Whew. What a relief. So good to know that I was mistaken.
After reading Paul Breer's first book about the illusion of free will, The Spontaneous Self: Viable Alternatives to Free Will, I decided to dive even deeper into the Breer waters and bought his follow-up book, Beyond Self-Realization: A Non-Sectarian Path to Enlightenment.
This second book has a different structure that I wondered about when I began reading it, but is turning out to be appealing. The book starts by saying that a local library has announced a course about -- no big surprise -- Beyond Self-Realization.
Eight people sign up. The course is led by Richard, described as 88, tall, slender, receding white hair, steel-rimmed glasses, bears a resemblance to the author. Each chapter consists of a talk given by Richard on some subject relating to the illusion of free will and a non-sectarian path to enlightenment, and the resulting dialog between Richard and his students about that subject.
I was enjoying the book until some mentions of how the course was about "direct consciousness of our true nature -- that is, a consciousness unmediated by language" got me concerned that even though secular was in the title, maybe Breer had embraced some supernatural or religious notions after writing his first book.
Since the second book is 495 pages long, I didn't feel like reading all that and then getting to the end and having a what the fuck!? moment caused by Breer reaching a conclusion that didn't make any sense to me.
So I read one of the concluding chapters in hopes of reassuring myself. Which, I did. As you can read below, Breer holds a Local View of enlightenment rather than a Cosmic View. Since I agree with most of his Local View, I felt a sense of relief that the book wasn't going to lead into a supernatural dead end.
It just appears to lead to a conclusion about enlightenment which, while firmly within the bounds of modern neuroscience, isn't proven.
Namely, that a state of pure consciousness prior to being conscious of any internal or external entity is possible. Sam Harris, a noted atheist and neuroscientist, seems to believe in pure consciousness. I've argued on this blog that I'm skeptical about this, since consciousness always seems to have some content, something we're conscious of other than consciousness itself.
But compared to The Cosmic View, Breer's take on The Local View is hugely closer to how I see things. Have a read and see how you feel about the two views.
The Cosmic View
The majority of people who write about their enlightenment experience believe they have gained access to Reality. Pure Consciousness for them is a window into that realm of Being which constitutes the bedrock of All That Is.
It is that undifferentiated, unchanging state out of which the world of forms emerges, a state that transcends both space and time and has neither beginning nor end. As such, it precedes even the Big Bang. In Tolle's view, as you just pointed out, it is a "Presence that fills the cosmos."
Cohen is more precise: "Consciousness in this primordial state is the 'I' of the entire universe -- the subjectivity or interiority of everything that exists." Both are saying that the real you (the I AM of Pure Consciousness) is the "mother" (to borrow Lao Tzu's term) of every form we perceive -- every blade of grass, star, stone, or trash can.
Although the language varies according to the religious context in which it appears, we find similar statements among the Gnostics of Jesus's time, the medieval Christian mystics, the Sufi's of Islam and the Kabalists of Judaism. Even Zen Buddhists (known for their reluctance to theorize) subscribe to a similar view.
...What these schools of thought have in common is a belief that in enlightenment we gain access to an indefinable THAT which constitutes the very foundation of reality. It is this unformed and undifferentiated THAT (read Pure Consciousness) which precedes the formation of the universe and everything in it. When we awaken from our ego-saturated dreams, we discover THAT is who we really are.
...We can agree when he [Deepak Chopra] says that "You are the light of awareness that gives rise to the experience of the universe." -- but must disagree when he concludes that consciousness and the universe are equivalent. When he makes that claim, he's conflating two different things -- as if he were arguing that the sensation of eating an apple is no different from the apple itself.
...The way individuals have traditionally interpreted their personal enlightenment has a lot in common with the two cases (the geocentric theory and free-will) just described. I refer first to the fact that in both cases what appears to be true turns out on closer examination to be illusory; like those two previous beliefs, the belief that we are the universe or that in our role as the Absolute we created the material world out of nothing is unsupported by either common sense or logic.
...To see what I mean, let's take a look at an alternative interpretation of the enlightenment experience.
The Local View
There is a minority of writers, even within Buddhism, who offer a more modest interpretation of what enlightenment means (the Local as opposed to the Cosmic view). They argue that in enlightenment we gain access not to an undifferentiated realm that pervades everything in the universe, but to one that exists solely within the consciousness of the individual observer.
They're saying, in other words, that enlightenment resides in the individual rather than the cosmos. The experience of Oneness may appear to have a universal character, but again this is deceiving. It only appears to exist in all things seen or heard (every stone, every blade of grass, etc.), when it actually resides in the brain of the perceiving individual -- not as awareness of discrete objects but as Consciousness Itself as it illuminates those objects from within.
If all things appear to participate in a single Whole, it is because they are perceived through the lens of a Consciousness free of any differentiation. It follows, then, that the felt experience of Oneness originates in the individual observer, not in the objects being observed.
...The difference between the two interpretations is significant. While the first interprets the Pure Consciousness experience as a discovery of universal Reality, the second argues that it is a discovery not of Reality but of that which exists in the individual -- namely Consciousness before it becomes aware of something.
While the Local View says nothing about Reality, it says something important about individual consciousness. It says that embedded in our perception of things is a state of Awareness that is unlike anything we experience while orienting to our environment.
In contrast to the world of everyday life -- the world of sensations, objects, and thoughts which we grasp with our minds and five senses -- this inner world presents itself as an invisible Presence that has no form, no boundaries, never changes, and is neither spatially nor temporally divided, yet arises in a specific place -- the brain.
...In the Cosmic View enlightenment implies the discovery of THAT out of which the material world of things has emerged. In other words, it precedes the creation of matter -- e.g., of stars, moons, and planets. So, even if all material objects were destroyed, it would continue to Be.
Not so according to the Local View which argues that the experience of enlightenment depends on having a physical brain. If that brain, along with all other material things, were to be destroyed, enlightenment would be impossible.