(These articles when read slowly can give you a much, much clearer understanding of their message than if you were to just skim through the words. I hope you’ll find them entertaining. Please enjoy.)
Years ago, there was lots and lots of vigilance in my life. Before and during spiritual seeking, I wasn’t badly suffering or in pain or unhappy with circumstances in life or stuck in dysfunctional patterns. Instead, I felt a deep sense of loneliness, alienation, lack of fulfillment, and a strong yearning from the heart and mind to know “What is it all about? What is the purpose of life? What happens after? What are all these mystical truths that are spoken of? Where is fulfillment to be found?” I was very vigilant about it.
Going back 30+ years, I tried many, many different paths, from Ayn Rand’s icy “Rational Selfishness” to the strictness and ecstasy of Born-Again Pentacostal Christianity. Years later, this all settled down to an intense inquiry.
For about 5 years, one question kept itself rooted in front of me. “What is the core of me?” I couldn’t help it – I’d ponder this in every spare moment the mind wasn’t engaged in something else. It was a sweet and relentless yearning. I really wanted to burrow into the deepest secrets of this. After a few years, the question refined itself. “What or where is this choosing, willing entity that seems to be in evidence?” “Is that the me?” “But where is it?”
The answer came one day while I was reading a book about consciousness. I was standing on the Grand Central subway platform during the evening rush hour, and the answer came. It didn’t come as a conceptual statement like “It is ABC.” Rather, it came by way of the world and the body imploding into a brilliant light, and the willing, phenomenal self thinning out, disappearing in a blaze of the same light. No separation was experienced; no time or space was experienced, yet I knew myself as the seeing itself. All “willings,” “desirings,” “thoughts” and other mentations were deeply experienced as spontaneous arisings in awareness, happening around no fixed point or location. And it wasn’t personal. Not only the entity “Greg,” but all apparent personal entities dissolved.
Out of nowhere, lightness, sweetness, brightness, and a fluidity of the world became qualities of everything, and became one with all experiences. My long-standing question had vanished along with what I had believed was “me.” There arose resiliency, joy, and an untouchable happiness.
This experience uncovered the realization that without the conceptual structures that make things seem real, there is no presumption of a separate center. There is no suffering and no basis for suffering. There is no feeling that things should be different than they are. This is a sense of peace far beyond what happens when we get what we dream about.
Free Will and Freedom
The question of free will is from the perspective of the person. Does the person have free will? Many of the person’s actions are forced or determined by factors over which it has no control. Some of these actions are accompanied by the feeling of being lived, of being in the flow, in the “zone.” People often count these as the best times. But are at least some of the person’s decisions and actions freely chosen? To establish free will, as is discussed in Philosophy 101 classes everywhere, it is not necessary to show that every action is free. Even one free action would be sufficient.
“Will that be coffee or tea?”
“Hmmm, let me think…. I’ll have tea, thanks.”
(Thought bubble rising:) “I’d love to take a walk in the beautiful woods. I’d like to surround myself with peace and serenity and inquire into my true nature.” (Putting on hiking boots, opening the camper door and stepping out), “Here I go.”
From the perspective of the person, if the decision process is not analyzed, the actions and decisions in both cases above seem to be perfect examples of free will. Upon analysis however, a free action and a free chooser cannot be found. A thought comes, followed by a desire, followed by a decision, followed by an action. Tracing backwards, the action is controlled by the decision, the decision is controlled by the desire, the desire is prompted by the thought. The thought arises spontaneously, itself unbidden, un-asked-for, unchosen. First the thought is not there, then it is. Nowhere in this process can a free will be found. Nowhere can a freely-acting chooser be found.
It is even too much to say that the actions, decisions, desires and thoughts can control or prompt each other. These cause-and-effect dynamics are not even observed. Rather, they arise as inferences and conclusions about what happened, that is, they arise as thoughts that rise and fall.
In something like Case 1, the decision might even be accompanied by a small feeling of freedom, lightness, and spaciousness. And maybe also accompanied by a thought, “I’m choosing tea but I could freely choose coffee instead.” But the feeling of freedom and the thought “I could” also arise unbidden. That is, the feeling of freedom is not freely chosen.
The person is not the locus of freedom.
The person and the rest of the world cannot be found apart from the awareness in which all things appear. The person, the mind, body and world arise as thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These are nothing other than objects in awareness, and are nothing other than awareness itself. The person does not experience; the person is experienced. As awareness, we are That to which these objects appear. Thoughts, feelings, sensations – these objects arise from the background of silent awareness, they subsist in awareness, and they slip back into awareness. The awareness in which they appear is not itself an object but the background of all objects. It is our true nature. But the objects come and go unbidden, without autonomy. They are powerless and cannot do anything on their own. Objects cannot possess or contain freedom.
Is there freedom?
The silent awareness in which all objects appear is the true nature of all things. Awareness says YES to everything. Even if a NO arises, awareness says YES to the NO. Awareness is without resistance, without limits or edges, without refusal and without obstruction. Awareness is not free, it is freedom itself. What we truly are is not the person but this awareness, this freedom.
The person wants to co-opt this freedom, to own it, to behold it, to be present to use and enjoy it. But in spite of this desire from the perspective of the person, the person can never own That in which the person appears.
What about teachings that emphasize free will?
Entire religions and ethical systems are based on this idea. Ramana Maharshi told a questioner that all actions are determined except the ability to inquire into one’s true nature. Isn’t Case 2 above different from Case 1?
Sometimes teachings and exhortations about personal freedom are a beautiful, effective and necessary step for freedom from the idea of being a person. A person who prematurely adopts a “no-free-will” teaching can lapse into depression and antinomian behavior. “You have to be someone before you can be no one.” The teachings on free will borrow from the freedom that we are. Among the many objects that arise in the mirror of awareness, some objects arise as images of mirrors. These images are taken as representations of their source. Like a mirror appearing in a mirror, Ramana’s teaching serves as a pointer to freedom. Case 2 is not different in this respect from Case 1. As objects, all cases and their characters, and all teachings and all discourse (even this one!) are not themselves free or self-powered, but they arise from freedom and consist in freedom.
The person is never free.
As awareness, we are never bound.
Physical Objects Disappear!
George Berkeley’s THREE DIALOGUES BETWEEN HYLAS AND PHILONOUS is a remarkable book. It is a short, well written set of dialogues, arguing in exemplary style that there can be no external physical objects which are somehow perceived by our sensory apparatus.
And over 20 years ago, it had the most amazing effect on the globality of my experience.
Who is Berkeley? You know that old philosophical question about the tree in the forest, would it make a sound if no one were there to hear it? He’s the guy in the 18th century who answered “No.” Berkeley argued tirelessly that there is no external physical substance. Our thoughts do not point to external objects like rocks and automobiles. Rocks and automobiles do not cause our thoughts.
When I was in grad school going for a philosophy doctorate, my teacher Colin Murray Turbayne was acknowledged as one of the world’s great Berkeley scholars. But to get a good grade in his class, you could never write anything against Berkeley. So we had to study Berkeley really carefully, because his ideas sounded so utterly unintuitive, crazy really. But after several months, they began to make sense.
One day after a lot of reading, Berkeley’s arguments crystalized, and it felt like a fog cleared from my mind. The feelings and convictions about supposed external objects vanished! The concepts of material substance and the attandant inside/outside distinction vanished. Nor were they necessary to explain our experiences. I was shaking with excitement, and not just because I thought I’d now get an “A” in Professor Turbayne’s class.
I went to Professor Turbayne’s office. He instantly saw that something was different. He looked questioningly at me, and I could only nod. He smiled and said, “Aha! Now go write about it!”
Since that time, over two decades years ago, the inside/outside disctinction has been useless to me. The notion of “material substance” has been just like the notion of “Santa Claus.” And amazingly enough, the dissolution of these notions has made it easier for me to interact in what is often called the physical world. Because I haven’t seen anything as physical for decades, there has been no fear factor. I learned to rollerblade and ride a bicycle with no brakes in the traffic-filled streets of New York City.
Perceptions that are usually called “physical” occur as a kind of language that has no inside or outside, where each concept refers to other concepts in a growing and consistent way. But there’s nothing Out There to which any of these ideas refer.
In my case, it was an excellent shake-up, like a mental Vege-matic blender, preparing me for non-dualist teachings.
To know more about Dr. Greg Goode and his work, please visit: http://www.heartofnow.com/files/links.html