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?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.
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.
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.”