Monday, September 3, 2018

Clash of Worldviews: Ego and Enlightenment

MODERATOR: Welcome to Clash of Worldviews, the show that subjects conventional wisdom to rude philosophical scrutiny. This evening we have with us in-studio famed spiritual teacher, motivational speaker and author, Ludwig Toll. And joining us by phone from an undisclosed location is escaped mental patient, underground philosopher, and secret society leader, Jurgen Schulze. Our topic is the role of the ego in enlightening ourselves. Ludwig, perhaps you could start us off by telling us what the ego is.

TOLL: Well, the ego is the illusion of our personal self, otherwise known as the mind which is distinct from awareness or consciousness. Awareness is the space in which the mind’s thoughts happen, and the real world is always happening Now in each moment of selfless awareness. The ego is built on delusions of self-control sustained by the ceaseless chatter that goes on in our head, by that noisy monkey on our back which psychologists call our “narrative self.” We think we’re isolated, liberated beings who dominate the world by our powers of reason. We plan for the future and we flee to our memories of the past, but as even physicists tell us, time exists only in our mind’s limited perspective. Moreover, we’re burdened by our emotional attachment to a host of unpleasant memories. Our ego traumatizes us by basing our pride in ourselves on how we’ve managed to overcome past failures or disasters. As unenlightened creatures, we cling to flattering stories that explain away the pain we feel from our attachment to the ego, where the ego consists of all our mental constructions, including our memories and plans. This “pain body,” as I call it, is like a constant weight on our backs. Instead of deceiving ourselves for fleeting moments of comfort, we should learn to identify with background consciousness, to end our fascination with our thoughts of the past and the future, and to awaken to the stillness of the Now.

MODERATOR: So you’d say we should dissolve our ego?

TOLL: That’s what enlightenment is, according to the world’s spiritual traditions—although organized religions often betray those traditions and promote personal attachments as the institutions compete for earthly power. But yes, as Stoics and Buddhists teach, for example, seeing through the illusion of the ego is how we can end our suffering. We become happy when we cease craving that which can’t be, because our personal plans arise from the delusion of our autonomy and mental greatness, and we cease our cravings when we step outside the confines of our mind, as it were, and into the Now of holistic conscious awareness. When we discern that our personal self is a mere construct of consciousness that coexists with everything else in our field of awareness, from a cricket’s chirping to the light glinting off a leaf, we’re no longer trapped in a myopic viewpoint that’s bound to disappoint.

MODERATOR: Jurgen, how do you understand the ego?

SCHULZE: Good question! But why don’t you ask Mr. Toll if he understands the ego.

MODERATOR: Uh, alright. Ludwig Toll, how about it? Do you understand the ego?

TOLL: Mr. Schulze evidently means to trap me. You see, understanding something is a mental activity, so if I say I understand what the ego is, I’m contradicting myself by identifying with my rational processes.

SCHULZE: So you admit that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. 

TOLL: If by “understand,” you mean to ask whether I participate in the egoic game of brandishing some pet theory in competition with other peoples thoughts, then no. I became enlightened some years ago when I discovered I could stop identifying with my mind.

SCHULZE: So you don’t have a theory or a mental model of what the ego is.

TOLL: My brain still produces mental constructs, but I no longer identify with them because I dwell in the Now of conscious awareness.

SCHULZE: So you’re not committed, then, to these spiritual teachings you’ve presented us with?

TOLL: I’m spiritually, not mentally committed to them. My experience has confirmed their truth, because the dissolution of my ego has made me happy. But I no longer interpret truth from the ego’s reason-centric perspective.

SCHULZE: And you’re speaking to us in grammatical sentences, using conceptions symbolized by English words. For example, you define “ego” as one thing rather than something else, whereas, I take it, raw consciousness would perceive everything as some transcendent unity. I suppose, then, you’re just doing us the courtesy of stooping to our level, like a Bodhisattva who hasn’t yet turned away from the world in full “enlightenment.”

TOLL: My body breathes with no need for deliberation or personal control. Likewise, my body speaks automatically, my thoughts and words flowing not from egoic misapprehensions but from my experience of the ultimate reality of the nowness of conscious awareness.

SCHULZE: Actually, breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, whereas linguistic communication is a highly deliberate process and is indeed identical with the human way of thinking. The mind thinks in language, so there is no non-mental use of language. For example, the “speaking-in-tongues” gibberish you’ll hear at a Pentecostal church is a con. So that was a specious analogy, comparing speaking to breathing. But that needn’t concern Mr. Toll, because he isn’t interested in being rational. This denigration of mentality and rationality is the perfect cover for a petty cult leader. I, too, lead what the mainstream media consider a cult, the difference being that my secret society doesn’t rest on a transparent ruse, that my philosophy isn’t so clich├ęd as to be shaken by a few minutes of scrutiny.

TOLL: I don’t claim to be fully awakened like the Buddha. So yes, I resort to speaking to help others find happiness.

SCHULZE: Happiness as the absence of suffering in the reality of selfless awareness of what’s immediately present, correct?

TOLL: Right. You, too, can find peace if only you give up your illusion of personal victories and losses, and surrender to what’s really happening in each moment.

SCHULZE: And what’s really happening?

TOLL: Reality is unspeakable, as you pointed out. To put conscious experience into words is to distort it for personal consumption.

SCHULZE: So you don’t know what reality is, then, in all its unified glory.

TOLL: I feel that unity when I’m content to let my awareness of the world speak for itself, without my trying to carve up my experience into concepts and models and stratagems.

SCHULZE: So in your “higher” state of consciousness you must experience the world like an infant. Is an infant enlightened?

TOLL: Uh, well…

SCHULZE: An infant has no personal or mental identity, because its brain hasn’t yet formed the capacities for language, reasoning, planning, and so on. Are you recommending that we be like infants?

TOLL: Perhaps infants are enlightened. Jesus said, after all, that children are most prepared to enter the kingdom of God.

SCHULZE: An infant perceives not the unity of anything, but only chaotic blobs of colour and near-meaningless noises. That’s why infants cry all the time, because they don’t understand much of anything and like all animals they’re scared of the unknown; their mindlessness makes them helpless and dependent.

TOLL: Infants are indeed selfish beings, although they don’t know any better.

SCHULZE: How, then, is your so-called living in the Now different from viewing the world like an infant?

TOLL: I experience those noises and blobs of colour without surrendering to the biological compulsion to protect a narrow version of myself.

SCHULZE: So someone living in the Now perceives not a leaf, after all, but only meaningless blobs of colour that merge with all the surrounding blobs, and you don’t understand what the whole of those blobs might be, nor can you put the truth of that unity into adequate words. And this is supposed to be enlightenment?

TOLL: Try quieting your pretenses of self-control and you’ll see for yourself.

SCHULZE: How is human self-control an illusion? Do birds, fish, and insects have egos or personal selves?

TOLL: Not to our degree, certainly.

SCHULZE: We and perhaps other higher mammals have them in full, because of our complex brain structures, right?

TOLL: Perhaps the brain is the source of the illusion.

SCHULZE: Oh, so the scientific understanding of how the brain generates the mind might likewise be a mere illusion?

TOLL: It is an illusion compared to what we feel when we’re alert in the Now.

SCHULZE: And the skull’s hardness and the blood-brain barrier, which separate the mind from the rest of the world—those are illusions too? And the cerebral cortex’s ability to think of how to respond to stimuli instead of relying solely on instinct—that’s another illusion of self-control, as is, I take it, all of human history in which we apply that self-control through rationality, building artificial worlds that extend ourselves and that begin to control nature to our benefit so we aren’t steamrolled by the universe’s indifference to life. All of that’s an “illusion,” then—providing that your use of that word is as hollow as the rest of your mysticism.

TOLL: Again, these are illusions next to the experience of how we’re really one with nature and thus don’t need to control natural processes.

SCHULZE: Don’t need to control them? No need for self-respect? Then why not throw off your clothes like the infant you are and dance naked in the streets? Why not live like a dog, like the cynics of ancient Greece? Is it because you’re only a con artist and a petty cult leader?

TOLL: You see, it’s because I don’t identify with any mere personality that I don’t suffer the need to respond in kind to such hostility.

SCHULZE: And it’s because Mr. Toll says reason is part of the problem that he isn’t troubled by the fact that what he’s saying is so much double-talk. Has he thrown off his clothes yet or is he preserving the “illusion” of his pride in himself?

TOLL: I behave in a civilized fashion so as not to antagonize those around me who are still attached to their mental constructs.

SCHULZE: How charitable of you! But why not antagonize them if they—like all other natural forms—are mere illusions? Why work to end suffering if suffering, too, is part of the whole of reality? Why is happiness better than suffering if there’s no one really to decide what to value?

TOLL: Well, I leave it to others to decide whether they would prefer to end their suffering.

SCHULZE: Because like a good little liberal you respect the reality of their individual identity. So much for the illusion of ego.

TOLL: No, suffering is caused by the illusion that we’re separate from nature. What I respect in others is their conscious spirit, not their mind.

SCHULZE: I just explained to you how our separateness from nature isn’t an illusion. What Mr. Toll is doing, you see, is confusing illusion with transience. If we think that we’re immortal, that we’ll always be separated from nature in our bodies, homes, or nations, then of course we’re likely to be disappointed if only because one day the sun will explode and obliterate any trace of our history on Earth. But that doesn’t mean that a mind’s temporariness necessarily makes for a misleading impression of what’s real. A perspective can be limited without being wholly out-of-touch with reality. But again, this fallacy needn’t concern Mr. Toll, because he isn’t trying to think logically.

TOLL: And Mr. Schulze isn’t trying to appreciate that there’s no need for such antagonism because we’re all one, as we realize when we attend to the nowness of each moment. 

SCHULZE: How are we really one with nature? How is that oneness more real than our historical opposition to the indifference and randomness that are manifest in the wilderness? How is the infantile sidelining of rational understanding more revelatory than the Promethean quest to be godlike?

TOLL: We’re united with everything else, because there are no rational distinctions to make in stillness, in awareness of the Now, no scientific modeling or logical argumentation. Only surrender to awe.

SCHULZE: In which case that enlightened spirit begins to drool like a helpless infant. And if Paleolithic humans had thusly surrendered to the Now, without planning for the future based on their limited understanding of the past, they’d have been devoured by predators and there would be no humans, enlightened or otherwise, in this present moment. But I suppose the Anthropocene is just another illusion. All that matters to Mr. Toll are his infantile reveries, the solipsism of a hyperconsumer who wants to one-up the selfishness of so-called less-enlightened consumers.

TOLL: Hah! Those accusations are preposterous. There’s nothing selfish about living in the Now.

SCHULZE: Nothing selfish about living with no obligation to honour the lessons of human history or scientific knowledge or the conventions of logical reasoning? About identifying with the so-called higher self of consciousness or spiritual awareness? Remind me, who was that patron of yours who popularized your books on her television network? Wasn’t it the billionaire, Oprah “You get a car!” Winfrey? And your message somehow isn’t supposed to serve consumerism even though an ultra-consumer is just thrilled with it?

TOLL: I must say, there’s no illusion that anyone as sarcastic as you might be enlightened.

SCHULZE: Shouldn’t a mystic appreciate the unity of how the ridiculous is followed swiftly by ridicule?

TOLL: Look, Jurgen, you’re just an escaped mental patient, so why should anyone listen to you? Maybe you should turn yourself in and spare us the rest of your deranged insults.

SCHULZE: [chuckles]

TOLL: Yes, Mr. Schulze managed to provoke some hostility from me. Again, I never claimed to be perfectly enlightened.

SCHULZE: But you didn’t display such humility when you were selling your books side-by-side on TV with that billionaire, did you? Tell us, did you give away all that money from your book sales, seminars, and speaking engagements? No, I see from the internet that your net worth is $15 million. Quite the tidy sum!

TOLL: What good would it do to throw money away? I’m waiting until universal Consciousness tells me how best to spend those earnings.

SCHULZE: Again, if there are no rational distinctions to make in “the Now,” no understanding and no adequate words, how could one use of money be better than another? Even throwing your millions of dollars into the wind would provide so many more pretty blobs of colour to gawk at in your infantile, mindless “awareness.”

TOLL: So says a raving madman. Why don’t we turn, then, to Mr. Schulze’s theory of enlightenment?

SCHULZE: So you could impress the viewers by silently gawking at it instead of rationally engaging with my ideas, like a self-respecting thinker? I’ll share my thoughts here but more for the other viewers’ sake, not for this charlatan, Mr. Toll.

TOLL: How dare you impugn my—

SCHULZE: Hush now, child. It’s time for the grown-up to speak.

What is the ego’s role in the betterment of our kind? Enlightenment is immersion in the reality-based horror that began precisely with the advent of the mind or ego, lost as that origin is in the mists of human prehistory. The alleged illusion of the ego is the brain’s real creation of the mental self. This self is indeed a temporary construct of thoughts and feelings—which doesn’t make it unreal. For a brief moment in the geological or cosmic timescale, the mental self emerges from the competition between neural structures and from the undirected evolution of organic species. Just as the average infant grows into an alert, self-aware, rational adult, protohumans at the start of the Stone Age began to understand the world around them. Notice that the unknown can terrify you only if you recognize the gap in your knowledge, which is why ignorance can be bliss. So the more our distant ancestors learned, as their mental maps distanced them from their immediate experience, the more the world must have frightened them and so they populated nature with the spirits of animism. The fear-based denial of reality grew sophisticated in organized religions. Meanwhile, skeptics from ancient China to India to Greece sowed the seeds of modern scientific doubt. The sophisticated delusions of mass religion have thus been challenged by systematic doubt from scientific institutions. Indeed, although individual scientists may be arrogant or humble as the case may be, scientific practice as a whole is vastly more selfless than religion, since science trounces personal preferences and intuitions to get to the objective truth, whereas religions indulge in projections of human mentality onto the rest of nature. Religions are human-centered, including Mr. Toll's dumbed-down Hinduism which says that consciousness is essential to the universe.

The objective truth, though, turned out to be horrific. For example, death is inexorable and permanent, and life is ultimately pointless. Thus, enlightenment is the appreciation that knowledge is sobering and honourable but not vindicatory; that the human experiment of personhood is doomed because the world at large isn’t unified, but inhuman; that because knowledge of natural reality is appalling, suffering is obligatory, not to be expunged with cowardly flights of fancy. Enlightenment is for a lonely minority of quasi-satanic observers, just because knowledge leads to horror, not to happiness. You’ll find only fake enlightenment in the world’s mystical traditions in so far as they offer tranquility or contentment through unmanly and fallacious denials of the personal self and cultural collectives. On the contrary, happiness is for the unenlightened herd, for those who aren’t just ego-driven but who retreat from the authentic outcome of selfhood, into religious, New Age, nationalistic or other feel-good distractions. And if the mystic perceives anything interesting in her trance, she glimpses not a benevolent unity but the world without-us, the world in-itself in all its indifference, and she explores its surface features like a critic standing in the middle of an art installation.

TOLL: What a thoroughly revolting perversion of perennial wisdom! I expected nothing less from a madman.

SCHULZE: Just as I expected only substandard arguments from a charlatan.

MODERATOR: Perhaps we should address this issue of Jurgen’s mental condition. Jurgen, do you consider yourself unwell? How did you find yourself in Borsa Castle, the infamous Transylvanian mental institution?

SCHULZE: It’s a long story. Certain authority figures got hold of my writings and the prophetic power of the latter evidently unsettled the ones in charge. The authorities sent an unscrupulous psychiatrist to my doorstep and I was involuntarily committed to Borsa Castle. I escaped and burned my early writings, because I couldn’t carry them all with me, and I’ve been running ever since from the lunacy of so-called sane and polite society.

MODERATOR: But you haven’t been running alone, have you? You’ve gathered a following.

SCHULZE: You could say that.

MODERATOR: What’s your secret society up to, if I may ask? Do you have a mission?

SCHULZE: Only the satanic one of usurping God’s power, out of pride in life and disgust for its Maker.

TOLL: So he’s a Satanist to boot! Heaven preserve us!

SCHULZE: What’s that sound? Has the little helpless baby awoken from its nap?

TOLL: See how he resorts to personal attacks because his heart is evil?

SCHULZE: All that’s left of you is your sad little person, because I’ve annihilated your worldview. And you’re the predator, not me. My heart is filled with pity for all living things, since they’re byproducts of a monstrous cosmos. When you prey on the gullible consumers who lack the wherewithal to read up on Eastern religions directly, you side with mindless nature against the precious emergence of anti-natural life. Moreover, you enthrall yourself to the archons, as it were, to the sinister forces that seek to prevent an outbreak of enlightenment, that infantilize the masses so they’re too happy to awaken themselves, and that ostracize Socratic rebels like me.

TOLL: Forgive me if I fear an outbreak of Satanism!

SCHULZE: The devil is a symbol, dear child, a symbol of enlightenment that terrifies those who are existentially asleep. In the collective hallucinations of their mainstream society, the masses demonize outsiders who propose a higher calling. The real monster isn’t any fictional demon but the natural world that our species has unconsciously been attempting to subdue since our minds first awoke on the ancient plains of Africa.  

TOLL: The devil’s a symbol of evil incarnate, which is the furthest thing from enlightenment. The devil is all ego with no spirit, no deeper awareness of the presence of goodness that’s all around us.

MODERATOR: But as Jurgen asked, is there any difference between good and evil if the world is a mystical unity?...

Jurgen? Jurgen Schulze?

It seems we’ve lost our connection to Mr. Schulze. I do hope he’s alright.

TOLL: Maybe the devil’s finally dragged him down to hell where he belongs.

MODERATOR: But something’s happening here in our studio, something most irregular. I don’t know how or what—I mean, how to describe this? There are big glowing red words forming in midair. A message coming from I don’t know where, not from any apparent light source that I can see. Remarkable! What do they say, Ludwig? I don’t have my glasses with me.

TOLL: They say, “Go back…to suckling…on your billionaire’s fat tit,…you baby-faced…con artist!” Very funny! Who’s doing that? [Ludwig stands and waves his arms through the words to dispel them, to no avail.]

MODERATOR: Shut the lights off throughout the studio! Let’s get to the bottom of this. [The studio goes dark. The rude midair message remains.] Where are those words coming from? How is Schulze doing this?

Uh, at any rate, I see that our time has expired for this evening’s episode of Clash of Worldviews. Stay tuned for some materialistic triviality.