My inspiration is Wei Wu Wei's "Open Secret," which I finished today. Like many books with a Zen, Buddhist, Taoist, Advaita, or non-dual slant, I passed through many stages of literary emotion while reading it.
Interest. Irritation. Confusion. Agreement. Contentment. Bewilderment. To name a few.
What kept me turning the pages were the glimpses of something intriguingly simple that the author, a.k.a. Terence Gray, was trying to communicate. It isn't an original notion, not by any means, but Wei Wu Wei -- at times -- says it more clearly than most.
From page 143:
Bondage, and the consecutive suffering -- which is all suffering -- is entirely dependent on the idea of an objective I, that is "a me." But no such contradiction-in-terms has ever existed, exists, or could ever be.
...To be an object is just to be perceptible, which is to appear.
To appear to whom? To be perceptible to what?
Only I can perceive. What else could there be to perceive, which could perceive? And whatever I perceive must be my object.
My object is an objectivisation of what I am. What else could there be for it to be?
Therefore every object is myself. There can be no thing which is not myself. I am no thing but my objects, and my objects are nothing but I.
Another try at saying it, from page 88:
The perceiver in fact has arrived at a point in his investigation at which he is looking at what he is himself; he has reached a dead-end in his analysis and finds himself face to face with his own nature, but, instead of recognizing it as such and realizing that the void is what an eye sees when it looks at itself, he goes on trying to objectify what he does not see, what he can never see, by turning it into an objective concept, like the good and well-trained philosopher he usually is.
...But there is, has always been, an alternative, when the dead-end, the Ultima Thule of conceptualisation has been reached, and that is just to turn round and wake up to the truth. Having arrived at the gate they tried to prise it open, not realizing that they were already on the right side of it.
And how is this realized? By doing nothing. From page 135 and 139:
All practice must necessarily be futile, and why the exercise of volition must necessarily defeat its own ends.
It is vain for an object to seek the subject which it is -- for only the subject could seek, and it cannot find itself by seeking -- for the sought is necessarily elsewhere than that which seeks it, is in a different moment of time and in a different area of space from those of that which is seeking.
...It is from the illusion of autonomy that a pseudoidentity awakens, and it is the condition that then obtains, a state of universality, which has been given the name "enlightenment," for an apparent identity has become aware of its universality, and has returned to full consciousness of the totality that it is.
Now, maybe this doesn't sound so clear to you. So I'll express my own understanding of what Wei Wu Wei is getting at in some (hopefully) simple words.
We try to know who we really are. Why?
Because we feel that if we knew, we'd be better off. Happier. More at peace with ourselves and the world. And religiously speaking, we'd be saved, enlightened, God-realized, whatever you want to call it.
We presume that there is a self, a soul, a psyche, a "me" -- something objectively real -- which is going to be known by us. So we search for it via meditation, prayer, contemplation, drugs, psychotherapy, walks on the beach, studying books, and many other sorts of ways.
But wait! Who is doing the searching?
Why, it must be...me. Who else could be doing it? Hmmmmm. This means that if I find myself, it won't be me, because I'm the subjectivity doing the looking, not the object that is found.
There's a spiritual/philosophical and a scientific/logical way of looking at this. Both end up in the same place: There's no "self" in myself. No "ego" in my egocentricity. No "soul" in my soulful searching.
Mystics, like Rumi, say that what we're looking for is so close, we don't recognize it. Here's how I expressed a Rumi story in my book about the Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, Plotinus: "Return to the One."
Rumi, a Persian mystic, speaks of a sage who told a man how to unearth a buried treasure. Paraphrased, the story goes like this: "Stand here," the sage says, "and shoot an arrow in that direction. Where the arrow lands, there the treasure will be found." The man gets a bow and enthusiastically does as instructed, carefully watching the high arc of the arrow as it flies away.
After digging where it landed, he is dismayed at not finding any treasure. "I'll keep trying," he vows. More arrows are shot, and soon the ground is cratered with holes. But still no treasure. Exhausted, he goes back to the sage and complains that all his work has gone for naught.
"I didn't tell you to shoot with all your strength," the sage tells him. "Simply let the arrow drop from your bow." The treasure, it turns out, was right beneath the man's feet.
Similarly, Plotinus says that our spiritual wealth is so close we are unable to find it. What separates us from what we seek isn't physical distance but rather the mistaken notion that we are separated at all. For it is by running outside ourselves that we distance ourselves from the One. A spiritual seeker's first step, then, is to stop moving and realize his or her true self.
Which, according to Wei Wu Wei, doesn't exist. So there is nothing for the non-existent self to do. Only to be.
There is no need to read books, chant Sutras, recite Scriptures, perform any antics; there is nothing whatever to discuss, argue about, or explain. There is nothing whatever to teach or to be learned... No volitional action whatsoever is possible that could "liberate" from "bondage," since there is no entity to be bound or to be free.
And from a scientific perspective, here's how Thomas Metzinger starts off his book about modern neuroscience, "The Ego Tunnel."
In this book, I will try to convince you that there is no such thing as a self. Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self. But it is not just that the modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are just about to shatter the myth of the self.
It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical puzzle of consciousness -- that is, how it can arise in the brain, which is a purely physical object -- if we don't come to terms with with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond the world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?
Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter has an answer in his book, "I Am a Strange Loop."
The strange loop making up an "I" is no more a pinpointable, extractable physical object than an audio feedback loop is a tangible object possessing a mass and a diameter. Such a loop may exist "inside" an auditorium, but the fact that it is physically localized doesn't mean that one can pick it up and heft it, let alone measure such things as its temperature and thickness!
...And thus the current "I" -- the most up-to-date set of recollections and aspirations and passions and confusions -- by tampering with the vast, unpredictable world of objects and other people, has sparked some rapid feedback, which, once absorbed in the form of symbol activations, gives rise to an infinitesimally modified "I"; thus round and round it goes, moment after moment, year after year.
In this fashion, via the loop of symbols sparking actions and repercussions triggering symbols, the abstract structure serving as our innermost essence evolves slowly but surely, and in so doing it locks itself ever more rigidly into our mind.
Interesting. Good stuff. But we're back to some complexity. I'd better end with some simpler Wei Wu Wei.
In this process of personalizing "mind" and thinking of it as "I," we thereby make it, which is subject, into an object, whereas "I" in fact can never be such, for there is nothing objective in "I," which is essentially a direct expression of subjectivity.
This objectivising of pure subjectivity, calling it "me" or calling it "mind," is precisely what constitutes "bondage." It is this concept, termed the I-concept or ego or self, which is the supposed bondage from which we all suffer and from which we seek "liberation."
...There cannot be any such thing as bondage at all, but only the idea of such. There is no liberation, for there is no "thing" from which to be freed. If the whole conceptual structure is seen as what it is, it must necessarily collapse, and the bondage-enlightenment nonsense with it.
Along with religion. Spirituality. Mysticism. Self-development.
Bye-bye. All gone. Good riddance.