Thursday, January 8, 2015

Waking, Dreaming, Being, chapter three

Continuing from this post:

He discusses a study of long-term meditators doing compassion meditation, which generated highly synchonized gamma waves. These are associated with alert and clear conscious awareness. A key ingredient of this sort of meditation is that it combines a general focus on an individual group with a strong affect or feeling of helping said focus. This reminds me of Lakoff's 'real reason,' where the body and emotions provide the basis for abstract thought, and by keeping this 'in mind' tames the abstract mind from dissociating into a purely ideal or absolute realm.

Thompson then says that the above style of mediation is of the open monitoring variety, where one does not select an object of focus but one remains open and attentive to whatever arises. I don't see how compassion mediation is of this sort, given its focus on people as objects of compassion, generated compassion being another object of focus. But letting that go for now, this sort of meditation trains one to distinguish the awareness itself from the objects it takes by noticing how the objects arise and then dissolve.

Thompson returns to a theme at the beginning, the conference where the Dalai Lama wonders if even pure awareness requires a physical basis. Years later at another conference Thompson had another opportunity with the DL to inquire about this again. At this conference Thompson is presenting on the divergence between Tibetan Buddhism and western science on the physical basis of pure awareness, the former denying it while the latter reduces it. An interesting point is that of the experiential gap: how can experience arise from a physical substrate this has no experience? This of course assumes that the physical has no experience, something questioned earlier.

The Buddhists rationalize that consciousness must be limitless and free from a body because it can see itself without an object and can imagine things far beyond the limitations of space-time. Thompson goes into the further thinking on how this is so but it's literally metaphysical to the core. The bottom line is that there is an absolute realm and a relative realm and they have two completely different natures. This is echoed by the Lingam when he said in Excerpt G that these two realms are “of radically different orders.”

Since the DL confirms this view in a recent book, what about his earlier speculation that pure awareness requires a physical basis? Thompson quotes a DL book claiming that in Vajrayana “these two are different aspects of an indivisible reality” (83). So Thompson asks the DL about this again. The DL responds that three things must be considered: the investigation of reality, Buddhist concepts based on the former, and Buddhist practice. The conference dialogs concern the first, the others are “Buddhists' private business” (84). Which of course seems rather odd, since all three are Thompson's business in this investigation.

As to the first, the DL says that Buddhism is much more concerned with investigating the internal phenomena of the mind, since this is where peace and equanimity can be obtained. Knowledge of physical reality is useful but of secondary importance. I'd say this is why Buddhism has held on to metaphysical beliefs that could have easily been remedied by science of the outer kind, and hopefully it will with Thompson's investigations. The DL also said that there is dispute between the different schools on the nature of the mind so one much choose the best and most comprehensive, which is of course Vajrayana. I'm reminded of kela's posts on Vajrayana's inclusivist model, much akin to kennilingus. The DL qualifies that while consciousness might require a physical basis, the more refined states of consciousness have more refined and subtle energy bodies. Again akin to kennilingus (excerpt G). But even all the above subtle states are still the “gross level of mind” (85). In the dying process all that dross fades away and one is left with a clear light state beyond any body and “free of defilement” (86), presumably all those states contingent on a defiled body. And here we go off into the metaphysical two realms “of radically different orders.” This clear light state can be experienced without dying for advanced meditators, which of course begs the question that they're still having an alleged non-physical state in a non-alleged alive physical body.

Thompson thinks that the reported experiences of such a state is authentic from a phenomenological standpoint, but that it is filtered through the cultural tradition of Buddhism. While he leave open the extent to which the actual experience can be influenced by the traditional context, he acknowledges that it indeed can be. He also wonders to what extent such states can indeed tap into universal aspects of consciousness, as do I. Hence his work and the likes of Lakoff and many others. But even these universal aspects are due to our embodiment, not some absolute and metaphysical realm beyond. Thompson though does acknowledge, like kela, that mystical empiricism cannot in itself be the final arbiter: “I see no way that direct experience on its own could show or establish that pure awareness is independent of the brain” (90).

So what does neuroscience have to say about this pure awareness? To be continued.

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