Writings on Self and the I-cult, by J., a hermit
These unedited writings were sent to Hermitary by someone we will call J., who was about to formally withdraw from social contact into physical solitude and silence. These essays are presented here for the interest of friends of Hermitary; they have not been altered in any way but a couple of titles (bracketed) have been added for clarity.
All the traditions from Orthodox Christianity to Theravada Buddhism claim that authentic spirituality is spread throughout a culture by the monastics, although modern adherents disagree about whether or not this approach is still effective. The same controversy exists in both lay parishes and dharma centers: "spreading the gospel" through lay-activism and "church planting" versus the long, slow infiltration of a culture by the sanctification of monastic individuals. I am sure you are familiar with this story.
What is noteworthy in the contemporary movement toward non-traditional, non-religious spirituality is the lack of an eremitic constituent. The "Human Potential" movement, which claims to provide a transcendent backbone to the estranged scientific mind, is very dependent on cities, academic institutions, commerce, and political lobbying to spread ideas and attempt to transform the darker elements of a Judeo-Christian heritage. Reviving the archetype of the hermit-hiding in the secret nooks of the collective mind (which you help succinctly unveil) could be pivotal in establishing genuine transformation of the long, slow infiltrating variety on both sides of the cultural chasm; or perhaps it will remain a faint "voice crying out in the wilderness." Time will tell.
The Sinhalese are some of the most amicable people on the planet. Twenty years of a national war on terrorism managed to keep the influence of Western commerce and tourism marginal and, as a result, the old ways strong. Just a few hours drive from Colombo the country’s capital, where even the monks are going wireless, one can meet village folk who have never been outside of a twenty mile radius from their home. The rice paddy, the lunar festivals, and the basic uncomplicated cycle of agricultural life create for many villagers a happy and relaxed atmosphere. And unlike other struggling countries in Southeast Asia many natives prefer to keep it that way.
I spent about six months in Sri Lanka staying at various monasteries and having discussions with the monastics there. I went in search of a suitable monastery in order to attain the unending bliss of Nirvana, but what I discovered, much to my surprise, was that as I went from monastery to monastery there was someone looking to attain the unending bliss of Nirvana. Everywhere I went the ‘someone-looking’ made its appearance, and the someone-looking was full of questions, concerns, hopes, anxieties and expectations. It got really interesting when the someone-looking would encounter the someone-else-looking-back. Virtually every monk the someone-looking met morphed into the someone-else-looking back. Here might be a typical conversation:
Someone-Looking: May I stay here to
practice in your monastery?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Are you a Buddhist?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Why do you practice meditation?
Someone-Looking: For the complete cessation of suffering.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Why do we suffer?
Someone-Looking: Because we believe we have a substantial self that suffers.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Ahhhh! So you have read some Buddhist books. Very good. Buddhism is down now in this country. It is very difficult to find the right monastery. These days monks are even entering political office because of a new big problem.
Someone-Looking: Oh? What is that?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: For the past four years the US government has been backing independent Evangelical Christian Organizations to offer material support to villagers and then convert them to US faith-based groups and thereby make the impoverished global masses sympathetic to American conservative politics.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: They are doing this in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other poor countries like ours and meanwhile few people in America even know this is happening. What country are you from?
Someone-Looking: I come from the planet dukkha.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Oh-ho-ho. Very clever.
(Someone-looking, someone-looking, someone-looking)
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: We have to make our people good Buddhists. Because the corruption of the Christian West is new for them and exciting. Do you know Eminem? Many of our people are now wearing T-shirts with his name and picture. Is he an American hero?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: What do you think about the problem here and what we should do about it?
Someone-Looking: I think we suffer because we believe there is a sufferer who suffers.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: You are a good Buddhist. It is very difficult to be a monk and I am not sure where to recommend you to learn the real Dharma.
(Someone-looking, someone-looking, someone-looking)
The above scenario is typical for one in pursuit of a religious, monastic, or esoteric community. I have experienced it many times over the past ten years in several different contexts. But what became more and more interesting for me on this most recent tour was this sense that someone-looking was experiencing the pursuit of a monastic community. If we suffer because we think there is a sufferer, then we must pursue because we think there is a pursuer.
Someone-Looking: What am I pursuing?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: The cessation of the pursuit.
This made the looking difficult. Because instead of focusing on important things like looking for the right place, community, teacher, the looking at the someone looking for those things in the first place became much more interesting.
Sometimes I would hear this and mostly from longstanding European Buddhist monks living in Sri Lanka:
Monk: Monasteries are often like cults. You are
surrounded by Buddhists. All you talk and read about is Buddhism. You even wear
funky clothes advertising to all the world, "I am a Buddhist and a serious
one at that!" You should have some private diversion if you wish to be a monk to
keep yourself balanced.
(Someone-looking, someone-looking, someone-looking)
The distinction between "destructive cult" and "organized religion" has always been a perplexing one for me. The techniques that one reads about in the guidelines written by cult de-programmers, such as mind control, uncritical black and white thinking, and ostracism often sound a lot like what goes on in Catechism or Vacation Bible School. Certain authorities assert that there is no difference between religions and cults, yet people like Someone-Looking who think of themselves as spiritual find this hard to accept. Organized religions, authorities tell us, have just been around longer and are therefore accepted by the status quo. If you listen to cult deprogrammers long enough, you may get the feeling you are being just reprogrammed into yet another cult. The cult of anti-cult.
Why, when I am surrounded by a community who are basing their lives around a central tenant of self-negation, whether the denial of self and taking up the cross of the Hesychasts, the extinction of self among the Sufis, the illusion of self among the Advaitins, the absence of self among the Buddhists—why, with the clothes, the heavy tomes of rules, the specialized comportment, the jargon, the unquestioned hierarchy and so on—why do I always think, my goodness gracious, this looks just like a cult? Is it real? Is this the way? If I stay here as long as he has am I going to end up just like him?
Meanwhile, no matter what religious or esoteric ambiance I have encountered, there is an unshakable presence of someone-looking, someone-looking, someone-looking.
Almost in every spiritual community the first question is always the same: Are you one of us?
Are you one of us? Are you born again? Are you a baptized Orthodox Christian? Are you a Muslim, al’hamdullilah? Are you an Esoterist? Are you a Universalist? You don’t believe in God, do you? Or, "You’re a Hindu! Just listen to the way you talk, you are more Hindu than me, and I am a born Hindu." Are you one of us?
It strikes me as odd that the first step toward the awareness of egolessness, is to identify yourself with a new and improved ego: I am a Hasid. I am a Monk. I am a Priest. I am a Missionary. I am a Faqir. I am a Spiritual Person. I am a Meditator. Or, my personal favorite, I’m Not-Into-Labels.
There seems to be a pattern here. If you got all these different people in the same room (Hasid, Monk, Priest, Missionary, Faqir, etc.) they would all begin their sentence with the first person singular, I, "I am a this." I used to think the cause of ignorance was in having the wrong noun and if I could get that right, then everything else would be peachy. But because Atheist, Christian, Buddhist, and Not-Into-Labels all utilize the first person singular to describe themselves—and all such traditions have messy bits of ignorance and wisdom mixed together—perhaps the real cause of ignorance is the use of the personal pronoun, "I".
If aliens were watching our room full of diverse believers from outer space they may conclude based on striking similarities in behavior patterns, language, ritual, response to global crisis, belief, zeal, ethics, hypocrisy, sincerity, and so on, that these are all card-carrying members of the same vast global enterprise conspiring to take over the world. All of these folk believe they are identified with a particular creed, and though the creeds appear vastly different what they share in common is the presupposition of the first person singular—an "I" that believes it can believe in something. These diverse believers in actuality are all members of the same club, the same cult. The cult of the I-concept. The Cult of I.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Are you
one of us?
Someone-Looking: Do you believe in the existence of the first person singular?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: What? I believe in the teachings of Lord …
Someone-Looking: Ah ha! You believe there is a you to believe! You cul-tee! I am going to shut my ears and not listen anymore to this Say-tanic Doctrine. If you didn’t believe in the autonomous "I-concept" you wouldn’t see a distinction between an us and a them, and the anxiety behind your question—are you like me?—would disappear as well. Get thee behind me.
After nine months of uncontainable expectation your big day has arrived. The pregnant woman who has been yelling and screaming for the past four hours is exhausted and you have just emerged, head first, from between her legs. Without hesitation the doctor picks you up, swats your bottom, and says, "It’s a girl!"
The Doctor is an undercover recruiting agent for the Cult of I. The Cult-of-I-devotees, who currently dominate the world, waste no time in implementing millennia of I-concept brainwashing techniques upon their next potential member. The first words you will hear in the open air are: "You are an I-concept!" and "You are a gender-concept!" All indoctrination begins here. Welcome to the religion of Me-Myself-And-I: The triune godhead at the base of all belief. There is no escaping it. The conception that I actually exist as a separate entity from the Whole is the supreme pagan idolatry. We should all be stoned to death.
You can’t have an "in here" without an "out there". The "out there" is established by the space "in here" which, by its very definition, is "not out there." If there is an unquestioned belief in the existence of an individual "I", an inner sense of me-myself confined to an information processing system, then there is the simultaneous creation of a "you": "You"’ are all that is not "I". With the distinction between "me" and "you" there automatically arises the superimposition of "mine" and "yours", and that is where all of our troubles begin. A "mine" believes it possesses something, the most immediate thing it believes it’s possessing is a body.
The second thing the "I" thinks it possesses are opinions, which, we are told, everyone has a right to. "I possess the right to possess" is the source of all opinions. Where did that come from? In reality, we don’t possess opinions. They possess us.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Do you
wish to become a monk?
Someone-Looking: Curious you should ask that. Ever since I walked into this hut, I can't avoid observing someone-looking for an answer to the questions you have raised. The phenomena of someone-looking is much more interesting than any opinion that the someone-looking may pretend to have about whether he (someone-looking) believes he has to be a something (a monk) in order to attain to the realization that there is no one to be a monk.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: I don' know where to recommend you to find the real Dharma.
The disappointments encountered while in pursuit of Awakening are not caused by the deficiencies of a particular doctrine, or method, or community. These are not the problem. But when this is suddenly recognized without warning, the more startling corollary is grasped simultaneously: Neither are these things in and of themselves answers. As long as the first person singular is present even the most pristine doctrines of the Void or the Non-Dual will be possessed. It will be mine. I graft it on to the pool of opinions that I point to when I say: This is me.
The Cult of I is the cause of all poverty, war and crime. But it is also the reason for family, marriage, religion, and careers. When a citizen, who is a Cult-of-I-devotee, is rebuking a thief for his misbehavior he is ultimately rebuking himself. The same conceptual stance toward reality that caused the thief to steal (mine and yours) is the same one that caused the citizen to make an honest living, accumulate goods, and produce offspring.
As an archaic mode of survival to ward off a multitude of hungry predators, and eventually outwit them all, a sense of ego was, perhaps, necessary in order to stay alive. And maybe this inherited psychological tool for survival is what makes the I-concept seem so real and almost impossible to let go of. To live a life outside of the world-dominating dictates of the cult of the I-concept is worse than death. Its like exile. Just ask Socrates.
The "I" is cozy. It has its favorite tastes, its favorite things to do, its favorite kinds of people. For those who are stuck within a cult and trying to make a break it may be terrifying to leave the pseudo-order, predictability, and familiarity of the commune. Likewise, a life outside of the first person singular is so terrifying as to be unimaginable—a godforsaken universe without any meaning because the one reference point, me, through which to interpret all of reality is absent.
Someone-Looking may reply to such a
statement by saying, "Hogwash! A life without the tyranny of Me-myself-and I is
what I long for. It must only be the supreme bliss of Awakening."
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Wrong answer.
Someone-Looking: Why? Isn’t egolessness and bliss where it’s at?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Whenever an ego imagines itself in a future state whether blissful or terrifying it is still an ego imagining it is an autonomous experiencer of time. In this case future time.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Are you one of us?
The flux of political and religious ideologies seem to determine the movement of history. Yet this is mere foam on the espresso. World-dominating institutions, both religious and military, are governed exclusively by members of the I-cult. Leaders of the I-cult have from ancient times maintained power by distracting initiates with a belief in perpetual opposites in opposition: Me/You, He/She, Us/Them, Sacred/Profane, Christian/Saracen, Protestant/Catholic, Landowner/Slave, Liberal/Conservative, Capitalist/Communist, Terrorist/Nationalist. This ancient mind control technique is used to divert proselytes from the real lie at the root of history: That there is the existence of the dominator and the dominated. Without incessant reinforcement of this apparent split in reality the dominated will no longer have the notion of a dominator and become immune to domination.
If I had no sense of the first person singular I would not be greedy because there would be no "I" to want more. I would have no more hate or desire. If there is no one who has an opinion of what he or she likes or dislikes, how could there be one who loathes or craves? In the absence of an I-concept perhaps my sense of subjectivity would be identified with all existing phenomena simultaneously rather than confined to this singular concept-generating entity tapping ten digits across a plastic keyboard. Or, perhaps there would be no sense of identity at all. In either scenario there would be no private virtual space in which selfishness, greed and aversion could make a home.
Without the constriction of the I-concept, whatever such an experience of the life process would be, one thing is certain. The current conceptual structures of language, religion, and culture can not hold the foundational platform for human beings who no longer want to be members of the global cult of "I" and who wish to surmount millennia of genetic pre-disposition toward survival of the I-concept. It is for this reason that as a lifelong member of the Cult of I, and one who is still riddled with a sense of someone "in here" broadcasting concepts to all those "out there", I am initiating a resistance movement. I’m making a break-attempt and going AWOL.
The Cult of No-I
Cult deprogrammers recommend that ex-devotees make a clear break with the group, leave the commune, and distance their selves both physically and emotionally from the calculated manipulations of fellow cult-members. This letter I am now writing is that clear break. Fellow allies have graciously offered a cottage in the seclusion of the wilderness where I will retreat into complete silence and solitude and begin the deprogramming process.
I-concept reinforcement occurs through language, especially our current phonetic system which was initiated by I-cult dominators to spread the culture of conceptual duality. Therefore, except for sheer practical necessity I will cease the use of language in all of its forms: speaking, reading, writing, media. I will however make a concise written record of experience, but exclusively for the sake of objectifying the complicated network of I-bound mental states, and perhaps with time this will become unnecessary. Diet and clothing will be reduced to what is essential for sustaining the mind-body complex.
This is not an act of renunciation or asceticism. It is not a spiritual or religious exercise or discipline. Neither is this based on an opinion of anti-technology. In fact, technology may be useful for expediting the deprogramming stage in the future. I am attempting to make an open isolation tank, an observatory of subjectivity, and in that sense this activity is more akin to a scientific experiment. This experiment will occur indefinitely precisely because any schedule or plan implies there is a "someone" who is making a plan with future expectations.
The intention is to isolate the mind and observe its natural state outside of the "I" reinforcing institutions of human society. What is the sense of "I" in the absence of its cultural context? What is subjectivity with the elimination of the collective ego that imposes, every opportunity it gets, its interpretation of subjectivity upon you? Who am I when no one is there to call my name? Where is the sense of self when it can't reassert its opinions through speech? Is there a pure consciousness unfiltered by a sense of J? Is it possible to cease the use of conceptual thought and move onto something else? What is there for the "I" to do with the elimination of self-generating intentions to do or be or think anything? These and many other such questions are being explored.
Historically defectors from any cult have been mimetically branded "insane", "evil", "doomed to eternal perdition", "excommunicate", or just plain deluded. This is a mind-control technique to prevent anyone else in the group from getting any of their own ideas, and as more people defect from the me-you duality such non-compassionate manipulations are to be expected.
Someone-Looking: Can't I just stay
at home and practice meditation by myself? Do I really need a teacher, a
meditation technique, robes and an alms bowl to attain the unending bliss of
Nirvana? Can't I just get high all day and be happy?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: To whom is that question arising?
Someone-Looking: To me, the No-I activist.
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Are you a Buddhist?
Someone-Looking: Beg your pardon?
Someone-Else-Looking-Back: Who are you?
(Someone-looking, someone-looking, someone-looking)
To some, especially in view of unprecedented times of global anxiety, such isolation and silence may be considered escapist, selfish and extreme. If such concepts were even plausible, I would kindly respond with the fact that 10,000 years of urban development, of production-oriented lifestyles, of the nuclear family, and of fleeting altruistic projects have made the crisis what it is today. The current models of reformation based on an I-concept bias will end in more of the same. Contrary to popular belief, the I-concept projectile is the ultimate lunge into escape: a blind dive into the fantasy of individuation along with all of the ensuing pain that results to keep the delusion alive.
It is to get to the root of the matter entirely and out of empathy for a world rapidly devouring itself that I am determined to deprogram and extricate the very seed of its fraudulent enterprise. My own sense of "I" transpires in this subjective space and not in another's. And that is why no degree of band-aids a well meaning "I" tapes over a separate "you" will ever cure the disease. One may simply point to the cause.
So save yourself! Join the No-I resistance today! Encourage your friends and family to cease the use of the first person singular and discover for yourself what happens. Don't be fooled into thinking the dominator dominates. You are free. And if anything you have read here sounds dumb, confusing, interesting, or diabolical, then ask yourself, "Who am I when I have no opinions?" Are you one of us?
The Sculptor, The Statue [by a friend of J.]
Universal to all spiritual traditions is the discipline of negating with awareness. The degree of negating often corresponds to the degree of spiritual aspiration. Negation is also universally misunderstood within those same traditions as unnecessary, unconventional and suspicious, a matter that is typically so far from the very truth that the traditions aspire to relate. Additionally, negation is viewed as individualistic, unhelpful to society, selfish, deranged, elitist, excessive and misguided.
Negation is seen as a negative state or activity only because negation is a process of removal. This process seeks to dispel or dissolve those unhelpful
states of mind or heart or soul which have no right over the seeker's aspiration to Liberation. These various states are like clouds that block the sun's rays, or can also be understood to be illusory or delusional views or ideas or concepts that, whether or not known to be real or false, create an imaginary, scripted, theatrical world wherein a life is played out to the last breath.
To grasp the problem one must come to an understanding of what negation is
and what Liberation is.
Liberation is simply a permanent state of awareness that has been realized beyond the ordinary state of a mind. This ordinary mind is the mind that has
held on to the misconception that mind is an entity independent and
free-the actor on the stage of life. Liberation is not a place or an attainment; it is not a station or eternal heaven. It is a state of mind that has "seen" the truth of the ordinary state of mind and remains in that "truth of seeing".
Negation is the technique of removing all which binds the mind to the misconception that there is an identifiable being called "me". This false sense of "me" is the source of all dissatisfaction and disappointment in life. This "me" is the origin of all pain, confusion, hatred, greed and ignorance.
The Liberated mind is the natural and true state of sentient beings as well as insentient beings. One longs for Liberation because one senses that one is imprisoned and shackled to a world that appears to be completely mad. Indeed, one somehow knows that it is completely mad.
From the moment of conception (some claim before that) the sense of "me" is
instilled by members of the "me-cult". Throughout our life we are asked to ignore obvious inward movements towards freedom and pursue a life of absolute delusion and pain. Is this not madness?
What then does one do to negate this lifelong and pernicious brainwashing? One negates the effect of the "me-cult" by observing that "me" as it arises from moment to moment. This Practice is extensively delineated in other writings.
This "me" is called the "I". Through meditative practice, contemplation, prayer, discourse with like-minded friends and teachers, the "I" is known to oneself to be completely non-existent. This knowing is an undeniable experience of the beginning of Awakening from the dream of the "I-cult". Such an experience can never be forgotten and becomes the focal energy to pursue the arduous task of negating in oneself what the world insists is real. We have learned the secret--It is not real at all.
Perhaps it is helpful to imagine a great block of stone. Before this stone a sculptor stands with the intention to carve a statue. The task of the sculptor is to remove all of the stone that is not a part of the statue. When that is accomplished there is a statue. Was that statue always there? The statue was a part of the artist's mental projection and could be a statue of whatever the sculptor wished but nonetheless that statue is what remained when all else was removed. Did the sculptor create something that was never there? The sculptor simply removed pieces of stone; what remained was left untouched. Does the sculptor claim to have created his own work of art? Was the art not always there and revealed by a removal process? One can begin to see that removal of all that is not needful results is a revelation of what simply and always is.
Liberation is that statue which is realized in the higher mind of the aspirant. Liberation is what becomes known to "be" when all that is not true is removed. Liberation is always right here, always real. Negation is the state of mind that eventually removes everything which keeps Liberation from being. Liberation is known to be by Liberation Itself, not a "me".
The "Way of JOY" is a Practice which expedites the negation process by concentrating upon the false I-concept. When the clinging to the I-concept is removed, all delusion is destroyed and Liberation is known to have always been the true state of that which is beyond-mind.
May all beings be free of the "cult of I".