“…The problem is, there's no such thing in real life as a strictly material event. There's always a human consciousness involved in it somehow, either as a seeming actor or a seeming observer…”First, let's be clear that there is no moment in which consciousness is not present in experience, because without consciousness, there is no experience. The common, seemingly objective viewpoint is that our experience is unnecessary to the existence of the body, the world, and other people. We presume that if our consciousness is not present, that everything goes along just fine without us. We presume that our consciousness is limited to our own body and mind, which is just an insignificant part of a totality which barely notices its existence. But if we actually examine ourselves as consciousness, we will notice that these presumptions have little validity. They are beliefs that are reinforced by the belief itself, creating a circular logic that has no actual basis independent of consciousness. The reality of our experience is that we, as consciousness, always come first, and what we experience in consciousness, whether it is our body, the world, or other people, comes second. Even while we identify with the body, this is always the case, and there's never a moment in which this is not the case.
True, but to what extent? And again, why does there seem to be such a reliable predictability to what falls onto consciousness or what waves consciousness collapses into reality? If I send 10 people at different intervals to have a look inside my garden shed – and write down what contents they find – they would all very likely report the same thing (a lawn mower, a rake, some dried leaves, and an old bicycle). Yes, consciousness is involved. But, as you write below, who or what caused this to arise in consciousness? And why does it seem to arise with such regularity (i.e. the garden shed contents)? Are we all having the same dream? Is our “function” merely to collapse waves into this dimension? This is still not clear to me.
So the real question is, how can a secondary aspect of our existence come to be seen as primary, and how can the primary aspect of our existence come to be seen as secondary? Part of the answer is found in Aurelius' question. We notice that the world around us has some regularity to it, and that our own internal subjectivity does not. Since our intuitive sense is that whatever is constant and regular and seemingly "permanent", or closest to that, is real, we presume that the world outside our subjectivity is real, and that our subjectivity is the illusion. The problem with this logic is that it confuses our internal thoughts and feelings with consciousness, when if we observe these things we will see that they are actually just as "objective" to us as the external world. Both internal thoughts and external experience are composed of objects to our awareness. We tend to identify ourselves with the internal thoughts, rather than the external, sensory objects, and so we tend to see the outer world as "objective", and the inner world as "subjective", but this is an artificial distinction. The real distinction is between the observing awareness of experience, and the objects of experience.
It's extremely important to notice both the falseness of the distinction between inner and outer objects of experience, and the bare facts of our own awareness. Another thing to say about this notion that all observers will find the objects in the shed to be the same is that it just isn't true. For one, each observer will bring his own subjective and even objective interpretation to the shed, and see things somewhat differently. Everyone's senses will perceive the shed slightly differently, everyone's brain and nervous system will process that information somewhat differently, and everyone's subjective thinking and emoting about the shed will be different. So no one will experience the shed exactly the same. Likewise, the conditions in the shed will change over time, even over very slight periods of time. But even further, and most importantly, everyone will experience the shed as a phenomenal object arising in their consciousness, and not as a truly independent, objective event outside of their consciousness. The distinction between inside and outside objects is a false one.
The reason this is so important is that if we genuinely are looking for something that is regular, reliably present under all experience and in all conditions, regardless of how they change, it is this observing awareness. This is the one real constant in our experience. We are not in a world of unchanging shedness. The shed is a temporary and fleeting part of our awareness that we simply cannot remain constantly aware of, and even if we try, that "shedness" will change, and our experience of it will shift and change with our moods and perspective, even if we try to preserve its objective nature as long as possible. The fact that ten people will inventory the objects in the shed in a fairly similar way only tells us that limiting consciousness to the body of a single individual is not meaningful, that our consciousness is connected in important ways. But it also tells us that to the rest of the world, this shed is not terribly important. Consciousness never really has the same contents twice. Time makes sure of that.
A famous scientist once defined time as "God's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once. Causality cannot exist without a concept of time, and yet, if we are attentive we will notice that we never experience anything but a single moment of time. We have a concept of time only because we create memories of past moments, but these memories do not actually exist in the past, they only exist in the present. So even our notion of time exists only by comparing present experience with present memories. We have no guarantee that our memories of the past are true, because we have no actual past to compare them to in the present, we only have our present.
One of the most famous and bewildering of scientific paradoxes is called the "Boltzman Brain Paradox", invented by Ludwig Boltzman, who is most famous for inventing/discovering the principle of entropy and the notion that the universe was created by random fluctuations - this long before even the notions of quantum mechanics were known. Boltzman's brain paradox is a mathematical proof that it is far more likely, in a universe of random fluctuations, that a single brain would manifest with false memories than that many brains would manifest with true memories. The numbers aren't even close. The suggestion, therefore, is that either the universe isn't truly random, or we are living in a world of false memories, not true ones, and that there aren't really other people at all, but only a single mind.
Whether or not the Boltzman brain paradox is true, it's rather obvious thatwe can't ever be certain that our memories of the past are true. Even if we compare them to the memories of other people, and the results of some mechanical device like a camera, these too are appearing in our consciousness, and we can't be certain of their reliability therefore. All we can be certain of is that our own consciousness exists as an awareness that is constantly observing and "experiencing" everything. The "everything" always changes, but the observing awareness does not.
The primary illusion of life that we all have to face up to, therefore, is that our consciousness is secondary to experience, and thus a secondary part of reality, and that objects to our consciousness (whether inner or outer) are actually primary to experience, and therefore to reality. We grapple with this illusion every day, and move in and out of identification with either internal or external objects, but seldom do we simply allow ourselves to be who we are, which is this observing awareness.
If we begin to examine our experience from the perspective of this observing consciousness itself, the one unchanging constant in our experience, we begin to discover what our real relationship to reality is. As Aruelius suggests, we begin to see that we are all experiencing the world as a "dream", as something that arises in and to our consciousness, and that the objects of our consciousness have some kind of regularity only because consciousness is not separated by body and brain, but has a larger expanse than that.
And let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that anyone go around with some concept in their mind that we should try to be aware of ourselves as "the observing consciousness". No effort is needed for this to be the case, because if we examine ourselves honestly in any moment, we will notice that this is just who we are. This is our reality, and it requires no concept to be imposed on us for that to be so. If we notice ourselves in any moment, we can see that we simply are observing everything in and around us, whether it's a thought in our mind, a memory of the past, or the perception of a bicycle in our shed. In all such cases, we are the observer of these things, and we are the reality of them, not the other way around.
One thing to notice is that we choose which objects to our awareness we confer the status of "reality" to. We can call our dreams at night real or unreal, depending on our perspective, and we can call some things in the objective world real or unreal, depending on our disposition towards them. We can call some memories real, and some false. In all cases, we decide what is real, and reality is conferred upon the world by us, not by the world itself. If we choose to decide that our own consciousness is unreal, and the objective world is real, that is the reality we will live in. One of the problems we face, then, is that different people have decided these things differently from us, and this upsets us. We tend to associate with people who have made similar choices about reality to ourselves, and consider variations from that forms of "craziness". We wonder to ourselves how people can be so insane, without recognizing that we are insane also, because we have confused reality with our own projections of reality upon a chosen set of objects, rather than recognizing that the source of all feelings that things are real is in us, not "out there". And by "in us", I don't mean merely in our own subjective thoughts and feelings, because these too are merely things that we give some the sense of being "real", and others the sense of being "false". We are not actually the same as our subjective thoughts and feelings, these are still just objects to us that we confer reality upon according to our own choosing.
”…We all intuitively know what it means not to operate by cause and effect notions, because we do this all the time in reality. It's actually only in relatively rare moments that we operate by cause and effect - usually when things go wrong and we feel a need to blame someone. Or when we are trying to figure out some practical problem of material mechanics..”.What must be said first about this is that cause and effect is a conceptual interpretation of experience, it is not how we actually experience anything. One has to learn to think this way, it is not something immutable in our experience. So in that sense, we don't actually go through the day thinking "cause and effect", we only interpret things that way after they have already happened, or in anticipation of their happening. But in the present moment, there is no actual cause and effect, because we can only experience one present moment at a time. Of course, even the brain and nervous system conspire against us in this regard, in that it's been shown that our nervous system creates a kind of "cache" of sensory experience that it assembles into an artificial "present moment" that in reality is built of briefly stored memories. This is one of the reasons why eyewitness testimony is actually one of the least reliable forms of evidence - our actual brain-based experience of things is unreal even by the standards of science. In moments of crisis, the brain assembles "facts" together unreliably, even confusing the order of events.
I would say rather that we do operate by a cause and effect awareness (sometimes on an unconscious level) of reality more than we think. When things go wrong our focus is on why something went wrong in order to understand it and eventually correct it. If nothing goes “wrong” then we simply don’t think about it – because things are “working” according to expectations. My car not breaking down also appears to have “cause” (i.e. proper maintenance, model type and age, wear and tear – or lack thereof, etc.). So then, in what way do you mean that we intuitively not operate on a cause and effect level?
How reliable is our own brain then? How reliable is our bodily-based experience? Well, not very, even by "objective" standards. This suggests we can't even rely on our own thought process and sensory experience. Rather than submit to some external, objectified notion of reality, this suggests that we should be based in what is genuinely reliable to us - our own observing consciousness. We can observe our own internal thoughts and experience, even our brains as they process sensory data and internal thoughts. We can be what we actually are in the midst of all the confusions of experience - consciousness. That can be our reliable ground of experience, not the conceptual fabrications we create around us, including the concept of cause and effect. Even when we seemingly observe cause and effect, we are the observer of these, not the object of them. We see objects seemingly related to one another by cause and effect, but we, the observing consciousness, are never either a cause or an effect. We only seem to be when we identify ourselves as an object, such as the body or the brain, rather than as what we really are, which is this observing consciousness.
So Aurelius is correct that we do enter into cause and effect mode at times, when we need to think of some kind of way to change our present situation, or to account for changes that have happened. But this cannot be maintained for long. It persists only through stressful effort, and we forget it all too often in the midst of trying to deal with the present moment, because cause and effect can't exist in the present moment.We have to step back from our actual experience in the present in order to see things as ruled by cause and effect. So this notion that cause and effect makes us participants in life, whereas being the observing consciousness is a way of removing ourselves from life, has things exactly opposite. It's an inversion of reality to think this way. Actual reality has us always as an observing consciousness, and it is only by removing ourselves from reality that we can see it as a cause and effect phenomena. And since we actually do live in reality, whatever we may think about it, we don't actually experience the world as a cause and effect matter.
We tend not to notice this much simply because our minds tend to be confused and identified with our own confusion. But even our confusion does not come about by cause and effect, and it can't be undone by removing what we might think is its cause, or by creating a cause that will produce the effect of undoing our confusion. Our confusion is simply false identification, like seeing the rope as a snake. We cannot "undo" the snake, because the snake is not caused, and it never actually came into existence. Likewise, the causes of our confusion don't exist, because confusion is not real to begin with. It is only by thinking that it's real that it becomes real to us. We confer reality upon our confusion, in the same way that we confer reality upon the snake that doesn't really exist as a snake, but is actually a rope. If we try to undo our confusion by acting upon it, trying to create clarity as an effect of our actions, we have merely reinforced our confusion rather than worked to undo it. What will actually undo our confusion is noticing what is not confused, and has never been confused, which is our own consciousness. We have to notice the rope that we are, and that will clear things up. Doing things to the snake does nothing but tell us that there really is a snake, and that's the nub of the problem right there.
It would be great to be able to just be there in tune with what it is and act in harmony with the situation as we are presented with it. I truly believe this. It would indeed be a relief - as you put it. But it does seem, by your own account, “we” can still mess things up – looping us back into a cause and effect scenario. We somehow get in the way (cause) and we end up messing ourselves up and producing unintended results (effect). It seems that dropping the obligation of seeing myself as a causal being continues to be an elusive goal. Could you comment here? I believe this is the crux of the discussion. To say that life just arises in consciousness – seems to imply that there is no participation in life other than observing and passively going along. Does saying that we can mess things up not throw us right back into the cause and effect equation – which to me – would validate a cause and effect universe on almost every level?Once one begins thinking of things as occurring by cause and effect, everything falls into these conceptual categories, even acausality. One even sees the origins of cause and effect thinking in terms of cause and effect. It's logic can be applied to virtually anything and everything, and thus becomes inescapable. This is why I say that we have to begin by throwing away cause and effect, and not gradually get there.We have to recognize what is real, and proceed on the basis of that, rather than on the basis of some concepts we have about reality, which will end up being re-devoured and regurgitated as cause and effect if that's how we begin. We have to begin with what we actually know directly, not some concept in the mind like cause and effect. And what we actually know is our own conscious awareness. All the objects we know are secondary, and all concepts we have about ourselves and the objects of our experience are tertiary. The first person is what matters, not the third person concept we have of ourselves. If we stay with the first person, we won't become confused. If we leave the first person behind, and instead presume the third person through conceptual notions, we will quickly become lost. Cause and effect is one of the primary ways that we presume the third person by means of conceptual interpretation, and lose our direct experience of reality.
What must be said loud and clear is that being the conscious observer is how we participate in life, it's how we experience everything directly, and how we act directly. If we don't live as the conscious observer, we are separating ourselves from life through concepts and interpretations that render us as "third persons" to our own experience. This is why we feel separate and apart from our experience - because we are not being genuinely related to it, we are instead conceptually related to it, identified with objects, even subjective objects, rather than knowing ourselves as the conscious subject, consciousness itself. This is also why our efforts to be "in the moment" fail if we are identifying with the body-mind, and trying to act to produce results through the body-mind, rather than with our native consciousness. Our efforts backfire and simply reinforce the source of our problem. That is the problem with all cause and effect efforts, even the effort to undo our confusion by cause and effect.
If we interpret all of this as meaning that "identification with the body is the cause of our confusion, so let's engage in some effort to undo that identification, in other words eliminate the cause or do somethign that will have that effect", we haven't actually learned anything at all. We are just recycling these simple truths through the conceptual mind of cause and effect, and we will indeed become only more disassociated as a result.The simple answer to this is simply not to interpret all this through cause and effect notions, and not to look upon our confusion as the result of a cause, or the cause of some further effects. This is one of the problems with much Buddhist dharma on cause and effect. Rather than step out entirely from the mindset of samsara, it tends to reinforce samsara by imagining the "solution" to our entrapment in karma is more cause and effect, rather than less. And people who naively engage in Buddhist practice with the notion that it will undo their karmas, or void the causes of suffering, are not getting the real point of genuine "emptiness". Genuine emptiness transcends causes and effects, it is not the cause of some effect we might call "enlightenment". And the same goes for all forms of spiritual practice conceived of as causes that will produce spiritual effects.
What is necessary is a genuine insight into all this, a genuine breakthrough that goes past cause and effect and stays there, and which becomes the basis for all spiritual practice, which simply means life itself, free of concepts. It is important that such insight not be re-subsumed into our cause and effect conceptualization of reality, therefore. It must develop the strength to stand apart from all that, which means to stand in reality itself, directly, in the first person, not the third person, unruffled by concepts about cause and effect. This is how karma is actually undone, by standing in reality. One can never "work off" one's karma by cause and effect - that is simply endless, because the method merely reinforces the conceptual illusion of cause and effect, which is what karma is to begin with.It is precisely by not trying to cause enlightenment that enlightenment is found. And even that cannot become a conceptual method to produce enlightenment. It must be a direct understanding. There is no other way.
“…When we exclude consciousness from the equation, it doesn't go away, but it reappears in our experience as randomness…”The experience of randomness is far more common than that of cause and effect, but it too is an illusion. Behind all cause and effect interpretations lurks the incomprehensible monster of chaos. We try to resolve chaos into causes and effects, but despite the academic findings of science and philosophy, our actual experience is always chaotic. Even the science of chaos theory is merely a superficial stab at trying to grasp just how complex and chaotic life actually is. Even quantum mechanics tells us that every moment is a series of probabilities governed by randomness, not an ordered universe. Cause and effect breaks down at the quantum level, which means our hope of finding an orderly cause and effect universe is simply in vain. So everywhere we look we see chaos, randomness, and chance, rather than orderly causes and effects we can predict with any certainty. Cause and effect is a reaction to this experiential fact, rather than the underlying reality behind it. It is an attempt to keep ourselves from facing the Mahakala of Chaos, by erecting fences of orderly cause and effect. But the Mahakala always wins out in the end, not our theories of cause and effect.
Can you be more specific here – when you talk about random intrusions? Any examples?
What I am suggesting is that if we examine our experience from the perspective of consciousness, we will find that in reality there is no chaos, no randomness, no infinite multiverse of all possibilities, but only the single reality of consciousness itself, which is unity and uniform throughout all of experience, and which is reflected in all experience. What we perceive as randomness is merely the acausal nature of consciousness confronting us in the midst of a life we are scrambling to interpret in some other way, because we have made our own conscious existence a secondary, unconscious, even tertiary affair. When consciousness, which is acausal in nature, is made unconscious is us, pushed aside for the third person viewpoint, it does not vanish, it merely acts in an unseen, unconscious manner, which we see as chaos and randomnness. But randomness is not actual random at all, it is merely acausal. It operates by a different principle of order than we are accustomed to. It doesn't operate by cause and effect, but by acausal unity. Our conceptual mind can't grasp that, so it sees it as an enemy, a force that must be broken and tamed by cause and effect interpretations. But it turns out that even all our cause and effect efforts end up finding an irreducible randomness to life that is impenetrable to cause and effect, even at the most scientifically refined levels of understanding. What "causes" randomness? Well, clearly it wouldn't be random if it were caused, that is precisely the problem with randomness. Randomness exists precisely because it has no cause. And this points us back to the acausal nature of reality.
It can be difficult to discern if we have surrendered to life or simply to a concept of “life flowing spontaneously”. And there is always that nagging feeling that perhaps we have not really surrendered – leading to the “mess up”. How do you approach this?It's not really all that hard to discern. If we are operating by a concept, we are not living spontaneously. If we have that nagging feeling you describe, we are not surrendered. What to do then? Well, it's very simple. Merely noticing that we are not surrendered is enough, because that noticing is a return to consciousness. We need not engage in anything other than mere noticing, in order to return to reality. If we have that nagging feeling, just notice that. Don't try to undo that nagging feeling, just notice it. If you notice that you are trying to undo that nagging feeling, just notice that. Ad infinitum. Eventually, just noticing will purify us of what we notice. We will find ourselves returning again and again to consciousness, to being consciousness, naturally and effectively. The more we simply notice this, the more our own consciousness will grow in intelligence and clarity. The more our responses to experience will be spontaneous and true, and in accord with reality. We will notice consciousness itself in the process. We will notice ourselves as primary to all our experience. We will find ourselves more and more established in our real nature, simply by the power of noticing, which is rooted in the first person, not the third person. Messing up is inevitable, but not a problem, if we simply notice it. In the process, we will also notice that there is a principle of acausality that is governing everything, rather than cause and effect. We will notice that cause and effect is not how things actually operate in real life, that it's just a conceptual interpretation of reality based on illusions, rather than on how things actually are.
“…We tend to attribute even the bad things that happen as a result to some cause and effect mechanism, when in reality it is merely due to not living as our consciousness actually operates...”No, this is merely how it seems if we interpret even this understanding by cause and effect notions. The result of living by cause and effect notions is that we seem to be trapped in causes and effects, and can't get out of it by resorting to further causes and effects. It is only be seeing that even the illusion of cause and effect is not actually caused, that it never actually became real, that we can penetrate this illusion. It is a self-created illusion, in other words, and self-reinforcing within its own logic. The ultimate dimension knows no cause and effect, and it sees that no illusions of cause and effect ever actually exist. The consequences of living in illusion is that the illusion seems to persist, and that is how cause and effect seems to be our pervasive experience. That is karma. Living in reality has no effect on our illusions, any more than turning on the light has an effect on the snake. It merely makes reality obvious, and illusions vanish without cause, because they were never real to begin with. From the perspective of illusion, light is a terrible threat, and is seen of some cause of the dark's destruction. But there is no such thing as darkness, there is merely the absence of light. Light does not actually do anything to darkness. It merely makes light obvious. It does not cause the darkness to "die". Similarly, consciousness does not come about through any cause, and it is not a cause in relation to anything else. The noticing of our own consciousness is not another cause that dispels the darkness, it merely reveals the acausal nature of all arising, which we mistakenly perceive in the dark as "randomness". In the light, it isn't random at all, but the fully conscious ordering of infinite life.
Again, is this not the cause and effect mechanism at the ultimate dimension?