Month: December 2015

Explaining Self: Psychoanalysis Modernized (1)

I wish, each and every seeker of truth, a Good New Year. May all experiences prove necessary for completion of your journey. As it is New Year’s Eve, I want to remind you that these blogs are not meant ‘to be easy to comprehend’ or ‘to be superficially read.’ Each blog is a ‘mantra for deeper cognition and contemplation.’ Each blog is intended to tax your reason and directly challenge your preconceived and automatic beliefs. Such unweighted beliefs being no more than ‘closed doors and barriers’ for awakening from sleep as a conscious being. Gurdjieff called such ‘buffers.’ I suggest that you find such buffers, especially those which keep you asleep, face them, and move forward.

The uncovering and removing of buffers and harmful features are a large part of the Work Exercises, as super efforts are needed so to leave behind unnecessary suffering and awakening into type III awareness. The Path of Study provides training of the mind for the Work, but, it is not the Work. Please do not confuse them, Tyros.

Today, we continue onward on the Path of Study so to secure a deeper and more thorough understanding of the source(s) for our possessing a distinct feeling of being a self. To accomplish such, we will digress into my version of psychoanalytic theory. The analyst most similar to myself is Paul Federn, one of Freud’s early and most sincere associates. I recommend obtaining a copy of this opus, Ego Psychology and the Psychosis, edited by his friend, Eduardo Weiss, MD. Used copies should still be available through ALIBRIS or another online bookseller.

In the early 20th century, the most developed psychotherapeutic modalities were hypnosis and psychoanalysis. Of the two, only psychoanalysis captured the interest of the medical profession and established itself as a legitimate medical intervention. Psychoanalysis proved successful, but, most inefficient as it was only available to well to do patients as it required several visits a week for many years to ‘affect a cure.’ In addition, the training program to become an analyst was arduous.

The reasons underlying the creation of psychoanalytic theory by Freud and his associates at the close of the 19th century were straightforward. Freud et al desired to uncover a mental model so to explain and successfully treat mental disorders, most important, neurosis and psychosis. The development of an internally-consistent, phenomenological model was necessary as anatomical and neurophysiological knowledge as to CNS was virtually nil. Many people are unaware that Freud began his medical career as a neurologist and so understood the dismal state of useful knowledge about the brain and mind.

The dismal state of scientific understanding of brain functioning was not unique; but, existed tenuously alongside of general biology, cellular biochemistry, and neurophysiology. Subsequently, the biologists and psychoanalysts were obliged to employ rather nebulous and metaphysical forces so to explain mental action and life. They are not to be blamed, for psychoanalytic theory is actually rather useful. Especially, when reinterpreted using more physiological terminology.

First, there is the Greek word, cathexis. This term was used to denote a quantity of mental energy invested in a particular psychological structure. For example, a libido cathexis is the procreative energy involved in sexuality; an ego cathexis is the mental energy invested so to stabilize and utilize the ego; an object cathexis is the mental energy invested so to realize not-self; and a mortido cathexis is mental energy invested in the desire to be nonexistent. Subsequently, when you read psychoanalytic literature you will hear about mental energy or cathexis moving within the psychological structure of a man or woman.

From a modern prospective, a cathexis represents the energy available for organ functioning, such energy arising from the metabolic processes of cellular anabolism (to build up, synthesize molecules, libido cathexis) and catabolism (to break down, degrade molecules, mortido cathexis). The purpose of such biochemical reactions being to digest nutrients so to produce the atoms necessary for synthesis of molecules needed for tissue growth, body work, and homeostasis. Concurrently, some nutrients are oxidized so to produce high energy-dense molecules, particularly ATP. ATP is the ‘currency’ made available to the body tissues so they can accomplish what is needed.

Applying such to the operation of the CNS, Federn’s terms ‘ego and object cathexes’ make much more sense. Today, psychiatrists utilize imaging studies to determine which cortical and subcortical areas of the brain are active or passive in specific mental aberrations. Such delineation achieved using cortical blood flow measurements or binding of receptor-specific ligands. Subsequently, a modern psychoanalyst may replace the old term cathexis employing the more accurate explanation of mental functioning using well-established neural circuitry.

However, from a treatment perspective, I would continue to use the word cathexis when I speak to a patient–after explaining the meaning of the term cathexis, or mental energy. Why, because evolutionarily, human beings remain seeped in animistic and magical thinking; as the most effective psychotherapeutic modalities are designed to enlist such thinking for healing.

Personally, I have found psychoanalytic hypnosis to be a most powerful and acceptable form of psychotherapy.

Tomorrow, I will discuss ego and object cathexes and why they are important. While, the psychoanalysts remained silent as to the source which accumulates and directs ego and object cathexes, I will answer this question eventually in a way which is metaphysically appealing.

Explaining Self: The Most Dangerous Concept of Self

Before moving onward and upward to Paul Federn’s psychoanalytical innovations, I need to digress and discuss an extremely misleading and harmful concept introduced in the writings of post-Aryan India, the Mediterranean Neo-Platonists, the Occidental Hermeticists and Alchemists, the 19th century Spiritualism Movement in England and America, and the recent New Age metaphysical groups. The concept in question being the incredulous belief “that humans beings possess a permanent, unified, aphysical soul or individual self provided by an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.”

I purposely used the word ‘incredulous’ as such a belief is: [1] clung to with determination by devotees of particular religions and philosophies and in the absence of any rational support, [2] maintained, in the absence, of solid supporting evidence provided by their spiritual gurus, [3] cannot be validated or verified by unbiased personal introspection, [4] at odds with careful analysis of introspective experience, and [5] not consistent with the scientific findings provided by modern psychoneurology. Support for this position will be forthcoming as the blogs progress.

Continuing to cling onto and add psychological support to an imagined social concept, or personal wish, is not only foolish and irrational, but, impedes useful work efforts directed towards discovering experientially, the actual source of what we have been taught to call the “I.” Which, in truth, is no more than the psychophysical entity created by our inward and outward neurological image-operators and reinforced and defined by our enculturation.

For your edification and entertainment, I offer a teaching tale, once related to me by a certain minor, and rather witty, demon I know. It concerns a visit, his highness the Devil made to Heidelberg, many centuries ago. I trust you find such apropos.

Once, long ago, the Devil was leisurely strolling in the Black Forest near Heidelberg Castle. He was in a most jolly mood for it was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining overhead. The sky was without clouds and its blueness stretched as far as one could see. The air bore the clean scent of the day following a night rain. Fresh greenery was breaking forth on ground and on tree.

In truth, the Devil was on vacation and chose to visit the Rhineland–for he had many pleasant memories of his old friends from the Eastern lands–the sackers of Rome. He smiled to himself as he remembered these days of plundering, raping, killing, and good times with his friends. Hard to find friends like these today, sadly he thought.

Soon he noticed that he was in the little city itself, and as the day was growing warm and he was thirsty, he decided to stop for a mug of beer and a chat with some of the locals.

He looked about and found a busy patio full of rather dour beer drinkers and pretty large-bosomed serving wenches. He sat down at an empty place, in the midst of the drinkers, and ordered a large mug of beer for himself and everyone else, plus appetizers for all. Needless to say, all the men turned to thank him with a toast and a cheer. The drinker to his right asked his name and where he was came from as he was not dressed in a manner with which they were acquainted.

The Devil stood up, addressing all those present, “I am on vacation mostly, but, I need to seriously discuss some spiritual matters with your local Lutheran minister. Including, his continual and needless berating of Heidelberg’s fine citizens as to drinking, wenching, and otherwise enjoying God’s grand creation.”

The drinker to his left said, “If you are hear to speak with our minister about such matters, I imagine you must be a Master of the Holy Scriptures.”

Another man looked up from his beer asking,”Are you a man of God? I am not sure, for you are not dressed as a cleric nor appear so stuffy and self-righteous.”

The devil remained standing. Smiling and looking around offered a toast to all present. “My new friends, you are correct. I am well-acquainted with the Lord and have been so all of my life. I am something more than a cleric and have never been accused of being stiff or self-righteous. You can all see that I like your beer . . . not to mentioned your fine breasted young ladies. So here is a cheer for all of you. Live a good life and enjoy what God has provided–be it food, beer, or bedtime indulgences.”

After downing his pitcher of beer, he ordered another round. “My fine ladies, bring another set of large mugs for my friends and for yourselves. I am never short of monies, but, it is not often that I find such a nice crowd to share brews with.”

So the girls brought more beers and food and then sat down to listen to such a wise and generous man of God.

The Devil, still standing, began, “I have spoken to many wise persons over my life and have learned and come to practice some of such wisdom. If I might have your permission, I would like to share some of this with you. What say you?”

Everyone lifted a beer and good-naturally shouted a go forth.

Bowing to everyone, the Devil began, “Some of those with whom I debated taught that no man has a permanent soul from God Above. All that God provides is the seed for a soul. To make a soul takes much effort and sacrifice. Consequently, very few succeed in making a soul.”

One of the beer drinkers, a philosopher, yelled out, “Seems reasonable to me.”

The Devil smiled a very big smile, saying, “Well, reasonable or not, it is not true. For I know for a fact, a fact given to me by the holiest hermits in the Holy Lands, that God gives everyone a soul and that is the end of the matter.”

The drinkers all murmured in agreement.

The Devil continued, “Souls are very precious to God and so he does not waste them. God realizes that people cannot live a perfect life so when they die he makes them do some minor repentance in Purgatory as a payment and, then everyone–it is onward to heaven and some eternal fun. Damnation is a figment of a distorted church minister.”

The local philosopher pipped up, “This is not true, God makes you work for your soul.”

The Devil responded, “Dear Friend, even if this were true, God would not make it too hard. Moreover, you do not have to start working on a soul today for you have many days ahead. I have been assured by the very best of priests and protestant ministers that 2 weeks of hard soul work is enough for God.”

Hearing such, the philosopher replied, “I guess you must be correct, as long as we do some real work.”

By the end of some four more rounds of beer and food, the Devil had convinced everyone that: [1] each one really had a soul, [2] everyone went to heaven eventually, [3] the payment for getting to heaven was really not so much–even a poor man could afford payment–in labor if nothing else, and [4] that a good life, a Godly life, is filled with church going on Sundays and religious holidays and beer and wenching on other days.

The Devil rising from his seat made one last toast, “Friends, now that you know the real truth, enjoy life and enjoy going to church. Just agree with the preacher and he will come drink with you and all shall be well in Heaven and on Earth. Wish me a good trip.”

And everyone did indeed wish him a good trip.

As he returned to his vacation, he thought to himself, “Now that was a pleasant day indeed, and unexpected to boot. Another misguided set of citizens–and so lazy. I may need to ask God for a larger portion of heaven–so many followers.”

I am not the Devil, but I do wish you to think upon the matter of whether or not you need to expend super efforts so to gain a permanent soul? The philosopher was correct, but not very dedicated as they tend to be. If you want a soul, realize that the cutoff is between human beings themselves, and not between humans and lower primates and mammals. A soul is too valuable to be given as a gift in its fullness. There no free lunches on Earth or in Heaven.

Ciao.

Explaining Self: The Autobiographical Self

Today, we continue our emergent evolutionary physicalist analysis of how people came to possess the feeling of being an independent self–both physical and aphysical. We start from biology so to avoid foolish and unfounded speculation as to the nature of the personal self. For seekers have no use for imaginary and unprovable hypotheses–regardless of age or guru.

Previously, I stated that higher mammals and primates appear to behave as it they had a rudimentary “me-mine” operating in their daily activities. Such creatures seem to possess an atemporal awareness that they (as a physical form) are separate from other creatures. The protoself regulates and represents the body’s internal states via bilateral information transfer between the body and the CNS (the internal image-operator).

Clearly, such protoselves function via multiple neural circuits, including, brainstem nuclei, hypothalamus, insular cortex, and perhaps striatal areas.

Typically, episodic, or autobiographical, memory begins to be present, in mentally and physically healthy children, around age 3 (the prior period of time is denoted as solid ‘childhood amnesia’). However, some extremely bright children can recall autobiographical events as young as 18 months. Mental and physical trauma has been shown to severely prolong the period of childhood amnesia, sometimes as late as 11 or 12 years old. Most of these memories are unavailable for recall by the child or adult consciously as most young children will automatically enter into a dissociated ego state(s) during the traumatic event(s) as a protective psychological defense. These ego states are dissociated from the normal set of ego state or personas utilized by a person.

Autobiographical memory emerges gradually across the preschool years through social interaction and cognitive developments. Emergence is a well-established concept in evolutionary and developmental biology and has increasing use in psychology as well. For example, one sees that neonate begins as a single-celled zygote and emerges into a complex organism from an inconceivably large number of interactions of DNA, cells and their products, organ growth, and the maternal environment. Of course, none of such contributing levels of organization constructs or causes the resulting infant, which is a genuinely novel product. The concept of emergence is applicable to psychological development, herein, the emergence of a new form of memory.

The idea that each of us function because of myriad of dynamical systems interacting with each other is consistent with the idea of emergence.  A process is dynamic in that it occurs over time. It is time-dependent in the sense that the effect of a particular input at any point is dependent on the state of the entire system at that point, which is itself variable, depending on the sequence and character of prior inputs. In other words, the ultimate outcome is history-dependent. A dynamic developmental system increases in size and complexity over time, adding components that interact with the previous state of the system so to produce a new level of a complexity. This process depends on the self-organizing characteristic of systems (autopoiesis) which determine limits on its variability.

Examining how autobiographical memory emerges requires a definition of what it is and how it is differentiated from other kinds of memory. A working definition considers autobiographical memory:  as memory for personally significant events, in distinction from memory of other things, such as facts, skills, and how to ride a bicycle. It also involves self-directed emotions, goals, and personal meanings. How autobiographical memory develops is seen by studying children longitudinally.
memories.

It is widely accepted that memory is not a unitary concept, but, “is composed of multiple systems operating under different logic and neuroanatomy  Memory theorists have proposed a number of different memory types based on studies of normal adults, amnesic participants, brain structures, and neural circuits. Most theorists divide memory into five systems distinguishable by neural imaging studies: working memory, semantic memory, episodic memory, the perceptual representation system, and procedural memory. The first three are considered as subsystems of declarative memory, whereas the last two are nondeclarative. Semantic memory provides a general knowledge base, being common to humans and other mammals / birds. Episodic memory is a recently evolved memory system specifically involved in events happening in space-time coupled with the awareness of self being present in the experience—the feeling that “I was there, I did that.” These characteristics constitute “autonoesis” or “experiential awareness.” Noetic memory consciously draws on the personal knowledge base, but does not relive the past or travel backwards in time. There is extensive evidence from neuroimaging and case studies of amnesia supporting the  notion that semantic and episodic memory processes use distinctive neural pathways and brain regions for encoding and retrieval. In particular, it appears that semantic memory retrieval may be more localized in the frontal lobes of the left hemisphere, whereas episodic retrieval involves additional processes in the right hemisphere. Autobiographical memory is a special form of declarative memory, and its most distinctive form is episodic .

Not all personal memory is or becomes autobiographical. The pragmatic use of memory for routinely experienced events invokes still another memory-type distinction, one between scripts and specific episodes. Scripts are a kind of generalized memory for the structure of routine
events. A classic example is the script for going to a restaurant: enter, get seated, read menu, order, receive food, eat, pay, and leave. There is good evidence that even very young children who appear to have few if any autobiographical memories have strong and extensive scripts for the everyday events of their lives.

It is proposed that basic memory served to organize action in the present and the immediate future (e.g., in ancient hominid ancestors, perceptual memory for edible plants or predators to avoid). Specific memory for a specific episode in the past (if not life threatening) would not be relevant to this basic functional system, whereas general memory for scripts, scenes, and procedures would be. This proposal implies an earlier form of generalized memory dealing with real time events, later supplemented, by an explicit system for specific episodes experienced in the specific past.

Inasmuch, as a non-personalized, generalized memory mets the survival needs of most creatures under primitive socialization; the most parsimonious explanation for the evolution of a memory system adapted to remembering the specific details and involvement of the self in the past  is enculturation.

Reviewing, we emphasize that autobiographical memory typically involves a sense of self experiencing the event at a specific point in time and space (autonoesis); autobiographical memory is not just referenced to the self, but is personally significant, concerned with episodes that have personal meaning. Personal meaning emerges from emotions, motivations, and goals that are constructed in interaction with others in the world. Thus, we define autobiographical memory as declarative, explicit memory for specific points in the past, recalled from the unique perspective of the self in relation to others.

Clearly, over ontogeny episodic memories segments begin to cohere, eventually forming into life narratives by late adolescence. There is experimental evidence that children begin to construct temporally richer and more comprehensive life narratives around thematically related episodes sometime during adolescence. That is, progressive developments in language, narrative, temporal understanding, and understanding of self and others are critical components of creating life narratives, just as these are critical components of creating specific autobiographical memories during the preschool years

Summarizing, while the feeling of being present in real time is established by age 3 or so, i.e., the cognitive self; our capacity to place ourselves in time and space, as a unified and integrated (though only superficially) entity, arises from the gradual establishment of an autobiographical information system from age 4 or 5 until the end of adolescence.  In other words, our virtual existences become personal dramas, replete with unique casts of characters, props, scenes, themes, and so on.

Tomorrow, I will return to the formation of the feeling of being present in the here and now from a metaphysical stance.  Again, I caution you, metaphysical and mystical models offered in days past are often incorrect when observed in the present. A true mystic desires only the truth, verifiable truth, as nothing else is fitting for a seeker of the Most High.

Explaining Self: The Cognitive Self

Previously, I introduced the meaning and importance of the word ‘self’ from a psychospiritual vista. If you return to these blogs you will see that I stressed a modern approach to the structure of ego states and personality–closely related to concepts stressed by the Buddha and Gurdjieff.

In this blog series, I will review modern concepts of the psychological development of the ‘concept of selfness,’ the establishment of episodic, or autographic, memory, ego states, and how such operate cooperatively or uncooperatively. Of much importance is Federn’s psychoanalytic concept of ego- and object-cathexis. Such concepts are critically important for understanding the origin of your cognitive self, as a useful psychosocial construct and how it relates to a deeper and truer sense of being present in your life.

Later, we will delve into the source(s) from which our feeling of being present in our bodies derives.

First, there is no hard evidence suggesting that neonates and young children have no sensation or experience of possessing a ‘self’ until somewhere around 18 months (range 16 to 24 months). By self, I am referring to personal knowledge possessed by the child that there exists a ‘me–mine’ entity and action generating agent. It is helpful to understand that the cognitive concept of existing as an agent is a psychological construct and not simply CNS functioning.

Prior to this, a baby appears to be aware of his or her immediate goals and actions in distinction from the goals and actions of others by the end of the first year of life. Such intentionality arising from continuous, bilateral social interactions and exposure to language. However, it is not accurate to claim that baby is aware of himself or herself as an actor per se. Rather, during this period of life babies possesses a ‘protoself’ similar to that functioning in a canine or higher primate.

The protoself functions essentially within the present moment, failing to display any awareness of times past or times future. Exactly, how long the present moment lasts for a dog, chimp, or a baby is unknown. But, from my personal observations, I would say a few minutes at best.

The protoself has access to procedural, implicit memory and declarative, explicit memory. The first memory system necessary for the performance of overt and covert motor actions such as walking, running, mating, eating, swallowing, flight and fight, and so on. Such activities are called scripts by psychologists. The second memory system is necessary for the retention and recollection of important factual data as to past interactions with others, geographical mapping of place, and so on.

For example, a creature having only a protoself will remember encounters with dangerous animals, where food supplies and water sources are located, its burrow and so on; however, there is no actual time sense correlated with such data. The past simply enters the present as if it were just another fact of the present.

For convenience, I differentiate the protoself from the psychological, cognitive construct of self, or the ‘cognitive self.’

In early work on self development, researchers were interested in when human babies achieve self-recognition when looking into a mirror or on a video. In a typical mirror recognition test, a spot of rouge or a little sticker is surreptitiously placed on the child’s nose or forehead prior to allowing the child to see his or her reflection in a mirror. A child who reaches to touch the spot on his or her own face (rather than pointing to the mirror, for example) is assessed as passing the mirror test of self-recognition. Most children pass this test sometime between 16 and 24 months of age. Passing the mirror test is indicative of a child possessing some degree of self–consciousness, evidenced by the behavioral onset of shyness, embarrassment, and inhibition of personal actions.

The evidence supports the contention that before establishment of the cognitive self, as indexed by mirror self-recognition, there can be no autobiographical memory because there is no “I.”
With the appearance of the cognitive self, a psychoneural apparatus, a schema of self, around which memories of personal experience, as to time, place, and persons, can coalesce, allowing for autobiographical memory. The new feeling of self is closely connected to the child’s feeling of a personal past and future, as children develop the understanding that it was the same self that exists in the present that experienced an event in the past.

Although, the beginnings of selfhood appear between 16 and 24 months, the process is not instantaneous or complete until the child reaches the age of 4 or 5. For instance, researchers have studied the understanding of the temporal relation of the present self to the past self in 3 and 4 year olds using a delayed self-recognition paradigm. In this video paradigm, while, the child is engaged in a game of sorting cards, the experimenter surreptitiously places a sticker on the child’s head. Such sticker remaining after the game. A few minutes later, the child watches the video recording and will point to and name his or her image on the screen. However, whereas most 4 and 5 olds noted the sticker and attempted to remove it from their heads, very few 3 year olds did so. This research indicates that the cognitive self is not fully developed, relating past to present selves in a temporal continuum. Additional research found a strong relation between such findings and the richness of children’s recall of personal episodes.

Quickly following upon the heels of the cognitive self comes the ‘theory of mind.’ Theory of mind, conceptualized as children’s ability to attribute mental states as causally related to action, and specifically to entertain the possibility of “false belief” on the part of oneself or another, has been extensively studied over the past 30 years. By age 2, children utilize both emotion and desire, suggesting an understanding that self and others have desires relating to their actions and that others’ desires may be different from his or her own. However, it is not until 4 years of age that children begin to understand that he or she and others can believe something that is not true of the world, hold a false belief. Such knowledge is crucial to understanding that others often differ in their beliefs about the world. Both, ‘theory of mind’ and autobiographical memory involve an understanding of psychological states, their causes, and temporality, requiring meta-representational ability.

Tomorrow, I will cover the development and importance of autobiographical memory for the budding cognitive self and the maturation of the adult ego system. Following this, I will discuss Federn’s model of ego and object cathexis and its importance for differentiation of self vs other. Last, I shall discuss what the Institute has to say about the actual source explaining the arising of the cognitive self and ego states.

Reality Series: The Paths of Work and Study

I would like you to take a few moments considering the methodologies utilized in the ministries of Jesus, the Christ and Gautama, the Buddha. Did either man indulge in pontificating theological and abstract nuances? Did either man discourse primarily with the learned scholars of his era? Did either man arrange his teaching around the acquisition of skillful actions and forbearance from unskillful actions? Did either man teach that the end of suffering is found in the here and now and not in some future existence? Is not the Kingdom of God within just another way to describe nibbāna? And so on and so on . . .

In truth, both teachers lived and interacted amongst persons from all socioeconomic levels, the educated and literate, the simple and nonliterate, the loved or disliked, the householder, and the mendicant. Both teachers focusing upon the alleviation of unnecessary suffering–physical or mental, disease, disability, existential distress, unfair treatment, and oppression. Both having scant time to engage in unnecessary theological discussions.

Developing and offering workable methodologies useful for the alleviation of unnecessary suffering and unskillful thinking is a reliable sign that one is involved with a true esoteric school. The Institute finds much usefulness and benefit from the Buddhist approach.

In truth, we stand on common ground with a number of other sound approaches to life being offered, e.g., the Rosicrucian Order, Gurdjieff, the Buddha, pre-Pauline Christianity, the Self-Realization Fellowship, and Hermeticism.

When you are involved in our experiential lessons, you realize that our approach is twofold. First, we teach the ‘Path of Work.’  Work refers to practical efforts to: [1] arrive at a clear understanding of the real danger in unskillful living, [2] finding a way to escape from unskillful living, [3] getting a ‘taste’ of the Kingdom of God within, [4] working for the welfare and happiness of yourself and others, and many more things.

Personally, I am fond of using terminology introduced to the West by Gurdjieff, though it has been updated so to correspond with modern findings in science and psychology.

Our road to awakening is structured around application of various forms of the Freedom Exercises combined with extensive efforts in self-observation of your current thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires, and actions and self-reflection as to the fruits of your actions. It is a very straightforward approach done in everyday living circumstances.

Parallel to the Path of Work runs the Path of Study. The Path of Study is of secondary importance compared with the Path of Work. For only the Path of Work will remove your illusions and unskillful actions and bring you to stream-entry. The Path of Study is an interesting supplement as it concerns intellectual matters reading upon the construction and physics of the universe and all which is in it. These blogs are part of the Institute’s Path of Study. The Work exercises are for students.

I have found that joining the Path of Study to the Path of Work is efficient.

Tomorrow, I think we will return to our discussion of self and not-self from a modern psychospiritual vista.

Reality Series: Necessity of a School

Happy Boxing Day from Jolly Ole England. Look it up!

As an aside to yesterday’s blog, I want to discuss a question asked frequently by seekers. Is it necessary to affiliate with an esoteric school for efficacious progress toward stream-entry or full illumination? This is a legitimate question which can be objectively answered using actual data gathered by observing the spiritual progress of thousands of students versus that seen in loners and New Age aficionados.

The answer is a resounding YES! You doubt such finding? Consider the following:

[1] History relates that the founders of new esoteric schools attended and studied in existing esoteric schools prior to moving out on their own. Jesus studied with the Esseni in the Levant and with unknown schools located in India (likely Buddhist and Vedanta). Gautama affiliated and studied in two well-known philosophical schools prior to being enlightened under the Bodhi Tree. Both are considered Avatars by many.

[2] Prior to Enlightenment, the Buddha spent six years as an ascetic; eventually, renouncing such efforts as nonproductive.

[3] The early 20th century founder of the worldwide Self-Realization Fellowship, Paramahansa Yogananda, studied under a line of Indian gurus before being sent to America.

[4] Indian metaphysics are transferred one generation to another based upon stable and productive teacher-student study relationships.

[5] Occidental mystical systems, including, the early Rosicrucian, taught that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

[6] Many modern esoteric schools eschew the guru-student relationship (so to minimize personality) for the Dhamma-seeker relationship. The Teachings of the school are the central point (Buddhism, Taoism, Rosicrucianism, and the Institute).

[7] G. Gurdjieff taught that all of us are locked within a great prison called life. A prison existing upon delusion, mechanicalness, and riddled with unnecessary suffering. Moreover, nearly everyone is oblivious to the terror of his or her situation. Why, because we are not conscious creatures, we are mechanical creatures living a fully conditioned life in a state of waking-sleep and delusion.

But, once in awhile, a creature awakens sufficiently to recognize that he or she is imprisoned and seeks the help of a prior escapee and his group so to awaken fully (a theme copied in the movie, The Matrix). Without such help, there can be no escape.

[8] Personally, I have never met, even one person worthy of being given the title, Initiate, who has not studied in at least one esoteric or near-esoteric school sometime in his or her life. Many claim the status, but, do not live the status.  Those who live the status, downplay titles.

However, a most serious problem remains for the student who awakens to the gravity of his or her life situation and seeks relief. How does he or she find a legitimate escapee and a legitimate esoteric school? Modern times have aptly demonstrated how easy it is for sleeping persons to be drawn into a sham school and hypnotized into submission. Take a moment to study the New Age movement and its sham schools arising and falling over the past 50+ years. This is a good exercise for each of you–I am not going to do your homework!

So my advice is student Beware. Do your homework. Does the school exist for the welfare and happiness of its associates? Do the school’s methods actually work? Does the school teach that mankind is transformed one initiate at a time? Does the school claim immediate results sans personal efforts? Are the founders ‘rolling in financial wealth’ at the expense of their students? Does the school utilize aggression to make its students conform? Is the school theological or pragmatic? I could continue for hours, but, I think you have the point.

True esoteric schools need money to do Good Works. Some are donation-based, some ask for monthly dues, others base payment upon your salary (so to be fair to all), some sell media, and many utilize one or more of these methods. It is easy to discover such information for it must be advertized to be followed.  Moreover, ask where the monies go.  Real schools are transparent.

So, dear readers, heed the above and choose wisely. Wisdom is conducive to everlasting happiness and foolishness to more unnecessary suffering.

Reality Series: Be Wise in Your Questions

Greetings and may we all remember what Tiny Tim prayed for at the end of the Christmas Carol, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

On this Yuletide Day, we are going to discuss the importance of applying wisdom when you ask questions; for the questions asked provide the building bricks maintaining your current psychofugal structure.

At this point, one might ask, “But, is not the answer to a question more important than the question? For the answer informs us of what to do or not do.”

I would reply, “Yes, Grasshopper, answers have importance and relevance to your progress upon the ancient path. But, if you are heedless, rash and fail to consider the many answers which might fall out from the question, your path to enlightenment will no longer be straight and true, but, littered with paths leading nowhere or worse, back to where you began.”

So to minimize backsliding and dead-ends, it is imperative to understand and differentiate between the primary categories of questions. Most important, you need to learn the difference between ‘the art of generating skillful questions’ and ‘the disease of generating unskillful questions.’ Skillful questioning is a learnable skill and a necessity for successful traversing of the ancient path to self-realization and mastership. Unskillful questioning will keep you immersed in a life of unnecessary suffering and confusion. Only skillful questioning leads to the Kingdom of God Within (or nibbāna if you prefer), the lasting state of true happiness, simple peace, simple joy, pure well-being, and clarity of mind.

The first and simplest category of questions consist of statements about the objective world. Statements which can be verified to be either true or false, correct or incorrect, agreed or disagreed, and yes or no. Such questions fall under the rubric of ‘the law of the excluded middle.’ For instance, “Is Alex taller than Andrew? Is tomorrow Christmas Day? Is this action skillful? . . ?”

A related category of questions concerns objective facts relating to the world (semantic knowledge). For instance, “How many kilometers from Nice to Lourdes? Where was the Buddha born? At this moment, what would be the most skillful action so to maximize my welfare and happiness? . . ?”

A third category of questions is sometimes used so to guide the questioner to a responsive answer. Usually such questions require the original questioner to answer several simpler questions considered necessary to arrive at the final answer. Such questions may be affirmative or even contrafactual. A good example of such questioning was practiced by Socrates.
The fourth major category of questions consists of questions which cannot be answered skillfully for a number of sound reasons. As discussed yesterday, questions arising from subjective opinion and are mutually exclusionary, such as, “Does God exist or does God not exist?” From an intellectual standpoint, a satisfying affirmative answer is impossible as such answers cannot be established by observation of the physical or mental worlds. Subsequently, the question is unskillful and without useful value as to enlightenment.

Even more important, such questions divert our attention from the major task of discovering skillful answers, “What actions must I take so to end my unnecessary suffering? How does unnecessary suffering arise in my life and why? What actions keep me in a state of unnecessary suffering? . . ?”

Buddha refused to answer the fourth category of questions as he realized that the answer would only bewilder and confuse the questioner even more. Rather than waste time, his teachings were pragmatic. He taught how to differentiate skillful from unskillful actions, self observation and self reflection, paying attention to your mind and desires, and the Four Noble Truths. After all, the good arising from knowledge of an intellectual truth is far less than that good arising from extinguishing unnecessary suffering.

This ends the blog for today. I trust it will be useful in your individual journeys. For it is your task to discover who and what you are, keeping what is skillful and jettisoning what is unskillful. It is your path to enlightenment so do not waste it. Beware the Devil’s counter-argument that you have an infinite amount of time for completing the road to enlightenment. For in truth, none have provided hard proof that you have more than one try, and that try is now in this life!