You can’t get into it and neither can you get out of it. ‘It’ being – in case you haven’t guessed it – the rational mind. It may sound rather nonsensical to make such a statement but we can nevertheless demonstrate that is true in a perfectly straightforward and logical way.
The first thing we need to do is to point out that the rational mind is entirely intentional in its nature – rationality is in its very essence ‘the realm of intentionality’. This is just a way of saying that the rational mind is made up entirely of directed processes – processes that only happen if we tell them to happen. Alternatively, we can say that the rational mind is a formal domain, which means that it is a domain in which processes can only occur if they follow the rules that have been previously laid down for them to follow. These two ways of looking at rationality are clearly equivalent since rules are themselves the very essence of intentionality – we make up the rules, and the rules say what is allowed to happen!
Saying that the rational mind is a formal domain (or saying that it is an exercise in intentionality) isn’t too challenging for us to take on board, but what is challenging is the consequence that goes along with the mind being a formal domain, an exercise in intentionality. The consequence is simply that there can be no possibility of freedom in the rational mind, in any shape, form or description whatsoever.
It goes without saying that we understand the formal domain of the thinking mind to contain some kind of freedom in it – if we understood the converse of this (if we clearly understood there to be no possibility of freedom whatsoever in it) then this would place an entirely different complexion on things. The thinking mind would in this case be revealed as a prison and not the open door to all sorts of possibilities – which is how we normally perceive it. If we saw that there were no possibilities in the thinking mind then very obviously we would have no truck with it at all – we certainly wouldn’t be fixated upon it (as if it were the best thing around, the only show in town) in the way the that we almost always are. What is so great about being stuck miserably in a dreary old prison-cell after all, when there is a whole big world out there to explore?
The thinking mind definitely doesn’t seem like a prison to us, otherwise we wouldn’t be so endlessly interested in everything it has to say. To us it is an open road, an open highway, and so we carry on determinedly down it. Or at the very least, if it doesn’t seem like an open road, we see it as being a trail through the wilderness that will hopefully lead us back onto the right tracks. No matter how bad things are, the thinking mind is ‘our only hope’. Were we to see things otherwise – were we to see the road that we’re going down so determinedly as a complete dead end – then we of course wouldn’t bother going down it. We certainly wouldn’t camp out in it on a full-time basis, as if it an end in itself, in the way that we do…
The reason we do get ‘stuck in the thinking mind’ is therefore because we implicitly understand there to be some kind of freedom in the formal domain of rationality, even though the fact that it is a formal domain absolutely precludes such a thing. This is something we can be very clear about – there can be no such thing as freedom in the realm of intentionality simply because whilst I can intend this that or the other, the one thing I cannot intend is for myself to be free.
If everything that happens in the formal realm which is the rational mind only happens because I have intended that it shall happen (because I have chosen for it to happen, because I have said that it shall happen) then very clearly there is no freedom in this situation whatsoever. Freedom would mean something happening that I did not intend to happen, something happening that I did not first say should happen. Freedom – even though we don’t at all understand it like this – is something that happens ‘not because of me’, something that happens despite me, and this is the one thing that can never happen in the formal domain of directed processes, the one thing that can never happen in ‘the realm of intentionality’…
I say that a thing shall happen and it happens. I specify that a certain outcome shall come about and it comes about. There is an idea in my head, and that idea gets projected out – extended – into the outside world. Where is the freedom in this? I am stuck with the same old idea (and the assumptions that go with it) from beginning to end. From my specification or formulation of the goal to the realization of the goal is nothing but one big tautology – it is a tautology that I am trapped in, a tautology that I don’t even think of trying to escape from! On the contrary, when I am trapped in this tautology all my effort goes into trying to get the specified outcome to happen the way I want it to, and this is reinforcing the prison that I’m trapped in. I am a slave to that idea, and the package of invisible assumptions that go with it. For me, the moment when the goal is obtained represents freedom and this is why I am yearning for it in the way that I am. For me, freedom means ‘the freedom to obtain my goals’. But when I do obtain the goal there is precisely zero freedom in this because all I have done is mechanically (or deterministically) act out a static image or construct that was stuck in my head. The freedom to act out my thinking is actually negative freedom – it is the ‘freedom to be a slave to my thinking’, it is ‘the freedom to be controlled by my invisible conditioning’.
Really – even though we can’t generally see it – freedom means ‘freedom from myself and my intentions’ and so freedom is – by definition – the one ingredient that has to be missing from the realm of intentionality, which is the world that is created by the indefinite extension of the self and its ideas. When we seek to exercise negative freedom, therefore, what we are doing is trying to prolong our period of slavery to the static pattern of thinking that is the self – we are trying to remain trapped in this static pattern for as long as we possibly can and if we are able to control specified elements within our environment so that they fall in line with our thinking (so that they reflect the static pattern of our thinking) then we feel good about this, we feel that we have achieved something meaningful, something worth celebrating. In effect, therefore – and not to put too fine a point on it – when we feel good about being a ‘successful controller’ we are celebrating our own lack of freedom as if it were freedom!
Earlier on we stated that the rational mind is a formal domain, an intentional realm, and that the consequence (or rather corollary) of this is that there is no freedom in it. But how do we know this to be true? How can we be so sure of ourselves in saying that the everyday mind is a formal domain which is therefore necessarily lacking in freedom? As it turns out, showing that the rational mind is an exercise in intentionality is not such a hard thing to do. It goes without saying really since rationality wouldn’t be rationality if it weren’t strictly formal. Logic itself is a formal system and rationality is just another way of talking about logic – logic is after all quintessentially a formally defined system of relations. The thing about a formal system that makes it a formal system is that it is all based on rules. This means that the system will demonstrate consistency from beginning to end, such that there will never be anything taking place within the system that is inconsistent with regard to the rules. So if the system progresses through a series of states these states are all going to be consistent with each other, which means that any one of this states, any one of these configurations, can be logically derived or extrapolated from any other state. Were this not to be the case (were there to be some configuration appearing within the progression of states that was not the result of the lawful manipulation of the rules governing the system) then this configuration would constitute an inconsistency, an error. The key think about a formal system therefore (at the risk of labouring the point here) is that no errors or inconsistencies are allowed!
Following on from this very obvious point, we could say that the universe as a whole must contain (from the point of view of the formal system) two different types of elements – one being consistencies and the other being inconsistencies or errors. The consistent elements are part of the logical system, part of the formal domain, and the errors of course are not. Furthermore, we can say that the logical system neither knows anything about the errors, not has the slightest interest in them. It can only know about stuff that matches its criteria or rules (because that is how the business of ‘knowing’ works in the first place, by matching incoming data to processing rules) and it can also only care about stuff that matches its criteria (since anything else is an error and an error is, by definition, something to be immediately and unceremoniously disregarded. No one cares about errors.
Now what we’re talking about here is very obviously intentionality. All that we’re saying in all this is that anything that happens in a formal system only happens because it is in accord with the rules that govern the system. Anything that happens in a formal system only gets to happen because it has been ‘defined in advance’ by the system. If the rule says it can happen then that’s OK and if the rule doesn’t say that it can happen then it simply won’t happen, not ever, not if we wait around for a billion years. This is all very easy to see in the case of logic in the abstract sense, but it is also very easy to see that this has to be the case for the operation of the rational mind, which is of course much more pertinent to the everyday, nitty-gritty business of our mundane lives. The rational mind has to be consistent with itself if it is to function at all! If the rational mind started all of a sudden to produce ideas or concepts that were logically inconsistent with the ideas that it had up to that point produced, then these new ideas would throw everything into disarray. It would be as if I suddenly started inventing brand new words (neologisms) that no one had ever before heard of – from the point of view of ‘being creative’ this might be considered to be rather an amazing thing but from the point of view of communication (which is after all the purpose of language) it is a complete disaster. No one would have a clue what I am talking about! Instead of being ‘properly meaningful within an established framework’ these new words, these neologisms would constitute ‘jokers in the pack’, since they could equally well means anything at all, or nothing at all!
The exact same thing would hold true with ideas or concepts that don’t make sense within the established framework which is the rational mind. They aren’t ‘playing the game’ – they aren’t regularities at all but singularities! We know where we are with a regularity (with a regular old mental construct) because it always means the same old thing. The whole point is that it always means the same thing. But a singularity doesn’t have a logical relation with anything else – it isn’t standard, it doesn’t fit into any framework – and so we simply don’t know what to do with it. Rather than fitting into the logical system that we have going, it radically undermines it – get enough mental singularities turning up and the whole set-up is rapidly going to crumble – it would be like trying to play a game or whist or blackjack when every card in the pack (or most of them) is a joker. The game that we were supposed to be playing will very rapidly disintegrate into sheer chaos. In the same way the rational mind, if it has to cope with too many unique ‘thoughts’ (i.e. with too much novelty) will dissolve into what it itself would previously have categorized as ‘chaos’ or ‘irrationality’. Needless to say, if it does get dissolved into a torrent of ungoverned novelty (or newness) then it won’t actually be able to meaningfully say what it has been dissolved into since its ability to categorize incoming data will have been thoroughly banjaxed at this point…
So all of this is just to show that the rational mind is indeed a formal system, and could not be anything else. It is a kind of a game, and one definition of a game is that everything happening in it always has to happen in accordance with the rules of the game. That’s the only type of thing that happens in it. Because the only thing that can happen in the rational mind is the type of thing that happens in accordance with the rules, therefore, it follows that there is zero freedom in it. ‘Freedom’ would mean ‘freedom from the rules of the game’ and there can’t be any freedom from the rules that govern the game otherwise the game would come to a very abrupt end! The only type of freedom in the formal domain of the rational mind is ‘the freedom to follow the rules’ and this – as we have already said, isn’t freedom at all but negative freedom (which is the absence of freedom disguised as freedom). Saying that ‘there can be no freedom in rational mind’ is therefore completely understating the matter – strange as it may sound, the rational mind is itself in its very essence ‘the absence of freedom’. The way that the rational mind works is by allowing us no freedom and so if freedom does come into the picture, that’s the end of it. There is no more rational mind.
The question is, therefore, how come we don’t ever seem to notice that there is no freedom in the formal domain of directed processes which is the everyday mind? How does it never come to our attention that this everyday mind operates on the principle of taking away all our freedom? Straightforwardly enough, we can say that that the reason we never see that there is no freedom in the formal system which is the rational mind is because that mind creates arbitrary categories or classes within itself which we are then free to play about with – we can choose between these categories and we can arrange or organize them in different ways, and the fact that we can choose between them in this way (and arrange them into whatever patterns we want) facilitates the illusion of freedom. As David Bohm says,
Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are naturally there.
Once thought has created its divisions, its patented collection of categories, concepts and idea we are free to navigate the world that has been organized out of them. We then have the freedom to move about within this mind-created version of reality, just so long as we ‘play by the rules’. The system of thought has created a fully-fledged and fully viable ‘simulated world’, a simulated world that comes complete with a simulated form of freedom! The way that this simulated form of freedom works is very simple – thought tells us all about freedom, it defines freedom for us and it tells us that we are free (or if we’re not, then it goes about telling us how we are to go about getting free). This is really quite funny: the system of thought defines freedom for us as being this, that or the other, and it tells us how we are to go about obtaining it for us. Thought tells how to go about enjoying the freedom that it has given (or is going to give) us, and it tells us what freedom feels like, what it tastes like, how great is, and so on, and yet it knows nothing at all about the freedom it is talking about. And not only that, the final irony is that thought’s mode of functioning (which is the only way it can function) is by the very thorough exclusion of all freedom…
The pseudo-freedom that thought creates for us – which is the freedom to ‘play the game’, the freedom to move about the mind-created world as we will, substitutes for genuine, honest-to-goodness freedom, which is the freedom to have nothing at all to do with the shoddy mind-created version of the world! Genuine freedom equals the freedom not to play the game! The mind-created world is the same thing as ‘the formal domain of directed processes’, it is the same thing as ‘the realm of intentionality’ and as we have said, there is no freedom at all in what we direct to happen, no freedom at in what we intend, no freedom at all in what we do ‘on purpose’. Freedom (or bliss) lies only in the type of movement that we don’t rationally direct, the type of movement we don’t choose or carry out on purpose…
There is no freedom to do anything that really matters in the formal system! Just to restate the matter – the only freedom that matters is the freedom to exit the formal system and this is a freedom that the formal system just doesn’t give us. We can easily see that the formal system doesn’t contain the freedom to exit the formal system. This is not to say that there isn’t any freedom in it on a deeper (inaccessible) level but simply that ‘the freedom to exit the system’ has not been programmed into the system. ‘Freedom’ has not been formally defined as being part of the system and because it hasn’t been defined it doesn’t exist, since in order for something to exist in a formal system it has to be defined. The fact that freedom hasn’t been programmed into the system (the fact that it has not been added into it in the list of directories) isn’t a mistake, it isn’t something that could be ever rectified – as we have already said, it couldn’t be any other way.
There’s no way to add freedom into ‘the list of contents’ of the formal system because freedom – by its very nature – is not something that ever could be defined. It’s not ‘a content’! The closest we could get to defining freedom would be a negative definition – by saying, for example, that freedom is the absence of all definitions…. The freedom to exit the system is never programmed into the system therefore because the system is never anything else but its programming (it is never any more than its specifications) and programing or specifications are by their very nature the absence of freedom.
Another way of talking about this inherent ‘lack of freedom’ is – as we have already indicated – in terms of intentionality. If nothing can happen in a formal system unless I intend it to then very clearly I can never intend to leave the formal system! This is – of course – a perfect impossibility. I can’t intend to leave the realm of intentionality because the realm of intentionality is made up of everything that I intend. Alternatively, we could say that I can’t direct myself to leave the domain of directed processes because anywhere I direct myself to be is – by definition – going to be part of the domain of directed processes! Trying to intentionally leave the realm of intentionality (or trying to direct ourselves to depart from the domain of directed processes) is an ‘infinite regress’ and an infinite regress is nature’s way of telling us that we just can’t do it…
The impossibility we’re looking at here is the impossibility of stopping being purposeful on purpose. In the purposeful realm everything, naturally enough, has to be done on purpose and whilst this might seem unproblematic enough the first time we hear it there are all sorts of snags and glitches hiding just under the surface. Alan Watts refers to one such snag (another version of the endless regression that we spoke of above) as the ‘stopping paradox’. If I want to stop all the ongoing purposeful activity that I am engaged in (perhaps because I want a rest!) then – the argument goes – it is first going to be necessary for me to decide to stop, since nothing happens in the purposeful realm unless I purposefully make it happen. So before I stop I first have to decide to stop, only this won’t work either because I’m not going to suddenly decide to stop, just like that, without any thought or intention coming before it. First I have to decide to decide to stop. This too however isn’t something that can just ‘happen by itself’ – somehow I have to get behind myself and decide to decide to decide to stop, and so on, and in this way I find myself in the infinite regress of always having to ‘jump niftily behind myself’ in order to decide to decide anything before I can actually get on with it.
The upshot is therefore that the attempt to ‘stop’ being purposeful is paradoxical since ‘telling myself to stop being purposeful’ is itself a purposeful act. There is no way to genuinely ‘stop’ in the formal realm of directed processes because when I ‘instruct myself to stop instructing myself’ this just turns into a runaway loop of paradoxical logic. Actually ‘stop’ means ‘go’ since both ‘stop’ and ‘go’ are active states of the system – everything in the system is ‘an active state of the system’ because everything in the system is a product of the system (i.e. it needs to be actually produced). The system can of course simulate itself stopping, simulate itself resting, but because this is something that the system is actively simulating it isn’t really what it says it is at all. The one thing the system can’t simulate is its own absence since as we have said the only alternatives the system actually offers us are the ones that it itself manufactures, the ones that it itself has control over!
This might sound like some sort of typically pointless philosophical perambulation, but it isn’t. On the contrary, you can’t get more practical than this! What we’re really talking about here is after all the very practical problem of how to get a bit of freedom from the tiresomely endless and repetitive thinking process that is always going on in our heads. This is a problem that we never have any luck in solving because the only way we know of doing anything is by deliberately (or calculatedly) doing it, and yet whenever we try to deliberately or calculatedly stop thinking we run slap-bang into the stopping paradox. It is flatly impossible to stop thinking on purpose, as every experienced practitioner of meditation knows very well indeed…
So thinking is something that ‘we can’t get out of’ once we’re in it (or at least not deliberately) and this no mere philosophical puzzle. Thinking (or the rational mind) is also something we can’t deliberately ‘enter into’ in the first place if we’re not already in it, and this is because of the ‘starting paradox’. The starting paradox is the flip-side of the stopping paradox – because in the domain of directed processes (which is the rational mind) nothing can happen unless it is directed to happen there is no way that I can enter this domain unless I first direct myself to do so, unless I first decide to do so. But I can’t do this either (i.e. I can’t direct myself to enter the domain of rational thought) unless I first ‘direct myself to direct myself to do so’, and so on. I can’t start intending stuff unless I first ‘intend to do so’ which sends me off on an endless repression because what this means is that I can only enter the formal domain of directed processes if I am already in it.
This of course is no good to me at all because if I was already in it then of course I wouldn’t need to enter it (if I have already started then there’s no need to start) and if I’m not in it, if I haven’t started, then there’s no way that I can! So what all of this is telling us is that we can’t calculatedly get into the formal domain if we’re not already in it, and neither can we calculate our way out of it when we are in it. We can neither get into the formal domain of rational processes, nor get out of it, by using the rules that this domain insists that we use, and this constitutes an absolutely massive predicament that we never ever pay any attention to! It is an example of one of Gregory Bateson’s double-binds, only this double-bind is the great grand-daddy of them all!
More colloquially, we could say that the predicament (or double-bind) is that we can’t enter into the realm of the rational mind by taking everything seriously in the way that the rational mind does, and neither can we leave this realm by taking everything seriously in the way that it does (i.e. as long as we persist in thinking that it’s serious, then we’re stuck in the mind). This is a double-bind because if we’re not in the rational mind then we clearly won’t be taking things seriously in the way that it does, and when we actually are in it then of course we will be taking stuff seriously in the way that it requires us to. So where does this leave us?
What we’re actually saying here is that the rational mind is a game, just as all formal systems are games. A game is a format or set-up that we agree to be true but which isn’t – it’s only so because we intend for it to be so, in other words. As James Carse says, the thing about this is that ‘no one has to play a game’. A game is, by definition, something that we freely enter into, since it represents a kind of a state of ‘voluntary necessity’, even though we veil the voluntary nature of the endeavour from ourselves in order to play. We could therefore define a game by saying that it is ‘the absence of freedom’ (or ‘the presence of compulsion or necessity’) where this absence of freedom (or the presence of compulsion) is not seen for what it is.
The absence of freedom is what we might call an ‘unnatural’ situation – we have to arrange for it to be there, we have to choose it. And this choice – i.e. the choice to give away our own freedom – is a free one, i.e. it is a playful rather than a serious choice. If it wasn’t a free choice (i.e. if we had to make the choice) then as we have seen this would straightaway involve us in an infinite regression, which is nature’s way of showing us that this just couldn’t happen. If everything was serious, then it could never start! So if the formal domain of directed processes was the whole story, if it was ‘the Universal Set’ (as we think it is) then it could never happen, then it could never exist. Freedom is needed before anything can happen, and if we try to imagine a situation where there isn’t this intrinsic, underlying freedom, we get immediately snarled up in paradoxes and contradictions. This is – of course – nature’s way of telling is that freedom underlies everything…
So freedom underlies everything – even the antiseptic lack of freedom that we find in games or formal systems. Everything might seem serious, but that’s only because we have lost our sense of humour! In practice, as we have indicated, the freedom that surrounds the formal domain of directed processes on all sides is invisible to us, inaccessible to us. The fact that we can’t either start or stop (the fact that we don’t have the freedom to either start or stop) doesn’t occur to us and so – pragmatically speaking – life becomes synonymous with the unbroken linear time-track of never-ending black-and-white causality. Cause follows effect which then becomes the cause of something else, and so on and so forth. This is the treadmill of the mechanical realm, which keeps on turning because it doesn’t have the option of not doing so! Despite the fact that this situation – when we put it like this – doesn’t sound very appealing, when we’re actually caught up in it we are generally distracted by goals that represent to us – in a way that is more implicit than explicit – freedom from the mundane grind. We generally imagine that there is something better ‘just around the corner’, in other words, and if we don’t imagine this we are likely to be labelled as depressed!
If we are said to be depressed (and subject therefore to ‘negative thinking’) then of course no one will listen to what we say because we’re only saying it because we’re mentally unwell! And when we’re not looking at the future in a ‘negative way’ then we simply carry on going around and around on the treadmill of thought, the treadmill of ‘directed processes’, the treadmill of ‘relentless unremitting purposefulness’ (because we imagine that things will somehow get better) and we don’t notice that living in a world where everything is rational/purposeful is actually a terrible double-bind, a glitch that we can’t quite spot for what it is…
It might be assumed from what we have so far said that it is only the starting and the stopping of the world of rational-purposeful processes that are beset by glitches but this is not the case – the formal domain of directed processes is paradoxical from beginning to end! One way to show this is to look at the formal domain as being composed of an endless series of definite statements, which are ‘outputted’ by the rational mind as part of its tireless quest to convert the unknown into the known. Even when the rational mind doesn’t know what’s going on it still doesn’t really let go of its hold (and admit that it is at a loss) because it always assumes that eventually it will find out, and when it does what it finds out will fit into one of its black-and-white, ‘yes’ or ‘no’-type categories. Even when the dice is in the process of being thrown we still know that it will come down showing a number from one to six, in other words. ‘Definite’ is thus the ‘only thing going’ (the ‘only option’) in the formal domain – anything else simply isn’t recognized. If it hasn’t been formally defined then it doesn’t get to be in the formal domain!
This is where the glitch, the paradoxicality comes in. The thing about definite statements (when they are totally absolutely 100% ‘for sure’ about themselves) is that they are always going to paradoxical – this may sound strange but this is just nature’s way of showing us that you never can be totally, absolutely, 10% ‘for sure’ or certain about something! Every definite statement, without exception, also equals its opposite, and this – by anyone’s standards – has got to qualify as being paradoxical. It is remarkably hard for us to see that ‘any definite statement also equals its opposite’ but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t true – it just means that we are not sufficiently rigorous in our thinking and as a result of our lamentable ‘lack of rigour’ we never really pursue the matter enough.
One familiar form of this paradox is known to us as the Liar Paradox (which is where I say “Everything I say is a lie”) but although this paradox is widely known, and is even reproduced in the Old Testament, we treat it as an isolated curiosity and fail to see that it is drawing attention to the innate paradoxicality of all definite statements. The reason the sentence “Everything I say is a lie” is paradoxical is because it is self-referential – in other words, because it uses itself as proof for what it is saying! The formal domain (which is David Bohm’s ‘system of thought’) does this all the time however – it always uses itself as a standard of what is true or untrue, right or not right, signal or error. Everything the system of thought asserts is only true because the system of thought asserts it. Any statement that the rational mind comes up with as being meaningful is only meaningful because the rules that govern the formal system which is the rational mind say that it is. This is the whole point of the formal system, as we have said many times. So everything the system of thought says (the whole of its output) is self-referential and because it is self-referential it is also inescapably paradoxical.
Just as ‘STOP’ equals ‘GO’ – since both are instructions given by the formal system – so too ‘YES’ equals ‘NO’ because both of these are evaluations produced by the system. ‘YES’ equals ‘NO’ because both ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ are the system, and this is the cybernetic paradox spoken of by Gregory Bateson, and later on by Alan Watts. ‘YES’ ostensibly refers to something outside of the system, as does ‘NO’, but because a formal system is functionally incapable of speaking about (or in any way acknowledging) anything that is not capable of being directly correlated to itself (i.e. anything that doesn’t equal itself) this is only in name, not in actuality, and so there is no way that the system can ever break free from self-cancelling paradoxicality, no matter how much it stretches or strains itself. Whenever the formal system tries to say something that is genuinely (or absolutely) meaningful it fails – it fails because it has no perspective on what it is saying! The formal system has no perspective on what it is saying because there simply is no perspective in it – there is no perspective allowed in the formal system otherwise the formal system would immediately cease to exist! ‘Perspective’ means ‘another viewpoint’ and as we have argued ‘another viewpoint’ is the one thing the formal system cannot contain…
The only way to truly see the formal system is therefore to venture outside of it and this is the one thing it cannot let us do. It is impossible for the rational mind to step outside of the rational mind using its own terms, its own logic, and so as a result the rational mind never has any perspective on itself. Furthermore, the fact that the rational mind cannot ever have any perspective on itself it absolutely vital for its continued functioning, for its continued integrity – if the rational mind had perspective on itself then it would no longer be able to take itself seriously, and so that would be the end of the rational mind!
If we were to wonder what exactly we would see if we were to look at the formal domain of directed processes ‘from the outside’, so to speak, the above statement gives us a good clue. What we would see is that the formal domain of directed processes (which is the same thing as the rational mind, or the realm of intentionality, or the system of thought, or the continuum of logic) doesn’t exist. It only seems to exist, seems to be real, from its own viewpoint – which is – as we keep reiterating – the only viewpoint it allows!
The rational mind (or the world that the rational mind has created) is, as we have been saying, very peculiar in that we can’t logically enter it, and neither can we logically exit it. We can’t get into it and we can’t get out of it. This sounds – on the face of it – like an utterly absurd thing to say since we very plainly are in the world that the rational mind has created, so any arguments that seeks to prove that we can’t enter such a world would appear to be akin to Zeno’s paradox, which tries to show that an arrow – when fired – can never actually strike the target that it is aimed at. It seems perfectly obvious that there must be some way of getting here (‘here’ meaning the mind-modulated perception (or simulation) of reality, since we very plainly are here! Why therefore waste time with pointless philosophical quibbles?
But if we object in this way then we are missing the point big time. It’s much simpler than we think, and the ‘pointless philosophical quibble’ is actually giving us a very big clue. The reason we can’t either enter or exit the formal domain of rational or directed processes is because it simply doesn’t exist!
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, in his commentary on Chökyi Wangchuk’s Aspiration for the Bardo, starts off his discourse with this quote from the text –
If you examine it, you will see that there is no beginning or end, and therefore there can be no in-between.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche (2007, P 9) then goes on to say as follows –
“It” here refers to the beginningless and potentially endless cycle of samsaric existence. If you examine existence, you will see that it is without beginning. Furthermore, if you examine any phenomenon, you will see that is has no true arising. Because existence has no beginning, and because that which does not truly arise does not truly cease, there is therefore no abiding state that is in between. Ultimately speaking, there is no single state that is in between two other states because none of these other states have ever truly arisen or truly occurred. Therefore, in the context of absolute truth, what we call the “bardo” does not exist, but it certainly seems to exist to the person who is experiencing it. “Nevertheless in the context of bewilderment, it arises as a mere interdependent appearance.”
In the last sentence from the source text that Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche gives here, ‘mere interdependent appearance’ refers to the Buddhist idea that relative reality is composed of cause-and-effect, where is where one element gives rise to another, which in turn gives rise to another, and so on and so forth on an indefinite basis, in the manner of a wave propagating itself. ‘Relative reality’ may be taken to mean that each state is real in relation to the state before which caused it, and the state which follows (and which has been caused by it), but beyond this very limited claim to reality, there is none! As long as all we are concerned with is the very small scale of ‘interdependent appearance’ therefore, the phenomena that we relate to and which make up the world for us are entirely real, and get to be seen as ‘fundamentally self-existent’. When we look at the bigger picture however (if we allow ourselves to take an interest in what lies behind the world of conditioned appearances) then we will see that they are not real at all.
The formal domain of directed (or ‘cause-and-effect type’) processes does not exist. It may seem to exist to the person who is experiencing it (as Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche says) but this is simply an illusion. All we need to do to verify for ourselves that the formal domain is an illusion is to go into the matter a little more, and develop a healthy curiosity about what is going on behind the world of bland appearances, behind the scenes of the dreadfully repetitive game we are so fiercely preoccupied with playing, but this happens to be something that we aren’t at all keen to do. We would rather ‘stick to the trivial and ignore the profound’. We would rather stick to the small picture (and obsess over the mundane details) than take a step back and look at the Big Picture, and the reason for this reticence to ‘expand our consciousness’ is simply that – on some level – we know very well what will happen to the little picture (and all the details associated with it) if we take the bigger view. If we do this they won’t just seem petty and insignificant to us – they will disappear without a trace. We will clearly see them to be unreal. And where would that leave us?
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.