How Plotinus Makes Use of the Material World

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I include below two extracts from the ‘Enneads’ (Gk: ‘the nines’) – or what might be referred to as the ‘nine categories’ of the life work of the great Greek philosopher Plotinus (204-270 CE). I doubt Plotinus – who did not even care about the state of his physical body – would have cared much whether his words were passed on or not. We owe a debt of gratitude for the preservation of these essentially beautiful words, to the untiring efforts of the main student of Plotinus – namely ‘Porphyry’.  In my opinion, far too much is said about Plotinus that diverts the student of inner development away from the correct path. Although, for instance, often and continuously referred to as the ‘founder’ of neo-Platonism, Plotinus had a teacher – Ammonius Saccas (of Alexandria in Egypt) – and if anyone was responsible for creating a ‘new wave’ of Plato’s philosophical understanding, it was Ammonius Saccas and not Plotinus, but neither man, I suspect, would have recognised the term ‘neo-Platonism’ – stating that what they follow is the ‘correct’ or ‘true’ lineage of Plato (as originally taught to Plato by Socrates, and eventually passed on to Aristotle), which has been precisely and exactly passed down through the generations over hundreds of years. In this respect, this approach is very similar to the spiritual lineages of Chinese civilisation, whereby a qualified master carefully teaches a few good disciples over many decades, to follow a systematic path of physical discipline and psychological development. Plotinus advocates a relationship with the physical world that involves an understanding of it as incomplete, but otherwise definitely existing in nature, in a sense that its ‘heaviness’ can keep the average person anchored firmly to the temporal realm, with no ability to ‘see beyond’ its superficial manifestation. Regardless of the sophistication of his method, that is the rarefied and clear dissection of perception and non-perception – Plotinus NEVER denies the existence of the material world – he simply uses it as the springboard for his method. If there was no material world (which is often admitted as being ‘beautiful’ by Plotinus), there could be no transcendent method. The point is that the realm of ideas (for Plotinus) exists within the material world, but also appears to exist as if disembodied from it – and yet it is only within a human-body, that the reality that Plotinus believes lies beyond its material limitations, is realised. This is a point often missed by those who would have use believe that Plotinus ‘rejects’ the relevancy or existence of the material world, he certainly does not. For all its limitations and inconsistencies, without a material world that provides (through evolutionary development) a conscious being to appreciate it, there can be no ‘transcendent’ system of philosophical insight. Therefore, it must be truthfully stated (as Plotinus does), that a continuously changing beauty exists beyond any concepts of ‘static’ beauty, and that such a beauty with regards to that which lives is ‘beautiful’, but that even that which is ‘dead’ is also ‘beautiful’ when viewed in a certain way. Although Plotinus advocates (for a time) a ruthlessly ‘looking within’, he does not permanently ‘reject’ the physical world he strives to ‘look beyond’. He fully admits that once a higher view of existence is attained, it must be applied not only to the realm beyond material existence, but also to the material world itself. The beauty of insight is applicable to both form and void, and yet lies also beyond form and void (with no inherent contradiction). For Plotinus, true beauty is arrived at through a strict and disciplined life-style and form of meditation – and yet once inner and outer unity successfully realised – it has absolutely nothing to do with the method through which it has been attained.

‘He that has the strength, let him arise and withdraw into himself, foregoing all that is known by the eyes, turning away for ever from the material beauty that once made his joy. When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: he must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards That they tell of. For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water- is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in Soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the Intellective-Being, where, blind even in the Lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 8th Section

‘Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity- when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step- you need a guide no longer- strain, and see.’

Plotinus: 1st Ennead – 6th Tractate – 9th Section

Alan Watts: Consciousness and Matter Entwined

The following video is part of a lecture by Alan Watts. He is discussing and describing the interconnectedness between mind and matter. Of course, different people who hear this lecture, will comprehend its meaning through their current level of understanding, My view is that Alan Watts is acknowledging the existence of a material world standing in opposition to the mind that perceives it – but that this material world is unknown to humanity, if humanity does not possess a mind that can perceive it. Furthermore, mind is not ‘separate’ from the world of matter, but is an integral part of it. This is an evolutionary view of existence (despite its apparent ‘transcendent’ nature), which logically suggests that mind emerges from matter (as a function of the physical brain), although Alan Watts only implies this and does not openly state it. Listen carefully and you will see that this lecture is not only inaccordance with modern science, but is also the description of existence and perception described by the Buddha (particularly found within Early Buddhism), where the Buddha posits a physical world that stands in contrast to the human mind that perceives it – and defines human suffering as being the product of a ‘faulty’ internalised view of this material world. The Buddha rejects any and all attachment (formed in the mind) to this external world (experienced through the senses), and expands upon this position by stating that the idealism expressed as theistic religion is also non-existant (as in the Buddha’s time – as in today – theistic religion is often presented as an ‘answer’ to the suffering of the world). The Buddha states this with certainty because he says that he followed all the meditative paths to their complete end – and discovered that there was no ‘atma’ or Brahmanic ‘soul’ lurking somewhere in the deepest recesses of the mind. When abiding in an enlightened state of mind, karma nolonger exists, rebirth nolonger exists, and a divine (and ‘unseen’) world nolonger exists. The physical body and all social and cultural expressions are also changing, and nothing is impermanent. Assuming things are unchanging is one of the major roots of human suffering for the Buddha. Even the physical world – which the Buddha describes as developing through dependent origination – and which may appear stable for thousands of years, still changes over-time, sometimes tremendously in times of natural calamities. Religion – for the Buddha – is an imagination about something that does not exist in reality. What Alan Watts suggests is that we are left looking at the physical world and the mind that perceives it. The question then becomes not one of realising a divine entity that stands in opposition to matter – but is in fact the ability to ‘see through’ the apparent ‘subject-object’ dichotomy, and rediscover the unity of mind and matter. Alan Watts talks about ‘stilling’ the mind to give the perceiver a break from the mind’s continuous clutter of obscuring thought and feeling. When the mind is ‘still’ its ‘oneness’ with the material universe is clearly reflected. Alan Watts, I suspect, is mixing Western notions of Japanese Zen with modern, Western concepts of science, and he does this very well, but the point he is missing is that from the perspective of Chinese Ch’an, there is a stage of development he does not know about and therefore is missing in his analysis. This reflects two things; 1) the limitation of Japanese Zen, 2) the Western lack of knowledge of Chinese Ch’an. The stage Alan Watts is missing is that both ‘thought’ and ‘stillness’ has an origin in the mind which must be ‘penetrated’ [through hua tou enquiry) for the empty mind ground to be fully realised. It is not simply the case – as Alan Watts suggests – that the mind transitions from ‘movement’ to ‘stillness’. This very much has the ring about it of the distorted ‘Zen’ taught by such people as DT Suzuki both before and after WWII.

Dharma Realm

Bronze Statue of Hui Neng

Bronze Statue of Hui Neng

Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD

The Dharma Realm is nothing other than the total conscious awareness of arising and passing away of all things. The realised state of the Dharma Realm is an advanced conscious awareness that embraces all that exists (and does not exist), and instantly perceives the root (karmic) causes of all things; whilst being at ‘one’ with the highest and most profound truth  This is nothing short than the achievement of Buddhahood in the world. All of phenomena reflects Buddha-nature, and Buddha-nature exists in (and reflects) all phenomena without exception. This is because the entirety of phenomena arises out of the empty essence of the universal mind. This reality is expressed as ‘all in one – one in all’, as it demonstrates that although everything appears ‘different’ in its diverse manifestation, reality is in fact a ‘unity’ existing within difference. Therefore each individual is capable of realising this unity within diversity by penetrating (and directly perceiving) the profound empty essence that underlies reality (and which binds all things together). The Dharma Realm is the realisation that the entirety of existence is interconnected, and this interconnectedness is premised upon the fact that all things exist (and pass away) with a profound emptiness.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.

Extracted from the Original Chinese Language Site:

http://news.163.com/11/0814/14/7BE5592000014AED.html

禅的智慧与人生境界(组图)

法界,是意识所缘的一切境界,涵盖世间出世间一切事物的根源和真理,也是佛果成就的世界。在法界中,万事万物各有特殊性质而又处于统一的整体之中。所谓“一切即一,一即一切”,在一切差别现象中显出统一的法性,每个个体所见的万事万物都可以归结为终极的空性;而法性则体现在差别的现象中,又从终极的空性展开一切现象。

The Day We Marched – London – 20.10.12

5 months old

Britain is in the grip of a an ultra rightwing government that is attempting to turn back the Socialist Revolution of 1948 that saw a Labour Party that truly represented the people come to power in the wake of WWII.  The creation of the National Health Service (NHS) saw the end of ordinary people dying routinely from starvation and curable diseases.  The creation of universal education free to all saw for the first time working class people obtaining access not only to basic literacy skills, but also to the hallowed halls of higher education.  The Benefit System distributed a relatively small amount of the wealth that Britain had obtained through hundreds of years of colonial expansion and the spreading of misery around the globe.  The right for every person to be housed put an end to homelessness, and the Welfare State in general, initially funded by the dismantling of the British empire, was sustained by ongoing taxation.  The victory of British Socialism in the 1945 general election unleashed a wave of civility that at a stroke destroyed a major portion of class privilege that had existed for hundreds of years and lifted the Working Class out of the trap of institutional poverty and on to the road of economic and cultural development.  Since that time, the British Conservative Party has continuously moved ever further to the right of the political spectrum, seeking to destroy the Welfare State and return Britain to a position of stark class differences, deference and economic disparity.  In this task it has become ever more extreme and desperate.  The electoral victory of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 saw the beginning of the Conservative attack upon the Welfare State, the very same Socialist system of re-distribution that allowed working class people like Margaret Thatcher to believe that they were in fact Middle Class.  This irony has been lost on many modern Tories who refuse to acknowledge that the Welfare State has contributed to at least a certain number of them aspiring beyond their humble roots.

1979 also saw the demise of the Socialist Labour Party that had previously fought so hard for the rights and dignity of ordinary people in Britain.  As a certain proportion of the Working Class became mislead and deceived by the right wing press and media they were convinced that voting Tory was in their best interests.  This has led to the Labour Party taking on ever more Conservative behaviour and policy, leaning further to the right and refusing to reverse Tory cuts even when in power.  Britain today needs a Socialist Revolution.  The psychology of Britain is naturally Left Wing despite what the right wing press would prefer the people to believe.  It is a matter of naturally taking control of the reigns of power through whatever means is relevant to the times.  The right wing media controls much of the airwaves at the moment, but theirs is a false vision of a Britain that destroys itself through selfishness, ignorance, greed, and violence.  The right wing requires that every individual competes with one another, and through mutual hatred create a social hierarchy of privilege maintained through the threat of a politicised Police force, or even by the use of the military.  Not only this, but Britain today, mindlessly following the international behaviour of the United States of America, is embroiled in two wars that can not be won, and which may well break international law.  Furthermore, the current economic recession is the product of the right wing president George W Bush – whose mismanagement of the US economy has unleashed untold suffering upon the world.  This is at a time when the European Union appears to be adopting an American-style free market economic model that seeks to remove all Welfare provision and render whole communities and individuals vulnerable to abject poverty and violence.  The current right wing phenomena is nothing new – the British Daily Mail newspaper was opposed to women qualifying for unemployment benefit, and actually supported Adolf Hitler as he rose to power!  Despite this, this newspaper continues to circulate propagating its racism and ignorance to all who will take its message seriously.  Often it is the case that the right wing national newspapers control the publications of local newspapers – often given away free and funded by advertising, etc.  These local papers infiltrate virtually every part of modern life in the UK, and ensure that the right wing message exists just as loudly in the local domain, as it does in the national. 

We marched today to maintain internationalism and friendship across the world and to protest at the infiltration of the right wing into every day life.  We marched today to put a stop to racism, prejudice, and discrimination.  We marched today for all those who could not march and who will be the most damaged by this ruthless attack upon the British Welfare State perpetuated by Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party.  Due to the unpopularity of this government – who hold power due to an electoral statistical quirk – they have had to move quickly to present their ideologically motivated cuts in Public Services, the NHS, and the Welfare State.  This haste has led to badly thought out policy decisions that are probably not entirely legal, which have caused tremendous social damage and individual suffering.  There are so many stories today of people experiencing life threatening changes due to the behaviour of this ConDem government that they are difficult to sum-up in a single essay.  The detail of what is exactly happening in the UK at the moment would keep lawyers busy for many years.  Essentially, the Welfare State is being ruthlessly cut so that the ordinary people suffer as a consequence.  These cuts are illegal, and the effects of the cuts are illegal.  However, the money saved from welfare provision is being used to bail-out the greedy bankers who have misused the money they were entrusted with, and plunged the UK – one of the richest counties in the world – into poverty.  More than this, however, but the ConDem government, through these cuts, is paving the way for a tax cut for the rich – the class of people who can actually afford to pay tax.  Perhaps the most worrying attack is on the those people who have a disability, and who are dependent upon the Welfare State due to their health, or due to the discrimination that exists within UK society – which excludes them from the job market.    

We marched with the Socialists and the Communists, the Teachers and the Firemen, the Musicians and the Railway Workers, the Green Party and the foreign students – we all marched together as equals in our humanity.  The march was peaceful, good natured and attended by hundreds of thousands of people!  The Conservative Mayor of London – Boris Johnson – ensured a very heavy Police presence, but unlike the Student Demonstration, we were not kettle-drummed or baton charged, although there were plenty of batons in clear view.  The Police were dressed in riot over-alls and military style boots, obviously prepared for a riot – but despite the numbers, no riot materialised.  The sheer numbers the marchers represented spoke for itself.  The government controlled media may choose to ignore this march, or play it down, but the government knows that in the next election, the people will vote them out of office.  On this day we marched as comrades!

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2012.

 

 

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