From the Heart ?

Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

From the Heart ?

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
I started reading "A path With Heart" which is raising questions.

When I look back at some acts of goodness that I've performed in the past I can honestly say the initial intention to help came not from the "self". But as the situation evolved (literally once the concept to help became conscious) I'm layering all sorts of projections all over the interaction.

As soon as "I" take responsibility for an action it seems the situation is "polluted". I notice myself no longer following instinctive actions because I'm concerned the reaction will be serving the ego's interests. So I play some game of trying to do what someone who was actually "good" would do. It is terrible to imagine living an entire life where everything "good" has been some sort of role play!

This idea of acting from the heart is also confusing. I mean the heart is certainly part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) but do people really think there is some sort of decision making relative to abstrcat moral concepts going on in the heart ? I can buy that the PNS is a feedback system that is extremely valuable - the term "gut decision" comes to mind. But the brain is still doing most of the heavy lifting even if sub-consciously.

Maybe the idea is the PNS can provide feedback unfiltered by the ego (Freud's ego) ?
Jeremy May, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 191 Join Date: 8/12/14 Recent Posts
If someone falls in front of you, will you not catch them?  This is outside of mind and ego.  Of course the ego will swell with pride, but it did not decide to do the catching.  Ignore your ego's pride by allowing it but not attaching, dwelling on it.  But if you see that you need to do a goodness, it does not matter where that decision was made, only whether or not the decision is selfless.  A good act that rewards you in some way is not good.

This was an excellent question, but don't overthink it.  You will drive yourself into a paradox that will make you sick.

The ego exists and cannot be destroyed.  Even a buddha still has an ego.  The difference is that when the ego is joyful, the buddha will say 'oh the ego is joyful'.  He cannot delight in himself because he asks "who is delighting?  It is only the ego, that silly thing."

Do goodness for any reason, all reasons, and allow your ego to feel what it wants.  But goodness that is spontaneous is the truest goodness, and it will happen more and more often as you grow on your path.  Take my word by faith if you must, but when an act of the truest goodness is required, there is no deciding in any part of you.  You will just do it.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Jeremy,

You are right that there are some reflex actions that have good consequences. These did not stand out to me when reviewing past actions. 

A selfless act can still result in rewards. This idea that "real" good acts do not result in rewards is problematic because it gets used to undermine the good work some people do. For example if I see you do a good act, then I thank you and your ego swells or if I help you because I saw you help someone else this does not undo the goodness or selflessness of your initial act.

I appreciate your concern regarding overthinking this. I've not spent a lot of time thinking about it recently (it came up yesterday). It appears that you have and you found it paradoxical and you got sick - that is scary and I hope you are well over it.

I don't think you or I are in a position to say much about the psychology of a buddha. It does seem that the buddhist path leads to a significant suppression of the ego. I doubt it can be total but I think we can say that someone who has spent significant time on the path will have reduced the weight of their ego in their everyday life. For example enlightened individuals often talk about a significant (maybe near total) cessation of thoughts - without thoughts the ego's impact is going to be significantly reduced.

I hope I did not give the impression that I'm intentionally not helping others because I'm worried about the ego. That is not the case. I do think that the Buddhist practices call for an explicit effort in improving one's morality. Part of that should help reduce the ego - for example increased compassion.

You'll find many terrible historical situations where an act of the utmost goodness was required but was not performed. We may have some inate morality in some situations but many situations are complex and require virtues that are strong enough to act in the face of fear of consequences (a lot of that may be sub-conscious which is why I think virtues is a good way to model where good actions come from).

You might be making a mistake in reagrds to morality, but I'm not assuming this is the case. Your comments bring up the following:

The Noble Eightfold Path can be grouped into three categories (I'm aiming at the concept here not the exact definition) : morality, meditation, wisdom. In the west there seems to be a huge focus on meditation and wisdom i.e. the insight practises. There is truth that meditation leads to insights that can lead to more moral behavior but that is not the primary intenion of the insight practices. The insight practices are aimed to bring about awakening which is a different sort of wisdom from morality. It seems widely accepted that even after awakening there is still a lot of work to do in regards to morality.

Daniel proposes at least a couple of paths - first sort your shit out (big focus on morality) then awaken or first awaken then sort your shit out. These two extremes obviously leave a huge range of possibilities. 

My point is that focusing on wisdom through insight is not the most effective way to improve morality in the short term. Furthermore the enlightened mind can still act in very immoral ways - sexual abuse scandals in religious communities are a stricking example. I would guess there is some risk that the enlightened mind may reinforce the suppression of some of our inate moral alarm bells (e.g. the ego going to have a harder time expressing guilt if there is no thinking going on).

I'm not saying that enlightenment risks to increase immorality. I am saying that we have an opportunity to improve our morality with practices that are not related to insight (although that may help in reaching insights).

Not wanting to explore morality deeply appears to be turning a blind eye to a significant part of the overall practise. I'm not saying it should be the primary focus, I'm not saying it should be a pure thought exercise. But I do think there is an opportunity to explore this and benefit from it, which is why I started the thread. Particularly for lay people - we have a much more complex and difficult moral environment to navigate. 

Currently I'm thinking that good actions come from our virtues and our virtues can be developed. 

I also think egotistical behavior (one aspect of the freudian ego) needs to be reduced/removed to allow for better decisions.

There may be a misconception that awakening is not about destroying the self as we experience it. Enlightened people talk about the final task being one of letting go - of really surrendering the self (and it never comes back). I was sold on a vision of removing attachments which thereby removes suffering. I've now understood that awakening is the removal of the self i.e. realizing a permanent non-dual perspective and that requires going through some suffering to get there. A realization of how the self can limits one's ability to act in the best interests of a situation could be one more motivation to get rid of the self.

From the way you wrote I suspect we have different views on this (I'll also be making huge projections based on one text message!). I hope the above is of some use to you. The points you raised were helpful for me.

Maybe the PNS can help identify actions that are motivated by virtues.

In conclusion I'll continue to try to do good even when I see the ego getting involved. I'll also continue to look for a way to reduce the egocentric reactions and increase virtues. I'll also continue to meditate emoticon
Jeremy May, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 191 Join Date: 8/12/14 Recent Posts
You write very well, and I'm excited to discuss something on this level.  We do disagree on a couple things, but you may change my view!  Otherwise, I need to be sure to explain we almost entirely agree.

"A selfless act can still result in rewards. This idea that "real" good acts do not result in rewards is problematic because it gets used to undermine the good work some people do. For example if I see you do a good act, then I thank you and your ego swells or if I help you because I saw you help someone else this does not undo the goodness or selflessness of your initial act"

I want to reword:  An act done with intent for a reward is not selfless.  But a selfless act may bring many rewards.  Goodness is determined by intent.  Wisdom determines the form and quality of the goodness.  No, goodness can not be undone, even if it has bad consequences, because intent is what matters.  Just like killing someone on accident isn't wrong.  Intending to kill someone and failing is still a wrong.

I have driven myself into that paradox and it did make it me sick.  That was insightful!  Also, yes thank you, It was a long time ago and I'm okay now.

"I don't think you or I are in a position to say much about the psychology of a buddha. It does seem that the buddhist path leads to a significant suppression of the ego. I doubt it can be total but I think we can say that someone who has spent significant time on the path will have reduced the weight of their ego in their everyday life."

I should be more careful.  I do think I am in a position to say things about the psychology of a Buddha, but I would never expect you to believe me without knowing me for a long time.  In fact, I have come to where I am through a different way, and I have never been an ardent student of any school of Buddhism.  But truth is universal, and if you see a wrongness in how I say this, then you will have deepened me, but enlightenment is the escape from suffering and therefore it is the escape from karma.  It is simply seeing without interpretation or bias that all things that can arise, will fade.  Seeing the ego correctly will show you that the ego is simply a set of forces that interact in such a way that they work together to form what we percieve as ego.  It has its purpose.  Now seeing that the ego is a set of forces, will it be destroyed?  Why would it be?  Would it do what it is its purpose to do?  Why wouldn't it?  But will an enlightened being ever again think that he is this ego?  No... it exists until it doesn't, and does ego things until it no longer exists.  But I have already found that yes, it diminishes over time, becoming subtle, quiet, and weak.  My point in either case would be the same, trying to destroy the ego is impossible.  Ignoring the ego is unnecessary.  Allow without clinging, as always in mindfulness practice.

Cessation of thoughts?  Why is this important?  I am not my brain, so I do not need to be concerned with what it does.  It is supposed to generate thoughts.  That is its purpose.  But If I do not try to destroy the thoughts, ignore the thoughts, but allow without clinging, and then it is as if there are no thoughts.  And in this state, yes you are right, the ego has no fuel.  Knowing the ego is a temporary construct, however, was enough in my early practice to never have issue with it.  

Morality is completely subjective.  A teacher may lie to bring someone closer to truth.  The method is not important, only the result.  But one cannot truly help others if one first needs to help himself.  Sometimes, for those who suffer greatly, the best thing they can do for the world is to work toward enlightenment.  For the deeply enlightened, every waking moment is dedicated to either meditation or helping people. 

Wisdom through insight is maybe not the most effective short-term way to improve morality, but what is the need for short-term solutions?
That is something I will think about.  Perhaps you can let me know, later, what your conclusions were.

Everything else I completely agree with.  The intial awakening is such total freedom that some get stuck there and never deepen their enlightenment.  But always, when enlightenment deepens, it becomes impossible to do anything but consider everyone else's best interests.  
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Jeremy,

I can assure you that if you do learn anything then I will have too.

Jeremy May:

I want to reword:  An act done with intent for a reward is not selfless.  But a selfless act may bring many rewards.  Goodness is determined by intent.  Wisdom determines the form and quality of the goodness.  No, goodness can not be undone, even if it has bad consequences, because intent is what matters.  Just like killing someone on accident isn't wrong.  Intending to kill someone and failing is still a wrong.



Intent is a concept that is central to these questions. You are probably familiar with the concept of "wilful blindness" which means that our intentions need not be conscious. Imagine someone who is very egocentric, they could act in an egocentric way, without an explicit intention to be rewarded because tthat behaviour is deeply integrated.

There may be no easy answer to that. When people refer to acting "from the heart" I think it implies the intention is good and genuine. Paradoxically it feels good - so there is some immediate reward.

This has me leaning toward virtue ethics which can increase healthy intentions. It would be nice to connect acting "from the heart" and virtue ethics.



I have driven myself into that paradox and it did make it me sick.  That was insightful!  Also, yes thank you, It was a long time ago and I'm okay now.



I'm glad to hear your OK and I'll try to be aware of that risk, thanks.



I should be more careful.  I do think I am in a position to say things about the psychology of a Buddha, but I would never expect you to believe me without knowing me for a long time.



I believe there are people who are "enlightened" or awake if we define that as living from a non-dual perspective. For example Daniel claims to be an arahant. The Buddha claimed attainments which go well beyond arahant and I think there is little chance of understanding what that means without going there. I'm not aware of anyone claiming to be a Buddha. It makes sense to me that the Buddha would have a very unique experience and that would result in a very unique psychology. In regards to the Dharma, the Buddha seems to consider that others (arahants I guess) can and have mastered it.

I don't think our discussion needs to bring the psychology of the Buddha into consideration.



 In fact, I have come to where I am through a different way, and I have never been an ardent student of any school of Buddhism.  But truth is universal,



I'm not sure but I suspect the notion of truth is a dualist concept i.e. it needs something else that is false. A non-dual experience could be interpreted as "the truth" but that seems to be trying to transpose the absolute into the relative when the relative is contained within the absolute.

I believe the nervous system (which includes the brain and all nerves/senses) is what gives rise to our perception. This is somewhat supported by reports of enlightened people who are aware 24hrs of the day (i.e. even when sleeping) but still loose any notion of experience when anaesthetised - even their enlightened experience requires the brain to function in specific ways.

For example we tend to think of there being two types of experience dual and non-dual. With a sort of switch being thrown upon enlightenment. A different brain my allow for both views to be held at the same time. Or maybe allow for different perspectives again e.g. full awareness of all stimuli at all times (our brains use abstraction and other techniques to give an appearance of full awareness but simple visual illusions demonstrate how we are fooling ourselves (the brain is no doubt using similar tricks in many other aspects of our experience)

My point here is that "universal truth" is perhaps a misleading term. We might be better served by a simpler model of enlightenment e.g. a better way (or maybe best way) for humans to experience the world.


and if you see a wrongness in how I say this, then you will have deepened me, but enlightenment is the escape from suffering and therefore it is the escape from karma.



Even people who are enlightened suffer - that is part of being born. The buddha suffered (Daniel has some details in his book - headaches was one thing I think). After enlightenment the individual continues to function in the relative world in an imperfect way so karma will follow too - eat too many twinkies aand you become diabetic. Enlightened people would prefer to not have diabetes. I liked Daniel's phrase which was something along the lines of - don't ignore your relative life (morality) in the search for enlightenment because when you wake up you will wake up to the life you have built.

Someone who is not awakened is likely to suffer a lot more because of the "second dart" or attachments - but removing attachments does not avoid the first dart.



 It is simply seeing without interpretation or bias that all things that can arise, will fade.  Seeing the ego correctly will show you that the ego is simply a set of forces that interact in such a way that they work together to form what we percieve as ego.  It has its purpose.  Now seeing that the ego is a set of forces, will it be destroyed?  Why would it be?  Would it do what it is its purpose to do?  Why wouldn't it?  But will an enlightened being ever again think that he is this ego?  No... it exists until it doesn't, and does ego things until it no longer exists.  But I have already found that yes, it diminishes over time, becoming subtle, quiet, and weak.



I think you answered most of those questions yourself there. I think the ego is very connected with a dual perspective - it is not destroyed by enlightenment (a good chunk of the Freudian ego is sub-conscious) but a non-dual view is not very supportive of lots of problems the ego can introduce.



 My point in either case would be the same, trying to destroy the ego is impossible.  Ignoring the ego is unnecessary.  Allow without clinging, as always in mindfulness practice.



I agree it would not be good to be at war with the ego - but letting it go might be a nice analogy.



Cessation of thoughts?  Why is this important?  I am not my brain, so I do not need to be concerned with what it does.



Agreed you are not just your brain but it is a necessary part of your experience - destroy the brain and the subjective is gone. You'll still exist in regards to your previous actions in the world and their unfolding consequences but there is no subjective perception (either dual or non-dual) without the brain.



 It is supposed to generate thoughts.  That is its purpose.



That seems like a confusion between mind and brain - the "mind" has thoughts but the brain is doing a lot of things that does not involve thoughts. In fact it seems to be doing nearly everything without thoughts. The thoughts seem to come later to provide a coherent experience for the self in a dual perspective.



 But If I do not try to destroy the thoughts, ignore the thoughts, but allow without clinging, and then it is as if there are no thoughts.  And in this state, yes you are right, the ego has no fuel.  Knowing the ego is a temporary construct, however, was enough in my early practice to never have issue with it.  



The balance between concentration and mindfulness is definitely a delicate one and seems to demand a very light touch while at the same time demanding large effort. Right effort calls for intentional manipulation of thoughts.



Morality is completely subjective.  A teacher may lie to bring someone closer to truth.  The method is not important, only the result.



That seems like one popular framework for morality - Utilitarianism. There is a conflict in your phrase because if only the result matters then it is not completely subjective (unless you really mean the only thing that matters is the subjective result).

At the moment I think Virtue Ethics fits nicely with Buddhism. It can give a model for the sub-conscious drivers of our actions.

Ends that justify the means is a very slippery slope and probably best avoided.



 But one cannot truly help others if one first needs to help himself.  Sometimes, for those who suffer greatly, the best thing they can do for the world is to work toward enlightenment.  For the deeply enlightened, every waking moment is dedicated to either meditation or helping people.



That fits with the interpretation I've often seen/heard in buddhism. I also think it is open to serious criticism. Helping others is a very important part of building morality it is perhaps the fast track to developing compassion.

 

Wisdom through insight is maybe not the most effective short-term way to improve morality, but what is the need for short-term solutions?



The fact that we are all going to die within a very short amount of time.



That is something I will think about.  Perhaps you can let me know, later, what your conclusions were.

Everything else I completely agree with.  The intial awakening is such total freedom that some get stuck there and never deepen their enlightenment.  But always, when enlightenment deepens, it becomes impossible to do anything but consider everyone else's best interests.  


These discussions do tend to focus on the divergent points of view but there is plenty of common ground.

Profound knowledge of the absolute is not going to be directly transferrable into the relative. Many people who are enlightened wonder at how other people did not even notice the change when they did. The range of interpretations of enlightenment tends to point to some similarity but also the influence of the individual's personality, culture etc.

Enlightenment is typically described as a sort of switch being thrown, I interpret that to be a shift to a non-dual view. To extend on Daniel's idea from a Virtue Ethics perspective, we could say build the character you want because that is the one you are going to wake up to.
Jeremy May, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 191 Join Date: 8/12/14 Recent Posts
Truth can be expressed in words only for a certain context.  If the context changes, the expression of truth will be different.  But there are not different truths.

You are changing contexts with every question.  And so more questions have risen.  I could address each one, but you should know the answers for yourself or they will mean nothing.

Here is where you reveal your confusion:  Not only is creating a complete code of conduct impossible due to the sheer infinite number of possilbe different interactions, you should know better than to try for many reasons.  Your understanding will change and grow, will it not?  Would that not change your code of conduct each time?  How many times has your understanding grew already?  Has the code of morality changed with it?  Then why are you attempting to stop your understanding from growing further?  How can there be a code of morality when you do not exist as something independent.  What are you?  Are you so sure that all of your actions are not deterministic?

All good deeds cause bad consequences.
All bad deeds cause good consequences.
That is why intent matters and not your deeds.  It really is impossible to help people until you are enlightened to full attainment, but you will not reach that place without cultivating compassion.  So you must, in each situation, alleviate suffering to your capability.

When engaged in dokusan, you must never point out what one doesn't say.  That is useless.  When I say mind and body, that includes brain.  But I could have said only mind, and everything would still be true.  What arises and passes is given names by conciousness.  Conciousness of the mind arises and passes.  Conciousness of the body arises and passes.  However, not all arises and passes.  What does not?  If you answer that question, you will see that life is not short at all.

I am done with this conversation.  I wish you well emoticon
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: From the Heart ?

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Jeremy,

I seem to have offended you, sorry about that.  You are right the thread was touching on several different topics/contexts and that is confusing.

The way your message ended has me thinking you do not want to continue the discussion. I'll keep this reply short.

It seems you are confusing virtue ethics with deontological ethics (basically codes of conduct) - virtue ethics is not about creating a rule set, it is about developing virtues (or character traits).

From a virtue ethics perspective intent will largely come from the character of the individual - different people will have developed the various virtues to different levels and that could lead to different intentions and actions. For example I don't think you'll find that all enlightened people would behave in the same way in the same circumstances.

Focusing primarily on intention may work really well for you. I think there is a risk that intention can be used to disown the unconscious aspects of one's action. Typically people have good conscious intentions but acting skillfully or unskillfully will influence the consequences enormously. My basic understanding of virtue ethics is that good intention is considered as a neccessary but not sufficient basis for moral actions. Developing the virtues increaeses the likelihood of good intentions leading to skillful actions - or so I hope.

I was not trying to offend by pointing out the brain vs mind distinction. When you refer to consciousness I associate this more with mind, while the brain has a lot of sub-conscious activity. I think that sub-conscious activity is why even enlightened peolple are capable or morally corrupt behavior. 

Thanks for your patience and please don't feel an obligation to reply.