We see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light—a process. Similarly, what we ‘see’ is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow. If you walk toward the rainbow you will never get there.
David Bohm, Thought as a System
I had posted this wonderful quote from Bohm several years ago; I now feel I have understood something new about it.
A whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. To this, Bohm would probably add, there are a whole lot of feelings floating around too. On top of which there is a subtle sense of self fleetingly dancing in there somewhere; and it is this sense of self, which is in essence a thought/feeling, that somehow seems to anchor all the other stuff that floats around in consciousness.
Try as we might, we cannot pin it down; the rainbow simply cannot be found, for it is ultimately an optical illusion. For this reason, probably, Ramana insisted that we try to find out the “I” thought. Seek and ye shall not find, for it is fundamentally illusory.
I absolutely love this metaphor: drops of rain and light posing as a solid self. Drops of thoughts and emotions. Can we merely see them as drops of light, sun, rain? Nothing else is required.
I have just begun a very exciting book, Nonduality, by David Loy. It is a philosophical analysis of three major non-dual philosophical systems: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism. It explores notions such as nondual perception and action in a rigorous and yet readable manner. Though is is primarily an academic work, it has already in a couple of chapters opened up some “real-life” philosophical puzzles that have haunted me for some time now!
I came across it in Joan Tollifson’s reading list, which is a rich source for books in the non-duality ballpark.
Very excitingly, the author himself has uploaded the book as a scanned copy here. Please read for a sophisticated and exciting glimpse into the most profound philosophical traditions on the planet!
Isn’t it wonderful that you have never made a choice in your life? There is nothing to regret, nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing could ever have been any different, nothing could ever have been any other way. Isn’t that a relief? Nothing matters. There is nowhere to go. There is nothing that has to be done. There is no meaning and no morality.
There is no help and no hope. You can let it all go, you can release all the tension. You can begin to enjoy the wonder of hopelessness and the gift of meaninglessness. You can begin to enjoy your complete helplessness.
In liberation it is seen that nothing has any meaning, it is simply what it is. The story does not stop. The story continues but now it is seen that it is just a story. All the passions of your apparent life are just stuff happening. The conflicts, the loves, the struggles for control and power, the victories and defeats are simply phenomena arising in one-
ness and falling away again with no meaning at all.
The most common misconception about liberation is that it is something an individual can gain. But liberation is a loss—the loss of the sense that there ever was a separate individual who could choose to do something to bring about liberation.
When it is seen that there is no separation, the sense of vulnerability and fear that attaches to the individual falls away and what is left is the wonder of life just happening. Instead of meaning there is a squirrel motionless on a grey tree trunk, legs splayed, head up, looking straight at you. Instead of purpose there is the astonishing texture of cat’s
fur or the incredible way an ant crawls over a twig. The loss of hope is no loss when it is replaced by the moorhens bobbing on the lake.
When the sensation that I am in control of my life and must make it happen ends, then life is simply lived and relaxation takes place. There is a sense of ease with whatever is the case and an end to grasping for what might be.
As Sam Harris puts it, the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.
When we observe our thoughts, we see that they float up and pop up into our consciousness. We are not creating our thoughts. In fact, we cannot know what our next thought and emotion might be.
The present is a deep mystery.
This is what the great masters of non-duality were struggling to convey: that there is no central controller organising itself and the world. Stuff happens, and “we” lay a layer over it and make ourselves the protagonists of our narratives.
A truly liberating insight.
Our minds are so eternally busy constructing schemes for self-improvement, happiness, enlightenment, that we fail to notice the ever present moment and the reality that shines behind it.
We cannot try to be more aware, to grasp the present better. When we try to do so, we fall into the same trap of improving the self.
We could instead notice that there is no one in here who could possibly become better in any way.
Sam Harris’ book Free Will is the most clear and cogent piece of writing on the subject of free will that I have come across.
If we follow the assumption that our mind states, our thoughts and feelings, are the product of the neurochemistry of our brain, then we must agree that as none of us have sculpted our brains, we are not in control of our minds.
Even if we believe that we have souls, then the same argument applies. We did not create our souls, therefore we are not “responsible” for them.
These summaries above are crude approximations to the elegance and power of the book, which I urge you to read now. Especially in the light of non-dual traditions, it makes for powerful reading.