A while back I got an email from Marc Deprey, who shares my interest in Greek philosophy -- notably Plotinus' conception of the One as being both the fountainhead and essence of existence.
Bookaholic that I am, I couldn't resist ordering a copy from Amazon. The Realm of the Wise is appealingly short -- just 134 pages.
There is very little, if any, overt religiosity in Deprey's book, another plus. He cites Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave, just as I did in my own book.
In this cave scene, it is we who are bound. It is we who see density in the shadows. It is we who see separate, distinct things where inter-connectedness and interdependence pervades. It is we who see these reflections as the only reality and dismiss the surrounding space that makes them possible as meaningless, as no-thing. It is we who are prisoners in our own cave, which for us is filled with our thoughts, perceptions, and sensations and nothing more.
So Deprey, like many other truth-seekers, considers that this world basically is an illusion. We're absorbed in staring at shadows on a cave wall. We need to find a way to turn around and experience the ethereal light that illumines the objects of physical reality.
I pretty much agree with these sentiments. We don't see the world as clearly as we should. Our minds are full of misconceptions. We drive ourselves (and others) crazy with our interpretations of reality that are way off the mark. Thus much of Deprey's book has a Buddhist'y sort of tone that I liked.
Meaning, we need to distance ourselves a bit from the feelings, thoughts, desires, and such that all too often drive us in negative and unproductive directions. We'd be better off looking at ourselves from more of a detached perspective. But Deprey goes farther.
The book's subtitle is Finding Your Wise Guide. This isn't a person. Nor is it any other entity separate from ourself.
When the essential quality of the universe, namely simple awareness itself, informs us, we have entered the Realm of the Wise.
...When it comes to determining the best action, the most compassionate, the wise way, we expect our mind to be its own master. In contrast, dogs are wiser than us. Our dog looks for its master, "whines" in longing love when separated from him or her. In the same way, our mind also longs for its master.
But unlike our dog, we feel alone, and our aloneness generates fear forcing our mind to act impulsively without insight. So who is our mind's master? The Wise Guide, the unconditioned awareness, the intelligent space.
Nice sentiments. Not too long ago, I would have agreed with these words. Even now, I wish they were true. Indeed they might be, but I've got some problems with the notion of "unconditioned awareness" in my current mindset.
I just can't understand what "simple awareness itself" could be like. After all, there is much evidence that consciousness, or awareness, is produced by the workings of the brain. And there is essentially zero evidence that awareness exists independently of the brain.
Now, I readily admit that I've gone back and forth on this question in thirteen years of Church of the Churchless blog posts. In 2011 I wrote favorably about the notions of pure awareness and Absolute Unitary Being.
This isn't any sort of other-worldly mystical state, according to the authors. They describe how, physiologically, the brain can produce a feeling of oneness that transcends our usual feeling that there's a difference between subjective me and the objective world.
I kind of doubt, though, that this is the same as Deprey's "unconditioned space," which appears to be more like a calm, clear consciousness that can reflect worldly objects and mental images without being affected by them.
Again, as much as I would like to believe that this sort of awareness is possible, I just can't accept that it does. It seems more like wishful thinking than an actual state of being.
If you want to know why I feel this way, check out "My (only) big problem with Sam Harris' 'Waking Up' book." Here's some excerpts.
Harris sees a mystery where there doesn't have to be one. He distinguishes between (1) brain processes and (2) consciousness. But if consciousness is a product of the human brain, not something separate and distinct from the brain, then consciousness is part of what the brain does.
Consciousness is a brain process.
...Sam Harris seems to believe that consciousness is something "extra" that gets added on to brain processes. Otherwise, why would Harris speak about "pure consciousness"?
Here's another passage from Singh's book which speaks to this issue.
Complaining that psychology can't explain why red things look red to our brains is like complaining that a chef who has demonstrated how to combine and cook all the ingredients of a casserole still hasn't explained why a casserole has come out of the oven.
Casseroles simply are what get produced by that precise cooking procedure. Conscious experiences simply are what get produced by environments stimulating brains to deal with ongoing events.
I'm with Singh.
Harris has an extensive history of meditating under the tutelage of various teachers. He has left behind most of the mystical crap that was part of those teachings, but seemingly not all of it. Harris' attachment to "consciousness" being something distinct from what the brain does appears to be a holdover from those earlier Buddhist days.
This is another Paul Singh quote that makes a lot of sense to me.
Being conscious is necessary for enjoying life, but consciousness isn't something that people have. Biologically and psychologically, it only makes sense to say that an animal can consciously enjoy eating food, but it is the eating of food that is enjoyed and not the consciousness as well.
We don't say, "That meal was a pleasure to eat, and my consciousness of eating was pleasurable too." There is no such thing as consciousness as yet another thing for us to enjoy. We simply enjoy the things around us. It is the food that is enjoyable, not the consciousness of the food.
Similarly, when I open my eyes and look at an apple on the table in front of me, I see the apple, not a consciousness of the apple. There aren't two things, a seen apple and a consciousness of the apple, involved here. If I say, "The apple is in my consciousness," I can only mean to say "I see the apple," or "The apple is in my range of vision."
Imagine a psychologist asking a subject to look at that apple on the table, and then asking, "Don't tell me whether you see the apple. I'm sure that you see the apple. I just want you to tell me if the apple is in your consciousness."
Surely this would be a joke. Seeing the apple is just being conscious of the apple. Having consciousness is simply being conscious of what's going on. There is no such thing as consciousness over and above simply being alive and aware of one's surroundings.