Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

30 Jun 2020


Flight to Tel Aviv: I have been reading Sapiens, and reached almost the of the book now. I have just finished reading his discussion of happiness; in which he writes particularly of the Buddhist understanding of the concept. It is close to the one I find in Yoga philosophy, though I would phrase it differently. I think that happiness is the state normally found when consciousness rests in the present moment and is not in a condition of resistance to it. In other words, the mind is at peace. In a moment that we are caught off-guard by beauty, such as when one opens the curtains to behold a golden sunrise, the mind is "enraptured", if only for a moment, perhaps. Something comes between our thoughts of the past, our memories, regrets; and our plans hopes and desires for the future, so that we know peace, for a fleeting moment.

Similarly, when we satisfy a desire or fulfill a dream, we touch on our peace by being focused on the pleasure, rather than thinking of the past or the future. Conversely, if the present moment is full of pain, and we resist the pain, we amplify it. But if, on the other hand, we are able to feel pain but also accept it, then we can still be at peace. Buddhists would say that we should simply observe the comings and goings of painful and pleasurable thoughts. The issue I have with this is that it then becomes a mental process, and is based on the division of subject and object. But here there is a problem. Except through an analytical process, it is not possible to achieve true equanimity while there is this rational discrimination.

July 1, 2020

Well, it is subtle. I'm not sure that the Buddhist attitude is so different. There is a slight difference in attitude between saying that the self (or anything) is "empty of a separate existence" and saying that "the (individual) self (atman) is the self of everything (brahman)". My axe to grind is that our observation is flawed, because it fails to take into account that there is a substratum in which the existence of one "thing" is the existence of the whole, so that the objects or separate selves are only superficially separate. And so our observation of the universe is flawed at the most fundamental level: it does not take into account the most important factor. So even Sapiens, as a book, though it speaks of our speciesism and our failure to take into account the environmental concerns, does not see as a basic truth that it is simply impossible not to take into account the connection between the self and the other.

It is not exactly that the self (me) and the table are "connected" or (heaven forbid) one and the same, but that we share a common basis, a common existence, that gives "life" to both of us. The table is "illusory", so long as I do not take into account the observational fallacy and the underlying common existence; because otherwise what I see is only part of the truth, and part of the truth equals a total lie. Not practically, because I am in fact using the table in order to rest this notebook on and write these words, but philosophically, existentially. Existentially, it changes everything: my stance, my attitute, but also, something much more fundamental and beyond our subjectivity. It is the way in which the universe functions. A universe of separate objects would never actually work, could not exist.

Harari speaks, for example, of the absence of an intelligent designer.He speaks of a lack of purpose behind the universe. This is inaccurate. There is no designer who stands outside of it - that's true, but there is, absolutely, intelligence and good design in the universe. The universe is a manifestation of intelligence. A human who tries to design a better variety of corn, or an automobile, will fail miserably if he is unable to take into account the natural "laws" of physics, chemistry, or biology, which are his palette. And, anyway, to the extent that he fails to take into account the full environmental impact of his "creation", he will cast a fly in the ointment, a spanner in the works, of the total design.

Harari is right that environmental "destruction" is a misnomer. It is actually "change", but, in so far as this species is concerned, destruction of the biosphere will be the end of the road. Some other species may come along, perhaps, to take our place, and the place of countless other species that we have made extinct. Or not. The real universe, that which exists behind this one, is like a child's magnetic toy that constantly recombines in new ways. You knock down the cathedral you have so carefully constructed, and the pieces recombine to make a spaceship. Nothing is destroyed, but conditions are changed. Does it matter? It matters greatly to homo sapiens. The species can only function within a certain habitat.

Our failure is in not understanding how to coexist within our habitat in a sustainable way. We don't have to worry about the universe not being able to put right any mistakes that we make. It will, but not necessarily in a way that is favourable to our species. Since, despite our bluster and self-importance, the universe will go on anyway without us. Not entirely without us, because we will continue. Just not in a form that is recognisable to us.

The question is whether or not our progress towards self-destruction (or change) is inevitable? It may be inevitable according to our nature as human beings. But Harari points out that civilization is cultural. The culture can be changed. The energies that drive us can be harnessed in completely different ways. We can change the way in which we live on the planet if we want to, so the apocalpyse is not inevitable.

Tags: spiritual-life
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