Ah, intellectual and inspirational bliss.
A free, downloadable, thoughtful, well-written "Course in Consciousness" that moves smoothly from down to earth quantum theory to soaring spirituality.
This is my cup of reading tea. I've only been able to quickly browse through the 242 pages of Stanley Sobottka's writing, but I can tell that there's a lot to like here.
Sobottka is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia, so obviously he knows his scientific stuff.
His deep knowledge of, and appreciation for, Buddhist/Advaita teachings is more surprising – though he isn't the only physicist to wade into some deep philosophical waters (Amit Goswami and Shimon Malin are some others).
Check out Sobottka's short "Dialogue in Consciousness" for an overview of his approach. I resonate with almost everything he says, though I can't help repeating my mantra, "What do I know?"
I learned about the Course in Consciousness from a post on the Church of the Churchless forum. It quoted a paragraph on page 184:
Particularly destructive among the self-deluded spiritual teachers are those who teach that only they and their personal power can bring freedom, or that they are the ones best suited for the task. They would merely strengthen the chains of our bondage. No genuine teacher will imply that we need anything or anyone, since we are already free and complete. A teacher's function is to convey this to the student, and to help him or her to see that. A teacher is at best an invaluable resource to the student, and at worst, a "false prophet", the deluded purporting to teach the deluded, the blind trying to lead the blind.
Amen to that.
This passage from page 101 also appealed to me:
In summary, the following is what physics (plus some simple logic) tells us: There are no objects. There is only a series of observations. There is no observer. There is only nonlocal universal consciousness. As we shall see later, these statements are the essence of both Advaita and Buddhism. (In Advaita, nonlocal universal consciousness is called pure Awareness. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is called primordial consciousness, or buddha-nature.) It is remarkable that physics, which is the science of external, objective reality, can tell us so much about subjective reality, and also can be in such agreement with our most profound nondualistic teachings.
I'm a big fan of science. I also am attracted to the nondual teachings that constitute much of Sobottka's course.
It seems crazy that to know reality, we'd have to ignore half of it: objectivity or subjectivity. Consciousness seemingly links the outer and the inner, science and spirit, physics and mysticism – because if we're not conscious of something, it doesn't exist for us.
Here's Sobottka's Chapter 26: "Very short summary"
The following concepts, like all concepts, cannot describe Reality, but, unlike most concepts, they point to Reality.
1. The premise: Consciousness is all there is. Another word for Consciousness is the impersonal, yet intimate, I.
2. The conclusions:
I am not an object or entity.
Objects and entities are never real.
Whatever is supposed to happen will happen. Whatever is not supposed to happen will not happen. There is no doer, so there is no choice.
The entire manifestation is an expression of Love.
3. The practice: Don't believe this—look and see it for yourself!
This interview with Sobottka also encapsulates his outlook.
[Technical note: Sobottka's web site has links to some interesting PowerPoint presentations. If you don't have PowerPoint, you can view them with a free PowerPoint viewer.]
I hope that this is not just some piece of "April Fools" jest.
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | April 02, 2008 at 10:19 AM
"It seems crazy that to know reality, we'd have to ignore half of it: objectivity or subjectivity."
--Maybe we don't have to ignore objectivity or subjectivity but simply realize there is neither? Not so simple, really!
Anyway, interesting post and link to good reading.
Posted by: tucson | April 02, 2008 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: the elephant | April 03, 2008 at 06:52 PM
I've had a quick look at Prof. Sobottka's course, and I hope to spend more time with it, as he offers a lot of good information. He offers a monist / physicalist view of consciousness, along with a bridge between such a mental ontology and general Buddhist notions regarding "self" (and lack thereof).
As an FYI, I'll point out that the late Francesco Varela, a well-respected neuroscientist, philosopher and practicing Buddhist, wrote several books and articles along the same lines. I read "The Embodied Mind" and enjoyed it. I wonder what Sobottka has to say about Varela's work.
Despite Varela's compelling arguments, I myself have not given up on dualist notions regarding consciousness and theology. (Yes, I know what the Buddha said about the suffering of not letting go; but hey, no pain, no gain). I'm not trying to bring back hide-bound scholasticism, but I do believe there may still be some "baby" in that dirty old bathwater.
Daniel N. Robinson, one of the few academic defenders of substance dualism and the more traditional Christian moral and metaphysical views, makes the point that the strongest monist-physicalist arguments regarding consciousness (e.g. identity theory) can be a bit underwhelming. To paraphrase Robinson, if identity theory views are accepted, nothing changes. Most explanatory paradigms yield new insights; in that regard, physicalism is the dog that didn't bark. (To continue this bad metaphor, I myself like a little barking from a dog searching for truth.)
So I couldn't help but note where Sobbtka's ideas lead: "Whatever is supposed to happen will happen. Whatever is not supposed to happen will not happen." Nothing new there. Perhaps Professor Robinson has a point.
Jim G, Eternal Student of/for Life
Posted by: Jim G. | May 02, 2008 at 08:11 AM
Jim, good points. I often feel the same way about nondual philosophies. They're appealing for their simplicity, but they end up not saying much, or making testable statements.
Yes, if we aren't aware of something, it doesn't exist for us. That seems obvious. But is this ultimate reality, awareness?
Maybe, maybe not. Our human consciousness isn't necessarily the root of everything. Yet the "consciousness is all" approach seems to elevate human awareness to a God-like position.
Again, maybe that's justified; maybe it isn't. Nonduality isn't irrefutable. It's one way of looking at the world. Not the only way, for sure.
Posted by: Brian | May 04, 2008 at 10:52 AM
"I often feel the same way about nondual philosophies. They're appealing for their simplicity, but they end up not saying much, or making testable statements."
--That's the point of non-duality..There is no 'thing' to test and no 'thing' to say. No absolute 'thing'.
"Yes, if we aren't aware of something, it doesn't exist for us."
--The "IT" in non-duality is not a thing to be aware OF. Think of it as aware-ing.
"Our human consciousness isn't necessarily the root of everything. Yet the "consciousness is all" approach seems to elevate human awareness to a God-like position."
--Beetle awareness is no different. You know how they say the beetle has "Buddha-nature".
"Nonduality isn't irrefutable. It's one way of looking at the world."
--It's not looking AT the world from a phenomenal center. It's being the world where the phenomenal center is merely another appearance.
The human thought process wants an answer, but as Huang Po said: The wise,the awakened, reject what they think, not what they see.
Or, as our contemporary Sailor Bob says: "What's wrong with right now- unless you think about it? !
Posted by: tucson | May 04, 2008 at 12:35 PM
I tend to agree with Tucson's responses to your comments about "nondual phiosophies". But I would phrase it a little differently perhaps.
The problem, or rather the confusion that I see going on here, is related to conceptions and ideas about nonduality, and not non-duality itself.
The "nondual philosophies" that you mentioned are nothing but thoughts, ideas, concepts. They are useless. There is no end to argueing over them.
I can see from your comment that you have certain thoughts and ideas about nonduality, and that your conclusion - "Nonduality isn't irrefutable. It's one way of looking at the world" - is based upon those ideas. And if you are going to merely argue over ideas ABOUT nonduality, then your conclusion is correct.
However, there is another angle to this which has nothing to do with conceptions and ideas, or philosophies, about nonduality.
In order to best present that angle, it is better done not with just more ideas. So I'll try it this way...
You said: "...about nondual philosophies. They're appealing for their simplicity, but they end up not saying much, or making testable statements."
-- The point is not whether its appealing or simple. But more importantly, you are refering to "philosophies"... not to nonduality. But philosophies are merely ideas, concepts, and interpretations about something. In this case, that 'something' is nonduaity. But nonduality is not a 'thing', not an object, not even an idea.
Of course there are many ideas and concepts ABOUT nonduality, and thats what you are referring to... but nonduality is not just an idea, or a philsophy. Yes, it is a word, and a word that represents an idea, and ideas that compose a philosophy.... but nonduality itself is not an object, and so can be accurately portrayed in words or philosophies.
All concepts and philosophies about nonduality, are in fact DUALITY by their very nature. So when you say "nondual philosophies", you are not talking about nonduality at all. As soon as you try to encapsulate it in this way, with wrods and ideas, you are totally off the mark.
Therefore, all so-called "nondual philosophies" are not nonduality at all, they are duality. So therefore, of course these "nondual philosophies" that you are referring to "end up not saying much". There is nothing accurate that CAN be said.
And as for "making testable statements"... the same thing applies - What are you testing? What are you testing for? And what "testable statements" are you referring to? You can test "statements" (about ideas and philosophies), but they are merely ideas. Who is going to test nonduality? You merely have IDEAS ABOUT nonduality, and so that is all you are testing.
You said: "But is this ultimate reality, awareness?"
-- This "ultimate reality" is only just an idea that you have. It is just thoughts and words. It is just an abstract idea, nothing more. So it does not relate to something like awareness or consciousness.
I don't know what "ultimate reality" is, nor do I even care. It's just words. It is relatively meaningless to me. But I do HAVE awareness... and I could also say that I AM awareness. Awareness is not an object, but it is something intrinsic to my very existence. In fact, awareness IS my existence, and it is also how I am aware OF my existence, how I know my existence. It is also how I know, or how I am aware... that I am aware and that I have and am awareness.
Awareness is what makes it possible for us to have all these thoughts and words and ideas. And you do not deny that you have awareness, do you? Of course, we all have awareness. So the problem only comes up when you try to speculate on such notions as "ultimate reality" etc etc.
This "ultimate reality" is YOUR idea, not mine. It is simply an idea. I try to avoid thee term for this very reason.
On the other hand, awareness is awareness. Awareness is not just merely a word or an idea. Awareness is like the space in which all these thoughts and ideas arise.
The problem is when you try to link this abstract notion of so-called "ultimate reality", with just simple awareness. Awareness is sufficient. We don't really need ideas like "ultimate reality" that only serve to confuse and distract us from our here and now awareness, or our awareness of here and now.
You said: "Our human consciousness isn't necessarily the root of everything."
-- Maybe "human consciousness" is not, but it is the only way we know anything, and is the extent to which we know anything. It may not be "the root", but it is all we have, so the point is moot.
You said: "Yet the "consciousness is all" approach seems to elevate human awareness to a God-like position."
-- I don't know. I don't see it that way myself. You probably feel that way because of the book you have been reading. I don't "elevate" human awareness to any position. All I know is that I am aware, and that this awareness is fundamental to my existence as I know it. I don't think of it as God, or "God-like". Awareness, or I should say my awareness, is all I know. And it is on a moment to moment basis. So I don't relate, and don't need to relate, to the ideas and conclusions in that book you are reading.
And if I were you, I would not take some authors ideas all that seriously. The answer, the only answer that you can ever find, always lies right here and now in your own moment to moment awareness.
You said: "Nonduality isn't irrefutable. It's one way of looking at the world."
-- Yes... the IDEA of nonduality is one way of LOOKING at the world. But as I said before, th\at is only an idea ABOUT nonduality, and not nonduality itself. Nonduality is just a word. ... Awareness is the aliveness of your existence - the awareness or knowingness of your existence... the existence of your existence.
I would suggest forgetting about all these useless intellectual ideas such as "consciousness is all" and "nonduality" and "ultimate reality", and so on and on.... and just pay more attention to Awareness, to YOUR OWN moment to moment awareness. Because that's all you really have anyway.
The rest is all just useless, distracting, and many time confusing ideas. Just look at all the unfortunate examples around... how many people are so lost and hung up in so many layers and layers of artificial and contrived ideas and beliefs.
Posted by: tAo | May 04, 2008 at 03:01 PM
How do you interpret or what do you mean by 'think' in Sailor Bob expression: "think"
1—How do you distinguish and isolate "thinking" from the actuality of the now? Is thinking, in addition of involving a representational content, an actuality in the same sense as anything else that 'constitutes' whatever now is? What is in your view a ‘now’ without thinking? Why do you feel and who feels compelled to reject thinking?
2-- Is the activity of rejection that your quote of Huang Po points to a form a duality in itself? (Personally, I would like to see the original chinese of the saying in order to rule out any ‘lost in translation’ issue which I suspect) What is there a rejection involve after all? Why rejection and who rejects what?
3—Based on the above, does whatever actuality is "It's being the world where the phenomenal center is merely another appearance" involve any form of thinking or do you assume vegetative-like 'presence'?
In your discussion, you refer to—and assume—the notion of center. If I do understand you correctly (and I may not) about this notion of center, do you conceive the simple observation that the presence intrinsic to center-as-Brian is insulated from that associated with center-as-(the elephant) as form of duality or not? In layman’s terms: is the fact that I am unaware of Brian’s presence unfolding (inner life, experience, etc.) and vice-versa a form of duality—whether it is an appearance or not?
Posted by: the elephant | May 04, 2008 at 05:03 PM
"How do you distinguish and isolate "thinking" from the actuality of the now?"
"Is thinking, in addition of involving a representational content, an actuality in the same sense as anything else that 'constitutes' whatever now is?"
"What is in your view a ‘now’ without thinking?"
"Why do you feel and who feels compelled to reject thinking?"
--Thinking isn't rejected, but 'now' is never 'caught' by it. As soon as you think about it, it's gone.
"Is the activity of rejection that your quote of Huang Po points to a form a duality in itself?"
--Yes. Really, there is no rejection that anyone can do that would take them any closer to THIS.
"(Personally, I would like to see the original chinese of the saying in order to rule out any ‘lost in translation’ issue which I suspect)"
--Probably there is some "lost in trnaslation", but it doesn't matter. Words are just words anyway.
"What is there a rejection involve after all? Why rejection and who rejects what?"
--I don't think actively rejecting is the point here. Otherwise, "rejection" would become a practice, a spiritual path, that an illusory self does to get to some conceptual goal.
"Based on the above, does whatever actuality is "It's being the world where the phenomenal center is merely another appearance" involve any form of thinking or do you assume vegetative-like 'presence'?"
--I can't explain it. There's nothing to do. It is a non-action. The chinese have a term which connotes it better..."wu wei" which gets lost in translation. One is lived rather than one doing the living. Free will is an idea. Lift your hand. it does so of its own accord. It only seems "you' do it because you think about it. This, of which we circumnavigate in this narrative, is not static or some permanent thing 'you' remain in and attain. it is dynamic. Different states and appearances continue as always. Irritation, lust, humor, pain, exhilaration, all part of the show. I mean, it continues to rain, volcanoes still erupt. No magic. Nothing mystical.
Your final paragraph..I get what you mean. I'll come back to it after I do a few things. Good questions.
Posted by: tucson | May 04, 2008 at 08:11 PM
Thank you for the clarifications. Again, we are kind of reaching a dead end (see below).
A key meaning expressed by the quote of Sailor Bob you posted is that thoughts are somehow the 'cause' of suffering—see the rest of his writings for a confirmation of that interpretation. But is it really so? For instance, crossing a street or writing these lines will involve diverse 'thinking' and yet there is no suffering unfolding coextensively with these activities. Narratives similar to those of Sailor Bob are analogous to those of a doctor who would confuse the symptoms of a disease with its causes and origin. These narratives make as much sense as that of a doctor who affirms that "headaches are the cause and origin of the flu" ...
I wonder: is the incapacity you experience about conceptual thinking and language the outcome of the inherent limitations of words and reflexive thinking only? My view is that it is only partially so. Of course, words have intrinsic limitations and none will ever contain/describe the absolute or nonduality; however, my questions were never about the absolute or some elusive nonduality. The questions were about objects similar to mundane and immediate ‘things’ like an aquarium, our daily and inner experiences, and the sun; for which words are not completely useless and, as our actions themselves confirm, do matter. If you wish to convince yourself try to communicate without words for about a month. And as far as we post and comment on blogs that is all we got and posting is tacitly acknowledging that words are potent.
"Different states and appearances continue as always. Irritation, lust, humor, pain, exhilaration, all part of the show. I mean, it continues to rain, volcanoes still erupt. No magic. Nothing mystical."
--Is there no difference then between Tucson Bob and a friend of mine who does not give a damn about any kind of formal spirituality but nevertheless continuously strives to achieve some form of happiness with money, sex, companionship, etc--and thus continuously suffers due to the fleeting nature of those things?
I could continue but since you were so kind to post a few passages written by others I will do the same with quotes that exactly expresse what I wish to say:
“What do I mean by ‘blind tortoise’? One the current crop of sightless, irresponsible blunger-priests ... While even such mean are not totally devoid of understanding, they are clearly standing outside the gates, whence they peer fecklessly in, mouthing words like “Self-nature is naturally pure, the mind-source is deep as an ocean. There is no samsaric existence to cast aside, there is no nirvana to be sought. It is a sheer and profound stillness, a transparent mass of boundless emptiness. It is here that is found the great treasure inherent in all people. How could anything be lacking?
Ah, how plausible it sounds! All too plausible. Unfortunately, the words they speak do no possess even a shred of strength in practical application. These people are like snails. The moment anything approaches, they draw in their horns and come to a standstill. They are like lame turtles; they pull in their legs, heads, and tails at the slightest contract and hide inside their shells … They assure you that before is “nothing lacking.” But are they absolutely confident and completely joyful in their activities, are their minds free of care?
[p.66 The essential teachings of Zen Master Hakuin (Translated by Norman Waddell)]
“From the Zen people today […] your often hear this “Don’t introspect koans. Koans are quagmires. They will suck your self-nature under. Have nothing to do with written words either. Those are a complicated tangle of vines that will grab hold of your vital spirit and choke the life from it.
Don’t believe that for a minute! What kind of ‘Self-nature’ is it that can be ‘sucked under’? Is it like one of those yams or chestnuts you bury under the cooking coals? Any ‘vital spirit’ that can be ‘grabbed and choked off’ is equally dubious’ Where in the world do they find these things? The back shelves of some old country store? Wherever, it must
be a very strange place.”
[p.24 The essential teachings of Zen Master Hakuin (Translated by Norman Waddell)]
It is funny to realize that even after more than 300 years some things have changed so little …
Posted by: the elephant | May 05, 2008 at 04:47 AM
I think the Elephant reacts to what he perceives as the pompous blatherings of this 'blind tortoise' known as tucson. tAo once referred to the realization I speak of as a kind of nescient impersonalism. That's OK. I enjoy this. That's why I keep commenting on the blog in between futures and stock transactions which is my main hobby-game if I'm not riding the bike or watching "Dancing with the Stars", "Ultimate Fighting", or "Boston Legal" or playing with knives or the dog. Here are some more blatherings of the "nescient impersonal blind tortoise" for whatever they're worth:
the Elephant wrote: "A key meaning expressed by the quote of Sailor Bob you posted is that thoughts are somehow the 'cause' of suffering"
--Let's just say I was at the beach (it could just as easily have been in a shopping mall) and this realization came over me. It was all perfectly clear in an instant, a thoughtless instant that could have been millions of years. I call it the undifferentiated state. It is just a recognition of how things are. It was so simple! Then I thought, "OH, This is it! Wow!" I got excited and instead of BEING this realization I started to think ABOUT it. The 'I' returned and tried to grasp it. At this point IT became an object and I became the subject experiencing it and lo and behold there was tucson again up to his old tricks and the recogniton ceased to be dynamic and alive, but rather a memory..a concept. I think this is what is meant by Sailor Bob's "What's wrong with right now, unless you think about it."
So, my words on this blog are dead, tombstones for living intuitions that are distorted and obscured by the process of thought and relative terminology.
However, despite their limitations, words and concepts are the tools we have to use to INDICATE, but they will forever fail to encapsulate. That is the frustration for people who hear words about non-duality. They want to 'get it', to hold on to it with their thoughts.
So, why bother to say anything at all? Because indications may be the catalyst for actual intuitive recognition. Like koans which take mind to the brink from which it springs into the abyss.
The wandering, identified individual seeks deliverance from the quandry of existence and mortality, from suffering and the fear born of insecurity. They grasp at this activity, that obsession, a structured belief system, but all they are doing is trying to hold on to a leaf in the wind. Perhaps words can help a person to let go of the leaf and let their spirit fly with the wind. Or maybe words (not necessarily mine) can be like little barriers in a parking lot that keep your car on course until you reach the open boulevard..like the zen master's stick.
Posted by: tucson | May 05, 2008 at 10:58 AM
tAo, I agree with what you said above. There is indeed a big difference between thoughts about nonduality (or awareness) and the thing itself as directly experienced.
What I was referring to are the thoughts expressed by writers on nonduality. Which, as you said, necessarily are dual.
Almost always I enjoy the beginning of books about nonduality more than their endings. That's because they usually start off simple and end up a lot more complex.
It seems clear to me that whatever reality really is, it isn't anything a human concept can encompass. This means that anything we can say about nonduality -- or any other "ultimate" truth -- isn't what it is.
Posted by: Brian | May 06, 2008 at 06:20 PM