Tag Archives: Huxley

Sunshine Doe!!!!

Standard

IMG_1467

The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.

IMG_1446

Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.

IMG_1459

Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.

IMG_1471

This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.

IMG_1498

I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.

IMG_1509

Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”

IMG_1491

I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.

IMG_1516

This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.

IMG_1527

Advertisements

The Doors of Perception and the Gates to Heaven and Hell

Standard

It’s crazy to think today is only my 2nd full day of being off retreat. I feel like I’ve done so much. It’s providing a very odd and distinct juxtaposition between living in the mind and living in the external world. It’s also provoking a lot of deep questions, most of which have only been twisted up even further by Sophie’s World, which I just finally got through. Concepts of time and space seem far less concrete than my mind would often have me believe.

Here’s a story I just heard.

Once upon a time in medieval Japan there was a samurai. He was walking proudly down the road, head held tall and armor shining. He happened to pass a small Buddhist monk sitting quietly on the side of the road. He strode up to the man and boldly proposed a challenge: “Monk, demonstrate to me the existence of Heaven and the existence of Hell.” The monk slowly turned his head up to the samurai and looked him in the eye, asking, “Why would I waste the time answering such a silly question for an ignoramus like you?” The samurai immediately puffed up in fury, face growing red and his whole body becoming tense. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head, focused in on the monk. The monk merely continued looking at the samurai and responded, “That is Hell.” Shocked, the samurai paused. Just as soon as he’d grown angry, the samurai relaxed his whole body and settled into a peaceful disposition. He put his sword back in its sheath and pressed his palms together in front of his chest in reverence to the monk. “And that,” says the monk, “is Heaven.”

The monk uttered only 16 words to the samurai, and yet in but an instant he put the man through two extremes of existence. In a very real way we create our existence. In that way, we control our reality. I may be looking out into the woods, seeing trees, prayer flags, a dirt path below and the sky above. But how does the tree really exist? When I look at the world around me I don’t see a tree that is existent in and of itself. The same goes for the prayer flags, the path, and the sky. Each of those things is merely a collection of parts. These parts happen to come together in such a way that they perform a particular function. Because this composite object, the base, performs that particular function, it receives an according label.

An example probably makes this easier. Look at your computer. There seems to be a very real, concrete computer sitting in front of you. After all, you can read this and feel your hands resting on the keyboard (or maybe the also very apparently real table supporting your computer.)

However, the computer has a screen. It has a keyboard. The keyboard, in turn, has dozens of little parts. And if you open the computer up, it only becomes more complicated. Without taking this argument down to the atomic level, it should be clear that the real object of the computer is merely a collection of parts. If you were to take away the screen, would the remains still be a computer? How about if you removed the keys as well? After a certain point, you would certainly say that it is no longer a computer. But where did the computer go? Did the computer disappear alongside the removal of that last part?

 

 

 

The computer doesn’t actually exist.

 

 

 

 

More specifically, the computer does not exist inherently. Its needs a mind to project that existence onto it. Because you and I see a collection of pieces that came together to have the function of a computer, the parts have assembled to form a valid base we therefore assign the label ‘computer.’ The mind becomes so habituated to labeling the environment’s bases that it does so nearly instantaneously. This labeling happens so quickly that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Suddenly the collection of parts that performed the function of a computer is not receiving the label from us ourselves but naturally possess that quality of ‘computer-ness.’ We don’t realize that this cognitive fusion is occurring because we so quickly merge the base and the label. This therefore gives the computer the appearance of truly existing as a ‘computer’ but its existence is actually only imputed by the mind.

This is where the samurai and the monk reenter the picture. If the samurai was merely projecting inherent existence onto the monk there would be no reason for him to become so angry. Something else must be at work.

Our lives have been filled with a constellation of experiences, people, and places that elicit 3 possible responses in us: aversion, attachment, and indifference. Experiences, people and places we feel attachment towards we label as ‘good.’ Those that we feel aversion towards become ‘bad.’ And those to which we are indifferent there’s no need to provide any further qualification. It’s not a concern to me so why waste the mental energy?

I can look at the chair underneath me and notice that it’s missing one of the legs. It still fulfills the function of a chair, but not quite as well as a chair with all four legs. Therefore it falls somewhat short of fully fulfilling its function and becomes a ‘bad chair.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So too with our experiences of the world. If something is pleasurable to our sense of identity, it is good. If not, then it must be bad. We often fall into the illusion that experiences, objects, and people have some sort of innate ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ to them. After all, we can all agree that Hitler was a ‘bad man.’ But was he really? Surely there were many people in the world that thought Hitler was a ‘very good man.’  He can’t possibly be both of these things at THE SAME DAMN TIME, can he? Rather, it is each of us projecting this sense of inherent ‘badness’ or ‘very goodness’ onto Hitler. Or should I say ‘Hitler”? (Sorry, I’ll save the ‘What is a person and who is the ‘I’?’ game for tomorrow)

The point is that we may each experience an object as being ‘this’ or ‘that’ but these objects don’t have those qualities outside of the way in which we perceive them:

 

 

 

 

the perceived is the function of the perceiver.

 

Returning to the labels, it is interesting considering where they came from. Each of us didn’t individually decide how to label the things around us. We inherited them from those around us, from society, from culture. Much of going through life is merely acquiring more and more labels to place on the bases that are around us. The labels become more specific, allowing the computer to take on qualities such as being ‘silver’, ‘well functioning’, and therefore a ‘good computer.’

These labels often change over time, especially those related to value judgments, but to truth judgments as well. As each age invents new labels and alters the old one, it is constantly recreating reality. To be sane (or at least to qualify a base as requiring the label of ‘sane’) one must have a ‘healthy view’ of ‘reality.’ But what if reality is constantly changing? If I were to announce to a class that the universe orbits around the Earth and be willing to maintain that position until the bitter end, surely my sanity would come under question. And yet in the not so distant past many people maintaining that exact position would have been labeled as completely sane. If reality is constantly changing, then sanity is an ever-moving target as well. We often require hindsight to see whether a person is ‘insane’ or simply ‘ahead of his/her time.’

Just to clarify, this is not nihilism. I’m not saying that nothing exists. Things exist on the conventional level on which we interact with them on a daily basis. The computer is a ‘computer,’ Hitler is a ‘bad man,’ and so on. But on an absolute level, these things do not actually exist. They are dependent on their parts and the mind to label them.

 

 

Perhaps this finally answers the question, “If a tree falls in the woods and nothing is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ It seems that it certainly creates wave of vibration but without a mind to receive those and then label them, it creates no ‘sound.’

 

 

So what happens when you understand this on the deepest possible level? Well what happens when you’re in a dream and you realize that it’s a dream? What happens around you doesn’t affect you because you know that it’s a product of your mind. So too with seeing reality as being empty of inherent existence. Hellish moments are no longer Hellish but instead capable of becoming whatever the mind wants them to be.

I’m tempted to jump straight into an exploration of the ‘I’ but this I know this post is already way too long and abstract. Since I know everyone likes photos, maybe I’ll put in some pictures of emptiness to make it a bit more lively and engaging.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading.