Friday, December 11, 2009

The Selfishness of the Selfless

With regard to non-dualism, you may ask yourself, "what's in it for me"? The answer is, of course, bupkis. Not that one should adopt a religion solely for reasons of self-interest. Still, there's a limit, isn't there? For one may be unselfish without obliterating the self. In fact, one may only be unselfish if there is a self to push against. Without gravity holding us down, we could never jump and achieve vertical liftoff. Rather, we could only float around from nowhere to nothing.

One important area in which Christianity and non-dualism radically diverge is over the question of hope. In the former, not only is hope permitted, but it is one of the theological virtues. In contrast, in non-dualism there is nothing to hope for and no one to hope for it, for neither sappy hope nor the dopey hoper are within the scope of the Real.

A couple of days ago, some astute commenter -- Warren, it was -- mentioned that one of the benefits of non-dualism is that it authorizes one to indulge one's impulses without having to feel guilt or shame before the transcendent Other. Non-dualists may dispute this characterization, but they really don't have an ontological leg to stand on, for just who is doing the disputing? And just what are they pulling if we have no legs? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Is it any wonder that the list of self-styled non-dualists and "independent gurus" who have set up shop in the West -- e.g., Da Free John, Chogyam Trungpa, Deepak Chopra, Krishnamurti, Rajneesh, and all the rest -- reveals a litany of duplicitous sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse? They are always -- either conveniently or inconveniently -- blindsided by the very desires they deny and claim to have transcended.

Are there Christians who engage in such bad behavior? Of course! But at least we are able to affirm that it is objectively and intrinsically wrong, and to ground morality in unchanging standards. Nor are there Christians who, after busted, claim that they are "crazy wise" spiritual teachers using paradoxical means to spur enlightenment in their followers -- you know, "it wasn't sexual abuse. I was just trying to teach the boy not to dissociate spiritual love from physical pleasure" or something. (Allen Ginsberg used to say this of the graduate students he sodomized.)

Bolton points out that if the non-dualists were correct, then there could be no objectively real developmental scale of being, especially as applied to human maturation. For them, "self development" could only mean a greater and more persistent reification of the very entity that causes all of the problems. To say "self development" would ultimately be indistinguishable from "illusion development," or "elaboration of the primal cosmic fantasy."

But that is not at all what happens in real psychospiritual development; rather, the opposite occurs. Indeed, I can see it in my own son, who came into the world a completely self-centered bundle of raging desires that needed to be satisfied now, if not sooner. He had no "self," no ego to moderate, transform, symbolize, or channel these impulses. Now that he has a blossoming little self, he is (becoming) kind, empathic, generous, and even capable of delaying his impulses, so he's already ahead of Tiger Woods on that score.

As Bolton puts it, "the degree of self-awareness which we have now does not, as such, make anyone self-centered unless it is corrupted. On the contrary, it makes one aware of self-centeredness as such, so that it can be corrected.... Only self-reflection can correct faults like self-centeredness. It would therefore follow that higher degrees of self-reflection should make possible so many higher degrees of unselfishness at the same time." Animals are never selfish or immoral, because nothing in them transcends their impulses and appetites. But enough about Hollywood liberals.

The non-dualist claims to trump Christian metaphysics, since the great scale of being of the latter is again ultimately subsumed into the realm of maya. But this, in my opinion, is one of the primary reasons why science either never developed or was prematurely quashed in these cultures. As Bolton writes, it is "the monistic schools of thought which can be seen to have the more limited option, that of confining the whole range of higher reality to the human state."

In other words, Christian metaphysics fills the gap between human and God with a whole hierarchy of spiritually real stations. There are only gaps in existence if we consider it from the bottom up -- e.g., the infinite ontological discontinuities between nothing and existence, matter and life, life and mind, etc. But if viewed from the top-down, the discontinuities vanish -- including ones we don't even know about until we arrive there through spiritual practice. Thanks to God, we are not "points" that vainly strive from the bottom up, but "lines" dangled from the top-down. If not for those lines, we could never be "fishers of men." There would be no exit from the closed circle of matter.

A human being can never totally "know himself," or he would be God, the Absolute. This is another way of saying that consciousness cannot know itself; or, it can know that it is, never what it is. Thus, there is surely "something self-contradictory about a supposedly absolute knowledge of God residing in an entity which cannot explain itself to itself," but rather, only extinguish the question by abolishing the questioner.

To paraphrase Bolton, disease is not cured by killing the patient. Unless Obamacare becomes law.

It seems that I barely get warmed up before it's time to go. To be continued...


robinstarfish said...

It's hard to get a word in edgewise with all the nondualists taking up all the comment space.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you.

Petey said...

Same old shunyata yada yada.

Anonymous said...


Petey said...

Very monotonistic.

jp said...

So, in non-dualism, is everything just basically one big blob of stuff?

Petey said...

It is not good for God to be allone.

Gagdad Bob said...


Put it this way: Deepak is either Lord, larcenist, or lunatic.

julie said...

If you're a non-dualist, shouldn't this be just as good as the real thing?
(Photo here, at the bottom of the article)

Warren said...

Apropos of nothing at all, here's a really great interview with Andrew Klavan. His description of growing up Jewish-liberal reminded me of Bob's account of his in-laws.

Northern Bandit said...

Hanging around the Vatican at night. Shortcut through a dark 2,000 year old alley. Three large shadowy figures approach in the moonlight. Priests. Again. Buona sera, monsignore!

Spent a few hours in St. Peter's basilica today. The sense of sacred substance is at once overwhelming and light as air. I am being drawn to Catholicism not least because of the immense intellectual depth. The Vatican collections and library are world treasures. At dinner tonight a man with a white collar and a Ph.D in music from Oxford. And such happiness and warmth from all the men of the cloth I've met this week (women too). Catholicism is suffused in humanity -- even the Pope is in need of a Savior, and there is no attempt to hide the dark side of our species. Standing there in that massive old building... the Church will ultimately endure. The West may fade as the Party insidiously eats away our civic and governmental institutions, but with respect to the Christian faith, as another dinner guest tonight remarked: in the long run, we win.

Anonymous said...


Awesome. Thank you for the updates.

an OC reader

Susannah said...

NB: Congratulations to you and your missus! Wonderful news!

slackosopher said...

In my lefty buddhist town...Trungpa is like a rock star. Many of those idolizing him don't really seem to know much about him. That his handpicked heir and successor had sex with students knowing that he had aids. He claimed that because he was "enlightened" he wouldn't therefore infect his students/sexual "partners". Well, you can guess how well that turned out.

Be their fruits you shall know them.

slackosopher said...

Again, it is safe to assume that if a priest did such a thing he'd be held up as "proof" of the corruption of Christianity. Somehow the likes of Trungpa gets a free pass to spiritual superstardom. Honestly it is hard to imagine a more pernicious influence on clear thinking than this lunatic. I cringe a little when I see someone with his picture on their little buddha shrine. And somehow those who prefer Jesus are "delusional".

Gagdad Bob said...

Just found some good stuff on Krishnamurti -- long, but interesting. He was every bit as nutty and corrupt as Chopra:

"Although Krishnamurti outgrew the theosophical nonsense Besant and Leadbeater had drummed into him, he never stopped believing that he and he alone among living mortals knew the truth about everything. His teaching was a mix of dull platitudes and murky phrases such as "the observer is the observed," "thinking is the thought," "choiceless awareness," and that to be transformed one must "die to the moment....

Krishnamurti's name was on more than forty books... I have done my best to try to read some of these books without falling asleep. It is hard to understand how the author of such vapid ideas could have mesmerized listeners...

There is never a hint in Krishnamurti's writings of a personal God or the survival of personality after death. He almost never refers to or quotes from any other thinker. His vision is a kind of watered-down Buddhism in which the key message is that everything is interconnected and one must live in the moment, without fear, and accept everything that happens with resignation and tranquility. The same infuriating vagueness permeates books written by his admirers.

To give you a glimpse into Krishnamurti's vagueness, here are a few typical excerpts from his talks:

Gagdad Bob said...


... There is no such thing as doing right or wrong when there is freedom. You are free and from that centre you act. And hence there is no fear, and a mind that has no fear is capable of great love. And when there is love it can do what it will.

Death is a renewal, a mutation, in which thought does not function at all because thought is old. When there is death there is something totally new. Freedom from the known is death, and then you are living.

When you love, is there an observer? There is an observer only when love is desire and pleasure. When desire and pleasure are not associated with love, then love is intense. It is, like beauty, something totally new every day. As I have said, it has no yesterday and no tomorrow.

As long as there is a time interval between the observer and the observed it creates friction and therefore there is a waste of energy. That energy is gathered to its highest point when the observer is the observed, in which there is no time interval at all. Then there will be energy without motive and it will find its own channel of action because then the "I" does not exist.

To see what you actually are without any comparison gives you tremendous energy to look. When you can look at yourself without comparison you are beyond comparison, which does not mean that the mind is stagnant with contentment.

You can face a fact only in the present and if you never allow it to be present because you are always escaping from it, you can never face it, and because we have cultivated a whole network of escapes we are caught in the habit of escape....

It was not just Bohm who fell under the sway of Krishnamurti's charisma. He strongly influenced such writers as Joseph Campbell, the poet Robinson Jeffers, Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts who churned out popular books about Zen Buddhism....

There were two Krishnamurtis. One was the persona presented to the world through lectures and books; a man without ego who led a sanctified life of celibacy and high moral purity. The other Krishnamurti was a shadowy, self-centered, vain man, capable of sudden angers and enormous cruelty to friends. He was also a habitual liar. Krishna, as his friends called him, freely admitted his compulsive lying. He blamed it on simple fear of having his deceptions detected.

Krishna's closest associate was Raja.... for almost thirty years a devoted disciple who served as his master's business manager, secretary, literary agent, and editor.... Krishna had little interest in writing or publishing, but he allowed Raja to cobble books out of his talks and notebooks, and to edit this material into volumes.

Raja's wife Rosalind was a beautiful American Caucasian who grew up in Hollywood, a friend of movie stars, who almost became a professional tennis player. Toward the end of Krishna's life an astonishing revelation came to light. For nearly thirty years, unknown to Raja, Rosalind had been Krishna's mistress! As such, she had undergone a miscarriage and several abortions, all miraculously kept secret from her husband....

Anonymous said...

GDB: I too note that Idi Da, Osho, Krishnamurti, and the rest of their general ilk all had various "scandalous" sexual dealings. Among other things. Many other things.

It is always a great mistake to either indulge or repress sexuality. In that area nobody can win, not even mystics, sages, or saints.

The Christian solution, marriage, helps to regulate things but leads to a host of tensions and miseries. It does not solve anything in the long run.

There is no winning sex. No attitude or doctrine is going to tame this area. The best one can do is to take it as it comes. Pardon the expression.

The one take home thing the non-dualists can offer is in the area of non-resistance to life.

They state, and I believe correctly, that the cause of suffering is when a person believes that what is happening should not be happening.

If one can avoid that state, then one can find a safe harbor. One can "dance in the storm."

Freedom from fear enables one to love better, as the non-dualists are fond of saying. This I believe is correct.

None of the non-dualists say there is no personal transcendant God. They state, rather, the way to this God is not through any religion. It is through meditation. It is within.

Non-dualists do believe that God and humanity are contiguous and connected. The dualist believes the same thing. It is just a matter of degree between the two views.

The sad fact is, wise as the non-dualists are, they can't get the sex right.

I've come to believe it is not possible to avoid nasty dirty sex or the misery of celibacy. Take your pick, you're going to have to take one.

Just accept it. Then you can move on, move within.

Petey said...

Too much information.

At any rate, the Raccoon knows the secret Third Way of the dilettantric sabbootical.

Jack/Slackosopher said...

I don't think anyone questions that sex is a powerful and sometimes seemingly uncontrollable force. It certainly causes a lot of suffering. But it's one thing to acknowledge that and say "it is better to marry than to burn" as opposed to seeing sexual license and indulgence as somehow a virtue.

In many ways the pomo/nondualist has just merely picked up a thread in 20th century thought beginning with Freud and through Reich, etc. This is why I think these folk tend towards Allan Watts, Kerouac, Trungpa etc (who picked up that same thread). Because it gives the illusion of depth to their unprincipled indulgence of sexual license.

A great book to map out the convergence of that stream with "spiritual but not religious" california-style hot tub buddhism is "Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion" by Jeffrey J. Kripal. Though the author takes a primarily *positive* stance on the matter it is still revealing how it all came together.

Anonymous said...

Don't be hating on my serenity.

Van said...

aninnymouse said "They state, and I believe correctly, that the cause of suffering is when a person believes that what is happening should not be happening."

Which so completely explains their state of calm serenity during the Bush administration.

In reading the quotes Gagdad listed, the ideal of the non-dualist is to experience the world without humanity in it... that ideal is also on display in their persistently inhumane behavior.


The one thing they do offer us, in reflecting on the embarrassing notions of our youth, they remind us that aging is a good thing.

Susannah said...

Um...I think the married state is a brilliant way to handle..that issue. Maybe it's just us? :) Humanity may have deviated from the Original Plan, but the closer you get to it, the lovelier things are. No?