The problem of philosophy is for all that exists conditionally, to find a ground unconditioned and absolute.
An authority no less than Plato challenged his fellow philosophers to discover Simple Reality. After a couple of millennia, how did they do? Given that the answer was within them all along, that they just had to relax and calm their frantic intellects, it shouldn’t have been that difficult. Of course, we are talking about insights into the nature of the Absolute, and the profound implications that those ideas involved. Failure to apply the wisdom gained from those insights is an altogether different story; a very dark and bleak story. As the title of this chapter implies, our philosophers have failed us as we have failed ourselves.
If we were able to retain, recite and understand all eight volumes of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy it would be of little use in coping with the myriad temptations to react to life, day in and day out. Consequently, this article on philosophy is one of the shortest found in this book. Simple Reality is practical and intuitive not speculative and intellectual; Simple Reality is concerned with what works, like plumbing not philosophy.
An excellent plumber is definitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a human act and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted act, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
The brilliant historian Will Durant knows something about philosophy. “The world was too busy with war and revolutions, new sciences and new religions, the love of beauty and the quest for gold, to spare some time for the unanswerable but inescapable problems of truth and error, matter and mind, freedom and necessity, nobility and baseness, life and death.” Effectively addressing the problems mentioned by Durant has thus far been beyond all but the most intuitive philosophers and most of those were eastern mystics. For the few who have gone beyond profound thinking into the realm of profound experience it boils down to being able to distinguish between illusion and reality.
The perspective of P-A greatly simplifies reality and gives it a practicality that eludes the intellect, whereas the context of P-B makes reality obscure and unnecessarily complicated. It is the nature of the fear-driven false self to maintain the illusion of control by believing the process of living to be complex and difficult. Philosophy provides us an opportunity to demonstrate how profoundly this context influences the identity and behavior of human beings.
“Historians of philosophy have been wont to begin their story with the Greeks. The Hindus, who believe that they invented philosophy, and the Chinese, who believe that they perfected it, smile at our provincialism. It may be that we are all mistaken; for among the most ancient fragments left to us by the Egyptians are writings that belong … under the rubric of moral philosophy.” Will Durant continues with an example: “Silence is more profitable to thee than abundance of speech.”
Had we in the West been as introspective as the ancient Egyptians perhaps we would not have arrived at the sad state of our current self-alienation in the U. S. “In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.”
The Greeks could be said to have started the history of philosophy in the West. “Here for the first time thought became secular, and sought rational and consistent answers to the problems of the world and man.” The limitation of Western philosophy was there from the beginning; dependence on the intellect of the false self rather than on universal inner wisdom. Eastern philosophers did not limit themselves to “rational” thought, which Goethe recognized was too limiting, “… a man’s vices (or errors) are common to him with his epoch, but his virtues (or insights) are his own.”
“Unlike Western philosophy, there is nothing speculative or abstract in Indian thought; it is based wholly upon direct and immediate perception of super-rational truth.”
“… the Upanishads were communicated by illumined saints whose only purpose was to enlighten others and thereby relieve the suffering of mankind. Their task was not to create philosophical schools, but to record for posterity the truth of their inner experience.” Unfortunately for the Western philosopher, he was immersed in a worldview of individualism, a shattered paradigm; profound insights associated with Oneness were obscured behind the fog of P-B.
“When we understand that philosophy (love of wisdom arrived at through personal effort and experience) is the ultimate medicine for all our psychological ills, we shall free ourselves from the bonds of sorrow. We are so frightened of facing life’s issues square in the face, of patiently and caringly working through our psychic wounds instead of around them. ‘Denial,’ as they say, ‘is not a river in Egypt.’” Eugene Pascal gives us the interface of philosophy and psychology; it is important that we remove the artificial barriers that separate our disciplines from one another. Oneness and its synergy provide the energy to drive deeper insights into the nature of reality.
Deficiency in judgment is just what is ordinarily called stupidity, and for such a failing there is no remedy.
“Many cities—above all Sparta—forbade the public consideration of philosophical problems, ‘on account of the jealousy and strife and profitless discussions.’” Many of us are aware of the near total dysfunction today  of our national political system. The conservative faction in Washington are afraid of new ideas and risk-taking or for that matter doing much of anything at all. Over 2,500 years ago when the Spartans were shutting down discourse, the Athenians welcomed debate on the most challenging concepts emerging from the inner wisdom that we must all suppress if we want our false self to feel secure.
In Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy the higher level thinking skills are analysis, synthesis and evaluation. In the Athens of the Golden Age of Greece such higher level discourse was common. In Sparta, it was forbidden as it is in Washington today. Pandering to the sensibilities and fear of the masses, today’s politicians and our political institutions are in a state of paralysis. We need a return to the free-flow of ideas, we need the return of synthesis, analysis and evaluation without artificially imposed limits.
When an idea emerges from the Implicate Order within the human mind it must first be analyzed and broken down into its component parts. Next, having understood the composition of the idea it must be put back together or synthesized to take stock of its meaning in the context of the current paradigm. Finally, and most importantly, the idea and the policies (action to be taken) must be evaluated as to its effect on the community. Would the resultant policy benefit the community in the long run? Would it nurture and provide support for the highest expression of the community’s beliefs, attitudes and values? The skill of evaluation is the most important because it is an expression of the community’s values. In Washington today, we see beliefs and attitudes being expressed by unconscious politicians and as for values being expressed—they are all about the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power—the same values that dominated ancient Sparta and the long-term results will be the same.
Where are our modern mystics when we need them? “We have had such men in our Middle Ages, but we should have to look for them today in the nooks and crannies of Europe and America, India has had them for 2,500 years—possibly from the prehistoric days when, perhaps, they were the shamans of savage tribes. The system of ascetic meditation known as Yoga existed in the time of the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata accepted it; it flourished in the age of Buddha …”
If America is to avoid the fate of ancient empires, we must find the courage and commitment to entertain the implications of the following principles that would provide a sustainable foundation on which to build a compassionate community. Let’s trace the evolution or lack thereof of the thinking of the world’s philosophers regarding Simple Reality. Here is what the wise people and mystics of the past said on the direction a healthy community needs to take. Can we hear them today? The words in bold typeface help forge the link between the insights of modern philosophy (beliefs, attitudes and values) and Simple Reality.
The Collective Unconscious
“‘The state is by nature prior to the family and the individual:’ man as we know him is born into an already organized society [P-B], which molds him in its image.” Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.)
“… social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him … in short … always asking others what we are, never daring to ask ourselves … we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance [false-self identity], honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Rousseau is “intuiting” the powerful influence of what many years later Jung called the collective unconscious. Rousseau described our unconscious human behavior well before the advent of the science of modern psychology.
Energy and Form
Thales (640-? BC) was a very insightful Greek thinker experiencing the impermanence and inherent illusion of the world of form as well as Oneness as the reality underlying all of Creation. He realized that “… every particle of the world is alive, that matter and life are inseparable and one, that there is an immortal ‘soul’ in plants and metals as well as in animals and men; the vital power [indestructible energy] changes form, but never dies.”
Experiencing all of energy as inherently indestructible and as an endlessly unfolding creative process, he denied the illusion of death. “Thales was wont to say there is no essential difference between the living and the dead.” Or as a Simple Reality philosopher would say, there is only energy, coming and going without beginning or end.
Thales had a sense of humor which was revealed when he was asked what was very difficult and what was very easy. “To know thyself,” he said, and “To give advice,” respectively. Philosophers today still find it easy to tell others what to do and why they should do it but find it very difficult to answer the question, Who Am I?
“Spinoza defines the essence of each being through its powers of action; ‘the power of God is the same as his essence’; in this aspect God is energy (and energy might be named, in addition to matter and mind, as a third attribute which we perceive as constituting the essence of substance or reality).” Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
“The endless divisibility, Leibniz suggested, is a puzzle arising from our conception of reality as matter, therefore as extended, therefore as divisible ad nauseam. If we consider the ultimate reality as energy, and conceive the world as composed of centers of force, the mystery of divisibility vanishes, because force, like thought, does not imply extension. So he rejected the atoms of Democritus as the ultimate components of the universe, and replaced them with monads, unextended units of force; he defined substance not as matter but as energy.” Gottried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
Feeling and Emotion
“‘The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know,’ and we do right to listen to our hearts, to ‘place our faith in feeling.’” Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
“Philosophers have disdained the information about the universe obtained through their visceral feelings [intuition], and have concentrated on visual feelings [senses]. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)
The Great Insight (Oneness)
“The highest understanding … is direct perception, immediate insight; it is intuition, the inward seeing of the mind that has deliberately closed, as far as it can, the portals of sense.” Upanishads
From Shankara (788-820) considered by many the greatest of the Hindu philosophers we have: “It is not logic that we need, it is insight, the faculty (akin to art) of grasping at once the essential out of the irrelevant, the eternal out of the temporal, the whole out of the part: this is the first prerequisite to philosophy.”
“He who has a true idea at the same time knows he has a true idea, and cannot doubt the truth of the thing … As the light [insight] makes both itself and the darkness plain, so truth is the standard of itself and of the false.” Spinoza
“Then all at once the peace that we were always seeking, but which always fled from us on the former path of the desires, comes to us of its own accord, and it is well with us.” Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Having, Doing and Knowing
“Before that inner reality can be felt one has to wash away from himself all evil doing and thinking, all turbulence of body and soul.” Upanishads
Socrates (470-399 B.C.) said to Antiphon: “You seem to think that happiness consists in luxury and extravagance, but I think that to want nothing is to resemble the gods, and that to want as little as possible is to make the nearest approach to the gods.”
“The more one renounces individual and worldly aims, the clearer and more farseeing this divine spark becomes, until at last God and soul are one, and ‘we are totally transformed into God.’” Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)
“… all human knowledge is uncertain, inexact, and partial. To this doctrine we have not found any limitation whatever.” Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
The Implicate Order
Anixamander (611-549 BC) identified the source of Creation as a “boundless mass possessing no specific qualities, but developing, by its inherent forces [energy] into all the varied realities of the universe.”
“Thou hast existed as a part; thou shalt disappear in that which produced thee.” Marcus Aurelius (188-217 A.D.)
Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Rushd (1126-1198), known as Averroes in Europe, was characterized by Will Durant as “the most influential figure in Islamic philosophy.” Speaking of the Implicate Order Averroes says: “This Active Intellect has no individuality; it is the same in all men; and it alone is immortal … In this union the human mind becomes like unto God, for it holds all the universe potentially in the grasp of its thought; indeed the world and its contents have no existence for us, and no meaning, except through the mind that apprehends them.”
“‘There is no Creation, except in the sense that the infinite reality—matter and mind—is ever taking new individual forms or modes. ‘God is not in any one place, but is everywhere according to his essence.’” Spinoza
Intellect and Intuition
It is precisely in knowing its limits that philosophy consists.
So far, the East has taken the lead in profound philosophical insights. “The first lesson that the sages of the Upanishads teach their selected pupils is the inadequacy of the intellect. Not that the intellect is useless; it has its modest place, and serves us well when it deals with relations and things; but how it falters before the eternal, the infinite, or the elementally real!”
This is Will Durant’s description of the wisdom found in the Tao Te Ching. “Basically, it [the Tao] is a way of thinking, or of refusing to think; for in the view of the Taoists thought is a superficial affair, good only for argument, and more harmful than beneficial to life; the Way is to be found by rejecting the intellect and all its wares, and leading a modest life of retirement, rusticity, and quiet contemplation of nature. Knowledge is not virtue; on the contrary, rascals have increased since education spread.”
“Even of the Tao and wisdom the wise man does not speak, for wisdom can be transmitted, never by words, only by example and experience.”
“By a ‘transcendental dialectic’ as subtle as Kant’s, the Moslem mystic argued that reason leads to universal doubt, intellectual bankruptcy, moral deterioration, and social collapse [the human condition in P-B] … Philosophy, logic, science, cannot prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul; only direct intuition [feeling] can assure us of these beliefs, without which no moral order, and therefore no civilization [P-A], can survive.” Abu Hamid azl-Ghazali (1058-1111)
“… no proposition can be received for divine revelation if it be contrary to our clear intuitive knowledge.” John Locke (1632-1704)
“In reality that which reason considers evil is not in respect to the order and laws of nature as a whole, but only in respect to the laws of our reason.” Spinoza
“Perception and reason, two forms of knowledge, are derived from sensation; but a third and higher form, ‘intuitive knowledge,’ is derived (Spinoza thinks) not from sensation but from a clear, distinct, immediate, and comprehensive awareness of an idea or event as part of a universal system of law.” Spinoza
“We do not need science and philosophy to know what we should do to be honest and good, yea, even wise and virtuous.” Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
What was the process of meditation that that Buddha discovered? “For it is not the individual self which the seer sees in this pure inward seeing; that the individual self is but a series of brain and mental states, it is merely the body seen from within.” In other words the illusion of the false self when quieted dissolves leaving the True self as the observer of Simple Reality. (The Sanskrit word Atman originally meant breath, like the Latin spiritus and now means the Essence or Self or Soul.)
“To rise above these sufferings it is only necessary to realize that the essence of us, which is Spirit, is safe beyond good and evil, joy and pain, birth and death. These acts and struggles, these successes and defeats, distress us only so long as we fail to see that they do not affect, or come from, the Spirit; the enlightened man will look upon them as from outside them, like an impartial spectator witnessing a play.” Kapila (6th century B.C.)
“A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on his life.” Spinoza
As a teenager I had a fainting phobia; the following quote describes the process by which I intuitively “transcended” it. “The ability to turn an unconscious complex (phobia) which has one by the throat into an object of knowledge is an extremely important aspect for increasing consciousness. To extend Schopenhauer’s analogy, it is as though one who was fighting for his life in the arena were magically transported to the position of spectator—desperate reality becomes an image for contemplation, and the subject as ‘knower’ is removed beyond harm.” There is a striking similarity between the process just described and that of the process of meditation wherein one becomes the detached observer no longer identified with the illusions of form nor one’s complexes.
Oneness and Duality
Philosophy, to be relevant, would have to be grounded in a profound context. Notice in Will Durant’s description of the evolution of the universal human paradigm how we are headed in the wrong direction. “Greece respected wisdom as India respected holiness, as Renaissance Italy respected artistic genius, as young America naturally respects economic enterprise.” We are learning in this article about the wisdom experienced by the philosophers of ancient India and Greece. Where is that wisdom now?
“The (non-individual) soul or force within us is identical with the impersonal Soul of the World. The Upanishads burn this doctrine into the pupil’s mind with untiring, tiring repetition.” In a similar repetitive choosing of response over reaction, the committed modern spiritual aspirant may achieve Self-transformation and freedom from the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power. “… through the ascetic elimination of all personal desires one may cease to be an individual fragment, and unite himself in supreme bliss with the Soul of the World.”
“This then is the first step in the Secret Doctrine: that the essence of our own self is not body, or the mind, or the individual ego, but the silent and formless depth of being within us, Atman.”
“‘Liberation obtained through knowledge of the twenty-five Realities,’ says Kapila, ‘teaches—the one [and] only knowledge—that neither I am, nor is aught mine, nor do I exist;’ that is to say, personal separateness is an illusion.” Kapila
“As Aurelius I have Rome for my country; as a man, the world.” Aurelius
“God [True self] appeared within the self [false self], and the self itself disappeared in the vision [Great Insight] of an all-absorbing One.” azl-Ghazali
Oneness, “This non-dual synthesis, according to Schelling, [F. W. J. Schelling (1775-1854)] is also the identity of subject and object in one timeless act of self-knowledge, of Spirit directly knowing itself as Spirit, a direct mystical intuition, says Schelling, that is not mediated through any forms, whether those forms be the feelings of objective nature or the thoughts of subjective mind.”
“… when you realize your supreme identity as Spirit, then you are autonomous in the fullest sense—because nothing is outside you—and therefore you are also whole or unified in the fullest sense—because nothing is outside you. Full autonomy and full wholeness are one and the same thing in the supreme identity.” It is comforting to know that Ken Wilber, a modern American philosopher, is thinking deeply about the nature of Simple Reality. Intuition makes the direct connection through the heart, through feelings beyond the illusion of either physical or thought forms.
Reaction and Response
From the Upanishads: “Before that inner reality [True self] can be felt one has to wash away from himself [using the Point of Power Practice] all evil doing [reactions of the body and emotions] and thinking [reactions of the mind], all turbulence of body and soul.”
“All things are determined by the universal reason, the inherent logic of the whole; and every part must welcome cheerfully its modest role and fate. ‘Equanimity [response] is the voluntary acceptance of the things that are assigned to thee by the nature of the whole.’” Aurelius
“Those who confuse divine with human nature easily attribute human passions to God, especially if they do not know how passions [reactions] are produced in the mind.” Spinoza
“A man with poor powers of perception and thought is especially subject to passion [reactions]; it is such a life that Spinoza describes in his classic Book IV, ‘Of Human Bondage.’ Such a man, however violent his action may be, is really passive—is swept along by an external stimulus [conditioned ‘triggers’] instead of holding his hand and taking thought [response]. ‘We are driven about by external causes in many ways, and, like waves driven by contrary winds, we waver and are unconscious of the issue and our fate … ‘an emotion can neither be hindered nor removed save by a contrary and stronger emotion [feeling].’” Spinoza
“Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion [reaction] but a contrary impulse [response].” David Hume (1711-1776)
Reality and Illusion
As the philosopher/psychologist/mystic Siddhartha Gautama came to realize the ultimate challenge for a philosopher is to experience the distinction between reality and illusion. If we accept the voice of Jesus found in A Course in Miracles then he would agree with his fellow philosopher from the East. “The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it for what He creates must be eternal as Himself. Yet there is nothing in the world you see that will endure forever.”
“There is in the universe … no chaos, no confusion, save in appearance.” Leibniz
“Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Silence, Simplicity and Solitude
To repeat, Ptah-hotep (2880 B.C.) Governor of Memphis and Prime Minister to the King of Egypt said, “Silence is more profitable to thee than abundance of speech.”
In a fair, still spot [solitude]
Having fixed his abode—not too much raised,
Nor yet too low—let him abide, his goods
A cloth, a deerskin, and the Kusha-grass [simplicity].
There, setting hard his mind upon the One,
Restraining heart and senses, silent, calm [silence],
Let him accomplish Yoga, and achieve
Pureness of soul, holding immovable
Body and neck and head, his gaze absorbed
Upon his nose-end [breath], rapt from all around,
Tranquil in spirit, free of fear, intent.
Suffering and Denial
“All satisfaction, or what is commonly called happiness [pleasure], is really and essentially always negative [suffering] only, and never positive.” Schopenhauer
“Only love towards a thing, eternal and infinite feeds the mind with pleasure … free from all pain.” Spinoza
True self/ False self
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
“Good actions should be done not out of compulsion [precepts] but from conviction; not from hope of reward, but for their own sake … A man should feel more shame in doing evil before himself than before all the world.” Democritus 460-370 B.C.
A physical resurrection had become a central doctrine for both Jews and Moslems by the 12th century but Maimonides denied any substance to the false self which he held “had no individual consciousness.” Maimonides (1135-1204)
“It might be argued that what he wants is the entertainment [distraction] of gaming and not the winnings.” Pascal
“By desire … I understand all the efforts, impulses, appetites, and volitions of a man, which … not infrequently are so opposed to one another that he is drawn hither and thither, and knows not where to turn.” Spinoza
“Obviously (says Spinoza) there is no ‘free will’; the will at any moment is just the stronger desire … we are not free to choose our own nature or our desires; we are our desires.” Spinoza
“A desire is usually the conscious correlate of an appetite [plenty, pleasure or power] which is rooted in the body; and so much of the appetite may remain unconscious that we have only ‘confused and inadequate ideas’ of its causes and results. Such confused desires Spinoza called affectus, which may be translated as ‘emotions’ [Buddha’s cravings and aversions].” Spinoza
“History is full of religious wars; but … it is not the multiplicity of religions which has produced wars; it is the intolerant spirit animating that one which believed itself in the ascendant.” Montesquieu (1689-1755)
“Our moral sense comes not from Heaven but from sympathy [compassion]—fellow feeling with our fellow men …” Hume
The Wisdom Within
Happiness does not come from external goods; a man “must become accustomed to finding within himself the sources of his enjoyment.” Democritus
Turning within is turning away from the intellect and philosophy. The “game” of philosophy is amusing to the players but must not be confused with wisdom or reality.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality Trilogy
by Roy Charles Henry:
Where Am I? Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I? Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here? Behavior – The Third Great Question