The drama that is forever unfolding in this world is not what we think it is. We might think that there are lots and lots of things going on, lots of different dramas, but this isn’t so: there is only one drama that is unfolding in this world and we don’t know what it is!
This drama that we don’t know about is all to do with forgetting versus remembering, and the reason we aren’t aware of it, the reason we aren’t aware that there is this drama going on, is because we have forgotten. As soon as we forget the nature of what is really going on we get caught up in the infinite proliferation of spurious dramas, and this is why it doesn’t usually make any sense to us hear that the whole of life comes down to either ‘forgetting’ or remembering’. It ought to make resounding sense – like a great bell tolling – but it doesn’t. We think forgetting applies to little things, like where we put the car keys or whether we put the cat out or not, but this isn’t the type of forgetting we’re talking about here. The type of forgetting we’re on about is monumental – it is like forgetting the biggest thing there ever could be, and not even missing it! This is cosmic forgetting – the forgetting of everything!
There is an ancient idea, going back to Zoroastrianism and beyond, that the world is a battle field between two forces – the force of truth and light versus the force of darkness and deception. In Christianity this idea has degenerated into the crude notion of the opposition between good and evil, God and Satan, which reduces the dynamic to just another battle between two sides, two contenders. In this over-simplistic view, we just pick the right side, do everything we’re supposed to do, and then everything will supposedly come out alright! This crudely conceived scheme of things (which has held sway for the last two thousand years) is itself a symptom of cosmic forgetting: we have lost sight of the true drama and have reconfigured it for ourselves in terms of some empty game, some trite mechanical formula, which only serves to sidetrack us further. There is no better way to lose sight of a truth then to be provided with a false version of that truth, an inferior copy of that truth, and this is the principle of the ‘lower analogue’. This is how ‘Cosmic Forgetting’ works.
The two forces that we are talking about here aren’t two different things, like God and Satan, they are the same thing, only in one case we are ‘approaching’ and in the other we are receding’. Either we’re moving in the direction of remembering or we’re moving in the counter-direction of forgetting. What we are remembering and what we are forgetting are one and the same thing!
Furthermore, we can go on to say that each of these directions comes with its own type of motivation – in order to move in the direction of remembering conscious motivation is needed, whilst for the other direction, unconscious motivation does the job. Conscious motivation, we may say, is motivation that is truly volitional, motivation that has the whole of our being behind it, whilst the second force – which is unconscious motivation – is simply dead mechanical momentum that we passively go along with. This dead mechanical momentum has nothing at all to do with our true volition but it does have a lot of force in it and by going along with it we are at least given some kind of a direction to go in. We are provided with a basic orientation, even if it isn’t a very good one! When we move in the direction of forgetting everything is laid out for us and so all we have to do is follow the route-map, follow the signs, do what everyone else is doing, which is of course very convivial, but if we were to move in the other direction, the conscious direction, then we would discover that there is no route map.
Needless to say we can’t allow ourselves to see what we are doing when we align ourselves the dead mechanical force (because this would be too ridiculous), and this is where the deception comes in – a spurious system of justifications (or ‘validations’) is put in place that allows us to believe we really are acting in our own best interest, and getting involved in stuff because we genuinely do want to do it, etc, and so this deception permits us to enjoy the short-term benefits of the cheat without having the awareness of what we’re actually doing, which would as we have said spoil that enjoyment. The ‘cheat’ in question is all about ‘having an easy answer without allowing ourselves to see that it is an easy answer’. It is a fix to the problem that isn’t actually a fix at all, but merely the crude pretence at a fix. In a nutshell, if we want to obtain the sense of satisfaction that comes with having this fix then all we have to do is make ourselves dumb enough to believe in it, and get very good at never asking any questions!
Becoming too aware, or asking too many awkward questions, or looking at things too closely, or anything like that, would inevitably result in the answer being shown up as no answer at all, the fix or solution being show up as some kind of empty game or ritual, and this would instantly (and painfully) take away the sense of satisfaction (or security) that the pretence was providing us with. So not looking into things too much (and not ever letting ourselves be aware that we are deliberately ‘staying dumb’ in this way) is the key to moving in the direction of forgetting. This is what Cosmic Forgetting is all about – going along with the dead, mechanical force of blind inertia, and turning it around so it seems like a positive thing to be doing!
This of course means that when we move in the forgetting direction the true nature of the drama that we are engaged in immediately becomes obscured. The trick we play on ourselves is the ‘deception’ and the dense, fog-like state of ignorance that immediately descends on us is the ‘darkness’. We don’t as we have said perceive the second direction as being the direction of forgetting – we perceive it to be (as the thinking mind tells us it is) the direction of positive progression. We experience ourselves to be gaining something by moving in this direction, not losing it. And similarly, we experience the first direction, when it manifests itself in our lives, not just as being challenging and strange, but as being dangerous and frightening, and something to be avoided at all costs. If we move in the direction of remembering then we experience ourselves to be losing something – losing what we are attached to, losing what is giving us comfort, losing the sense that the world used to make to us. We are losing our idea of ourselves; we are losing the false accretion of the self-image, along with all the ‘baggage’ (beliefs and behaviours) that was there to validate this self-image.
It is not just that we feel fear at the prospect of moving in the one direction, and a sense of cosy reassurance at the thought of moving in the other – moving in the direction of remembering is very often (though not necessarily) synonymous with acute pain and suffering, whilst moving in the counter-direction of forgetting is pleasurable, sometimes very intensely so. Forgetting comes upon us like the action of a highly addictive drug, like opium or heroin. We are terrified by movement in the ‘remembering direction’, and extremely fond of moving in the other one, therefore! Given that our entire way of orientating ourselves in life is based on ‘avoiding pain and seeking pleasure’, it can be seen that the odds are hugely against anyone spontaneously forsaking this business of ‘being unconsciously orientated towards pleasure and forgetting’, and instead becoming genuinely interested in embracing difficulty and pain.
Even when we do willingly take on pain, it is almost always because we hope to get something out of it – which is the goal-orientated or ‘unconscious’ mode of being in the world. To willingly (and cheerfully) undergo hardship without hope of some kind of advantage being achieved (which in karma yoga is spoken of as ‘action without the fruit of action’) just doesn’t make any sense to us at all. We would laugh at such a thing as being the height of folly. And yet anything we do for the sake of achieving goals is always moving in the direction of forgetting since goals are part of the ‘route-map’ that only makes sense to us when we are aligning ourselves with the dead mechanical force of inertia. Movement in the direction of remembering, as we have said, inevitably involves the loss of the convenient route-map, the loss of all of the goals and plans that used to make sense to us before. We have all the referents in the world for forgetting, but none at all for remembering. As Krishnamurti says, “Truth is a pathless land”.
Because we don’t have any referents for remembering (because it isn’t part of our map) we don’t have any awareness at all of the fact that there are two principles (or ‘forces’) at work in the world. We only know the one direction, the direction of forgetting, which is the direction that the everyday thinking mind provides us with. This direction is all directions to us – it is everything for us, we don’t know anything other than it. The ‘downwards direction’ of forgetting is seen as ‘the way to go’ – it is seen as the main highway, everything worthwhile is seen as existing in this direction. This is where all the benefits, all the advantages are to be found. More than this, this direction is where the world itself, in its entirety, both good and bad, is to be found.
So – just to recap – the nature of the drama that is constantly unfolding in our lives is that we are moving either in one direction or the other – we are either becoming progressively more influenced by the deluding force of forgetting, or we are consciously motivated and inspired by the principle of remembering. In the first case our eyes glaze over and a dull, ‘fixated’ look tends to appear on our faces; we become the puppets of any number of meaningless mechanical forces which we automatically dignify or validate in some way or another, so that we do not see them for what they are. In the second case our eyes light up and we recover our sense of humour and the gift of our intrinsic child-like spontaneous nature. Rather than enslaving ourselves to the constructs of the dead mechanical mind, and having no time for anything else, we are able to appreciate the wonder of what it means to be here in the world, and the wonder of our relationship with all the people in our lives – no matter which of the two forces happens to be dominant in their lives. When we are in this mode, then everything we see is a wonder.
The ‘spark’, the ‘playfulness’ of which we speak is a sign therefore that we are consciously orientated towards the direction of remembering, whereas that all-too-familiar ‘dull, fixated look’ is a sure and certain symptom that we have fallen under the dark spell of the force of forgetting. Instead of talking about a ‘dull and fixated look’ (which might sound a little bit too reminiscent of a generic zombie movie) we could just talk about being overtaken by a kind of ‘seriousness’– the very familiar type of ‘grown-up seriousness’ (or ‘adult humourlessness’) that comes from treating mind-created fictions (or ‘rational constructs’) as if they really exist. When this happens – as it does almost all of the time – then what this means is that we have become possessed by our own mental constructs! We suffer the fate of being possessed by our own constructs, and yet at the same time we have no way of knowing this. This is the fate that inevitably befalls us when we travel down the road of forgetting.
When the unfolding of the Cosmic Drama moves in the direction of forgetting (or ‘increased certainty’) then everything gets very confused, very opaque – in fact the more certain we are about things, the more confused we have become! When we move in the direction of forgetting there is an immense proliferation of apparent realities and the further we go into it the more compelling these apparent realities become. This process feeds off itself because as we move in the direction of forgetting what we are forgetting springs up all around us in the ‘disguised’ form of attractive and repellent appearances and as we helplessly react to these appearances (as we do!) we fall deeper and deeper into the state of forgetfulness, and this ‘decent’ into unconsciousness means that the attractive and repellent appearances have even more power us, making the vicious circle close tighter and tighter.
It is as if when we ‘forget’ we become hollow puppet-like creatures; we become possessed by a terrible type of ‘interior vacancy’ and as this fate befalls us we simultaneously lose the ability to know that we have become hollow and vacant. We could also say that the more we lose our interiority, the less able we become to know that there is such a thing as interiority, that there is such as thing as ‘an inside’ to us (or to life). Then, with all interiority lost, our attention becomes magnetically attached or fixated upon the play of the two-dimensional images that we see all around us, and this ‘play of images’ becomes the entire world to us. We know of nothing else. ‘Exteriority becomes the new interiority’, so to speak…
Having been compelled to adapt ourselves a world that is made up entirely of surface-level appearances, we ourselves become mere ‘appearances’ (mere shells); we become ‘two-dimensional appearances living in a world of two-dimensional appearances’ and – strange as it may sound – we have no way of appreciating that this has happened to us. Naturally we have no way of knowing this, since the quality that we are calling ‘interiority’ has now become something that we are constitutionally incapable of understanding. As far as we are concerned there is no inside – there might be a ‘physical’ inside to things, obviously, but we see the physical inside as being entirely composed of defined surfaces just as the physical outside is entirely composed of physical surfaces. There is no sense of an undefined interiority which is not a ‘surface’, which is not an ‘appearance’. Another term for this undefined interiority might be ‘inner space’ and because there is no sense of inner space (when we move in the direction of forgetting) we become – as Colin Wilson says – mere ‘objects in a world of objects’. We become mere ‘things in a world of things’.
We don’t have any sense of having interiority in the state of forgetfulness but the reason for this is that the only way we get a sense of things is by thinking about them, by having a concept for them, and as soon as we think about interiority we convert it into yet another defined surface! This is what thinking is – the process of converting undefined space into defined surfaces, into ‘external objects’. Unformatted space is converted into the continuum of thought. Everything then becomes an external object, including ourselves, and this unobserved loss of inner space is what forgetting is all about. The only world that gets to be real for us (or gets to have any credibility) is the world that is made up of our defined mental objects, and this is what we have called ‘the world of two-dimensional appearances’.
When we get involved in the dramas that are taking place in this Realm of False Interiority (which is where exteriority passes itself off as interiority) then it doesn’t matter whether we lose or gain, whether we succeed or fail, go forwards or go back because all that is really happening is that we are moving further and further in the direction of forgetting. ‘Gain’ means forgetting, ‘lose’ means forgetting, ‘success’ means forgetting, ‘failure’ means forgetting, because these concepts, these evaluations of ‘how we’re doing’ are only two-dimensional appearances. They are ‘sign-posts in an unreal game’. So if we imagine that we are pursuing this thing in life, this very important thing called ‘success’, this very important thing called ‘getting ahead’, or ‘doing well’, all we’re really pursuing is the state of forgetting. No matter what we (deliberately) do, we’re only ever chasing forgetting – there is absolutely no way that this can’t be the case, given that all of our concepts, all of our ideas, all of our purposes, all of our goals are only two-dimensional surfaces made to seem real by the fact that we are moving in the direction of forgetting…
Whatever we (purposefully) do we do, we’re chasing forgetting. Our goals are emblems of the state of unconsciousness, sigils of the state of forgetting. In a way it could be said that the very potency of what we are forgetting acts against us when we start to move in this direction. When what is on the inside is lost, then what is lost immediately appears ‘on the outside’ as intensely attractive, or intensely repellent appearances. In the state of forgetting we are in thrall to these appearances, we are their playthings to be pulled this way or that. No pet poodle on a leash was ever as much as a plaything as we are – the pet poodle quite possibly still has its dignity, we have none. How can we have our dignity when we have forgotten who we are? How can we have our dignity when we allow ourselves to be not only motivated by illusions, but defined by them as well?
The idea that when we unaware of ‘the outside’, it turns into a diabolically persuasive force of deception ‘on the outside’ is strikingly articulated in the following passage (paragraph 303) taken from Jung’s Alchemical Studies:
Mercurius, that two-faced god, comes as the lumen naturae,
the Servator and Salvator, only to those whose reason strives towards
the highest light ever received by man, and who do not
trust exclusively to the cognitio vespertina. For those who are
unmindful of this light, the lumen naturae turns into a perilous
ignis fatuus, and the psychopomp into a diabolical seducer. Lucifer,
who could have brought light, becomes the father of lies
whose voice in our time, supported by press and radio, revels in
orgies of propaganda and leads untold millions to ruin.
In a way, therefore, it could be said that what we see and react to in the outside world are tantalizing reminders of what we have forgotten, of what we have lost sight of and don’t know that we have lost sight of. When we see these reminders we are filled with the terribly intense desire to acquire them, to obtain them, to secure them, to grasp them firmly so that we cannot ever lose them. But this is where the whole process acts against us because the more fervently we chase the ‘reminders of what we have forgotten’, the deeper we are drawn into the forgetting. The deeper into the forgetting we go, the more tantalizing the images that we are chasing after become, and therefore the more maddened we become in the chase.
The loss of interiority (that interiority in which we have our being, in which we have our freedom) transforms instantaneously into an overpowering exteriority – an exteriority which commands our attention with despotic authority. This ‘overpowering exteriority’ is the fascist state, is the authoritarian regime, and we are the indoctrinated citizens, obediently lapping up everything that we are told. In this inverted state of being (in which our insides are ‘scooped out’, so to speak) we wander around in thrall to the spectacles that the exteriority places in front of us. We wander around in a state of helpless fascination, moving on unceasingly from one bewitching illusion to another. The pain of having lost our insides is transformed into heedless desire and longing as the ‘loss inside’ is turned into projected riches, projected marvels (and terrors) on the outside. The pain of the inner absence is thus inverted and appears in exteriorized form as feverish excitement over anticipated gain, or innervating fear with regard to anticipated loss.
In a way, therefore, it could be said that what we are doing in all this is trying (in the only way we know how) to remember. When we try to seize hold of one of these glittering appearances and ‘make it our own’ what we’re trying to remember whatever it is that we’ve forgotten. This is in keeping with the verse of Rumi’s:
All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things — fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, gardens, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink — the saint knows that these are desires for God and all those things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing… They will see all things face to face.
It could be said – if we look at things this way – that the original impulse is an honest one, a wholesome one, despite all the trouble it gets us into as a result of it being ‘used against us’. This then is the whole power of the inverted analogue – that it contains the truth in distorted form. The fact that the lower analogue contains the truth in distorted (or misrepresentative) form makes it practically unconquerable – our unbearably intense desire for the lower analogue is our ‘reverence for the divine’ in an upside-down manifestation.
The power of the lower analogue to trap us is therefore immense, just as the power of forgetting (the power of cosmic amnesia) is immense. But there is a flaw: when we circle the lower analogue in ever decreasing circles – like a moth circling a candle flame – it singes our wings, it causes us pain. The flaw in the lower analogue derives from the fact that it is not real, and so when we plunge heedlessly into the world of forgetting in the way that we do and ‘lock in’ tighter and tighter into the unreal target, the unreal ‘bulls-eye,’ there is no outcome possible other than unremitting suffering. The more intently and desperately we try to obtain the unreal prize the more separated, disconnected and down-right alienated we become from reality, and the more lost we become in what Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche calls ‘the infinite ocean of samsara’.
The thing is that the lower analogue is definite and concrete and substantial and all the rest, but that behind this impenetrably opaque façade there is simply nothing there. We charge at it, thinking that we have it for sure this time, but then the next thing we know is that it is slipping away from us again, just as it always does, so that we have no choice but to start all over again, no matter how much the effort of approaching the prize has cost us. Our blind determination to obtain the prize that we see before us is insatiable, but it yields us nothing but pain. It is as if we are repeatedly throwing ourselves onto a bed of scalpel blades, or – as the Buddha is reported as having said – it as if we are maddened so much by the insatiable craving for samsaric sweetness that we are compulsively licking honey off the edge of razor blades.
But although the samsaric lure which we keep lunging madly for time and time again is no more than an emblem of our own forgetting, our own unconsciousness, the acute and unremitting pain that is brought about by our ‘moth-like activity’ has a very valuable and unsuspected property – it wakes us up, it causes us to remember what we have forgotten…
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.