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August 10, 2014


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Nice thread, well worth a read.

re: the "uncertainty of the spiritual quest ... would you say this is an effort really worth taking?"

From an 'effortless effort' perspective life then becomes quite enjoyable, just a spiritual ride, an adventure of sorts and imo much more interesting than indulging in "... a hedonistic / material existence" which looks to me like very boring and uninspiring. After all life is very uncertain and indulgence seems an aimless and pointless escape route.

As Charan used to say, just continue and continue...


Indulging in hedonistic pursuits can only be uninteresting and aimless if you' can't afford to do so, or you're aiming at the wrong places my potential friend!

Maharaj Charan Singh indulged quite a bit in photography, traveling/trekking from what is seen in the book called Legacy of Love. And, tea breaks...

Hi Nithit,

Hey, I like that I'm a potential friend.

Dictionary - "Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them."

So Charan enjoying his photography, traveling etc is 'ethically' okay, kinda balances things out with all that he put up with from demanding satsangis... now for a tea break..

not nitpicking lol

Brian, thank you for your reply. And thank you very much for your kind words. To be told that “you remind me of me!”, even if only in jest, by someone whom I’ve come to admire immensely, is—I confess unabashedly—flattering and rather thrilling! :-)

I take your point about the “counterfactuals”. It was a new word for me, and I had to look it up (as often happens when I read your blog). While being entirely ignorant of any deeper philosophical thoughts of others on this, I have to say that I’m not at all sure I agree that “counterfactuals” are necessarily pointless. I agree that one needs to have the mental discipline not to run amok in an orgy of regret for past choices, but to clinically examine past choices in light of present knowledge seems fairly worthwhile to me, both as a general thought experiment and as a guide for future choices. Isn’t that exactly what we do when we consciously review our day’s actions and thoughts at the end of each day (per many diverse spiritual traditions as well as purely secular therapeutic systems)? I think it’s quite possible to recognize a life choice, in retrospect, as a very wrong one (although it may have seemed right when it was made)—without regret (or at least, even if there is some regret, without wallowing in that regret, and without making a big production out of that regret), but merely as an observation, and as guidance for future life choices. You know, rather like reviewing your financial investments, like for example looking back on and analyzing why buying that particular stock (which looked like a sure-shot multibagger when one took a long position on it, but which actually turned out a major dud) was not such a good idea after all. At least that is how it seems to me, when I read what “counterfactuals” means and implies.

- - - - -

You answer the question I asked in those three and a half sentences towards the end of your post : “Because I want to. Because I enjoy doing what I’m doing. Because my wanting and enjoying aren’t in my control.”

I suppose one can look at that in one of two ways :
(a) It’s a hobby, much as golfing, or detailed study of some particular form of music, or any other. One does it because one likes it, for itself, not as a means to something “bigger”.
Or, (b) One does it because one cannot help it. A divine calling, a divine compulsion.

Which of the two ways of looking at your answer is more apt, will probably depend on the “answer” you find (or don’t). If you (personally) do end up finding “God” (either within yourself, or in the form of a white-bearded face in the sky who scribbles notes on stone tablets, or playing bells and conches and other assorted instruments inside people’s heads, or in definitely discovered nothingness), then your biographers will no doubt plug for (b) in their hagiographic accounts of your life. But since it’s more probable that you won’t find anything, since there isn’t anything to find, I’ll go with (a) for now.

So : one undertakes the “spiritual quest” for any and every reason why one undertakes any other hobby. Great answer, thanks. That answer does help.

- - - - -

You very insightfully say in your post : “I suspect that you already know the answer to your question, the answer for yourself.” That’s true enough in one sense. I am quite sure that this will remain a life-long interest and hobby for me, and in fact it has been that for quite a few years already. But it’s only half-correct, only part of the whole picture : because what I want to decide on is, whether it is to take on a bigger role in my life.

I’m way older than your 18-year self that I spoke of in my email, and also very much younger than your present 60-year self. An unexpected medical episode (which has since been resolved) made me suddenly and starkly aware of my own mortality, and led me to deeply re-examine my life choices thus far. Not that my personal details are really relevant, but what I’ve done after that is to closely study three different “traditions”—two theistic, one not—as a fairly representative cross-section of all such traditions out there—and am actively considering whether or not to plunge into actual practice of one of them, or two of them, or perhaps all three of them. All three traditions are (allegedly) “experiential”, all three are (allegedly) tried and tested (that is, of some vintage and gravitas, and not some newly-minted, new-agey claptrap), and all three seem scientific (not literally scientific, not in the empirical sense : I mean scientific in the sense that their particular experiences are subjectively but personally testable by each individual student/practitioner—or so they say). My first impulse was to dive as deep as I can into this, to see for myself if there’s anything in all this or not, but I’m starting now to have second thoughts on whether such a large investment of time and energy will be worthwhile. While I will always be interested in things of this kind, and it will certainly always be a “hobby” that I’ll enjoy, what I’m trying to decide at this time is whether I should make of this anything more than just that. Whether, in particular, I should go to the length of committing myself to the actual practice of one (or more) of these particular traditions. That was where I was coming from when I asked you that question.

And I read your answer to that question to mean : Do it if you enjoy it, and to the extent that you enjoy the actual process, for the sake of the thing itself. Not as the means to something bigger—since there may not be any such thing at all. (Please correct me if I am wrong in so interpreting your reply.) I think that’s a great answer, and makes perfect sense.

- - - - -

I found your reference to absence of free will very curious. You seem to be saying that we are who we are, and we do what we do, and do not necessarily have any control over our life choices. That no matter how self-willed we believe we are, we are no more than puppets of a pre-ordained destiny. Now that sounds religious-ish to me (surprisingly and atypically so, coming from you). Surely that is one assumption that one can safely make, that one does have free will—quite irrespective of the answer(s) to all the bigger questions? We may be very small and insignificant, and what we do may not mean much in the wider scheme of things, but how can there be any doubt about free will within our admittedly small bound of influence? The past is of course past : but whether I dine out tonight with my significant other, or eat at home alone, or skip dinner altogether, that is something very much in my control (within the obvious constraints, of course—not the least of which is the often contrary free will of my SO :-) ), isn’t it?

You’re saying you “don’t believe in either the ‘self’ or free will”. Well, we don’t see God, so the default intuitive position would be, there is no God. Should we want to posit God, we would need proof. Similarly, since we see stars up there in the blue sky, the default position should be (and was) that there’s an azure curved ceiling up there, with shiney thingies stuck in : and the onus of proof would lie squarely with the visionary/scientist who hypothesizes what we today know and accept about the sky and the stars. Isn’t it? In the same vein, free will and the existence of a self are intuitive subjective observations (I am, obviously; and I can move my arm up and down, or not, as I will—subject to obvious constraints like my having an arm, my not being paralyzed or tied up, or not suddenly dropping dead, etc.) I would imagine that the onus of proof here would lie on those who wish to take the counter-intuitive position that there is no self or that there is no free will. (Even if that proof is only purely subjective and personal, as the Buddha allegedly proved to his own satisfaction.) At least that is how it appears to me.

Not that I want to question your personal beliefs : but I’m sure you, of all people, wouldn’t have arrived at those beliefs simply at random, without first having rigorously addressed the obvious objections that I’ve just raised. I’m sure I’m missing something! So what is it I’m missing here?

By the way, that’s what I meant by not shooting off with the questions. I’ve already written a huge long comment, with two fresh questions already tucked in (three, if you count my re-stating my question in some more detail). So, after this comment, I’ll shut up once more, for now. But since you’ve taken so much time and effort to so kindly and patiently answer my questions thus far, I’ll feel less diffident in speaking up and asking if some further questions I have (and the new ones that keep on popping up when I read your posts) refuse to fade away. Meanwhile, thanks again, and if you have anything to add to your original answer basis what I’ve said here, I’ll look forward to your answer.

Appreciative Reader, here's a first reply to your thoughtful comment.

The notions of counterfactuals, free will, and an interconnected cosmos are all linked in my current way of looking at the world. This is what passes for "spirituality" or a better word, meaning, for me.

As Sam Harris says in his book Free Will, this concept should mean that if the same conditions were present at two different times, a different outcome would be possible.

Meaning, at one time my brain/mind/body have certain genetic influences, certain neurological states, certain environmental perceptions, etc. etc. Every atom in the corner of the universe that could influence me is in the same state as it was when I made some decision to do something.

A belief in free will says that something transcendent exists as part of me that can stand outside all that and make a choice independent of the cosmos that surrounds me and seemingly IS me.

I don't believe in this. You called the opposite "destiny," but this isn't true either. "Destiny" implies a God's-eye view where the future is predetermined. Determinism in an interconnected cosmos means that things are determined, yet not predetermined. This is an important but subtle difference.

Important, because destiny, as I noted, implies an entity that stands outside of the cosmos and either directs its course or is aware of its past, present, and future course. Rather, I'd argue, the cosmos is everything doing everything and we are part of those everythings.

Not realizing this, we go about looking for meaning outside of ourselves, because we think there is something transcendent, other-worldly, "God's-eye," objectively true absent a subjective observer.

It is difficult to talk about these ideas, because they aren't wholly, or even mostly, ideas. For me they are a holistic intuitive experiential way of living that has replaced my previous dualistic religious conceptual way of living.

I feel more at peace and one with the world now than I did before. For me, that is enough. However, I'm also pleased that the world view I now embrace also has a solid scientific foundation. Systems dynamics, ecology, and many other fields similarly posit a cosmos that isn't so much composed of "things" as of "processes," summed up by slogans such as "the whole is more than the sum of its parts."

We humans try to look upon life as if it was a thing to be figured out, whereas actually it is a process to be lived. The living is the thing, not looking for "things" that don't really exist except as concepts. I argue that God, free will, soul, heaven, and such are some of those conceptual things.

Fun to play around with in our imagination, but not to be mistaken for reality.


And, what might be the definition Ethical?

There are cultures where fishing, and eating meats is ethical. Places and Peoples who have no problem with polygamy, and/or prostitution. Cultures where people enjoy all kinds of activities out of your concepts, and within the definition of your so called "Ethical Hedonism".

- Yes, I'm nitdicking!;-)

A P.S. to Appreciative Reader...

I understand what you're saying about learning from past experiences. Naturally I do that. We all do. But this isn't what you asked me -- whether I, today, use experiences from the past in deciding what is best to do now.

Rather, you said:

"First, given your current level of life-long experience, if you could go back to your 18-year-old self with this knowledge and experience and thoughts (your own future self’s knowledge and experience and thoughts, not someone else’s)—well, would you still have spent such a large chunk of your life in this quest?"

So what you were asking me to do is, of course, impossible. Live my life as it was actually lived, then go back to being 18 and ask myself if I would have lived my life the same way as I actually did?

Obviously then I wouldn't be 18 anymore. I'd be 65, but in an 18 year old body, living (I assume) in the situation I was in when I was 18.

So I'd have to imagine how different my actual life would have been if I hadn't lived out the part of my actual life that had to do with a 35+ year spiritual quest. Which, again, is both impossible and unthinkable.

I wouldn't have gotten married to my first wife, likely, since my first "guru" married us and our connection with his yogic teachings helped shape the course of our early relationship. I also wouldn't have gotten married to my second wife, since that happened after a divorce from my first wife.

My daughter from my first marriage wouldn't exist. Nor my granddaughter now. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Looking back on the life I actually lived is possible. Imagining how my life would have been different if I had lived a different life than I actually did is impossible, because there is no way to know which events in my life were crucial in determining other events.

This is why it makes sense to have a default position of not believing in free will. Lawfulness and determinism are evident everywhere in the cosmos. Our human belief that we stand apart from the cosmos and can exercise a free will not dependent on any determining factors inside or outside of us is an absurd idea.

Yes, it seems true to us, just as the belief in a separate "self" does. As I have noted before, this is similar to the seeming obvious fact that the sun goes around the earth. Obvious, but untrue.

Dear Pastor Brian,

According to your response below, it seems that you may possibly have been, or are aware of your 'other' life in a possible parallel multiverse...

"...And maybe in an another part of the multiverse (if such exists), I did live my life differently. But in this life, the other one I know, the only experiences I am aware of are those that actually happened. I really spend zero time wondering whether I did the right thing about anything in my life. Everything I have done was the only thing I could have done."

you mentioned, "But in this life, the other one I know..."

Not, "the only one I know"...

So it seems to me that you have had some experience, or are aware of an other possible life?

It seems to me that all the fuss with Quantum Physics, is the possibility that 'Anything is possible, Anything..' (?)

Hey Nithit,

Goodness gracious me! (apply suitable accent) What is all this nitpicking going on. Don't they know that it is all nonsense, nothing to make sense of, spending so much time with their clever brains working overtime. Something is definitely wrong with my brain because when I read this it switches off and all I hear is blah blah blah. Good thing that when I die my brain switch off at last and then there is nothing again, just light and sound, and blissful nothingness.

Nithit S., no, I'm not aware of any other Me having a similar, but not exact, life experience in another part of the multiverse. For one thing, no one knows whether the multiverse actually exists. For another, it generally is agreed that, if it does, it is impossible to make contact with it.

1. We do not know if there is any such thing as enlightenment or spiritual progress at all. Just perhaps there is: but quite likely there isn’t.
I agree about this also. I think there is something called personal development. That seems obvious. Each of us changes throughout our lifetime in various ways. There seem to be better and worse ways of changing. Whether some ways people change reasonably can be called "enlightenment" or "spiritual progress," that's another question.

There is only Love , … Love progress,.. Love in the making .. this is the whole point of creating

2. Should there be something in all this, even then, should past record of such efforts be any general indication, the chances of my/your personally getting an unequivocal answer one way or the other seem slim indeed!
Brian :
If you mean an answer to the Nature of the Cosmos, the Meaning of It All, Whether God Exists, and similar Big Questions, I agree that the chance of getting an objectively true answer is very slim. However lots of people arrive at subjectively persuasive answers that have a lot of meaning to themselves. I suspect this is the best we can do: feel that our answers to the Big Questions make sense to us, whether or not they do to anyone else. If we don't pretend that we have an objective answer that applies to everybody, just a subjective answer that applies only to us, where's the problem?
The answers are over-flowingly given by Those already filled with This Love in Their lifetime
By nothing else
It starts with Compassion without second thoughts

3. And finally, should one actually arrive at an answer, then there is nothing to suggest that that answer will have been worth these years of search. (It seems like that the truth may well be along the lines of the Buddha’s anatta, no-self. That there is nothing and no one at home. Or, of course, not—but that seems most likely to me. Should that be the case, well then, what on earth have I achieved with my hours and years of search? Why not just kick the whole thing aside, and instead simply concentrate fully and unreservedly on a hedonistic / material existence, making the most of this life, and seeking only pleasure and material happiness—one’s own, and others’?)
Hmmmmm. Personally, I feel that if I can come to a full intuitive experiential understanding that the "self" I've been trying to look for and realize my whole life doesn't exist, this would be marvelous. 777
There are Selves, Jeevas and they are indestructible, they will never end

They are created to be filled with Love sooner or later
It might take a xillion multiverses

There is no other purpose

We cannot complain about this system while it is US in our deepest essence who did this creating thing ( Solopism - see my comments )

Dear Appreciative Reader,

It feels like you sound rather familiar..

Though distinct, your situation of finding yourself at a cross-roads of taking on a path 'explicitly or implicitly' full on, or just letting be... is something, I too find myself to be caught in..

Like you; I'm not 18, nor am I 65 (Sorry Brian!;-P)

Brian's perspectives provides me with a sort of 'checks and balance', which seems useful regardless of where my Life Journey leads me. In a sense, he could very well be, and most probably is a Guru - of his own life, and his 'Churchless' Blog!;-)

Here's a song I'd like to dedicate especially to you, Brian as well, and my potential friend (observer)... feel free to sing along to the lyrics, it's really a beautiful peice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7it5wioGixA


Nithit - Nice lyrics... "It's lonely where you are, come back down... And I won't tell 'em your name."

Even though we have more communication now via the internet we are becoming more anonymous with our pretend names... but then maybe we are a beautiful star somewhere in the Omniverse projecting down here into a physical form on this planet and our seeking is the longing to merge back into true self, (now I'll get a lecture about magical thinking and having to be more logical) lol

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