Conditioned consciousness is enslaved consciousness, it is consciousness that is constantly compelled to do whatever the conditioning, whatever the mechanical impulses, whatever the ‘thinking mind’ wants it to do. If it does not do what it is supposed to do then it is subject to the lash – it has no option but to keep on trying, to keep on gamely battling to do whatever it is that it is being mechanically coerced and cajoled to do. Whenever we feel that we ought to be doing something, that we have to be doing something or other then this is the slave-driver cracking his whip. To be a slave is the fate of consciousness in the mechanical world that we have (unwittingly) created for ourselves.
The artificial or man-made world that we see all around us was created by enslaved consciousness; it was created by compulsion and that is why it looks the way it does. There is a greyness in it, a grimness, a lack of joy. The artificial world that we see around us is we might say an ‘externalized bureaucracy’ – dull oppressive functionality and nothing else. It is justified by whatever aims we are habituated to taking seriously; dull, mechanical goals that actually mean nothing when we examine them carefully. The only part of the world that wasn’t created under compulsion is the part that is playful and creative – everything else was created by enslaved consciousness, everything else was done under threat of the lash. What this means can be explained very simply – it means that this artificial world of ours can never be a means to happiness. We can never be happy by following the mechanical rules of this world.
This is not how the conditioned world represents itself however. The whole idea of the conditioned world is that it is there to help us, there facilitate us in being fulfilled and happy. The whole idea behind the conditioned world which we are so familiar with is that there is the possibility of us leading fulfilled and meaningful lives within it. This is – and always was – a complete impossibility. How can there be happiness or fulfilment in a prison house? How can there be happiness or fulfilment in a situation in which there is zero autonomy, zero freedom? In such a situation whatever ‘fulfilment’ is there is the fulfilment of the all-determining system, not us. The system may be said to be ‘fulfilled’ – in a very narrow sense of the world – through us, through our unquestioning obedience, through our slavery, but it can never be said to be happy. The system hasn’t got the capability of being happy – only free consciousness can be happy.
Because there can be no actual happiness within the system, within this conditioned world of ours, it has to be run on different lines. It has to adopt a peculiar type of economy where happiness is replaced by some kind of regulated substitute, something that can be portioned out in limited amounts when required. But in a world where all is compulsion, what possible kind of substitute could there be? How can there possibly be an ‘unfree’ or ‘regulated’ version of joy’? The answer to this apparent conundrum is, we might say, rather ingenuous. In the conditioned world there is – as we have just said – nothing but coercion; nothing exists apart from coercion, and in coercion there is nothing but pain. In response to this pain (or the threat of pain) we do (or try to do) what we are supposed to do and as a result of this ‘successful obeying’ we get to (temporarily) avoid the pain. Only we don’t perceive (or at least we don’t usually perceive) what we’re doing as ‘chasing the satisfaction of avoiding pain’, we just see it as ‘chasing satisfaction’. We see it as pursuing pleasure, we see it as trying to secure our well-being or happiness.
What we’re chasing isn’t really well-being (or happiness) however but just the (temporary) absence of pain, the (temporary) absence of punishment, but in a superficial way this can of course seem like happiness or well-being. It becomes – in a superficial type of way – pretty much the same thing. This system works very well on one level, but there are nevertheless hidden contradictions – contradictions that we would be very unwilling to see even if they were not hidden! The contradictory nature of this motivational system come down to the fact that pleasure and pain are – when it comes down to it – the two ends of the very axis. What after all is the difference between punishment and the temporary withholding of punishment? The punishment is still there – we have just escaped from it for a while! We can say that pleasure and pain are the two ends of the same axis because movement away from pain equals pleasure and movement away from pleasure equals pain! The two can’t be separated in other words, but the way we conventionally look at it is to say that pleasure and pain are independent values. We see pleasure as being an actual ‘thing in itself’ to be grasped at. Furthermore, in our usual (conditioned) way of seeing things, we see pleasure (or euphoria’) as being the same thing as actual happiness.
Instead of saying that the conditioned world is nothing but coercion and that coercion is nothing but pain (or withheld pain) we could have said that coercion is nothing but fear, and the illusory promise of escape from fear. This is what fear is – fear equals coercion! This is just another way of talking about the same thing. When we are in the grip of fear only one thing matters and that is to escape from whatever it is that we are afraid of. That’s what fear is – fear is the non-negotiable need to escape, to run away, to hide from some reality that we find ourselves unable to look at. This therefore creates an axis just like the one we were talking about in connection with pain – when we are successfully moving away from the fear then this equals pleasure and when we are not moving away from the fear (or when we are moving involuntarily towards it) then this is the reverse of pleasure. This again is all we need in order to create a perfectly workable motivational system. The (virtual) axis created by ‘naked fear’ at one end and ‘the illusory escape from fear’ at the other is all that is required in order to play the game.
In this motivational system ‘the point of the game’ is to successfully move away from fear, where ‘moving successfully away from fear’ means not knowing that we are doing so (since if we knew that we were moving away from fear we wouldn’t actually be moving away from fear at all). So when we ARE able to pull this manoeuvre off this constitutes pleasure, or ‘euphoria’ and this pleasure / euphoria is treated (for the purposes of the game) as a thing in itself, a value that exists independently of the fear that underlies it, and which actually gave rise to it. The misapprehension that pleasure is ‘a thing in itself’ (that it exists independently of fear) is what makes the game possible and so this might be called the ‘primary delusion of the game’ (or ‘the primary delusion associated with the conditioned world’).
This delusion also very effectively blinds us to the fact that we are not ever free in the conditioned world, even when things seem to be going well for us. This is a strange fact to consider – that we might have the (very strong) perception that things are going well for us, and be feeling very good about this, and yet at the same time be totally unfree, totally enslaved! If I am totally lacking in freedom (that most basic of values) how can I possibly manage to feel jubilant about my situation? If I have successfully been able to obey whatever compulsion it is that currently has me in its grip then I am delighted, I am exultant, I am filled to the brim with feelings of triumph, but how? And why? All I have achieved is to be a successful slave; all I have done is to manage to accommodate myself 100% to the dictates of some external compulsion. All I have done is to allow the external compulsion to act itself out through me so that my will counts for nothing and its mechanical (and therefore meaningless) will counts for everything, and so what’s to feel good about in this? I have abdicated responsibility to whatever random mechanical influences happen to be operating at the time, and all for the sake of what is called ‘a quiet life’….
One way to answer the question of how we manage to feel good about being a successful slave is to say that we obediently follow the dictates of the all-determining system because we think that we’re going to be rewarded for our compliance by being granted freedom. We think that the reward for being a good slave is freedom. Freedom is the only value that matters, after all – without it everything is meaningless. Without freedom I cannot be who I actually am and so what is anything worth to me in this case? So we’re submitting to the ‘necessary dictates of the system’ in order to win the ultimate prize of freedom. This may not make too much sense when we look into it at all, but the whole point is that we don’t. If we don’t look into our semi-conscious belief then ‘obeying the system’ makes perfectly good sense to us – the self-contradictory motivational system will in this case work perfectly well for me in this case. If we believe that what we’re chasing after is freedom then we can carry on happily chasing after it until the cows come home!
So we pursue some arbitrary arrangement of things, some arbitrarily designated configuration, which (unconsciously) stands for freedom for us, and when we achieve it we experience the exaltation of victory, the euphoria of winning (winning being synonymous with freedom for us, even though it is nothing of the sort). At the moment of winning we feel ourselves to have obtained this self-existent or independent value which is as far as we are concerned the same thing as ‘happiness’ or ‘freedom’. But what we have actually secured for ourselves is only pleasure / euphoria which is – as Krishnamurti says – the very same thing as fear. We’re only dreaming that we’re free, that we’re happy. For us (even though we aren’t admitting it to ourselves) freedom means ‘freedom from fear’, even though we aren’t really free from the fear. Fear has us on a leash and all that has happened is that it has loosened the leash a bit, on a strictly temporary basis! For us happiness means that we have escaped from the fear, but we can’t allow ourselves to see this otherwise we would know that what we have isn’t really happiness at all but merely ‘relief’.
In reality, we’re on the treadmill the whole time, with no respite. In reality, we are enslaved consciousness, doing whatever the external compulsion wants us to do. In reality, all we’re ever doing is ‘running away from fear’ and in running away from the fear we are perpetuating it. We think that fear is suffering and that the pleasure we are chasing is something completely different. We confuse pleasure with genuine happiness – in reality, pleasure is pain, we just don’t realize it…
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.