My Father the Taoist?

Do you want to improve the world? 
I don’t think it can be done. The world is sacred. 
It can’t be improved. 
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it. 
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

– Tao te ching, 29

When I was 16 I said to my father: “Dad, you care so much about philosophy. Truth. Living a good life. What about all the suffering in the world? The homeless people. How can they be helped?”

He said, “That is not my concern. Nor yours. Just live your life as best as you can, follow your spiritual path. Find the Truth. Focus just on that. Don’t worry about others.”

This seemed to me a bizarre response. How can such a wise person be so… uncaring? Didn’t the young Buddha grieve seeing suffering and death? Didn’t Christ die for us? The spiritual person cares more for others than for himself, so I thought. Yet, the most spiritual I knew as a young sixteen year old was a my father. So how can he say. “Forget about others, improving the world, and live just for your personal spiritual task?”

I said to myself: “There is the philosophy side of him and the middle class, conventional, conformist side. His apathy towards my anxieties about homelessness and injustice and all the pain in the world – that is the conformist side of him. It can’t be the philosophy side of him! It must be his philosophy side being overwhelmed by the conventional side. Why can’t be like Gandhi, or MLK? How can such a strong spiritual person be so…ordinary in terms of his acceptance of injustices and not try to change the world?” I felt sad. For him, for what seemed to his inability to break out of the orbit of middle class complacency. And for me, for my inability to break out of his oribit – for being caught in the pull of his complacency.

But could it be that his response to me was itself a philosophical response? That he meant it as a philosophical response to me? That in his regard at least he was a Taoist, warning me that if I tampered with the world, I would ruin it? That if I treated the world like an object to be saved, I would lose it? 

 He would have denied this and not identified as a Taoist. I am not sure he even knew about Taoism. To him the Tao Te Ching would have seemed like some Far East mumbo jumbo, far removed from the clear affirmations of the Truth in the Gita or the Upanishads.

Still, the resemblance between what Lao Tzu said and what he said is unmistakable.

Seeking can get in the way of being. Caring about others in an anxious way can be an obstacle to knowing yourself – and to helping others. The peace the world needs begins in oneself. As that peace flows outward without intention or fear, it multiples without effort.

What my father meant wasn’t, “Forget the homeless. Focus on your material goods and satisfaction.” He meant: “Forget the homeless. Let go of ordinary desires, including the desire to help. Be mindful of that desire, as with any desire. Don’t grasp. Don’t get caught in the world of should, oughts, deserves. Be still. Be one with all. Relate to others not as external beings who need your help, but as your own self.”

But if I relate to them as myself, shouldn’t that mean I ought to care about them since of course I care about myself?

My Dad’s point: “Care without caring. Be without striving. Quiet the mind. Don’t give in to the mind as it comes in the seductive form of guilty or judgmental compassion. Be unmoved by the seduction of the mind. Disassociate from your small self, even as it presents itself to you as the compassionate, caring, world directed self, and judges your stillness as complacency.”

Thinking is irrational. Non-thinking is rational. Doing is irrational. Non-doing is rational. 

Caring is selfishness. Non-caring is compassion. Selfishness is compassion, and compassion is selfishness.

One who doesn’t strive wins because he never loses. He is everywhere because he is still. He doesn’t fight or push or resist or accumulate because he has all.

He sees a homeless person and sees just him. He doesn’t see himself as privileged, nor the other as unlucky. He sees words and concepts as incomplete, and sees only the Tao as complete.

“How can we tell the difference between complacency and being with the Tao?”

Focus on other’s actions and if they are complacent, and be caught in judgments. There is no healing, no helping there.

Focus on yourself and if you are complacent, and be caught in guilt. There is no freedom there, no growth.

Complacency is a coping mechanism when the natural flow of energy is blocked. Pushing against it makes it stronger. Be with the natural flow. Let the Tao move around and through the coping mechanism. The Tao changes without effort. With effort, the mind strengthens the resistance.

A batter who constantly swings the bat doesn’t hit the ball. Or can’t control the ball if he hits it. Knowing when not to swing, to be still, to let go is the source of strength. The strongest batter is the most patient. He swings through non-swinging. He resides in emptiness and follows the Tao into movement. And into stillness. He surrenders to the Tao. He is free because he doesn’t control.

He resides in himself without being alone. He lets go and never loses what he has. 

The World Without Me

By instinct I am the center of my world. What happens to me and those I identify with feels like the most important things in the world.

I know I am only a speck in the universe. There are billions of other humans, of whom I know maybe a few hundred personally.

This is hard to hold onto: that for those billions of other humans, and for the billions of other nonhuman animals, it is as if I don’t exist. My toothache or life threatening illness or financial problems or self esteem concerns don’t matter to them at all. I could die right now, or be in excruciating pain, or be riddled with anxiety over my appearance or social position, and it won’t make any difference to them. Their lives move on as if nothing happened, propelled only by the concerns of their lives.

Can I blame them for this negligence or uncaring attitude towards me? How can I? I am equally uncaring towards them. Even the thousands living in my neighborhood are but for me neighbors in my life, devoid for me of any concern beyond being my neighbors.

Nor can it be different. Can I keep in mind all 70,000 people who live in my city? Maybe if I were a computer with large processing powers. Still, that would be to track them as in a database. Can I care about their lives personally the way I care about me and those I know personally? Of course not.

To be conscious is to have a limited awareness.

Fame appeals because it allows for the illusion of overcoming this brute reality. If I am famous, my death, my pain, my joy, my life matters to millions. Matters objectively. Matters really. Or so it seems.

It feels if I am famous, then others will know me the way I really am. But of course this is not true.

I think about many famous people. Obama. Trump. Gandhi. Jesus. My life doesn’t and didn’t affect them. Their life affects and affected mine. Still, for me it is not their lives as they live them that matters. But their lives as it affects me that matters to me. They are in my life the way my neighbors are. As contours in my life. God himself is experienced most of the time as my God, based on how he manifests in the world of my concerns.

There is no caring for all people. To keep them in mind. That is an illusion, like fame.

What I can do is try to still the me-ness implicit in my perceptions and thoughts. To be more aware of the world in which I don’t exist. To embrace my own limitedness, and that of any conscious being. To see past the shadows I cast over my perceptions.

Wisdom isn’t about accumulating. It is about chipping away.

Until I can embrace the world without me.

Meaning of Life

The meaning of life is obvious once you accept a simple fact: you are not yet fully grown. You have not reached the full potential of your life.

You might be 30 or 60 and fully physically grown. But still, there is more growth happening in you. Even as you read this. There is a part of you that is still in seed form, that has not yet broken through the ground and into the light.

What is the meaning of an acorn? Simple, right? It is to blossom into an oak tree. That is it’s purpose. It’s meaning. It’s inner form guiding it unfolding.

Doesn’t mean the acorn will become an oak tree. It might fall into the ocean. Or someone might crack it open. Or there is no rain. The meaning of the acorn guides its development when it is properly nourished. It’s meaning is it’s inner blue print, it’s form. But the form isn’t a guarantee of success. It structures how the acorn will develop when the circumstances are correct.

Hold on to this idea about the acorn. It solves the riddle of the meaning of life.

Ordinarily, discussions of the meaning of life fall into two extremes: the super-naturalists and the naturalists. Or in common parlance, the theists and the atheists. These discussions go nowhere and only confuse issues.

Super-naturalists claim that life has meaning because there is a super-natural world we are going to – heaven. And we get there through our soul, which leaves our body after we die. The meaning of life then is to get to heaven. The naturalists claim there is no such super-natural world, and there is no soul, and no heaven. Life is just as we see it in this world. This is all there is.

Super-naturalists and naturalists both forget about the acorn!

Meaning doesn’t require anything super-natural. In the acorn there isn’t a soul of the oak tree which leaves the acorn in order to become an oak tree. The soul of the acorn – if you want to talk like that – just is the form of acorn. It’s inner structure which guides its unfolding in its growth.

Any object which grows has a meaning to its life – the meaning being what it is growing into. That’s it. This doesn’t require any spooky non-natural souls.

The human analogue of the acorn is a baby. So, then, what is the meaning of life of that baby?

Well, it is to be a fully developed human being. What does that mean? No, it doesn’t mean something ableist, like that it means having two functioning legs, ears, eyes, etc. After all, the meaning of an acorn is to be an oak tree, but still there are many, many ways that an oak tree can be – some bigger, some smaller, some with more branches, some with fewer leaves, etc.

To get hooked on if a person has legs, or if they can hear or speak, is to be limited to only one dimension of human life – the body. Of course, people vary vastly in their bodily capacities: I am not Michael Jordan. But that doesn’t mean Jordan is more fully human than I am, as if I am a lower version of human compared to him.

That’s because humans have modes beyond the bodily. And no, not because of something super-natural. It’s because humans are fundamentally socio-technological beings. Humans tap into the social world of culture as part of their growth. This was the great transformation that made humans so dominant on Earth. They have collective learning. One generation makes some changes, and leaves those changes in the form of better artifacts (tools, technology), and the next generation hooks into the better artifacts and meets the world running faster than the previous generations.

Collective learning, and the pliable nature of the human brain which enables that, created modes of growth for humans which aren’t true for other forms of life. It created, beyond bodily growth, mental growth.

So the meaning of a human baby is not only to grow physically, but also mentally. But mentally how? We roughly know what a fully formed human body looks like. What does a fully formed human mind look like?

No, forget about Mozart and Einstein. That’s like Jordan all over again. Of course, Einstein is much smarter than me, just like Jordan is faster and can jump higher than me. I am now 40. I know what I know. And in some ways I can improve my mind and learn more. But this much is guaranteed – in my life I am not going to be composing symphonies like Mozart, or making new discoveries in physics.

Does that mean I am bound to be mentally limited in comparison to Einstein? That he is big, fully formed oak tree, but I am a small, less capable oak tree? No!

The kind of mental skills Einstein had are not intrinsic to all mental growth as such. They are a particular form of mental growth. A great, wonderful, beautiful form that is essential to our modern lives. But still, not essential to mental growth as such. Just as Jordan or Tom Brady’s skills are a great form of physical growth, but they are not intrinsic to physical growth as such. One is not less mature physically for not being a superior athlete.

Just as there is mental growth beyond physical growth, so too there is spiritual growth beyond mental growth.

Mental growth is not some spooky non-natural thing involves souls. It is the result of cultural learning becoming essential to humans.

Likewise, spiritual growth is not spooky, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. It is a particular form of cultural learning.

Jordan can dunk beautifully, but he can’t compose jazz like Miles Davis. Davis can compose and play beautiful jazz – and so could greatly control sound – but he couldn’t control his emotions. Not like Christ or the Buddha could, or even as Martin Luther King or Gandhi could.

When one grows mentally, one doesn’t function on a different plane from the physical. Instead, one re-orients one’s physical being in a new way. Similarly, when one grows spiritually, one doesn’t leave the mental realm. Rather, one re-orients one’s mental being in a new way, such that one’s whole mode of being in and seeing the world changes.

That reorientation of the mental is called transcendence.

If society only had people with mental skills like Einstein and Darwin and Mozart and Davis, there would be great technological and artistic creations. But there would still be fighting and war, distrust and anger. To create a more peaceful world, there would have to be people who are able not just to excel at a particular mental activity (math, music, etc.), but who are able to root out the pain and angst within themselves so that they are walking beacons of peace and stillness. 

People who are able to transform not just cultural artifacts in society (physics books, sculptures, etc.), but who are able to treat their own mind as an artifact and so change it from the root up. And who are then able to pass on that transformed consciousness to the next generation so that they are able to build on that progress. This is the spiritual story of human kind.

It is the growth happening within each person. To reach that kind of self-awareness and self-transformation. This is the main difference between you and the acorn. The acorn’s meaning unfolds without its awareness. Your meaning unfolds essentially through your awareness, and so how you guide your awareness and nurture it and take care of it is essential to your own growth.

The spiritual dimension of your being is unfolding at this moment, and at every moment of your life. It is the next stage of your consciousness, just as a sexual awakening is the next stage of teenager’s growth. Your daily consciousness is but a fraction of your overall consciousness – a mere tip of the iceberg of awareness. The unfolding towards a greater awareness of the iceberg is the inner journey beyond the outer journey of the physical body’s growth.

You might resist it, or deny it. But the growth in you continues to happen. You might love it and want it to happen faster. But the growth in you continues at its pace. Find that growth in you, and the pace at which it is happening, and you will discover the unfolding of your meaning, and the purpose of your life.

It is right there, within you, waiting to be discovered. And when you see it, it is like seeing an old friend who you knew all along you would meet again.

Being Implies Only Being

What does spirituality imply for daily human life? How does a spiritually realized person act?

It is natural to imagine how Christ or Buddha would act in a given situation. When one is cut off in traffic. When someone vents their emotions at us. Or in the midst of daily human drama of family, work, politics, personal anxieties and social upheavels. We imagine the Buddha would be serene, calm, blissful, at peace. That he would overcome all anger, resentment and fear. He would be still, unmoved, unperturbed by the ceaseless flow of life in all its forms.

So far, so good. This is a wonderful ideal to imagine, to strive for. As long as one doesn’t take it too seriously. As long as one looks on the ideal as well with a Buddha smile as a mental projection our mind tends to foster.

Spirituality is fundamentally about being. Just being. To grow into a larger awareness of ourselves and all things as part of the same fabric of Being.

Being implies only being.

It doesn’t imply what clothes to wear, what music to listen to, what food to eat, what books to read, what people to hang out with. And it doesn’t imply what emotions to foster or look down on, what actions to admire or curtail. Being sees itself in all things, as all things have being. All things are an aspect of being. All things participate fully in being.

A reader sent me a blog post on anger by the author Derrick Jensen. In it Jensen is concerned to resist a kind of spiritual forcedness which is pretty common. He is annoyed by Buddhists who tell him that we shouldn’t worry about the extinction of animals since it all part of the flow of nature. Or that we should never be angry, even at oppressors or abusers. Or that we should never be violent, even if we are being physically attacked.

Jensen thinks this is a bunch of crap. I agree. If I am being mugged, I will do what I will do. How I find it appropriate to act in that moment. As long as I am comfortable with myself, I will be comfortable with however I choose to act in that moment, be it with or without violence. With or without anger.

When people talk about how a spiritual person should or would act in this or that circumstance, or what emotions they should or would have, I get a little cautious. Because I know what I am about to hear are some strong mental projections of this other person’s mind. Most of the time my mind is already projecting a lot, with how as a spiritual aspirant I should be acting. How I am failing in this regard, or how I am better than others or worse than others, or how far short of the ideal I am falling in this or that regard. This is the constant mental static of normal consciousness. So when others externalize that static, that too with an assumption of spiritual awakening, I guard myself. Because I know what is about to happen in me as a result of me listening to this person waxing enlightenment. The spiritual competitor in me is about to awaken, and boy, am I going to enjoy dissecting the other person’s delusions and arrogance. And in the process get caught in the rip tide of my own projections.

People usually seem eager to draw, or seek, practical implications of spirituality. What it means for politics. For environmentalism. For human relationships. Marriage. Parenting. For many years I was like this myself. So eager to emulate the great spiritual figures. To really understand spirituality and practice it by focusing on how I should let it guide my beliefs and actions. And how I can spread the right beliefs and actions.

But spirituality doesn’t give answers like that. About what to do. It doesn’t divide the world in that way. At least not in the strait forward way we want.

What Wittgenstein said about philosophy is more apt for spirituality (though for him there was no distinction between the two):

“Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language, it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is.”(Philosophical Investigations, section 124)

This was the deeply meditative aspect of Wittgenstein’s thinking. I think there is a lot of philosophy of which this isn’t true. A lot of philosophy and even spirituality doesn’t leave everything as it is. But of philosophy as the core of spirituality, it is right on.

The aim isn’t to do spirituality in order to come up with answers which will then guide action. The aim instead is to be without the distorting effects of language and thought. What causes pain and confusion isn’t that we don’t know the right thing. It is the manner in which we are trying to know. It is the projections we are unconsciously making about what being is.

So when someone says, “spirituality means never being angry”, they are really substituting one projection (“he wronged me! I will show him!”) with another projection (“I will be at peace and not angry. And you should too!”)

Wittgenstein’s point – like the Buddha’s and Christ’s – is that trying to figure out if anger as such is justified is a fool’s errand. One might as well wonder if hunger or thirst or an itch as such are justified. And well, many do, assuming overcoming hunger or thirst as such is needed to be spiritual. As if hunger is anger of the stomach, and surely we should resist all anger! And so one starves oneself and tells others to do that as part of the spiritual life.

Here understanding anger or a universal prescription about avoiding anger is treated as a precondition for how to be with one’s own anger. It is like saying, “Before I fulfill my hunger, I need to understand if it’s ok to eat at all.” But in spirituality there is no need for such a precondition. Better to simply be with the anger – be with one’s feeling of it – than to judge it or determine if it is justified.

Wittgenstein’s descriptive methodology is often taken to be a form of conservativism. As the opposite of Marx’s dictum: “Philosophers have only sought to interpret the world. The point, however, is to change it.” As if Wittgenstein didn’t even get to the interpreting part, but got stuck at describing!

But Wittgenstein is not substituting sociology for philosophy. He is bringing out the spiritual and the meditative aspect of philosophy. That what soothes our existential pain is not this as opposed to that projection, but simply being aware of the projecting nature of the mind. Live into that stillness and openess, and on the other side are not answers you can pass on to others (“Don’t worry about the environment” “Never be angry”) but better, the real discovery that “gives philosophy peace so that it is not tormented by questions which bring itself into question.”(Philosophical Investigations, 133)

It is the irony of spirituality that the more one is able to just be, without seeking change as the mind projects it, the more the changes one needs will happen. The projecting mind is like us whipping ourselves, thinking that if I whip myself in just the right way, it will foster growth and heal my pain. What the projecting mind fails to see is that the main obstacle to growth is the whipping itself. If we stop whipping ourselves, the body will naturally heal and grow.

In contrast to the Buddhist who disavows anger altogether, Jensen suggests that there is no point or need to transcend anger. That it is a natural emotion, often suited to its situation, as long as it doesn’t involve abusing people. He says, “Anger is just anger.”

I get what he means. But it strikes me as unhelpful. Of course, anger is natural. And loved ones often swipe at each other in anger only to have it pass soon enough. Still, it is not easy to distinguish the harmless anger that his dogs which love each other and yet exhibit towards each other when hungry from the harmful anger which might make his dogs attack a passing cat.

Anger, even in its low key form, is like gas. You don’t want gas spilled around your house, because irrespective of whether you have a small fire or a big explosion, the gas will catch fire and spread. Likewise, if I keep thinking that this small anger and that small anger are justified, it will be that much harder to control when a bigger anger starts to boil up. Instead, putting out the small angers, the seemingly helpful ones because they don’t seem that dangerous, goes a long way to being able able to manage and not get carried away when the bigger angers come.

Anger is like a hot blooded friend who is eager to fight to protect you. It is too extreme to unfriend him because he is overzealous in his desire to protect you. Nor is it wise to let him continue venting at others and causing you headaches in the name of protecting you. You don’t have to banish the friend or justify him. Instead be a kind and firm friend to him. Tell him you appreciate his desire to protect you, but that you don’t need protection. That you value his friendship but don’t need a guard. That he doesn’t need to protect you for him to have your affection and friendship. Then the anger will slowly dissipate on its own, leaving you with a good friend (the mind without the anger) who will walk with you in peace and serenity.

The Unity of Spirituality

I get a lot out of reading The Bible and The Bhagavad Gita. Similarly, I get a lot out of praying to Christ and to Krishna. Sometimes I pray to one, and sometimes I pray to the other. I feel no tension in this, as both are to me different forms of the divine. I believe there is a common truth to Christianity and Hinduism, and that common truth is the essence of religion and spirituality. It is the same common truth I find in spiritual atheism such as in Buddhism, Stoicism and Taoism.

What is this common truth? In Christianity and Hinduism, it is: Surrender to God in all things.

Usually when discussing this kind of view, the focus runs to “God”, and what we mean by that. People who don’t believe the common truth view (be they religious or atheist) dismiss it on the grounds that “obviously” Christ and Krishna are different: where they were born, the miracles they did, the way they spoke. In the same light, it is said: “obviously” Christians and Hindus practices and beliefs are different: how they pray, what they attribute to God, the religious books they read, the buildings they pray in and so on.

In dismissing the common view, there is then an immediate reductive understanding of God. In Christianity, God is how Christians understand Him and how they worship Him. Similarly, in Hinduism, God is how Hindus understand him and how they worship Him.

Surely, this is putting the cart before the horse, as if the Christian God is determined by how Christians act. As if Christ and Krishna must be different because many Christians and Hindus insist on arguing with each other.

How Christian and Hindus understand God or the cultural practices of worship they use to communicate with God cannot define the religions, since in both religions – as in all religions – it is foundational that God is beyond human understanding.

Now, if no matter what you say, I say, “God is mysterious” and so you should listen to me and not question my understanding, that is surely cheating. So there are good and bad ways of recognizing that God is beyond human understanding.

The point isn’t to have a blanket “God is mysterious” response whenever you are challenged by anyone. Rather, it is to recognize God’s mystery as a way of surrendering one’s deepest anxieties, fears, anger, frustration to Him, as opposed to venting them towards other people, or even towards oneself. 

There is no belief one can point to as the common truth of Christianity and Hinduism not because there is no common truth, but because the common truth isn’t a belief. It is a mode of practice. And the practice itself isn’t cultural or ritualistic. Nothing you can point to, nothing like praying this way as opposed to that way, and say, “That – doing that always is the essence of Christianity.”

The lack of common belief doesn’t mean Christianity and Hinduism are incommensurable. In fact, many Christians don’t have any common belief or even religious practice in common with each other. And same with Hindus. The illusion of an essential property of Christianity, which sets it apart from Hinduism, is created not because all Christians have some prior thing in common (belief, practice, dogma, history, causal chain, etc.), and the same with Hindus. The illusion of an essential property is created precisely because one sees Christianity in terms of a we over here versus a them over there.

Separating oneself from the Other gives rise to the feeling that there must be something which defines us differently than what defines them. Once this move is made, then all the umpteen differences in beliefs, practices, histories, skin colors, geography present themselves as just more and more confirmation that yes, the foundational move of separation was correct.

Usually in response, proponents of the common belief water down what is meant to be in common, such that it starts to seem less and less spiritual. So it is said what all religions have in common is that we should be good people, should love one another, should not steal, etc. But this renders the essence of religion so mundane that it raises the point of religion at all. Instead of seeming like Christianity and Hinduism are both saying something amazing, it seems as if both are saying the same good, but pedestrain thing.

The unity of religions is not a belief to be argued for. It is an experience to be cultivated. 

I wouldn’t go around telling people, who are not wont to believe it, that all religions are the same. Because that mode of interaction constrains the message which can be communicated. You cannot beat someone down to prove to them that peace is the only way.

Once the experience is cultivated of the unity of religions, the same applies to between religions and atheism.

Are Christianity and Buddhism radically different? Again, certainly, if taken in some of their textual, cultural forms. But no so different at all, if one experiences the world as they suggest – to live beyond the finite mind into the infinite. What they have in common is the mode of living which their best practitioners instantiate, and the energy which is transmitted in the inspiration through which their texts were written and their lives were led.

Here we get a deep link between the issues of living a spiritual life and debate, both  academic and everyday debate. For example, as with ancient skepticism or, in the 20th century with Wittgenstein, that moving beyond a particular debate is sometimes as important and essential as answering the debate from within the terms in which it is set.

We don’t always have to take debates as they are given to us. New, productive moves don’t have to be made only by accepting the framework of the ideas. Often, and in the deepest instances, the necessary move is to move beyond the debate – to grow into seeing the world in a new way such that the categories of the debate become transformed.

The unity of spirituality is like that. The unity is not something that can be shown through debate. It is, first and foremost, to be experienced. Which is not to say that one just sits around passively for the experience. Nor that it is something mystical and unsayable. But is unsayable if one accepts ordinary frameworks, which are set up presupposing there is no unity, and that different spiritual frameworks work in a zero sum environment.

Live the unity. Breath it in. Experience it. See God as Christ and Krishna. See reality as God and also as the Universe, the way an atheist sees it. Live without being wedded to one conceptual framework over the other. Live in the ecstacy and openness of not being hemmed in by concepts and frameworks which are passsed on without reflection. Live into the open, unknown possibility inherent in the present moment. Be like Christ. And Krishna. And Buddha. And in being like them, you will feel the unity of their being.

Awareness, Thought and Instinct

Cosmic awareness is to thought as thought is to instinct.

Thought is awareness of instinct. In that awareness one steps back from instinct, recognizes it as one among several ways of acting. In thought, one is not compelled by instinct but sees a broader array of possibilities.

Cosmic awareness is awareness of thought. In this awareness one is not compelled by thought, but steps back from it to consider it from stillness. Free of the compulsion of thought, one is open to the possibilities of the world without prejudging them.

Thought isn’t a substitute for instinct. Life functions mostly on instinct. This is just reality, neither good nor bad. But when instinct becomes harmful, when it contorts into a knot of confused action, thought unties the knot and reawakens action which flows positively.

Likewise, cosmic awareness is not a substitute for thought. Human life functions on thought. But when thought becomes unhelpful, lost in mazes of mindless repetition, anxiety and confusion, awareness of the limits of thought clears the mind and resets thought in its natural, productive mode.

Thought is maintanence of instinct. Cosmic awareness is maintanence of thought.

Cultivate thought to be free of mindless instinct. But do so by cultivating awareness, which fosters uncluttered thought.

One who thinks when he wants and stops thinking when he wants thinks clearly. One who can’t stop thinking can’t seperate clear thoughts from unclear thoughts.

Exercising all the time ruins the body. Thinking all the time ruins the mind. Cultivate awareness to still the mind and limit thinking, so the mind stays fresh and rejuvenated.

Cultivating Stillness

Most thoughts are not worth having. They are repetitious. Exhausting. Anxiety driven. They come over and over again. Like water dripping from a leaky faucet.

I observe this in myself. There are some basic thought patterns that occur again and again. When I wake up. When I am in traffic. When I am eating. When I am brushing my teeth. These thoughts are a constant companion. The exact same thoughts don’t repeat, but they are variations on a limited set of themes – broadly themes of concern regarding myself, and the people and the world around me.

These thoughts appear, as it were, with signs: “Pay attention! This is very important! Need to think about this now!” They suggest that if they are not heeded to, something bad will happen. “Protect yourself! Protect the people and things you care about! Ignore me at your peril!”

They feel like you are approaching a railroad crossing, unaware that a train is coming. The thoughts present themselves as the flashing stop sign.

But really, the thoughts are not linked to any impending danger or concern. They are a flashing stop sign disconnected from any broader mechanism. They are like if you took the railroad stop sign, brought it home and put it on the wall. All the time it flashes “Stop”, referring to nothing.

If there is a real danger, thoughts don’t just present themselves, passively. They themselves impel action. They don’t simply advocate vigilence. They move the person in vigilence.

Most thoughts feel vigilant, as if rooted in a need of the now. But they are really stuck in the past, a recurring leftover.

Nor are these thoughts part of intellectual activity, or practical, instrumental thought. Seeking to understand, learn, comprehend, explore. That is thought which propels one in excitement, enthusiasm, interest, passion. Or atleast curiosity and not hobbled by anxiety or fear.

Most thoughts are not like this. They are passive, stale, like a day’s old food left on the table. They present themselves not because they inspire, but just because they are there.

And one thinks them not because one wants to, but more because one doesn’t know how to stop them. They are thoughts entertained passively. Like being unable to stop eating ice cream until the container is empty.

In my life, I estimate atleast 50% of my thoughts are like this. Maybe more. Maybe 70%. Am I underestimating? Is it really more like 90%? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. And I imagine in this I am similar to most other people.

If these thoughts go from 70% to even 40%, that would be a significant change. A transformation in consciousness. That much mental energy freed up. That much mental garbage removed from the system.

Enlightenment is simply the ideal of having these negative, draining thoughts at 0%. One doesn’t have to reach 0%. Decreasing from 70% to 60%, or in general the direction being towards decreasing these thoughts is enough. More than enough.

How to reduce these thoughts? Not by accepting or even denying them. Accepting them only makes them repeat again and again. Denying them does the same, only now with more pain and self censure.

The best way is to simply be aware of the thoughts. Let them hang in the air, in the mind, without affirming or denying them, without identifying with them or dismissing them.

Observe them as just thoughts floating through the mind. Not as your thoughts that you generated that you need to act on. You didn’t generate them and they are not yours. They are just flowing through your consciousness.

Identification with the thoughts is the energy which keeps them going. Disidentify with them. Observe them as just objects floating through your field of awareness, and the thoughts lose their potency.

They will still float by, as debris floats through empty space. It passes you by, disconnected from who you are.

Then the mind, being less cluttered, just is. Neither thrilled by the passing thoughts nor depressed by them. In equinimity, consciousness resides in stillness. Like a body free of toxins, consciousness, free of toxin thoughts, revels in itself.

Illusion of Thought

Perception is perspectival. It is from here, now, from this angle. This is obvious.

Thought is also perspectival. Only unlike perception, thought appears absolute. As if it hovers free of the here and now, seeing the world from above.

Science as a practice is a method for safe guarding against this illusion implicit in thinking. The scientific method and the method of peer review acknowledges that no thought about any scientific matter in fact has reached a non-perspectival stance. Which is not to say all claims are on a par. But the scientific method is a guard against the illusion of objectivity.

Most everyday thought is not scientific. It is mundane, about oneself and others. About who did what to whom, who is right and who is wrong, about fears and hopes, anxieties and dreams.

This mundane thought no less carries the illusion of objectivity. As thought, it feels like it simply is capturing the truth, stating just how things are beyond perspective.

To fall for this illusion of thought is maya. It is to live in sin. Sin is not fundamentally a moral claim. It is a claim of knowledge, or more specifically, the lack of knowledge. Of not knowing what one does not know. Of thinking one knows when one doesn’t. To live in sin is to be caught in maya. To live in dukha – suffering.

The safeguard against maya is not maya-free thought. For the assumption of perspective-less thought, of maya-free thought, is itself maya.

The safeguard against maya is simply awareness of thought. Simply awareness of the contours of thought without judgment. Without bringing more thought to thoughts. Letting the thoughts buzz without identifying them. Without falling for the illusion implicit in the thoughts that they are free of bias and perspective, that they transcend the here and now, the local and the limited. That while others are limited by their perspective, my thoughts are really most thought-like, really capture the world as it is.

Cosmic awareness is awareness of the limitedness of all of one’s thoughts. An awareness which is not fooled by thoughts’ appearance of objectivity.

It is a stillness among the buzzing of thoughts. Untouched by them. Free of illusion.

Give up Hope

Give up hope. Hoping with the mind. A hope which has at its root you coming out looking good, which validates you. Give up hope. Hope that turns your desire into virtue, which covers over your ego with a vaneer of goodness.

Will what you want happen? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it what is needed for the betterment of the world? Highly doubtful. You want it. You crave it. You are sure you deserve it. You are conviced it is best not just for you, not really for you, but best for others, for everyone, for the world. And so what if also it makes you look good, gives you what you want? That is but a trifle, not what you are really seeking. You hope for the best for the world, not for yourself.

So you tell yourself.

It is an illusion. A mirage.

You can’t hope for the word while negating your personal ego hope. Your ego hope ballons into an appareance – what a convincing appearance – of hope for humanity. As if you want not for yourself but even contrary to yourself, for the world only. But it is the ego hope not disappearing but morphing into a cloak of world egoless, world hope.

The ego never disappears. Not in the hope of saints. Or democrats. Or republicans. Or theists or athests. Or do gooders or charities.

Most clashes are the clashes of hopes which aim and claim to not be egotistical.

But deep within, the ego stirs in the hope. Deep within, what is good for me and mine seems inseperable from what is good for society and the downtrodden and the world at large. It is the hope of the chattering mind, chattering how it has gotten beyond one’s petty ego and discovered what is objectively good for all. As if one were simply a vessel, an egoless vehicle, for the betterment of the world.

As long as you have hope, this is a fantasy. One who speaks of hope is ego ridden. One speaks of no hope is ego ridden.

Give up hope and just observe. See the ego doing everything, including your hopes and aspirations and good deeds and selfless aspirations.

When masses of people give up hope this way, the grip of the mass ego lessens, and change happens. It happens by and by. Without intention. Without hope.