Chapter 3: Mature Contemplation
There is no limit to experience in us, so far as I can detect, save what we cold-bloodedly and self-consciously impose upon ourselves in response to the conceptual tyranny of western "civilization." All is not lost, however. Once we recognize that there really are cultural (purely artificial) barriers to our experience, it is possible to begin to entertain the possibility of breaching them. ...Only one act is required, and that is perhaps the most difficult (and yet, paradoxically, the easiest) you have ever undertaken. That is the act of opening.
J.A. Livingston, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation
In the last chapter I was talking about traps, and tenets designed to avoid those traps. (As you may have already divined, tenets and rules are only necessary in the absence of clear seeing and understanding!) The last of those traps related to tenets I want to discuss in a separate chapter because they are a bit more involved than the other ones -- a bit more difficult to talk about, and in a sense a bit more controversial in these days and times.
There is an inherent inability of western scientists to recognize the role of consciousness in their own projects. In extreme form this inability produced the logical positivist paradigm in science in which science could proceed as though it itself was non-problematic. Scientists have proceeded as though the act of observation were removed from the unfolding processes observed. With the fall of the received view of science via the attacks of philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn (1974) and Paul Feyerabend (1962, 1965), to mention but two of many, and with the paradoxes that take on greater significance all the time coming principally out of physics -- specifically quantum physics -- science is having to reconsider the role of consciousness in observation. The trap, we would claim, is the failure of scientists to perform what Husserl called the phenomenological reduction. What is required is the retraining of the scientist to perceive the essential orders presented to mind in raw perception, independent of, or prior to the attribution of theoretical order or meaning to perception.
John Cove and I once carried out a little piece of research in a number of our respective classes which we called the Levitating Monk Experiment. We gave each student the same task to complete. We told them they were to imagine that they were given the unique opportunity to witness a monk levitate off the top of a Himalayan peak. The monk would do it only once, and this would be the only time the student would ever have to witness this event. We asked, "If you could do but one experiment, or ask but one empirical question pertaining to this event, and you had every required resource at your disposal, what would it be?" We got all sorts of fascinating responses: Tie a hook to the monk's bum and measure the foot-pounds of lift he could generate. Will a monk once in motion tend to remain in motion unless acted upon by an opposing force? If the monk were pushed laterally, would he follow the contour of the mountain, or would he drift in a plane perpendicular to the force of gravity? All sorts of interesting questions. But, of course, our hidden agenda was to see how many questions would be asked regarding the inner experience -- about the mind-state of the monk. Usually no one would ask a question about the monk's state of mind, and occasionally as many as 10% of the class would ask such a question. This demonstrated to us the popular positivistic bias of folks, long before they have themselves ever become practicing scientists.
We would claim that modern science cries out for at least a cadre of what we have called mature contemplatives . In a variety of writings, we have begun to define what we mean by this term. Generally speaking, a mature contemplative is any individual who has trained their mind to sufficient tranquility, concentration and attention such that they have completed stage four, but not necessarily stage twelve, of the process of insight known in Theravada Buddhist psychology as the satthipattana - which simply means the unfolding of awareness directed at the various factors of consciousness. What stage four means is that the individual has come to realize -- not merely to understand, but to realize in the way they experience themselves -- that nothing arising in mind is permanent, or of any enduring substance. In other words, any and all objects arising before consciousness are impermanent, including any concept or image identified as "me." Relative to this realization is the reduction of what Husserl called the "empirical ego." This is recognized as a distinct stage in the unfolding of insight and requires for its unfoldment a requisite degree of calm and concentration, as well as a state of single-minded question about the nature of mind sufficient to carry one through the series of conceptual and emotional barriers and of insights necessary to reach that realization. Very few scientists are capable of this intensity of self-awareness and disciplined introspection, and yet it entails an observational skill that is a necessary condition for resolution of the many paradoxes that seem to arise around the role of consciousness in scientific research.
It's unrealistic to expect that most scientists can, or should, became mature contemplatives. How lovely it would be if this were the state of affairs, not only in science, but in the military, the government, the police forces, in fact in all realms of society. But that's an unrealistic pipe-dream at this stage of human evolution. The Buddha himself said he would teach the awakening for the benefit of those few beings "with but a little bit of dust in their eyes." No, it is only realistic to expect: (1) that some scientists become mature contemplatives, and (2) that science itself become sensitized to the importance of mature contemplation. This involves what Charles Tart (1975) called the problem of state-specific science, and anticipates a whole line of discussion we've carried out on the role of transpersonal exploration in anthropology, and about which I will talk in a subsequent chapter. Suffice to say that we need more scientists that will ask questions about the mind-state of the levitating monk, and a science sensitized to the importance of such questions.
In this vein I would like to suggest some of the advantages of enlisting mature contemplation in the scientific project, particularly in the anthropological enterprise. I will list some of the things a mature contemplative can or does know about themselves -- about the mind and about the world of phenomena.
1. Knowing the real now.
First, a mature contemplative has, by the very nature of unfolding self-awareness, come to know the real now. What most people uncritically consider to be the real now is really a concatenation of three aspects: memories (Husserl's "retention"), anticipation (Husserl's "protention") and the phenomena arising and passing away at the moment (see Husserl 1964). By the time one has become a mature contemplative, one has realized what is left over in perception after memory and anticipation have dropped away.
2. Knowing that the world of experience is constituted by the mind.
Second, it's plain to such a being that the world of experience is a construct of mind; in Husserl's terms, "constituted" by mind. This in no way denies that there is an operational environment -- that there is a "real world out there" independent of our knowing it, and of which we are an inseparable part -- perhaps something on the order of David Bohm's implicate order.
3. Knowing the clear mind.
Third, the mature contemplative knows intimately mind-states in which discursive thought and imagery has ceased. He or she knows that knowledge can arise relative to perception intuitively and without the intervention of conceptually/linguistically based reason. In a word, the mature contemplative knows what consciousness is like, minus all the usual conceptual chatter, verbal blab, fantasy movies and emotional turmoil.
4. Knowing the interaction between sensory "forming" and perceptual "naming."
Fourth, the mature contemplative's perception has become so acute that the process by which sensations arising before the mind are first contacted by attention and then recognized, bracketed, become elongated in duration, and apprehended -- all in a process that requires a duration of time, albeit infinitesimal. There is the awareness of the arising of sensation leading to contact and recognition (the " rupa " or forming aspect of Buddhist " namarupa , " or naming-forming), rather than the more naive awareness of objects already fully constituted, recognized and labeled. It points to the realization (i.e. the direct perception and knowledge) of the way that the mind generates sensations, which may or may not have anything to do with the noumena in the operational environment, either within or outside the being. The mind then attends to those sensations, and then through the orientation of attention, recognizes those sensations and lays on a form, which then leads to naming, which in due time leads to various associations with meaning stored in memory. We don't mean naming necessarily in a linguistic sense – it doesn't mean that a sensation arises, I orient towards it, and I say in my mind, a "Peter" or a "room" or a "door". Rather, the sensation arises, there's an orientation towards the sensation in the mind, and there is a recognition (literally a re -cognition) superimposed upon the form of the sensation. Of course, the reciprocal process occurs -- the intentional processes also go looking for sensations that "fill up" an anticipated meaning (as Husserl would say). At a more subtle level of awareness one sees that the constituting of the world is brought about by a continuous dialogue between the structures of intention and meaning (Husserl's "noesis" and "noema", respectively) on the one hand, and sensation (Husserl's "hyle") on the other hand. This follows for any sensory modality whatsoever.
Q: So this sensation could come and we could call it "pain" or "pleasure" -- that would also be a form of the sensation.
A: Pain is an excellent example because when one practices meditation on pain -- one comes to realize that what most people conceive to be pain is actually the conception "pain." When the raw sensation of pain is looked at, it's no longer necessarily painful, it just is another sensation. Or there's pain, but no one paining, if you will. We're not talking about a theoretical map that's laid upon perception, we're talking about a mind that's trained itself to be sufficiently quiet and concentrated in its attention to see how it, itself, is working. It is now a trained reflexive process rather than a naive introspection, which is what most philosophers -- and maybe this sounds like a terrible down rap -- refer to when they talk about their meditations; for example Descartes sitting down before the fire and looking at a lump of wax. This is not a trained contemplative at work. This is somebody who has sort of concluded that maybe he ought to sit down and look at how his perception works. It's quite a different thing to train yourself over years to calm out, to tranquilize the mind, so that it's not grabbing every instant for some new object -- particularly objects outside the being -- and to study its own machinations, if need be to slow them down and get absorbed in the real now of unfolding process, and, as it were, "spread it out." That's the effect of mature contemplation. And we're not talking about obtaining a degree in mature contemplation; like there's a moment before you walk up on stage and get your diploma and a moment afterwards when you are now a mature contemplative. It doesn't work that way.
On the other hand, there are what are called in the East "seal" experiences, taken from the ancient Chinese imperial tradition by which law did not become law until the Emperor placed his seal (or "chop") on the document, and the instant the seal touched the paper, it became law. There are meditative experiences leading to mature contemplation which are like that. For example, what has been called the coincidentia oppositorum in the Christian meditative tradition in which the mind realizes that the different senses are held apart, or distinguished conceptually by the mind -- I distinguish visual from auditory stimuli only perceptually/conceptually (see Happold 1964: 46). There is a state of mind in which the contemplative clearly experiences and intuitively grasps that all the senses are operating on the same principle. There is just sensation, the sensations of all modalities are produced on the same fundamental principles, and there is but one totality of sensation unfolding and enfolding as a field. This again is not a mapping of theory onto experience, but is direct perception and intuition of essence.
5. Knowing all sensations are made up of particles or "dots."
Fifth, contemplation may lead to direct perception of the fact that the entire sensory field operates on the production of a basic unit, or particle, which we have called the " dot ." All sense modalities present the world by producing forms as spatiotemporal extensions within a field of dots (visual dots, auditory dots, tactile dots, etc.). It is quite easy for the contemplative to 'see' the dots. One ends up watching all sense modalities -- tactile, auditory, taste, etc. -- but the perception has slowed way down, the chatter has long since stopped, the attention is undivided, concentrated and effortless, and, equally important, an intense state of question is present: What is the nature of sensation in this mind, at this moment? Very often the experience of sensory particles first arises while watching the visual system, because we're heavily visual animals. And it's often the case that the particles of experience are first seen in the visual system, but there comes a time when the mind, in a single intuitive leap, sees that all phenomenal reality of any sensory modality whatsoever, is made up of dots - concatenations of dots, heaps of dots, chunks in a total field of dots, however you want to describe them. The Hindus speak about the bindu, which translates "dot" or "drop", from the Sanskrit. We have traced the history of the notion of "dot", or "atom", or "monad," all the way back to the early pre-Socratic Greeks, where it is fairly apparent that they meant the same thing as we mean by dot, or the Hindus meant by bindu . That is, a particle or unit apprehended in direct perception, and not a theoretical entity as you have by the time you get to Bacon in the sixteenth century. Sometimes it is not clear to what extent atomists or monadists are talking from direct contemplative knowledge of dots, or to what extent they have vaguely intuited or logically deduced an atomic particle, based upon some more gross observations. There's a real difference here, you see, and a crucial one. For one thing: there's no space between dots like there is between conceptualized atoms. Dots are contiguous, yet insubstantial. This is what is often meant by the so-called "plenum" void phenomena essentially empty of substance but chock-o-block full of dots.
6. Knowing consciousness is intentional.
Sixth, to the mature contemplative it is apparent that all states of consciousness, no matter how brief, are intentional. In other words, there is always an object to every moment of consciousness, even if that object is a principle, function, or aspect of the functioning of the mind itself. For example, you're presumably paying attention to the words on this page right now. This is the object of your consciousness at the moment. But it is also possible, according to Buddhist psychology, to pay attention, not to phenomena as objects themselves, but rather to their passing away. It doesn't take much awareness to tell that there's changes going on every moment of consciousness, right? The words are there before the mind and then they're gone. Every sound is here and then gone, every visual object is there and then it's gone. With a bit more training in contemplation, one can see that though the object of form, say one of the words on this page, appears to remain fixed here over time, the dots that make it up - tiny, scintillating, almost infinitesimal particles - are appearing and disappearing all the time. They're brief, momentary, almost evanescent. There's no substance that remains unchanged in any perception. It becomes crucial to the Buddhist path of contemplation to pay attention to the passing away of those dots, and if you do that long enough and with sustained concentration and question, all the forming stops. There are no more words on the page; there's just passing away of dots. It's the perception of the passing away of dots that sets the stage, under certain psychological conditions, for the arising of the experience of Nirvana, which is the aforementioned stage twelve of the process of insight. But this level of awareness is not requisite to the intermediate mature contemplation about which we speak here. There is no indication that Husserl ever attained the "clear light" experience. In fact, his procedure specifically directs attention away from the path leading to that experience.
By the time a person has gone through the training resulting in mature contemplation, they know intimately that magical process by which intuitive knowledge appears suddenly before the mind. Insights arise made from whole cloth. One also knows that the intuitive grasp of knowledge is not a rational process. By that I mean that if there is a logic to intuition, the logic is unconscious to the knower. It is as though a problem was set by the mind, entertained over a period of time, and the answer suddenly available to mind in an instant, like somebody shoving an open book at you out of the depths of a calm sea. One moment there's the mirror surface of the ocean, and the next minute there's a book suddenly in front of you that you know in its entirety in an instant. The mature contemplative cannot be fooled into thinking that creative knowledge derives solely from reason. One has came into direct contact with what Jung called the "intuitive function." And very likely the contemplative has twigged to the fact that the ability to calm the mind enhances one's access to the intuitive function. The calmer the mind, the more in touch with the depths one can become.
7. Knowing the conditioned nature of attention.
Seventh, the contemplative knows that attention can be moved freely and willfully within the sensorium. He or she also knows that the movement of attention within the sensorium is usually not free, it is conditionally reactive to stimuli. In other words, the state of awareness for the naive mind is a continual leaping of attention from one object to another in a constant scanning of the sensorium for any objects of interest. And by "interest," read interest to adaptation. That's the primordial function of attention; scanning the cognized world for any likely food or predators. That's its basis in biology.
If one is introspective enough, one can often detect below the scanning an anxiety state motivating the continual shifting in awareness. It's usually a low-level anxiety. But sometimes it can be a high-level, intense anxiety, as when we know that we are very hyper, that the world is experienced as somewhat threatening, a dangerous place, needing a vigilant disposition against the anticipation of its harmful nature. But by the time a person has reached mature contemplation, they know states of mind in which there is no longer even a modicum of anxiety present in the being. There's dead calm, baseline calm, and the constant scanning of the sensorium can be stopped at will, attention can be focused effortlessly on one and only one object for any length of time desired. I'm not saying that he or she can do this all the time, maybe only for one hour, maybe only for twenty minutes, but if they can do it for twenty minutes, it's roughly nineteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds longer than most people can do it. That makes the crucial difference, because in that twenty minutes, that individual can sit down and with sufficient question, examine the mind as its operating in every moment, and come to understand, by direct apprehension, the essential functioning of their own mind. I assure you that the mature contemplative can stop the chatter within seconds, at the most minutes, depending on what mind-states have come before. Someone who has been at this game for a long time, under the proper circumstances, can be in samadhi in a few breaths. I'm not exaggerating or being glib here, or lying to you. This is a direct phenomenological report.
8. Knowing the underlying processes producing experience of self and world.
Eighth, the mature contemplative becomes increasingly aware of the unconscious processes of the mind underlying the apparent cognized environment. We're talking about the structures or principles of mind that produce the phenomenal world -- Wundt's unbewussien Selle , the unconscious determiners of the world. Husserl was very much on about this. So was the Buddha. How can one become free without becoming aware of the conditions that produce one's slavery?
9. Knowing how to bracket experience.
Ninth, the mature contemplative knows how to drop point of view (Wertheimer's "fixation", Husserl's "horizon" and "theory of the world"). In other words, he or she knows how to bracket. That does not mean that he or she has been raised in the Western phenomenological tradition and knows that what he or she is doing is called "bracketing." In Buddhist psychology there's different terms for this. But essentially what the mature contemplative learns to do is to recognize the arising of sensation, the contact of attention with sensation, naming, and attribution of meaning as separate segments of a total process which can be willfully tracked and controlled. One can attend to the arising and passing of sensation while ignoring the contact, naming and attribution of meaning, and pretty soon, because one does that, those factors fall away, and there is just sustained attention to the arising and passing away of the sensations themselves.
The mature contemplative knows that bracketing changes perception, it's an active process. As Husserl clearly knew, the process of bracketing is a developmental one and is much like stripping away the layers of an onion of view. It isn't as though one sits down and in a moment brackets all view and comes to the essences of consciousness. The essences are relative to the bracketing. What is essential to perception now -- after today's bracketing -- becomes part of what is bracketed tomorrow, and what is seen then is the essence. So it's a stripping away of the layers of cognitive presumption, and it is questionable whether there is ever an end to that process. It's questionable to me, reading Husserl, whether he ever thought there was an end to the process. And there's nothing in Husserl's writing that leads me to suspect that he ever realized the Void. But that doesn't surprise me because Void Consciousness can only arise as a consequence of appropriate question. Realization of the Void, Nirvana if you wish, is the lawful consequence of the examination of passing away, of death. If that question is not alive in the mind, or if some other question is alive in the mind, that experience, that intuition will not arise, because the experience of Nirvana is an intuitive grasp of what's happening every moment anyway.
Q: If Nirvana is dependent on the right question, then each question has implicitly its outcome in its answer. So does Nirvana actually end up being a final stage or is it an absolute answer to a specific question?
A: Yes and No. Neither.
10. Knowing the role of anticipation in experience.
And tenth, the mature contemplative knows how anticipation, expectation, structure sensorial events, structure the arising of phenomena now. When one brackets future anticipation, past memories, and allows them to drop away, one is totally absorbed in the real now. A result of that knowledge is that when the anticipatory function returns to consciousness, one sees the effect of that time-binding function on experience. You're sitting, poised, waiting for my next words, which may never come. Your consciousness is not just tracking what's arising and passing away now, but what's about to occur and in a certain sense you've got it already predicted. If I were suddenly to get outrageously novel, it would blow your minds. The world will occasionally do that to you. Gurdjieff used to tell his students "You know, you people step off a curb and somebody nearly runs you down, and for an instant you're totally awake, in the now, and you curse that person instead of bowing down and thanking them for that gift of a moment of clarity..." (or words to that effect). Perhaps they didn't give it out of compassion, only from bad driving techniques, but nonetheless a gift from the world.
11. Knowing totality.
Eleventh, the mature contemplative knows, not only the relationship of figure to ground, or object of consciousness to totality of consciousness, they also know what it is like when the ground itself becomes the object of consciousness. They know, in other words, what consciousness of totality means. Small as a mustard seed, large as a mountain, was the dictum Jesus used which, metaphorically, may well refer to the experience which any mature contemplative has had in one way or another. There is the realization that the mind can attend a tiny particle, can examine the dot, or it can examine the entire sensorium as object. In fact. there are exercises in some traditions in which one narrows awareness down to the tiniest object one can perceive, and then suddenly expands awareness out to the most spacious possible, and back and forth from the infinitesimal to the immense or infinite. There's experiences that occur if one performs this exercise with sufficient awareness. There are intuitions that arise that relate the two extremes of perception. Maybe they're not different at all.
12. Knowing through symbolic imagery.
Twelfth, the mature contemplative knows the integrating role of symbolic images in cognition. As noted earlier, it has long been thought, as evidenced by logical positivism, that the highest form of scientific knowledge takes the form of logical propositions in natural language or mathematics. With the fall of the received view and the simultaneous rise of cognitive science, there has become an increasing interest in, and study of the importance of imagery in knowledge. To put it in present day neurological jargon, right lobe as opposed to left lobe functioning in knowledge. The mature contemplative knows in the process of unfolding of insight that images have an integrative function in consciousness; that much of knowledge is organized around images. In the dream state, in fantasy states, as well as in creative activity in the arts, imagery plays a central role in knowing. We mean images in any sensory modality whatever, not just visual.
13. Knowing the relation between calm and concentration.
Thirteenth, any mature contemplative knows that there's a lawful relationship between calmness and concentration – the more hyper the being, the less concentrated the mind -- the more tranquil the being, the greater concentration of mind is possible. Visa versa, insofar as one increases one's concentration, one will generally become calmer. This knowledge becomes crucial in evaluating Husserl's project, because nowhere, so far as I'm able to find in his writing, did he ever describe that lawful connection; if he did it's in some unpublished notebook somewhere, and apparently there are plenty of those laying around in various archives.
14. Knowing the nature of emotion.
Fourteenth, the mature contemplative may or may not come to know that affect is generalized in the being, and is attributed by cognition to objects. Emotion is a generalized state in the being and becomes specific by being attributed to objects. The mature contemplative knows this because mind-states arise in which any and all of the emotions may be felt without an object. One comes to see that there is a well of affect which is sitting, waiting to be assigned to an object. "You make me feel angry!" That's ignorance. You are producing vibrations in my operational environment that when they enter this system become matched up actively with anger-affect. The mature contemplative knows this because there are mind-states that automatically arise in the process of contemplation in which that information is available, if there's question about it. This is not to say that he or she does not get trapped by cultural conditioning into arguing with his wife or her husband! "You're not doing the dishes tonight and you're making me very angry!" But the contemplative has the stuff, if there is the will and the question available, to step back from that process and look at it and say "I'm responsible for my karma, I own my own karma, I own my own affect, this other person has no control over my affect".
15. Knowing the integration of intellect and affect.
Finally, the mature contemplative will tend to appreciate a reintegration of intellect and affect. This will occur at every level from that of a melding of what he or she once distinguished as "science" and "mysticism" to a merger of reason (logos) and relatedness (physis or Eros) in personal life. Environmentalist J.A. Livingston (1981) has written a scathing criticism of modern views of conservation from an understanding of the possibility of such an integration of intellect and affect:
There was a time when sensible people knew that reason and experience could not be torn asunder; together, they were "knowledge." It is this knowledge of which I speak – the state of being that is wildlife preservation. Today, however, its two parts are conceptually polarized. We have rationality (science) and we have mysticism (non-rational experience). We have intellect as distinct from emotion. We have reason/feeling, and we have man/nature... I have complained long and widely about the intellect/emotion duality in the conservation context. Anyone with a shot glass of intelligence can follow most logical argument, but inevitably there appears some "block" that prevents the emotional acceptance of man as a biologic being, with all that implies. We have forgotten that what makes the world go round is compliance, not logic.
(Livingston 1981: 103)
It is very hard for most of us to "be with it" in the world, for we are conditioned to separate ourselves from the world via our views. Our views lock intentional awareness into worry about happenings in the past and into fantasies and plans about happenings yet to be. But the minute we begin to wake up to the way things are in the real now, we begin to have experiences that teach us we are "beings in the world," to use existentialist jargon. We get back in touch with the Eros factor, a factor that is, quite naturally, already there. But the route to awareness of this factor is inevitably via awareness of the body. And that's the rub you see, for to awaken to the body is to awaken to the dissonance created in ego-consciousness by the fact of the being's creatureliness - its impermanence and its death and all the attendant negative-feelings associated with all that. As Ernest Becker (1973) tried to show, the urge to deny the fact of our creatureliness, and thus the inevitability of our death, underlies the more naive institutional religions on the planet.
Virtually by definition, the mature contemplative has transcended this basic ignorance and split in consciousness, for he or she has seen clearly that no such distinction is given in essential perception. Rather, what is realized is the totality of being. The totality is alive and is in flux. When people realize the nature of this totality, they:
...recognize it as something in nature that awakens in humans a sense of wonder or produces a momentary thrill. It lies at the root of all transcendent experience, which is not the prerogative of Oriental cults, but is such a basic part of human life everywhere that it must be considered a biological phenomenon. ...This phenomenon is what makes it possible for us to see things as holy. We set them aside as "wholly" other, while recognizing, if only for a fleeting instant, that we are an essential part of this big thing, that it somehow depends on us for its wholeness, or holiness.
(Watson 1982: 78)
Along with the realization of totality may (but not necessarily) come the realization of its impermanence and the inevitability of death. Unless the contemplative has realized Void Consciousness, he or she will have only intuitions about the real nature of the experience of death, not yet the realization of death and thus rebirth consciousness. This, too, relates to the question of freedom, but is beyond the scope of these discourses. What is germane to our discussion is that the mature contemplative experiences (not merely reasons about) the singular, monadic nature of the world -- the totality of being -- and the inextricable connectedness of being and world. Duality of view along this line is thus anathema to the mature contemplative, not merely because such view contradicts his or her own, but rather because it contravenes his or her own direct experience of existence. And this experience of totality is the seed of true compassion of the sort Livingston sees lacking in environmentalism policies today. To fully experience the totality of being produces the knowledge that to damage the world is to damage self. The number of human beings capable of this kind of compassion are but a tiny fraction of those dwelling on the planet today. This fact alone can produce the kind of sadness that will bring you to your knees.
AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL CATCH-22
We have been speaking here of the potential of the human mind to become free of the constraints of socially imposed views of self and world, a process of enculturation that every human being in every culture on the planet goes through. A seeming irony, don't you think? Yet it is quite a natural process, as Husserl implies when he calls this conditioned view the "natural attitude." My claim is that it is just as natural to grow out of our dependence upon that conditioning, just as natural to turn the processes of mind that produce the conditioning in the first place to the task of freeing-up the mind from that conditioning. Culture, after all, is but the cognitive imperative socially satisfied. The freeing-up, the performance of the reduction, is a step or steps beyond cultural view.
There would appear, however, to be an epistemological catch-22 inherent in the freeing-up that results in a mature contemplative. That is, in a very real sense one cannot know without experiencing, so why seek the experience to begin with? Once the conservative cycle of redundancy of knowledge and experience sets in – that is, the cycle by which knowledge anticipates and canalizes experience and experience is interpreted so as to confirm knowledge -- it is a devilishly hard thing for most folks to get the system off-kilter enough to experience self and world in a new way. Their comfy certitude has to be blocked, contravened, disconfirmed in some way. In many societies, such as among some West African groups, young people are whisked away into the bush where they undergo the privations and ordeals and indoctrinations of "bush schools" in order to bring about radical transformations in personality requisite for adulthood. This has been the pattern in many mystery schools as well. The cognitive imperative has to be dis -satisfied in order for a radical realignment of experience and knowledge to occur.
But this catch-22 is only apparent. It isn' t real. For the fact is that although our experience in some domain may be limited, we can intuit the need to explore that domain in order to grow or to get something we want. We don't have to experience what it is like to be a competent skier before we are motivated to learn to ski. There is something inside us that knows we would like to be able to do that: to ski, play the piano, drive a motorcycle to Mexico, whathaveyou. And so we explore. It is the same with the reduction. Something triggers the intuition that there is more to learn about me and the world than I am able to know from my present stance. Perhaps I meet someone whose knowledge I find awesome, so far beyond mine that they appear to me to be very wise. And there's an intuition that I, too, can attain such wisdom. Perhaps I go to them and ask, "How can I, too, become wise?" And maybe they answer, "You can't become wise, but wisdom can arise and mature in your being." And we're off-and-running on a new exploration. Or maybe I am in a state of abject suffering and recognize at some level that this other being is hail and hardy and I throw myself at their feet and say, "HELP!" However it happens, the student projects teacher onto the other and, presuming the projection is appropriate, this can lead to some kind of guided exploration. This is the classic guru-chela transference.
The intuition leading to exploration and growth may be fairly limited and proximal to where you currently are cognitively. The intuition that leads you ultimately to mature contemplation and perhaps even to the transcendental experience may at first be about healing, or coming up with better theories - proximal intuitions that are rationalizable within the bounds of ego consciousness. Gurus often build proximal "carrots" into a course of exploration the ultimate goal of which is beyond the chela's present ego-bound comprehension. So you're stressed out?
Unhappy? Have the feeling you're living life in the fast lane and at a shallow depth? So sit down and do this and do that and you will feel calmer, less stressed, more alive, clearer. From the view of the transcendental, calming a stressed-out body is a carrot, albeit a requisite to ultimate realization of the reduction and the transcendental experience.
In the same sense, anthropology, and particularly ethnography, can be a course of carrots leading under the right conditions to a "broader perspective" on human conditioning. Doing ethnography can set the stage for experiences that to whatever extent free the ethnographer from concrete cultural constraints. We anthropologists have known for generations that the fieldwork experience is a rite of passage. There's the implicit awareness that before fieldwork there is something that the aspiring anthropologist cannot know, and that comes to be known during and after the ethnographic encounter. This is why ethnology is forever on the periphery of the social sciences and other disciplines when, from the ethnologist's point of view, it ought to be placed right at stage center. You're a psychologist and you want to organize a conference on child-abuse, so you invite one token anthropologist (it used to always be Margaret Mead) to give the "broader perspective" that seems to be at the same time both provocative and out in left field somewhere – giving a flavor of the exotic and esoteric. If you want a current example, take a look at Howard Gardner's (1985) recent book The Mind's New Science . Gardner traces the history of the "new" cognitive science, and in the process touches on anthropology and neuroscience, both of which he considers peripheral in importance. You see, even as astute a scientist as Gardner cannot know the ethnographic experience, for the simple reason that he's a psychologist and has never done ethnography.
But you might say its all well and good to advocate mature contemplation and phenomenological reductions, but just how does one go about becoming a mature contemplative - assuming one wants to make the effort? The answer Husserl gives seems quite simple and straightforward. Just perform the reduction! Yet, if the reduction were all that simple to realize, more of his own students would have done so, and all the disciplines would be chockablock with mature contemplatives. This is clearly not the case, am I right? Well, after developing some other material, we will return to the question of how to become a mature contemplative and make sense of meditation in terms of biogenetic structural theory.
Move on to Chapter 4