The illusion of separation

A Boy and a Girl Eating Ice Cream in Siena. By Jorge Royan, Argentina

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

We’re not an illusion, yet the idea we have of ourselves is

How can our sense of self as a separate entity be illusory? My selfhood is what I am as the collective mind and body. As such, it clearly occupies a fixed amount of space which is separate from everything else in the world. This is what we think isn’t it? This is simple common sense; surely? On closer examination though, we discover that the certainty of this assumption is hard to support with reason. What this more rigorous analysis reveals is that we’re juggling with concepts, and mistaking these for actuality. We forget that when we think, or form assumptions, we inhabit a land of language and symbols. We absorb into a certain ‘otherness’, the process as a whole being an imperceptible transition.

We think we’re separate from the world, yet this is only a thought

This ‘otherness’ becomes a virtual world. Within it, we form imagery and ideas of and about the real world. This is how, along with other creatures of sentience, the sensory system of our particular species of Great Ape makes sense of the world. That statement can be taken literally; it’s how we ‘make sense(s)’ so that our physical being may understand both itself and the world. That which is ‘made sense’ in imagery and ideas however, is always conjoined with what is outside of the sensory formation; it’s neither made nor exists in a vacuum. So, the otherness of thought is always to an extent bound up within a this-ness of what is. It’s not ‘what is’, yet at the same time is not separate to it.

We cannot know ourselves as a thought, belief or assumption

Let’s get back to the assertion that we’re juggling with concepts when we think about selfhood, body and mind. These are the things that we feel certain comprise ‘what I am’. Taken as a whole, this collective also feels to us as if it’s separate from everything else. We feel that our ‘self’ is some constant agent of doer-ship which acts upon and experiences a world outside of itself – a guiding agent that lends a sense of centrality in any situation. Our body’s regarded as an ever-changing, bounded materiality constituting what’s ‘mine’. And our mind’s a vast flux of ephemera with nothing fixedly enduring beyond the patterns it ingrains via conditioning; all of which is considered possessed and internalised.

Left unchecked, the mind will endorse its own false assumptions

If we broadly agree with these brief descriptions of selfhood, the body and mind, then we accept that when we think of these phenomena, we’re juggling concepts. We’re using the words ‘body’, ‘mind’ and ‘self’ as symbols of incredibly complex and ever-changing phenomena. In casually using these concepts, we believe and assume that as a collective, they stand for ‘what I am’ as a separate, autonomous entity within the world. This analysis very much accords with the world of appearances, and embeds into our assumptions and beliefs with the aid of feelings. I both feel like, and appear to be, a discrete individual that’s separated out from the world. What’s more, my entire cognitive system endorses this.

Our physical body itself is a host to vast numbers of alien life forms

So let’s tease things apart, beginning with the body. Our physical being hosts countless thousands of microorganisms which participate in sustaining its health.  They reside in the skin, saliva, mucous, gastrointestinal tracts, eyelids and elsewhere. Are these necessary organisms separate to us or do they partly constitute what I am?  It’s valid to say they’re both. Do the newly amputated limb, or freshly cut toenail clipping, become in essence different due to their partition from our body, and is our selfhood diminished by their separation? To both we must answer ‘no’; so why were they previously thought constituents of our ‘self’? Can our ‘self’ be reduced to body parts; if so, then which?

Every second of our life 700,000 of our body’s cells die away

Our body comprises only cells, almost all of which die in a cycle lasting a few short years. This occurs naturally in order that the body may develop as it must – a process known as ‘apoptosis’, meaning programmed cell death. In an adult, 50-70 billion cells die in this way each day. So we’re separated from our own cells at an astonishing rate. One minute they constitute what I am as an alive being and the next they’re dead, decaying within us and awaiting to be scavenged by white blood cells which smell their death. Am I separate from the dead ones yet identical with the live ones? No, they’re both part of what I am, which is neither entirely alive nor dead, not inside or outside any ‘self’.

A great mystery of humankind is how matter comes to know of itself

And what of our mind; how does our mind constitute a part of us, the ‘me’ that’s a separate, autonomous entity within the world? And how do we prove that any mind even exists, such that it could be considered separate from, or contained within, ‘me’? Mind and awareness aren’t the brain and nervous system itself; they’re terms we use to indicate knowing of various kinds. It’s impossible to put our finger on mind and awareness beyond the appearances of this knowing. Never in history has anyone explained how matter comes to know itself as an apparent subject of experience. If we can’t even explain what these things are, or even prove they exist, why do we consider them inseparable from us?

It’s impossible to be alive and aware as a separate entity

Still, we may say it’s the mind and awareness that give rise to our sense of selfhood. We have to put it down to something, even if we can’t prove that ‘something’ exists or explain what it is. We regard these mercurial phenomena as ‘mine’ – possessions and attributes of a ‘self’. And yet in the experience of them, there’s always something attributable to what is considered external to the mind and awareness themselves. We can never think of anything that’s not referencing externality in some way or another. If we try to imagine something that’s not referencing the past, past ideas, or what is outside of our body, we can’t. So in what sense is the aware mind exclusively an aspect of an autonomous, separate ‘self’?

Our separation is nothing more than a story we repeat to ourselves

How then, can we be certain that the apparent separation of selfhood is not an illusion? We can’t take a measure to the ‘self’, confirming its presence within the boundaries of the body. And even if we could, we’ve already seen that the body itself can’t rightly be considered an enduring and entirely contained, isolated repository of selfhood. Our sense of selfhood is undeniable, and yet we can’t identify what or where it is. We can talk about its characteristics, yet we can never pin it down in concrete terms; it’s always some abstraction we concoct from other qualities, or phenomena. What this means is that it only exists in a narrative form, a series of ideas concerning about-ness but never what is.

In otherness, we unwittingly fictionalise ourselves

We come back then to a certain otherness, a virtual world into which our being slips imperceptibly and with an unquestioning certainty. It’s not that we evade our participation in the world; it’s merely that our knowledge of it, and of our own being too, is mediated by this narrative. We inhabit what is in effect a fictionalised version of events and our being. We’re always one step removed from the reality of the world and our being. We’re always mistaking our concepts and ideas for the things they represent. It’s within this narrative of selfhood that we create the illusion of separation. This must mean that if we deconstruct the narrative, we in the process dissolve the illusion and become the actual.

Ending the illusion reveals our ordinary, authentic state

What happens following this process is that the mind and awareness operate exactly as before. This means there’s a quality of ordinariness lent to the state of affairs that’s entirely familiar, and yet things are no longer the same. All that’s happened is that the otherness has evaporated and so the sense of separation no longer obtains. We no longer feel that awareness is somehow channelling between what’s outside of us and what we now know was merely an idea of what we are – a separate body, mind and ‘self’. So naturally, things feel more authentic as a result of this. The world and our being can’t change – hence the familiarity – it’s just the ordinariness of them is perfectly so.

69 thoughts on “The illusion of separation

  1. Very well presented, Hariod, and what you say is so. But, there is also much more to the story of the self. I look forward to reading how you will express that something more. You’re bound to do it more clearly than I can.

    • Thanks for your kind words Jean – I appreciate it.

      I limit each article appearing on this site to something less than a thousand words. This gives some scope for detail, yet one could always expand further of course. I see this place as a medium for short-form writing, so articles can generally be read in less than five minutes.

      As you rightly say, the concept of the self is a vast subject and one which can be approached from various different angles. I try to provide a take on the self-entity which is largely in terms of it being a narrative construct. This narration is perpetuated and sustained by the stream of mentation and by a repository of belief too.

      This approach seems as if it may fit with your use of the phrase above ‘the story of the self’. Perhaps we will find common ground for discussion – I would enjoy that Jean.

  2. Hariod, I so totally love and envy your use of language. You use it, or seem to, to do what it was designed to do: to express explicitly and completely, in a clear and yet beautiful way, deep truths of life that some others seem to either fuzzy up, gloss over, or abstractify (if there is such a word).

    Examples(your fine examples):
    “imperceptible transition” – inspires one to visualize a mist clearing in its own time, but clearing nonetheless.
    “sensory formation” – encourages our intellect to kick in and take notice of a certain imbalance of emotion over thought.
    “mind as a vast flux of ephemera” – excites the imagination and yet grounds it on form arising from formless.

    I love it, and dearly wish that I could talk and write as you do. But, at least I can recognize excellence of communication skills used to describe the indescribable. So, it must mean that somewhere within me there is a certain capacity or potential to develop a capacity to express myself as you seem to be able to do. Perhaps in another lifetime. I used to, and still often slip into saying “future lifetime” but perhaps it will be, was, or is so in an alternative or possibly co-existing one.

    That’s why mysticism is my game. There is so much that we don’t know, but that’s not to say we can’t know. We may just not know now. Or, perhaps, at some level of being, we know and have always known all that is to be known. Who knows?

    After all of the above, what I really wanted to say was that I feel blessed that you have chosen to follow jeanw5.

    Sincerely, Jean

    • Your generous words of encouragement, echoing to me from beautiful Vancouver, are greatly encouraging Jean. I truly you appreciate hearing your views, particularly so as you are a writer yourself.

      I occasionally wonder if my writing style is perhaps a little too formal – particularly for any North American readers – though I can only remain true to my own character in conveying personal impressions and ideas.

      Your own writing is quite different of course; and yet I greatly enjoy reading your articles because of the condensed conversational style in which the essence of the piece is directly presented – that’s quite a skill.

      Warmest regards, Hariod.

  3. I really only wanted to comment on your article/post on separation. It reminded me of the old Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”. Life goes on as usual, at a physical level and, perhaps even at a social level. But, our attitude has changed, forever. Our interaction with the illusory world of matter is as it was to any so-called outside observer, but we are now aware that it is designed to serve us all well, if we will embrace it and share in “the dance of life”.

    Don’t ever change your style to appeal to any other, dear Hariod. You have a unique voice and a unique way.

    Sincerely,

    Jean.

    [This comment redacted to exclude extraneous content]

    • Thank you once again for contributing here Jean. You are a woman of great generosity – both in deed and in spirit.

      So keep dancing, keep gardening, keep writing; and when you’re not doing those things, just chop wood, carry water.

      Glastonbury sends its love to Vancouver on Canada Day.

  4. I guess you have heard of the candle theory. The great Buddhas all say the mind is like a waving candle (waving in the wind). The candle waves this way and that according to the wind (the mind wanders from past to present to future). The candle though, needs to be still and thus, the light then shines clear and bright, here awareness begins. I don’t know if this piece resonates with you or even fits in here. I like it because it tells me something, I need to be reminded of.

    This Moment Of Being Alive: The past, although it was actual when it was happening, is not actual now; the future, although it will be actual when it happens, is not actual now; only this moment is ever actual. As you are only alive at this moment in time ask yourself each moment again ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?

    That’s it. The whole practice. How am I experiencing this moment of being alive? It is very akin to the Zen koan ‘What is this?’, which is not asking you to answer literally – this is a room, this is a car, this is Friday etc. but what is this moment of being alive, without thought or fabrication or description. Just ‘this’.

    Give it a try: ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive? The answer isn’t a description or discursive; it’s a ‘felt sense of being’. It’s pure attention. It’s stopping and noticing. It’s beyond words and thinking. It is prior to and underlies whatever raises.

    And yes, it’s a practice. There will be awakening to the moment and then the mind’s habitual fabrications. Our job is to return to this moment of being alive and what that experience is. It takes huge honesty. If you are experiencing this moment of being alive as sadness, don’t resist that actuality but appreciate that you are sad. If you are experiencing this moment as boredom, that’s what is actual – appreciate that too. Sound impossible, or crazy?

    I’m not saying this skilful means is ‘the answer’, or the only way to wake up, and I’m not saying I necessarily agree with all this teacher says. I’m saying that I have found this skilful means, well, skilful and able to open up my heart and help bring an end of suffering. YMMV, but you’ll never know until you try and give this a chance, right? So, maybe take a look, with an open mind and see what shows up when keep coming back to ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?

    P.S. Steven, the author is an old Facebook friend.

    Eve.

    • Many thanks Eve. Just so as you know a little of my background: I underwent a fairly rigorous orthodox Buddhist training for some 20 years or so in mid-life (not ordained) – dry insight stuff, tons of seated practice i.e. 4-8 hours a day. As an oldie I do my own thing now, a ‘system’ without rules and which suits my character and past well, though is not of any particular school or derivation. All of your friend Steven’s approach sounds great, and it’s good to have it here for others to see; so many thanks for contributing Eve; I greatly appreciate it.

      Hariod. ❤

      • He is rather like you Hariod, about the same age I would think. He has a blog too. He writes similarly to you too, while I just gabble on (lol) – you know women like to talk fast and I do. Glad to contribute. Thanks, Eve.

      • Yes, I do think as we age, we are more inclined to do our own thing. We have reached a certain wisdom. Your background in Buddhism is so interesting and I am sure you spent your time well while in retreat or while sitting. I don’t think I could do that. Eve.

        • I have a few close friends who were ordained recluses in the Theravadin tradition for many years. I asked one who was a nun for 12 years why she had done what she did for so long. She replied: ‘Because I was stupid’. Make of that what you will Eve.

          Hariod. ❤

          • 😉 – Yes, I believe her . . . the teachings are just fine, and truly needed, but in Asian societies women are not treated well, not even nuns, unless one is born into that culture. I know that from years in India. Eve.

              • Dear Hariod and Eve,

                Please excuse me for almost listening in on a private conversation; but it is on a blog post so perhaps I could be excused.

                I am impressed with both of you and your experiences with Buddhist societies. I feel sad for the poor dear who thought she had been stupid to follow a path she now has released herself from. But, perhaps that path was part of her personal destiny, if only to learn through experience that it was not for her.

                There was a time when I believed, or almost believed, that allowing myself to be controlled for many years, and seemingly stuck in a traditional woman’s destiny, that I must have been punishing myself. Now, I realize that it was a learning experience (there surely have to be easier ways). Now, I know that I needed family, at whatever personal cost, I guess.

                Then, almost a thousand years too late, Spirit came into my life and set me free. But, there was a catch. Now I seem to belong to Him. And, since my earlier life distanced itself from me in countless ways, perhaps I need to belong to someone or some cause.

                To be fair to Spirit, it’s a shared cause that pulls us together; He seems to need to share His wisdom and I seem to need to learn it, though it is an extremely difficult and emotionally exhausting experience, at times.

                Why am I putting myself through this? I don’t know, but I seem to need to, for whatever reason, at least as long as I do. It will not be forever.

                Thank you both for sharing your stories. They sound much more believable than my own, even to me.

                Sincerely,

                Jean.

  5. I loved your piece ‘The Illusion of separation’. It perfectly explains how Malignant Egophrenia become so pervasive. And thanks for liking my Harold Ramis post on ‘Right Livelihood’.

    • Many thanks for your kind words Lee.

      I had to look up ‘Malignant Egophrenia’ as it appears to be a neologism.

      All the very best to you Lee; and good luck with the book.

      Hariod.

  6. So without our ‘personal past’ the illusioned self will dissolve. It’s existence depends on projections. The mind has to continually project in order to confirm and maintain the existence of the self. A certain ‘mental aboveness’ or awareness must be attained that can clearly show us how this process works. So basically, without knowledge the mind will just perpetuate its illusions.

    • I am reluctant to say that I entirely agree with the content of your comment, though this is merely because I would need you to flesh-out your thinking more, and not because I perceive anything with which I might overtly disagree. I should say though, that the narrative of the past, even though no longer conceived as ‘personal’, remains in place as memory – it cannot simply be forgotten, though the knowledge of what it is shifts radically.

      You are quite correct when you state ‘The mind has to continually project in order to confirm and maintain the existence of the self.’ The projection of which you speak is the stream of mentation which includes all representations of the senses; it is not merely verbal. The narrative stream of course continues in non-separation, or non-duality, though it is no longer identified as a personal construct, or the product, or the experience, of a self-natured and subjective individual or agent.

      Very many thanks for reading and for taking the time to express your own take on matters; I greatly appreciate it.

      Hariod.

      P.S. You may be interested to read the post ‘Nonsense and non-duality’: http://wp.me/p4wkZJ-9J

  7. “And our mind’s a vast flux of ephemera with nothing fixedly enduring beyond the patterns it ingrains via conditioning; all of which is considered possessed and internalized.”

    Perhaps the self is the big overarching unifier of our mind’s “vast flux of ephemera”. . . such that without this concept of self there would be no experience at all. I think there are probably many unifiers of experience, or at least experiences we find more or less unified (reality as opposed to dreams, for example), from which we can separate out concepts that obtain throughout, and without which the experience would not be what it is. I hope I’m making sense.

    I couldn’t follow this part of your post: “We inhabit what is in effect a fictionalised version of events and our being. We’re always one step removed from the reality of the world and our being. We’re always mistaking our concepts and ideas for the things they represent. It’s within this narrative of selfhood that we create the illusion of separation. This must mean that if we deconstruct the narrative, we in the process dissolve the illusion and become the actual.”

    How are we one step removed from the reality of the world and our being? Do you mean that the self is a fiction that we tell ourselves to make sense of the world? If so, how do we get rid of it to “dissolve the illusion”? Can we even imagine such a thing really? Wouldn’t reflecting upon the self always fall within the narrative?

    Of course, when we reflect on the self, THEN we remove ourselves from our experiences to a certain degree to analyze what we’ve done. Then I can see being somewhat and in some way removed from the world, but not really our being. In this case, “it’s always some abstraction we concoct from other qualities, or phenomena.” But what about when we’re not reflecting on the self? Isn’t it there? Maybe hovering in the background? And possibly, if we’re really clever, not too far off the mark from the thing we concoct upon reflection?

    Very much enjoyed your thoughtful post. It’s refreshing to read someone who takes ideas seriously and who gives a heartfelt and readable go at philosophy.

    • I love getting a comment such as this; thank you so much.

      What you refer to as ‘the big, overarching unifier’ for me is no more than the superimposition made by the mind/brain which is a time-shifted, highly selective matrix of sensory representations.

      So, I take everyday consciousness to be the lower-level representations of sensory data, as well as a higher-level representation which is the superimposition just referred to. The functions of attention and concentration determine whether at any given moment, a higher or lower level representation is known to consciousness.

      I do not think it is helpful to introduce the notion of a ‘self’ into this conception. A ‘self’ suggests an autonomous and enduringly fixed entity which in fact can never be grasped other than as ideation, and never as actuality. The term is obviously valid in the sphere of our consensus reality and as a social construct – here it is of use, but again, only as a helpful idea.

      Why is it necessary to posit an experiencer of experience, which is what we do in presupposing an existent self as the subject or experiencer? When you write of ‘many unifiers of experience’, then for my money, all can be attributed to the superimposition of sensory representations, and none to any putative ‘self’. The superimpositions remain unique to them as phenomena, but not to any imagined subject of selfhood.

      You asked about this ‘fictionalized version of events and our being’. Here once again, we come back to the representations of the mind/brain. These representations coalesce into a narrative stream of mentation that includes verbal thinking as well as (re)presented sense imagery. The whole of this stream provides us with a narrative – a story if you like – which we mistake for actuality. It is not actuality itself, but is removed from it by the selectivity of the sentient system. No two individuals perceive the same subjective experience when presented with identical objective data; and to that extent, each is a unique fictionalization.

      You go on to ask how we ‘dissolve the illusion’, suggesting that this must require our ‘reflecting upon the self’. I must respectfully disagree, and in fact suggest the very opposite. That’s to say, rather than start from a position of assuming a self, we instead begin our exploration by taking the self to be a fallacy. Whilst the illusion of separation (a hackneyed phrase I know), is not seen through by means of accumulated knowledge, it is approached by means of negation. That means we test all experience thusly: ‘Is this me, a part of me, or what constitutes me as a self?’ In this way, the mind unburdens itself of its erroneous beliefs and assumptions as it is never able to answer in the affirmative.

      At some point along this road, many people discover that they had it all wrong, that the subject of ‘me’ and the objects of ‘otherness’ were never more than mind-constructs. Do you remember that little game that children play in which they sit in a circle around a table and create a pile of hands, each taking a turn at being the top hand – bottom to top, bottom to top? There’s an analogy here in that each hand is taken in turn as subject, then object, then subject and so forth. This is how subjectivity and objectivity present in a mutual sublation of each the other. In every transition the ‘pile of hands’ – the unified and separated whole – is never perceived.

      So the process of deconstructing the narrative created by the mind brings us to a point at which the mind may leap to seeing a unified whole in which the sublation of subjectivity and objectivity continue and yet are seen as a mind-created subset of a totalized awareness. This isn’t to suggest a Hegelian ‘universal mind’ or some such; it’s not an entry into any religious cosmology either.

      You take issue with me for suggesting that we are in some sense removed from our very being. So here, we are ‘removed’ in the sense that if I place an obstruction before my eyes, then I am ‘removed’ from the world as it might otherwise more fully appear. My exact words were ‘We inhabit what is in effect a fictionalized version of events and our being.’ So the effect is of being removed because of course, we cannot actually be removed. This ‘effect’ is only perceived once the unified whole has been known or actualized.

      And finally, when you suggest the self may at times be ‘hovering in the background’, then I again must respectfully disagree. There may be assumptions to this effect of course, and this is the grandest and most cherished of all our assumptions; but it is no more than an assumption, an idea, a belief, an evolutionary artefact quite probably. A sense of presence may ‘hover in the background’, yet that is not to be equated with any enduringly fixed entity of selfhood. The sense of presence is that feeling of being-ness; it has a verb-like quality and not a noun-like quality such as the word ‘self’ conveys.

      I’ve enjoyed running through these various ideas and exchanging perspectives with you. I want this site to be a place of exchange and not for me to be regarded as some authority on selfhood, subjectivity or whatever. As I say elsewhere, I hope to learn as much from readers as perhaps they may from me. And certainly, I get the strong impression that I can learn from you.

      Many thanks.

      Hariod.

      • I just want to make sure I’ve got this right. It’s helpful for me to do a little comparison. . . I hope you’ll forgive me if I get it wrong!:

        You seem to say the self doesn’t exist. What you describe in certain parts, however, seems close to the Kantian “I” that I called so empty. However, you see no reason to posit a unifier/synthesizer, which you dismiss as a mere mind construct. Well, Kant thought the self was a sort of “mind construct” too, although I hesitate to use that phrase because I mean it in a more literal sense, but he thought this unification necessary for experience.

        I took the following from this article:

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-mind/#4

        “Through this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks, nothing further is represented than a transcendental subject of the thoughts = X. It is known only through the thoughts which are its predicates, and of it, apart from them, we cannot have any concept whatsoever, but can only revolve in a perpetual circle, since any judgment upon it has always already made use of its representation.”

        The last clause is the key one: “any judgment upon it has always already made use of its representation”. Kant seems to be saying that to know that anything is true of me, I must first know that it is me of whom it is true.

        So if Kant is right, the self exists, but cannot be experienced as such. And the self, though enduring and fixed, is an empty “X”. Very close to nothing, but not nothing. (I hope I’ve interpreted correctly. . . I’m certainly no expert on Kant).

        You, however, seem to be saying the self is an illusion and doesn’t exist, not even in this remote, empty and forever unknowable capacity.

        I would like to go as far as Kant at least on this issue, in that the self is necessary for experience — there must be something that endures throughout — but I also hold out hope that the self is knowable. My opinions are not locked, in other words. If there is a knowable self, the self would have to be something more than a unity that synthesizes experience, otherwise an “I” must be superimposed on every apperception ad infinitum, forever out of sight, so to speak.

        This caught my eye:

        “The sense of presence is that feeling of being-ness; it has a verb-like quality and not a noun-like quality such as the word ‘self’ conveys.”

        There seems to be at least this similarity between you and Kant: You’re both speaking in terms of grammar.

        I wonder what a phenomenological investigation of the self would look like. All “evolutionary artifacts” would have to be bracketed, of course. It might turn out to be something like what Kant’s already said, but I’ve never focused on this matter.

        I can’t bring myself to crack open Husserl, though. Still trudging through a big pile of borrowed books that I’d like to get back to people! And honestly, reading Husserl — and I love Husserl — but reading him makes me want to bury my head in the sand on the whole issue. I’m lazy, what can I say?

        Very nice discussion! I’ve enjoyed it immensely. You’ve awakened me from my dogmatic slumbers.

        • Thank you for your generous and considered response; I greatly appreciate both your time and the discussion. I should commence by saying that I am not an academic, and in fact was ejected from college here in England many decades ago due to lack of effort, input, interest, attendance, and generally abominable behaviour. So, I am in no position to make the comparisons that you yourself suggest may prove helpful. With that in mind, let me work through your points each in turn:

          As regards any concept of the self, then we can say there are a range of apparent referents for it; we can infer that things like perceptual streams, reflective awareness, access to memory, and so forth, all indicate some enduring entity of selfhood which acts as the subject apprehending these phenomena. My own position (though of course it’s not particular to me), is that this is an error. It is as an unnecessary adjunct that, whilst perhaps having served with an evolutionary efficacy (as ‘error’), remains just that: a false idea.

          I wonder if the appeal that this self-like ‘emptiness’ which you posit, and which you loosely link with Kant’s ‘I’, is that it seems to lend credence to apparently ‘private and personal experience’; or, that seemingly ‘private and personal experience’ justifies such a conception, hence implicating some sort of isolative ‘self’ removed from phenomena-induced experience generally.

          In that regard, my own position is that this assumed ‘private and personal experience’ is (of course) in part caused by the sentient system’s unique qualities i.e. each nervous system helps create a particular awareness which is loosely isolative yet remains integrated with (what we think of as) externality. However, this awareness, together with its apparent privacy, is not possessed by any ‘self’ as a recipient of privileged access, and has an aspect of externalism about it – whether of space or time.

          Some might insist that this functioning of the sentient system together with its apparatus, are counterparts to a ‘self’, or Kant’s ‘X’, but does it serve any purpose to make this leap to another category other than as an appeal to intuition (your previous point), or to what seems to stand as reason?

          You refer to Kant’s transcendental subject of thoughts = ‘X’. From what you say, this is a requirement for the unification, or synthesis, of experience. The Stanford article states that ‘It is known only through the thoughts which are its predicates’; so its existence is inferred, reasoned or deduced, presumably by and for itself as (egoic?) subject. This (egoic?) subject ‘X’, you remark, cannot be experienced, and yet must exist because ‘to know that anything is true of me, I must first know that it is me of whom it is true.’ So it seems it is indeed egoic in that whilst not being known itself, it remains reflectively aware of its own entity both as ‘me’ and as ‘my’ ‘thoughts which are its predicates’. That means an internal self-construct, imagined as ‘me’, has access to cognitive capacities including feeling and which act as erroneous validations as to its actual and enduring existence. So is this not the point at which we put Descartes before de horse? In other words, we’re presupposing a ‘me’ and creating and building our logic on that predicate?

          You go on to suggest that ‘the self is necessary for experience . . . there must be something that endures throughout — but I also hold out hope that the self is knowable.’ Is what ‘endures’ any more than the seemingly ‘private and personal experience’ I refer to, and if so, then what could it be that is ‘knowable’? Many have referenced ‘knowing the Self’ [capitalised] yet this is not meant to suggest any fixity, or any enduring thing-ness subject to possible conceptualisation. What is pointed to here is awareness devoid of the constant binary states of objectivity and subjectivity. Here, the feeling of ‘private and personal experience’ does not obtain. It has the flavour of awareness knowing itself as itself. This, by my lights, is the only means by which your desire to ‘know the Self’ can come to fruition.

          Lastly, I apologise if all this seems a little brusque; it’s just that I’m conscious of remaining accessible to readers generally without being too long-winded. Please feel free to respond in like manner if you feel moved to do so.

          Hariod.

          • No worries about academic expertise here. I only have my undergrad degree, and I think I made a ‘B’ in Kant which very much upset me because I really liked him. . . well, after throwing the Critique of Pure Reason against the wall. So there’s my ‘expertise’.

            “I wonder if the appeal that this self-like ‘emptiness’ which you posit, and which you loosely link with Kant’s ‘I’, is that it seems to lend credence to apparently ‘private and personal experience’; or, that seemingly ‘private and personal experience’ justifies such a conception, hence implicating some sort of isolative ‘self’ removed from phenomena-induced experience generally.”

            I don’t think Kant’s ‘X’ is removed from experience at all. In fact, that’s what makes it so empty. I vaguely remember reading this phrase, perhaps as a definition to the Transcendental Unity of Apperception as “the ‘I’ that accompanies all my perceptions.” (I probably botched that. I have a feeling I did; hence the ‘B’ in Kant.) What’s interesting here is that the experience is all that’s known, but always known through the self, which in itself cannot be known (according to my interpretation). The ‘X’ cannot be removed from that which it apprehends.

            The self which I hold out hope for would probably come from doing phenomenology. It’s probably sitting right there in Husserl. I’ve always been intrigued by the methodology and I think the purpose of it would be to remove this object/subject dichotomy that you speak of, but in a really funny way. It would take a long time to explain how this methodology removes the dichotomy, because it doesn’t do so entirely. In any case, these are just speculations. There must be some enduring self in intentionality, I do believe. . . but that’s not to say anything about the immortality of the soul or anything mystical. I don’t know how personal or private this self would be. I don’t understand Heidegger, and I’m not sure he’s understandable, so I’d go with Husserl on this. What the self’s contents are or whether it’s really empty, I don’t know.

            Nothing seemed brusque to me! No need to apologize. I get the need to keep things short here in the blogosphere.

  8. Dear Hariod,

    Loved your site. Really insightful. I will find time to read through all your posts.

    “It’s impossible to put our finger on mind and awareness beyond the appearances of this knowing. Never in history has anyone explained how matter comes to know itself as an apparent subject of experience”

    That really is the crux of the matter, I believe.

    Shajan.

    • Dear Shajan,

      Thank you so much for carefully considering my words here, as clearly you have, and also for your most gracious and supportive comment; I truly appreciate both. I am never quite sure how readers will respond to some of the more philosophical and ontology related articles here. Much to my surprise, I have not been presented with too many raised eyebrows; though of course, there are always those readers who choose to remain silent rather than take issue with me. Actually, I have no objection should any wish to do so, though as I say, it is always gratifying to hear that others may think along similar lines to myself. And so it is that I remain both grateful and respectful as regards your presence here Shajan.

      Hariod.

  9. This post has put so clearly the ideas I could not put into words. Being made up of cells that die and are replaced after seven years, our body is no longer the same body. As is all matter, we are made of atoms, and organisms live within us that make us able to experience sensory input. The sensory input builds an individual character we call ‘me’. From there it is ‘mine’, a possession, but in reality we own nothing – it all recycles back to the cosmic whole.

    Please tell me Hariod if I understand your words. To put it simply, we are all interconnected and it is our misunderstanding of this that creates disasterous results. I am on a path of understanding; I read that when you are ready for a teacher he will appear, this seems to be true.

    Kind regards, Jack. _/\_

    • Thank you so very much Jack for what is clearly your sincere and earnest interest in this subject. You have accurately written in a short and concise form the main content of this article. This can often be a very useful exercise, as it reduces the whole to a more manageable clarity, and we express our understanding in our own words.

      Perhaps the only minor area of misunderstanding is when you say “in reality we own nothing – it all recycles back to the cosmic whole.” This is true enough, certainly, and yet your wording suggests that there is an entity which might do the owning, or that does so until such time as we die. In truth, there simply is no potential owner.

      This assumed owner is commonly thought of as some mysterious ‘experiencer’ of experience, ‘thinker’ of thoughts, or more simply, ‘my self’. So whilst it is true to say that “we own nothing”, it should be remembered that the “we” which you refer to is nothing but an internal narrative construct – a story – and not anything more.

      Some people call it a homunculus, which is to say that it is as if a little person sits inside our head seeing sights, hearing sounds, feeling feelings, thinking thoughts, tasting tastes, smelling scents, remembering memories, and so on. Of course, no one admits to such a conception, yet in believing in a ‘self of me’, that is precisely the same error.

      Please feel free to exchange ideas or request further explanation of my words; I am always very willing to do this for kind and beautiful souls such as yourself. And of course, if you wish to take issue with me over anything then that is equally welcome. All dialogue is appreciated, and I make no claim to any superior knowledge over my readers.

      With much gratitude and respect to you dear Jack.

      Hariod _/\_

      • I appreciate your comment and that you invite questioning as well as questions. This is an open minded attitude that I agree with. About the area of misunderstanding you drew my attention to – I may have been too brief in the lead up to that statement, assuming you would realise without me going into lengthy details. So I wrote “The sensory input builds up an individual character called me, from there it is ‘mine’, a possession, but in reality we own nothing.” Evidently I left too much unexplained.

        From birth our senses pick up individual impressions that form our individual character. This gives us a false idea that we are separate from all other things. Does this clear up any ambiguity? I appreciate your superb way with words, so any constructive criticism or advice I am pleased to receive. _/\_

  10. I enjoyed this a lot, but I wish I understood it better. Any further comment I might make would reveal how little I do understand it. But I still enjoyed trying to follow your thoughts and ideas.

    • Thank you very much for your kind words and your consideration of this piece Bubbe; I greatly appreciate both. It is sometimes difficult for me to gauge quite how to pitch any article, particularly one which is of this nature. Writing about the self, the deeper aspects of our being and so forth, opens up many ways of approaching the same, and in the end, perhaps it is best simply to be true to one’s own style and inclination. You may well have the same dilemma in your own writing, and resolve the matter in similar fashion. All feedback is greatly appreciated Bubbe, and I am concerned to know how my writing impacts – be it positively or negatively. Thank you once again and all best wishes, Hariod.

  11. Oh oH OH, how did I miss this post!? Sharing with my network. The way you articulate concepts, and what I would term certain realities, is staggering in its simplicity. I began highlighting, to feature for my share, from the virtual world of ‘otherness’ to the body being host to various alien life forms. In the end, I had to settle on one sentence to pique the reader’s imagination: “Left unchecked, the mind will endorse its own false assumptions.” Hallelujah. Brilliant. Be well.

    • Dear Bela,

      What a wonderfully uplifting and generous comment; I am thrilled to know that you approve of this article; truly I am. This was one that got a little lost and forgotten because it was an early effort, and also is perhaps a little too long for a blog piece. I try to keep my posts within the 700-800 word range now, as that seems to me about the optimum length for sustaining reader engagement whilst having just enough elbow room to convey and stretch out ideas.

      Anyway Bela, I am very grateful to you for sharing this with your network, and only hope that your contacts don’t consider the ideas here too bizarre. For those who have not encountered philosophical doctrines such as Nondualism, or the Non-Self of secular Buddhist Psychology, the whole can seem strange and unlikely in the extreme initially. And this, I suppose, takes us neatly back to the idea of the unchecked mind endorsing its own false assumptions.

      With much gratitude and respect to you dear Bela,

      Hariod. ❤

      • That is hilarious – the unchecked mind, indeed! We never know where our careful words land, and I’m always excited to share what I consider thought provoking with others. It’s why I loved those 9 years in radio. My network consists of some 400 souls who think along similar lines to both of us, if I may be so presumptuous as to include you in this motley mix. 😉 These are true comrades in the sense that they are either family (the most challenged in this regard, perhaps predictably), friends, former radio contacts, colleagues and respected academic mentors, clients or aquaintances I’ve actually met and dialogued with. The post has already met with some response from a few diverse people, from a farmer’s wife in Presque Isle, Maine, to a school/spiritual teacher who can’t decide on which end of the United States she truly belongs. I likewise bought your ebook for a dear friend who is an IT (Internet Technology) person in Boston. She was thrilled to receive it. And so, the beat goes on, and I feel lucky to be able to share this wisdom.

        Thanks again, dear Hariod!

        Aloha, Bela.

  12. A wonderful exploration of our sense of separateness, its sources and illusions.

    Jennifer Ouellette’s Me, Myself and Why is a fun read on this subject. She explores a plethora of pathways that scientists have used to explore the origin of the sense of self – genetics, brain scanning, she even tries LSD – and talks about how sections of the brain work together to create the sense of separateness. Even the humble roundworm has a neuron devoted to distinguishing itself from other things. I suspect that deep quietness, meditation, stills all that neural activity, and allows us to sense the truth of our connection to everything.

    • I am grateful for your kind and generous words of appreciation; they are a great encouragement to me in my attempts at covering the subject matter here in short-form. Thank you also for the book recommendation; I have looked at the title over at Amazon, though sadly there is only one review to add to your own recommendation. Nonetheless, I have added Jennifer’s book to my shopping list as I am sure your mention of it here is sufficient a signifier of its worth. It sounds as though Jennifer explores the functional aspects of cognition – the correlations between brain function and consciousness – rather than exploring theories of what consciousness/awareness actually is, or if it ‘is’ at all. It would seem that Tononi and Koch are at the forefront of current thinking in that regard with their Integrated Information Theory, and that doors of possibility are being opened to Panpsychist theories, for example with David Chalmers’ writing, as well even that consciousness may be a fundamental property of the universe – wild though that possibility may seem. These sort of ideas seem somehow to be a more natural fit with Nondualism and its actualised experience, as against any theory based in Hard Materialism/Physicalism. Then again, that is purely a vague intuition on my part, and like everyone else, I simply do not know of course. I do agree with you that training the mind in the ability to bypass mentation is, it would seem, an invaluable way of setting awareness free, so to speak, such that those experiences of non-duality may be actualised periodically.

      All best wishes, and further thanks.

      Hariod.

      • To me, Nondualism applies to material and physical sciences. The potential for a universal consciousness connects seamlessly with our gropings to understand it. Hard science, for instance, has demonstrated that regular meditation increases the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and integration of emotion. The old masters and gurus experienced oneness. We have the tools to observe it through other channels. It is exciting. I love your explorations of the philosophical and spiritual traditions. You offer a route to experiencing Nondualism, without any need to be a scientist.

        • Clearly, it must be so that Nondualism would embrace the physical world as you say, given that we must surely accept there is such a thing as a physical world, and even though we do not understand it fully. The interesting question is perhaps whether the distinction our minds’ make between (what we think of as) awareness, and (what we think of as) that physical world, is in fact borne out in (what we may think of as) reality. As to confirming, or as you say, ‘observing’, a sense of unicity, I think the real value rests in actualising the experience, for without that, no transformative effects obtain. Perhaps the two disciplines can run in tandem – the one practical, the other theoretical – and that way we can confirm that we have not been subject to some delusion, even if that delusion conveys the transformation that the experience of non-duality certainly does. Thank you once again for your further kind words and for your interest.

          All best wishes,

          Hariod.

          • Hariod, above you said “given that we must surely accept there is such a thing as a physical world, and even though we do not understand it fully.”

            What do you mean by ‘physical’ and why must we surely accept this? Using a neti-neti approach I have been reduced to accepting only experience.

            I was trying to conceptualize the nature of a physical world starting with what seems for me to be the gut feeling that there is an independent objective reality. [i.e. a world that exists independent of conscious awareness and independent of perspective.]

            Obviously, a physical world cannot be known or experienced independently from, or without, awareness. Also, since all experience appears from an apparent perspective, the nature of a physical world that may exist independently of said awareness and/or independently of the subject/object relationship that perspective implies does not appear to be comprehensible.

            It seems to me that there is an inherent limitation of all thought/conceptualization since it is finite and dualistic.

            How can there be a physical world? From the perspective of experience there is only experience. [i.e. sensing, bodily sensations, thinking, conceptualization, etc.]

            Why would I assume there is anything but experience since that is all that is known? And if there is something besides experience it doesn’t seem as if there are the necessary tools within experience or the mind to understand.

            Thank you so much for this forum and please help me with my understanding.

            I am sure there are a myriad of flaws with my thought process as I am somewhat new to the Non-dual path and you seem to have vast experience and wisdom.

            Paul

            • Dear Paul,

              Thankyou so much for your interest, and also for your insightful and far-reaching response. I shall come back to this tomorrow, if that is okay, as I am currently rather busy. You address an interesting point about how to escape the pitfall of assuming that only a pure phenomenology will provide the answer we seek, or that this answer amounts to Transcendental Idealism, Solipsism, and so on. In the meantime, and should you be interested, I am tackling this very issue with a Dr. Garcia in the comments section of my latest post: http://wp.me/p4wkZJ-e1

              With much gratitude and respect, and in looking forward to engaging with you tomorrow,

              Hariod.

  13. Hariod, incredible. So much food for thought here, but it does require another reading away from the office of constant interruptions; damn the work. Again, ‘sssh’.

    By the way, I anxiously await the reading of your book. I currently have three ahead of it, though I may well move it to next in the list. Oh, I must devote more time to reading and learn to read faster.

    • Peter, I remain flattered by your interest and enthusiasm, and take both as great encouragements in my efforts here; truly, I do. Because you are such a lovely fella, a good friend of Sonmi’s and all ’round good egg to boot, then if you would like a gratis copy of my paperback then I will gladly pop one in the post to you if you can email me a forwarding address to my own email address that appears in your dashboard against any of my comments on your site. I quite understand if you would rather not, and it is generally unwise to reveal addresses to unknown folk met here in the ether, but I thought I would like to make the offer any way, and simply cannot bear the thought of you reading my words as one of those ghastly eBooks.

      • Hariod, I’ll take you up on that most generous offer as I do prefer the paper print – and you must not tell a soul about this – for I’ve an unnatural fondness for the smell of printed material. Mum’s the word, okay? Oh yes, one more thing, I know that many object to this but because of your generosity I feel I must be straight forward and tell you that because of the lack of search functionality of print I dog-ear pages. Yes, it’s true.

        • Well, we all have our fetishes, I suppose. In light of your sensitive and understandably discreet revelations, you may be quietly pleased to hear that the thing comes wrapped in a vulcanised synthetic coating (calm down Peter!), and the cover has a velvety sheen to the finish, all of which should be most satisfying to a connoisseur such as yourself. I suppose I must consent to your ‘dog-earing’ habit, though I shudder to think what that is a euphemism for. 🙄

  14. There is an aphorism I’ve come across now and then. I’ve heard and read things that basically put forth the same concept worded differently, generally a bit longer. I think the first time I heard it in this exact form was listening to an album by Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The line in question is actually the title of one song on the album: Everything is Everything. I tend to think that this is quite literally true. Everything is everything. Just my opinion.

    • Thank you very much for reading this piece, and for responding in such appropriate fashion. I well recall the album you mention of Ms. Hill’s and how critically acclaimed it was, and of course remember the wonderful Fugees too.

      I noticed that you have a quote from Jiddu Krishnamurti on your avatar; may I ask, have you explored metaphysics or Indo-Oriental philosophy at all, and if so, do you, or have you previously, engaged in any formal practices as a result?

      • It was a pleasure.

        Lauryn Hill’s early work seemed to offer a bit more depth than much of the pop music of the time. My wife was very fond of that album and played it frequently in her car during some of the weekend road trips we used to take.

        That quote [J. Krishnamurti] is a favourite of mine simply because it is so profoundly true and timely. To answer your question in a word, no; I’ve only taken note of what I’ve come across in the course of research in other areas. Often times if I come upon a reference to something that sounds interesting I allow it to distract me for a while. If I find it particularly intriguing I stock up on reading materials and promise myself I’ll get to it soon. What little I gathered about Buddhism did get my attention since it seems more like a philosophy than a religion. Alas, other things took precedent.

        As to formal practices, also no. Formality and disciplines are not things I take to very readily. In some cases this has proven quite detrimental, but it seems to be an essential part of my identity. I fear that to a great degree I am a product of the environment in which I have been immersed for nearly seventy years: America, land of instant gratification and short attention spans. I have resisted it almost my entire life but with only limited success.

        • Thank you for your rich and generous response; it is good to hear a little more of your background. I have no idea as to whether this place might be somewhere you might revisit, but I always like to have a feel for those that do and who comment. In any case, I shall doubtless be in touch through my visits to your own site, as I am impressed both with the breadth of your knowledge and clarity of your writing. As much as that, we appear to share a common political perspective, or at least, it seems as if our sympathies lie in the same quarters.

          With all best wishes and thanks,

          Hariod.

          • I look forward to future communications with pleasure. By the way, thank you for your skills as proof reader and editor. I’m at a loss as to why WordPress does not provide a preview option for comments so the poster might have a chance to double check before submitting.

  15. Hariod your thoughts are spiritually very advanced. And you present the complex metaphysical word with clarity. I have only peripheral knowledge of this vast body of knowledge and try to follow a route which I find most suitable to me. For me, practicing being ‘in the now’ is my quest, which by no means is easy, but it’s practice frees me of many ills. I must believe deeply and always that I am the Self, soul or the Nirankara (One which is without form).

    Thank you and regards.

    • Thank you very much for your interest and most generous reflections Dilip; I greatly appreciate your presence here.

      Without wishing to appear contrarian, I rather reject the idea of people being “spiritually very advanced”. I think there is advancement in the mundane world – the accumulation of knowledge, of psychological sophistication and so forth – yet not in supramundane matters, to give ‘spiritual’ another term. In any supramundane understanding, the notion of one apparent subject – be it yourself or Sri Nisargadatta – being more or less advanced is meaningless, as too is the very concept of the subject itself. So, whilst I appreciate the kind intent of your words, I have to insist that I am not at all as you say my friend. I am just a very ordinary person, which is the only claim I ever make about myself, and which you can see from my introductory page here.

      I do believe we recently exchanged thoughts on this idea of ‘being in the now’ on your own very fine site Dilip*, and so there is no point in rehearsing the whole again here. But briefly, in the sense of not getting lost in trains of discursive thinking, then the idea is helpful; yet in practice, and as you know, we can only ever be aware of ourselves, or of any mental phenomenon whatsoever, in the present.

      I thank you once again Dilip; it is a delight and honour to have recently met your acquaintance.

      Hariod.

      * https://dilipnaidu.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/beyond-mind/#comments

  16. Just visiting here from the suggested link in your contentedness series. This does clarify what you were getting at. The ‘self’ I was referring to – is it the sense of self you are referring to?

    Hey look, I already visited here and already commented (see April comments, above), so I guess I don’t need to write about meditation and how it quiets the ‘me’ centers of the brain again. Cheers.

    • As we said before, there can be many conceptions of selfhood, none of which are invalid per se. Nonetheless, some have an ontological status, an objective existence, that can be verified, and others do not. I was referring to the latter, whereas you, the former.

      Whoops! I should have remembered that you kindly visited this article earlier in the year. Now I really am testing my readers’ patience, asking them to go through the whole shebang twice. Your forbearance is most admirable, and I can only apologise to you.

      You know, I really ought to have a name for you by now; what is it to be – ‘J.B.’?

  17. Hariod!

    I do not know how many times I have come and gone from here, your blog. How shall you know? Well, your blog is like a big library, and I have come to its main entrance and returned many times. Just like in a library the various books are kept in classified racks, and we may choose to go where we want. I did choose, and then began to read certain topics, but in vain; I could not complete as I had to divert my attention. Your articles are very thoughtful and to be pondered, though it does demands time. I shall be coming again to read the rest of your posts. Be assured I shall be part of your readership. Your esteemed presence in my blog has always been encouraging.

    Thank you once again,

    Shiva.

    • Hi there dear Shiva, and thankyou so much for your generous and analogous reflections; they are a great encouragement to me my friend. I full realise that my articles can at times be a little demanding relative to some, though that is largely in the nature of the subject matter more so than any desire to be obtuse on my part – the human mind and consciousness are indeed largely mysterious phenomena, and I try my best to remain grounded in the discussion thereof. Thankyou also then, for your forbearance and for your continued interest, which I greatly appreciate. With all best wishes, Hariod.

  18. Response to Paul Willigan (see above):

    Hi Paul,

    My apologies to you, once again, for the tardiness of this response, and thank you for bearing with me in that.

    Perhaps the major obstacle in studying Nondualism is that the mind can never step outside of the paradigm of subjectivity and objectivity. Our minds evolved to apprehend the world solely in terms of this dichotomy, wherein I am the subject to my awareness/consciousness, and that all which is apprehended, including my own conceptual ideas, memories and thoughts, are in some sense external objects in respect to me as subject. Even those mind-generated phenomena are assumed to be experienced by this supposed subject. So, the entire framework appears to subsist in this matrix of subjectivity and objectivity.

    This same matrix – the dichotomy of subjectivity and objectivity – regards what is thought of as physical, as being purely objective. In other words it is regarded as ontologically distinct and discrete from subjectivity, which merely apprehends it. In actualised Non-duality (ND), it is seen that this matrix is purely a mind construct. In other words, the tree was only ever ‘over there’ and being apprehended by me ‘here’ because the mind was formerly assuming a localisation to awareness, together with a point of centrality (my mind as subject, or the ‘experiencer of experience’) which does not exist in actualised ND.

    So, the thinking mind, in grappling with this strange concept of ND, assumes that if ND is in effect a unicity – i.e. non-dual – then it must be either a subject acquiring an object of knowledge, or a subject absorbing into an object, again, of knowledge. The thinking mind (as that subject or seeker) assumes that it will somehow come to inhabit this object of ND. To it, ND is as objective as the tree. Now we come to your question of physicality, and it will perhaps be clear as to why I have prefaced that question with the above.

    ND, by my lights (some disagree), is not strictly a Monism, in that it embraces multiplicity. It is indeed a rejection of mind/body Dualism, but as doubtless you know, it is called Non-Dualism, and not Monism, for a good reason – that being that it allows for multiplicity. This is a subtle point, because ND does posit a unicity, so how can it also posit multiplicity? The reason is that there is indeed a physical world. That means a world which can be proven to be not immaterial. All such proofs are necessarily apprehended in consciousness, and strictly speaking are inferred, but to make the leap to a position of pure Idealism – i.e. Transcendental Idealism (TI) – as a consequence is a reductio ad absurdum. To turn that argument on its head, how do we know for certain that there is an immaterial world, or awareness?

    Neo-Advaitans quite commonly make this leap to TI, not least of all as it is promulgated by some well-known names in the field. I have stood before one with such a belief and asked of them ‘when you draw the curtains at night, does the moon disappear?’ The look in their eyes betrays it all; no, of course they don’t really believe it disappears; it’s merely their adoption of a position of Transcendental Idealism – which is very hard to refute in pure logic – that follows that absurdist line, and which sells the books and draws the crowds. Essentially, they have remained stuck in the matrix of subjectivity and objectivity by their very discounting of what is thought of as the objective world – including the physical world.

    What then, is physicality? Again, it is not immaterial in that it exists as phenomena which demonstrably have material attributes – such as space occupation, mass, coherence as an integrated system, measurability, and has efficacy as solidity, to sight, to sound, and so forth, to the animal senses.

    Now, here is where we abandon the matrix of placing it solely on one side of the subject/object dichotomy, because in ND there is no such dichotomy. One way of looking at ND, which I find helps some people approach it, is to regard it as awareness knowing itself, as itself. In so doing, and it being known, as itself, to be non-local in nature, then it does not exist ‘here, but not there’. It is completely beyond distinctions of spatiality and locality. The physical tree exists as a physical phenomenon in its own right, but is also permeated by (ND) awareness because awareness does not stop (or start) at any point in space. The tree is therefore known as a discrete physical phenomenon, but not as an object separate from a subject, or separate from its being apprehended. There is the unicity and multiplicity of ND.

    I think I have said enough for now, but am very willing to engage with you further if you see fault with any of the above, or if you would like to put a counter-position of your own as regards ND and your direct experience in that area. Please be sure that I do not assume any position of privilege in respect to ND, and that I in no way consider myself to be a teacher of it. This place is, as you appear to gather, simply a forum for exchanging views, discussion, and so on.

    Over to you now, if you wish, dear Paul.

    Hariod

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