The Zoo Of Dogs-The Anatomy of the Gong-an (公案) Device As Used in Ch’an Buddhism.

A Definition: 公案 (gong-an): 公 (gong1) is written as an open mouth that shares speech in a public setting and in this context is used to mean ‘public’.  案 (an4)  refers to the presentation of a legal document or record, upon a long table, in this context it carries the meaning of ‘record’.   Therefore, 公案 (gong-an) refers to a ‘public record’, or recorded dialogue between master and student within the Ch’an tradition.

The Gong-an:  The Zoo Of Dogs.  Origin: Contemporary construct.  Purpose: Free the mind out of habitually occurring tendencies and reactions.

What follows is an intellectual exploration of the gong-an as a device for psychological change.  The gong-an, as a transformative technique, is designed to move through the intellect as ‘it is’, and as a result, re-align its functioning.  The gong-an experience allows for the intellect to become aware of its own structure and presence.  In so doing, the gong-an becomes redundant as soon as it succeeds in its intended function.  The gong-an is both meaningful and meaningless.  This represents the integrative or hidden third aspect, which might be described as meaningful-lessness.  The gong-an is not a construct and should not be viewed as such.  It has no meaning of its own.  Historically, its intelligence transcending function has tended to obscure how it works.  It is not that the intellect ceases to exist after the re-aligning experience, but rather that intellection in the sense of philosophical assessment is viewed as missing the point – as indeed it is.  However, this should not be used as an excuse for not submitting the gong-an method to intellectual scrutiny.  It is certainly not the reality that an intellectual transcending method (and event) can be limited to the pontifications of a non-transcended intellect, but rather that the gong-an can be assessed and understood in a contemporary philosophical manner.  This is not religion – the Ch’an method has no reliance upon a deity.  The intellect to, in its purest form, does not seek a power outside of itself, to be efficient and effective.  The following method of analysis is post-modern in essence, and explores the rather fluid meaning of knowledge.  As a result the narrative is free of dogma, although the word ‘dog’ does appear in the gong-an that this author has designed for this research paper.

There seems to be a distinction between things as they seem to be, on the subjective level, and the reality of how things actually are, on the objective level.  Meaning has the tendency to ‘slide’ between realities, so that not even the interpretive distinctions of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ have any real or concretised basis, from which a reliable interpretation of experience or events, can be realistically evolved.  It is not so much that there is no definite ‘knowing’, but rather that this ‘knowing’ exists beyond the means to express it.  The expression of knowing is inevitably a continuous process of compromise between the mode of expression on the one hand, and the psychologically developed idea on the other.  Of course, both idea and mode of expression are vying to firmly establish their existence – as if both exist ‘externally’ – from the human agency of production.  What might be called a continuous effort in one direction, is ultimately doomed to failure, as the type of ‘hyper-knowledge’; and the legitimacy such a knowledge bestows, is based upon a core irrationality – that of knowledge existing ‘free’ of its organic root.  This inconsistency lies at the heart of all accumulation of knowledge, and is the essence of the human condition that strives to rise out of the state of ignorance, and into the state of enlightenment.  Certainty, by its very nature, must collapse into its philosophical opposite, and remain free of a central determinism – it is free of this, because such a state does not exist in human knowledge.  Yes – it appears, on virtually every level of supposed higher knowing, that knowledge that is considered right and just, (from a certain viewpoint, the knowledge of civilisation), is both hidden, and yet permanent.  It is hidden in depths of developing history, eternally abiding, in an inert form, and awaiting discovery by an enquiring mind.  It is a seducing image, powerful in its secret temptation.  What is hidden, discovered, and then found (or judged) to be, in some way ‘superior’ to contemporary knowledge, is extolled as a truth that is more than a truth, greater than that which has been previously known, and obviously a phenomena external to the mind that a) senses it, and b) benefits from its present.

This disjointed bundle of facts, figures, directions, measurements and conclusions, as a body of knowledge, is used to define a line between that which is most definitely and demonstrabaly ‘known’, and that vague area deemed (and doomed) as the ‘unknown’.  Divisions, dichotomies, diversions and categories all feed of off this basic dualism.  Solace is gained from the consensual agreement that the ‘known’, is indeed firmly ‘known’ and the ‘unknown’, not known at all, because the latter is not required in the process of superior knowing.  The unknown does not just comprise of things as of yet, the not realised, but also serve as a dumping ground for things once known, but no longer required to be known, due to being superseded by a ‘newer’ new knowledge that shines with the attribute of being ‘of the moment’, as if it has no history and is always in the state of becoming present.  A certain excitement accompanies both its presence and its purpose.  Human society develops through the ruptures in time and space its presence causes, like branches or lineages moving in myriad directions, some resulting in beneficial conclusions, others in experimental ‘dead ends’.  This is the knowledge of the privileged.  It is a cosy existence that presupposes that superior socio-economic circumstances are the product of superior knowing, and that this ‘superior knowing’ precedes economic development.  This view is, of course, the inverse of the reality of the situation.  Economic privilege creates social development.  It is the development of the economic base that dictates the level of social development.  Superior knowledge does not precede a good life, full of certainty and privilege, but is rather the by-product of a system (and a class), that utilises the wealth of economic development, to build education systems based upon the premise that knowledge has a greater value, the less it is shared throughout society as a whole.  As a consequence, there are the ‘knower’s’, (the privileged classes), and there are the ‘non-knower’s’, comprised of everyone else.  The non-knower, is of course, deemed as a failure due to their lack of knowing, which in reality translates as their lack of economic wealth, access to which, would automatically guarantee entry into the higher, educational system.  The asymmetrical schematic relating to knowledge replicates itself from the environment to the mind and from the mind to the environment.  Knowledge that is perceived to have exploitable value (in one form or another), is viewed as special, and this adds to the aura of unassailable mystery that appears to surround its possessor(s).  This is the kind of knowledge that religious institutions have exploited in the past, exercising a mystic force that presented knowledge as if it originated outside the mind’s of those who conceived or perceived it.

This kind of knowledge feeds off of the uncertainties of the masses – it is a confidence trick and a masquerade – exhibiting the educated exploiting the uneducated.  Mystery is not the error, but rather a privileged knowledge that presents itself, (through human agency), as a spiritual revelation, a knowing that is beyond knowing, and yet is ‘known’, but only by a chosen few defined by, and through the use of dogma.  Dogma is the semantic adhesive that holds the illusion together in the face of contradictory evidence.  Religion is not the error, after-all, it is simply another manifestation of the use of a privileged knowledge over masses.  On the contrary, it is the complete and total misuse of a method designed to bind an individual or group to a path of psychological and physical discipline that is the ‘error’ – so much so that the ‘error’ is often mistaken for the activity, and there is good reason for this.  Spiritual knowledge is really no such thing.  It is essentially a process of making sense about that which is empty.  Emptiness is breathtaking to encounter as it denies the usual (human) habit of construct building in the mind that forms the basis of a dualistic world view.  How can this be?  How can a way of ‘knowing’ escape the dictates of exploitative psychology?   It does so because there is nothing solid (perceptually) to build upon.  Usually, in such a circumstance, the inconvenient, odd or problematic is removed from consideration by being judged redundant, old or out of date.  However, as convenient as this fluid definition of reality might be, there is always the acknowledgement that for ‘something’ to exist, there has to be the accompanying concession that there is a possibility that it previously did not exist, or might not exist at some, unspecified future date.  Indeed, although risking a slide into the realm of the illogical, emptiness can exist due to the possibility of the absence of things.  Everything appears ‘here’ before the senses, and it appears impossible to sense ‘no-thing’.  A sense must sense something to demonstrate its ascribed function.  Whatever the experience of emptiness might be, as it attracts the epithet ‘empty’, it has to be a radical departure away from that which is usually experienced, and that might be termed the ‘everyday’.  Whatever the spiritual experience might, or might not be, human existence on the material level demonstrates that each human life has a definite beginning at conception, and a conclusive ending at the moment of physical death.  This example – as if it where not enough – demonstrates that at least biological materialism – with its observable beginning and ending of physical processes, ensures that the notion of emptiness, (as in physically ‘not-being’), endures for as long as matter survives in the way that it does, conducive to the development of life.

Spiritual knowledge is not necessarily religious knowledge.  It is true that if a path known to bring about an educational transformation is adhered to correctly, (that is, if an individual or group are ‘bound’ to such a path), then a transformation in the acquisition and understanding of knowledge is achieved.  The original meaning of religion is to ‘bind’, and it is obvious that many secular, educational establishments evolved out of the religious
institution.  The requirement to ‘bind’ to a path is the same for the committed Marxist, as it is for the committed Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim.  It then becomes a matter of assessing how the individual ‘binds’, and what particular motivation lies beyond the binding process.  The misuse of religion as a political institution is, of course, a perversion of the ‘binding’ process.  The act of binding itself, (to the particular subject at hand), remains a process of direct connectedness.  Although economics define the process of binding in as much as the quality of the instruction and location of the institution, once the learning situation is established, the binding process should remain free, (as far as possible), from any other concern, so that the maximum transference of knowledge is attained in the intended time span of study.  In reality, this process might be interpreted as the acquisition of knowledge in the shortest, reasonable amount of time needed, to master the subject at hand.  Of course, even at the greatest perceived level of equality and civility, the binding process is not without its exploitative aspects, indeed, the entire process is dependent upon the reality that a teacher ‘knows’, and a student does ‘not’ know, ensuring an asymmetric situation that sees a privileged knowledge flow in one economically defined direction only.

In this model teachers do not teach for free, and students have to pay to access this privileged world.  By contrast, true spiritual knowledge is often of a nature that does not attract an exploitable value in its rawest sense.  A meditator, who owns nothing and lives in a constant state of self-absorption in a forest environment, remains by and large on the fringes of economic exploitation.  His product of knowledge of the ‘empty’, as it manifests in an organic environment, is of little value to those who have no interest in it, or desire to possess it.  In a sense, this kind of spiritual endeavour moves in the opposite direction to the usual flow of economic, exploitative forces.  Institutional religious monoliths, on the other hand, peddle second hand spirituality that has no direct experience in the minds of the so-called believers.  These social constructs participate fully in the exploitative process, and present a spiritual knowledge that its members no longer possess – as the economic incentive to exploit and acquire, prevents such practices as silent meditation in a forest, because such a practice is unprofitable and not popular amongst the masses.  A dry, purely theoretical knowledge replaces the direct experience of spiritual attainment.  It is a sleight of hand that creates, (for a price), the illusion of spiritual attainment, as if such an experience, (which amounts to the awareness of emptiness, as counter-knowledge), can be imparted from a socio-political construct, to an individual, effectively removing the requirement for self-study and effort usually involved in such an experience.  Religious institutions, as political entities, distort spiritual experience into the ecclesiastical equivalent of a parking meter – you get what you pay for – and not what you earn, through self-development and correct effort in the right direction.  There is no inner development involved in the religious institute.  Spirituality become a poor and faded copy of its former self, when filtered through such a process.

True spirituality either sits outside of the exploitative, economic process, or it is demeaned and distorted beyond all recognition, by the same process – it can not be both.  A religious institution spends virtually all of its time maintaining a form of knowledge that, like all knowledge, would otherwise fall into the state of uncertainty – scientific and educational establishments perform exactly the same function – that is the illusion of the continuation and relevancy of knowledge.  This process of artificial life extension is both necessary in a broad sense, (as the collapse of accumulated knowledge would have dire effects for society as it exists), and yet at the same time is completely redundant.  Institutes, establishments and individuals control the natural atrophy of knowledge (as a bundle of disparate facts logically stored [or otherwise linked] together), so that what exists today, has a greater possibility of existing tomorrow, in much the same way.  This process involves the maintaining of the notion of predictability, so that a cultural cohesiveness is psychologically perpetuated in the minds of the masses, and social constructs maintained.  The irony is that knowledge does change.  Science defends a theory with a total disregard to criticism – until that theory is obviously proven to be incorrect.  In such a circumstance the scientific establishment literally stops defending what has become the old theory, as if it did not exist in the past, and does not exist in the present.  It has lost value, and with its loss of value, it has lost its privileged status as something that should be known, defended and cherished.  This abandonment is as peculiar as it is sudden.  At no time is the scientific establishment held to account for defending a theory that is now viewed as wrong.  By removing the structures of artificial support, knowledge falls into its natural state of redundancy, and becomes ‘empty’ of meaning.  Although judged ‘out of date’, knowledge itself, as a collection of words and phrases associated with corresponding psychological constructs, does not judge itself as redundant – because as an individual concept, it appears never to have existed in any meaningful sense, other than through that certain sense of orthodoxy temporarily ascribed to it by the establishment.

As meaning is fluid, its temporary nature creates an illusion of solidity – it is this solidity that allows for the counter-concept of non-existence to become logically acceptable and apparently real.  It is not that ‘existence’, or ‘non-existence’ as valid, descriptive states, do not exist in themselves, but rather the existent (or non-existent) label only have a realistic and useful meaning within a particular context – these states are not real in themselves, but exist depending upon the auspices of many other, accumulative phenomenal considerations.   Trends, circumstances, momentary associations, natural occurrences and random events all contribute a certain specific ‘something’ to the descriptive label.  As trends and circumstances are themselves equally fluid in construct (non-construct) manifestation, no absolute certainty is possible, because as soon as the illusion of permanence is apparently achieved, the ever-changing constituent elements transition, transform and move away from the definitional and momentary ‘point’ termed existent.   It is not certain that constituent elements exist – or do not exist – in any meaningful way, their function is that they appear to exist, and this appearance is momentarily useful.  The moment is mistaken as permanent, and all else flows from this basis.  Any label becomes a problem as soon as it is conceived and constituted into a focus that appears to be more than it is.  It is useful and redundant, simultaneously.  The mistaken state of permanency leads logically to the necessary and apparent negation of this falsehood, but what amounts to this negation, is also subject to the insight that all is contingent, and as such, phenomena is unable to be adequately described, as any process toward a definite and precise meaning can only be one-sided in nature, and move ever further away from the state of fluidity it is seeking to explain.  Meaning becomes a ripple in time and space, which includes the notions of time and space, as no formulation of apparent constancy can withstand for long, the movement toward desolation.  Contrived meaning breaks down.  Meaning breaks out of its definitional boundaries, which can only be arbitrary from the moment of conception, that is, when meaning is forced, through contractions of the mind (intellect), to constitute itself out of its non-definable essence.

Meaning therefore, can not be in an emerged (fully present state), or in a non-emergent (empty) state, as such.  The emergent and non-emergent states depend upon one another for their existence, and neither is able to convey the true nature of the reality that either state claims to represent.  Both emergent and non-emergent states are incomplete, partial and lack a rooted correctness, if such a reality exists.  This points to the true nature of phenomena being an as of yet undefined third aspect, that is simultaneously free of emergent and non-emergent categorisation, and yet fully inclusive of both concepts.  A process that may be termed a certain kind of logic, builds its conceptual traps as it goes about its business of structure building in the mind, allowing for each necessary structure to be short-lived, and yet in its short life-span, allowing the argument toward understanding to progress from one stage to the next, feeding of off each structure as its emerges, and then dissolve into non-emergence, using the force of desolation to move positively forward toward the next, temporary concept.  Desolation and construction compliment one another and there is no wasted energy that is usually his third state can not be ‘full’, and it can not be ‘empty’, and yet ‘fullness’, and ‘emptiness’ can both be used to describe it from a particular perspective.  Partial explanations are, of course, only partially correct.  Language conveys what it can, and can be used in such away, so that the immediacy of redundancy can be taken into consideration.  Language, by its very definition, is its own trap.  It is a useful and incredibly complex contrivance that allows for science, biology and philosophy to be manifest upon and within the human realm.  It creates the presence of meaning, which although long-lived, nevertheless, can not last.  Each word emerges from the mind essence, and is the nature of thought itself.  Language and thought is the same thing, free of distinction, and categorical contrivance.  The mind draws meaning from matter, and matter provides the raw data the mind draws from.  The third defining aspect must involve both mind and matter, and that through reconciliation, this duality must reconcile into a complete order of sorts.  Sense must be made of the abstract, and the abstract must become normative.

The zoo of dogs is a very important case in point, as it brings the usual cognitive processes to a shuddering halt.  Much can be made of this simple statement – it contains at least one Greek word, it names at least one animal, and suggests a collection of animals in one place – but some thing appears not to be quite right.  The sliding scale of meaning is suggesting that this statement is not logically centralised to agreed standards.  Why should this be so?  Any one reading this statement – The Zoo of Dogs – can tell straight away that there is meaning, but that this meaning is conveying meaning outside of the rules of one particular set of strictures that serve to define meaning.  It has no apparent meaning, and yet in essence has the potential to contain every possible meaning – meaning expands with no increase in size.  A collection of ‘dogs’ is a pack, seldom, if ever is a group of dogs referred to as a ‘zoo’, and yet a zoo is a collection of animals, and the term ‘zoo’ can also refer to a single animal.  What do dogs know of zoos?  The answer, if that what it is, is probably as about as much as zoos know of dogs – a non-conception, a non-emergence, a non-moving away from the neutral position.  The sentence The Zoo of Dogs does not easily allow for a truth emergence from the apparent obscurity of the mind essence, it catches the intellect in the act of presumptuous knowledge building and opinion making – the intellect falls-over its own habit, as it lacks the appropriate structures to see the building process to its conclusion.

The Zoo of Dogs contains the highest meaning of demonstration, but little, if any, emergent usefulness.  Its usefulness lies in its immediate and stark redundancy – its lack of useful meaning is breath-taking, and reveals the mechanism of the emergent mind, as it falters to a grinding halt.  The Zoo of Dogs can not emerge, it is prevented from emerging by its lack of apparent functionality in the so-called real world it seeks or strives to control through the boundaries it sets.  It is stuck half way.  It can proceed any further than its initial, startling appearance.  Its awe inspiring simplicity unleashed a power far beyond its lack of functionality – as functionality would doom The Zoo of Dogs to the mundane or the banal, and it would not present in away that reveals, but instead in a manner that defines by obscuring.  There is no zoo, and there are no dogs.  The jumble of letters is a fraud, they are not letters.  Each meaning has the potential (and necessity) to collapse into the next, and this process hides the process itself, creating a perception in reverse.  Collapsing meaning is reassuring, familiar – like a member of the family – and allows for a certain sense of well being, as if redundancy and contingency are two pillars of a universal constant.  The fact is that the pillars have no where to rest their bases – they stand in mid-air, if indeed, they stand at all.  Meaning can only have shape and form (i.e. ‘relevancy’), if there is a definite demarcation that defines non-meaning.  There is never a The Zoo of Dogs – the concepts refuse to sit together, and yet there is a certain symmetry of presentation that mimics order, and projects meaning into the mind of the observer.

This meaning is not projected, of course, but only appears so.  The entire notion is created in the mind only, and even the letters that comprise The Zoo of Dogs do not exist independently in the environment.  The letters can be randomly re-arranged to take on, and form any word, or list of words without limit.  Convention limits creativity, and limits of creativity exist in the boundaries set for expression.  Modes of expression have a limit to the extent of the mechanics of expression involved.   The medium of expression, be it painting on a canvas, writing on a page, putting images upon film, etc, (placing dogs in a zoo), all run into the limits of apparent creativity – the size of the canvas (its edges), the duration of the pen, (ink content, nib, etc), and length and quality of film, (images can only be captured in a certain, limited manner), all contrive to limit the very expression they seem to encourage.  All these methods, including letters, words and sentences, are entwined with psychic substance, and are limited not so much in mind capacity – which appears unlimited – but rather by the physical tools the mind has created through its own particular genius.  Meaning can only appear to have meaning, if meaning itself is transparent and essentially non-existent as a permanent entity.  Meaning has meaning – because meaning has no meaning.  There is no truth that is not part of its own ‘anti-truth’.  Meaning emerges from its own negation, and exists integrated with its own demise.  Truths that appear to exist for long periods of time are merely illusions that are consciously recreated moment by moment in the minds of those who would believe them to be true.

This extraordinary situation is thoroughly normal, (it has to be), if meaning is to have any existence at all.    The meaning extracted from letters on a page, is an agreed presentation, based upon a consensus of understanding, that is, an agreed, conspiracy of meaning, which in reality amounts to an intolerance of elasticity, and prevention of natural atrophy.  Value is affixed to the notion of ‘stability’, and its anti-value ascribed to its opposite – ‘fluidity’.  This illogicality underlies the very notion of communication as devised by the human mind, which provokes a kaleidoscope and avalanche of cordial expression.  Beauty is existent – of this, there is no doubt – but it exists as part of a totality.  The tyranny of human intelligence limits beauty to one-sided cliché, and in so doing, prevents the immensity of the knowing of the universe to shine through.  Although, of course, even limited notions of beauty contain beauty.  How much more could be achieved, if a natural totality of beauty were clearly, and completely perceived?  Knowledge is, by convention, psychologically and physically limited.  Knowing this, allows for the freeing of meaning, so that an all embracing unity is revealed.  This unity is present from the beginning and is not a contrived development.  Breaking free of the limited narrative of meaning, allows for this complete state to re-emerge in its complete and pristine state.  Apparent illogicality – The Zoo of Dogs – allows for the dark curtains of convention to be opened and for the light of reality to shine through.  The need for convention ensures a certain type of meaning, but in so doing, prevents a totality of knowing from manifesting.

The gong-an contains all this, and more.  In a blinding flash, the mind is made aware of itself and all narratives hitherto active are frozen into a state of apparent void, a state which is then expanded out of oblivion (relative voidness) and into an all embracing, reflective perception that manifests all phenomena with an awareness of its shared essence and disparate expression.  Meaning takes on the commitment state of existing and non-existing with no contradiction.  A onesided appreciation of reality is freed into an apparent multiplicity of fluid meanings and their opposites with no dichotomy.

Although this experience is beyond words and sentences, and although the mundane intellect can not necessarily be transcended through the ordinary use of language and concepts, nevertheless, such an experience and consequence, can, with the right kind of words, be shown to have definitely occurred and therefore exist as a reality, rather than be described as a vague happening, which is otherwise obscured by the imprecise language concepts of mysticism.  The gong-an method should not be mistaken for a rigid system of ritual, otherwise mistaken as Buddhist practice.  The gong-an method may well take the form of a dialogue between master and student, but it can take any form – even seated meditation – whereby the intellect is shook out of its apathy of habit and re-aligned into a transcendent state – which becomes normalised for those who experience it.  Language can be used to describe the ingenious gong-an device, but in so doing, the concepts it employs – despite being full of expressive meaning and poignant vigour – nevertheless fall immediately into a state of redundancy.  This aspect of reality contains the freedom that the human mind desperately seeks through its numerous activities and devices designed to gain knowledge of one sort or another.  Redundancy of meaning is the doorway to a more complete knowledge of the mind, its function and an understanding of the totality of knowledge.  As Hamlet says, the rest is silence…

Transmigration in Early Buddhist Philosophy

Transmigration: Latin, from ‘trans’, meaning across, beyond and through, and ‘migration’ meaning the non-random movement of people, animals or other entities from one defined place, state, or stage to another.  In that it is the notion that a certain ‘something’ survives the dying process, or remains untouched by the act of physical death, and in so doing traverses into a new body.  This equates exactly with the Greek concept of metempsychosis.  This is indicative of how re-birth concepts are generally conceived.  Within Buddhism, however, the concept of ‘Punnabhava’, or ‘again becoming’ is markedly different in that although the Buddha teaches that re-birth is possible for those existing within the unenlightened stage of being, there is no ‘soul’, or ‘atman’ that actually undergoes the re-birth process.  This apparent contradiction exists because the Buddha is teaching from a position of the perfected mind that is fully aware and beyond expedient stages of being.  Interestingly, early Buddhism suggests that when produced states in the mind come to an end, then there is the cessation of constructed consciousness, and with this cessation, the end of re-birth based upon the artificial creating of false (deluded) mental states.  The Buddha taught very carefully and consistently, that the mind creates delusive states over and over again.  Re-birth, from the Buddhist scriptural perspective, is presented as a delusive state which creates the conditions for transmigration to occur.  Through the application of appropriate meditative technique, these states can, through the attainment of insight, be brought to an end.  This ending, however, should not be viewed as an end (of existence) in and of itself, but rather as a means of entry into a fully rounded conscious experience.  The Buddha’s philosophy seeks to ‘remove’ that in the mind which is not required, and which continuously diverts the attention away from the true nature, or essence of the mind itself.  What is correct is revealed by removing the layers of obscuration that prevent its clear perception.  For the Buddha there is no separate ‘soul’ or ‘atman’ knowable through the mind, and yet sitting separate and distinct from the mind itself.  There are many early scriptural examples of the Buddha’s teaching on re-birth.  The following may be taken as a typical example:

On Arising Through (Mental) Charactistics.

Thus have I heard: once the Lord dwelt near Savatthi in the Jeta Grove on Anathapindika’s campus.  There (he) addressed the monks, saying;

“A monk endowed with faith, with (right) conduct, with the Word, with renunciation, with wisdom.  It occurs to him; ‘O that I might arise in the company of wealthy nobles, Brahmins, or merchants; or with devas or Brahmas on the breaking up of the body at death.’  He addresses his mind to that, fixes his attention on it, with it.  Those (mental) characteristics and projections, (when) developed and made much of, are conducive to arising (in those places).

Further, a monk is endowed with faith, with (right) conduct, with the Word, with renunciation, with wisdom.  It occurs to him: ‘O that, with the distractions rooted out, I might reach and experience mental freedom and the freedom of wisdom that are undistracted, having realised them through my own gnosis in this life.’  (And he brings that about.)  That monk arises nowhere and in no place.”

Thus spoke the Lord.[1]

Although the Buddhist concept of re-birth is unique in world philosophy and religion, the notion of re-birth in the metempsychosis model has been fairly well known, with many cultures developing their own particular versions of it.  The West is no exception to this.  According to Roman records, the Druids of Europe adhered to a re-birth theory, as did the Greeks and Romans themselves, and as will be shown, so did the early Christians.  Re-birth as an ideal should not be treated as a completely unknown concept in the West, despite the contemporary lack of recognition the subject generally receives through the various Western (modernistic) narratives.  Surely it is not the case that the West has inherited the re-birth concept from foreign cultures, but rather that foreign cultures, quite independently of one another also developed a theory of transmigration – in conjunction with the West.

The secular, intellectual climate, and the predominant theological perspective in the contemporary West, tends to ignore or denigrate the notion of ‘re-birth’ (or re-incarnation).  Indeed, this reality can be viewed as something of a peculiarity, when ancient Greek thought is taken into account, with its theory of ‘metempsychosis’.[2]  Early Christianity actually taught the doctrine of re-incarnation, and parts of the synoptic gospels can be viewed as implying this belief (Matt 16:13-4, 17:12-13, 11:11-14).[3]  As Christianity borrowed heavily from established Greek philosophical teachings – albeit radically redefining as it did so – it can be reasonably assumed that that the notion of rebirth was automatically accepted as correct.  In this respect, the ancient Egyptians had already established a theory of transmigration, as did the Kabbalah doctrine of Judaism – which has its roots in the Torah.  In Asia, re-incarnation was also established in the Brahmanic and Buddhistic cultures.  Between around 500 BCE and 500 CE there appears o be a more or less world wide acceptance of the idea that the essence or core of a human being enters a ‘new’ body at conception, (or there abouts),  and leaves the old body at the point of death.  However, although the Asiatic religions and philosophies have by and large retained their distinctive re-incarnation beliefs, the West, as an intellectual and spiritual entity appears to find the concept ‘alien’ and therefore ‘unfamiliar’.  Rebirth, as a concept, is definitely not the normal philosophical position, and certainly not normally a default theological perspective.  As the concept was very well known in earlier times in ancient Greece, and considering the fact that Europe tends to derive a certain intellectual legitimacy from the great thinkers of ancient and classical Greece, why is it that reincarnation today, is viewed as some kind of exotic import?  The answer is not that the West has developed a separate and distinct intellectual tradition from that of the superstitious East, or that re-incarnation, as a distinct concept, has been unknown in the West, but rather that this conceptual rupture (between now and then), has been brought about by a political act of religious interference.  By around 500 CE, Christianity had already been established as the state religion of Rome.  In 529 CE, the emperor Justinian issued an edict that banned the teaching of Greek philosophy at the University of Athens. [4]  This single act brought a thousand years of exquisite Greek thought to a conclusion, in favour of the teachings of Christian theology.  Justinian sought to bring the various Christian groups together, into one unified church, with himself as head.   In this regard, he convened the Second Council of Constantinople (in 533 CE), and in so doing, issued a number of anathemas upon existing Christian thought – one of which theologically outlawed the Christian teaching of re-incarnation.[5]   From this moment onward, this idea, along with the premise of ancient Greek philosophy was abandoned in the West, and did not re-emerge until the Renaissance of the 15th CE.  By this time, as the theological cloak was thrown off, the Greek method of logical assessment was re-engaged as a means to intellectually assess and understand the physical world.  Although re-incarnation is evident in the work of Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus, and others, (despite the logical emphasis upon thought construction), as a concept it has remained obscure in the modern West.  A long with certain other Greek cultural practices and conventions, it has been de-emphasised, and left out of formal education.  In this way, the re-incarnation teaching of ancient Greece has been excluded from assuming a position within cultural paradigms that defines a nation.  Asian religions and philosophies that have become apparent in Europe in the last 200 years or so, have brought with them their particular re-incarnation theories, which in essence have not differed greatly from that of metempsychosis.  For instance, the (Brahmanic) Sanskrit term ‘atman’, can be equated with the Greek term ‘psyche’, as both concepts represent the notion of a life giving breath.  The Brahmanic teachings emphasis the idea that re-birth can occur in an animal or a human body, depending upon the moral tone of previous actions.  Both Buddhism and Brahmanism make use of a particular form of moral retribution referred to as ‘karma’, and although these two schools of thought differ about exactly how karma should be interpreted and applied, they share a certain over-view with Greek philosophy, whose equivalent moral force is termed ‘adrasteia’.  Adrasteia translates as ‘inescapable’ in this context, and refers to events that must be experienced, due to the culmination of past habits.[6]  This may be compared to Christian scripture, (which reflects its earliest expressions), when Jesus (and others), equates the following of the true holy life, to that of the pursuing of correct modes of physical behaviour.  The early teachings of Buddhism, although denying the philosophical validity of the Brahmanic concept of ‘atman’, nevertheless, do appear to describe re-incarnation as a probability for those who have not realised the cessation of greed, hatred and desire in the mind.

Again, as with Brahmanism and early Christianity, as well as ancient Greek philosophy, the historical Buddha appears to be linking behaviour on the physical plane, with states of mind on the inner plane.[7] However, the Buddhist teaching is far from being theological in nature.  As a system it is very well developed.  The Buddha, in numerous sutras teaches that when the state of enlightenment is achieved, re-birth is finished as an experience.  In this sense, re-incarnation is presented as ‘real’ in the unenlightened state, and non-existent in the enlightened state.  An arahant who has realised enlightenment no longer produces or accumulates karma in the sense of detrimental physical experiences or negative mental states, but as a physical body is still inhabited, and considering the Buddhist teachings suggest that physical form is created and held together by desire in the mind, the arahant will still experience certain karmic states (in the body), created many lives ago, but the force of this karma is greatly weakened by the enlightened state.  The point is that no ‘new’ karma is being produced, and that the structure of the physical body will hold together as long as the (initial) creative karma associated with it, holds it together.[8]  The Buddhist notion of karma is very subtle and not necessarily obvious.  For instance, when the Buddha was asked whether unhappiness is made by oneself, by another, by both, or by neither, being spontaneous (or without cause), he denied that any of these assumptions were correct.  If unhappiness is created by oneself, that would imply ‘externalism’, if created by another, then this would suggest ‘annihilism’, as the self ends at death, etc.  These answers are always referring the enquirer back to the chain of dependent origination, a chain that varies in number throughout the early Buddhist sutras, with 12 links being the fully developed and received teaching.[9]

The essence of ignorance as defined by Buddhist thinking as the product of the three ‘outflows’.  These three conditions that create the circumstance for ignorance to arise are kamasava – the outflow of sexual desire, bhavasava – the outflow of desire for being, and ditthasava – the outflow of attachment to views.  Punnabhava (becoming again, or ‘re-birth’) is the process whereby ‘desire for being’, (bhavasava), creates the conditions for existence to re-occur, and for the wheel of suffering (samsara) to turn again, as an individual is formed and a life unfolds.  Re-birth is a significant aspect of early Buddhist thinking, which is emphasised not only throughout the sutras, but which also conceptually forms the basis of the collection of 574 shot stories known ‘Jataka’, or ‘Birth Stories’ of the Buddha.  These stories are a diverse array of times, circumstances, and situations, as well as serving as indicators of what was considered at the time to be morally correct, or ethically preferred modes of behaviour.  The Buddha appears as a character in each story, conveying the notion that ‘something’ related to him has transmigrated from one unenlightened birth to the next, passing in each life in a karmically positive manner, cultivating various important and crucial Dharmic qualities, culminating in his final re-birth as the Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha to be.  Indeed, the Buddha teaches that it is this craving for a false belief in a separate and eternal ‘self’ that is the base delusion that leads to re-birth.  When this defilement is finally uprooted, there exists no further foundation for a future life to be built upon.  The Buddha explains enlightenment in terms of what it is not, rather than in terms of what it actually is.  This is interesting from an art perspective, as early stupa engravings on rock often represent the Buddha’s presence by his physical absence, usually only indicating that the Buddha is present by certain symbols ascribed with meaning, such as two foot-prints, an umbrella, adoring disciples and a tree.[10]  This is an obvious allusion to the ‘sunyata’, or ‘emptiness’ teaching of the Buddha that would become so important in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.  The implication regarding re-birth is that the unenlightened mind ‘can know’ that re-birth does not ultimately exist.  Only when viewed through the enlightened mind is the condition of re-birth known to be non-operative as a distinct concept.  The unenlightened intellect can appreciate the position regarding the apparent dichotomy between re-birth existing in the deluded state, and not existing in the enlightened state, with the caveat that the Buddha disagreed with philosophical positions that suggest eternalism and nihilism.  However, although the intellect can reject re-birth, it can not actually or truly ‘know’ the real nature of re-birth.  If the unenlightened intellect can know the true nature of re-birth, then this simple fact would make a mockery of the Buddha’s enlightenment.  The enlightenment would not hold the unique quality that it does in world philosophy.  Without a unique occurrence the Buddha’s enlightenment loses its value and validity – it becomes merely a set of clever ideas, amongst many other clever ideas.  The Buddha posited that the deluded are re-born due to their unenlightened nature, but for this to be true, did not require those of deluded nature to understand or accept his teaching for it to be valid.  The acceptance or rejection of the re-birth ideal by the unenlightened intellect is philosophically meaningless for the Buddha, as the mind that is assessing and judging is the very same mind that the Buddha strove to over-come on his journey toward enlightenment.

If the opposite were to hold true – that the Buddha’s enlightenment is only a set of contrived ideas, then the authority with which he talks in the sutras would be nothing more than a very strong self-confidence in an intellectual concept that has no real basis in personal experience.  The enlightenment would be reduced to nothing more than a text book of facts and figures of a particular subject amongst many subjects.  The fact that this does not appear to be the case raises Buddhist thinking to the level of high philosophy, on a par with any European thinker.  Buddhist philosophy is not a simple exercise that the intellect can grasp, it is the product of direct experience.  It is the examination of the concepts of ‘meaning’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘wisdom’, and is therefore very illusive in its translucent structure.  As soon as the intellect appears to get a definitional hold of its workings, the temporary meaning becomes immediately redundant and falls away.  Attachment to any particular view-point simply compounds the situation and prolongs the unenlightened state.  In a very real sense, the Buddha presents his understanding in such a way that makes it ‘unknowable’ by the unenlightened intellect.  Of course, viewpoints about viewpoints, completely misses the essence of the Buddha’s message.  The true nature of re-birth is unknowable, even though the Buddha gives certain and specific indicators in his teaching.  What is interesting about this type of philosophy is that its structure and claims to knowledge are not measurable in any conventional sense – re-birth can not be quantified, collected or categorised – it remains a purely abstract phenomenon.  It is interesting to note that in every other religious or philosophical system that advocates a belief in re-birth, Buddhism appears to be the only system of thought that although allowing for the concept of re-birth to exist as a possibility, also advocates that in an enhanced state of existence (accessed through the mind), re-birth no longer exists as a product of deluded being.  Although not denying the legitimacy of re-birth within a certain context, Buddhist philosophy leads the aspirant away from a reliance upon it.  As long as the mind is deluded, re-birth is apparently real, but as soon as the mind is enlightened, re-birth ceases to have significance in being.  In reality, there is a certain postmodern contradiction in the presentation of the Buddhist teachings regarding re-birth, as the re-birth appears to ’exist’, and ‘not exist’, at the same time.  This contradiction is not a duality.  It is not two opposing theories competing for acceptance or supremacy amongst many competing theories of varying meaning, but rather is a complete theory in and of itself, which attempts to explain the world as it appears to the unenlightened mind, from the perspective of what it is to see the world through the enlightened mind.  It is a matter of energy frequency, with the perfected mind being the unenlightened mind – post-realisation.  One state is contained within the other, and may be viewed as the arbitrary creation of a teacher who was required to explain non-dualistic concepts using polarised imagery.

In this situation, both ‘re-birth’, and ‘non-re-birth’ cease to have any real meaning outside of their intended, enlightening functions.  These are descriptive terms that contain an immediate redundancy of meaning as soon as they are ‘grasped’ into dualistic, unenlightened habits of thought.  Therefore, the habit of the unenlightened intellect forming an opinion about concepts which only the fully enlightened mind has grasped, is a habit that although may well contain a certain usefulness in the ordinary world, is an irrelevance to the enlightened mind itself, which appears to function in a fully comprehensive reflective manner, rather than through a narrow reductive procedures.  Whereas the unenlightened intellect ‘reduces’ and ‘confines’, so that it may understand, the enlightened mind does not reduce or narrow its observational function, but retains maximum reflectivity, so that the ‘whole’ is conveyed over the ‘partial’.  In this model, the enlightened mind perceives all through the reflection of ‘all’.  The unenlightened intellect, however, only knows about that which it can grasp through reducing it to a sizable nugget of information, relevant to the power of the particular intellect at hand.  Having established this juxtaposition, that is between the ‘enlightened’ and ‘unenlightened’ positions of mind, the Buddha is very careful not to allow this temporary descriptive concept to concretise into a dogma of opposing ideological viewpoints.  Ultimately, there is no difference between the two apparently different states of being, as the same empty (i.e. ‘non-contrived’) mind-base underlies what amounts to two ideas conceived within the surface of the discursive mind.[11] The world is presented as a projection of the mind, and the type of re-birth experienced, a product of will action through the karmic process.  It is this process that the Buddha’s philosophy seeks to control.  By cultivating wholesome roots, and uprooting and discarding unwholesome roots, the karmic process – through insight – is gradually changed so that greed, hatred and delusion can be fully transcended through the process of cessation.  It is important to bear in mind that karmic action is ‘willed’ by the individual, and that wilful actions have a particular and definite direction.  According to this teaching, the world, full of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, is just as it should be for the individual creating and experiencing it.

The physical world is mind made, and is directly reflecting the nature of the mind concerned.  The Buddhist teachings lead the mind to ever purer states of being, the final stage of which is the ending of deluded being and re-being.  As the purification process can take many lifetimes of continuous endeavour, re-birth is a living reality for those upon the Buddhist path.  The disavowing of this philosophical principle (in a modern context), would create a rupture through the very centre of Buddhist thought.  Karma would become meaningless, and the real experience of the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion would be replaced by that of a mere intellectual understanding of what this process might be like.  Enlightenment would become simply a self-imposed idea, an idea no different in structure from any other idea or intellection created within the (deluded) mind.  The Buddha’s teaching is multifaceted, but continuous in presentation and direction.  Everything he says in the scriptures is logically created so that one utterance upon a subject in a particular place, supports and re-enforces an utterance about another subject, delivered in a different place.  All the teachings remain constant over decades of presentation, even allowing for adaptations due to differing people and circumstance.  Bearing in-mind that Buddhism, as a distinct body of scripture, (and is often viewed as a continuation of Upanishadic philosophy), re-birth, as a belief, may well have been common in the Buddha’s lifetime.  His teaching takes the aspirant away from this idea with the cessation of consciousness, but leaves the aspirant subject to this idea whilst the mind remains untrained.  The untrained mind is unable to see beyond its own ignorance, or lack of awareness.

From this perspective it is unable to ascertain whether re-birth, as a concept, is real or not.  Therefore, the untrained mind is not able to comprehend reality as perceived by the mind of the (enlightened arahant).  The revising of Buddhist philosophy away from its central premise signifies a descent into the realm of base intellection.  Essentially, this would indicate a corruption of Buddhist thought similar to suggesting that those who unsuccessfully challenged the Buddha in the Sutras, (using contrary ideas or counter-arguments), would have been judged to have defeated the Buddha in open argument.  Obviously, this is not the historical case.  The Buddha is offering an explanation of how the physical universe appears to have manifest, and that is through the idea (or agency) of ‘desire’ for being.  This agency of production is mind-made, and powered by the will, which can be conceived as the ability to focus and direct energy.  The physical world of material objects does not cease to exist after the cessation of ordinary, deluded consciousness.  Even in the early Buddhist Suttas, arahants who attained to this state, did not end their physical existences at the point of enlightenment.  They continued to physically live within the material world, until the natural process of death allowed the body to fall away.  This process of a final physical death – parinirvana – signifies that the mind of the individual, through many existences, has been thoroughly cleansed of impurities and now abides in the nirvanic state of the cessation of consciousness associated with greed, hatred and delusion.  In the Buddhist Suttas, this kind of attainment is never attributed to a single lifetime, but is always presented as the accumulative effect of many previous incarnations.  Just as the Buddha’s Jataka stories number around 574, his philosophy assumes a substantial time-span of previous existences, during which time much repeated delusive actions have been performed.  As the Jataka stories seem to suggest, purification is a slow, gradual process.  A pious lifestyle, although showing a preference toward eventual enlightenment, nevertheless, ends without the realisation of final enlightenment.  The karma associated with this kind of life leads the aspirant toward the ideal birth conditions whereby the Buddha’s teachings can be encountered and put into practice.  Through the whole-some habit of directing the mind toward the good, the physical world is created with each new birth that is conducive to the realisation of a particular Dharmic attribute.  This habit of producing positive karma throughout lifetimes, leads eventually to enlightenment.  Time and space implications abound through this philosophical system.  Linear time and space, although apparently real, (and the basis of empirical science), can not, in fact, be ultimately real.  It necessarily follows that the ideal state that the Buddha is believed to have discovered through the mind, can not be described by, or limited to, the observational science of empiricism.  To do so, of course, is to ignore the basis of the Buddha’s claim to unique knowledge, and misinterpret it through the filter of a different set of unrelated philosophical premises.  In this situation, the uniqueness of Buddhist philosophy is distorted out of its self-contained, and complete closed system of universal explanation.  In this situation, the logically structured philosophical approach of the Buddha’s teaching is undermined, and its core theoretical underpinnings removed, leaving a set of randomly associated principles and directives that can be further dissolved through dispersal and redundancy.

Again, this would point directly to the philosophers of the Buddha’s day, who tried in vain to reduce the Buddha’s arguments to discredited utterances.  The Buddhist response is clear in the early Sutras – the unenlightened intellect can not ‘know’ the totality of knowledge that exists beyond its own boundary limitations.  The Buddha’s path is a system of discipline and behavioural modification that allows the aspirant to train the mind, through carefully elucidated stages, so that the cessation of contrived consciousness is achieved and the true nature of the mind perceived.  It has nothing to do with intellection as a function, but rather advocates the development of the mind ‘beyond’ the confines of everyday logic constructs.  Buddhism has nothing to say about secular science, and does not judge it as such.  When the Buddha’s concept of re-birth is assessed by the undeveloped intellect, its true meaning can not be ascertained.  This leads invariably to the situation where the re-birth teaching is abandoned, and with it, the essence of Buddhism.  Buddhism, as a complete world-view, can not be ‘progressed’ in any way, as that would suggest that something is lacking in its structure.  Any attempt to progress it, (by altering its teaching), only leads to the collapse of the logic system it professes.  If Buddhism is to be intellectually assessed, it must be analysed in its entirety.  Taking aspects of Buddhism, and then applying them out of context, has no logical place in the Buddha’s teaching.


[1] Evans, David, W, (Translator), The Discourses of Gotama Buddha Middle Collection, (Janus Publishing Company- 1992), Page 369.  The footnote accompanying the translation of this Pali Sutta explains the use of the term ‘Brahma’ in the text, and reads: ‘Various grades of celestial beings and their attractions are mentioned.’  

[2] Greek: Metempsychosis – from ‘meta’ (after), and ‘empsychos’ (animated psyche).  Psyche translates as ‘breath’, and refers to the spark of life.  Much later this term became synonymous with the unrelated Germanic term ‘soul’.  Metempsychosis, as a Greek concept, suggests that the ‘psyche’ continues to exist after the death of a physical body, and moves into a new body, either human or animal.  See:

MacKenna, Stephen, Plotinus The Enneads (Penguin Classic)  Page 167, which reads: ‘Those who have attained the human level are men once more.  Those that have lived wholly to the sense become animals…’

[3] Roland, Paul, Reincarnation (ARCTURUS – 2008), Page 50-57, for a very good introduction to the subject of re-incarnation within early Christian teaching.

[4] Shand, John: Philosophy and Philosophers (UCL Press – 1993), Page 1.  It is generally accepted that the time period representing Greek philosophy stems from 585 BCE, (with the birth of Anaximenes), and ends with Justinian’s banning edict of 529 CE.  However, Greek thought extends back before this time, to Thales – the first recognised philosopher – who lived 624 BCE-546 BCE..

[5] Roland, Paul, Reincarnation (ARCTURUS – 2008), Page 54-55.  This explains the historical background to the rift between the Eastern and Western Christian Church traditions.  Ironically, the Western Pope did not automatically endorse these anathemas, but as he did not attend the Second Council of Constantinople, (only 6 of his bishops attended in his name), he found himself out-voted by the 159 bishops from the Eastern Church.

[6] MacKenna, Stephen, Plotinus The Enneads (Penguin Classic)  Page 148, (verse 13) which reads ‘Hence arises the awesome word Adrasteia (the Inevitable Retribution); for in very truth this ordinance is an Adrasteia, Justice itself is a wonder and a wisdom.’

[7] Warder, AK, Indian Buddhism, (Motilal – 2000) – Pages 118-182 for a very comprehensive exploration of the Buddhist concept of karma (action).

[8] Nyanaponika, Thera, The Vision of Dhamma, (Rider & Co – 1986), Pages 146.  Here, (in the Itivuttaka 44), a distinction is drawn between the nirvana-element with groups of existence still remaining, (that is, an enlightened mind existent in a physical body), and the nirvana-element with no groups of existence remaining – that is the enlightened state no longer trapped in a physical body – in Pali ‘sa-upadisea-nibbanadhatu’, and ‘anupadisea-nibbanadhatu’ respectively.

[9] Payutto, pa, Dependent Origination – The Buddhist Law of Conditionality, (Buddhadharma Foundation – 1994), for a very accessible and informative account of this key teaching.  Payutto points out that although ‘ignorance’ is placed at the beginning of the developed chain, ignorance itself arises from the ‘asavas’, or ‘outflows’.

[10] For a perfect example of this kind of ‘aniconology’, (the non-depiction of the Buddha), see the Buddhist Stupa of Amaravathia, originally situated by the banks of the River Krishna in the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, India, parts of which are preserved in the British Museum.  The engravings are of a very high quality, created between 300 BCE and 300 CE.  The earliest engravings of the Buddha depict him as being absent and replaced by various meaningful symbols, whereas later engravings actually begin to depict the physical form of the Buddha, in both seated and standing postures.

[11] Ling, Trevor, The Buddha’s Philosophy of Man, (Everyman’s Library – 1993), Pages 55-69 for a chapter entitled ‘The Soul Theory’, and a very readable translation of the ‘Potthapada Sutta’.  Potthapada (a member of the Brahman caste) was a very wealthy man who questioned the Buddha about the relationship between ‘consciousness’ and ‘atman’.  The Buddha reiterates that there is not a single effect that does not have a cause, and that through training, some ideas arise, and by training others pass away.  The Buddha explains that when a monk meditates, he creates in his mind states such as joy and peaceful well-being, and although blissful to experience, the monk becomes ‘conscious’ of the fact that these states are produced through attachment and must be given up.  Through conscious self-awareness of the inherent redundancy within each new insight, the monk progresses through to the perception of infinite space, but this is not the end of the training.  The monk becomes ‘aware’ (i.e. ‘conscious’) of the fact that he is ‘conceptualising’ (i.e. engaging the intellect about) the mind states he is achieving.  By ceasing to ‘think’, or allowing the mind to move, the cessation of conscious is achieved, and no new levels of attainment occur.  The Buddha teaches Potthapada that there is only one summit of attainment, but many summits reaching it.  Each new attainment contains the seeds of it own redundancy, so that a deeper level can be achieved.  Ultimately, the final cessation is reached through apparent stages, that although distinct, nevertheless, have no permanency, even though they are temporarily experienced.  As emptiness of consciousness is achieved, no atman is perceived in the process.

The Invalidation of the Worker – A Study of Disability in Capitalist Society

(This article was published in the The New Worker – the weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain – No: 1746 Week commencing 11 October 2013)

The term ‘invalid’ has been used for decades to describe a human being that is subject to a psychological or physical disability.  The term ‘invalid’ means quite clearly that the subject being described is in a state of existence that is free of value.  The in-valid state is one stripped of consensual value.  Society as a whole withdraws acknowledgement of ‘value’ from a human being who happens to be subject to a unique or unusual psychological or physical limitation.  What is it that has no value?  In this respect, the ‘value-less’ aspect of the disabled state is one that re-enforces the interpretation of a lack of productability in the work place.  Regardless of the quality of life of the disabled person, or the effort made to come to terms with the state of everyday life, the disabled person in a Capitalist society is reduced to a theoretical measurement of the possible productive force, or available, exploitative output in the work place.  Any such base assumption can only ever be ‘theoretical’ in nature, as it is not a statement in fact, but rather a profound, debilitating prejudice disguised as objective, economic science.  Invalidity, as a concept, has no bearing in the outside world of commerce, and is merely a dismissive concept created by the Capitalist system to invalidate an entire section of the working-class (proletariat).  In reality, the Capitalist system is judging the so-called ‘disabled’ person unworthy of the usual exploitative forces associated with free market economics.  The disabled person does not warrant the status of ‘exploitable’ worker, as if a certain line can not be reached or crossed.  To extract the necessarily assumed exploitable worth (value) from the disabled person requires a financial and labour intensive input that the Bourgeois employer is unwilling to meet – even in theory.  This theoretical pre-cost of employing a disabled worker is considered to be so high, that profitability for the employer is judged to be greatly reduced as a consequence.

This is a system-wide assumption in a Capitalist society and condemns millions of human beings to an existence outside of the usual work-force environment.  The starting line for the physically fit worker is deemed to be unreachable for the disabled person.  The disabled person is judged solely upon a dysfunctioning, or missing limb or organ.  The human body of a disabled person is judged as if it is a factory with missing machine parts, and as a consequence, is broken and non-productive to the Capitalist system.  The totality of the state of human existence is ignored completely.  The fact that a person with a disability may well have perfectly functioning body and mind outside of the disabled aspect is never considered.  A disabled person is judged by ‘what is not there’, rather than on what is there.  It makes no difference whatsoever – to the Capitalist – what kind of disability is under discussion, or the type of personality of the person concerned.  The judgement is one of a systemic dysfunctionality and as a consequence, a complete redundancy.  A human consciousness, born into the working-class is negated to a state of ‘incompleteness’, and economic non-existence.  The disabled person can neither work their way out of poverty, or, indeed into poverty.  Theirs is a neutral position that denies the possibility of validity, and the (accumulative) positive attributes society associates with such a state.  More than this, however, this state of ‘lacking’ has another aspect implicitly associated with it.  It is not a new difference, but is another way of viewing the ‘invalid’ state.  The Bourgeois establishment, not only content with stripping away the self-evident and positive state of what it is to a ‘worker’, also further denigrates the individual by allotting the judgement of ‘invalid’, as if it were the invention of those subjected to it.  The Bourgeois, Capitalist system creates a dysfunctional category deprived of all human dignity and means of self-betterment through work – and then blames the disempowered victim himself, for the limitations (he experiences on a daily basis), which are enforced from the outside.  As if the fictitious state of the ‘invalid’, (that is ‘those existing without value’), is an invention of the so-called ‘invalid’ or disabled people themselves.  The disabled are blamed in two distinct ways by the Bourgeois state, namely in that they are declared ‘inferior’ to those with no obvious psychological or physical disability, AND blamed for attracting such a categorisation, as if they have some how collectively requested the Bourgeois system to impose this demeaning interpretation upon them, when the truth of the matter is that disabled people are the victims of those who have access to social power, because they, as a collective, have little or no access to the same social power.

Deprived of the validity to participate as a worker in society as a whole, the Bourgeois system ensures that this state is maintained by excluding the disabled from suitable employment, and therefore wealth and influence in society.  The disabled, as a class deemed ‘invalid’, are thereby condemned to a state of permanent psychological and physical impoverishment.  Everything is stripped from them before they are born, as they enter a world that rejects them as an equal and valid human being, from the first moment of existence.  This is effectively a state of servitude, but unlike the life of a slave, no work is intended or allowed.  Disability is servitude without objective or end. Whereas the state of conventional slavery can theoretically come to an end, the state of what it is to be judged an ‘invalid’ is permanent, with no apparent redeeming qualities.  This implies that any psychological and physical limitation, such as those experienced by the disabled, can not be reformed, abolished or transformed through any political process.  The state of invalidity may use differing expressions, but the underlying reality always stays the same.  The surface structure of the expression may change from time to time, but the underlying reality is always constant and unchanging.  Profitability is reduced by disability, and human nature, as a consequence, is reduced to a mere statistic.  This reduction can not be rescued – even mathematically.  The disabled person is reduced to a state of being ‘sub-human’.  This should be read with a clear mind.  The Bourgeois thinkers allow this to happen, because commercial profitability is far more important to them, than the personal dignity of their fellow human beings.  Sub-humanity, as an accepted category, allows the disabled workers to fall victim to the horrorific practices of the biological determinists.  This has been seen in history during 20th centuryEurope, which saw laws that rounded up the disabled out of mainstream society, and into holding camps where they were treated with barbarism and malice in the extreme, culminating in mass sterilisation and extermination campaigns.  Bourgeois logic allowed for the development of certain philosophies that advocated the removal of those who possess no apparent value in the Capitalist system.  These happenings, with the defeat of Nazi Germany, became to be seen as extremism with no place in the civilised Western world, and yet, even after this holocaust of those with no value, (the ‘invalids’), the equilibrium of the demeaning of those who suffer a disability was quickly re-established, with no change whatsoever in its structure.  The state of invalidity attracts no positive emotional responses.  All emotion is negative, and designed to maintain the status quo of disempowerment.  The disabled are not to be ‘freed’, actively encouraged, or given equality of any kind, but rather pitied, and sentimentalised.  There can be no inspiration for those in the disabled position.  This is how the situation exists.  Although the oppression is like a heavy rock on the dignity of the disabled person, and that the Bourgeois system attempts to continuously replicate the demeaning position, it is, nevertheless, not a true state of nature, but rather a contrived state of human making, and like any human-made state, it can and will change, when awareness of its structure is thoroughly understood by those subject to it.

In the past, the disabled were excluded from education, but this has changed rapidly in recent times.  The shackles of Bourgeois tyranny can be thrown off for ever, through the development of understanding.  Two men, of equal age, size and strength, with no apparent psychological and physical disability have, for sake of argument two very different skills.  Worker ‘A’ is a lumber-jack, whilst worker ‘B’ is a computer technician.  Worker ‘A’ can not use a computer, but this inability is not deemed a ‘disability’.  Worker ‘B’ can not cut wood, but this is not considered a ‘disability’.  Both men possess certain skills, and lack other skills.  Their lack of skill does not reduce them to the state of ‘invalid’.  Worker ‘C’ has one-hand and is a lumber-jack.  Worker ‘D’ has one-foot and is a computer technician.  Worker ‘C’ has a disability, and yet can perform a job that a man with two-hands usually performs.  He does this by adapting his ability to the task at hand.  Worker ‘D’ has a disability, but this does not affect the use of his mind when manipulating the computer keyboard – again, he merely adjusts his ability toward the task at hand.  Workers A and B lack certain skills, but are not considered ‘invalid’ to the Capitalist system.  Workers C and D, although disabled, have definite and obvious abilities – they even exhibit a greater adaptability than their fellow able-bodied workers, but nevertheless, they are defined by what is lacking in their body (or mind), and their positive capabilities are completely ignored.  The label of ‘invalidity’ is as unjust, as it is immoral.  It has no basis in fact, and is the Bourgeois expression of immense ignorance, developed through greed and avarice.  Disabled workers, although subject to the immense pressures of social constraints, should, where possible, educate themselves beyond the Bourgeois cul-de-sac of illogicality that defines their life situation.  The educated mind transcends the narrow confines of ignorance and paves the way for the development of true freedom.  Of course, the obstacles can still be daunting.  The Bourgeois employer will judge the applicant according to disability, rather than in relation to ability.  In this way, and through this method, it is often the case that those human beings with disabilities are kept firmly out of the job market.

However, the first crucial stage of emancipation is that of intellectual (and spiritual) independence from the requirement to rely upon the exploitative system.  This is not an easy task, and there will always be set-backs, but by freeing the mind, the body will soon follow.  At any rate, the physical conditions for change should be worked toward and developed, so that the optimum time for transition is not wasted.  Education is the worker’s duty – regardless of ability or disability.  Comrades who are multiply handicapped should be placed in a position whereby communal caring allots them dignity and self-determination.  One thing is certain; the old ways of viewing the world must transform and give way to clearer and far reaching thinking.  The invalidation of the worker must cease, as it gives expression to the worst kind of enslavement.  This must happen within the mind of the disabled worker, and the minds of his fellow workers, simultaneously.  Only then can humanity progress as a whole toward a better future.

Inner Freedom and Outer Social Constructs

The Buddha’s philosophy is a systematic and logical set of guidances that are designed to empower an individual in the development of their minds, so that the state of ‘inner freedom’ is achieved, regardless of outer circumstances.  That is to say that the Buddha’s teachings are designed solely to change the inner terrain of the mind, rather than the outer structures of the State, civil society or contemporary culture.  This is an interesting proposition, that has to be compared with other systems that advocate ‘outer’ change as a means to solve humanity’s psychological suffering – change the outer world, and the inner workings of the mind will change accordingly.  That is to say, if the outer conditions that comprise a State, civil society and prevailing culture is so disposed, the corresponding psychological structures required in the mind of an individual (that enable a successful existence within such a set of outer circumstances), will be formed from the birth of the individual, thus ensuring a certain mind-set suitable for such a society.

The Buddha’s philosophy teaches that the human mind corresponds to the outer world by creating the reflective psychological structures of greed, hatred and delusion, and that these structures are created in all human minds regardless of the structure of the outer society they happen to live within.  For the Buddha, the changing of the outer circumstances of the State, civil society and culture, does not change the propensity for the inner generation of greed, hatred and delusion, and further suggests that human beings live more than once, carrying their particular karmic burdens from one existence, into another.  Outer circumstances simply become a set of karmic pre-determinates that are the product of delusion created in the mind.  Therefore, it follows that no particular set of outer circumstances are free from being karmic constructs, even if certain outer circumstances might, for very practical reasons, be considered preferable to other sets of circumstance.

Relatively speaking, existing in different lifetimes, in various times and places, incarnate human beings experience a plethora of social circumstance that might include primitive communal living (tribal), early Greek democracy and totalitarianism, Italian fascism, Soviet communism, Chinese communism, Spanish anarchy, Nazism, British imperialism, European and USA-style democracies, and various forms of theocratic rule, including the Indian caste system, Christianity and Islam, as well as the Tibetan Buddhist State, etc.  In all these – and many other states of social organisation, the Buddha teaches that greed, hatred and delusion lie at their base, and that this base is the human mind.

This is not to say that the accomplishment of ‘inner freedom’ has no plausible effect upon the outer world, but that rather this is missing the point of inner development.  If the world is a manifestation of the mind, when the Mind Ground is fully realised, all things are permanently transformed from the perspective of the enlightened mind, even if physical hardships still remain.  On the other hand, the Buddha interfered in worldly events when such interference had the potential to save lives.  He taught his followers to adjust themselves to their prevailing circumstance and although the ordained Sangha lived a life free of the social constraints of the caste system, so-called lay-Buddhists had to apply the Buddha’s teachings whilst fulfilling the prevailing social requirements that existed in State law.  The ordained Sangha occupied certain ‘holy spaces’ granted them by the king.  Such spaces, (Sangharama), were exempt from secular law, taxation and military conscription.  Many holy men were granted such spaces by a king seeking good karma for himself and his realm – the only condition being that the holy man does not teach his disciples to undermine the State itself.  In such cases, the grant of exempted holy land was immediately withdrawn and the community subjected to the full strength of secular law, usually with the charge of treason, etc.

Early Buddhism, therefore, seldom, if ever clashed with political power as such a clash would have resulted in the removal of social conditions that allowed for successful spiritual training and the freeing of the mind.  In a very real sense, the granting of a holy space within society freed the Buddha from the necessity to preach a philosophy of open social revolution, although he did say that the gods were less important than human beings, and that the caste system is delusional in essence.  It must also be remembered that the Buddha pursued his own enlightenment on his own and without the benefit a holy social space per se.  Although he tended to live in forests, his lay-disciples often lived with their families in urban areas.  Of course, a corrective outpouring, set to balance what might be viewed as a one-sided practice can be found with the example of Vimalakirti – a fully enlightened lay-follower of the Buddha.

The point is that the Buddha offered free instruction to all without discrimination, and believed that enlightenment was attainable by all.  Indeed, even in his lifetime, many lay people, (male and female) attained to enlightenment, regardless of their social circumstance.  It is not the changing of outer circumstances as such, that is important to the Buddha, (although this can obviously be helpful for spiritual purposes), but rather that in the enlightened state, the perception of physical matter is transformed, and the delusive dichotomy of subject-object is thoroughly uprooted.  Although the world may seem the same, and that nothing seems to have happened, in fact, everything has changed forever.  This suggests that outer circumstance do not have to appear to change, if it is to be perceived as ‘different’.  The intellect as it is, can not solve what seems to be a riddle, or an utterance of an illogical nature,  The apparent absurdity is summed-up in the question that asks how can outer circumstance change, but appear to be the same?

If it is the case that outer circumstance are not transformed through the enlightenment experience, then nirvana simply becomes a quietened state of mind, that exists in opposition to a physical world that it has little direct contact with.  The problem with this state is that as a mind exists within a body that has senses, and that as a human being is more than a ‘mind’, it follows that a mind, (‘quiet’ or otherwise), can never be out of contact with the body it inhabits, and therefore the world that surrounds the body.  The enlightenment experience must, therefore, include a state of consciousness that sweeps through the mind, body and environment, and that simultaneously renders such designations as ‘mind’, ‘body’ and ‘environment’ thoroughly redundant and meaningless.  This attainment effectively creates a completely new way of viewing the world that has no intellectual relevance for the unenlightened mind.  In this respect, and in this way, the concept of Buddhist inner freedom equates completely with the notion of outer circumstantial transformation in a manner that the unenlightened mind can not conceive of.  Simply changing outer circumstances might well create better and fairer living conditions – this is not disputed – but such changes, although carrying the immense potential of positive social transformation, nevertheless, do not necessarily ‘enlighten’ the minds of those subjected to them.  The Buddha seems to be saying that regardless of whatever social system or regime an individual inhabits, greed, hatred and delusion remain implicit human psychological traits that must be uprooted through a proper and correct meditation practice.

It is an interesting speculation to consider what would be the case if a being were born into a society that had no wont, and therefore did not create the social conditions for inner greed; that did not separate beings into arbitrary and unjust social divisions (and therefore did not give a foundation for hatred to arise); and that provided a perfect education system, an exposure to which did not allow delusion to arise.  Societies that have arisen to date have been structured in such a way, so as to be beneficial to some and derogatory to others.  There has not been a society as of yet, which could be described as ‘perfect’.  Historically, all outer expressions of the organisation of human interaction have been imperfect.  In this respect, the Buddha’s system of philosophy is centred around the individual accessing a totality of ‘being’ through the development of the mind.  Although this may appear as a pure ‘idealism’ that conquers a pure materialism, this (dualistic) notion is mistaken, as terms such as ‘idealism’ and ‘materialism’, although descriptively useful in the formulation of ideas, nevertheless, lose all ‘descriptive’ validity in the nirvanic state – which is nothing other than ‘ordinary mind’ thoroughly realised, so that the apparent (and false) barrier between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ is transformed into a totality of being.  The peculiarity of the Ch’an tradition is that it stands at the fully transformed position, and draws all else into the same enlightened state.  It does not negotiate or compromise with delusion.  Without a living example of this transformed (i.e. ‘enlightened’) position, there can be no Ch’an tradition.

Idealism In Buddhism

Idealism: from the Greek word ‘idein’, meaning ‘to see’.  In the context of Western philosophy, the category of ‘idealism’ refers to the epistemological search for meaning that advocates that the world can not be known in any meaningful way, outside of the immaterial.  That is to say that the world can only be known through the mind and explored through the agency of thought.  Moreover, idealism asserts that if there is a world external to the mind, no true knowledge can be known about it, as there is no mind presence in this (theoretical) world.  As this permanent exclusion from an external world would appear illogical, the world that is known exists completely through (and within) the awareness of the mind or spirit itself.  As ontology, idealism asserts that the physical objects of the universe (and by extension, the very fabric of the universe itself) are mind-made.  Nothing would appear to exist outside of the mind that perceives it.  The world as it is perceived by the senses, is in fact the product of a psychic or spiritual essence, that seems to create a world separated into a false duality of subject-object, and with this erroneous view, the mistaken perception of a material world existing ‘out-there’, confronting the senses and the mind ‘in here’.  From the viewpoint of the idealist, materialism as a distinct interpretation of the world is the product of limited vision that reduces existence to the level of mere matter.  Furthermore, idealism is the product of an awareness that suggests that the world can not be sensed, or otherwise be known to exist, without the agency of mind imbuing the physical senses with conscious awareness, and the actual ability to function as information gatherers.  Without a living, functioning mind, there can be no awareness of phenomena.  Even the notion of materialism, within this model, can be logically reduced to an idea created and perceived within the mind, an idea that intentionally excludes its creator (the mind) from the parameters of its theory.  The idea that is materialism is created as if ‘independent’ from the mind that produces it.  The notions of materialism, in whatever guise, are created in a mind that ponders and conceives.  It is an idea that creates a theory that the physical world exists outside of itself, and can be known in a separate, objective sense by measuring the physical dimensions of various phenomena.  The apparent separation between matter and mind, places matter as the subject, and mind as the predicate.  That is to say that physical matter (i.e. the brain), creates the mind, and suggests that the mind and its consciousness are by-products of a physical, biological process (evolution).  From a purely idealist position, this kind of thinking, although prevalent in the modern world, is little more than a misplaced sophistry that is deliberately misrepresenting reality in a partial manner that prevents an integrated view of mind and matter from being established as a general paradigm of knowledge.  Materialism, although not necessarily incorrect, is nevertheless incomplete.  The idealist lives within a physical world, and has to function on a daily basis from the premise that the senses will mediate between outside objects and the mind itself.  When this process is acknowledged as occurring within (and through) a conscious essence, a certain holism is maintained as physical objects, and the mind itself share an immaterial essence that has given rise to them both.  It is this awareness of ‘completion’ that separates the idealist from the strict materialist, as the former is never estranged from the world he inhabits.

Religious thinking in the West has often been secularised through such works as that produced by Hegel, so as to suggest that spirit creates matter.  Hegel’s thinking was inversed by Ludwig Feuerbach, so as to suggest that matter creates spirit, that is to say that humanity, through its intelligence and imagination, has created notions of spirituality and divine originations, which although only ideas, have been mistakenly believed to pre-exist the minds that created them.  Humanity is a collection of biological events that have somehow developed consciousness, and in so doing developed a theological mythology that appears to be unaware of its own true origins.  Inert physical matter has become aware of its own existence, but has lost the knowledge that it was once, only inert matter.  Of course, matter that has become self-aware, can not ‘know’ its previous existence as a distinct set of memories, as there existed no conscious capability before the advent of the mind – which must be viewed as an ethereal extension of the brain.  The previous existence of inert matter can only be surmised through the power of the developed intellect itself.  In other words, material existence can only be known as an ‘idea’, and not as a living reality, because to ‘know’ is to have a fully functioning mind.  In Western religions ‘spirit’ is not necessarily synonymous with ‘mind’, and although Hegel made use of the term ‘spirit’, and followed the Judeo-Christian theological assumption that spirit gives birth to matter, he steered away from overt religious references and developed a theory of the production of society and its structures.  This development may be viewed as a secular divergence away from the theology that had dominated Europe for centuries.  Feuerbach however, decided to not only secularise philosophy, but move away from the idea that ‘spirit’ creates ‘matter’.  The inversion of Hegel’s thinking effectively makes a clean break between philosophy and religion.  More than this, however, but it also places the notion of materialism over that of idealism, with the argument that the former is far more logical than the latter.

The Buddha’s philosophy is a systematic and logical set of guidances that are designed to empower an individual in the development of their minds, so that the state of ‘inner freedom’ is achieved, regardless of outer circumstances.  That is to say that the Buddha’s teachings are designed solely to change the inner terrain of the mind, rather than the outer structures of the State, civil society or contemporary culture.  This is an interesting proposition, that has to be compared with other systems that advocate ‘outer’ change as a means to solve humanity’s psychological suffering – change the outer world, and the inner workings of the mind will change accordingly.  That is to say, if the outer conditions that comprise a State, civil society and prevailing culture is so disposed, the corresponding psychological structures required in the mind of an individual (that enable a successful existence within such a set of outer circumstances), will be formed from the birth of the individual, thus ensuring a certain mind-set suitable for such a society.

The Buddha’s philosophy teaches that the human mind corresponds to the outer world by creating the reflective psychological structures of greed, hatred and delusion, and that these structures are created in all human minds regardless of the structure of the outer society they happen to live within.  For the Buddha, the changing of the outer circumstances of the State, civil society and culture, does not change the propensity for the inner generation of greed, hatred and delusion, and further suggests that human beings live more than once, carrying their particular karmic burdens from one existence, into another.  Outer circumstances simply become a set of karmic pre-determinates that are the product of delusion created in the mind.  Therefore, it follows that no particular set of outer circumstances are free from being karmic constructs, even if certain outer circumstances might, for very practical reasons, be considered preferable to other sets of circumstance.

Relatively speaking, existing in different lifetimes, in various times and places, incarnate human beings experience a plethora of social circumstance that might include primitive communal living (tribal), early Greek democracy and totalitarianism, Italian fascism, Soviet communism, Chinese communism, Spanish anarchy, Nazism, British imperialism, European and USA-style democracies, and various forms of theocratic rule, including the Indian caste system, Christianity and Islam, as well as the Tibetan Buddhist State, etc.  In all these – and many other states of social organisation, the Buddha teaches that greed, hatred and delusion lie at their base, and that this base is the human mind.

This is not to say that the accomplishment of ‘inner freedom’ has no plausible effect upon the outer world, but that rather this is missing the point of inner development.  If the world is a manifestation of the mind, when the Mind Ground is fully realised, all things are permanently transformed from the perspective of the enlightened mind, even if physical hardships still remain.  On the other hand, the Buddha interfered in worldly events when such interference had the potential to save lives.  He taught his followers to adjust themselves to their prevailing circumstance and although the ordained Sangha lived a life free of the social constraints of the caste system, so-called lay-Buddhists had to apply the Buddha’s teachings whilst fulfilling the prevailing social requirements that existed in State law.  The ordained Sangha occupied certain ‘holy spaces’ granted them by the king.  Such spaces, (Sangharama), were exempt from secular law, taxation and military conscription.  Many holy men were granted such spaces by a king seeking good karma for himself and his realm – the only condition being that the holy man does not teach his disciples to undermine the State itself.  In such cases, the grant of exempted holy land was immediately withdrawn and the community subjected to the full strength of secular law, usually with the charge of treason, etc.

Early Buddhism, therefore, seldom, if ever clashed with political power as such a clash would have resulted in the removal of social conditions that allowed for successful spiritual training and the freeing of the mind.  In a very real sense, the granting of a holy space within society freed the Buddha from the necessity to preach a philosophy of open social revolution, although he did say that the gods were less important than human beings, and that the caste system is delusional in essence.  It must also be remembered that the Buddha pursued his own enlightenment on his own and without the benefit a holy social space per se.  Although he tended to live in forests, his lay-disciples often lived with their families in urban areas.  Of course, a corrective outpouring, set to balance what might be viewed as a one-sided practice can be found with the example of Vimalakirti – a fully enlightened lay-follower of the Buddha.

The point is that the Buddha offered free instruction to all without discrimination, and believed that enlightenment was attainable by all.  Indeed, even in his lifetime, many lay people, (male and female) attained to enlightenment, regardless of their social circumstance.  It is not the changing of outer circumstances as such, that is important to the Buddha, (although this can obviously be helpful for spiritual purposes), but rather that in the enlightened state, the perception of physical matter is transformed, and the delusive dichotomy of subject-object is thoroughly uprooted.  Although the world may seem the same, and that nothing seems to have happened, in fact, everything has changed forever.  This suggests that outer circumstance do not have to appear to change, if it is to be perceived as ‘different’.  The intellect as it is, can not solve what seems to be a riddle, or an utterance of an illogical nature,  The apparent absurdity is summed-up in the question that asks how can outer circumstance change, but appear to be the same?

If it is the case that outer circumstance are not transformed through the enlightenment experience, then nirvana simply becomes a quietened state of mind, that exists in opposition to a physical world that it has little direct contact with.  The problem with this state is that as a mind exists within a body that has senses, and that as a human being is more than a ‘mind’, it follows that a mind, (‘quiet’ or otherwise), can never be out of contact with the body it inhabits, and therefore the world that surrounds the body.  The enlightenment experience must, therefore, include a state of consciousness that sweeps through the mind, body and environment, and that simultaneously renders such designations as ‘mind’, ‘body’ and ‘environment’ thoroughly redundant and meaningless.  This attainment effectively creates a completely new way of viewing the world that has no intellectual relevance for the unenlightened mind.  In this respect, and in this way, the concept of Buddhist inner freedom equates completely with the notion of outer circumstantial transformation in a manner that the unenlightened mind can not conceive of.  Simply changing outer circumstances might well create better and fairer living conditions – this is not disputed – but such changes, although carrying the immense potential of positive social transformation, nevertheless, do not necessarily ‘enlighten’ the minds of those subjected to them.  The Buddha seems to be saying that regardless of whatever social system or regime an individual inhabits, greed, hatred and delusion remain implicit human psychological traits that must be uprooted through a proper and correct meditation practice.

It is an interesting speculation to consider what would be the case if a being were born into a society that had no wont, and therefore did not create the social conditions for inner greed; that did not separate beings into arbitrary and unjust social divisions (and therefore did not give a foundation for hatred to arise); and that provided a perfect education system, an exposure to which did not allow delusion to arise.  Societies that have arisen to date have been structured in such a way, so as to be beneficial to some and derogatory to others.  There has not been a society as of yet, which could be described as ‘perfect’.  Historically, all outer expressions of the organisation of human interaction have been imperfect.  In this respect, the Buddha’s system of philosophy is centred around the individual accessing a totality of ‘being’ through the development of the mind.  Although this may appear as a pure ‘idealism’ that conquers a pure materialism, this (dualistic) notion is mistaken, as terms such as ‘idealism’ and ‘materialism’, although descriptively useful in the formulation of ideas, nevertheless, lose all ‘descriptive’ validity in the nirvanic state – which is nothing other than ‘ordinary mind’ thoroughly realised, so that the apparent (and false) barrier between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ is transformed into a totality of being.  Prior to this state being attained, the world is either one of two realities; it is either constructed entirely of psychic substance (mind), or it is comprised of hard physical matter, the latter of which reduces the concept of ‘mind’ to that of a mere function of the physical brain.  Both of these ideas are mutually exclusive and consider themselves complete as an explanation of reality.  As both theories have their merits and demerits, it is obvious that the ‘total’ explanatory power that both assume, can not be correct, and that reality lies in some other ‘third’ position.  It is exactly from this ‘third’ position that the Buddha presents his philosophical argument.  It appears as ‘idealism’ because the Buddha uses the notion of mind as his starting point. But this is only the starting point and not the end of his path.  He does not deny the existence of a physical world, but he does refuse to answer certain question about the nature of matter.  The pursuing of this line of enquiry is considered to be of no developmental benefit, emphasising the fact that although the intellectual understanding of the world has led to science, what the Buddha is actually conveying can not be limited or reduced to an intellectual construct, that competes with other similar constructs in the realm of intellectual endeavour.  Through the mind an understanding of the physical world is achieved that can not be satisfactorily categorised in any meaningful way.

Futurist Buddhism

It is common knowledge that Buddhism appeared to have no future.  Partly, this was a direct consequence of the perception that it had no real past that could be possibly conceived as historical.  As a distinct subject, of course it appeared to exist, but those who were paid to ‘know more’ about these things, made it a foundational point that Buddhism was ahistorical in nature, and in essence existed outside of time and space, and could not be judged in the usual academic manner, unlike all the other world religions, which died out overtime due to improved social conditions.   This was, we were told, due to the fact that in the old society, humanity’s estrangement from itself had led to the development of imaginary spiritual constructs in the mind that were mistakenly believed to exist outside of the minds that created them.

Social conditions, that is work conditions and relationships between those who owned businesses and those who worked in them, tended to have a psychological effect that split the mind in half, creating an inner imbalance that tried to correct itself in the wrong way, by inventing super-human beings and mythological paradises that these beings resided within.  None of this was visible, of course, but this did not prevent millions of human beings from adhering to these ideas and passing them on to their children.  For centuries, religious thinking prevailed, until the means of production created so much physical wealth that the inner bonds of religiosity started to weaken and snap, allowing attitudes to secularise, and society to slowly change.  Yes – the various religious institutions limped on for many years, evening inspiring vicious world-wide wars, but eventually they faded away.  Atheism, for a time, took on the garb of the religion it sort to replace. A kind of religiosity, with all its arrogance and inability to listen, but one that whilst perpetuating certain religious-like behaviours, nevertheless, denied the existence of a god and a spiritual realm.

Today, this kind of atheism is viewed as a great error – not because of its denial of the validity of religion, but rather because it mimicked religion to such an extent, that it was often indistinguishable from it.  God was replaced by the arrogance of the assumption of superior knowledge.  Whilst denying god, the new atheists had in fact merely transferred the belief in an all powerful deity, to that of a powerful mode of knowing.  This was to be expected.  Following hundreds of years of religious rule, humanity, whilst moving their collective minds away from imagery and fear, had simply modified the familiar modes of thought that religion had instilled.  Viewed from today’s standpoint, the time period known as ‘secularism’ is clearly seen as just another form of religiosity, albeit one no longer controlled by religious institutions, but rather by the whims of that other sickness known as ‘individualism’.  At that time, no one really understood that all philosophy is fiction.  Science – which was the result of the isolation of the ‘intellection’ of religiosity, made great gains, which were juxtaposed against the general conservatism of religions.  In reality, this kind of thinking pitted like against like, whilst assuming a fictitious innate difference.  Religion had dominated humanity for so long that when its formal structures began to change, no one was able to see clearly what exactly was happening.  New states of being were viewed as if not related to those states which obviously preceded them.  A sense of cultural advancement grew out of a partial and disjointed view of the world that did not allow for the identification of continuation.  In this peculiar world, circumstances imposed upon individuals from the outside were considered to be the fault of those who experienced the circumstances.

A small number of people apparently controlled the vast majority of people through the issuing of money in payment for physical labour.  The amount issued was never in accordance with the true value of the labour exerted, nor did the labourer partake in the true profit gained from the worth of the product manufactured.  Just how this arrangement worked varied over-time as technology changed and developed, but the general relationship of asymmetric re-imbursement for labour exerted remained more or less constant for centuries.  We often enquired why people lived like this and did not seek to change their lives.  The answer seems to be that the powerful minority built structures in society that secured their elitist position, structures such as military forces and police units, as well as oppressive civil agencies, that although presented a surface rhetoric of existing to assist the people, actually existed to do the exact opposite.   The majority of people in this situation could not change the structures they lived in, because of the weight of the accumulated social power arrayed against them.  Religion, for a time, actually co-operated with this oppression and altered its teachings to represent this shift in emphasis.  Jesus, who over-turned the tables of the money-lenders, and taught that money and work were not necessary for humanity, was suddenly represented by a religion that developed a ‘work ethic’ in its attempt to take a share of the monetary value of the exploited masses.  The view today is that this was a time of great social idiocy.  The reasons are many and varied, but all point to the essential unfairness of the structure of society.  The state does not exist today as it did then, in fact, it does not exist all.  Like the state, religion in its theological incarnation has died away.  That does not mean that it doesn’t exist – far from it – it has never been persecuted, but rather has dissolved into redundancy.  Its teachings are still extant, actually they are preserved as an official policy, but as a body of knowledge they have no relevancy for the people of today.  Buddhism has been an interesting exemption to this case.  Yes, the religiosity of Buddhism has fallen away, but the essential teaching regarding mind development and mind control have been viewed as an important part of the New Education Programme (NEP).  As there is an ample supply of everything that can be required for human life, greed no longer exists.  As society is no longer separated into unjust divisions, there is no point in creating hatred, and as education is now perfected as a means of transferring knowledge, delusion is an impossibility.   However, Buddhism as a means of meditative development has been widely engaged throughout society as a method to stabilise the human mind and increase the output of its spirituality.  Spirituality is defined today as the ability to think good and clever thoughts – it has nothing to do with the old definitions.

Buddhism, when stripped of its religiosity has no history in and of itself.  However, as it never really was designed as a religion as such, and bearing in-mind that it never advocated a god as a saviour, what is left is its pure core of mind developmental knowledge.  This knowledge has been built from direct experience of viewing the inner workings of the mind itself.  Although we now know that there is no ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ as such, it is also true that humans tend to be born with a very definite sense of an inner being opposed to an outer world.  This is the residue of old thinking that is being educated out of the people, through the use of meditation practice.  Interestingly, the Buddha taught that this false dichotomy is the source of all human suffering.  This false state sets-up the foundation that the old society was based upon.  It serves to create the circumstance for the old exploitative structures to re-emerge.  Obviously this is a counter-productive situation that would lead to the collapse of the modern ‘whole’ society, back into small elitist groups dominating the majority of people for their own profit.  Buddhism, as a remnant of the old society is the only philosophical body of knowledge that has survived the peaceful evolution into the present society of wholeness.  Eventually, it is believed, this dualistic mind residue will be finally uprooted as the social conditions move individuals away from the requirement to reproduce it.  At such a time, even Buddhism will cease to have any relevance.  The social conditions that led the Buddha to realise his mind in relation to his existence, will fade away, or evolve into something new and hitherto unexpected.  Wholeness has taught that dualism is redundant and its existence created much suffering.  Things are no longer ‘idealist’, or ‘materialist’, but beyond both limited descriptions.  Mind and matter are now understood to be one and the same substance.  It is true that Buddhism developed similar philosophical assumptions through the personal experiences of its mediators’, but this experience of what was called ‘enlightenment’, remained the domain of the few.  It was not readily available throughout society as its acquisition was based purely upon the false assumption of self-effort, the practice of which created purely personal experiences.

We now understand enlightenment to be nothing other than the experience of wholeness.  Our society no longer separates the human mind into dysfunctional fragments, but rather presents a totality of valid experience.  A divergence from wholeness is an error or disease that is treated through meditative practice that is free of dogma.  The inner and outer must appear the same for suffering not to arise.  The dualistic state is a miserable state.  An interesting test of perception is to sit down and close the eyes, and focus upon the breath.  Exactly the same state of wholeness should be observable that is familiar during ordinary activity.  This state is automatically imbued with well-being and good health because it is complete and optimum.  If the eyes close, and a significantly different world appears to the mind’s eye, then it is obvious that the weakening effects of partiality are present.  This means that the individual concerned is suffering from the problem of projecting authority and power into entities that exist in his environment, and is thus separating his mind into an imaginary dichotomy.  Mind and matter appear as if two distinct entities that have no connection.  When reconciled, the inner and outer adjust to their true single nature.  Buddhism originated in Asia, in a place called ‘India’.  This was a time when the world and its people were separated into nations.  Of course, such archaic nonsense is hard to comprehend in the light of wholeness being.  This was the product of enforced competition between artificially created groups of human beings.  The divisions were endless and completely fictitious.  For these mythic barriers to be maintained from generation to generation, education was designed to create the required psychological structures in the minds of individuals.  Without this kind of indoctrination, it would not have taken long for these false social boundaries to have fallen away.  The idea that the human mind might be the doorway to a better material existence was not new to the West, indeed, a place called ‘Ancient Greece’ had advocated just this concept, but with the domination of theocratic religions, and the fall into commerce, led the world to develop greed related exchange systems, where the value of an object was transferred into bits of metal and pieces of paper.  In this way of thinking, the accumulation of these entities termed ‘money’ became the pursuit of the majority of human beings.  From these inert objects, a mythic status was created that allowed bearers of such trinkets to assume an air of power in society, and even to dominate major institutions and establishments.

The suffering this type of exchange system created was immense and it is surprising that it prevailed for as long as did.  Everything was reduced to its monetary value – even human beings – and those who managed to acquire more money than others were perceived as being of more social worth.  The conditioning of the human mind allowed for this system to flourish, despite its inherent ridiculous nature and potential for harm.  In many ways, Buddhism in its essence represents a lost tradition in the West that probably originated in old Greece, but as the human mind pre-exists this time, it is extremely likely that other, equally interesting and effective methods of mind development existed.  Buddhism, by way of example, originated out of the social conditions created by Brahmanism in old India.  Admittedly, this kind of mind-orientated philosophy developed into the mistaken dichotomy of ‘idealism’ opposed to ‘materialism’.  This division – and that is exactly what it was – created confusion and estrangement between people for centuries.  Both concepts are ideas in the mind – that is obvious – but the problem was what was done with each idea.  Idealists, who limited everything to a ‘thought’, believed that materialism was wrong because it denied the relevancy of the mind that perceives all phenomena.  Materialists, using the notion of old science based solely upon the measuring of the dimensions of objects and entities, believed with equal strength, that the mind had been the place that theocracy and superstition had originated, and that the least the actual subjective thought processes had to do with anything, the better.  Materialism, in its various guises, sought to use the mind in a certain way so that only ‘objective’ measurement was represented in thought.  However, the fact that thought was used at all was often not openly admitted, as this was considered an act of allowing pure idealism in through the backdoor.  The truth of the matter was that the human mind conceived both concepts – as it conceives all concepts.  The error was in presuming that there existed two unconnected realms that appeared to some how interact with one another through no obvious medium – a mental plane and a material plane.  After years of dispute and mutual non-acknowledgement of one another’s philosophical position, humanity evolved beyond this conundrum, and developed an awareness whereby a separate mind was integrated with a distinct material world.  This was not really a victory for either camp, as both concepts lost their self-imposed and isolating privileges.  What did occur was the expansion of awareness whereby perception, thought construct and emotion, were fully understood to be part of the material world, and that at the same time, the material world was understood to be fully a part of perceptual awareness.  No real difference could be seen between mind and matter, with the new understanding not being limited to either idealism or materialism.  Neither side had won, but both sides had been thoroughly transcended.  This understanding evolved as society moved forward in its outer, material development.  Inner changes occurred that corresponded to these changes, and humanity moved forward as a result.

The human mind has never lost its uniqueness regardless of society’s progression.  Although it may be truthfully asserted that mind and environment are of the same substance, the human mind contains thoughts and feelings that appear to be superimposed across the mind’s reflective surface.  Once initially conditioned by outer events and circumstances, these entities appear to have a will of their own.  The study of this phenomenon was called ‘psychology’ in the old order of society.  Buddhism in its present form replaces this old mode of thinking.  The indulging of thought forms and feelings as if they had no connection to external stimuli was obviously a habit of monetary exploitation.  Those whose minds were not better or worse than the people they supposedly treated, pretended that their own minds were some how superior to the minds that they were treating.  Elaborate systems and structures were conceived and applied that assumed a semi-medical authority.  In none of this, however, was the nature and effect of exploitative society investigated or explored.  The true nature of what use to be called ‘mental illness’ was never examined at its essence.  It was treated as its symptoms were inherent to the individuals affected and of course, the individual was blamed for the ills of society that had been internalised.  Actions were also attributed to the individual, with no concern regarding the outer social pressure that produced them.  Under the guise of ‘free will’, society’s ills were ascribed to the lack of morality contained within an individual’s mind and body.  The mind and body of those so affected were removed from mainstream society and placed in buildings known as prisons.  These were abodes of terrible and oppressive structures.

The old Judeo-Christian systems of theocratic law evolved into secular law which was religious in everything but surface appearance.  Even that was coded toward the religious.  A Judge took the place of god, and a jury of twelve people represented the twelve disciples of Jesus.  Being sent down to prison mimicked the Judeo-Christian descent into a terrible hell.  This horrific use of the imagination was tolerated for many hundreds of years across the cultures of the world, with the religious content varying according to local, historical conditions.  Imagination or this type originated within the he old morality, hypocritical in the extreme, was designed by those with wealth, and became flesh through the acquisition of social power.  Once the appropriate power was established in the physical world, then any and all kinds of fantastical imaginations could be given physical form, like that associated with a theatre.  It was primarily experienced by those with little or no access to wealth or power.  Power gave the impression that all kinds of unrealities were in fact ‘real’.  Imprisonment was packaged as an act of character ‘reform’, when the hellish reality of its regime was designed to induce a state of utter terror in the minds of those experiencing subjected to it.  The old morality was hypocritical in the extreme.  Justice flowed from the minority who possessed virtually everything, and was designed to keep the rest of the people – the masses – firmly in their social place.  When deprivation did not achieve the desired result, psychological terrorism was employed to an alarming degree.  Often the two went hand in hand with no real distinction.  When Buddhism emerged in the West – through Western travellers returning fromAsiaand Asian migration, it was assailed by the forces of commerce and in many instances, became a hand-maiden to the process of monetary accumulation.  It was not like this at the start.  In the beginning, Westerners travelled toAsiaand submitted themselves fully to the Asian training, usually as a monastic.  When these Westerners returned, they brought a very pure transmission that remained obscure to the masses for quite some time.  Asian migrants – the true custodians of their own Buddhistic cultures, brought Buddhism complete with its communal aspects – families built local Buddhist temples that often housed Buddhist monks of particular lineage and ethnicity.  Asian migrants often felt excluded from the majority population by unfamiliar cultural practices and religious discrimination.  Westerners, for their part, remained indifferent to the Asian presence, lacking the education and social skills to access the Asian culture that had presented itself on their doorstep.  This is a broad and sweeping generalisation.  There were many individuals on both sides – Western and Asian – who did manage a meaningful correspondence.  Over-all, despite these small successes, the two camps remained a mystery to one another.  Books about Buddhism began to be written by Westerners, about their experiences in Asian Buddhist settings.  Some Asian scholars even produced very good early English translations and explanations of Buddhist philosophy and practice.  However, after centuries of theological domination, the West had lost its familiar knowledge of the concept of re-birth that was normal as an assumption in ancientGreece, and even early Christianity.  This led to an intellectual rejection of this teaching and the fragmentation of Buddhist philosophy into competing camps in the West.

The fragmentation allowed for bizarre notions of geographic prejudice, with so called ‘Western’ Buddhisms presenting themselves as logical alternatives to the original teachings of Asian Buddhism.  Of course, Buddhism as a complete philosophical system does acknowledge this kind of fragmentation, as the Buddha himself rejected any such notions.  This attempt to re-brand Buddhism portrays a fundamental understanding of its inherent philosophical nature.  The Buddha rejected prevailing religious and philosophical ideas relevant to his time and place.  His method is remarkably like that employed by Socrates.  A question and answer format that through the use of logic and the disposal of redundant notions, the truth is revealed.  The rejection of re-birth as illogical represents a basic misunderstanding of the Buddha’s teaching.  He taught that re-birth exists whilst ignorance exists, but does not exist when enlightenment is attained.  In this context, the rejection of the notion of re-birth is an act of ignorance, firmly within the realm of delusive thinking.  That is to say that it is an act of a divided mind, estranged from its own essence.  As the Buddha ultimately rejects re-birth in the enlightened state, it is obvious that re-birth as a concept is not as simple as it first appears.  Since the advent of the age of wholeness, the mind has not been divided through social pressure and inner habit.  A new understanding has replaced the old entrenchments.  Continuation of mind and matter has replaced the primitive notion of the remaking of a single personality.  Even the Buddha described a person as being the product of an ever changing bundle of aggregates – meaning that whatever re-birth meant in his day, it could not have been the simple re-appearing of a known individual.   The answer, as we now know, is that for life to exist, an entwined matter and consciousness must be reproduced time and time again.  Personality and physical features have no bearing whatsoever.  Something essential continues, that can not be limited to a soul theory, or the material re-becoming of a known and recognisable human being.  This is not the notion of Buddhist re-birth.

This all lead to a thorough re-examination of what it means to ‘live’ and to ‘die’.  The old dichotomy of living is successful, whilst dying is a failure no longer carries any currency.  Life spans have been immeasurably extended by an enlightened attitude to nutrition and medical care.  We are all doctors today, and this kind of knowledge is no longer the domain of the select few.  When a physical body becomes inert at the conclusion of its life, conscious control ceases and energy takes on a new form in the environment.  Out of the environment new life is produced.  We are all part of an immense cycle without end.  To reject the notion of Buddhist re-birth without fully understanding it, is to deny the obvious cycle of life.  Buddhism has survived in part, due to its pragmatic approach to the presence of consciously aware life.  It can not be intellectually fragmented and yet be assumed to still retain its essential ‘Buddhist’ meaning.  It can not be progressed, made artificially pragmatic, or declared geographically distinct.  To remove any of its supporting philosophical assumptions renders it something other than ‘Buddhism’, and an alien to itself.  Uneducated tampering prevents the philosophical system from performing its true function of creating wholeness in the mind, and in so doing, to render itself redundant in the process.  Buddhism is not a religion to be followed, but rather a path to be traversed that leads to a very definite destination.  Once reached, the path itself becomes superfluous and must be given up without attachment.  The era of wholeness has followed this exact path.  Through the use of pathways now defunct, new expressions and modes of creation have come into being that have freed humanity from the drudgery of an everyday existence that involved the fighting or competing of individuals for resources that were artificially withheld from the general public access as a means to make them appear ‘worth’ more than they actually were really worth.  Conflict equalled increased profits.  The time of wholeness is beyond this now.  It is considered important, however, that such times are remembered for the terror that they inspired, and for the dysfunction they represented.  This why today it is acknowledged that every action has a definite effect that does not go beyond the particular action and effect itself.  It is true that an effect can serve as the basis for further reactions, but these reactions are themselves the product of identifiable causes that lead to a chain of observable events.  The Buddha referred to this process as ‘karma’, or the teaching on actions.  Western science had also seen this connection between events in the physical world and developed ‘closed systems’ of analysis as a result.  The Buddha, however, extended this teaching in include the stream of thoughts in the mind, as well as to apply it to the environment proper.  Whereas Western science only focused upon the physical world, the Buddha saw a connection between thought and physical behaviour, at least in relation to a living human being.  The Buddha acknowledged that the environment outside of the human body appeared to have a cause and effect mechanism distinct to itself, but he also linked perception of these events to the human mind, thus creating a nexus between animate life and inanimate objects.

Here, we see a hint of wholeness that would much later form the basis of the world human culture.  Although our current state of wholeness can not be said to have evolved directly from Buddhism, the fact that Buddhism offered such a view a very long time ago is testament to the advanced thinking method of the Buddha himself, who, through introspection, managed to perceive reality in a certain manner that acted as a corrective to many thoughts and habits of his day.  Not only this, but many others not living in his time, or originating in his cultural circumstances, also benefitted from his approach of dismissing prevailing narratives as being philosophically unprofitable.  For these reasons, Buddhism as an archaic entity is still considered useful in today’s society of wholeness.  Eventually, if human beings develop further so that no inner thoughts appear to be different from the environment, then, and in that case, the noble philosophy of the Buddha will have run its natural cause and have no further relevance to society or humanity.  At such a time, notions such as ‘Buddha’ and ‘enlightenment’ will have no meaning to humanity as the states these words represent will become normal, everyday attributes.  Of all the paths considered ‘religious’, it is Buddhism which has retained its useful integrity for the longest time, despite almost unfathomable changes in humanity and society.

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