EAST/WEST

The Enigma of Existence

Bradley Kaye

Aug 23,2017
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Different from grasping, the gesture of greeting enables openness between the subject and object. Greeting is an invitation to the abyss within. Meditation is a gaze within that provides an already sublimated energy to thought (Irigaray, 1991, 171). The gaze of the meditating Buddha is not divisive, or incisive, it does not grasp, but wistfully sits, open to existence as it is.  In the realization that nowhere is anything lasting, phenomena appear, exist, and then disappear; gone forever, existing only in the tumultuous caverns of memory. The decrepitude of the material realm, the impermanence of the body, is an “invariable form of variation” (Deleuze, 1994, 2).

The trick of the mind is to view the isness as stasis, but even stasis is becoming static. All existence is becoming. Even sitting still is becoming stillness. Emptying the mind opens it up to resonances, pulses, power-flows, and integral dynamics with itself and the external world. There are as many, “perseverances as there are permanences and fluxes and variations in nature” (ibid.). Fact of the matter is that the mind never fully rests. Even in nocturnal slumbers there is movement and action. The mind reflects the chaos and flux in the world that it observes. Under Wittgenstein’s hand: “Our life is like a dream. But in our better hours we wake up just enough to realize that we are dreaming” (Engelmann 1968, 7). And Fichte’s disturbing meditation on the movement of temporality:

“There is nowhere anything lasting, neither outside me, nor within me, but only incessant change. I nowhere know of any being not even my own. There is no being. I myself know nothing and am nothing. There are only images: they are the only things which exists, and they know of themselves in the manner of images…I myself am only one of these images. All reality is transformed into a wondrous dream, without a life which is dreamed about, and without a spirit which dreams; into dream which coheres in a dream of itself.” (Fichte 1965, 89)

To obtain consciousness is to slip into the gossamer phantasms of a dream-state. The Buddha, the awakened one, was aware because he knew this Suchness and saw reality as an illusory transitional point. An, “eternity opposed to permanence…in every respect, repetition is a transgression. It puts law into question, it denounces the nominal or general character in favor of more profound artistic reality” (Deleuze, 1994, 3). The play of life is an artistic creation that unfolds with each passing moment. Grasping at the moment, tighter and tighter, is like trying to compress a handful of sand. The firmer the grip the faster the sand slips through the subject’s fingers.  Sitting with an open hand (and an open mind) means one can view the suchness, and cup the sand, to gently become aware of the moment as it passes. Unclenching the hand’s grasp allows for the object to become stable within the subject’s palm, but opening up the hand, means that the sand still falls out and drifts away. The impermanence of this moment is like the hand holding sand. Everything is impermanent. You never step twice into the same river, or the same capitalism, or the same self.  

There are intentions and intent, and changing these subjective positions changes actions and agency. There is no action without intent, but more importantly, there is no intent without contemplation. No unintended actions exist and there are no unintentional agents, but there are misguided, untrained minds that have yet to become fully aware of how to contemplate (or of what is contemplated).  Lack of contemplation is a “pure stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self” (Deleuze, 2001, 25).  And, since the self is an illusion this is the circular nature of Buddhist enlightenment. The untrained situation before one begins meditative training lacks in mindfulness.  The training one engages with in undergoing meditation practice leads to the realization that the self does not exist. The self is something other than the ego.  As the Buddha says in the Diamond Sutra: there are no beings to be liberated. Having the awareness that one is a being means one will suffer. Where there is a self there is suffering (dukha).

It would seem merely perverse to believe that grasping after consciousness (vijnana) is one of the five ways of bringing suffering (dukha) down upon the subject, and that to lull consciousness to sleep is to find awareness (sati), but this is the paradox of the enigma of being. It would seem like an illusion to think that consciousness is linked (nidana) to the twelve-fold chain of contingent becoming (bhava-chakra). Yet, this is precisely the condition of possibility that is outlined by the rhizomatic-becomings that are a possibility, not a guarantee. When one link in the chain breaks, all of the links break. The overcoming of ignorance and suffering leads to the elimination of consciousness, and the penultimate awareness that it does not exist in any substantial tangible manner. Residually, the traces of the ego vanish in nirvana and enlightenment, “I is an order-word” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, 84). To put forth an “I” that exists is to make an order out of the Absurd.  Order is an escape valve in an inauthentic machinic being-in-the-world, “automata (a rhizome), and thus arrives at an entirely different state of the unconscious” (ibid, 18). Reflexive living that posits the affirmative emptiness of the unknown in the subconscious, life in the present, whereby the subject has “short term ideas” (ibid, 25). The incorporeal transformations of different events through temporal transitions in the material realm constitute the limit of consciousness.  

Without experiencing those flows, the ego ceases to hold sway over the mind, and thus liberation occurs through detachment from the Oughtness of the is; to see reality in its Isness. Void is form and form is void, Is-ness without existence means to be without being. Interiority folded inward that extends to the outside, but still and detached from the stimuli of the world.  As Deleuze says, “Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it” (Deleuze, 1994, 70). If mind detaches from object and only sees the repetitions as they occur in their sameness, then this position will stifle creative changes in the subject. Recurrences that are different, yet similar, create memories and re-collections that re-present (repeat the present) in a similar variation on an old theme. The cathexis of habit is based on this concept, an attachment to the repetitions of the perceptions as they pass through the five senses (skandhas).    

The existence of the self depends upon the five skandhas (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) which are empty. Consciousness is merely a bundle of memories, experiences, habits, emotions, and learned behaviors, which is hardly anything to prove with factual evidence that it actually exists. The skandhas provide a convincing, but ultimately virtual experience. If the skandhas, which are bundles of all these things wrapped together into an ego that thinks it exists, are taken apart piece by piece, then it will unravel the appearance that it is an immobile, unchanging object. “An organic body is an assemblage (synthesis) of distinct elements (disjunction) called organs” (Lyotard, 1993, 243). Therefore the body without organs is a composite of fragments and skandhas assembled together, but taken apart they are an ephemeral skin.

Egolessness is the basis of the malleability of the self. If the self is malleable, then it follows that the self is non-phenomenal, transitional, ever evolving and becoming. The irony is that to become aware of the becoming one must sit still and simply be.  Being brings awareness of the becoming. Sound is in between the silence that exudes the resonance of what exists within. “Every absurdity is thematized, objectified, emptiness.  The task of a Buddhist phenomenology is, then, to liberate this interior illumination by a certain dethematization, to pop the bubble, releasing its inner resplendence” (Laycock, 2001, 41). The smallness of humility within the mind releases the meta-love that burgeons forth from beneath the surface. There are resources in Deleuze to take as cues towards one semblance of the Buddhist logic of sense. The enigma of the being of beings being that there is something instead of nothing as Heidegger claimed (Heidegger, 1993, 91-110). In the Buddhist sense, there is nothing instead of something, and something is the illusion, because it has no essence, existence is not essential, what exists need not be the way that it is, full of generic differences.

There is one song, the uni-verse, and many refrains. Rather than being universal, or one size fits all, it is univocal. “Univocity signifies that being itself is univocal” (Deleuze, 1994, 304), and the sense in the world is that there is no carefully placed order from a transcendent divine Being. There are “nomadic distributions or crowned anarchies in the univocal stand opposed to the sedentary distributions of analogy” (ibid). Everything is not equal and not everything returns, certainly not equally. Yet there is a refrain that somehow overlooks the particular differences:

“A single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamor of Being for all beings: on condition that each being, each drop and each voice has reached the state of excess –in  other words, the difference which displaces and disguises them and, in turning upon its mobile cusp, causes them to return” (ibid).

Gilles Deleuze’s famous final lines to Difference and Repetition echo a paradoxical sentiment.  The desire to be equal among all living beings, and the brute reality that things are out of place in the ‘clamor of Being’ and ‘crowned anarchies’ that push and pull the subject in an infinity of different directions, clouding the silence that the subject truly desires. Equality is difference. Beings are equal in their essential difference, rather than their essential sameness and unity is a result of seeing these fundamental differences and overcoming them to remain unified on a singular set of principles that lead to joy. If the clamor of being brings a drop into the Ocean, then meditation is a bottle thrown into the boundless open sea, “but without desperation, without ultimate verba, without its launch being a last attempt to signal and communicate a message entrusted with it” (Lyotard, 1993, 255). Since it is communicable, the transmutability of the phantasm leads to the nothingness of being, and what Nietzsche called nihilistic decadence.

Cultural decadence and cultural amnesia lead to every moment being fresh. The Buddhist dialectic is rooted in naivete. Mountains are mountains; water is water (Abe, 1985, 4).

“Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, ‘mountains are mountains, waters are waters.’ After I got an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, I said, ‘mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.’ But now, having attained the abode of final rest, I say, ‘mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.’” (ibid).

Alienation gives way to the perspective of Suchness in things as the illusions that they actually are, rather than putting labels on them.  As Jean-Luc Marion says, “Admitting the phenomenality proper to the phenomenon – its right and its power to show itself on its own terms – thus implies understanding it in terms of its givenness” (Marion, 2002, 19).  Simplicity of mind opens the door to the inner peace of being.

Each moment appears as the last moment disappears, “hence the status of matter as mens momentanea” (Deleuze, 1994, 70).  Detachment means that there is a discontinuity to time, a series of now, now, nows, a schizzing process. Yet, even in absolute detachment the past and future inhere in the present, a trace or resonance is always there as a non-corporeal entity. Past and future divide the present, as a ideal of perceptible but noumenal forms. What could be more Buddhist in the void of form than the quote from Deleuze: “Today’s task is to make the empty square circulate and to make pre-individual and non-personal singularities speak – in short, to produce sense” (Deleuze,1990, 73).  To speak as non-personal singularities, as infinitives, to borrow a saying from the Upanishads: “the self is pure awareness, shines as the light within the heart, surrounded by the senses. Only seeming to think, seeming to move, the Self neither sleeps nor wakes nor dreams” (Easwaran, 2007, 109).  The self is not the ego.

To be like the phrase from Lao Tzu in being like water and going to the low places, acting in humility, and embracing selflessness. The more one detaches the more abundance flows in, the more selfless one becomes, the more one has, and this is the paradox. The more detached the more connected the mind becomes to the cosmic field that resonates pure love. This cosmic field is like a recording machine, it documents everything, every thought, every emotion, and therefore whatever the subject puts out, is recorded in the cosmic field and comes back to it, sometimes several folds more. The self becomes what it intends to be, what it puts out is what is directed towards it, and therefore the boundless open sea, that is the Ocean of the cosmic field, resonates with the energy that is there within the subject. Beneath all the hatred, the animosity, anger, and anxiety, there is Love, a resonance so strong that it can permeate through the antagonisms in the material realm of the world. This is the premise that Marxists who interpret Deleuze miss, and that someone like Alain Badiou criticizes him by saying that thought is not the effusion of a personal spontaneous capacity, it is the power won only by the greatest difficulty against itself, in being constrained to the world’s play (Badiou, 1999).

Certainly the enigma of being is that while life is continuing on one must remain inextricably linked to the world as it circles around, but the attachment to the chaos of ‘crowning anarchies’ is problematic.  Realizing the asymmetrical nature of existence becomes part of the self and its inner essence, in actuality the unevenness of temporal repetitions is something that meditation tries to overcome in the singular repetition of the mantra – “OM”, which it is believed brings the mind in tune with the natural rhythms of the universe.  As the Upanishads speak of OM, it is the word that leads to “a life of self-restraint and naughting, it is OM” (Easwaran, 2007, 78).  The immanence and transcendence debate is where Buddhism and Deleuze meet each other head on. While there are many strands of Buddhist thinking, and it is impossible to touch on all of them, and most likely, as a meditation practitioner in America, I am dealing with Western inversions of the teachings, passed on through cultural-colonial filters over centuries, the resonances of immanence are still there.  

All of existence is constituted out of various resonances, pulses, power-flows, waves, vibrations, and energies. And, “where there is unity, one without a second, that is the world of Brahman” (Easwaran, 2007, 112). Subject and object reconvene and pull closer together in unity, a repetition that brings the self and Other into Oneness. This is the Buddhist dialectic, as outlined before, Oneness, then alienation and de-familiarization, and finally a push and pull the self falls back into asymmetrical togetherness, which is partly the main thrust of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense, freed from the appeals of transcendence. As the Logic of Sense posits:

“The divergence of the affirmed series forms a ‘chaosmos’ and no longer a World; the aleatory point which traverses them forms a counter-self, and no longer a self; disjunction posited as a synthesis exchanges its theological principle of a diabolic principle…the Grand Canyon of the world, the ‘crack’ of the self, and the dismembering of God.” (Deleuze, 1990, 176)

While there are atheists who are Buddhists and do not believe in God, the distinction is that in Buddhism there is usually some semblance of transcendence, as the will to overcome an untrained mind.  Whereas in Deleuze, the transcendent is always overcome by pure immanence, that is, the hallucinations of the untrained mind are representations that reflect the outgrowths of historical context within the world. There is always a place for politics and transgression in Deleuze, whereas in Buddhism the inner-resonances of Love, Joy, and Happiness, overcome all socially constructed antagonisms through meditative practice. In most readings of Deleuze, joy is a political resistance to oppressive situations. Joy is usually depicted as a line of flight that posits a viable escape from dreary realist alienations.

Notably, Buddhism’s immanent dimensions are at odds with the typical Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic Religions, whereby notable Buddhist philosopher Nishitani Keiji vowed to bring together the Buddha’s “Vow of Compassion” as “the name for the unity of the Buddha and all things” (Keiji, 1982. 27). In contrast with Western religions, as Augustine and Seisaku point out: “Buddhism did not come into existence by proclaiming certain historical facts to be the foundation of its faith. Buddhism arose out of the Buddha’s realization of the true path to enlightenment and from the attempt to bear testimony through the practice of the dharma” (Augustine and Seisaku, 2012. 47).

Even though some people have shrines of the Buddha in their homes, the origin of Buddhism is unlike any other major religion in that he never intended to be worshipped as an idol, therefore Buddhism is completely different than Western definitions of religion. The performance of worshipping rituals is something that began through Western Colonization of Asia, as J. Jeffrey Franklin outlines in The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire.  The assimilability of Buddhism represented its union with Victorian culture that set out to domesticate it. And “thus unassimilability represents more than foreignness; it identifies those elements of the other that perfectly correspond to blind spots within the self, the most potentially disruptive and revealing sites” (Franklin, 2008, 23). The give and take between Western and Eastern thinking continues on with traces of its colonial past still resonating to this day. Metaphysics is a soft lullabye to soothe latent existential anxieties, a cry of an oppressed people yearning for another life because the suffering in this one has become overwhelming.  Religion enables stubborn beings to remain in ethical stasis, unable to think freely, which is why Buddhism (and for that matter Christianity, if it is actually discovered rather than dogmatized) is an ongoing practice. All we have are echoes of our own mind, and the attachment to worldly values creates hardened truths that become stale over time. The European Buddha is a counter-image of the Asian Buddha, (Schleiermacher, 1986, 111).

As Nietzsche claimed, “Truth is an illusion we have forgotten is such” (Kaufmann, 1977). As well worn coins completely effaced to be little more than metal tokens containing no a-priori value.  Deconstruction is the open-denouement of nihilism. Nothingness, which is the underlying paradox of being, that it appears to be something, when in actuality it is a not (rather, it is a nothing that noths. As Sartre posits: “There are even men, whose social reality is uniquely that of the Not, who will live and die, having forever been only a Not upon the earth” (Sartre, 1956, 47). A negation of a negation rather than a positive affirmation, and Sartre claimed that the people whose sole purpose was to be the Not, were caretakers, nurses, and public servants in positions where they see suffering on a daily basis. As the first of the four noble truths tell us: there is suffering. Acknowledging that it is there is the first step in overcoming it, but also realizing that it will never go away, until the self is completely negated is to find the truth of Sunyata or emptiness.

Absolute nothingness takes on significance as it actively moves the subject and animates it as its trained intentions begin a new life. In Mahayana Buddhism this would be the “marvelous being” aspect of the key phrase, “true emptiness, marvelous being” which became the central concern of Nishitani Keiji after the 1961 publication of his book What is Religion? (Religion and Nothingness).

The differences between East and West are becoming evermore elided in the homogenization of culture. The Ocean that takes in all the million little droplets, and makes the divisions into Oneness through the hyper-systematization of life is a real threat to singularity. Tuning out and dropping out of the mainstream culture are survival skills.  Lines of flight are meditation practices whereby the dispersion of consciousness, the de-assemblage of the mind into factions can be a necessary tool to see the component parts, the gestalt, the partial objects, that create the possibility of shooting off and creating a counter-hegemonic bloc, an underground. Buddhism is this process. By sitting and silently listening to the mind the subject befriends itself, and disambiguates/extirpates its singularity from the Ocean.  Meditation can rekindle a sense of preservation and worth that is far more valuable than the acquired tokens of consumerism that capitalism can offer as trophies to the select few.  For Buddhism, consciousness, like every other phenomenon (dharma) is empty (sunyata). To be is to live within conditions, to be conditioned, and to respond to this circumstance as an immediate reflux.

As it says in the Upanishads, “you are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny” (Easwaran, 2007, 114). And, in a Lacanian move (pre-dating Lacan and the Moebius Strip and Object Petit A of course) the Upanishads read:

“When all the desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal, When all the knots that strangle the heart are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal, here in this very life” (Ibid, 115).

The knots in desire can be untied through the practice of meditation. Storing up too much trivial junk in the mind happens to bog it down, and knowledge can be circular in nature. What the Upanishads teaches is wisdom, the timeless beliefs that instill the art of living in the subject, something that is sorely lacking in contemporary society, which has lost its bearings in cultural excess and wanton pleasure seeking. The morass of desires in the marketplace is confounding to the subject that seeks enlightenment through simplicity. Meditation offers a stripping down of the mind to its core functions. When it is stripped to a minimalist state then it can truly focus on what lays before it.  The goal being to detach from the tyranny of the past (regret), and the tyranny of the future (anxiety and worry).

In echoing a rather marginal interpretation of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, the famous communist theorist Antonio Negri quipped: “Existence is not a problem.  The immediacy of being reveals itself in non-problematic terms to the pure intellect.  Existence, as such, does not demand definition” (Negri, 2003, 45).  Agency being the nefarious problem as a communist, and rather than pondering the nature of existence, Negri is concerned with reshaping it.  This is the basic premise of Buddhist ontology, and the detachment from ontological theses, to gain self-knowledge and then overcome the stable definitions that placate the brain’s desire to understand existence. With the point being to always yearn to know more, grow more, and develop further. This is why Deleuze and Guattari, time and time again, define ethics as processual, as life advances and progresses, ethical commitments adapt and evolve along as well. The self is never completely stable. Even in stasis the self is becoming static, rather than completely situated.

This frenetic pace of constant and perpetual becoming can be dizzying, which is why there is also a centrifugal core to the self, beyond the metaphysical movements of the material/physical realm (i.e. the realm of nature and objects). Most world religions call this a soul, but in Buddhist ontology, the desire to know thyself is constantly up for grabs. Once a stable self appears, it is to be deconstructed and ultimately surpassed. Even the Buddha is an object towards which detachment is practiced. As the famous Buddhist saying goes, “If the Buddha crosses your path, kill him!”

Tags:
Alain Badiou Antonio Negri Buddha Deleuze Fichte Heidegger Irigaray Jean-Luc Marion Lao Tzu Lyotard Nietzsche Sartre Spinoza Upanishads Wittgenstein Zen
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