I don't often use the word "dizzying." Especially in the title of a blog post. Here, I mean it as a compliment, in the sense of... giddy, bewildering.
Those are good things when it comes to writings that attempt to get at What Life is All About. Because if we think we understand what life is all about, we don't.
Today someone sent me an email.
Wanted to make sure you've seen this one:
as he is a wonderful writer *and* touches on subjects that seem to be dear to your heart.
Instead of reading a book during my pre-meditation time this morning, I perused that link on my laptop.
I later thanked my correspondent for turning me on to David Chapman, saying:
Thanks a lot for the link. I've read several posts/chapters and am blown away by this guy. He's like a more intelligent, more scientific, more coherent, more wise version of me who also can write a heck of a lot better. And has a great sense of humor. I'm an instant David Chapman fan. I'll probably put up a blog post tonight about his writings.
The more I delved into Chapman's web sites, the more I realized that trying to summarize his view of the world, and of reality, would be absurd. So I'll simply point to some writings that I've read, along with some others that I've quickly perused.
A good place to start is Chapman's starting point, an overview of his blogs and web sites.
The central message of this book is that meaning is real (and cannot be denied), but is fluid (so it cannot be fixed). It is neither objective (given by God) nor subjective (chosen by individuals).
The book offers resolutions to problems of meaning that avoid denial, fixation, and the impossibility of total self-determination. These resolutions are non-obvious, and sometimes unattractive; but they are workable in ways the alternatives are not.
"I seem to be a fiction" on Chapman's metablog about the book was my next quasi-randomly chosen stop.
There I learned that Chapman used to be (maybe he still is?) an artificial intelligence researcher at M.I.T. This piece is a highly entertaining "review" of Ken Wilber's Boomeritis, which I haven't read.
But I've read quite a few other Wilber books.
Pleasingly, because I like it when brilliant scientifically competent guys who write really well have the same attitude toward someone that I do, Chapman appears to be hot-and-cold toward Wilber in much the same way as I am.
Although I admire Boomeritis, I oppose much of Wilber’s other work. Mainly he advocates monist eternalism, which I think is disastrously wrong.
In fact, Wilber (together with Eckhart Tolle) seems to be the main source for a new form of pop spirituality. This movement repackages the German Idealist philosophy Wilber loves, in a glossy new “spiritual but not religious” form that particularly appeals to younger generations.
Eternalism: there is a God (but sometimes we’ll call it something else, like “The Absolute,” to deflect the arguments for atheism).
Monism: you, God, and The Entire Universe are All One.
...This is hokum. There is no Absolute, you are not the entire universe, and there is no “true self.” This stuff is simple wish-fulfillment; a fantasy of personal omnipotence and immortality. (As I will explain in plodding detail in the book.)
I also offered up some mental right on's when I found my way to a "The essence of all religions?" piece. I'll share a fairly lengthy David Chapman passage, hoping that you'll either applaud it as much as I did or get offended because he mocks your own spiritual beliefs.
Some people think it [the essence of all religions] goes something like this:
“Through social and cultural conditioning, we each build a false self—an ego—and imagine that is who we really are.
This ego is a harmful illusion that prevents us from perceiving reality as it truly is.
Meditation gradually strips away the layers of ego. Buried deep within, we find our true selves.
This true self is radiant, pure, undivided, perfectly simple.
Our true self is none other than Ultimate Reality itself—or is directly, intimately, organically connected with that Eternal Absolute Infinite, which is the entire universe.
The essence of all religions is the transformative perception of that magical connection to all beings. It is the profound, non-conceptual experience of the Oneness of the universe.
This is heart and the path and the goal of Buddhism: the mystical experience of enlightenment.”
This is an attractive story, with a compelling logic. It is accepted without question in “Consensus Buddhism.”
I think it’s entirely wrong. It’s also almost right—so it’s a bit hard to see how wrong it is.
I think it matters that it is wrong. This is not just a matter of definitions, or sterile intellectual debate.
Here’s a really short version of why it’s wrong:
- There isn’t a true self. (This is as close to an essence as most versions of Buddhism have got…)
- There isn’t an Absolute Infinite, either. (That’s not what emptiness, or nirvana, or other Buddhist abstractions are.)
- Most Buddhists, for the past couple thousand years, would have disagreed that mystical experience is the essence of Buddhism. Most would probably not have recognized it as being Buddhist at all.
Here’s a really short version of why it matters:
- This story leads to meditating in a particular way. Other stories lead to other ways of meditating.
- If your meditation aims at perceiving and unifying two things that don’t exist, you’ll be disappointed.
- Worse, you are likely to miss what meditation actually can provide.
- And, this misunderstanding leads you to dismiss valuable parts of Buddhism because they don’t produce mystical experiences.
In the quickly perused category, I browsed Chapman's intriguingly titled introduction to "Buddhism for Vampires," a piece on Dzogchen (which Chapman is big on), "No holiness -- vastness!," and "Approaches to religion."