Consciousness and the Tao

A transcript from The Reasoning Show podcasts

Copyright April 2007 David Quinn

 

Guest:   James Quirk, aka 'Naturyl'
Hosts:   Dan Rowden, Kevin Solway

 


 

Dan Rowden:  Hello, I'm Dan Rowden, and welcome once again to The Reasoning Show, discussions of pure reasoning aimed at the very heart of matters.   Today we'll be talking about Taoism, the Tao itself, the so-called "Way", and its virtues and what that means, if anything.   With me to help unravel the mysteries of Taoism, and all it means, are The Reasoning Show co-host and co-producer, Kevin Solway; philosopher, author, and software programmer.  Are you there Kevin?

Kevin Solway:  I'm here.

Dan:  Hello, and welcome to the show.

Kevin:  How do you do?

Dan:  Also with us is our guest for this show, James Quirk.   James is an independent philosopher and a member of the board of directors of the Universal Pantheist Society, who are the world's first accredited society for naturalistic spirituality.   He is the author of Tao: A Plain English Adaptation as well as a philosophical manuscript currently awaiting mainstream publication.   James owns a number of internet discussion communities and is a participant in several others, where he has always been historically and universally known by his internet pseudonym, 'Naturyl,' and I'll be calling him that throughout the discussion so that I don't completely confuse myself.   He is the principal modern developer of Dialectical Monism, a philosophical position drawing on Western influences such as Hereclitus, and Hegel, as well as Eastern traditions such as Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism.   He's been published in periodicals, including Pantheist Vision, and has contributed heavily to the various online reference sources in his fields.  Are you with us Nat?

Naturyl:  Yeah, I'm glad to be here, Dan.

Dan:  Welcome to the show.

Nat:  Thank you.

Dan:  Now let me kick-start things by asking both of you, how you interpret what the Tao means.   Historically, Tao has been interpreted as "the Path" or "Way".  I'll ask both of you, starting with you Nat, what that means for you, and also, how you interpret the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching, which is the principal manuscript of the Taoist tradition.  Those lines being:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao,
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The unnameable is the eternally real,
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realise the mystery,
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

So, Nat, how do you interpret those words, and what does "Way" mean to you, in terms of Taoist philosophy?

Nat:  Ok.  I think that those lines, that you just read from the Tao [Te Ching], relate to your original question, which is: how the Tao is interpreted and what it means to follow the Way, and what the Way is.  It's kind of self-explanatory there in those lines, because what it's telling you is that the Tao is trans-intellectual.  It's not something that can be grasped with the mind in an intellectual sense.  We can't really get an idea of the Tao, we can't have an image of it, it goes beyond that.  So, "The Path" itself is two-fold: in one sense the Tao is the path of Nature, it's the way of Nature, but in another sense it's a personal thing that applies to the human experience, meaning that we are aligned with the way of Nature by default, being human - just because we are a part of Nature - but at the same time we also have the choice to consciously align ourselves with that path, and for me that's what Taoism is about.  It's about realising the nature of things, as they truly are, and making a conscious decision to align ourselves with that nature.

Dan:  Ok.  What about you, Kevin?  How do you see the meaning of the Path, and Way, and those opening lines from the Tao Te Ching?

Kevin:  Yeah, on the surface, I probably agree with what Nat has just said.  To me the Tao means, basically, the truth, the underlying truth of the universe, or reality, the deepest reality.  But I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's completely beyond the intellect.  Maybe I'm using the word "intellect" in a different way to the way Nat does.  But I don't see the intellect as being something that's limited to botched-up things.  To me, the intellect can encompass - maybe that's the wrong word - it can apprehend the Infinite.  So, the intellect is something that we shouldn't shy away from, when we're investigating the Tao.

Dan:  So, in what sense does the mind apprehend the Infinite?  Are you saying that it understands the the ultimate nature of what Infinite means, and therefore what the Tao means?

Kevin:  Understands without grasping.  So, it's like the Tao is not a packaged box, that you can put on a shelf where it can collect dust, or something like that.  The intellect can be used to understand, and become a part of, the Tao.

Dan:  How do you feel about what Kevin's saying there, Nat?

Nat:   OK.  I don't disagree with it.  I would agree with what he's saying.  I just think we have a little bit of an issue with the intellect being taken as a singular thing.  Because, in Western thinking, we give a word a single definition, and we use that definition consistently, which is a good thing generally.  It facilitates proper communication and allows us to use language, and so forth.  But in Eastern traditions, there's also an element of paradox, which you see in Taoism, you also see in Zen.  And that's the case here, with the intellect, because the Taoist path does rely on a certain intellectual understanding, you do have to do some mental work, there are concepts to understand, and so forth.  But it's pointing towards a trans-intellectual state, where you have an understanding that is not dependent on thought.  And again, this is not really different from what Kevin just said, when he mentioned "knowing, without grasping".  I would interpret that as an understanding that is not relying on conceptual understanding.

Dan:  I'm not sure that an understanding that's not reliant on the intellect can really exist.  My personal view on that would be that the intellect helps us to understand the nature of the Infinite, the nature of the Tao, and it tells us that we cannot grasp at it intellectually and put it into that box that Kevin was talking about.  Therefore, we go beyond that, and engage it in a different way which encompasses every part of who we are.  But the intellect takes us to the point where we do understand why non-grasping is the only way to approach things.  The point beyond that: I'm not sure I'd characterise that as an understanding, really, it's more the consequence of a manifestation of an understanding.

Kevin:  Maybe we're just having an issue with the way we're using words here.  Nat's probably got just a different way of using "intellect" and "thought", whereas I would tend to extend the way we use "thought" into spiritual thought, and enlightened thought.  I would include those things as a type of thought.

Perhaps we can talk about some specific issues, how we think about things in the universe?  I would say that an enlightened person, a person who's living fully in line with the Tao, he's following the Way, so to speak.  Everything they think is still a thought, at the same time as being fully aligned with the Tao.  What would you think of that idea, Nat?

Nat:   Yeah, I think it goes into the Zen idea that talks about "chop wood and carry water", which for me just indicates that we do reach this place where we go beyond thought, and we're accepting things as they are.  For me that's what it is.  Like you said, everything remains thought-based.  And you were going to continue to add, thoughts as normal---

Kevin:  [agrees]

Nat:   ---I agree with you that there's really an issue here of what we mean by thought, and intellect.  And it's difficult because of the nature of the subject.

Kevin:  Yeah.  I would say that, speaking of carrying water and chopping wood, the enlightened person who's following the Tao is the only person who is, really, truly capable of thought.  So, while he's chopping his wood, he's thinking absolutely clearly.  He's probably thinking about how to best cut his wood, in the most efficient way, not wasting any energy.  He's thinking about what he'll be doing when he's finished cutting wood.  All these things will be happening perfectly clearly. Whereas an ordinary person, who's not following the Tao, and is confused and is not seeing reality, could well be confused, and be wasting energy.  They'll be cutting the wood in an inefficient way.  So, they're actually not really thinking.  To me, following the Tao is actually becoming fully conscious.

Nat:  It does come down to psychology, on a basic level, and clarity of thought, as Kevin mentioned.  I would go a little bit further and I would say that Taoism and Zen and similar traditions, are really about dissolving the question itself, because in life we tend to look for the ultimate answer, which you guys know a lot about about, because the Genius Forum is oriented towards that.   But I think that with Taoism, and Zen in particular, it's kind of going in the opposite direction.  It's kind of saying, "Let's not focus on trying to answer this question.  Let's focus on trying to reach a trans-intellectual point where this question just dissolves."  That's how I view it.

Dan:  Well, that's interesting, because I think that very point that you've just stated there, is where we would separate, a great deal, in terms of our philosophical approach.  I'm glad you made that point, because I think it's what will underpin a lot of our subsequent discussion.  To my mind, the only way that a person can reach that trans-personal, trans-intellectual perspective on things, and in doing so, get rid of those questions, is actually to answer them, or to find a reason to go beyond them.  You can't just dismiss the questions, and think you've somehow solved the situation that's underpinning your grasping.

Kevin:  I would explain it further by saying that sometimes the solution to a question is: realising that the question is wrongly asked.  So that is actually a solution.  For example, let's say you're a millionaire, and you have the problem that you're feeling extremely poor.  Sometimes the solution to that is to realise that you are actually not poor to begin with.  So you've actually solved your problem.  So, it is actually a solution, and it is an answer.

Dan:  That solution is in a sense a form of clarity, where you discover why you're grasping at illusions.  And your questions may well be built purely on these false concepts and these illusions, and once you realise that, your mind is clear of all that sort of stuff.  So, the enlightened person basically has freedom from this grasping at illusions.   Whereas the unenlightened person, stuck in desire and whatnot, is still grasping at all those illusions, and has all these false concepts that they're dealing with constantly.   And it takes over their brain, basically.

Kevin:  I think a issue here might be this idea of setting up enlightenment, as an absolute goal for every thinking human being.  I think a lot of people find that very threatening; makes people feel inferior, the fact that they haven't achieved it; and I suspect that's a reason why people don't want to set that up as a goal.  They'd rather just let their lives flow naturally, without seeing themselves in that perspective, the perspective that they are actually far, far, far from enlightenment themselves, and are lacking in many, many ways.  That makes people feel very unhappy.  Does that make any sense?

Nat:  Yeah, from a certain perspective, it does.   I think that we have a fundamental difference here as to how we view what Zen and Taoism are saying about enlightenment.  You seem to be of the view that it is pushing people to reach this enlightened state, which is understandable, because you do have to do a certain amount of mental work, and I mentioned this before.  It's worth reiterating that there is work to be done.   You do have to reach an intellectual understanding first, but I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier about dissolving the question, meaning that we answer the question by realising that it can't be answered by the intellect.  The answer is what's already here.  The answer is what's in front of us, life itself, the world; everything that appears to us, is the answer, in and of itself, in a non-intellectual sense.  Because the human being has the capacity to, you know, with the intellect we cut everything up, we say, "This is a tree, this is a car, this is this, this is that".  And the Tao talks about that, it talks about how naming is the origin of the ten thousand things.  And that's what it means, in my view.

Kevin:  Here's an illustration.  Let's say you have a burning ember, you know, a glowing, red, piece of wood in your hand.  You might say that, intellectually, you know that you've got this thing in your hand, and it's burning you.  But that in itself isn't enough to stop you from being burnt.   You actually have to drop the thing to the ground.  Now, you could say, "Well, dropping the thing to the ground is more than intellectual."   But, no, I don't think it's right to cut everything up that way.  I think that if reason tells you to drop the burning ember to the ground, then it's an act of the intellect as well.  I don't think you can put limits on where the intellect operates.

Dan:  Yeah, well, the consequences of a movement of the intellect are, you know, they're part of the intellect, really, aren't they?  I don't think it doesn't make much sense to draw a dividing line.  But going back to the point of enlightenment, can't we simply say that enlightenment in a sense is simply freedom from false thinking?

Kevin:  Yeah, I'll agree with that.

Nat:  Yeah, I would agree with that also, although I think that, more so than false thinking, what we really want to do is get rid of all thinking that's trying to find an answer to life, an ultimate answer in the intellectual sense.  Because we have to get beyond that, we have to get beyond the intellect, and the sooner we do that, you know...  Naturally, we do have to use the intellect to reach this point, but once we do reach it, we have to leave the raft behind as Buddhism says, and cross over to the other shore.

Kevin:  I'm not sure what you mean by not seeking an answer, Nat.  For example, some things can be answered, without making a mistake.  For example, let's say I wanted to know why a particular thing exists.  Now, I might not know the exact reasons why a particular thing came into existence, but I can say that it was caused.  And that is an answer.  For example, if I want to know why a tree is growing where it is, one thing I can be sure of is that the tree was caused, by the universe, to grow where it is.  So, that is an answer.  It's a perfectly true answer.  So, can you see anything wrong with that line of thinking?

Nat:  I think that line of thinking is valid in as far as it goes, Kevin.  I just think that when we turn to cause and effect as an ultimate answer (which is something that David Quinn explores in his work, which I've read).... When we turn to cause and effect as an ultimate answer, there's an infinite regress, because we have to explain the ultimate causation of the entire universe, of existence itself.  And when we reach that point....   It becomes impossible to do that, intellectually, in my view.   And Chuang Tzu also talks about this, and he agrees.  And if you don't mind here, Dan, I'd like to quote from Chuang Tzu, briefly?

Dan:  Go ahead.

Nat:  Ok.

Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, caution and remorse, come upon us by turns, with ever-changing mood.
They come upon us like music from hollowness, like mushrooms from damp.
Daily and nightly they alternate within us, but we cannot tell whence they spring.
How can we hope in the spur of the moment to lay our finger upon our true cause?

( from The Identity of Contraries, Chapter 2.   For another translation, try  The Teachings of Chuang Tzu)

So in this, on the surface, he's talking about emotions, but more deeply, he's also talking about establishing a cause for existence, for being itself.  And I think we have a problem doing that intellectually.

Kevin:  You notice that when I said, though, that the tree has causes, in a way, I'm not laying a finger - a finger doesn't cover very much space - I'm not really laying a finger on the cause of the tree being there, I'm more or less pointing.  I'm pointing, I'm saying, the tree has causes, and I'm kind of pointing to the rest of the universe, or the past, the past universe if you like, with a pointing finger.  Not so much laying a finger on it, but pointing.  And that's an answer.  It definitely is.

Dan:  I just want to bring in a little bit of different language to the discussion, because it might be helpful perhaps in illustrating the point that Nat's getting at, about not being able to, not grasping reality with the intellect and whatnot.  Would you say, Nat, that it comes down to an issue of Duality and Non-duality?  That all thinking is of a dualistic nature, and Ultimate Reality is non-dual?  And therefore that there's no possibility for the mind to truly grasp the nature of Ultimate Reality at all?

Nat:  Yes, Dan, I would say that.  And I think here is where we have our connection to Advaita, which was mentioned in the introduction, which is really what Advaita says, just that!  That thought is dualistic, we cannot have a non-dualistic thought.  So anytime we're trying to apprehend Reality intellectually, we're actually just grasping onto nothing more than thought.  And also, the Diamond Sutra talks about this as well, Dan.

Dan:  Yes, I agree with all that, I guess the point would be, that it's the intellect that takes us to that point, it's the intellect that tells us all that.  In a sense, it is telling us about the nature of what is ultimately real.

Kevin:  Another point too, that actually, the non-dual and the dual are not really two different things, ironically!  For example, let's say you have a cake, which is one cake, and you cut it up into a number of different slices.  It's both a single cake and many different pieces at the same time, and so that's the way our universe is.  It's both the dual and non-dual at the same time.  So there's actually no mistake in taking either point of view.

Nat:  Absolutely, Kevin, I fully agree with that.  In fact, it's interesting that you'd mentioned that, because that's the core of my work with Dialectical Monism, which expresses that insight, which you just mentioned, which is---

Kevin:   Oh?

Nat:   ---Reality itself is monistic, it's a unity, but it is only expressed to the human mind in dualistic terms, and that's because the mind functions dualistically.

Kevin:  Maybe we're in some agreement, then.

Nat:  I think we are.

Kevin:  Yeah.

Dan:  Well, okay then, in the interest of seeking out some non-agreement, let me go back a few steps and ask about what sort of entities follow the Tao, can be said to follow the Tao?   What does it mean to follow the Tao?  And do rocks and cows and all sorts of beasties follow the Tao, or is it really only something that can meaningfully attributed to people who have gained an understanding of Reality itself?

Nat:  I would say that, I would go back to what I mentioned earlier about the Tao.  The concept of the Tao itself is a dualistic concept.  On the one hand we're saying the Tao is Nature itself, it is the natural way.  So in that sense, it follows that everything is already following the Tao, there's really nothing else it can do.  The Tao is kind of the default, there.  But when we look at the way that it applies to the human experience, because the Lao Tzu and other materials like this, are really human-oriented books --- well, we're speaking to people here.  It's telling us that we can choose to consciously align ourselves with that movement, we can either follow it unconsciously, or we make a choice to follow it.  And for me the latter is what Taoism is about.

Kevin:  Hmm.  Well, I'm pretty much in agreement with that.  I would say that unconscious things, which includes many people, follow the Tao unconsciously, but the enlightened person follows the Tao consciously.  And there's a huge difference between the two.

Dan:  I was going to say that the default position - that all things follow the Tao - is really, kind of a platitudinous way of saying that all things that exist, are existing.  It kind of doesn't have any meaning to a human being's life, does it?  But that other form of following the Tao, which takes the nature of the human being, takes the intellect, takes desire, takes all those sorts of things into consideration, that's the only form of the phrase "following the Tao, following the Way" that could have any meaning for us.   Would you agree with that?

Kevin:  In the way that we're talking about it now, really it's consciousness that is what has become of value, rather than simply following the Tao.  Because if unconscious things follow the Tao, like rocks for example, then following the Tao is no big deal, you don't have to think about it any more.  In that case, what really mattered is consciousness.  And maybe that's what we should be focusing on, not so much following the Tao, but actually being conscious.  Conscious of the Reality that surrounds us.

Nat:  Yeah, we should get back to consciousness, and also to this concept of enlightenment.  But before we do that, I just wanted to address Dan's statement earlier, where he was saying that existence --- that everything that is in existence is in existence is a meaningless statement.  And I agree that if we were to state that alone, it would be that, it would be a platitude, a one-page book, nothing of any significance.  But in the context of Taoism, I think it's given significance when we contrast it to the process of consciously aligning ourselves with the Tao.  It kind of just shows us our choices.  We can go either go consciously, or we can go unconsciously.  We're going either way.  But we have the choice.

Kevin:  Nat, in regards to some, well, everyday sort of things that people do in their lives, I'm just wondering what your view would be on them.   Things like human love, the kind of love that a man feels for a woman.  Where does that fit into your idea of following the Tao, and the practice of Taoism?

Nat:  I'm glad you asked Kevin, because I think we're going to have some interesting disagreement here, in the sense that, in my view, Taoism in particular is not exclusive to concepts of human love, of this type of emotional things.   And I know that in the philosophy that's promoted at Genius Forum, another view is taken.  And with Zen, there's actually a little bit more support with that. But I think if we're talking about Taoism, I see nothing in it that talks about discarding love, discarding these type of emotions.  And I would be interested, Kevin, to hear you explain how a Taoist basis should come into those conclusions.

Kevin:   Yeah, well, I think my argument would be based on the conscious aspect.   I would argue that human love, the love that a man feels for a woman, and indeed all emotions, come out of a lack of consciousness of the nature of Reality.   When we meet someone that we supposedly love, it comes out of a feeling that we're made more complete by that love.   The love gives us a feeling of completion, like we're made full.   Whereas, in reality, we're not lacking to begin with.   So any feeling that we're becoming complete, is actually a delusion.   There's a verse here, in the Tao Te Ching, the second one, where it says,

When people see some things as beautiful,
Other things become ugly.

( from Tao Te Ching, 2.   For another translation, try  Selected verses from the Tao Te Ching)

So, when we see a beautiful woman, it creates ugliness.   It creates hell.   So, for that reason alone, I would say that human love, and human emotion, is a delusion, and therefore, is a lack of consciousness, and therefore, is not following the Tao.

Nat:   Ok, Kevin, I---

Kevin:   Does that make sense?

Nat:   ---I would address it by saying, I'm not really sure how you reach the conclusion that the only type of human love, or the only type of these emotions, is based on that type of delusional thinking.   And I do agree that if we think that we're incomplete, or we need to be made whole, by another person, and so on, then yes, we do lack a proper understanding of what reality is.   I wouldn't dispute that.   But I think that---

Kevin:   Can you - can you explain to me a type, can you explain to me a form of love, that is not a delusion?

Nat:   There's unselfish love.   I think that there is such a concept.   Maybe it's old-fashioned, you know - I may get called a romantic.   But I do think there is unselfish love, where it's focused on just caring for another person, rather than being self-motivated and saying, "Well, I need this to make myself whole".   Or, "I need this to validate my existence".   Or whatever the case may be.

Kevin:   Well, I'm trying to imagine what an unselfish love would be.   The only kind of unselfish love I could think of, would be one that was self, equally, towards all beings in the universe.   No matter how physically ugly they are.   No matter how morally corrupt.   No matter how much they smelt.   No matter how bad they were.   The love was equal, towards all beings, and all things, conscious or not.   To me, that would be an unselfish love.   That's the only kind of unselfish love I can think of.

Dan:   Yeah, I'll just jump in there for a second.   Sorry, Kevin.   In essence what you're saying there, if that kind of love --- if a form of love is directed at one particular thing, then there must be some kind of self-interested dimension to it.

Kevin:   Yeah.   To go back to the second verse of the Tao Te Ching: "when people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly."   So, if there's one particular thing that is loved more than others, then that creates ugliness.

Nat:   Ok, Kevin.   I just want to address a couple of things.   I may need like, two minutes to address them.   The first one being, this idea of unselfish love being a love that's shared equally through all things.   And in Mahayana Buddhism, that is the ideal that they're striving for.   And I think that we, as individuals, can also strive for that ideal.   Of course, we're not perfect.   I know of very few people, or no people, really, who perfectly embody that.   Or practice it.   We can mention Gandhi, or whoever, but it's not something that we can really have the capacity to master.   But I think that the expression of love in a small context, in family, between friends, and so on, is an expression of that larger instinct, which is the instinct to become one with all.   That sounds like "guru-speak", but I think it follows, from what we know about Taoism, and about Zen, and how it is a monistic reality.   All things are connected.   And we do need to learn to have the same regard for all things.

Kevin:   I think I would grant that there can be some elements of consciousness in normal, familial love.   And even in erotic love, there can be some.... faint glimmers of conscious thought.   But I think that's about all there can be, in normal, human relationships.

Dan:   If you are arguing that it's possible for there to be, in a sense, a localised version of a universal form of love, so that your expression of that universal form of love is simply expressed within a limited context, because that's how life works: I could understand that.   But only if you could take the individual mentally or even physically outside of that context, and their mentality was to be consistent, at all times.  And I sort of don't see much evidence that such people are exactly common.   [Laughs].   Or, exist at all.

Nat:   Alright.   I wouldn't try to argue that point with you, Dan, because I think it would be a losing argument.   I'd be on a sinking ship, there.   I'm not going to argue that the majority of people in the world embody this to any significant extent.   Because sadly, quite frankly, we don't.   But I think that if we do consciously understand these concepts, then we can at least move in that direction.  We can make progress.   And that's what Taoism and Zen do for us, psychologically.   They give us this starting-place, this platform to move off of.   And from there, we can learn to embody this, to a greater extent.   Yeah, again, being human, and being as limited as we are, conditioned by the social consciousness, and so on: we're not going to be really successful at it, right out of the gate.  It could take a life-time to master these things.   I certainly know that I have a long way to go.   But it's the attitude.  It's moving in a certain direction.  I think.  Just taking this principle of regard for all things, this universal love, and attempting to embody it more and more.  And in our own daily lives.

Kevin:   I think that's well-said.   There's an Australian academic philosopher, by the name of Peter Singer.   He's reasoned, quite rightly I think, that we should be equally as concerned for other people's children in other places in the world, as we are for our own children.  And for that reason, a significant part of his income, as an academic philosopher, he sends over to India, to the schools and so on.   Because one hundred dollars, in Australian dollars, actually is probably worth ten times that much if it's spent on children in India.  And if more people thought along those lines, I think we'd be living in a better world.

Nat:   I'd agree, Kevin.   I think we're in full agreement on that.

Dan:   Yeah, well, the funny thing is, so would the vast majority of people.   [Laughs.]   Yeah, I mean, can you imagine - seriously - can you imagine running into someone on the street and not putting that scenario to them, and having them say, "Yeah, well, of course I agree with that.   If we did that, we'd have a better world."   Um, but people don't really think that, do they?   Let's face it.   They don't.

Kevin:   No, they don't.   There's PlayStation3 coming out, I think, pretty soon, and you can be sure that many parents will be out there buying the latest console for their kids.   Not giving the slightest thought to what five hundred dollars can do to a school in India.   It's a sad thing, but true.

Dan:   Doesn't it to some extent get back to the "carry water, chop wood" thing we were talking about earlier?   In that, the average person, who is unconscious - their mind is directed to what is immediate to them, to what's directly in front of them and all these desires - rather than having a clear mind that can see a larger picture, the bigger picture.   So, the vast majority of people are stuck in this snapshot world, where they go from one desire to the next.   Their consciousness is so full, that it's impossible to see a broader picture of things.

Nat:   Absolutely, Dan.   And I'm not going to get on the Titanic here, by attempting to refute that, you know.   But I think that we have to be very, very cautious, and very, very careful, about setting up this implied elitism, where we as people who have studied Tao, and studied Zen, and these concepts, are setting ourselves up as some kind of self-appointed elite.   And the reason I mentioned that, is because I think that that is what's implied under the surface when we're castigating ordinary people as, you know - insert adjective here - unenlightened, ignorant, and so on.   Yes, ordinary people have generally not studied these concepts, they are not terribly familiar with Taoism and Buddhism, and they do tend to have lives that centre mainly around their own desires, and their own immediate gratification.   I don't disagree with that, but I think that we do need to look at the other half of it too, Dan.   We need to recognise that people are making an effort.   As you mentioned, if you go out and ask the ordinary person on the street, whether or not they agree with things like world peace, and feeding starving children, and so on, of course, they're going to agree.  And I think that's a good thing, they're going to agree because somewhere in their consciousness they recognise that that idea is the right one.   That is something that needs to be cultivated.

Dan:   Well, to be honest, I'd rather run into a person who'd disagree.   And knew why.   And had a conscious reason, a consciously-thought-out reason for disagreeing, than people who sort of go along with those sorts of ethical notions, just on the basis of feelings that they should.

Kevin:   I think it's largely peer pressure.   It's the reason people agree with world peace.   I mean, you'd find that a lot of people, I'm thinking of, you know, the rapper culture?   I'm thinking of the rapper culture of America.   I think if you asked a lot of those people whether they'd agree with world peace, they couldn't care less.  All they want is millions of dollars and lots of drugs.

[Laughter.]

Nat:   I agree with Kevin here.   And I actually disagree with Dan, because I think that Kevin makes a very valid point.   But Dan, what you were saying about, that you'd rather meet someone who disagrees with something like world peace, and has a conscious reason for doing so, I mean, I think we can meet with people like that everywhere.   I mean, we can -- I hate to play the card, but I'm going to have to do it:  Adolf Hitler.   You know, there's the deadly Nazi card, but I think it's a valid point.   I think Adolf Hitler is an example of someone who disagrees with world peace, and he has very carefully considered conscious reasons for doing so.   Do you want to meet him?

Kevin:   You have to encourage conscious reason wherever you find it.   Even if it's in a Nazi.   If they have some conscious reasons, I think you have to encourage the reasoning side of it, and yet encourage them to go further.

Dan:   And that's all I meant by the point I was making.   It was that, I was simply saying that consciousness is, really, what we're after.   Consciousness is better.   We might agree with the sentiments of unconscious people, but if their reasons for it are unconscious, then they don't kind of mean much.   They just don't really mean much, because tomorrow they might have a completely different view-point.   You know, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Nat:   Ok.   I'm not really comfortable, though, with this distinction that we're making here, between conscious and unconscious people.   We sort of discussed that earlier, but at some point it's become something that's being mentioned as though it were a fact.   And I think it's really more of an opinion.   In my view, it's not a matter of conscious or unconscious.   I think that all human beings, by definition, are conscious.   Excepting, you know, people in persistent vegetative states, and so on.   The rest of us are all conscious, by definition.   It's just a matter of what we know, and what we don't know, or what we've studied, what our background is.   Psychological facts.

Kevin:   Well, from my view, this is probably an area where we do have a marked disagreement.   From my view, you know you mentioned the people who are vegetative?   I would argue that probably 99% of people do actually live in a vegetative state, all the time.   From the moment they wake up in the morning, and they're shoveling oats down their throat...   They're off to work, like a beast of burden.   They're working at something they don't know why.   They don't know what the purpose is.   They don't really enjoy it.   They work long hours.   They come home to a family life they're not particularly happy with.   They "tune out" a lot of the time....just to cope with it.   They do this day after day after day.   It is, effectively, living a vegetative life.   It's not what I would regard to be conscious.   So, I think, on this point we would probably have a marked disagreement.

Dan:   Would you say, Kevin, it's to some extent a matter of degree?   In the sense that people are constantly driven by desire, and whatnot, and they're conscious of their desires, but they're completely unconscious as to the nature of desire itself ?

Kevin:   Well, I would say no.   They have animal desires, the same desires animals do, like: an animal desires food, an animal desires sex, some animals desire shelter.   So people have those desires.   How conscious are people?  I would argue:  absolutely minimal consciousness.   Probably, you know, say, one percent (1%) conscious.   And your ideal human being, the person who follows the Way, or the Tao - the perfect being - would be one hundred percent (100%) conscious.   But I personally think that most people have almost no consciousness at all.

Nat:   Well, Kevin, the thing about that, in my view, is that, while I would not disagree that there is a difference in people's - um --- well, we will use the term "consciousness", because it is appropriate here, I think---

Kevin:   [Agrees]

Nat:   ---There is a difference in consciousness among individuals.   But I think it's extremely dangerous to classify people as strictly black-and-white "conscious" and "unconscious".   I think we're setting the stage, with that kind of thinking, for just... very dangerous point of view, in my view.   Because---

Kevin:   Sort of dehumanising people?

Nat:   We are.   We're dehumanising people and---

Kevin:   Yeah.

Nat:   And demonising them as well, I think, Kevin.

Dan:   Well, yeah, I'm not so sure about - you've used the words "castigation" and "demonisation", or variants there, a couple of times - and I'm not sure that that necessarily follows.   I think that you can make simple observations about the state of affairs of humanity, without it necessarily being any of those things you were mentioning.

Kevin:   Well for me, it's actually a source of compassion.   Because, for example, let's say we had a six-year-old child.   We say that they're a "six-year-old child", and along with that description, there comes a certain knowledge that the six-year-old child has a lot to learn, they're immature, and so on.   And yet, we're not demonising them.   And so, when I say that people are barely conscious, maybe they have one percent (1%) consciousness, really I'm just saying, "Look, they're children.   It's not their fault, they're caused to be that way.   Perhaps one day they'll grow up."   It's a source of compassion, rather than an act of demonisation.

Nat:   Kevin, I understand where you're coming from there.   And I think it's good that you do it that way.   But wouldn't you think, also, that by doing this, we're setting the stage for "less-conscious" people, as you might use the term, to take these ideas, and kind of run with it in a bad direction?   Because I think that, when we're making this black-and-white distinction between people who are "worthy" and "unworthy" - which is really what we're doing here.

Kevin:   Well, I think it would be a good thing for people to think about.   Because, instead of thinking about, um... Well, in America they think about "Liberal", or "Republican"; in Australia, they think about "Liberal" or "Labour", "Socialist" or "Capitalist"....   Instead of thinking about all those divisions - "rich" or "poor" - people should be thinking about "Conscious" or "Unconscious".   That should be central to their thinking.   Every television program we watch should be high-lighting this divide, between Conscious and Unconscious.   When children go to school, they should be - from the moment they get to school! - it should be drummed into them: the difference between Conscious and Unconscious.   If everyone thought about that division, ten hours a day, we'd be living in a far better world, I think.

Dan:   Would you --- would you perhaps both agree that, if it was the case that people stopped to consider more, their actual level of consciousness, and in doing so, got to see what might turn out to be a somewhat harsh reality, but on the basis of that could actually have raised their consciousness.... That in raising their consciousness, they in fact protect themselves from the kind of exploitation that Nat was suggesting earlier?   And then, at some point, to be able to create that dynamic, you'd have to tell the truth, you have to state things as they are.   I'm not sure how that can be avoided!

Nat:   Yes, absolutely, Dan.   I wouldn't disagree with that.   But, I do need to go back, and make it clear that I do have a disagreement with Kevin, in so far as making this distinction between "conscious" and "unconscious" the primary focus of life.   I don't think we should do that.   I think we should follow the Advaita example, and make "unity" the focus of life. Rather than this duality between This and That, Them and Us, Republican, Democrats, Conscious and Unconscious.   We should make the primary distinction in life Human or Inhuman, and we're all Human.

Kevin:   Yeah, but a person has to be conscious, to understand that.   So, that's why we need the consciousness.   Because, the drawing of connections between things, which is what gives rise to "Unity", requires consciousness.   So, once we have consciousness, then we can realise the connection between things.   And then we have unity.   Before then, we're living in a hellish kind of environment.

Nat:   Well, let me just get a rebuttal to that, real quick.   I think that we would be wrong to try to teach consciousness by dividing people.   I think that we need to teach consciousness by uniting people.   We need to empower people.   It's kind of a New Age term, but I think it's accurate.   We need to empower people by teaching them consciousness, by high-lighting that we're all human and these commonalities between us.  Sure, we do have to let people know up-front that there are differences in people's consciousnesses.   Anytime we're setting up a teacher-student situation, or anything like that, it's implying that there is a difference.   But we don't want to focus on that.   We want to focus on what we have in common.  Because that's what's going to lift people up, rather than pushing down and degrading, by dividing them.

Kevin:   The problem is, what we human beings have in common, mostly, is unconsciousness.   So, we don't want to already focus on how unconscious we all are.   I think we should look at people like the Buddha, who I think was a person who was very conscious.   Whoever wrote the Tao Te Ching, which may have been Lao Tzu, was probably a very conscious being.   Two beings that were very conscious.   So, all of these people should be high-lighted.   We should be seeing documentaries.   Instead of seeing documentaries on Hitler, for example, filling our screens every night, we should be seeing documentaries on the Buddha, documentaries on Lao Tzu.   There should be classes at schools and universities about conscious people.   And focussing on: that's what we have in common.

Dan:   This is a very good point.   This is a very, very good point, I think.   Because the question then is, "Why is that the case?"   Why do we see morons, and evil people, on our television screens, constantly?   Why don't we see those other sorts of people?   And you have to stop and wonder whether consciousness itself isn't something that the average person in fact fears, for various reasons.

Nat:   Ah, Dan, let me just rebut what Kevin said, real quick?

Dan:   Sure.

Nat:   Again.   I don't think that we should focus on unconsciousness as the common denominator of the human experience.   I think, even speaking from the Buddhist tradition, that would be the wrong focus, because Buddhism is focussed on human potential.  The Buddha is saying that everyone has this potential to become enlightened.   Everyone has this potential to reach a better spiritual state.   So, wouldn't it be more useful to focus on that potential, rather than focus on saying that, "Well, everyone's just unconscious, that's the only thing that human beings have in common, is that they're mostly unconscious." ? Why not say the thing that people have in common, is that they have this capacity for growth and progress?

Kevin:   Yeah, I agree, as long as we speak about it truthfully.

Dan:   Yes, I don't think you can push the idea of potential and capacity for growth, and whatnot, without at some point saying, "The only reason I'm talking about this, is because you're not there."   [Laughs.]   You know, there has to be an acknowledgement of the state of affairs, for a person to see growth and potential.   I would argue, to some extent - to use Buddhist parlance - that they will have to already have been reborn into the human realm.  I'm not sure that a genuinely unconscious person can even meaningfully engage with talk of that sort of potential.

Kevin:   Yeah.   Well, while everybody does have potential, and everybody does have some degree of consciousness, in most cases that potential and that consciousness is at a level that is so low, it's almost disappearing.   This is the truth.

Nat:   But I think, Kevin, that we're turning people away with this elitist attitude, for lack of a better term.   I don't mean to be rude or insulting, but I think this is relevant.   We're turning people away by focussing on where they are not, rather than where they can be.   It's just basic psychology, in my view.   A poor teacher is one who stands in front of the class, and tells the class, "Well, you don't know as much as me.   You don't know as much as me."   And that's the constant focus of the message, rather than just teaching the message, and saying, "You can be like me, you can learn as much as I know."

Kevin:   Yeah, well, I think that's.....Yeah, we should take that approach.   But, the best teachers, though, the students know that the teacher knows more than they do.   It's something about the way the teacher speaks, something about the way the teacher carries themselves, that they just know he's in a different league.   And I think that's what we're lacking today.   We live in a world where everybody's supposed to be equal.  One person's not allowed to say that he's better than somebody else, even though it may be true.   And so, I think that's what we've got to get back.   We've got to get back this discrimination, this conscious discrimination, where there is better and there is worse.

Nat:   I think that we have to be very, very careful about that, though, Kevin.   Because better is a very broad term.   When we're saying that person A is better than person B, we're really painting with a broad brush.   Wouldn't it be more useful to focus on what the actual deficiency is, rather than saying, "Hey, I'm better than you!"?

Kevin:   Well, yeah, they're better, they're obviously---

Nat:   ---They should say, "I have more experience in this one particular area," rather than---

Kevin:   Yeah.   Well, one person would be more conscious than another, and so they're better at being conscious.   Now the reason they're better at being conscious, would be largely through their good fortune.   Yet, they're still better.   Even though they're not personally responsible for being better.

Dan:   Yes, well, "better" and "worse" are purely contextual terms.   I think they're just pragmatic terms that we use for those sorts of descriptive purposes.   But I just want to get back to what Nat was saying about, if you like, pushing the positive, as opposed to the negative.   And, you know, I understand that point of view.   And, I'm in general agreement with it.   But I think we need to look for certain dangers in doing so.   And one of the dangers is that we might not at any point really, truthfully, completely address the true state of affairs.   I'm thinking of, for instance, the New Age movement, where people kind of already think they're half enlightened.  Because people think it's a good thing to tell them that!   Or, for instance, you go to a Buddhist discussion, hosted by some Tibetan lama, and he refers to everyone in the room as Bodhisattvas, when you know they're in the animal realms!   In such cases, they're pushing the positive, they're pushing development, but because they're not telling the truth about the actual state of affairs, they're actually damaging the spiritual progress of those individuals.  So, push the positive by all means...   Push the positive by all means, but it has to be underpinned by a genuine, authentic, sincere---

Kevin:   Recognition of truth.

Dan:   ---recognition of..... Yes.  Yes, exactly.   You agree with that, Nat?

Nat:   Well, you know, Dan, I think that goes without saying.   I think it would be a mischaracterisation of my position to imply that I'm saying that people should be dishonest.   I don't think that we should put any stock on those gurus who charge people sixty dollars an hour, for them to come in and be told about how close to Buddhahood they are.   You know, people of any discernment already know that that's really nothing more than a psychological game for people who need that sort of thing.   I don't think it's really a mystery, that sort of thing, how it works and why it works.   But I don't think it invalidates the concept of taking an honest approach, but yet one that is focussed in a positive direction.   Rather than this exclusive type of atmosphere, where we're only seeking out the elite students.   We're always seeking out the ones who're already almost there.   I don't think we should do that.   I think that we should offer the message to anyone.   Anyone who has ears to hear it.   And we don't know who that's going to be.   We shouldn't make these pre-judgments: this one is "conscious", this one is "unconscious".   Let them decide for themselves through their own actions, whether they're conscious or unconscious.

Kevin:   Well, I'll tell you what, I... Last night, here in Australia, there was a documentary on Gandhi.   I don't know if you saw that one, Dan?

Dan:   No, I didn't.

Kevin:   And while - you know, in India, they refer to him as a "Mahatma", a "great soul" - and while he was a great soul compared to most people, he was lacking in so many areas.   So, I personally would say that Gandhi was, maybe, ten percent (10%) conscious, as opposed to the average person who is maybe one percent (1%).   And so yeah, he was indeed a great soul.   But even Gandhi was a long, long way from being fully conscious.....

Nat:   I think this is another example of focussing in the negative direction, I think.   In my view.   Because we're taking somebody like Gandhi, and we're saying, "Ok, he's only ten percent (10%) conscious, and the average person is only one percent (1%) conscious.   Why can't we turn that around, instead, and say, "Gandhi was not perfect, but he's one of the best we've got.   Let's move in that direction.   Let's move.   Let's go there."

Dan:   Ok, well, we've had the example of Gandhi for how many years now?  And how many people have taken a single step in that direction?   We already know.   So, it's only a certain sort of person, whose karma has taken them to, again as you said, up to - to use Buddhist parlance - up to the human realms, who in my view has any real scope, and capacity, to be able to even hear the message.

Kevin:   Yeah, and also, I think different people find different things inspiring.   Now, for me personally, the knowledge of the direct truth, for example that Gandhi was ten percent (10%) conscious, and that most people are one percent (1%) conscious, is an inspiring thing.   It's something that makes me want to do better.   I think to myself, "Well, if ten percent (10%) conscious is the best - is pretty much the best - that the human race can do, I can be better than that."   You know?I mean, ten percent can't be too hard to beat, surely.   You know what I mean?

Nat:   Ok.

Kevin:   [Laughs.]   It's an inspiring thing.

Nat:   Let me just get in here a minute, and I don't want to put you on the spot, but I think, at this point, we're kind of asking for it.  Let me just ask you Kevin, how conscious do you feel you are, on the scale of one to one hundred percent (1 - 100%) ?

Kevin:   I would say somewhere between --- ten, and, seventy (10 - 70%).

Nat:   Ok.

Kevin:   I came along.

Nat:   And what do you base that on, Kevin?

Kevin:   Well, just --- just the same judgment that I apply to other people.   So, using the same form of reasoning that I apply to Gandhi, and the same form of reasoning that I apply to ordinary people - in coming up with my judgments of them - I apply those same standards to myself, and come up with this similar sort of score.   So, I'm thinking of, just, simply false thinking, mistaken thinking, desire, you know.   Being swayed by peer pressure, all those sorts of things are faults.   And the more faults you have, the less conscious you are.

Nat:   Ok.   Again, I don't mean to put you---

Kevin:   Does that make sense?

Nat:   It does.   And I don't mean to put you on the spot.   I realise this is something of a cheap tactic.   But, yet I think we should explore this.   You mentioned that you are ten to seventy percent (10-70%) conscious, and earlier you said that Gandhi was ten percent (10%) conscious.   So, I guess I'd just like to hear where in your mind you feel you have less false thinking than Gandhi.

Kevin:   Well, I'll give you an example.   With Gandhi, you have one truly great thought, in my view.   And that was his idea of celibacy.   He was a married man, and he had a family, and he realised that the extra attention that he was giving to his wife and children was an immoral thing to do.   He wanted to love everybody equally.   So, he largely abandoned his family.   He set up his own ashram.   Unfortunately, he surrounded himself by beautiful women, and those women fell in love with him.   So, this is a fault on Gandhi's part.   And some people argue that he surrounded himself by these women to try and test his powers of celibacy.  All the same, he led to those women becoming --- falling in love with him.   And therefore, that's a major fault with his mind.   So that's why I say he's only 10% conscious, because he had major faults.

Kevin:   Does that answer your question?

Nat:   Yes, it does.   I think that we should explore that a little bit further, before we go, here.   This idea of celibacy, and how you mentioned that he desired a bit: he wanted to love everyone equally, so he left his family.   Why is it that we can't have this universal love, and still have a family?   I mean, I understand that, in most families, there's going to be a preference for the family members over other people.   That's just natural, that comes from biology and evolution, and so on.   But is it impossible, in your view, to have both?

Kevin:   Well, no, it's not impossible.   I think, if your wife was also a highly evolved, spiritual person - you know, it means fifty percent (50%) conscious - well then, I think you would have a kind of... Basically, you'd have a non-sexual, non-emotional relationship.  It'd be a perfectly rational relationship, just like a partnership between two people, who've combined their efforts to bring up a family.  That would be the ideal situation.  There'd be no emotional attachment between the two.   There'd be no jealousies.  You could spend years apart, and there'd be no feeling of emotional longing between the two people.   That would work.   But when you start getting emotions into the equation, that's when it's doomed.  Unfortunately.  Because that's the animal side of us coming to the fore.

Nat:   Ok.  I guess what I'm having trouble with is understanding how this is consistent when, on the one hand we have this idea of universal regard for all things, and, as Einstein put it, expanding our circle of compassion to include all things that exist, and then on the other hand we're trying to eliminate the emotional aspect of family life.   And I guess what I really don't buy into, is the idea that this universal side of love, this universal compassion towards all things, is not an emotional engagement.   I think that we are emotionally engaged with the world.   Even the so-called enlightened person is I think emotionally engaged with the world, in my view.

Kevin:   Yeah, well, I would disagree.   I would say that, to the degree that he does have that emotion, it is a fault.   Because, engagement with reality is something that's done on a - call it cold, if you like - on a cold, rational, honest level.   It's on a level that's perfectly clear, of any feeling.   Of course, in the early stages, when a person has a low level of consciousness, everything they think is going to be tainted with some kind of emotion.   So, the early stages of the spiritual path --- yes, there's a lot of emotion.   There's an emotional love for the truth.   But as the person advances, that emotion dissipates.   And in the case of a person who's one hundred percent (100%) conscious, if there has ever been one, there would be no capacity for emotion at all.

Nat:   I disagree with that view, because I think it's a fallacious reasoning to conclude that values follow from intellectual conclusions.   I think that compassion is value-based, because we can have the basic Buddhist understanding that life is suffering, first noble truth.   But that doesn't result, necessarily, in compassion.   We could have a serial killer who understands the first noble truth, and says, "Hey, life is suffering, that's great, that's what I like.   I'm going to go out here, and kill fifty people."   So, compassion is not a necessary consequence of an intellectual understanding.   It's a value judgment, it's saying that, "We value this."   This is an emotional response, that we valued.

Kevin:   Well, my understanding of "compassion" is that, it is no more than understanding.   So, the more conscious a person is, the greater their understanding, the deeper their perception, and therefore it follows that the greater their compassion will be.   Because compassion is no more than understanding.

Nat:   If that's the case, then how is it that we arrive at compassion from consciousness?  You mentioned that it is a necessary consequence, but --- how?   What is the actual intellectual process?

Kevin:   Simply through understanding the causes of things.   Or the perception that things have causes.   For example, let's say, you've just arrived home from the shops, and you've discovered that there are some burglars on the way out the front door, with all of your worldly possessions.   You tell them to stop, but they just ignore you, and go on their merry way, with all of your stuff.   Now, a wise person will not be upset by that.   They won't feel harshly towards the criminals, because they understand.   You know, they might understand the criminals' greed, they might understand that the criminals may be poor, they might understand that the criminals may have a drug habit to support.   But whatever the reason is, even if they don't know what the reasons are, they know that there are reasons, there are causes, why the burglars have taken all their stuff.  And that is what compassion is.   It is identical to understanding.

Nat:   So then, compassion, for you, is, more or less, equivalent with determinism, then?

Kevin:   Determinism, yeah.  Cause and effect.   Understanding the causal relationships between things.

Nat:   We're back at a value judgment, here, though.   There's still a value judgment being made here, that: "With an understanding of cause and effect, this is the ideal way to proceed.   This is the way a person should think about this."   I just don't think we can get an "ought" from "is".   And in philosophy of course, they call that the "naturalistic fallacy".

Kevin:   I think I know what you're saying, yeah.   So, what the enlightened person believes is that understanding cause and effect is valuable.   Ok?   So, that is a value judgment.   The enlightened person believes that truth is valuable.   So, believing that truth is more valuable than untruth, is a value judgment.   But he doesn't try to force other people into sharing his values.   For example, the burglars who have just taken all of his material possessions: how can he force those burglars to start valuing truth and understanding?   He can't do it.   So, he just lives his own life, he values truth because that's the way he's made, and he has compassion on other people.  So, while he's making value judgments, he's not trying to impose those on other people.

Dan:   Well, I disagree that the wise person's response to being robbed by criminals involves any kind of value judgments.   His response to that is simply an expression of his nature, which has been built through an understanding.   That understanding initially was certainly driven by values, but his response to that act --- I don't see how there are any value judgments involved in that.   He doesn't stop and think, "Well, I shouldn't be upset about this, because of cause and effect."  The question never arises for him.   It's just not in his nature to respond that way.

Nat:   It's interesting that you mentioned that, Dan, because that sort of goes back to what we were discussing very early in the conversation, where it's a post-intellectual or trans-intellectual understanding that we were concerned with here.   It's not something that a person has to think about, it becomes their nature.   And the way you get that was apropos, because it goes back to what I mentioned about dissolving the question itself.  The question just doesn't arise.   And I think that applies not only to this example, but to the whole core of Taoism and Zen themselves: the question of what is reality, or what is the ultimate nature of being? and so on....   These questions do not arise, because we've reached through the intellect, we reached the understanding of the limits of the intellect.

Kevin:   Well, I think we've pretty much come full circle, Dan.

Dan:   Yes, I agree.   I think that may have been a very good point on which to wrap up the show.   Thanks for being with us, Kevin, and also, you as well, Nat.

Nat:   Thank you Kevin, thanks Dan.

Dan:   Cheers everyone.   Good on you both.   And that is The Reasoning Show for this time 'round.   Hope to see you next time.

 


 

Return to Top    |    Back to  The Reasoning Show    |    Email