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TOPIC: The world is only thought?

The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 03:52 #100275

Thanks everyone - couple of points above that emphasized for me the importance of distinguishing between philosophical systems:

- re Jake's Ramana quote: I don't think that the Self in Advaita should be seen as the same as Nirvana in Buddhism (or as the goals of other religious systems e.g. kingdom of God), necessarily. To think that all traditions are speaking of the same goal is itself a particular position, perennialism. That's why personally I think it's worth looking deeply into each system from an ontological and soteriological point of view. What do they see as the nature of existence, what do they diagnose as the problem, how do they suggest solving it?

- Chris, re awareness/consciousness and the attitudes of Buddhists - I'm surprised, because it doesn't seem very Buddhist to me to propose ANY kind of subject! At least definitely not in Theravada or Zen, the traditions I'm most familiar with, though Vajrayana may be different.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 05:15 #100276

A not-fully-formed thought on the themes: in agreement with Rowan that various spiritual/religious traditions have a variety of goals or ways of being or packages of insights, one might say, that encompass what one practices "for" in that tradition. In eclectic-dharma, where people are picking bits of whatever they like, they are also constructing a goal they want that may also be constructed from parts of various traditions. As with most things I try to start writing, I can no longer remember what point I was going to make, sorry.

The other thing that I have found that relates to what our questions might represent (that being other than what we think we are asking), is that most of the time if I make some grand statement, it is proven false within 24 hours. For instance, if I were to say "I always feel tired when the weather is cold" in conversation, the next day it will be cold and I will NOT feel tired. I think it's a sort of anticipatory anti-prediction, because actions that we see as discreet events already begin to happen in eternity, and seep into consciousness slightly before they become more physically evident. We aren't usually aware until the physically evident part, and then ascribe knowing earlier, if it happens, to some kind of supernatural phenomena. It's just a wider paying attention, such that sub/unconscious things are also noticed (even if one isn't aware of it...).

Questions are like that. They are more expressions of stuff being sorted out under the surface than actual intellectual seekings, even though we often only pay attention to the matter of the question itself, and ignore the half-hidden or hidden triggers.

Excuse my rambliness.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 06:30 #100277

Kacchapa wrote:
But when I notice somewhat palpably that the my-wife-who-said-the-thoughtlessly-wrong-thing idea is a figment of thought, or of something, that's a bit of a breakthrough for that moment. Can feel like a little bit of dying.

That's the ultra dharma version. In some cases it's easier to accept in some abstract way that meanings are interpreted, or even hold some idea like the world is only thought, but when you realize the vivid yet fleeting, the true but changing nature of our own personal experience of what is close to you -- that's a whole different and more important level of understanding. (As an aside, this kind of stuff is very much the essence of third path.) To instantly feel all the sensations of insult and also understand that the thoughtless wife, the wounded you, the unfair situation is a snapshot of interpretation that needs to be acknowledged but that might change in a millisecond, and to live in the middle space that doesn't bypass the experience and the openness of the uncertain next moment --- that's real understanding. (Another aside, when we recognize something in our very heart that has always protected us, but also always limited us, and we let go of even that, that's the essence of fourth path.)
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 06:47 #100278

every3rdthought wrote:
Thanks everyone - couple of points above that emphasized for me the importance of distinguishing between philosophical systems

I think calling these "philosophical systems", while okay for everyday conversation, is sometimes problematic when talking about it in relation to practice and the results of practice. It's very easy to define as a premise a philosophical system and then say here's where it begins and ends and here is how it defines things... but because this language is pointing toward experiences of practioners, I think the reality is a lot more sloppy and harder to put into bins. It can be hard to know exactly what some historical figure experienced or what the verbal expressions they used actually pointed toward.

A good example is the "no self/not self" aspect of buddhism. Because many teachers have use language that describes "no self", there could be a tendency to take them at their word and say "in buddhism there is no self"... but in reality, I think we would see these teacher act in ways that suggest evidence of thinking there is a self. (Buddha talking about his past, his accomplishments, his teachings.) So what do we conclude?

That's ultimately why I (try to) only talk about philosophical ideas with people who have a meditation practice, because at least then there is some grounding in the practical aspect of philosophical thinking -- the development of wisdom, rather than the exercise of intellectualism.

I do tend to a flavor of very sloppy perennialism, not because everyone is the same, but rather because there always seems to be the ability for the wise to >communicate< with each other, learn something from the other's experience, which suggests a kind of range of understanding that doesn't stay within philosophical bins and can reach out and understand how language is poetry for what is actually experienced.
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 06:49 by shargrol.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 07:40 #100279

Mark, I really was speaking more to Jake, to remind him of the further depths of the Ramana story.

The Zen story I was referencing was about the koan being a molten iron ball. I remember John Tarrant Roshi telling about his first koan-- "Mu", most likely. How for weeks he walked around, haunted and weeping. His teacher heard about this from his girlfriend; smiled, nodded...

There are numbers of Zen stories that convey the sense of desperate importance that is involved.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 09:05 #100281

Chris, re awareness/consciousness and the attitudes of Buddhists - I'm surprised, because it doesn't seem very Buddhist to me to propose ANY kind of subject! At least definitely not in Theravada or Zen, the traditions I'm most familiar with, though Vajrayana may be different.

There is always a subject/object duality going on when we're alive and perceiving. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to perceive. That's hard core Theravada. When subject and object disappear totally, we're either dead or in the midst of cessation. We can actually see this using our meditation practice to deeply examine how perception works. I think what I'm saying sounds odd because most practitioners, most teachers, most authors, hold out awareness, consciousness, the witness or some other concept (object) as the ultimate. My experience is that it is just not the case. There is no ultimate. Experience is relative, any experience. And experience (perception) requires a subject/object duality.

Hope this helps.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 09:12 #100282

Chris Marti wrote:
And experience (perception) requires a subject/object duality.

I think subject-object duality needs to be defined in this case. Are we talking about the duality that believes in the existence of a subject and object (that's how I tend to use the word), or are we talking about the aspects of perception that indicate close-far or foreground-background or inside-outside "perspective" or "frame" ?

(slightly edited)
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 09:14 by shargrol.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 09:35 #100283

"Who cares?" was an inquiry question that Dominic (one of Gary's students) found useful in his practice and one I use occasionally. For me, it invokes the answer "I do!" to which i respond, "Well, where am I?" It's a way to bring investigation back to subject if one is lost in thought-feelings.

However, it can also be defeatist if one is not careful, as Kate mentioned. If the defeatist attitude arises and one does not inquire "Well, now, who does NOT care?" or "Who has this feeling?" then one can get stuck.

Re: burning desire. For some reason, i am most drawn to self-inquiry and find it enlivening. Others might find the practice boring and repetitious and, therefore, probably would enjoy other practices more. But, there is "something" that moves "me" along when it comes to self-inquiry. Others may have similar experiences with other practices. __/\__

EDIT: Yeah, I'm almost certainly a "perennialist." I believe we are all headed towards the same realization in the long-run and all religions in their own ways are pointing at that.
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 09:38 by Jake Yeager.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 09:41 #100284

Good question, Shargrol.

From observation:

Whenever we perceive (experience) mind is automatically creating a perspective - a subject/object duality - that requires some thing to be the observed and some thing to be the observer. That's how mind and perception work. This is observable any time we have any level of awareness or consciousness. I was not referring to the close/distant meaning of subject/object. I was referring to the nature of mind that requires at least some duality for perception, of anything, to work.

EDIT: In Theravada teaching, and probably other buddhist teachings as well, the idea of waking up is in large part the realization of this process that is occurring all the time. As I see it we do not wake up to some ultimate version of reality. THIS is reality, whatever we experience. Right now. There isn't some other worldly, hidden from the un-awakened reality to be found.

Kate has been saying this better than me.
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 09:50 by Chris Marti.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 10:08 #100286

Thanks Chris. I agree with the heart of what you are saying. Reality appears as experience and experience is always a momentary construction rather than "real". That said, I don't enjoy accidentally hitting my fingers with a hammer. :)

I think I've had enough experiences where observer-ness and observed-ness were so vague or absent that I don't really agree that perception >requires< that those aspects be there (it was a bit of an obsession of mine to look/allow/open to those nuances), but it's not something I feel strongly enough to argue about. The important thing is that practice should point towards the insight that perception process are mediating our experience. (which sounds like a clunky sentence in my head, so I probably didn't say that well.)
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 10:41 #100288

I don't really agree that perception >requires< that those aspects be there (it was a bit of an obsession of mine to look/allow/open to those nuances), but it's not something I feel strongly enough to argue about.

Let's have coffee and talk :cheer:
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 11:12 #100289

Sounds good. :)
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 12:51 #100291

shargrol wrote:
I think I've had enough experiences where observer-ness and observed-ness were so vague or absent that I don't really agree that perception >requires< that those aspects be there

This is where I'd agree - while we may still behave as an agent acting on objects, the whole idea that 'I' am separate from an 'object' comes to be seen through. There is just perception - experience - being - consciousness. That's also why I wouldn't personally say that perception *mediates* experience - because the two can't actually be separated. I would however definitely say that interpretation-presenting-as-truth is a major cause of suffering, and one that also gets increasingly seen through.

EDIT: I shouldn't use the impersonal 'one.' This is what has happened for me - YMMV :)
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 12:57 by every3rdthought.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 14:23 #100292

My experience so far is similar, Shargrol and Everythirdthought. I wonder if semantics may be partially at play in discussions of whether 'subject-object duality' is necessarily simultaneous with 'experience'. It's interesting to me in this regard that, it appears to me at least, the subject-object structure certainly does seem coincident with languaging. In other words, I'm not sure I know how to *talk about* experience without invoking subject-object.

Heidegger has something interesting to point out here. In terms of the history of the terms ;) It seems that there's more than coincidental similarity between the Modern Western 'subject-object' view of experience and the much older grammatical 'subject-predicate' structure of sentences. You see, during the transition from medieval to modern culture in the West, when the issue of perspective (that experience is mediation, in other words) became really significant (see kant etc) the subject of the sentences we collectively uttered became, rather than an 'object' out there, increasingly US ourselves. Humans became the implicit Subject of all our sentences, because everything began to be tied back to our POV (again, see Kant).

Prior to this transition, a 'subject' was the 'what' that we might be talking about, like a loaf of bread, a place, an event, etc. The term 'object' was used to describe fantasies or merely imagined things. The reason why the term object came to be applied to the subjects of science (ha! couldn't resist) was that science was based not on observation per se but the exact opposite- imagining impossible things. (Newton's infinitely extended flat plane on which perfect geometric objects encountered each other demonstrating the 'laws' of physics, for instance; consider the importance of 'thought experiments to einstien's development of Relativity theories for a more recent example). So in a sense, initially, the 'objectivity' of science was somewhat pejorative. As was the 'subjectivity' of the idealists like Kant: making human beings the center of the experiential universe, trapped in their own version of things so that things 'out there' were permanently unknowable, rendered as Subjects without any predicates...

So yeah.... language is a slippery thing, which itself certainly shapes experience, and seems (to us moderns at least) bound up with a subject-object structure of experience. For medievals though, language was bound up with a creator-creation ontology. For ancient greeks, language was bound up with other assumptions, in some ways more similar to our current ones (yet still different). And so on.

So I'm wary of universalizing or reifying our modern notions of the subject-object structure of experience...

/philosophy rant off/ :evil:
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 16:22 #100293

I find a lot of dharma in Heidegger (and he had an ongoing engagement with eastern religion as I think we've discussed here before...) Schopenhauer too with World as Will and Representation which is like to have a proper look at, if I wasn't too busy already with the Shaivite canon.

Because of the grammarian tradition coming through figures like Panini, Patanjali, and Bhartrihari, Shaivite traditions often see language, it's structures and enactment as very important, and as encompassing both a system of bondage, and a means of liberation (like everything else in tantric non dual systems). Vac is personified as a goddess. The primary text on this is Padoux's book of that name which I haven't got to yet...

I'm not a perennialist as such but I will note that 'in the beginning was the word...'
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 16:24 by every3rdthought.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 17:01 #100294

This is where I'd agree - while we may still behave as an agent acting on objects, the whole idea that 'I' am separate from an 'object' comes to be seen through. There is just perception - experience - being - consciousness. That's also why I wouldn't personally say that perception *mediates* experience - because the two can't actually be separated. I would however definitely say that interpretation-presenting-as-truth is a major cause of suffering, and one that also gets increasingly seen through.

Figure this -- I agree with that, too!

The comment that lead to this discussion was that consciousness is dependently arisen - that you cannot perceive a non-object, or a non-subject. At every point when there is perception there is a at least a teeny tiny bit of that going on (substitute "dependent arising" for "that"). Yes, perception fades, and then subject and objects fade. And when we don't perceive objects, or a subject (observer) at all, then POOF! Cessation, or death if we're unlucky. And what is it like inside a cessation? Who knows? There's no perception there whatsoever, thus no awareness, and no consciousness.
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2015 17:02 by Chris Marti.
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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 19:57 #100295

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The world is only thought? 03 Sep 2015 22:51 #100298

Can we know the true nature of reality?

If not, we might have to settle for knowing about knowing.

What can I know for sure? Is the content of my thoughts true? Or must I be content to know that there is thinking?

The Buddhists say there are six sense doors. The first five are familiar to us as the five physical senses. The sixth is thought. Is there a seventh sense door, a direct channel into Reality with a capital R? I do not believe so. If there is no seventh sense door, everything that is experienced is mediated by the six sense doors. If this is true, there is no "Knowing" with a capital K. There is only seeing, hearing, tasting, touching/feeling, smelling, and thinking. Could it be that there is only experience, with a lower case "e"?

All conclusions about the nature of reality are known to us through the sixth sense door, the medium of thought. We cannot stand outside our experience to evaluate truth in an objective way. We may find this comforting or we may find it unsatisfactory; either way, comfort and dissatisfaction are known only through experience.

For the first thirty years or so of practice, I thought awakening was about directly knowing the ultimate nature of reality. Currently, I believe awakening is about investigating the nature of experience by means of the only tool available: experience. Awakening has changed from an ontological treasure hunt to an open-ended epistemological exploration. Much of my current practice has to do with coming to terms with the understanding that certainty about the true nature of reality will remain forever out of reach.
Last Edit: 04 Sep 2015 00:46 by Kenneth Folk.
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The world is only thought? 04 Sep 2015 06:37 #100301

Good stuff Kenneth!

I do think we've had a bit of a semantic/topic shift (as Jake suggested upthread).

I'm actually in agreement that consciousness is always "consciousness of something" and therefore can be described in terms of the objective experience. I also agree that experience is ultimately subjective, rather than empirically objective reality. The tricky thing is I don't think those two together mean that consciousness requires subject-object duality. I do think there is some validity in the use of the term non-dual experience.

I don't think that's an equivocation, but rather a distinction between the nature of experience and the interpretation of experience. Pre-awakening, most of the idea of "the nature of experience" isn't even a consideration, but rather the contents of experience (good, bad, indifferent) are the main focus and concern. Without second guessing it, experience seems to confirm the belief in the reality of objective reality and a separate subject that observes.

All along the path to awakening, it becomes clear that more and more experiences do not necessarily imply a subject, but rather they are objective experiences. At awakening, it becomes clear that all sensations/experience of being a subject are inherent in experience so nothing separate will ever be found that can stand outside of experience and observe it. Paradoxically, there is a sense of being unbound from experience as well as intimacy with all of experience. Consciousness is even >more< mysterious, not describable in terms of simple subject-object duality. Maybe non-duality works, maybe emergent property of matter works, maybe "the objectivity of subjectivity" works, everyone is going to find some words they like...

Unfortunately, I think this paradox/mystery winds up becoming thought of and articulated in a lot of ways that potentially create whole new metaphysical ideas, kind of a lazy shorthand. And unfortunately, these ideas sometimes even re-trap awakened people -- which is a little ironic, but that's life. I think the problem starts whenever "conciousness", "emptiness", or "non-duality" are believed to be a really-real >things<. Of course, language implies that way of thinking, and pre-awakening it really does seem that way, but the "thingness" of those things is not findable (in the way I'm using those words).

I do think Kenneth's assessment is most honest. I get a little twitchy when awakened people talk about their favorite metaphysical ideas and don't feel compelled to say "but that's a metaphysical model and by definition we can't know that for sure".

(And here ends the morning coffee fueled typing binge. :) )
Last Edit: 04 Sep 2015 06:42 by shargrol.
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The world is only thought? 04 Sep 2015 08:16 #100302

There is a peculiar sort of insight that has appeared now and again in my life, when I have been in extremis with some sort of burning question. It is of the tormenting, insoluble question turning itself "inside out" and revealing ITSELF as the answer.

This is difficult to express; I can only hope to trigger recollection or recognition in others who experience something similar. The first time was when I was in college, struggling with a hopeless love affair. In the Biology class I was taking, we were told about a polyp that, if you attempted to pin it down, reversed itself like the detached finger of a glove and floated away free. Somehow, that implied all sorts of things to me, in my very core. Sounds trivial, I know. In the immediate case, it implied being still; cease struggling for some outcome that would be a solution. Simply appreciate all the nuances and complexities that were present, allow them to reveal themselves and, when action was called for, let it be informed by this wider knowledge and appreciation.

Many years later, that understanding had expanded into a view that sees dualities, not as antagonisms, but as reciprocities, polarities that fuel the surging dynamic of life. Like interacting poles of a magnet, or the binary logic of computers.

This is a discursive expression of my understanding of the koan: "Sickness and medicine correspond to one another. The whole world is medicine-- what are you?"
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The world is only thought? 04 Sep 2015 08:47 #100303

... it becomes clear that all sensations/experience of being a subject are inherent in experience so nothing separate will ever be found that can stand outside of experience and observe it[/b]. Paradoxically, there is a sense of being unbound from experience as well as intimacy with all of experience. Consciousness is even >more< mysterious, not describable in terms of simple subject-object duality. Maybe non-duality works, maybe emergent property of matter works, maybe "the objectivity of subjectivity" works, everyone is going to find some words they like...



I very humbly suggest that we can't have our cake and eat it, too. We can't assert through observation that nothing stands outside of subjective experience and yet talk about consciousness and awareness as being something mysterious and unknowable -- and maybe outside of subjective experience. If you have practiced to the point of cessation you know this to be true. Yes, we have a sense of being unbound in some way, that there is some kind of ethereal observer/awareness/consciousness that all of this plays out in front of (is outside of subjective experience). Mind plays perception and experience that way. It is a master at assuming things that aren't there.

This is all just a movie, but there's no screen. We are the projector :-)

Yes, this is my observation. But you can observe it, too. I think most of you already have.
Last Edit: 04 Sep 2015 08:47 by Chris Marti.
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The world is only thought? 04 Sep 2015 09:13 #100305

Kate Gowen wrote:
ITSELF

that's my new favorite one word pointer! :)
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The world is only thought? 04 Sep 2015 13:28 #100309

shargrol wrote:
Kate Gowen wrote:
ITSELF

that's my new favorite one word pointer! :)

I don't understand. Shargrol, what does ITSELF point to for you?
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The world is only thought? 05 Sep 2015 16:39 #100320

shargrol wrote:
At awakening, it becomes clear that all sensations/experience of being a subject are inherent in experience so nothing separate will ever be found that can stand outside of experience and observe it

I'm not sure we could say this describes 'awakening' in a general sense so much as some people's experience of it, described in Buddhist-oriented terminology... EG personally I experience a lot of the other things you outline above as true, but would question in the above that the issue is not that there is no subject, but what we mean by 'subject.' This is the realm where words get tricky, as already noted :)
I do think Kenneth's assessment is most honest. I get a little twitchy when awakened people talk about their favorite metaphysical ideas and don't feel compelled to say "but that's a metaphysical model and by definition we can't know that for sure".

(And here ends the morning coffee fueled typing binge. :) )

Isn't your criticism here self undermining in the same way? How can we know for sure that we can't know for sure? :evil:
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The world is only thought? 05 Sep 2015 19:48 #100322

How would you define awakening?

I don't think my criticism is self-undermining so much as a the term itself itself is self-undermining, using the definition that metaphysics is something that doesn't have experiential evidence.
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