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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·16 (the reverse side of Chapter 16·) of Turning Signs, as of 25 November 2021. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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Practice unfolds in the context of all of reality coming forth at this very being-time, which creates a flow of activity not delineated by sharp boundaries of before and after, then and now.— Shinshu Roberts, Being-Time (2018)
The time when continuous practice is manifested is what we call “now.”[next]— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Gyōji’ (Cook 1978, 130)
Enaction means the action of enacting a law, but it also connotes the performance or carrying out of an action more generally. Borrowing the words of the poet Antonio Machado, Varela described enaction as the laying down of a path in walking: “Wanderer, the road is your footsteps, nothing else; you lay down a path in walking” (Varela 1997, p. 63).[next]— Thompson 2007, 13
Dorin replied, ‘Do not do anything evil, do good.’[next]
The statesman said, ‘If so, even a three-year-old child can say this.’
Dorin said, ‘A three-year-old child may be able to say it, but an eighty-year-old man cannot practice it.’— Dogen, ‘Shoaku makusa’ (Cleary 1995, 91)
The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death. The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.— Tao Te Ching 76 (Feng/English)
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.— Samuel Butler, Note-Books
Life teaches us who we are.— Salman Rushdie (quoted in Ledoux 2002)
My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.— Ashleigh Brilliant
All the charictures in the drame!— Finnegans Wake, 302
Who knows whether the present speaker is awake or dreaming?— Zhuangzi 6 (Cleary)
How bootifull and how truetowife of her, when strengly forebidden, to steal our historic presents from the past postpropheticals so as will make us all lordyheirs and ladymaidesses of a pretty nice kettle of fruit. She is livving in our midst of debt and laffing through all plores for us (her birth is uncontrollable!), with a naperon made to mask and her sabboes hikkikking arias (so sair! so solly!) if yous ask me and I saack you. Hou! Hou! Gricks may rise and Troysirs fall (there being two sights for ever a picture) for in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and the world's a cell for citters to cit in.[next]— The Restored Finnegans Wake, 9-10
We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,[next]
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.— Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat's Cradle (p. 267). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.[next]— Paul Valéry, “Recollection”, Collected Works, vol. 1 (1972), tr. David Paul
[next]Gods, men, and asuras – all three descendants of Prajapati – lived with him for a time as students.Then the gods said: ‘Teach us, sir!’ In reply Prajapati uttered one syllable: ‘Da.’ Then he said: ‘Have you understood?’ They answered, ‘Yes, we have understood. You said to us, “Damayata – Be self-controlled.”’ ‘Yes,’ agreed Prajapati, ‘you have understood.’Then the men said: ‘Teach us, sir.’ Prajapati uttered the same syllable: ‘Da.’ Then he said: ‘Have you understood?’ They answered, ‘Yes, we have understood. You said to us, “Datta – Be charitable.”’ ‘Yes,’ agreed Prajapati, ‘you have understood.’Then the asuras said: ‘Teach us, sir.’ Prajapati uttered the same syllable: ‘Da.’ Then he said: ‘Have you understood?’ They said, ‘Yes, we have understood. You told us, “Dayadhwam – Be compassionate.”’ ‘Yes,’ agreed Prajapati, ‘you have understood.’The storm cloud thunders: ‘Da! Da! Da! – Be self-controlled! Be charitable! Be compassionate!’— Prabhavananda and Manchester (1947, 182-3),
In Greek, ἔθος (habit) is θεóς (god) turned inside out.
As Heraclitus put it, ἠθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων. A person's ethos (character, habits, ..... ) is his fate (guiding spirit, ‘luck,’ ..... ). How you habitually behave is the most essential factor determining where life will take you. [next]
When you make your mind one-pointed through regular practice of meditation, you will find the supreme glory of the Lord.How do you make your mind one-pointed through meditation? Religious and spiritual disciplines answer this pragmatic question in as many ways as there are disciplines. Some of them amount to a kind of self-hypnosis for the purpose of attaining some projected state of bodymind or belief. Others practice for the sake of the practice itself. The practice of zazen, for instance, ‘must not – indeed, properly speaking, cannot – be “defiled” by any intention to grasp the practice and put it to use as a means to an end’ (Bielefeldt 1988, 139).— Bhagavad Gita (Easwaran 126)
In his study of ‘the psychology of optimal experience’ (Flow), Csikszentmihalyi found that the optimal experience is autotelic – ‘an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding.’ But the notion of ‘intrinsic reward’ is ambiguous, as shown by some of his examples:
Playing the stock market in order to make money is not an autotelic experience; but playing it in order to prove one's skill at foretelling future events is – even though the outcome in terms of dollars and cents is exactly the same. Teaching children in order to turn them into good citizens is not autotelic, whereas teaching them because one enjoys interacting with children is. What transpires in the two situations is ostensibly identical; what differs is that when the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake; when it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.Although the attention is focused on the activity, the “rewards” here seem to be more intrinsic to the personality of the actor than to ‘the activity for its own sake.’ To prove one's skill is to build up one's reputation or self-esteem, not to lose oneself in the activity as an end in itself. The practitioner of zazen has no interest in proving her skill at it; that would be an ‘intention to grasp the practice,’ perhaps an unconscious intention, but still a ‘defilement.’— Csikszentmihalyi 1990, 67
Regardless of any “rewards,” autotelic work feels more like play to the one engaged in it, because he is focused neither on its consequences nor on himself, but on the practice. The same is true of the optimal experience of art, according to Gadamer (1960, 102):
the work of art is not an object that stands over against a subject for itself. Instead the work of art has its true being in the fact that it becomes an experience that changes the person who experiences it. The ‘subject’ of the experience of art, that which remains and endures, is not the subjectivity of the person who experiences it but the work itself. This is the point at which the mode of being of play becomes significant. For play has its own essence, independent of the consciousness of those who play.
In his 1908 essay on ‘A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God’, Peirce described a meditative practice which is similarly autotelic and playful.
There is a certain agreeable occupation of mind which, from its having no distinctive name, I infer is not as commonly practiced as it deserves to be; for indulged in moderately,—say through some five to six per cent of one's waking time, perhaps during a stroll,—it is refreshing enough more than to repay the expenditure. Because it involves no purpose save that of casting aside all serious purpose, I have sometimes been half-inclined to call it reverie with some qualification; but for a frame of mind so antipodal to vacancy and dreaminess such a designation would be too excruciating a misfit. In fact, it is Pure Play. Now, Play, we all know, is a lively exercise of one's powers. Pure Play has no rules, except this very law of liberty. It bloweth where it listeth. It has no purpose, unless recreation. The particular occupation I mean,—a petite bouchée with the Universes,—may take either the form of aesthetic contemplation, or that of distant castle-building (whether in Spain or within one's own moral training), or that of considering some wonder in one of the Universes, or some connection between two of the three, with speculation concerning its cause. It is this last kind,—I will call it “Musement” on the whole,—that I particularly recommend, because it will in time flower into the N.A.The N.A. or ‘Neglected Argument’ which Peirce refers to here is an unusual one because it doesn't try to “prove” anything, not even to oneself.
One who sits down with the purpose of becoming convinced of the truth of religion is plainly not inquiring in scientific singleness of heart, and must aways suspect himself of reasoning unfairly. So he can never attain the entirety even of a physicist's belief in electrons, although this is avowedly but provisional. But let religious meditation be allowed to grow up spontaneously out of Pure Play without any breach of continuity, and the Muser will retain the perfect candour proper to Musement.
Peirce recognized that cultivating real skill in musement would take considerable time and training. The risks and rewards associated with this task are serious ones. They have to do ultimately with what we will gradually come to mean as living symbols, a meaning that represents our most precious gift to anyone else with whom we engage and interact in a world best conceived as a complex web of semiotic relations.[next]— Raposa 2020, 215
Thoreau's Journal, 10 January 1851:
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of taking walks daily,—not [to] exercise the legs or body merely, nor barely to recruit the spirits, but positively to exercise both body and spirit, and to succeed to the highest and worthiest ends by the abandonment of all specific ends,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering. And this word “saunter,” by the way, is happily derived “from idle people who roved about the country [in the Middle Ages] and asked charity under pretence of going à la Sainte-Terrer,” to the Holy Land, till, perchance, the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds.According to OED, the origin of the word saunter remains obscure. But the point of Thoreau's reference to “the Holy Land” is further developed in his essay ‘Walking,’ (first published a month after he died), which picks up the trail of thought where the Journal entry left off:
… but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.Thoreau's “Holy Land” bears a striking resemblance to the metaphysical “Pole” in Annie Dillard's essay on ‘An Expedition to the Pole’:
The Pole of Relative Inaccessibility is “that imaginary point on the Arctic Ocean farthest from land in any direction.” It is a navigator’s paper point, contrived to console Arctic explorers who, after Peary and Henson reached the North Pole in 1909, had nowhere special to go. There is a Pole of Relative Inaccessibility on the Antarctic continent, also; it is that point of land farthest from salt water in any direction. The Absolute is the Pole of Relative Inaccessibility located in metaphysics. After all, one of the few things we know about the Absolute is that it is relatively inaccessible. It is that point of spirit farthest from every accessible point of spirit in all directions. Like the others, it is a Pole of the Most Trouble. It is also—I take this as given—the Pole of great price.[next]— Dillard (2009, 22)
engaged in tracing out the consequences of understanding the term “natural” or “real class” to mean a class the existence of whose members is due to a common and peculiar final cause. It is, as I was saying, a widespread error to think that a “final cause” is necessarily a purpose. A purpose is merely that form of final cause which is most familiar to our experience. The signification of the phrase “final cause” must be determined by its use in the statement of Aristotle [Metaphysics 44 b1 and 70 b26] that all causation divides into two grand branches, the efficient, or forceful; and the ideal, or final. If we are to conserve the truth of that statement, we must understand by final causation that mode of bringing facts about according to which a general description of result is made to come about, quite irrespective of any compulsion for it to come about in this or that particular way; although the means may be adapted to the end. The general result may be brought about at one time in one way, and at another time in another way. Final causation does not determine in what particular way it is to be brought about, but only that the result shall have a certain general character. Efficient causation, on the other hand, is a compulsion determined by the particular condition of things, and is a compulsion acting to make that situation begin to change in a perfectly determinate way; and what the general character of the result may be in no way concerns the efficient causation. For example, I shoot at an eagle on the wing; and since my purpose,—a special sort of final, or ideal, cause,—is to hit the bird, I do not shoot directly at it, but a little ahead of it, making allowance for the change of place by the time the bullet gets to that distance. So far, it is an affair of final causation. But after the bullet leaves the rifle, the affair is turned over to the stupid efficient causation, and should the eagle make a swoop in another direction, the bullet does not swerve in the least, efficient causation having no regard whatsoever for results, but simply obeying orders blindly.Why is this obedience blind? Because it doesn't allow for learning from experience. When orders can't be questioned, or practice guided by perception, the meaning cycle at the heart of the guidance system is short-circuited. Of course there are situations where obedience is more ethically appropriate than learning, but in the long run, one has to learn to recognize situations in order to choose the ethical response to them. Absolute certainty or trust in authority is likewise blind. Knowledge that can't be tested can't be trusted. A model that can't be modified is not reliable.
Any practice must have a telos, a final cause, but it's the dance of mutual influence between intention and actuality that makes it continuous practice. This practice is not atelic but autotelic: there is no gap between practice and purpose when efficient and final causes cooperate.
Efficient causation is that kind of causation whereby the parts compose the whole; final causation is that kind of causation whereby the whole calls out its parts. Final causation without efficient causation is helpless; mere calling for parts is what a Hotspur, or any man, may do; but they will not come without efficient causation. Efficient causation without final causation, however, is worse than helpless, by far; it is mere chaos; and chaos is not even so much as chaos, without final causation; it is blank nothing.Final cause is not The Cause at the End of the Universe, it is the whole of practice calling out the parts of itself in real time.— Peirce, EP2:124, CP 1.220
As each action is discovered in real time, it uses components that have a dynamic history. Similarly, as the action is performed, it becomes part of the dynamic history of the organism and contributes to the morphology of future actions.The organism is an anticipatory system whose body is its memory. Your brain is busy reading that dynamic history in its current context, the felt sense of the actual world, generating predictions of how practiception will proceed even as prior predictions are modified to meet the contingencies of the moment.— Thelen and Smith (1994, 74)
It is easiest to think of the process in terms of prediction at discrete time-steps. But, in fact, the story we will explore depicts the brain as engaging in a continuous process of sensory prediction in which the target is a kind of rolling present. The line between ‘predicting the present’ and ‘predicting the very-near-future’ is one that simply vanishes once we see the percept itself as a prediction-driven construct that is always rooted in the past (systemic knowledge) and anticipating, at multiple temporal and spatial scales, the future.Peirce's pragmaticism anticipates this aspect of dynamic systems theory in its logical (semiotic) form:— Clark 2015, 18
The rational meaning of every proposition lies in the future. How so? The meaning of a proposition is itself a proposition. Indeed, it is no other than the very proposition of which it is the meaning: it is a translation of it. But of the myriads of forms into which a proposition may be translated, what is that one which is to be called its very meaning? It is, according to the pragmaticist, that form in which the proposition becomes applicable to human conduct, not in these or those special circumstances, nor when one entertains this or that special design, but that form which is most directly applicable to self-control under every situation, and to every purpose. This is why he locates the meaning in future time; for future conduct is the only conduct that is subject to self-control. But in order that that form of the proposition which is to be taken as its meaning should be applicable to every situation and to every purpose upon which the proposition has any bearing, it must be simply the general description of all the experimental phenomena which the assertion of the proposition virtually predicts. For an experimental phenomenon is the fact asserted by the proposition that action of a certain description will have a certain kind of experimental result; and experimental results are the only results that can affect human conduct. No doubt, some unchanging idea may come to influence a man more than it had done; but only because some experience equivalent to an experiment has brought its truth home to him more intimately than before. Whenever a man acts purposively, he acts under a belief in some experimental phenomenon. Consequently, the sum of the experimental phenomena that a proposition implies makes up its entire bearing upon human conduct.— Peirce (EP2:340, CP 5.427)
When all habits (embodied in all systems) express themselves in practice without obstructing each other, indeed by providing context for each other, then the Whole Truth is embodied. [next]
You can't grasp (apprehend) one thing without letting go of another. But you can't really let go of an idea that you haven't pragmatically grasped.
‘Intentions (or real-time goals) prepare for actions, and actions dissipate intentions’ (Lewis and Granic 2000, 49). Marc Lewis suggests that moods are established, and may become entrenched as personality traits, when intentional states persist ‘because no action can be taken to resolve them.’
The way to reverse that entrenchment, then, would be the intentional practice of dropping (letting go of) intentions which have become habitual.
Expect poison from the standing water.[next]— Blake, ‘Proverbs of Hell’
(1) Jesus said, “This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. (2) The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. (3) During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? (4) On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?”What will you do? That's the generic ethical-pragmatic question. As usual in the Gospel of Thomas, we're not given much context for it here, so let's try constructing one that will bring out its pragmatic implications.— Thomas 11 (NHS)
In the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21: 33), Jesus says ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (λόγοι) will not pass away.’ The first sentence of Thomas 11, on the other hand, offers a hierarchy of heavens that will pass away, but no eternal logos. If we put a semiotic spin on this, it could be saying that living semiosis (like the evolution of life) continues into the indefinite future, as every sign falls behind, passing the torch of meaning to its interpretant. The passing away of determinate signs, or of ‘heavens’ as inhabited meaning spaces, is the pressing on of theoretical inquiry toward an ideal Truth, or in practice, living the time toward the yet-undetermined future. All signs will pass away, but there is no life without semiosis.
In her explanation of part 3 of this logion, DeConick (2007a, 79) quotes from Hippolytus a variant saying which ‘may, in fact, represent an earlier version of L. 11.3 than the Coptic translation’: ‘If you ate dead things and made them living, what will you do if you eat living things?’
When you consume what is dead as food, you incorporate it into a living system, and thus ‘make it alive.’ What would it mean, pragmatically, to consume what is alive? You do this, in a sense, when you “consume” living signs to inform the system which guides your practice. What you do next is the energetic interpretant of those signs, and you live ‘in the light’ (or in the ‘heaven’) of this interpretant – until it in turn determines another interpretant, ‘the one above it’ in the semiosic process, which will pass away in its turn, ad infinitum (as Peirce would say). In terms specific to early Christian practice, the signs would be the sacraments of baptism, anointing, and especially the eucharist, ‘eating the living body of Jesus’ (DeConick 79), which act as a purifying ‘light.’
The contrast between eating the dead and eating the living is further developed in the Gospel of Philip, which follows Thomas in Codex II of the Nag Hammadi Library. Here it is Truth which Jesus brought to this world as lifegiving food, replacing the tree of knowledge (‘the law’) which brought death with a new tree of knowledge which ‘has brought people back to life.’
This world eats corpses, and everything eaten in this world also dies. Truth eats life, and no one nourished by [truth] will die. Jesus came from that realm and brought food from there, and he gave [life] to all who wanted it, that they might not die. [God planted] a garden, and humans [lived in the] garden. There are some [who dwell] with… God…. This garden [is where] it will be said to me, “…[ eat] this and do not eat that, [as you] wish.” This is where I shall eat everything, where the tree of knowledge is. That tree killed Adam, but here the tree of knowledge has brought people back to life. That tree was the law. It can give knowledge of good and evil, but it neither freed Adam from evil nor made him good, and it brought death to those who ate of it. For when it was said, “Eat this and do not eat that,” death began.— Gospel of Philip 73, 19 – 74, 12 (NHS)
As for Part 4 of Thomas 11, ‘becoming two’ when you were originally one can surely be taken as a reference to the Fall (from unity into division). Many commentators associate this with the division of the sexes in the Garden of Eden, and DeConick argues that a ‘return to the prelapsarian condition of singleness’ is enacted through celibacy. (This is a classic example of polyversity, since other texts of the time take marriage, or the consummation of marriage, as a primary symbol of reunion!) A pragmatistic interpretation (less metaphoric but more general) could take ‘becoming two’ as “being of two minds” about what to do in some situation, i.e. having to make some practical choice. What will you do? You will have to decide, and then your practice becomes a conscious practice. This adds another layer, another dimension (another ‘heaven’?) to living semiosis.
In this part of Thomas, at least, Jesus seems to value questions over answers. The answer killeth, but the question giveth life. The tone here bears a certain resemblance to that of Dogen's dharma talks, and so does the emphasis on impermanence, on becoming, on being-time (Dogen's ‘uji’).
When one phrase or one verse permeates your body and mind, it becomes a seed for illumination for limitless kalpas, and this brings you to unsurpassable enlightenment. When one dharma or one wholesome action permeates your body and mind, it is also like this. Moment by moment a thought appears and disappears without abiding. Moment by moment a body appears and disappears without abiding. Yet the power of practice always matures.[next]— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Kesa kudoku’ (Tanahashi 2010, 117)
His disciples said to him: ‘Who are you to say this to us?’This saying may reflect the conflicts within early Christianity over its relations with the Jewish community (or parts of it), but mainly it seems to be a variation on the theme of ‘know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:16-20 and 12:35, Luke 6:43-45) – which Peirce identified as the core idea of pragmatism.
‘Do you not realize from what I say to you who I am? But you have become like the Jews! They love the tree, (but) they hate its fruit. Or they love the fruit, (but) they hate the tree.’— Thomas 43 (5G)
Jesus says: ‘Grapes are not harvested from thorns, nor are figs picked from thistles, for they do not produce fruit. A good person brings forth good from his treasure. A bad person brings (forth) evil from the bad treasure that is in his heart, and (in fact) he speaks evil. For out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil.’This is a variation on the pragmatistic theme, where ‘fruit’ stands for practice. For the ‘sons of humanity,’ including Jesus, talk is part of the walk which is an index of the ‘heart.’ Indeed, his sayings are the fruit by means of which his disciples should realize who he is. What Jesus means to you depends on what his sayings mean to you, not on the status assigned to him by convention. [next]— Thomas 45 (5G)
The meaning of a question is the method of answering it: then what is the meaning of ‘Do two men really mean the same by the word “white”?’Suppose we want to know what's meant by the term pragmatism. How would we investigate that?Tell me how you are searching, and I will tell you what you are searching for.— Wittgenstein (1930, III.27)
The term first gained currency in philosophical discourse at the end of the 19th Century, but Peirce (who coined it) regarded ‘pragmatism’ as a much older idea: ‘Any philosophical doctrine that should be completely new could hardly fail to prove completely false; but the rivulets at the head of the river of pragmatism are easily traced back to almost any desired antiquity’ (EP2:398-99).
What the true definition of Pragmatism may be, I find it very hard to say; but in my nature it is a sort of instinctive attraction for living facts.What makes these facts living is that they can surprise us and inspire us (anticipatory systems) to generate new predictions of our interactions with the worlds we inhabit. William James, in Lecture VI of his Pragmatism, defines truth in terms of its functionality in a guidance system:— Peirce, CP 5.64, EP2:158
When a moment in our experience, of any kind whatever, inspires us with a thought that is true, that means that sooner or later we dip by that thought's guidance into the particulars of experience again and make advantageous connexion with them.For James, the ‘advantageous connexion’ between internal guidance system and external reality is a kind of agreement.— James (1907, 575)
Any idea that helps us to deal, whether practically or intellectually, with either the reality or its belongings, that doesn't entangle our progress in frustrations, that fits, in fact, and adapts our life to the reality's whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet the requirement. It will hold true of that reality.As an alternative to his ‘classic’ statement of the ‘pragmatic maxim,’ Peirce offered this alternative in the first of his Harvard lectures:— James (1907, 579)
Pragmatism is the principle that every theoretical judgment expressible in a sentence in the indicative mood is a confused form of thought whose only meaning, if it has any, lies in its tendency to enforce a corresponding practical maxim expressible as a conditional sentence having its apodosis in the imperative mood.According to this principle, then, the ‘practical maxim’ corresponding to a ‘theoretical judgment’ would say “If the situation is thus, do this.”— EP2:134-5
For the pragmatist there is no point in a belief but to organize a life, to guide its actions. Peirce (more than James) emphasized the point that the meaning of a genuine belief is in futuro and can never be exhausted by any number of applications to past or present situations. But whatever really guides your conduct, however implicitly, is as real as the actual practice guided by it. [next]
Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.— Mark Twain (on ‘Party Allegiance,’ 1887)
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.— Paul Tillich
Test yourself on humanity. It makes the doubtful doubt, the believer believe.— Kafka (1936, 176)
In Buddhism, faith means confidence in our and others' abilities to wake up to our deepest capacity for love and understanding.[next]— Thich Nhat Hanh (1995, 12)
As an example of an argument over labels, we might cite a sidebar in Maturana and Varela (1992, 69) on ‘the notion of genetic information,’ where the authors criticize the idea ‘that DNA contains what is necessary to specify a living being.’ Their point here is that the context (the whole ‘autopoietic network’) is necessary to constitute an organism, so no component (such as DNA) is sufficient to do the job. But we can just as well state the point by saying that ‘the genetic information’ must be interpreted by the developmental process which reads it:
… the development of complex organisms depends on the existence of genetic information, which can be copied by template reproduction. Evolution depends on random changes in that genetic information, and the natural selection of those sets of instructions that specify the most successful organisms. But for this to work, the instructions must be interpreted.— Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1999, 3)
The first replicating molecules, whether nucleic acids or something simpler, could not have specified anything, and so could not be said to carry information. They are best thought of simply as replicating structures. Only after the evolution of the translating machinery, and hence of specific proteins coded for by genes, is it sensible to talk of genes carrying information. Information theorists use the phrase ‘information is data plus meaning.’ In biology, the base sequence of nucleic acids provides the data, and the meaning is the structure and function of proteins.— Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1999, 11)
Maturana and Varela's quibble about ‘the notion of genetic information’ arises from a misapplication of the label “information.” Their objection disappears if we define information in a more functional Peircean way (see Chapter 10) or in a Batesonian way as a difference that makes a difference. [next]
We act into the world, and the resulting feedback forms our perception and experience, which then re-forms action as needed.
But on their own, without the guidance of images, actions would not take us far. Good actions need the company of good images. Images allow us to choose among repertoires of previously available patterns of action and optimize the delivery of the chosen action …— Damasio (1999, 23-4)
Francisco Varela, in making a similar point, emphasizes the indeterminacy of what Damasio calls ‘patterns’ by contrasting them with what Varela calls ‘plans’:
Ordinary life is necessarily one of situated agents, continually coming up with what to do faced with ongoing parallel activities in their various perceptuo-motor systems. This continual redefinition of what to do is not at all like a plan selected from a repertoire of potential alternatives; it is enormously dependent on contingency and improvisation, and is more flexible than any plan can be. A situated cognitive entity has – by definition – a perspective. This means that it isn’t related to its environment “objectively,” independently of the system’s location, heading, attitudes, and history. Instead, it relates to it in relation to the perspective established by the constantly emerging properties of the agent itself and in terms of the role such running redefinition plays in the coherence of the entire system.Whether ‘planned’ or not, ‘choosing,’ ‘selection’ and ‘improvisation’ all amount to the actualizing or making explicit of a pattern or ‘image’ which was implicit but not fully determinate within the generic form of a meaning space. Semiotically, that form is iconic.— Varela (1992, 55)
Peirce regards the explication or further determination of such a pattern as the logical evolution of what was implied in the diagram which models the situation. Logically speaking, ‘Everything is involved which can be evolved’ (CP 4.86, 1893): in biosemiotic terms, whatever can be actualized by a living subject is implicit in the relationship of the subject to its current situation, which may be iconically represented by an ‘image’ or ‘model’. In purely mathematical modeling, this explication amounts to the ‘evolution of necessary consequences.’
But how does this evolution of necessary consequences take place? We can answer for ourselves after having worked a while in the logic of relatives. It is not by a simple mental stare, or strain of mental vision. It is by manipulating on paper, or in the fancy, formulæ or other diagrams – experimenting on them, experiencing the thing. Such experience alone evolves the reason hidden within us and as utterly hidden as gold ten feet below ground – and this experience only differs from what usually carries that name in that it brings out the reason hidden within and not the reason of Nature, as do the chemist's or physicist's experiments.Mathematical ‘evolving,’ then, is accomplished by acting into the inner world, experimenting with diagrams and models. The more empirical or ‘positive’ sciences evolve by experimenting with the outer world to explicate ‘the reason of Nature,’ which guides the evolution of the natural world as the internal model guides one's practice. But the theories tested by scientific practice are often evolved mathematically. [next]There is an immense distinction between the Inward and the Outward truth. I know them alike by experimentation only. But the distinction lies in this, that I can glut myself with experiments in the one case, while I find it most troublesome to obtain any that are satisfactory in the other. Over the Inward, I have considerable control, over the Outward very little. It is a question of degree only. Phenomena that inward force puts together appear similar; phenomena that outward force puts together appear contiguous. We can try experiments establishing similarity so easily, that it seems as if we could see through and through that; while contiguity strikes us as a marvel. The young chemist precipitates Prussian blue from two nearly colorless fluids a hundred times over without ceasing to marvel at it. Yet he finds no marvel in the fact that any one precipitate when compared in color with the other seems similar every time. It is quite as much a mystery, in truth, and you can no more get at the heart of it, than you can get at the heart of an onion.But nothing could be more extravagant than to jump to the conclusion that because the distinction between the Inward and the Outward is merely one of how much, therefore it is unimportant; for the distinction between the unimportant and the important is itself purely one of little and much. Now, the difference between the Inward and the Outward worlds is certainly very, very great, with a remarkable absence of intermediate phenomena.— Peirce, CP 4.86-7 (‘The Logic of Quantity’, 1893)
A scientific model is one from which testable predictions can be deduced in the form of conditional propositions. Strictly speaking, truth belongs to propositions, not to models. We can test our predictions by comparing them with the results of our experiments, but we cannot compare a sign with its object, a word with its meaning, or a message with its source.
We can't even compare one model with another, unless some ground of comparison exists which amounts to a more generic model.
It is generally admitted that science is fallible, but often the progress of inquiry is expressed in terms of ‘approximation’ to the truth – as if we could step back and measure how close we were to some absolute reality. This in itself is a model of the process of inquiry, incorporating a more or less mathematical diagram: we imagine ourselves (i.e. our consensus) approaching the truth, in the way that geometrical curve approaches an asymptote (i.e. without ever quite arriving at it).
When a theory works better than previous theories, and has been applied successfully in many situations for a long time, we begin to think of it as a “law of nature.” We have no way of knowing whether some other (as yet unimagined) theory would serve equally well, but if the theory in question seems coherent with other established theories, it gradually becomes integrated into our general model of the world. [next]
Values are part of the modeling process. Anything we can evaluate – approach or avoid, save or condemn, worship or despise – can only be a feature of a model, valued according to its role as a functional part of that model which is its context. We can only evaluate people's conduct in relation to a common (communal) guidance system. To evaluate someone else's model, then, you would have to reduce it to a feature in your own concept of the universal guidance system. But what if each of us sentient beings is a single bodymind doing one's best to make sense of a unique body of experience? Judge not, lest you be judged. [next]
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.— Luke 6:32-6 (RSV); likewise Thomas 95, etc.
Many Christians, if not most, would say that Jesus was the only son of God. But here, Jesus calls upon all of us to be ‘sons of the Most High’ (υἱοὶ ὑψίστου) by practicing his mercy. This compassion is impartial and unlimited, detached from any expectation of its being rewarded or reciprocated. The lending is interest-free. Paradoxically perhaps, this detachment from self-interest is the promised reward.
The oceanic vow of great compassion has no shore or limit, and saves living beings with release from the harbor of suffering.Another Zen text emphasizes detachment from one's judgments of others:— Dogen, EK 4.320
People who really practice the WayThe other side of this coin is detachment from the results of your own actions, as the Bhagavad-Gita teaches:
Do not see the faults of the world;
If you see the errors of others,
Your own error abets them.
If others err but you do not,
Your own error's still faulty.— Hui-neng (Cleary 1998, 23)
The world is in the bonds of action, unless the action is consecration. Let thy actions then be pure, free from the bonds of desire.— Bhagavad-Gita 3:9 (Mascaró)
Actions do not cling to me because I am not attached to their results. Those who understand this and practice it live in freedom.Gandhi, in commenting on the Gita, says ‘If we wish to give up sin, we should give up virtue too. There is possessiveness in clinging even to virtue.’ The practice of detachment comes highly recommended in scriptures ranging from the Vedic to the Bahá'í:— Bhagavad-Gita 4:14 (Easwaran)
Well may he be content to live a hundred years who acts without attachment—who works his work with earnestness, but without desire, not yearning for its fruits—he, and he alone.— Isha Upanishad (Prabhavananda)
Set thy heart upon thy work, but never upon its reward.— Bhagavad-Gita 2:47 (Mascaró)
Make not your deeds as snares wherewith to entrap the object of your aspiration …— Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas ¶36
How do you set your heart upon your work – which, almost by definition, has a purpose – without being attached to its results? It could be compared to a pure scientist (according to the Peircean ideal of scientific inquiry) impartially testing her hypothesis while remaining free of any desire to prove it true. Or you might think of it as ‘controlled folly,’ as Castaneda's Don Juan calls it:
Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him. His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn't; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn't, is in no way part of his concern.Perhaps we can sum it all up with this precept attributed to Zengetsu:— Castaneda 1971
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe.The great law of the universe can also be called the Way of Heaven: ‘The Way of Heaven is impartial’ (Daodejing 79). [next]
One can do one's duty only if one banishes all impatience and anxiety in regard to it.[next]— Gandhi (1926, 73)
To really believe it is to belive it.
In Dogen's practice-enlightenment the whole mind is physically realized, and the whole body psychically realized. Now realization continues by dropping off bodymind.
Practice so that there is no Zen in the world of Zen, and to be clear that you have no desires within the world of desire. Throughout the entire world, there is no one who understands Buddha Dharma.—Dogen, EK 4.301
Active buddhas alone fully experience the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha.[next]— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Gyobutsu Iigi’ (BT 79)
Consider for instance the mindfulness which is central to Buddhist practice.
Over the years and throughout various cultures, many techniques and systems of Buddhist practice have been developed … but the essence of awakening is always the same: to see clearly and directly the truth of our experience in each moment, to be aware, to be mindful. This practice is a systematic development and opening of awareness called by the Buddha the four foundations of mindfulness: awareness of the body, awareness of feelings, awareness of mental phenomena, and awareness of truths, of the laws of experience.Awareness of general truths is awareness that they reveal themselves variously in specific phenomena. Laws of experience, or of nature, are legisigns (Peirce), and have their being in futuro, since they continue to govern the unfolding of experience as of phenomenal events. Awareness in each moment takes time because each moment takes time, just as time takes mind.— Jack Kornfield (Smith 1999, 32)
Right mindfulness accepts everything without judging or reacting. It is inclusive and loving. The Sanskrit word for mindfulness, smriti, means ‘remember.’ Mindfulness is remembering to come back to the present moment. The character the Chinese use for ‘mindfulness’ has two parts: the upper part means ‘now,’ and the lower part means ‘mind’ or ‘heart.’— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 64)
Mindfulness is the substance of a Buddha.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1995, 15)
Mindfulness is re-membering what has been dismembered. The Arabic term dhikr, often translated ‘remembrance,’ is an Islamic equivalent to smriti, and a Christian version is the Greek metanoia (often translated ‘repentance’) (Frye 1982, 130). All refer to a kind of resurrection, a coming back to life, a return to presence.
In the ‘kingdom’ the eternal and infinite are not time and space made endless (they are endless already) but are the now and here made real, an actual present and an actual presence. Time vanishes in Jesus' ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58); space vanishes when we are told … that the kingdom is entos hymon (Luke 17:21), which may mean among you or in you, but in either case means here, not there.How could you remember to come back to presence if memory were not already a mode of presence? But then – felix culpa! – how could we return if we had never left? In order to remember we must first forget.— Frye (1982, 130)
You can't catch up with time. That's the bad news. The good news is that you don't need to catch up with time, because it's carried you all along, and it doesn't run ahead of living. Neither is it after us, or holding us. We can only bear withness to it. [next]
Rumi uses alchemy as an analogy. The theories behind the transmutation of metal as learned from a teacher or a book are like the laws of religion. One needs to know these before one can begin walking down the path, but one only comes to see how the theory applies to real life as one walks the Sufi path. It is in the experience of the spiritual path that we actually apply the chemical agents to the metal, as it were. Only by following the path to the end can we turn the actual copper into gold and attain the truth.
The turning signs here begin as alchemical symbols but end in a transformation of practice. A similar point, perhaps, is made in Matthew 19.16-17:
And, behold, one came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And he said unto him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’(RSV)
There is one life that is good, not one deed that buys you eternal life. To make that one life yours takes continuous practice, incorporating many ‘commandments’ at once for the sake of that life itself and not for some future reward. This passage in Matthew subtly diverts the seeker's attention from the “teacher” as representative of eternal life to the seeker's own enactment of it. The Gospel of Thomas is much more emphatic on this point.
A woman from the crowd said to him, ‘Blessed are the womb which bore you and the breasts which nourished you.’ He said to her, ‘Blessed are those who have heard the word of the father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, “Blessed are the womb which has not conceived and the breasts which have not given milk.”’The first two verses here are almost identical to Luke 11:27-8. What does it mean to keep the word (logos)? Both the English ‘keep’ and the Greek word for ‘those who keep’ (phylassontes) might suggest guarding it, defending it, keeping it safe. But for a pragmatist, the blessed are those who practice the word, not those who treat it like a possession or a “creed.” It is only through practice that the word as precept can be kept alive, because that is its only means of modifying itself to maintain its intimacy with current situations. Those whose first priority is to guard the logos often end up guarding it against any change, i.e. guarding the text against its own meaning.— Thomas 79 (Lambdin)
The final verse in Thomas 79 throws cold water on the worshipful euphoria of the woman from the crowd, as if to say that sustained practice, and not the fleeting feeling that “life is good,” is the presence of real life. [next]
(1) Jesus said, “The Father’s kingdom is like a person who wanted to put someone powerful to death. (2) While at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. (3) Then he killed the powerful one.”The ‘person’ here is taking a typical ascetic path: like an athlete, he practices in order to enhance his performance (or perhaps to ‘psych himself up’ for it, as the saying goes). Perhaps the ‘powerful person’ is the ego, the selfish self, which the primal person who embodies the ‘kingdom’ has to become ruthless enough to kill. The connection between the kingdom of heaven and violence is also made in Q; Luke 16:16 says that ‘every one enters it violently’ (RSV). But this parable illustrating the point is unique to Thomas. Perhaps it parallels the Zen saying, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!’ The point is that anyone who would realize the buddha-nature, or ‘actualize the fundamental point’ as Dogen put it, requires a steely singlemindedness. Valantasis (1997, 179) comments that ‘seekers, fighting the world and its ways to the end, must test their metal’ – or test their mettle, a word meaning (roughly) ‘spirit’ which was ‘originally the same word as metal’ (OED) – a striking case of linguistic divergence from a common root.— Thomas 98 (NHS)
This is not the only saying in Thomas which bears a remarkable resemblance to Zen sayings and stories. Take the immediately preceding one, for instance:
Jesus said, ‘The [father's] kingdom is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She did not know it; she had not noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty.’The story here resembles that of Mugai Nyodai, who was carrying a bucket of water when the bottom suddenly dropped out of it, whereupon she was enlightened. (She later established the first Buddhist temple for women in Japan.) In her story we have water dropping out suddenly rather than flour leaking out gradually, but in each case the result is a sudden discovery of emptiness. Does enlightenment ‘just come’ to you, or do you have to work toward it? Here the answer is ‘Both’ – although you may not know that you are working, or what you are working toward. And in both cases it's clear that enlightenment is a lightening of the load. You get the point of all your reading at the moment when you let go of all the weighty texts you've been carrying around, when you stop weighting. Nothing can match emptiness for portability.— Thomas 97 (Meyer)
In other ways, however, Saying 98 is far from the spirit of Zen, which is not generally friendly to practice in the sense of ‘rehearsal’ or preparation for some later achievement. Some other sayings in Thomas also seem to recommend anticipating some future crisis – 103, for instance:
Jesus said, ‘Blessings on the person who knows at what point the robbers are going to enter, so that [he] may arise, bring together his estate, and arm himself before they enter.’As in Saying 21.5 (quoted in Chapter 15), the question here is whether the person is preparing himself to resist the robbery or not. We would probably assume that the advice is aimed at prevention, if it weren't for the context in this Gospel and the parallels in other scriptures, where the expected ‘robbery’ is the coming return of the ‘son of man,’ Jesus himself (Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:39, Revelation 3:3 and 16:15, 2 Peter 3:10). In that case, the point is that if you know just where the bubble of cognition is going to be opened up by revelation (see Chapter 6), you will be ready to welcome and assist the opening, and perhaps also to foster the re-closure of the newly expanded bubble.— Thomas 103 (Meyer)
He said, ‘There was a good man who owned a vineyard. He leased it to tenant farmers so that they might work it and he might collect the produce from them. He sent his servant so that the tenants might give him the produce of the vineyard. They seized his servant and beat him, all but killing him. The servant went back and told his master. The master said, “Perhaps he did not recognize them.” He sent another servant. The tenants beat this one as well. Then the owner sent his son and said, “Perhaps they will show respect to my son.” Because the tenants knew that it was he who was the heir to the vineyard, they seized him and killed him. Let him who has ears hear.’Perhaps the most startling thing about this story is the abrupt ending, or rather lack of the ending we find in other versions of the same parable: in Mark 12:9, Matthew 21:40-41, and Luke 20:15-16, we are assured that the wicked tenants will receive their just punishment. All three synoptic Gospels place the story in a context which invites a specific reading: the vineyard owner represents God, the tenants represent the religious establishment, and of course Jesus is the son of God, soon to be killed by the powers that be. But such an interpretation is not at home in Thomas, where Jesus is not said to be God's only son. The omission of the ending in Thomas could be written off as accidental or careless, but this seems unlikely, considering that the very next saying in Thomas is the same one that follows up this parable in the other three Gospels:
Jesus said, ‘Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone.’To make sense of Thomas 65, then, we need a different context and reading from what we find in the other Gospels. The problem is that if we think of the vineyard's owner as a human (rather than an inscrutable God), then he appears to be a rather slow learner, not to mention ineffectual (as Davies 2002 points out). But perhaps this fallibility is itself the point of the parable; perhaps we can learn from the owner's error, which was to absent himself from production of the fruits of the vineyard.— Thomas 66 (Lambdin)
Suppose you think of the vineyard as your everyday practice, which should be guided by the meaning of scripture (which Thomas from the beginning challenges you to find). According to Thomas 2, the authentic seeker eventually finds himself ‘king over the All.’ This happens when you realize that this world is your world (Chapter 4) – as Thomas Traherne put it,
You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.Later on, though, you may become complacent or absent-minded, and turn over your guidance system to habits or projects uninformed by actual experience or living semiosis. Then your habits are not really your own any more; they are like tenants of your body, and of course the ego is the worst tenant of them all. In this context, Thomas 65 would be warning you that habits are greedy and addictive, so if you turn your life over to them, you will have a hard time getting it back. These ghosts do not realize that they are ‘heirs of the whole world’ and are therefore jealous of the ‘children of the living Father’ (Thomas 3), who do realize it. So they are grimly (even lethally) determined to hold on to whatever part of your life they can get a grip on. Put your life on automatic pilot, turn it over to your ego-self, and you may lose your wholeness, just as the son in the parable lost his life. Punishing the wicked tenants won't redeem the situation, either; the only solution is to quit acting like an absentee landlord – inhabit the living body, live the time.— (The First Century, 29)
The preceding parable in Thomas, Saying 64 (which also has its parallels in the synoptic Gospels), could be taken as a warning that business – being occupied all the time with buying and selling, profit and loss, or even with social obligations – is no substitute for living the time:
Jesus said, ‘A person was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite the guests.
The servant went to the first and said to that one, “My master invites you.”
That person said, “Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I must go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.”
The servant went to another and said to that one, “My master has invited you.”
That person said to the servant, “I have just bought a house and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time.”
The servant went to another and said to that one, “My master invites you.” He said to him, “My friend is to be married and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner.”
The servant went to another and said to that one, “My master invites you.”
That person said to the servant, “I have bought an estate and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me.”
The servant returned and said to his master, “The people whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused.”
The master said to his servant, “Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.”
Buyers and merchants [will] not enter the places of my father.’— Thomas 64 (Meyer)
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