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It is probably tempting for the would-be enlightened to imagine that it is all about finding a solution to the one fundamental puzzle of existence, and that, once you have done that, all the locks, everywhere, fall open, instantly.

But it seems there is reason to think it isn’t quite like that. It is not so much that we find the key to one lock, but that we must  find the keys to a never-ending series of them,. Just as we pierce one illusion, new illusions are growing up around us. Convenient illusions are part of how we learn to function in new situations and environments, and it’s not clear we would ever even want that to stop. Experiencing brand new situations as pure naked reality would, at its imaginary limit, be something like trying to interpret a swarm of photons, protons, neutrons and electrons as they make every more subtle patterns of impressions on our nerve tissue. Clearly, illusion is useful. We should be grateful that something in us eagerly constructs them for our everyday use.  But we also, eventually, need to get back out, or we eventually smother under the weight of our convenient illusions.

But we don’t seem to have evolved quite the same level of instinctive machinery for piercing illusions as we have for manufacturing them. That is perhaps a good thing, since if we shredded our illusions as effortlessly as we construct them it’d be hard to stay functional for long. No, it appears that enlightenment will always be work, and conscious work, at that, and it’s probably a good thing, too, that it is so.

Anyway, before one gets too overwrought at the prospect of a life spent unraveling a never-ending series of novel illusions,  we can take heart that we are not starting from scratch at every interval. Illusions might spring up with ever-greater subtlety and complexity, but they are all still essentially fashioned of the same components and along the same principles. Not surprising, as they are all the work of the same artist, using the same tools and materials. All one needs to do is reflect on dreams, to understand that there is a part of us that is a dream-maker, and another part that experiences the dreams we make. Part of the task of enlightenment is learning how to peer behind the wall that nature has placed between those two parts of us. If we become better at knowing the mind of the dream maker, we become better at unraveling that maker’s work when we need to.

10 thoughts on “Getting More Enlightened: The Maker Behind the Wall

  1. What set of circumstances can allow this “dream-maker” to exist, but not the self?

    And how can the most basic thing of all, the very “I-ness” of experience, be an illusion? How can we (who don’t exist) be tricked by a simulacrum of something that has never existed? If there is no real thing to make a simulacrum of, why would we mistake the simulacrum for the real thing? And if there is no “real thing”, who’s to say that the so-called illusion isn’t the real thing?

  2. From your twitter:

    ” ‘I’ am this set of sensations which appears to be aware of/in control of all this other stuff, but that set of sensations seems to exist in some kind of inseparable codependant [sic] relationship with all this other stuff which I am clearly not always aware of or controlling.”

    Where did you get this idea? I’ve certainly never taken myself to be a set of sensations; I am the self standing beyond all experience, experiencing it. I’m not in my experience. This is so fundamental it’s baffling how anyone could make such a pig’s ear of it.

    You are you. Everyone knows this, it seems, except for non-dualists. Taking the most basic thing ever — I am — and convincing yourself that you don’t exist is quite impressive.

  3. well, in philosophical terms you’re just begging the question. the whole thrust of the inquiry is to establish whether there is an ‘I’, and on what grounds. if you simply assume that I-ness is the most basic thing of all, and is self-evident truth (which, e.g., descartes does, but there’s plenty of room to be suspicious of his approach), you’re just taking for granted what you are being asked to prove.

    we actually appear to be in agreement that ‘I’ am not in my experience, which means it’s *not* some self-evident phenomena. so why help yourself to the ‘basic’ assumption that it exists anyway? I think, rather, that this conclusion implies some conceptual gymnastics to sucessfully infer the existence of the self, which is what I do not think we can actually do (on some robust defintion of ‘self’ as some fundamentally seperate and autonomous source of agency, not some just some narrative convenience or roundabout way of referencing the bodymind, both of which your own position seem to rule out anyway)

    so I think you’re either confused about what you’re trying to say, or you’re simply assuming what is at issue in the discussion. if it’s the former, and you’re not simply trying for bad faith provocation, I suppose we could try to sort out the confusion, in which case the ball’s in your court to clarify what you mean. if it’s the latter, I’m not really interested in arguing about fundamental axioms, since there is scant basis for coming to rational conclusions about such things, and you also seem confused about what might actually be fundamental to your own view in the first place.

  4. Things can exist even though we can’t observe them. The self is one such thing. It doesn’t exist as an “object” (nothing does). But even though there are a lot of things we can’t observe, we can have knowledge about them. You can know the center of the circle is there, for instance — otherwise there wouldn’t be a circle. Draw a circle, you got a center. No, you can’t “see” it (like the self), but it is really, actually there.

  5. What I’m saying is that when you look for the self and don’t find it, that’s like looking for the center of a circle and not seeing it — it’s still there, no matter what you think or might fancy.

    The absence of a thing there doesn’t mean that the center doesn’t exist. You’re looking right at it. It’s just nothing.

  6. Also, erase the circle, and the center is still there. It hasn’t moved; it hasn’t been brought into being when you drew the circle (I hope you can see that), and it didn’t vanish when you erased the circle.

  7. well, again, you seem to be inferring the existence of something from primary data. things can certainly exist that are not observable, but we still need some positive reason to think they exist, or, by default, everything exists until we prove it doesn’t, which seems like bad reasoning. so if you need inference to establish grounds for thinking that something exists, it’s not basic in the sense you’re claiming it is. if it’s not self-evidently really, actually there, then we have to talk about *how* you know it’s really actually there, and then we’re off to the races to at least one of the main thrusts of what I’m doing–showing that the inference is actually flawed any way you slice it. you can probably sucessfully infer the self or ‘I’ in many limited narrative or practical or empircal senses, but not in the transcendental sense dualists seem to want it.

    1. I’m not saying things (and the self) exists. That’s why the onus isn’t on me to prove anything. I’m saying nothing exists. The center of the circle if you will. “Things” are just circles drawn out of thin air – pure imagination.

      The self is the ground of existence. There is nothing else, and there can be nothing else, because what could trump nothing? What could stop it? What limits it?

      Nothing actually doesn’t require justification. It’s the stance that something exists that needs justification: where does it come from, what could have caused it (and what caused that and so on), what circumstances were made (by what?) in order for something to be? If anything is confused, it’s this view that something somehow came out of nowhere (which doesn’t exist and can’t possess the property of being able to cause anything).

      You’re saying there is something – a world – but somehow, in that world, there are beings who don’t exist who are tricked into thinking they are by a false copy of something that doesn’t exist, which begs the question how it can be copied.

      Yeah. That makes sense.

  8. you contradict yourself about ten times there. if nothing exists, what is the ground of existence? what is the self if nothing exists? what is imagination? what draws circles? you’re just talking gibberish. so you’re either too confused to help, or you’re trolling. either way, we’re done. thanks for clearing that up. unless you’ve got something to say significantly more coherent than that, I’ll just delete it, so save youself the trouble. toodles.

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