In INNER KNOWLEDGE by James Corrigan1 Comment


Because what is real must be simple, it must be nondual. This nondual oneness of reality is the great mystery at the heart of all things. It’s why people who talk about it are called mystics and what they’re talking about is called mysticism. You might think that saying non-dual or One captures reality, but it doesn’t at all. That expression I used above when describing my experience as a young man, unseen loving light, fails to capture what was, at that moment, and similarly, non-dual and One fails to capture what is real.

The best explanation of why that is, that I’ve ever read, is from a 3rd Century Neo-Platonic mystic named Plotinus. I’ll quote what he said, but don’t get lost in it. Why? Because it is often more helpful to use a visual or allegorical depiction when dealing with a difficult subject such as that of the nonduality of reality. Speaking of the nature of reality necessarily introduces errors that cannot be overcome, unless one uses a technique designed to mitigate such structural errors which are introduced by everyday dualistic language, since all language is unsuited for metaphysical and spiritual discourse in the sense that it was created for the marketplace, according to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

One such technique used almost universally by mystics is apophasis, which means unsaying or saying away. In apophasis all statements are signs in a most indeterminate way, since they are used to point to that which can only be apprehended in a flash of illumination, or gnosis. It must be noted that apophasis is a linguistic performance and is different in intent than apophatic, or negative theological statements, with which it is frequently confused. Those kinds of statements say what something isn’t. That’s not what is going on in the quote below in which Plotinus explains the problem that necessitates his use of apophasis in this section from his “Enneads:”

“Since the substance which is generated from the One is form one could not say that what is generated from that source is anything else – and not the form of some one thing but of everything, so that no other form is left outside it, the One must be without form. But if it is without form it is not a substance; for a substance must be some one particular thing, something, that is, defined and limited; but it is impossible to apprehend the One as a particular thing: for then it would not be the principle, but only that particular thing which you said it was. But if all things are in that which is generated from the One, which of the things in it are you going to say that the One is? Since it is none of them, it can only be said to be beyond them. But these things are beings, and being: so it is beyond being.

“This phrase beyond being does not mean that it is a particular thing, for it makes no positive statement about it, and it does not say its name, but all it implies is that it is not this. But if this is what the phrase does, it in no way comprehends the One: it would be absurd to seek to comprehend that boundless nature; for anyone who wants to do this has put himself out of the way of following at all, even the least distance, in its traces; but just as he who wishes to see the intelligible nature will contemplate what is beyond the perceptible if he has no mental image of the perceptible, so he who wishes to contemplate what is beyond the intelligible will contemplate it when he has let all the intelligible go; he will learn that it is by means of the intelligible, but what it is like by letting the intelligible go.

“But this, what it is like must indicate that it is not like: for there is no being like in what is not a something. But we in our aporia, complete befuddlement, do not know what we ought to say, and are speaking of what cannot be spoken, and give it a name because we want to indicate it to ourselves as best we can. But perhaps this name One contains only a denial of multiplicity. This is why the Pythagoreans symbolically indicated it to each other by the name Apollo, in the negation of the multiple. But if the One, name and reality expressed, was to be taken positively it would be less clear than if we did not give it a name at all.”

The second guide I have adopted, is to see a kind of event horizon between the real and what exists. It’s an expression taken from Science where it is used to explain an hypothesized character of Black Holes. An horizon, as we all have or can experience, hides what is over the horizon from us. In the case of the expression event horizon, what I mean is that experience, which is easily analyzed into events, something we do all the time, still doesn’t show us what is over the horizon because the other side of that horizon cannot be directly experienced.

As Plotinus mentions, the intelligible must be let go of, if one is to reach enlightenment, in the same way that in order to reach the nature of the intelligible, one must meditate in a way that is free of all mental formations, mental images of independent things. What is the intelligible? Why, all experience, of course! Including all our theories, hypotheses, dogmatic assertions, and mental attempts to seize something that can never be within reach. We cannot understand what does not exist. But we can accept the reality of that which is evidenced, necessary, simple, and not contingent on anything for reality.

Yes, this is mystical. And that may grate our Western mindset even if we think we are better than that. We do so love our terminology! There will still be those that believe that they have the final answer to the riddle. But I learned from the example of Aristotle, renowned as The Philosopher in Western history, who, always looking to the material world for what was real, in the end realized that the only answer his exquisite powers of observation and reasoning could arrive at, was that God put everything in motion.

He failed. Why? Because he was trying to do something that is impossible. Not beyond our abilities; just impossible. He was holding onto the intelligible, searching for The Answer that he thought was there somewhere, and because he thought of Nature as an actor that had to be put into motion somehow. He also thought reality was populated with substantial entities, so he didn’t need to distinguish between what’s real and what exists. He didn’t realize that naturing is possible without a nature doing it, and that there was no need for the answer to why there is something, rather than nothing, there just is, and you and I cannot deny it, because in doing so, we affirm it. Nor can we point to a Nature that truly exists. It’s just idea that we have.

The tricky part is letting go of all those mental formations. There comes a point, the event horizon, when language, and ideas, just obfuscates our way completely. Which leads me to the point of this essay: What is known can only be known by appearing, in showing up the knowable is known. It’s that simple. But we are not the ones knowing. Let me explain this insight. If there is no observer and no true entities to be observed, then knowing cannot originate on this side of the event horizon which consists of that which exists, and therefore knowing cannot be structured as a seizing hold of, or grasping with awareness which is dualistic in the sense of involving a perceiver and the perceived a consciousness.

Frankly, there really can’t be any awareness on this side at all, which might explain why scientists can’t find it, but even speaking of awareness or knowing causes dualistic understandings to slip in because awareness is usually understood as being aware of something, as is knowing. This imputes a perspective into our understanding that is misleading and wrong. We may not see it as a perspective because we have removed the illusory me and you and it, so that it is now a perspective from nowhere; but that is still a perspective, and thus is still wrong.

This view from nowhere is widely found in science, where it is the basis for objectivity. But that kind of structural perspective can’t be real because it exists in experience. So this is my third guide: no views from nowhere. Any explanation that permits such a view to creep in, is defective in at least that way. This fundamental problem we have to confront, these perspectives, is exemplified by our tendency to speak of mind and body. This is yet another dualistic distinction we make because of our habitual failure to recognize our true nature, and that there is no entity in body, nor in mind, nor in the whole of both. Everything we think of, feel, and perceive is also lacking any independent reality. I could not, and I believe, nor can you, ignore what becomes so clear in deep meditation, that there is nothing other than this spontaneously creative naturing going on, and that is the true essence of Reality.

What we think of as mind or Mind is just the spontaneously creative naturing of forms, feelings, perceptions, consciousnesses, and mental constructions, the five Buddhist skandhas. We confuse the naturing of what exists with a mind that we lay claim to having, which finally dissolves in the clear light of meditative insight. Yet, if we adjust for the lack of an entity that we can call our mind, calling it instead, and grandly doing so, Mind, that is again a misconstrual of what is the case, because we think that Mind also knows or is aware in a conceptually dualistic sense, in most cases.

Naturing is not limited to the internal skandhas. Everything that exists has the same origin. This includes all forms: including the five skandhas, mountains, planets, galaxies, hummingbirds, trees, bacteria, quantum particles, wind fluttering leaves on a tree, a musical note, a kiss, a thought, etc. There is no mind entity in reality, neither is there a Nature entity. There is no place for knowledge to reside. That which is known is not known through cognizing in an awareness of sense, as if through reflection or contemplation of something, but directly through naturing. It’s the great mystery, of course.

I can think of an allegory to help you get over the initial difficulty that occurs as you try to swallow this argument, if you are hearing it before actually experiencing it: it’s something called the Piezo Electric effect. You make use of it all the time, in microphones, earbuds, even old phonograph pickups, as well as the clickers that ignite gas stoves today. A certain kind of crystal can create an electric field when sound vibrations strike it, causing it to slightly compress its structure. This is how a microphone works. The same crystal can vibrate and thus create sounds, when an electric current is passed through it. This is how earbuds work. In fact, the same crystal can be deformed in such a strong way by a large enough force that it can produce an electric spark in the kilovolt range. Using a small piston to strike the crystal is how a stove clicker works to create a spark. Think of the electric field as knowing and the crystal deformations as the known. They are not two things, they are the same process.

In a way, this allegory sits on the top of every Buddhist stupa in the form of the sun and moon, the Bindu-Nada void-point and vibrational emanation that our brains interpret as sound and which is the support of my meditation. I can only imagine what stupas would look like today, if they had had earbuds back in the day.

About the Author

James Corrigan

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James is a writer, philosopher, contemplative practitioner and theorist, living in the Dordogne region of France, where he runs a Bed & Breakfast. He was formerly a software engineer in New York, as well as a university professor of philosophy where he taught Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Nature, and meditation. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Photos by Cindy Grundsten, Sweden.

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  1. Your text is brilliant and simple. Even if requiring a lot of atention to really grasp the deepness you expose here, a flow of ‘lightheartedness’ is always there to hold our hands and keep us riding on! There is Love in your words. And everything is wide and full of a real knowledge about what is being touched. Amazing how in a single text you can melt Plotino, Aristotle and Science in the same pot and bring it so clear and pleasent. Read this is like to be leaded by a conductor that can take the best from his musicians. Today you made my soul sing a little higher! Thank you for this kindness, James Corrigan!

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