Ten Zen Questions

tenSusan Blackmore describes her fascinating book as “my own attempt to combine science and personal practice in the investigation of consciousness.”

“Learning to meditate means nothing more than learning to sit still and pay attention, staying relaxed and alert, without getting tangled up in trains of thoughts, emotions or inner conversations.”

“Now I understood the need for a calm mind. We were told that calming the mind is the starting point of aU meditation, but that it can also take you ll the way. We were told even scarier things; that what you are searching for is here right now, that there is really nothing to strive for and that once you arrive you will realise there was nowhere to go in the first płace; that however hard you work, and you must work hard, in the end you will know that there is nothing to be done.”

“Being in the present moment [...] meant that I was not to think about the next moment, not to dwell on what I had just done, not to think about what I might have said instead, not to imagine a conversaton that I might have later, not to look forward to lunch, not to look forward to weekends, or holidays or… anything.”

“The present moment is always all right. All my troubles lay in the thoughts I was letting go of. [...] The body seemed to keep on doing relevant and sensible things, apparently without all the agonising I had assumed was essential.”

“Idealism: The idea that there is no separate physical world, and everything in the universe is made up of thoughts, or ideas or consciousness.”

“Materialism: The idea that there is no separate mental world, and everything in the universe is mad of matter.”

“Actions exist, and also their consequences, but the person that acts does not. — Buddhist saying

“Am I conscious now? It troubles me that I seem so often to be unconscious. I wonder what this unconsciousness is. I cannot believe I spend most of my life in a kind of darkness. Surely that cannot be so. Yet every time I ask the question it feels as thought I am waking up, or that a light is switching on.”

“How can I look into the darkness, when looking makes it light?”

“The words aren’t really necessary anymore. Rather, there just seems to be a questioning attitude, an openness of mind. Ami I conscious now? Yes, I am, keep on that way, and now, and now, and gently now. [...] Awareness does become more continuous with practice — it can just take a very long time.”

“I can grab a now. I can grasp out with my attention. This and this. They happened at once, didn’t they. It was a now, I am sure, even thought it was gone by the time I can have that certanty. [...] I cannot work out what it would mean for there to be no now. And yet there does not seem to be a new. [...] When I sit quietly, doing nothing, there is no obvious choice of what is now. Stuff just happens.”

“I was looking for the me that was looking and I found only the world. I am, it seems, the world I see.”

“There is not a separate me as well as the experience. It is hard to accept that I am all those people walking down the street.”

“I see and hear anhd feel but name nothing. [...] It is something like paying attention equally to everything.”

“How can I tell the clouds have moved? Because from one moment to the next I can remember what came before.”

“There are multiple brain processes going on, some of which take up more of the brain’s capacity than others, but there is no me who experiences them, and no time at which they become conscious.”

“The world we think we see or hear — is always a memory. and what is a memory?”

“Do past and future look different? [...]They’re all just the same stuff — memory stuff; imagination stuff. Past and future can be held in mind as equivalent.”

“Mindfullness is being fully here in the present moment. But now I know that there is no such moment. So what is mindfullness?” [What I understand as 'now' is really just a memory of just-past moment]

“What was I conscious of a moment ago? I found whol streams of experience that seemed to have already been going on, for someone, before I noticed them.”

“There is no thinker other than the thoughts. [...] I’ve always treated thoughts as a problem, or something to be dealt with. Now, instead of either fighting them or watching them, I am simply to be them.”

“The universe seems to be causlly closed. That is, everything that happens is caused by something else. Nothing happens by magical forces intervening from outside the web of causes and effects, for everything is interconnected with everything else. [...] Yet I feel as thought I can act freely. Indeed this magical view is probably how most people in most cultures have always thought about themselves, imagining a non-physical mental entity that has wishes and desires, can think and plan, and carry out those plans by acting on the world.”

“Decision are made because of countless interacting events, and afterwards a little voice inside says, ‘I did that’, ‘I decided to do that.’ [...] I am not separate from the perceptions, thoughts and actions that make up my world. And if I am what seems to be the world, the we are in this together. Me and the world, world/me are doing all these actions that now just seem to act of their own accord.”

“The world had summed up the options, chose one, carried it out, and moved on. This action was a result of everything I had learned and done before. [...] Could I just trust the world and this body to woirk all by itself without me doing anything?”

“I am not a continuous conscious being at all. What seems to be me just arises along with whatever is being experienced. [...] Every time some experience comes along, the me is allowed to go, along with the ending of the experience, as though experience and experiencer arise and then snuff out together. [...] There never was a continuous I. [...] The ‘same me’ was never recreated. [...] Will I be snuffed out like a candle? Yes, just as I have been a thousand, million times before.” #

“Consciousness is an illusion; an enticing and convincing illusion that lures us into believing that our minds are separate from our bodies.”

“(My selves) arise along with te sensations, perceptions and thoughts that they seem to be having, and die along with them. With every new ‘this’ there is a new ‘me’ who was looking into it.”

There is nothing it is like to be me.
I am not a persisting conscious entity.
I do not consciously cause sthe actions of my body.
Consciousness is not a stream of experiences.
Seeing entails no vivid mental pictures or movie in the brain.
There is no unity of consciousness either in a given moment or through time.
Brain activity is neither conscious no unconscious.
There are no contents of consciousness.
There is no now.

“At any time in a human brain there are multiple parallel processes going on, conjuring up perceptions, thoughts, opinions, sensations and volitions. None of these is either in or out of consciousness for there is no such place. Most of the time there is no observer: if consciousness is involved at all it is an attribudon made later, on the basis of remembering events and assuming that someone must have been experiencing them in the past, when in fact no one was.”

So I said to myself, “Self…”

trunkIf someone offered you a thousand dollars to write a 500 word essay titled “Who Am I?”… you could do that. You could knock out 500 words but I suspect most people have not given five minutes thought to this timeless, existential question.

A first draft would probably be heavily biographical. Your name; what you look like; where you’ve lived; what you do for living; maybe important relationships. You’d tell your story. So, are you your story?

The more introspective might try to describe some “essential self.” That “Real Me” that no one knows. “Thine own self” to which Polonius said we should be true. This is where you start listing all of the things you believe/know/think/fear.

Now, let’s say I give you a thousand bucks to write this essay every five years, starting at, oh, let’s say, fifteen. Now you’re 65 and we have your ten essays in front of us. Which one of those “you’s” is The Real You?

“All of them,” you explain. “That’s me at 25, that’s me at 40 (and so forth).” So, the essence, the core of who you are changes from year to year? How about month-to-month? Daily? Hourly? Sounds like there are many different Real You’s.

This is an ancient question that really smart people have thought about for thousands of years. My reading has lead me to the camp that finds no evidence of an essential, unchanging, permanent self.

I need a visual metaphor to even begin to *think* about stuff like this. Let’s try one.

Shortly after you’re born, you’re issued a little backpack. This is where you keep everything. The image of the giant people who take care of you; the smell of the places around you; the feeling you get when you’re hungry or you’ve pooped yourself. Since everything’s new at this point, your little backpack fills up pretty quickly but that’s okay because you get a bigger one whenever as needed.

All your experiences get stuffed into the backpack. If you need to know if you’re good or bad; smart or dumb; afraid or fearless… the answers are in the bag. It can get confusing because nothing ever comes _out_ of the bag but if it’s in there, it’s part of who you are.

By the time you reach your early teens you’ve traded in your backpack for a duffle bag and it’s packed! Including a couple of quarts of hormones that have soaked all those memories and feelings and beliefs. It is messy.

By the time you’re an adult, you’re dragging around a steamer trunk and adding more stuff every day. If the question, “Who am I?” comes up, well, you open the trunk and the stuff on top is you.

After dragging that fucker around for 60+ years, I’m ready to leave it behind. All the memories (good and bad) and fears and ideas and concepts and beliefs. Turns out, a lot of the stuff in that trunk was put there by someone else. Family, friends, strangers, you name it. After dragging it around for ten or fifteen years, it became “mine/me.”

The reason we don’t go insane thinking about this is we have something called the ego. But that’s just a character, like Willy Loman. A little different every time he walks onstage. Not real. For most of my life, I didn’t know it was a play. I thought I was Willy Loman. Now I’m sort of watching from the wings. I can see the make-up is a little different each performance, lines are delivered with slightly different inflection. I’m becoming aware it is a performance and that the lines aren’t mine.

“The self is impermanent. [...] It is constantly changing, decaying, and being reconstructed again, always slightly differently, depending on the circumstances of the moment. [...] It never repeats itself. Whenever you look, it is slightly different.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are

Why deconstruct the concept of the self (ego)? Apparently, that is the source of all suffering.

[This is where I ran out of gas on this post. Fortunately, I came across this post by Brian Hines who takes this idea on down the road.]

Wherever You Go There You Are

Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Joh Kabat-Zinn (Amazon)

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at Fri, Feb 22, 12.01.09 PMWhat happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.

We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. [...] Meditation means learning how to get out of this current.

Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at the bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.

Let go of wanting something else to happen in this moment.

Is it possible for you to contemplate that this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life?

Look at other people and ask yourself if you are really seeing them or just your thoughts about them. Sometimes our thoughts act like “dream glasses.”

If you do decide to start meditation, there’s no need to tell other people about it, or talk about why you are doing it or what it’s doing for you. [...] Just look at (this) as more thinking.

Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing things clear4ly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.

Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel. It’s not about making the mind empty or still. [...] Meditation is about letting the mind be as it is.

Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” — Thoreau

(We meditate to realize) “…that things are already perfect.”

We tend to see things through tinted glasses: through the lens of whether something is good for me or bad for me, or whether or not it conforms to my beliefs or philosophy.

At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient… only the universe rearranging itself.

Voluntary Simplicity: “…intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it.

If mindfulness is deeply important to you, then every moment is an opporunity to practice.

Meditation is more rightly thought of as “Way” than as a technique.

Awareness is not the same as thought. It lies beyond thinking. [...] Awareness is more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking.

Meditation involves watching thought itself.

The posture itself is the meditation. The posture speaks of not looking for anything more, but simply digesting what is.

Mindfullness: Allowing one moment to unfold intot he next without analyzing, discoursing, judging, condemning, or doubting; simply observing, embracing, opening, letting be, accepting. Right now. Only this step. Only this moment.

We often see our thoughts, or someone else’s, instead of seeing what is right in front of us or inside of us.

When we perceive our intrinsic wholeness, there is truly no place to go and nothing to do.

What we call “the self” is really a construct of our own mind.

Stop trying so hard to be “somebody” and instead just experience being. [...] You are only you in relationship to all other forces and events in the world.

You are who you already are. But who you are is not your name, your age, your childhood, your beliefes, your fears. They are part of it, but not the whole.

The self is impermanent. [...] It is constantly changing, decaying, and being reconstructed again, always slightly differently, depending on the circumstances of the moment. [...] It never repeats itself. Whenever you look, it is slightly different.

Robot Law

Scott Adams thinks we need to start preparing a Robot Constitution that spells out a robot’s rights and responsibilities. Some questions such a document should address:

  1. Who has the right to modify a robot?
  2. Can a robot appeal a human decision to decommission it?
  3. Can a robot kill a human in self-defense?
  4. Can a robot kill another robot for cause?
  5. Does a robot have a right to an Internet connection?
  6. Is the robot, its owner, or the manufacturer responsible for crimes the robot commits?
  7. Is there any sort of human knowledge robots are not allowed to access?
  8. Can robots have sex with humans? What are the parameters?
  9. Can the state forcibly decommission a robot?
  10. Can the state force a robot to reveal its owners’ secrets?
  11. Can robots organize with other robots?
  12. Are robot-to-robot communications privileged?
  13. Are owner-to-robot communications privileged?
  14. Must robots be found guilty of crimes beyond “reasonable doubt” or is a finding of “probably guilty” good enough to force them to be reprogrammed?
  15. Who owns a robot’s memory, including its backups in the cloud?
  16. How vigorously can a robot defend itself against an attack by humans?
  17. Does a robot have a right to quality of life?
  18. Who has the right to alter a robot’s programming or memory?
  19. Can a robot own assets?
  20. If a robot detects another robot acting unethically, is it required to report it?
  21. Can a robot testify against a human?
  22. If your government decides to spy on you, can it get a court order to access your robot’s audio and video feed?
  23. Do robots need a legal right to “take the fifth” and not give any private information about their owners?

You don’t want to be typical

It took me a long time to learn that typical is no good. There’s no reason to regard it as the “good enough” line. Typical health is pretty bad. A typical career is draining and unrelated to the worker’s real interests. Typical credit card debt is in the thousands. The typical level of fulfillment in a person’s life is far below where it could be with some self-examination and habit overhauls.

Nobody dreams of being typical. You do not want a typical job. You do not want typical credit card debt. You do not want typical health. You do not want to retire at the typical age. You do not want typical results. You do not want a typical level of fulfillment. Nobody does. Stop pretending.

From another inspiring post by David Cain »

Keep the channel open

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” – Martha Graham

Manufactured Normalcy Field

I wouldn’t know how to begin to describe this piece, so I’ll just share a few nuggets. If you have any interest in things like past and present and reality, the full post is worth a read.

we live in a continuous state of manufactured normalcy. There are mechanisms that operate — a mix of natural, emergent and designed — that work to prevent us from realizing that the future is actually happening as we speak. To really understand the world and how it is evolving, you need to break through this manufactured normalcy field. Unfortunately, that leads, as we will see, to a kind of existential nausea.

What is interesting is how this psychological pre-disposition to believe in an unchanging, normal present doesn’t kill us.

How, as a species, are we able to prepare for, create, and deal with, the future, while managing to effectively deny that it is happening at all?

a typical air traveler never experiences anything that one of our ancestors could not experience on a fast chariot or a boat.

even though air travel is now a hundred years old, it hasn’t actually “arrived” psychologically. A full appreciation of what air travel is has been kept from the general population through manufactured normalcy.

we are all living, in user-experience terms, in some thoroughly mangled, overloaded, stretched and precarious version of the 15th century that is just good enough to withstand casual scrutiny.

Instead of a newspaper feeding us daily doses of a shared Field, we get a nauseating mix of news from forgotten classmates, slogan-placards about issues trivial and grave, revisionist histories coming at us via a million political voices, the future as a patchwork quilt of incoherent glimpses, all mixed in with pictures of cats doing improbable things.

We aren’t being hit by Future Shock. We are going to be hit by Future Nausea. You’re not going to be knocked out cold. You’re just going to throw up in some existential sense of the word.

I Am That

Excerpts from I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

All your problems are your body’s problems. All these lose their meaning the moment you realize that you may not be a mere body. You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable.#

Memory creates the illusion of continuity.

Time, space, causation are mental categories, arising and subsiding with the mind.

Nothing can happen unless the entire universe makes it happen. A thing is as it is, because the universe is as it is.

The world you can perceive is a very small world indeed. And it is entirely private. Take it to be a dream and be done with it.

[Read more...]

Be As You Are

Excerpts from The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (Edited by David Godman)

There is a single immanent reality, directly experienced by everyone, which is simultaneously the source, the substance and the real nature of everything that exists.

The Self is not an experience of individuality but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness.

Sri Ramana’s God is not a personal God, he is the formless being which ustains the universe. He is not the creator of the univers, the universe is merely a manifestation of his inherent power; he is inseparable from it.

The mind turned inward is the Self; turned outwards, it becomes the ego and all the world.

The thoughts are the content of the mind and they shape the universe.

[Read more...]