contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Greg Goode

SCEPTICISM, OPENNESS AND FLOW

This post summarises where I stand philosophically at this stage of my inquiry, and how my stance affects my practice. When investigating the Direct Path (1) I realised that one possible destination might be a radical scepticism about everything. Awakening to Awareness as ultimate ground of being is not the inevitable end point. The only Direct Path teacher who publicly discusses this is Greg Goode (2), who says: “Over the years, I had studied many philosophies and paths. I was aware of a variety of vocabularies. And now, unless I was explicitly playing the role of a direct path participant, none of these vocabularies seemed preferable in terms of truth or accuracy. When I was left to myself, experience didn’t show up as anything at all. There was nothing strictly true or strictly false to say about it”.

Goode reports a sense of confirmation on reading a privately circulated document attributed to Shri Atamananda Krishna Menon, founder of the Direct Path. According to Greg Goode, the gist is “that we can’t say anything at all … everything is paradoxical. We can’t even say that it’s consciousness or that anything exists! It’s a joyful, effusive case of saying without saying!” It helped Goode to get to his final position of ‘joyful irony’, which I have discussed in an earlier post. (3). His key point is that “the joyful ironist has found loving, open-hearted happiness without dogmatism”. For this to work “the joy and the irony must work together. If you’re joyful without being ironic, you’ll still have attachments to your own views of things. And if you’re ironic without being joyful, you may be bitter, cynical, sarcastic and pessimistic. Heartfelt wisdom includes both sides. Joy adds love to irony. Irony adds clarity to joy.” (2)

This sounds almost postmodern, but in fact echoes an ancient wisdom. Philip Carr-Gomm (4) shows its presence in Jain ethics, grounded in the three principles: ahimsa, aparigraha and anekant. Ahimsa is the doctrine of harmlessness or non-violence. Aparigraha is the doctrine of non-attachment, non-possessiveness or non-acquisition, Anekant is a doctrine of many-sidedness, multiple viewpoints, non-absolutism or non-one-sidedness. The three principles can be seen as completing each other, with non-absolutism as an intellectual aspect of non-violence and non-attachment, and hence a virtue.

Pyrrho of Elis, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century BCE, probably met both Jains and Buddhists, when accompanying Alexander ‘the Great’ to India. Indian influence is certainly evident the school of philosophy he created on his return home. In Greek culture this school was treated as a form of Scepticism, but unlike other Sceptics, Pyrrhonists “neither made truth claims nor denied the possibility of making them. Instead, they cultivated a deeply embedded attitude of suspension of judgement (epoche), allowing possibilities to stand open within the process of continuing inquiry. Such a turning away from the drive for intellectual closure enables peace of mind (ataraxia) in our engagement with the richness and diversity of experience” (5).  This teaching seems to combine the Jain view of non-absolutism and the Buddhist view of equanimity and freedom from dukka, (suffering or dis-ease).

As my contemplative inquiry has progressed, I have grown increasingly attracted to the wisdom of this view. I name it as openness, to keep my inquiry process appreciative rather than deconstructive. I have written about it before and this post builds on others. What I notice now is a greater clarity and confidence in this view, reinforcing my stance of At-Homeness in ‘the flowing moment’. Although not perfectly reliable, this At-Homeness is as close as I get to a place of safety. Everything else is uncertain. Everything else can be taken away. I treat ‘flowing moment’ as a simple description of living experience. I find stillness there if I slow down and attend to it. Stillness can be a portal to spontaneous joy and appreciation if I open up and am present to them . It is a good basis for coming back to Earth. From this space I can better connect with other beings, the wider world and the wheel of the year.

(1) A name given to the teachings inspired by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 -1959).

(2) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016

(3) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2019/06/11/greg-goode-and-joyful-irony/

(4) Philip Carr-Gomm Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions Lewes, UK: Oak Tree Press, 2019 (Foreword by Peter Owen Jones)

(5) Arne Naess Scepticism Abingdon: Routledge, 2015 (First published 1968. Scepticism is the last book Arne Naess wrote as an academic philosopher, before going on to devote himself to the development of deep ecology, coining the term ecosophy to describe his stance.)

EMPTINESS AND INTERBEING

At this point in my inquiry I want to refine my understanding of ’emptiness’. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is a great help here, in his final commentary on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra .

Thich Nhat Hanh discusses Buddha’s teaching that everything is “a manifestation of causes and conditions” and that nothing is permanent or unchanging. This applies to the whole cosmos, and not just to the apparent world. “Whether you call it atman (the soul) or Brahman (ultimate divinity), whether you call it the individual self or the universal self, you cannot find anything there”. Buddha’s teaching was aimed at undermining both of these notions. Nothing has any ‘self-nature’ (we might use the term ‘essence’).

Thich Nhat Hanh pursues this right into the territory of emptiness. “There are still many people who are drawn into thinking that emptiness is the ground of being, the ontological ground of everything. But emptiness, when understood rightly, is the absence of any ontological ground. … We must not be caught by the notion of emptiness as an eternal thing. It cannot be any kind of absolute or ultimate reality. This is why it can be empty. Our notion of emptiness should be removed. It is empty.”

He goes on to say: “the insight of interbeing is that nothing can exist by itself alone, that each thing exists only in relation to everything else … looking from the perspective of space we call emptiness ‘interbeing’; looking from the perspective of time we call it ‘impermanence’ … to be empty is to be alive, to breathe in and breathe out. Emptiness is impermanence; it is change … we should celebrate. … When you have a kernel of corn and entrust it to the soil, you hope it will be a tall corn plant. If there is no impermanence, the kernel of corn will remain a kernel of corn forever and you will never have an ear of corn to eat. Impermanence is crucial to the life of everything”.

This is one side of an age old controversy within spiritualities of Indian origin. In this blog, I have given friendly attention to the other side as well – particularly Direct Path teachers like Rupert Spira and Greg Goode and the Indian influenced Douglas Harding. In the end I don’t make an absolute judgement about it. My Sophian ‘At-Homeness in the flowing moment’ is compatible with both views. But I’m now finding greater energy and aliveness in the framework here presented by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Increasingly, when I do Direct Path exercises I experience a breaking down of assumptions about experience itself, and a tremendous opening out … but no container called ‘Awareness’ to fill a God sized hole. It’s similar for me with the Harding exercises. My experience is broadly the same, but my felt sense has shifted, and my narrative with it. I’m moving away from big picture truth claims about this, because I have become sceptical that exercises like this provide any grounds for them, one way or the other. Rather, I lean in to an evolving personal understanding, always provisional, of my contemplative experiences.

As a shorthand, I can talk about the tension between a ‘Oneness’ framing and an ‘interbeing’ framing of what people call non-duality. The difference can seem subtle – and it may be best to use ambiguous, open-ended words like ‘Tao’ and preserve a sense of mystery. But at this turning of the year, ‘interbeing’ is my preferred term. It fits better with the eco-spirituality which I take from my Druid journey, and affirms the relational basis of my Sophian Way.

(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The Other Shore: a New Translation of the Heart Sutra with Commentaries Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2017

See also: https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/the-uses-of-emptiness/ an earlier post that I’ve been able to draw on here.

THE SATSANG TEACHER STORY

In the story below (1), Greg Goode explores what he calls literal and non-literal meaning – though I would frame it as a tension between verbal and non-verbal communication. The context is the teaching style of the Direct Path some years ago. Greg himself is a successful student and teacher of the Direct Path and models a demystified and dialogical style of presentation in his own work. I find this type of reflection as a welcome sign of democratization in spiritual inquiry and teaching.

“Back then [in the early 1990’s] satsang was taught by a chosen few, who never got up in front of people without reporting their membership in a spiritual lineage stretching back in a lineage to Ramana Maharsi or Nisargadatta Maharaj. Among satsang students, the most valued goal was to become a teacher. The process of becoming a teacher was surrounded by mystery, celebrity and excitement.

“Imagine attending a satsang the way they were back in the 1990’s: the teacher sits in a plush armchair at the front of the room, while audience members sit on hard folding chairs. On the table next to the teacher is a row of three or four framed photos, showing a progression of spiritual teachers starting with Ramana Maharsi and ending with the very person sitting in the armchair. Imagine the satsang beginning with the teacher saying the following:

“’This is not about me. You may look at me sitting up here in this chair in front and wonder why I am here and you are not. I am just like you. Even though I am up here, and you are not, it doesn’t mean that I am special.

“’I don’t even consider myself to be a teacher. I never wanted to teach. It was my teacher who asked me to teach. He gave me the gift of satsang, and I am here giving it to you.

“’The gift of freedom in satsang is the highest that can be given. It is the most intense form of love and the profoundest happiness imaginable. I wish to share it with you. ‘”

“This is a classic example of non-literal meaning contradicting literal meaning in a way that rhetoricians call apophasis, or ‘affirming by denying (illustrated by the popular phrase ‘if you deny it, you supply it’). When a candidate for political offices says, ‘and I won’t mention my opponent’s financial problems’, you know what’s coming next!

“In our example of the satsang monologue, the literal interpretation of the teacher’s opening statements is that he’s just like his audience members. “But everything else about the situation, from the seating arrangements, to the row of photos, to the teacher’s self-consciousness as a giver of satsang, to his disavowal of teacher status -tells a different story. The teacher’s very first sentence isn’t about the audience or about the official satsang topics of consciousness or enlightenment. It’s about him. He goes on to mention himself a total of thirteen times in eleven sentences. This focus is squarely on him, and, according to the non-literal meaning of his speech, he emerges not the same as the others, but very different indeed. He becomes the teacher who has been specially selected to bear the most precious gift of all. This is a case in which being open to non-literal meaning provides access to a deeper and more subtle understanding of a situation.”

(1) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016 (Non-Duality Press is an imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.)

GREG GOODE AND ‘JOYFUL IRONY’

Greg Goode has been a student and teacher of the Direct Path, a name given to the teachings inspired by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 -1959). He describes the path as providing “a strikingly modern way to experience peace and happiness that are unruffled by circumstances” (1).

Goode, who is based in New York, also holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Rochester and serves on the board of the peer-reviewed journal Practical Philosophy: Journal of the American Philosopher’s Association. He champions a modern form of radical scepticism based on a combination of eastern and western influences. In the extract below, he talks about the inspiration of the American philosopher and ‘liberal ironist’ Richard Rorty (1931-2007) in his own work.

“For most of his forty-year career, Rorty challenged the ideas of philosophical certainties and metaphysical foundations. … For Rorty, ‘liberals’ are those who wish to avoid cruelty to others and ‘ironists’ are those who face up to how their most cherished beliefs and desires have no objective grounds.

“Rorty’s work in this area spoke deeply to me, so I adapted his political antimetaphysical notion of the liberal ironist for spiritual purposes, conceiving the ‘joyful ironist’. The joyful ironist has found loving, open-hearted happiness without dogmatism. The joy comes from love and happiness, often found as a result of inquiry, insight, or devotion. The ‘irony’ has to do with a radical relationship to conceptuality and language, as explained below.

“Normally, we have a vocabulary (which includes a conceptual scheme) that we feel expresses the truth of things. Rorty calls this ‘our final vocabulary’. For those on a spiritual path, the path itself may become their final vocabulary. For others, their final vocabulary may be popular science. Whatever their final vocabulary, people believe it’s better than other vocabularies at representing reality accurately and correctly. Perhaps they believe it’s grounded or guaranteed by reality itself. A final vocabulary might not even be recognized as a vocabulary by those using it. It might just feel like ‘the truth’. This could be called the metaphysical approach to truth and language.

“In joyful irony, we continue to use language, and we continue to have a final vocabulary, but with a difference. We no longer have a model in which there’s language on one side and reality on the other, and our vocabulary points to reality. In fact, the very idea of a strict dualism between language and reality stops making sense. It’s not that one side creates or reduces to the other. Rather, the idea of drawing a line to separate them loses the sense it had before. The issue no longer has any metaphysical importance. No vocabulary seems as if it does the best job of drawing such a line.

“The joy and the irony must work together. If you’re joyful without being ironic, you’ll still have attachments to your own views of things. And if you’re ironic without being joyful, you may be bitter, cynical, sarcastic and pessimistic. Heartfelt wisdom includes both sides. Joy adds love to irony. Irony adds clarity to joy.”

 

(1) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016

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