An Ontological Solution to the Mind-Body Problem

We seem to come ever closer to a time when we can ‘join the dots’ between the natural sciences and religion and make more sense of them both, and that this is the consequence of a growing understanding of  the Perennial philosophy. Modern science and philosophy allow this relationship to be described and discussed in great detail and also require that we do so, and gradually a language is developing that can bridge the gap. A prominent contributor to this discussion is the scientist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup. Below is a link to a typically clear and concise article about ontology and the operations of consciousness by which we forget that we made it all up. Kant would approve.

He comments, “It contains an analytic, rigorous articulation of the ontology of idealism—according to which reality is entirely mental.”  I don’t think that this should imply that the  Real is not real. ‘Reality’ here would mean ‘everything we could ever think is real’, ‘anything we could ever think’, ‘anything that thinks’ or indeed any ‘thing’ at all.  It can seem a daft idea, but it is found to be impossible to make sense of ontology when we assume that space and time are any more than conceptual phenomena, and this must be generalised to all mental and corporeal phenomena.

If you find it interesting and worthwhile then please pass it on. Science and clear thinking has ruled out most interpretations of religion, mysticism and metaphysics for being redundant, logically indefensible or contrary to the observed facts, and as a consequence have ever more precisely identified and revealed the correct interpretation. It turns out to be the one that is endorsed by the ancient Upanishads and Middle Way Buddhism, the only one that can survive close analysis and that is even capable of explaining Existence.

Other links.

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Extracts from the Literature 3: Mysticism and Oneness: From ‘Mysticism’ F.D. Happold

“A common characteristic of many mystical states is the presence of a consciousness of the Oneness of everything. All creaturely existence is experienced as a unity, as All in One and One in All. In theistic mysticism God is felt to be in everything and everything to exist in God.

In ancient Chinese philosophy the creation of the phenomenal universe is envisaged as coming out of Tao, the Primal Meaning and Undivided Unity behind everything, by the pulling asunder of polar opposites. Out of Tao sprang the principles of phenomenal reality, the two poles of yang (light) and yin (darkness), which are evident throughout the whole of the universe as it appears to us. We cannot conceive of light except as the opposite of darkness, of above except as the opposite of below, of before except as the opposite of after, of goodness except as the opposite of evil. Our perception is conditioned by the existence of these polar opposites. Yet, they are only active in the realm of phenomena.

In this realm of polar opposites man is imprisoned. He is conscious, therefore, of a division in his soul. His deepest spiritual instinct is to break through the polar opposites and find again the Primal Meaning, so that he may once again be restored to the Undivided Unity which he has lost.

God is to be found, said Nicholas of Cusa, beyond ‘the coincidence of contradictories’. There can, however, be no escape from duality through sense perception, for sense perception is conditioned by the presence of polar opposites, nor through discursive thought, which is bound by the same dualism. For to the mystic is given that unifying vision of the One in the All and the All in the One.

There is little doubt that this sense of the Oneness of everything in the universe and outside it is at the heart of the most highly developed mystical consciousness. All feelings of duality and multiplicity are obliterated, including the duality between man and Deity. Though it may be expressed differently, this is equally true of Hindu and Sufi mystics, of Plotinus and of the great contemplatives of Christianity.”

F.C.Happold, Mysticism, Penguin 1965

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Extracts from the Literature 2: On Simplicity, Unity, Firstness and Secondness: The Enneads of Plotinus

“Standing before all things, there must exist a Simplex, differing from all its sequel, self-gathered not interblended with the forms that arise from it, and yet in some mode of its own to be present to those others: it must be authentically a unity, not merely something elaborated into a unity and so in reality no more that unity’s counterfeit; it will debar all telling and knowing except that it may be described as transcending Being – for if there were nothing outside all alliance and compromise, nothing authentically one, there would be no Source. Untouched by multiplicity, it will be wholly self-sufficing, and absolute First, whereas any not-first demands its earlier, and any non-simplex needs the simplicities within itself as the very foundation of its composite existence.”

Plotinus, Enneads, V. 4, How the Secondaries Rise from the First: And on the One, 1.

“That awesome Prior, The Unity, is not a being, for so its unity would be vested in something else: strictly no name is apt to it, but since name it we must there is a certain rough fitness in designating it as unity with the understanding that it is not the unity of some other thing.

… Think of The One as Mind or as God, you think of it too meanly; use all the resources of understanding to conceive this Unity and, again, it is more authentically one than God, even though you reach for God’s unity beyond the unity the most perfect you can conceive. For This is utterly self-existent, with no concomitant whatever. The self-sufficing is the essence of its unity. Something there must be supremely adequate, autonomous, all-transcending, most utterly without need.

Plotinus, Enneads, VI. 9. On the Good, or the One, 5-6.

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Extracts from the Literature: Hell, Fear, the Ego and the Holy Instant – from ‘A Course in Miracles’

“The Holy Spirit teaches thus: There is no hell. Hell is only what the ego has made of the present. The belief in hell is what prevents you from understanding the present, because you are afraid of it. The Holy Spirit leads as steadily to Heaven as the ego drives to hell. For the Holy Spirit, Who knows only the present, uses it to undo the fear by which the ego would make the present useless. There is no escape from fear in the ego’s use of time. For time, according to its teaching, is nothing but a teaching device for compounding guilt until it becomes all–encompassing and demands vengeance forever.

The Holy Spirit would undo all of this now. Fear is not of the present but only of the past and future, which do not exist. There is no fear in the present when each instant stands clear and separated from the past, without its shadow reaching out into the future. Each instant is a clean untarnished birth, in which the Son of God emerges from the past into the present. And the present extends forever. It is so beautiful and so clean and free of guilt that nothing but happiness is there. No darkness is remembered, and immortality and joy are now.

This lesson takes no time. For what is time without a past or future? It has taken time to misguide you so completely, but it takes no time at all to be what you are. Begin to practice the Holy Spirit’s use of time as a teaching aid to happiness and peace. Take this very instant, now, and think of it as all there is of time. Nothing can reach you here out of the past, and it is here that you are completely absolved, completely free, and wholly without condemnation. From this holy instant wherein holiness was born again, you will go forth in time without fear and with no sense of change with time.

Time is inconceivable without change, yet holiness does not change. Learn from this instant more than merely hell does not exist. In this redeeming instant lies Heaven. And Heaven will not change, for birth into the holy present is salvation from change. Change is an illusion, taught by those who could not see themselves as guiltless. There is no change in Heaven because there is no change in God. In the holy instant in which you see yourself as bright with freedom, you will remember God. For remembering Him is to remember freedom.

Whenever you are tempted to be dispirited by the thought of how long it would take to change your mind so completely, ask yourself, “How long is an instant?” Could you not give so short a time to the Holy Spirit for your salvation? He asks no more, for He has no need of more. It takes far longer to teach you how to be willing to give Him this than for Him to use this tiny instant to offer you the whole of Heaven. In exchange for this instant, He stands ready to give you the remembrance of eternity.”

A Course in Miracles (Ch15, p214, pp8)

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The Best Glastonbury Gig Ever?

Please follow this link to the blog of Jessica Davidson and watch the video. Buddhism getting down with the kids.

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My s/h bookshop came through for me again. I have just picked up a book by Philip Carr-Gomm called In the Grove of the Druids, discussing the druidic teachings of Ross Nichols. The author is the current Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, an order founded by Ross Nichols. It is a wonderful exploration of symbol and myth.

With its origins tracing back to ancient Persia I expected to see a vague outline of the perennial doctrine, nonduality, esotericism and so forth, probably garbled almost beyond recognition into some sort of Nature worship. What a dunce I am. I did, I must admit, skip most of it as being irrelevant to a Zen practitioner, who needs no heavy soup of symbolism and myth to sugar the truth-pill or find it, and to metaphysics, which is impossible when it is overlaid with so much psychological trickery, but it has its nuggets of straightforward no nonsense talk and these reveal that modern Druidic thinking is not much if at all at odds with the writers of the Upanishads or the Buddhist and Sufi teachings.

Here is an extract from a short essay by Ross Nichols that is included. I have omitted a few sentences as unnecessary.

 The Creation of God 

The shaping-out of God by man is a profound truth – as well as a shallow one for fools: …

…We all make God. The deific force inheres in us creatively and that is the intention. Perhaps also it is well to feel that He is there only, within me and you. Yet this cannot be objectively true, and cannot be accepted philosophically except as solipsism. The only possible conception, to me, is one of a sort of hierarchy of nodes of Godhead inhering at a number of levels in beings and masses that we hardly recognise as god-recognisant, such as the actual globes of earth and planets, or the planetary system as a whole – down to the atomic levels and the infinitesimal, which so far as we can perceive have vigorous movements meaning life of some sort. And wherever is life is consciousness, and consciousness is God…

…Those nodes moreover, if they are gone out of living conscious memory, are still there for the recalling: the Egyptian Godform in particular can embody startlingly almost as soon as called upon…I have experienced, so have others… However these are of the more outer perception, whether psychic or ‘real’, and we were discussing the realism of God within…

…The omni-competent and everlasting God cannot be enclosed in our little concepts. It is both many and one, as completely present in our most distant node as in the first. There is a veil of time and matter at the rhythmic intervals of the Great Breath, when an outgoing into previously emanated matter (breath) of patterns of which the above is an image occurs through the aeons.

As spirit we are present through all these aeons: we have witnessed and we have created, God is in us so far as anywhere. All that semi-infinite scheme is us, of course, and naturally creative power breaks through us.

From time to time to the larger units their nodes have special manifestations and there are teachers, revealers, saviours, whom the race-aspiration have created, as much as deity has given them from the non-apparent. Their teachings are all for their ages equally true, and equally poisonous for successive ones that need something else. The gods were poison to the philosophers, the Hebrew ritualism poison to Christianity.

There is a point in all outbreathing of return to inbreathing, a point of nadir and maximum density. It may have been reached for humanity in the systematic materialism and sensuality of the Roman Empire: which was why a maximum counter-demonstration had to be released in the force called Christ, which came down to earth in several senses – brought teaching down to emergency levels, gave it ‘low’ as well as ‘high’, and created a ‘person’ to be revered, to counter the persons of gods and emperor. This is hardly the highest manifestation that can be made, but was the best for a period, perhaps for 2000 years as astrology suggests…

And all this is within us –the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the first and purest utterance of the Christ-manifestation, before it descended to personality and the crucifixion image that did so startlingly ‘save’ in that gross world.

Now it is for us to give out a new kingdom. We pass as our ritual says through kingdom after kingdom. Indeed, we make the kingdom daily, on several levels. To do so perpetual problems need tackling. And to respond completely to the day’s problem, without ‘attachment’ to it in the Buddhist sense, is in fact the maximum building of the kingdom, outward and inward…By one and one are the stones laid in the temple.


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Solving the One-Many Problem

It is very difficult to see how the Universe can be One when it is so obviously Many. So difficult, in fact, that to this day western philosophy is unable to reconcile these seemingly contradictory properties and it remains a famous metaphysical paradox. This may be because this tradition of philosophy reifies Time and Matter. It cannot understand how to avoid reifying Time and Matter since it is predicated on the dogma that the doctrine of the Upanishads is false, and this would be the only plausible way to reduce Time and Matter. What allows us to call this tradition of thought ‘western’ is that as a matter of principle it rejects mysticism with its ‘principle of nonduality’ as the solution for such paradoxes. It then has nowhere to go but must remain puzzled forever. If we do not fall into this comfortable and inviting intellectual trap then the non-paradoxical Upanishadic solution for the One-Many problem is available and all such paradoxes cease to trouble us.

In his Divine Life, while speaking of the three ‘poises’ of the Divine Supermind and of how these would be no more than reflections or treatments of the same unified Truth, Sri Aurobindo briefly explains the ‘nondual’ or ‘Middle Way’ solution for the One-Many problem. It would entail the rejection of all partial or dualistic metaphysical views for a unity then can never be achieved in language or thought but which, nevertheless, can to some extent be discussed. Only by a conceptual division of this unity into aspects, reflections and treatments would discussion and analysis become possible. The eternal Tao cannot be talked, says Lao Tsu, but must be talked, and this would require that we talk about its aspects and reflections as does Aurobindo.

His words may shed light on what ‘nondualism’ would mean in respect of formal analytical philosophy as well as psychology and experience. They may also explain that when it is proposed that Prakriti, the space-time creation of Maya, is ‘unreal’, ‘not really real’, has merely a ‘dependent-existence’ or is an ‘illusion’ this is not to reduce human beings to insignificance but just to concede their origin beyond Time and their ‘epiphenomenal’ or emergent status. The proposal would be, to the contrary, that human beings are far more significant than we usually believe them to be.

“The language of the Upanishads, the supreme ancient authority on these truths of a higher experience, when they speak of the Divine existence which is manifesting itself, implies the validity of all these experiences. We can only assert the priority of the oneness to the multiplicity, a priority not in time but in relation of consciousness, and no statement of supreme spiritual experience, no Vedantic philosophy denies this priority or the eternal dependence of the Many on the One. It is because in Time the Many seems not to be eternal but to manifest out of the One and return to it as their essence that their reality is denied; but it might equally be reasoned that the eternal persistence or, if you will, the eternal recurrence of the manifestation in Time is a proof that the divine multiplicity is an eternal fact of the Supreme beyond Time no less than the divine unity; otherwise it could not have this characteristic of inevitable eternal recurrence in Time.”

Sri Aurobindo
The Divine Life (159)


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On Philosophy, Philosophobia and Mysticism


This essay is a brief and casual but hopefully rigorous attempt to clarify the relationship between the ‘nondual’ philosophy of mysticism, for which Middle Way Buddhism will serve here as the principle example, and the philosophy of professional western academia. There is little written on this subject, or little that is simple and clear. One reason may be that neither side has much interest in the other. Another would be that outside of religion it is only since the arrival of quantum mechanics that the nondual doctrine has stopped looking far too strange to be true. There is also the problem that a person who has travelled far on the mystical path, perhaps even to the end, will not necessarily have any meaningful grasp of formal or discursive metaphysical analysis since this would not be necessary for success. Even reading and writing would not be compulsory for enlightenment. The sayings of the authentic masters will inevitably have metaphysical implications but I know of only one who explains clearly how they can be analysed to reveal the systematic metaphysical scheme to which they will generally conform. This would be the Noble Nagarjuna, the most famous of Buddhist philosophers, who seems to me the most helpful guide for any formal philosophical understanding of Buddhism and mysticism in general.

The explanation of philosophy and mysticism given here might seem too simple and easy to be credible. Few people explore the relevant issues and almost everybody seems to assume that they must be so complicated that nobody could ever understand them. It is not complexity that makes mysticism difficult to understand, however, and it represents an almost complete simplification of analytical metaphysics.

Scepticism of the doctrine that emerges from the practices of mysticism can be intense. Within religion this may quite often be accompanied by hatred. Practitioners state some uncomfortable findings regarding the God of the dogmatic or ‘exoteric’ traditions and reject dogma wherever it appears. Here any scepticism or controversy will be largely ignored. Regardless of whether there is any truth contained in the literature of the esoteric religious traditions its implications for metaphysics will remain the same. The truth or otherwise of the nondual doctrine is not the issue here, only what it would imply for scholastic metaphysics. On the account given here there would be a clear implication that it is true but this cannot be helped. The main idea is simply to suggest that this is an area of philosophy worth studying and not to be ignored, and that if we leave aside the details it is not rocket science.

I hope it may show that the discoveries of ‘experimental’ mysticism can be explained by a coherent philosophical theory that would be amenable to close study without any immediate need to venture beyond formal metaphysics. On the view presented here the idea that mysticism can be safely ignored by ‘rational’ philosophy as being irrelevant to an analytical approach would be perverse, a failure of scholarship and the cause of all its problems.


Why Bother with Mysticism?

The Faculty of Philosophy comes in for a lot of criticism these days and the situation seems to be worsening. For the most part this criticism comes not from the lay public but from within academia, very often from within the philosophy department itself. It is possible to shrug off much of this flack by reference to the importance of philosophy as a set of tools, methods and intellectual practices, but there is no getting away from the fact that after twenty centuries of analysis today’s university philosophy is unable to decided even one important question. It hardly seems surprising that some scientist are now saying to the philosophers, ‘Thank you for the tools and methods, now please go away while we do something useful with them, like science’.

Such a rejection of philosophy has been called ‘philosophobia’. This would be a slightly Orwellian term since it is not value-free. It implies an illness, while in many instances this rejection of philosophy could be seen as no more than common sense in action. We would interpret the ongoing failure of our traditional academic kind of philosophy as overwhelming evidence that there would be little point in anyone studying it.

Here I attempt to defend both philosophobia and philosophy. No doubt the former may sometimes be an illness, and there are many prominent cases, but at least it is an honest acknowledgement of the failure of a certain approach to philosophy. Such concessions are often a necessary prelude to progress. It might even be argued that the philosophobics are doing philosophy, and doing it very well, when they bravely reject an approach that has been proven so conclusively not to work. They could almost be viewed as acting as the conscience of the philosophy department. Despite all this, philosophy can easily be defended. This would be because there is more than one approach we may take to it, and once the approach that gives rise to philosophobia is abandoned it becomes possible to solve philosophical problems and actually demonstrate the success of philosophy.

The approach to be abandoned would be the unthinking dismissal of mysticism as irrelevant to the analytical kind of philosophy. Right here, I propose, would be the entire cause of the lack of progress in professional philosophy. A traditional, perhaps ‘knee-jerk’ is the phrase, dismissal of the ‘doctrine of the mean’ cuts this strictly scholastic form of philosophy off from an ancient solution for metaphysics that works, that is unfalsifiable and that is globally endorsed as the ‘perennial’ philosophy.

In order to justify this controversial diagnosis we need not delve at all deeply into mysticism and its doctrine. We are concerned here only with what this doctrine would imply for metaphysics and the ‘problems of philosophy’ as we know them (all too well) in academic circles. These implications, or predictions for philosophy, can be explained and calculated surprisingly easily once we have simplified metaphysics and identified its principle result.


Simplifying the Issues  

When we examine metaphysics we discover that all of its significant problems are undecidable. These problems invariably and ineluctably push us into a straight choice between two counter-posed theories neither of which work. It is fabulously frustrating. Yet despite its negative nature this is a very reliable result of metaphysical analysis, endlessly repeatable and not at all inconclusive. It is also highly convenient and useful. It is general and applies to all metaphysical problems, and this suggests that it may be possible to solve all such problems at once. In their meaning metaphysical problems can be seen to be holographic, each containing the whole of metaphysics and so closely interlinked logically that none can be solved in isolation from the others, while in structure they are isomorphic, each taking the same dilemma-like form. This allows metaphysics to be considerably simplified.

A metaphysical theory that has an equal and opposite counter-theory can be called one-sided, partial, selective, dualistic, extreme or positive. Examples would be Materialism-Idealism, Internalism-Externalism, Something-Nothing, Freewill-Determinism, Mind-Matter and so forth. All such theories fail in logic and each pair is usually thought to form a dilemma. Kant puts this result as, ‘All selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable’. This fact provides the motivation for logical positivism, scientism, mysterianism, dialethism and many other pessimistic ideas that assume philosophy is a dead end. It would be the cause of the inconclusiveness of modern academic philosophy, and as such would be the cause of philosophobia as well as its justification.

The failure of positive metaphysical positions is well-established and the suggestion that this would explain the lack of progress in philosophy might therefore seem rather trivial and obvious. If all metaphysical question are undecidable then of course philosophers cannot decide them. How can it be their fault that the world is like this? While at first this may appear a promising defense it would fail in the end. It would fail because it renders philosophy useless and does not acknowledge the possibility of an approach to philosophy that would explain and predict the undecidability of metaphysical questions.

In our universities it appears that we do not usually acknowledge as a fact this negative result of philosophy (the logical absurdity of positive metaphysical theories) or study it closely as a global phenomenon. Rather, it seems that the whole project is to show that this is not a fact after all, a project doomed never to make any progress. The reason for this approach may be that if this really is a fact, and if we accept it as such, then we would have no choice but to rule out all positive metaphysical theories and go looking for something else, while the only non-paradoxical idea that we have not ruled out would be the philosophical scheme associated with mysticism. The absurdity of positive metaphysical theories is, therefore, a highly dangerous fact to concede. It may be a useful fact to concede when we want an excuse for a lack of progress in philosophy, but the excuse backfires as soon as we ask why, if all of these positive theories are known to fail, do we not abandon them and move on.

The philosophy of mysticism and mainstream university philosophy do not disagree as to whether this negative result of metaphysics is a verifiable fact. It is, after all, our inability to decide fundamental questions that causes all the difficulty in metaphysics and this cannot be denied. Where the two traditions and approaches part company is not over the facts but in their very different interpretations and responses to them.

For the academic philosopher this negative result of metaphysics would normally be seen as a barrier to knowledge, an excuse for lack of progress and a reason for pessimism. This response leads to such a low view of metaphysics that almost nobody is interested in it. For the mystic philosopher, by contrast, this same result would be clear evidence for the truth of the central claim of the perennial philosophy, namely that all distinctions are emergent and must be reduced for a fundamental theory. The universe would reduce to a ‘unity’ beyond the ‘coincidence of contradictories’. All partial theories would be logically absurd for the perfectly simple reason that they would all be wrong.

It would be the profound implications of this metaphysical result that led the second-century Buddhist philosopher-sage Nagarjuna to formally prove it in his most famous text The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where he both demonstrates and explains the philosophical scheme of ‘Middle Way’ Buddhism. (The clue is definitely in the name). In so doing he also explains the blatant philosophobia of the Buddha, who regularly warns his monks not to bother much with metaphysical riddles. Nagarjuna gives us a philosophical rationale for this lofty rejection of metaphysics. All extreme positive theories would have to be abandoned and this would be as much as we need to know for the sake of soteriology and the cessation of suffering. The remaining worldview would be impossible to properly understand as a theory even if, as suggested here, it may be described by one.

‘Nondualism’ is a term often used to refer to this other philosophy. Note that this is clearly a deliberate avoidance of the term ‘monism’. In metaphysics this would be a neutral metaphysical position, a rejection of all positive positions. This is, as a consequence, a very simple kind of philosophy to approach as a student. We are not asked to study a vast range of ideas but to throw all of them away except one. Life becomes a lot simpler in this respect, but at the same time far more strange.

A Neutral Metaphysical Position

If we were creating a universe, how would we go about creating one for which all positive metaphysical positions would be logically absurd? This is the question that logical positivists and other sceptics always forget to ask, but I feel it is worth ten minutes of anybody’s time. Russell tells us that there is no knowledge to be gained in metaphysics but does not examine the implications of his own claim. What sort of world would we have to inhabit in order for his claim to be true? And how, if metaphysics does not establish any result well enough for it to be called knowledge, does he know that this is a fact?

What Russell means by this rejection of metaphysics seems to be that he, like everyone else, finds that all partial metaphysical positions give rise to fatal contradictions, and as he cannot think of an explanation for this he concludes that metaphysics is an epistemological dead end. He refuses to consider the ideas of Francis Bradley, who in his 1895 metaphysical essay Appearance and Reality goes to great lengths to reproduce Nagarjuna’s result and prove that all partial metaphysical positions give rise to contradictions, but who suggests that this not any kind of problem but a correct metaphysical result and a proof of the nondual doctrine of mysticism. For Bradley metaphysics would be an ‘antidote for dogmatic superstition’ and a source of important knowledge. Nor did Russell consider the ideas of his colleague George Spencer Brown, whose 1967 book Laws of Form encapsulates Bradley’s cosmology as a calculus, one that Russell praises highly on the outer jacket of my copy but seems to have barely understood. In this way the confusion continues. The mystics can agree with Russell on the facts, on the demonstrable and repeatable results of metaphysical analysis, yet differ wildly in their interpretation and response. Right here is where East and West go their separate ways.

Many philosophers who are not otherwise interested in mysticism get around to reading the Tao Te Ching at some point. The difficulty is in the interpretation and here metaphysics comes into its own. If the reader has no prior meditative insight then metaphysical analysis will be vital for any semblance of comprehension. Lao Tsu tells us that the world as a whole is in no case this or that. In other words, all positive metaphysical positions are false. He encapsulates the whole of metaphysics in one remark. He does it again with a more mysterious statement, ‘True words seem paradoxical’. What are we to make of this? In a good example of the globally unvarying nature of the result of ‘mystical’ practice these words can be explained by reference to Nagarjuna’s much later doctrine of ‘Two Truths’. We need not examine this here. It would be enough that a thought experiment will reveal that if we carefully avoid endorsing any partial metaphysical position then when we speak rigorously about the world we are forced to do so in riddles. This would be a general rule, such that C. S. Peirce can claim that it is easy to identify ‘a man still at the dual stage’ by his use of language. ‘We are and are not’ says Heraclitus, showing how it is done, for each half of this statement on its own would be false and logically indefensible. Having some grasp of the metaphysical scheme underlying the sayings of the sages can be useful to their interpretation, and without it a non-practitioner may have little hope of seeing anything much in them but muddle and contradiction.


So What Might This Approach Explain?

We are skimming along the surface of many profound issues here for the sake of noting them, but there is really only one that matters. If we assume for the moment that all positive metaphysical positions are false, even if we are not convinced, then what would this explain? Regardless of its truth or falsity, the neutral position that is now the only reasonable alternative has many strong implications that can be explored in rational thought. It is these implications that must be reduced to absurdity if philosophy or science is ever going to refute the proposition that the Buddha gives a correct description of Reality. The ramifications of the failure of all extreme or partial metaphysical theories may be infinite and there is no danger of anybody writing a list of them, but here are a few of immediate significance. Let us assume that all positive metaphysical theories are logically indefensible for the very simple reason that they are wrong.

– This assumption would explain philosophobia. Sufferers complain that metaphysics is inconclusive and thus pointless, and so it will be wherever it is an orthodoxy that a neutral metaphysical position is false, as philosophobics themselves will always believe. Our assumption would also be a satisfactory defense against this disease since, contrary to the claim that there are none,  we are now able to endorse a sound and demonstrable metaphysical fact.

– It would explain the data, specifically the perennial finding that all positive theories about the world as a whole fail in logic. If the world is reasonable and non-miraculous then a false theory will be logically absurd and a logically absurd theory will be false. If the world is reasonable in this sense, and if our assumption here is correct, then metaphysics can be seen to be a trustworthy and valuable study since it identifies false theories conclusively and correctly. Logic cannot be expected to do more. The refusal of metaphysics to endorse any positive or partial theory would be a proof of its reliability and inestimable value as an academic discipline that should be at the core of the curriculum.

– It would explain why so many people, and almost the whole of the profession, cannot make progress in philosophy. Most people assume that the task would be to prove that some positive theory is true. This would be a hopeless undertaking, as history clearly shows.

– It would explain Kant’s characterisation of metaphysics as an ‘arena for mock fights’. The combatants would be attacking each others’ unsound partial positions from equally unsound partial positions and be condemned to hand-waiving forever. The solution would be to reject all these unsound positions and leave the arena, and this is what our assumption allows us to do.

– It would help to explain why mysticism is so difficult to explain. For a start, as we have seen, words that are rigorously true will seem to be paradoxical. In order to achieve rigour and to avoid endorsing any positive position, even by implication, a language of contradictory complementarity is required. Two strategies found in the literature are speaking only negatively (saying only what the truth is not, apophasis) and using a language of (seeming) paradox and contradiction. These approaches are often assumed to disguise ignorance or, even more ridiculously, seen as a ploy to maintain some sort of power-hungry secret society. In fact this is a technical matter easily explained by reference to metaphysics.

– It would explain the reason why many people would date the origin of the Western tradition of philosophical thought to Plato. Western thought is not free of mysticism after Plato, far from it, but it is noteworthy that Heidegger dates the end of the idea of unity and ‘oneness’ in mainstream philosophical thinking to Plato, whose tradition is clearly the loss of it.

– It would explain all the problems of philosophy, why they arise and how they can be solved. They would arise because our intellect struggles with the idea of a neutral metaphysical position and without some work may be able to make little sense of it. This leads many thinkers to shy away and assume that a positive position must be correct after all, despite centuries of proven results showing the futility of this hope. Meanwhile metaphysical problems can be solved, in principle at least, simply by assuming that there is a good reason why they are undecidable and giving up trying to decide them and solve them instead.


Two Objections Arising – and the God Issue

To clear up one vital issue, Nagarjuna’s metaphysical scheme would not imply the existence or non-existence of God. It would imply that nothing really exists, or not in the way that we usually think it does, and this would go for God and Man alike, as well as for pianos and electrons.

Most objections to the nondual philosophy are quite easily met since they have been made and met so many times before. There are a small number that are not so easy to meet, however, and the seemingly anti-logical or ‘illogical’ implications of a neutral position would be a prominent and much discussed case. This neutral position may seem to require a modification to Aristotle’s ‘laws of thought’ and thus appear ‘illogical’. As this objection is important and likely to arise immediately let me sketch an answer to it.

A neutral metaphysical scheme would solve all metaphysical dilemmas and antinomies by avoiding extreme views and seeking to ‘sublate’ or reduce the concepts and distinctions on which they will always depend. Philosophers are accustomed to the idea of compatabilism in respect of freewill/determinism, and now we would apply the same solution to all such problems. The solution would be instant and global. In the case of Mind/Matter, Something/Nothing, Internalism/Externalism and so forth this solution may seem implausible or even utterly incomprehensible, and this may be because it appears to violate Aristotle’s rules for the dialectic, specifically the law of excluded middle.

In fact there would be no violation. For a pair of statements to qualify as a dialectic contradiction one must be true and the other false. Where this is not the case then the rules of the dialectic would not apply for there would be no legitimate contradiction. If we examine the question, say, of whether the universe begins with Something or Nothing, we see that we are assuming that one of these ideas is true and the other false. A neutral position would say that both are inadequate, thus false. In this case there is no formal contradiction and no reason not to look for a better idea. If our intellect cannot handle this outcome then this would explain why the inexorable logic of the situation is so often ignored in favour of less mind-boggling ideas that do not work.

A second objection might be that this is all too straightforward. If mysticism normalises on a neutral or nondual metaphysical position, one that can be described formally in metaphysics and studied just like any other theory, then why is this not common knowledge? The present explanation might look suspect, misinformed or idiosyncratic simply because if it is correct then it ought to be common knowledge and covered in a hundred books. I cannot answer this objection since I do not understand why it is not common knowledge. It cannot be called common knowledge even within mysticism, where metaphysics is hardly any more popular than it is elsewhere.


In Summary

The cause of philosophobia would be a lack of progress in professional philosophy. The cause of this lack of progress would be a reluctance to concede the logical absurdity of positive metaphysical theories and the consequent undecidability of metaphysical questions, thus a lack of motivation to explore the ramifications of this analytical result. The nondual philosophy of mysticism rejects all such theories on grounds of logic and experience and so does not meet the problems that arise from endorsing any of them. For the most part neither professional philosophers nor philosophobia-sufferers take much notice of mysticism, however, and often not even metaphysics, so they become locked in a battle that need not be fought. As usual for the bitter wars that rage on between science and religion or science and philosophy, mysticism is the unnoticed collateral damage, forever the elephant in the room.

The relationship between the three phenomena in the title seems to be this. In order to justify philosophobia we would have to show that the philosophy of mysticism is unworkable. If it works then philosophobia cannot be justified. In order to justify philosophy and defeat philosophobia we would have to show the exact opposite result, namely that this other approach would work and would solve problems. The third option would be the status quo, and it seems to me that very few people could be happy with this.


Further Reading

I have yet to find a published text that explains the nondual philosophy in a way that would be most appropriate and effective for (quite understandably) sceptical scientists and scholastic philosophers, but every mainstream text will be relevant. Each person will have their own interests and will want to go a different way. Once we have grasped the meaning of a neutral metaphysical position sufficiently well to at least deduce its implications for language, we will begin to recognise this language whenever we see it, and then we will see that metaphysical neutralism it is a constant that runs through the literature of the world’s wisdom traditions, an ineluctable implication even where not explicitly discussed, informing its language and content at all times and vital to any interpretation. This would be the philosophical theory that describes the logical or conceptual structure of the world in which the true mystic lives, for whom its ramifications would be not merely theoretical but a lived reality.

I would pick out just four helpful titles. If anyone doubts the difficulty of simplifying Nagarjuna for western consumption there would be Jay Garfield’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (OUP, 1995). This should be mentioned as a major work of scholarship but I cannot recommend it since it is impossibly complex. A more recent book by Mark Siderits and Shorya Katsura, Nagarjuna’s Middle Way (Wisdom, 2013), would be a lot clearer as an introduction. Simpler still but less ‘philosophical’ would be Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso’s The Sun of Wisdom (Shambala, 2013). For a full discussion of Aristotle logic relevant to the brief comments made here there would be C.W.A Whittaker’s Aristotle’s De Interpretatione (OUP, 1996).



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Baba and the Nilkanthwala Mast

Only recently did I come across Meher Baba, whose disciples believed him to be an Avatar of God, along with  Jesus, Mohammed and Krishna. It seems that towards the end of his life and the ‘dropping off’ his body, Baba summoned a famous mast to come to stay with him for a time. A mast would be a ‘God-intoxicated Soul on the Path’. This particular God-intoxicated Soul was Nilkanthwala.

During his time with Baba this man, who maintained silence (and I think perhaps nakedness) for much of his life, seems to have spoken freely on many topics. Having mentioned here a while back an ancient Buddhist prophecy about what is in store for humanity, I was surprised to immediately come to this passage.  I fear it will not cheer anyone up.

“He used to cook his food with the help of Baidul. During the cooking he went on talking, saying mostly words which one could not understand. Among the sentences which he spoke to himself, the following is a trans­lation of his utterances in Hindi:

“The earth will split; men will become helpless and shelterless like beasts roaming on a plateau. Men will die in large numbers and will take birth again. Due to forced circumstances, men will be compelled to eat grass and leaves. Old human habitations will be wiped out and new ones will be established. The place of the in­digenous languages like Hindi will be replaced by the English language. Rites, rituals and religious ceremonies will be eliminated. A very big cloud will appear.”

An internet search led me to the same passage with some further background taken from a book on Baba called Avatar. I have been reading the account given by Ivy Duce, a disciple who assisted Baba for many years and who went on to run a Sufi group in the US. Her book is called ‘How a Master Works’. It is remarkable what turns up in my rural second-hand bookshop.

 Baba and the Nilkanthwala Mast

Just before the 10th of July, 1958, Baba ordered one of his close disciples at Dehra Dun to go to Hardwar and bring with him the Nilkanthwala Mast to Meherazad, to be near Baba in His seclusion. The following is the account of the Mast as given by the disciple:

On the 4th of July, 1958, when I reached the place where Nilkanth Mast stayed, I found him as if ready for some long journey. We looked at each other and before I was able to pay my respects to him, he ordered me to come and sit in front of him. This he communicated to me through gestures. He has the habit of communicating through gestures quickly in an authoritative manner.

After a while I requested him to come with me to Ahmednagar to meet dear Baba. I told him that the journey would be made in 2nd class according to his usual habit. He conveyed his willingness for the journey by clapping his hands loudly. We reached Hardwar Railway Station five hours before the scheduled time for the arrival of the train, so the Mast had to wait in the waiting room.

The Mast continued observing silence and remained in a particular posture almost throughout the journey. I took him once to the dining car, where he handled his spoon very efficiently. Half-naked as he was, the sight of his handling a spoon while eating amongst cultured persons and military officials in the dining car proved most unique.

When we reached Meherazad the Mast was assigned a separate room and Baidul was ordered by Baba to look after him. It was on the 10th of July when Baidul sent word that the Mast had broken his silence; after that, he talked on all sorts of relevant and irrelevant subjects practically every day, such as saying “Tindamindy, Udia bhai” . . . or, “Cooly lok,” etc. Some of his short sentences were rich in sense, such as “The world is a zero and in it is God.”

Whenever dear Baba visited him, the Mast took special care to offer Baba a seat, saying, “Please sit here.” Sometimes he praised Baba in Sanskrit verses: “We play with You, we speak with You, we take food with You, and we make jokes with You, in our ignorance.”

The article from which this is taken can be found here.

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The Sages on Happiness and How to Find It

Here are some extracts from the esoteric literature on a topic dear to all out hearts, happiness and how to find, maintain and eventually transcend it. No use being happy one minute and unhappy the next and a permanent state would be the ideal. Just as for ethical behaviour and an untroubled soul it is ignorance that would be the enemy,  a failure to perceive ourselves and our world as they really are.

“It is possible to live in a state of stable happiness only when we are completely free of ignorance. Awakening puts an end to unconscious rebirth, and then the conditions and causes of painful effects disappear. This is the realization of a state of happiness which no longer depends on our external circumstances, nor on our emotions.”

The Dalai Lama
Reflections from the Journey of Life (2002)

“It would be absurd to think that happiness begins and ends with the living-body: happiness is the possession of the good life: it is centred therefore in Soul, is an Act of the Soul – and not of all the Soul at that: for it certainly is not characteristic of the vegetative soul, the soul of growth; that would at once connect it with the body.

A powerful frame, a healthy constitution, even a happy balance of temperament, these surely do not make felicity; in the excess of these advantages there is, even, the danger that the man be crushed down and forced more and more within their power. There must be a sort of counter-pressure in the other direction, towards the noblest: the body must be lessened, reduced, that the veritable man may show forth, the man behind the appearances.

Let the earth-bound man be handsome and powerful and rich, and so apt to this world that he may rule the entire human race: still there can be no envying him, the fool of such lures. Perhaps such splendours could not, from the beginning even, have gathered to the Proficient; but if it should happen so, he of his own action will lower his state. If he has any care for his true life; the tyranny of the body he will work down or wear away by inattention to its claims; the rulership he will lay aside.

While he will safeguard his bodily health, he will not wish to be wholly untried in sickness, still less never to feel pain: if such troubles should not come to him of themselves, he will wish to know them, during youth at least: in old age, it is true, he will desire neither pains nor pleasures to hamper him; he will desire nothing of this world, pleasant or painful; his one desire will be to know nothing of the body. If he should meet with pain he will pit against it the powers he holds to meet it; but pleasure and health and ease of life will not mean any increase of happiness to him nor will their contraries destroy or lessen it. When in the one subject a positive can add nothing, how can the negative take away?

But suppose two wise men, one of them possessing all that is supposed to be naturally welcome, while the other meets only with the very reverse: do we assert that they have equal happiness? We do if they are equally wise.”

Enneads I, 4
On Happiness 14-15

“True happiness does not depend on any external being or thing. It only depends on us.”

The Dalai Lama
Reflections from the Journey of Life

“Sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice a small thing in order to obtain a greater one. If the circumstances are favourable, and we are led to choose between our own happiness and the greater happiness of other beings, then we should not hesitate to choose the latter.”

The Dalai Lama
Reflections from the Journey of Life

“We should never confuse happiness with pleasure.”

The Dalai Lama
Reflections from the Journey of Life 

“Suppose the soul to have attained: the highest has come to her, or rather has revealed its presence; she has turned away from all about her and made herself apt, beautiful to the utmost, brought into likeness with the divine – by those preparings and adornings which come unbidden to those growing ready for the vision – she has seen that presence suddenly manifesting within her, for there is nothing between: all distinction fades: it is as lover and beloved here, in a copy of that union, long to blend; the soul has now no further awareness of being in body and will give herself no foreign name, not man, not living being, not being, not all; any observation of such things falls away; the soul has neither time nor taste for them; This she sought and This she has found and on This she looks and not upon herself; and who she is that looks she has not leisure to know. Once There she will barter for This nothing the universe holds; not though one would make over the heavens entire to her; than This there is nothing higher, nothing of more good; above This there is no passing; all the rest however lofty lies on the downgoing path: she is of perfect judgement and knows that This was her quest, that nothing higher is. Here can be no deceit; where could she come upon truer than the truth? and the truth she affirms, that she is herself; but all the affirmation is latent and is silent.

In this happiness she knows beyond delusion that she is happy; for this is no affirmation of an excited body but of a soul become again what she was in the time of her early joy. All the she had welcomed of old – office, power, wealth, beauty, knowledge – of all she tells her scorn as she never could had she not found their better; linked to This she can fear no disaster, nor even once she has had the vision; let all about her fall to pieces, so she would have it that she may be wholly with This, so huge the happiness she has won to.”

Enneads, VI. 7,
How the Multiplicity of the Ideal-Forms Came into Being; and on the Good

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