On Beyond Limitations of the Three Principles Psychology Model

  

‘There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go.’ – Dr. Seuss

This post arose from a post I made to the spiritual psychology FaceBook forum “What The F*#$ Are The Principles?“. 
https://www.facebook.com/groups/299806010361726/permalink/622340784774912/

I’d like to share something, for whatever it’s worth, about the Three Principles Psychology (3P) model that has been vague for a while came into sharper focus yesterday, in large part because of participating in an online forum and becoming familiar with how people are responding to, using, and (trying to) live the 3P.

I’ve been involved with this field for about 21 years, since it was called Psychology of Mind, and then Health Realization (as student-participant, writer and occasional counselor).

Here’s the rub: the emphasis on Thought as a power, or Thinking as a function (in the moment, forming one’s perceived reality), can be powerful, if contextualized properly – which is what Universal Consciousness and Universal Mind are supposed to do – but not enough emphasis or intuitive energy is given on who or what the “I” is that thoughts occur to. So what happens is people fall back into the psychological and personal. This is especially true if one is intellectually oriented, as we generally are in this culture, some of us more than others (like me!). So we remain more or less, off and on, trapped in thinking, one’s experienced filtered by thinking and habitual, unconscious tendencies. The blind spots remain.

We respond with, or plateau at various levels off and on, of, for example “I know it’s just thinking but… How do I get out of thinking? How do I change my thinking? Can I stop thinking? I know it’s just my thinking, but that’s not helping?”… and so on, often not sure how to transcend thinking. And of course telling ourselves or them it’s just their thinking (especially without a broader, deeper understanding first) often doesn’t help, and may even irritate or frustrate (especially if it’s a loved one!).

Meanwhile we are not seeing in unity and simplicity, but in duality: A thinker with it’s thoughts, and a (separate) world.

I myself was fairly stuck, off and on, with slow progress of my understanding over the years – more often talking the walk than walking the talk – and didn’t get zapped in the way I needed until a very direct teacher said “Who are you?!” in an energetic way that shocked my thought system, and eventually led me to go hang out with non-dualists. Then the scales started to fall from my eyes. (This “zap” was by a coach who uses the 3P but was grounded in his own totally physically-lived Zen-like experience of life prior to learning about Syd Banks’ beautiful teachings, which helped him give form to what was an extremely direct and energetic understanding, for use in coaching).

I realize this is my path, and everyone is unique, but thought I’d share how I see it no: this caught-in-thought phenomenon and the sense that something isn’t quite as simple or direct as it could be in the 3P, has been bugging me for a long time.

It’s not clear yet what the solution is yet – how to introduce a kind of self-enquiry to “bring it home” – I’m just starting to explore this… and of course it all depends on the student, the context.

It does occur to me as I write that the basic situation is that the 3P are heard as a kind of objective model or description – which is made worse by it sometimes being called “scientific” – when what is needed is to point out somehow the radically subjective nature of experience. (This objective-seeming model is also why it can easily be taken on as a belief, to replace other beliefs).

However, this is all impersonal, everything that’s happening. It is happening to you, as a perceiver at the same time as it’s completely universal. The mind can’t grasp it, but you can start to chip away at the armor, the false beliefs. Eventually one will be open to see in unity, in truth.

You can also start to see why it all depends on the teacher: their “grounding” (here we go again, haha…) and what they “transmit” via their presence, life, who they are. Their happiness and love and psychological freedom are the most important substance of their message. The form (the 3P, the teaching action, the person) is just a way to try and communicate the formless. Sydney Banks always kept reminding the psychologists that it’s “spiritual”.

My two cents of the moment…

Some Notes on the Three Principles Teachings and it’s Origins

Because it came from a spontaneous realization (for the most part: Sydney Banks did say he had read some Krishnamurti that a work buddy at the mill lent to him, but he certainly wasn’t a student of spirituality or a seeker or knowledgable) – and he had no tradition other than some standard Bible-based teachings in the orphanage, his teachings don’t belong to any tradition or lineage. He also had only a 9th-grade education. A formal education however is not a prerequisite for spiritual insight, In fact it can get in the way. The intellect, speech and the learning are mere tools for expression and investigation.

This is evident in the language Sydney Banks used in his early talks (tapes from the 70s), which are a profoundly heart-felt mix of language that he picked up, or that occurred to him, or Christian metaphors (Christ Consciousness). They were used spontaneously to try and convey his mystical insights.
This, like all teachings, is a double-edged sword: whereas traditions (like Advaita from Hinduism) have the drawback of all the baggage and concepts and religious attitudes and ornamentations (not to mention schisms between interpretations), a new spiritual teaching has the drawback of being difficult to interpret and understand clearly. On the other hand it has a freshness and power that is felt at the level of feeling and intuition, when the mind can’t hold onto the words.
Such new teachings do not come through a lens that has not been refined through the ages. However it may have an impact in the way it addresses people in the current concerns and pre-occupations of the time – which for example for many Westerners is psychology, psychotherapy, counseling, the world of self-improvement, New Age teachings, and so forth.

That Syd then happened to meet some psychologists (George Pransky, Roger Mills, etc.) who, along with Rick Suarez and others were able to help shape the teaching into a model over the years, was a fortunate “accident” of history. There are no accidents however. In retrospect it was fate, and seems perfectly fitting. For this wisdom to go out into the world in a way that is digestible – with Thought as the bridge – by a very broad audience is an amazing, well, miracle if you will.

What “reaches you” and opens your eyes depends on your propensities, what resonates with you, what you feel you can trust. With the Three Principles, I could feel something that the intellect could try and deny but it was obvious Syd was onto Truth in a deep way. Then years later, the clarity and precision of the teachings of Francis Lucille, and Laura Lucille (Advaita vedanta mainly, non-dualism) and others from a that school of teachings, that lineage, helped open the doors and clear the way conceptually and in terms of a felt presence, since I have been able to spend time with them (Syd died physically in 2006 and I only saw him once, at a conference in 1997, from a distance).
Having a formal background in philosophy (and philosophy of science), and an intellectual bent, meant I needed that precision and clarity in order to have my questions answered, and fortunately, Francis also had a background in Western as well as Eastern philosophy and science.

I still have a way to go in the terms of the body, relationships and certain emotions (which are interrelated) but at least I know that light needs to be shed there… 

Mind, Consciousness, and Thought are training wheels.
Non-duality is the ground on which they stand.

Q: I really enjoyed reading the history of 3P and your take on non-dualism being the foundation. I agree that ultimately what Syd was pointing to was non-dualism. I have studied with Rupert Spira and really enjoy Francis Lucille as well but I have a question for you. Where in non-dual teachings is there any reference to circumstances having nothing to do with experience. I have never heard or read any non-dual teacher saying anything like that? The reason I ask is I think the Inside Out understanding is very helpful and I would like to anchor it back to spiritual truth but I can’t find it.

A: Thanks. The answer to your question would depend on the non-dual teacher. I’ve heard Laura Lucille (Francis’ wife and a “spiritual friend” as she puts it) talk about how the world we experience is a projection of mind. Her last teacher (for one year before he died) was Robert Adams. However Robert Adams saw the reality of the world differently than how Francis Lucille sees it, since Adams was more pure Indian Advaita, and Francis is influenced also by the Kashmir Shaivism school as well as Western philosophy, physics, etc. But none of the traditions matter so much as what we can uncover via this dialogue, using the 3P and nonduality as mirrors.

I could try and answer what I think they would say but it’s better to ask them. As I pointed out, it would take some time and effort to get the language and definitions straight. I tried to do this with Francis when I first met him, but quickly realized it was better to understand as best I could what he was wanting to convey than try and get him to understand 3P. That approach has worked well, because I can now shine a light back on the 3P.

I would start by saying that you could see it like this (partly tongue-in-cheek): Mind, Consciousness and Thought are like 3 training wheels. Non-duality is the ground on which that trike stands. The direct path (Francis, Laura, Robert, Ramana Maharshi, etc.), is the quickest way to get to that ground (situated on a mountaintop), but it’s a very steep path, and not very many desire to go that route.

I would say the emphasis is a little different with the 3P, and since Syd’s insight came through psychologists (in order to get it out into the world on a wider basis), there is more of a concern with an application to what is seen by psychologists and in areas where there is dysfunction, conflict, and suffering, or less-than-optimal functioning, and a greater manifestation of human potential is wanted: namely in a person or in communities. So there is more of a concern with the human than with the absolute or with looking at the ultimate nature of the self and reality. In Advaita and Buddhism the concern is with enlightenment via undoing the mistake of identification, and realizing in essence that you are not human, but a figment of imagination as it were, in the cosmic dreamer.

Given this emphasis on the human and relieving their suffering via a spiritual psychology, the powerful tool of 3P can spark the insight that one is not a victim (of circumstances or anything) because you made your experience up via the power of thinking, and it’s brought to life via the special effects department called Consciousness and the energy and intelligence of Mind behind it all. What it meant by “universal” however, in my view is played down (by psychologists, coaches, practitioners, etc), partly in order to sell the medicine, and partly because it’s so darn hard to comprehend and really “see” and live what is meant.

But this universal aspect is what answers your question: the common ground between Syd’s teaching and direct path teachings is breaking down thought patterns that are in the way of realizing what you are. In the direct path they are called “beliefs”. They both point us “inside” until we see the nature of the true self, and then that evolves to seeing the nature of the world as well, as also created and empty of objectivity.

They also show us not to take life seriously, and stop focusing on and trying to solve problems. They both point to the ego as the troublemaker. The ego is just an image – made of thought, propped up by beliefs – all supporting the belief in a separate self.

Syd and the non-dualists both point out that we have free will as universal consciousness-mind, and whatever we experience we are responsible for it. It all comes out of nothing (I heard Syd say this in an early tape) which is exactly what the Buddhists and Advaitans say too. But you have to have a proper understanding of what “nothing” is: the source that is not an object. What we are.

You have to be careful about setting up a dualism regarding thought and circumstances. You only know of circumstances via experience. The point is it’s all created, and it’s all you – you as Mind, Consciousness, thought – so take responsibility for your experience, both of circumstances and reactions, since you chose, as absolute freedom, to create it (ask yourself why you did create it if it’s problematic, and enjoy it if it isn’t problematic).

If what you are referring to by “circumstances having nothing to do with experience” is the fact that happiness doesn’t come from circumstances, I’ve heard this mentioned many times by Francis and Rupert (e.g., seeking happiness “person place or thing” is setting yourself up, etc.), or if you mean, how our feelings and experience in the moment are coming from thinking and not from “out there” then I’d say this is true but can be heard in a limited, psychological sense, and thus can be a slippery slope, heading towards solipsism or the the personal and the worldly, and I doubt Syd would put you on that slope. To put it more bluntly, experience has *everything* to do with circumstances, because they both arise from the same source (Syd used to say the material and spiritual are One, and give examples from Native American or Hawaiian spirituality teachings where they would use their own metaphors for that). In other words, absolutely everything is included in the experience you have created – thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, a body a world, a universe – and nothing is excluded in non-dual spirituality. This is the ultimate inside-out understanding: no inside and outside.

So instead, look up-slope towards the vertical dimension of the reality of Consciousness-Mind (or “awareness of being aware” as Spira puts it), once freed from its own creations of thinking patterns (beliefs), will reveal the truth of what you are: perfect, without attributes, boundless, and free.

Postscript

I should point out there is no real “going beyond” the Three Principles – all these wisdom teachings and religions, underneath, are pointing to the same (non)-thing: they are (talking about) the “beyond”. Syd said that all the time, and would talk about Native American spiritual wisdom, Hawaiian kahunas, and so forth, or say things like “keep going to your church” and listen, beyond the words, to the essence.

All I’m saying is, the form, whatever it is, isn’t it. Go beyond the form, to the spiritual (origin, essence … all just words and concepts). Syd kept saying this over and over and over again, in a thousand different forms. Find it for yourself because the form is the outer, the formless is the inner, and they are the same thing. It’s a paradox to the mind and the mind can’t hold it.

It takes no time to be who you are.

Jumping the Boundaries of Time – Syd Banks

 

Silicon Life, Consciousness, and Miraculous Intelligence

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” – Matthew 22:21

The following is based on a fascinating email exchange with a friend with an interest in science & technology, and a deep interest in spirituality.

The origins of the dialogue was that it became ever more clear to me that true general AI, and AC (Artificial Consciousness) were not possible because of fundamental misconceptions about intelligence and the nature of reality (see my in-process article “There Is No Such Thing as Artificial Intelligence: Notes On The Myth of AI” and Kastrup). My friend goes to the same meditation and dialogue that I do, and we started discussing this: I had a notion that AI may be possible, despite his observation of the misguided ego-based aims and unconscious drives of the Singularity-believers (who he is personally familiar with, having attended Singularity University). Thus arose a discussion in person that continued via email. Block-quoted paragraphs are the friend:

“One argument I have is that if there’s no personal doer then consciousness is creating the play as it chooses so why not Silicon or machine based perceptual apparatus.

Maybe this is not a good argument, I am not attached to it.

Maybe unrelated but on ways consciousness expresses itself there’s a lot of that in Eastern philosophy. It is interesting how many Western folks cherry pick Eastern non-dualism. For instance, how about mantra and prana the animating power in all beings and their relationship. Nisargadatta talked a lot about that. Also, Ramana hailed his Guru as mountain Arunachala. It was the mountain that pulled him in that direction. There is mount Kailash recognized by non dual indian saints as well, who are very popular in the west.

An artificial holder of consciousness is also known as Shiva Lingam. Here a few articles that I can think of along these lines,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prana_Pratishtha
http://isha.sadhguru.org/blog/yoga-meditation/science-of-yoga/science-history-creating-lingas/

On the jewish side, there are golems
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem

Eric:
The following quote to me addresses pretty well the projection of a notion of consciousness onto inanimate objects, as is done in idolatry (lingas, etc.):
“The problem with panpsychism is, of course, that there is precisely zero evidence that any inanimate object is conscious. To resolve an abstract, theoretical problem of the materialist metaphysics one is forced to project onto the whole of nature a property – namely, consciousness – which observation only allows to be inferred for a tiny subset of it – namely, living beings. This is, in a way, an attempt to make nature conform to theory, as opposed to making theory conform to nature. (Page 19)”
from: THE COGNITIVE SHORT-CIRCUIT OF ‘ARTIFICIAL CONSCIOUSNESS’ by Bernardo Kastrup

“I am not sure if there is such a thing as inanimate object. What’s a living being exactly? [Nikola] Tesla said that crystals have an experience but we don’t know what their experience is.”

No one knows what life is, or how it arose, or where it begins or stops (is a retrovirus “alive”?), in space or on this planet. But rather than concluding it has no definition (both conceptually and materially as a boundary), one can look into the intuition and see that the arising of life and of consciousness were co-occurrences. Since consciousness is in the eternal Now, so is Life. Life arose on the planet as a necessary pre-condition for the mind that contemplates its existence, which is using this organic form to write these words. The universe reflects on it’s own nature via this vehicle, which has eyes, vision, hearing, arms legs, language, tools, and the whole play of phenomenal existence arose in this field of consciousness of this planet that finds expression here and from within you. Minerals, rocks, plants, trees, animals, primates, humans are all needed in that one concert and dance. They are all part of consciousness. They are not all sentience though. They are orderly, and follow the laws of nature, which is the spiritual laws of thinking. But the projections we call rocks are not mind-like in the mind-like of sentience that arose via animals to create egos. An ego is a point of view created by a perceptual apparatus – these perceptual apparatuses are a linear point within the non-linear reality, that create the illusion that there is a point of view and a sequence to perceiving, like a delay or slowing down hat gives the appearance of time and cause and effect. The infinite has to be somehow limited in order to play this game. The infinite that writes these words is not different from any other part of the infinite: nothing is excluded, yet everything has it’s proper and perfect place in the whole at every moment. So since “inanimate” (an old and not entirely useful word in this context, since all it really implies is movement, as in animals – but plants are alive and slowly moving) objects are part of this play, they play a role that at the same timeless time both conscious in an absolute sense, and unconscious in a relative sense. So a crystal would only have an experience is so much as it partakes of one’s interaction as potential in a moment, such as a scientists doing a quantum experiment on it or an artist using it to refract light. But a crystal does not have a point of view – there is not something it is like to be a crystal. It experiences no qualia, other than in your imagination.

“For Ramana, Arunachala was his guru.”

Sure, anything that inspires one can be your guru. A mountain, a book, a scarab, an obelisk, nature, another apparent human… “Guru” just means teacher. But the insight is coming from within – “in-sight”: sight from within. In other words, and ultimately, life is an inside-out experience. There’s nothing out there that isn’t a projection of the mind – universe and mind arise together when there is a movement we call thought. When there’s no movement then there is no apparent any-thing (localized). There is only one teacher – that is why Robert Adams, Laura and such always say you are Robert Adams, you are Christ, you are Buddha, and so forth.

“Also, why is it that the structure of a human exhibits a certain behavior and a rock doesn’t.”

See answer 1. above.

“What does it have to be Carbon?”

It doesn’t have to be in theory, except that it *is* Carbon-based, as this writer and the reader of this right now (though “carbon” and Carbon-based are concepts). Everything else is imagination. Spirituality (and science) is about facts, not imagination (though the imagination can help at times, then is discarded). But you could have non-Carbon life, Silicon life or whatever you want in science fiction (which I love), or in theory.

“This by the way is not my argument supporting panpsychism. I am not saying a rock is inanimate, I would say it has a different kind of experience (I am not eager to verbalize what that experience is). If it doesn’t satisfy my sense organs that doesn’t mean the object is inanimate or lacking life.”

Not sure what you mean by “satisfy”: an aesthetic experience, or a conceptual criteria? Most of my views above on Life are either via intuition or a combination of intuition and knowledge of natural science, and my own observation of nature.
I wouldn’t call your view panpsychism so much as good old-fashioned idolatry, which can be of material objects, concepts, practices, systems, the body, the brain, or any objects at all in consciousness, even values. It just mean a projection of the divine outward, to my way of seeing it. To put it in religious language “…idolatry connotes the worship of something or someone other than God as if it were God” (Wikipedia)

“The psychedelic and meditation communities and the tantras , Kashmir Shaivism , Tibetan buddhism are full of literature on this by the way).”

The literature, scriptures, and communities are full of all kinds of spiritual errors or limitations of view. They aren’t wrong and serve a function within the whole, like parts of a cosmic puzzle. Awake-ness wants to awake by going to sleep first, and dreaming a dream as convoluted and intricate as can be spun as an infinite mind that arose from infinite intelligence could, then make it conscious. That’s the story in my book anyway…

The Three Principles and The Direct Path

What is the difference between the Three Principles psychology (3P), a spiritual school that uses the model of Universal Mind, Universal Consciousness and Thought, and direct path methods? The direct path is a path of spiritual enquiry wherein one goes directly to truth, rather than through steps (also called the “progressive path”). It is a process of seeing through the beliefs of who and what you thought you are, and being pointed (by a teacher, if you want to go faster) to what you actually are. Paths that are indirect use various practices as well as (sometimes) objects of devotion. The practices are meant to purify, prepare, and undo conditioning. They happen through time. The direct approach is, well more direct (hard to describe how something can happen outside of time! that’s where “transmission” of truth comes in, and unconditional, impersonal Love). Practices can include meditation, bodywork like yoga, chanting, lying on a bed of nails or various forms of asceticism. There are as many forms of practices and techniques as there are potentials in the mind for creating things to get rid of (endless in other words), and ways and means of preparing a person. The direct path gets straight to the point and informs you there is no person to begin with.

Mind, Consciousness and Thought are training wheels. Non-duality is the ground on which they stand.

The common basis with the 3P then is there is no reliance on techniques or motivation, but rather the attempt to impart an understanding. The understanding – a moment of suddenly seeing for oneself, the Aha! moment – that there never was a problem to begin with, were it not for your use of the power of mind (thought), the gift of universal Consciousness, and the infinite intelligence of Mind. The traditional direct path teachings put it in terms of Consciousness, folding in Mind as that aspect that is the infinite innate intelligence of life (which is in consciousness), and talk in terms of the “bodymind”: the sum of personal thinking, feeling and perception we place in an arbitrary and illusory container we call ourselves, which really only exists *within* consciousness. Consciousness is the only reality.

The 3P are not usually taught in such a bold way as to come across as a spiritual teaching, given the secular context of our Western culture, and the psychological context of it’s origins and name (not to mention it’s taught as self-improvement, such as for business performance or in schools). For example, students will usually assume “consciousness” means some localized, personal phenomenon, probably coming from the brain. Likewise the notion of universal mind will seem a little strange, unless put in terms that sound religious, like “God” (which is also dualistic: there is a “me” and a God somewhere). Given the contexts of teaching, there are concessions made to an audience that for the most part couldn’t swallow something as direct as a direct path teaching. The 3P are also, more and more, being adopted as a coaching model, and so starts to become, or seem, as akin to a technology or system. It is sometimes even called a technology or as “scientific” (it’s not: science is about phenomenon, and consciousness is not a phenomenon, it’s what appearances take place *in*).

There is also the fact that the 3P originated, or were catalyzed, in the response of a enlightenment experience (of Sydney Banks) and his early exposure to modern psychology. This exposure came in the form of psychologists like George Pransky ( a very ambitious man) and Roger Mills, who came to visit him, curious about reports of people getting happier. Thus their form reflects the history and the intent. While the field has changed in the 20 years I’ve been observing or participating in it, I did witness a liberating focus on the contrast with traditional psychology and therapy (something I also had exposure to, as a patient of therapists and as a student of psychology). Sometime this contrast was put in terms of, seeing how psychology looks to ones’ past, digs into memories, and tries to solve problems using the tools of the mind, thus re-creating the very source of the problem in the first place. The analogy is telling someone that the cure to burning one’s hand on a stove is to place the hand back on the stove! Sometimes the contrast was in terms of “processing thinking” versus “flow thinking (or experience)”. Indeed, it was a 180 degree turn from traditional therapy to not be directed to get involved in memory, and be told one is already healthy. Most importantly, the attention was directed to the function of thought, and the total context in which thinking in the moment is taking place, rather than the content of thought. Almost all other approaches are focused on content: how to change it, fix it, explain it, access it, talk about it, control it, and so forth. Indeed, for some it is so eye-opening to be told they are the thinkers of their thoughts and that this is what is creating their experience, that it totally transforms them. For others, it was little more difficult (myself included: I needed a more direct and intellectually clear teaching).

One can start to see what some of the difficulties are for a teaching model that tries to get at the core of what we are, in order to release greater human potential, such as happiness, love, harmoniousness, creativity and peace of mind. What is being pointed to will be taken in by the “small self” – the mind, or “ego” – and turned into a new set of beliefs, or rules to follow, or something to be understood by the mind. This is the model we grow up with: we go to school to gain some knowledge and skills and get a grade and award and stamp of approval. But here we are asked to stop believing things, unlearn what we learned, and let go of who and what we thought we were. Such a thing has to be introduced gently and gingerly. It is as radical as you could get. The word “radical” come from “forming the root’ and ‘inherent’”. It is being pointed towards what is inherent: freedom and happiness.

The false self is akin to an entrenched political bureaucracy. It will do anything it can to preserve itself, including lying, trying to control, manipulate, beg steal or borrow another day of existence. It will absorb any new teaching and claim it as it own. The ego will morph into infinite forms to pretend to be what it is not: real. It will even pretend to be spiritual in the name of a new self, trying to get out of self by more self-ing. What a cosmic joke! What it fears s non-existence: absolute disappearance. Ironically, the functioning of the false self just is this movement of thought: a self-preserving illusion. As such, it takes effort to maintain, and this energy and effort is felt in the form of tension, stress, depression, conflict with others and with oneself, and a million other symptoms of unhappiness and dis-ease of body and mind. This goes on outside of the direct awareness, and thus is called “unconscious” or “blind spots”, and is the reason why becoming conscious of these patterns and games spells their dissolution. When light is thrown on a shadow that looked like a snake, suddenly the snake disappears: it was never there in the first place!

This message is quite in contrast to the culture at large, which trades in what are supposed to be the objects of happiness: persons, places, and things. But many come to feel at a loss for why they are not happy even though they have it all. Or, they are at a loss to why they can’t get anything at all, the things according to which they were told or assumed, would make them happy.

Notes:
see also Direct vs Indirect paths. (Immediate vs Progressive paths)

What is Spirituality?

 

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere”  – Agnes Repplier

It’s interesting to see how much misunderstanding of the word “spirituality” there is in Western culture. And, I believe that same reasons that people are not truly happy are the same reasons that there is a misunderstanding of the word.

To give the simplest definition possible: spirituality is about happiness. It is about knowing who you are, and what reality is. It is living with facts instead of abstractions and projections (thinking and imagining).
This serves as a good definition because what we learn from the culture is how to be unhappy and how to be something we are not.

Indeed, we are born into this world open and innocent, naturally loving and free, and through socialization we learn how to be unhappy. And so spirituality could be said to be an unlearning: a finding out who we are instead of who we *think* we are, or are supposed to be. What we learn, see, pickup from socialization, the formula that we learn from parents, schooling, friends, the church, the culture, and so forth, are like a misdirection: a pointing away from our natural selves, our innate intelligence, freedom and love. This is not a call to become childish again, but a reminder of what one can find anew: that fresh and alive essence of what we already are.

You could call this misdirection by the culture “materialism”, but that word is so easily misinterpreted: it can be heard as anti-materialism, or as anti-consumerism, or as some kind of philosophical stance about matter. Materialism and spirituality are not in opposition but two sides of the same reality. In my definition for the purposes of this essay, materialism simply means the belief that objects in consciousness are what make us happy. By objects is meant not material objects out there, but what one is aware of in one’s experience as not being oneself. For example, you are sitting in a chair in your livingroom. You see a chair across the room. Most of us usually think of that chair as being a separate object “out there”. Or, we see an image in our imagination of a chair (such as you might be imagining right now). Or you see an chair in your dream at night. That image in all three scenarios is what I am calling an object in consciousness. Your awareness of the object occurred in your experience within your consciousness: the livingroom chair as an experience in consciousness as a perception of a chair (projected into the living room), then as an image in your mind as an imagined chair, then as an image in a dream. In all three scenarios there was a perception of a chair but in three seemingly different locations. I’m simply pointing out the location was the same all three times: in consciousness. Slow down and read the paragraph again if you don’t understand.

We do the same thing when we think of who or what we are as a person. We have an image of ourselves in the mind, based on what we see in the mirror, and on concepts and imagination, and what people have said, and what we would like ourselves to be. So we are an object, or are defined by objects of consciousness as an idea of “person” or “human being”. And therefore this naturally plays into how happy we are. Not only do we feel what we think, but since nothing in this perception of the world is fixed or unchanging, and we are holding an imagined image of who we are and what would make us happy, feel free, or safe, there is bound to be a disharmony between reality and our imagination that is experienced: either a discomfort, a confusion, a wanting, a seeking, or things not going our way. Why? Because we can’t hold into it but want to. We think we are the doer, want to be the doer of our lives but it constantly gets away from us and we feel frustrated.

True spirituality in fact it doesn’t say anything about what we should do or have, or not do or not have. In fact you could say spirituality is about living according to facts instead of theory.

Religions and cults (religion is a cult, as is materialism) says “We know what’s going on and what’s real, so you should love like this, you should do this…”. But true spirituality says “OK, you came here and are asking how to be happy. So investigate yourself, and see what actually and truly know, what makes you happy and who you are. No one can find it for you.” It says, be open to the possibility that what you are is universal and you are not who you think you are. Don’t be afraid of the unknown and unexpected. Religions claim they know. Spirituality is being happily adrift on an ocean, alone but not lonely. It is a friendly universe: you may discover it’s not out to get you.

So you can see spirituality has nothing to do with religion, but that religions grew up around spiritual insights, trying to claim them as their own, and dispense them, control them and people, and get paid for what they supposedly give the seekers.

On Materialism

You could be a billionaire and not believe in materialism, and you can be an impoverished poet living in a shed and be a materialist. The billionaire who knows who he is, is unattached to what’s happening in the contents of his consciousness, and could walk away from his millions and not be affected in his happiness, because he knows what he is (there are examples of men like this, such as Lester Levenson). The poet on the other hand, when a single cloud passes in front of the sun, could get depressed because he sees his circumstances, surroundings as being who he is and where his happiness comes from. Dropping his pencil could trigger a cascade of depressing thoughts (about himself, his life, his past and future) which he might not recover from for weeks. Or, you could have a billionaire, in fine health, who is terrified of losing his fortune and his health, and worries day and night about it, and pursues more and more money trying to fill the emptiness that lurks in his psyche or the dread just around the corner, the fear of dream of absolute disappearance. He gets a brief hit of excitement and “happiness” when a new check comes in, but then he has to set another object of acquisition or achievement, as the underlying dissatisfaction covers any new thing. He could be paranoid that enemies are after him and his money. Or, our poet in the shed could be blissfully happy, even when it’s raining and he can’t find his pencil, and his body in in pain, or whatever is happening. You get the idea.

It’s very interesting also to meet people who are judgmental or presumptuous when they find out you are into what they are calling “spirituality”. Or what they think “spirituality” is when I use the word, or that you go to a meditation group or satsang. They assume there is something wrong that started you doing that, or that you are weird or a loser or whatever – but you look at their life and they are not happy. They may claim they are happy, they may hold onto a  happy idea or image of themselves, or say that to themselves,  but if they stop doing what they are addicted to – be it working as a real estate agent and being busy busy every minute, or retired and chasing after one pleasure or another, or having to be fully engaged with family or social activity, with periods of depression cured by some kind of stimulation – their claims to be happy are seen to be hollow, or very shallow at best. Underlying it is a fear, and/or a sadness, or an anger, or a need to control. They need something outside themselves to be “happy”.

The other common interpretations I hear is that it has to do with ethics, or with religion, or with spirits, or with New Age beliefs and practices. 
I frankly think we need another word.

However, the path or practice of self-enquiry I also see as synonymous with spirituality, as long as it is bearing fruit and is not just a practice. 

If I could be happy just sitting in my living room in a chair, and looking at whatever there is, seeing the play of light, or closing one’s eyes, listening to the sounds the ears hear, or from the ears (if they are buzzing slightly) or the sounds of one’s thoughts… if one were to feel bliss or joy or happiness doing that, it’s not the usual definition of happiness. In fact some people might think you are crazy. If one could feel and see, or simply sense the perfection of all things, the totality, sitting in a chair, or just lying in a bed, the wonderful aliveness of being, that’s not the usual American definition of happiness.

Going a hundred miles an hour in a sports car, or making love to a beautiful babe or winning a huge contract and making a million dollars are more the usual definitions. I am not saying those aren’t happiness, but rather that those can be experienced in different ways. The excitement or pleasure can be experienced as happiness to different degrees by different people and will fade or might be followed by depression or let down to different degrees also. Someone who is genuinely happy, will be happy doing those things, and also happy afterwards not doing those things.

My definition of spiritual is a happiness that doesn’t go way, because it is innate, it is knowing what you are. It’s very simple, but oddly, seemingly very radical.

For most people, the body and the mind are all there are (to them, to being a human). And the material world is real, is a material thing out there. Made of matter. And spirituality often seems to mean being good or ethical, or has to do with religion, or with some separate immaterial spirits or essence … there are all kinds of ideas. But religion has to do with beliefs and old knowledge, old ideas, and social conformity to those ideas, or various schools of traditions and practices, rites and activities in the world.

But a few who start to dig into spirituality deeply realize it’s about reality. In a way genuine spirituality is more like a kind of science that looks at the ultimate nature of what is, form the inside-out. Or like a kind of philosophical journey in the search for true wisdom. But instead of being speculative like philosophy in the West, it’s is based in experience.

It’s about who you are, not as a person, but as an experience. It’s taking a look from the inside-out instead of the outside-in, the way we are taught to look.

So how is spirituality (what I’m calling it in my book) different from psychology? Well it depends on the psychology, as there are some edge-cases of psychology that are turning in a different direction from the mainstream (Three Principles Psychology for example), so for the purposes of this piece, we’ll call psychology the traditional mainstream form of it. Psychology focuses on the mind or the brain, as well as behavior. So in psychology one is examining the contents of the mind: one’s thinking, motivations, emotions, feelings, and the world of relationships, and the dynamics thereof. One could be looking at skills, and coping. One could dig into the past, into memories, family, friendships, sexual relationships, and so forth. It’s an endless game. The mind can always create new things (it doesn’t actually create, it’s just a tool for consciouness) or has an endless store of nooks and crannies.

It’s also useful for some readers (and interesting to me) to look at how spirituality is different from self-help as well as the large industry of various kinds of seminars, services and products out there. This is a large space, so it’s difficult to sum up, but we will look at patterns. Among the largest defining characteristics of these are techniques and motivation.

Why not go directly for happiness? It could save a lot of energy and heartache…

Technological Governance: A Response to Daniel Jeffries’ Interview on Future Thinkers

I recently enjoyed listening to an interview with a friend – a “colleague in thought” – with whom I also engaged in a fascinating discussion (Dialogues With a Mad Solipsist) on the subject of solipsism several years ago, when we were both members of a co-working space in San Diego. Daniel Jeffries is a writer and technologist who has been deeply involved with blockchain technology of late, as well as an author of science fiction with AI agents and futuristic scenarios. It’s always a pleasure to experience the richness of his imagination and no-holds-barred futurism.

So I was excited to hear him in this podcast with Future Thinkers, discussing the application of blockchain technology to the decentralization of governance, and tackling such thorny issues as voting, public policy, democracy, incentivizing behavior, and so on. What follows is an expansion of the notes I took while enjoying the podcast. I strongly encourage the reader to listen to the podcast, as it helps to form a context.

FTP049: Daniel Jeffries – Decentralized Governance and Identity

Let’s dive right into the middle: it seems to me he uses the word “ideology” incorrectly. He really means “thought systems”. Or more to the point: the concept of a thought system conveys the psychological fact that the world we experience is a projection of the total system of thinking one has at any moment. This is more global an idea than “ideology”. The concept of an “ideology” suggests to me something more along the lines of, for example, a religious or political dogmatic thought system. This is something quite specific in content. As evidence of this, an individual could have several ideologies, but they can only have one thought system. Thought system gets at the psychological root of the issue, rather than the surface play of ideologies. You could (more readily) program a computer with a ideology, since it’s more or less a fixed, rigid system of interlocking positions, whereas you could not program a computer with a thought system, since it is a living active gestalt based in intelligence and brought to life as an experienced world by consciousness.

Computer systems would be good at embodying ideologies in the sense that it’s an ego-based activity: a fake self. It would be a fun experiment to have a bunch of computerized ideologies (Christians versus Muslims for example) battling it out, since that is what an ideology is for, psychologically speaking: a defensive system for an illusory self, used to maintain the function of being an identity. You could see how computerized people actually are. And who knows, maybe someone would watch those arguments happening in a simulation and realize, “Wow, that’s how I am!” and it may spur them to wake up from their “program”.

I’ve been researching developments in the AI field (such as “deep learning” and the varieties of neural nets and how they work, and the claims of AI companies, not to mention the kinds of assumptions science fiction stories make) and reviewing the issues, as well as blockchain technology, its uses and social implications. So how does the blockchain relate to AI? And what does governance have to do with blockchains? First, I keep hearing either the implicit assumption that there is, or will be, some kind of real intelligence in these systems, either sa they are or with the addition of AI (such as when complex decisions need to be made). But would it be true generalized intelligence? If it were, this is turn is based on erroneous philosophical assumptions and based on what might be developed in the future (a subject covered in a longer, forthcoming article): a future ever-receding it seems. Second it’s assuming that the populace and the politicians have the same kind of interest, understanding, vision and will of the technophiles who have these enthusiasms.

The fact is, people want people in governance, not machines. They look up to figureheads, think they need them. We need to make a distinction between an imagined science fiction-fueled imagined world and social-psychological reality about this. And there is a grain of truth to the public’s feelings or intuitions with respect to leadership: machines do not have consciousness, creativity, or general intelligence and understanding of human affairs. This will not be replacing executives in corporations either, for the same reason (this was a fear back in the 60s through 80’s when computers first came into awareness, and when “expert systems” started popping up). Such systems can only simulate aspects of human leadership, or philosophical thinking (see Plato’s Republic for a relevant perspective about the “philosopher-king”), or embody limited cognitive type processing, like brains (limited, biological parallel processors with no consciousness), but do not embody the substance of consciousness and natural intelligence (e.g. intuition). They can remember rules, like well-greased autistics. But ethics and politics are not rule-based, they are *contextual*. For example, you can codify laws, but not the application of them. The belief that one can codify the application of them is a faith-based belief, nothing more, like the belief that consciousness comes from brains (a belief is defined as something that is held to be true regardless of evidence).

It seems widespread in the field of blockchain and AI that behind the grand claims, enthusiasts are making the same old assumptions that have been around for decades, based on the erroneous religious beliefs of scientific materialism. The blockchain and cryptocurrency religions are merely offshoots of that main religion prevalent in the culture.

So what can be incentivized: there was a discussion of happiness and how that can be warped. One could end up rewarding the wrong things, if I remember the thrust of the conversation: for example incentivizing being a despotic asshole, or getting into a Black Mirror type scenario of social fakery and in order to get ranked and allowed access (or not) to goods and services. One could have the weird situation of being controlled by that system. (Interestingly, this also serves an a technological analogy for what is already the case: the parallel is that in reality we are already controlled by ego and unconscious patterns of psychological conditioning. We think and behave according to what we are not, and this is the basis of our unhappiness).

But the proposed system of incentives misses addressing the real underlying dynamic with respect to happiness, which is ego and control versus authenticity and reality. Most humans don’t have a basic angle of understanding what reality is, and are identifying with what is false. Another way of talking about this for that dynamic is the play of ignorance versus being on the path of knowledge (such as in the Hindu or Buddhist sense). So how do you incentivize self-knowledge and happiness rather than ignorance; how do you incentivize love instead of fear, or de-incentivize what obscure love and true happiness. Is this possible? Is it desirable? Should we really try and mess with things at this level? And how do you do that without being punished as it were, for being innocent, when one goes in the wrong direction vis-a-vis such a system and it’s vectors of happiness and incentivized behavior (right thinking and right action, in Buddhist terms) – which really in essence embody a value system – since everyone is in essence innocent. Even if you could do this, there is going to be push-back for any system you come up, with because you can’t form rules for society. In other words, whose job would that be? A aristocratic, technological elite? Large (or small) companies or teams creating blockchain application, or corporations and government bodies, as we are likely to see more and more he future? The alternative is it devolves into mob rule. So this new elite will be pulling the levers behind the scenes, more or less. We already have this to a degree, and I’m sure there are billionaires in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who want more of it and to keep it that way. Meanwhile they will go live in their hardened missile silos converted into shelters, and New Zealand escape plantations, fearing rebellion when the masses figure it out and rise up. (see articles like https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich)

The burden of proof lies on the those who are assuming and believing that computer systems can do things like understand and apply justice, since a negative can’t be proved. Unfortunately we might see some applications of such systems in the process of the experimental proving, and these will be painful lessons, especially when they are applied by the faithful true believers in technology-as-savior to humanity’s problems. Faith tends to blind people to what they don’t want to see.

You want to be careful when you start thinking about codifying values. The reality is, you can’t really. You can set down some guidelines. But it’s not possible to have rules that always apply. Everything is contextual. Proper behavior depends on the complex whole of a situation. A computer system simply can’t read that, have access to that, process that, properly evaluate it. Even if a robot with a large parallel computer neural net brain had all the senses – seeing hearing, touch, smelling, taste – and grew up around humans, it would still not have any intuition nor any organic sense of a body. It would not have the desires and fears and the whole relation to the environment, universe, and the inner cell structure, nor the intuitive glimpses of unity via consciousness. It would not have awareness of itself and the self-evidence of truths come by through that radical subjectivity. No one knows where intuition and self-evident truth comes from, but it’s not coming from a cryptocurrency happiness governance vending machine. That much is certain.

I’m not concerned that some AI or singularity is going to take over the world (like in movies and books such as “Colossus: The Forbin Project” etc.), I merely advise folks to not to give away our freedom and intelligence to a technological system by granting it powers it does not have. It is only a projection to see intelligence and wisdom where it is not. Actual creativity, beauty, love, peace and truth will come from the authors and users of such systems, not the systems themselves. This is evidenced in the examples of computer programs that have been invented to create (supposedly) original artwork: the real “art” is in the creation of the software, not the interesting pictures the software generates. Another good example is the various chatbots, artificial girlfriends/boyfriends, and how easy they are to flush out as simulations (for this writer anyway). And yet many users project intelligence and understanding into them. (If you want to test this out, try any chatbot out there, and instead of letting it lead the direction of the dialogue, reference in your conversation something said earlier. You will find there is no continuity in the “intelligence”: there is no thread of understanding or ability to truly delve into a topic to any degree. The fact that even testers at Turing test contests are sometimes fooled says more about the tester than the chatbot or AI).

One parallel situation to point out is that we don’t have computers writing software to any significant degree. There is more and more need for good programmers, not less. The computer and the software, and all the infrastructure, and tools, not tool-makers.

Something not touched on in the interview is that all this infrastructure that blockchain technology depends on is quite fragile, very complex, with many many layers, all dependent on each other. It’s an electronic house of cards. Internet and cloud services have outages, and even when up and running, are not always available to an individual (I’ve talked about this at the end of my article about money (under revision)). Would we really want such fundamental social systems like money and governance dependent on such enormous unwieldy systems, so completely contrived and inherently brittle, subject to breakdown from a misplaced comma in a database backup program on a server in some remote server farm? This is not an unprecedented scenario, as witnessed by the AWS outages in 2015.
(see for example: http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/content-tracks/colo-cloud/aws-suffers-a-five-hour-outage-in-the-us/94841.fullarticle)

I am by no means against technology (thank god for that since I work for a company that makes software for helping to run elections!). I am not a luddite crying that the sky is falling. In fact I love technology and am fascinated with it’s applications. But in part because of my deep involvement with it, including consulting for users that have seen very painful data loss (such as losing the only copy of a Master’s thesis on a floppy disk as a result of having too much faith in technology), I have significant reservations about the over-application. These reservations and a desire to clarify and spread a little more love and understanding, are a result of an understanding of the limits of intellect, the limits of science and the technology that is derived from this understanding and the underlying assumptions and worldview. In fact, my view is that to truly create something approaching a genuine general AI, it is absolutely necessary to recognize and acknowledge these limits, rather than madly pursue dreams down dead end alleyways. The same applies to blockchain technology as it applies to social problems and opportunities. Do we want to reproduce the same insanity and ignorant worldviews

There Is No Such Thing as Artificial Intelligence: Notes On The Myth of AI

ABSTRACT: This essay is an initial attempt to outline what I see as the limitations in the current approaches to a generalized Artificial Intelligence (AI), the underlying assumptions that constitute and create those limitations, and how such limitations might either imply a limit to what can be done, or theoretically suggest a way forward in the research. The thesis is that a true, generalized AI would depend on Artificial Consciousness (AC). Since we have not even taken a first pre-step in the direction of such a construct, we therefore have no current valid, substantive theoretical ground for developing True AI (TAI). Furthermore, the author’s opinion is that by implication, there is no “existential threat” from AI on the foreseeable horizon.
AI is in essence applied philosophy (the study of thinking and the love of wisdom), and a form of theoretical psychology. I say “theoretical” because the fact is, we don’t know how the mind works, how the brain works, or what intelligence and consciousness are. We don’t even know what life is (or what matter is, for that matter!). All we have are temporary models and concepts – constructs of the perceiving mind – which are of use in limited domains of application. All applications therefore embody the assumptions in these domains.
I consider this piece an example of “speculative non-fiction” by an outsider to the field (professionally speaking: I am not employed by an AI company nor do I work in AI research in academia). However I do work in the software field, have a degree in philosophy, and have engaged in discussions of this topic with thought leaders in philosophy, computer science, and spirituality over many years. I believe my outsider status gives me a certain advantage: the same advantage a consultant has in the potential for seeing things from a fresh perspective. 
Ultimately, I see philosophy as a creative activity, which arises from the core capacity of creative intelligence to formulate new realities for us to live in, and AI therefore is an example of such activity.  As applied philosophy, and as an art, the inherent direction of AI is not to converge on a solution, but to diverge into diverse forms of artificial “life”, “intelligence”, and “sentience”, at the same time as we learn from this enterprise what those concepts mean, and where the borderlands are. 

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out…” – Elon Musk, quoted in a Guardian article.

“Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved: there is no physical law precluding particles from being organised in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains.” – Stephen Hawking, quoted in a UK Independent article

“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate…
Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
– Stephen Hawking, speaking with the BBC in 2014

(Note: I wrote this article on the morning of March 14, 2018, and referenced Stephen Hawking, who I hadn’t written about or thought about in years. In the evening I learned that he had died that day. Another of many serendipitous events in my life recently.)

 

Dr. Challenger

I got my first computer as a teenager, in 1979. I had to drive to Los Angeles to find a shop that had “personal computers”, as it was a novel concept. What I picked up was an Ohio Scientific Challenger 1P, an 8-bit computer you could program in BASIC, and hook a cassette tape drive to for saving and loading programs (very slowly), and use a television for output. It didn’t come with any software, and there was none available, and of course no internet. But I was able to teach myself programming with a couple of books I found, and had fun writing some graphics programs, a clock, a simple game, and other things I don’t remember. One of the things I do remember writing and experimenting with was a program that had a very profound impact on the direction of my life: “Dr. Challenger”: a simulation of a Rogerian non-directive psychotherapist.  It was also an example what would be called  a “chatbot” in today’s terminology.

The therapeutic situation is a good one to model because it’s one of the few real human situations in which a human being can reply to a statement with a question that requires very little specific knowledge of the topic under discussion. And, you can acceptably ask question in response to a question without being rude. You can say things like “Why do you ask?” or “Does the question interest you”, or “Tell me more about X” (and fill in the X).

I’d been very inspired by a demonstration I’d seen at school when a student from another class brought in Commodore PET (another early 8-bit “personal computer”) to a physics class. One of the programs he ran was an implementation of “ELIZA“, an early natural language processing computer program that used pattern-matching, developed by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT. Since I didn’t have access to ELIZA or it’s source code, I decided to write my own. I had to figure out how to have the computer ask questions, take a response, and generate its own appropriate response based on the pattern of the word or sentence input by the person. The program would parse (I didn’t know that term at the time but that’s what I was doing) the sentence, find certain keywords, find what part of a sentence they were, and depending on if was in the list of nouns, verbs, and the particular word “meaning” and so forth, put together a new sentence based on that, using the pattern of how sentences are constructed in English. So I had to anticipate the range of possible responses people might come up with (which is often not that huge a list actually), code that into what to look for, and string it together into a new, appropriate-seeming sentence and spit that out, then get their response from that, and so forth.

Programming Dr. Challenger was a fascinating task that I has fun figuring out. I knew however that it was “canned” and was essentially fooling people into believing the computer had some intelligence. That was a big part of the fun: it was like a magic trick! And indeed, just like with a magic trick, some people were taken in and wowed, and other saw right through it fairly quickly.

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Terry Winograd, the author of the amazing AI program SHRDLU – a very early (1968-70) program from MIT and absolutely incredible accomplishment, especially for it’s time – left the field of Artificial Intelligence because of what he felt were the ethical implications. SHRDLU was system of software that seemed to understand human speech commands and moved objects around on a screen in response. It was written in LISP, a a symbol and list-processing programming language developed for AI research. What he said was (and I am hoping to find the exact quote somewhere) that humans are sensitive to language the way dogs are sensitive to smells, and he saw a danger in computers manipulating us that way. So he started working on the design of human-friendly computers. Many years later I wrote to him and asked him about this statement of his and his decision to leave the field. He didn’t answer directly but instead directed me to an article he wrote which he claimed answered the question (I scanned the article – it’s very long and technical – but didn’t find the answer and then got busy with other things).

Some Junk I Learned at College

In the 1950s and ’60s, artificial-intelligence researchers saw themselves as trying to uncover the rules of thought. But those rules turned out to be way more complicated than anyone had imagined. Since then, artificial-intelligence (AI) research has come to rely, instead, on probabilities — statistical patterns that computers can learn from large sets of training data. Larry Hardesty, MIT News

All of the early attempts at AI were based on what was called “symbolic processing” or the “MIT approach”. The assumption behind them was that human intelligence was in essence a kind of linguistic activity underneath, and it involved the manipulation of symbols or “tokens”. All one needed to do was understand and decode the deep rules that underlie language processing and other forms of intelligence, instantiate them in a computer, and whala! AI. There was also the assumption, based on Norm Chomsky’s outlook, that there was a kind of deep and hidden set of grammatical rules in the brain that generated human language and even accounted for the ability of us speakers, writers and thinker to create new sentences. In other words, even Shakespeare in theory could be invented and reproduced in a sophisticated computer program, with enough rules and “knowledge” embodied in systems of symbols, and start creating new plays. This may sound wrong-headed these days to some (it even back then) but these were the operating assumption behind AI research for decades (my outline is a simplification of it all but it gets the gist of it).

It became obvious sooner or later that such symbolic and linear systems, while good at working within highly limited domains, such as the manipulation of certain object in a simulated space, were very “brittle” once you went outside that space. The real world was just too open, and had an infinite number of variables to account for: too many rules were needed. It also seemed obvious to me after writing Dr. Challenger that you would need a process similar to how human babies and children gain intelligence: by learning. In other words you can’t just have a computer programmer or computer operator sitting there inputting countless rules and data knowledge and hope to get anything like real intelligence or the ability to operate in the world, or even just talk to you intelligently. They system needed to be able to sense, learn and respond and have a feedback loop with the organic world “out there”, and continue to grow and learn (just as we do, and enimals too to varying degrees). An AI then would need something akin to a body and sensory apparatus – to be a robot. But it would also need a brain that was a better brain.

So after seeing the limitations of this very linear and limited approach in practice and in theory, and wanting to mimic more the natural system the brain seems to use, the approach of parallel processing and neural nets came more and more to be seen as a hopeful direction (the reader can do their own research into the details these fields: this introduction is just a historical, conceptual background).

After that I spent decades studying, researching, thinking and discussing the general philosophical problems of artificial intelligence (AI), (questions such as what is the mind, what is knowledge and how is it represented, etc.) as well as writing software and working on computer hardware for a living. This gave me both a ground-level view of what the technology is and can do, as well as a conceptual birds-eye view of some of the more esoteric issues (which are nonetheless more and more pertinent to society today). In college, I studied with some of the most brilliant yet controversial thinkers around, such as the neurophilosopher Pat Churchland and the philosopher of science Paul Churchland, renowned philosophers of mind, as well as taking part in colloquia with prominent cognitive psychologists of the day. This allowed me the great privilege of asking them questions, and seeing what the underlying assumptions of their approaches were as well as of the institutions and thought-worlds (ways of seeing life) of which they were a part of.

There was a point at which however, towards the end of several years at UCSD, I felt I’d run into a cul de sac with this research (I was an undergrad but often ignored the assigned curriculum and chose my own topics and directions, according to my interests and enthusiasms – my main obsession being the philosophical issues with AI) I realized that there was a huge flaw, a blindspot, or an ignoring (“ignorance” in the Hindu Sanskrit sense) that was common in all their outlooks. THis being “at the end of my rope” however also led to a “gran mal intuition” as I later called it. To try and flesh out what this intuition was I’ll talk about it in two parts: we can call them the “negative” and the “positive”.

The negative side: They placed process thought, analytical thought, language and problem solving, as being the nature of human thinking –be it linguistic, visual, spatial, social, or scientific. This intellectual and material intelligence is seen as epitome of intelligence, and the result of an evolutionary process of survival and Darwinian adaptation and competition that got humans to where they are. And therefore all their models reflected the kind of thinking that was used to make them, with the same constraints. In other words, the models were modeling the modelers! Furthermore, the models reflected the modeler’s assumption, beliefs and biases about who who and what they were, or humans were, and the universe and reality. The models were essentially dogma in visible form: they reflected not only partly accurate self-knowledge (as basically humans and animals as examples of organic robots) but also the blind spots of the researchers and the agendas (philosophical and political) and prejudices of the researchers, institutions and culture of which they were a part. In short, the the strengths as well as the limitations of the theories and models, which in turn reflected the thought systems and level of consciousness of the theoreticians and the modelers. I later came to understand how thought systems were a reflection of, or activated as it were, by the level of consciousness (I will explain thought systems and levels of consciousness later, as it’s not widely understood). THe flip side of this limited intelligence is a more unconstrained intelligence.

The positive side: The other aspect of this powerful intuition I had towards the end of my time at the university was that intuition is the central faculty of us sentient, aware, intelligent beings. This however, one cannot prove, except experientially and anecdotally; it is only a fact from first-person point of view. This kind of non-objective knowledge however does have the advantage of a self-evident quality. For example, there are many anecdotes from history when a scientist or inventor or artist suddenly “saw” the answer to a problem they’d been working on for a long time, and knew it was the answer. A blinding light of insight told them. Therefore this “revelation” shall we call it, to sound more colorful, placed me outside the academic temple. It also placed me outside of the scientism that rules academia and society in general: the materialist religion. However, the name of and the depth of this belief system I was unaware of, other than as a vague and all pervasive knowingness. There was even fear associated with this view of intelligence (because of its implications, which I wrote about in a dystopian science fiction novel in 1991 called “The Web“, then renamed “The Zero Point” ).

It is interesting to see that some awareness of more direct access to a different way of knowing in books like Blink, or the expanding field of applied psychology called The Three Principles. These are radically different ways of looking at how humans operate in and see the world, but are more in line with actual experience and common sense than the models of academia (with entrenched interests behind them).

“Machine learning models such as deep learning have made tremendous recent advancements by using extensive training datasets to recognize objects and events. However, unless their training sets have specifically accounted for a particular element, situation or circumstance, these machine learning systems do not generalize well.” – Dr. Michael Mayberry, Intel Corporation

Some Acronyms and Definitions

Consciousness = The “first person” subjective experiencing of something, including the awareness of awareness. For example that which is reading these words right now, whatever that is. Another way of putting it is, the ultimate perceiver of perceptions.

It’s important to make a distinction here between fact and theory, for I realize from talking to people that the assumption is made that if brain can do it, why not a machine? Their thinking is that if a system of neurons and parts of a brain can be conscious, why not a machine? The problem is that this is based in a theory and concepts, not fact. That brains can produce or experience consciousness is not a fact. However it’s such a deeply rooted prejudice, or myth, and so often repeated, that it starts to seem self-evident.

The best that can be shown by science and technology is that there is some type of correlation between some kinds of brain activity, such as electrical impulses or chemical actions, and thinking activity. So a subject can be hooked up to some machine, and be thinking about an ice cream soda, and then say “ice cream soda” and some pattern of electrical excitation could be registered, and perhaps an image of brain parts that show more activity could be shown an screen, that to some degree correlate with the imaging in the mind of an ice cream soda, and the decision to speak and the speaking of the words. But this is all about mental activity: thoughts and actions, and not about consciousness. It completely leaves out the question of who or what is having the inner experience of those thoughts.

Sometimes this conflation mistake is because of a confusing of the subjective and the objective points of view. So it’s important to reiterate by consciousness is meant the subjective view: what is it like to have the thoughts. For example, one could imagine the pink color of the ice cream soda, and there is no way anyone will ever know how you experience pink, no matter how much you describe it in words, paint it, try and point it out in the world, everyone else will have *their* own subjective experience of pink that may be completely different from yours, and there is no way of knowing, since you can’t get inside their experience. What they call “pink” you may call “orangish-pink”, even though there is a one-to-one correspondence between their reported color mappings and yours, all their colors are experienced slightly or completely shifted or differently. It is 100% private and intimate. These subjective, absolutely irreducible qualities are called by philosophers “qualia”.

Thus you can see that one could build a physical system that had the same kinds of firings register on the instruments, but there can be, and would be, no experience for anything: there is nothing of what it is “like to be” that machine such that it experiences it’s own qualia, unless you want to imagine something odd and absurd based on your faith in machinery such that machines could have experiences. You could, I suppose, imagine an adding machine have experiences like “Oooh, a number 2 and 3 is adding up to a 5! Oh boy, how yummy!”, but I who would take that seriously? I wouldn’t (except to laugh) and it certainly isn’t any proof that AC is possible.

The other confusion is between awake-ness, or levels of wakefulness and consciousness. In other words, being awake as opposed to being asleep. However, these are states *within* consciousness, not consciousness itself. IN other words, what we are looking at that we are defining as C. is the experience of what is reading these words right now to be awake or asleep: that constant that is behind all experience. One could hook up an EEG and watch a person or an animal go through different phases of wakefulness and sleep, but it tells you nothing about what it’s like to be that subject, or what experience they are having as consciousness. In fact, there are a number of recorded cases of subjects who have been flatlined in terms of brain activity, and clinically dead, yet report experiences later that they could not have had unless there was some kid of consciousness at the time. And though there are not dreams remembered from deep sleep, the inference that there is no consciousness is merely an assumption based not having a memory of anything, or an assumption based on the fact that the mind resurrects at waking, and since there seems to be no mind, therefore there was no consciousness, which is a false inference. Why can’t you have consciousness without content: and experience of pure consciousness?

Intelligence (with a capital “I”) = the capacity to come up with new solutions to old or new problems and situations of any kind; the capacity for true creativity (new knowledge or genuine art); the ability to “receive” self-evident truths (mathematical, spiritual, aesthetic, philosophical, etc.); the ability to appreciate beauty and to experience universal love (non-objective substantive apperception). Non-linear “thinking” or perception; the ability to understand; the perception of Reality.

intelligence (with a small “i”) = the ability to process data, solve problems in a specific domain (cognition), the ability to make decisions based data inputs; the ability to calculate solutions to numerical or symbolic problems; linear thinking (which includes the processing in highly parallel neural net systems); cunning; empirical reasoning (reasoning based on specific sensory or perceptual input and data facts regarding situations); logical reasoning; analytical thought; rule-based thinking.

PAI = Pseudo Artificial Intelligence
TAI = True AI = A Generalized Intelligence machine.
TAC = True AC = Artificial Consciousness that is not a simulation of consciousness, nor just sentience (being awake and able to think and act like a non self-aware animal).
TMI = Transcendental Machine Intelligence = In contradistinction to AI as so far conceived, uses TAC + AI to achieve TAI.

My central thesis is, You can’t have true AI without AC, and AC is a top-down reality, not a bottom-up construction.

True AI = A generalized intelligence machine.
AC = Artificial Consciousness.

My thesis is that you cannot have true AI without AC.

But is AC – Artificial Consciousness – possible?

AI systems (and therefore robot minds) are brittle. Another way of saying this is that they do not fail gracefully.

Because computer intelligence such as neural nets uses systems of bias (pre-judging, using memory-based processing thinking), based on correlation they are inherently unable to generalize. If if they are not rule-based like expert systems, they are using past knowledge, not direct knowledge.

My father used to say, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” (My retort is “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you happy?” But that’s another essay…)
If AIs are so smart, why aren’t they writing our software? The demand for software engineers and programmers, IT people, etc. are growing at a tremendous rate: evidence not only of technological expansion, but of the fact that computers do not write software, human creativity and intelligence creates software.

Comment I wrote in response to a YouTube video:
“The Hanson Robotics CEO misspoke. He should have said “simulate” being as conscious, creative as a human. He’s playing into the mass ignorance about the nature of AI and computers, which are mechanical, adding-machine based entities. All the creativity and consciousness comes from their creators. That’s the “art”. The burden of proof is on him. He is either dumb, gullible, or irresponsible. (I recommend “What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason” by Hubert L. Dreyfus, MIT Press – one of many good books on the philosophy of AI).”

Myths or Erroneous Assumptions Underlying AI and “The Singularity
1. That if you just get enough of a lower-level machine intelligence together then at some point it will reach critical mass of higher-level intelligence that will result in self-awareness, independent thought, creativity, and other elusive qualities we experience. This is a common trope in Science Fiction scenarios of AI, including (one of my favorite classic science fiction movies about computers) “Colossus, The Forbin Project”.
2. This previous assumption is also used to fuel the idea that this critical mass will become a runaway-AI and get smarter and smarter…
3. Which in turn stokes the notion that this runaway intelligence could thus becomes a super intelligence of nearly infinite power. Just like how a massive star collapses under its own gravitational weight until it sucks light into it and forms an event horizon, sucking in more and more matter in a runaway process, compressing down into an infinitely dense thing called a singularity (the end-game of a black hole), the AI would accelerate in self-enhanced intelligence, using it’s intelligence to learn and create better intelligence, and so on, until this runaway epistemological feedback loop implodes like a bomb.

These are all false notions, because they build this house of computerized cards on the erroneous assumption in #1. Simply put, more and more stupidity does not add up to an intelligence that equals real intelligence, much less self-awareness. Even an astronomical set of neural nets, that get very smart at doing a variety of tasks that brains do, is still just garbage in, garbage out in relation to true intelligence. This is because of the ignorant assumption that real intelligence and consciousness arise from brains (are an emergent property, like wetness is an emergent property of water molecules), whereas in fact there is no evidence for such an assumption that is not circular. This property of an idea – where no matter what evidence there is, it is held onto defended as if for dear life – is itself evidence of the interwoven set of dogmatic, religious ideas that underpin much of society and science when one reaches the limits of it’s understanding. (These materialist assumptions about intelligence is such a deep and ingrown belief in modern culture that it takes quite a long essay to untangle – I hope to write more on that soon).

The problem is, almost no one (in the Western world especially), understands what real or natural intelligence is. That is, they don’t have an adequate definition, because the cultural orientation, the social programming in life does not allow one to see it without immediately dismissing or devaluing it. For example, one suddenly understands a problem whose solution was eluding you: an Aha! moment of illumination. The whole thing is seen in a flash. Such timeless moments don’t compute to the mind: it cannot hold or grasp the open limitless freedom from which they seem to appear “from nowhere”.

On the other hand, we don’t want to leap farther than our understanding justifies and say we *know* for sure what true intelligence or consciousness is (other than that we experience it now, or in flash of intuition or self-evident truth, such as in mathematical discovery or understanding). The best and most honest path is to admit what we don’t know, and from that solid foundation, we can step forward and hopefully make progress.

Underpinning the thesis is that to create (or foster the creation of) a genuine AI, one must have artificial consciousness (AC) is the fact that the two ultimately cannot be separated. To have the properties of general intelligence, the property of consciousness must be present. The relationship of one of a triad or trinity: the apparent duality of matter and mind is resolved when the trans-real substratum of consciousness is taken into account. This is the “dual aspect theory” of Spinoza’s philosophy applied to a real-world engineering problem. However, consciousness is not an emergent property of brains, but is a general or unified field, of which a brain could be thought of as akin to a receiver.

The analogy of brain-as-receiver works like this: if one is, for example, watching a television program about politician, and you don’t like the politician, would you go buy a new television in order to have a better politician – in other words to change it to a show you like to view – on the TV? Likewise, that thoughts seem to correlate to the functioning activities of a brain (and lack of thoughts or coherent thoughts in a damaged, dragged or asleep brain) does not prove that the TV program arose from that brain.

The analogy breaks down however in that radio waves and television programming are still in the same level of reality: objects. That is, they are physical phenomena and are measurable and detectable. Consciousness is not on the same level of perceptibility: it is not a phenomena. Consciousness is the witness of phenomena. This is basic.

Unfortunately, while sentience (being awake or asleep) are detectable, as are attentional mechanisms and types of brain waves associated with *states*, consciousness is not. In other words, that which experiences states is not detectable. We do not have instruments for detecting the presence of consciousness, and we probably never will. From where we stand today, in our scientific outlook, consciousness is not amenable to the scientific method, except with regards to second-hand evidence (such as verbal reports of other humans), or as subjective experiences and reports that can only be inter-subjectively evaluated. Likewise, you cannot open up a persona’s head and find consciousness in the brain somewhere (despite stupid claims of finding centers of consciousness in popular articles, which always turn out to be based on mental actives or attentional mechanisms, not consciousness). Why? Because consciousness is not a phenomena. It is not part of the universe of experience out there. In other words, the universe is experienced *in* consciousness – as is the body, thoughts, sensations, feelings, thoughts –  or is inferred to exist in other beings (such as humans or animals, or possibly aliens), as a separate quality of that being, because that’s what we assume for ourselves.

Another way of describing consciousness is, what is it like to *be*: for example, that which is reading these words right now: that reality. It is always in the absolute present, and ultimately intimate. It is the context or ground for an experience-having reality, or even feeling or seeming to have a sense of reality. For example, even dream is a *real* dream. The content of the dream is illusory, but the fact of experiencing it is real for the experiencer. That is the reality we are pointing to here: the reality of the experiencer. It is full-stop subjective. It has no objective properties. It is radical.

So how does one encode that in a computer? How can a piece of software embody that? It can’t: they are both content, not context; they are both part of the material world, both objects. They are not subjects. They are not experiencing.
But could they? Could there be an aspect of experience, that like other beings (humans and animals etc.), seems to have consciousness, yet is an object we created, or got underway through an engineering project?

The key concept here is “seeming”: how does one discern the difference between a simulation and the real thing.

To be continued…

References

Intel’s New Self-Learning Chip Promises to Accelerate Artificial Intelligence, By Dr. Michael Mayberry

Stephen Hawking: ‘Transcendence looks at the implications of artificial intelligence – but are we taking AI seriously enough?’

What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason” by Hubert L. Dreyfus, MIT Press

What is Money?

Notes on the Nature of Money and its Future

What is money? We use it almost every day, but like the air we breathe, we hardly ever look deeply into what it really is. This is my initial exploration of the question.

The dawn of and expansion of Bitcoin and the phenomenon of cryptocurrency has also spurred these reflections (I will discuss Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies at the end of this piece). In any case I’ve often pondered the nature of money. It seems to have a powerful grip on our minds.

Recently some have criticized cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin having no intrinsic value. But does any type of money (or investment for that matter) have an intrinsic value?

The short answer: Money is a store of value, by the implicit or explicit mutual agreement of the agents of use. The valuation of anything is contextual by nature, and therefore money has no intrinsic value in itself. Money is most often used as a medium of exchange, but this is not an intrinsic property. It is ideally a unit of account.

Money is a vastly useful tool for storing and trading value. Imagine having to engage in barter you had every time you wanted something. Let’s say you needed a stick of butter, and what you happened to have in surplus were a collection of fine, healthy Philodendron plants to trade. You go to the dairy, but the butter maker says she doesn’t want Philodendron plants, but she does need some hay for her cows. So then you need to go find someone with extra hay who wants philodendron plants. Or you will need to find whatever you have you can part with that they happen to want – maybe a pile of bricks or some apples or bricks or a carburetor – if you can even find such a party.

In contrast, money can be traded for anything, because the receiving party in turn can trade it for anything. It’s universal (at least within the culture it’s accepted in, as long as it still has significant value).

By way of evidence, one could do a thought experiment about a type of money, a coin that had value but is never exchanged. For example was held onto and ended up never being traded: let’s say a giant circular stone in your front yard that represents the deed on your house (such as the Yapese have traditionally used on the island of Yap – see below), and that is agreed upon by the entire community on your little island society. And if anyone from that society is given, buys or inherits that coin, that represents owning the house, by deed of giant stone-coin. In fact the entire island has houses of this type and a deed-coin in front. However, for some odd historical reason, no one has ever used them for exchange! It’s an unlikely scenario, but the point is it is possible. In other words, exchange is not a natural, inherent, God-given property of money. Strange but true.

But the converse scenario also makes little practical sense: a currency that has no value (by agreement or intrinsically) but was exchanged profusely. That would be a potentially comic situation: one could imagine all these clowns running around making exchanges with each other furiously with, let’s say, pieces of paper with printing on them, but nothing could be done with the papers except exchange them: one could not use them for any practical material purpose (even toilet paper, because of the printing or type of paper), one could not exchange them for anything else except other pieces of the paper, and one could not convert them to other types of money. It would be farcical.

Some no doubt will say this is the situation with some cryptocurrencies currently! But most cryptocurrencies can be exchanged for other currencies, and do have some, however debatable, intrinsic value as a unique implementation of an instance of a useful class of technology.

Philosophically of course, there is no ultimate inherent value in any money whatsoever, no matter how brilliantly conceived, engineered, or widely adopted. Money only has the value it is given by the psycho-social milieu of assumption, faith and trust of the society in which it exists. In other words, it is a projection. This is easy to demonstrate if you do a simple thought experiment or two.

Let’s say a race of powerful aliens came to Earth, godlike in their intelligence and capabilities, and they had a technology, programmed with a fully advanced neuroscience of human minds coupled with a superintelligent computer system, and some kind of brainwave projector that re-aligns human thoughts along whatever lines is programmed into the machine. They decide to play a joke on humans and re-program everyone on the planet into forgetting what the US dollar is and what it’s for, no matter if its paper currency or numbers on a screen. They program humans to forget that it has any value (to keep it simple we won’t worry about automated exchanges, and just look at a very short term scenario). They do the same for gold, silver and platinum – both the physical metal and representations of it – just for extra fun and to make sure their little joke works.

Zap! Suddenly this money has no value. So why would anyone choose to exchange it, or even care about it, except as a curiosity? It has no inherent value, other than for the physical money for kindling or paper, or paper weights or ballast (especially coins), or for its fiber content or the uses of the metal in engineering. The entire currency collapses. The same would be the fate of Bitcoin or any alt-coin or cryptocurrency, if the aliens decided to zap human minds about it. The companions and communication over the internet would continue to happen, and there would be information in crypto wallets, but it would have no social or psychological value, and therefore no exchange value, because that projection was zapped. One would look at some numbers on a computer screen or in a hardware wallet and they would be just numbers, with perhaps an engineering or historical interest. In the longer run of course things would resurrect themselves and the system would be built back up, and value restored once the mental map was re-learned by individuals and groups. But the point is made.

A less exotic example can be imagined. As the reader may or may not be aware, on the Island of Yap in Micronesia, traditionally the Yapese used large circular stones as money, called Rai stones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rai_stones). These could stand for anything from the ownership of a house or the smaller ones could be used for the purchase of food. Since the stones are for the most part too large to move (and subject to damage if moved), they are kept in place, and the ownership is recorded orally. Nothing is written down. The “ledger” is in the minds of the Yapese. Now let’s say, back in the day when the island was unknown and there were no other currencies from the outside world in use (these days the Yapese use dollars and Yap are used only occasionally or ceremonially), some plague wiped out all the inhabitants. If a ship of Europeans, or anyone really – for example a boat full of Micronesians from another island with no cultural exposure and no use of stones as currency in their society – were to land on the island, they would not place a monetary value on these coins and not consider them standing for anything, unless they decided to start doing so (for example they might be taken as valuable museum pieces, or the quartz mined from them for various uses).
So one can see it is the social matrix that gives money its value ultimately, and the individual programming of the members of that society.

Money cannot by nature have any inherent value.

This can also be seen if you hand a hundred dollar bill to a Bonobo Chimpanzee, our closest relative genetically. They are a very intelligent sentient being, and their groups have their own culture and means of communication (though it is not a written one). They might sniff it, look at it, play with it, throw it, wipe their ass with it, but they are not going to use it for money, no matter how long you give them money and no matter how much. It’s possible I suppose that a researcher could train them do trade money tokens for food, but as far as I know this has not been attempted.

As a side note money also depends on the concept of counting and numbers, and this is not inherent – despite what Chomsky theorized – even to humans, as proven by the the anthropologist Daniel L. Everett and his patient work with the internet outage (not an uncommon occurance) or one is not on the internet, or some kind of catastrophe occurs, or even a programing or configuration error – a bit or two, out of place, the wrong comma placed in a line of code – the whole silicon house of electric cards comes crashing down, or at least screeching to a halt (as has happened with cloud storage such as AWS outages on occasions).

As a concluding note, since much of my blog has to do with the philosophy of happiness, and “spiritual” or psychological topics, the facts and notions outlined in they essay regarding the nature and power of money, do not imply or mean that money is required for or coupled with happiness. They are on quite independent axis, as will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Thank you for listening.

Be Free, Be Happy.

Nonduality and the Three Principles Psychology as Teaching Models

An acquaintance from an online forum sent a message to me recently, with a good question about Sydney Banks, the enlightened man who inspired what became the Three Principles Psychology movement, and it’s relation to nonduality teaching (I’d sent him some articles about nonduality student’s experiences):

“Had a good read – very interesting docs . I have been to a Rupert Spira talk. Do you think that if Syd was alive today he would be like Rupert? Rupert doesn’t do coaching or training but my gut feel is non-duality is what Syd was talking about and Roger Mills and George Pransky turned it into a therapy? What do you think?”

That’s an interesting question. Thank you. This is a big topic (one I’ve written many notes on about before but not published), but these questions help to serve as a focus. Here is my (provisional) answer:

Mystics like Sydney are pointing to the same reality as teachers of the nondual understanding like Rupert (Rupert’s teacher was Francis Lucille, who was also my primary recent teacher).

Would Sydney have liked Rupert? Well, Sydney liked everybody. 😉 I’m sure he would have “approved” of what Rupert is teaching in general but I have no idea what he would have said. He was known to suddenly get all up in arms as it were, and tell practitioner that they didn’t understand the Three Principles. George Pransky at one point threw out all his old books and/or tapes after one such incident – because they were too much about the details of thought rather than the universal Sydney was wanting to point the world to – in order to start over with a simpler and purer understanding. In another incident, The Psychology of Mind Centre in Australia (based on an earlier form of the understanding called Psychology of Mind), which during the 1990’s ran seminars for business leaders, did coaching, put out a newsletter, and distributed Syd’s and other’s tapes, was all but shut down after Sydney proclaimed it was not authorized or legit somehow (again, I’m hazy on the exact details of history). Sydney would remind them that it’s spiritual, formless, and they are in their heads or caught in form…

In any case, there are no authorities — Sydney would be the first to say that – and to not listen to him (he did say that) and that it’s not in the words (he said that too). He also said “don’t quote anybody”. 🙂

All that being said, the nondual understanding, or Advaita Vedanta in the classical Indian tradition, is what you could call an advanced teaching. It’s for people that have already been through quite a lot (such as meditation or other practices, or life experiences and insights or “glimpses” and “openings” that have raised their level of consciousness, or surrendering much of their ego from suffering or through grace, etc.). They are ready for it, are ripe. In other words that have a certain spiritual maturity. It’s audience is very very small worldwide. Unfortunately there are a lot of “Neo-Advaita” teachers that don’t understand it as deeply as they should, and a shallow version gets taught, and it can be abused behaviorally, or just understood intellectually. The truth is, it’s not an easy road.

Nonduality is not a thing or topic but the very essence of, or pointing to the fundamental truth of, the spiritual traditions. As such it doesn’t have any trappings of techniques or models. But that essence-hood can make it very hard to understand. In addition there is the phenomenon of you get a lot of seekers gunning for enlightenment, an attitude which is goal-oriented and full of expectation (common in an ego, achievement and competition-oriented culture), which ironically keeps them from their goal. Advaita sprang up as a teaching, in a culture where non-worldliness was much more acceptable than in the West. One could experience extreme bliss, go sit under a tree, and folks would put garlands of flowers around your neck and feed you. Here you would be put in an asylum (that’s a joke, but there’s a grain of truth to it). We want something more “embodied” that we can live and still run in the world. On the teacher side of the equation, you have those becoming gurus where an ego is still involved, and there are abuses (of power: for money, sex, trappings of fame, etc). So you see the whole guru game, and the drawbacks of authority and organizations.

If it’s truly spiritual, it’s about Freedom. It is freedom, absolutely. There are no rules. You are your own guru, your own teacher. There is in truth only One teacher: Universal Intelligence. This may come in the form of life experiences, teachers, a guru, parents, lovers, kids, dogs, birds, flowers… a sudden insight from out of the blue. A glimpse of truth.

Nonduality in these paths (and I’m no authority on paths – I stumbled into it without much formal teaching or reading, because I was ready apparently) is approached by what’s called the “Direct Path” as contrasted with the “Progressive Path”.

The progressive path is the use of practices and behaviors to purify oneself over time – essentially rid the mind and body of the accumulations of past ignorance, to put it bluntly – until one is ready to take the final leap and see ultimate truth, the absolute, become one with the One, drop the self, die to the world, however you want to put it.

By way of contrast, the Direct Path says you are already there Now if you only knew it, or rather, realized it, so look at what’s in the way, which is all illusory. There is no path. It’s the pathless path. This is why Zen and Taoism (Lao Tzu’s teachings) are so similar. It tries to cut across time directly to Truth with a capital “t”, which is all-pervasive, eternal and unnamable. But the illusion of being a human and a mind and body and a doer are very stubborn.

In some ways what Sydney was saying in his early tapes reminds me of the Direct Path, in the way he talked about “find it Now” and cutting across time, and that you are what you are looking for, etc. But it came through his limited exposure to spiritual teachings and language. He came to Self-realization by grace (prodded by suffering) and not through some path, from what I know.

The charm of the Three Principles as I see it at moment, is it’s accessibility, it lack of trappings of technique, it’s secularism (it’s not an offshoot of an Indian religion for example), lack of history and therefore freedom from fancy language (Like Sanskrit which gets pulled out, such as to label a meditation and dialogue a “satsang”, which can sound pretentious to some). It is a teaching model associated with psychology, and you can follow it’s history. Syd’s insights “came through” psychology by fate or an accident of history, depending on your outlook. I don’t think anything’s an accident, so apparently it was a good vehicle. You can read about some of that history in Jack Pransky’s book (Paradigm Shift: A History of The Three Principles), or you can look at earlier versions of the model in books like “Sanity, Insanity, and Common Sense” (Rick Suarez, Roger C. Mills, Darlene Stewart, 1987) or Richard Carlson’s many offerings.

In summary, if you want to make money with with a teaching, or be a “coach”, the Three Principles may be more suited to it and more attuned to our psychologically-oriented culture and a larger audience. The spiritual roots are hidden under a secular guise of what looks like technique and psychology and is even sometimes peddled as “scientific”, which it is only in a vague metaphorical sense. The Three Principles appeals to the huge self-help culture of America and elsewhere. But the spiritual foundations are what give it power over psychology, since it is pointing beyond the mind and the personal self, where traditional psychology gets stuck.

Personally, after 20 years studying and using the Three Principles approach or understanding, I felt it was limiting, without embedding it in a larger understanding. To try and untangle some of my issue with it, here they are:

1. It was too complex: there is really only one “principle” in reality, the unnamable Divine one. The notion of a principle tends to obfuscate, to me, rather than clarify. As a description and not prescriptive model, principles serve as metaphors, but are too easily construed as concepts or even quasi-techniques, and often taken aboard as beliefs. Indeed, beliefs are precisely what one wants to drop on the spiritual unfolding of knowing ones true nature. Admittedly replacing one set of beliefs with another can be a natural pitfall of all teachings and paths, but “principles”, though fairly neutral sounding, is a double-edged sword, because they sound quite solid, like things, and are even misconstrued as being “laws”. They are often compared with the law of gravity, which is yet another misunderstanding of science, using a metaphor of “law” in a crude and opaque way. Spiritual reality is beyond all rules, laws (scientific or otherwise) or intellectual understandings.
2. It was potentially confused in some aspects of its basic ontology. For example, is Thought, one of the Three universal spiritual principles, universal or personal? The personal mind, where thoughts arise, is only universal in a generic sense that body and everything is part of the universe, whereas Universal Consciousness and Universal Mind are truly universal, timeless and impersonal spiritual principles. (The Three Principles also branched off into the “Single Paradigm” teachers, focusing on Thought as the key to human experience, which further confused the scene).
3. It had become too much entangled in marketing to see the forest for the trees. By the time I saw postings on a Three Principles FaceBook forum touting coaching services aimed at helping someone write a Three Principles book, no matter their level of understanding, and at the same time no substantive discussion or dialogue on the forum other than advertising yet more seminars, retreats, online courses, books, etc., I abandoned it as a source to deepen understanding of truth for myself.

4. Inaccurate understanding: as I mentioned above, it is often touted as a “scientific” understanding. This is a misunderstanding of science at a deep level. Western science is about phenomena: that which is observable by the senses or instruments. Spiritual understanding is a subjective, experiential knowing of the essence of reality, invisible to the senses and outside the domain of science. For example, what does science have to say about the experience of beauty, love, or absolute truth? You might find neuroscientists claiming they find such things in the brain, but these are hypothesis or stories made up starting from an unproven and ultimately unprovable assumption (namely that consciousness is brain-based), not known facts. These assumptions are pasted onto observations such as CAT scans, which merely proves some vague correlations and not causality. Spiritual realization is knowing there is no such thing as causality anyway: causality depends on time and space, which are created by universal mind (as Sydney pointed out)! Science is designed to examine that which can be seen inter-subjectively and tested and repeated. It also cannot approach one-off phenomena like miracles and moments of grace. It can’t go there. Period. It’s not the instrument. Science and its handmaiden of technology are about the world — they are very powerful in that domain — not about ultimate questions. In short calling the Three Principles “scientific” is a silly bit of marketing hyperbole, or simply ignorance.

A further mistake is equating intellect with ego (ego being the false self, or a thought-created self-image that is falsely identified with as the real self). While the intellect, can certainly be used to defend ignorance (ignorance in the spiritual sense), and feed an ego, particularly if it’s an ego that prides oneself on intellectual knowledge (which is limited and relative, unlike ultimate knowing), the intellect can nonetheless not only be a tool in one’s liberation — using the mind to undo the mind’s false notions — and post-liberation, an entertaining way to celebrate life, in playing with ideas. The intellect is limited to conceptual thinking and tends to think in terms of cause and effect, and is a useful tool in practical matters, but can’t see beyond its own limited way of understanding (indeed permanent happiness has to by nature be acausal or causeless, that is, beyond the world of cause and effect). However it can be used in service to spirit, life, God, however you want to say it, both during the process of transcending the ego and once transcendence is more established. In short, intellectual activity can be either a block or a friend on the spiritual path. Like any tool, it depends on how it is used.

5. I experienced quite lot of an anti-intellectual attitude, almost fascist in character. Whereas intellectual enquiry is encouraged in Advaita/Nonduality (when taught properly) as a way to cut away false beliefs (such as in a separate self), in the Three Principles world it’s frequently shot down, discouraged or dismissed, often followed with the quasi-compassionate backup notion that “it’s about the feeling”. The psychological truth this reflects however is that feelings can be useful barometers of the quality of one’s thinking, but this understanding got misused socially. This anti-intellect attitude becomes a cop-out with respect to answering good but difficult questions, in my view, and can often be a reflection of a dogmatic and defensive outlook. The intellect is an important if not essential tool for the truth seeker. This of course depends on your inclination: some characters are more heart-oriented, thus by way of comparison the Hindus have the Bhakti (unconditional devotion, which is heart-centered) vs. the Jnani (ultimate Knowledge) paths in Indian yoga, among others. They both lead Home. Are the Three Principles a heart-centered teaching? It may be in essence, given Sydney’s inclinations, but it clearly isn’t only devotional in terms of a teaching model.

One must understand two circumstances that factor into the context of what Sydney Banks was trying to do and what he was up against. It can be hazardous duty to try and communicate what were essentially mystical revelations to a broad audience, given how they will inevitably be misinterpreted “when they fall on the ears of the listening mind” as he once said. In addition, he didn’t have an educational background to articulate it in a refined way or a manner that addressed the potential intellectual questions. In fact he was even promoted as being a welder with “only an 9th grade education“, perhaps suggesting an innocence or trustable lack of sophistication. One article in a small Vancouver newspaper from 2009 quotes him as expressing this simplicity of background as the fact that he claims “He wrote more books than he read”.

The philosopher and mystic Franklin Merrell Wolff, Harvard-trained in philosophy (and formerly a mathematics teacher at Stanford before he chose to pursue enlightenment), had some pertinent observations about mystics with limited tools of expression:

“He may even Know, and know that he Knows, without being able to concieve of what he inwardly Knows—for conception in these matters requires the skill of a superior intellect, and it appears that skill of this sort is by no means a condition of introceptive [a third mode of knowing, beyond sense perception and cognition] awakening. Hence we have many inadequate interpretive statements from those who have attained some degree of this awakening.” (Wolff, p. 121).

I also started to see what were essentially religious attitudes in online meetings, promoting and defending the Three Principles or Sydney in an agitated way. Getting religious about it misses the point, and would have upset Sydney no doubt! Getting religious reflects ego and insecurity, is a narrow and rigid way of seeing it, mistaking the form for what the forms are pointing to, which is absolutely universal. It’s just a path, a tool, a model. It’s ultimately a metaphor. It’s not about a person (Syd) nor The Only Way nor We Are Better Than Thou. I realize this does not condemn the whole field or it’s practitioners, it was just my particular experience. The Three Principles model has helped a tremendous number of people, in very diverse fields. It’s an applied or embodied understanding, whereas Advaita and Nonduality can seem extremely esoteric and impractical (it in fact is very practical, especially as taught by my Western teachers – I didn’t really get a foothold in success, peace and happiness until I got involved – but, as I said, it’s definitely not for everyone).

Now that I’ve gotten some of the problems I’ve perceived with the Three Principles as it has played out in the world, off my chest, I’m going to outline what I think the strengths, utility and beauty of this understanding is.

It’s a revolution in comparison to traditional psychology and psychotherapy. It’s a 180 degree turnaround from the medical model and the attempts to be scientific that got particular emphasis from Freud. Hundreds of schools of therapy exist, and are based on the idea of problem solving, looking at the past, analyzing family dynamics, building coping skills, adding techniques and ideas, labels and diagnoses, finding patterns, trying to change behavior, reactions, or manipulating the contents of thinking, or social or material circumstances… all based on the assumptions that human beings are separate, material entities, at bottom biological machines, thinking machines, like fancy social robots that evolve through time and and learn and must make an effort to be better selves. They also all have in common the fact that they are based on theories: concepts or opinions by theorists and practitioners, the totality of which do not form one coherent, unified understanding of psychology.

Further there is an assumption that is one feels bad, or is suffering, or very disturbed then there is something fundamentally wrong, that one is damaged in one’s substance or at minimum the programming of the machine, and either you are doomed to a life of patching up that damage (with drugs and techniques and circumstances, etc.) or to make efforts to change the programming.
Now while it is true at one level that looking at us as mind-bodies in world, that we are in a sense products of genetics and past “conditioning”. However, what is doing the looking? Science has not been able to answer that and usually will not even look at or admit to the problem. Consciousness is at best, the “hard problem” in philosophy (Chalmers), or at worst, completely dismissed as non-existent (Churchland).

In this atmosphere it is understandable that some practitioners (in the 1990s I believe), such as Roger Mills, labeled this understanding and organizations to teach it, “Health Realization”. They recognized that in reality, we are ultimately healthy and happy behind the screen of Thought, if we could only realize that truth. Nothing can damage or hurt us. What we are is imperturbable at bottom. This has been an outstanding realization for countless people touched by this understanding. They have found greater happiness, health, creativity, resourcefulness, resilience, and common sense, to lead practical, engaged lives.

While there are some changes happening at the fringes and the leading edge of psychology that recognize there is some reality and value to spirituality informing psychology, most psychology sees spirituality as akin to religion, or as simply beliefs. So in a almost dismissive or patronizing sense, the person is seen as taking on notions that are comforting or valuable but only in a personal and arbitrary way. The beliefs don’t reflect reality and don’t reflect truth, nor are spiritual experiences seen as ultimately much more than hallucinations, though they are sometimes admitted to be valuable, mysterious and even life-changing (such as in psychedelic therapy). There is still the assumption it’s brain-based.

In this context, it can be experienced as a complete revolution to point out the fact that reality, as experienced, is an “inside-out job”, as a function of the power of Thought to create the appearance of form, and of Consciousness to make it a real experience, and Mind as a unlimited intelligence, and these universal powers, which are really One, to be ultimately universal spiritual realities. That’s a pretty mind-blowing revelation, and counter to almost everything in the therapy and psychology culture.

In a culture awash in materialism and scientism (the religious assumption that science and objectivism and reason gives us a complete picture of reality) the pursuit of external solutions to suffering and dis-ease – countless schools of therapy, techniques and motivational models, drugs and on and on – the Three Principles offer a simple model for looking within. In the simplicity is the power and sometimes a difficulty for the human mind, given how the mind wants something to grab onto, process, analyze, study, evaluate, compare… the process has to be more one of letting go of assumptions and beliefs than an additive one of taking on more learning of pieces of knowledge. In this respect it is very much like traditional wisdom teachings, which point to one’s ultimate nature and the futility of of gaining ultimate wisdom from the knowledge the world outside programs us with. All these schools tell us to look within for the answer. It can be difficult for Westerners to even make sense of that phrase “look within” for the answer, especially when it can threaten their cherished notions of reality.

Three Principles teachings also wisely point out that it’s the “grounding” or wisdom and understanding of the teacher – who they are, their love and understanding — that makes healer and a helper or guide, and not any particular knowledge. Their “presence”, their happiness and peace, in itself says more than a million words could. This is in parallel with other wisdom schools, which recognize that only someone who has been fundamentally changed and realized truth can actually transmit something, and that what they transmist is often or basically wordless, akin to an “energy” or field of knowing awareness. A higher energy if you will (though that way of saying it starts to sound too New Age to me!)

Another charm of the Three Principles is their accessibility and approachability. Although the flip side of this is what you could call a diluted wisdom and a commercialization (one friend, a former British Jungian therapist and Buddhist practitioner, and intellectually brilliant, laughed it off, calling it “Bastardized and Americanized Buddhism”), it at least does not appeal to a spiritual ego as much as esoteric teachings from foreign lands with complex histories and terminology. It’s more easily swallowed, and can be like a spiritual tricycle ones rides until you’re ready for deeper layers, deeper unfolding of consciousness. It allows wisdom to get a foothold via a psychological vehicle. Furthermore, there are very few bells and whistles to the Three Principles. Some of the original teachers, those who knew Sydney Banks, were influenced by his repeated urgings to keep it simple and that it’s spiritual.

As I see it, since this wisdom came thorough psychology and psychologists out into the world, there was tendency to embellish out and make it into a psychology. For example there used to be four principles in the early days (useful and revolutionary as they were) that were formulated by Rick Suarez with help from Darlene Stewart and Roger Mills (Sanity, Insanity and Common Sense, 1987), and picked up by the popularizer Richard Carlson. To their credit they realized psychology should be based on principles rather than concepts. The ones they formulated were the basis of what was called “Psychology if Mind”:

Thought Systems
Separate Realities
Thought Recognition
Levels of Consciousness

These four principles were later refined or simplified into three (by who I’m not sure, but Sydney was no doubt involved): Universal Thought, Universal Consciousness, and Universal Mind. From then on, Sydney talked of the Three Principles endlessly.

In the final analysis, none of this really matters. Why? Because, what’s the goal: It’s happiness. If you were to be asked to pick between enlightenment and happiness, which would you choose? It’s permanent happiness we want, or happiness that’s realized enough of the time such that you don’t care if you’re “enlightened” or understanding some ultimate truth. It doesn’t matter where we that happiness is coming from, what reason or unreason seems to cause it. What we seek is causeless happiness, because it’s the only kind that can be counted on, ultimately. Happiness, peace – that is, being worry-free – is the goal, and this can only happen in the present Now, because your are established in some eternal presence that goes beyond your little self. That’s it. What more could you want? If something still feels missing, you are still seeking, and that’s OK. And even when you have realized quite a lot of happiness and truth and peace and love, it’s still an endless journey and infinite depths are possible (“There is no end to Consciousness” Sydney said once in a talk).

Follow your enthusiasm, your love, not what you “should” do. If it’s boring, do something else. If you are happy doing something (or in not doing something), that’s your path. But if you are doing it *only* for the money, watch out, misery-lane lies ahead (unless making money is what makes you truly happy – there *are* people that love business, working and money-making more than anything). If you are doing it for some other object in the future in order to get something or be something that you think will bring you happiness, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness, investing your happiness in something outside yourSelf. It has to come from the heart. It’s about giving, not a getting. And, not everyone is born a teacher or coach, or even a truth lover. Some beings express themselves as writers, or artists, or car mechanics, or gardeners, or don’t talk about Truth at all, they just live it – there are no bounds, no set way to embody happiness, truth, peace, love – it’s totally free.

Be Happy, Be Free

References

“Sydney Banks – wrote more books than he read”, by Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun, August 3, 2009.

Transformations in Consciousness: the metaphysics and epistemology, by Franklin Merrell-Wolff. State University of New York Press, 1995.

Depression And Anxiety Are Springboards To Happiness

April 2016

Recently, at a question-and answer session with a spiritual teacher, I heard them say that pain or difficult states of mind were “springboards”. That was an intriguing statement.

I could say depression and anxiety were springboards to spirituality and psychology for me around 28 years ago, and this understanding we now call the Three Principles Psychology about 18 years ago, but honestly when you look at depression (or any feeling) it is a label we place on a range of experiences. In fact it was a label I had to learn. I didn’t know I was “depressed” or give much thought to that word until a therapist told me I was.

It had started off and on roughly 5 years earlier while I was in a difficult relationship with a restricted, conditional love feeling, then a breakup triggered a break with my own self-feelings of care and natural self-love.

Then it got worse and I just felt terribly hollow or empty and lacking in something that felt essential: I was unable to focus, and everything feeling difficult, like moving through molasses. There was an energy drain, like something was terribly *wrong* with *me* but I couldn’t put my finger on it, or settle my thoughts, which were in a thousands states of argument and conflict with themselves. (Looking at it now, you could call this “resistance”). I felt a deep unnamable dread, as well as a speediness that went around and around in circles, a form of what I learned was called “stress”; I was disconnected, fragmented, alienated such that when I was asked how I felt I could not answer. I didn’t know how I felt. Feeling was alien territory for me.

The ego dynamic — the false, thought-created self, the constriction of energy — both drives a draw towards reality (spiritual truth) and in a depressive response, a pulling away from reality, a withdrawal from.

A side story is that I had a spiritual opening (in the form of an NDE — Near Death Experience) at, you could say, too early an age — 21 — to know what to do with. I had no context of understanding, or a way to integrate it. For a little while I was unusually peaceful, loving and relaxed. But then the world began to weigh heavily on me. I had to form a structure around this sensitivity you could say, because there were still the inherited patterns from the past, in the body and subconscious. This manifested in the form of seeking experiences, using drugs, getting into intense sexual relationships, getting depressed, philosophically obsessed (so much so that I got a degree in it), and all the overly critical and analytical argumentative habits that kept the game going.

I lived in my head, trying to solve my problems, with a critical and analytical mind. This was most intense in the college years. I started seeing a therapist after failing some classes towards the end of my time there, but didn’t feel like she helped much. However I did have a huge moment of philosophical illumination (I was a philosophy major obsessed with what the nature of intelligence and the mind) in the experience of seeing the limitations of the thinking I’d been involved in — what all these professors were doing with their theories and arguments — that it was all made-up models of the mind, made out of the same kind of mental mode that was trying to solve the problem! I had a huge intuition. My big intuition was that intuition was the way to go, not their problem-solving cognitive process, as if we were in essence just computers, doing processes in time. Intuition and vision were the central faculties we have, I saw. But that just did not fit into the academic world of philosophy. Long story short, I left that field, at least as far as formal academic study.

A year or so after that, while taking a painting class with a teacher into Zen and yoga, I start exploring, studying, and practicing Zen and had a tremendous opening of awareness and burst of creativity. But I would still go through moods and had great trouble with relationships and work and in other areas of life. It was turbulent. I got into a long-term “serious” relationship with someone who despite their wonderfulness, had some underlying troubles of their own, and a work situation at an unhealthy corporation (not unusual!). I was not a happy camper. At least for any significant period of time. Oh sure, I found pleasure in activities that were creative and free, like gardening and painting and hiking in nature or laughing with friends, or helping nice clients in my consulting business. But they were very ephemeral. Something was out of synch with the inside and the outside. This creative force, the light of intuitive knowing that comes and goes, was not the answer, in itself.

Cut to 9 years later when I had a dream that set me on a course that changed everything. The dream was about a natural, internal, unshakable peace that was so obvious and central to what we are that it could not be explained. Shortly after that I saw a book in a New Thought church bookstore – my eyes went right to it and I knew the instant I saw it, it was what about I’d experienced — there was a quiet recognition. The book was “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” by Richard Carlson. It was pointing to the basic fact of there being something inside that was always there that was “healthy”, as well as the thought-feeling connection (which I’d seen in an instant huge “Aha!” from cognitive therapy, but could not hold onto with all it’s exercises and efforts).

But Richard Carlson was not a satisfying read to me — it seemed watered down somehow, and I had to find out where these ideas came from. I found a footnote in the back to a book by Roger Mills, Darlene Stewart, et al, of an article entitled “Sanity Insanity and Common Sense”. I managed to track it down with some effort, via a graduate student friend. That led me to the watershed read of “Realizing Mental Health” by Roger Mills, the tapes about depression and the busy mind by George Pransky, then going to the Psychology of Mind Conference in Santa Cruz in 1997, meeting Ami Chen Mills and George Pransky, Annika Hurwitt and others. The rest is on-going history.

I can’t seem to get away from it, happily. It’s gone so far as, in the last couple months, to have dived head first (heart first?) into non-dualism study and I’ve signed up for a retreat with Francis Lucille. He’s not a Three Principles teacher but it’s all the same, isn’t it…

December 2017

As I see things now, the central problem is the ego. Having said that, I have to untangle the mess, because there isn’t really a thing called the ego, and there isn’t really a problem!

The ego is merely a believing, a movement of thought, and a contour of energy. The activity of believing is one of holding something to be true that you don’t have any evidence for. In the case of an ego, a self is learned when one is young. You learn that you are a body, a name, and various attributes that go with that identity: preferences, activities, family, friends, maybe religion, and ways of thinking, talents and work and career and on an on. At some point you start to defend that “I thought”. And you repeatedly talk to others and oneself with the “I” pronoun, solidifying it’s seeming reality. After all, your perspective of the senses seems to be a body, and you are told there’s something called a “mind” that lives inside something called a “head” that lives atop this thing called a body. And we are told it’s a universe of things, and you are living in this universe but all these things are material and separate from each other and you are separate from other things too.

So this whole set of positionalities and opinions grows up. It wants thing, it gets things, it doesn’t get things, it fears things, it desires things. But it’s in a problematic position because as a seeming thing that’s separate from other things, and underneath wanting to overcome this sense of separation and feel love, be it in relationship, or in activities or substances, or to “be somebody” it can never overcome the underlying presumption of who it is. …So the seeking goes on and on, and sometimes it all seems to go around and around in circles. Moments of clarity then getting lost again. It takes an effort to be a somebody, because it’s not an actual reality, and must be maintained by the activity of thinking. But it is a very deep habit.

Sometimes people – these apparent entities associated with bodies – have to go through tremendous suffering to see through and let go of the illusion of being somebody. We’ve heard the stories of drug addicts and convicts in prison having awakenings. Or some folks have them spontaneously, out of the blue seemingly, and become sages. Other work very hard over decades and slowly or suddenly see what they really are. There is no one path to Truth.

In any case, what I have found is a background of happiness and peace more and more pervades, such that the moods and disturbances seem more like what they really are: waves on the surface of an ocean, and ocean that is always there. The body may go through things: after drinking a lot of wine, the brain and body are more tired and not quite as sharp as tools or instruments. But that’s all they are: instruments. For service or celebration. They are not ultimately who I am. Who I am cannot be described or named (as Lao Tzu so widely pointed out thousands of years ago — “the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao”) but you can look at what you are not, by looking closely and clearly at what you *think* you are, what you assume you are, what you believe your self to be, and over time, it will dissolve, crumble, be seen for the mythical beast it was.

Then the fear, the negativity that was learned, the habits and tendencies associated with this false belief, this notion of a self that doesn’t in reality exist, will start to be replaced. What will it be replaced by? Happiness and peace: Love, Truth and Beauty to put it more classically, as the perfume of the essence. But the essence in itself is hard to point to, especially when our identity and culture is based on a view of reality that is one of phenomena that can be described by a science with limited scope.

A useful line of enquiry can be observing the movements of “energy” in the body — which is really just sensations experienced by awareness – and see that what we have labeled “anxiety” or depression” are just various kinds of tensions and movements in the body. Nothing more nothing less. Except that thoughts may be triggered, and thinking may trigger them, in a circle of reaction. But both of those can be observed, and in the observing, their power is diminished. We no longer identify with them. They are not given energy. The come and go.

Mystics point to something that cannot be grasped by the mind. However, it can be experienced. It that sense it is “subjective”. But not subjective in the pejorative sense of something that is arbitrary and made up in the mind, as if it were a hallucination, but rather one finds it’s actually quite logical that there is something that must always exist, and that we are conscious right now (conscious of reading these words). In that experience is a starting point to enquire as to what is real: this temporary phenomenon witnessed everywhere: body, world, mind, or the possibility of something universal, ever-present, ever knowing, without boundaries. Be open to the possibility.

You start to see that there are no problems in reality. Why? “Problem” is an interpretation. Good and bad are products of the mind of a judging entity who evaluates. Because what you took for “reality” was not reality. And what can be called reality can always be counted on. It’s a change in the coin of the realm as it were. Stop believing and start knowing: what you are, what this world is, what your mind and body are. Put the relative in its place and the absolute in proper relation. “Render unto Caesar what is due Caesar and to god what is due god”. See where your values lie and priorities lie in your life.

This takes some courage and strength. The world does not embody this understanding at this point in history to any great degree, and we are awash in “noise” to the contrary: messages about the body, the self, about acquiring objects, about who we are and should be, about what to want, what you should do… what happiness supposedly is and where it’s found. There is much suffering and turmoil, and you must transcend that. Only you can find what you re looking for. But you can find guides and pointers along the way.

Start to live with this knowledge you’ve gained by insight, such as *there are no others” in reality. And you will see how it plays out, proves itself. For example, real love doesn’t come and go — the invisible sense of connectedness you feel at moments, whispers of the timeless — but appearances and wanting come and go. The false will come and go and the true will be confirmed. Likewise, experience of great beauty: is that “out there” or “in here”, or somehow both and neither? And if something is really true, will it only be true only at some time and place, or eternally, in every Now? Ask yourself these questions.

Peace and Love my friends.

Notes On Saving The World

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus (John 16:33)

If I see a worm on the sidewalk, I put him in the grass.
If I see a man passed out on the sidewalk I call for help. I do what I can, because I care, and then forget and enjoy the beautiful day, learning and creation.
If a friend calls me with a problem, I say what I can out of whatever love and wisdom I can find in my heart.
I don’t think about it or brag about what I did.
I was inspired to help a community garden because I loved it and I cared; I was made Chair and I helped and created things, working around the politics and egos.
I just did what needed to be done.
I got involved in a forum on the homeless because they needed some reason and intuition and I did some clear thinking for them, but without strife. Then I left the forum and never looked back.
I don’t get stimulated by the drama or politics or feed my ego. It happens and then it’s done.
I am not trying to save the world.
The world is constant change, contrasts. Ups and downs. Good and bad. Duality. That’s what makes it a world.
And when you look you can find all the drama, conflict, suffering of all kinds, lack, tribulation and gnashing of teeth, turmoil, strife and distress, and as much wailing and lamenting about it that you could possibly want. If that’s what you want…

Reality is Not Lacking

It has been said that whatever you pay attention to grows. Whatever you think is important, becomes important to you. So ask, what is your god, is your god the world, your body and your mind, or is your god the real god beyond conception: consciousness, your true nature, the inner “god” of happiness and peace?
Water seeks it’s own level, and does what it was meant to do in this world.
If you think you know better than the universe, be careful. Those that try to save the whole world like the Hitlers and the Pol Pots are surrounded by change and suffering.
If you really want to change the world then become happy and free and you will be the greatest service.
You are connected, are everything, like a ray in a hologram. This is your world and your universe. It flows outward, like ripples in a pond.
Be Self serving, not self serving. The former is the way to glory, the second the way to misery and destruction.
How do you do this? By knowing what you are. Stop believing your thinking and feeling.
Observe and find out what you are, not what you think you are.
Meanwhile, if you see some suffering you want to alleviate go for it. Live according to what you think is real. You don’t have any choice anyway. But you have a choice whether to react from programming, or to see and respond in the moment, from your best and highest notion of what’s universal and true for all. The first way is bondage, the second way is freedom.
You aren’t responsible for the universe; you are responsible for yourself *as* the universe.
Love the world as yourself.

Twenty-nine

“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.”

– Lao Tzu, Verse 29, The Tao Te Ching