The circle of "I" goes like this ...
Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind!
With the close of the Mayan calendar there is the expectation of a new reality where even the totally fuckwitted will wake up on December 21st with their underpants over their tights, armed with nth dimensional powers and a huge lingam of power ...
Urrr ... or maybe not. Take a look around you and you will see we are still stuck with the same 80s/90s' creative manifestation; pseudo-therapy land "mindfulness" based on tired old Buddhist vipassana meditation; the Advaitins still fighting about Traditional and Neo Advaita (oblivious of the fact they're really all closet Brahmanists with a Buddhist twist); and the satsang world whoring themselves with gay abandon, protesting their many versions of Truth. (Just imagine the scenes of Foucault's promiscuity and perversion on the L.A. Bathhouse scene in the 70s: Mooji, Madhu and the gang jamming for all their worth!) ... And if you're really psycho killer qu'est-ce que c'est, why not become a Born Again Christian?!
If none of this does it for you, please take drugs ... It's simpler, cleaner and more honest ...
So where do we go from here? Because all we really have is an everlasting homage to the "I". Either the "I" exists but there is no control, it's all predetermined and we are puppets on a string being jerked around by an omnipotent entity or the forces of destiny. This is fatalism. Or there is the "I" with the power to shape its own destiny. Here the "I" can meditate or self-enquire its way to liberation, or as an all-powerful creator in the mode of the Christian God, it can manifest the perfect reality of its own choosing. This is what we call "personal autonomy". These two are both sides of the same coin and either way the "I" stays intact: an apparition of infinity like the Face of Death staring through the crowd ...
But there is no "I". And it's even worse than that. There is no "I" and yet we experience life as though there is. Further it's not just that there is no "I" (and rather weirdly, there is). There isn't truly any "thing" either! What to do?!
All of this sounds suspiciously Buddhist rather than Advaitic. The Buddha taught the doctrine of no self (anātman) which properly understood, maintains that everything is empty (śūnyatā) or "self-less" because it is interdependent (pratītyasamutpāda). Put another way, nothing has any independent existence or any substantial nature of its own. Something wholly independent such as an "I" is therefore impossible: that isolated state of pure "one" we call "identity." Equally both "person" (pudgala) and "thing" (dharma) never contain any self-subsisting entity within them. This means neither can be fixed, unchanging, ultimate or absolute realities. The question then becomes: so what exactly is the nature of the people we see in front of us and the things we smell, touch, taste and feel every day? The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism reminds us: "form is emptiness and emptiness is form." Life is a simultaneous emptiness which is also a fullness. That is, all the people and things around us, including ourselves, are both concrete happenings yet fleeting phantasms ... The paradox will drive you nuts!
This leaves us with the thorny issue of exactly what "separation" is, if there is no such thing as the "I". Basically, for Buddhists separation definitely exists but it is not an absolute reality. Rather, it is once again an empty, interdependent happening: both concrete yet fleeting. This time it is the Madhyamaka Buddhists who solve this conundrum, using a sophisticated tool called The Two Truths (Sanskrit: satyadvayavibhāga; Tibetan: bden-pa gnyis). They say there are two levels of truth. Ultimately there is no separation (in the absolute sense) because separation is empty and interdependent. But relatively, there is separation because it definitely exists and is experienced.
From the Madhyamakan perspective, there is not truly any enlightenment to be attained and no one really there to attain it. The correct term for "enlightenment" in Buddhism is nirvāṇa and just like separation, this too is empty and interdependent. Thus we have the famous statement of Nagarjuna, that there is no difference between the world (samsāra or the cycle of existence) and nirvana ... that's the "ultimate truth" (Sanskrit: paramārthasatya, Tibetan: don-dam bden-pa). But we also have the undeniable fact that nonetheless samsara exists and it is very different from nirvana ... this is the "relative truth" (Sanskrit: samvṛtisatya, Tibetan: kun-rdzob bden-pa) ...
While ultimately, there is not truly any such thing as separation or nirvana then, the seeker does not experience it like this. Buddhism therefore features spiritual practices for dealing with the (relative) reality of separation. From the perspective of The Two Truths, if someone uses a method, there is not really any "one" there doing this and so it couldn't be any other way ... Here we see how for Madhyamakans everything is uncaused, spontaneous and unknown. There is not truly any single thing such as a "cause" to make something happen. Events simply 'arise' and what happens, happens. And though things definitely do happen, they also just as mysteriously don't - because they were never truly there in the first place! So someone sitting down to meditate is a totally spontaneous event needing no more explanation .. There isn't really any "one" to know or any "thing" to be known ...
Advaita has completely failed to grasp these points in any shape or form. It rigidly clings to the ultimate state of the Self as a future attainment and has descended into infighting over whether practices and methods are necessary and whether there is an "I" or not. But with the cogency of Buddhist arguments, there is no room for escape into the playground of negation we call nihilism (ucchedavāda) or that absolutist mausoleum of divine authority, eternalism (sassatavāda). These are both ultimate states, between which the Buddha strove so hard to carve a Middle Way (madhyamāpratipad). For Buddhists, Advaitic statements such as "There is only the Self" and "I am That" are therefore the conceit of asmimana or "self-identification" (an "I"-centric autoerotic form of fellatio or for the unintiated, a self-pollinating blow job!) Additionally Advaitic arguments about the legitimacy of methods have entirely missed the point. There is no "one" truly there to decide whether to do a practice or not ... Practices just happen ... or they don't ...
Here all philosophies and moral maps of reality are desecrated and deflowered, leaving us with the sheer wonder and awe of pure unadulterated mystery. This is because rather than being a doctrine, The Two Truths are a deconstructionist method for opening the door to the non-conceptual. The ultimate aim of Madhyamaka is to undermine all views and reveal them as erroneous. A view can never be reality and a view is never what it seems: being interdependent and empty it is never actually true. Rather than dealing in the dirty business of Truth then, Buddhist dialectic produces a transforming crisis that destroys the "one" seeking to grasp reality. Thus we trip over the wire into a land where words and the mind are useless ... and the "I" has never been seen ...
But of course, nothing is ever so straightforward.
There are, after all, huge problems with Buddhism. For a start, it is highly political, corrupt and hierarchical. Historically Buddhism always serviced a centre of power (traditionally the king's court) not so unlike the "I" it is attempting to eradicate. Then you can add into the mix its chronic misogyny (if you're a femme better luck next incarnation!) Buddhism is also incredibly diverse and it can hardly agree on anything. You can find deity worship, compassionate action, amulets against negative entities, lineage initiations, and a whole host of abusive tantric practices for advancing your spiritual credentials. We cannot divorce the metaphysics from the murky nature of the institution ...
Meanwhile on points of doctrine, there are obvious contradictions. Some Buddhist schools claim that nirvana can be "known" or that it is an ultimate state. (Obviously they didn't understand the Buddha's teaching of emptiness!) But even more worryingly, Buddhist teachers think that their methods have the power to bring about enlightenment. But in Buddhist philosophy nothing could be further from the truth. As previously stated, Buddhist reality is without cause. Practices may arise - and so may nirvana - but it will not be the result of those methods. Nirvana is just as spontaneous a happening as everything else: it often occurs where there has been no spiritual practice whatsoever ... Buddhism is mired in spiritual arrogance and intellectual elitism. And like the Advaitins, they believe they have the superior solution to the problem of separation.
But the major issue here is that life lived in liberation is something of an anomaly. Words are not words and teaching is no longer teaching. Here there isn't a teaching and the person standing in front of you is not really a person. Their words mean nothing. And yet in their proximity ... something may happen ... or not. The seeker is reduced to suicidal despair at the sheer uncontrollability of it all (or in the case of Sister Klaus self harm and high velocity genital mutilation!)
This must be why the "I" remains centre-stage and why fatalism and create-your-own reality cosmologies are still so seductive. Spiritual practices creates a false sense of hope that there is somewhere to be going - something to be doing - and someone to do all these things. This cranks up the machinery of the ego, giving it an erectile sense of purpose and power ... (the Madhukar syndrome!) The next step is the ultimate addiction ... the conquest of illumination. The search for enlightenment is the biggest bully on the block!
The circle of "I" goes round and round ... It seems the traditional practices never left us and are constantly rebranded under new commercial agendas. There is absolutely nothing new under the sun! We are forever lost in an age of prostitution ... selling mind, body and spirit for the full market price. Never has spirituality been so rigid and rotten, eaten up with the maggots of pure self obsession. It's not a new world that awaits us, just a steroid enhanced cyborg version of an ancient nightmare!
However ... it is only when we are faced with the full hypocrisy of the "I" that we can finally unmask it. In Roger Corman's 60s' camp horror - Masque of the Red Death - Prince Prospero (played by the leering Vincent Price) throws a grand ball. There he finally discovers the identity of a mysterious red-cloaked figure who has been pursuing him. When Prospero asks to see the figure's face, it tells him: "There is no Face of Death until the moment of your own death" ... and with this the ball is transformed into a Danse Macabre. Prospero rips off the figure's mask .... to reveal Prospero's own blood-spattered face. The figure is the Red Death and none other than Prospero's own hell ... the end of his own life!
The Danse Macabre is a pageant of life and death with the omnipresent threat of our own mortality stalking us through the crowd. An ancestral reminder of the Black Death in the 14th century, its symbolic purpose is to show that we are all equal in the face of death. Kings and Queens consort with harlots and villains (or in this case gurus!) The irony is that even in our diversity, we are all the same ... There are no special ones ...
The Face of Death appears and this could be the end ... Or it might be just the beginning. For the Buddhist there never was an "I" to eliminate. For the Advaitins there definitely is an "I" and all it needs to do is disappear ... As the Red Death said to Prince Prospero: "Each man creates his own God for himself - his own heaven, his own hell."
Meanwhile the horror of the Black Death heralded the destruction of the feudal system and provided the seedbed for the flowering of the Renaissance. The catastrophe of those times is the blood-soaked midwife attending our present reality. Apparently we are on the cusp of a new age where the frequency seems to have been turned up. Maybe we are going through the birth pangs of a Brave New World but will we have the pain-free entry into the E.T. assisted utopia that our New Age pals predict?
It seems unlikely. The historical process will probably mutate into forms we least expect. The price to pay could be unimaginably high. Blood, sweat and tears are back on the menu ... and that's just the hors d’œuvre ... Betcha can't wait for the main course!