Buddhism and anatman — a personal view

Last time I was sick (I’m better now), I realized how quickly ideas about functional immortality (reincarnation or other continuance of a phenomenal spirit past the cessation of bodily function) fade due to having an unexplained fever which will not break, and weight that is dropping at a rate of a pound a day.  The reader may recall that I’ve had an interest in Buddhism from my undergraduate years…accordingly, I’m aware that at least some (if not many or most or all) school(s) of Buddhist thought hold to rebirth, but not reincarnation.

The distinction is fine, but the implications are vast, either from a general paradigm-shift back towards materialism or from a lack of hope or worry about immortality.

In a Buddhist theory of rebirth, the effects of past actions (karma) go on to seed a new birth after the death of a sentient being; however, death for the person who has died is seen as final.  That is, the new life which arises after the death of the being who seeded it, is not the same being as the one who existed before, even though this new being may maintain a sense of continuity with the past being (or a plurality of past beings) through inherited karmic effects (and/or the problem of identification with that which made one).

In reincarnation, as I understand it, there may be a personal essence apart from the body which is transplanted and reborn into a different body.  However, keep in mind here two things:

One is that I have not studied advaita (non-dualist) schools of Hindu thought (like advaita vedanta) heavily, which seem monist from here (monist = the philosophy that everything is one); and I get my ideals of having a soul from various cultural points:  including Hinduism, as referenced by Buddhism.

That is, I get my ideas on the metaphysical validity or necessity of a “soul” (atman) concept through the lessons of people who do not believe in souls; and I believe the latter were referencing dvaita (dualist) Hindu thought, in which mind and matter coexist to create life.  I also know that it’s not uncommon to see distortions; at times, outright falsehoods; and torquing of what I as a Westerner percieve as ethics; promoted by Buddhist writers, in the name of pragmatism.

I also have not studied theories of reincarnation — in specific, reincarnation (not rebirth) — heavily, although any explanation of how I came to be which was not “reincarnation” was foreign to me when I was a child; and for much of my life the question of whether or not I have a soul (atman) has weighed on me.  This has particularly been the case after having been introduced to the Buddhist doctrines of anatman (no-self) and shunyata (emptiness).

The latter seems to fit well with a behaviorist and constructivist view of the self; the former is something that appears to be unique to Buddhism and philosophies which would likely fall under the heading of “atheism” — although “atheism” seems to be a misleading term, to me.

There are religions without deities (Buddhism, at times, being one of them), and religions with plural deities likely (in my experience) don’t grant those deities the same power and status as the big three monotheistic religions do.  That is:  the presence or absence of belief in a deity is irrelevant in determining whether someone holds religious ideals; or maintains a mode of thought closer to that of a religious person, than to someone who has divorced themselves from all religion wholeheartedly.

In any case…didn’t mean to get into that, but.

The following is based mostly upon unrecorded thought which I seem to intuitively understand but not be able to commit to words, easily.  I’ve come to the place where I’m getting to be okay with knowing that I don’t understand what happens after death, and in which I’m getting to be more okay with the concept that this is the only life I’ll have.

After all, if it’s so, being upset about it isn’t going to change it.

This has just been based on the threat of more war, on the peril to human civilization which is coming at us from at least two fronts, now.  I’ve been worrying myself in thinking about the metaphysical/energetic impact of 21st-century weapons (yes I know it’s silly), and about the future, should the belief in reincarnation be valid and we all are reborn as cockroaches on an irradiated planet, or one which is turning into a twin Venus.  Is that what we want our legacy to be?

In this point, I can actually understand the question as to how someone can lead a moral life if they don’t believe they will be judged for that life, later.  Because if you don’t believe that you will have to deal with repercussions for your actions, it’s hard to imagine some people — not all, but some, and they’re in the middle of exemplifying it — will take that as an excuse to behave in a way harms others, and harms themselves, and may cut off all of our futures.

Of course, what you and I take as “harm” are likely to be different things, at least slightly, if not radically.  But it’s obvious that people who don’t care about climate change, or who are welcoming it as the end of the world (like the death of life as we know it is something to celebrate) don’t believe they’re going to have to live later on with the mess we are all making.  That’s in violation of a direct action-reaction principle, because we collectively don’t want to be told we’re doing something wrong and that we need to change.  Because change is scary, and people are creatures of habit.

And we don’t like to be told we’re behaving out of fear, either.

But I’m getting better with the idea that perhaps I don’t have to take all of this on.  I’m getting better with the idea that this is temporary; that whatever this life is, it only exists on this side of the veil.  And that at the end of this stint, I may not have to deal with this at all, again — or at least until such time as the motions of the universe or multiverse see fit to bring together again the conditions that allowed this me to come into being.  For however long that lasts.

I know I won’t be the same person, at least figuratively speaking, and in that I can see the idea of anatman showing up, fairly clearly.  (Consciousness may be regained; identity may not be.)  But that doesn’t mean this will be the end of it.  (I should investigate ancient ideas of atman more thoroughly, I think…)

Maybe, in this philosophical position, the best I can hope for is either having gained enough advancement so that I don’t have to remain stuck in lower levels of learning for too long, the next time; or to…I don’t know what…savor what time I have, because it’s finite.

Of course, this “time” thing…I can still be punctual, but I’ve never understood it…

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These dreams will draw you in…

What a difference not-writing makes, eh?

I’m becoming much more aware of what happens when I don’t write every day.  I still have my Random Thoughts journal…which is in the blue book I meant to begin a larger project within (the “how to survive when you have a brain like mine,” project).  The major issue with this is that I have been feeling it is a large risk for me to put those latter thoughts to paper (or keyboard)…at least in a place where they may be seen (as when I may take this book and write within it, in public).

The positive thing is that, without the grounding of writing something related to hard reality each day, my thoughts are actually breaking free of the limitations of what I see as the physicality of my situation.  I am not sure if this means that I’m breaking further from reality or not…

In particular, I slept for quite a while today.  I’m trying to keep my immunity up, as yesterday was particularly weird where it came to trying to keep hydrated (I had a sore throat, and trouble speaking, for no discernible reason except dehydration…but I ended up drinking at least 36 ounces of water at work).

While I was asleep, I found a…recurrence of a bit of a story I had been thinking about for years as a teen and young adult.  It started out as a response to vampire fiction (I was that young), then moved into urban paranormal fantasy.  At this point, I’m seriously considering making it about aliens — because it is, basically, about aliens and alienation, hidden worlds, etc.

I have two lead characters…one of whom is human, one who is not.  (In my Creative Writing program, we were given a quote which said that writing a book was a disease that you’re only cured of once the piece is finished…but I can’t remember who it was attributed to, or the exact wording.)  The second started out as a strong side character, but that…led into more.  He had the ability to enter and determine the environment of dreams…and in this, his character design was clearly non-human; his reach and interactions, fairly intimate.

It would be interesting to write this.  There is that thing about Proxima Centauri b being within the habitable zone for life, though at this point in our technological development, it would take until 2060 to hear back from any probes.  Meaning, obviously, that by the time we hear back, most of us who are presently cogent enough to understand the significance of this, will be either old or dead.  But something like that could be used as an excuse to write a story which may actually not be sci-fi (as to be sci-fi, I’ve heard, it has to actually be possible), but rather paranormal urban fiction involving aliens.

I find it very, very interesting, the way my thoughts have turned when I’ve had to keep them inside, and have not been presenting them to anyone.  Because of the lack of fear of judgment, I’m able to do certain things like fundamentally question key foundational tenets of belief systems which I had previously held without question.  Like the idea that actions taken in the past determine the future; that time is linear and only flows in one direction.  That everything in the universe is built upon and explainable via rationality and logic.  Or, and I was working on this one before — that the Universe is inherently moral.

I was having a conversation with M the other day where I said that it doesn’t matter if every decision made in a philosophical system is completely on it and accurate, if the fundamental tenets of the stance (or “canon”) are flawed.  If the fundamental givens aren’t accurate to reality, everything that unfolds from that point is also not accurate to reality, and the philosophical system may cease to apply to reality in any beneficial way.

I’m thinking that fiction writing might actually be a good place to work some of these issues out.  Once I start breaking fundamental rules of thinking, it helps to be able to work at this from several different angles (as I am not entirely certain that any one of them is correct, nor should I be).

So…maybe I’m migrating back to fiction as my art or craft of choice?  I’m not certain.  What I do know is that the dream I had impacted me fairly severely, in a beneficial manner.  …And hey, maybe I want to start work again on character designs.

I should also try and work some of this out in my head, so I can try and parse what the story is actually about…not to mention its optimal length, and format…

…and I should consider giving at least one of my characters the trait of being impacted by mental illness.  Guess which one…

Angelic Mistakes

I’ve…probably just spent a good two hours looking around on the Reader.  It seems that the lifespan of a blog here is not all that long; though I’m following many people, those people tend to wander off; sometimes to return, sometimes not.

One of the things I wanted to mention was my identification of an Art History book I found by chance.  It is called Angelic Mistakes:  The Art of Thomas Merton, by Roger Lipsey.  The method of my location of this was strange enough to cause me to take pause:  I looked up to a certain shelf, saw the book, became interested in the book, and then saw that someone had shelved it in such a way that two of the digits of the call number were transposed.  This caused it to be shelved in the Sports section instead of the Art History section.  Had I not found it, it eventually would have been considered, “Missing”…and likely not found until someone did a book-by-book check to make sure everything was in correct order.  Considering that this may have well been an, “angelic (i.e. purposeful, even if unconscious) mistake,” which I had successfully located, I brought it back home with me.  (Bibliomancy is one of those things which I just…do.)

It might be noted that this is a Shambhala book.  Having read through (and tried to read through) a number of books from Shambhala Publications…there’s a certain feel that I can discern from them.  I wouldn’t be quick to discard anything published by them, though what I have read in the past might have been topically unsuited to me.

Those who have been following this blog might recall my mixed cultural heritage:  Japanese- and African-American, before we get to the regional influences of culture on my parents (Southern California, which in turn is strongly influenced by Mexico) and myself (Northern California).  When I was growing up, my Japanese-American grandmother kind of tried to mold me to be as Asian as she could, despite my racial difference from her and the rest of that side of the family.

To avoid getting into gritty details, I’ll just say that I’ve had something of a cultural conflict growing up, because of largely being exposed to only one side of the family, but still being between worlds, so to speak, where it came to culturally-segregated groups of youth.  Because I didn’t look stereotypically Asian (and it’s seen as a bad thing to be mixed-race in at least my own background and in many other Asian cultures as well), I’ve had a history of being rejected by Asian groups; because I am distant from what is, by now, traditionally African-American culture, I didn’t quite fit in with the kids of African descent, either (they actually told me I wasn’t “Black enough”).

When I was in school, I began studying Buddhism on my off-hours.  One of my aunts is Buddhist, so I guessed that I would try and learn what that was about.  What I found initially put me off, but I am familiar with exoticization of non-White cultures within White U.S. society — which is often enough the target audience of these books — so I kept digging.

What I may not have really had the maturity to admit until this portion of my life is that perhaps in chasing after Buddhism, I was looking for some kind of proof that I really was Asian…and Daoism, Shinto, Hindu faiths…just did not have the same kind of popularity or easy access.

(For example, in introductory Buddhist texts, many core terms will be translated out into English, even though this results in a loss of meaning.  Duhkha will be translated into “suffering,” though duhkha in reality implies much more than the English word, “suffering.”  In Hindu texts translated into English, the key terms [amrita?] are often not translated out, which probably holds more closely to the words’ original meanings; but they can also make the texts relatively opaque, to a newcomer.  Daoism is relatively…not talked about [though Chinese influence is becoming stronger where I live; not to mention that there is Chinatown — but I have no proficiency in either Cantonese or Mandarin, and only know of one place which sells apparently quality info on Qi Gong in English]; and Shinto, being a local culture thing, is near-inaccessible outside of the islands of Japan.)

The texts I can recall reading which were published by Shambhala (not one by name [EDIT:  untrue, A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers was great], but enough by content) dealt with Buddhism, and I am learning I may not be suited to be Buddhist at this time in my life — at least, not so in a Theravadin vein.  There is no reason for me to get into personal views of Theravada vs. Mahayana vs. Vajrayana here…  If I were anything in this vein, I’d be a not-fluffy version of one of the latter two, to the point that I know the warm fuzzies (metta, along with the belief that it is possible to live without causing others pain) may feel good to the participant but may be intellectually dishonest, political in nature (Buddhists were nearly wiped out in their original birthplace of India for having no gods [apparently offensive to the Mughals]; subsequent to which, a Public Relations campaign showing Buddhists as moral and virtuous is understandable), impractical and/or against the rhythm of life.  Well, of course, if life is samsara, yes?

I also have here at least two books from them on Daoism, and one on Hindu Mysticism.  The latter, I’m still interested in; one of the former is quite dense…and there is the fact that Daoism and Buddhism in the present day appear to mirror each other, despite having possibly (or at least, originally) different goals.  The distant past — before the school of Theravada was developed, though (Theravada was not the first school, it’s just the surviving school with the earliest roots) — it’s hard for someone who doesn’t know either Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit or Pali to parse.  I know that in Daoism, the goal either is or has been either immortality or long (and pleasant) life.  In Buddhism, the goals differ; but at least within Theravada, it seems to have been not to be reborn again.  This has been interpreted as “immortality” within the state of nirvana, but …this kind of mirrors the saying, “the only way to win is not to play the game,” which seems kind of…static, to me.

It would be interesting to see what goes on behind the doors of Shambhala; what the actual statements are which the books I have, are selected and edited towards fulfilling…but anyway, that is not the aim of this post.

The book I’d found (Angelic Mistakes) references an author I had heretofore not heard of (Thomas Merton), although to hear the book speak of it, he’s famous.  The book itself publishes images of some of the drawings and prints from his later (“mature,” as art historians like to call them) years, though he didn’t live a particularly long life.  Shambhala probably picked up the book because of the influence of Asian art (particularly Sumi ink drawings) on Merton’s drawings and prints…apparently, the guy was friends with D.T. Suzuki at one point.  (Suzuki was key in disseminating knowledge on — particularly — Zen, in the Western world, from what I know.  This was back around the 1960’s [with the Hippies] and probably a bit prior, with the Beats in the 1950’s or ’40’s.)

I feel better reading that Merton was a Spiritualist — as that’s a vein that I’ve also followed, at one time in my life — it’s just that all the Christian stuff in that book is a bit difficult for me to deal with.  I’m just…not Christian, and as far as I can remember, after the age of six or seven didn’t want to be Christian (I’m not one for gratuitous violence, and threats of Hell and separation from loved ones drove me away rather than bringing me closer); so it’s a bit alien to me.

Anyhow; the reason for my beginning this post at all was to express some form of letdown after having begun to read this book and starting to wonder if all of this art, creativity, culture, stuff — is based on non-truths.  That is, I may eventually become a walking encyclopedia of Buddhism, but unless that cultural-heritage material is making a difference, helping somebody, what is it worth to know?  I may come to know about the routes of evolution of Art from prehistory to the present, but is that knowledge actually helping anyone?  (Other than people who trade in art as a form of currency, who then may need to know if the Van Gogh they want to buy is fake?)

Granted that the knowledge is enriching, and definitely is something that makes life worth living, both for the artist or creative, and the person experiencing the results of that creativity.  What would life be without music, or design, or dance?  We could get along, but we probably wouldn’t know what we would be missing — or that there was anything missing — or that in our state of deprivation, that there was anything wrong.

Is the question one of, “what is the value of culture?

I’m reminded of having taken a trip down to the Central branch of San Francisco Public Library and finding a very, very stripped down Spirituality & Religion section.  I have a feeling that it was that way because so many books on Spirituality and Religion are based on such shoddy thinking and scholarship (granted, the latter reasoning may be sound but the premises [or canon] may not be:  and it remains to be seen whether logic and reasoning are useful where it comes to this facet of human experience at all) that whoever was doing Acquisitions found them to be not worth buying.  (Either this, or it’s possible that these books had a habit of growing legs and walking away.  The area is at the edge of the Tenderloin.)

This is granted that a Spirituality section may not be true in most any way, shape, or form; but insofar as these kinds of thoughts allow us insight into the minds of others, there is still value in having the knowledge.  Knowing that others think differently than we do cannot help but have a positive impact on our own communications with others, right?  There would still be a use where it comes to broadening tolerance, towards enriching our lives, toward making a life that is worth living.

So maybe my interests, in Art and Art History, in Spirituality, in Writing, in Culture(s)…in Music…aren’t actually useless.  I’m not sure why the lifeblood of a person or a community may run through these creative generative cycles which would seem to have little to do with the day-to-day of actually surviving.  I don’t know why my own proclivities draw me to learn about and practice things that don’t seem “practical,” except maybe they keep me alive by pointing to what is possible, not just what is; because what is is pretty heartbreaking.

I guess we all need to dream.

Wave propagation

It’s been a few days since I wrote, last.  In the interim, I’ve tried reaching out to one of my old classmates from the Art program (still haven’t heard back), and ran across the head of my old Art Department, at work.  I also have found that I will need to talk to my Head Librarian about the possibility of work-study from the job I already have.

So far as University goes…I’ve realized that if I’m doing a distance-learning program, I will need to keep all of my own records, organized.  I started mapping out what requirements the classes I’ve taken so far will cover.  Also — from within the basic program, I may not be able to (or want to, for that matter) take as many technical courses as I thought I wanted, prior to getting a slightly better feel for the LIS (Library/Info. Science) terrain.

I did sign up for two classes which looked interesting (beyond my required core course), both of which prepare me for being a Public Librarian.  I’m very aware that I’ve said I don’t want to work in a Public Library for the rest of my life, but my interests and work experience aim me in this direction, ironically.

Today has been fairly quiet.  I am finding a bit of reluctance to revisit the mandala I was making, although in the process of making it, I did come to a metaphysical “realization” (or vision/hypothesis, rather); which was fairly profound, and a new synthesis of a number of philosophical threads I’ve been working on for years.

I didn’t feel quite ready to post it, here.  If I did post it here, I’m not exactly sure what I’d be after, by doing so (except maybe trying to pay it forward and/or have a preserved record of my thought).  I’m not wanting to show off, that is, and I have a Jain-like drive to not want to unintentionally lead anyone astray, in case I’m wrong.  There is also the potential for misuse…like the Theory of Relativity leading to the hydrogen bomb.

Hence, the reason why I wrote what I did to a friend…but response times take longer through email, than here.  That email was pretty gigantic, too…I think I counted three pages when I transferred it back over to my own archive.  (I just checked:  it spills over into a fourth page.  Sorry!)

I probably should have asked about his tolerance for reading and talking about spirituality, before I sent a metaphysical tract…

And I really do want to get back into working on that mandala, but I think I’m having a little bit of fear coming up now (sometimes art influences writing, sometimes writing influences art; and sometimes either one can introduce profound psychological changes).  I’m thinking that what I’m finding…is that I’ve stumbled upon my life mission — which is, in short, to be creative.

This brings up two new threads, though:  one, I can’t predict the consequences of that which I create; two, I cannot predict how what I create will change me or the world.

If I were a more adventurous type, I would say that this would be the fun of it; but right now I am more in a place of having some knowledge or thought or suspicion that the good thoughts I have come from somewhere in effect external to my waking thought process.  I’m aware that not everything I think is sourced from the small egoistic “I”, that is, and so when that’s confirmed, it can be a bit challenging.

Anyhow.  What I want to do right now is go and work on my mandala, so I think that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve also got to remember that I can look in my career books if I run out of reasons to stay awake.  🙂

Working this out, #1

It was never really clear.

I had gotten an inkling of what might have been going on behind the scenes, but the great problem with consciousness is that, it seems, one can only explore it from within it.  While the concept had come up in a former project — of mind without memory or awareness — it had not been developed as far as Maya had wished.

The great sense that one had, from this mind, at least, was that there was a lot going on as regarded Mind.  The prospect of the Universe being Mind-only was taking it a bit too far, as had been touched on — there was one spirit in particular I knew who related strongly to Mind, but he was no longer dominant.  His medicine worked when our own mind had been ill and in pain.  But sometimes, even though one may wish escape from the pain, it is not the solution to attempt to escape from life.

In my past years, if I had thought it possible to escape pain by escaping life, I would have considered it more thoroughly.  However, the only solution to the problem of existence Maya could find which made any kind of sense (at the time) was reincarnation.  Being reborn would not ensure a life free of pain; in fact, it would almost guarantee the opposite.

For years, instead of focusing on the problem of wishing not to exist, I — and/or we — focused on how to stop the cycle of rebirth.  At least it saved my life, at the time, even if its end goal was, somehow, to escape the realm of life (and with life, pain).

It has been some time since this happened.  I’ve since stumbled on to the realm of what may happen should one embrace the fullness of life — pain, joy, and all.  It’s come to my attention that what we have here is a temporary situation.  I’ve dubbed myself a Creator, for now.  For me, this means that my life post — more than what I do to stay alive — is to make things which would not exist if it were not for my own life.

It is…somewhat freeing, but also somewhat, it … it somehow gives me pause.  Diversity is the stuff of life; sameness is the stuff of extinction.  There is a factor of illness in here, still:  so that I do not know if, in ten years’ time, I will still wish (or need) to call myself a Creator.  But for now, it is my life purpose.  (I did read that bit of Nietzsche, yes.)

This is the reason I do what I do.  By chance, fate, luck, or descent (I hope to explain that bit, eventually), I have been somewhat gifted where it comes to creativity.  My pain has developed my spiritual resources.  I don’t know if everything I put out will be worth creating, but at the least, I have a vision.  That vision is the strength of embracing life, now and in the future, however many lifetimes that will turn out to be.

Souls?

I might as well continue on with this train of thought, right?  I mean, I already started writing about it, and everything.

When I was about 23, I was looking around online for people talking about what I’d, by that time, only heard about in my own family, and/or — possibly, it was a decade ago — either the Library at my then-University, or my World Religions class (if I’d taken it by that point; I can’t remember the year offhand).

The terms pantheism and panentheism, I came across while looking for sites on paranormal phenomena.  Pantheism (All-God-Belief) basically states that the Universe itself is Divine, but also implies that there is no God beyond the natural Universe.  Panentheism (All-In-God-Belief) states that the Universe is Divine, but that there may be something more to it than we can comprehend.  At least, those are my understandings.  Last time I checked, there weren’t that many books out on the latter topic, either — except for two highly academic works focused around Christianity, which were too dense for me to take in at the time.

Aside from an ill-advised pledge to a friend’s church at a wedding when I was about 4 years old (promptly forgotten except for the hell-and-brimstone threat which I thought would curse all of us unless I did so and everyone I loved did so as well), a fairly frightening time with a Children’s Bible (same friend), and celebration of the holidays (which I’m sure the big two of which — Xmas and Easter — it’s known are co-optations of pagan holidays [Yule and Ostara]), I haven’t really been Christian.  And, actually, given my experience, it isn’t surprising.

So, when I started looking for information to explain what I was going through, I wasn’t really looking for Christian sites or anything remotely having to do with Christianity (my experiences later in life via religious conservatives preaching hate against everyone who could have been mistaken for gay [with nearly no resistance or contest from any church I could see except Glide Memorial], drove me away from that possibility).

So, after I returned from my first University with a pretty severe illness (which the widespread hate was instrumental in triggering), there was some kind of exchange between myself and M where she told me to figure out who or what “God” was to me.  At that time, I was fairly mixed up, because I had a good Deity figure who I called God, but I was getting that figure confused with the Christian “God,” which (based on my experiences with his followers), I really did not like.

It took me at least three years of trying to consciously separate the two, before I was able to refer to my own Divinity as the Divine, and not have the Christian element being called in because of that deity’s title.  I’ve kind of grown out of it by now, but usually when you see me say God, it means my personal God (more than likely, not yours); when you see me say “God,” in quotations, it usually means the Abrahamic god (which I don’t capitalize as an honorific, because that god isn’t my god).  I’m more likely to say Deity or God/dess, though, than God; because of the loaded state of the latter term.

Doesn’t mean I have anything against people who follow any of the Abrahamic religions; I just don’t follow any of those religions.  It’s like calling myself a woman — it confuses and hurts me more than it helps, but that doesn’t mean being a woman is in any way objectively bad in itself.  I’m just trying to make subjective sense out of my life, and maintain my own boundaries.

Anyhow — I relate all of this because, when I was younger, the site that I found really spoke to me in some manner was a Spiritualist sect somewhere in New England…it was so long ago, though, that I’m pretty sure the page is either gone or has changed hands.  Doubtless, if it even still exists, the content has changed.

The significance of this is that it did start me off on a kind of psychic bent in my explorations.  It also let me know the only face of the Christian God that I connect with — a Universal Spirit.  When I use the term Spirit, I’m referring to a Spirit of Life, which in my mind is directly responsible for my (and everyone else’s) ability to be self-aware.

I have my own thoughts on the Council of Nicaea (which started Catholic doctrine, including the doctrine of the Trinity), but I really don’t have enough information yet to make any kind of informed claim about it.

I’ve learned from the leg of the journey that finding that one (small) Spiritualist website spurred off in me, but I wouldn’t at this point consider myself confidently “psychic” to the point of selling my skill to anyone, or showing off anywhere.  So, I guess it could be like the time in self-defense class when the sensei told us not to tell anyone we practiced, because then we would get people challenging us and wanting us to prove ourselves — which was antithetical to the reasoning behind taking self-defense!

Particularly, since I’ve really settled in with this last medication, I’ve been having less mental noise and variation than usual; plus, more control over my own mental state.

I’m fairly certain that brain chemistry does have something to do with psychic sensitivity, and may account for some having intuition come more easily to them than it does to others.  Having lived with a brain which was overtly ill to the point that I couldn’t care for myself, and one which is mostly well-adjusted, the difference is apparent.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of those “Sacred Madness” things (to the brink of death and back), only I’ve had outside help in getting it in hand.  I do kind of wonder what would have happened if I’d been in a society where there were shamanic practitioners who could have helped me (as versus psychiatrists to medicate me into a more normal brain activity pattern and teach me better how to think), though I’m sure it would have been much harder.

Anyhow!  I started out thinking about this idea of “souls,” right?  Do souls exist, does a lack of soul exist, is this even the right question to be asking to get a productive response…

When I was working my way through my upper-division credits at University (my second University), I often would take time to go to the Religion/Spirituality/Parapsychology/Occult section, browse, and do some reading.  (I’m really not sure that these topics were all in the same place, but I did seek out these books when I had extra time in between classes.)  I recall doing a lot of reading on Buddhism, because one of my aunts is Buddhist, in the Pure Land tradition in my country (she doesn’t mention it at all, though) — and I figured, why not learn more about my family and roots?

So, first two books on Buddhism down, and I’m thinking to myself, “it can’t be this bad.  There must be cultural issues (e.g. exoticization) in translating the concepts.”  Today, I am thinking that those books which I read first, which were all older texts…were not on contemporary Buddhism.  Nor were they on any complex kind of Buddhism.  When I look around at most books on Buddhism today, just about all of them start out with the story of Buddha’s “enlightenment”…quotes because we don’t really know what that means or if his ascent into nirvana from parinirvana happened, or if his enlightenment is or will be the same thing as your or my enlightenment…

At this point, a bit over a decade in time has passed between now and the time I first started researching Buddhism.  I do get weary of the Buddhism 101 books…though I suppose they are so popular because how are you going to learn about the more refined doctrines if you don’t know the basic foundations of all of the Vehicles…

…but once you do know the basic information, it isn’t so easy to net all of the dogma and trash it so that you can get to working on yourself.

I mention Buddhism because it is a key element of Buddhism that everyone does descend from the same source and that underneath everything, all of the natures of all of the beings in all of the realms are the same:  “Buddha-nature.”  (Quotes, because I hate this term and hate to use it, but then as people-who-might-be-Buddhists go, I’m not one who jives well with doctrines of metta or karma at this point.)  Because all our differences are at the (supposed) end (of samsara) immaterial, it is said that there is no essential self.  Kind of like I mentioned, in the last post — we’re at core, all the same.

I’m not entirely sure I buy into this, though, as it is admitted that something does carry on from one life into the next, though in strictest definition, this is just the net effect of past actions (karma).  This gives one the sense that they were other beings in the past, but it actually wasn’t them in the past, apparently — it was someone else who gave rise to one.  Therefore, the actor is mortal, even though the person they birth will think that they used to be said actor.

Given that I haven’t found a definition of karma that I can accept or fully grasp yet, and given that it differs from its original version in Hindu belief…(it seems to have morphed within Buddhism)…this kind of throws a wrench into the works of my totally accepting this doctrine, which means I can’t accept the entire system whole cloth.

My own experiences, as well, do not point to the nonexistence of spirits (small “s”; not the same as the Universal Spirit [who is the totality and essence of Life], but a piece or fragment of it with its own energy, potential personality, and volition).

I don’t know enough about any variant of Hindu belief to be able to guess about the specific beliefs in soul, other than the doctrine of atman (personal essence) in what I know about Hindu belief and anatman (no-self) in Buddhism.  So…given that atman exists in astika (orthodox) Hindu beliefs (there are a number of them), it would seem like transmigration or reincarnation of a pre-existent soul would happen between lives.

Given anatman in Buddhist beliefs (which, by the way, happen to be nastika [unorthodox] in reference to the Vedas — that is, they do not consider the Vedas [one body of Hindu holy texts] true), we have rebirth, but not reincarnation.  Death of the personal self is final in Buddhism, although something of one does continue on.  Whether that would be the same as one, in some way other than history and karmic transfer, is unknown.  It’s possible that when the texts say that death is final, they are referring to death of the personality and not of the essence (Buddha-nature) carried within one.

Gah.  Okay, I’m tired.

If anyone wants to help me hash this out, I’m open; but right now I’m going to bed.  🙂

Bringing it to the table

With this last critique, I’ve been trying to probe why, exactly, it is that I’m so freaked out about the process of creating.  For someone whose life goal and self-stated life purpose is to create, it might seem a bit odd…

I was thinking that, so long as I’m writing and drawing and painting, maybe it would be worth it just to explore this as a theme, even if it is on my own time, and as my own little self-directed assignment.

Probably, a large part of my fear around creating is the mystic aspect of the creative process.  The last time I was considering dying by my own hand, I realized that I needed a reason to stay alive; a purpose for being in this world.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so scary if I knew how creativity worked, or if my first serious forays into fiction writing hadn’t been inspired by Anne Rice.  When I was a kid, I had a nagging feeling that my stories were being told to me by some of the spirits who liked to hang around me (apparently?).

It was actually this lesson in taking dictation from the subconscious which enabled me to write at all.  I felt like I had a purpose; like what I was doing was important.  Perhaps most troubling, I had a sense that what I was doing, was real.  I’ve since developed something of a metaphysical system around this, which states that there is no line between “fantasy” and “reality,” but there is a border between “narrative” and observable fact.

My dialogues with “spirits” are in a sense both dialogues with myself, and dialogues with the Universe, or All-That-Is, or whatever you want to call it — Higher Self, Deity, Universal Consciousness, etc.  My studies in Buddhism have led me to the belief that all life (at least!) arises from the same common source (effectually my Deity:  the energy of life), and it is only our differentiation via various pressures which leads to the totality of diversity on this planet.  Needless to say, Chaos plays a big role in this, too — though I should be aware that I haven’t wholly tapped Chaos Theory yet; at least, not with conscious awareness.

I believe that, in regard to creativity (should I capitalize it?), my greatest problem is that I don’t understand it, and like a lot of people, in this case, I have a tendency to fear what I don’t understand.  To the end of alleviating the fear, I’ve developed a spiritual/psychic/metaphysical framework in order to attempt to understand it, or at least to lull myself into thinking I do, so that I can get on with the task of living, as versus being afraid to live.  Life really shows up for me very much in Art, as Art is a record of actions now past.  In some sense, for me, it’s a record to the commitment to existence; something which would never have existed, had I not been here.

Maybe there’s something to mine, in that last sentence, especially considering my history.

One of my friends said to me, once, that creativity can be thought of as “channeled Chaos.”  I think there’s some truth to that.  It doesn’t really help that I used to have an identity that was nominally — at the time — centered around being an emanation of Chaos energy.  I’ve since gotten to understand myself more fully, aged about a decade, and have realized that a lot of what I thought was chaotic, was simply a highly complex ordered system.  I just had too small of a data set to fully understand it, or to be prepared to draw connections between the phenomena I experienced.

At the same time as I’m aware that I used to have an experience, at the least, that felt chaotic…I’m also acutely aware, at this point, that my creativity is an extremely human trait.  We have the psychological complexity to be able to compare and conjoin disparate phenomena.  It might be this ability of mine to think abstractly that enables me to encode language as successfully as I can, or to know that if I wanted to, I could likely work successfully as a writer.  I never took any poetry classes because I saw no future in it, but maybe thinking poetically really does have concrete value (no offense intended!).

The biggest hurdle I can see from here is believing my own explanations too fully.  Just because two ideas can be joined doesn’t mean it’s always realistically effective in any constructive way to do so.  I’ve also got to watch out for the tendency to create stories in my mind to explain things, simply because I want, and/or feel I need, answers; and those answers are not immediately forthcoming.

I’m certain that a lot of the instability I’ve had in my past, had to do with wanting (hence, creating) immediate answers to questions which I had too little information to be able to address adequately.  The spirituality topic does fall in here for me, also.  Maybe I’m just avoiding addressing the fact that I don’t know what’s going on, but along the way I’m taking leads and hints that are unconscious to me, and pop up when something in me synchronizes with something outside of me (or which I see as outside of me; the boundary is, as I’ve related, not as clear to me as it would seem).

The truth, for me, is that existence in a human form is so complex; and my perceptual and cognitive processes are so complex, that I can’t understand them all.  On top of that, I’m intelligent enough to know that I don’t understand it all.  But maybe that’s a saving grace, even though it does leave me in a state of existential uncertainty.  It means that my stories exist for a reason — that reason is to enable me to function and survive — and also that, because of my existence as a mortal being and my lack of omniscience, that they also might be inherently, deeply flawed.

This would appear to leave me with something of a dilemma.  The stories are useful, when they’re needed; they can also be released (though really, who willfully releases a story without an alternate one to fill the gap?).  But is there, realistically, an alternative to existential angst?  What do we have without our stories — indeed, collectively, without our cultures?

It would seem here that I’m touching on something important — the use of narratives and fictions (and opinions) to comfort the masses and enable the majority of us to survive.  But given my life circumstances, I can also easily see where those narratives and fictions sometimes — or even often — override the experience of reality.  In a large or small way, people often lose (or lose control of) their lives for the sake of affirming the story.

The story must never become more important than the reality.  The problem is, the majority of people have trouble distinguishing between the two.  One of these categories explains, comments on, connects elements of, and gives reasons for and value to reality.  The other is experience as it is lived.  Not as we wish it were lived, but as it is lived.

Our greatest problem may be that we can only transmit knowledge of lived experience through narrative — a form of storytelling.  But the oppressions so many deal with and argue against, are themselves communicated and fostered through story.

Is the only solution to listen to many stories — not just one or two?  I can see that this would and does come up, in Psychiatry.  It also comes up in politics, economics, religion, identity.  How do we sift through all the stories in order to find the most reliable ones?

(I almost said “the true one,” but the nature of subjectivity, in my subjective opinion, makes it impossible for any one story to be wholly and absolutely “true.”)

Maybe, when we see a story repeated often enough, with few changes, that is evidence enough that it is being passed on without thought.  Or, maybe it just means that the story is well-enough adapted to the needs of some subset of the population that it works, for them.  Here, though, we have to make sure that we hear many voices; not just the loudest ones saying the same thing, in chorus.

And then, we have to actually decide, and take responsibility for deciding, which stories work well enough for us and for the others we find ourselves sharing the planet with.  (I add the latter because, in my philosophy, harming others is not tantamount to harming oneself, it is literally harming oneself.)  One of my criteria in deciding which stories to utilize comes from the ethos of doing the least harm.  It’s unlikely that we’ll ever, as a society, come up with a way of thinking so respectful and compassionate that it harms none.  But in some cases, it’s very, very easy to think that severe harm to an individual is preferable to majority discomfort (especially if we happen to be in that majority).  I have a tendency to lean away from this mode of thought, having at various times been that “one individual.”

So maybe what we have the task of doing is creating better stories.  More compassionate stories.  More functional stories.  Stories that align better with the lived experiences of ourselves and others.  And maybe, for ourselves, not only acknowledging the harm our own personal stories may cause others, but working to understand the viewpoints of others with different narratives, and according to our own ethos, adapting when necessary.

Our narratives are just tools.  I’m becoming more and more acutely aware of that.  Maybe, eventually, I will become more able to release my own viewpoint and really confront that state of not-knowing what the world is, or why I’m here, or how I work.  My viewpoint feels like a grille through which I see the world — a window for the house I’ve built around myself.  Sometimes, we need to take walks.

If I could still enjoy existence then, outside; would that be satori?

If I could report back, what would I bring?