Saturday, December 30, 2006


At least today I got out and ate some paella at a restaurant down the street. Other than that, however, it's been pretty quiet.

The slug-like level of inactivity I've been experiencing lately should come to a conclusion soon - tomorrow's both Sunday and New Year's Eve, so I should be spending both morning and evening at the zendo. The next day, Monday, is my usual evening service, and Tuesday night I'm giving a short presentation on Atlanta's proposed Beltline zoning overlay to the neighborhood planning association. At least a few little events to begin to give some structure to my days.

I have been catching up on my reading, both back issues of The New Yorker (I'm all caught up now, thank you) and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night," an interesting novel recommended and lent to me by my friend Andrea. My friend Arthur r. & l.'ed a Buddhist book titled "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism," and I got a start on that today and even brought it with me to La Fonda Cantina to read over my paella.

"Spiritual materialism" is defined as ego-driven pursuit of spiritual goals as a commodity or a goal to be obtained. If enlightenment, the goal of the spiritual quest, were something to be attained or achieved, then it also must someday end, as all things created eventually destruct. But if the spiritual quest is instead approached as a process of letting go of the ego-based attachements and obstructions that keep one from directly experiencing the enlightenment that was always there, then, well, that's different. I'm sure I'll be posting more on this later as my reading continues.

But what's been interesting me more at present are ideas of consciousness and dualism. It seems I can't escape this issue wherever I turn. I've been watching a borrowed copy of the three-disc super-expanded version of "What the Bleep Do We Know?" (Come to think of it, I'm borrowing a lot of books and DVDs lately. I wonder what that means.) The content of the Bleep DVDs are all about this issue. and this week's The Economist, of all things, has a lengthy special section on the mind and consciousness. Are the self and the mind one thing or two? Are they a function of the brain, ir do they just come to reside in the brain? And what exactly is this thing we call consciousness?

In "What the Bleep," various quantum physicists try to explain that at the tiniest subatomic level, at the so-called Planck Scale, all matter is really just waves, which raises the question, waves on what? "Consciousness," according to at least one physicist, all matter is just waves on a sea of pure consciousness. Which implies that either consciousness is something outside and more fundamental than the mind, or that the mind, by creating consciousness, also brings all matter and the whole universe into existence.

The Buddha taught that consciousness existed in six forms, each related to the senses: sight consciousness, hearing consciousness, smell consciousness, taste consciousness, touch consciousness and mind consciousness. The latter, of course, is what most people are referring to when they speak of consciousness, but the Buddha trivialized it to a degree by classifying mind consciousness as merely the awareness of thought, just as sight consciousness is the awareness of vision. And the six consciousnesses arise from memory, which arises from ignorance. But he did not go on to define consciousness much further, as it is beyond the grasp of the mind to comprehend, just as the hand cannot grasp the fist.

So which came first, consciousness or the mind? If consciousness arises from ignorance by way of memory, does this not imply that the mind creates consciousness? But if all matter is created by waves of consciousness, what gave rise to the mind?

More on this at a later date - my brain hurts thinking about it now.

1 comment:

GreenSmile said...

Shokai, you will recall our exchange to which the conclusion was your eloquently terse "nothing subtle about it".
"Spiritual materialism" is defined as ego-driven pursuit of spiritual goals as a commodity or a goal to be obtained. seems to be the term to describe what I was fumbling around: fruitlessness of one who meditates to meditate better than others do. I will stay tuned.