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: 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: 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: 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.
Question: I take it that Buddhist Pure Land practice is another construct from our minds. So too the Bodhisattva ideal. Is there any value in these efforts and for whom?
Response: Yes, these are mental constructs. And, as stated in The Grand Delusion, concepts and actions based on thought constructs often seem very helpful and useful to people. Though the opposite often seems true as well. As mental constructs, though, I wouldn’t put much stock in either. We only need to live life directly.