Equanimity is the supreme Buddhist virtue, and exercising this virtue leads inescapably to the death of who we think we are! Equanimity might sound like a harmless enough thing to us but it isn’t – as we’ve just said, it’s a deadly poison for the self-concept (which is our lord and master). For the everyday ego, equanimity is definitely something to be avoided at all costs! We might talk about being unbiased or prejudiced therefore (and even fancy that we have achieved this) but this is always going to be pure window dressing as far as the self-concept is concerned. For the self-concept, being unbiased (or being open-minded) is always going to be a pretence.
The self-concept’s strategy (its only strategy) is to get hold of a few biases, a whole bundle of them in fact, and then stick to them like glue. We stick to our bundle of biases like glue and persist as doggedly as we can at promoting them; we plug them at every opportunity we get. If anyone were to ask just how dogged we are in support of our biases, in support of our arbitrary beliefs, then the answer would have to be ‘very dogged indeed’! If our underlying (and undisclosed) motivation is to preserve the integrity of this sense that we have of actually being this two-dimensional ego then our only chance of doing this is to grab hold tightly onto our biases and then ‘run with them’. We have to take these arbitrary biases as seriously as we possibly can. That’s our game and it’s our only game. It’s the only game in town and we’re locked into playing it.
When a bias becomes too obvious, too evident, too visible then this doesn’t work out very well for us, however. The security-producing exercise of ‘plugging our prejudices’ then because counterproductive When a bias becomes too visible this has a profoundly unsettling effect on everyone concerned because the rule or bias becomes suspicious. ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks’ says Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. But it’s more than just this because if we overemphasize a rule then the innate it is never what it claims to be. It states something so forcefully, so baldly, that what it is saying starts to sound just plain wrong. Anything that is stated too forcefully starts to sound wrong and the reason for this is that logical statements (of whatever kind) aren’t real and ought not – on this account – be pushed too far. If we do that then we’ll end up with egg all over our faces…
A literal statement that pushes itself too much is actually announcing itself (loudly and clearly) as a lie. The more we try to prove that we aren’t lying the more we shoot ourselves in the foot, the more we insist the more ridiculous we make ourselves. There’s no such thing as a logical or literal statement that is ‘true’, despite the fact that we almost never see this! Because we normally fail to see this we tend to think (on an unconscious level, perhaps) that any statement which is sufficiently assertive must surely be true, by virtue of the force that is behind it. When things are ‘definite’ then this is deeply impressive for us, therefore, but we really do need to look at this a bit more closely – ‘definite’ only ever gets to be definite because of the use of force, and if force is needed then this obviously means that what we are claiming to be true is actually not so true after all. When control (which is the same thing as thought) comes into the picture then truth goes out off the window.
A ‘bias’ is the same thing as a ‘rule’ and we can see the self-contradiction in a rule quite easily if we visualize it as an arrow. The most obvious end of an arrow is the sharp or pointy end – this may be quite straightforwardly said to be ‘the business end of the arrow’. For the strictly abstract entity which we are calling ‘a rule’, the sharp or pointy end is the end that specifies a particular state of affairs, the end which says what can be allowed and what can’t be allowed. The narrower the point the less possibilities are allowed, and a rule has a very fine point indeed. Being logical is like travelling down the narrowest gauge railway track that there ever was and this is because logic is based on rules, which work by excluding all the possibilities bar one. This is the Principle of Exclusivity and this exclusivity is what gives rules their very sharp point; it is what makes definite statements so impressive, so hard to argue against. We have to remember what ‘exclusivity’ means however – possibilities are being discounted without ever being looked at and as a result of this (as a result of steadfastly ignoring all points of view other than the one we want to promote) we come to firm and unyielding conclusions about the world!
The ‘back end’ of a rule (which we don’t pay any heed to, as is generally the way with back ends) isn’t a sharp point however and this is where the self-contradictoriness of all definite statements’ comes about. The back end is actually infinitely broad: when we pick a role we can pick any role, we aren’t constrained in any way, and this is what James Carse means when he says that ‘Whoever plays, place freely’. A rule tells me that I have to do something, it determines the outcome by giving me no choice, and yet there is no rule saying that there has to be a rule, as Alan Watts says. Because we can pick any role we wish to (or not pick any at all, if that’s what we want) this is a totally wide-open field of possibilities. It couldn’t get more-wide open. No possibility is excluded here, and this is – we might say – a manifestation of the principle of freedom. The arrow which is a rule contradicts itself therefore because it is inclusive and inclusive at the very same time!
We can pick any role we like or not pick any at all and yet – once we have picked it – it is as if we had never picked a rule at all because the rule, in order to function as such, has to deny all possibilities other than the one it itself specifies. Once we have picked a rule then we have to deny the freedom that we had to pick it originally had to pick it, in other words – we have to (implicitly) deny that there ever was such a thing as ‘the freedom to pick (or not pick) any rule at all. The rule depends upon freedom to come into existence in the first place (just as a wave depends upon the ocean in order to be able to do its thing and be a wave) but once a rule has been created it functions by implicitly denying that there is or ever was any such thing as ‘freedom’ with regard to the deterministic reality it has created. We pull a face, the wind changes direction, and then the next thing is that we get stuck with it – the original flexibility has been lost. Reality itself has been lost…
A rule is like a branch which denies the existence of the tree which it springs from therefore. This act of wholesale denial (which all rules are necessarily based upon) means that everything (our whole world, in fact) follows on from this original act of denial. Everything that proceeds from this act is going to partake in the self-contradiction that is inherent in it and that is why we can say that definite assertions (and the Positive World that is created on the back of these assertions) are always going to be self-contradictory, which is clearly not good news for the positive self. Another way of putting this is to say that the positive world (which is the world that has been created by thoughts, created by our rules) is self-negating – it is self-denying because it can only get to exist by denying the reality of the tree from which it sprang, which is freedom. Freedom is – needless to say – very broad in its scope, whilst the realm that has been created by thought, created by criteria, is very narrow indeed. It couldn’t be narrower, in fact. This is the narrowest you can get – it is so narrow that it is no longer part of reality.
Form has to deny space in order to be form (or – as Ilya Prigogine puts it – ‘Entropy is the price of structure’) and because form denies space it necessarily partakes in paradoxicality (or ‘self-negation’). It doesn’t just partake in paradoxicality – form is paradoxicality! Psychologically speaking, we could say that entropy is where we deny space with our thoughts, with our ideas, with our concepts and because this is how thought necessarily works, all of our definite assertions of statements about reality are inherently self-denying, which clearly means there’s some kind of very drastic problem with them. Form is paradoxical and that is another way of saying that it’s not a real thing. Form is paradoxical because it denies space and denying space is an unreal action since ultimately there is no possibility of ever denying space – there’s nothing else but space, after all. Or as we could equivalently say – form only gets to be form because of entropy (which is information that we don’t have any information about) but because entropy doesn’t exist as ‘a thing in itself’ (but only as a thing that exists in relation to some other thing) what we ‘gain’ as a result of denying space in this way is a type of ‘indebtedness in relation to illusion’, which will show itself via the spectacle of the ‘ongoing oscillation of the opposites’. We don’t see that the opposites are really the same thing but if we did then we would at the same time gain understanding into the nature of the nullity.
Blindness exists in relationship to the one who is blind – it is not a thing that exists ‘out there in the world’ (just as a shadow isn’t something that has any real existence in its own right). Psychological entropy is ‘the absence of information that we have no information about’ but that doesn’t mean that it’s a real thing in itself, of course! The only deficit lies in our way of looking at things – we go around projecting this deficit out onto the world but that doesn’t mean that it actually exists in the world. The defect is in our own eye, not anywhere else. Psychological entropy (or ΨS) isn’t a real thing and yet -notwithstanding this very substantial drawback – everything we know is based on it. The Positive World and the positive / purposeful self that inhabits that world (like a faded ghost repetitively haunting an imaginary corridor) are dependent upon ΨS and this is putting us in what can only be described as a ‘wholly untenable position’.
Another way of putting this (which comes down as the same thing really) is to say that the purposeful self creates the positive world by making definite assertions and then busying itself promoting and defending these assertions on a full-time basis so that no other viewpoint ever gets a look in. More than this however, the positive self is the bias, is the rule, is the unwarranted prejudice; if the PS has no purpose to drive it then it immediately ceases to be the PS and this is why we fear freedom so much and run away from it at every opportunity. We fear freedom because if we were free then we’d also be free from the need to be this self, and if we were free from the need to be this self (and therefore free from the need to persist with the perennial campaign of asserting our beliefs and opinions so that they keep on seeming real to us) then there would be no more reason to carry on with this most tiresome of games. To lose interest in stating our beliefs and opinions (and to lose interest in struggling to be in control the whole time) is to lose interest in being the purposeful or positive self therefore, which is – after all – a painfully narrow (and therefore self-cancelling) game.
We only want to carry on being the purposeful self because we don’t see that there is never going to be any freedom in this game, no matter how long we keep at it. The only reason we do play it is because we think there is the possibility of finding freedom there and this is ‘the joke that we just can’t get’. We could make the argument that if we knew we were free not to be the positive or purposeful self then we wouldn’t want to (because being the PS never amounts to anything), but the thing about this is that as the conditioned self we have no way to understand what freedom really is and so – pragmatically speaking – we have no choice but to flee from it. We flee from what we cannot know, and are interested only in what we can know, which is our unreal conditioning. Our only relationship is with our own patented representation of reality and this is – therefore – not a genuine ‘relationship’ at all.
To be interested in practicing equanimity is to be interested in discovering that we are not who we think we are, but the tricky point here is that the self never does become interested in discovering that it isn’t ‘who it thinks it is but only an empty convention’. The conditioned self gets to be a self precisely because it isn’t interested in discovering that it (and its conditioning) is at all times perfectly and immaculately empty – that’s how the game works. This isn’t a matter of choice either – there is no choice here because all ‘choice’ stems from our conditioning, our thinking, because all choices are our conditioning or thinking. All of our so-called ‘choices’ are actually biases that we react upon without realizing at the time that all we’re ever doing (in this conditioned life) is obeying a rule, obeying the next compulsion that comes along. This being the case, how can we ever ‘choose to be free’ or ‘choose to see the truth’? To be free, we have to be free from our conditioning, free from our inbuilt prejudices or rules, but if we were free from all conditioning, free from all rules, then we would no longer know who we are. That cosy, deeply-familiar sense of being this ‘me’ would be gone. To be interested in equanimity is to be interested in the truth and the truth is the one thing the self never wants to know about. The truth is, after all, an earthquake!