THE PRACTICE, AND THE THOUGHT BEHIND IT

SUMMARY: to understand differences in practice, you have (I think) to look at the underlying philosophical "activity".

It occurs to me that some (simplistic, schematic, playful.... ) contrasts may be made between the underpinning philosophies of Focusing and of different schools of Buddhism; and some (naive) comparisons with various Western philosophers.

Try this:-

  1. Practice in the Theravada schools of Buddhism is centered on body-sensing, BECAUSE the philosophical question is "If I look inwards, can I find a self?" This is like Hume, who said (approximately), "When I look into myself, all I find is an unceasing stream of impressions and thoughts, succeeding one another with an inconceivable rapidity."

  2. Practice in the Mind-Only schools of Buddhism is centred on bare awareness, BECAUSE the philosophical position is "There is a being, a being-aware-of, and a what-is-in-awareness. However, there is no basis for believing either that what-is-in-awareness has any objective reality, or that being is A being." So the meditation is about regarding universe and self as a dreaming. This is like Hegel, a position of pure idealism, in which the universe only exists as spirit.

  3. The practice in the New Wisdom schools of Buddhism is centred on philosophical destruction of all verbally expressed positions, BECAUSE the philosophical underpinning is that "All statements, including this one, are self-contradictory, and therefore ultimately meaningless." This practice, if successful, plunges the mind into crisis, and leaves the practitioner suspended above an abyss. This weird, bizarre position is like Derrida, perhaps, in some ways. It throws life and practice into chaos, and seems to invalidate any renewal of meaning. Indian philosophers failed entirely (for nearly 2000 years) to come up with a satisfactory answer to it, but happily there are a number of Western solutions to this difficulty, which look like making post-modernism look like a quaint but mildly interesting aberration in short order. (However, I am grossly unqualified to speak on this subject, really.)

  4. In thinking about Focusing we typically start with the things themselves (the fact that we already know that we can do Focusing), and then build our philosophical position backwards, by asking the kind of questions that so struck me, when Gene asked them at his Thinking at the Edge workshop:-

    "What kind of world must it be, since Focusing IS possible?"

    Or,

    "Since persons ARE here, how must the world be, so that this can be the case."

    This kind of question (I think) is like Kant's "transcendental" questions: "Since we know that pure mathematics is possible, what has to be the case, so that it can be possible?"

So our practice, as Focusers, is most like the Theravada, but our philosophical situation is most like that of the Mind-Only people, to this extent: that they were responding to Nagarjuna and the New Wisdom, much as we have to respond to Derrida and Deconstruction.

Or could we say: our practice is somewhat Humeian, but our philosophical method somewhat Kantian?

It all has to be a little bit complicated, I reckon, because there are a number of underlying positions, and it isn't obvious that this one or that one is the right one. Gene would tend to say (I find myself very hesitant to speak for him, and I know this already won't be right!) that there are many positions, and each brings up a different felt richness, from which we can go further.

In saying something rather like this, I think he's very close to Dewey. But many philosophers feel that this way of looking at things undermines the concept of truth in a disturbing and unacceptable way.

I myself feel disturbed by it....

Enough! I just wanted to play a little bit with philosophical ideas. There are other views, and everything I say is certainly more or less wrong, but it's good, even at this modest level, to try and understand the world.

3rd February 2002

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