Discussion & Retreat Topics
"I don't believe in destiny. We are not born to become one thing or another, left to follow helplessly a course that was chartered for us by some unseen hand.... The only fate we cannot escape is mortality." - John McCain, Character Is Destiny
> Is character destiny?
What does it mean to think for yourself?
When you watch traffic go by, do you believe you created the vehicles and made them move?
Do you create "your" thoughts and make them move? What about feelings? Beliefs?
Is there a way to silently, wordlessly challenge thoughts, feelings, beliefs?
"Other than being stymied by the obstacles we have not recognized, I would say that, ironically, we don't move in our spiritual work because we are trying to move heaven and earth to reach nirvana. Paradoxically, if we remember ourselves right here where we are now, through training our attention upon the sensation of 'I am here,' throughout the day, then self-observation will pick up incoming thoughts and feelings which, as it were, do not belong here and now. Those are the thoughts and feelings that we are identified with somewhat unconsciously. As we track where those thoughts and feelings are coming from, we improve our vantage point and see what we have become through identification with those thoughts and feelings. This is inner movement...."
"It is of capital importance to understand this distinction between acceptance and resignation. To accept, really to accept a situation, is to think and feel with the whole of one's being that, even if one had the faculty of modifying it, one would not do it, and would have no reason to do it."
God grant me the serenity
> Is there a connection between self-knowing and acceptance?
"Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart." -Confucius
"The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving." -Oliver Wendell Holmes
"I will not just live my life. I will not just spend my life. I will invest my life." -Helen Keller
In The Art of Selfishness, David Seabury said that he puzzled out his values, how he wanted to live his life, as a young man. He found that the distilled ethic boiled down to two items, the first of which was to never compromise his integrity.
What is integrity?
Summer's ending, fall's beginning. This is often a time that encourages introspection about life.
When you introspect, do you ferret out and question your beliefs? What are your beliefs about the source of what troubles you?
The Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group is aimed at getting to the core of beliefs -- and to the end of existential angst.
"The most painful thing on earth is a pleasant memory. This nostalgia that sometimes comes over us isn't an accident. It's a message. It has something to tell us. We're programmed to indulge in life, but this haunting nostalgia is a subliminal message from another plane.... Touching it, you touch the Eternal."
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
My teachings are easy to understand
My teachings are older than the world.
If you want to know me,
How can you live life fully? Perhaps you know of adventurers who watch sunsets in the Himalayas. Perhaps you know of monks who tend tiny gardens with meaningful strokes of the hoe. How is your life in comparison? Are you grinding out the 8 to 5 in front of a computer, or immersed in the pointless noise of campus life? You want something called fullness of life -- where you actions carry meaning; where you are aware of your actions and fully conscious of life. Vague stuff when you try to convey it to someone else, but you know it is more than a dream.
A few people decide that experiencing more is equivalent to living a fuller life. In other words, more Pepsi in the glass will make the Pepsi taste better. An entire life is spent moving through increasingly exotic experiences, never realizing it is the experiencer which is the source of the problem. It is you that suck life dry. The telescope distorts the view of the moon -- the moon is as it should be.
Life is as it should be, but you do not know this for certain. The solution is more than just accepting the bad with the good -- animals do that quite well. To see life as it is, you must first examine the perception mechanism -- you must first question your definition of your self. The possibility exists that you are more than a perception/reaction machine. You may find you are that from which life emanates. From that superior perspective, your present-day struggles to fully experience life will seem unimportant. Your very existence will be unimportant and the question of living life fully will vanish. To illustrate this point, here is a poem playing on the Zen story of the man chased by a tiger:
Sages say a man was chased by a tiger,
To live life fully you must study the self that lives. Obviously, you recognize it as the source of your problems and not the external world. We can see the beauty in the grime of battle or make a sunset into a bore. To study the self, you must first gain some control over it. You must be able to focus upon a difficult subject. You must redirect your energy from its outward direction. You must conserve, focus, and use your mental and physical energy to discover the false aspects of your self -- to continually refine your self-definition.
> What does it mean to question your definition of your self?
Through many a birth in samsara have I wondered in vain, seeking the builder of this house (of life). Repeated birth is indeed suffering! O house-builder you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridge pole shattered. My mind has reached the unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.
> Is life suffering?
It is worth taking a closer look at the apparent happiness of ordinary people because this can help us understand emotional states better. If I observe myself over time, I notice that I am sometimes euphoric and this state corresponds to brief episodes during which self-doubt is dormant. If some external situation affirms me and seems likely to persist for a while, providing also that I am in good health, it has the effect of suspending my inner "proceedings." With nothing happening in court, judges and witnesses go to sleep and the subconscious level of my psyche dozes. This explains why the state I am in is a pleasant one. But this pleasant state is not related to any positive qualities in the currently active emotional state, but to its inactivity. In terms of the proceedings analogy, it corresponds to a temporary adjournment, not a favorable outcome. Nor has my illusory conviction that I lack something been abolished: it is only temporarily quiescent.
> Do you have a conviction that you lack something?
Freedom, liberation, this must be the aim of man. To become free, to be liberated from slavery: this is what a man ought to strive for when he becomes even a little conscious of his position. There is nothing else for him, and nothing else is possible so long as he remains a slave both inwardly and outwardly. But he cannot cease to be a slave outwardly while he remains a slave inwardly. Therefore in order to become free, man must gain inner freedom.
The first reason for man's inner slavery is his ignorance, and above all, his ignorance of himself. Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave, and the plaything of the forces acting upon him.
This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: "know thyself."
> What enslaves you?
I wish we were kinder to the animals. I wish we were kinder to one another. There is nobody on earth ... who will not feel one day his or her utter loneliness, utter insulation from any other human being. To avoid knowing this we engage in commerce (must work to eat you say? YES, but I have known millionaires go on working!) & fill our time with distractions. The "work" I do helps toward breaking down this separation we human-beings feel. It is not necessary, it is only the impulse to defend ourselves, -- we are terribly afraid of "coming out" just as ourselves & being stepped on! This is a false fear.... This "I" of ours has a better side of course. Its basis -- apart from memories -- is the strange "self" conception. This is a direct reflection of the One Self & it is this we can see in one another. ~ Alfred Pulyan
> What causes this feeling of separation from others?
Perhaps the greatest contradiction in our lives, the hardest to handle, is the knowledge "There was a time when I was not alive, and there will come a time when I am not alive." On one level, when you "step out of yourself" and see yourself as "just another human being," it makes complete sense. But on another level, perhaps a deeper level, personal nonexistence makes no sense at all. All that we know is embedded inside our minds, and for all that to be absent from the universe is not comprehensible. This is a basic undeniable problem of life. ~ Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach
What is your original face before you were born? ~ Hui Neng, Sixth Zen Patriarch (c. 700 AD)
> Did Hui-neng know something that Hofstadter didn't?
Being in a constant state of ego-defense or offense doesn't leave any time or energy for searching out a path to a higher state of being. Every time we agree to the bad moods and their corresponding personalities, and think that they are us, we burn higher energies that could be used in gaining greater understanding of ourselves. ~ Bob Fergeson
> What are you defending?
Is a culture that pushes young people to create a purpose for their lives spiritually bankrupt? Do people conclude that there is no meaning in life because they've given up the search prematurely?
Who or what is alive, and who or what is facing death? We'll explore the close connection between purpose, meaning and self-knowledge and the role that angst, yearning and dissatisfaction play in the pursuit of becoming a complete person.
The Perennial Philosophy is one of living life with an aim of understanding the meaning of that life. There is a truth that sets men free, and that truth comes when a person pursues self-knowledge to a successful conclusion.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
> Why would a person do anything other than be true to themselves?
Margaret, are you grieving
The student approaches the teacher and tries to get that teacher to define the Truth. The teacher knows that the truth must be an experience, not a bit of wisdom gained by argument, but he also knows that he must communicate with the student in the student's language. And hope by a special type of answer to illustrate and convince the student that language can be an everlasting tangent.
So he says, "The truth is a white swan gliding upon blue waters."
And the student replies, "I do not understand. Does the swan always have to be white?"
And the teacher replies, "Make it any color that you wish."
Then the student comes back, "Then why did you say that the swan is white, if it can be any color?"
And the teacher again enigmatically replies, "My swan is white, but I cannot expect you to see it." And saying this he gets up and leaves, hoping that the student in the quiet that follows will understand that truth, like the swan, cannot be identified when it refers to the absolute nature of man; yet it is a fact that can be grasped somehow.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
"I'd come to realize that if a man is ever going to grasp anything it won't be by learning. His being has to change. You are what you do, not what you know. A man never learns, he becomes. To become, you must find ways and means to change your entire state-of-mind. This in turn will lead to a change of being." ~ Richard Rose
What action can you take that will change your state of mind?
"There was a time, in the childhood of humanity, when primitive man lived in a world of mystery, moving among dark fears and unknown terrors.... With the dawn of intellect the mystery of primitive man is lost and naught but facts in their vulgarity remain; in the sublime ignorance of a self-satisfaction, which doubts neither itself nor the world, man moves among mysteries which, could he but realize them, would strike terror into his heart." ~ J.J. van der Leeuw, Conquest of Illusion
Is life mundane to you? Is there a mystery under the surface? If so, what is covering that mystery?
"That which is believed by the majority of humanity is not necessarily the truth. This is a common error man makes. Man thinks that if everyone or the majority of people believe a thing, that popularity makes it the truth. At one time the universal concept was that the sun revolved around the earth. At one time the thinking or scientific world had a 'phlogiston' theory which was later dissipated." ~Richard Rose
Is the Truth arrived at by popular decision? If the majority has been wrong in the past, are we to assume, hopefully, that we landed in the one era when the majority is correct? Are there mistakes in our thinking? If so, how can we hope to find them?
Where are we looking for Truth? Do the priests, politicians, psychologists or philosophers have it? If they all claim to have the Truth, why don't they agree?
"It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life," according to Francis of Assisi. Was he talking about death of the body, which somehow releases a bodiless self into permanent existence?
Richard Rose, based on a profound realization that occurred at age 30, wrote: "Our immortality is dependent not on our ability to extend our personal illusion indefinitely but to transcend it." Douglas Harding, coming from a similar perspective, said: "Die before you die, and then you won't." And you can find other hints like these scattered throughout history. Obviously we can't just take someone else's word for this. But does it appeal as an intuitional possibility? If so, how can we go about it?
"He moves, and He moves not. He is far, and He is near. He is within all, and He is outside all." ~ from the Isa Upanishad
"The individual who wishes to embark on a truly conscious life must do so alone, and not fall victim to the endless parades of "knowers." The individual who has a sense of detachment from the norms of his or her society must not fall prey to cynicism or hero-worship, but instead use this sense of alienation as the starting point for values and myths of one's own invention, the true "outsider" of which (Colin) Wilson speaks." ~ John Morgan, U. of Michigan ("Introduction to Colin Wilson")
"Man does not think, he realizes. Thinking is the transformation of energy (suggestion). I pinch you; it has happened and is registered irrespective of your 'will power,' and when registered you realize it.... Therefore, your thoughts are forced on you by your environment and are the transformation of suggestion; hence man is a creature of his environment. Now as I have defined a suggestion to be anything that arouses an action, anything that affects any of the five senses must be a suggestion; therefore man is ruled by suggestion." ~ Santanelli
"[Man] is a machine controlled by external influences; he has no possibility to resist these external influences, and no possibility to distinguish them from one another, no possibility to study himself apart from these things. He sees himself always on the move, and has a long-established and very strong illusion that he is free to go where he wills, that he can move according to his wish, and that he can go to the right or the left. He cannot do this; if he moves right, that means that he could not move to the left. 'Will' is quite a wrong idea; it does not exist." ~ G.I. Gurdjieff
"You see people chasing cars and status and money and all the rest of it, and the more they get the more they want, and there's no end to it. It means they have mislabeled their urges. They are looking in the wrong direction. What they don't know is that they want to understand their own inner workings. They are looking outside for internal answers." Jim Burns ~ At Home With the Inner Self
"I could give you no advice but this: to go into yourself and to explore the depths where your life wells forth." ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
From whence does your life well forth?
"A man has many skins in himself, covering the depths of his heart. Man knows so many things; he does not know himself. Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, just like an ox's or a bear's, so thick and hard, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there." ~ Meister Eckhart
"There is no mind to control if the Self is realized. The self shines forth when the mind vanishes. In the realized man, the mind may be active or inactive; the Self alone exists. For the mind, body, and world are not separate from the Self; and they cannot remain apart from the Self. Can they be other than the Self? When aware of the Self, why should one worry about the shadows? How do they affect the Self?" ~ Ramana Maharshi
We are constantly assaulted by society's categorizations of good and evil, religious doctrines about truth and right action, and our own inner struggles with morals and principles. It seems impossible to even trust our own limited minds and judgments, let alone those of others. Ironically, the mind that we use to understand the world seems to be the source of all the confusion that imprisons us. So is there a way to transcend mind and circumstance to find something more Real? In an uncertain world, can we find any certainty about ourselves?
What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. ~ The Matrix
> Is there something wrong with the world?
As the stream of experience passes by us, we find no beginning and no end. With our science we slash arbitrary cuts across that stream and find innumerable relations intertwining indeterminate parts that we can define and organize into systems with considerable skill. But as to the ultimate nature of the parts in relation, we know nothing at all. From whence the stream and whither? That is the question that centuries and millennia of knowledge grounded only in the empirically given has never been able to answer. Hopeless is the estate of man if the source of all he knows is experience and nothing more.
But is there, mayhap, a source of knowledge other than experience and its (supposedly) one-parented child, the concept? The great among the ancients have affirmed that there is, and so have others throughout our racial history. I, too, affirm that there is this third organ of knowledge and that it may be realized by him who strives in the right direction. And I, also, confirm those ancients who say that through this other organ, the resolution of the ultimate questions may be found and a knowledge realized that is not sterile, though its form may be most unexpected. ~ Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object
One of the most fruitful avenues of neuro research is "time inconsistency." When people decide about the distant future, they're roughly as rational as economic textbooks assume. But when faced with a choice of whether to consume something now or delay gratification, they can be as impulsive as chimps.
So [Harvard economist David I.] Laibson and others [Princeton neuroscientists Samuel M. McClure and Jonathan D. Cohen, and CMU economist George Lowenstein] scanned people inside MRI machines and discovered two parts of the brain operating in radically different ways. For decisions about the far-off future, the prefrontal cortex takes a long-term perspective. But for decisions such as whether to buy another chocolate bar right now, the limbic system takes over and demands immediate gratification.... You're literally "of two minds." ~ Dana Foundation, Brain in the News (March 2005)
> Are you of two (or more) minds?
The present sad estate of much philosophy is largely the result of a critical acumen that has run far ahead of the unfoldment of balancing insight. Far be it from me to question the valid functions of the critical spirit, for I would be among the last who would care to abide in a fool's castle of illusion; but criticism by itself leads only to the dead end of universal skepticism. To be sure, this skepticism may be variously disguised, as revealed in statements such as "all knowledge is only probable knowledge," or "knowledge is only warranted assertibility which is tested by how far it serves adaptation of an organism to its environment," or it may lead to the outright denial that there is any such thing as Reality or Truth. But in any case, certainty is lost with even the hope that certainty may ever be found. There are men of strange taste who seem to like the resultant gambler's world of complete uncertainty wherein nothing may be trusted and only illusions are left to feed the yearning for belief. But for all those of deeper religious need, the death of hope for certainty is the ultimate tragedy of absolute pessimism -- not the relative pessimism of a Buddha, a Christ, or a Schopenhauer, who each saw the hopeless darkness of this dark world as well as a Door leading to the undying Light, but rather a pessimism so deep that there is no hope for Light anywhere. Somewhere there must be certainty if the end of life is to be more than eternal despair. And to find this certainty something other than criticism is required.
I went on to discover that in its deepest sense, the will is not primarily the faculty of desire for anything known, but rather, the desire for something unknown, an innate desire for something that lies beyond ourselves, a longing for something we know is missing in us. This longing is always uplifting, never focused on anything in the world we know of, and no matter how intense this longing, it is never a downer or sad, never focused on what is low or ugly. It's a need to have something, know something, possess something in order to fulfill ourselves, to be complete or whole. We may think at times it is a longing for beauty, truth, goodness and much more, but nothing short of God will ever satisfy.
I am waiting in a silent prayer.
Breath of heaven,
... Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
The master said there is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, there would be no cause for worry, while if you remembered, performed and attended to everything else but forgot that one thing, you would in fact have done nothing whatsoever. It is as if a king had sent you to a country and you perform a hundred tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all. So man has come into the world for a particular task, and that is his purpose. If he doesn't perform it, he will have done nothing.
> What do you think this "one thing" is that Rumi was talking about?
CHAIRMAN: ...Item six on the agenda: the meaning of life. Now, uh, Harry, you've had some thoughts on this.
HARRY: That's right. Yeah, I've had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and, uh, what we've come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One: people are not wearing enough hats. Two: matter is energy. In the universe, there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person's soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio, as orthodox Christianity teaches. It has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved, owing to man's unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
BERT: What was that about hats, again?
Struggling blindly in the fog of beliefs, you grasp first one then another in the quest for security.
What you seek lies between and behind these beliefs. I am the respectful doubt, the solvent that detaches beliefs.
Believe in Me.
> Does doubt always lead to nihilism? Is it also a path to Certainty?
Look in the next person's eyes and see the truth. This is the condition in which most people live -- and die. Sophisticated veneers notwithstanding. Ditto for religious and spiritual beliefs. Is there an alternative?
Diagnosed with a lower-limb disability at birth, Ronan Tynan had his legs amputated below the knee when he was twenty years old. Eight weeks later, he was climbing the stairs of his college dormitory, and within a year, he was winning races in the Paralympic Games, amassing eighteen gold medals and fourteen world records. After becoming the first disabled person ever admitted to the National College of Physical Education, he served a short stint in the prosthetics industry and began a new career in medicine. He continued his studies at Trinity College, where he specialized in orthopedic sports injuries. After earning his medical degree, Tynan chose music for the next act in his life. Less than one year after he began studying voice, he won both the John McCormick Cup for Tenor Voice and the BBC talent show Go For It. He went on to win the prestigious International Operatic Singing Competition in France, and in 1998 his debut Sony album, My Life Belongs to You, became a top-five hit in England within just two weeks and eventually went platinum. Later that year, he was invited to join The Irish Tenors, furthering a journey that started in a small Irish village and has brought him to the world's grandest stages.
"My morals need to be quiet this week."
As critical as technology is to our economy, we must never mistake it for culture. The business of education is more than mere information. The business of education is to transfer knowledge of what's meaningful in life. Unlike information, knowledge cannot be poured into the minds of students like water into a glass.
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