What the brayings are...

I love to rant and complain. It's like a hobby. I've been doing it on Facebook for several years. I used the name "Braying Jack Cass." That's because Facebook doesn't allow any usernames with the word "Jackass" in it. The nerve!

But then someone reported me for using a fake name, as if someone could have the actual name "Jack Cass." It's possible. Just like I'm sure there are some people named "Ben Dover" and "Mona Lott" and "Frank Furter" out there. Some parents have a sense of humor. And others are too dumb to make the connection.

Since I can't be on Facebook at work (the nerve!) here's a place I can come to rant during the day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Marketing the Intangible: The Story of Enlightenment and Marshmallows

What exactly is Enlightenment? (or “Awakening” which is a more popular term lately). Is it something objective, tangible, and measurable? Or is it a subjective state that can only be known through one’s direct experience?

Many people claim that they are seeking Enlightenment, and others have claimed that they’ve achieved it. Those who claimed to have achieved it often market their services, for a pretty penny, to share insights and/or techniques which can then spur Enlightenment in others. But if someone claims to be Enlightened (or Awakened) and to be able to provoke this in others, how do we know if these claims are true?

There is no universally agreed to definition of Enlightenment. Some may say that it’s a significant spiritual achievement only attained by the likes of the Buddha and unattainable for other mere mortals, at least in one lifetime. Others may define Enlightenment as something less lofty, e.g. an insight into one’s true nature or seeing through the lies of the mind.

Neither definition though is something that can be measured tangibly. How do we know exactly what the Buddha’s physical or spiritual state was? We can judge the wisdom of his words, and also praise the virtues of his actions, but have no way of knowing what lies beyond our own direct experiences of his words and actions. If a person claims to have had an insight into their true nature, or having seen through the lies of the mind, can this be measured for veracity? They could just be repeating words that they have heard others say, and even if some sort of insight was achieved is there a way to weigh or measure them?

About the only tangible measure we have of something which could be called Enlightenment is the recording of brain waves. In the following article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20989-monkeys-meditate-for-marshmallows.html experiments were done with monkeys in which neurofeedback was used to train monkeys to reach what’s described as a “Zen-like meditative” state for the reward of a marshmallow. The monkeys were able to reach a very calm and peaceful state where the brain activity was diminished which was measured as being in a certain frequency range.

Of course this brings the idea of Enlightenment from the sacred to the profane; it’s no longer a spiritual pursuit but a material one. Yet if we are reluctant to relegate the spiritual attainment of Enlightenment to the scientific realm we are condemned to accept on faith someone’s claim of being spiritually advanced. If thoughts can’t be weighed or measured with a ruler, then we certaintly can’t make an objective evalulation of whether or not someone’s thoughts are superior to another’s.

I’m reminded of a video where Ken Wilber straps some electrodes to his head and demonstrates that he can reach a state of stopping or slowing his brain waves which is akin to Enlightenment, i.e. a state of “no mind.” My first reaction to the video was that it was simply a spiritual parlour trick. Of course it’s not clear from the video whether or not Ken was rewarded with a marshmallow.

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