What I would like to explore this evening is the whole area -- well, some of the whole area ... [laughter] Hey, the night is young! [laughter] Some of the whole area of investigation and inquiry, and what that means to us, and what it means to us in practice and as practitioners. In a way, I'm picking up themes that I've actually already started in the opening talk, and through other talks, and in the practice, in the instructions, etc.
So what might this mean -- 'investigation,' 'inquiry'? Well, the first piece is to realize that there are many types, many ways of investigating, many ways of inquiring, many ways that that can be approached and unfold. We could begin with, in some ways, the simplest one -- right where we started the practice on the first day of practice. It's really investigation as intimacy, as the attention, the mindfulness, in a kind way, drawing close to, to touch, to become intimate, to connect with whatever the experience is. In that, there's a kind of looking: "What is here? What is this experience?" That's so important. It's like, "What actually is going on? What's the experience right now?"
We talked about, as well, that that can include what we might call differentiation. So oftentimes, it seems like there's just a knot of something going on, and one realizes that there are strands of different emotions kind of knotted into one thing. If I don't differentiate, it can often feel like it's bigger than it is, and feel overwhelming. When I get closer, I realize, "Ah, yes, there's anger here, and there's grief, and there's a feeling of hurt," or whatever it is. There's a sense of differentiating what can look like one thing. And oftentimes, emotions do come together in these woven strands. So in this closeness, this intimacy of attention, there is the subtlety of attention, the subtlety of probing and ... 'dissecting' is not quite the right word, but differentiating.
[3:00] And we talked about, in this intimacy, noticing what else is there. So oftentimes, assumptions are coming in, beliefs are coming in, but also resources are here, gifts are here, alongside the very difficulty that I'm trying to explore, and I don't notice them, and I don't open to them, because I haven't noticed what else is in the field. So mindfulness has this breadth to it. It's not totally lost in this singleness.
So investigation as intimacy, that kind of touching of things. There's also, of course, the whole area of questioning. This is really what I want to get into tonight, questioning. Investigation, inquiry, as a questioning, or questioning things. Now, right away, before we get into that, let's already differentiate types of questions, because there's a kind of questioning that goes on, especially in spiritual circles, that's (what could we say?) supposed not to lead to an answer. In other words, if you get an answer, you've kind of got it wrong. So for example, many of you will be familiar with the question, "Who am I?" As a meditative question, one repeats to oneself, "Who am I? Who am I?" And whatever the mind might throw up as an answer to that is not right. There's a sense it's not right. It's supposed to issue, to lead into openness, not into a crystallized answer that one can kind of summarize. Or the question from Korean Zen that some of you will be familiar with: "What is this? What is this, this experience that's happening? What is this going on?" You're not supposed to get an answer to that. It's supposed to actually let go of the kind of rigid conceptualization that often gets us into trouble. So that's one type of questioning.
But then there's another type of questioning that is definitely supposed to arrive at answers, arrive at insights, conclusions, connections. We're probing, looking for that, looking: "Ah, now I understand something. Now I've seen this is connected to that, and it makes a difference in my life." Or: "When I look at it this way, this is what happens." And so the original Buddha of the Pali Canon, this was his style. This was his mode. He was very interested in questioning and the responses of those questions.
In fact, the most (what could we say?) comprehensive and complete report that he gave of the night of his awakening was exactly that. It was a description of questions and answers, particularly aimed in one direction. Just like, "I want to understand where the suffering comes from." He says, "So there's suffering. There's death and there's suffering. Where does that come from?" And he got an answer. He takes that answer and says, "Well, where does that come from, that thing?" And he traces it back and back, probing, probing, digging, looking for an answer. Really what the inquiry into is wanting to understand (and this is our inquiry, too, as Dharma practitioners) how suffering gets constructed and held in place and locked in place. That's, if you like, one of the golden questions, if not the golden question: how does this dissatisfaction, this dis-ease, get constructed? How is it getting constructed? My mind is involved; there's no blame in that. How is the mind constructing suffering and locking it into place? And actually, more than that, how is the mind -- as we touched on last night -- constructing experience and solidifying experience? So it's both suffering and experience. That is the central thrust of Dharma practice, and the central question in Dharma practice, if you like. This is what the Buddha was probing on the night of his awakening.
As Chris talked about near the beginning of the retreat, the Four Noble Truths -- there is suffering, and then there's a cause for suffering. We said the cause for suffering is clinging, grasping. That's actually just the shorthand answer. In this more comprehensive description of his awakening, the Buddha didn't stop there. Yes, I see clinging brings suffering, but then the next obvious question is: where does clinging come from? I need to understand something about where grasping and aversion come from. He traced that back. Where does that come from? It comes from delusion. What's delusion? Where does delusion come from? How does delusion get built? What is it? How can I undo that? It doesn't stop; it goes further and further until there's something that liberates.
[8:06] So within that, if we just differentiate those two kinds of questions, what can we inquire into? What kind of questions can we ask in our life and our practice? And we've already touched on this. I can ask about my beliefs and assumptions, and that is absolutely enormous. That's enormous. So right away, beliefs and assumptions about what? Well, it could be (and we've touched on this too) beliefs and assumptions about practice. So very easily, how easily the relationship with practice is about getting it 'right.' When it's about getting it right, there's only one question: "Am I getting it right?" And it's not alive with questioning. It's actually limited by that one question, which isn't even really a question.
Can we give ourselves this permission to experiment? That's what experimentation is, isn't it? It's an inquiry. It's an investigation that's alive, that's playful. Can I give myself that permission as a practitioner? And what that needs -- I need to have a sense of possibility, that it's possible for me to discover something. It's possible for me to discover these bigger principles about understanding suffering, about where freedom comes from. That's possible for little old me, to whatever degree, and I can go deeper in it. And that I might discover these principles, and just little tricks. Someone was saying earlier about the body posture -- just a little trick, I might notice, "Oh, I don't have to keep yanking it into place. I can actually just feel a kind of current of energy, vertical axis of energy, and lo and behold, the posture opens and uprights, and I'm not even doing that." Well, that's just a little trick, but it's really helpful. You can discover that and experiment with that. Almost every day one can discover -- that's actually quite a big one, but one can discover little things. The spirit of discovery, of inquiry, of experimentation -- so important, because out of that, if that spirit can be there, if we can support that spirit, then there is interest in practice, and there is energy. Energy comes into the being, into the cells, into the body, into the practice, into the mind, into the awareness. And concentration comes actually from the interest. And the interest came from the permission to experiment and the sense of possibility there.
And then of course there are beliefs and assumptions that we can inquire into about the self, as we've touched on, as well. How am I imprisoning myself in a self-view, binding myself in a tight self-view of who I am and how I am, or another? But similarly, as we touched on last night, the world -- whether it's the social/political world, the cultural world, or the world of reality. One can inquire also into the whole frameworks with which we are looking at anything. We're always looking with a framework. This is really what I want to go into as well tonight. I can start inquiring into: what are the frameworks through which I look? Inquiring even into the framework of the Dharma. And that's what the Dharma is -- it's a framework. Questioning, questioning this framework.
So all that -- inquiring into the self, the world, the frameworks, the Dharma -- it's a big, bold questioning that's going on. That's actually possible for us, but almost inviting us. It's there to be questioned. Albert Einstein said:
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for [existing]. One cannot help but be in awe when [one] contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little bit of this mystery [every] day.
On another question, in relationship to this, he said, "It's a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." [laughter] I'm aware there are some teachers in here, so I'm also aware that that's changing. Chris used to be a teacher. [laughter]
What is our relationship with questioning? To me, that's a question, and it's one of the most central questions in life. Out of that question comes -- almost like my whole life unfolds and is determined partly by that question. Sometimes it's not even a question we would think of asking, but out of that, everything is either this or that, different. What unfolds in my life depends on my relationship with questioning, to a huge extent.
So sometimes, in some spiritual circles, and even a lot of Dharma, and even Insight Meditation circles, there's a kind of (what could we say?) an encouragement to (a person might describe it in different ways) "abide in not knowing," or to "just trust not knowing," etc. And that can be very beautiful. But the question I have in relationship to that is, "Is it alive?" Because I can abide in not knowing, and it's just a kind of slightly dull state, slightly lazy, slightly enclosed. It's lacking the vitality and the opening factor of curiosity -- maybe. I'm not saying it is, but maybe. So the question is, if one is practising not knowing, is it alive? And is it a not knowing with curiosity, or is it a not knowing without curiosity? They're very different.
One might also ask -- and this, again, is a hugely important question to keep asking in one's life -- what am I not questioning? That's a hard question to answer. What am I not questioning? Yesterday we talked about mysticism and mystical experiences, and how easy it is, for one side or the other, to get to a certain point and not question. For people who have very deep mystical experiences, it can be, say with the silence or whatever, that one just takes that as the final -- "That's it!" And it seems to marry with texts one has read, but that's it. It's not being probed and pushed at the edges, and so there's a kind of stagnation, and one has no idea that there's a stagnation going on.
Sometimes I'm with someone, or there's a group going on, or someone's just sharing something, and a person says something like, "Why do I always da-da-da-da?", whatever it is. And you can actually hear -- it sounds like a question, because it's got the word 'why' in it, but it's not a question at all! What it is is a judgment and a statement of frustration. But a judgment, a self-judgment -- it's dressed up as a question, but there's actually no questioning. "Why do I always ...?" There's not a question there. It's not a real question.
As always, with all these themes, it's like, what is it that blocks my questioning? What is it that might prevent my questioning? Well, one factor is our old enemy, if you like, the 'should.' Where there is 'should,' it's almost like there's not the possibility of inquiry. "I should this, I should that, I shouldn't this, I shouldn't that." It's just shutting down the inquiry. It's shutting down the questioning and the investigation. It's not possible then. What that suggests is, can I begin to notice the 'shoulds' that are buzzing and ricocheting around my mind? There are all kinds of 'shoulds.' Sometimes they're very hidden. Sometimes you hear the mind say, "You should," or "I should," or "You shouldn't," "You ought," da-da-da, whatever. But oftentimes they're hidden; they're not even verbal.
A person was describing in practice -- there were two different practices that they were practising, and they didn't let themselves do the easier one at a certain time. There was no thinking going on, but they realized, "Well, why not?" It was because they "shouldn't do what's easy and what feels good. That's wrong." But it took them a while to see that there was a 'should' stuck in there, operating, forcing things.
Of course, sometimes we have so much dukkha, so much contraction and pain around the whole self-view, and the idea of this self that needs measuring up -- because of the way society is, we're always needing to measure up, and show ourselves, and the social anxiety, etc. -- that that actually completely contracts the ability to question. If I think back on my time at college and university, when I was a teenager into early twenties, and I think about university kids now, it's so much pressure on this identity presentation, and the statement of identity that we were talking about some talks ago. And then all these youngsters are thrown together, meeting new people in an environment where they're supposed to be exploring and inquiring, but so much of it is contracted in this pain about "What am I presenting? And am I good enough? And do I fit in?" And that's just strangling the possibility of inquiry and exploration into new territories.
[18:47] So if all that is the case, or to the degree all that is the case -- the 'shoulds' have the stranglehold; we're continually worried about the self-view, and how I present, and all that -- sometimes any talk about inquiry or ideas sounds awfully abstract. It sounds like that doesn't have anything to do with me, because one is only seeing in this little, tiny orbit. One is almost staring at oneself, in a way, without the inquiry, and the inquiry doesn't open out. It's almost like it might be actually necessary to push it much wider, and take the vision -- they say "lift up mine eyes to the hills" -- lift up the eyes, the vision, the questioning, beyond what's immediately problematic.
I think, "Well, this is where the suffering is. I can't think about all these abstract questions, because right here I'm in this pain with whatever." But actually it's part of the contraction. It's part of this satellite being stuck in the orbit by the gravitational pull of the self and the self-view. Because if I let myself push out with questions, push out wide with the questioning, maybe that brings interest. It certainly brings vitality and dynamism. And it will also bring turbulence. It brings a kind of agitation to ask bold, big questions. But with that, including the turbulence, the dynamism, vitality, interest, turbulence, actually what might happen is this contracted suffering gets less. It's not a distraction; it actually is a helpful opening out. It takes away the unhelpful centrifugal force of what's going on. Brings energy, as I said. Decreases the self-obsession. Increases understanding. Increases the openness of the consciousness.
So when we question, if you think about what a question is, there's a kind of penetrative movement to the question. We're penetrating something, and we're also expanding. So questioning has both those qualities: penetrative and expanding. And both those bring energy. We need energy, because when we're stuck in an orbit of suffering, all the energy is wrapped up in that orbit. We don't have enough energy to kind of get out of the orbit.
[21:11] And it's interesting to look at what kind of questions do I not ask, as I was saying. So, for example, very often people don't ask about this idea of liberation or freedom. Oftentimes, that's because of the inner critic, and the idea that "What could that possibly have to do with me? I'm so hopeless. I'm such a failure. I'm so diminished in my capabilities. I'm not worthy," etc. And what happens is I couldn't even entertain the possibility of asking: "What does freedom mean? Maybe it's possible for me. What would it involve? What does it involve?" Wouldn't even dare to ask such questions, just because of the grip of the inner critic.
Or, around the whole notion of freedom or liberation, and the path to it, a whole bunch of assumptions come in very easily, and again, sometimes hidden. Sometimes you might hear something like, "Liberation comes from being where you are," or something like that. And it sounds really nice, and it's kind of comforting. But is it true? I mean, the Buddha never said that. But is it true? Or in the way that I'm thinking about the path to liberation, if I'm thinking that way, do I keep gravitating to certain factors, like mindfulness and awareness, and missing other factors? Because the Buddha painted a whole picture of what was involved in the path, and we tend to emphasize some and kind of ignore others.
It would sound a strange question to ask oneself, but why need it be a strange question: why am I not free yet? But it's really a why. Again, it's not a judgment. It's "Why am I not free yet?", meaning what's going on here? What needs to go on? So with all this, it's like, am I bringing enough intensity and freedom to the questioning? All this, because of all the assumptions, and because of all the blocks and everything, it needs a lot of intensity, and this sense of being free to question, that there's a space to move and to approach things from different angles. Am I bringing enough intensity and freedom to questioning in my life? This is interesting. It's so easy for us, as human beings, to get into a state of quite a lot of intensity about stuff that actually, deep down, we feel is quite petty and not that important. Then it's like we have not enough intensity or energy left over for the really deep and important questions; we've kind of used up our quota.
But questioning in life maybe is an expression, is a manifestation of freedom. It's showing that I'm not so locked in or in the blind grip. When I dare to question something, I'm already elbowing enough room. I'm already asserting some freedom to dare to question. It's already a manifestation of freedom. And the more I do it, it's like it's bringing freedom just by daring to question.
Partly what I want to go into tonight with all this is -- we've been talking a lot about emotions and heart work and stuff like that -- what is the relevance of ideas to all of that heart stuff and emotions? Now, when I say ideas, I don't mean a plan: "Oh, I've got an idea. I've got this problem, and so I'll fix it this way," some kind of practical solution to something. I don't mean that. I mean concepts and frameworks, ways of looking. Something like, for instance, 'the unconscious' -- it's an idea. It can be a very helpful idea, that there is this unconscious that throws up certain things. That's an idea, and it frames the way I look at my experience and the way I consider things.
The idea that what happened to me in childhood gets lodged somewhere and influences my future choices and behaviour and feelings -- that's also an idea. Again, very helpful, but it's an idea. How much of the emotion we feel in life is because we've given meaning to something? I feel an emotion about this or that because somehow, somewhere in the mind, this thing that I'm feeling emotion about has been given meaning. I love football. I mean, really good football, you know. But there are some --mostly guys -- who the only time they shed tears is at a football match, which is interesting. Something has been given meaning somehow.
Or -- this is quite common nowadays -- it's like a person can feel a lot of empathy for someone else telling them about, say, what happened to them in their childhood, and the pain that came out of that, but when they hear about, say, the suffering somewhere else, through what's happening, say, with climate change, which we touched on, it doesn't seem to resonate in any way. They can't really empathize with the suffering. And it's partly through the constellation of certain ideas, and the emphasis given to certain ideas over time in the psyche, in the mind, that kind of prime those ideas to make certain emotions more likely and more full, more active.
So ideas, actually, whether we like it or not, ideas are part of what give rise to emotions. Emotions are partly dependent on ideas, and we don't usually think that. Sometimes it's very tempting to think, "Just trust your feelings, and don't think about them." But actually feelings we have are completely woven into a whole web of influences and ideas. The whole zeitgeist, the whole culture of the times, as we were talking about, that's conditioned by history. We don't kind of like that thought, that somehow there's this whole cultural conditioning and history, and it gives rise to certain ideas that I have, and that gives rise to my emotions. We'd prefer to think of the heart as something pure and given.
[28:24] So ideas give rise to emotion, but ideas also give rise to experience -- any kind of experience, to a certain extent. So ideas about myself, about what's important. Ideas about myself give rise to the kind of self I experience, and then the kind of world I experience. Ideas about what's important in existence, in life, direct my vision and my perception, and certain things stand out. I live in a different world dependent on what I consider important. Or ideas about what happens in childhood, ideas about practice, ideas about the goal of practice, ideas about reality.
So the idea that ideas are something abstract, that all this talk of ideas is something kind of abstract -- if it's feeling like this is all a bit abstract right now, I hope you can see that it's really not. Ideas have enormous influence and power in our lives. In a way, the set of ideas that we're embedded in, and constrained by, and addicted to, it will keep delivering the same emotions. It will keep delivering in our life the same range of experiences, because of that set of ideas. So we talk about a person being open: "Such-and-such, they're real open." But what does it mean? To me, it actually means open-hearted, open to feeling emotions. We're working a lot on that this week. But it also means open, so to speak, ideationally -- open to ideas. It's quite common that a person is very soft, they're very soft-hearted, they're very open in a whole certain range of emotions, and they don't appear dogmatic at all -- they're not at all polemic; they don't enter into any battle over ideas with anyone -- but actually they're stuck, if we use strong language, stuck in a whole range of a set of ideas. But because [one] wouldn't even consider it, it's not realized. It's not acknowledged. So is it really open, if I don't actually probe and explore and dig up what's going on in terms of the ideation?
[30:58] Similarly, in meditation practice, etc., we might easily assume -- very understandably -- that it's experiences that bring freedom, and a certain experience in meditation (or whatever it is), that will unfold and allow, open, new experiences. But is that the case? Is it that one has an experience and that leads to an opening of new experience? I mean, it is true. That does happen. But very easily an experience can lead to actually fixed views constellating around that experience, interpretation of this or that, or self, or the world, or reality, and clinging to those views. And it actually blocks the unfolding of further experiences. It blocks a kind of freedom.
The thing about ideas, or churning, wrestling with ideas, the thing about that is it can have the capacity to break cages, as well as experiences, as well as other stuff. But with that, there's a kind of restlessness. With the wrestling with ideas, and the willingness to take on new ideas and explore and question, there comes into the being a kind of restlessness. But that's the kind of kinetic energy one might need to break the cages that one might not even realize are there.
So as I said before, when we talk about ideas, we're talking about ways of seeing. It's not like a plan for the future. It's a way of seeing. It might be hidden, or it might be explicit. So for instance, and I touched on this last night, the idea of 'this moment just as it is' -- it sounds so innocuous and light and without ideation. It's loaded with ideation. The idea of something 'just as it is' is loaded with assumption and concept, as we touched on. Or the idea that I need to integrate parts of my being -- sounds great. "Here I am. I feel all these diverse bits and pulls, and I need to integrate." Maybe that's true, maybe it's not, but it's an idea. It's a way of seeing then what I experience in my life. And as we've said right from the opening talk, the Dharma is a set of ideas, in a way. It takes time to digest that set of ideas and to kind of consolidate it.
But I think we need the input of new ideas. There's something about taking on new ideas through listening, through reading, through talking with friends and others, and through questioning, because that can unlock a kind of deep dynamism, a quality in the being. Not just up here [in the head]; in the whole being, in the vitality, in the blood, in the heart, in everything.
James Hillman, that psychologist that I mentioned in one of the other talks:
The craving for new ideas and for intellectual skills to deal with the constraining effects of unthought ideas is a deep hunger in the American soul. [He was living in America.] This I have found in my itinerant teaching, private consultations and retreats [particularly] with men throughout the country. Relationships may comfort, support groups nourish and success enhance, but ideas empower the spirit and open its eyes to envisioning possibilities. I do not want to believe that we are essentially a people obsessed with security ... nor that we are a people enslaved to consumerism; enchanted by the media, entertainment and celebrity; dependent on relationships; or that we are a narcissistic society in love with its own childhood to the utter denial of our national tragedies, unable to imagine a meaningful future. These diagnoses observe symptoms only, without getting to the fundamental syndrome of which the symptoms are but fluctuating and fashionable manifestations. [Then he says,] The deeper syndrome is inertia of the spirit, a passivity that feels no vocation and shies from imaginative vision, adventurous thinking and intellectual clarification.
I wonder how all this is going down, because we don't tend to think of this when we think of the Dharma. It's kind of like we put it aside. Now, all that, everything that I've said so far, given all the blocks, given the importance of it, given how I'm constrained and constrain myself, it needs a lot of passion. Somehow passion needs to come into the relationship with ideas, which is a heart -- the heart needs to come in. So if we think about, if you know the life of the Buddha, in modern psychological terms, he would probably be considered a complete obsessive. This guy had a real problem. He was very off balance, and kind of obsessed with one issue in a very unhealthy way. [laughter] Starving himself, repeatedly asking certain questions. [laughter]
Ramana Maharshi, a famous teacher in the Hindu tradition, said, "You should desire liberation like a drowning man desires air. You need to desire liberation like a drowning man desires air." There's immense passion there, immense desire. Dōgen was the founder of the Sōtō Zen school, if I remember rightly. He was practising in Japan, and he had this one question. I can't remember what it was, but it's quite an odd question. You think, "Well, that doesn't even seem ...", but it was burning for him. So he sailed all the way to China -- which in those days was a big deal; this is talking about a long time ago -- with this question, this burning questioning, this passion of inquiry. And all that, that passion brings energy, as well. It takes energy, but it brings energy. And we need to tolerate all this, tolerate all this agitation and passion.
[37:38] There's a famous quote. I can't remember the exact quote. It was something Picasso said about Cézanne. He was saying basically, "A lot of artists that came before me don't really interest me, but Cézanne, he really interests me." The quote is usually translated something like, "Because in those pictures of the apples, there's anxiety in those apples." I used to read this and [think], "What on earth does he mean, 'anxiety'?" Some people I've heard use that to mean there's existential anxiety about the meaninglessness of life being expressed in the apples somehow. Actually we could ask -- who's French? You're French, right? L'inquiétude? [Yogi replies in background] Disquiet? Yeah? Worry? Yeah. So this word -- for some reason Picasso was speaking in French at that point. [laughter] We don't need to inquire into that. [laughter]
So that was the word he used, and it's often translated as 'anxiety.' Then I read recently a much better translation, which makes much more sense to me: 'restless striving.' Restless striving, that in his painting, Cézanne was restless in his striving to present something in what he saw. If you remember in the instructions, I was saying about how he just looked and looked and looked, from this angle and that angle. There's this restlessness about wanting to see deeper, and wanting to find a way to transfer that through the art, and to express that through the art. That's what Picasso loved. It wasn't anything about nihilistic, existential anxiety. But that's something we need to tolerate, because restless striving feels restless. It doesn't feel settled; it feels uncomfortable. Somehow I have to tolerate that energy.
[39:48] Einstein again. He's asked, "Well, how did you come up with all this stuff?" Amazing, amazing breakthroughs in conception and discovery, and just such bold thinking. He said, "It's not that I'm so smart. It's just that I stay with problems longer." It's just that I stay with problems. Again, obsessed, patient and obsessed with this thing that he wanted to understand.
Werner Heisenberg. This really touches me. Werner Heisenberg was one of the physicists I was mentioning in the quantum revolution. He says in one of his books, Physics and Philosophy:
I remember discussions with Bohr [Niels Bohr, in 1927] which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighbouring park, I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?
Do you hear this? He's getting up early the next morning to go to the laboratory, and there's this passion to question.
So what is it? The culture, the inner critic, the habit of not questioning, the way we're taught? All this can block the passion. It blocks the passion of inquiry. But we need that passion because, as I said, we're up against kind of formidable forces, formidable blocks, actually. Prejudice is one of them. We have prejudices. We touched on this yesterday with the talk about mysticism. All kinds of prejudices.
Paul Dirac, another physicist -- actually an English physicist, very central in the whole quantum explorations, he said, "Great breakthroughs in physics always involve giving up some great prejudice [or great assumption]." It's interesting with Einstein, because he really struggled with the implications of what quantum theory was saying. This young radical, later in life, became a sort of old, fuddy-duddy conservative that people kind of sidelined, because he couldn't go there into the new conception. It was too much for him. But Dirac also, who actually said that [about giving up great prejudices], as he got older, he was very fixated on "any theory must be mathematically beautiful." Well, that's just a prejudice. When he had a mathematically beautiful theory and the experiment didn't agree with it, so grudgingly to go along -- Einstein, as well -- to go along with what the experimental evidence was.
I'm talking about physics partly because it's at the forefront of inquiry in a lot of ways, or it has been, and partly because it's a thread through the talk. The initial quantum discoveries were something that this guy Max Planck discovered. He intuited, "This is really going to cause a problem." He didn't want to share it. He hated the implications of it. And apparently no one, not even Planck, who discovered the original sort of really puzzling phenomena that prompted the quantum revolution, no one wanted to accept the implications of what this meant, of the things we've touched on about the observation not being separate, the thing not being separate. No one wanted to go near that.
This is Heisenberg again. He was perhaps one of the boldest thinkers, the most daring of all of them. He said:
When new groups of phenomena compel changes in the pattern of thought ... even the most eminent of physicists find immense difficulties.
You can translate all this for what it means -- obviously we're not physicists here, but you can translate this to what it means about my Dharma practice and the way I am in relationship to life, my assumptions, etc.
For the demand for change in the thought pattern may engender the feeling that the ground is to be pulled from under one's feet ... I believe that the difficulties at this point can hardly be overestimated. Once one has experienced the desperation with which clever and conciliatory men of science react to the demand for a change in the thought pattern, one can only be amazed that such revolutions in science have actually been possible at all.
So is this true for the Dharma and my practice? Yes. And we touched on that last night. I'm interpreting. I have a prejudice. I have a predisposition. I pre-decide stuff. Can I realize that's going on, and can I question it? It may seem -- I don't know; I hope it doesn't seem abstract. To me, it's absolutely central. And, of course, why it needs so much pattern is because in life, in all kinds of ways, we like to be in a comfort zone. We like comfort as human beings, and we need a certain degree of comfort. We can't be shaken up all the time. We need a comfort zone.
Another physicist, Enrico Fermi: "Never underestimate the pleasure people get from hearing something they already know." [laughter] That's really true. A funny thing -- I started to cotton on to something. Giving Dharma talks and just meeting people in interviews, sometimes a person comes to me and they say about a talk that I gave, or about a talk they listened to of someone else, "Great talk. Fantastic talk. I really loved that talk." And sometimes they go on to explain why they loved it, and not always, but oftentimes, basically they end up saying something like, "It really affirmed what I was already thinking." [laughter] It's like coming in and listening because I want someone to tell me what already ... What's going on there? And so common.
In the Tibetan tradition it says, "A scholar" -- this is a very scholastic tradition, some of it -- "A scholar, an inquirer, who cherishes his comfort zone is not fit to be deemed a scholar, an inquirer." Carl Jung:
We wish to make our lives simple, certain, and smooth. We want ... certainties and no doubts -- results and no experiments -- without even seeing that certainties can arise only through doubt and results only through experiment.
We want what's comfortable. It's very normal, very human. But it closes us in, it imprisons us, it dampens our passion. This desire for simplicity, I think, also runs very deep in Dharma circles and spiritual circles. Actually, recently I've come to call it 'simplism.' We love a simple explanation. We love a simple version of truth. We love the simple. We say a Truth, if you want to give it a capital, Truth must be simple. Well, why must it be simple? Maybe it's not simple. Maybe the truth of the situation, maybe the ultimate -- maybe it's not simple. I want it to be, but maybe that's just a predisposition, an inclination, a wanting of comfort. And if we think again about physics, you know, what feels simple to us because it's intuitive is the Newtonian, the old model. Quantum mechanics, and all that, and relativity feels extremely complex, but it's more true, if you say.
[48:05] In fact, in relation to this, Einstein said, "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." Not simpler. So when do we have a tendency to oversimplify just because we like simplicity, and it sounds good, and it's easy to communicate, and it's easy to understand, and it feels comforting?
James Hillman again:
The seduction of simplicity tempts ever more as issues become more and more complex, so that voices of simplicity [and he names a couple of American politicians] offer mental peace without mental effort. Simple ideas feel comfortable; they don't give trouble. They seem to let issues settle down quietly into the bottom mud of the mind, all tension and sophistication denied. A simple idea of [whatever it is] lulls us into quiescent passivity ... The mind [and the soul] needs richer foods and it likes to move subtly, like a snake or a fox, otherwise it will get blindsided by the narrowness of focus. [Then he says,] I am inviting disturbance.
Some of this has to do with cultural influences from Zen into the Dharma in the West, etc. Because we have, oftentimes, such a problematic relationship with thought, and too much up in our heads, we tend to dismiss the whole realm of ideation. Maybe that's good to a certain extent, but it will have consequences.
So to be aware. What happens with ideas and new ideas? Do I try and fit them into a framework, into a conceptuality that I already have? Oftentimes, I do. I can't actually hear the newness in something, and be opened up and challenged, because I'm actually trying to mould it to the old framework I have. Nothing gets shifted or broken out of this structure.
Arthur Lovejoy talked about being sensitive to the "metaphysical pathos" of an idea. What that means is, which ideas resonate with the heart? And through their resonating with the heart -- which might be completely culturally conditioned -- I gravitate towards them, I like them. Truth, unity, integration, clarity, what is natural -- these are all ideas, but they have an emotional resonance that's dependent on all kinds of other stuff. Am I aware of that? So in regard to awakening, for instance, one very popular way of feeling attracted to a certain idea of what awakening is is it has to be spontaneous, and it has to be you realize something you can't express. That's a whole ideation right there that has this metaphysical pathos, this way that I feel about it that's predisposing me. What about the opposite? Maybe it comes out of study, and it is something I can express. But for most of us, that wouldn't have the same feeling-tone to it.
What's the predisposition? We talked about this. This is from Nietzsche:
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy has hitherto been: a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; moreover, that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy have every time constituted the real germ [the real seed] of life out of which the entire plant has grown.
So this whole way of looking, this whole framework, this whole philosophy, which appears to be about truth, is actually coming out of a certain heart inclination one way or another, from what I want to feel.
[To explain about life,] To explain how a philosopher's most remote metaphysical assertions have actually been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to ask oneself first: what morality does this [philosophy, or does he or she] aim at? I accordingly do not believe a 'drive to knowledge' [to truth] to be the father of philosophy, but that another drive has, here as elsewhere, only employed knowledge (and [even] false knowledge!) as a tool.
This is quite an extreme example, but -- it's a story -- what happens when we want to cling to a way of seeing or a view:
In the early 1950s a woman in Minneapolis began to receive communications from an extraterrestrial being named Sananda. Marian Keech, as she was pseudonymously known, heard that a great flood would cleanse the world of earthlings at midnight on 21 December 1954. Only those who believed in Sananda would be saved; they would be taken to another planet in a spaceship that would arrive just before the flood.
A cult formed around Ms Keech. Apart from a single press release, it shunned publicity. Members quit their jobs, sold their houses and left their families. On the day of judgment they gathered in Keech's house to await the arrival of the spaceship. The media gathered on the front lawn. The clock ticked down to midnight, but neither the spaceship nor the flood arrived. Inside the house some cult members wept; others stared at the ceiling.
The cult had been infiltrated by a young psychologist, Leon Festinger, who was intrigued by how the members would accommodate the prophecy's failure. As it dawned on them that the world would not be ending that night, how would they react? The rational response would be to face up to the truth that they had been duped, and sink into deep despondency because they had made enormous sacrifices for nothing.
In fact, the opposite occurred. The cult members became excited, throwing open the curtains and inviting the television cameras in. They were told that Marian Keech had just received an urgent message from a high-density being, telling her that the world had been spared the flood because the group had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.
[laughter] Fair enough.
Over the next days Keech and other cult members told as many media outlets as they could that their devotion was not in vain, for through it they had saved the world. These counterintuitive events stimulated Festinger to develop the theory of cognitive dissonance, which describes the uncomfortable feeling we have when we begin to understand that something we believe to be true is contradicted by evidence. [He] hypothesised that those whose firmly held views are repudiated by the emergence of facts often begin to proselytise [to preach] even more fervently after the facts become incontrovertible. He wrote that we spend our lives paying attention to information that is consonant with our beliefs and avoiding that which is not. [What am I seeking out when I inquire?] We surround ourselves with people who think as we do and avoid those who make us feel uncomfortable.
This is tricky, because we need support, too.
[55:45] So all this stuff with ideas, it needs a kind of friction from the passion. It needs the rub and the sparks, you know. John Wheeler, that physicist I mentioned, he said, "Progress in science owes more to the clash of ideas than [to] the steady accumulation of facts." Also true with Buddhism in India. It was very polemic and lots of debate, as it is in Tibet, as well. The teachers that have perhaps had the biggest influence on me and my practice have been highly polemic. It's quite interesting. I only realized that the other day. Teachers throughout history, not alive, as well.
Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize physicist, as well, said, "Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion." Lee Smolin, another physicist, "The [scientific] community works in part by harnessing the arrogance and ambition we each in some degree bring to the search." It takes a certain arrogance to ask questions, in a way. All this, not easy to tolerate. When I don't understand completely something I'm reading, it feels uncomfortable. It feels agitating. There's a discomfort there. I think it was Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And then there was someone else much later in history, Dr Joseph D. Duffey, and he said, "[Yeah, but] Remember, the examined life is no bed of roses either!" [laughter]
So I was thinking: three areas of human endeavour -- science, religion, and art. In science, there's a sense of open-endedness to the inquiry. It is assumed that at some point we will outgrow even quantum theory and that will move on. It's like we're moving into an open-ended future, improving. There's a sense of improving something, and moving towards a kind of -- it's an open-ended search for truth, theoretically. Religion, oftentimes, it's the opposite. Even in the Dharma, we tend to think really what we're trying to do is replicate the Buddha's insights. Old. So instead of improvement as history goes on, there's the idea, "Well, it's getting degenerated. There's a loss. There's impurity coming in."
And then you think about art. I don't think anyone taken seriously would say Picasso is better or worse than Michelangelo. It's just different. There's a development, an evolution -- it's just different. So to me that's quite interesting. And why does it have to be that way? Why does the Dharma have to be that way? Why does our relationship with the Dharma have to be that way? All this might make sense to those of you who have been practising quite a while, and may not realize that there's a certain way of looking at the Dharma: we're trying to repeat the Buddha's insights.
[59:14] Why not this sense of openness of discovery and open-ended search for truth also in spiritual matters, in the Dharma? Or the sense that there are actually just different ways of developing? Sometimes the assumption is there are no new real insights or ideas in the Dharma; there may be new ways of going about things, but not really new insights. Is that really true? And why should it be true? What are my allegiances, and what are the social pressures operating on me in my inquiry or non-inquiry? That actually even goes into science. There's a very famous book -- I haven't read it; I've only heard about it -- by a guy called Thomas Kuhn. It's called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. And why it caused such a stir was he was saying there are a lot of sociological influences in scientific communities that actually very strongly influence the breakthrough of theories and things like that. If you know the history of the Dharma's move to Tibet, for hundreds of years a lot of which ideas became prominent, and the evolution of the understanding and the teaching in Tibetan, was to do a lot with the feudal land system, and which landlords were supporting which monasteries, and the competition for land and power. It's quite interesting.
Allegiances, social pressures, frameworks, and assumptions again -- the idea of assumptions influencing what I experience and what I will actually notice. If I grow up in a culture where I believe in original sin -- that's what I'm taught, that I'm bad; I was born with this original sin -- what an effect that has on what one observes and how one inquires or not, or what it limits. Very strong effect that can have. Actually, there's quite a similar idea in Buddhist teaching, of the three kilesas, the three defilements. We are born into this world because we are full of greed, hatred, delusion. The difference is that in Buddhism the invitation is not to take that as who you are or as ultimately real, so there's some more space around it. But what is the framework that's influencing what I see?
Charles Darwin said, "Without the making of theories, I am convinced there would be no observation." It's interesting. In France in 1660, there was a guy called de la Vialle, and he went into a cave that was actually full of prehistoric cave painting, completely full. And because at that time they had no conception of prehistoric man, let alone the idea that prehistoric man/woman would make paintings on the wall, he completely did not see. He actually graffitied his name next to these pictures of bison and things. It didn't enter into his conception; there was no theory, so he actually didn't see it. He couldn't bring the actual pictures into focus. Scientists, perhaps, don't collect data comprehensively, and same for practitioners -- don't notice what's outside of the framework.
I was at a dream workshop not too long ago. It was about lucid dreaming, in London. They were talking about some experiences they had. What was interesting to me, and you see the same thing for meditators -- you open up to something like the silence, or the stillness, or a realm in a dream -- and these people, in dreams, were describing similar realms. So the conclusion is, "Ah, this realm really exists, and I have discovered it." Or a vast awareness opening out. And it seems like texts and spiritual texts would support that being ultimately real in what they say. But one isn't questioning in a different way, which is: how did this arise? Going back to what I was saying at the beginning, rather than taking it as a fixed reality that I'm moving into, it's "How did this come up in the first place?" Because there's a pattern to this experiencing and opening, as I was saying yesterday.
And -- I'll throw this out also in relation to last night's talk -- I might need to fall in love with that silence. I might need to fall in love with the sense of boundless love, and the sense of an awareness that can hold everything, and not hurry on into inquiry. Falling in love with it does something to my heart and to my being. Then there's a time to move on. So all this, of course, applies to the Dharma inquiry and the inquiry we have. Where do I usually not go in my questioning? What do I usually not consider? That's a hard question to answer, because it's a blind spot. But can the range and the parameters, the directions of my inquiry, be expanded?
A friend was at a retreat in a slightly different tradition, a big retreat, and was getting upset, quite emotionally upset, that there seemed -- I can't remember the exact words -- people were leaving lights on and things like that, and there seemed not to be this ecological care. There was a complete blindness of the ecological care. Was feeling upset by this: "This seems to be the culture here." Took that to the teacher and said, "Well, this is what's going on. I feel saddened by this. I feel really upset. It really does something inside me." And the teacher said, "Does that remind you of something with your parents?" [laughter] Something has happened to the inquiry. It's got channelled into a certain direction. Going back to the first talk, we talked about climate change and other things. I can tend to think that my suffering is my fault, and not see that some of the pain comes from outside.
[1:06:17] We've also talked about this: do I tend to go where the difficulty is, where the feeling of pain and weakness is? Another friend was having a lot of difficulty and pain, and then had a dream with a lot of energy in it, and brightness, and creativity, and a kind of lovely vision in it. But in waking consciousness and talking even about the dream, the tendency was to go back into the position of pain and feel like that's what needs to get explored. It was almost like the unconscious was throwing up another way of looking: "Hey! What about this? What about the creativity?" It's almost like the unconscious needed to compensate by throwing up something more creative, more outward-looking.
Sometimes with the Dharma, and especially nowadays: what does not fit into the Dharma? What doesn't fit into the Dharma framework? I was talking with someone recently, and she had fallen in love. It was beautiful. Fallen in love. And then some time went by, and the person was travelling somewhere, and they had a separation before he came back. All this longing. She came for an interview, and it's like, "But I shouldn't crave, right? This craving is a problem." How can I have a romance without craving? [laughter] We have a problem there as lay practitioners. I'm supposed to end craving, and yet I want romance. How can I have sex without desire? It's not going to be much fun. [laughter] I mean, sex involves -- sometimes the dark gods are in it. Romance, it's like there's a kind of craziness in it when you're in love. There's possession, there's longing, there's all that. So what are the limits of the Dharma? Trying to fit it on, maybe it doesn't fit. Is the Dharma even applicable in that sense?
Is there even one Dharma any more? We talk about, "The Dharma says this. In the Dharma, it says that." Is there even one? Already in Western culture, it's met psychotherapies, psychotherapeutic schools. Met that, met (as we were talking about) scientific materialism, met different philosophies, met the whole cultural zeitgeist. What is the one Dharma? There are all kinds of mixings going on there.
Sometimes people say, "We all agree on the Four Noble Truths." But actually there are lots of interpretations of what that means. Chris spoke about this. What is actually 'suffering'? What do we mean when we say that? And when we talk about 'liberation,' what do we mean? The original Buddha in the text -- it's very clear: 'liberation' means the ending of rebirth, the ending of the cycle of saṃsāra, not being born again into this world. Now, if I take that out, if I take that whole notion out, and the whole notion of ending that process, what does 'liberation' mean? It's up for grabs. It's up for grabs what that means. And people interpret it in very different ways. Is there even one liberation any more? Or are there many liberations? A liberation in this direction, a liberation in that direction, a liberation in this area, a liberation in that area. If you've been involved in the Dharma a long time, that might be quite a question to even entertain.
In my inquiry, what do I tend to rely on or trust in my search for the truth? There's a whole other question there. What do I rely on? I'm searching for the truth. I'm searching to penetrate things with inquiry. Do I rely on the data from so-called 'direct perception,' just what I see? Is that what feels true to me? Do I rely on logic and logical analysis? What do I give the most authority to? Or do I rely on another's authority, like a spiritual authority, a teacher saying this, a text saying that? Do I rely on mystical experience? Do I rely on an intuition of the truth? As I'm asking this, what's your favourite? What's your stacking of these priorities? Here I am in a relationship with truth. What do I tend to trust and rely on? Do I go for a map, or no map, and why? Why do I choose a map or not a map? What's going on there inside me, in my heart?
All this is difficult, and it's difficult to inquire. In the Tibetan tradition, there's a wrathful deity called Yamāntaka. If you've seen pictures, he's got bull's horns, and a bull's head, and he's raging, and there's fire all around him. He's huge, and got fangs. His name, it's interesting -- the name means 'one who makes an end of death.' In other words, one who ends death, sees through death. But it can also mean, if you translate it from the Sanskrit, it means 'one whose goal is death,' 'one who brings death.' It doesn't mean physical death; it could also mean death of the self. But it could also mean death of these kind of structures of ideation that we get used to. I get so used to these assumptions and these whole frameworks, and then, in a way, metaphorically, he comes along with his power and his wrath, his energy, and cracks something open. It's a blessing. It's a blessing, but it's difficult. That's why he's wrathful.
That can be, for someone who is really inquiring, been in the comfort of a framework and the benefit of a framework (whatever it is), and then that cracks ... it can be disorienting, frightening. It takes courage. Someone told me earlier today 'courage' means 'having heart,' from cor, having heart. In the Jewish Kabbalah tradition, the mystical Jewish tradition, they talk about the 'breaking of the vessels.' We create these vessels; we need to. These are the vessels of my relationships, the vessels of my ideas, the vessels of the structures that I move in, in work and expression. And if we're alive, if we're alive in life, and if our vitality is flowing, they crack. Repeatedly in life, they crack. We need to build them, and they need to crack. And we need to build again, and they need to crack. That's difficult. It's a difficult process. That's part of our life force.
When they crack, it's not like we dismiss what went before, we dismiss the old vessels. Einstein again. He said:
Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and [creating] a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between [one's] starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.
If there is not one liberation, if there are many liberations, what then is 'ideational liberation'? What does that mean? And is it something like we usually think of liberation, as something that has an end? I reach an end, reach the goal, the end of liberation. Or is it open-ended? Cusanus. Do you know who he is? Some guy called Cusanus:
The eye, as a sense organ, is neither satiated nor limited by anything visible [it won't be satisfied by anything visible]; for the eye can never have too much of seeing; likewise, intellectual vision is never satisfied with a view of the truth.... The striving for the infinite, the inability to stop at anything given or attained is neither a fault nor a shortcoming of the mind; rather, it is the seal of its divine origin and of its indestructibility.
Shall we have some quiet time together?
SN 12:10. ↩︎
Albert Einstein, "Old Man's Advice to Youth: 'Never Lose a Holy Curiosity,'" LIFE (2 May 1955), 64. ↩︎
This is a common paraphrase of Einstein's quote, "It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry." See Albert Einstein, "Assails Education Today; Einstein Says 'It Is Miracle' Inquiry Is Not 'Strangled,'" New York Times (13 March 1949), 34. ↩︎
James Hillman, Kinds of Power: A Guide to its Intelligent Uses (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1995), 17--8. ↩︎
Cf. the following question attributed to Dōgen in Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist (Boston: Wisdom, 2004), 22: "As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages -- undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment -- find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice?" ↩︎
Cf. the following quote attributed to Picasso in Ellen H. Johnson, Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes, rev. and enl. edn (New York: Routledge, 2018), 3: "It's not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. Cézanne would never have interested me a bit if he had lived and thought like Jacques Emile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. What forces our interest is Cézanne's anxiety -- that's Cézanne's lesson." ↩︎
Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1958), 42. ↩︎
Original source unknown, but cf. a paraphrase of Paul Dirac in Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World (New York: Tarcher, 1993), 82. ↩︎
Cf. Graham Farmelo, It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science (London: Granta, 2001), xiii: "During a seminar in Moscow in 1955, when asked to summarise his philosophy of physics, he [Dirac] wrote on the blackboard in capital letters, 'Physical laws should have mathematical beauty.'" ↩︎
Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 162. ↩︎
Edward Hoffman, ed., The Wisdom of Carl Jung (New York: Citadel Press, 2003), 215. ↩︎
This quote is apparently a paraphrase of Einstein by Roger Sessions. See Roger Sessions, "How a 'Difficult' Composer Gets That Way; Harpsichordist," New York Times (8 Jan. 1950), 89: "I also remember a remark of Albert Einstein, which certainly applies to music. He said, in effect, that everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." ↩︎
Hillman, Kinds of Power, 9. ↩︎
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, tr. R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1973; repr. 2003), 37. ↩︎
Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Earthscan, 2010), 95--6. ↩︎
Inge S. Helland, Steps Towards a Unified Basis for Scientific Models and Methods (Singapore: World Scientific, 2010), 225. ↩︎
Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 307. ↩︎
Smolin, The Trouble with Physics, 307. ↩︎
John D. Barrow, Paul C. W. Davies, and Charles L. Harper, Jr., eds., Science and Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 30. ↩︎
Frederick Burkhardt et al., eds., The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, xiii: 1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 233. ↩︎
Ernest B. Hook, ed., Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 80. ↩︎
Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, tr. Mario Domandi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 69. ↩︎