Swann’s Way

Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust

For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not time even to say to myself: “I’m falling asleep.” And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between Francois I and Charles V. This impression would persist for some moments after I awoke; it did not offend my reason, but lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would separate itself from me, leaving me free to apply myself to it or not; and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for my eyes, but even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared incomprehensible, without a cause, something dark indeed.

I would ask myself what time it could be; I could hear the whistling of trains, which, now nearer and now farther off, punctuating the distance like the note of a bird in a forest, showed me in perspective the deserted countryside through which a traveler is hurrying towards the nearby station; and the path he is taking will be engraved in his memory by the excitement induced by strange surroundings, by unaccustomed activities, by the conversation he has had and the farewells exchanged beneath an unfamiliar lamp, still echoing in his ears amid the silence of the night, by the imminent joy of going home…

Sometimes too, as Eve was created from a rib of Adam, a woman would be born during my sleep from some strain in the position of my thighs. Conceived from the pleasure I was on the point of consummating, she it was, I imagined, who offered me that pleasure. My body, conscious that its own warmth was permeating hers, would strive to become one with her, and I would awake. The rest of humanity seemed very remote in comparison with this woman whose company I had left but a moment ago; my cheek was still warm from her kiss, my body ached beneath the weight of hers. If, as would sometimes happen, she had the features of some woman whom I had known in waking hours, I would abandon myself altogether to the sole quest of her, like people who set out on a mission to see with their eyes some city of their desire, and imagine one can taste in reality what has charmed one’s fancy. And then, gradually, the memory of her would dissolve and vanish, until I had forgotten the girl of my dream.

When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively, when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the time that has elapsed during is slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks. Suppose that, towards morning, after a night of insomnia, sleep descends upon him while he is reading, in quite a different position from that in which he normally goes to sleep, he has only to lift his arm to arrest the sun and turn it back on its course, and, at the moment of waking, he will have no idea of the time, but will conclude that he has just gone to bed. Or suppose that he dozes off in some even more abnormal and divergent position, sitting in an armchair, for instance, after dinner: then the world will go hurtling our of orbit, the magic chair will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier in another place. But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at firsts who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal’s consciousness; I was more destitute than a cave dweller; but then the memory—not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived and might now very possibly be—would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I never would have escaped by myself; a blurred glimpse of oil-lamps, then of shirts with turned-down collars would gradually piece together the original components of my ego.

Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our conception of them. For it always happened that when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt to discover where I was, everything revolved around me through the darkness: things, places, years. My body, still too heavy with sleep to move, would endeavor to construe from the pattern of its tiredness the position of its various limbs, in order to deduce therefrom the direction of the wall, the location of the furniture, to piece together and give a name to the house in which it lay…

These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds; it often happened that, in my brief spell of uncertainty as to where I was, I did not distinguish the various suppositions of which it was composed any more than, when we watch a horse running, we isolate the successive positions of its body as they appear upon a bioscope…

Habit! that skillful but slow-moving arranger who begins by letting our minds suffer for weeks on end in temporary quarters, but whom our minds are none the less only too happy to discover at last, for without it, reduced to our own devices, they would be powerless to make any room seem habitable.

Certainly I was now well awake; my body had veered round for the last time and the good angel of certainty had made all the objects stand still, had set me down under my bedclothes, in my bedroom, and had fixed, approximately in their right places, in the uncertain light, my chest of drawers, my writing-table, my fireplace, the window overlooking the street, and both the doors.

At Combray, as every afternoon ended, long before the time when I should have to go to bed and lie there, unsleeping, for from my mother and grandmother, my bedroom became the fixed point on which my melancholy and anxious thoughts were centered. Someone had indeed the happy idea of giving me, to distract me on evenings when I seemed abnormally wretched, a magic lantern, which used to be set on top of my lamp while we waited for dinner-time to come; and after the fashion of the master-builders and glass-painters of gothic days, it substituted for the opaqueness of my walls an impalpable iridescence, supernatural phenomena of many colors, in which legends were depicted as on a shifting and transitory window. But my sorrows were only increased thereby, because this mere change of lighting was enough to destroy the familiar impression I had of my room, thanks to which, save for the torture of going to bed, it had become quiet endurable. Now I no longer recognized it, and felt uneasy in it, as in a room in some hotel or chalet, in a place where I had just arrived by train for the first time.

Riding at a jerky trot, Golo, filled with an infamous design, issued from the little triangular forest which dyed dark-green the slope of an convenient hill, and advanced fitfully towards the castle of poor Genevieve de Brabant. This castle was cut off short by a curved line which was in fact the circumference of one of the transparent ovals in the slides which were pushed into position through a slot in the lantern….Golo stopped for a moment…then he rode away at a jerky trot. And nothing could arrest his progress. If the lantern were moved I could still distinguish Golo’s horse advancing across the window-curtains, swelling out with their curves and diving into their folds. The body of Golo himself, being of the same supernatural substance as his steed’s, overcame every material obstacle—everything that seemed to bar his way—by taking it as an ossature and embodying it in himself; even the doorhandle, for instance, over which, adapting itself at once, would float irresistibly his red cloak or his pale face, which never lost its nobility or its melancholy, never betrayed the least concern at this transvertebration.

And, indeed, I found plenty of charm in these bright projections, which seemed to emanate from a Merovingian past and surround me the with reflections of such ancient history. But I cannot express the discomfort I felt at this intrusion of mystery and beauty into a room which I had succeeded in filling with my own personality until I thought no more of it than of myself. The anaesthetic effect of habit being destroyed, I would begin to think—and to feel—such melancholy things. The door-handle of my room, which was different to me from all the other door-handles in the world, insomuch as it seemed to open of its own accord and without my having to turn it, so unconscious had its manipulation become—lo and behold, it was now an astral body for Golo. And as soon as the dinner-bell rang I would hurry down to the dining-room, where the big hanging lamp, ignorant of Golo and Bluebeard but well acquainted with my family and the dish of stewed beef, shed the same light as on every other evening; and I would fall into the arms of my mother, whom the misfortunes of Genevieve de Brabant had made all the dearer to me, just as the crimes of Golo had driven me to a more than ordinarily scrupulous examination of my own conscience.


Deconstruction–Derrida’s Axioms


London Review Of Books

Vol. 5 No. 13 · 21 July 1983

pages 17-18 | 3990 words

Derridas’s Axioms, E.D. Hirsch

Deconstruction, the subject of six new books reviewed in a recent issue of the American journal the New Republic, must be judged, simply by virtue of the commentary it has generated, an important cultural phenomenon. Although it originates in the philosophical writings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, deconstruction has exercised its main influence upon the teaching of literature in American universities. Just a few years ago, Derrida’s work was introduced into the American academy by Professor Paul de Man; it was then taken up by his students and colleagues; and for the past five years it has been at the centre of academic literary debate. Intellectual culture thrives upon debate. Although opponents of deconstruction may accuse it of nihilism and anti-humanism, nothing could be more humanistic than vigorous arguments about the nature and aim of literature. Deconstruction has forced traditionalists to look to their assumptions and protect their theoretical flanks. Defensive critics have responded to its challenge by denying the importance of literary theory altogether. That manoeuvre will not work, for anti-theory is itself a theoretical position, and a particularly vulnerable one at that.

But deconstruction has itself benefited from cultural impulses that are anything but theoretical, and has served as an outlet for emotional and institutional needs that have no logical connection with Derrida’s philosophy. Indeed Jonathan Culler rightly says in his workmanlike book that Derrida has not dealt with the ‘task of literary criticism’ and that ‘the implications of deconstruction for the study of literature are far from clear.’ In fact, Derrida’s philosophy has no special implications for literary study or any other subject. As a general philosophy, it entails no specific program in politics, literature, or anything else – though by accident of history it did imply for Paul de Man a scepticism that happened to suit his temperament as a literary critic. But deconstruction as a philosophy holds no more implications for reading books than does, say, the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley. Nonetheless, deconstruction has been applied to literary study, and because of its elusiveness and difficulty, graduate students and others interested in literary theory will wish to have a reliable guide to Derrida’s philosophy from a literary point of view. This Jonathan Culler has supplied in On Deconstruction with his customary lucidity and care. He does not address the non-literary, cultural question as to why Derrida should have caught on in the American academic scene. (This baffled even Derrida, as he told me some years back.) Nor does Culler place Derrida in a wider philosophical context. Culler sticks to the literary applications of deconstruction and he speaks as a disciple and advocate.

In this review I shall pay rather less attention to Culler than to his master. For Culler is mainly an accurate transcriber of Derrida’s views and an acute observer of their uses in de Man and others. Moreover, it is easy to get lost in the details of Culler’s account, despite its lucidity, and I shall use material in his book as a starting-point for rather general observations about Derrida’s philosophy. The sanction that Derrida gives to deconstructive literary criticism must in the end derive from his adequacy as a philosopher. And we will not get very far in gauging his philosophy if we approach deconstruction either as acolytes who accept Derrida at his own (high) estimation or as antagonists who demonise him as a nihilist and anti-humanist. Derrida deserves to be taken seriously – but perhaps not as seriously as either his epigones or his opponents have taken him.

He belongs to a school of modern philosophy that has representatives in both the Anglo-American and Continental camps and includes such diverse names as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Quine and Sellars – all of whom, despite their diversity, are united in their criticism of the idea that knowledge can have a firm foundation in anything. Not in sense data, nor intuition nor divine revelation. Everything we know is already theory-laden, imprinted with foreknowledge, already an interpretation rather than a given. (The best description of this theme in modern thought is Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.) Derrida, in criticising ‘presence’ and ‘Western Metaphysics’, is, along with Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Sellars and Quine, criticising the ‘myth of the given’ – the myth that knowledge can be based on something to which we could have direct access. I believe that this attack on the given has succeeded, and that it marks a genuine advance in the history of philosophy. But I don’t by any means accept the idea that it therefore puts an end to ‘truth’ or ‘Western Philosophy’, or does anything as portentous as Derrida and others claim. (It simply marks the end of the myth of the given.)

Derrida’s version of this modern theme makes claims that are open to challenge, but one must concede him both the basic seriousness of his effort and the basic correctness of his attack on ‘presence’ and the given. What raises doubts about the adequacy of his philosophy is its reduction of thought and experience to ‘textuality’. (‘Il n’y a pas de hors texte,’ there is nothing outside text.) This, the most distinctive element in Derrida, is of course the element that has appealed to some of the experts about texts – literary critics. It is also a theme in his philosophy which deserves careful scrutiny.

1. Axioms of Deconstruction

Only the central section of Jonathan Culler’s work is devoted to Derrida’s philosophy as such, the rest being concerned with literary criticism. And even the philosophical section of Culler’s book refers constantly to Derrida’s relevance for the activities of professional critics. This weighting of Culler’s exposition towards the literary domain makes perfectly good sense for the audience he has in mind. But it also creates a certain haziness of focus for those interested in understanding and evaluating Derrida’s thought. Culler’s emphases on ‘iterability’, ‘marginality’ and ‘hierarchical oppositions’ identify points of contact with literary criticism, but these deconstructive fruits have roots that lie elsewhere. If, in seeking those roots, I were to avoid Derrida’s lingo and were to describe his underlying ideas in ordinary terms, something like the following axioms would emerge:

     Axiom 1. Everything can be given at least two equally cogent explanations.

     Axiom 2. In the temporal process of thinking about anything, one explanation collapses into its contrary.

     Axiom 3. This entire process occurs within a linguistic-semiotic structure of thought. From these three axioms and the critique of the given mentioned above can be derived all of the chief doctrines of Derrida’s writings.

1. The Antinomies of Thought. ‘Everything can be given at least two equally cogent explanations.’ Derrida does not argue that everything has at least two equally cogent explanations: he assumes it, and makes it the basis of his second axiom, which is the central principle of his philosophy. But this first assumption should be brought into the light, not only because it is true, as Hume demonstrated in his Treatise of Human Nature, but also because it exposes the hidden connections between Derrida and the traditions of Western philosophy he rejects. Here I refer not only to such traditions as the Cretan liar paradox and Kant’s antinomies (which disclose irreducible bafflements of understanding) but, more particularly, to Hume, the deconstructionist par excellence, who bluntly stated his version of deconstruction as follows: ‘The understanding, when it acts alone, and according to its most general principles, entirely subverts itself and leaves not the lowest degree of evidence in any proposition.’

2. The Instabilities of Thought. ‘In the temporal process of thinking about anything, one explanation collapses into its contrary.’ This collapse into the contrary is the characteristic movement of deconstruction. What we thought to be present turns out to be absent; what we thought to be marginal we discover to be central. This movement is the hallmark of Derridean criticism. Culler states the critical implications of the principle: ‘to deconstruct a discourse is to show how it undermines the philosophy it asserts.’ We know in advance that this interpretative manoeuvre will succeed, because it is founded upon Hume’s inviolable principle that ‘the understanding entirely subverts itself.’

 This collapse into the other has its antecedents in other pre-Derridean philosophers, particularly Hegel. Hegel explored how the here and now, the given, is subverted by the passage of time: ‘The Now is pointed out; this Now. “Now”: it has already ceased to be when it is pointed out. The Now that is, is other than the one indicated, and we see that the Now is just this – to be no longer the time when it is.’ Hegel observed that it is the same with any ‘This’: ‘A This is set up; it is however rather an other that is set up; the This is superseded: and this otherness, this cancelling of the former, is itself again annulled’ (The Phenomenology of Mind, Chapter One). A brilliant development of this Hegelian insight is to be found in Heidegger’s introduction to Being and Time, where he meditates on the concept of ‘phenomenon’ – the given that is not given. In still other writers – Blake, William James – this collapse into the contrary is conceived as a cyclical process within intellectual history. Certainly, in this central feature of his philosophy, Derrida has not broken with ‘Western Metaphysics’.

3. The Textuality of Thought. ‘The collapse into the contrary occurs within a linguistic-semiotic structure of thought.’ Like the structuralists his predecessors, Derrida accepts as a starting-point the idea that thought is language in some sense of the term ‘language’. Both structuralists and post-structuralists hold that thought is dependent upon language, and that the structure of thought is like the semiotic structure of a language. Derrida’s originality lies in his further development of this idea. The normal view had been that speech is the basis of language, and thus of thought. Derrida reverses this. He argues that ‘writing’ (in a special sense) is prior to speech. Derrida reasons that since nothing in speech is truly present we must interpret speech as a ‘trace’, an iterable ‘engram’ in memory, which is just what writing is, an engram. Hence writing founds speech, not vice versa. But having made this point (which properly understood is less paradoxical and significant than first appears), Derrida goes on to treat writing as the structuralists treated speech – that is, as a ‘system of differences’.

This notion of language as a ‘system of differences’ started with Saussure, whose original account – from Part One, Chapter Four of the Course in General Linguistics – is worth quoting for its clarity:

    Psychologically, our thought, apart from its expression in words – is only a shapeless and indistinct mass. Philosophers and linguists have always agreed in recognising that without the help of signs we would be unable to make a clear-cut, consistent distinction between two ideas. Without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula. There are no pre-existing ideas, and nothing is distinct before the appearance of language … In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up: but in language there are only differences without positive terms.

Since thought is a language-like system dependent upon language, and since language is a structure of differences without positive terms, it follows that thought will also exhibit this structure of differences. But from Axiom Two (the collapse into the contrary) we know that when a thought arises from a momentary play of differences it will never be available as a stable present. ‘Now’ constantly becomes ‘Then’, and is constantly deferred. The meaning that arises from the play of differences is therefore never present, but is always being deferred. By combining Axiom Two (deferment) with Axiom Three (Saussure’s ‘difference’), we join deferment with difference, yielding the punning neologism ‘differment’, or in Derrida’s original French, Différance. This neologism and the metaphor of ‘writing’ are twin features of Derrida’s philosophy.

2.  One-Sidedness of Deconstruction

Unfortunately for the coherence of that philosophy, deferment and difference do not fit together harmoniously. The principle of difference as enunciated by Saussure requires a stable system of oppositions: Saussure is very clear that the system must be momentarily stable in order to give rise to meaning and the play of differences. That is the basis for his discrimination between ‘synchronic’ (stable) states of language and ‘diachronic’ changes of language over time. The principle of deferment, however, is a principle of constant instability for the system as a whole. Deferment creates a system in which nothing stands still, in which nothing is synchronic. Hegel memorably describes such a system as a ‘bacchanalian revel, where not a member is sober’. One is here compelled to choose between Hegel and Saussure.

That choice ought to be in favour of Hegel. For one thing, it was empirically wrong of Saussure to claim that meaning in language arises exclusively from the systematic play of differences. Although Saussure rightly stressed the autonomous character of language systems, and rightly opposed the view that language is just a set of names for extra-linguistic realities, he was wrong to state his point so absolutely. Language is partly an autonomous system and is partly a set of names that derive their meaning from outside the system. Saussure’s purely internal conception of a language system encouraged him to state flatly that ideas cannot exist before language, but the truth is the other way round. First we have ideas (object concepts), and then we name them. For a recent account of empirical work on names and the function of language in the development of concepts and vice versa, see Language Acquisition.​ Saussure was a great and original linguistic theorist, but his idea of language as purely a system of differences is incorrect, and is a very weak foundation on which to erect the whole edifice of modern French thought.

But even if the concept of ‘difference’ were not based on an overstated linguistic theory, it would still consort badly with the concept of ‘deferment’. Difference is a kind of pan-lingualism (in Derrida, it is a pan-textuality –Il n’y a pas de hors texte). Difference is thus monistic, even idealistic, in flavour. But deferment – the collapse of one thought into its contrary – is dualistic in flavour. Hegel overcame this inherent dualism by positing an Absolute at the end of the process – an end to deferment. Derrida does not end in an Absolute, not even an Absolute Text. Deconstruction, by coming to a stop in a monistic conception of difference à la Saussure, is at odds with its own genuine insights.

Derrida’s literary followers are even less careful than Derrida on this score. Here is a statement by Culler (the italics are mine):

    When one attempts to formulate the distinction between reading and misreading, one inevitably relies on some notion of identity and difference. Reading and understanding preserve or reproduce a content or meaning, maintain its identity, while misunderstanding and misreading distort it; they produce or introduce a difference. But one can argue that in fact the transformation or modification of meaning that characterises misunderstanding is also at work in what we call understanding … We can thus say, in a formulation more valid than its converse, that understanding is a special case of misunderstanding.

In a similar vein, Culler argues that for the opposition literal-v.-metaphorical, the latter is foundational: a literal expression is a ‘metaphor whose figurality has been forgotten’. Such tendencies to monism are a persistent danger for deconstructionists, and a danger that they rarely avoid in practice. Yet to be a monist is precisely not to be a deconstructionist! One ought therefore to distinguish between authentic deconstruction and capital-D Deconstruction, which in its monistic forms is a very inconsistent philosophy indeed.

As an example of the one-sidedness of Big-D Deconstruction, we may consider how it treats the following list of contraries:

1. part ……………………………… whole

2. percept ………………………… object

3. signifier ……………………… signified

4. temporal ……… spatial (non-temporal)

5. difference …………………… sameness

Big-D Deconstruction characteristically chooses the left-hand side of this list. It reduces the right-hand side to an illusion whose reality is on the left. The collapse into the contrary seems to go just one way and come to a halt. Of those contraries listed above, perhaps the fourth, the non-temporal v. the temporal, could be viewed as the basis for Deconstruction’s other leftward-tending preferences. Temporality, after all, is the ground for ‘Deferment’. Derrida holds that mental life is purely temporal, is just one-thing-after-another; one moment is always different from another moment of mental life. Husserl’s profound argument against this temporal conception of mental life led Derrida to devote a whole book (Speech and Phenomena) to attacking Husserl. But Derrida never touched Husserl’s key argument favouring a dualistic, i.e. a temporal-nontemporal, conception of mind. Derrida concentrated instead on Husserl’s admittedly vulnerable conception of Presence, as though by thrashing Husserl on that peripheral issue he could also defeat his other ideas. But to the extent that empirical psychology has any say in the matter, Husserl’s dualism is a correct, and Derrida’s monistic temporality an incorrect, account of mind. Even if that were not so, Deconstruction would be inconsistent in accepting temporality as an adequate description of mental life. On this point, as on so many others, Hume showed himself to be the more authentic deconstructionist when he admitted that the persistence of self-identical objects over time cannot be either confidently asserted or denied. Hume also said in similar vein that ‘a true sceptic will be diffident of his philosophical doubts, as well as of his philosophical conviction’ (Treatise, VII). That is the authentic principle of deconstruction – not Derrida’s ‘différance’ but Hume’s ‘diffidence’.

3. Deconstruction and Formalism

Derrida’s weaknesses as a philosopher are somewhat beside the point, however, when we enter the realm of literary deconstruction as Culler describes it. Culler seems to admire the success of Deconstruction in sanctioning and continuing the professional occupation of writing about writing. His account suggests that Deconstruction has a self-sustaining effect on university publication. An academic institution, like any other, adopts an ideology that preserves the institution as it is. This is the powerful principle of institutional homeostasis.

No harm in that. But the cultural question that needs to be asked is whether we want to sustain the institutions of textual analysis that have dominated academic literary criticism in the past forty years. The trouble with keeping that tradition going under a new deconstructive guise is not that it is wrong or radical, or inhumane, but that the tradition of academic literary analysis is uncommitted to any cultural values at all. Literary Deconstruction is another version of formalism. It is quite unconcerned, for example, with choosing a new canon. (The old canon will do fine, Culler informs us.) Deconstruction stresses the how of criticism rather than the what. And like the New Criticism before it, Deconstruction claims that the how is the what of literature. Similarly, just as the New Criticism tended to find that the subject of literature was literature, Deconstruction finds that the subject of literature is Deconstruction. In exposing this feature of Deconstruction, Culler’s account exhibits the twin virtues of clarity and explicitness: ‘When considered at the first level, literature is remarkable for the diversity of its themes … At the second level, a powerful theory with literary implications seeks to analyse those structures which it takes to be most fundamental or characteristic, and thus emphasises repetition … Although deconstructive readings work to reveal how a given text elucidates or allegorically thematises this ubiquitous structure, they are not thereby promoting one theme and denying others but attempting at another level to describe the logic of texts.’

‘To describe the logic of texts’ is to describe their form, logic being the study of form par excellence. Such preoccupation with form in the American academy is part of a general tendency in American education to inculcate reading and writing skills without committing one to any preference for particular cultural contents. Recently we have discovered that this educational formalism will not work even in teaching elementary reading skills. To think that formalism could suffice in teaching a literary tradition is an even more obvious mistake. Deconstruction as practised in America is part of a pervasive educational formalism that avoids advocating specific values and contents. But in literary education such formalism is an evasion.

Nothing could be more illustrative of this evasive, American use of Deconstruction than Culler’s treatment of feminist criticism. Culler deserves praise for treating that subject at all, and he is right to say that feminism is ‘one of the most significant and broadly based critical movements of recent years’. But after spending twenty pages in analysing recent work on the subject, he summarises feminist criticism as follows:

From these varied writings a general structure emerges. In the first moment or mode, where woman’s experience is treated as a firm ground for interpretation, one swiftly discovers that this experience is not the sequence of thoughts present to the reader’s consciousness … In the second mode, the problem is how to make it possible to read as a woman … In the third mode, the appeal to experience is still there … But experience always has this divided, duplicated character; it has always already occurred and yet is still to be produced.

In short, the logic of feminism follows the general logic of Deconstruction. Whether or not that is so, this abstracting of feminism to its Derridean ‘logic’ or ‘structure’ seems to me to express no significant truth at all about the feminist movement in criticism, and provides no basis for calling it ‘one of the most significant’ critical movements of recent years. That it certainly is, because of its content, not its form, and because it has encouraged a change in our canon, and in our estimate and use of particular works.

In my view, the most glaring weakness of American Deconstruction is not its intellectual incoherence but its cultural evasiveness. ‘English’ in American schools and universities has always been a cultural, not a progressive, intellectual subject. Although ‘English’ does have connections with the genuine disciplines of history and philosophy it came into being for cultural rather than disciplinary reasons. Every attempt to show that ‘English’ is a discipline with a logic and method of its own has so far proved specious and unenduring. Such narrow approaches to literature do not butter any intellectual or cultural bread. The function of ‘English’ is to help sustain or change traditions, to help provide the myths and values we live by, and to help create a culture that is worth living in. Formalism has seduced American literary study away from these authentic and original cultural purposes. Is it too much to hope that Deconstruction, the reductio ad absurdum of formalism (and also a very inconsiderable philosophy), may be the last gasp of this evasive tradition?


Buddhism–On The Ego

 Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Chogyam Trungpa

On the ego

According to Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of mind. When the awakened state is crowded in by ego and its attendant paranoia, it takes on the character of an underlying instinct. So it is not a matter of building up the awakened state of mind, but rather burning out the confusions which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions, we discover enlightenment. If the process were otherwise, the awakened state of mind would be a product, dependent upon cause and effect and therefore liable to dissolution. Anything which is created must, sooner or later, die. If enlightenment were created in such a way, there would always be the possibility of ego reasserting itself, causing a return to the confused state. Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have merely discovered it…

The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a thought or emotion or event occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words. The sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event, which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous. Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to cover up any possibility of discovering our real condition. “But,” we might ask, “if our real condition is an awakened state, why are we so busy trying to avoid becoming aware of it?” It is because we have become so absorbed in our confused view of the world, that we consider it real, the only possible world. This struggle to maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of the ego.

Ego, however, is only partially successful in shielding us from pain. It is the dissatisfaction which accompanies ego’s struggle that inspires us to examine what we are doing. Since there are always gaps in our self-consciousness, some insight is possible.

The Three Lords Of Materialism

An interesting metaphor used in Tibetan Buddhism to describe the functioning of ego is that of the “Three Lords of Materialism”: the “Lord of Form,” the “Lord of Speech,” and the “Lord of Mind.” In the discussion of the Three Lords which follows, the words “materialism” and “neurotic” refer to the action of the ego.

The Lord of Form refers to the neurotic pursuit of physical comfort, security and pleasure. Our highly organized and technological society reflects our preoccupation with manipulating physical surroundings so as to shield ourselves from the irritations of the raw, rugged, unpredictable aspects of life. Push-button elevators, pre-packaged meat, air conditioning, flush toilets, private funerals, retirement programs, mass production, weather satellites, bulldozers, fluorescent lighting, nine-to-five jobs, television—all are attempts to create a manageable, safe, predictable, pleasurable world.

The Lord of Form does not signify the physically rich and secure life-situations we create per se. Rather it refers to the neurotic preoccupation that drives us to create them, to try to control nature. It is ego’s ambition to secure and entertain itself, trying to avoid all irritation. So we cling to our pleasures and possessions, we fear change or force change, we try to create a nest or playground.

The Lord of Speech refers to the use of intellect in relating to our world. We adopt sets of categories which serve as handles, as ways of managing phenomena. The most fully developed products of this tendency are ideologies, the systems of ideas that rationalize, justify and sanctify our lives. Nationalism, communism, existentialism, Christianity, Buddhism—all provide us with identities, rules of action, and interpretations of how and why things happen as they do.

Again, the use of intellect is not in itself the Lord of Speech. The Lord of Speech refers to the inclination on the part of ego to interpret anything that is threatening or irritating in such a way as to neutralize the threat or turn it into something “positive” from the ego’s point of view. The Lord of Speech refers to the use of concepts as filters to screen us from a direct perception of what is. The concepts are taken to seriously; they are used as tools to solidify our world and ourselves. If a world of nameable things exists, then “I” as one of the nameable things exist as well. We wish not to leave any room for threatening doubt, uncertainty or confusion.

The Lord of Mind refers to the effort of consciousness to maintain awareness of itself. The Lord of Mind rules when we use spiritual and psychological disciplines as the means of maintaining our self-consciousness, of holding onto our sense of self. Drugs, yoga, prayer, meditation, trances, various psychotherapies—all can be used in this way.

Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality. For example, if you have learned of a particularly beneficial meditation technique of spiritual practice, then ego’s attitude is, first to regard it as an object of fascination and, second to examine it. Finally, since ego is seeming solid and cannot really absorb anything, it can only mimic. Thus ego tries to examine and imitate the practice of meditation and the meditative way of life. When we have learned all the trick s and answers of the spiritual game, we automatically try to imitate spirituality, since real involvement would require the complete elimination of ego, and actually the last thing we want to do is to give us the ego completely. However, we cannot experience that which we are trying to imitate; we can only find some area within the bounds of ego that seems to be the same thing. Ego translates everything in terms of its own state of health, its own inherent qualities. It feels a sense of accomplishment and excitement at having been able to create such a pattern. At last it has created a tangible accomplishment, a confirmation of its own individuality.

If we become successful at maintaining our self-consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine spiritual development is highly unlikely. Our mental habit becomes so strong as to be hard to penetrate. We may even go so far as to achieve the totally demonic state of complete “Egohood.”

Even though the Lord of Mind is the most powerful in subverting spirituality, still the other two Lords can also rule the spiritual practice. Retreat to nature, isolation, simple, quiet, high people—all can be ways of shielding oneself from irritation, all can be expressions of the Lord of Form. Or perhaps religion may provide us with a rationalization for creating a secure nest, a simple but comfortable home, for acquiring an amiable mate, and a stable, easy job.

The Lord of Speech is involved in spiritual practice as well. In following a spiritual path we may substitute a new religious ideology for our former beliefs, but continue to use it in the old neurotic way. Regardless of how sublime our ideas may be, if we take them too seriously and use them to maintain our ego, we are still be ruled by the Lord of Speech…

The Buddha…examined the process by which the Three Lords rule. He questioned why our minds follow them and whether there is another way. He discovered that the Three Lords seduce us by creating a fundamental myth: that we are solid beings. But ultimately the myth is false, a huge hoax, a gigantic fraud, and it is the root of our suffering…

The Lords’ defenses are created out of the material of our minds. This material of mind is used by the Lords in such a way as to maintain the basic myth of solidity. The…Buddha…discovered that struggling to find answers did not work…He began to realize that there was a sane, awake quality within him which manifested itself only in the absence of struggle…meditation… does involve dealing with neurotic states of mind. The neurotic state of mind is not difficult or impossible to deal with. It has energy, speed and a certain pattern. The practice of meditation involves letting be—trying to go with the pattern, trying to go with the energy and the speed. In this way we learn how to deal with these factors, how to relate with them, not in the sense of causing them to mature in the way we would like, but in the sense of knowing them for what they are and working with their pattern.

If the strategy of continually overlapping thoughts is penetrated, then the Lords stir up emotions to distract us. The colorful, dramatic quality of the emotions captures our attention as if we were watching an absorbing film show…we neither encourage emotions or suppress them. By seeing them clearly, by allowing them to be as they are, we no longer permit them to serve as a means of entertaining and distracting us. Thus they become the inexhaustible energy which fulfills egoless action.

In the absence of thoughts and emotions the Lords bring up a still more powerful weapon, concepts. Labeling phenomena creates a feeling of a solid definite world of “things.” Such a solid world reassures us that we are a solid, continuous thing as well. The world exists, therefore I, the perceiver of the world, exist. Meditation involves seeing the transparency of concepts, so that labeling no longer serves as a way of solidifying our world and our image of our self. Labeling becomes simply the act of discrimination…

By the examination of his own thoughts, emotions, concepts and the other activities of mind, the Buddha discovered that there is no need to struggle to prove our existence, that we need not be subject to the rule of the Three Lords of Materialism. There is no need to struggle to be free; the absence of struggle is in itself freedom. The egoless state is the attainment of Buddhahood. The process of transforming the material of mind from expressions of ego’s ambition into expressions of basic sanity and enlightenment through the practice of meditation—this might be said to be the true spiritual path.

The Development of Ego

The Five Skandas

As we are going to examine the Buddhist path from beginning to end, from beginners mind to the enlightened one, I think it would be best to start with something very concrete and realistic, the field we are going to cultivate. It would be foolish to study more advanced subjects before we are familiar with the starting point, the nature of the ego…Any spiritual practice needs this basic understanding of the starting point, the material with which we are working.

If we do not know the subject with which we are working, then our study is useless; speculations about the goal become mere fantasy. These speculations may take the form of advanced ideas and descriptions of spiritual experiences, but they only exploit the weaker aspects of human nature, our expectations and desires to see and hear something colorful, something extraordinary. If we begin our study with these dreams of extraordinary, “enlightening” and dramatic experiences, then we will build up our expectations and preconceptions so that later, when we are actually working on the path, our mind will be occupied largely with what will be rather than what is. It is destructive and not fair to people to play on their weaknesses, their expectations and dreams, rather than to present the realistic starting point of what they are

It is necessary, therefore, to start on what we are and why we are searching. Generally, all religious traditions deal with this material, speaking variously of alaya-vijnana or original sin or the fall of man or the basis of ego. Most religions refer to this material in a somewhat pejorative way, but I do not think it is such a shocking or terrible thing. We do not have to be ashamed of who we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we still have soil good enough to cultivate…Therefore, in dealing with this subject we are not condemning or trying to eliminate our ego psychology; we are purely acknowledging it, seeing it as it is. In fact understanding the ego is the foundation of Buddhism. So let us see how it develops.

Fundamentally, there is just open space, the basic ground of what we really are. Our most fundamental state of mind, before the creation of ego, is such that there is basic openness, basic freedom, a spacious quality; and we have now and have always had this openness. Take, for example, our everyday lives and thought patterns. When we see an object, in the first instant there is a sudden perception which has no logic or conceptualization to it at all; we just perceive the thing in the open ground. Then immediately we panic and begin to rush about trying to add something to it, either trying to find a name for it or trying to find pigeon-holes in which we could locate and categorize it. Gradually things develop from there.

This development does not take the shape of a solid entity. Rather, this development is illusory, the mistaken belief in a “self” or “ego.” Confused mind is inclined to view itself as a solid, on-going thing, but it is only a collection of tendencies, events. In Buddhist terminology this collection is referred to as the Five Skandas or Five Heaps…

The beginning point is that there is open space, belonging to no one. There is always primordial intelligence connected with the space and openness. Vidya, which means “intelligence” in Sanskrit—precision, sharpness, sharpness with space, sharpness with room in which to put things, exchange things. It is like a spacious hall where there is room to dance about, where there is no danger of knocking things over or tripping over things, for there is completely open space. We are this space, we are one with it, with vidya, intelligence and openness.

But if we are this all the time, where did the confusion come from, where has the space gone, what has happened? Nothing has happened, as a matter of fact. We just became too active in that space. Because it is spacious, it brings the inspiration to dance about; but our dance became a bit too active, we began to spin more than was necessary to express the space. At this point we became self-conscious, conscious that “I” am dancing in the space.

At such a point, space is no longer space as such. It becomes solid. Instead of being one with the space, we feel solid space as a separate entity, as tangible. This is the first experience of duality—space and I, I am dancing in this space, and this spaciousness is a solid, separate thing. Duality means “space and I,” rather than being completely one with the space. This is the birth of “form,” or “other.”

Then a kind of blackout occurs, in the sense that we forget what we are doing. There is a sudden halt, a pause; and we turn around and “discover” solid space, as though we had never before done anything at all, as though we were not the creators of all that solidity. There is a gap. Having already created solidified space, then we are overwhelmed by it and begin to become lost in it. There is a blackout and then, suddenly, an awakening.

When we awaken, we refuse to see the space as openness, refuse to see its smooth and ventilating quality. We completely ignore it, which is called avidya, A means “negation,” vidya means “intelligence,” so it is “un-intelligence.” Because this extreme intelligence has been transformed into the perception of solid space, because this intelligence with a sharp and precise and flowing luminous quality has become static, therefore it is called avidya, “ignorance.” We deliberately ignore. We are not satisfied just to dance in the space but we want to have a partner, and so we choose the space as our partner. If you choose space as your partner in the dance, then of course you want it to dance with you. In order to possess it as a partner, you have to solidify it and ignore its flowing, open quality. This is avidya, ignorance, ignoring intelligence. It is the culmination of the First Skanda, the creation of Ignorance-Form.

In fact, this skanda, the skanda of Ignorance-Form, has three different aspects or stages which we could examine through the use of another metaphor. Suppose in the beginning there is an open plain without any mountains or trees, completely open land, a simple desert without any particular characteristics. That is how we are, what we are. We are very simple and basic. And yet there is a sun shining, a moon shining, and there will be lights and colors, the texture of the desert. There will be some feeling of the energy which plays between heaven and earth. This goes on and on.

Then, strangely, there is suddenly someone to notice all this. It is as if one of the grains of sand had stuck its neck out and begun to look around. We are that grain of sand, coming to the conclusion of our separateness. This is the “Birth of Ignorance” in its first stage, a kind of chemical reaction. Duality has set begun.

The second stage of Ignorance-Form is called “The Ignorance Born Within.” Having noticed that one is separate, then there is the feeling that one has always been so. It is an awkwardness, the instinct toward self-consciousness. It is also one’s excuse for remaining separate, an individual grain of sand. It is an aggressive type of ignorance, though not exactly aggressive in the sense of anger; it has not developed as far as that. Rather it is aggression in the sense that one feels awkward, unbalanced, and so one tries to secure one’s ground, create a shelter for oneself. It is the attitude that one is a confused and separate individual, and that is all there is to it,. One has identified oneself as separate from the basic landscape of space and openness.

The third type of ignorance is “Self-Observing Ignorance” watching oneself. There is a sense of seeing oneself as an external object, which leads to the first notion of “other.” One is beginning to have a relationship with a so-called “external” world. This is why these three stages of ignorance constitute the Skanda Of Form-Ignorance; one is beginning to create a world of forms.

When we speak of ‘ignorance” we do not mean stupidity at all. In a sense, ignorance is very intelligent, but it is completely two-way intelligence. That is to say, one purely reacts t one’s projections rather than just seeing what is. There is no situation of ‘letting be” at all, because one is ignoring what one is all the time. That is the basic definition of ignorance.

The next development is the setting up of a defense mechanism to protect our ignorance. This defense mechanism is Feeling, the Second Skanda. Since we have already ignored open space, we would like next to feel the qualities of solid space in order to bring complete fulfillment to the grasping quality we are developing. Of course space does not mean just bare space, for it contains color and energy. There are tremendous, magnificent displays of color and energy, beautiful and picturesque. But we have ignored them altogether. Instead there is just a solidified version of that color; and the color becomes captured color, and the energy becomes captured energy, because we have solidified the whole space and turned it into “other.” So we begin to reach out and feel the qualities of “other.” By doing this we reassure ourselves that we exist. “If I can feel that out there, then I must be here.”

Whenever anything happens, one reaches out to feel whether the situation is seductive or threatening or neutral. Whenever there is sudden separation, a feeling of not knowing the relationship of “that” to “this,” we tend to feel for our ground. This is the extremely efficient feeling mechanism that we begin to set up, the Second Skandha.

The next mechanism to further establish the ego is the Third Skandha, Perception-Impulse. We begin to be fascinated by our own creation, the static colors and the static energies. We want to relate to them, and so we begin gradually to explore our creation.

In order to explore efficiently there must be a kind of switchboard system, a controller of the feeling mechanism. Feeling transmits its information to the central switchboard, which is the act of perception. According to that information, we make judgments, we react. Whether we react for or against or indifferently is automatically determined by this bureaucracy of feeling and perception. If we feel the situation and find it threatening, when we will push it away from us. If we find it seductive, then we will draw it to us. If we find it neutral, we will be indifferent. These are the three types of impulse: hatred, desire, and stupidity. Thus perception refers to receiving information from the outside world and impulse refers to our response to that information.

The next development is the Fourth Skandha, Concept. Perception-Impulse is an automatic reaction to intuitive feeling. However, this kind of automatic reaction is not really enough of a defense to protect one’s ignorance and guarantee one’s security. In order to really protect and deceive oneself completely, properly, one needs intellect, the ability to name and categorize things. Thus we label things and events as being “good,” “bad,” “beautiful,” “ugly,” and so on, according to which impulse we find appropriate to them.

So the structure of ego is gradually becoming heavier and heavier, stronger and stronger. Up to this point ego’s development has been purely an action and reaction process; but from now on ego gradually develops beyond the ape instinct and becomes more sophisticated. We begin to experience intellectual speculation, confirming or interpreting ourselves, putting ourselves into certain logical, interpretive situations. The basic nature of intellect is quite logical. Obviously there will be the tendency to work for a positive condition: to confirm our experience, to interpret weakness into strength, to fabricate a logic of security, to confirm our ignorance.

In a sense it might be said that primordial intelligence is operating all the time, but it is being employed by the dualistic fixation, ignorance. In the beginning stages of the development of ego this intelligence operates as the intuitive sharpness of feeling. Later it operates in the form of intellect. Actually it seems that there is no such thing as the ego at all; there is no such thing as “I am.” It is an accumulation of a lot of stuff. It is a “brilliant work of art,” a product of the intellect which says, “Let’s give it a name, let’s call it something, let’s call it ‘I am’, “ which is very clever. “I” is the product of intellect, the label which unifies into one whole the disorganized and scattered development of ego.

The last stage of the development of ego is the Fifth Skandha, Consciousness. At this level an amalgamation takes place: the intuitive intelligence of the Second Skandha, the energy of the Third, and the intellectualization of the Fourth combine to produce thoughts and emotions. Thus at the level of the Fifth Skandha we find the Six Realms as well as the uncontrollable and illogical patterns of discursive thought.

This is the complete picture of ego. It is in this state that all of us have arrived at our study of Buddhist psychology and meditation.

In Buddhist literature there is a metaphor commonly used to describe this whole process, the creation and development of ego. It speaks of a monkey locked in an empty house, a house with five windows representing the five senses. This monkey is inquisitive, poking it head out of each window and jumping up and down, up and down, restlessly. He is a captive monkey in an empty house. It is a solid house, rather than the jungle in which the monkey leapt and swung, rather than trees in which he could hear the wind moving and the rustling of the leaves and branches. All these things become completely solidified. In fact, the jungle itself has become his solid house, his prison. Instead of perching in a tree, this inquisitive monkey has been walled in by a solid world, as if a flowing thing, a dramatic and beautiful waterfall, had suddenly been frozen.

This frozen house, made of frozen colors and energies, is completely still. This seems to be the point where time begins as past, future and present. The flux of things becomes solid tangible time, a solid idea of time.

The inquisitive monkey awakens from his blackout, but he does not awaken completely. He awakens to find himself trapped inside of a solid, claustrophobic house with just five windows. He becomes bored, as though captured in a zoo behind iron bars, and he tries to explore the bars by climbing up and down. That he has been captured is not particularly important; but the idea of capture id magnified a thousand times because of is fascination with it. If one is fascinated, the sense of claustrophobia becomes more and more vivid, more and more acute, because one begins to explore one’s imprisonment. In fact fascination is part of the reason he remains imprisoned. He is captured by his fascination. Of course at the beginning there was the sudden blackout which confirmed his belief in a solid world. But now having taken solidity for granted, he is trapped by his involvement with it.

Of course the inquisitive monkey does not explore all the time. He begins to become agitated, begins to feel that something is very repetitive and uninteresting, and he begins to become neurotic. Hungry for entertainment, he tries to feel and appreciate the texture of the wall, attempting to make sure that this seeming solidity is really solid. Then, assured that the space is solid, the monkey begins to relate to it by grasping it, repelling it or ignoring it. If he attempts to grasp the space in order to possess it as his own experience, his own discovery, his own understanding, this is desire. Or, if the space seems a prison to him so that he tries to kick and batter his way out, fighting harder and harder, then this is hatred. Hatred is not just the mentality of destruction alone; but it is even more a feeling of defensiveness, defending oneself against claustrophobia. The monkey does not necessarily feel that there is an opponent or enemy approaching; he simply wants to escape his prison.

Finally the monkey might try to ignore that he is imprisoned or that there is something seductive in his environment. He plays deaf and dumb and so is indifferent and slothful in relation to what is happening around him. This is stupidity.

To go back a bit, you might say that the monkey is born into this house as he awakens from the blackout. He does not know how he arrived in this prison, so he assumes he has always been there, forgetting that he himself solidified the space into walls. Then he feels the texture of the walls, which is the Second Skandha, Feeling. After that, he relates to the house in terms of desire, hatred and stupidity, the Third Skandha, Perception-Impulse. Then, having developed these three ways of relating to house, the monkey begins to label and categorize it: “This is a window. This corner is pleasant. That wall frightens me and is bad.” He develops a conceptual framework with which to label and categorize and evaluate his house, his world, according to whether he desire, hates, or feels indifferent to it. This is the Fourth Skandha, Concept.

The monkey’s development through the Fourth Skankha has been fairly logical and predictable. But the pattern of development begins to break down as he enters the Fifth Skandha, Consciousness. The thought pattern becomes irregular and unpredictable and the monkey begins to hallucinate, to dream.

When we speak of “hallucination: or “dream,” it means that we attach values to things and events which they do not have. We have definite opinions about the way things are and should be. This is projection: we project our version of things onto what is there. Thus we become

completely immersed in a world of our own creation, a world of conflicting values and opinions. Hallucination, in this sense, is a misinterpretation of things and events, reading into the phenomenal world meanings which it does not have.

This is what the monkey begins to experience at the level of the Fifth Skandha. Having tried to get out and having failed, he feels dejected, helpless, and so he begins to go completely insane. Because he is so tired of struggling, it is very tempting for him to relax and let his mind wander and hallucinate. This is the creation of the Six Lokas or Six Realms. There is a great deal of discussion in the Buddhist tradition about hell beings, people in heaven, the human world, the animal realm, and other psychological states of being. These are the different kinds of projections, the dream worlds we create for ourselves.

Having struggled and failed to escape, having experienced claustrophobia and pain, this monkey begins to wish for something good, something beautiful and seductive. So the first realm he begins to hallucinate is the Deva Loka, the God Realm, “heaven,” a place filled with beautiful, splendid things. The monkey dreams of strolling out of his house, walking in luxuriant fields, eating ripe fruit, sitting and swinging in the trees, living a life of freedom and ease.

Then he also begins to hallucinate the Asura Realm, or the Realm of The Jealous Gods. Having experienced the dream of heaven, the monkey wants to defend and maintain his great bliss and happiness. He suffers from paranoia, worrying that others may try to take his treasures from him, and so he begins to feel jealousy. He is proud of himself, has enjoyed his creations of the God Realm, and this has led him into jealousy of the Asura Realm.

Then he also perceives the earth-bound quality of these experiences. Instead of simply alternating between jealousy and pride, he begins to feel comfortable, at home in the “human world,” the “earthly world.” It is the world of just leading a regular life, doing things ordinarily, in a mundane fashion. This is The Human Realm.

But then the monkey also senses that something is a bit dull, something is not quite flowing. This is because, as he progresses from the Realm of the Gods to the Realm of the Jealous Gods to the Realm of Human Beings, and his hallucinations become more and more solid, then this whole development begins to feel rather heavy and stupid. At this point he is born into the Animal Realm. He would rather crawl or moo or bark then enjoy the pleasure of pride or envy. This is the simplicity of animals.

Then the process is intensified, and the monkey starts to experience a desperate feeling of starvation, because he really does not want to descend to any lower realms of the gods; so he begins to feel hunger and thirst, a tremendous feeling of nostalgia for what he remembers he once had. This is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts or Preta Realm.

Then there is a sudden losing of faith and the monkey begins to doubt himself and his world, begins to react violently. All this is a terrible nightmare. He realizes that such a nightmare could not be true and he begins to hate himself for creating all this horror. This is the dream of the Hell Realm, the last of the Six Realms.

Throughout the entire development of the Six Realms the monkey has experienced discursive thoughts, ideas, fantasies, and whole thought patterns. Up to the level of the Fifth Skandha his process of psychological evolution has been very regular and predictable. From the First Shandha each successive development arose in a systematic pattern, like an overlay of tiles on a roof. But now the monkey’s state of mind becomes very distorted and disturbed, as suddenly this mental jigsaw puzzle erupts and his thought patterns become irregular and unpredictable. This seems to be our state of mind as we come to the teachings and the practice of meditation. This is the place from which we must start our practice.

I think that it is very important to discuss the basis of the path—ego, or confusion—before we speak of liberation and freedom. If I were only to discuss the experience of liberation, that would be very dangerous. This is why we begin by considering the development of the ego. It is a kind of psychological portrait of our mental states. I am afraid this has not been an especially beautiful talk, but we have to 88iface the facts. That seems to be the process of working on the path.

you just have to see what you are. Often we tend to look for the positive side, the beauty of spirituality, and ignore ourselves as we really are. This is the greatest danger. If we are engaged in self-analysis, our spiritual practice is trying to find some ultimate analysis, an ultimate self-deception. Ego’s intelligence is tremendously talented. It cn distort anything. If one seizes on the ideas of spirituality or self-analysis or transcendence of ego, immediately ego takes hold of them and translates them into self-deception.

Creative Consciousness Process



Creative Consciousness Process, Iona Miller

analogies are hermeneutic interpretations of the metanarratives of the Conscious Creative Process (CCP). They are the metaphors we ‘see’ by, ‘how we know what we know,’ They are useful models…As such, they may function as useful orientations…but are irrelevant to the journey itself…participants should not be bothered by them, as it will ‘interpret’ their unique experience in a reductive way.


Who wants to hear that their experience of being inexorably sucked into a terrifying bottomless pit is just another typical experience of the violent void of the depressing unconscious?…the psyche unfolds just what each participant needs for healing in a nonrational way we could never guess or make up…The importance lies in the experience; meaning is inherent within it, embodied as a gestalt.


We have simply observed that the consciousness journeys and (quantum) theory are analogous in many ways and may shed light on one another. The same patterns appear over and over in the journeys.


In either case, a fundamental state-of-the-art understanding of the nature of …physical reality is a useful foundation for consciousness exploration…CCP is not only an empirical orientation of ‘mind observing matter,’ but also a phenomenology of ‘mind observing mind,’ and sometimes ‘mind observing spirit.’ Of course it is understood that ‘observation’ is participatory and transformative. When the images unfold and change, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are…modified.


We can recycle our consciousness by feeding it back into itself, viewing itself from a panoply of infinite relative perspectives…Such experiences as mind-as-inert-matter, ‘mind inside nature’ may emerge…these destructured states…are emergent, not stabilized states of consciousness, such as found in spiritual disciplines. For untrained participants, the states are not necessarily ‘repeatable at will’ as are those of skilled meditators…


There are infinite possibilities for explicating implicate consciousness as images. However, each individual embodies a gestalt of ‘probabilities’; because of ‘sensitivity’ explication of certain patterns if more likely based on initial conditions at conception and birth and the complex effects of subsequent psychophysical trauma, which pattern primal self image.


Theory is also a ‘way of seeing,’ alerting us to what to look for in the experiment. Theories are science’s versions of mythic reality…Without the matrix of theory, the data flies by incomprehensibly, unnoticed for its deeper importance it becomes essentially invisible.


Participants in the (CCP) report states which are analogous to these scientific models of wholeness, unfolding, and void states, which are superficially…analogous to profound mystical states…


We could compare the four aspects of the nonrepresentational voids as the…



  1. Dead Void: physical void…interstellar space…

  2. Emotional Void: Void of depressing unconscious, with its empty trances…

  3. Existential Void: the imaginal realm with its bliss states, ecstasies and inspirations.

  4. Mystic Void: Void of objectless contemplation, transcendental unified state.


In (CCP), participants may become experientially aware of the deeper implicate order and respond with oceanic feelings, mystical awe, and psychosomatic phenomena. Bohm refers to meaningful symptoms as ‘somasignificance’ and ‘signasomatic’ to describe the patterns of flow between that aspect of the world that is more material and that which is more mind-like…


Consciousness is information—consciousness-in-forming—the process of unfolding. The intensity of consciousness at any level is a function of the amount of information at that level (Bustista, 1978). All the potential information about the universe is holograhically encoded in the spectrum of frequency patterns that constantly bombard us.


Through destructuring in meditation…one quiets the brain becoming sympathetically in tune with (entrained to) the universal frequency pattern. When this occurs, the encoded information about the universe becomes holographically decoded, and the individual experiences a state of unitive consciousness with the entire universe.


Much of the transformative work in CCP takes place at the threshold between the manifest and nonmaifest. As imagery unfolds deeper and deeper levels of psyche, it becomes more primal, less structured, until perceptions of forms and patterns dissolve entirely in chaotic consciousness. Thus, CCP is a self-deconditioning process, leading to an experience of the process of awareness itself, leading to a meaningful void.


When the new order emerges creatively, it is literally ‘displayed’ or unfolded, made manifest. That display instantly communicates the information it embodies in imagination. The image is an immediate guide to activity and its dynamic display is also feedback which recycles and patterns the whole system.


Mystics are attuned to the inner display of consciousness, much deeper within the implicate order. Bohm notices that, ‘every thought forms a display in what I call the imaginal world, in terms of the feeling, the image, the idea, the excitement, the muscular tension, which are associated with thought.’


He also has said that, ‘when the content of thought is totality, it is carrying out of dance: making a display which is fundamentally its own deep inner nature, the whole of itself. In that process it becomes totally involved, and therefore it becomes in a way a work of art which is displaying its inner principle rather than anything superficial…Metaphysical thought has a drive inherent in it to go further, to the point of being without an external content.’


Bohm suggests that we transform as eternity unfolds in us, but that eternity may also transform, as it returns to itself enriched by our participation.


Bohm contends that the nonmanifest frequency realm is n-dimensional and atemporal, inconceivable to 3-D thought…He asserts that only when the individual has dissolved ther 3-dimensional self consisting of gross matter, can the ground of our being flow through us unobstructedly.


He extends this notion to psychology, urging us to dissolve the ‘thinker’ as the highest priority the seeker for truth can undertake. He advocates a kind of ‘psychological atom smashing’ in which the illusory ego clusters…are dissolved.


Knowledge consists in this theory of the process of tuning in on the manifestation (phenomenon) of the nonmanifest in order t make it accessible, through a state of consciousness which lies outside the barriers of the finite senses. Bohm maintains that this capacity exists in the universe, not in us strictly speaking.


However, ‘the challenge for the individual locus of consciousness is to provide the condition that allows the universal force to flow through it without hindrance. The result is not knowledge, in the Kantian sense, but direct nondualistic awareness…’


Its precondition is emptiness, as Bohm repeatedly insists, which entail a suspension of the Kantian categories and of 3-dimensional space-time. Such emptiness brings about the cessation of consciousness as the knower and transforms us into an instrument receptively allowing the noumenal intelligence to operate through us, irradiating our daily lives and those of others.





Gurdjieff And “The Work” (Jacob Needleman, Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State University)

   It is true enough to say that Gurdjieff’s system of ideas is complex and all-encompassing, but one must immediately add that their formulation is designed to point man toward a central and simple power of apprehension which Gurdjieff taught is merely latent within the human mind and which is the only power by which man can actually understand himself in relation to the universe.  In this sense the distinction between doctrine and method, which is fairly clear in most of the older spiritual traditions, does not entirely obtain in the Gurdjieff teaching. The formulations of the ideas are themselves meant to have a special action on the sense of self and may therefore be regarded as part of the practical method.  This characteristic of the Gurdjieff method reflects what Gurdjieff perceived as the center of gravity of man’s subjectivity—the fact that modern civilization is lopsidedly oriented around the thinking function.  Modern man’s illusory feeling of ”I” is built up around his thoughts and therefore, in accordance with the level of the pupil, the ideas themselves are meant to affect this false sense of self. For Gurjieff the deeply penetrating influence of scientific thought in modern life was not something merely to be deplored, but to be understood as the channel through which the eternal Truth first finds its way toward the human heart.

   Man, Gurdjieff taught, is an undeveloped creation.  He is not really man, considered as a cosmically unique being whose intelligence and power of action mirror the energies of the source of life itself.  On the contrary, man as we encounter him is an automaton.  His thoughts, feeling, and deeds are little more than mechanical reactions to external and internal stimuli.  He cannot do anything.  In and around him, everything happens without the participation of his own authentic consciousness.  But human beings are ignorant of this state of affairs because of the pervasive influence of culture and education, which engrave in them the illusion of autonomous conscious selves.  In short, man is asleep.  There is no authentic I am in his presence, but only an egoism which masquerades as the authentic self, and whose machinations poorly imitate the normal human functions of thought, feeling, and will.

   Many factors reinforce this sleep.  Each of the reactions that proceed in one’s presence is accompanied by a deceptive sense of I—man is many I’s, each imagining itself to be the whole, and each buffered off from awareness of the others.  Each of these many I’s represents a process whereby the subtle energy of consciousness is absorbed and degraded, a process that Gurdjieff termed “identification.”  Man identifies—that is, squanders his conscious energy, with every passing thought, impulse, and sensation.  This state of affairs takes the form of a continuous self-deception and a continuous procession of egoistic emotions, such as anger, self-pity, sentimentality, and fear, which are of such a pervasively painful nature that man is constantly driven to ameliorate this condition through the endless pursuit of social recognition, sensory pleasure, or the vague and unrealizable goal of “happiness.”

   According to Gurjieff, the human condition cannot be understood apart from considering humanity within the function of organic life on earth.  The human is constructed to transform energies of a specific nature, and neither his potential inner development nor his present actual predicament is understandable apart from this function…(But) man is unable to draw upon the conscious energies passing through him, which in the cosmic scheme, are those possessing the actual power of causal efficacy.  Man does not and cannot participate consciously in the great universal order, but instead is tossed around en masse for the purposes limited to the functions of organic life on earth as a whole.  Even in this relatively limited sphere—limited, that is, when compared to man’s latent destiny—mankind has become progressively incapable of fulfilling its function, a point that Gurdjieff strongly emphasized in his own writings…the “fate of the earth” is somehow bound up with the possibility of the inner evolution of individual men and women…

   How are human beings to change this state of affairs and begin drawing on the universal conscious energies which they are built to absorb but which now pass through them untransformed?  How is humanity to assume its proper place in the great chain of being?  Gurdjieff’s answer to these questions actually circumscribes the central purpose of his teaching—namely, that human life on earth may now stand at a major transitional point, comparable perhaps to the fall of the great civilizations of the past, and that development of the whole being of man…is the only thing that can permit man to pass through this transition in a manner worthy of human destiny…But whereas the descent of humanity takes place en masse, ascent or evolution is possible only within the individual…


A Study of Gurdjieff’s Teaching, Kenneth Walker, M.D.

The Disinterested Observer

   Ouespensky said that he would begin the study of man the machine, with an investigation of his mind, and G’s teaching on this subject differed from all other Western teachings…Ouespensky made free use of diagrams when teaching us, and a diagram which was frequently drawn on the blackboard was the one showing man’s several minds.  He said that in this diagram man was regarded as a three-storied being, in the top story of which there resided the intellectual mind or, as Ouespensky now preferred to call it, the Intellectual Centre.  In the middle story was man’s emotional mind or centre, and in the lower story…his instinctive…centre.  G also said the emotional and intellectual centres were themselves divided into higher and lower minds, though it was rare for humans to operate from their higher mind (It was also the case that, according to G, all living creatures on earth are to be classified in accordance with the number of minds or centres which they possessed, and man was the only creature on this planet equipped with an intellectual centre).

   The relative activity of the three chief centres in man (intellectual, emotional and instinctive) was different in different individuals, and this provided us with a means of classifying men under three…headings.  There were men who did everything by imitating the behavior of those around them, and who thought, felt, moved and reacted much as everybody else thought, felt…and reacted.  Such people were controlled almost entirely by their (instinctive) centre, which possessed a special gift for imitation, and a man of this type would henceforth be referred to as man number one.  There were other people in whose lives the emotions played a leading part, people who were guided by what they felt and by what they liked and disliked rather than by what they thought.  Such people spent their lives in seeking what was pleasant and in avoiding what was unpleasant, but sometimes they reacted pathologically in the reverse way, extracting what was distressing into a horrid form of voluptuousness.  An emotionally controlled person of this kind would be spoken of in the future as man number two.  Finally there was man number three, the man who was swayed by theories and by what he called his reason, a man whose knowledge was based on logical thinking and who understood everything in a literal sense.  A man of this kind would be called man number three.

   Ouespensky made it clear to us that no one of these three was superior to any other one and that all three stood together on the same level, equally at the mercy of their psychological machinery and without any will.  All that this classification was meant to show us was that the individual behavior and decisions of one kind of man could often be explained by the predominance of one kind of function…This method of classifying people was possible because human development was usually lopsided…

   A properly balanced man, working as he should work, resembled a well-trained orchestra, in which one kind of instrument took the lead at one moment of the performance and another instrument at another, each making a contribution to the symphony being played.

   In observing ourselves we must look at ourselves with detachment and as though we were looking at another person about whom we knew very little.  At first we might find difficulty in assigning our activities to the right centres…For example, at first some of us would confuse thinking and feeling, and feeling and sensing, and it would be helpful for us to remember that intellectual centre worked by comparing one thing to another thing, and by making subsequent

statements on the basis of this comparison, whereas the emotional centre worked by recording its native likes and dislikes, and acting directly on this basis.  Instinctive centre was similarly occupied with whether the sensations it was receiving were of a pleasant or of an unpleasant nature.  We should bear in mind the fact that neither emotional nor instinctive centre ever argued or reasoned concerning anything, but because they perceived everything directly they returned to the perception of an equally direct response.  We should look upon these psychic functions of ours as being different kinds of instrument, each variety of which made it characteristic contributions to the sum total of our knowledge.

   There were different ways of knowing a thing and to know it completely was to know it simultaneously with our thinking, our emotional, and even our moving and instinctive minds…

   To change something in oneself without losing something of equal value required a knowledge of the whole which we were very far from possessing… after we had gained skill in observing the working of our various centres, we could begin the more difficult job of looking for examples of the wrong working of our various centres, due either to one centre attempting to perform the work of another centre, or else to one centre interfering with the functioning of another centre.  He gave, as examples of a centre doing the work of another centre, intellectual centre pretending it ‘felt,’ whereas it was quite incapable of feeling anything, or emotional centre coming to a decision which it was not within its province to make.  He described the moving centre as a very clever mimic and said it often imitated other centres working, making it appear outwardly that real thinking or feeling was going on, whereas in actual fact nothing of a genuine nature was happening at all.  For example, a person might read out loud from a book or talk to somebody quite impressively, yet he might be only uttering words without any more meaning for him as he uttered them than the words spoken by a parrot had any meaning for a parrot.  Reading, speaking and so-called thinking on this very low level often occurred and they were all imitations of other activities concocted by moving centre…

   I was surprised at the richness of the…observations I made…by observing myself in this way…Perhaps the earliest and most disquieting findings…was that I was never the same for more than few minutes, and yet I had the effrontery to preface my remarks with such misleading phrases as ‘I always think that…’ or ‘I am convinced that…’ or ‘I feel strongly that…’  What nonsense!  I realized now that frequently I had thought and felt quite differently from the way in which I was thinking and feeling at that particular moment.  And who was it that was making that dogmatic statement about his own thoughts and feelings?  Who, in short, was ‘I’?  Here was a problem of the first magnitude to be faced. 

Self-observation gave rise to a whole host of new questions.

   Ouspensky…drew our attention to the fact that in the West the word ‘consciousness’ was very badly misused, and not only in popular speech but also by psychologists who ought to know better.  Consciousness, he said, was not a function, as many Western works on psychology implied, but it was an awareness of a function.  For example, some people used the word consciousness as though it were synonymous with thinking, but thought could take place without any awareness of its existence on the part of the thinker, and consciousness could exist without there being present any thought.  Consciousness was a variable which exerted an influence on function, the presence of a greater degree or consciousness having the effect of improving the quality of our various activities.  The more conscious we were of doing something, the better we did it.

  …If we continued to observe ourselves carefully we should find that the moments of ‘coming to’ and of realizing our existence were very short and were separated from each other by long stretches of self-oblivion, in which we thought, felt, moved and acted without being in the least conscious of our existence.  It was nonsense to say, as many people did, that we were aware of ourselves, and if we were honest we should have to admit that we passed the day in a state of waking-sleep, a state which lay somewhere between sleep in bed and wakefulness or true self-awareness.  We talked, performed our duties, ate and drank, wrote letters, made what we regarded as being important decisions, wrote books, made peace and declared war, in a state of  consciousness so low that it was usually nearer to the condition of sleep than to that of self-awareness.  Only for a moment or two did we occasionally become conscious of our existence, and then, like people who had turned over in bed and half opened their eyes, we closed them and lapsed back into our dreams again.

   Ouspensky pointed out that the lower the level of our consciousness, the blinder and the more subjective were in our outlook…It was only in a state of higher consciousness that it was possible for a man to see himself and the things around him as they really were, not as he imagined them to be.

   Ouspensky then went on to say that there were four states of consciousness possible for man and that we were familiar only with two of these, namely, with sleep in bed at night, and with the state of consciousness in which we spent the day, a state which he proposed to call ‘waking sleep.’  Above these two customary states there were two higher levels of consciousness, the first of them being the state…referred to as ‘self-remembering’ or true self-consciousness.  Ouspensky said that this was associated with a vivid sense of one’s own existence as well as of what was happening around one, and it was a state of consciousness which some of us might have experienced accidentally, especially during our childhood.  The fourth and highest state of consciousness was Objective Consciousness, sometimes referred to in literature as Cosmic Consciousness….

   The chief difference between identification, or the mechanical entanglement of the attention in some problem, and an attention which has been deliberately directed on to it, is that identification has the effect of narrowing the field of consciousness, whereas directed attention usually widens it so that more things come within it.  It is this narrowing effect of identification which explains the popular saying that a person is unable to see the wood for the trees.   What has happened here is that his attention has been imprisoned by one or two of the trees so that nothing else is able to come into view.  Similarly, by identifying with an anxiety, disappointment or source of irritation, we put ourselves completely in its power, so that it is impossible to think or feel about anything else.  Ouspensky pointed out that identifying was the chief obstacle to self-remembering, for it imprisoned a man in some small part of himself, and was therefore the very antithesis brought about by self-remembering.  In short, identification led to loss of all sense of existence, to deeper sleep, greater subjectiveness of outlook and absence of all ability to exercise the most modest range of choice.

   Ouspensky repeated all day long that we were passing from one form of identification to another form of it, and that nothing was so trifling that we were unable to become identified with it.  A man could become identified even with an ashtray, and if an ashtray could act in this way, it was easy to see how a man’s possessions, his successes and enjoyments, gave him still ampler opportunities for identification.  What was more difficult to understand was how a man could be equally well lost in his miseries and misfortunes, and yet such was the case.  Ouspensky said that G had often commented on man’s partiality for his own and for other people’s griefs, and had remarked that the last thing a man was willing to give up was his suffering.  He would agree, on certain occasions, to renounce his pleasures, but he was so constituted that he clung with the greatest possessiveness and tenacity to his sufferings.  It was obvious that anyone who had a desire to develop  would have to sacrifice his grievances and his sufferings, for an identification with negative emotions entailed an enormous wastage of nervous energy, a wastage which it was imperative that we should save.  Ouspensky said identification with negative emotions played such havoc with out lives that it would be useful to us to make a list of the particular unpleasant emotions to which we were specially partial.  Everybody, he said, had his own particular favorites in the way of negative emotions, and we had to become better acquainted with them. 

   We took his advice and by doing so learnt how powerful was the influence exerted by negative emotions on our lives.  We saw how we ennobled these unpleasant feelings when they arose in us, and how we persuaded ourselves that it was only right and proper that we should have them, justifying our anger and irritation by means of such phrases as ‘righteous indignation’.  We found ourselves enjoying our sufferings, especially when we were able to blame other people for them, as we almost always managed to do.  We saw also how we accepted the portrayal of violence, despair, frustration, melancholy and self-pity on the stage and in literature as the highest form of art, and how cleverly we disguised from ourselves the fact that we were exacting immense enjoyment our of misery and suffering. 

   Our observations of all forms of negative emotions yielded truly astonishing harvests.  Even members of the group who prided themselves on being of a cheerful and eventempered disposition discovered that irritation, jealousy, envy, anger and disapproval of others were continually arising in them.  As we acquired skill in observing ourselves we became more and more familiar with the very unpleasant physical sensations which accompanied our various negative emotions, and learnt how quickly the poisons they engendered permeated our bodies.  We also learnt from bitter experience how drained we were of all energy after having given it away to a negative emotion, so that we lost a great deal of valuable energy through them.

  Sometimes we actually felt the energy pouring out of us and learnt to our cost that once we had yielded ourselves to them—as we almost always did—there was no possibility of getting rid of them.  There we had to remain in their power until they had burnt themselves out.  The best hope of learning how to avoid falling such an easy prey to negative emotions appeared to lie in becoming more and more sensitive to the early signs of their advent, and, having detected their close proximity to us, to step aside in time.  If we waited too long before we did this we were completely in their power.

   …Somebody inquired about fear and asked whether it should be included amongst the negative emotions.  To this Ouspensky replied that this depended on the nature of the fear, for there were many different kinds of fear.  There was, for example, the fear registered by the body when it felt itself slipping towards the edge of a cliff, or when it realized that it was on the point of being run over by a rapidly approaching car, and such fears as these were useful to us because they mobilized our efforts to escape from danger with a speed which far exceeded the quickness of thought.  But in addition to these warnings of the presence of physical danger there were also numerous fears which came under the general heading of anxiety, and many fears of  this kind originated in the imagination and had no real existence.  We were scared of a great many things which might conceivably happen to us, but which were unlikely to happen and never did actually happen.  Ouspensky said that many people spent their time inventing them, in justifying them.  ‘One has to show forethought and be ready for difficulties when they come,’ they said, and then proceeded to invent new fears.  Imaginary fear of this kind had to be included amongst the negative emotions, and if we were ever to get rid of them the first thing to do was to see them more clearly, and the second to cease justifying them. 

   This, of course, applied to all our negative emotions, that we had to realize that it was we who were responsible for them and that we must not immediately put the blame for them on other people.  Another person might have acted as the exciting cause of a negative emotion, but the unpleasant manifestation itself was our own, and not his.  If, therefore we wanted to become free from these negative emotions we must straight away accept full responsibility for them, and never, on any occasion, find excuses for them.  In other words, we could not enjoy simultaneously two entirely incompatible pleasures, that of putting the blame for our negative emotions on to somebody else, and the pleasure of eventually escaping from them entirely.  We must choose one of these two alternatives and give up the other.

   Ouspensky then went on to say that there was a common form of identification which played a very large part in keeping us asleep and which was known as inner considering.  Inner considering meant identification with oneself or with one took to be oneself, for everybody had a picture of himself, partly authentic and partly fictitious.  Having painted this self-portrait, the individual was always presenting it to the world in the hope that the world would accept it as a striking likeness.  This work of producing himself, in the theatrical sense of the word, to the world took much of a man’s time, so that he was often very preoccupied when talking with other people with the impression he was producing on them.  He took careful note of their reactions to what he was saying, watched their facial expressions, paid attention to the tone of their voices in replying to him, to what they had said and had not said, weighed the respect with which they had received him, the interest they had displayed in his conversation and manifested in many other ways how occupied he was with the effect he was having on them.  This intense preoccupation with the impression being made on people and the feeling of inadequacy which often accompanied it was usually called shyness or self-consciousness, but it was the very antithesis of the true self-consciousness and was a manifestation of deeper sleep.

   Identification with the self of everyday life, or what Western psychologists call the ‘ego’, may take on many different forms.  Freud declares that the ego is first and foremost a body ego, and it is quite true that much inner considering is evoked by a person’s identification about his body and actual or supposed peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses…

   But identification with the ‘ego’ may spread far beyond the confines of the physical body, so that a man may be oversensitive about a hundred real or supposed deficiencies or weaknesses in his character and his personal history.  He may be distressed on the subject of his upbringing, his parentage, his lack of education, his social standing, his failure to obtain advancement.  All these supposed deficiencies have to be hidden from the world and his strong points have to be brought into the foreground when he is talking with other people.  The man who is inner considering resembles very closely a commercial traveler with a brand of good to sell.  Great skill will have to be used doing this, and it will probably be necessary for him to introduce his good discretely so that he appears not to be pushing them forward at all.  Excessive modesty and making fun of oneself are often good tactical moves in the grand strategy of inner considering.  ‘Of course, I really know very little about this subject’ may be the opening gambit to a brilliant piece of talking which wins not only the admiration of the audience but a special prize for modesty as well.

   Like other highly mechanized activities in us, inner considering is highly contagious.  When the person to whom we are talking begins to inner consider, the emotional tension rises, and as a result of this we feel uncomfortable and begin to inner consider ourselves.  We feel that something has gone amiss with both the conversation and our relationship with the other person and that it is up to us to put things right.  Perhaps we were rater tactless in our handling of the other person a little earlier on, and, as the result of this, he is now offended with us.  We decide that we must tread more carefully, and the consequences of our efforts to undo the mischief may well be that the inner considering grows worse.  Inner considering is a sign of inner weakness, and it is often due in great part to our fear of other people.  It is astonishing how frightened we human beings are of our fellow men.

   Controlled and blinded as we are by these inner compulsions, it would be absurd, therefore, for us to imagine that on our ordinary level of being we are capable of understanding another person, let alone of giving him help.  We cannot even see that other person as he is, but only as he appears through the distorting glasses our various likes and dislike, prejudices and aversions.  No one is capable of entering into and understanding another person unless he has first entered into and understood himself, and even when he is possessed of this self-knowledge a man will often make mistakes.  I am still appalled at the very little I am able to see of the person to whom I am talking and at my inability to feel him.  We talk together and even intimate things but as complete strangers to the other.

   External considering is the precise opposite of inner considering and it would be the correct antidote to inner considering if we could only manage to produce it when required.  But external considering is an extremely difficult accomplishment, as different to evoke in ourselves as is self-remembering.  It demands an entirely different attitude and relationship to other people, namely, a preoccupation with their welfare instead of our own.  The man who considers externally does his best to understand the other person and see what are his needs, and he is only to do this if his own requirements are entirely put on one side.  External considering demands of the man who is practicing it a great deal of knowledge and an equal amount of self-control, and this means that it can never happen automatically in a state of sleep, but necessitates a state approaching self-remembering.  No person who externally considers can ever talk to another person ‘for his good,’ or ‘to put him right,’ or ‘to explain to him his own point of view,’ for external consideration makes no demands and has no requirements other than those of the person addressed.  It allows of no feeling of superiority on the part of the person who is externally considering, for what he is trying to do is put himself into the other man’s place in order that he may be able to discover his needs.  This necessitates the abandonment of the last shred of self-identification and, in order that the other person may be seen as he really is, the distorting glasses of the personality, with all it subjective likes and dislikes, have to be laid on one side so that he is viewed as objectively as possible.

   Our struggle…takes place at the bottom of a scale of being.  We are at the ass-end of the cosmos, Gurdjieff tells us, a place in the scale of the cosmos virtually dense with restrictive laws.  Farther up the cosmic scale…we eventually come to the Absolute, the allness, the prime mover, subject to only one law: unity.  In the next world down, the level of worlds and galaxies, there are three orders of cosmic law; in the next, designated All Suns, there are six; in the next, at the level of the Sun, there are twelve; at the level of the planets, twenty-four; at the level of our woebegone world, forty-eight orders of laws.  Because we live “under forty-eight laws” we are far from the will of the Absolute, according to this system.  We move toward the Absolute, toward liberation, by transcending the mechanical laws shackling us.  (There are) seven levels of the Ray of Creation…seven levels of matter; each level has its own rate of vibration.  The Absolute vibrates most rapidly and is least dense; our level vibrates slowly, through a murky density.

   I recently heard an astrophysicist say that at the beginning of Creation, before the Big Bang, there was, indeed, Unity, one law or two—afterwards a sort of fractured symmetry led to the creation of the four forces, gravitation, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear forces: the closer you get to the beginning of Time, the fewer laws; the farther away, the more laws.

   Gurdjieff, or his teachers, anticipated much of quantum physics.  For example, these Heisenbergian remarks from Gurdjieff in 1915: “Matter or substance presupposes the existence of a force or energy.  This does not mean that a dualistic conception of the world is necessary.  The concepts of matter and force are as relative as everything else.  In the Absolute, where all is one, matter and force are also one.  But in this connection matter and force are not taken as real principles of the world itself, but as properties or characteristics of the phenomenal world observed by us.”


In Search Of The Miraculous, Ouspensky

 On the mechanical

   Once I was talking with G. in Moscow.  I was speaking about London, where I had been staying a short while before, about the terrifying mechanization that was being developed in the big European cities and without which it was probably impossible to live and work…

   “People are turning into machines,” I said.  “And no doubt sometimes they become perfect machines.  But I do not believe they can think.  If they tried to think, they could not have been such fine machines.”

   “Yes,” said G., “that is true, but only part true.  It depends first of all on the question which mind they use for their work.  If they use the proper mind they will be able to think even better in the midst of all their work with machines.  But, again, only if they think with the proper mind.”

   …”And secondly,” he continued, “the mechanization you speak of is not at all dangerous.  A man may be a man…while working with machines.”  There is another kind of mechanization which is much more dangerous: being a machine oneself.  Have you ever thought about the fact that all peoples themselves are machines?”

   “Yes,” I said, “from the strictly scientific point of view all people are machines governed by external influences.  But the same question is, can the scientific point of view be wholly accepted?”

   “Scientific or not scientific is all the same to me,” said G.  “I want you to understand what I am saying.  Look, all those people you see,” he pointed along the street, “are simply machines—nothing more.”

   “I think I understand what you mean,” I said.  And I have often thought how little there is in the world that can stand against this form of mechanization and choose its own path.” 

   “This is just where you make your greatest mistake,” said G.  “You think there is something that chooses its own path, something that can stand against mechanization; you think that not everything is equally mechanical. 

   “Why, of course not!” I said.  “Art, poetry, thought, are phenomena of quite a different order.”

   “Of exactly the same order,” said G.  “These activities are just as mechanical as everything else.  Men are machines and  nothing but mechanical actions can be expected of machines.”

   “Very well,” I said.  “But are there no people who are not machines?” 

   “It may be that there are,” said G., “only not those people you see.  And you do not know them.  That is what I want you to understand.”

   I thought it rather strange that he should be so insistent on this point.  What he said seemed to me obvious and incontestable.  At the same time, I had never liked such short and all-embracing metaphors.  They always omitted points of difference.  I, on the other hand, had always maintained differences were the most important thing and that in order to understand things it was necessary to see the points I which they differed.  So I felt it was odd that G. insisted on an idea which seemed to be obvious provided it were not made too absolute and exceptions were admitted.

   “People are so unlike one another,” I said.  “I do not think it would be possible to bring them all under the same heading.  There are savages, there are mechanized people, there are intellectual people, there are geniuses.”

   “Quite right,” said G., “people are very unlike one another, but the real difference between people you do not know and cannot see.  The difference you speak of simply does not exist.  This must be understood.  All the people you see, all the people you know, all the people you may get to know, are machines, actual machines working solely under the power of external influences, as you yourself said.  Machines they are born and machines they die.  How do savages and intellectuals come into this?  Even now, at this very moment, while we are talking, several million machines are trying to annihilate one another.  What is the difference between them?  Where are the savages and where are the intellectuals?  They are all alike…

   “But there is the possibility of ceasing to be a machine.  It is of this we must think and not about the different kinds of machines that exist.  Of course there are different machines: a motorcar is a machine, a grammophone is a machine, a gun is a machine.  But what of it?  It is the same thing—they are all machines.

   In connection with this conversation I remember another.

   “What is your opinion of modern psychology?”  I once asked G. with the intention of introducing the subject of psychoanalysis which I had mistrusted from the time it had first appeared.  But G. did not let me get as far as that.

   “Before speaking of psychology we must be clear to whom it refers and to whom it does not refer,” he said.  “Psychology refers to people, to men, to human beings.  What psychology…can there be in relation to machines?”  Mechanics, not psychology, is necessary for the study of machines.  That is why we begin with mechanics.  It is a very long way yet to psychology.”

   “Can one stop being a machine?” I asked.

   “Ah! That is the question,” said G.  “If you had asked such questions more often we might, perhaps, have got somewhere in our talks.  It is possible to stop being a machine, but for that it is necessary first of all to know the machine.  A machine, a real machine, does not know itself and cannot know itself.  When a machine knows itself it is then no longer a machine, at least, not such a machine as it was before.  It already begins to be responsible for its actions.

   “This means, according to you, that a man is not responsible for his actions?” I asked.

   “A man…is responsible.  A machine is not responsible.”

  In the course of one of our talks I asked G.:

   “What in your opinion, is the best preparation for the study of your method?  For instance, is it useful to study what is called ‘occult’ or ‘mystical’ literature?”

   In saying this I had in mind more particularly the “Tarot” and the literature on the “Tarot.”

    “Yes,” said G.  “A great deal can be found by reading.  For instance, take yourself: you might already know a great deal if you knew how to read.  I mean that, if you understood everything you have read in your life, you would already know what you are looking for now.  If you understood everything you have written in your book, what is it called?”…”Tertium Organum”…”I should come and bow down to you and beg you to teach me.  But you do not understand either what you read or what you write.  You do not understand what the word ‘understand’ means.  Yet understanding is essential, and reading can be useful only if you understand what you read.  But, of course, no book can give real preparation.  So it is impossible to say which is better.  What a man knows well …that is his preparation.  If a man knows how to make coffee well or how to make boots well, then it is already possible to talk to him.  The trouble is that nobody knows anything well (okay, this is an exaggeration—he is given to absolutes).    Everything is known just anyhow, superficially. 

   This was another of those unexpected turns which G. gave to his explanations.  G.’s words, in addition to their ordinary meaning, undoubtedly contained another, altogether different, meaning.  I had already begun to realize that, in order to arrive at this hidden meaning in G’s words, one had to begin with their usual and simple meaning.  G.’s words were always significant in their ordinary sense, although this was not the whole of their significance.  The wider or deeper significance remained hidden for a long time. 

   There is another talk which has remained in my memory.

    I asked G. what a man had to do to assimilate this teaching.

   “What to do?” asked G. as though surprised.  “It is impossible to do anything.  A man must first of all understand certain things.  He has a thousand false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new.  Otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before.”

   How can one get rid of false ideas?”  I asked.  “We depend on the forms of our perception.  False ideas are produced by the forms of our perception.”

   G. shook his head.

   “Again you speak of something different,” he said.  “You speak of errors arising from perceptions, but I am not speaking of these.  Within the limits of given perceptions man can err more or err less.  As I have said before, man’s chief delusion is his conviction he can do.  All people think that they can do, all people want to do, and the first question all people ask is what

they are to do.  But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything.  This is the first thing that must be understood.  Everything happens.  And it happens in exactly the same way as rain falls as a result of a change in the temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.

   “Man is a machine.  All his deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the results of external influences, external impressions.  Out of himself a man cannot produce a single thought, a single action.  Everything he says, does, thinks, feels—all this happens.  Man cannot discover anything, invent anything.  It all happens. 

   To establish this fact for oneself, to understand it, to be convinced of its truth, means getting rid of a thousand illusions about man, about his being creative and consciously organizing his own life, and so on.  There is nothing of his kind.  Everything happens—popular movements, wars, revolutions, changes in government, all this happens.  And it happens in exactly the same way as everything else happens in the life of individual man.  Man is born, lives, dies, builds houses, writes books, not as he wants to, but as it happens.  Everything happens.  Man does not love, hate, desire—all this happens.

   “But no one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing.  This is the most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people.  It is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth, and nobody wants to know the truth.

   “When you understand this is will be easier for us to talk.  But it is one thing to understand with the mind and another thing to feel it with one’s ‘whole mass,’ to be really convinced that it is so and never forget it.

   “With this question of doing, yet another thing is connected.  It always seems to people that others invariably do things wrongly, not in the way they should be done.  Everybody always thinks he could do it better.  They do no understand, and do not want to understand, that what is being done, and particularly what has already been done in one way, cannot be, and could not have been, done in another way.  Have you noticed how everyone now is talking about the war?  Everyone has his own plan, his own theory.  Everyone finds that nothing is being done in the way it ought to be done.  Actually everything is being done in the only way it can be done.  If one thing could be different, everything could be different.    And then perhaps there would have been no war.

   “Try to understand what I am saying: everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate.  Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go.  If people were different everything would be different.  They are what they are, so everything is as it is.”

   This was very difficult to swallow.

   “Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?” I asked.

   “Absolutely nothing.”

   “And can nobody do anything?”

   “That is another question.  In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is first necessary to understand what to be means.  If we continue our talk you will see that we use a special language.  It is not worth while talking in ordinary language because, in that language, it is impossible to understand one another.  This also, at the moment, seems strange to you.  But it is true.  In order to understand it is necessary to learn another language.  In the language which people speak they cannot understand one another.  You will see later on why this is so.

  “Then one has to learn to speak the truth.  This also appears strange to you.  You do not realize that one has to learn to speak the truth.  It seems to you that it is enough to wish or to decide to do so.  And I tell you that people comparatively rarely tell a deliberate lie.  In most cases they think they speak the truth.  And yet they lie all the time, both to themselves and to others.  Therefore nobody ever understands either himself or anyone else.  Think—could there be such discord, such deep misunderstanding, and such hatred towards the views and opinions of others, if people were able to understand one another?  But they cannot understand because they cannot help lying.  To speak the truth is the most difficult thing in the world; and one must study a great deal and for a long time in order to be able to speak the truth.  The wish alone is not enough.  To speak the truth one must know what the truth is and what a lie is, and first of all in oneself. And this nobody wants to know.

 On Immortality and the four bodies

   …The talk began by one of those present asking:

   “Can it be said that man possesses immortality?”

   “Immortality is one of the qualities we ascribe to people without having a sufficient understanding of their meaning,” said G.  “Other qualities of this kind are “individuality,” in the sense of an inner unity, a ‘permanent and unchangeable I,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘will.’  All these qualities can belong to man…but this certainly does not mean that they do belong to him or belong to each and every one. 

   “In order to understand what man is at the present time, that is, at the present level of development, it is necessary to imagine to a certain extent what he can be, that is, what he can attain.  Only by understanding the correct sequence of development possible will people cease to

 ascribe to themselves what, at present, they do not possess, and what, perhaps, they can only acquire after great effort and great labor.

   “According to an ancient teaching, traces of which may be found in many systems, old and new, a man who has attained the full development possible for man, a man in the full sense of the word, consists of four bodies.  These four bodies are composed of substances which gradually become finer and finer, mutually interpenetrate one another, and form four independent organisms, standing in definite relationship to one another but capable of independent action.

   “The reason why it is possible for four bodies to exist is that the human organism, that is, the physical body, has such a complex organization that, under certain conditions, a new independent organism can grow in it, affording a much more convenient and responsive instrument for the activity of consciousness than the physical body.  The consciousness manifested in this new body is  capable of governing it, and it has full power and full control over the physical body.  In this second body, under certain conditions, a third body can grow, again having characteristics of its own.  The consciousness manifested in this third body possesses the possibility of acquiring knowledge inaccessible either to the first or to the second body.  In the third body, under certain conditions, a fourth can grow, which differs as much from the third as the third differs from the second and the second from the first.  The consciousness manifested in the fourth body has full control over the first three bodies and itself.

  “These four bodies are defined in different teachings in different ways.” G. drew a diagram, and said:

  1st body                        2nd body                 3rd body                 4th body

 Carnal body                 Natural body             Spiritual body         Divine body

 “Carriage”                      “Horse”                        “Driver”               “Master”

   (body)                  (feelings, desires)                 (mind)               (I, consciousness, will)       

Physical body              Astral body                   Mental body            Causal body

   “The first is the physical body, in Christian terminology the ‘carnal’ body; the second, in Christian terminology, is the ‘natural’ body; the third is the ‘spiritual’ body; the fourth, in the terminology of esoteric Christianity, is the ‘divine’ body.  In theosophical terminology the first is the ‘physical’ body, the second is the ‘astral,’ the third is the ‘mental,’ and the fourth is the ‘causal.’

   “In the terminology of certain Eastern teachings the first body is the ‘carriage’ (body), the second is the ‘horse’ (feelings, desires), the third is the ‘driver’ (mind), and the fourth the ‘master’ (I, consciousness, will).

   “Such comparisons and parallels may be found in most systems and teachings which recognize something more in man than the physical body.  But almost all these teachings, while representing in a more or less familiar form the definitions and divisions of the ancient teaching, have forgotten or omitted its most important feature, which is: that man is not born with the finer bodies, and that they can only be artificially cultivated in him provided favorable conditions both internal and external are present.

 On Evolution

   The evolving part of organic life is humanity.  Humanity also has its evolving part…If humanity does not evolve it means that the evolution of organic life will stop and this in its turn will cause the growth…of creation to stop.  At the same time if humanity ceases to evolve it becomes useless from the point of view of the aims for which it was created and as such it may be destroyed.  In this way the cessation of evolution may mean the destruction of humanity. 

   “We have no clues from which we are able to tell in what period of planetary evolution we exist and whether…the earth (has) time to await the corresponding evolution of organic life or not….we should bear in mind that the number of possibilities is never infinite. 

   “At the same time in examining the life of humanity as we know it historically we are bound to acknowledge that humanity is moving in a circle.  In one century it destroys everything it creates in another and the progress in mechanical things of the past hundred years has proceeded at the cost of losing many other things which perhaps were much more important for it.  Speaking in general terms there is every reason to think and to assert that humanity is at a standstill and from a standstill there is a straight path to downfall and degeneration.  A standstill means that a process has become balanced.  The appearance of any one quality immediately evokes the appearance of another quality opposed to it.  The growth of knowledge in one domain evokes the growth of ignorance in another; refinement on the one hand evokes vulgarity on the other; freedom in one connection evokes slavery in another; the disappearance of  some superstitions evokes the appearance and growth of others; and so on.

   …a balanced process proceeding in a certain way cannot be changed at any moment it is desired.  It can be changed and set on a new path only at certain ‘crossroads.’  In between the ‘crossroads’ nothing can be done.  At the same time if a process passes by a ‘crossroad’ and nothing happens, nothing is done, then nothing can be done afterwards and the process will continue and develop according to mechanical laws; and even if people taking part in the process foresee the inevitable destruction of everything, they will be unable to do anything…

   “Of course there are very many people who consider that the life of humanity is not proceeding in the way I which according to their views it ought to go.  And they invent various theories which in their opinion ought to change the whole life of humanity.  One invents one theory.  Another immediately invents an contradictory theory.  And both expect everyone to believe them.  And many people indeed do believe either one or the other.  Life naturally take its own course but people do not stop believing in their own or other people’s theories and they believe it is possible to do something.  All these theories are certainly quite fantastic, chiefly because they do not take into account the most important thing, namely, the subordinate part which humanity and organic life play in the world process.  Intellectual theories put man in the center of everything; (wrong) everything exists for him, the sun, the stars, the moon, the earth.  They even forget man’s relative size, his nothingness, his transient existence, and other things.  They assert that man if he wishes is able to change his whole life, that is, to organize his life on rational principles.  And all the time new theories appear evoking in their turn opposing theories; and all these theories and the struggle between them undoubtedly constitute one of the forces which keep humanity in the state in which it is at present.  Besides, all these theories for general welfare and general equality are not only unrealizable, but they would be fatal if they were realized.  Everything in nature has its aim and purpose, both the inequality of man and his suffering.  To destroy inequality would mean destroying the possibility of evolution.  To destroy suffering would mean, first, destroying a whole series of perceptions for which man exists, and second, the destruction of the ‘shock,’ that is to say, the force which alone can change the situation.  And thus it is with all intellectual theories.

   “The process of evolution, of that evolution which is possible for humanity as a whole, is completely analogous to the process of evolution for the individual man.  And it begins with the same thing, namely, a certain group of cells gradually become conscious; then it attracts to itself other cells, subordinate others, and gradually makes the whole organism serve its aims and not merely eat, drink, and sleep. This is evolution and there can be no other kind of evolution.  In humanity as in individual man everything begins with the formation of a conscious nucleus.  All the mechanical forces of life fight against the formation of this conscious nucleus in humanity, in just the same way as all mechanical habits, tastes and weaknesses fight against conscious self-remembering in man.

   “Can it be said that there is a conscious force which fights against the evolution of humanity?” I asked.

   “From a certain point of view it can be said,” said G.

    “Where can this force come from?” I asked.

   “…there are two processes which are sometimes called ‘involutionary’ and ‘evolutionary’…An involutionary process begins consciously in the Absolute but at the very first step it already becomes mechanical—and it becomes more and more mechanical as it develops; and evolutionary process begins half-consciously but it becomes more and more conscious as it develops…The evolutionary process must proceed without interruption.  Any stop causes a separation from the fundamental process.  Such separate fragments of consciousness which have been stopped in their development can also unite and at any rate for a certain time can live by struggling against the evolutionary process.  After all it merely makes the evolutionary process more interesting.  Instead of struggling against mechanical forces there may, at certain moments, be a struggle against the intentional opposition of fairly powerful forces though they are not of course comparable with those which direct the evolutionary process.  These opposing forces may sometimes even conquer.  The reason for this consists in the fact that the forces guiding evolution have a more limited choice of means; in other words, they can only make use of certain means and certain methods.  The opposing forces are not limited in their choice of means and they are able to make use of every means, even those which give rise only to a temporary success, and in the final result they destroy both evolution and involution at the point in question.      

   But as I have said already, this question has no practical significance for us.  It is only important for us to establish the indications of evolution beginning and the indications of evolution proceeding.  And if we remember the full analogy between humanity and man it will not be difficult to establish whether humanity can be regarded as evolving.

   Are we able to say for instance that life is governed by a group of conscious people?  Where are they?  Who are they?  We see exactly the opposite: that life is governed by those of us who are least conscious, by those who are most asleep. 

   Are we able to say that we observe in life a preponderance of the best, the strongest, and the most courageous elements?  Nothing of the sort.  On the contrary we see a preponderance of vulgarity and stupidity of all kinds. 

   Are we able to say that aspirations towards unity, towards unification, can be observed in life?  Nothing of the kind of course.  We only see new divisions, new hostility, new misunderstandings. 

   So that in the actual situation of humanity there is nothing that points to evolution proceeding.  On the contrary when we compare humanity with a man we quite clearly see a growth of personality at the cost of essence, that is, growth of the artificial, the unreal, and what is foreign, at the cost of the natural, the real, and what is one’s own.

   Together with this we see a growth of automatism. 

   Contemporary culture requires automatons.  And people are undoubtedly losing their acquired habits of independence and turning into automatons, into parts of machines.  It is impossible to say where is the end of all this and where the way out—or whether there is an end and a way out.  One thing alone is certain, that man’s slavery grows and increases.  Man is becoming  willing slave.  He no longer needs chains.  He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it.  And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man. 

   Everything I have said till now I have said about the whole of humanity.  But as I pointed out before, the evolution of humanity can proceed only through the evolution of a certain group, which, in its turn, will influence and lead the rest of humanity.

   Are we able to say that such a group exists?  Perhaps we can on the basis of certain signs, but in any event we have to acknowledge that it is a very small group, quite insufficient, at any rate, to subjugate the rest of humanity.  Or, looking at it from another point of view, we can say that humanity is in such a state that it is unable to accept the guidance of a conscious group.

   “How many people could there be in this conscious group?” someone asked.

   “Only they themselves know this,” said G.

   “Does it mean that they all know each other?” asked the same person again.

   “How could it be otherwise?” asked G.  “Imagine that there are two or three people who are awake in the midst of a multitude of sleeping people.  They will certainly know each other.  But those who are asleep cannot know them.  How many are they?  We do not know and we cannot know until we become like them.  It has been clearly said before that each man can only see on

the level of his own being.  But two hundred conscious people, if they existed and if they found it necessary and legitimate, could change the whole of life on the earth.  But either there are not enough of them, or they do not want to, or perhaps the time has not yet come, or perhaps other people are sleeping too soundly.

   We have approached the problems of esotericism. 

   It was pointed out before when we spoke about the history of humanity that the life of humanity to which we belong is governed by forces proceeding from two different sources; first, planetary influences which act entirely mechanically and are received by the human masses as well as by individual people quite involuntarily and unconsciously; and then, influences proceeding from inner circles of humanity whose existence and significance the vast majority of people do not suspect any more than they suspect planetary influences.

   The humanity to which we belong, namely, the whole of historic and prehistoric humanity known to science and civilization, in reality constitutes only the outer circle of humanity, within which there are several other circles.

   So that we can imagine the whole of humanity, known as well as unknown to us, as consisting so to speak of several concentric circles. 

   The inner circle is called the ‘esoteric’; this circle consists of people who have attained the highest development possible for man, each one of whom possesses individuality in the fullest degree, that is to say, an indivisible ‘I,’ all forms of consciousness possible for man, full control over these states of  consciousness, the whole of knowledge possible for man, and a free and independent will.  They cannot perform actions opposed to their understandings or have an understanding which is not expressed by their actions.  At the same time there can be no discords among them, no differences of understanding.  Therefore their activity is entirely coordinated and leads to one common aim without any kind of compulsion because it is based upon a common and identical understanding.

   The next circle is called ‘mesoteric,’ that is to say, the middle.  People who belong to to this circle possess all the qualities possessed by the members of the esoteric circle, with the sole difference that their knowledge is of a more theoretical character.  This refers, of course, to knowledge of a cosmic character.  They know and understand many things which have not yet found expression in their actions.  They know more than they do.  But their understanding is precisely as exact as, and therefore precisely identical with, the understanding of the people of the esoteric circle.  Between them there can be no discord, there can be no misunderstanding.  One understands in the way they all understand, and all understand in the way one understands.  But as was said before, this understanding compared with the understanding of the esoteric circle is somewhat more theoretical.

   The third circle is called the ‘esoteric,’ that is, the outer, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity.  The people who belong to this circle possess much of that which belongs to people of the esoteric and mesoteric but their cosmic knowledge is of a more philosophic character, that is to say, it is more abstract than the knowledge of the mesoteric circle.  A member of the mesoteric circle calculates, a member of the esoteric circle contemplates.  Their understanding may not be expressed in actions.  But there cannot be differences in understanding between them. 

What one understands all the others understand. 

   In literature which acknowledges the existence of esotericism humanity is usually divided into two circles only and the ‘esoteric’ circle as opposed to the ‘esoteric’ is called ordinary life.  In reality, as we see, the ‘esoteric circle’ is something very far from us and very high.  For ordinary man this is ‘esotericism.’ 

   The outer circle is the circle of mechanical humanity to which we belong and which alone we know.  The first sign of this circle is that among people who belong to it there is and cannot be a common understanding.   Everybody understands in  his own way and all differently.  This circle is sometimes called the circle of the ‘confusion of tongues,’ that is, the circle in which each one speaks his own particular language, where no one understands another and takes no trouble to be understood.  In this circle mutual understanding between people is impossible excepting in rare exceptional moments or in matters having no great significance, and which are confined to the limits of the given being.  If people belonging to this circle become conscious of this general lack of understanding and acquire a desire to understand and be understood, then it means they have an unconscious tendency towards the inner circle because mutual understanding begins only in the esoteric circle and is possible only there.  But the consciousness of the lack of understanding usually comes to people in an altogether different form.

   So that the possibility for people to understand depends on the possibility of penetrating into the esoteric circle where understanding begins. 

   If we imagine humanity in the form of four concentric circles we can imagine four gates on the circumference of the third inner circle, that is, the esoteric circle, through which people of the mechanical circle can penetrate.

   These four gates correspond to the four ways…

   The first way is the way of the fakir; the way of people number one, of people of the physical body, instinctive-moving-sensory people without much mind and without much heart.

   The second way is the way of the monk, the religious way, the way of people number two, that is, of emotional people.  The mind and the body should not be too strong.

   The third way is the way of the yogi.  This is the way of the mind, the way of people number three.  The heart and body must not be particularly strong, otherwise they may be a hindrance on this way.

   Besides these three ways yet a fourth way exists by which can go those who cannot go by any of the first three ways.

   The fundamental difference between the first three ways…and the fourth way consists in the fact that they are tied to permanent forms which have existed throughout long periods of history almost without change.  As the basis of these institutions is religion…These three traditional way are permanent ways…

   Two or three thousand years ago there were yet other ways which no longer exist and the ways now in existence were not so divided…

   The fourth way differs from the old and the new ways by the fact that it is never a permanent way.  It has no definite forms and there are no institutions connected with it.  It appears and disappears governed by some particular laws of its own.

   The fourth way is never without some work of a definite significance, is never without some undertaking around which and in connection with which it can alone exist.  When the work is finished, that is to say, when the aim set before it has been accomplished, the fourth way disappears…continuing perhaps in another place and form…. 

   Only conscious work can be useful in all the undertakings of the fourth way…so that the first task of the people who begin such a work is to create conscious assistants.

   The quicker a man grasps the aim of the work which is being executed, the quicker can he be useful to it and the more will he be able to get from it for himself.

   …When the work is done the schools close….But it happens sometimes that when the school closes a number of people are left who were round about the work, who saw the outward aspect of it, and saw the whole of the work in this outward aspect.

   Having no doubts whatever of themselves or in the correctness of their conclusions and understanding they decide to continue the work.  To continue the work they form new schools, teach people what they have themselves learned…All this naturally can only be outward imitation.  But when we look back on history it is almost impossible for us to distinguish where the real ends and the imitation begins…We know practically nothing about real schools…

   But such pseudo-esoteric systems also play their part in the work and activities of the esoteric circles.  Namely, they are the intermediaries between humanity which is entirely immersed in the materialistic life…if there were not these pseudo-esoteric schools the vast majority of humanity would have no possibility whatever of hearing and learning of the existence of anything greater…because truth in its pure form would be inaccessible for them.  By reason of the many characteristics of man’s being, particularly of the contemporary being, truth can only come to people in the form of a lie—only in this form are they able to accept it; only in this form are they able to digest and assimilate it.  Truth undefiled would be, for them, indigestible food…

   The idea of initiation, which reaches us through pseudo-esoteric systems, is also transmitted to us in a completely wrong form…The Mysteries represented a special kind of way in which, side by side with a difficult and prolonged period of study, theatrical presentations of a special kind were given which depicted…the whole path of the evolution of man and the world.

   Transitions from one level of being to another were marked by ceremonies of presentation of a special kind, that is, initiation.  But a change of being cannot be brought about by any rites.

  Rites only mark an accomplished transition.  And it is only in the pseudo-esoteric systems in which there is nothing else except these rites, that they begin to attribute to the rites an independent meaning.  It is supposed that a rite, in being transformed into a sacrament, transmits or communicates certain forces to the initiate…There is not, nor can there be, any outward initiation…Systems and schools can indicate methods and ways, but no system or school whatever can do for a man the work that he must do himself.  Inner growth, a change in being, depend entirely upon the work which a man must do on himself.

The Way (influences of the third kind)

   The chief difficulty in understanding the way, said G., consists in the fact that people usually think that the way…starts on the same level on which life is going.  This is quite wrong.  The way begins on another, much higher, level.  This is exactly what people usually do not understand.  The beginning of the way is thought to be easier or simpler than it is in reality….

   Man lives in life under the law of accident and under two kinds of influences again governed by accident.

   The first kind are influences created in life itself or by life itself.  Influences of race, nation, country, climate, family, education, society, profession, manners and customs, wealth, poverty, current ideas, and so on.  The second kind are influences created outside this life, influences of the inner circle, or esoteric influences—influences, that is, created under different laws, although also on the earth.  These influences differ from the former, first of all in being conscious in their origin.  This means that they have been created consciously by conscious men for a definite purpose.  Influences of this kind are usually embodied in the form of religious systems and teachings, philosophical doctrines, works of art, and so on.

   They are let out into life for a definite purpose, and become mixed with influences of the first kind.  But it must be borne in mind that these influences are conscious only in their origin.  Coming into the general vortex of life they fall under the general law of accident and begin to act mechanically, that is, they may act on a certain definite man or may not act; they may reach him or they may not.  In undergoing change and distortion in life through transmission and interpretation, influences of the second kind are transformed into influences of the first kind…

   We have spoken about the beginning of the way.  The beginning of the way depends precisely upon this understanding or upon the capacity for discriminating between the two kinds of influences…If a man in receiving them does not separate them, that is, does not see or does not feel their difference, their action upon him also is not separated…But if a man in receiving these influences begins to discriminate between them and put on one side those which are not created in life itself, then gradually discrimination becomes easier and after a certain time a man can no longer confuse them with the ordinary influences of life.

   The results of the influences whose source lies outside life collect together with him, he remembers them together, feels them together. They begin to form within him a certain whole…the results of these influences collect together within him and after a certain time they form within him a kind of magnetic center,  which begins to attract to itself kindred influences and in this manner it grows.  If the magnetic center receives sufficient nourishment, and if there is no strong resistance on the part of the other sides of man’s personality which are the result of influences created in life, the magnetic center begins to influence a man’s orientation, obliging him to turn round and even move in a certain direction.  When the magnetic center attains sufficient force and development, a man already understands the idea of the way and he begins to look for the way.  The search for the way may take many years and may lead to nothing.  This depends upon conditions, upon circumstances, upon the power of the magnetic center, upon the power and direction of inner tendencies which are not concerned with this search and which may divert a man at the very moment when the possibility of finding the way appears.

   If the magnetic center works rightly and if a man really searches, or even if he does not search actively yet feels rightly, he may meet another man who knows the way and who is connected directly or through other people with a center existing outside the law of accident, from which proceed the ideas which created the magnetic center.

   …let us imagine he has met a man who really knows the way and is ready to help him.  The influence of this man upon him goes through his magnetic center.  And the, at this point, the man frees himself from the law of accident….The influence of the man who knows the way upon the first man is a special kind of influence, differing from the former two, first of all in being a direct influence, and secondly in being a conscious influence.  Influences of the second kind, which created magnetic center, are conscious  in their origin but afterwords are thrown into the general vortex of life, are intermixed with influences created in life itself, and are equally subject to the law of accident.  Influences of the third kind can never be subject to the law of accident, they are themselves outside the law of accident and their action also is outside the law of accident.  Influences of the second kind can proceed can proceed through books, through philosophical systems, through rituals.  Influences of the third kind can proceed only from one person to another, directly, by means of oral transmission. 

   The moment when the man who is looking for the way meets a man who knows the way, is called the first threshold or the first step.  From this first threshold the stairway begins, Between ‘life’ and the ‘way’ lies the ‘stairway.’  Only by passing along this ‘stairway’ can a man enter the ‘way.’

In addition, the man ascends this stairway with the help of the man who is his guide; he cannot go up the stairway by himself.  The way begins only where the stairway ends, that is, after the last threshold on the stairway, on a level much higher than the ordinary level of life.

   Therefore it is impossible to answer the question, from what does the way start?  The way starts from something that is not in life at all, and therefore it is impossible to say from what.  Sometimes it is said:  in ascending the stairway a man is not sure of anything, he may doubt everything, his own powers, whether what he is doing is right, the guide, his knowledge and powers.  At the same time, what he attains is very unstable; even if he has ascended fairly high on the stairway, he may fall down at any moment and have to begin again from the beginning.  But when he has passed the last threshold and enters the way, all this changes.  First of all, all doubts he may have had about his guide disappear and at the same time the guide becomes far less necessary to him than before.  In many respects he may even be independent and know where he is going.  Secondly, he can no longer lose so easily the results of his work and he cannot find himself again in ordinary life.  Even if he leaves the way, he will be unable to return where he started from.

   …A man may attain something…and may later on sacrifice these powers in order to raise other people to his level.  If the people with whom he is working ascend to his level, he will receive back all that he has sacrificed.  But if they do not ascend, he may lose it altogether.

   …The results of the work of a man who takes on himself the role of teacher do no depend on whether or not he knows exactly the origin of what he teaches, but very much depends on whether or not is ideas come in actual fact from the esoteric center and whether he himself understands and can distinguish esoteric ideas, that is, ideas of objective knowledge, from subjective, scientific, and philosophical ideas.

   So far I have spoken of the right magnetic center, of the right guide, and of the right way.  But a situation is possible in which the magnetic center has been wrongly formed.  It may be divided in itself, that is, it may include contradictions.  In it, moreover, may enter influences of the first

kind…under the guise if influences of the second kind but distorted to such an extent that they have become their own opposite.  Such a wrongly formed magnetic center cannot give a right orientation.  A man with a wrong magnetic center…may…look for the way and…meet another man who will call himself a teacher…But in reality may not know the way…there are many possibilities:

1. He may be genuinely mistaken and think that he knows something, when in reality he knows nothing.

2. He may believe another man, who in his turn may be mistaken.

3. He may deceive consciously.

   …the teacher always corresponds to the level of the pupil.  The higher the pupil, the higher can be the teacher…Actually, a pupil can never see the level of the teacher…No one can see higher than his own level.

On Consciousness

   Neither the psychical not the physical functions of man can be understood unless the fact has been grasped that they can both work in different states of consciousness. 

   In all there are four states of consciousness possible for man.  But ordinary man, that is, man number one, number two, and number three, lives in the two lowest states of consciousness only.  The two higher sates of consciousness are inaccessible to him, and although he may have flashes of these states, he is unable to understand them and he judges them from the point of view of those states in which it is usual for him to be.

   The two usual, that is, the lowest, states of consciousness are first, sleep, in other words a passive state I which man spends a third and very often a half of his life.  And second, the state in which men spend the other part of their lives, in which they walk the streets, write books, talk on lofty subjects, take part in politics, kill one another, which they regard as active and call ‘clear consciousness’ or the ‘waking state of consciousness.’  The term ‘clear consciousness’ or the ‘waking state of consciousness’ seems to have been given in jest, especially when you realize what clear consciousness ought in reality to be and what the state in which man lives and acts really is.

   The third state of consciousness is self-remembering or self-consciousness or consciousness of one’s being.  It is usual to consider that we have this state of consciousness or that we can have it if we want it.  Our science and philosophy have overlooked the fact that we do not possess this state of consciousness and that we cannot create it in ourselves by desire or decision alone.

   The  fourth state of consciousness is called the objective state of consciousness.  In this state a man can see things as they are.  Flashes of this state of consciousness also occur in man.  In the religions of all nations there are indications of the possibility of a state of consciousness of this kind which is called ‘enlightenment’ and various other names but which cannot be described in words.  But the only right way to objective consciousness is through the development of self-consciousness.  If ordinary man is artificially brought into a state of objective consciousness and afterwards brought back to his usual state he will remember nothing and he will think that for a time he had lost consciousness.  But in the state of self-consciousness a man can have flashes of objective consciousness and remember them. 

   The fourth state of consciousness in man means an altogether different state of being; it is the result of inner growth and of long and difficult work on oneself.

   But the third state of consciousness constitutes the natural right of man as he is, and if man does not possess it, it is only because of the wrong conditions of his life.  It can be said without any exaggeration that at the present time the third state of consciousness occurs in man only in the form of very rare flashes and that it can be made more or less permanent in him only  by means of special training.

   For most people, even for educated and thinking people, the chief obstacle in the way of acquiring self-consciousness consists in the fact that they think they possess it, that is, that they possess self-consciousness and everything connected with it; individuality in the sense of a permanent and unchangeable I, will, ability to do, and so on.  It is evident that a man will not be interested if you tell him that he can acquire by long and difficult work something which, in his opinion, he already has.  On the contrary he will think either that you are mad or that you want to deceive him with a view to personal gain.

   The higher states of consciousness–‘self-consciousness’ and ‘objective consciousness’—are connected with the functioning of the higher centers in man. 

   In addition to those centers of which we have so far spoken there are two other centers in man, the ‘higher emotional’ and the ‘higher thinking.’  These centers are in us; they are fully developed and are working all the time, but their work fails to reach our ordinary consciousness.  The cause of this lies in the special properties of our so-called ‘clear-consciousness.’

   In order to understand what the difference between states of consciousness is, let us return to the first state of consciousness which is sleep.  This is an entirely subjective state of consciousness…Then a man wakes up.  At first glance this is a quite different state of consciousness.  He can move, he can talk with other people, he can make calculations ahead, he can see danger and avoid it, and so on.  It stands to reason that he is in a better position than when he was asleep.  But if we go a little bit more deeply into things, if we take a look into his inner world, into his thoughts, into the causes of his actions, we shall see that he is in almost the same state as when he is asleep.  And it is even worse, because in sleep he is passive, that is, he cannot do anything.  In the waking state, however, he can do something all the time and the results of all his actions will be reflected upon him or upon those around him.  And yet he does not remember himself.  He is a machine, everything with him happens.  He cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotions, his attention.  He lives in a subjective world of ‘I love,’ ‘I do not love,’ ‘I like,’ ‘I do not like,’ ‘I want,’ ‘I do not want,’ that is, of what he thinks he wants, of what he thinks he does not want.  He does not see the real world.  The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination.  He lives in sleep.  He is asleep.

What is called ‘clear-consciousness’ is sleep and a far more dangerous sleep than sleep at night in bed.

   Let us take some event in the life of humanity.  For instance, war.  There is a war going on at the present moment.  What does it signify.  It signifies that several millions of sleeping people are trying to destroy several millions of other sleeping people.  They would not do this, of course, if they were to wake up.  Everything that takes place is owing to this sleep.

   Both states of consciousness, sleep and the waking state are equally subjective.  Only by beginning to remember himself does a man really awaken.  And then all the surrounding life acquires for him a different aspect and a different meaning.  He sees that it is the life of sleeping people, a life in sleep.  All that men say, all that they do, they say and do in sleep.  All this can have no value whatever.  Only awakening and what leads to awakening has a value in reality.

   How many times have I been asked here whether wars can be stopped?  Certainly they can.  For this it is only necessary that people should awaken.  It seems a small thing.  It is, however, the most difficult thing there can be because this sleep is induced and maintained by the whole of surrounding life, by all surrounding conditions. 

   How can one awaken?  How can one escape this sleep?  These questions are the most important, the most vital that can ever confront a man.  But before this it is necessary to be convinced of the very fact of sleep.  But it is possible to be convinced by this only by trying to awaken.  When a man understands that he does not remember himself and that to remember himself means to awaken to some extent, and when at the same time he sees by experience how difficult it is to remember himself, he will understand that he cannot awaken simply by having the desire to do so.  It can be said still more precisely that a man cannot awaken by himself.  But if, let us say, twenty people make an agreement that whoever of them awakens first shall wake the rest, they already have some chance.  Even this, however, is insufficient because all twenty can go to sleep at the same time and dream that they are waking up.  Therefore more still is necessary.  They must be looked after by a man who is not asleep or who does not fall asleep as easily as they do, or who goes to sleep consciously when this is possible, when it will do no harm to himself or to others.  They must find such a man and hire him to wake them and not allow them to fall asleep again.  Without this it is impossible to awaken.  This is what must be understood.

   It is possible to think for a thousand years; it is possible to write whole libraries of books, to create theories by the million, and all this in sleep, without any possibility of awakening.  On the contrary, these books and these theories, written and created in sleep, will merely send other people to sleep, and so on.

   …as he is organized, that is, being such as nature has created him, man can be a self-conscious being.  Such he is created and such he is born.  But he is born among sleeping people, and, of course, he falls asleep among them just at the very time when he should have begun to be conscious of himself.  Everything has a hand in this; voluntary and involuntary suggestion, and what is called ‘education.’  Every attempt to awaken on the child’s part is instantly stopped.  This is inevitable.  And a great many efforts and a great deal of help are necessary in order to awaken later when thousands of sleep-compelling habits have been accumulated.  And this very seldom happens.  In most cases, a man when still a child already loses the possibility of awakening; he lives in sleep all his life and he dies in sleep.  Furthermore, many people die long before their physical death.

   …A fully developed man…should possess four states of consciousness… ‘mystical states’…when they are not deceptions or imitations…are flashes of what we call an objective state of consciousness….Knowledge…the real objective knowledge towards which man, as he asserts, is struggling, is possible only in the fourth state of consciousness…Knowledge which is acquired in the ordinary state of consciousness is intermixed with dreams. 

   Man’s possibilities are very great.  You cannot conceive even a shadow of what man is capable of attaining….In the consciousness of a sleeping man his illusions, his ‘dreams’ are mixed with reality…And this is the reason why he can never make use of all the powers he possesses and why he always lives in a small part of himself.  

   It has been said before that self-study and self-observation…bring man to the realization of the fact that something is wrong with his machine and with his functions in their ordinary state…Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change.  And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes.  He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.  By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light into his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness.  And under the influences of this light the processes themselves begin to change.  There are a great many chemical processes that can take place only in the absence of light.  Exactly the same way many psychic processes can take place only in the dark.  Even a feeble light of consciousness is enough to change completely the character of the process, while it  makes many of them altogether impossible.  Our inner psychic processes (our inner alchemy) have much in common with those chemical processes in which light changes the character of the process…

   …man…must begin to see himself, that is to say, to see not the separate details, not the work of small wheels and levers, but to see everything taken together as a whole—the whole of himself such as others see him.

   But it is not so easy to learn…how to catch characteristic postures,  characteristic facial expressions, characteristic emotions, and characteristic thoughts…. 

   Instead of the man he had supposed himself to be he will see quite another man.  This ‘other’ man is himself and at the same time not himself.  It is he as other people know him, as he imagines himself and as he appears in his actions, words, and so on; but not altogether such as he actually is.  For a man himself knows that there is a great deal that is unreal, invented, and artificial in this other man whom other people know and whom he knows himself.  You must learn to divide the real from the invented.  And to begin self-observation and self-study it is necessary to divide oneself.  A man must realize that he indeed consists of two men…

   Man’s inability to remember himself is one of the chief and most characteristic features of his being and the cause of everything else in him…A man does not remember his decisions, he does not remember the promises he has made to  himself, does not remember what he said or felt a month, a week, a day, or even an hour ago.  He begins work of some kind and after a certain lapse of time he does not remember why he began it.  It is especially in connection with work on oneself that this happens particularly often. 

   …And this deprives man’s views and opinions of any stability and precision.  A man does not remember what he has thought or what he has said; and he does not remember how he thought or how he spoke.


   This in its turn is connected with one of the fundamental characteristics of man’s attitude towards himself and to all his surroundings.  Namely, his constant ‘identification’ with what at a given moment has attracted his attention, his thoughts or his desires, and his imagination.

   ‘Identification’ is so common a quality that for purposes of observation  it is  difficult to separate it from everything else.  Man is always in a state of identification, only the object of identification changes.

   A man identifies with a small problem which confronts him and he completely forgets the great aims with which he began his work.  He identifies with one thought and forgets other thoughts; he is identified with one feeling, with one mood, and forgets his own wider thoughts, emotions, and moods. 

…It is especially difficult to free oneself from identifying because a man naturally becomes more easily identified with the things which interest him most, to which he gives his time, his work, and his attention.  In order to free himself from identifying a man must be constantly on guard and be merciless with himself, that is, he must not be afraid of seeing all the subtle and hidden forms which identifying takes.

   It is necessary to see and to study identifying to its very roots in oneself.  The difficulty of struggling with identifying is still further increased by the fact that when people observe it in themselves they consider it a very good trait and call it ‘enthusiasm,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘passion,’ ‘spontaneity,

‘ ‘inspiration,’ and names of that kind, and they consider that only in a state of identifying can a man produce good work, no matter in what sphere.  In reality of course this is illusion.  Man cannot do anything sensible when he is in a state of identifying…Look at people in shops, in theatres, in restaurants, or see how they identify with words when they argue about something or try to prove something, particularly something they do no know themselves.  They become greediness, desires, or words; of themselves nothing remains.

   Identifying is the chief obstacle to self-remembering.  A man who identifies with anything is unable to remember himself.  In order to remember oneself it is necessary first of all not to identify.  But in order to learn not to identify man must first of all not be identified with himself, must not call himself ‘I’ always and on all occasions.  He must remember that there are two in him, that there is himself, that is ‘I’ in him, and there is another with whom he must struggle and whom he must conquer if he wishes at any time to attain anything.  So long as a man identifies or can be identified, he is the slave of everything that can happen to him.  Freedom is first of all freedom from identification. 

   After general forms of identification attention must be given to a particular form of identifying, namely identifying with people, which takes the form of ‘considering’ them.

   There are several different forms of ‘considering.’

   On the most prevalent occasions a man is identified with what others think about him, how they treat him, what attitude they show towards him.  He always thinks that people do not value him enough, are not sufficiently polite and courteous.  All this torments him, makes him think and suspect and lose an immense amount of energy on guesswork, on suppositions, develops in him a distrustful and hostile attitude towards people.  How somebody looked at him, what somebody thought of him, what somebody said of him—all this acquires for him an immense significance.

   And he ‘considers’ no only separate persons but society and historically constituted conditions.  Everything that displeases such a man seems to him to be unjust, illegal, wrong, and illogical.  And the point of departure for his judgment is always that these things  can and should be changed.  ‘Injustice’ is one of the words in which very often considering hides itself.  When a man has convinced has convinced himself that he is indignant with some injustice, the for him to stop considering would mean ‘reconciling himself to injustice.’

   There are people who are able to consider not only injustice or the failure of others to value them enough but who are able to consider for example the weather….A man can take everything in such a personal way as though everything in the world had been specially arranged in order to give him pleasure or on the contrary to cause him inconvenience or unpleasantness.

   All this and much else besides is merely a form of identification.  Such considering is wholly based upon ‘requirements.’  A man inwardly ‘requires’ that everyone should see what a remarkable man he is and that they should constantly give expression to their respect, esteem, and admiration for him, for his intellect, is beauty, his cleverness, his wit, his presence of mind, his originality, and all his other qualities.  Requirements in their turn are based on a completely fantastic notion of themselves…And what are they suffering from?  First of all from an extraordinary opinion of themselves, then from requirements, and then from considering, that is, being ready and prepared beforehand to take offense at lack of understanding and lack of appreciation. 

   There is still another form of considering which can take a great deal of energy from a man.  This form starts with a man beginning to think that he is not considering another man enough, that this other person is offended with him for not considering him sufficiently.  And he begins to think himself that perhaps he does not think enough about this other, does not pay him sufficient attention, does not give way to him enough.  All this is simply weakness.  People are afraid of one another…

   So far I have spoken of internal considering….

   The opposite of internal considering and what is in part a means of fighting against it is external considering.  External considering is based upon an entirely different relationship towards people than internal considering.  It is adaption towards people, to their understanding, to the requirements.  By considering externally a man does that which makes life easy for other people and for himself.  External considering requires a knowledge of men, and understanding of their tastes, habits, and prejudices.  At the same time external considering requires a great power over oneself, a great control over oneself.  Very often a man desires sincerely to express or somehow or other show to another man what he really thinks of him or feels about him.  And if he is a weak man he will of course give way to this desire and afterwards justify himself and say that he did not want to lie, did not want to pretend, he wanted to be sincere.  Then he convinces himself that it was another man’s fault….This is an example of how external considering passes into internal considering.  But if a man really remembers himself he understands that another man is a machine just as he is himself.  And then he will enter into his position, he will put himself into his place, and he will really be able to understand and feel what another man thinks and feels.  And if he can do this his work becomes easier for him.  But if he approaches a man with his own requirements nothing except new internal considering can ever be obtained from it.

   Right external considering is very important in the work.  It often happens that people who understand very well the necessity of external considering in life do not understand the necessity of external considering in the work; they decide that just because they are in the work they have the right not to consider…


   ‘Buffer’ is a term which requires special explanation.  We know what buffers on railway carriages are.  They are contrivances which lessen the shock when carriages or trucks strike one another…Buffers soften the results of these shocks and render them…imperceptible.   Exactly the same appliances are to be found within man.  They are created, not by nature, but by man himself, although involuntarily. The cause of their appearance is the existence in man of many contradictions; contradictions of opinions, feelings, sympathies, words, and actions.  If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now.  He would have constant friction, constant unrest.  We fail to see how contradictory and hostile the different I’s of our personality are to one another.  If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is.  He would feel that he is mad.  It is not pleasant to anyone to feel that he mad.  Moreover, a thought such as this deprives a man of self-confidence, weakens his energy, deprives him of ‘self-respect.’  Somehow or other he must master this thought or banish it.  He must either destroy contradictions or cease to see and feel them.  A man cannot destroy contradictions.  But if buffers are created in him he can cease to feel them and he will not feel the impact from the clash of contradictory views, contradictory emotions, contradictory words. 

   ‘Buffers’ are created slowly and gradually.  Very many ‘buffers’ are created artificially through ‘education.’  Others are created under the hypnotic influence of all surrounding life.  A man issurrounded by people who live, speak, think, and feel by means of ‘buffers.’  Imitating them in their opinions, actions, and words, a man involuntary creates similar buffers in himself.  ‘Buffers’ make a man’s life more easy.  It is very hard to live without ‘buffers.’  But they keep man from the possibility of inner development because buffers are made to lessen shocks and it is only shocks that can lead man out of the state in which he lives, that is, to waken him.  ‘Buffers’ lull a man to sleep, give him the agreeable and peaceful sensation that all will be well, that no contradictions exist and that he can sleep in peace.  ‘Buffers are appliances by means of which a man can always be in the right.  Buffers help a man not to feel his conscience. 

   ‘Conscience’ is again a term that need explanation.

   In ordinary life the concept ‘conscience’ is taken too simply.  As if we had a conscience.  Actually the concept ‘conscience’ in the sphere of the emotions is equivalent to the concept ‘consciousness’ in the sphere of the intellect.  And as we have no consciousness we have no conscience. 

   Consciousness is a state in which a man feels all at once everything that he in general feels, or can feel.  And as everyone has within him thousands of contradictory feelings which vary from a deeply hidden realization of  his own nothingness and fears of all kinds to the most stupid kind of self-deceit, self-confidence, self-satisfaction, and self-praise, to feel all this together would not only be painful but literally unbearable. 

   If a man whose entire inner world is composed of contradictions were suddenly to feel all these contradictions simultaneously within himself, if he were to feel all at once that he loves everything he hates and hates everything he loves; the he lies when he tells the truth and that he tells the truth when he lies; and if he could feel the shame and horror of it all, this would be the state which is called ‘conscience.’  A man cannot live in this state; he must either destroy contradictions or destroy conscience.  He cannot destroy conscience, but if he cannot destroy it he can put it to sleep, that is, he can separate by impenetrable barriers one feeling of self from another, never see them together, never feel their incompatibility, the absurdity of one existing alongside another.

   But fortunately for man, that is, for his peace and for his sleep, this state of conscience is very rare…Awakening is only possible for those who seek it and want it, for those who are ready to struggle with themselves and work on themselves for a very long time and very persistently in order to attain it.  For those it is necessary to destroy ‘buffers,’ that is, to go out to meet all those inner sufferings which are connected with the sensations of contradictions.  Moreover the destruction of ‘buffers’ in itself requires very long work and a man must agree to this work realizing that the result of his work will be every possible discomfort and suffering from the awakening of his conscience.

   But conscience is the fire which alone can fuse all the powders in the glass retort which was mentioned before and create the unity which man lacks in the state in which he begins to study himself. 

   The concept ‘conscience’ has nothing in common with the concept ‘morality.’

   ‘Conscience is a general and a permanent phenomenon.  Conscience is the same for all men and conscience is possible only in the absence of ‘buffers.’  From the point of view of understanding the different categories of man we may say that there exists the conscience of a man in whom there are no contradictions.  This conscience is not suffering; on the contrary it is joy of a totally new character which we are unable to understand.  But even a momentary awakening of conscience in a man who has thousands of different  I’s is bound to involve suffering.  And if these moments of conscience become longer and if a man does not fear them but on the contrary co-operates with them and tries to keep and prolong them, an element of subtle joy, a foretaste of the future ‘clear consciousness’ will gradually enter into these moments.

  There is nothing general in the concept of ‘morality.’  Morality consists of buffers.  There is no general morality.  What is moral in China is immoral in Europe and what is moral in Europe is immoral in China…What is moral in one class of society is immoral in another and vice versa.  Morality is always and everywhere an artificial phenomenon.  It consists of various ‘taboos,’ that is, restrictions, and various demands, sometimes sensible in their basis and sometimes having lost all meaning or never even having had any meaning, and having been created on a false basis, on a soil of superstition and false fears.

   Morality consists of buffers.  And since buffers are of various kinds, and as the conditions of life in different countries and in different ages or among different classes of society vary considerably, so the morality created by them is also very dissimilar and contradictory.  A morality common to all does not exist.  [2 different meanings of ‘conscience’]  It is even impossible to say that there exists any general idea of morality, for instance, in Europe.  It is said sometimes that the general morality for Europe is ‘Christian morality.’  But first of all the idea of ‘Christian morality’ itself admits of very many different interpretations and many different crimes have been justified by ‘Christian morality.’  And in the second place modern Europe has very little in common with ‘Christian morality,’ no matter how we understand this morality.

   In any case if ‘Christian morality’ brought Europe to the war which is now going on, then it would be as well to be as far as possible from such ‘morality.’ 

   “Many people say they do not understand the moral side of your teaching,” (said one of his students).  “And others say that your teaching has no morality at all.”

   “Of course not, said G.  People are very fond of talking about morality.  But morality is merely self-suggestion.  What is necessary is conscience.”   We do not teach morality.  We teach how to find conscience.  People are not pleased when we say this.  They say that we have no love.  Simply because we do not encourage weakness and hypocrisy  but, on the contrary, take off all the masks.  He who desires truth will not speak of love or of Christianity because he knows how far he is from these.  Christian teachings is for Christians.  And Christians are those who live, that is, who do everything, according to Christ’s precepts.   Can they who talk of love and morality live according to Christ’s precepts?  Of course they cannot; but there will always be talk of this kind, there will always be people to whom words are more precious than anything else.  But this is a true sign!  He who speaks like this is an empty man; it is not worth while wasting time on him.

   Morality and conscience are quite different things.  One conscience can never contradict another conscience.  One morality can always very easily contradict and completely deny another.  A man with buffers may be very moral.  And buffers can be very different, that is, two very moral men may consider each other very immoral.  As a rule it is almost inevitably so.  The more ‘moral’ a man is, the more ‘immoral’ does he think other moral people.

   The idea of morality is connected with the idea of good and evil conduct.  But the idea of good and evil is always different for different people…

   Nobody ever does anything deliberately in the interests of evil, for the sake of evil.  Everybody acts in the interests of good, as he understands it.  But everybody understands it in a different way.  Consequently men drown, slay, and kill one another in the interests of good.  The reason is again just the same, men’s ignorance and the deep sleep in which they live.

   This is so obvious that it even seems strange that people never thought of it before.  However, the fact remains that they fail to understand this and everyone considers his good as the only good and all the rest as evil.  It is naïve and useless to hope that men will ever understand this and that they will evolve a general and identical idea of good. 

   “But do not good and evil exist in themselves apart from man?” asked someone present.

   “They do,” said G., “only this is very far away from us and it is not worth your while even to try to understand this at present.  Simply remember one thing.  The only possible permanent idea of good and evil for man is connected with the idea of evolution; not with mechanical evolution, of course, but with the idea of man’s development through conscious efforts, the change of his being, the creation of unity in him, and the formation of a permanent I.

   A permanent idea of good and evil can be formed in man only in connection with a permanent aim and a permanent understanding.  If a man understands that he is asleep and if he wishes to awake, then everything that helps him to awake will be good and everything that hinders him, everything that prolongs his sleep, will be evil.  But this is so only for those who want to awake, that is, for those who understand that they are asleep.  Those who do not understand that they are asleep and those who can have no wish to awake, cannot have understanding of good and evil.  And as the overwhelming majority of people do not realize and will never realize that they are asleep, neither good nor evil actually exist for them.

   This contradicts generally accepted ideas.  People are accustomed to think that good and evil must be the same for everyone, and above all, that good and evil exist for everyone.  In reality, however, good and evil exist only for a few, for those who have an aim and who pursue that aim.  Then what hinders the pursuit of that aim is evil and what helps it is good.

   But of course most sleeping people will say that they have an aim and that they are going somewhere.  The realization of the fact that he has no aim and that he is not going anywhere is the first sign of the approaching awakening of a man or of awakening becoming possible for him.  Awakening begins when a man realizes that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go. 

   As has been explained before, there are many qualities which men attribute to themselves, which in reality can belong only to people of a higher degree of development and of a higher degree of evolution…Individuality a single and permanent I, consciousness, will, the ability to do, a state of inner freedom, all these are qualities which ordinary man does not possess.  To the same category belongs the idea of good and evil, the very existence of which is connected with a permanent aim, with a permanent direction and with a permanent center of gravity.

   The idea of good and evil is sometimes connected with the idea of truth and falsehood.  But just as good and evil do not exist for ordinary man, neither do truth and falsehood exist.

   Permanent truth and permanent falsehood can exist only for a permanent man.  If man himself continually changes, then for him truth and falsehood will also continually change.  And if people are all in different states at a given moment their conception of truth must be as varied as their conceptions of good.  A man never notices how he begins to regard as true what yesterday he considered as false and vice versa.  He does not notice these transitions just as he does not notice the transitions of is own I’s one into another.

   In the life of an ordinary man truth and falsehood have no moral value of any kind because a man can never keep to one single truth.  His truth changes.  If for a certain time it does not change, it is simply because it is kept by buffers.  And a man can never tell the truth.  Sometimes ‘it tells’ a lie.  Consequently his truth and his falsehood have no value; neither of them depend upon him, both of them depend upon accident.  And this is equally true when applied to man’s words, to  his thoughts, his feelings, and to his conceptions of truth and falsehood. 

   In order to understand the interrelation of truth and falsehood in life a man must understand falsehood in himself, the constant incessant lies he tells himself.

   These lies are created by buffers.  In order to destroy the lies in oneself as well as lies told unconsciously to others, buffers must be destroyed.  But then a man cannot live without buffers.  Buffers automatically control a man’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings.  If buffers were to be destroyed all control would disappear.  A man cannot exist without control even though it is only automatic control.  Only a man who possesses will, that is, conscious control, can live without buffers.  Consequently, if a man begins to destroy buffers within himself he must at the same time develop a will.  And as will cannot be created to order in a short space of time a man may be left with buffers demolished and with a will that is not yet sufficiently strengthened.  The only chance he has during this period is to be controlled by another will which has already been strengthened. 

   This is why…a man must be ready to obey another man’s will so long as his own will is not yet fully developed.  Usually subordination to another man’s will is studied before anything else…a man must understand why such obedience is necessary and he must learn to obey.  The latter is not easy.  A man beginning…self-study with the object of attaining control over himself isaccustomed to believe in his own decisions.  Even the fact that he has seen the necessity for changing himself shows him that his decisions are correct and strengthens his belief in them.  But when he begins to work on himself a man must give up his own decisions, ‘sacrifice his own decisions,’ because otherwise the will of the man who directs his own work will not be able to control his actions.

   In schools of the religious way ‘obedience’ is demanded before anything else, that is, full unquestioning submission although without understanding…

   Renunciation of his own decisions, subordination to the will of another, may present insuperable difficulties to a man if he had failed to realize beforehand that actually he neither sacrifices nor changes anything in his life, that all his life he has been subject to some extraneous will and has never had any decisions of his own.  But a man is not conscious of this.  He considers that he has the right of free choice.  It is hard for him to renounce the illusion that he directs and organizes his life himself.  But no work on himself is possible until a man is free from this illusion. 

   He must realize that he does not exist; he must realize that he can lose nothing because he has nothing to lose; he must realize his ‘nothingness’ in the full sense of the term…






Stages Of Faith

Stages of Faith, James W. Fowler

Faith is not always religious in its content or context…Faith is a person’s or group’s way of moving into the force field of life. It is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives. Faith is a person’s way of seeing him- or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose.

Even our nearest relatives in the animal world are endowed with far more set and specific instinctive guidance systems than are we. Matters such as dating, building dens or lairs, searching for food and knowing how to care for their young are far more programmed even in the chimpanzee than they are in us. But as far as we know none of these other creatures bear the glory and burden we carry of asking what life is about. They do not struggle under the self-consciousness of shaping their lives through the commitments they make or of searching for images of meaning by which to give sense to things. Homo poeta Ernest Becker call us, man the meaning maker. We do not live by bread alone, sex alone, success alone, and certainly not by instinct alone. We require meaning. We need purpose and priorities; we must have some grasp on the big picture.

In the 1950’s Paul Tillich published a small book that became a classic. Dynamics of Faith struck a fresh note of honesty about the ways we order our lives and the hungers we have. Pushing aside a too easy identification of faith with religion or belief, Tillich challenges his readers to ask themselves what values have centering power in their lives. The “god values” in our lives are those things that concern us ultimately. Our real worship, or true devotion directs itself toward the objects of our ultimate concern. That ultimate concern may center finally in our own ego or its extensions—work, prestige and recognition, power and influence, wealth. One’s ultimate concern may be invested in family, university, nation, or church. Love, sex and a loved partner might be the passionate center of one’s ultimate concern. Ultimate concern is a much more powerful matter than claimed belief in a creed or a set of doctrinal propositions. Faith as a state of being ultimately concerned may or may not find its expression in institutional or cultic religious forms. Faith so understood is very serious business. It involves how we make our life wagers. It shapes the ways we invest our deepest loves and our most costly loyalties…another theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr…sees faith in the shared visions and values that hold human groups together…in the overarching, integrating and grounding trust in a center of value and power sufficiently worthy to give our lives unity and meaning.

Faith…is a universal human concern. Prior to our being religious or irreligious, before we come to think of ourselves as Catholics, Protestants, Jews or Muslims, we are already engaged with issues of faith. Whether we become nonbelievers, agnostics or atheists, we are concerned with how to put our lives together and with what will make life worth living. Moreover, we look for something to love that loves us, something to value that gives us value, something to honor and respect that has the power to sustain our being…

As a way of clarifying these issues some of the more recent work of the comparative religionist Wilfred Cantwell Smith claims our attention. Smith is one of the very few students of the history of religion who has the linguistic competence to study most of the major religious traditions in the languages of their primary sources. For nearly two decades he has devoted himself to, among other things, the task of researching and interpreting the contribution each of the central world religious traditions makes to our understanding of faith…

In The Meaning and End of Religion Smith makes his first, seminal distinctions between religion and faith. Speaking of religions as “cumulative tradition,” he suggests that we see a cumulative tradition as the various expressions of the faith of people in the past. A cumulative tradition may be constituted by texts of scripture or law, including narratives, myths, prophecies, accounts of revelations, and so forth; it may include visual and other kids of symbols, oral traditions, music, dance, ethical teachings, theologies, creeds, rites, liturgies, architecture and a host of other elements…Faith, at once deeper and more personal than religion, is the person’s or group’s way of responding to transcendent value and power as perceived and grasped through the forms of the cumulative tradition. Faith and religion, in this view, are reciprocal. Each is dynamic; each grows or is renewed through its interaction with the other…

Smith says, somewhat wistfully, “Faith is meant to be religious.” But in fact, faith struggles to be formed and maintained in many persons today who feel they have no usable access to any viable cumulative religious tradition.

This situation, Smith believes, results in part from certain confusions that have arisen in our understandings of religion, faith, and belief. Having demonstrated that faith needs to be distinguished from religion, Smith turns…to the task of exposing as an error the widespread identification of faith with belief. This is an error both in an accurate reading of the history of religious traditions and in any adequate effort to describe the nature and functions of faith…

If we examine…religious traditions in the light of contemporary religio-historical knowledge, Smith says, we recognize that the variety of religious belief and practice is far greater than we might have imagined. But in like manner we find that the similarities in religious faith also turn out to be greater than we might have expected. In explaining why, he characterizes faith in contrast to belief:

Faith is deeper, richer, more personal. It is engendered by a religious tradition, in some cases and to some degree by its doctrines; but it is a quality of the person, not of the system. It is an orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one’s neighbor, to the universe; a total response; a way of seeing whatever one sees and of handling whatever one handles; a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension. Belief he takes to be “the holding of certain ideas.” Belief, in religious contexts at least, arises out of the effort to translate experiences of and relation to transcendence into concepts or propositions. Belief may be one of the ways faith expresses itself. But one does not have faith in a proposition or concept. Faith, rather, is the relation of trust in and loyalty to the transcendent about which concepts or propositions—beliefs—are fashioned. Smith again writes:

Faith, then, is a quality of human living. At its best it has taken the form of serenity and courage and loyalty and service: a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe, and to find meaning in the world and in one’s own life, a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen to oneself at the level of immediate event. Men and women of this kind of faith face catastrophe and confusion, affluence and sorrow, unperturbed; face opportunity with conviction and drive, and face others with cheerful charity.

Smith gives a persuasive demonstration that the language dealing with faith in the classical writings of the major religious traditions never speaks of it in ways that can be translated by the modern meanings of belief or believing. Rather, faith involves an alignment of the heart or will, a commitment of loyalty and trust. His treatment of the Hindu term for faith, sraddha, perhaps puts it best: “It means, almost without equivocation, to set one’s heart on.” To set one’s heart on someone or something requires that one has “seen” or “sees the point of” that to which one is loyal. Faith, therefore, involves vision. It is a mode of knowing, of acknowledgment. One commits oneself to that which is known or acknowledged, and lives loyally, with life and character being shaped by that commitment.

The Hebrew (aman he’ min, munah), the Greek (pistuo, Pistis), and the Latin (credo, credere) words for faith parallel those from Buddhist, Moslem and Hindu sources. They cannot mean belief or believing in the modern sense. For the ancient Jew or Christian to have said, “I believe there is a God,” or “I believe God exists,” would have been a strange circumlocution. The being or existence of God was taken for granted and therefore was not an issue…

The failure to probe beneath this shallowing of faith, equating it with the modern understanding of belief, means to perpetuate and widen the modern divorce of belief and faith. If faith is reduced to belief in credal statements and doctrinal formulations, then sensitive and responsible persons are likely to judge that they must live “without faith.” But if faith is understood as trust in another and as loyalty to a transcendent center of value and power, then the issue of faith—and the possibility of religious faith—becomes lively and open again. Smith’s work makes an extraordinary contribution to our grasping the need for re-imaging faith. No summary can adequately evoke the rich new perspective that results from a meditative reading of these writings, but perhaps I have shared enough to enable us to benefit from a review of his major conclusions:

1. Faith, rather than belief or religion, is the most fundamental category in the human quest for relation to transcendence.

2. Faith, it appears, is generic, a universal feature of human living, recognizably similar everywhere despite the remarkable variety of forms and contents of religious practice and belief.

3. Each of the major religious traditions studied speaks about faith in ways that make the same phenomena visible. In each and all, faith involves an alignment of the will, a resting of the heart, in accordance with a vision of transcendent value and power, one’s ultimate concern.

4. Faith, classically understood, is not a separate dimension of life, a compartmentalized specialty. Faith is an orientation of the total person, giving purpose and goal to one’s hopes and strivings, thoughts and actions.

The unity and recognizability of faith, despite the myriad variants of religions and beliefs, support the struggle to maintain and develop a theory of religious relativity in which the religions—and the faith they evoke and shape—are seen as relative apprehensions of our relatedness to that which is universal. This work toward a “universal theory as to the relation between truth itself and truth articulated in the midst of the relativity of human life and history” represents a rejection of faith in “relativism,” (the philosophy or common sense view that religious claims and experience have no necessary validity beyond the bounds of the communities that hold them) and serves a commitment to press the question of truth in the living and in the study of faith.

Structural Stages and the Contents of Faith

At various points earlier in this book I have hinted at a conception of the sequence of faith stages and their interrelations in terms of a rising spiral movement. Although models can be misleading and each has decisive limits, I have found it helpful in communicating my understanding of faith stages and of the process of transition, regression and conversion, to (ask you to) imagine the whole process as dynamically connected, each successive spiral stage linked to and adding to the previous ones. Each stage…marks the rise of a new set of capacities or strengths in faith. These add to and recontextualize previous patterns of strength without negating or supplanting them. Certain life issues with which faith must deal recur at each stage; hence the spiral movements in part overlap each other, though each successive stage addresses these issues at a new level of complexity. Overall, there is a movement outward toward individuation, culminating in Stage 4. Then the movement doubles back, in Stages 5 & 6, toward the participation and oneness of the earlier stages, though at quite different levels of complexity, differentiation and inclusiveness. Each stage represents a widening of vision and valuing, correlated with a parallel increase in the certainty and depth of selfhood, making for qualitative increases in intimacy with self-others-world. Please do not forget that the transitions from one spiral stage level to another are often protracted, painful, dislocating and/or abortive. Arrests can and do occur at any of the stages. Also I ask you to keep in mind that each stage has its proper time of ascendency. For persons in a given stage at the right time for their lives, the task is the full realization and integration of the strengths and graces of that stage rather than rushing on to the next stage. Each stage has the potential for wholeness, grace and integrity and for strengths sufficient for either life’s blows or blessings.

The model needs to be imagined as at least four-dimensional. Looked at from above or below the “spiral” of your stage or mine will not appear perfectly rounded or smooth. We all exhibit warps and indentations, skews and broken places. (There is a) broken line passing through the centers of the stages (indicating) thematic and conventional continuities across stage transitions. These may be centering and supportive, funding the readiness for the relinquishment of one’s way of making meaning that begins the process of stage change. The line of thematic and convictional continuities may, on the other hand, symbolize a deficit of assured meanings, salient in our lives as crippling images of faith and convictions of an untrustworthy ultimate environment. The new structural features of each successive stage mean a reworking of the contents of one’s faith stage. Radical changes in the contents of one’s faith—as in conversion…may either lead to or result from structural stage change.

Stage 1: Intuitive—Projective

This stage is the fantasy-filled, imitative phase in which one is powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions, and stories of the beliefs of primarily related adults.

The stage most typical of the child three to seven, it is marked by a relative fluidity of though patterns. The child is continually encountering novelties for which no stable operations of knowing have been formed. The imaginative processes underlying fantasy are unrestrained and uninhibited by logical thought. In league with forms of knowing dominated by perception, imagination in this stage is extremely productive of long lasting images and feelings (positive and negative) that later, more stable and self-reflective valuing and thinking will have to order and sort out. This is the stage of first self-awareness. The “self-aware” child is egocentric as regards the perspectives of others. Here we find first awareness of death and sex and the strong taboos by which cultures and families insulate those powerful areas.

The gift or emergent strength of this stage is the birth of imagination, the ability to unify and grasp the experience-world in powerful images and as presented in stories that register the child’s intuitive understandings and feelings toward the ultimate conditions of existence.

The dangers in this stage arise from the possible “possession” of the child’s imagination by unrestrained images of terror and destructiveness, or from the witting or unwitting exploitation of her or his imagination in the reinforcement of taboos or moral or doctrinal expectations.

The main factor precipitating transition to the next stage is the emergence of concrete operational thinking. Affectively, the resolution of Oedipal issues or the submersion in latency are important accompanying factors. At the heart of the transition is the child’s growing concern to know how things are and to clarify for him or herself the bases of distinctions between what is real and what only seems to be.

Stage 2: Mythic—Literal

This stage is the stage in which the person begins to take on for him- or herself the stories, beliefs and observances that symbolize belonging to his or her community. Beliefs are appropriated with literal interpretations, as are moral rules and attitudes. Symbols are taken as one-dimensional and literal in meaning. In this stage the rise of concrete operations leads to the curbing and ordering of the previous stages imaginative composing of the world. The episodic quality of the Intuitive-Projective stage gives way to the more linear, narrative construction of coherence and meaning. Story becomes the major way of giving unity and value to experience. Marked by increased accuracy in taking the perspective of other persons, those in Stage 2 compose a world based on reciprocal fairness and immanent justice based on reciprocity. The actors in their cosmic stories are anthropomorphic. They can be affected deeply and powerfully by symbolic and dramatic materials. They do not, however, step back from the flow of stories to formulate reflective, conceptual meanings. For this stage the meaning is both carried and “trapped” in the narrative.

The new capacity or strength in this stage is the rise of narrative and the emergence of story, drama and myth as ways of finding and giving coherence to experience.

The limitations of literalness and an excessive reliance upon reciprocity as a principle for constructing an ultimate environment can result either in an over-controlling, stilted perfectionism or “works righteous” or in their opposite, an abasing sense of badness embraced because of mistreatment, neglect or the apparent disfavor of significant others.

A factor initiating transition to Stage 3 is the implicit clash or contradictions in stories that lead to reflections on meanings. Previous literalism breaks down; new cognitive conceit leads to disillusionment with previous teachers and teachings. Conflicts with authoritative stories must be faced. The emergence of mutual interpersonal perspective taking creates the need for a more personal relationship with the unifying power of the ultimate environment.

Stage 3: Synthetic—Conventional

At this stage a person’s experience of the world now extends beyond the family. A number of spheres demand attention: family, school or work, peers, street society and media, and perhaps religion. The challenge of this stage is to find a coherent orientation in the midst of that more complex and diverse range of involvements, to synthesize values and information and provide a basis for identity and outlook. It structures the ultimate environment in interpersonal terms. Its images of unifying value and power derive from the extension of qualities experienced in personal relationships. It is a “conformist” stage in the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp of its own identity and autonomous judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective. While beliefs and values are deeply felt, they typically are tacitly held—the person “dwells” in them and in the meaning world they mediate. But there has not been an occasion to step outside them to reflect on and examine them explicitly or systematically. At this stage a person has an “ideology,” a more or less consistent clustering of values and beliefs, but he or she has not objectified it for examination and in a sense in unaware of having it. Differences of outlook with others are experienced as differences in “kind” of person. Authority is located in the incumbents of traditional authority roles (if perceived as personally worthy) or in the consensus of a valued, face-to-face group.

The emergent capacity of this stage is the forming of a personal myth—the myth of one’s own becoming in identity, incorporating one’s past and anticipated future in an image of the ultimate environment unified by characteristics of personality.

The dangers in this stage are the expectations and evaluations of others can be so compellingly internalized (sacralized) that later autonomy of judgment and action can be jeopardized; or interpersonal betrayals can give rise either to nihilistic despair about a personal principle of ultimate being or to a compensatory intimacy with God unrelated to mundane relations.

Factors contributing to the breakdown of this stage and to readiness for transition may include: serious contradictions between valued authority sources; the encounter with experiences or perspectives that lead to critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values have formed and changed, and how “relative” they are to one’s particular group or background.

Stage Four: Individuative—Reflective

The movement from Stage 3 to Stage 4 is particularly critical for it is in this transition that the late adolescent or adult must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes. Where genuine movement toward stage 4 is underway the person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern versus service to and being for others; the question of being committed to the relative versus the possibility of an absolute.

Stage 4 most appropriately takes form in young adulthood (but many adults never construct it and for others it emerges in the mid-thirties or forties). This stage is marked by a double development. The self, previously sustained in its identity by an interpersonal circle of significant others, now claims an identity no longer defined by the composite of one’s roles or meanings to others. To sustain that new identity it composes a meaning frame conscious of its own boundaries and inner connections and aware of itself as a “world view.” Self (identity) and outlook (world view) are differentiated from those of others and become acknowledged factors in the reactions, interpretations and judgments one makes on the actions of self and others. It expresses its intuitions of coherence in an ultimate environment in terms of an explicit system of meanings. This is a “demythologizing” stage. It is likely to attend minimally to unconscious factors influencing it judgments and behavior.

Stage 4’s ascendant strength has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology). It dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self overassimilates “reality” and the perspectives of others into its own world view.

Restless with the self-images and outlook maintained by Stage 4, the person ready for transition finds him- or herself attending to what may feel like anarchic and disturbing inner voices. Elements from a childish past, images and energies from a deeper self, an gnawing sense of the sterility and flatness of the meanings one serves—any or all of these may signal readiness for something new. Stories, symbols, myths and paradoxes from ones’ own or other traditions may insist on breaking in upon the neatness of the previous beliefs. Disillusionment with one’s compromises and recognition that life is more complex than Stage 4’s logic of clear distinctions and abstract concepts can comprehend, press one toward a more dialectical and multileveled approach to life truth.

Stage 5 Conjunctive

The Conjunctive Stage involves the integration into self and outlook of much that was suppressed or unrecognized in the interest of Stage 4’s self-certainty and conscious cognitive and affective adaptation to reality. This stage develops a “second naivete” in which symbolic power is reunited with conceptual meanings. Here there must also be a new reclaiming and reworking of one’s past. There must be an opening to the voices of one’s “deeper self.” Importantly, this involves a critical recognition of one’s social unconscious—the myths, ideal images and prejudices built deeply into the self-system by virtue of one’s nurture within a particular social class, religious tradition, ethnic group or the like.

Unlike before mid-life, Stage 5 knows the sacrament of defeat and the reality of irrevocable commitments and acts. What the previous stage struggled to clarify, in terms of boundaries of self and outlook, this stage now makes porous and permeable. Alive to paradox and the truth in apparent contradictions, this stage strives to unify opposites in mind and experience. It generates and maintains vulnerability to the strange truths of those who are “other;” ready for closeness to that which is different and threatening to self and outlook (including new depths of experience in spirituality and religious revelation), this stage’s commitment to justice is freed from the confines of tribe, class, religious community or nation. And with the seriousness that can arise when life is more than halfway over, this stage is ready to spend and be spent for the cause of conserving and cultivating the possibility of others’ generating identity and meaning.

The new strength of this stage comes in the rise of the ironic imagination—a capacity to see and be in one’s or one’s group’s most powerful meanings, while simultaneously recognizing that they are relative, partial and inevitably distorting apprehensions of transcendent reality. Its dangers lie in the direction of a paralyzing passivity or inaction, giving rise to complacency or cynical withdrawal, due to its paradoxical understanding of truth.

Stage 5 can appreciate symbols, myths and ritual (its own and others’) because it has been grasped, in some measure, by the depth of reality to which they refer. It also sees the divisions of the human family vividly because it has been apprehended by the possibility (and imperative) of an inclusive community of being. But this stage remains divided. It lives and acts between an untransformed world and a transforming vision and loyalties. In some few cases this division yields to the call of the radical actualization that we call Stage 6.

Stage 6: Universalizing

In order to characterize Stage 6 we need to focus more sharply on the dialectical or paradoxical features of Stage 5. Stage 5 remains paradoxical or divided because the self is caught between those universalizing apprehensions and the need to preserve its own being and well-being. Or because it is deeply invested in maintaining the ambiguous order of a socioeconomic system, the alternatives to which seem more unjust or destructive than it is. In this situation of paradox Stage 5 must act and not be paralyzed. But Stage 5 acts out of conflicting loyalties. Its readiness to spend and be spent finds limits in its loyalty to the present order, to its institutions, groups and compromise procedures. Stage 5’s perception of justice outreach its readiness to sacrifice the self and to risk the partial justice of the present order for the sake of a more inclusive justice and the realization of love.

The transition to Stage 6 involves an overcoming of this paradox through a moral and ascetic actualization of the universalizing apprehensions. Heedless of the threats to self, to primary groups, and to the institutional arrangement of the present order that are involved, Stage 6 becomes disciplined, activist incarnation—a making real and tangible—of the imperatives of absolute love and justice of which Stage 5 has partial apprehensions. The self at Stage 6 engages in spending and being spent for the transformation of present reality in the direction of a transcendent actuality.

Persons best described by Stage 6 typically exhibit qualities that shake our usual criteria of normalcy. Their heedlessness to self-preservation and the vividness of their taste and feel for transcendent moral and religious actuality give their actions and words an extraordinary and often unpredictable quality. In their devotion to universalizing compassion they may offend our parochial perceptions of justice. In their penetration through the obsession with survival, security, and significance they threaten our measured standards of righteousness and goodness and prudence. Their enlarged visions of universal community disclose the partialness of our tribes and pseudo-species. And their leadership initiatives…constitute affronts to our usual notions of relevance.

Stage 6…(is) “contagious” in the sense that they create zones of liberation from the social, political, economic and ideological shackles we place and endure on human futurity. Living with felt participation in a power that unifies and transforms the world, Universalizers are often experienced as subversive of the structures (including religious structure) by which we sustain our individual and corporate survival, security and significance…The rare persons who may be described by this stage are more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us…Life is both loved and held loosely. Such persons are ready for fellowship with persons at any of the other stages and from any other faith tradition…Persons who come to embody the Universalizing Stage are drawn into those patterns of commitment and leadership by the exigencies of history…as if they are selected by the great Blacksmith of history, heated in the fires of turmoil and trouble and then hammered into usable shape on the hard anvil of conflict and struggle.

Structural Stages and the Contents of Faith

At various points earlier in this book I have hinted at a conception of the sequence of faith stages and their interrelations in terms of a rising spiral movement. Although models can be misleading and each has decisive limits, I have found it helpful in communicating my understanding of faith stages and of the process of transition, regression and conversion, to (ask you to) imagine the whole process as dynamically connected, each successive spiral stage linked to and adding to the previous ones. Each stage…marks the rise of a new set of capacities or strengths in faith. These add to and recontextualize previous patterns of strength without negating or supplanting them. Certain life issues with which faith must deal recur at each stage; hence the spiral movements in part overlap each other, though each successive stage addresses these issues at a new level of complexity. Overall, there is a movement outward toward individuation, culminating in Stage 4. Then the movement doubles back, in Stages 5 & 6, toward the participation and oneness of the earlier stages, though at quite different levels of complexity, differentiation and inclusiveness. Each stage represents a widening of vision and valuing, correlated with a parallel increase in the certainty and depth of selfhood, making for qualitative increases in intimacy with self-others-world. Please do not forget that the transitions from one spiral stage level to another are often protracted, painful, dislocating and/or abortive. Arrests can and do occur at any of the stages. Also I ask you to keep in mind that each stage has its proper time of ascendency. For persons in a given stage at the right time for their lives, the task is the full realization and integration of the strengths and graces of that stage rather than rushing on to the next stage. Each stage has the potential for wholeness, grace and integrity and for strengths sufficient for either life’s blows or blessings.

The model needs to be imagined as at least four-dimensional. Looked at from above or below the “spiral” of your stage or mine will not appear perfectly rounded or smooth. We all exhibit warps and indentations, skews and broken places. (There is a) broken line passing through the centers of the stages (indicating) thematic and conventional continuities across stage transitions. These may be centering and supportive, funding the readiness for the relinquishment of one’s way of making meaning that begins the process of stage change. The line of thematic and convictional continuities may, on the other hand, symbolize a deficit of assured meanings, salient in our lives as crippling images of faith and convictions of an untrustworthy ultimate environment. The new structural features of each successive stage mean a reworking of the contents of one’s faith stage. Radical changes in the contents of one’s faith—as in conversion…may either lead to or result from structural stage change.

Japanese Zen

Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy

First published Wed Jun 28, 2006; substantive revision Fri Oct 8, 2010

Zen aims at a perfection of personhood. To this end, sitting meditation called “za-zen” is employed as a foundational method of prāxis across the different schools of this Buddha-Way, through which the Zen practitioner attempts to embody non-discriminatory wisdom vis-à-vis the meditational experience known as “satori” (enlightenment). A process of discovering wisdom culminates in the experiential dimension in which the equality of thing-events is apprehended in discerning them. The most distinguishing feature of this school of the Buddha-Way is seen in its contention that wisdom, accompanied by compassion, is expressed in the everyday “life-world” when associating with one’s self, people, and nature. The everyday “life-world” for most people is an evanescent transforming stage in which living is consumed, philosophically speaking, by an either-or, ego-logical, dualistic paradigm of thinking with its attendant psychological states such as stress and anxiety. Zen demands an overcoming of this paradigm by practically achieving an holistic perspective in cognition, so that the Zen practitioner can celebrate, with a stillness of mind, a life of tending toward the concrete thing-events of everyday life and nature. For this reason, the Zen practitioner is required to embody freedom expressive of the original human nature. Generally speaking, Zen cherishes simplicity and straightforwardness in grasping reality and acting on it “here and now,” for it believes that a thing-event that is immediately presencing before one’s eyes or under one’s foot is no other than an expression of suchness, i.e., it is such that it is showing its primordial mode of being. It also understands a specificity of thing-event to be a recapitulation of the whole; parts and the whole are to be lived in an inseparable relationship through an exercise of nondiscriminatory wisdom, without prioritizing the visible over the invisible, the explicit over the implicit, and vice versa. As such, Zen maintains a stance of “not one” and “not two,” i.e., “positionless position,” where “not two” signals a negation of the stance that divides the whole into two parts, i.e., dualism, while “not one” designates a negation of this stance when the Zen practitioner dwells in the whole as one, while suspending judgment in meditation, i.e., non-dualism. Free, bilateral movement between “not one” and “not two” characterizes Zen’s achievement of a personhood with a third perspective that cannot, however, be confined to either dualism or non-dualism (i.e., neither “not one” nor “not two”).

1. The Meaning of the Term Zen

2. Zen’s Methods: Kōan Practice and Just Sitting

3. Zen as Anti-Philosophy

4. Overcoming Dualism

4.1 Logical Meaning of Not Two

4.2 An Epistemological Meaning of Not Two

4.3 Zen’s Meaning of Not Two

5. An Experiential Meaning of Not-Two

5.1 Zen’s No-Thought and No-Image

5.2 Zen’s Nothing

5.3 Zen “Seeing”

6. Zen’s Understanding of Time and Space

6.1 Here and Now

6.2 Zero Time and Zero Space

6.3 An Integrated Time and Space

6.4 The Structure of Things Appearing

7. Returning to the Everyday “life-world”: Not One

7.1 Zen Person

7.2 Zen’s Freedom

  1. Concluding Remarks

1. The Meaning of the Term Zen

The designation of this school of the Buddha-Way as Zen, which means sitting meditation, is derived from a transliteration of the Chinese word Chán. Because the Chinese term is in turn a transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyāna, however, Zen owes its historical origin to early Indian Buddhism, where a deepened state of meditation, called samādhi, was singled out as one of the three components of study a Buddhist was required to master, the other two being an observation of ethical precepts (sīla) and an embodiment of nondiscriminatory wisdom (prajñā). The reason that meditation was singled out for the designation of this school is based on the fact that the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment (nirvāna) through the practice of meditation. In the context of Zen Buddhism, perfection of nondiscriminatory wisdom (Jpn., hannya haramitsu; Skrt., prajñāpāramitā) designates practical, experiential knowledge, and secondarily and only derivatively theoretical, intellectual knowledge. This is, Zen explains, because theoretical knowledge is a form of “language game” (Jpn.; keron; Skrt., prapañca), i.e., discrimination through the use of language, as it is built in part on distinction-making. Zen believes that it ultimately carries no existential meaning for emancipating a human being from his or her predicaments, for it maintains that discriminatory knowledge of any kind is delusory/illusory in nature. To this effect it holds that it is through a practical transformation of the psychophysiological constitution of one’s being that one prepares for embodying nondiscriminatory wisdom. This preparation involves the training of the whole person and is called “self-cultivation” (shugyō) in Japanese. It is a practical method of correcting the modality of one’s mind by correcting the modality of one’s body, in which practice (prāxis) is given precedence over theory (theōria). (Yuasa, 1987.)

2. Zen’s Methods: Kōan Practice and Just Sitting

There are basically two methods utilized in meditation practice in Zen Buddhism to assist the practitioner to reach the above-mentioned goals, together with a simple breathing exercise known as “observation of breath count” (Jpn., sūsokukan); one is the kōan method and the other is called “just sitting” (Jpn., shikan taza), a form of “single act samādhi.” For example, the former is employed mainly by the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, while the latter by the Sōtō school; they are the two main schools of this form of the Buddha-Way still flourishing today in Japan. In the Rinzai school, the kōan method is devised to assist the practitioner to become a “Zen person” (Kasulis, 1981) who fully embodies both wisdom and compassion. A kōan is formulated like a riddle or puzzle and is designed in such a way that intellectual reasoning alone cannot solve it without breaking through ego-consciousness by driving it to its limit. This is, Zen believes, because it is fortified by the shield of a dualistic conceptual paradigm with all its attendant presuppositions and conditions which the ego-consciousness in a given cultural and historical milieu accepts to be true in order to live a life anchored in the everyday standpoint.

According to Hakuin (1685–1768), who systematized kōans, there are formally seventeen hundred cases of kōans, and if sub-questions are added to them, a total number of cases comprising the system would roughly be three thousand. The Zen practitioner of the Rinzai school is required to pass them all in a private consultation with a Zen master who checks the practitioner’s state of mind before he or she is granted a seal of transmission. This transmission is said to occur “only from a Buddha to a[nother] Buddha” (yuibutsu yobutsu). Kōans are accordingly grouped into five categories in a most fully developed system: the first group is designed for 1) reaching li (suchness) (richi) or the body of truth (hosshin), 2) the second group for a linguistic articulation (gensen) of meditational experiences, 3) the third group for those kōans truly difficult to pass (nantō), 4) the fourth group for the practitioner to make an insight of kōan experiences pertinent in daily life (kikan), and 5) the fifth group for going beyond the state of buddhahood by erasing traces of enlightenment (kōjō). The Rinzai school summarizes this process of self-cultivation in four mottoes: “a special transmission outside of the scriptures,” “no dependence on words and letters,” “point directly into [one’s] human mind,” and “see into [one’s] nature to become a buddha.” (See, for examples, The Gateless Gate and The Blue Cliff Record.) While the first two phrases point to the fact of discovering an extra-linguistic reality that naturally opens up in meditational experience and of articulating it linguistically in the “best” way according to the capacity of an individual practitioner, the last two phrases indicate a concretization of the original enlightenment (hongaku) in the Zen practitioner, where the original enlightenment means that the human being is innately endowed with a possibility of becoming a Buddha.

On the other hand, the Sōtō school, of which Dōgen (1200–54) is the founder, does not rely on an elaborate kōan system to learn to become a Zen person, but instead follows a method called “just sitting” (shikan taza). It refers to a single-minded, diligent practice where the qualifying term “just” means the practice of meditation without any intervention of ego-logical interest, concern, or desire, so that the practice remains undefiled. This is a method of meditation predicated on the belief that the Zen practitioner engages in the practice in the midst of the original enlightenment. Or to characterize it by using Dōgen’s phrase, it is a method of “practice-realization.” By hyphenating practice and realization, the following implications are suggested: meditation is not a means to an end, i.e., a means to realization, and thereby Dōgen closes a dualistic gap, for example, between potentiality and actuality, between before and after. Accordingly, he collapses the distinction between “acquired enlightenment” (shikaku) and “original enlightenment,” where the “acquired” enlightenment means an enlightenment that is realized through the practice of meditation as a means. With this collapsing, the Sōtō School holds that practice and realization are non-dual to each other, i.e., “not two.”

According to the Sōtō school, the meditational practice, when it is seen as a process of discovery, is a deepening process of becoming aware of the original enlightenment with an expansion of its corresponding experiential correlates and horizons, and it is for this reason called the school of “gradual enlightenment” or “silent illumination.” On the other hand, the Rinzai school is called the school of “sudden enlightenment,” because it does not recognize a process leading to enlightenment (satori) as something worthy of a special attention; what counts is an experience of satori only. Even though there is the above difference in approach between Rinzai and Sōtō schools, the outcome is the same for both insofar as the embodiment of wisdom and compassion is concerned. This is because they both follow the same practice of sitting meditation. Whatever differences there are between the practitioners of the two schools in regard to the linguistic articulation of their meditational experience, they arise from an individual practitioner’s personality, disposition, intellectual capacity, and/or linguistic ability.

3. Zen as Anti-Philosophy

As may be surmised from the foregoing explanation on Zen’s methodological stance, it is perhaps best to understand Zen as an anti-philosophy if the term “philosophy” is taken to mean the establishment of “the kingdom of reason,” which has been launched vis-à-vis an intellectual effort of the most brilliant minds in Europe since the modern period as a way of emancipating human nature from the confines of Christian theological dogmas. Since then, various Western philosophers have attempted to capture human nature with this goal in mind by using ego-consciousness as a starting point as well as a destination in philosophy; to name a few representative ones, human nature has been captured in terms of ego-consciousness (e.g., Descartes), Reason, Personality, Transcendental Subjectivity (e.g., Kant and Husserl), Life (e.g., Dilthey), Existence (e.g., Existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Sartre) and Dasein (Heidegger). (Yuasa, 2003, 160–61.)

By contrast, Zen’s stance of “anti-philosophy” maintains among other things that reason in its discursive use is incapable of knowing and understanding in toto what reality is, for example, what human beings are and what their relation to nature is. For this reason, Zen contends that physical nature and human nature must be sought in an experiential dimension practically trans-descending, and hence transcending, the standpoint of ego-consciousness. That is to say, it must go beyond “the one” and “the two,” as both of these stances are prone to generate a one-sided, and hence incomplete world-view. Instead, they must be sought in the depths of one’s psychē and beyond. For example, Zen Master Seigen (Chin.,; Qīngyuáng, 660–740) expresses the process of self-cultivation to the effect that: “Before the practice, mountains are mountains, during the practice, mountains are not mountains, and after the realization, mountains are [truly] mountains [again].” In the meditational process of discovery then, Zen moves from an ordinary, commonsensical standpoint to an extraordinary standpoint and with this transformation returns to the everyday “life-world,” wherein no Aristotelian either-or logic is accepted as the standard for knowing and understanding reality. Due to this reason, paradoxes, contradictions, and even what appears to be utter nonsense abound in Zen literature. The kōan method mentioned above exemplifies this point. To cite just one such example: “the river does not flow but the bridge does.” If one attempts to understand it by relying on Aristotelian either-or logic as one’s standard for understanding, one will be under the impression that this expression is nonsensical or meaningless.

As may be surmised then, by relying on the above-mentioned methodological stance, Zen Buddhism has produced an understanding of reality—one’s own self, living nature and human nature—quite different from those offered by Western philosophy. Therefore, we can say that Zen is an anti-philosophy in that it is not a systematization of knowledge built on the use of a discursive mode of reasoning anchored in the (alleged) certainty or transparency of ego-consciousness, by following an Aristotelian either-or logic. Yet, it upholds something like a philosophy that springs forth through a reflective restatement of the practice, though this “upholding” must be understood with a proviso that it maintains, as mentioned in the foregoing, a “positionless position.” (Abe, 1989.) This is because Zen abhors “holding onto” anything, which Zen considers an instance of “self-binding without a rope.” That is, this self-binding traps the Zen practitioner into a mode of attachment that is the source of suffering and, consequently, disrupts the sense of embodied freedom it cherishes.

4. Overcoming Dualism

Accordingly, Zen demands the practitioner to overcome the dualism operative in the everyday standpoint, which it speaks of by using the phrase “not two.” The use of the phrase “not two” expresses Zen’s proclivity to favor the simple and the concrete, such that it is not expressed as a negation of dualism. This overcoming is an existential, practical project, a goal for the Zen practitioner, although it is paradoxically stated as “if you face it, it goes away.” This is because “facing” presupposes a dualistic stance. “Two” in “not two” designates any “two” things appearing from within the everyday standpoint, especially when it is taken to designate an absolute sense of reality. This standpoint, as mentioned in the foregoing, relies on the discursive mode of reasoning to understand reality, while presupposing an ego-consciousness as the standard referential point. From this perspective for example, a distinction between the outer and inner worlds emerges, using a sensory perception as the point of reference. One of the salient characteristics of this standpoint is that the world appears to be dualistic in nature, that is to say, it recognizes two (and by implication, many) things to be real. Zen questions this standpoint when it is used as the paradigm for daily living, including philosophical thinking, for this standpoint accepts as its foundation an individual’s discrete “I” with a belief that “I” am self-contained and self-sufficient and, therefore, am distinguished and isolated from other individuals and things of nature. Zen observes that it renders opaque, or at best translucent, the experiential domains beyond the sensible world as well as ego-consciousness, both either taken naturalistically or by means of theoretical speculation. The inability to go beyond these experiential domains, Zen explains, occurs because ego-consciousness is physiologically rooted in the body and psychologically in the unconscious. This points to a philosophically important consequence. Namely, once the practitioner accepts this outer-inner dichotomy even provisionally, he or she is led to accept as true a host of other “two” things that are affirmed to be real, as is seen in pairs of opposites such as mind vs. body, I vs. others, love vs. hate, good vs. evil, and I vs. nature.

4.1 Logical Meaning of Not Two

Logically speaking, Zen explains that “two” things arise because the everyday standpoint stipulates Aristotelian either-or logic as the standard for cognizing the whole, however the whole may be construed. (Nagatomo, 2000, 213–44.) This logic thinks it reasonable to divide the whole into two parts when knowing or understanding reality. That is, when this logic is applied to the whole, it compels the user of this logic to choose, reasonably in the mind of the user, one part, while disregarding the other part(s) as irrelevant or meaningless. It prioritizes one part at the expense of the other part(s), while celebrating the exclusion. In so doing, it looks to the explicit while becoming oblivious to the fact that the implicit equally exists as a supporting ground for the explicit, where the explicit is something “obvious” to the senses and the rational mind. It champions one-sidedness in cognition and judgment as the supreme form of knowing and understanding reality. However, Zen thinks that this prioritization, this exclusion, violates a cardinal principle of knowing, for knowledge of anything demands an understanding of the whole. Either-or logic fails on this account. Moreover, it contends that when this logic attempts to understand the whole, it theoretically reduces the other to the one that is judged to be true and/or real. For example, if one maintains that the mind is real, one disregards the body as unreal, yielding an idealist position. On the other hand, if one thinks the body is real, it disposes of the mind in the same way, favoring materialism as true and real, which is presupposed, for example, by natural science. Either position commits itself to reductionism. Here, questioning this practice and the consequences it entails, Zen instead speaks of mind-body oneness, an holistic perspective, as it abhors one-sidedness. However, it warns that as soon as “one” is contrasted with “two” in a discourse, it is no longer genuine and authentic, because once it is objectified linguistically or reflectively, it slips into being an idea, an abstraction.

4.2 An Epistemological Meaning of Not Two

From the point of view of epistemology developed by modern European philosophy, the “two things” are the subject who knows and the object that is known. Zen finds that these two things impose on the epistemological subject a structuring that is framed dualistically and either-or ego-logically. Accordingly, this structuring unknowingly frames things to appear dualistically and either-or ego-logically to the epistemological subject, while extending the paradigm to itself for self-understanding as well as things other than itself in the same manner. Consequently, the subject stands opposed either to the outer world (e.g., nature) or to the inner world (the world of psychē), or both, and hence it promotes an oppositional mode of thinking. Moreover, Zen notes that the subject cannot by definition become the object or vice versa, for they are distanced from each other either really or ideally. It depends on whether the “distance” and “opposition” occur in space-consciousness or in time-consciousness; an object appears to be “out there” with space-consciousness, while it appears to be “in here” as an immanent object in the field of consciousness in time-consciousness. Suppose one applies this epistemological structure in knowing others, for example, one’s friend. When one attempts to know her from the everyday standpoint, one relies on the language she speaks and her body language. Here one cannot know her in toto, let alone the destiny of her life-history, because she is shielded from an observer by the spatial-temporal density of her being.

4.3 Zen’s Meaning of Not Two

Zen maintains that the situation created by assuming this epistemological standpoint is not ideal, or real, for that matter. Hence, Zen says “not two.” “Not two” is in part a recommendation for experientially achieving oneness through the practice of meditation, informing the holder of the “two” of the narrow and limited scope of her/his understanding, where the idea of oneness may, for now, be conceived at many levels, starting with the physical, the subtle, and the samādhic. Generally speaking then, Zen takes “not two” to designate a negation of any “two” things that are affirmed to be individually real, in which the perspective that realizes the place or domain where two things occur is ignored. The dualistic standpoint also ignores the logical fact that any “two” things cannot be individually one because for one to be, it must be dependent on, and interconnects with, the other one. An either-or logic ignores this interdependence. With this recommendation, Zen maintains that mind and body, I and others, I and nature ought to be experienced as one for those who remain in the everyday standpoint. To express this idea, Zen states that “Heaven and Earth share the same root, and I and the myriad things are one (-body).” It demands an holistic perspective necessary to achieve knowledge that is genuine and authentic. Otherwise, Zen fears that the practitioner will fall into one-sidedness, in which knowledge claim ends up being partial, imbalanced, and even prejudiced. Dōgen captures it by stating: “When one side is illuminated, the other side remains in darkness.” To characterize the dualistic, either-or ego-logical standpoint by borrowing Nietzsche’s phrase, Zen would say that it is “human, and all too human.”

Care must be exercised in understanding the meaning of “not” in the phrase “not two” however. Zen insists that the “not” primarily refers to an existential, practical negation of the “I,” which means “up-rooting the ego-consciousness” and in turn yields, by implication, a logical negation as well. This is because Zen thinks the practitioner cannot achieve this negation simply by following either-or logic, or for that matter by following the intellectual process of reasoning, because both logic and reasoning intrinsically involve two things, for example, the thinker and the thought. Or with either-or logic, a mere logical negation involves an infinite regress in negating the “I”; one who negates the “I” retains the affirmative act of holding “I” in the mind as that which negates. And when the “I” further attempts to negate this affirming act, there still remains an “I” who negates it and the process goes on ad infinitum. For this reason, Zen recommends the practitioner to “forget the ‘I”“ when engaging oneself in any action, be it a mind-act, bodily-act, or speech-act, as is seen for example in both Dōgen and Takuan (1573–1645).

To recapitulate the idea of the Zen meaning of negation as expressed in ”not two,“ Zen sees its self-cultivation as involving a thoroughgoing negation of the ”I“ to the point that no problem, either existential or psychological, entrenched in the ”I“ remains. Hence, we have Rinzai’s phrase: ”if you becomes a master in any place, wherever you stand is true.“ (Iriya, 1989, 70) Truth for Zen is not merely a matter of formulating or uttering a propositional statement, but rather embodying it by becoming, to use his phrase again, a ”true person of no rank,“ (ibid, 20) where ”no rank“ designates the freedom of standing beyond social or linguistic conventions such that a Zen person can use convention freely. Equally important is Zen’s contention that both logical and intellectual methods are abstract, for they become divorced from the actual reality of day-to-day existence. In other words, in the eyes of Zen, these methods lack consideration for the concreteness and immediacy of lived experience. This is because the theoretical standpoint defines the human being who observes things of nature from outside, which can be characterized, by using Yuasa’s phrase, as a ”being-outside-of-nature.“ Instead, Zen maintains that the human being must be understood as a being rooted in nature. To use Yuasa’s phrase again,it is a ”being-in-nature.“ This point is well portrayed in Zen’s landscape paintings wherein a human figure occupies the space of a mere dot in vast natural scenery. (Yuasa, 2003, 160–1)

5. An Experiential Meaning of Not-Two

How does Zen then articulate the experiential meaning of ”not two“? Throughout its long history, which spans from the sixth century in China to the twenty-first century in Japan, Zen has produced numerous ways of linguistically capturing a response to this question, depending on what ”two“ things are thematized in the Zen dialogue (Zen mondō). As a textual study, these dialogues are a primary paradigm for the non-practitioner to learn what ”two“ things are by studying a discourse that unfolds between a Zen master and his disciple. Moreover, this situation is complicated by the fact that a Zen master’s response is usually tailored to an individual disciple’s caliber. This is in keeping with a general method of teaching in Buddhism, i.e., to speaking to the caliber of a listener (taiki seppō). This complication is further compounded by the differences in the personality of Zen masters. Hence, Zen’s responses to the above question are as varied and numerous as there are Zen masters. In spite of this situation, it is reasonably possible to provide a glimpse into the experiential meaning of ”not two“ by looking into a phrase that often appears in Zen dialogues. This phrase is ”no-thought and no-image“ (munen musō), whose experience point to practically going beyond ”not one“ and ”not two.“

5.1 Zen’s No-Thought and No-Image

Upon hearing the phrase, ”no-thought and no-image,“ one may wonder if there could be such a thing. To properly respond to this question, Zen thinks it important to determine whether it is posed with a practical concern or a theoretical concern in mind. The difference allows a Zen master to determine the ground out of which this question is raised, for example, to determine if the inquirer is anchored in the everyday standpoint or in a meditational standpoint. In the case of the former, for instance, Zen would respond by saying that as long as the inquirer poses this question from within the everyday standpoint with a theoretical interest, relying on Aristotelian either-or logic, the inquirer cannot understand the meaning of ”no-thought and no-image,“ as intended by Zen. This is because to formulate the question, ”Is there or is there not no-thought and no-image?“ linguistically drives the inquiry into a contradiction, for one cannot predicate ”is“ on ”no-thought“ or ”no-image.“ Only insofar as ”no-thought“ or ”no-image“ is treated as an idea in a linguistic space without consideration for its referent, can one ask if ”there is“ or ”there is not“ such a thing as ”no-thought.“ In response, Zen maintains that when ”there is“ or ”there is not“ is topicalized in its tradition, it is not the same as ”there is“ or ”there is not“ as understood from within the everyday standpoint. Zen claims that neither ”no-thought“ nor ”no-image“ can be linguistically or logically apprehended from this standpoint.

Why does Zen insist on this? Zen explains that both ”there is“ and ”there is not“ (or more generally ”being“ and ”non-being“) are intellectually framed from within the everyday standpoint by accepting the oppositional ontology where the meaning of ”is“ is predicated on the meaning of ”is not,“ and vice versa. Therefore, Zen maintains that to understand ”no-thought“ or ”no-image“ we need an experiential dimension that goes beyond the oppositional thinking of the everyday standpoint.

5.2 Zen’s Nothing

Zen condenses ”no-thought and no-image“ into a singular word ”no“ in keeping with its proclivity to favor the simple, as this contraction allows Zen to expand the scope and the meaning of ”no-thought and no-image.“ This ”no,“ for example, is made pivotal by Zen Master Joshū (Chin., Zhaozhōu; 778–897). It is usually rendered in English as ”nothing“ and has been presented to the Western reader as if it is the central and cardinal concept of Zen philosophy. At the risk of de-emphasizing other important aspects of Zen such as how it understands the living phenomena of nature, humanity’s relation to them, and aesthetic sensitivity, we will here focus on the scope and meaning of this Zen ”no.“

This ”no“ appears in a Zen dialogue between Joshū and a monk, in which is thematized an issue of whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature. It reads as follows: A monk asks Joshū: ”Does the dog have buddha-nature?“ He replies: ”No[thing].“ The monk says: ”All sentient beings have buddha-nature. Why doesn’t the dog have it?“ Joshū replies: ”He has discrimination due to his karma.“ Joshū’s response of ”no“ to the monk’s question points to the latter’s inadequate, and hence also mistaken, understanding of being. However, as articulated in the Nirvānasūtra, Mahāyāna Buddhism, of which Zen is an offshoot, asserts that all sentient beings have buddha-nature. With this understanding in mind, the monk asked the question, to which Joshū replied ”no.“ His ”no“ points to the fact that the way the monk formulates his question regarding being is predicated on an either-or logical understanding or an affirmation-negation linguistic device. In so doing, the monk relativizes Buddha-nature qua being, while contrasting and opposing it with non-being. Buddha-nature is not something that the dog can have or not have; Buddha-nature is not something contingent. Joshū’s ”no“ allows the monk to return to the ground from which the idea of the Buddha-nature springs forth as an essential characterization of all beings. As such, Joshū’s ”no“ points to a transcendence of being and non-being. Insofar as Zen’s ”no“ is turned into an issue questioning the ground of being, it is appropriate to understand it as ”nothing,“ and in fact as ”absolutely nothing,“ because the latter goes beyond the relative nothing that is contrasted with being.

As Joshū’s ”nothing“ has been made a kōan, numerous Zen masters have used it to test a student’s progress in meditation. In such a case, a Zen master expects a monk to come up with his or her original response by stipulating a condition: ”I don’t expect you to answer that the dog has buddha-nature nor that the dog does not have buddha-nature. Nor do I expect you to reply that the dog neither has nor does not have buddha-nature. How do you respond to this?“ This is a warning that a monk cannot rely on Nāgārjuna’s tetralemma as an acceptable response, namely the four possible ways of understanding thing-events insofar as logic is concerned: ”there is,“ ”there is not,“ ”both ‘there is’ and ‘there is not,’“ and ”neither ‘there is’ nor ‘there is not.’“ This master is admonishing that as long as a monk’s response is framed from within the logic of the everyday use of language, no answer is forthcoming. Here the reader can sense that the scope and the meaning of ”no-thought and no-image“ has been expanded to include the logical use of language, not simply a rejection of oppositional thinking.

A further expansion of the scope and the meaning of ”no“ can be found in an instruction Zen Master Daie (Chin., Dàhuì;1089–1163) gives to his students, though it is given via negativa—when they attempt to discover a response to Joshū’s ”nothing.“ (Yanagita, 1974, 181–2.) Prefacing his remark that ”this one word [i.e., “no(-thing)”] is a cane that shatters numerous [instances of] erroneous knowledge and perception,“ Daie instructs the students not to take ”no[thing]“ in the context of being or nonbeing by applying either-or logic. An appeal to discriminatory thinking based on the standpoint of [ego-]consciousness is of no use either. It is also unacceptable to appeal to bodily action, let alone to engage in a mere verbal exchange. Not even a metaphysical response will do either, for Daie states: ”Do not throw it out into an empty-void where there is nothing. Do not swallow it where something is generated.“ To seek an answer in a text is also out of the question. Daie demands that the practitioner come up with his/her own original answer.

What is evident in the above instructions is that the Zen practitioner must tackle this ”no[thing]“ by mobilizing the whole of his or her person in order to delve into the ground of his or her personhood, where the ”whole“ in question involves both the mind and the body, both the consciousness and the unconscious. This is, no doubt, an existential challenge to the Zen practitioners, and so they make an all-out effort, staking life and death, because it guarantees them an embodiment of truth and freedom. In this context, Zen metaphorically speaks of reaching the whole as ”kicking through the bottom of a bucket“ to designate the ground of a person, which Zen understands to be bottomless. That is, it understands this ground to have ”no“ bottom, i.e., it is a bottomless ground. To avoid the danger of interpreting this ground nihilistically or relativisitically, the modern Japanese thinker, Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945) adds that it is absolutely nothing, where ”absolutely“ means cutting off all pairs of polar opposites.

5.3 Zen ”Seeing“

The experiential dimension in which Zen’s ”nothing“ becomes understandable refers to a quiescent state of meditation in which is arrested the activity of an individual practitioner’s ego-consciousness that functions in a close correlation with his or her body. Upon reaching such a meditational state, the Zen practitioner comes to experience an event generally known as ”seeing into one’s nature“ (kenshō), an initial satori experience. Although this phrase may on the surface suggest a dualistic state, namely that there is something that is called ”nature,“ which the Zen practitioner comes to see as an object, it refers to an experiential fact that seeing has turned into one’s nature (according to the interpretation vis-à-vis the acquired enlightenment), or that one’s nature is seeing (according to the interpretation vis-à-vis the original enlightenment). The Zen tradition interprets ”nature“ to be ”buddha-nature,“ i.e., a possibility to be awakened from the fundamental ignorance. That is to say, to become a Buddha, and the way of its being is designated by the term tathatā, suchness or a thing-event’s being such that it is showing its primordial mode of being. When this aspect of knowledge is emphasized, Zen calls it ”original“ or ”natural“ knowledge. In this connection, it contends that the ”seeing“ is ”not two,“ i.e., it is non-dualistic in nature.

To illustrate an experiential basis for the above observation, we may cite another example, namely Dōgen’s enlightenment experience. This will aid the reader to catch a glimpse of an experiential meaning of ”not two,“ for it is descriptive of the experience itself. He expresses it as ”dropping off the body and the mind“ (shinjin datsuraku). (In order to get an idea of this experience from a contemporary point-of-view, or from outside of Zen tradtion, one may also consult out-of-body experiences.) The experience of ”dropping off the body and the mind“ informs us that the dualistic relationship between the mind and the body has disappeared in meditational awareness and by implication ”I“ and others, and ”I“ and nature. Hence they are ”not two.“ If the distinction has disappeared, it implies that the Zen practitioner is thrown into a non-dualistic domain of experience. It points to a practical transcendence from the everyday either-or, ego-logical, dualistic standpoint.

In light of the outer-inner distinction Zen interprets the non-dualistic experience to mean that the distinction has been epistemologically collapsed, as it arises in such a way to respond to the dualistic perspective from which the outer and the inner worlds appeared. It understands this collapsing of the distinction then to be the meaning of ”not two,“ from which an holistic perspective emerges. Conceptually, Zen takes this holistic perspective to mean the de-substantialization and de-ontologization of any two polar concepts, such as one and many, being and non-being, universal and particular, absolute and relative, transcendence and immanence, and birth and death. Zen’s observation is that each of the polar terms is non-dualistically related to each of the other polar terms such that they are connected with, interdependent on, and relative to, each other for their being and meaning. They are thrown into a holistic context of an interdependent causal series. And for this series to be operative, Zen maintains, following Nāgārjuna, that each of these terms that enters the relationship is empty of self-nature, where self-nature means a power to generate itself on its own without dependence on anything. For if thing-events designated by these terms are endowed with self-nature, they cannot enter into the series; what enters such a series is only an accidental attribute or property. According to the substantialistic or essentialistic ontology, nothing can really change. For example, criminals who want to correct their criminal behavior cannot change themselves if being a criminal is the essential characterization of their being. This would pose an insurmountable challenge, if not impossibility, to a correction officer at a prison. Or, for that matter, anyone who wants to correct one’s own psychological characteristic or tendency, particularly if it happens to be pathological, cannot succeed in such self-correction if it is an essential characterization of one’s being.

In order to give a still more concrete sense of what Zen-seeing is like, we now return to the question of how Zen understands the experiential meaning of ”seeing into one’s nature.“ Zen’s contention is that the bottomless ground is that which non-dualistically ”sees“ when the practitioner experiences the state of nothing, (or no-thought and no-image). How then does Zen articulate this ”seeing“? This question points to an examination of the epistemic structure of how knowledge operates in Zen experience. For this purpose, the following Zen dialogue between Jinne and Chōsetsu concerning ”no-thought“ is illuminating. Although it is lengthy, I will quote it in full in order to provide a sense of how a Zen dialogue unfolds:

The disciple asks: What then is it [i.e., no-thought]?

The master replies: It is nothing like ”what is.“ Therefore, we can not explain ”no-thought.“ The reason why I am speaking about it now is because you have asked about it. If you haven’t asked about it, there is no need to explain it. Suppose that there is a clear, transparent mirror. If it does not face a thing, no image is reflected in it. To say that it mirrors an image means that because it faces something, it just mirrors its image.

The disciple asks: If it does not face any thing, is there or is there not a reflection in the mirror?

The master replies: That the mirror reflects a thing means that it always mirrors regardless of whether it is facing or not facing a thing.

The disciple asks: If there is no image and since you do not give an explanation, how can all beings and nonbeings become an issue? Now when you say that it always mirrors, how does it mirror?

The master replies: When I say that the mirror always mirrors, it is because a clear, transparent mirror possesses an original nature as its essential activity of always mirroring things. Analogously, people’s mind is originally undefiled, and naturally possesses a superb light of wisdom that illuminates the perfect world of nirvāna.

The disciple asks: Insofar as people’s minds are originally like that, when do people get it?

The master replies: It just sees nothing.

The disciple asks: When it is nothing, what can it see?

The master replies: Seeing is not like something you can call a thing.

The disciple asks: If it is not like anything one can call a thing, what does it see?

The master replies: it sees no-thing. That is the true seeing. It always sees.

(Yanagita, 1974, 132–3.)

Unlike most Zen dialogues that are often enigmatic and puzzling to those people who stand outside of this tradition, this dialogue provides a kind explanation in elucidating what ”seeing“ is like in Zen experience. This ”seeing“ is said to be ”seeing nothing or no-thing,“ and Jinne speaks of it by appealing to the analogy of a mirror, although he makes a disclaimer that it cannot adequately be explained in words. To get a glimpse of what he means by ”seeing,“ it is helpful to take note of the following points regarding this analogy. Jinne conceives of a mirror in terms of two modalities: the mirror in and of itself and the mirror as it engages an object other than itself. It is important to keep in mind that both are understood in light of their activity. He characterizes the ”original nature“ of the mirror in and of itself as being ”clear, transparent“ (or ”undefiled), wherein it is said to always mirror. “Original” means that it is not contingent on experience, while “always” refers to the mirror’s ceaseless activity of mirroring. Whether “there is” or “there is not” a specific object to mirror is a contingent matter for the mirror in and of itself. What makes a mirror the mirror that it is is its activity of always mirroring, and when considered in and of itself, it possesses no specific image to mirror. There is no characteristic to it and hence no image appearing in it, i.e., “no-thought” or “no-image.” This is the meaning of “no-thing or nothing” in the phrase “seeing no-thing or nothing.” In other words, the mirror is turned into nothing, or to use the earlier phrase, the bottomless ground is nothing except, epistemologically speaking, its capacity to mirror, and even this capacity is rendered “nothing” when it is in no use.

Zen explains the fact that the mirror “just sees no-thing or nothing” when its act of seeing is mobilized in “facing” a thing. The adverb “just” is crucial. “Just” here means without discrimination, without superimposition, without projection, or in short, without positing an ego-consciousness as that which sees. In phenomenological terms, there is no thetic positing in this kind of seeing. Zen maintains that these characterizations obtain because the Zen practitioner “kicked through the bottom of the bucket,” a practical transcendence. In other words, Zen’s contention is that there is no determination whatsoever in the mirror’s activity of “just seeing.” That there is no determination means to Zen that because the bottomless ground is nothing, it does not impose form on things that are mirrored. When these qualifications are taken together, Zen interprets “just seeing no-thing or nothing” to mean seeing or mirroring things without discrimination, that is, with a sense of equality. When a mirror, for example, reflects an image of a beautiful object, it does not make any discriminatory value judgment that it is beautiful. And neither does it make any discriminatory value judgment when it mirrors an ugly object. It mirrors thing-events as they are. That is, the mirror does not take any stance of likes and dislikes; it does not take a stance of “for” or “against.” It is non-egological in mirroring each thing equally. Moreover, Zen observes that the nature of the mirror is such that it does not change due to the kind of object it mirrors. For example, it does not increase or decrease in size in virtue of the fact that it mirrors an object. (Bankei, for example, expresses it as the “unborn.”) It remains as it is in its original nature of always mirroring, which highlights the fact that it is clear and transparent. Because equality is the characteristic of this seeing, Zen speaks of the activity of this seeing as nondiscriminatory. Yet, because an object is mirrored as object, whether beautiful or ugly, Zen considers the act of mirroring to be a “discernment.” Therefore, Zen characterizes the “seeing” in “seeing no-thing or nothing” in its act-aspect as a discernment vis-à-vis nondiscrimination (mubunbetsu no funbetsu). This, Jinne says, is “true seeing,” which is non-discriminatory wisdom (prajñā). The obvious point Zen wants to make through this analogy is that the minds of people are analogously the same in their original nature and activity. Zen summarizes all of the above characteristics of seeing by employing a simple phrase: “motion in stillness” (seichū no dō). However, an objection may be raised contra Zen’s holistic, non-dualistic meaning of its “seeing” or “mirroring,” namely the objection that if there is something that is mirrored, is there not still operative a dualistic epistemological structure? Zen would respond that this objection ignores the fact that the ground of seeing is the bottomless ground that is nothing. What appears against mirror qua nothing is just an object. In such a seeing, the object alone shines forth. Hence, it is characterized, to use Nishida’s terminology, as “seeing without a seer.” Below, we will explore further the structure of how things appear in Zen.

Although it may sound paradoxical, Zen maintains that this ground is also a fount of creativity. Because there is no determination in the ground, it is pregnant with many possibilities or meanings to be realized. Zen maintains, via the influences from philosophical Daoism, that this creativity is in the same order as that of nature, for the practitioner reaches the original source prior to the distinction between the outer world and the inner world. (Hence, Zen understands, as was mentioned in the foregoing, the human being to be “a being-in-nature.”)

It often uses the phrase “no-mind” (Jpn., mushin; Skrt. nirodha-samāpatti) to generally designate the above experiential dimension. However, Zen does not mean it to be a mindless state, much less losing the mind. Nor does it mean a disappearance of the mind. Rather it designates a dimension of experience in which the ego-logically discriminatory activity of the mind disappears. This is, Zen maintains, because the Zen practitioner trans-descends into, and hence transcends, the ego-logically discriminatory activity of the mind which, Zen contends, arises due to adhering to “name-form” (Jpn., myōshiki; Skrt., nāmrūpa). This transcendence results in a rejection of the belief that there is a reality corresponding to a name, or generally that there is a reality corresponding to a linguistic activity. Through the state of no-mind, Zen observes that each individual thing that is mirrored is recognized for the first time to be individual qua the individual with a sense of equality that is due to other individual things.

6. Zen’s Understanding of Time and Space

Given Zen’s seeing as articulated above, one may entertain a natural question: how does Zen understand time and space? Are they significantly different from time and space as conceived by many other theories of time and space? In what follows, we will briefly provide how Zen understands “here and now,” “zero time and zero space,” and “an integrated time and space.”

6.1 Here and Now

In spite of, or rather because of the above-mentioned experiential dimension of Zen-seeing, Zen insists that the Zen practitioner plant his or her feet in the everydayness of “here and now.” In this respect, Zen philosophically advocates a position of “not one.” Otherwise, it fears that if the practitioner remains in the stillness of meditation, while suspending judgment for action, it falls into one-sidedness, a source of prejudice and misunderstanding of reality. How then does Zen understand “here and now”? In this connection, one may reasonably ask: “how far and wide is ‘here’ and how long is ‘now,’” when Zen speaks of “here and now.” Are they each limited by a present perceptual experience? In the case of “now,” for example, is it an internal phenomenon of consciousness that allows the practitioner to experience time sometimes as a “memory” (or retention) and some other times as “anticipation” (or “protention”) in the ever flowing stream of “present” (e.g., St. Augustine, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty)? And in the case of “here,” is it delimited by the practitioner’s spatial range of perception within the sensory field, situating the Zen practitioner as the point of reference? (There is in both cases a suggestion of involvement of the autonomous activity of the unconscious, of which Zen demands we must stand outside.) Zen’s response to both of these questions is a resounding “Yes!” and “No!” however contradictory it may sound. “Yes,” because the practitioner, while living, cannot depart from the “here and now,” because he or she is incarnate, in which case time and space is always experienced as “here and now.” “No,” insofar as the perceptual model implies an ego-logical “human, all too human” stance (Nietzsche) with its attendant limitations, even though Zen does not exclude this model as long as it is not delimited by the dualistic, either-or ego-logical perspective. In the everyday human world that is “here and now,” Zen maintains that “riddhi and [its] wondrous activity all shoulder water and carry firewood” where “riddhi” refers to a power that naturally becomes available to the practitioner through the practice of meditation.

6.2 Zero Time and Zero Space

Yet Zen thinks that the preceding is still a partial understanding of “here and now.” To fully understand it, it is helpful to examine the following often-quoted phrase, as it is particularly illustrative. Zen demands the practitioner “to show one’s original face before one’s parents were born.” This demand points to an experiential dimension prior to the bifurcation between the subject and the object—and hence “not two”—where “prior” means negation of the spatial-temporal ordering principles such as in Kant’s understanding of time and space as a priori forms of intuition. It points to a non-dualistic experiential dimension that is zero time and zero space, by which Zen means that neither time nor space is a delimiting condition for Zen-seeing. In zero time there is no distinction between past, present, and future, or between “before” and “after,”; in zero space there is no distinction between the whole and its parts. One can also say that both time and space, experienced from the point-of-view of the everyday standpoint, is relativized when zero time temporizes and zero space spatializes, where zero time and zero space characterize the bottomless ground. Accordingly, Zen contends that zero time and zero space are the natural and primordial being of all things including human beings, for they are all grounded in it. Taking these points together, the Zen enlightenment experience suggests a leap from a causal temporal series.

Consequently, Zen contends that “here and now” is enfolded in both zero time and zero space. This means that one time contains all times and one part contains the whole, as in the case of a holographic dry plate in which a part contains the whole. Seen in this manner, “now” for the Zen person is a temporalization of zero time, while “here” is equally a spatialization of zero space, even though he or she may be anchored in the perceptual field of “here and now” as understood above. In other words, for the Zen person both “now” and “here” are experienced as an expression of thing-events in their suchness, because, as mentioned in the foregoing, Zen takes zero time and zero space to be the original abode of thing-events. Caution must be exercised here, however. Zen’s zero time should not be confounded with the idea of eternity standing outside a temporal series (e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Newton’s “absolute time”) by means of a logical or intellectual transcendence, nor the zero space to be identified with “absolute space” (e.g., Newton) wherein there is no content of experience. In other words, Zen does not understand time and space by imposing a formal category on them, by presupposing in advance a form-matter distinction, which indicates an operation of the discursive mode of reasoning by appealing to the either-or, dualistic, and ego-logical epistemological structure.

6.3 An Integrated Time and Space

Zen makes another equally important contention through this abstention, namely that time and space are lived as integrated space-time in the interfusion of a concrete temporalization and spatialization. For example, Dōgen speaks of it as “being-time” (u-ji) to indicate their inseparability; being cannot be apart from time, and time cannot be apart from being, where a being spatializes through the process of temporalization, and where it temporalizes through the process of spatialization. This is a concrete spatialization-temporalization that is lived without any intellectual abstraction, reflecting the Buddhist position that everything, excluding no-thing, is impermanent. Zen abhors an intellectual abstraction that merely thinks time and space. This is because the Zen person rides on the rhythm of living nature. That is, “here and now” is one experience (and hence “not two”), and for this reason they should be designated as “here-now.”

In living this integrated, living space-time, Zen does not understand time to be a quantifiable and homogeneously punctuated unit (i.e., the clock time of natural science), nor does it conceive of it as a linear progression from past to future through the present, although it does not exclude them insofar as they are useful for everyday life. The negation of the linear idea of time also includes the negation of the idea of time as symmetrical as well as reversible, because in the Zen experience of space-time, a teleological intentionality, an “in order that,” is absent. Yet, Zen does not accept, time as a “fleeing image of eternity” (i.e., Plato). Zen takes time to be living. According to Zen, theories of time built through conceptual abstraction, are distanced and separate from the immediacy of “here-now.”

Space, too, is neither a container (i.e., Newtown’s “absolute space”) nor an a priori limiting condition (i.e., Kant), nor the place of displacement for the volume of an extended thing (i.e., Aristotle). Rather it is a living space. Dōgen for example captures this sense of space as “the bird flies the sky and the sky flies the bird.” In this statement an independence of both the sky and the bird is recognized, but it also recognizes that the sky and the bird each become themselves only through their interdependence. In other words, what makes this space a living space is the dynamic, interdependent, bilateral play of both bird and sky, from which the living space-time as the continuum of “here-now” emerges as an ambience, where each of the terms entering the relationship through the activity is granted a full recognition of their being. This is because the Zen person lives the dynamic activity of non-dualistic “coming-together” of “the two,” whether this “two” happens to involve the “betweenness” of two individuals, individual and nature, or individual and trans-individual.

6.4 The Structure of Things Appearing

Given Zen’s mode of seeing, which is non-dualistic in nature, occurring in zero time and zero space, one may be curious to raise a question as to how things appear to the Zen mind under these condtitions. We can interpret Zen’s nondualistic experience epistemologically as that experience which arises from a nondiscriminatory state of meditational awareness. To be more specific, the nondiscriminatory awareness means that it is the foundational background, as articulated in the foregoing, that is bottomless or is nothing, and as such it does not participate in the discriminatory activity. However, when a thing appears, a discrimination occurs on this foundational, though, bottomless, background. Because it occurs on this foundation, it does not distort the shape of things to appear along with its force. We designated its activity as discernment vis-à-vis nondiscrimination in the foregoing. Or, it may also be characterized as nondiscriminatory discrimination, in order to capture a sense of how things appear in meditational awareness. In this nondiscriminatory discriminatory awareness, no ego is posited either as an active or a passive agent in constituting things of experience as this awareness renders useless the active-passive scheme as an explanatory model. This awareness lets a thing announce itself as a thing. It is a rejection of the idealist position, e.g., Husserl’s intentionality thesis in which a meaning-bestowing activity is assigned to the act of consciousness. It is also a rejection of the British empiricist’s stance in which the epistemological subject is considered a passive being of tabula rasa upon which attributes are impressed. These implications are suggested because Zen’s nondiscriminatory discriminatory awareness arises out of the state of no-ego in which no projection from the unconscious and no superimposition of intellectual ideas occur in the field of meditative awareness.

Moreoever, because things are experientially “constituted” in this manner, we can interpret the epistemological structure of appearing to be such that things appear in the field of meditative awareness without presupposing the Gestalt psychology’s distinction between foreground and background. This is because the ego is turned into nothing in the state of nondiscriminatory discriminatory awareness, and hence no-ego, where this nothing is paradoxically a background that is not the background at all, because it is a bottomless background. To use Nishida’s terminology again, the nondiscriminatory discriminatory awareness is an act of “seeing without being a seer.” Or, to use the terminology of Phenomenology, the bottomless background or the background of nothing is the stance in which the noetic act is rendered nothing. Accordingly, the noematic object is allowed to announce iteself without an intentional constitution by the latter. This is the meaning of “no projection” and “no superimposition” mentioned above. It consequently opens up a bottomless horizon, on which a noematic object announces itself in toto as a phenomenon.

This opening up simultaneously accompanies, as mentioned in the foregoing, a de-substantialization and de-ontologization of things of experience, because there is no act of the ego that substantializes and ontologizes them; substantialization and ontologization both arise as a consequene of an anthropomorphic activity that is intricately tied to the discursive mode of reasoning. Consequently, we are led to conclude that things of experience announce themselves in toto without concealing anything behind them. This is because there is nothing in the bottomless background to determine or delimit how things appear. Zen uses such terms as “suchness” or “thusness” to designate it. For example, Dōgen captures it by stating in “the Buddha Nature” fascicle that “nothing is concealed in the universe.”

In order to see how the above mentioned structure of appearing operates under the conditions of zero time and zero space, we must capture a sense of a temporal-spatial awareness reflective of the nondualistic experience. In the foregoing, we discussed zero time temporalizing and zero space spatializing in which temporalization is spatialization and spatialization is temporalization, e.g., Dōgens theory of “being-time,” wherein there is no formal separation between temporalization and spatialization. Hence, neither time nor space is conceived to be a container. Rather, they are expressions of things “thinging” the primordial mode of their being. This thinging of things springs from zero time and zero space. One must stand in ground zero to see the “thinging” of things where there is no temporalization and no spatialization of things.

7. Returning to the Everyday “life-world”: Not One

If we are to stop at sketching what Zen-seeing is together with its understanding of time and space as an integrated space-time, Zen fears there occurs a danger of fixing the stance thus “obtained,”—although we must keep in mind that Zen “obtains” the stance of “not two” in such a way that it cannot be obtained, for in the non-dualistic dimension nothing can be “obtained.” However, Zen also recognizes at the same time that any stance that is fixed is one-sided and partial. It will deprive Zen, for example, of an opportunity to utilize Zen-seeing in the actions of everyday life. For this reason, Zen insists that the practitioner move to the stance of “not one.” What then is Zen’s stance of “not one”? This question affords the reader, for the purpose of the present essay, to get a glimpse into Zen’s movement from “not two” to “not one,” although in actuality this movement operates in a dynamic bilateral movement between them. This movement is symbolized in Zen by a circle, an image of the whole, which is also an image of perfection. Insofar as “one” is a negation of “not two,” “not one” then brings the Zen practitioner back to the everyday “life-world,” the world of multiplicity that is ordinarily constructed either-or ego-logically and dualistically.

7.1 Zen Person

For the Zen person, the move from “not two” to “not one” is an issue of concretely instantiating in the everyday “life-world” what is experienced through the stance of “not two.” This point, for example, is well illustrated in the following Zen dialogue between Zen Master Ungen (Chin. Yúnyán, 780–841) and a fellow practitioner, Dōgo (Chin., Dàowú; 769–835). It runs as follows:

Dōgo: Who are you going to serve the tea you are preparing?

Ungen: There is one person who wants it.

Dōgo: Can’t the person who wants it make the tea himself?

Ungen: Fortunately, I am here to do it for him. (Ueda, 1981, 165–66.)

This dialogue points to an activity of “trans-individual qua the individual,” where the “trans-individual” designates a Zen person with nondiscriminatory wisdom, while the “individual” designates those who remain in the everyday “life-world”. (In the above quote, the former is designated by the phrase “one person,” while the latter by the pronoun “you.”) However, in the everyday human “life-world,” the “trans-individual” cannot “make the tea himself,” because he is not incarnate like the individual who remains in the dualistic, either-or ego-logical, everyday standpoint. This is because he or she is one who follows the non-dualistic, non-ego-logical standpoint having practically transcended the former. This creates the dilemma of how to be trans-individual while assuming the form of an individual. If this is not properly dealt with, Zen warns that it results in developing a pathological condition or a mana-personality. For this reason, Ungen says “fortunately ‘I’ am here to do it for him.” Here, Zen conceives of the relationship between the individual and the trans-individual as one, i.e., “not two,” and yet they are “not one.” Insofar as both the trans-individual and the individual refer to the same person (in the above quote, “I”), they are “not two,” but insofar as their stances operate differently, they are “not one” (“I” and “him” in the quote). “Both individual and trans-individual” designates a harmonious assimilation of the two stances, a consequence of which is a person who can avail him or herself of both of these perspectives, i.e., the dualistic world of the everyday life and the non-dualistic world of “not two.” On the other hand, “neither individual nor trans-individual” refers to a person who cannot be pinned down or delimited by linguistic means. In spite of, or because of this, such a person is a carrier of freedom who goes beyond these perspectives, i.e., an person in whom the trans-individual and individual have disappeared in action, in which case the individual qua trans-individual is no longer ordinary, but extraordinary. Yet, he or she is quite ordinary in appearance. All of these points are synthesized into a Zen person.

7.2 Zen’s Freedom

How then does the Zen person, thus understood, live freedom? The term that Zen uses to express the idea of “freedom” is “jiyū” and it consists of two characters; “ji” meaning “self on its own,” while “yū” means “out of.” When they are used together as a compound, the phrase as a whole designates an action arising out of self on its own. This action then carries a sense of spontaneity, much like the spontaneous creative act of living nature. This idea of freedom is foreign to Western intellectual tradition, however. For example, consider how freedom is defined by British empiricists like John Locke. According to Locke, freedom (or to be specific, liberty) is defined as a lack or absence of external constraint. According to this model, freedom is to express an ego-desire save in the name of will arising from an individual in “the state of nature” where and when there is no external constraint. By contrast, because it arises out of the self on its own, where the self in Zen is a groundless ground that is nothing, Zen’s free action is not delimited by ego-desire, because it arises out of nothing. It “kicks through the bottom of the bucket,” that is, it purifies all the “defilements” interlaced with the activity of the ego-consciousness, as well as the personal and collective unconscious. For this reason, there is no issue involved in the Zen person’s action that addresses the will of ego-consciousness. For what motivates the Zen person to action is a thrust he or she feels, surging from the creative source in the bottomless ground. Moreover, the Zen person does not experience, as Nietzsche has it, “bad-faith” or “self-deception” when explaining a motivation for action as a rationalist would, because a rationalist must rationalize an irrational desire rooted in the body and the unconscious. (See, for example, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.)

Does this mean then that the Zen person has eliminated the demand of instincts or desires? If they are eliminated, the Zen person would turn into a living corpse. Such a person can perform no action, let alone a free action. Obviously then, the Zen person does not eliminate them, but rather transforms them into “non-defilements,” into a higher spiritual energy. We see a heightened spirituality upheld by Zen master Baso (Chin., MÄzū; 709–788), which he insists to be concretely expressed in the everyday “life-world.” He expresses it by phrasing it: “the mind as it is is the way.” (Yanagita, 1974, 147.) This statement, “the mind as it is is the way” (heijōshin kore michi) is sometimes rendered in English as “the everyday mind is the way.” This rendition can be misleading if we ignore Baso’s qualification that this “everyday mind” operates without defilements such that it is not “[entrenched in the samsāric cycle] of birth and death,” and moreover that it is not dominated by a teleological intentionality, i.e., it negates the “in order that.” Otherwise, there is a danger of interpreting Baso’s statement as promoting an evil naturalism. That is, whatever a person desires in the state of “nature,” i.e., “the everyday mind,” is the expression of the Way. There is no problem of a misinterpretation then, as long as Baso’s “everyday mind” is understood to mean the mind which is freed from “the samsāsric cycle of birth and death,” and yet it is the mind which is concretely instantiated in the everydayness of a human everyday “life-world.”

Let us see how Baso’s idea of “the mind as it is is the way” is carried to a highly artistic action, whether it be a performance technique of martial artist, dancer, actor/actress or musician. Takuan’s reflection on this point is illuminating. He speaks of a “nondiscriminatory knowledge” realized in action as “immovable wisdom”: “It [immovable wisdom] moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.” (Takuan, 1986.) Zen’s free action is predicated on the fact that the mind “does not stop at all,” what Takuan paradoxically calls “immovable wisdom.” Here one can discern an echo of Jinne’s mirror analogy. Takuan calls it “immovable” because the mind remains absolutely still (i.e., not two) in the midst of action, like the stationary shaft of a top. Such a mind does not fluctuate in its center, in the deep region of psyche. In this state, because the mind moves in such a way that it does not dwell on anything, there is no obstruction for the mind to move freely.

Generally Zen describes the freedom of bodily movement as “stillness in motion” (dōchū no sei) and is contrasted with “motion in stillness.” It is noteworthy that “stillness in motion” cannot accurately be analyzed by appealing to the active-passive scheme, which presupposes a dichotomy as a proper method for understanding. However contradictory it may seem, this is a description of how Zen understands its freedom as expressed through an integrated mind and body. In order for this sense of freedom to be embodied, however, Zen emphasizes that a performer of any kind repeatedly undergoes mind-body training. Takuan calls this the “body’s learning,”—that is the core meaning of self-cultivation—because in “body’s learning,” both the mind and the body are brought to action in one integrated whole. (The “body’s learning,” neurophysiologically speaking, is closely related to an activity of the cerebellum in conjunction with the hippocampus, although it is not only that.) When a skill or performing technique is learned through this method, one’s own body moves freely as it is habituated to move without waiting for a command from the mind. This describes a freedom of action in a Zen person for whom the mind is completely assimilated into the object-body, while the body is equally rendered into the subject-body. They are one. At such a time, Takuan says, a spiritual life-energy of psychophysiological nature, called “ki,” permeates “one’s body”—an energy that cannot be delineated by either the mind or the body. (Yuasa, 1993) In this connection, Zen also speaks of Zen’s free action as a purposeless purpose, as an actionless action, for neither the purpose nor the action arises from the everyday consciousness which sets up a purpose or a goal for action. Zen calls it “samādhi-at-play,” where there is no individual qua the trans-individual, but what there is is just “play,” for the Zen person is absorbed in the activity when engaging a thing of the everyday “life-world.” In short, Zen freedom designates a term of achievement. What Zen says of freedom of action has an implication for every action people perform in daily life, from the simple act of opening a door to the magnificent play of a great athlete or performer of any kind. In them, Zen contends however, the spirituality of a performer must be expressed. Zen extends an invitation to all of us to act in this way, so that the quality of life will be enhanced with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, free from stress and anxiety.

8. Concluding Remarks

This essay has articulated a Zen Philosophy, though as anti-philosophy, by thematizing such topics as “overcoming dualism,” “Zen-seeing,” “Zen’s understanding of time and space,” “Zen person,” and “Zen freedom,” in which process is noted a sense of the movement from “not two” to “not one.” This was to indicate Zen’s sense of achieving personhood. Zen’s methods of meditative practice are concrete ways for an individual to become a Zen person by awakening to the fundamental reality in the everyday human “life-world.” In so doing, it teaches to participate in the whole, and to express freedom in daily action, by showing one’s “original face” right here-now and right in front of one’s eyes.

In closing this essay, a cautionary remark is in order, however: all of the preceding accounts are simply a heuristic way of conceptually articulating Zen philosophy. Or to use a Zen phrase, this conceptual articulation is only “a finger pointing to the moon,” where Zen insists that there should not be a confounding of the moon with a finger. In Zen language, the moon metaphorically designates an experience of enlightenment and the finger a linguistic or reflective endeavor.

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