Monday, December 14, 2009

Causation, Karma, and Liberation

A commenter on the last post asks for some clarification of my thoughts on casuality:
Busted Yogurt,

So causality is evil and we can release ourselves from the stifling bonds of karma by abandoning causality? I hear you saying that embracing causality causes evil. Which has me confused. What are, precisely, the effective limits of causality? Should it be merely bridled or abandoned altogether?
Since the premise of my article was that evil is illusory, I don't think I could fairly be said to have claimed that causality is evil, except in the sense that both are illusory. You could fairly say that the illusion of causality leads us to adopt the illusion of evil, however, since causation implies that everything "bad" that happens to us must have a cause, and we tend to define evil as that which produces bad thigns.

Yet the whole point I'm trying to make is that evil is not caused, so not even causality can "cause" it. It's simply that certain kinds of illusions have their repercussions. They create illusions on top of and within illusions, until we can't tell where the house of mirrors begins or ends. If we believe in a snake that isn't there, we may try to kill it, and end up doing terrible things to relieve ourselves of the illusory snake. In the same way, when we think that evil has a cause, we may try to kill it, and end up murdering innocent Jews in an attempt to destroy that evil. Or, we may drop atom bombs on it. Or name your remedy for whatever imagined cause for our miseries we might see as real. The logic becomes a closed loop that keeps us trapped in the same pattern. As T.S. Elliot said,

Each in his prison, thinking of the key
Thinking of the key, each creates his prison.
The effective limits of causality are the same limits as the single dimension in which they are observed. As mentioned before, causality is an illusion of perspective achieved by only examining events within a single dimension of existence. Causation begins to evaporate when one observes events across multiple dimensions - which is in reality how we humans experience this life, since we are not merely material beings, but subjective conscious observers as well. This means that we observe events across at least two dimension at all times (and many more perhaps). This means that strict laws of causation simply cannot be applied to the actual experience of human life, without creating severe distortions in our viewpoint.

Science is an example of the effective limit of causation. Science proceeds by a disciplined exclusion of all data that stands outside the single dimension of the physical, material universe. It even excludes the observer himself, conceptually creating a view of reality that is filled only with material objects, and no conscious observer who has an involvement with the data. This disciplined approach allows science to see the universe entirely as a chain of causes and effects, and nothing more. Synchronicity is considered a meaningless concept in this viewpoint, and randomness is the ruling principle. Because science adopts this disciplined approach, it is able to see all events as a series of causes and effects, and nothing interferes with that viewpoint, because nothing that could do so is allowed to be considered meaningful. Subjective views are rigorously excluded, precisely because they have no causal meaning to purely material events.

I don't even have an argument with the disciplined approach of science. It's certainly an effective way to achieve power over the material world. And yet that power dissipates into an illusion if we begin to examine the world from more than one dimensional viewpoint, if we include the subjective conscious observer and see the material world from the perspective of conscious experience itself. Then the limitations of causality start to become more obvious. Trying to decide where "evil" comes from runs into tedious games of chicken or egg, and unless we abandon that game, we are led down chains of logic that themselves end up leading us into evil acts, like killing imaginary snakes that aren't actually there.

One thing I'll say about science is that it follows a very similar path to that taken up by various yogis who wish to attain "siddhis" - magical powers. Whether or not such siddhis actually exist, the method yogis engage to obtain them is generally one of a disciplined "asceticism", obtained by radically limiting one's experience, engaging in all sorts of austerities, exclusions of various aspects of experience, fasting, standing in one position for a long time, meditating constantly, sitting in a cave, or in some extreme environment. The basic idea is that one gains power by limiting oneself and one's viewpoint, and this is quite true. One gains a certain power over nature by this method, but the power is illusory. In the same way, science seems to gain power over nature by engaging in a discipline which excludes consciousness from its viewpoint, but in so doing it creates an illusory world in which consciousness is made, essentially, unconscious, and thus people are in many respects even more miserable than before.

Both scientists and yogis who are trying to control the world through causation are in fact making it worse in many respects. There are certainly material benefits to the discipline, but it has some powerfully negative "black magic" effects. There's certainly a healthy place for scientific discipline, but not when it becomes the overwhelmingly exclusive viewpoint of those who engage it or create a culture from it.

It's not that one should exclude causation from one's viewpoint. Causation makes shorthand sense in the strictly material realm. The relationship of purely material objects to one another is indeed causal. But the truth is that there are no purely material objects, so this is a moot point. Our actual experience of life is not a purely causal matter, ever. It's not that we shouldn't take into account basic matters of causation, but we should understand that causation is an abstraction that doesn't see the whole picture, ever. We should be just as attentive to the subjective and acausal relationships we have to life as we are to the causal conceptions we use for some disciplined matters. To paraphrase Lennon, "Life is what happens when we are busy trying to make it happen".

Those who become the most wrapped up in the causal view of life do tend to fall into the trap of seeing evil as their enemy, and to even see it appearing almost everywhere. They may not even call it "evil", but it's there in some form. This applies equally to religious fanatics and scientific materialists. Both are trapped in a conceptual chain of causation that seems completely logical and inescapable to them. They need to be freed from this causal circle and begin to see how the world merely appears to us in synchronicity with our own state of mind. There's a line from the Course In Miracles I always liked, that goes, "You are never at any moment upset for the reasons you think". The reason for this is that our unhappiness is not caused. It is merely a wrong viewpoint. When we look for the literal causes of our unhappiness, we find ourselves getting wrapped up in a spiderweb of causes stretching back God knows how far, and the more we struggle with this web the more deeply we become trapped in it.

Which brings to mind another old saying, which is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Playing the causation game to find out why we are suffering, in the hope that we can undo it and not suffer, is an insane approach to life. It's far better to release oneself of that whole approach and try something genuinely different. To look at the world as uncaused, and each event in it as not being the effect of some prior cause, is genuinely liberating, if one can actually see things this way. It unsticks us from the tyranny of time.

As for karma, we can never be free of karma so long as we are trapped inside it. We have to get outside of karma to be free of it, or it just perpetuates itself. Karma is the law of cause and effect, that's all. It's not anything real in itself, it's not some long list of bad things we've done that we have to atone for. It's a point of view, that's all. So long as we are trapped in the mindset of cause and effect we are bound by karma. If we step out of that mindset, we become free. And that "stepping out" cannot be caused either. A Guru cannot make you step out, he cannot "cause" your enlightenment, he cannot make you free, he cannot relieve you of your karmas. You can only do that by stepping out of the karmic mind-trap. He can at best point this out to you, and urge you to take the step out of your karma. He can show you what it's like to live outside of karma, to be free, to love, to experience the unreasonable, uncaused happiness of merely being conscious and alive. But that's the limit of it. Causation will never make you happy. There's nothing you can ever do that will cause happiness or freedom. But you can be free by stepping outside that whole terrible box of karma.

The Guru-devotee relationship does not work by the principle of causation. It does not involve the transmission of some magical power that will bring about your enlightenment. The Guru works by synchronicity. If you simple live in right relationship to the world, to the Guru wherever he appears (which is everywhere), living by synchronicity rather than seeking a cause and effect, this will begin a process by which you awaken to the acausal reality. One becomes liberated not by any cause or effect, but by living outside that whole pattern of mind and thought and concept. This means living in the present, and not in the past or future. It means a kind of surrender, in which we give up the whole seeking path that is designed around causes and effects.

When we seek, we always do so in the pattern of trying to come up with a plan of some kind that will produce an effect. When we do this, we are engaged in causation, and we think this is how the world works. We think even the material effects we can produce by material causes will produce an effect of happiness or pleasure in us. The problem is not that it fails to do this - that's only one aspect of it, since it doesn't entirely fail in some of those respects all the time. The problem is that both the success and failure of the causation path keeps us bound to the mindset of causation itself, which is karma. Whether we get good karma or bad karma, it still keeps us trapped in causation, and all the illusions which proceed from it. To be free from causes means to step out of the whole mindset of causation itself, not to literally eliminate all causes, which can never be done, but to no longer operate from the perspective of cause and effect, and thus to live in the present moment, in synchronous relationship with all events and the world.

The real Self is uncaused, and it's life does not unfold by causes and effects. The Self is alive beyond all causes and effects, and pays them no attention, recognizing them as a merely optical illusion of foreshortening. The all-inclusive Self sees experience as uncaused and always identical to its own Self, without the slightest distance from anything. How can anything be caused, if there is no distance from it in either time or space? Cause and effect requires a gap, a form of separation, in which to operate. In the Self, no such gaps exist. It's not that nothing arises, it's that nothing "happens". What arises has no cause, and is not an effect of some deeper cause. It wouldn't hurt to find this out for ourselves.


Luke said...

There's a new forum being creating for discussing the phenomenon of synchronicity. Please consider joining and posting this article on there:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I think I get your drift. Causality is a lens through which we view the world. A lens that promises much but exacts even more. We may gain some power from it but at the same time we are letting go of the now-experience in an effort to do so. While we plot and plan, life is passing us by; that's the price of causation. People become like robots.

It seems to me that there is room for both causation and in-the-moment expereince in a person's life. Once we realize the limits of causation, we should be able to turn it on and off at will. I would agree that the more in-the-moment moments we can have, the better.