Friday, August 26, 2011

Beyond Dieties

There is a teaching in Buddhism that the gods and goddesses are "mind made".  This does not mean that they exist and does not mean that they do not exist.  When we go within, we touch upon the eye consciousness, ear consciousness, tongue consciousness, nose consciousness, and tactile consciousness.  We go deeper into the summarizer that unites the five senses into one experience and reach the 7th consciousness which conceptually interprets our experience.  The interpreting consciousness is the home of the ego, the sense of a personal self that binds us to the wheel of sorrow.  It is also the home of the gods and goddesses.  We construct them with our interpretive mind.  They become archetypes within the 8th consciousness and take on a life of their own.  We can invoke them in our experience, chant mantras to them, and even create results within our empirical experience.

What is interesting is that Buddhist praxis that the deities are visualized, sometimes in great detail, then we "become them", and then we "dissolve them".  When we dissolve them, we learn something about their seeming reality that is hard to put into words.  We notice how we have faith in our own creations, how our mind can invest energy into a form and bring it to life.  We do this with our ego personality.  When we dissolve the whole structure, then there is a kind of "energy essence" that remains and that is felt.  A certain kind of "psychic flexibility" is attained.  I can concentrate this energy essence into a point of radiant light and feel myself as this form, move it across the universe, and influence events through intention.  There is a sense that even this "energy essence" is a subtle thought construction.  It can also be dissolved and recreated from an energy field.  This energy field can be called "emptiness", "the ground of being", or "the space beyond being and nonbeing".  Whatever it is, when we are touching this in meditation, we are beyond the conventional deities of all the religions.  We see that the deities themselves are "mental constructs".  There is a certain kind of feeling of Yahweh, for instance, that you get by reading the Bible.  It talks to other characters, like prophets, smotes cities, floods worlds, makes promises, etc.  The idea of Yahweh, too, is not static.  It evolves within the collective contemplation of a people.  Upgrades from a tribal god to a monotheistic supreme ruler of gods, to the only god, and to a personal god that has a relationship with individual humans.  People can feel this construct loving them or judging them, forgiving them or punishing them, believe this being in some way speaks through the Bible to them, and even fantasize this god throwing nonbelievers into a burning lake of fire to be tortured for an eternity.  To show how much of a mental construction this Yahweh is, there are variations in how this deity functions.  There are different categories of believers and nonbelievers depending on what the "right beliefs" are and who believes them, and then there are those who "really believe those beliefs" and those "who do not really believe those beliefs".  So different factions form with each believing that they have the right Yahweh and the others do not.  But whatever the variations which are believed, it is clear that each set of believers has constructed a Yahweh for themselves, visualizes it, worships it, and follows what this Yahweh has commanded them to do.  What these commandments are is a mental construction generated by the thinking of the tribe as they "study the Bible".  Even the Bible itself is a mental construct, written down by humans, compiled by humans, the individual texts selected by humans over other texts, the humans who selected the texts were in some sense also selected by a kind of psychological consensus as being "authoritative".  It was not quite a democratic voting process, but some kind of selection took place within a certain kind of society.  The whole process is not as formal, scientific, and precise as Buddhist meditation practice, but it still happened and a deity was created on the level of thought, given life, and then surrendered to.  Again, whether or not this deity is "real" is not something that Buddhism goes into.  The construct has a life of its own.  In some sense it is real and in some sense it is not.  Through the combined mental power of the tribe, this deity can exert a tangible force in human life.  This deity can also be weakened by doubt, like when contradictions are found in the Bible, in the theological views of a specific mental tribe, when the historical views that support the story of the deity are called into question, or when the philosophical views supporting the construct cease to make sense to the believer.  It is interesting here to notice something.  We have philosophical and empirical arguments to support or refute a specific belief.  If we are convinced of these arguments, then we "believe them".  If we are not convinced, then we "disbelieve them".  A certain process of thought constructs beliefs and deconstructs beliefs.  In meditation, we look at this level, notice how the 7th consciousness operates.  This is a hard one for humans to really look at and transcend, because there is a belief that every belief has something "real" behind it.  When, for instance, "god" is shown to be a mental construction, then there is a leap to believing that there is something corresponding to this idea that is real and is beyond our thoughts, that exists separately from our thoughts, and that our thoughts can at least label.  When a believer asserts this, then the belief gets projected again and reconstructs itself on a another level.  There is still a mental process going on and it is still creating the deity.  The mental process is still reiterating itself and does not stop functioning.

When Buddha negated the idea of self, he was seeing that this was a construct that we form and attach to, experience our identity through, and which has a certain amount of illusion within itself.  When we do not understand who and what we are from direct experience, then the concept of self that we generate about ourselves is largely fictional.  But this fiction still has a curious life of its own.  It can have low self esteem or arrogance when it compares itself with other selves, which are also visualizations and constructs as well.  We take in raw sensory data, react to this data and form opinions about who others are.  There are very complex and multiple thought streams that pour into this process, with all of them constantly changing moment to moment, sometimes moving so rapidly and compulsively that people do not see them or notice how they invoke a certain feeling of self one day and another feeling of self another day, and how each sense of self is different from each other.  There is an assumption that there is something "real" behind all those different feelings of self that unifies all of them, yet when a person looks within one never finds anything like a self.  No one even bothers to ask what a self would even look like.  But when thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise, both separately and in any combination, there is no self that is attached to these experiences, no self glued to them in any way.  There is nothing we can point to and say, "Look, here is the self, notice how it connects to this emotion, but not that emotion."  When a person looks within and notices this, then something starts shifting inside.  The person moves out of the 7th consciousness and into the 9th consciousness.  It is like one has been living within a haze of thought and is lifted above and beyond all thoughts, whether theistic, atheistic, or agnostic.  From the vantage point all philosophical systems, they look like different dreams.  Naturally, some are better constructed than others.  If we glue our thoughts together very logically, connect them within a flow of thought that has no contradictions, it feels better inside.  But compared to "radiant awareness", there is a kind of dull and old energy to all these thought constructions.  They feel like an obscuration.  They are like well worn grooves in the brain, tied to the past, repeating a kind of past, and constantly reiterating themselves.  It seems, too, that these grooves eventually do wear out the brain and cause it to age and die.  When we shift into radiant awareness, then brain starts to renew itself and may not need to age and die.

The 8th consciousness has several levels in and of itself.  It seems that there is an individual level, a kind of personal unconscious, and there is a deeper and more collective level.  The different levels of consciousness interpenetrate each other and influence each other.  Our thoughts are shaped by the thoughts of others and visa versa.  There is a reflection of the deity, too, on this level.  When groups of people put enough energy into a construct, then an archetype is formed.  It can appear in the dreams of individuals from other cultures.  We can feel this energy even within the thought or word of the deity, by its name, as if the name is a microcosm and focus of a vast story or series of thoughts that gives the flavor and definition of this deity.  Because this level of consciousness is transpersonal, beyond each individual consciousness, it feels "real".  When multiple witnesses see something and have matching reports, it becomes part of a social reality.  When people talk about a deity, pray to a deity, and gather together to worship a deity, then the thought form gathers a kind of energy and becomes alive.  The deity seems greater any one individual opinion.  It is hard to see it as a mental construction.  Yet a game like Tennis is easier to see this way.  The rules are mentally constructed and the meanings associated with the empirical moves are mentally constructed, and even the emotions surrounding "winning" and "losing" are generated from those interpretations.  A certain number of events are called "winning" and a certain number of events are called "losing".  There are very high emotions with crowds cheering or hissing regarding those events.  The rules of the game teach the group what to cheer and what to hiss.  There are even righteous feelings when someone is "cheating" or breaks the rules, moves outside the social consensus.  Once again, Tennis takes on a life of its own.  Does Tennis exist?  In a sense it does and in a sense it does not.

If you are following my contemplation of "mental construction", see if you notice something shifting inside your consciousness.  I am merely describing a mental process that we do not always look at.  I am not assigning a verdict of "true" or "false", because these are, in some sense, the ultimate labels of the interpreting 7th consciousness.  It feels it has done something very significant with those labels.  It sometimes spends a lot of time agonizing over what is real and what is not real, and how to find out.  Whole wars have been fought over which belief is true and which is false.  Yet this total activity is rarely looked at.  People in general do not step out of this process to look at.  People do not, as in Buddhist praxis, see what happens when you deliberately visualize and create a deity, identify and become the deity, and then dissolve the deity.  It is interesting when you make this process conscious and do it deliberately, systematically, logically, and completely.  Most people let this process happen inside them through a social conditioning process, through education and teachers, who are unconsciously visualizing and conjuring with their words, no really knowing what they are doing.  In Buddhist meditation, you "take over" the process.  There is something learned when we do this that is hard to put into words.  It is not about proving or disproving something as "real" or "imaginary".  When we build a house, we learn something through the experience of going through the whole process.  We will know the house in a different way than someone who just moves in and lives in the house.  In one way, the house will feel more real because we made it.  In another way, there will be less mystique around the house.  We might even have better ideas about how to build it from having made the first one.  The second one will most likely be better than the first and the third better than the second, and so on.

In a similar way, we see that the deities are mental constructions, then something happens there.  We can construct better and better deities, make them more loving, wise, and creative than some macro-thug that smotes cities and who is so arrogant that it needs worship.  We will also get a feeling for all the believers and atheists who we meet, and we will notice how superficial merely believing and disbelieving those constructs are.  We will notice how whether or not we believe or disbelieve in the "macro-thug" is really a small thing.  All this is very different from moving past the entire 7th consciousness into something deeper and vaster, moving past the entire 8th consciousness into something deeper and vaster, etc.  We will, too, wonder whether putting one of the deity labels to this vaster energy is really doing much.  If we call this thing "god" what are we doing?  What do we mean?  Do we merely fall back into the 7th consciousness and just be content with our mental antique shop?  Do we really want to step into the vastness and stay there, or do we want to make a little toy in our shop called "vastness" and just sit and admire it?

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