ME (part three) Tony Kelly
What I've been writing under this heading is, let's admit it, difficult. To some it can also be frightening, and so much so that fear of the imminent conclusions can make use of this very difficulty to obscure them and provide a rationalisation for not allowing them to emerge into realisation. That is, some of the difficulty is only apparent, and is really fear is disguise. I've attacked the concept of the uniqueness and permanence of the individual, I've compared us all with mechanical robots and shown that there is no essential difference at all, I've shown that the Creator (often a synonym for the God) is irrelevant, and I've said nothing (apparently) of the Goddess. Two beliefs held by many pagans and witches, albeit for which there has never been the slightest justification, must be discarded: namely, the belief that something about us, often called 'soul', will reincarnate in future lives among those we now know and love, and the belief that we're evolving towards an ultimate perfect state. Indeed the very concept of reincarnation in its popular understanding is not only without justification, but is intrinsically untenable. The buddhist teaching of 'no-soul' (anatma or anatta, as it's traditionally known in Sanskrit and Pali respectively) is nearer the truth, but it's not the whole truth. The identical (or opposite) teaching of advaita vedanta that there is only me is also nearer the truth, but the immensity of the truth which it expresses is matched only by the equal immensity of its falsity. These are not riddles to unravel by a frontal assault and the effort to do so would be as futile as the effort to outmanoevre the reflection that grins back at us out of the mirror. The truth and the futility are one.
I've tried to break the bonds if false belief in the uniqueness of the individual by discussing the division of amoebae and also the extreme type of cell division in the womb which, from one potential baby, makes monozygotic twins. The opposite is also possible and an article in New Scientist (26 June 1979) describes the phenomenon of the chimera, that is, the individual who is a combination of more than one individual. How common this is I don't know and it's very likely to be overlooked except where the two original individuals are sufficiently different to be easily detectable in the resultant single individual. But it can be seen quite easily in moths and in black-and-white mice. What happens, usually at the 8-cell stage, is that two individuals developing in the womb of the mother (say) combine, so that the 16 cells are now a single mouse and henceforth continue to multiply and grow up as a single individual. So it can work either way: by an accidental division and separation, a single individual can grow into two quite separate individuals, while by a comparable but opposite process, a chance congregation of cells can combine two evolving individuals into a single individual. Individuality is chancy, changeable and transient. All is in a state of flux and only the flux itself is enduring. To grasp at the lives we see now of those we know and love and to imagine or to hope that they endure through incarnation after incarnation is like trying to grasp the ripples in the pond and trying to confine them, ignorant of the fact that their very life is in their rippling. However, let's not make the mistake of imagining that individuality is illusory; it's no more illusory than the ripples in the pond; what is illusory is the attempt to imprison them in space and time and the attempt to bind them to the wheel of rebirth. There is no reincarnation; there is only becoming. And I shall endure for always.
It's absolutely essential to realise in all its depth that the brain is a false tyrant that has risen to a position of dominance, doubtlessly greatly aided by our intensive modern education and our concentration on analytical thinking. Suppose you're at the top of a high tree and the branch breaks. Just for an instant, you're a pure experience, made up mainly of sheer panic and an all-powerful sinking feeling in your guts. On the way down, possibly to death, you might well begin some analytical thought, but it's before this happens, when it's still the sudden inrush of pure experience, that you know (rather than merely think) that you're a happening. A safer way is to get very tired by hard physical work and then lie down and drift off to sleep; the feeling of giving in to sleep is again a pure experience which you don't think about and which you don't feel in your head. Other ways to convince yourself, some more effectrive than others depending on the person, are to listen to moving music, to masturbate, to be stricken with the grief of bereavement, to feel seasick, to fall in love. Whatever we think of these experiences, it's quite irrelevant to actually experiencing them; even the memory of the experience isn't to be trusted (It's too easily contaminated by the intrusion of the brain's compulsive urge to rationalise, systematise, classify). If I pick up something too hot to hold, it's my hand and not my brain which feels the heat; indeed my hand drops the object before ever the nerves have had time to relay the message to the brain. And now we're in a position to tackle one of those questions
Suppose I'm leaning on a fence watching a donkey munching it's way through a thistle patch in the field. Why am I only me and not the donkey as well? Let's leave aside for the moment the more difficult question of why I'm me, the watcher, rather than the donkey; the question we're tackling is why I'm not both. Previously I portrayed the gradual growth or expansion of the self-sentiment that accompanies the continual congregation of particles in the building of the atoms, molecules, cells and eventually a multicelled animal. The expansion of my experience of myself is brought about by the expansion of my region of organisation. It's the intimacy of the feedback which determines the extent to which I know a part of me as myself. Physical feedback (that is electrochemical feedback) through a network of nerves gives a very high degree of feeling of unity, togetherness, selfhood. Other kinds of feedback are weaker, though not by any means negligible. For instance, once the art of balance is learned, a bike can feel a part of oneself. To be suddenly deprived of pockets is to realise the part they played in our feeling of what or who we are. A man who is accustomed to carrying a briefcase or a woman who is accustomed to carrying a handbag can feel oddly 'undressed' without them, that is, in some odd way 'incomplete'. The feeling of bereavement is much deeper than the feeling of loss of someone; it feels altogether too close to define, too intense, too overwhelmingly complete; it feels for all the world like a loss of part of oneself (which in truth it is). And conversely, when fucking with someone, or when dancing with them, it's in some ways more like one body than two, so intimate and immediate is the response. In all these, it's organisation which constitutes our feeling of selfhood, and it's breakdown of organisation which threatens this feeling. Where there is no organisation, there is no sense of selfhood. Most intense of all, though, as I've said, is the degree of organisation of nerve pulses within a single physical body. Now when I'm watching the donkey eating the thistles, I'm a very complex and intricate organisation of nerve pulses. The donkey, similarly, is a very complex and intricate organisation of nerve pulses. But the exchange of nerve signals between me and the donkey is exceedingly small by comparison. Consequently, there's a strong feeling of me within my own body; there's a similarly strong feeling of organisation or selhood within the donkey's body, but each, differently, have a very much weaker feeling of identity with the much more attenuated organism of our joint presence in each other's company (I've been loose in expression here, but precise argument would in any case be futile, and I'm trusting, instead, to offer you the hints you need). As to the constitution of the self sentiment or the boundaries of the self sentiment between me, the donkey and our joint presence and the various sensory signals which are exchanged between us, and indeed between us and the plants and other entities in our immediate presence, consider again the feeling of self experienced by, say, a factory worker and a rain forest dweller, and how these self sentiments would be had the two physical bodies been swapped soon after birth.
Let's try an analogy. Suppose there are two groups of people living in isolated communities situated a great distance from each other, such as we might suppose to have been the pattern of life in the old tribal societies of long ago. Suppose contact between the two tribes is rare. After centuries of separation with very little contact, each tribe will have developed along different lines, with probably different languages, different activities, different customs and different ways of relating with each other within the tribe. Each member of the tribe will experience themself in the framework of the expectations with which they have grown up; that is, they will have a tribal identity. Now the two tribal identities will in all probability be different. Communication within one's own tribe will be easy, by way of identity of language, known expectations, shared emotions, shared memories and experiences. Communication with the distant tribe will be difficult and laboured and, what's more important, will be a conscious effort of deliberation lacking the feeling of immediacy and spontaneity one experiences within one's own tribe among one's own people. Now compare the two tribes with the bodies of two people, or with the bodies of a person leaning on a fence and of a donkey in the field, and we can see now the origin of our sense of identity or selfhood, and why I can be the leaner on the fence or the donkey butnot to a very great extent both.
The other question is much more difficult, namely: given that I can only be either me or the donkey, what determines which of the two I am? Or, given that I can be any one of a number of people or things but only one of them, what determines which one? It seems so arbitrary. I don't know the explanation but I feel (with what justification I can't say) that it isn't at all arbitrary. To be arbitrary would be to deny determinism, and to deny determinism is to deny causality. To deny causality would be to say that the God is a joker. Joker he may be, but never so unsubtly (The alleged breakdown of the law of causality at subatomic levels - Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - is not an observed fact but an unproven, and indeed unprovable, hypothesis). How, then, can my being the person I now know as myself rather than my being you or somebody else or some other being or thing be other than arbitrary? There is a way or the hint of a way but the path thereto is bizarre and logic, with which we'll explore it, is an inadequate tool, and in the end it must be a leap in the dark. It's like this.....
Let's suppose there are millions upon millions of beings whom I might be and the only constraint upon me is that I mustn't make my choice is an arbitrary fashion. If I were to choose to be that being... or that one... or that one... it would be an arbitrary choice, and this is precisely what I mustn't do. But as it happens there are just two choices open to me which are not arbitrary. One choice is that I'm not any being. The other choice is that I'm all beings. Anything in between those two limits is arbitrary, not only in number, but in choice of individual. So I must be either no being or all beings. Since I'm at least one being, it follows that I must be all beings.
This however appears to contradict my experience of being a single being (though despite this contradiction of feeling or experience, for centuries advaita vedanta has maintained precisely this view). How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? We can do so by supposing that, since I must be all beings, I am each one in turn. When I am a particular being, I acquire temporary possession of the memories which have accumulated in that being, and these memories then, of course, create for me the illusion of permanence (Memories themselves consist of electrochemical states within the physical organism). In order to be all beings, my occupation of the body of each being must be vanishingly small in time. So much is acceptable within the constraints of logical argument, but from this point onward logic breaks down... If we accept that I am each being in turn, this necessarily presupposes a particular order of moving from one being to another, and whatever the order, the order itself would be arbitrary, which would be unacceptable. We can remove this arbitrariness by running through all possible orders of choice, but then the order in which we take the orders is arbitrary, and clearly, there is no end to arbitrariness along this path we are attempting to blaze with the tool of logic. If we pursue this logic to its conclusion, then since I must be all beings in all possible orders, including the most transient of beings (such as highly unstable ions or subatomic particles) my time of association with each being must be not only exceedingly short, but in the very limit of being infinitely short; and infinitely short means no time at all. So I must be all being in turn and in all possible orders, spending no time at all as any one of them. And since there's no time at all spent in being any one of them, they are all, therefore, simultaneous. That, albeit a logical argument, is illogical in its conclusion (in scientific jargon, we have arrived at a singularity'). What we have arrived at is that I am all beings but experience as only one being, and not a particular one. Logic falls before such a truth as this, but it's helpful to see the way in which it fell.
The law of karma or, more accurately, the buddhist doctrine of dependent origination' follows immediately as a necessary consequence of this state of affairs. Let's suppose I tread on a beetle. The law of karma says that I will be a beetle and suffer the experience of being trodden on. This is not arbitrary, petty or vindictive; it's not trivially imposed; it's utterly inexorable. It's not that I'll be a beetle being trodden upon, but I'll be the very beetle I'm actually treading on. Moreover, the fact that it was accidental, or even unobserved and unknown, makes not a scrap of difference. Regret is of no avail; it's far too late. It's utterly, unalterably and irrevocably inexorable. If I tread on a beetle, even in ignorance, I tread on myself. If I rob someone, I rob myself. Even if I mete out retribution for a hurt received, I suffer the retribution.
And it's said of old: "No one shall escape their karma, but woe to those who make it come to pass."
Yet the law of karma as popularly understood is too crude. It says that if I tread on a beetle, I'll be a beetle being trodden upon; it even says that if I tread on a beetle I tread on myself. What it doesn't say, but what is equally and inexorably true is that if anyone at all treads on a beetle, then no matter who's foot it is, it falls on me and I am the beetle being trodden upon. This is dependent origination, and this is why there is no enlightenment for any being until the very last blade of grass has entered nirvana. And that will never be.
And now, I'll tell you something about the Goddess.