Whew. I did it.
Finished all 495 pages of Paul Breer's second book, Beyond Self-Realization: A Non-Sectarian Path to Enlightenment. It was interesting reading, though it repeated some of the themes in his first book, The Spontaneous Self: Viable Alternatives to Free Will.
I admire authors like Breer who put a lot of time and effort into writing about a subject that, given its nature, isn't going to land their book(s) on best seller lists. It's a labor of love, not of money. I speak as someone who has put a lot of time and effort into writing books of the same sort.
Breer is on solid ground -- according to both Buddhism and neuroscience -- in his contention that we humans lack both an independent Self that stands apart from the physical mind/body as well as the free will that such a Self is widely considered to be capable of.
I found Breer's assertion in his second book to be more problematic: that it is possible to become enlightened by coming to an experience of Pure Consciousness.
This supposedly is consciousness before it becomes identified with things in the world, though in a Zen-like assumption (he practiced Zen for five years) Breer says that Pure Consciousness never stands alone, but always is experienced along with the sensing of material objects.
So this explains why a Zen practitioner can become enlightened upon hearing a bell rung or seeing a bird flying. At certain moments Pure Consciousness is manifested as the ground upon which impure consciousness operates.
OK, I can bring myself to believe that. However, I'm more skeptical that if Pure Consciousness becomes a permanent part of our experience, then we are no longer bothered by bad things happening to us, like disease, pain, disability, financial ruin, and such.
It'd be nice if this were true. And Sam Harris, along with others who embrace Buddhist precepts, seem to believe something similar.
They argue that when we wake up to the true nature of consciousness, it is seen as akin to the clear sky that remains unaltered even as hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms form and dissolve in the sky. If I ever achieve such a state, I guess I'll know I'm enlightened when I can hear Donald Trump talk without feeling repulsed by his constant lies, hatefulness, and fearmongering.
There are passages near the end of Breer's second book that describe Pure Consciousness and enlightenment in terms that seem unobjectionable to me, even if I can't buy into them entirely. For example:
The Undifferentiated realm you refer to lies hidden beneath all this orienting. "IT" is there in everything we experience -- every image, every sound, every smell. As I said earlier, according to Trungpa's hypothesis, we get a glimpse of Pure Consciousness every time we see a bird, hear a truck, or smell somebody's dinner cooking.
That glimpse happens at the very beginning of each experience -- prior to any kind of orienting. It is so brief, however, (he argued that it lasts less than a millisecond), that it rarely reaches awareness. Almost immediately we begin to sort inputs into sensations, combine sensations to form objects and then name and evaluate what we have constructed.
And it works. It works so well that we never get to see (or hear, smell, etc) what is actually there. We pick and choose those aspects of the stimulus that are important for our survival -- and pay no attention to those that aren't.
...Becoming enlightened involves peeling off all three layers of orienting so that we can grasp the "IT" that precedes every image, sound, smell, taste or touch. From the perspective of that fundamental Ground, we get to see the phenomenal world objectively for the first time, that is, we see freed of all the self-related add-ons that distort what's really going on.
For example, it becomes possible to look at a weed without dismissing it as a violation of one's personal concept of beauty or to smell a rotten piece of meat without recoiling in horror. It's breathtaking to discover what a scene (and I mean any scene) looks like when it is no longer seen from the biased perspective of an observer whose primary mission in life in self-survival.
Makes sense. I could use some of that sort of enlightenment.
Lastly, I wanted to share a passage in Breer's second book where he speaks about the sex abuse/incest charges that led to him spending two years in prison. I like how open Breer is about his prison experience. Several times he describes experiences he had during that time that related to themes in his book.
Here he says that he was wrongly accused.
Throughout my own time in prison and on parole, I tried to use Hakuin's story as a model of acceptance. In the beginning I had no success at all; in time what made a modicum of success possible was the constant reminder that there was no master controller inside my accuser that chose to fabricate a story.
While that reminder kept me from becoming bitter, it was not until I awakened to my deeper nature that I truly accepted what happened.
As that acceptance arose, my negative feelings vanished, leaving in their wake a heightened awareness of the pain I had caused that led my accuser to lie. In the process my concern gradually shifted from self to other -- taking with it the last vestige of resentment.