Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Free Will, Destiny, and Truth

SO WHICH IS IT?  Do we have free will, or are our lives driven only by destiny?  Or is it some of both?  Most often it feels like some from this pile and some from that pile, does it not?  Even the degree of free will or destiny that we seem to experience varies from situation to situation.  Certainly this is not a new question to explore.  It’s one of the oldest questions known to man.  Great philosophers and theologians, many who were smarter than we are, have argued one side or the other for centuries.  For millennia, in fact.  So, why don’t we just go ahead and wrap it up right here?  We could, you know, at least to our own satisfaction.  Perhaps we will even do it for some of us here today.  What may be most important here is to recognize that it could happen for any one of us who is open enough.  That's not to say this is the true view.  It's just to say that it can be our true view.  "True", as I am learning, is a rather slippery term.  In my experience, the question at hand does have a thoroughly satisfactory answer.  Only almost nobody wants to hear it; that’s the real issue.  It’s the tune few want to actually sing, but which many want to sing about.

THERE IS A SAYING in environmental circles that is sometimes used to explain the widespread denial that industry, government, science, and the individuals who populate and support those institutions—namely us—cling to in regard to wholesale pollution, resource waste, energy consumption, climate change, all of that sort of thing.  The observation goes something like this: “It is nearly impossible for a person to understand any fact when their ability to earn a living, and have a life of security, ease, and comfort is contingent upon their not understanding that fact.”  What is this a prime example of?  Self-interest.  We know just what’s right for the world and we really want everyone to do their part.  Except us, of course.  We’re busy; don’t bother us with annoying and inconvenient truths.  

THIS NOTION BRINGS US right back in front of our question of free will versus destiny.  Why has this question so rarely been answered?  Never say never: it has been satisfactorily answered many times over the last few thousand years.  Many trailblazers not only got the point I'm bringing up here, but they left us strategies to help us find it, and writings to confirm our suspicions once we reached an appreciative level.  The numbers of these explorers would be pretty impressive if, say, you were buying all of them lunch.  That would be an expensive undertaking, because the actual numbers, although unknown to anyone, have to be fairly large. We know of a good many who solved it: Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Rumi, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila,  Moses, Meister Eckhart, Dogen, Rinzai, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta among them—all of the historical celebrities of Nonduality.  Yet for every one of those we know about, there are surely hundreds of others that we don't, perhaps many, many more than that.  I am not an expert in the counting department.  Nonetheless, the percentages would have to be nearly immeasurable.  As a species we are happily stumped, primarily due to self-interest of the deepest and most primal sort.

FIRST, LET'S LOOK CAREFULLY at the question.  Notice that the two sides are diametrically opposed.  One declares that we are forging the earth’s future and our own with simple pluck and luck.  The other says that our life’s course is already a closed case upon our arrival in this strange land.  For those of you who’ve been with us on Awakening Clarity for a while, or who came here carrying a light of your own, you will perhaps spot a pattern. Two sides. Polar opposites. Either or.  What’s that tell us we’re looking at?  Duality.  What do both answers hinge around?  My free will.  My destiny.  My life.  My past, present and future, yes?  It’s all personal and positional. The real answer, however, is well outside the box.

ENTER TRUTH.  There is no “you” to either have free will, or be the victim of destiny.  There is no “your” life.  There is no “your” timeline.  There is no “you”.  You-as-you-think-you-are, do not exist.  This is not a mystical thing, and it’s not a metaphysical-philosophical thing.  This is a practical, fact-type thing.  Let’s break it down.  In order for there to be free will, there has to be a carrier and user of it, correct?  In order for there to be destiny, there must be a steered and affected entity—right?  Yet if neither exist, then the question itself is utterly moot.  We will go into proving the negative of individual existence the best that we can within the brief space we are allotted, in just a moment.  Accept it for the sake of argument for just a little while.

THIS CHASE-THE-MOOT-QUESTION is the kind of game that duality loves to play best, and it’s masterful at it. Get virtually everyone on the planet for all of history taking opposite sides of a mythical condition that’s without sides at all, and what have you got?  I suggest that you have the ideal tool to keep a willing population sleeping.  The play steadily goes on, act after act, actor after actor, civilization after civilization, completely uninterrupted—until it is.  Perhaps this is your very own is time.  Who knows?  It’s got to be fairly near that moment, or you wouldn’t be reading this column.  That’s just the way it works.  Of course “fairly near” suggests time, and the seeing of this takes place outside of time, so "your" realization could be ten minutes from now, or in another hundred years, with an entirely different form finding the freedom you seek here today.  That’s my way of saying, do not relent.

NOW, LET'S MOVE ON to the proof in our pudding.  Where is this entity that is supposed to be either the bearer of free will or the victim of destiny?  Don’t let this be hypothetical; find out—find out right now, and pledge to yourself that you’ll be satisfied with the answer that you come up with.  Don’t go looking for a better answer.  That seeking activity IS the dream.  We typically come to spirituality to offload our suffering.  Fair enough.  If you have a higher calling than that, bully for you, but most don’t.  I didn't.  We are lost and we are suffering when we arrive.  We come to spirituality in order to find answers to our questions.  Yet we enter authentic spirituality only when we begin to question our answers.

LET'S QUESTION THE ANSWER about who's reading this.  I know very well who's writing it.  I also know very well who’s reading it.  Let’s see if we can help you see what’s clearly seen here.  God forbid we should seriously step out of the all-in-our-heads analysis paralysis of the convivial satsang circle, but just for a lark, let’s try something experiential.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  We’ll borrow a tool from a friend of mine--author, teacher, and uber-philosopher Greg Goode.  We'll change it up a little so that hopefully it will carry in print, and see if we can at least plant a solid seed of doubt.  That’s really all it takes to start.  A well-planted seed of doubt will grow and grow from within until it breaks down the walls that hold our lies.  If you are going to just read this article, don’t expect to get very much out of it.  Go with me as I go through this.  Do the work.  Soon I’m going to write a column about "spectator spirituality", which is what most people are practicing.  That's fine for them.  Don't you practice it.  You're too close to the truth.  The all-in-the-head-stuff, makes for great party talk, wonderful existential walks in the dark, and exciting philosophical breakthroughs.  The only problem with it is that it doesn’t wake you up.  If you want to wake up, get involved.  Seek and ye shall find, but we had better seek with heart, or we are going to end up disappointed and disillusioned—assuming we were serious about liberation when we got here.

SO HERE IS THE EXPERIMENT. For most of you there is a solid sense of you-ness there. There is a sense of a real-live, sure-enough, separate entity right there, wearing your clothes, breathing your breath, and reading this on your computer screen.  This sense of you-ness is inside the body, is it not?  So first we have you-ness, and then we have it corralled within the container of the body.  By default, if we’re going to have a you, then there’s got to be a not-you.  Without something to compare to, how else would you know there is a you? So, we could say that you are defined by what you are not.  You call this not-you “the world”, isn’t that right?  Thus there are two things, you and the world.  There may be a zillion things within the world, but none of that really matters for the moment.  What we’re concerned here is just the elementary duality of you and the world.

THE WORLD IS KIND OF a big thing to take on in the next thousand words, so let’s look at you instead.  We’ll use what Greg would call the “Cartesian model”, i.e., the notion of a container in which the contents that compose our essential being reside.  This container, of course, is the human body.  Humanity generally believes that whether it is mind, or soul, or some combination of the two, whatever-it-is-that-we-are lives within the body. Let’s run with this idea of Descartes’ and see if we agree with it.

IT'S TIME TO DO SOME DIVISION.  Mind does it all the time, so why don't we do a bit?  If you were to divide your body in half horizontally, say, at the waistline, would the sense of you be above or below that line?  I’m guessing above.  Few people identify themselves strongly as being their feet, legs, or lower organs.  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  At any point that your experience doesn’t meet with my guesses, simply convert the questions to fit your experience.  Just do the work.  Disagreement is not an obstacle between us and truth.  For the moment we’ll propose that your answer is above the waistline.

OKAY, NOW DRAW A SECOND LINE, just below your shoulders.  Is the sense of you above or below this second line?  There may be a sense of heart, below that line for some of you, and some of you may need to examine that in the same way we are going to look at the brain, but most of us don’t confuse that sense of heart with the sense of you-the-body.  Granted, it’s very easy to jump into hearsay at this point, with something along the lines of, “Well, Ramana Maharshi said…”  To hell with what Ramana Maharshi said.  He’s not here.  What do you say? You’re the one whose opinion matters here; no other opinion even gets a vote. I’m guessing the sense of you is above that second line.  In most cases I’ll be right.  Let’s move on up.

NEXT, DRAW A THIRD LINE across your neck, just under your chin.  Is the sense of you above or below that third line?  It’s still further above, is it not?  It’s not between the neckline and the breast line, is it?  No, probably not.  Let’s travel on up to the head. The head is the pay dirt for most of us. Isn’t this where the sense of you really feels like it lives?  I think this short segment I’m going to go into about loss of body parts is elsewhere on AC as well, but it bears repeating here. 

IF YOU WERE IN AN ACCIDENT, and lost both of your legs, would there still be a sense of you-ness in the remainder of your body?  Sure there would.  You might feel psychologically diminished for a while, but there has to be something there to feel diminished, so the sense of you would absolutely remain in force. What if you lost all four limbs?  People do.  And when they do, we don’t then say, “Well that unknowable blob-thing over there used to be Bill, but then he lost his arms and legs and now we don’t know what to call it.”  No, we say, “That’s Bill.  He had an accident.  He doesn’t look quite the same as he once did, but that’s still Bill.”  We say that because for most of us, the sense-of-you-ness resides in our head.  It feels like it’s sort of behind the eyes for us, and we assume it does for Bill as well, and his head is still intact, so “Bill” is still intact.  Have I said anything yet you can strongly disagree with?  Perhaps for some, but I doubt it for most.  It’s impossible to put our finger precisely on it, but this in-the-head-and-behind-the-eyes was the general feeling I had, I’ve talked to others who feel or felt the same way, and have read about still more.  It may not be the case in everyone, but I certainly think it’s common, and is almost surely the most common experience.  It is also the most common stumbling block to freedom, because this is the thing we hang our hat on as “us”.

BUT WE'RE NOT DONE. We have tracked the sense-of-you-that-you-think-you-are to your head.  Now draw one more line, please, only make this fourth line vertical instead of horizontal.  Figuratively speaking, draw a line that will slice your head precisely in half, just as you might do to a cantaloupe.  Where is you-that-you-think-you-are now?  Are you in the right side, or the left side?   After all, you’re inside the container of the body, isn’t that right?  You’re held by the body, but you’re not the body itself, so we’re just trying to find out exactly where it is in the body you are holed up.

IS YOU-THAT-YOU-THINK-YOU-ARE in the left side of the head, or the right?  Do you know?  Can you tell?  Would you have to guess?  Are you stumped?  Do you not know?  Surely you don’t think your soul, or your personality, or whatever you call it, is going to be sliced in half just as the flesh and bone would be.  So where are you in there?  Show me you.  Point yourself out, so to speak.  Can you?  If you can’t point yourself out, and you can't even tell me where it is in there that you live, the question becomes, Do you live in there?  I don’t think so.  As I told someone earlier today in an email, "I've had a hell of a time finding Fred, and I bet you're going to have a hell of a time finding you."  If this is the case with you, the person who’s reading this right now—yes that means YOU—are you willing to say, “I don’t know.”
BINGO.  NO YOU, NO PROBLEM.  No you, no free will.  No you, no destiny.  Accept the answer you've arrived at.  Sit with, "I don't know."  Sit in that lostness.  If you're not what you thought you were, or where you thought you were, what’s left?  You tell me.

Housekeeping Notes:

Let us welcome Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Switzerland to the growing list of countries visiting Awakening Clarity.  There are now 52 countries joined through this blog in awakening the Clarity that shines through each of us.  Thank you, one and all. Even a mighty Sequoia tree grows just one inch at a time.  

For those who are interested in the personal side of things here, I am updating The Nondual Diary with short bits on a regular basis.  You will also see that as of Monday, December 5, there is also a new page, Pointers Along the Path, which will also be updated as whim strikes.  As ever, thank you for your precious attention.  

This main blog post will be updated again on Sunday evening, December 11. I hope to see you again soon.  If you feel so drawn, let me hear from you.



Larry Coble said...

Fred, Sorry late in posting a comment but wanted to take a second to let you know that this was "spot on" as they say. Fine teaching. Many thanks.

Facing up to "I don't know" is itself a profound teaching. In fact, I don't know much of anything other than my experience of right now. Acknowledging this, I find right now to be fine just as it is as well as everything.

Fred Davis said...

Thank you, Larry. Thanks to some fine mentoring, I'm also learning a bit about how to stay in "I don't know land." It's tricky, is it not?

With heart,