Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waking while sleeping, relating while withdrawing

After Siddhartha Gautama gained his great realization under the Bodhi tree, people asked him what he was—god, demon, Brahmin, sage? He always replied, “I am awake,” Buddha.

Reading an interview between Jeff Greenwald and Sri H. W. L. Poonja, also known as Papaji, the Indian spiritual teacher whose hundredth birthday would have been last week (he died in 1997), I came across this passage:
Papaji: What do you see when you sleep?
Greenwald: Nothing.
P: That is the right answer. Now, why do you reject all the things of the world, things you like so much, merely to offer yourself up to a state of nothingness?
G: I do it because I become tired.
P: To regain energy you go to the reservoir of energy, to that state of nothingness…. If it were not a happy state, no one would be willing to say 'Good night' to their loved ones every evening before going to sleep. No matter how close you are to them, you still say, 'Good night, let me sleep'.
There is something superior, something higher, something more beautiful about being alone. Ask yourself the question: when I wake up, who wakes up?
When you woke up, you did not bring the impression of the happiness that you enjoyed for six or seven hours of dreamless sleep. You can only bring with you impressions of the dances you saw in your dreams…. So, I will ask you again: when you wake up, who wakes up?

G: It is the 'I' that wakes up.
P: OK. The 'I' has woken up. When the 'I' wakes up, the past, the present and the future also wake up. This means that time and space also wake up. Along with time and space the sun wakes up, the moon wakes up, the stars wake up, mountains wake up, rivers wake up, forests wake up, men, birds and animals all wake up. When the 'I' wakes up, everything else wakes up. While this 'I' was sleeping during the sleep state, everything was quiet. If you don't touch the 'I' which woke up, you will experience the happiness of sleep while you are awake. Do it for one single second, half of a single second, a quarter of a single second. Don't touch the 'I'. The 'I' is something that we can well afford to be without. Don't touch the 'I' and tell me if you are not sleeping.
G: That is right. In that instant, everything is like a dream.
P: This is called waking while sleeping and sleeping while awake. You are always in happiness, always awake. This awakening is called Knowledge, Freedom, Truth. Don't touch the names, though. Get rid of all the words that you have so far heard from any quarter. And you will see who you really are.
And on the heels of this, as I was thinking hard over these questions, Jeff Bell posted a talk by Paramahansa Yogananda, on this very question: How to sleep correctly.

When Papaji extols the “being alone” of sleep, I am reminded forcibly of what I said about the “souls” of objects, the withdrawn, eternal objects that (to use Harman’s term) “withdraw” from relations—that such eternal objects are “alone with the alone.” Note that this withdrawal is just what Papaji refers to when he says that we bid our loved ones “goodnight, let me sleep,” in order to touch that reservoir of energy that is—nothing.

This is almost precisely what Timothy Morton has been urging on us regarding Object-Oriented Buddhism: sunyata, emptiness, is withdrawal. I have been very engaged by Morton’s presentation. Although, as a Christian, I can’t be quite content with this—I am committed to an ontology of persons (and persons are inherently, I think, in relation)—I do think Morton does make a very striking case for a close fit between at least certain strains of Buddhism and a coherent development of object-oriented ontology. (I've alluded before to my belief that at least some versions of Christianity and Buddhism are compatible by virtue of having to do with different things--though as Amod Lele notes, this view might be vulnerable to a critique similar to that of non-overlapping magisteria.)

But there is a sticking point with this sort of object-oriented account of enlightenment (I think). When Papaji speaks of being able to sleep while awake, this in Harman’s terms would mean being able to be dormant while relating, and even perhaps a kind of dormancy as relating.
The name for an object that exists without relating, exists without perceiving, is a sleeping entity, or a dormant one, to use the lovely term our language has stolen from the French. Dormant objects are those which are real, but currently without psyche. Each night we make ourselves as dormant as we can, stripping away the accidental accretions of the day and gathering ourselves once more in the essential life where we are untouched by external relations.
I don’t see how this can be squared with the claims of being able to have a conscious experience of “aloneness.” Harman’s image in his paper is one that rejects, quite explicitly, the image of the whole—even as it slyly alludes to a traditional image for this experience of wholeness, the image of the ocean. The “dormant” object, Harman says, is like a drop of water on the surface of a bottomless sea. In such an imaginary ocean, some water drops at any moment have no neighbors above. All objects have parts all the time, but not all objects are parts, and those that are not, are dormant.
[A]nything that relates must perceive. Only by becoming a piece of a larger object, only by entering into the interior of a larger one, does an entity have anything like a psyche. This means that entities have psyches accidentally, not in their own right. For our model allows for entities to exist apart from all relations. This makes it not just conceivable, but also necessary, that there be entities at any moment that are at the very top of their chains of parts, so that they relate to nothing further. For various reasons it is good to think of an infinite regress downward in the world, with no tiniest layer of microparticle bringing an end to the chain of beings. But the same does not hold in reverse. The idea of a universe as a whole actually seems like a fruitless abstraction, and there is some autonomy for the various different parts of the cosmos, all of which require work to be interwoven together, which proves that they are not already interwoven.
But this work is precisely the method of perception, a technique which can be learned—though, as I have said before, such a technique cannot by itself grant the experience but only make one open to it. This experience seems to me ruled out by some hyperbolic claims concerning withdrawal.

A great deal of this tension, it seems to me, hinges on the paradox involved in the pairing of Harman's "dormant" (sleeping) objects (construing this dormancy as sunyata, emptiness), and the Buddha's self-given title, Awake. Of course, it is easily said: we do not know sleep from sleep, but from waking. But this does not get us to the bottom of the paradox here (if indeed anything does), because what is at issue is precisely "waking while sleeping, sleeping while being awake," to quote Papaji (who, it must be acknowledged, is not a Buddhist and did not claim to be).

Morton quotes the Buddha’s words which he spoke after his awakening:
“I've discovered a dharma that is sparkling, nectar-sweet, uncompounded and simple. But since no one will believe me if I try to speak about it, I shall remain silent.”
Morton comments:
In OOO, “dharma” means “object.” “Uncompounded” means “not made of other things” and “simple” means “not caused by other things.” So this object is NON-RELATIONAL.
I know that Buddhists and object-oriented thinkers will be debating Morton's mini-glossary. As an outsider who has only done nominal zazen, I don't really have a right to opine. There are, however, two words Morton does not unpack here, and these I think are important. (I hope it is clear that this is not a move in a cheap game of philosophical gotcha.) The first is “discovered.” To discover is an experience, and this entails an encounter. So in some fashion, this withdrawn, this sunya, has yet been “seen.”

The other word is, of course, the word “I.”


  1. What papa-ji is talking there is very much his own expedient teaching that is to say what is tailored to the listeners comprehension level. This is almost always some sort of idealism that limns the notion of unreality or maya. Later on as this level of understanding is questioned then a new gloss is put on the teaching. On the other hand it may be Papa-ji's own understanding.

    The notion of an 'unknown object' which is core advaita would counter that idea of general dissolution on arriving at the state of deep dreamless sleep. Deep dreamless sleep (sushupti) and what it tells us about consciousness and identity is central to the understanding of Shankara particularly in his 'Upadesa Sahasri' which is the only non-commentarial work of his that is accepted as genuine by scholars.

    The understanding of objects in Buddhism seems to be fraught by a questionable merology.cf. the chariot of Milinda. How it relates to OOO I will sit at the feet of Morton to find out.

  2. Om~~ Morton does go into some detail on the chariot here.

    I should add that Morton does say (elsewhere) that ego="correlationism". But this is not, to my mind, enough to deal with the first person pronoun per se (even though it does seem to be what Papaji means by it when he speaks of "the I" which "wakes up" after a night's sleep).

  3. Only persons who *believe in ego are allowed to say "I"?

  4. Hi Tim,

    Am on the run here, but very quickly -- I wouldn't say it's a question of "allowed". I want to distinguish between "ego" and "person," myself. It was Gautama, not (say) Ananda or Asoka, who sat under the Bo tree and who said "I have discovered..." So I would say that "I" can refer to person as well as to ego.

    And the ego does manifestly exist, after all -- in at least ways analogous to how category mistakes and mirages do.

    This is all way too cursory, but I am now heading to work, so it must do for now.

  5. I think you would find, if you practiced both (I was Christian before I was Buddhist), that the Buddha mind thing is a highly personal experience, that I find indistinguishable from gnosis. Hence jnana ("wisdom," Tibetan yeshe) is the root of the word gnosis.

    Great post btw.

  6. PS I had this insight quite recently while reading Elaine Pagels. What those guys call God ("the silence" etc.) is just breathtaking.

  7. Morton writes on the Milinda chariot:
    "What Levi and Buddha are talking about is what Levi calls the principle of irreduction. You can't reduce an object to its parts. Even more paradoxically, both Levi and Buddha argue in addition that the object is not some holistic amalgam that is somehow “greater than the sum of its parts,” meaning either 1) that, if you took all the parts away, the object would still exist or 2) that chariot-ness is to be found in parts of the chariot. If you take a chariot apart, there is no chariot. Furthermore, the chariot is made of just these parts."

    His understanding of chariot mereology is contrary to that one usually encounters in the annals of Buddhism which is that no object whatever exists so a fortiori no chariot exists.

    Peter Geach on Aquinas in 'Three Philosophers' has an observation on the logical puzzles which arise re expressions such as 'the wisdom of Socrates'. He offers the mathematical analogy of function and argument. It's like the square root of four. We logically divide the phrase thus 'the square root of/4'

    "and the 'of' (or the genitive inflexion in other languages) does not stand for a special relation of belonging to, but indicates the way that the sign for a function needs completion with the sign of an argument." (from Three Philosophers)

    Now apply this to 'the wheel of/the chariot' etc and you get the idea that a chariot can be an ultimate subject of predication. Aristotle wrote somewhere that the arm of a dead man was no more an arm than the arm of a statue was a human arm. In this way parts are drawn back into the chaos of facticity.

    #271: Here I should like to say: a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism (P.I.)

    Pardon the Wittgenstein bricolage. He's just as good as casing wire.

  8. to Tim~~
    My experience in Zen is that of a perpetual (or rather, a start-and-stop) beginner -- enough to know that the mind is an unruly and restless thing, but no deep insight into anything else. I keep at it. But I like what you say here re. gnosticism, and thanks for the etymology. I am not sure I agree with Pagels about the historical narrative (I think she tends to reduce doctrinal debates to politics); but she is certainly right that Paul himself lays claim to a kind of gnosis as well.

    to Om~~
    I think TM will say -- I hope he'll correct me if I'm wrong -- that yr gloss of what "one usually encounters in the annals of Buddhism" is more or less an exoteric read. This move on Morton's part is one I'm quite interested in -- he gets it by reading Nagarjuna in a particular way.

    As to Geach's words on "of"; Harman will say that the arm of a dad man is indeed an arm. What you read as "chaos of facticity" he will read as the tool-being indicated by Heidegger's present-at-hand (ugh, no pun intended). The arm has "withdrawn", but it was really always withdrawn.

    I have been influenced by LW to so small degree, but the flywheel-mechanism bon mot is one that needs to be used with circumspection. I am not sure that Ockham was always right.

  9. My interpretation of the chariot isn't mine. It's the standard Mahayana interpretation taught in Tibetan monasteries. There ARE chariots, you know? Not just some kind of sludge.

    How do I know? I attended a Buddhist seminary for three months in 1999, where this was discussed extensively.

  10. Sorry, bad spelling in my previous. Here is my post.

  11. Timothy Morton:

    The position of Nagarjuna would appear to be different:
    "2. Designations are without significance, for self, non-self, and self-non-self do not exist. [For] like nirvana, all expressible things are empty of own-being (svabhava).

    3. Since all things altogether lack substance--either in causes or conditions, [in their] totality, or separately--they are empty."

    How then do these bewildering congeries of entities the spawn of dependent origination impress themselves on us as real? Well the traditional answer is that they are conventionally real. They are merely useful fictions that serve our purpose. Reality is not carved at the joints. One can take that as an extreme nominalism but whatever it be, reductionist or eliminativist, it seems to be be an instance of the cardinal sin of correlationism. 'Things' are _for_ us.


  12. Tim,
    what I especially find congenial in all of this is a way to make room for precisely the notion of person. This is also a side-effect (at least) of your attention (& Bryant's) to eudaemonia (incidentally I blame half-digested appropriations of Nietzsche &/or Marx for the bad rap that the pursuit of happiness got in the 20th c.). You might not wish to be booked by me on the same boat with the old Pudgalavadins, but this is perhaps where I see this heading -- as a rehabilitation of a notion of someone, even as it allows every idea of something to fall to the scythe of sunya. Since I am not a Buddhologist, this may encounter problems I do not foresee, but I figure if Christian revisionism can appeal to the gnostics, we can also have recourse to an old Buddhist heresy which once upon a time was a big chunk of the mainstream. The "real" object is just a Buddha. Yes?

  13. btw, Tim, yr link above just comes back here. is this what you meant to point us to?

  14. Hi Skholiast. Sorry about that link--you're right. Ombhurbhuva, things are not "for" us. Only ego sees it that way. Real things are not empty of self but empty of other (Tibetan, shentong). Sorry I'm a Dzogchen practitioner so I can't agree that nothing has real existence or exists only for us. The latter view is what OOO calls “correlationism.”

  15. Skholiast: The "real" object is just a Buddha. Yes?

    Me: I don't know I'm not a Buddha! But one way to think this is “pure perception” which means treating my computer as a jeweled deity in some kind of pure land...In other words I don't think this computer necessarily disappears when I become a Buddha. My ego clinging disappears.

  16. Incidentally, some time around June or July I think you wrote a great post on realization that I'm trying to find. Do you recall it?

  17. T.M.: "things are not "for" us. Only ego sees it that way"

    This is a very succinct way of putting the ego=correlationism case, and sort of snaps it into focus for me. On this reading, Harman's "philosophies of access" are all construable as more or less plausible rationales for egoism. Hmmm. I'll have to think about this.

    But a great deal seems to me to be summed up in Donovan's little ditty about how "first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is" (also attributed to Qingyuan in the Compendium of the Five Lamps).

    you ask: "Incidentally, some time around June or July I think you wrote a great post on realization that I'm trying to find. Do you recall it? "

    Is this what you meant?

  18. Skholiast, you're a star. That Donovan lyric is very reminiscent of Dogen.

    Glad that correlationism idea is of interest. One of the downfalls of Beat Buddhism and ecophenomenology is their celebration of our immersion in a lifeworld (their version of correlationism). To another kind of Buddhist, this sounds like "Hooray, I'm stuck in samsara!"

  19. PS--by "star" I meant thanks for that link!

  20. Timothy:
    Tacking your fragments together into the quilt of a response I find that your understanding of Milinda does not correspond to the usual Buddhist critique of svabhava. You follow the teaching of a Tibetan sect of which you are a recovering seminarian. (T/F)

    I find that your espousal of this Tibetan doctrine is the reason for the rejection of the correlationism which would be the natural implication of the standard Buddhist position viz. nominalism. (T/F)

    Perhaps you will admit that using Milinda without comprehensive caveats was misleading. (T/F)

  21. I feel I'm intruding on a rather personal discussion. However, thanks guys! This is riveting and I'm so glad you are all taking the time to write about it. Briliant really.

  22. Daz, no need to feel like an intruder. If it's really personal I carry on the exchange off-blog. Glad to know you're reading.