Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Regarding the Direct Experience of Reality: "Now" or "Suchness" (My take)

Having affixed such a grandiose title to this post, I have no clue how I'm going to address the subject.

Everybody has their own philosophy. But I guess a "philosopher" is just someone who tells others about the philosophy that they've adopted for themselves, and a "theologian" is just another kind of philosopher, albeit with God(s) in his considerations.

Or so it seems to me. I could be wrong.

Anyway, so to this matter of direct experience: I owe a friend a deep debt of gratitude for introducing me to the philosophies of Alan Watts.

Watts was ahead of his time. But though he passed away in the 70's, there is a wealth of texts, recordings, etc. where he tries to explain his particular brand of "regarding suchness", aka "zen".

Here are some of his take on things -- including "figure" v. "ground": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82OpDZ9tAho

9.5 minutes of philosophy -- just what you always wanted, right? But it's illustrated, so hopefully you enjoyed it & weren't too bored.

As you might have seen, Watts is very much into finding pairs of things that rely on each other to exist: figure v. ground, apple v. apple tree, and so forth.

Consider, then, the space-time continuum...that is to say, "Everything". What is the thing this is paired with? Does all of existence rely on a non-existence to exist?

Well, consider where "we" fit in: We live in an "eternal Now", which is the very thing we are experiencing right now.

And that the thing: direct experience of "Right Now" seems to be taken for granted. And once you start becoming more aware of "What's Happening Right Now", you can't help but wonder: how am I here to experience all this?

So "your 'I'" can also be the opposite of "Everything". When you look out through your eyes, there's "you", and then there's "Everything Else...the Stuff Out There".

Some folks stop there, using that "Watts pairing" to conclude that consciousness is non-existence. That's interesting, and might tickle the funny bone (oh look, a zen moment ;P ) but clearly that is absurd, because I'm certain that I exist, and I hope you have that certainty too -- because sometimes, that's all you've got.

Maybe we have it backwards. If "I" exist, could "I" be everything, and the other side of the "Watts pair" be, in effect, "non-existence"? Well, we could talk about that, but I do know that we aren't going to get far in our philosophies if we aren't pragmatic about it...and that's where some Kantian thinking comes in.

Because, in essence: if you are holding a rock, you are actually processing a set of senses that "gives you the feeling of holding a rock" -- we see it, touch it, feel it's weight, and so forth. But if this "approximation" of the direct experience of holding a rock is close enough to the _Ideal Concept_ of holding a rock...what do we gain by arguing that we "might not be holding a rock at all?"

Because as our successive approximations of direct experience of those phenomena approach that "Ideal", there's got to be a point where we "give in" to the evidence, and say, "Fine, I'm 'really' holding a rock." Because we are close enough to "certain" to make that determination...and when bringing this to the practical level of concepts and communication, we just say "I'm holding a rock", instead of "my epistemology has convinced me that I am, in fact, holding a rock".

(BTW, I sometimes call these different ways of arriving at knowledge "our epistemologies"...because what might be enough "direct experience" of "evidence" for one person, won't be enough for (say) a "Doubting Thomas". Just like "everybody has a philosophy", we could add to that "everybody has an epistemology", which is the sensations of Reality that they trust.)

Anyway, so one take on zen is this: It is about figuring out *who* is partaking in this "direct experience" that you are eternally in...if anything.

I've rambled on quite a bit. If you made it this far, I thank you for taking the time to read my screeds, and I hope i was able to get my point across.

Take care,

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