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New Wine, New Bottles:
Nondual Experience as a Mark of Human Progress

Terry Murphy

Matthew Files said the following a while back, and I have been thinking about it...and would like to respond...

for christ sake man, 90% of the nonsense posted to
(unknown) site has nothing to do with the nondual experience. And besides lets not make too big a deal of the NDE (near death experience) because it really just isn't that big of a deal. In fact most people have had that experience. Lot of fucking good it did them, given that the suffering of mankind hasn't changed a lick since the begining (whenever that was). And despite all the mystical experiences and presumed(and i do mean presumed) enlightenment and being "free" going around, the human race is still plunging headlong into oblivion suffering all the while. Certainly no one on this site actually believes that the human race is becoming more enlightened, or realized or any such malarky. Just keep believing those fantasies about everything being just as it should be, that it's all perfect already. At least you'll be happy when you die.Asleep, unconscious, sufferring, but happy. Ignorance is bliss after all. .................god, i love this shit, --matthew

"Ignorance is bliss after all," the man says. While I think it is good to challenge the conventional wisdom now and then, if only to engage its defenders in dialog, I can't really agree with this. And it is certainly presumptuous to assert that no one on the list thinks otherwise than 'ignorance is bliss.'

Zennists have often made the statement, 'the passions are enlightenment' and 'samsara is nirvana.' Their point was to defend the NDE, to promote mystical experiences, to facilitate human spiritual progress. If a zennist were to say 'ignorance is bliss' it would be to point out that ignorance, which leads to unhappiness, to falling into the ditches of stupidity or over-intellectualism, nihilism or eternalism, cannot be entirely detached, in the nondual experience, from bliss, which is the result of the insight that divinity/life/love animates every particle of our perceived universe.

What matthew is doing is separating the insight that ignorance and bliss are on the same continuum and inseparable, from the nondual experience which is what enables us to perceive the truth of the statement. He is separating two things which are identical.

If Matthew is actually supporting the statement 'ignorance is bliss' in the conventional dual sense, then he is simply promoting ignorance, which is foolish on its face. It is a reasonably clever way to confuse people, or to point out that logic is not their strong suits. And I tend to see this as intentionally clever rather than intentionally ignorant, which is a contradiction in terms.

For the sake of those who have difficulty unraveling the truth from the clever use of words, I'll play the straight man here for a change and defend the view that the nondual experience is indeed a mark of human progress toward enlightenment, freedom, and a healthy and sane world. That all the mystical experiences going around *are* a sign that the human race is becoming more free, and that most of us actually do buy into this at some level, because we are good people trying to do the right thing.

To begin with, to the extent that there is any philosophical basis to this view it is one of 'pragmatism.' William James wrote a book called 'Pragmatism' and he explains that the value of philosphy is in the way it changes our behavior. In other words, a 'good' philosphy is one which supports goodness in human beings. We can *believe* anything we want to believe, but we are most likely to be happy if we believe that which supports a loving, happy attitude. If you want to believe that aliens have landed and are doling out nondual experiences in order to create happier people, fine; it is a 'better' philosphy than believing that man is no better than a virus, mindlessly destroying its host, or that we are like fleas on a dead dog, waiting for the dog's complete decomposition to be totally without the resources we need to live.

The buddha was a pragmatist, who recognized that 'being good' was the Path to happiness. He was unconcerned with whether this view or that view was in itself true, and concerned himself with methodology (soteriology) rather than philosophy. If the word 'ignorance' has a practical meaning, it refers to a mental condition which leads to making choices which deny or ignore the likelihood of negative outcomes. The Buddha had rules (the vinaya) for his monks, and precepts for the lay persons. These rules and precepts were practical instructions on how to behave in order to ensure the long-term happiness of those who practiced them. From this pragmatic, practical standpoint, 'ignorance' is not bliss, it is stupid; it compounds foolishness to actually know better and still engage in behaviors which bring about misery.

The nondual experience, which mirrors the Buddha's own experience of Nirvana in his Enlightenment, was the inspiration for the Buddha's many years of preaching the good path to the simple people he met along the way as he traveled about. Recognizing that individual human beings have many different degrees of knowledge and insight, he used 'skillful means' to help each individual in a pragmatic way to *progress* to their own next step.

So the *idea* of progress is a practical one. The NDE is insight into the nature of Reality itself, and underlies all concepts. There is no 'progress' in the ultimate sense, as the idea of progress assumes such notions as time, which don't exist in the NDE. To say that an acorn growing into an oak tree is an example of progress is purely a practical matter; the acorn may be no happier or better as a seedling, a sapling, or a mature tree, they are simply stages of growth. Similarly, the baby progresses into a child, an adolescent, an adult. We may even think that we were happier as children, in our 'ignorance' (which is actually innocence), but this ignores the fact that growth is inevitable, necessary, natural.

And so the human race also progresses, growing into a mature species from an immature one. Clearly we are at a stage which involves the necessity of further evolution. Change is inevitable, there is no possibility that our current economy and population, based as it is on the using up of finite resources, will stabilize in its current condition. We may either become careful stewards of our common home, the earth, or we may blow it all up. We can live in peace and harmony for an extended period of time, millions of years, or we may die quickly or slowly by any number of means, including accident.

The *pragmatic* view is that we will use our best elements, our insight into the interrelationships of all life and the environment, to 'progress' to a sustainable, happy 'way of life.' You can believe that we are a cancer on the planet, that we are horrors pure and simple, but why would anyone want to believe that? Given a choice - and we do have a choice - let us believe in fundamental human goodness, as did the buddha, and taoism, or any surviving religion. These views survive because they have a practical survival value.

The NDE removes the fear from life, once we have integrated it into our daily consciousness, because we no longer need to worry about 'progress' or 'death' or anything else. Ultimately, things will be fine, whether the human race survives or it doesn't. But it also has a number of practical implications.

The NDE undermines selfishness, as we have insight into the interrelatedness of all things. It undermines worry and fear. It removes many of the obstacles to being good by eliminating any desire for ignorance; when everything is fine, there is no need to hide from the truth, we can accept reality the way it is, and work with it in the most practical manner. So I would say the non-dual experience, which it is apparent is becoming more widespread, is a good thing and an example of human progress.

Matthew may be right that the human race is headed toward some apocalyptic denoument, but to characterize it as 'oblivion' is a bit strong. Eventually even the sun will burn out, but we may have quite a few hundred million years before that happens. It may be that we are due for some dramatic changes, where perhaps 90% of the human population will die, a repeat of the Deluge; such a pruning back of the human tree may be desirable for the planet and even for our own species.

There have been groups, the Edgar Cayce types, theosophists and so on, who see a lot of 'old souls' being incarnated in these 'last days' before some sort of apocalypse ushers in a new millenium. Perhaps they are right (hey, its no accident I live at the 800 foot level on the largest, least-populated island in the world's remotest archipelago). Even so, the emerging of many individuals with true insight into the Real nature of things may be what the human race needs to rise again from the ashes of its former, materialistic civilization.

New wine in new bottles.

To conclude, I think it is pragmatic to take a positive view of human evolution, and to regard the proliferation of NDE's as a sign of 'progress,' of advancing maturity and the emergence of the values that may help our species survive the challenges it faces. We may see great losses of life and material, but if our best values survive intact, we may collectively be able to build on the ashes of ignorance a lasting civilization. Insight into truth (NDE's) will be what sets us free to make the best of what we have coming to us. And at least some of us on this list are not content to be blissfully ignorant.