Passing Thoughts

Jonathan Bricklin brickmar at EARTHCOM.NET
Tue Oct 14 13:00:03 CDT 1997

On October 7th, Sadananda, toward the end on a valuable tour of Advaitin
psychology wrote:


>Since the subjective judgmental value system is crept in by ones
>egotistical or ego-centered actions

What is creeping into this idea is a too active role for the ego.  That is
to be guarded against.  All you can say is that an ego-centered action
comes out of an ego centered desire.  An ego centered desire is a desire
with an emphasis.  What you term a "subjective judgmental value" system is
a blueprint of what get emphasized:   "Thought," says James, "is always
emphasizing something....It contrasts a _here_ with a _there_,...a _now_
with a _then_:  of a pair of things it calls one _this_, the other _that_.
_I_ and _thou_, _I and _it_, are distinctions exactly on a par with
these--distinctions possible within an exclusively _objective_ field of
knowledge."  The "I" means something for the passing thought which
appropriates the sense of the "I" within _its_ bounds.  To say the ego
thinks the thought or "does" the action is good commonsense but bad
introspection.  As Samkara puts it  (can someone tell me where?):  "If you
say that experience depends upon an experiencer, we reply that on our view
the experience is itself the experiencer."  James almost seems to be
plagiarizing Samkara when he writes:  "If the passing thought be the
directly verifiable existent which no school has hitherto doubted it to be,
then the thought is itself the thinker, and psychology need not look

There is, of course, an object "I", or what James called an "empirical me"
that forms a recognizable pattern, "a center of narrative gravity"
(Dennet).  But let us not confuse a functional identity with a substantial
one.  I know as an Advaitin you do not believe in such a substantial
identity for the "I", but it is a hard belief  to avoid if you believe in
free will since that belief implies that the ego is not merely the center
of the narrative but its author.  There is no reason to believe that just
because a thought can be traced to a "subjective judgemental  value system"
that there is some subset of spontaneity in the universe, separate from
brahman. We can do much of what we think to do _as long as we think it_ ,
but what we do is still assembled beyond the range of the individuated "I,"
as is the individuated "I" itself,  and is explainable without the
necessity of referring to that illusion of illusions:  free will.  The
great Western Advaitin, Schopenhauer, put it nicely:

        "...let us imagine a man who, while standing on the street, would say to
himself:  'It is six o'clock in the evening, the working day is over.  Now
I can go for a walk, or I can go to the club;  I can also climb up the
tower to see the sun set;  I can go to the theater;  I can visit this
friend or that one;  indeed, I also can run out of the gate, into the wide
world, and never return.  All of this is strictly up to me, in this I have
complete freedom.  But still I shall do none of these things now, but with
just as free a will I shall go home to my wife.' This is exactly as if
water spoke to itself:  'I can make high waves (yes!  in the sea during a
storm), I can rush down hill (yes!  in the river bed), I can plunge down
foaming and gushing (yes!  in the waterfall), I can rise freely as a stream
of water into the air (yes!  in the fountain), I can, finally, boil away
and disappear (yes!  at a certain temperature);  but I am doing none of
these things now, and am voluntarily remaining quiet and clear water in the
reflecting pond."


>Vasanas purgation or neutralization by
>self-effort or sadhana involving free-will also enters into picture. This
>is why in addition to viveka, vairagya there is shat sampatti (the six
>qualities shama, dama etc.) are emphasized obviously involving effort or
>free-will - in order to develop mumukshutvam, or burning desire for

Vasana purgation by self-effort sounds suspiciously like trying to rid
yourself of an addiction to television by watching a broadcast about that
addiction.   Vasanas come, vasanas go, and they define an ever-subtly
modulated sense of self as they do.  Shama and dama, as practiced in
Vipassana, teaches vairagya and viveka. Perhaps whatever gets you to sit
still  (chanting, yoga postures, koans) helps you to see the truth.  But
the belief in self as supported by a belief in free will can only be a
hindrance.  Like the conceptualization of "effort" as an original force, it
is  "a distraction from what _is_"

Jonathan Bricklin

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