Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Nothing that is Everything

I have been a long-time meditation practitioner, for around 30 years. (In itself, that is no big deal, when anyone gets to my age they will have been doing a lot of things for 30 years.) But I have stuck with this practice, and it has changed the way I see the world - for the better. The nature of this change is very simple. But it is a real shift in perspective, which has many interesting consequences for philosophy.

Different Cognitive Modes

Meditation gives rise to a different mode of cognition. What is 'a mode of cognition'? I think the term was actually coined by Edward Debono, with his well-known technique of the Six Thinking Hats

This is a planning tool where you look at a problem from a number of different perspectives:
* Information: (White) - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
* Emotions (Red) - instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
* Bad points judgment (Black) - logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch (and so on).

Now in many arguments with proponents of scientific philosophy, I notice that they and I are actually talking from different premisses - or wearing different hats.  The meditative attitude actually creates a different way of processing information - literally a different way of thinking. It is not about a set of scientific hypothesis, but about a different way-of-being. So we are not actually arguing or debating at all, but talking from 'different worlds'.

A consequence of meditative awareness is dissolution of the sense of separate self or ego. But this is a subtle thing. It gives rise to a different kind of thinking and being-in-the-world which gives rise to a sense of peace, contentedness and also relatedness.

(There has been a lot of research done on it, and 'effects of meditation' are measurable and specific, in terms of brain-wave patterns, and parts of the brain associated with compassion and holistic ways-of-being. I will provide some links if anyone is interested.)

So - what's the point? The point is this style of thinking gives rise to a very different way of relating to the world. Fundamentally, it is much more oriented around a kind of subtle emotional connection to life, rather than analytical problem-solving skills. This is not to disparage the analytical style of thinking, because it is essential for many tasks. But the analytical mind can't actually operate in this 'cognitive mode'. In fact the analytical mind doesn't even comprehend this other mode; it appears as nothing to it.

As a consequence, in many debates I am trying to get a point across about 'the nature of being'. One of the philosophical consequences of meditation, and the absence of a separate self, is that fact that we are basically all one, in the sense that I am no different and not separate from others. I can 'stand in their shoes' to some extent. This is very much associated with Buddhist meditation, in particular, but it subtly changes your appreciation of the nature of being itself.

This 'mode of being', however, is not anything objective. It can't be located anywhere or found through analytical thinking. Essentially one begins to realize that this being is 'never an object'. But analytical thought can only think in terms of objects. For it, nothing exists but objects, and if it can't be described in objective terms, well, then, it isn't there. Simply doesn't exist - you're talking about nothing.

But actually, once you understand it, it is 'the nothing that is everything' - and it is a marvellous thing.

"It is not existent - even the Victorious Ones do not see it.
It is not nonexistent - it is the basis of all samsara and nirvana.
This is not a contradiction, but the middle path of unity.
May the ultimate nature of phenomena, limitless mind beyond extremes, be realised."

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