Martin LeFevre: Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Mind
Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California
The smaller of the two creeks, just beyond town (and soon to be enveloped by it), is running full and strong again after a few good storms. One can almost forget that for over three months, it was a stream of stones.
The hillsides are beginning to green, and in another month the first wildflowers will appear. Despite a cold, stiff wind, I take the full loop on the bike, passing flat fields in view of gently ascending hills, with higher, secondary slopes in the distance displaying patches of new fallen snow.
I sit under a big sycamore facing the fields and the canyon beyond town. The city's 'viewshed' has been marred by a string of monster houses that Chico City Council allowed to be built along the ridge in the last couple of years, but the volcanic cliffs a few miles away are still a stupendous sight on a clear day.
A type of falcon, a kestrel, is hovering--one phase of its distinctive flight pattern--about 200 meters away over the fields. Fluttering over a single spot for 20 seconds or more in search of prey, it tucks its wings back and plummets to the ground in an arc of pure gracefulness.
The kestrel disappears after that first sighting, reappearing and hovering directly in front of me across the stream just as the mind spontaneously falls silent in passive observation. In a meditative state, nature leaps forth, and the world recedes.
Why does the human mind have an infinite capacity for illusion--what Buddhist's call delusion? That is a central question of both philosophy and spirituality.
There is a tendency among Buddhists to make what philosophers call a category mistake, by saying that because the mind inhabits an illusory world of its own making internally, the manufactured world outwardly is also an illusion. However, the inner world and the outer world, while inextricably related, are two very different things.
The human mind generates the divisions that give rise to the realities of this terrible world, but wars, poverty, and ecological destruction are very real, and cannot be denied by labeling everything illusion, or 'maya.' The mind fabricates the illusion of duality, of 'me vs. you,' and 'us vs. them,' but the conflict and poverty that result are terribly real.
Our mental worlds are illusory, not in the sense that they don't exist, but because when symbolic activity (words and images, memories and associations) is primary, one cannot see clearly. Even so, the outer world that the mind and hand construct (that is, everything that's man-made) is very real, both physically and in terms of the suffering it causes.
Looking without the filter of symbols and memories, nature and the world are seen as they are in the moment. Then one does not contribute to the divisions and delusions of this world through one's own distorting mental and emotional activity.
The human mind has a powerful innate tendency, buttressed by the habit of thousands of years, to do two things: separate and store. At bottom, the human adaptive pattern rests on these two abilities, which have enabled our manipulation of nature, and the accretion of knowledge.
In actuality, all life is like the ocean. The waves aren't separate from the sea, and currents are inseparable from the ocean. In the same way, 'things' such as trees aren't separate from the earth, just as 'sovereign' nations aren't separate from humanity.
Because most people aren't self-aware, mindful, and clear about the workings of the mind, the distinction (not duality) between nature and the world is lost, resulting in untold grief.
Point to something and ask a young child whether people made it, or whether nature did. Most children have no trouble making the distinction, and yet most adults lose their sight, blinded by the things of the world.
By whatever name one gives it, one has to learn the art of meditation, which is essentially a movement of negation. Otherwise, one will be increasingly overwhelmed by cognitive and emotional accumulation, which shrinks the mind and deadens the heart.
When one observes all streams, inward and outward, without division, the stream of thought effortlessly ends. Then there is simply seeing and being, from which all that is good flows.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: martinlefevre_AT_sbcglobal.net. The author welcomes comments.