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The Purposeful Doer

‘Choices’ and ‘doing’ are the same thing – making choices is ‘a doing’ – it is, in other words, the unfolding of a plan, the acting out or copying of a mental picture.



This may not sound like a particularly controversial statement to make but that’s only because we don’t see the paradox involved here; we’re very good at ‘glossing over paradoxes’ in everyday life – if we weren’t as good at it as we are then there would simply be no such thing as ‘everyday life’…



The paradox is that – when we’re operating within the paradigm of control, the paradigm of purposeful doing, then we can’t just go ahead and choose something (or go ahead and decide something) because – since everything depends on our ‘say-so’, our personal ‘input’ into the situation –  we can’t choose anything without first choosing to choose it, just as we can’t decide to do anything without first ‘deciding to decide’. In the Realm of Purposeful Doing there is no such thing as ‘an effect that hasn’t been preceded by a cause’, which means that there is actually no way of starting off in the first place. There’s no such thing as spontaneous change in a logical continuum because spontaneous change doesn’t obey the law of cause and effect…



This is the starting paradox that Alan Watts talks about and – as we have just said – it all comes down to cause and effect. What we like about purposeful doing is that we have to do it (obviously enough) and this means that there is the subjective perception of agency, of authorship. This then is the psychological payoff – Doing Mode has an overt function (which – obviously enough – is the doing of whatever it is we want to do) and there is the byproduct of that doing, which is the creation of the subjective impression that there is a splendid doer there who is triumphantly making all the great stuff happen! For this subjectively true ‘doer’ that thought (or ‘logic’) has created, everything is a choice, and it alone is responsible for it. Nothing good will happen unless we take the initiative and make it happen (which is why we in the West take such a dim – if not to say scornful – view of ‘not-doing’). We think that not-doing (which we call ‘being a doormat’, or ‘being passive’) is strictly for losers…



What counts is to be an efficacious agent of change, an efficacious agent of change who gets to call the shots, who gets to decide what gets to happen and what doesn’t. This of course sounds perfectly reasonable to most of us – it tallies perfectly with our idea about what being a person is (or ought to be) all about. The volitional agent we think we are (the ‘Purposeful Doer’) is an inference, not an actual feature of reality, however; something is happening (whatever it is) and so we infer that the Purposeful Doer is ‘doing’ it – what’s really going on here is that we’re inferring the existence of a separate entity from the laws of logic, which say that every effect must have a cause (which – we might say – is ‘logic’s way of breaking the process down into artificial categories’). Cause and effect aren’t really two different things at all though; they’re both the same thing – the effect is ‘a tautological development of the cause’ and this – in plain language – means that the effect is the cause (albeit in disguised form). This is why Krishnamurti asserts over and over again in his talks that ‘the thinker is the thought’.



If the thinker is the thought (or if ‘the doer is what is being done’) then this means that there is no thinker, only the thinking. The thinker doesn’t do the thinking but – rather – the so-called ‘thinker’ is a function of the thinking, a byproduct of the thinking. We’re thoroughly ‘locked into the illusion’ at this stage however and the drawbacks of believing that we are the thinker, believing that we are the doer, seem to outweigh the apparent benefits. One of the ‘drawbacks’ that we could mention is that now the only type of action we can engage in is cause-and-effect type action, and cause-&-effect type activity is never anything more than endless, meaningless copying. We’re reproducing (or restating) our assumptions under the impression that we’re saying something new. Saying that we are limited to a life of ‘unending, meaningless copying’ is another way of saying that we don’t have any freedom here; it it’s a forced march, in other words; it might all be meaningless, it might be a nightmare of pointless repetition, but we are compelled to go along with it nonetheless (as Jean Paul Sartre has noted). This is the ‘mechanical life’, which is a nightmare that we very rarely wake up to. It’s a nightmare we don’t want to wake up to.



There’s nothing but cause and effect for us, once we allow the system of thought to define who or what we are; nonlinear change still exists (it’s the only type of change that really does exist) but it has become a distinctly disreputable form of change as far as we’re concerned, it has become a highly undesirable kind of a thing. Any sort of change that doesn’t follow our plans for it, our designs for it, is relegated to the category of ‘error’ or ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’. If we don’t get things to happen the way we have planned for them to happen, then this can only be bad news; by definition, it’s equals defeat – we have been defeated in our plans, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining the goal. This is always the case within a simulation – what we call ‘order’ has to be deliberately created, has to be deliberately brought about. Without the rules which say what is to be there, or what is to happen, nothing will be there, nothing will happen. What is happening in the rational simulation of reality is that our ideas are being flawlessly reflected back at us; we count it a very good thing when our ideas about reality are reflected perfectly back at us – we call this ‘winning’, we call this ‘being successful’ – in reality however all that’s happened is that we have become subsumed within a solipsistic bubble.



The archetypal example of purposeful doing is where God creates the universe, as detailed in Genesis. There can be no doubt that God Himself is the Sole Author of Creation, just as there can be no doubt that if He had not exerted his will in this matter then there would be ‘nothing at all’, the absence of existence itself (which is something we obviously can’t conceptualize). This is the necessary consequence of God being ‘the Creator’, of the Deity being ‘responsible for everything’. If the Deity did not say that it should be there, and then specify down to the nth degree exactly how it should be there then there would be nothing, only a kind of meaningless blankness that we can’t even begin to think about. Not even a single leaf can fall from a tree without the Creator’s expressed direction, so we are told, and this is the Paradigm of Control, the Paradigm of Purposeful Doing.



As a culture, we have been brought up on this account of how God created the universe – it’s in our DNA, so to speak. We have been brought up on the linear paradigm, it’s not just ‘a familiar formula’, it’s foundational to how we look at everything, it’s foundational to how we understand the world. We really are sold on this idea of purposeful doing, and hence we are totally sold on the idea of the Purposeful Doer. Purposeful doing and the Purposeful Doer have been placed on a very impressive, very imposing pedestal and this isn’t just true for popular culture (which, by its very nature, is of course always going to be made up of throwaway junk) it’s also true for our more serious forays into knowledge, such as clinical psychology. Rather than going back to scratch and carefully examining all our preconceptions in a philosophical way, we have opted instead to charge ahead incautiously on the basis of a whole heap of unexamined ideas, and then try to make out (after the event, as it were) that we are ‘being scientific’. An example of this would be the concept of perceived self-efficacy, which is taken to be a measure of our mental health; if it is so then it is a very strange measure, given that the perception we have of self-efficacy that we’re believing in is an illusion. We are therefore being led to imagine – by the apparently ‘scientific’ doctrines espoused by contemporary rational psychology – that our mental health is dependent upon our wholehearted belief in illusions (and by the same token, the actual truth has to be seen as being correspondingly injurious.)



If we paid attention (really paid attention, that is, rather than just jumping automatically to conclusions) then we see that no one does anything. Life ‘does itself’ and it always has done. We ‘piggyback’ on the spontaneous process of life, sneakily obtaining the glory for ourselves, when really it doesn’t believe belong to us at all. We have stolen the emperor’s gold and triumphantly claimed it as our own. This cuts both ways however – it’s very much a two-edged sword because although we get to feel good about ourselves when things go well (because we make sure to take the credit for it) we also get to feel bad when they don’t (because now we have to take the blame). By ‘taking on the responsibility’ we put ourselves in line for anxiety, which is the type of suffering we incur when we take on too much responsibility. Anxiety is the inevitable consequence of feeling that it’s ‘all down to us’, that everything depends upon us ‘making the right decision’, that we – somehow  – are obliged to echo the actions of the Creator on the smaller scale of everyday life.



Imagining that we are the Purposeful Doer, and then struggling to ‘live up to this’ the quintessential example of psychological inflation – it’s not possible to get more inflated than this!  It’s not just that we are ‘overestimating our significance in the Grand Scheme of Things’ and that we need to find our proper place in the hierarchy, the ‘Golden Chain of Being’ that  stretches down from the Almighty to us, but rather that we are totally deluded, that we are seeing everything in a totally mistaken way. Instead of ‘living in touch with the Dao – which means that we don’t relate everything back to some hypothetical ‘causal entity’ who either deserves praise for getting it right or condemnation for messing everything up – we’re living unharmoniously,  we’re living the kind of life where we have to be continually forcing (or trying to force) things to be the way we think they should be. We’re putting all our money on forcing and this means that we’re always too busy to actually enjoy life – we’ll enjoy life later, we say, we’ll enjoy life when we’ve got everything to be the way we think it ought to be, when we’ve succeeded in ticking all the boxes that we’re told we have to tick. What this means however is that we’re ‘waiting to live’, it means that life itself is the goal we’re hoping to nail, it means that our struggling and striving and calculating is the necessary precursor of us getting to enjoy or appreciate life. We’re struggling to find being, in other words, and we are – as a result of being 100% focussed on this struggling, as a result of having no attention left over for anything else – quite unable to see that being is all around us (that it’s being given away for free’, so to speak)  and that our ongoing effort to obtain it is what has alienated (or separated) us from it in the first place…






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