(From my book: Spirituality Without God)
The path of self-transcendence is fundamentally characterized by the recognition and transcendence of all aspects of limitation on our being. Where there is a sense of ‘self’ to be transcended, there is limitation. And where there is limitation there is resistance. The separate self-sense is an ongoing process of resistance to the ever-fresh revelation of the living moment and consequently to life itself.
It is therefore imperative that our path should address all aspects of resistance in whichever form these may manifest in our daily living. But before we can recognize and transcend the limitations we bring to life, it would be useful first to establish how to approach this matter in a realistic and intelligent way.
Perhaps the most important consideration we can bring to this enquiry is to ensure that the investigation into the fragmentation of life does not in itself become an integral part of the fragmentary process. If we are thus to enquire into the limitations and resistances any aspect of ourselves brings to the way we function, we need to be sensitive to how we approach such an enquiry. Should we, for instance, hold the view of ‘self’ and ‘other’ as two categorically separate forms of manifestation as our point of departure, we would limit and condition our enquiry from the outset within the very fragmented frame of reference that needs to be investigated and transcended. Yet, as self-contracted beings, this is exactly what we would do, unless we sensitize ourselves to this possibility and remain vigilant that we do not allow ourselves to fall into this trap.
One way of assuring that our path of self-transcendence remains free from influences that may dilute the quality of our enquiry, is to establish a clear distinction between ‘intellectualism’ and ‘reality-consideration’.
Briefly stated we could say that intellectualism is essentially a product of the intellect which is characterized by the limited intelligence which operates around thought, memory, learnt behavior, acquired knowledge, habitual responses and conditioning. In its broadest sense it could be described as a movement in fragmentation because it has no critical insight into the instruments (thought, conditioning, memory, etc) through which it operates. And because of this lack of clarity it tends to function in a somewhat confused manner which leads to partial solutions and fragmented answers to the challenges it needs to address. The intellect functions within a narrow band of human potential which does not, and cannot, accommodate all aspects of integral living in a coherent way.
Reality-consideration, on the other hand, does not fragment life into clearly defined categories of predetermined responses. Rather, as it is founded in our deeper, more comprehensive intelligence, it always considers the wider picture. This makes reality-consideration sensitive to all forms of fragmentation and prevents us from thinking in a separative way.
But as the investigation into these two processes is so important for the success of our enquiry into human development as a whole, it may be worth looking at them in some greater detail.
The intellect is a sophisticated and complex instrument for physical survival. As humans we respond and operate on many different levels from one moment to the next, and often it is required of us to look at a particular challenge from more than one perspective. Here the intellect plays a vital role as it can refer to previous solutions for the successful negotiation of challenges without each time having to re-invent the wheel.
Memory, knowledge and the logic that functions in relation to these also have a necessary and practical role to play in our successful interaction with our environment. This broad-based instrument is therefore necessary in the practical ordering of our lives, as well as in the maintenance of the kind of relative order for which it is naturally and legitimately responsible.
And to give effect to the psychophysical being’s demand for order, this instrument created an extensive range of socially acceptable forms of behavior, thinking, feeling and emotional responses which appear to satisfy many of our needs for physical security, outer structure and social organization.
However, integrally part of any ordering-system are the effects it has on us, as the creators of this order. By bringing order to our environment, we subject ourselves to being modified, influenced, controlled and limited by the borders we create for ourselves. To establish order is to create borders and limitations, not only on our present functioning, but, more importantly, also on our ability and potential for exploration, risk-taking and openhearted inner enquiry. And these borders often present us with an impenetrable barrier between our social persona and the fulfillment of our full potential as human beings.
The psychological, ego-based, social environment has become a condition for living in no way less real, demanding and controlling than the natural environment into which we were born. As individuals we are always confronted by the broad social-psychological reality in which we function and through which we are expected to fulfill our destiny. And although the social order in many ways sets us free from having to invent appropriate responses to certain existential challenges for ourselves, the price we pay for the psychological and physical security the system offers, is often disproportionate in its negative effects on our development as a whole to the good it might bring.
Yet, because these influences have been with us ever since our birth, they have become so integrally part of our internal sense of things that we seldom allow ourselves the freedom, and give ourselves the opportunity, to challenge the standards, rules and dogmas by which society orders our lives. We simply continue to function within the limits and presumed logic of what has been presented to us as correct and responsible forms of behavior. And it is this ‘logic’ inherent in all social order that forms an integral part of intellectualism.
One of the main characteristics of intellectualism is that it is essentially ignorant of its own limitations. The intellect has a limited intelligence which functions around deep patterns of social and personal conditioning; knowledge, and projection and transference. It can only repeat, either verbatim or in modified form, what it knows, and does so with the ‘logic’ and apparent reasonableness with which all conditioning convinces us of its inherent value and truth. We generally remain unaware that this process is incapable of bringing anything new to our lives. The intellect can only present us with modified versions of its existing emotional and mental memory-base. Little or no insight is possible while we are exclusively functional in this mode. This is how we transfer these uninspected prescriptions for living from one generation to the next, including all the ideas we inherit as religion, politics, economic orders, philosophical notions and moral values. It is the function of the intellect to make sense of these, but this ‘sense’ is always from within the limitation of its own preconditioned and pre-conceived borders.
As our present enquiry centers on the possibility of freeing ourselves from all forms of limitation, it would be useful to sensitize ourselves to a rather specialized form of intellectualism where we mistake conceptual understanding for reality. It seems strange that we should allow ourselves to be deceived in this way. Yet, this is a mistake we all tend to make. Being caught in the mechanics of thought via the thought/attention-knot, it is not always easy to discern between thought projections and reality.
To appreciate this, we just have to consider how beliefs have become irreducible facts for many of us. For instance, for many of us, our God is ‘out there’, either in heaven or in some other spiritual realm. He is absolutely real; in fact, often more ‘real’ than the world of the senses. We repeat all the stories about God’s endless struggle with his imperfect creation from one generation to another as though we are relating something we have actually observed for ourselves. The Indian traditions are filled with similar myths about gods and other lesser beings fighting one another somewhere in cosmic space, and these have been told and retold, as fact, for thousands of years.
If we follow this same line of enquiry into the modern era where much of the non-dualistic teachings have become available to us through books, recordings and the teachers of these traditions, we find much the same happening. Many of us fully understand the non-dualistic descriptions of these teachings. There is logic to it and, once this logic has been grasped, it is not difficult to construct very clever and subtle arguments for oneself in confirmation of one’s understanding. Once we have convinced ourselves of the irreducible truth of such a non-dual philosophy, we truly believe that there is little else to do. We become so totally identified with the thought of non-dualism that we can no longer distinguish between our mental projection of non-dualism and the living, experiential reality of the non-dual truth of life. We literally mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself.
In the same way as we mistake our gods for reality, we also mistake our intellectual understanding for reality. We talk about the wholeness of life, non-duality, unitive consciousness and Advaita (not two) as though we know exactly what we are talking about.
And, interestingly, this is precisely the case. We talk only about our knowledge of these things. What we generally do not recognize is that this is all we are talking about. We merely repeat what we have heard, and relate it to others, or think about it, as some immutable, experience-based truth. We sincerely believe we are talking and thinking about the real thing. But as we have seen, knowledge is not the thing. In this instance, intellectualism could be seen as our inability to discern between that which is created by thought, and that which is not.
We could therefore reasonably enquire whether there may be a viable alternative way of thinking and feeling about things that may not only bring more clarity to our lives but which could also facilitate the natural unfolding of our inherent intelligence and greater humanity. In this way the truth towards which our words point might become our own revelation and living experience. The system of the intellect has clearly failed us. Intellectual humankind has been around this planet for thousands of years and, looking at what we have achieved in terms of truly humane living, little could be accounted for.
However technologically advanced we may be, the fact remains that what we dramatize every day in terms of human relationships, both the relationship we have with ourselves and what we project outward to others, display rather crude and very elementary forms of human development. Underneath the veneer of intellectual stability, order and social tolerance, lies great potential for violence, disharmony, war, disorganization and general relational dysfunction. This is because we have become identified with an aspect of our being (the intellect) which was never designed to deal with the totality of our human functioning. The intellect no doubt has its place. However, when it endeavors to address the totality of the challenges of life it cannot but miss the mark. Rather, applied in such an indiscriminate manner, the intellect becomes an instrument of disinformation, disorder and bewilderment.
This points to perhaps one of the most unfortunate errors we have made: we have specialized in the intellect, which, as we have seen, is dominated by unconscious and uninspected thinking processes. Valuable as thought might be, it is not the instrument that can allow for the revelation of our deeper intelligence and true emotional well-being.
Nobody can teach us how to love, to be compassionate, considerate, openhearted, generous, ethical, moral, just, intelligent and whole. We may read many books about these subjects, and yet, at the end of it all, we will be as bereft of the actual, living reality of these inherent human qualities as before. These are qualities which live in us as potential, and which have to be awakened as part of our total human development. They cannot manifest through conditioned forms of knowledge and response. Our work is to learn how to distinguish between these two sources of information – the intellect and living experience.
Should we attempt to correct the error of fragmented living from within the borders of our fragmented thinking patterns, we will merely be committing another error. The intellect can only modify itself within its own limited field of operation. As we have seen, thought cannot transcend itself. The error we commit of trying to experience the fullness of our human condition through the limited and conditioned activities of the intellect cannot be corrected by any further activity from within this instrument which is integral to the error itself. Another way of dealing with life has to become our possibility if we are at all interested in the development of our human potential and the establishment of relational harmony in our lives.
For this we have to become realists, rather than idealists, and develop ways of recognizing the difference. We have to learn to consider things from a realistic perspective and feel our way into the categorical difference between that which is real, and that which is unreal. That is, we have to discover the difference between that which is created and sustained by thought, presenting itself as reality via the agency of the thought/attention-knot, and that which is not. Unreality, or illusion, is to mistake the creations of thought and the limited intelligence associated with it, for reality.
Reality-consideration is a process of intelligent, feeling-discernment based on clear observation. Reality-consideration refuses to be deluded by the apparent reality of the projections of thought. Here, enquiry into life proceeds on the basis of direct personal experience and present evidence, rather than thought-creations mistaken for reality.
Reality consideration is a twofold process. It not only investigates things from a realistic, non-idealistic point of view, but it is informed by a totally different quality of intelligence than that which normally functions as the limited and conditioned deliberations of the intellect. Not based in memory with all its emotional and mental reactivities, this intelligent feeling-presence is capable of looking at things afresh and presents us with a considerably more realistic, and therefore, holistic view of life.
Operating from within the movement of our deeper intelligence, the consideration is always how to respond to things both mentally and emotionally in a realistic, life-positive and participatory manner. The intelligence that makes these responses possible may make use of memory, attention, conditioned thinking and emotional response-potential, but because it is always informed by a different quality of insight and understanding, it takes a more comprehensive view of matters. Our awakened intelligence literally ‘reads’ the scripts presented to it by the instruments operating within the intellect, and discern when and how to make use of these forms of information.
To be a realist is therefore not to deny any aspect of our functional potential. Rather, it means that we are able both to transcend conditioned material and to know when to make use of those aspects of our accumulated past, including our habitual patterns of thinking and feeling. Reality-consideration is therefore the most open-minded and openhearted approach to any situation.
For freedom to be real and active in our lives, the process by which such freedom is allowed to manifest should already show signs of the integrity and realism that are inherent in our unfolding wholeness. This calls for an unmitigated adherence to realism: not the cold and fragmented, materialistic ‘realism’ of the intellect, but rather the realism born from a fearless, integrated and holistic approach to things. Through this we will align ourselves with the living experience of our free human condition: mentally as well as emotionally.
Freedom, not founded in such absolute realism of unconditioned intelligence and participatory, non-reactive emotional responses, can only be an illusion created by the fertile imaginings of thought. And conceptual freedom is a contradiction in terms. Freedom cannot be contained within the borders of the known. For the very reason of it being conceptual in nature, and not an expression of the free intelligence associated with the non-dual experience of the living moment, it will remain vulnerable to becoming corrupted by conditions, circumstances and the ever-changing fickleness of the human mind. Clearly, conditioned freedom is at best merely an image of the genuine article.
Once we are able to appreciate the difference between that which is created by thought and that which is not, it will also be evident that reality-consideration can never be speculative. It concerns itself with our observable and experiential human condition, and not with metaphysical theories. To consider reality is to consider that which has been seen, felt or intuited or is presently being observed and experienced. And if thought does enter into this field of observation in a speculative way, the intelligence associated with this process clearly sees it for what it is. Such recognition gradually transcends all unconscious conditioned thinking and feeling.
Because reality-consideration is also a conscious process, it does not allow itself to be drawn into the unconscious thought-attention-state whereby we become the apparent reality of our thought-creations. Rather, it pre-empts unconscious identification with any aspect of thought. It becomes aware of the content of thought the instant it arises, and remains sensitive to the tendency for the unconscious association of attention with such a thought. In this way reality-consideration cannot become part of our fragmentary, dualistic thinking-patterns. It serves the conscious process of undermining all forms of fragmentary presumption and thereby aligns our thinking with the wholeness of life.
But to be real takes courage. Not the courage of our conviction – for our conviction may often still be based on the same uninspected untruths we have come to live with – but rather the courage and open-heartedness to stand free and to observe, to question and enquire, and to begin to live our lives on the basis of our own truth, instead of following the confused light of another. Truth, as appropriate action, does not present itself to a heart and mind full of certainty. It flowers when there is the prior understanding that all certainty needs to be investigated, explored, observed, and recognized in the light of a completely open-ended approach. That which reveals itself in the light of such recognition will then become the realistic, unconditioned basis for our interactions with life.
Through this we grow along the path of our own investigation, insight and clarity. Nothing can be too high or too low to be included in this enquiry. In reality-consideration there are no taboos. Every aspect of our lives remains open for recognition, investigation and change. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is solid. Our lives become one long, fascinating journey of self-enquiry informed by our own inner wisdom. The intellect as both cultural product and instrument of the known, can never teach us how to become open and responsive to the living moment. And it is the living moment alone which allows our deeper humanity to become the directive principle of our lives.
As we have seen, compassion and all our truly humane qualities cannot be learnt. From the point of view of the intellect these qualities can, at best, only be imitated. And because such learnt behavior is not born from within the clarity of our own living reality or founded in the light of our own deeper intelligence, it will become conditional upon circumstances whereby we display our humanity strategically and selectively: often merely to impress those around us or to convince ourselves of our inner spiritual refinement and wisdom.
Deep down we know we are vastly less complicated than what the convoluted world of the intellect has convinced us to believe about ourselves. In the natural order of things we are also vastly more capable than what conditioned living has allowed us to think and feel about ourselves. Once we have become sensitive to the profound value of reality-consideration, we will be well positioned to leave behind the uninspected and unfulfilling promises of the intellect. This will gradually allow our lives to be informed by a deep and comprehensive source of emotional intelligence which is an aspect of human living uncontaminated by the compulsive activities and reactivities of the intellect. From here our humanity could develop in a realistic and integral way.