Dec 9, 2019 - 4 minute read

A Philosophy Behind What Happens Next

The following is from an e-mail I sent to Insight Forum members0.

Separately, I developed an insight these last few months I thought I might share here with you. I had started an engaging email conversation with fellow forumite Bruce Parker on the philosophy behind what happens next: a structure we can use to understand the direction of events in the world, and our individual contribution to it. Quite serendipitously, I’d also started exploring the works of Immanuel Kant, and found in there one such compelling structure: a definition of free will, of rational beings that possess it, and consequently what reason tells them they ought to do with it.

In classic Eastern spirituality, that I began studying in the late 2000s, the idea of progress is largely missing. *The past is but a memory, the future but a fantasy; learn to understand how things truly are in the now, and find peace in that understanding*—that would be a typical example teaching found therein. The one explanation I have seen for what happens in the world is an esoteric one: that consciousness creates the world as a means to know itself, and evolves to know itself better and better1. Free will is said to be an illusion2, or something that belongs to the totality of nature and not the individual3. Explanations such as these perhaps have a salutary effect in diminishing the spiritual aspirant’s self-centered ego. But at the end of the day (or rather, at the beginning of the day), we are still faced with the question of what best to do. Egotistic or not, at peace or not, we have time to fill—what ought guide how we do it?

Sep 27, 2019 - 8 minute read

The Good and the Self: The Diamond Sutra, Pt 2

The Buddha said to Subhuti, “This is how [they] master their thinking: ‘However many species of living beings there are…we must lead all these beings to nirvana so that they can be liberated. Yet when [they have] become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated.’

“Why is this so? If, Subhuti, a bodhisattva holds on to the idea that a self, a person, a living being, or a life span exists, that person is not a true bodhisattva.”

Thus begins Gautama Buddha’s response to the opening question posed in the Diamond Sutra, on how spiritual aspirants are to master their thinking0. He first addresses the purpose towards which thinking is to be mastered—as the liberation of all beings (from what?)—to settle the premise behind the question. Then he commences his lengthy (as we shall see) attack on conceptual thinking, beginning with the belief in the concept of an individual. While he does not bring up the former again, i.e. the premise behind spiritual practice, let’s first give it a more thorough examination. We will then discuss where the renunciation of (or more precisely, the detachment from) the self fits in with the mastery of thinking.

Jul 25, 2019 - 6 minute read

Mastering Thinking: The Diamond Sutra, Pt 1

“World-Honored One, if sons and daughters of good families want to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind, what should they rely on and what should they do to master their thinking?”

Thus begins the dialogue between the spiritual aspirant Subhuti and his teacher Gautama Buddha, in the text popularly known as The Diamond Sutra0. In answering the question, Gautama proceeds to impress at length about the necessity of dropping the idea of the self, and dropping ideas altogether. We shall discuss these in turn, but let’s begin with considering the means towards spiritual accomplishment as presented here: to master thinking.

Buddhism is usually introduced as a philosophy and practice towards the end of suffering. The Four Noble Truths1—possibly the most well known teaching of the Buddha, and his first—begins with the statement that suffering2 is an unavoidable feature of the normal human condition, continues with the diagnosis of suffering as grasping3, and then offers as remedy the prescription of ethical behavior, meditation practice and philosophical understanding4. But here in The Diamond Sutra, the ask is not about how to be happy (a.k.a. the end of suffering); but how to master thinking.

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin

Dec 24, 2018 - 9 minute read

Towards a Progressive Spirituality

Not just How to Be, but also What to Do

Classic spirituality1 trains and informs seekers on seeing through their prejudices about reality—mainly, that the world is an environment around a particularly special I distinct from it. Upon success with this, individuals take their stand as awareness rather than as self-important persons, and feel a one-ness with all experience. This translates to a special flavor of peace, and an end to unnecessary psychological suffering. They have learned How to Be.

This is where classic spirituality stops—at enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, self-realization: words that point to this new stance of Being. But is there more to be said? How do we decide what to do next? Is there a corresponding philosophy of Doing?


Portrait of Nisargadatta Maharaj

Q: What motivates, when there is no fear or desire?

A: Nothing. Unless you count love of life, righteousness, and beauty.

-Nisargadatta Maharaj. I Am That2.

Mar 20, 2018 - 5 minute read

Non-Dual Philosophy: A First Taste

Lines of reasoning about the nature of experience, based on self-enquiry and self-verification, that question and invalidate the separation we habitually assume and feel between us and the rest of life: between us and other people, between us and our work, and between us and nature.

This is how I might answer a friend casually asking what non-dual philosophy is. Conducted in the plane of subjective experience, this study is quite different from science—there are no table of results to interpret, no phenomena to measure, and no special tools to conduct experiments with.

Why do we care? Because some of us are curious, and after looking into it some, find that the ideas therein resonate with our experience. The skier amongst us finds that they give expression to their unnameable ecstasy on the slopes, when they feel their soul between the skis and the snow. The accountant, to their disappearance into the sea of numbers on the spreadsheet straddling their dual-monitors, becoming one with the data. Non-dual philosophy provides a conceptual framework that helps with extending these experiences of non-separation out, from situations where it comes naturally to us to those where it’s not-so-much.

Albert Einstein riding his bicycle in Santa Barbara, 1933.

Jan 2, 2018 - 8 minute read

We Are Individual

I have always imagined that the word individual, referring to a person, was antithetical to the concept of interdependence, the idea that all of us inextricably make up the ecology of the world. For individual implied to me an independent entity, distinct from its environment. But in a recent moment of gnosis it occurred to me that the word itself might be saying something about division, not dependence. Sure enough, looking up its etymology reveals its roots in the Latin word individuus, “indivisible”. Very interesting, isn’t it? It’s suggesting that what we are as individuals, our essential identity, is something that cannot be split in two. The idea, a little fantastic as it sounds, tickled my fancy. What does it mean to be indivisible? And what is its relationship, if any, with interdependence?

A couple taking a photograph