version of: August 8, 2004
Chapter 16: Already
There is no need to do anything. What is more, there is no possibility to do anything. Attempts to do are illusory, and feed back into a grand illusion that in turn seems to sustain further attempts to do. The only way to break this magic spell is to stop the habitual stream of continuous attempts at doing. But this stopping cannot be a deed. It can only follow from insight into the already, into the fact that everything is already complete as it is, with no need for any further correction, manipulation, or fabrication.
Experiment 2.4.: Dropping Layers
Our whole life we have been conditioned to see problems in need of a solution. And our whole life we have been busy dealing with those problems, trying to solve them, or run away from them, or deny them, or transform them into other problems. Now let us contemplate a radical alternative, as a working hypothesis: there are no problems.
Without trying to judge whether or not this working hypothesis makes sense, let us test it out, for a while at least, giving it an honest chance to reveal to us a different realm, different from the realm we thought we had been living in so far.
Take a problem, any problem, although it will be much easier to start with a rather small problem first. Try to just hold it in your mind for a while, in a neutral way. Notice how immediately all kind of solutions offer themselves in the face of this problem, in a broad spectrum ranging from practical approaches to just wishing it away.
Now instead of wishing it away, consider it already gone, and never having been there in the first place, in any real sense. Now iterate this process: for any objection that rises against this conclusion, drop that objection too. Then drop the objections that arise against dropping the objections, and also drop the objections against dropping objections against dropping objections, and so on, layer by layer at first, and if possible all layers together.
This may sound like a crazy experiment, even stranger than the previous experiments, perhaps downright ridiculous. And if someone picks up this book for the first time, browses through it and then happens to open it to this page, the above suggestions may well be a reason to close the book again, with the conclusion that they run counter to any common sense.
And indeed, it does run counter to common sense. Now the question is whether common sense stands in need of adjustment. How to decide that question? One approach is to look at the body of knowledge we most rely on, these days, that of science, and to look at its history, to see what it can teach us.
The whole history of science has been punctuated by breaks with common sense. Everybody knew that the Sun was revolving around the Earth -- yet science showed reality to be the other way around. Everybody knew that objects after a while exhaust their motion, and come to rest, as their natural state -- yet science showed unperturbed motion to be eternal. Everybody knew that animals beget animals and men beget men -- yet science showed how evolution has progressed in an unbroken chain from the first living cells to all plants and animals, humans included.
Living in a world based on vacuum fluctuations and quantum foam, in which stable matter is a shimmering illusion in a seething sea of energy in states of potentiality, our sense of what common sense can teach us has become a dull tool, in need of serious honing.
One objection that our working hypothesis quickly invites is that it is amoral, unethical. It seems that we deny the vast amount of suffering in the world, and that we deny the need to take action against injustice of all forms. With wars still raging fiercely, the environment being destroyed rapidly, and a significant fraction of species disappearing, what good can it possibly do to explore the notion of their never having been any problems?
A good question. And one for which there is a good answer. The answer is in direct analogy to the question of why to pursue pure science. With all problems in the world, shouldn't science focus on applied research, in hot pursuit of urgent needs for all these pressing problems?
Not necessarily, and certainly not exclusively. All forms of applied science that are currently being pursued and that have given us our current power, for better or worse, have their direct roots in pure research. Without pure research, driven by curiosity to explore the structure of reality, technological progress would have remained very limited.
Often we have to step back in order to jump further. By focusing on pure research, we have stumbled upon applications that could never have been foreseen. Electromagnetism was not discovered in order to chat on a cell phone while waiting in line at a grocery store. If we reason by analogy, the very magnitude of the current global problems that seem absolutely overwhelming calls for an even more pure form of research.
Reasoning by analogy is not convincing, and cannot lead to any direct proofs. Nor does it have to be convincing: the main use of a good analogy is to prevent foregone conclusions in the opposite direction.
Pure research, value free, without any expectations for profit of any kind, has shown tremendous value in the science of objects. By analogy, we can expect similar profit to derive from pure research in a future science that rises beyond the study of the object, and even beyond the subject-object split.
The purest form of research into the world of sheer appearance is to set aside the question of what is problematic, and of what needs repair. The challenge is to resist the temptation to manipulate anything, and instead to just investigate by directly seeing what is the case.
A physicist doesn't try to change the value of the gravitational constant, or the properties of an electron, as little as a mathematician tries to change the numerical value of the square root of two. Only by accepting nature as it is does it become possible to use its power: no power without humility.
Continuing this analogy to its logical end, we could expect maximum power with maximum humility. To gain maximum value from research, we should conduct it with absolute purity, without even a grain of an attempt at gaining anything valuable.
The working hypothesis offered above can be seen as an attempt to stretch the analogy as far as possible. Whether it will make sense or not, that is hard to say at this stage. But at the very least, it warrants investigation. Only by honestly exploring the consequences of this working hypothesis can we begin to evaluate what it can offer us.
And already we can guess at some of its benefits: when we try to solve a seemingly unsurmountable problem, we can be paralyzed by its sheer weight, and we can waste valuable energy worrying and doubting that we can make a difference. By setting aside all worries and doubts, paradoxically we can use our time and energy far more effectively.
In martial arts this notion has long been known. When a warrior enters a battle field with the firmly held notion that he has already died, and having entered the stage of death he has nothing to lose, he can be optimally effective in his fighting -- and paradoxically that may give him more of a chance of surviving. It is time for us to explore what it means to re-enter the stage of life with the notion that there are no problems in need of solving.
To perform the experiment described above may not be easy, at first. We may feel as if we are strangers in a very strange land. It may not be clear at all how we can drop layers of objections against the notion of there not being any problems in need of adjustment.
It may help to briefly revisit the previous three experiments in the current series. Consider the present moment as a self-contained snapshot, harboring past and future; view the world, including us, as given as light rather than substance; and travel once more from the realm of matter through the realm of experience to the realm of sheer appearance.
It may also help to remember moments in your life where you seemed to be completely stuck, and where a solution finally came from a completely unsuspected direction, not formulated in terms of the way you had been holding on to the problem. Even more radical that cutting through a problem, seeing through a problem can sometimes show a solution so profound that it implies that there never had been a problem in the first place.
A radical example of there never having been a problem is waking up from a dream. Sometimes we even refuse to accept, during the first moments after waking up, that all the problems in the dream have completely melted away, or even more accurately, that all those problems had never really been real in the first place.
Another example is that of a mother sitting in a park, watching her children play. Without buying into any of the problems that the children may project into the situation, she is in no way aloof. She dearly loves her children, and feels very intimate with them, notwithstanding the fact that she is not pulled in by their stories and fantasies.
Or we can think of an old person sitting on bench in a city square, watching the hustle and bustle and how everybody is milling around, without being taken up by any of the worries and pressures that drives all those people to do their running around.
Using these examples, we can spend some time to find a more peaceful state of mind, which is important as a starting point for the `dropping layers' experiment. Without a minimal amount of inner calm, wild attempts at dropping will only lead to an accumulation of more layers.
Let us take a concrete example. Somebody has slighted you, perhaps on purpose, perhaps accidentally. The next time you meet this person, what do you do? You can take some form of revenge, either in a more subtle or more direct way. Or you can confront that person, and express your anger at being slighted. Or you may decide not to do or say anything, but instead to watch the other person carefully, staying on guard, while still feeling slighted.
You may also decide to rise above the whole situation, taking the moral high ground. Or you may try to explicitly forgive the other person, perhaps even turning the other cheek. Or you may decide that the whole thing is not worth worrying about, and you may try to forget about it.
The dropping experiment described above is different from all of these approaches. The main difference is that it is not an approach at all. Somebody has slighted you? Okay, no problem. Literally. You don't even begin to consider it as a problem.
If there is no problem, there is no need for a solution. You can then interact with the other person without any reserve, without any grudge or friction or need for readjustment of anything.
A no-problem attitude does not mean that you are not paying attention to the situation. If somebody is out to trick you, there is no need to let yourself be tricked. Nor is there a need to be particularly nice to someone who is trying to offend you. You just don't see it as a problem.
When it starts raining, you may hold up an umbrella, or wear a hat, or take shelter until the rain stops, or you may decide that it is not so bad, after all, to get a little wet. In general, you choose one of those options without seeing the rain as a problem. Rather, it just happens to rain, and you just happen to adjust to it. No problem.
In a similar way, when someone seems to slight you, you can adjust to it. If it is an isolated event, the most natural response may be not to react to it. If it occurs repeatedly, you may choose to react in a particular way. You might even show honest anger, and yet there is no reason to consider the situation as a problem.
When it rains, you may just walk in the rain, or you may wear an umbrella. Or sometimes you walk with an umbrella, but you don't feel like unfolding it quite yet, perhaps because you've almost arrived at your destination, and you prefer not to walk around with a wet umbrella. When somebody insults you, you may shrug it off or you may react; both can be done in a way that does not see the situation as a problem.
If you can find the time, take a week, and start the first day with a small problem, a really very tiny problem. It would be silly to conclude that you cannot drop that problem. Notice how you drop it: how you take it up, walk around it, then what changes when you drop it. It may almost be too small to hold it up and to walk around it, but try anyway, and make sure to make some lab notes about it, even if you only write: "couldn't hold/see/notice anything."
The second day, take a slightly larger problem, but still one that is really really minor, and repeat the same steps. The third day, take a really minor problem, and the fourth day, take just a minor problem. It may be interesting to reread the notes of the previous day, after you have made notes for a given day, to compare what is similar and what is different.
The last three days, you can try your hand at slightly more major problems, perhaps even reaching to a really major problem by the seventh day. Don't try to find a solution, don't fight any of the problems, just try to hold them in your hand, as you did so successfully during the first couple days. Is the problem real? Does the problem have real power over you? Are you sure?
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