In my youth I thought I was going to become a scientist and I studied physics in college but some how my path didn't take me in that direction. Yet I try to approach Zen and Buddhism with the openness and also skepticism of a scientist. My impetus towards Buddhism was not to be happy or find spiritual comfort or to find something I could believe in but rather was an exploration in the spirit of science into the nature of the Universe and our place in it. My laboratory is meditation and the results I have experienced are reproducible for other dedicated meditators. Zen is not like other religions which present a faith in a body of reveled knowledge. The practice of Zen is quite literally to forget everything we might think we know about anything, to give up all the underpinnings of our thought to be reborn again and see with fresh eyes.
Richard Dawkens is also famous for arguing against religion as irrational and for a scientific rationalism. I don't in general disagree with this argument Even Buddhism has problems with irrational belief yet I wonder if anybody has properly explained to him the essence of Buddhism. Also science has problems of irrational belief, or more properly narrowness of perspective. And why shouldn't it, it is still caught in a way of thought that was molded by evolution for evolution's purpose. Not that evolution has conscious purpose but it exhibits purpose in it's mechanism and direction.
Some where in the evolution of the many life forms long before the evolution of the human life form conscious intelligence developed. It survived because it served the purpose of survival. Again as conscious intelligence evolved and became more powerful self conscious intelligence developed still serving the purpose of evolution. By self conscious intelligence I mean that it looks back upon itself and forms an idea of a self, a unit that involves a body and a mind. This unit takes upon special importance because it forms the locus for all the evolutionary pressure to survive and all our desires and our whole way of thinking serve this purpose. We humans think we are somehow above the mere animal but observe how everything we do serves evolution. We are filled with desires that drive us to survive and thrive and reproduce. We are filled with selfish desires that obviously help us survive but also our altruistic desires help us survive by creating a safe society, and a safe larger world
Maybe in some ways we seem to transcend evolution in our love of beauty which motivates the artist and our sense of wonder which motivates the scientist.but again it is not hard to see how these impulses benefit society and have survival value. Maybe even zen has survival value.
For the purpose of this essay I want to return to consciousness, the idea of a self, and the foundation of our thought. At some very early stage in our lives we consciously identify the unit we call the self. It is the self that gets hungry, it is the self that gets cold, it is the self that desires food and warmth. nature and evolution points right to the self and being the intelligent creatures we are we identify our selves. This identification starts a psychology of division. There is self and other and then shortly the Universe is divided up into the 10,000 things, We develop a dualistic way of thinking about things and it all hinges on that original identification of a self. This dualistic way of thinking seems natural and correct. Why would we question it? We don't even know how to think in a way that isn't dualistic. Language and mathematics are based in dualism We are all caught in the assumption of dualstic thought, the poet and the scientist. I say we are "caught" because my experience is that there is an other way of viewing the world that is not dualistic and that not quite all of us are caught in dualism. I know this because years of experience practicing meditation has allowed me to experience the world without dualism and allowed me to understand the mechanism which makes this possible.
Meditation is a technology. As a spiritual practice we may not be interested in how it works and just enjoy the results but it functions with a certain mechanism. It allows us to go back in time, slowly ridding ourselves of the habits which have formed our thinking and emotions. In time the meditation practitioner returns to that state of mind before the self is identified. In some sense this is returning to not just a child's mind but a baby's mind before the identification of a self, before the world is divided up into things, before dualistic thinking. And yet we do this with the full intelligence and consciousness of an adult.
That first division, that first step into dualism, is the identification of a self. The identification of a self is the foundation upon which dualistic thought developed,and this dualistic thinking permeates the whole way we see the world, including the way the scientist sees the world, including "rational thought." By returning to a "babies mind" fully conscious, fully intelligent we view the world without duality, without division of self and others. And from this perspective we can understand that the self is a fiction and our whole way of experiencing and thinking about the world collapses.
You might respond that this blog uses dualistic thinking, and my response is that of course it does. Dualism is wonderfully practical. It is practical not "true." It is wonderful in delineating connections between things and creating understanding but this understanding is necessarily incomplete because it leaves a whole lot out, the rest of the Universe.
The point of this blog is that dualism is natural, programmed into us by a process we call evolution whose driving force is the survival of individual forms, and yet something also happened as our large brain and strong intelligence developed. It became possible to step out of our evolutionary programming and see the Universe as a single whole. Maybe this insight into non-duality has some survival value but it is certainly a radical departure from an evolutionary perspective.
The thing about the non-dual perspective is that it doesn't reject dualism or evolution. It doesn't reject anything because everything just is, as temporary manifestations within a single whole, which we can call the Universe or God or Buddha or the Absolute. And this insight into the Non-Dual is the Non-Dual's own self awareness. How could it not be? There are no true individual things, only the Non-Dual. This is why insight into the Non-Dual is called "Self realization" among other names. This Self is not the self of the individual but the Self of the whole thing, the Non-Dual, the Universe, Buddha.
This brings to mind one last question in the billion or so years that the process of evolution has been functioning on this planet and the approximately 14 billion years that the known Universe has been functioning is it not possible that the direction of this activity is actually towards the Universe's own Self awareness? This maybe a gross presumption but it is an idea found in Buddhist mythology, and espoused by many teachers. I was having tea with Harada Roshi and several of his students when he tells one of the Buddhist myths of Universal enlightenment and then says to us it is possible to perceive this as the direction of Universal activity. This is also a perception not unknown to many scientists who ask themselves why are they so curious about the nature of the Universe and answer, maybe through them the Universe is just curious to understand itself.