Often it's said, "God is mystery." People love mysteries. They're interesting, intriguing, and, well, mysterious.
So religious believers, rather strangely, somehow combine an acceptance of well-defined dogmas, teachings, commandments, and such with an embrace of a Great Unknown.
Mysticism, to which I'm considerably more attracted than religion, dumps the "acceptance" stuff and jumps right into the "embrace."
Mystics say, I want mystery (that's why they're called mystics).
So does science. The known is appealing to scientists. But it's the unknown that really gets their truth-seeking juices flowing.
The central thing that differentiates my churched self from my churchless self is this: now I've realized that the first, and maybe only, cosmic mystery I want to solve is who I am, not who or what God is.
The book's index only has one reference to God.
And this is a negative one, since Forman speaks about how a beginning monk, when asked why he is doing such and such, will give an answer that refers to certain objects or goals: samadhi, God-Consciousness, or whatever. In other words, an intention.
Intentions or desires are interesting. But they're not really mysterious. The big mystery is what underlies intentions. And everything else that appears in a person's consciousness.
Consciousness thus is the here-and-now, right in front of me, closer than the end of my nose, analogy to God -- in that consciousness is the seeming source of what is in our minds, just as God is considered to be the creator of what is in the universe.
But our consciousness is directly accessible to us. God isn't. So it makes sense to mystics (and me) to focus on figuring out the Mystery of Me first and the Mystery of God later.
If at all.
"If at all," because it might turn out that our clear and present consciousness is the primal mystery, not a murky and distant God. (Some traditions equate the two, of course, as in atman is brahman.)
Forman has had a profound mystical experience himself. He's also an academic, so he is able to analyze the experience and place it within the context of mystic philosophies and practices.
His basic thesis is this:
The evidence provided by mystics leads us to distinguish between two concepts that are generally not distinguished: intentional consciousness and awareness per se...In the pure consciousness event, we argued, mystics experience their own awareness to be without content.
...Awareness itself functions and remembers itself differently than it remembers content. It does not know or remember itself through any kind of intentional structure, but rather, we said, just unintentionally knows and holds itself together through time.
Thus we can distinguish two distinct epistemological structures: knowing intentionally, which [William] James divided into knowledge-by-acquaintance and knowledge-about, and the nonintentional form of self-knowing, which I call "knowledge-by-identity."
Knowledge by identity is an epistemological structure that any and every conscious being must have, a knowing what it is to have a consciousness simply by virtue of being conscious.
In other words (and I'd be the first to agree that Forman uses some fairly abstruse words), we know consciousness by being aware.
As Popeye said, "I am what I am." (Or rather, "I yam what I yam.")
Knowledge by identity.
What's beautiful about this thesis, which makes a lot of both experiential and intellectual sense to me, is how it points toward a non-metaphysical oneness.
Forman observes that while being an American is profoundly different from being Japanese, the awareness per se of an American likely is the same as the awareness per se of a Japanese. Or any other human being.
Often it is said that we don't know what it is like to look through another person's eyes. Meaning, what it is like to be them, rather than our own self.
Jean-Paul Sartre speaks a lot about this -- how we are a subject to ourselves and an object to others.
Existentialists like him tend to find this a bit (or a lot) depressing, since it seems to establish an unbridgeable gulf between our subjective sense of self and the appearance of others as objects within our consciousness.
But this notion of awareness points toward a commonality between every person on Earth, and maybe even between all sentient beings of any sort.
Take away what each of us is conscious of, and perhaps what is left is... awareness pure and simple.
Watching my dog stare at a chipmunk hole at this moment, I can't help but feel that if I subtracted all the contents of my human consciousness from my awareness, and if she could subtract all the contents of her canine consciousness from her awareness, we'd be pretty much the same.
Maybe exactly the same. Awareness. Consciousness aware of being conscious.
One. Which is pretty darn close to what God often is considered to be.