Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beyond Magic and Magicians, Into the Spontaneous Quality of Real Life

A comment on my last post on Both Happiness and Illusion Are Uncaused makes this point:

Hmmm. I'm right with you until the last paragraph. The problem with causation as I see it is finding the first one. No first cause then no causation. The trouble here is when you start talking about 'Magicians holding secrets' and 'using this insight' and the like, it sounds suspiciously like the beginning of causation. There was no power to cause anything but now suddenly it's manifest. Am I missing something here?

(I've been enjoying your tenacity and persistence re this, btw. Of course I see no first cause. cheers and Thanks!)
It's good to hear that there are some people out there who actually find this samyama on acausality interesting, but it's clear I need to clarify some of my references, particularly this matter of magic and magicians, and the gradations of apparent causality that people experience.

I agree with the commentator that one of the problems of causation is that of finding the "first cause" that set it all in motion. Without identifying a first cause, it's hard to construct a logical train of causes that produces our present and future lives. However, I think this argument is also rather weak, in that it relies largely on logic rather than direct experience, and it doesn't explain why people tend to perceive causation when they look at their own lives, and the world around them. People tend not to give much weight to purely logical arguments, and are swayed instead by their actual experience. If in their own experience they see causation all around them, that's what they are going to believe in, regardless of whether they can locate some original cause that set the whole thing in motion.

So my approach here is to set aside most of these purely logical arguments, and examine the nature of our own direct experience and consciousness, and look for the gaps in our perception of causation that reveal it to be an illusion of convenience. I don't think there's any other way to genuinely expose causation as having no genuine basis in reality in a way that is at all personally convincing, rather than merely intellectually consistent. People will tend to reject intellectual consistency in favor of their own direct experience, at least in their actions if not always in their minds. My interest isn't in merely convincing myself that causation can't be supported logically, but that it can't be supported experientially. If my experience is that causation is true, but my mind insists on logically disbelieving it, this will create a tension, and a resulting cognitive failure that can't be resolved unless I re-examine my experience and begin to directly see the failure of the cognitive model and its ramifications in life.

One of the basic themes I'm trying to get across is that causation is not merely an intellectual idea, it's also a very basic cognitive model of dealing with life.  People intuitively assume causation without inspecting the truth of it, and they tend to build a cognitive model of life around this assumption. They do so because it seems to work in their minds. In fact, it works simply because that is how their minds have been trained to think, and to the degree that this seems to work for them, it gets reinforced in their minds as a truism. However, it doesn't entirely work, and it leaves serious gaps in our lives that the causation model can't fill, and this often leads to belief systems which try to posit casuation as operating at hidden and unseen levels of the mind and the universe which attempt to explain these experiential gaps. And here various forms of cognitive dissonance actually reinforce these belief systems, covering over the gaps and inconsistences with mental certainty about various causation ideas such as karma and spiritual methods which are guaranteed to produce results.

On the other side of the spectrum, we also have intuitions of an acausal universe that goes against some of our causation models. We intuit that the universe may also operate by a series of "coincidences" wherein things just seem to fall into place. Some people can easily be led to adopt these views, simply because the causal explanations seem strained past a certain point. If you look at the number of people who believe in things like astrology, tarot, I Ching, and divination methods of all kinds, you can begin to grasp how widespread these intuitions are. And yet, even in these fields there is confusion about causation. Many astrologers, for example, will tend to attribute the correlations of astrology with our own psychic and life patterns to some subtle "influence" of the stars and planets, and will assume that there is some kind of subtle energy these celestial bodies are emanating which affect our minds and lives and the whole world around us. This is the result of people trying to come up with some kind of causal explanation for astrology, when the deeper understanding of this art is one of simply "reading the signs", rather than finding subtle causal explanations for our psyche's patterning.

One of the problems with the causation model and its cognitive process, as my last post tried to make clear, is that it opens the door to a model of spiritual dependency on the causal agents who are the alleged sources of our spiritual growth and awakening. This is what I was trying to refer to in my last post as "magic and magicians". I tried to use the magician as an example of someone who is creating an illusion of being that cause of some literal effect, when in reality he is simply a poseur who is merely taking credit for a natural process that is not even causal in nature. The magician is selling his act, and relying on the naivete of the audience and their desire to believe in causes and effects, including a big and powerful magician who can reliably produce the desired effect if we simply are obedient to him. The magician takes advantage of our desire for this kind of magical ability to trick us into thinking he is the causal source of the effects they desire. They enter into a subtle hypnotic state of suggestibility, in which they will attribute whatever effects they seem to experience to the magical hypnotist himself, and not recognize that what is going on is not actually cause and effect, but a subtle indoctrination into an illusion.

I've written before at some length about the hypnotic relationship between the cult leader and his followers, and who they conspire together to produce a situation in which the followers can act out their own unconscious fantasies in relation to the cult leader. Part of what makes this possible is the fantasy that the cult leader is the cause of the effects the followers experience, that he is "transmitting" some kind of spiritual energy to them, and that whatever they experience is an effect of the cult leader's power. In reality, this is not the case at all, it is merely a form of hypnotic suggestion that cult followers are all too eager to accept internally and act upon, because it allows them to play out various internal fantasies they have long dreamed about. They get to believe themselves to have a special relationship to a special person or power, one which is the true cause of spiritual growth and happiness, without which they are mere "wretches". This makes them special as well, though their specialness is dependent on their relationship to the causal source of this power, the magician'/guru/cult leader.

Of course, this also opens the followers to a massive, fraudulent exploitation of their desires and illusions by unscrupulous poseurs who like to think of themselves as the  magical cause of whatever is going on in their follower's spiritual lives. They encourage the follower to think of them as the cause of whatever good occurs in their lives, and likewise, they like to encourage the idea that it is their followers' egos which are the cause of all the bad that happens. This creates a pattern of blaming the ego of the follower and exalting the personality of the guru, all of which is dependent on the notion that there really are causes and effects governing all of these processes, and that identifying the causes and their effects is what spiritual understanding is all about. Even those who criticize cultism still tend to examine the process as one of causation, they simply see the cult leader as a cause of evil rather than of good, and they blame him rather than praise him for the effects he produces in his followers. But this does not truly liberate anyone from the illusions of this whole process, it merely inverts the illusion upon its head, and creates an opposing model of causation, not a genuine alternative.

It's my observation that wherever one sees a powerful model of causation at work, one is going to find  exploitation going on. This is even true in simple psychic disciplines like astrology and psychic reading. Those who promote the causal model in these disciplines unwittingly end up promoting exploitation and dependency. They make themselves into powerful magicians who have special powers over the world around them, and they tend to make others dependent upon them, which allows them to charge more and more money for their services. This of course occurs in the spiritual world as well, where some people are able to charge huge amounts of money by positioning themselves as causal sources for the spiritual advancement of their followers, who depend on them for the magical effects they seek, not realizing that this is not at all what is happening, even when genuine spiritual growth does occur.

I also want to make it clear that not all forms of spiritual practice require the causal model in order to work. This is what I was trying to get at in the final paragraph the commentator referred to. I don't want to suggest that all action, or all forms of spiritual practice, are useless, meaningless, or pointless, and only lead to illusions. There is indeed a class of spiritual practice that can be engaged by us that is not based on causation, but which is based on an understanding of the genuine relationship we have to our own source and nature, and that by relating rightly to our own source and nature, we can foster our spiritual growth. One can suggest that this is merely another kind of causation, that I'm suggesting that acting in a certain way is going to cause various positive effects. I can only say that this is itself merely a symptom of the underlying assumption we tend to have that all forms of action and life are the result of causes and effects, and that the only way to escape cause and effect is to not act at all. But this is of course precisely the viewpoint that I'm arguing against. I'm not at all suggesting that there is any reality to cause and effect, even in our ordinary lives. I'm suggesting that all action, even ordinary action in life, is not actually caused, and that we need not refrain from the life of action in order to escape cause and effect, but that we need to understand that action is actually uncaused, that it is merely a natural and spontaneous process that arises in consciousness without cause, and that if we participate in our lives of action with this understanding, we will enjoy the natural ease and harmony and happiness of our real nature and being, rather than the life of conflict, opposition, and stress that the causal illusion perpetuates.

Of course, until we awaken fully to the uncaused nature of peace and happiness, we will tend to see some form of cause and effect at work, so it's virtually impossible to impose upon ourselves a purely non-causal interpretation of events. Even harmonizing with the acausal nature of reality will be looked upon us as a kind of causal practice, which we hope will produce better results. And to the degree that we look upon it that way, we will also limit its usefulness, and even limit the "effects" of the practice. The more we look for effects, the less we will see, and the less we look for effects, the more positive our growth will be. This seems paradoxical, and leads to the seeker's desire to limit his desire for effects, in order to produce better effects! One can go a little crazy pursuing these logic paths, and end up tying oneself in knots. It's best to notice that this is exactly what the causal approach does to us - it ties us up in knots! When this is felt deeply enough, we can sponteneously just let it go, and surrender to our own real nature, and allow our lives to actually become spontaneous events that unfold naturally from our own depth of consciousness, and not as the result of a series of causes and effects.

The acausal model does not eliminate the notion that there is a genuine source of our life and consciousness and spiritual growth. It merely understands that our source is not a causal one, outside ourselves, that operates as some power that produces effects. One might reduce it to that model as a shortcut to understanding that requires no real revolution in our cognitive processes, so as to make it "easier" to grasp. That's generally what happens with the common notion of "God". The most common way of understanding God is as the causal source of the world, the being who created the world, who caused it to come into being, and who acts as an ongoing cause of all that happens, good or bad, handing out punishments to those who are bad and rewards to those who are good. This makes sense to people because it doesn't strain the causal model. One can say at the very least that it helps to point people in the right direction, in that it posits a source to our own consciousness, but by presuming this to be a causal source, it leads us into a great many illusions and potential exploitation. Slowly, as we ponder the nature of God we may begin to see that the causal model isn't real at all, that the nature of God is actually acausal, and that our relationship to God is a harmonic one, not dependent on a causal source, but is an entirely acausal source in which we are not in the least but separate from God.

This requires that we understand that the source of our life and consciousness is not caused at all, that we are not its effect, that it did not occur in the past, and is not moving towards some future. It is spontaneously arising right now, uncaused, and that the patterns of our own mind and psyche are not causally related to one another, nor causally related to our own mind and world. In fact, we may begin to see that the assumption of a causal relationship to all these experiences is coincident with suffering, which then begins to seem caused itself, and produces a life of trying to cause the end of suffering by either undoing those causes or finding some causal source of magic which can cancel out those causes and allow us to be free and happy. That whole cycle reinforces its own illusions through the deeper and deeper assumption of more and more causes and more and more effects, until we are seemingly trapped in such a deep web of causes and effects that there is almost no hope of becoming free of it, except by the most gradual of processes of "paying off karma". The problem is that paying off one's karma only reinforces the causal illusion we are trapped within, and it turns it all into a process that literally takes forever.

The approach I'm suggesting, and trying to take myself, is one of freeing ourselves from the illusions of causation at the root, in the heart of our own awareness, and not falling for the ways in which this illusion tries to creep back into our lives. This can only be done by actually being directly attentive to the present pattern of our own mind and awareness, not by merely intellectually theorizing about it. This requires a sense of direct vulnerability to our experience, even to the sufferings of ourselves and others, and not recoiling from these, or creating intellectual justifications for them, but genuinely entering into a harmonic relationship even with our own suffering, and the sufferings of others. This does not produce "effects", because it is not a cause. And yet, we will also notice that when we really do this, it expands the sphere of harmony beyond our own assumed limits of mind and life. We may be tempted to see this as a subtler form of causation, but that's not what it is, and it's important to notice that, and not be sucked back into the causal model of life by it, thinking we've found a more genuine way of causing peace and happiness.

Of course, to some extent that's just what we will do, until we penetrate the illusion entirely, and we have to be tolerant of ourselves and others for making these kinds of assumptions. They are inevitable and unavoidable. Rather than reacting to that in ourselves, and trying to oppose that, we have to harmonize even with these aspects our own mind and life which are not so enlightened as we might wish. This means merely staying in relationship to our conventional mind and psyche, and that of others as well, and that of the whole world, and not imagining that we can undo it by cause and effect. We undo it by merely being the loving observer, the sympathetic heart who merely listens and empathizes, rather than tries to take charge and produce the desired results. That is how real magic happens. Be being present merely as uncaused love, and not trying to save anyone, we can help ourselves and others see through these illusions and know their own nature, and thus be free of the illusory cycle of cause and effect. This is what real compassion means. It requires a humble appreciation of our own inability to actually produce the effects we seek to cause, our inability to save either ourselves or others, regardless of our good intentions, and an approach of self-surrender rather than self-effort.

This approach is not for the faint of heart. It will literally break your heart. There will be pain in the process, but also much heartfelt love. One cannot avoid that, nor should one want to. Reality is a bitch, but she means to help us, just not in the way we expect. We want the pleasant effects, and we seek whatever causes we think can bring these about. That's why we tend to be attracted to magicians, rather than to the acausal source of real life. And magicians will always prey upon us until we break through that whole approach. It requires some real insight to put that behind us. And it requires that we actually exploit that insight, make much of it, actually let it guide us and teach us and be attentive to it, rather than passively expect it to come to us, as if it is caused and will affect us on its own.

We have been exploited for so long that we somehow tend to think we should simply remain passive, rather than active, in relation to even these genuine insights. But real insight is an active process, something which awakens us spontaneously to the real process of spiritual life, and we have to engage it as such, and not simply sit back and expect it to happen to us. Reality is not a passive process. Acausality does not mean inactivity, even if we are sitting still and calm. Such simplicity masks a process of intense, uncaused activity. We simply have to understand that genuine, true action is uncaused, and seeks no result. It is free, and sometimes appears quiet and still, but it is free to act as well, without any resort to cause and effect, and not producing karma, therefore. Karma is produced by the mind that is trapped in the illusions of cause and effect, not by action itself, which is uncaused in reality, and thus produces no effects. Understanding this frees us to act in true and real ways. It does not condemn us to inactivity or stasis. It simply unveils the spontaneous quality of real life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would be interested if you elaborated still a bit further here. The cause and effect model is deeply embedded in our consciousness and it is compelling precisely because it appears to be what happens in our experience moment by moment. Yes, there are gaps that we may attribute to karma, coincidence, wages of sin or whatever. But for the most part those gaps are few and far between. On a daily level, we tend to see relationships between cause and outcome in almost everything that happens. If we set fire to gasoline, it ignites. We draw the curtains or close the shudders on our windows and it gets darker. I wash my hands with soap after working in the garden and the dirt comes off my fingers (mostly). I refuse to pay my taxes and the tax man comes after me. There is such a consistent regularity to these actions and outcomes on the immediate level that no one feels the need to keep reducing them back ad infinitum to find a first mover principle.
I can see how on an existential level this applies as well - though we often misunderstand what causes leads to what results. On a deeper level I can also see your point about how peace and happiness are uncaused - that they are simply there in the same way that the "rising" of the sun is not caused by anyone - even though earlier generation probably attributed their activities to its daily reappearance.
Can you explain why simple actions in our reality lead to a consistent regularity of outcomes (i.e. driving my car too fast around a corner (at 80km) under normal conditions causes my car to swerve but slowing to 25km does not cause it to swerve? Do we simply change the verb to "arises"? Then do we say that these events simply arise spontaneously? How do we account for their predictably? I would appreciate your insights here.