the movement of thought creates the powerful sense that the “I” is something other than the body, the mind, others, society, and natural things, all conceived as separate entities, and whenever possible and desirable, acted upon under the guidance of how they are mentally represented before and after the action. However, for all the power it may confer, this same sense of autonomous and unique existence based on the externalization of what is thought as “not-me” also determines that “I” must suffer intensely the physical and psychological vulnerability of my alienation. Self-isolation is a sure recipe for an almost permanent state of vague or intense anxiety and compensatory effort that, without ever curing the underlying condition, creates almost constant mental confusion and conflict, as well as insensitive, strained, or outright hostile relationships with others and the world at large. The separate existence of the self is not a fact, but an idea. An idea that limits our minds and our lives to the necessarily paltry scale of the experience and knowledge that memory records and that fear and desire mechanically project onto the future of the same idea-based persona.
The progressive system of personal identification with constrictive representations has come to dominate the mind to such an extent that not even the discomfort and suffering created by it can unmask and terminate its nearly universal cultural provincialism and egocentric isolation. In turn, the systematic failure to attend to the call for radical change issued by the high incidence of conflict and sorrow in our minds and relationships sustains the different and contradictory forms of psychological and cultural alienation we take to be “our” particular lives. Worst of all, this tragic insensitivity keeps us alienated from the unifying and intelligent force of life itself that the uncaring and unintelligent character of personalized thought can obscure even though it is the true ground of our presence.
Taking every conceivable precaution to prevent ourselves from sliding into yet another form of religious fantasy (and, thus, onto further dogmatic separation), we have questioned whether our most intimate and familiar sense of personal and social reality constitutes the only possible mode of human existence. Tentatively, we say, no, and confront head-on the possibility that we may not be what we think, feel, and want; that, in fact, we may not be any “thing” at all.
An unpremeditated and non-projective, and therefore impersonal awareness of the terminal impasse created by the nature and limitation of thought is not a corrective polish intended to improve the aberrant optics of psychological separation, but the replacement of these optics by the direct irruption illumination of the light of life into the human mind per se. In other words, an insight into the banalities, sorrows, and general barrenness of self-centered existence washes the self out of the psychic field, makes plain the wholeness of life and intelligent, loving action, possible. The reality and experiential consequences of such a mental revolution are not contained, of course, in personal memory or its pleasurable, idealized, projections, because any such type of knowledge is precisely what makes the actual occurrence of this revolution impossible.
There is no room in the all-inclusiveness of life for an entity pretending to stand apart from everything else and, this, while drawing silly cartoons representing a preferred version of reality that stand in contrast or outright opposition to the many other similar versions drawn by others and their own preference. Every instance of the generic illusion of a unique personal existence is just a misguided set of images and ideas claiming a particular life and a manifest destiny. In confusing personal life with life itself, every one of us, and the species as a whole, relinquishes truth and with that freedom and reason, beauty love. This confusion needs to stop, and not tomorrow, but now. (170)
Whom should we blame for the plight of humanity? Some suggest that the hardship, fear, confusion, and violence they suffer are obviously caused by other people’s propensity to believe in gods other than the sufferers’ own true god. Other people would want to be more down to earth and concentrate blame on a particular group or institution; perhaps make responsible just a single individual, the one thought most responsible for their personal annoyance, disillusion, or hurt. Considering that grief of one kind or another eventually strikes everyone without exception, still others would like to blame life itself for everything that happens or fails to happen. Get real, they say, this is just how life is supposed to be, better get used to it.
None of this contradictory blaming makes any sense, however. Externalizing responsibility is, in fact, a huge part of the problem of being human. Whom, if not ourselves, can we rightfully blame, not just for our little peeves, frustrations, losses, and sorrows, but for the entire plight of humanity? If we stopped pointing fingers and putting our hope in any form of external, human or supernatural, intervention, and simply confront our situation without trying to do anything in particular about it, would not our pre-formatted, self-satisfied minds be profoundly disrupted? Seeing that we are still living in an almost permanent state of discontent, fear, dependence, self-delusion, and hostility, we would instantly stop boasting superior intelligence and a quantity and quality of knowledge guaranteed to attain something close to omnipotence in the not-too-distant future. Humility is the ground in which wisdom grows and flowers. We would also stop doggedly pursuing power and pre-conceived love and pleasure, simply because it is now obvious that they seldom, if ever, provide the enduring and profound relief we crave. If it became evident how we hurt, manipulate, exploit, and even destroy one another, we would stop thinking of ourselves as the only animal capable of reason, ethics, aesthetics, and love, and start actually acting in that capacity. Finally, seeing that our essence and destiny is deeply enmeshed with other species, we would stop pushing them into extinction and defiling the sacred biosphere on which we all depend.
The steady cultural atomization of the species, and the way in which we actively disrupt each other’s efforts to improve our circumstances and ourselves, clearly point to there being something intrinsically and seriously wrong with the human mind, and therefore also with the way we relate with one another and ourselves. That we conceive of our own existence as if it had nothing much to do with an all-inclusive cosmic context of which we are an infinitesimal but integral part, surely has something to do with our chronic mental disorder and lack of social and ecological harmony. For what would be left of our personal identity and tribal importance, and hence of our claim to existential uniqueness, if the mystery of undivided existence were to become ostensible? Would we continue dedicating most of our energy to growing our material lot, attaining a more pleasurable state of mind, and improving our social and “spiritual” standing? Are our chronic confusion and suffering, and the apparent indifference of life to our plight, not eloquent indications of a species-wide perceptual and cognitive blunder with terrible and self-sustained consequences?
The contradictory and absurdly reductive tribal and personal answers we give to the questions posed by our perplexing ephemeral presence within an ever-changing universe of undecipherable scale and complexity determine, largely, who we are psychologically. These answers certainly have little to do with the mystery of life and death that, being common and impersonal, they must explain away or entirely disregard so that our particular identities may have some space and time to be and become. In fact, the multiplicity of equally evasive and misleading answers providing specific identity and a sense of exclusive purpose to both organized groups and their individual members is greatly responsible for the general tension between us, and the equal distance at which we all stand from the unthinkable actuality of life, the deeper source, and true context of our presence. Now, to actually see the absurdity of this double alienation, and feel deeply the division, disorder, enmity, and sorrow it constantly engenders, compels one to question, without fear or ulterior motive, not just the relative moral correctness, but the very reality of a subjective personal narrative channeled and amplified through particular chambers of ideological resonance. This inquiry, if profound and intrepid enough, leads inevitably to a point at which the over-sized footprint of the “me” story on the mind drastically shrinks to practically nothing. The separate self cannot survive the impact of the vital force once the conditioned process of egotistic and tribal thought is no longer obfuscating the senses and dulling the mind.
New and loving (but not exclusive) friendships form around self-inquiry and the inevitable shared realization that life, and not personal consciousness, is the ground of our existence. The isolation, the fearful greed, and the animosity that torment and drive human beings apart from one another burn instantly away, when the mind, drained of psychological knowledge and desire, is one with the impersonal flow of life as a whole. It is not that the “chosen” ones have gradually gained perceptual and cognitive access to the sacred, but that the gift of consciousness, present in every human being, has broken the strangulation of self-centered though, and is now fully aware of life in both senses of the word of. It is life, and not the self, that is aware, unthinkably aware of itself. (171)
Truth is manifest in the devastating perception of no-thing, in the flowering of what is undivided, unconditioned, and therefore unknowable. Thought and its endless clatter are unrelated to the truth, albeit somehow contained in it. The absurdity of continuing to pretend we can understand and control life with what we know, believe, and desire is now fully apparent, and through this perception, the living truth enters the now empty stillness of the mind. Why would a healthy mind stay with what is fixed, illusory, and false? Why would it not be one with what is ever and unpredictably new and true? (172)
It is true that we are, psychologically, what we see, think, feel, believe, and want from a separate and, therefore, extremely restricted and biased point of view. It is also true that we suffer not being able to attain and hold on to the material, psychological, social, and religious goals proposed and struggled for, by, and from this same provincial and egotistical perspective. Since the different versions of the future we separately project and fight to attain are mostly contradictory and mutually exclusive, the actual future always turns out to be but a slight modification of the confused, conflictive, and sorrowful mental and social reality we have always known and forever tried to escape by imagining a better future. When this is evident, further effort and further wait are no longer an option. The fact is that we have no choice. Let us then face the truth of this maddening impasse, and let it obliterate the isolated perspective and the misguided objectives that constitute and sustain the self.
The end of self-centered thought is just the natural consequence of perceiving the absurdity and danger of clinging to an endlessly modified psychological separation that is in itself the source of all isolation, conflict, and sorrow. To say that life, living, is the absence of duality sounds a bit awkward, but it is the truth. There is no separation. Therefore, it is not so much that we must die to ourselves in order to be one with life, as that we have never existed as anything other than the self-perpetuating illusion of separate being. When this illusion is fully exposed, it fades away leaving only awareness of the undecipherable mystery of life. (173)