Question: Your book has stunned me (even after a long lifetime of ‘non-duality’ practices) and even though it often seemed like a dream or a game we are all playing I have felt compelled to play, to concede. The nagging question is “is the dream Real, as a dream? Is the illusion, since it occurs, Real as an illusion? For surely even a virtual reality exists, a movie exists even though it isn’t a ‘true’ story. Or am I using logic where it can’t apply? Must we surrender every last drop of common sense, logic and understanding we have ever been exposed to? Including the science you write about?
Response: You’ve long been acquainted with the two truths. What may be left is the recognition that these are not two. Is the dream real? Can’t say yes; can’t say no. Real enough to appear real. It’s Real, then? Can’t say yes; can’t say no. Reality is Illusion (p. 61). Though It appears as many, in Totality It seems as One. There is no point in asking, which is it? Nor is there any need to surrender anything. Common sense and logic can be useful in the everyday world. As for understanding, conceptual understanding is often useful as well—in a limited sphere…as long as we don’t grip it too tightly, or put too much on it. Complete Understanding, on the other hand, we’ve never been without. We only need to wake up. To just see.
Question: On page 66 you say that Virgil “had no idea what he was seeing. He had no ready-made CONCEPT to interpret the sight, all a meaningless blur.”
It seems you are saying that without a concept, perception would be meaningless, a blur. Yet it seems that one of the points of the book is to perceive before we interpret perception through concepts.
It seems to be a contradiction. I'm sure I missing something you are saying or interpreting it wrong[ly]. Would you clarify the seeming contradiction?
Response: First, your “quote” above, from page 66 of The Grand Delusion, mixes my words with those of Oliver Sacks (please see text). It was Oliver Sacks who wrote that Virgil “had no idea what he was seeing” (I only emphasized his word, “idea”), that it was “all meaningless, a blur.” Nevertheless, you made an observation worth exploring.
All I am pointing out, using Oliver Sacks’ story as an example, is that perception, prior to conception, is indeed meaningless, if not a blur. Meaning is in how we conceptualize experience. It’s not in actual direct experience itself, only in how we interpret immediate, direct experience. And we do so by relying on past conceptualized experience—i.e., on memories—which consists mainly of mentally constructed pictures, ideas, thoughts, opinions, inclinations, beliefs, and so on.
I’m not sure why you feel this contradicts what I’m otherwise saying in The Grand Delusion other than the possibility that you may be unwittingly holding to the belief that correct understanding of the world necessarily comes through meaning—that is, that it comes to us through conceptual understanding. One of the main points of my book is to show that it is this very knee-jerk thought-habit of ours that keeps us perpetually locked in confusion—hence, delusion. We need to wake up to what we’re doing and flip this around. Unimpeachable understanding of Reality is in direct perceptual experience alone and not in what we otherwise make of direct perceptual experience.
Question: So the objectless whole (Awareness) appearing simultaneously as apparent fragmentation (Consciousness) has an illusory quality?
And to fall into the trap of believing in the existence of things as separate or self-existing is delusion?
And to 'see' through the illusion is to 'know' truth and is what we call awakening?
Response: Basically, yes. But it’s a matter of actually seeing and not merely holding to an idea, a concept, or a belief.
[If I may revise your questions, it might bring us a little closer to what I’m actually saying “yes” to:
1st Q revised: So Wholeness (Awareness), in appearing as fragmentation (per consciousness), is Illusion? Response: Yes.
2nd & 3rd Qs, merged and revised: And to see Illusion is to know Truth? Response: Yes. It may be helpful to note, however, that this has always been the case, and is the case with “you” even now. It’s how awakening is possible.]
Question: Totality, Wholeness, Nonsubstantiality—you are surely referencing now, are you not? (Now is defined in your glossary as …without time. Not to be contrasted with “then,” or confused with “the present moment,” which appear only within the context of time. Both “now” and “then” are concepts; now is not. Now alludes to objectless Reality.)
Is this not (‘the’) now that is never not here, that cannot be conceptualized, that we all live, all of the time, the only inescapable and effortless universal? Am I understanding correctly?
Response: “Yes” to your first question. It’s my basic response to your second question as well, except that I would make an effort to avoid the word “time” in this context. Nor would I use the word “only,” since here is of the same nature as now.
Question: If you are a sincere seeker in the West, where should you go to meditate and “study” truth? (Also, I’m a very conceptually driven person, as we all are, so I appreciate you telling me to stop conceptualizing in the book).
Also, I’m studying to become a neuroscientist. You mentioned in the book you mentioned to a physicist how you wrote a paper arguing for the primacy of mind over matter, and you got laughed at, being told soon we’ll have conscious robots. I imagine this viewpoint is even more rampant in neuroscience, and I tend to keep my mouth shut. Do you have advice for scientists who believe in “mind over matter”? I feel it’s unethical to keep my mouth shut if I want to be a scientist who stands up for truth, but I’m also not sure how to not make other scientists angry.
Response to ¶1: It is not possible to seek Truth since Truth is all we ever directly experience. It’s a matter of seeing (perceiving) not seeking (conceptualizing). As for “study,” practicing meditation with one who has eyes is paramount. (I don’t actually tell you to stop conceptualizing in the book but only to recognize when you do. Meditation, when properly carried out, will take care of this.)
Response to ¶2: If believers in matter over mind challenge you, ask them about “the hard problem.” If they get angry because they can’t even approach it, it’s certainly not your fault. You might, however, be able to help them recognize that it’s actually an FEQ.
Question: Death and the state of the one who dies was scarcely addressed in this book, yet (and speaking personally) it is a source of great anxiety for many.
I understand from the book that the appearance of being a person who will die is itself a mistake, that there exists no such person in Reality. But it nevertheless is a given that experience seems to be from a point of view, seems to be localized to this individual person that I appear to be. And it is also an apparent given that other persons pass away, never to return. But if as you suggest (and as I hope, in honesty) that awareness is not produced by the brain, this implies that bodily death is not the end of awareness. But the postmortem state could not be from this perspective either. Could you speak to this?
Response to ¶ 1: On the contrary, the matter of death is completely and unequivocally resolved over the course of the book—just not directly. Near the beginning of Chapter 5 you’ll find the question, “What happens when I die?” In the next few exchanges with ANYONE I point out that this, and many other vexing questions (far more than are listed in the book), are based on a false assumption—namely, that of substantiality. Helping you see what is false about this assumption is what the book is about. In directly seeing the actual human predicament in Totality, instead of forming ideas about it, the issue of death, and virtually all other existential questions, are entirely put to rest.
Response to ¶ 2: I go to great pains in the book to remind readers that we can’t say “is,” we can’t say “is not.” Thus, nowhere in the book do I indicate that “the appearance of being a person who will die is…a mistake,” or that “there exists no such person in Reality.” But it certainly appears that people exist and then pass away. Just as it also appears, as I note in the last two paragraphs of Chapter 19, that conceptualized experience generally “seems to be from a point of view” localized in an individual person. I also point out in the book, that it appears that other entities—other people, plants, animals, rocks, trees, clouds, stars—seem to come and go, never to return. Thus, direct perception, as opposed to indirect conception, reveals no “postmortem state,” whatever that could possibly mean.
If you click on the Home page link above, scroll down and then click on the Wednesday study group link, you’ll find recordings of talks and discussions that might help you with the concerns you raise here. In particular, you might want to click on the “Pay Attention,” and “The Self Illusion” links. Once there, you may also want to scroll up to the Dharma Field menu bar and click on TALKS. From there, click on Recent Talks. Then click on the talk titled, “Not Knowing Your Name,” where I directly speak to your concerns.
Question: Is it correct to phrase things as follows? The belief in substantiality is the belief in the thing called a thing—the thing itself. The belief that there is such a thing as a thing. The sentence looks absurd as I type it—but my point is, before we start saying statements like “this is a cup, that is a book”—underneath those phrases is the belief that there actually are things—any things—that a thing itself is even a possibility in Reality. So, to go on, a thing is never more than a concept. And to go on, there appears to be no sign of a thing in Reality—there is no evidence of a thing. In other words, (and to play with this a little) Reality doesn’t speak English! It doesn’t deal in things. Ultimately this is why things, when entertained, seem mysterious (linking back to my question posted on Feb 28). Their mysterious[ness] stems from their unreality.
Response: Yes, the belief in substantiality is simply the belief that there actually is Something rather than Nothing. Though I won’t say that I disagree with anything you’ve written above, I might have worded things a little differently. At a minimum, I would have changed your final word to “nonsubstantiality.”
Question: There feels to me something still subtly conceptual about perceiving. As if, perceiving is still governed by background concepts of, for instance, senses, shapes, stimuli and so forth. Perhaps I’m referring to the deeply held, invisible beliefs and assumptions about perception and a self that perceives. I wonder if a further distinction can be made between perceiving and Knowing—the Knowing of the immediate “clear-as-day-right-in-front-of-you-ness.” Could we say, perhaps, that Knowing is even more bare of conceptualization than perceiving? (I understand this is all language so it’s more what I’m trying to point to than the words themselves).
If I may go on a little, is it the case that what we are really engaged in here, is the clarification and unknotting of concepts? It feels as I spend more time in Knowing, and more time in daily meditation, my conceptualizing is being simplified and slightly adjusted to be less at odds with perceiving, while still being seen as conceptualizing nevertheless. In this sense, Knowing is left to carry on Knowing as it always has done, perhaps shining through a little more often because of the tidier, le[ss] conflicted mindscape. So, Enlightenment never happens as an event because it really is the same thing as this Knowing that is already here. And this Knowing is one in the same as Reality and Mind.
Response to ¶1: Yes, what you’re referring to as “perceiving” still feels conceptual to you because you’re caught in thinking—invisible beliefs and assumptions, as you put it. It is best not to try to make further distinctions between perceiving and knowing since this is to continue to rely on the conceptual. In other words, to say “that [knowing] is even more bare of conceptualization than perceiving” is further conceptualization. If you do that, you won’t want to stop there. Sooner or later you’ll want to make an even finer distinction. There is no end to this unless you just stop and wake up to what you’re doing—or even desiring to do. You seem to sense this yourself in your parenthetical phrase at the end of your first paragraph.
Response to ¶2: No. We’re not “really engaged in the clarification and unknotting of concepts” in The Grand Delusion. That might very well occur if one reads the book, but it was not my main concern while writing the book. My concern is that we find it exceedingly difficult to relinquish our beliefs. I’m just trying to help you, the reader, to loosen your grip on what you think—which is imperative if you want to wake up.
Question: You write [in endnote 59] “In fact, the past, like the future, isn’t uniquely determined either, as we shall see.” Then you cite: The Grand Design, [by] Stephen Hawking: “Quantum physics tells us that no matter how thorough our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. The universe, according to quantum physics, has no single past, or history.”
Could you please elaborate a bit on that (the “past” not being determined)? Is this because the (meaning of the) past is regenerated continuously in the now? Or something else on top of that?
Response: The past is not determinable simply because “it” doesn’t exist—i.e., persist. Even for a nanosecond. See Chapters 19 and 24 (including endnotes) in The Grand Delusion.
Question: My confusion is from the seeming paradox in Chapter 31. In it, you say you’re not a Buddhist, but rather possibly “Buddhish.” (I like that term, and will probably steal it.) But even on the Dharma Field website it says “Dharma Field welcomes everyone to the teachings and practice of Zen Buddhism.”
So, my question is: Since you’re not strictly a Zen Buddhist, is the teaching at Dharma Field similarly Buddhish?
Response: “Buddhist” is just another moniker people can easily disagree about and fight over. As my teacher used to say, “Buddhism is just one of the ‘isms.’” I do not say that I am not a Buddhist; I do not say that I am. Such statements are simply unintelligible when pursued far enough. The practice and teachings at Dharma Field are of this understanding. It doesn’t really have a name, though it’s often referred to as Buddhadharma—what the Awakened teach.