Ooh! I bet the title of this blog post will irk spiritual types who believe that enlightenment is some sort of mystical transformation of consciousness requiring lots of meditation and/or other practices to achieve.
I certainly would have felt that way myself prior to my enlightenment about enlightenment.
But as noted in this recent post, I've come to the understanding that spiritual realization (if this term really means anything) involves seeing through the illusion of a soul/self that is separate and distinct from the body and brain.
In short, there is no self.
No soul. No person sitting inside our head and watching what is being experienced. This is Neuroscience 101. Also Genuine Spirituality 101. (See "Real spirituality is realizing you aren't a soul, or self."
So when non-dual authors and speakers blab on about how there is nothing to do or become in order to realize the truth of non-duality, they're right. In fact, they're so right, they shouldn't be charging for this oh-so-obvious insight.
It's like saying, "Nothing needs to be done to realize the truth of gravity." OK, no argument there.
Gravity is a physical fact, a law of nature. So is non-duality. The human brain isn't divided dualistically. Again, there is no detached observer inside the head who is observing experience. Experience and the experiencer are a single entity: the brain doing its thing as what we call "mind."
I've begun to lean toward the attitude that, contrary to what Harris and De La Rouviere say in their books, it isn't necessary to engage in meditation practices aimed at a direct intuitive experience of non-duality.
Rather, I argued:
When I look at the Sun set or rise, I still have the sensation that it is moving, while the Earth stands still. However, science tells me this is an illusion. I believe science. My mental image is of the Earth orbiting the Sun. It is only my eyes which deceive me.
Likewise, I don't believe that I have a self or soul. I haven't for quite a while. Yet I still feel like I am looking out at the world in the same way as a rider looks out from his position astride a horse: in control, separate from body.
...Again, after I understand that the Earth revolves around the Sun, I won't look upon a sunrise or sunset in the same way. Eventually that cognitive understanding may morph into an experiential realization of Earth moving and Sun staying still.
Buddhist meditation -- Harris favors the Dzogchen variety -- surely is a proven way of experiencing more fully the reality of no-self. Simply living life with eyes wide open is another way. I doubt that sitting at the feet of a Dzogchen master is necessary to realize there is no self or soul inside my head.
It's always nice to come across someone else who agrees with this basic outlook. My most recent find in this regard is Evan Thompson, the author of "Waking, Dreaming, Being: self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy."
Thompson's introduction to the book said that it's fine to jump around in it, since the chapters were written to stand by themselves. So I've done just that. After reading about consciousness, pure awareness, and deep sleep, I headed to the final chapter, Knowing: Is the Self an Illusion?
These excerpts from the last few pages of the chapter, and the book, seem right-on to me -- from the perspective of both non-religious Buddhism and modern neuroscience. Enlightenment is a cognitive understanding about the nature of the self, nothing more and nothing less.
The illusion -- or delusion -- is taking the self to have an independent existence, like taking the mirror image to be really in the mirror. Notice that the image as such isn't an illusion; it's the taking of the image to exist in the mirror that's the illusion.
Similarly, it's not the appearance of the self as such that's the illusion; it's taking the self to exist independently that's the illusion.
...Another important point is that undoing this illusion -- through highly developed meditative concentration combined with acute analytical insight -- doesn't mean destroying the appearance of the self as independent; it means not being taken in by the appearance and believing that the self is independent.
This ignorant and deep-seated belief, not the appearance of the self as such, habitually deludes us into thinking, feeling, and acting as if the self were independent.
in my view, the appearance of the self as independent is entirely natural. Whenever we perceive a mind-body stream, either from within or from without, the idea of self -- a subject of experience and an agent of action -- naturally arises.
And when this happens, the self must appear as something distinct from the stream, because that's precisely what a self is -- the dependently arisen and constructed appearance of an independent subject of experience and action.
What I take from this perspective -- and here I state my own view and make no claim that any other Indian yogic philosopher would agree -- is that "enlightenment" or "liberation" -- at least in any sense I would want to affirm -- doesn't consist in dismantling our constructed sense of self, as may happen in certain meditative states.
Rather, it consists in wisdom that includes not being taken in by the appearance of the self as having independent existence while that appearance is nonetheless still there and performing its important I-making function.
Nor does "enlightenment" or "liberation" consist in somehow abandoning all I-making or "I-ing" -- all self-individuating and self-appropriating activity -- though it does include knowing how to inhabit that activity without being taken in by the appearance of there being an independent self that's performing the activity and controlling what happens.
We could say that the wisdom includes a kind of awakening -- a waking up to the dream of independent existence without having to wake up from the dreaming.
Early on in his book, Thompson discounts the possibility that a non-material self or soul exists. Thus whatever the self is, it is a process, not a thing. Meaning, the self is produced by the actions of a brain/mind/body. It isn't anything independent.
But as he says above, the appearance of an independent self is entirely natural, albeit illusory. It is very much like the appearance of the sun setting: our eyes and brain naturally come to the conclusion that the Earth stands still and the sun moves.
Through knowledge, though, we can achieve the wisdom to understand that what appears to us as real, actually isn't.
It isn't necessary (or perhaps, possible) to do away with the illusion. However, we can understand its unreality for what it is -- just as shimmering pavement on a desert road is recognized as a mirage, not a pool of water, even though this recogniton leaves the illusion intact.
So if you seek enlightenment, you're better off reading books on neuroscience (along with secular Buddhism, if you like) than sitting at the feet of a guru or meditating a long time. The truth about our "self" isn't hard to find.