Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Expounding at length on the one-ness of everything

It is striking how long people can spend - either speaking or writing - expounding (in multiple ways, from many angles, with countless examples) the metaphysical view that ultimately everything is one.

Since Plato - at least - this has been a major theme of philosophy - Eastern and, more recently, Western. The idea that variety is illusion, that reality is one, eternal, changeless; that thinking is the enemy; and that we need more than anything to stop thinking; to just be, and then to become assimilated to the one-ness in a state of no suffering (at the least - and perhaps, at best, timeless bliss...).

If one's experience of this mortal life is primarily one of suffering, once one regards this mortal life as the only life - then this is a logical solution. If suffering is the problem, then not-suffering (or bliss) is the answer. It then becomes a question of how to achieve not-thinking, non-attachment and not-suffering...


This leads to those types of meditation that focus on attaining such a state during this mortal life; the types of meditation that aim at not-thinking; at simply being; at sublime indifference to the world, change and all that is distressing.

I personally find it hard to distinguish this type of meditation from deep sleep - when temporary - or death (understood as annihilation of the self) - when aimed at as a permanent state. Drugs that achieve an obliterative intoxication seem a quicker and more reliable solution than decades of meditative discipline...

Certainly this aimed-at one-ness is not a human state; it is precisely the removal of human-ness from a person.

It seems to me an acknowledgement that mortal human life is a mistake; therefore the solution is to abolish it.

Such a view can't really be fitted into a Christianity based on God as creator and loving parent; since such a God would not have made such an egregious error as to compel his children all to live-out a futile and miserable mortal life, the goal of which would be its own negation.


All of which shows how important it is to be clear about one's basic concept of life. We can't know what is best for mortal life until we know the place and role of mortal life - whether there is a life before and/ or after mortal life; and what are the nature of such pre- and post-mortal states.

Lacking any such metaphysical set-up, talking (whether at endless length or briefly) about the purpose or meaning of a person's life... is idle, or indeed worse than idle: malign.


5 comments:

ted said...

To be fair, I don't think all these "eastern" meditative realizations are about not-thinking, but to allow for thinking to come from a place of more freedom. Since the ego is so contracted, it is difficult to think rationally because we trapped by our emotions, etc. It's more about the vantage point of the mind than any activity that comes from it.

edwin faust said...

So much said in so few words! It took me years of working through Vedanta to arrive at a fraction of the clarity you offer here. It is indeed true that Vedanta, and almost all forms of Buddhism, believe there is something radically wrong with being a human individual. Our self-awareness is a disease to be cured by dissolution into the one-ness of being-consciousness. The analysis that leads to this conclusion can be persuasive, for all the usual marks of identity, considered separately, appear to have no lasting substance. Christianity, too, stresses the fleeting nature of physical existence and directs one's attention to an afterlife, but it also regards our actions in this world as determinate of our condition in that afterlife, thus giving a significance in eternity to what transpires in time. It is an illusion to think that this world is of value in itself and to behave as though it were our permanent or only home, but it is also an illusion to think that the world of experience has no significance and will melt into nothingness in the one consciousness that is the only reality. Your comment about drugs being a quick route to the deep-sleep nirvana sought through meditation reminded me of Hesse's Siddhartha. After years in the forest with the ascetics, Siddhartha concludes that he could have learned as much from the drunkards at the tavern. The Sanskrit word for deep-sleep translates as "almost enlightened." The "almost" comes, supposedly from not being aware of the one-ness, the emptiness. But I have never understood how being aware can avoid reviving the individual ego, which is what is said to stand in the way of enlightenment, nor has any teacher or text offered a satisfactory explanation. In the end, as you say, it all comes down to a denial of the Creator and a purpose for Creation. Both creature and creation are to be erased as a mistake. The ultimate nihilism.

edwin faust said...

So much said in so few words! It took me years of working through Vedanta to arrive at a fraction of the clarity you offer here. It is indeed true that Vedanta, and almost all forms of Buddhism, believe there is something radically wrong with being a human individual. Our self-awareness is a disease to be cured by dissolution into the one-ness of being-consciousness. The analysis that leads to this conclusion can be persuasive, for all the usual marks of identity, considered separately, appear to have no lasting substance. Christianity, too, stresses the fleeting nature of physical existence and directs one's attention to an afterlife, but it also regards our actions in this world as determinate of our condition in that afterlife, thus giving a significance in eternity to what transpires in time. It is an illusion to think that this world is of value in itself and to behave as though it were our permanent or only home, but it is also an illusion to think that the world of experience has no significance and will melt into nothingness in the one consciousness that is the only reality. Your comment about drugs being a quick route to the deep-sleep nirvana sought through meditation reminded me of Hesse's Siddhartha. After years in the forest with the ascetics, Siddhartha concludes that he could have learned as much from the drunkards at the tavern. The Sanskrit word for deep-sleep translates as "almost enlightened." The "almost" comes, supposedly from not being aware of the one-ness, the emptiness. But I have never understood how being aware can avoid reviving the individual ego, which is what is said to stand in the way of enlightenment, nor has any teacher or text offered a satisfactory explanation. In the end, as you say, it all comes down to a denial of the Creator and a purpose for Creation. Both creature and creation are to be erased as a mistake. The ultimate nihilism.

Jake said...

What timing. I had dinner with a Buddhist (American from my hometown but pursuing Buddhism) friend last night. His main problem with Christianity is that he simply can't accept that He lets His own adherents suffer. What was the image he used: the cathedral dome collapsing on his worshippers?
His goal does seem to be to deal with his suffering, a lot of which comes from his terror at politics and Trump and Global Warming, by simply negating it.
He does seem a bit intrigued, though, by my newfound and developing faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - I think that many Eastern teachings are confused and self-contradictory on this; I am applying their basic logic consistently, and not allowing for any unprincipled exceptions of the kind that (perhaps esepcially Western enthusiasts) bolt-on.

@edwin - I've mentioned before that suicide is, apparently, a logical conclusion of one-ness teachings. If this life is suffering (and serves no purpose), then why not? This is usually countered by some kind of (metaphysically rather arbitrary) prohibition - for example relating to the bad effect of suicide on future reincarnations, or (for Christians) that suicide is a sin punishable by hellish torments - in other words, suicide is deterred by stating that it will make your suffering *even worse*.

@Jake - I'm not sure how long you've been reading here; but I tend to assume that Christianity is not for everyone, because some people genuinely do not want what Jesus made possible and offered us as a gift.

Some people - maybe a lot of people - seem to want more than anything either annihilation and insensibility after death; or else a kind a barely aware bliss. If someone quietly wants this for himself, I would expect that God will grant him at least a subjective simulation of what they ask for. (On the whole, God - being loving parents - will try to let their Sons and Daughters have what they most deeply wish for - so long as this does not harm the intent of creation.)

But when someone preaches such doctrines publicly and tries to persuade others; I think he may well be expressing a hatred of God's actual creation, and God himself, a hatred coming from his own resentment and pride - and such people are quite likely expressing an indirect preference for Hell: that is the rejection of love, and of all relationship based on love.