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.
Question: Appendix B: Mind and Consciousness states, “Our concepts do not, and cannot, account for actual experience, let alone for Reality. This realization is pivotal if we would understand the nature of subjective experience, conscious awareness, and indeed, Mind.”
Is realizing that concepts do not account for Reality (fundamentally) different than realizing Emptiness? Is this realization different than Complete Awakening?
Response to Q1: Cannot say that it is, provided the realization you are asking about is seeing rather than conceptualizing—i.e., that it doesn’t involve the formation of ideas or the holding of views.
Response to Q2: Cannot say that it is.
Question: This is a comment and question sparked by the last 3 sentences of page 201 [after endnote 121 near beginning of Chapter 37]. It’s about the word “mystery.” So often religious understanding is presented as some kind of communion with the great unknowable mystery of life. But this is ultimately unsatisfying. Do I understand you correctly in saying that finally all conventional knowing ultimately leads to an impasse of mystery? Whatever the belief—we end up at the same dead-end? So—the only “thing” we truly know, that is, the only “thing” that is not mysterious, is actual Life, actual Mind—this is given completely “on a plate” through whole perception. So, the idea that life is a mystery is just a frequently repeated belief or conclusion based on the continued experience of beliefs not making any sense and unravelling. Or perhaps we’re told to believe life is a mystery because to think otherwise is tantamount to no longer being a believer, a follower or some sort.
Response: You have the gist of much of what I’m pointing out in The Grand Delusion—particularly regarding belief. Though I would not characterize knowing Life, Mind, Reality as the only thing we know—as if Knowledge were limited in some way. True Knowledge is Total. Nothing is left out. In other words, there’s ultimately no Mystery. Everything is clear and obvious.
Question: It “seems” from everyday experience that humans tend to be delusional...more so than otherwise...the efforts to provide direction toward “seeing” or “waking up” has a poor record for being of interest to us...is there anything to be said about this pattern except to point out its possible illusory nature?
Response: Yes. You can point out actual Illusion.
It is helpful to bear in mind that delusion is belief. Not so, illusion. For example, you see what appears to be water on a highway. You even see reflections of more distant objects in the “water.” As you draw near, however, the “water” disappears. It was a mirage. An illusion. Before recognizing the illusory nature of the experience, it’s easy to be fooled into believing that there’s actually water on the road. This is delusion.
My concern in The Grand Delusion is that people are regularly deluded into believing substantiality is Real—which is the source of virtually all pain and distress. I wrote the book to help people wake up from this “grand delusion.” (You may want to listen to my elucidation of the last page of Chapter 10 in The Grand Delusion. You can find it if you scroll down on the home page and click on the Wednesday discussions. Click on the talk, “What We’re Missing,” dated Feb 17, and then click again at about the 45-minute mark and follow to the end of the talk.)
Questions: You state that a machine which is conscious will not be created. Can you please explain how you have certainty that this will never happen? It seems like a belief [see response to Q1, below]. If we grant that even a little bird ‘has’ consciousness (I understand this cannot be proven), why not a machine? Dividing lines between ‘animals’ and ‘machines’ are surely just conceptual [see Q2].
You also state on p.123 [near end of Chapter 22] that when you ‘hear a bell, smell a rose, see a bird,’ so many elements are involved…from neurons in your brain to the space in between, to the sense organs, to the bell or rose. You say that if you remove any bit of this, ‘there’s no experience.’ I accept that if you remove the rose, there would be no experience of a rose, but there would still be experience [see Q3]. If you remove the brain, surely there would be no experience whatsoever (as far as we can reasonably assert) [see Q4]. It seems to me then that the brain is essential for any experience to happen whereas ‘the rose’ is not. ‘The rose’ is only essential for experience of ‘the rose.’ I would be quite happy for ‘the rose’ to be removed but not my neurons. How about you? [see Q5]
Response to Q1: As is shown throughout The Grand Delusion, consciousness does not appear to originate anywhere—let alone that it derives from matter. On the contrary, as shown repeatedly throughout the book, things, thoughts, and feelings—including matter—appear only with consciousness. Nothing else supports their verity. They appear as mind objects only.
Response to Q2: I do not grant that a little bird has consciousness. In fact, I do not grant anywhere in The Grand Delusion that anything whatsoever, whether machine, plant, animal, or human, has consciousness. (Carefully reread endnote 130.) The main reason I don’t grant consciousness to things is because, as is shown in multiple ways throughout the book, beyond conceptual appearances, we can’t find things—including time, space, motion, thoughts, feelings, locality, people, cats, birds, heartaches, photons…. You name it. Conscious awareness appears to come along with The Whole. It doesn’t inhere in “things.”
Response to Q3: There would still be perceptual experience, yes, but not necessarily conceptual experience (of a rose, say).
Response to Q4: Oh, but we can eliminate the brain from our attempts to account for consciousness (such as in Chapter 7, for example), yet there remains perceptual experience.
Response to Q5: There doesn’t appear to be anything necessary for perceptual experience. Still, I’d prefer to “keep my neurons”—in spite of the fact that “they” keep changing.
Question: It seems you are saying that Virgil, the man who had his eyesight restored midlife [Chapter 11, in the Time Out!], was having a religious experience that he could not recognize as such, in fact it was a source of confusion. Please elaborate.
Response: I made no assertion that Virgil was having a religious experience. His confusion was in his inability to (visually) conceptualize perceptual experience. I only used his story in The Grand Delusion to illustrate the distinction I am making between perception and conception.