Foreword by Stephen Batchelor

He begins by noting how the word meditation has changed in response to the influx of Asiatic religion into the West, and its countercultural appropriation thereof. It used to mean reflective thought but now it relates to a spiritual practice, usually sitting quietly still. Same for the word mindfulness. And yet the West had tended toward the secularization of this practice, divorcing it from its religious Buddhist underpinnings. Westerners are more interested in its practical results in terms of reduced stress, a more balanced personality, lower blood pressure and so on.

This has also led to Buddhists reconsidering some of their religious tenets, like reincarnation. Should it be considered a relic of its religious history? Should westerners include some of the ethical injunctions from its religious roots? And what of the scientific study of meditation? Thompson tries to bridge the gap between first-person accounts of spiritual experiences and how they manifest in 3rd person scientific studies. Each perspective can learn from and modify the other through 2nd person philosophical dialogue and collaboration.

Views: 1915

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

He definitely does mention what I said above, but perhaps elsewhere in the book.  I am on chapter 4 right now, I believe -- and am appreciating your summations and responses as you post them....

Ah, but does contentless pure awareness have some content after all? I think that's on deck in this chapter.

Chapter 3 continued:

In discussing the inadequacy of claiming consciousness doesn't require a physical body, Thompson makes an interesting distinction. He notes that forces and fields are physical but not material (95). This harkens back to the DL admitting that most states of consciousness have a physical basis, though some of those states may be very subtle, energetic, physical bodies. Nonetheless, the DL as well as Tibetan Buddhism generally still maintain that pure awareness can exist without a material and physical energetic basis.

The DL tries to get out of the phenomenological trap Thompson describes by noting that while one is in pure awareness they don't know they are, since that knowing requires conceptualization, which is absent in this pure state. After one has this experience they can look back and reflect that they were in it, so in that sense it is a third-person perspective. Thompson however does not buy this circular logic, finding them self-fulfilling prophesies based on one's traditional interpretations. And to date there is no physical evidence that can detect a pure awareness devoid of a physical body.

And yet Thompson does accept the primacy of direct experience. Science cannot detect consciousness like it can detect temperature. That is, the scientific observer cannot step outside his own consciousness to measure it. Science can measure the neural correlates of consciousness but not consciousness per se. Science can measure such correlates via verbal reports and/or actions performed by those being measured, showing that they have conscious access to such experiences. The best we can do is infer based on those experiments.

But we can also infer consciousness based on empathy. We instinctively know what it feels like another to be sad or happy because we have those experiences ourselves. We feel though our embodied emotions, and have come to rely on their veracity though generations of interaction with environments that challenged our very survival. This kind of direct experience is prerequisite to the scientific method itself, though often unconsciously and therefore not given sufficient weight. But this reinforces the claim that consciousness is embodied, not metaphysically beyond it. Thompson sums up: “We can never step outside consciousness to see how it measures up to something else, and consciousness never appears or shows up apart from some context of embodiment” (100).

Given the above we cannot realistically infer that consciousness is the primary reality out of which everything is composed. Thompson sees consciousness as embodied, embedded and enactive within an environment. While consciousness might belong to us specifically it belongs to, or is enacted with, this overall physical and material matrix. In this sense consciousness is not one, not two, i.e., both consciousness and embodiment occur together in mutual entailment.

He then asserts that he subscribes to philosophical emergentism, in that consciousness is a natural phenomenon, its complexity arising in concert with the complexity of its physical basis. Consciousness can also then affect its physical basis in a two-way exchange. However we can come to know how it is a natural process, so its not mysterious. He parts ways with emergentism in its scientific claim that physical being of lower orders is not experiential, hence no consciousness. He therefore thinks we need “a radical revision of of our scientific concepts of nature of physical being” (104). This is similar to my earlier comments about how OOO and dynamic systems theory sees any physical suobject as having some form of 'experience.'

In this endeavor he rejects both dualism and pan-psychism. He says the latter assumes experience down to protons, which he just can't see. I think he needs to expand his notion of experience to mean, like OOO, how a suobject responds to others. Protons most certainly do that, yet we can't compare that with human experience. Still, it is a form of experience under this expanded definition. This fits nicely with his attempt to expand the nondual notion of consciousness and the physical to include this expanded notion of experience. This after all is in line with his project of neurophenomenology, to use both inner reports with neuroscientific experiment to discover where the twain shall meet.

I am responding the opening post and have not read the book. 

1. I think the alterity between Eastern and Western definitions of words like "meditation" is exaggerated through a filter of presumed cultural dichotomy.  The definition I present in the Christmas Wiki rises to the challenge of incorporating the variety of approaches within a single concept.  Yet most of these approaches are found locally wherever esoteric lineages have flourished.

Pioneering sages bringing Eastern data to the West typically exaggerate the limited and thought-based nature of the Western meaning of words like meditation and mindfulness.  Just as we today still typically dissociated the contemplative practices of philosopher-sages from those of "mystics" without any real justification beyond the public prejudice in favor of affirming non-thought against thought.

This whole notion of "what Westerners are like" and "what Westerners want" is highly dubious.  The figure of the Westerner joins the Jew (and "the American") as a sort of materialistic, anti-cultural spook who combines ferocity with foolishness, naivete with greed, etc. and stands in an all-too-obvious alternative to the ostensibly embedded historical roots of ethnocentric practices around the world.

2. If we pay close attention to prominent Buddhists of the 20th century -- Trungpa, Dalai Lama, etc. -- it becomes obvious that they are, largely, saying that Buddhism itself is a kind of secular pragmatics that has been ancient divorced from the Western notion of "religion".

Interesting. Does Thompson spend any time specifically discussing the physical basis of what we often call "subtle" energy, beyond the DL reference in your opening paragraph?

theurj said:

Chapter 3 continued:

In discussing the inadequacy of claiming consciousness doesn't require a physical body, Thompson makes an interesting distinction. He notes that forces and fields are physical but not material (95). This harkens back to the DL admitting that most states of consciousness have a physical basis, though some of those states may be very subtle, energetic, physical bodies. Nonetheless, the DL as well as Tibetan Buddhism generally still maintain that pure awareness can exist without a material and physical energetic basis.

Not yet. Don't know if he will going forward but if so I'll discuss it.

DavidM58 said:

Interesting. Does Thompson spend any time specifically discussing the physical basis of what we often call "subtle" energy, beyond the DL reference in your opening paragraph?

I referenced this earlier in the thread but Wilber's Excerpt G discusses the different energy bodies that 'house' the more subtle levels of consciousness. He bases it on Vedanta and Vedanta-influenced Vajrayana virtually to the letter, hence the DL talking in an almost identical way. I've commented on this excerpt in several places and times throughout the forum, this post being one. In the following post I discuss how Wilber, again following the DL's tradition, speculates that consciousness can exist apart from its physical and subtle bodies to reincarnate (p. 44 of G).

Chapter Four

He begins with differentiating the dream ego from the dream self. The former is embedded in the dream and the latter is aware that it is dreaming. Our imaginations take over in dreaming, the same imaginations we use during waking when we imagine things past or anticipate things future. When dreaming is lucid we have some degree of conscious control over the course of the dream. To see how it though is different from waking consciousness he proceeds through the stages of sleep.

The hypnagogic state is the transition between waking and sleep. This state can also occur while awake or in meditation. This state if accompanied by seemingly random images and sensory stimuli, often from past experiences and sometimes from pure imaginary sources. Synesthesia is common. I know from experience this is the first phase of my sitting meditation, wild and random mind meanderings. And in watching myself go to sleep I know this is the sign I've entered this state on the verge of dreaming sleep. Further into this state the waking ego boundary loosens and we are immersed in the imagery. To manipulate this state as in meditation requires a delicate balance between being receptive enough to allow the image intensity and vividness, yet focused enough to consciously reflect on them. Otherwise we awaken or fall asleep. When I want to sleep I welcome the latter. When I meditate, I maintain the balance so that I can enter a deeper, slower and more content-free state. Thompson gives a few methods for consciously manipulating this state.

Relating the stages of sleep to brain waves, in stage one non-REM sleep the brain waves slow to alpha, then mixed with theta. This is the hypnagogic state. Stage 2 sleep spindles and K-complexes arise, rapid higher hertz bursts preceded by brief high-voltage waves. Stage 3 is a mixture of spindles and high-amplitude delta waves. Stage 4 settles into more than 50% delta waves. This process takes about a half hour when we ascend back up to stage 2, but instead of going on to stage 1 we enter REM sleep with wave readings akin to waking. More advanced technology, along with more advanced awareness practitioners, has further refined this broad schema.

To be continued.

Yes, I'm familiar with Excerpt G, and aim to review it again soon. Thanks.

A comment on the organizational writing style. Thompson will open a chapter talking about one thing, quickly shift to another and then another topic, then come back to the opening topic. It's almost like the random shifts in the hypnagogic or dream states, mixed with a semblance of the waking states organizational and sequential academic writing style. I don't know if this is intentional or just the way he writes, but it enacts the very shifts in states of consciousness which make up the book.

At first I found it frustrating for an academic tome, as it hops around so much. Then I realized that this is also the way consciousness works in the waking state, flitting about. It takes a great deal of concentration to stayed focused on one topic when reading or writing. But we do manage it when we're making a coherent and consistent presentation. Or when we meditate, as we start out flitting about but calm down to focus on an object. Or on whatever arises with the intent of eventually getting behind or below what arises to that pure awareness without an object.

And I then chastised myself, since the forum and/or blog format, at least the way I approach it, is very much like Thompson's style and/or a dream, in that I focus on one aspect of a topic for a few post, then something else for a few, then back to the first, then a new aspect, and so on. So I guess I shouldn't complain.

A lingering problem with EXCERPT G is the difficulty of articulating Causal Energy.  Although we may have an intuitive sense of some of the ways it seems to manifest, the only way to define Causal entities is extremely radical and exceeds the normal notions of energetics.  In fact it is arguable that almost every definition of "energy" falls on a subtle spectrum... 

Layman,

Please say more.

Layman Pascal said:

... In fact it is arguable that almost every definition of "energy" falls on a subtle spectrum... 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

Notice to Visitors

At the moment, this site is at full membership capacity and we are not admitting new members.  We are still getting new membership applications, however, so I am considering upgrading to the next level, which will allow for more members to join.  In the meantime, all discussions are open for viewing and we hope you will read and enjoy the content here.

© 2019   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service