Apophenia à propos of Nothing

Try this trick and spin it, yeah.
Your head will collapse,
But there’s nothing in it,
And you’ll ask yourself:
Where is my mind?

For a minute there,
I lost myself, I lost myself.
Phew, for a minute there,
I lost myself, I lost myself.

We all, we all, we all, we all know this is nothing.
This is nowhere.
We all, we all, we all, we all know this is nowhere,
And there is no one
Here.

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

All credit to Pixies, Radiohead, and LCD Soundsystem.

I listened to a podcast in which Daniel Ingram mentioned ‘framing sensations’, and I take him to be referring to those which arise most often as and within the ‘head’ and ‘body’ and rapidly, repeatedly, establish the relations constitutive of spatial/temporal/intentional/attentional/agential perspective. My understanding is that by a kind of phenomenal privileging these sensations are illusorily given (in Sellars’ sense) in contradistinction to what is perspectivally ‘exterior’. Unitive, non-dual, what-have-you states put paid to the necessity of that scission. If not all reports are to be discounted, features of these and other states can be made more accessible (to that I can attest) unto their becoming enduring traits (to this I cannot).

What makes the difference, according to Buddhist tradition, is the accessibility of and repeated movement towards/attainment of nirvana/nibbana. The best definition, and by that I mean that which agrees with most testimony I’ve encountered while remaining specific, is the cessation of the fabrication of perception. No time, no space, no self, no world, no thing, not one, and certainly not with everything, though perceptions and beliefs of that sort are apparently an after-effect and pre-show.

A short digression. There is heated disagreement over whether nirvana, the attainment of emptiness, is contentless. The difficulty is that those who report merely a profound, ineffable void, a gap not so different from an abrupt dreamless sleep, can always accuse those who report content, such as a pure reflexive consciousness absent any object, with having mistaken elements of the return, the reboot of phenomenal self, time, space, and world, with the genuine article. It’s a mess. Unless you’re attached to a metaphysics in which awakened ones exist/don’t exist in/with relation to nirvana it’s not much of an issue. I can’t help but join in suspecting that much of the interest in and speculation on the part of those who haven’t had either experience (non-experience, whatever) is motivated by curiosity about/desire for (im)personal survival of death, or if you’re into Buddhist cosmology, the end of rebirth.

Such experience, or precisely the lack thereof and vivid, non-dual luster thereafter, is enough to disabuse most people of the notion, and eventually the phenomenology that sustains it, that either they or the world they inhabit exist as they appear to, e.g. independently and substantially. Jay Garfield translates Nagarjuna:

Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist.

This all may not sound so attractive; I know how appalling it sometimes seems.  Shinzen Young offers the frightened interpretation, “I mean, Buddhism is like the biggest downer of all! Guess what? You are a soulless robot, designed to suffer and too stupid to know that fact. The Four Noble Truths are incredibly powerful and liberating, but there is a sort of downer take on it…”. See also here. Who wants awakening? Good meditative inquiry, that.

Up shit creek we seem to be, so here’s Rob Burbea for a paddle and Ken Mcleod’s translation of Jigme Lingpa’s view from the other shore:

Wonder of wonders!
My nature is great completion.
Complete – in all experience, patterned or free, there is nothing to give up or attain.
Complete – all key instructions end up in utterly natural release.
Complete – all key outlooks end up in no conceptual position.
Complete – all paths of practice end up in making no effort.
Complete – all teachings on behavior end up in no do’s or don’t’s.
Complete – the essence of result is to be free of hope.
And this term “complete” is just a concept, too.

To know that from the beginning there is no awakening
Is to be where wanting has never been.
With this special teaching that rots the roots of samsara,
Wake up from the realm of misery.

When you open and relax,
There is an emptiness that goes beyond true or false.
Here, if you know arising release, natural release and direct release,
You are no different from all the awakened ones.
You are awake and no different from me.

So, that’s the partial synthesis of philosophy, scripture, opinion, and experience I was motivated to write in order to explain that of which I find the select lyrics above so expressive. Until I’m free of it, I do hope all’s well or going to be, especially because it’s not.

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