1. Concerning the principle of uniformity, discussed in chapter 2. It should be noted that the underlying assumption of this principle is the particular proposition “some things (whether elements of experience or products of abstraction) have some characteristics in common”. This is clearly not a generalization, because it is not a generality! It is merely an admission that the world we face seems to have some repetitiveness in it, without any prejudice as to the extent of such repetition

And as to how this particular proposition is known to be true – it is not so much by experience as by logic. For if we tried to claim its contradictory, i.e. that “nothing has any characteristic in common with anything else”, we would be guilty of self-contradiction, since the use of any concept whatsoever (like “thing”, “has”, “characteristic”, “in common”, etc.) relies on a supposition that two or more things have certain characteristics in common, thanks to which we may give them a common name. And it cannot be said that things have nothing in common other than the name we conventionally apply to them (Nominalism), since even appeal to a common name implies that the two or more instances of the name concerned are recognizably “the same” name, so that is an inconsistent objection.

Thus, the principle of uniformity is based on a logically necessary particular proposition.

2. In the discussion of sensory perception in chapter 4, I forgot to mention Thomas Reid (Scotland, 1710-96). Although modern histories of philosophy tend to ignore him or gloss over him, this contemporary and fellow countryman of David Hume’s was during his lifetime more respected than the latter, because of his common sense approach to philosophy. Reid rejected Hume’s (and others’) skeptical claim that what man perceives are internal impressions, i.e. mental products of the physiological process of sensation, and ably defended the direct realist view that what man perceives are outer physical causes of the sensations. Hume was aware of Reid’s criticism of his work, but remained indifferent to his arguments although they were more perspicacious and reasonable than his own. Later, too, Immanuel Kant (a younger contemporary of Reid’s) paid little heed to Reid’s arguments.

It should be noted that direct realism is sometimes wrongly confused with naïve realism. These are in truth not identical philosophical concepts, though they may on occasion overlap. Naïve realism essentially refers to the worldview of the common man, who takes for granted the reality and materiality of the world apparently around him without asking questions as to the veracity and substantiality of such appearance. Direct realism is perhaps logically implied by naïve realism, but certainly does not reciprocate such implication. Direct realism is the view, as already stated, that we perceive the world itself and not alleged mental representations of the world.

Opponents of direct realism claim that advocacy of this philosophy can only be arbitrary say-so or circular argument. However, this accusation is untrue. The main justification of direct realism is the manifest logical inconsistency of the opposite view, advocated by Hume, and John Locke before him and Kant after him. Impressions, ideas, representations divorced in principle from external objects lead inevitably to self-contradiction – and are therefore far more flawed methodologically. One cannot claim ideas or impressions to represent (i.e. give indirect access to) anything beyond representation if one first claims to have no direct access to anything beyond them. As of the moment the advocate of direct realism has thus (and in many other ways) argued his case, he can no longer accurately be accused of naïve realism. His realism must be labeled (relatively) subtle, instead.

However, the most important and precise distinction between naïve realism and subtle realism lies not in the self-contradiction of the antithesis of direct realism, but with reference to phenomenology. If the direct realist is content to claim that sensory perception is perception of physical reality (as against representations of it), he is still functioning on a relatively naïve level. His understanding is fully subtle only when he comes to understand that the preceding is an inductive hypothesis (better than any other) that admits the phenomena perceived as ab initio mere appearances (i.e. not as necessarily realities or necessarily illusions, but as possibly realities and possibly illusions).

Thus, though Reid’s common sense approach to direct realism was logically preferable to Locke’s, Hume’s and Kant’s absurd representational cognitive philosophies, it was perhaps not the final word on the subject, since phenomenology was still not very developed. That is not to say there was no phenomenology in Reid’s approach, but only that it was not a thoroughgoing phenomenology. Reid, in any case, did not claim to have answered all questions regarding direct realism, and indeed to date many crucial problems have remained unsolved (as explained my main text).

3. In the discussion of the ethical means and ends in chapter 7, I pointed out that, for instances, life and soul were two things that could logically be affirmed to be natural and absolute standards of value, since they are preconditions of any ethical discourse, i.e. since ethical discourse is only applicable to beings with life and more specifically with soul, i.e. beings with powers of consciousness, volition and valuation like us humans.

As I have suggested in my work Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, the term “life” in this context does not just mean bodily life – though this is doubtless its primary meaning. The term can also legitimately be taken to refer to spiritual life, i.e. the life of the soul. Indeed, in the last analysis ethics is concerned with bodily welfare rather accessorily: its main concern is with the soul’s welfare.

An obvious consequence of such extension of meaning is that those who believe in life after death (as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) or in reincarnation (as in Buddhism and Hinduism) can construct an ethics without committing a logical error. That is to say, ethics is not necessarily limited to this life and this world.

Clearly, if we assume that our life goes on or returns in some form even after our body has died, it is logically quite okay (though at first sight it might seem paradoxical) to build an ethics in which the body might be deliberately risked or sacrificed in favor of the soul’s longer-term interest.

Those who view their life on earth as a mere visit in a longer journey naturally and quite logically evaluate their thoughts, words and deeds with reference to that broader context rather than in the narrow sense of physical survival. Although such survival is important to ethics, it can on occasion be overridden by more abstract, wider or higher considerations. Such occasions provide one with a test of one’s true values.

Of course, such self-sacrifice can easily be wrongly based on fantasy and illusion, since we do not know of the hereafter except by hearsay or presupposition. In most circumstances, it is wise to assume that one’s continued survival is the most beneficial course of action. But in special circumstances one might well judge that to accept some present evil would endanger one’s future life or lives. For example, some saintly persons have preferred to die rather than to be forced to kill an innocent person.

People can conceivably and sometimes do risk or give their physical lives in defense of their family, their people or nation, humanity as a whole, life as such, or in God’s service, because they perceive themselves, not as delimited bodies and independent individuals, but as parts of a larger whole – a group of people or of living things or the collective or root soul that is God. The value of one’s life is in such case a function of the value of the larger unit.

In sum, though we may use the term “life” as a short and sweet standard of ethical discourse, the term should not exclusively be understood in its simplest, material sense, but may logically be widened to admit more spiritual goals, whether this-worldly and other-worldly.


Addenda to the Critique of Kant

1. About Induction in chapter 1. It should be noted that induction of the content of propositions and induction of formal relationships between them (oppositions, eductions, syllogisms, and so forth) are subject to distinct rules.

To induce a proposition of whatever form with specific contents, i.e. a ‘material’ proposition (so-called in contrast to formal propositions, whether it concerns concretes or abstracts of matter, mind or spirit), one must have some empirical evidence that the relation concerned occurs in at least some instances. (This is ultimately true, taking knowledge as a whole: although of course some of our particular propositions are obtained from other propositions by deduction, the information that we deduced them from must eventually be grounded in experience.) Thus, for example, a proposition like ‘some swans are white’ requires that we actually observe some ‘white swans’. We would not ordinarily (i.e. usually, ignoring deductive intermediaries) accept the proposition that ‘some swans are green [like parrots]’ without having witnessed the fact. From such empirical particulars all our general knowledge is eventually derived, whether by generalization and particularization or by adductive reasoning (or by deduction from general propositions so derived).

This methodology does not apply to formal principles. The starting point of formal logic is the assumption that the relationship between any two forms of proposition is simple compatibility – until and unless they and/or their negations are shown to be incompatible in some way. Contrary to the claim of some modern logicians, we cannot “prove compatibility”. We can show examples – but the compatibility in the examples is in fact simply assumed because no incompatibility is found/proved (if only by logical insight). We must be careful in this context not to place the cart before the horse. Our attitude of demanding proof is correct, and our method of adducing example(s) is correct – for content. But for form – i.e. in formal logic – the procedure is the reverse: we must prove the implications rather than the non-implications.

For example, in the case of the doctrine of oppositions, the way we proceed is as follows: there exists (according to the laws of thought) only seven possible oppositions: contradictory, contrary, subcontrary, implicant, subalternating, subalternated, unconnected, it follows that when we cannot prove anything regarding the opposition between two propositional forms P and Q, we must assume them to be unconnected. Simply because: there is nothing else for them to be![1] We always proceed by elimination of unproven alternatives. We demand proof for the hard relations, not for the soft. The latter follow automatically, by virtue of our not having proven the former. That is the way logicians always proceed. To search for compatibilities is redundant, because there is no way to do it without circularity or infinity. Imagine all the propositional forms in the world now or ever: we do not have to show them all compatible before we use them. They are considered compatible until and unless we manage to show them otherwise.

2. Amplifying the conclusion to chapter 2. Kant defined an analytic proposition as one whose predicate is “contained” (i.e. immediately given and manifest) in the subject. This meant that the subject-concept was to us unthinkable without the predicate-concept, so that we could readily mentally extract the latter from the former both a priori (i.e. without recourse to experience) and necessarily (i.e. with utter certainty). My contention is that there is no such mental process as Kant’s analytic. Kant and indeed many people do believe that they can extract certain predicates from certain subjects without recourse to experience and with utter certainty; but this is an error on their part due to insufficient introspection and reflection. Such extraction does occur – but it is not a priori or logically necessary deduction: it depends on experience and it can result from erroneous processing of information. It does not tell us how the predicate concerned originally came to be known, but is just an ex post facto recall of an already formed opinion or decision. Thus, the very concept of analysis as proposed by Kant is wrong – and all propositions must be regarded as essentially synthetic in his sense of the term. Even the four laws of thought and the formal logic derived from them are synthetic, note well.

Underlying the wrong belief in Kantian analytic propositions is the Kantian belief in a priori knowledge. My contention, here again, is that no human knowledge is purely a priori – all human knowledge is to various degrees a posteriori. As I have argued, even Aristotle’s three laws of thought and the principle of induction depend on some experience to at all come to mind and be understood and believed. They cannot exist in a vaccum, as a thought thoroughly devoid of all content. They are the closest we can get to a priori thought – but they cannot conceivably be 100% a priori. Thus, the Kantian idea of a priori is a mere figment of his imagination, too. We can use the term to refer to involvement of rational acts (in contrast to pure experience) in the formation of judgments – but we may not conclude from such use that there are judgments that are entirely rational (i.e. devoid of any experiential content whatsoever).

It follows from these considerations that Kant’s search for “synthetic a priori” propositions is a red herring. All propositions are synthetic – even those that seemed to him to be analytic. And no propositions are purely a priori – they are all to some extent a posteriori, i.e. dependent on experience at some stage. In other words, all propositions are synthetic a posteriori (whether they be logically necessary or logically contingent).

3. With regard to the chapters about the categories, about ratiocination and about numbers, a little more need be said in relation to the more abstract quantitative concepts used in logic, namely: all, none, some, some not, and the like. How can these concepts be defined in ways that avoid circularity?

I think that we must regard “all” (or “every”) as a very early ratiocination, a sense of full inclusion of the set of units under consideration. Inclusion suggests belonging (being “in” a group) and conjunction (“and”) with others; the group is “full”, when no further units are admitted into it. At first the concept “all” refers to finite sets; but later we must extend it to non-finite or (more precisely put) open-ended sets, i.e. sets some of whose items are not yet identified. Next in the order of things comes the negative equivalent this concept, viz. “none”, which means “all not”, i.e. “not any”, the expression of negation “not” being of course another very primitive notion/concept.

From these two universal concepts we can by conjunction derive the definite particular “some and some not”, which may be defined as “neither all nor none”. The three concepts “all”, “none” and “not all and not none” are seen to be contrary, i.e. mutually exclusive (only one of them can be true) and together exhaustive (not more than two of them can be false). Now we are able to define the indefinite particular “some” as the common quantity in “all” and in “neither all nor none”, and “some not” as the common quantity in “none” and in “neither all nor none”. Alternatively, we can say that “some” means “not none”, i.e. (more positively put) one or more up to all, and “some not” means “not all”, i.e. (again more positively put) less than all or even none.

Other abstract concepts of quantity, namely many, few, more, less, most, least, can be similarly clarified in non-circular ways, by comparing sizes or proportions of subsets. So much for quantity.

With regard to modality, we do not have to proceed in the same way, since the categories of modality are defined with reference to the already developed categories of quantity. That is to say, whereas for quantity it seems best to start with “all” to avoid circularity, for modality we need not start with necessity (meaning: under all conditions) but may equally well start with possibility (meaning: under some conditions), or however we choose, without risking any circularity.

4. I have mentioned Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries in chapter 4. With regard to the axioms of geometry, I would like to add the following. These axioms are induced – that is to say, they seem true (at a given time in history, to certain persons), and we ‘generalize’ from such appearance that they indeed are true. Such generalization from ‘seems to be’ to ‘is’ occurs not only in geometry, but in all fields. It is always performed, like all generalization, with a tacit or explicit proviso. We think: this is so, until and unless a contrary appearance or insight comes to the fore; if one does, then we will as a matter of course review this generalization, and perhaps decide to particularize it.

This should be obvious; but it needs to be reminded, because certain commentators tend to dramatize the movement from Euclidean to non-Euclidean geometry as a sort of antinomy, i.e. as something contrary to reason. No, reason takes it all taken in stride.


Addenda to the Defense of Aristotle

1. Concerning chapter 10, on the Diamond Sutra’s discourse. Although its form is paradoxical, it seems intelligible. How is this to be explained? What is the underlying logic that makes people accept such discourse in spite of its formal flaws? I can answer this with reference to another instance of such discourse, inspired by the said sutra. In The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (pp. 64-65), we find the following discourse, as translated by John Blofeld: “The fundamental doctrine of the Dharma is that there are no dharmas, yet that this doctrine of no-dharma is in itself a dharma; and now that the no-dharma doctrine has been transmitted, how can the doctrine of the dharma be a dharma?” (Blofeld explains that he introduced the word ‘doctrine’ in place of ‘dharma’ to avoid the confusion of the original Chinese sentence.)

Why is this statement somewhat intelligible? Let me rephrase it a little (square brackets mine): “The fundamental doctrine of the Dharma is that there are no [verbal] dharmas, yet that this doctrine of no-dharma is in itself a dharma; and now that the no-dharma doctrine has been transmitted [wordlessly], how can the doctrine of the dharma be a [verbal] dharma?” In other words, the non-verbal dharma transmission cannot be replaced by a verbal transmission, such as the present words. Such words can merely talk about or somewhat describe the actual dharma transmission, but are incapable of being a substitute for it. Dharma transmission remains possible only non-verbally. As can be seen, the paradox arises only due to incompetent verbalization (if not a predilection for paradoxical statements). The underlying idea (that transmission of the mind of Zen can only be effectively performed wordlessly) is not paradoxical. It is quite intelligible (certainly there is no natural necessity that a mere description can do the job) and it can even be verbalized without paradox (as here done).

2. Concerning chapter 18, on dreams. How do the contents of our dreams arise? Most people regard that dreams are made up of re-churned memories of sensations, feelings, sounds, images and verbal thoughts, perhaps with a subconscious creative interference at the time of dreaming. In other words, the contents of dreams are partly dished out more or less fortuitously by the brain, and at the same time partly shaped by the dreamer through a half-asleep effort of his will. I do not find this traditional explanation entirely convincing. It is of course largely true, but I think that it does not suffice to explain the complexity of dreams.

Looking at my own dreams, at the variety and complexity of the actors and scenarios that appear in them, I am perplexed by the fact that they seem far more imaginative than anything I am able to produce when awake. My speculation is that there must be some additional external input – by telepathy. During sleep, I believe, we intertwine our thoughts with those of other people.


Addenda to More Meditations

1. Since writing More Meditations, I have been mentally using the following awareness checklist in my meditations:

  • BODY (verify/correct posture; and intensify body awareness, including physical sensations and emotional feelings).
  • BREATH (in the nostrils and in the hara).
  • THOUGHTS (all mental phenomena included, watch them but also try to dampen them and eventually stop them).
  • SURROUNDS (the visual and auditory fields, touch sensations and smells).
  • THE FACT OF CONSCIOUSNESS (wonder at it).
  • THE ONE WHO IS CONSCIOUS (one’s self – a non-phenomenal object of intuition).

I may go through this checklist rapidly at intervals, while using other techniques – or I may use it as my central meditation technique. This may be done by focusing on each item listed in turn – for the time of one breath, or three or ten breaths or more. At the end of the series, try to merge all the forms of awareness together, into one total awareness. Repeat the process a number of times, till its beneficial effect – viz. an increased degree of consciousness – is clearly felt.

These items correspond, of course, to the various aspects of the ordinary “mind” (or rather: “psyche”), including phenomenal experiences (physical or mental) and non-phenomenal (intuitive) ones, and conceptual derivatives of all these. It should be obvious that when I refer here to the “self”, I mean the real self (which is entirely non-phenomenal, i.e. purely spiritual), not the illusory self or “ego” (which is largely phenomenal, though usually also involves some degree of consciousness of the underlying real self).

2. In meditation we want to focus on the here and now, remember. One valuable technique is to arouse intense alertness, like a hunter intent on spotting his prey or like a hunted animal. A useful way to motivate such alertness is to think of Zen stories where the meditator obtained sudden enlightenment (satori) when some unexpected event occurred, like some branch snapping. Thus, become watchful of all individual sights, sounds, or other sensations, with the thought that any one of them might bring you the hoped for flash of insight. In such case, no phenomenon is routine, but each deserves your full attention.

This consciousness involves both open-mindedness and concentration, i.e. both a wide field of attention and a pinpoint awareness of eventual events in it. An interesting aspect of it is that the watcher becomes ‘transparent’, in that he forgets himself and is essentially unaffected by what occurs around him (objectively or subjectively, i.e. in the physical or mental surrounds), having resolved not to interfere in the world process for a while. He is open to all occurrences – not as one asleep, but as one who is extremely awake (in a non-nervous, contemplative way). This self-forgetfulness is valuable in that it effaces the superficial false self, which is ordinarily so weighty a part of our experience. The underlying true self is of course still in fact present, but without overt self-consciousness.

Meditation is not something mechanical. There is no technique, no formula that can be applied unthinkingly, that will result in enlightenment. If there were, we would all be enlightened by now. The essence of meditation is – always remember – awareness, presence of mind (i.e. being oneself consciously present). Techniques can only help us get into a position facilitating such presence of mind, but sooner or later that living effort is essential. Once you know this, you go straight to it with greater ease. Awareness also means non-attachment – i.e. not getting carried away by thoughts or emotions that may arise. A light touch towards experience is necessary to remain free of its attractions, repulsions, compulsions and obstructions.

3. When focusing on phenomena, keep in mind that they are not the ultimate goal of meditation. Our field of ordinary experience is of necessity limited. We see and hear our immediate surrounds and thoughts, whereas the world out there and within is huge. Meditation aims at the expansion of consciousness – to infinity, if possible, i.e. beyond all limitations. We aim to look past the immediate experience – though not to its exclusion, i.e. while including it.

The realm of samsara is that of material and mental phenomena and the realm of nirvana is the transcendence of such phenomena. Thus, we need through meditation to realize that consciousness of the phenomenal is limiting – and learn to exist with a broader, hopefully boundless outlook. One can continue to walk through the phenomenal world and simultaneously be aware that this is only a small space within infinity. The value of this outlook is that one does not take the phenomenal world too seriously, not to get entangled in it – it then appears as an illusory narrowing of consciousness, beyond which one is able to look at all times.

4. We go through life with different and varying degrees of consciousness. Different people have different breadth and depth of consciousness – and each one of us at different times of one’s life likewise has changing degrees of consciousness. When one is a baby, one’s “world” may be limited to the taste of mother’s milk, the feel of her kisses and caresses, and so on. As a child, we may be entirely focused on one’s family, one’s best friend, one’s toys, one’s school teacher, etc. Later on, as a teenager, one’s attention may be centered on one’s girlfriend, on one’s studies, and so forth. After that, one’s wife and kids, one’s job, one’s car and home, etc. In each phase of life, one’s “world” is necessarily limited to a number of things. We may of course have more theoretical interests, like science or history or philosophy or religion, but most people have this in relatively limited quantities.

Our degree of consciousness usually increases with time, but sometimes it may decrease. If one takes up drugs or some other vice, one may actually become a less conscious person. So there are ups and downs, it is not all smooth sailing. There is no inevitability of development or evolution. Looking back on one’s life, one can easily see this. If one learns from one’s mistakes and proceeds in a purposeful manner, one can gradually direct one’s life so that it is a spiritually upward mobile process. One can put one’s life in a broader context that what is immediately perceived and desired by one’s instincts or under the influence of various social forces. This is expansion of consciousness.

5. Basically, in meditation our goal is to become conscious of the reality underlying all phenomena – i.e. the “ground of being” or the “nature of mind” (in Buddhist parlance) or the “presence of God” (in a more Judaic perspective). Thus, when we focus on some physical and/or mental object(s), our interest in it/them is ultimately nil – we are in fact trying to get beyond these phenomenal fields, to look through them as it were. But to do so, we need to first focus on the here and now, and stop being distracted by passing thoughts and emotions.

Realization means getting in contact with reality. In principle, realization is possible at any moment – and indeed, some masters suggest that we are repeatedly throughout our meditations, our days, our life and even our death, at least momentarily getting such insight, but we are unable to notice it, or if we do notice it unable to stay with it[2]. It usually takes a lot of meditation practice to get to the stages where we are able to notice it and stay with it. However, knowing that realization is in fact so near can be very helpful – motivating us and increasing our degree of awareness.

The motive behind our meditation is, by the way, very important to its success. If we meditate out of unhappiness, i.e. because our fondest earthly desires are repeatedly frustrated, hoping that this activity will give us success in life, we cannot expect to get very high. We must rather realize that existence within the space of ‘samsara’ is inherently one of suffering, i.e. that the very fact of having a particular form and individual life is the source of suffering, and that only existence in ‘nirvana’ can liberate us from such constitutional suffering. These are two very different attitudes, note well. The one is still egoistically inclined; the other is indicative of a considerable spiritual elevation already. The one pursues happiness; the other is beyond such petty concerns: it is an expression of wisdom.

6. A very good formula for meditation, I have found, is to imagine oneself already enlightened/liberated. Start your meditation by saying: the Buddha that I am within is now going to sit down and do what Buddhas like to do, i.e. sit still and silent, fully aware, enjoying the here and now, devoid of reminiscences, anticipations, worries, plans, or any such mortal concerns. Amazingly, this approach very often works, i.e. it helps one transcend one’s usual concerns and thoughts, and to concentrate on one’s mediation object more easily and for a longer time.

7. Prajna vs. Dhyana. Rereading D. T. Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism, I am struck at how different his conception of Zen Buddhism is. I must have noticed that during previous readings, but this time round it seems more personally significant. Due to a background in yoga meditation, I have personally inclined to Soto Zen, the more meditative branch of Zen, which teaches that if we sit in meditation, with the right posture and techniques, and with the right attitudes, we will naturally eventually break through to full enlightenment.

But D. T. Suzuki denies or doubts this result. He has more faith in Rinzai Zen, which uses koans. He considers the Soto way too passive, lacking in the necessary ‘spirit of inquiry’. In his view, apparently, meditation (dyana) may bring about inner tranquility and even many deep insights, which are valuable preparations, but it cannot take us through the final gate to true enlightenment. For this decisive victory (bodhi or satori), a sharper sword is necessary, that of wisdom (prajna). The latter is made possible through full-time intense concentration on a koan under the guidance of an accredited master. This is the more active Rinzai way. (Strictly speaking, I would call this a meditation, albeit one of another sort than that of the Soto sect.)

Philip Kapleau’s description of his difficult journey in The Three Pillars of Zen (1965) comes to mind here as a modern example. Personally, all my life I have considered having a guru as unnecessary, arguing that if the Buddha managed to find his way to enlightenment alone, without transmission from a teacher, then in principle other people could too. Now, rereading D. T. Suzuki, I’m wondering if such individualism has been wise. The trouble with relying on a teacher, especially nowadays, is how to know if he is genuine?

8. Subject and Object. Pursuing D. T. Suzuki’s thought further, I re-read his The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, and found it inspiring in the same direction. He often stresses here the non-separation of subject and object, as for instance on p. 133:

The state of no-mind-ness refers to the time prior to the separation of mind and world, when there is yet no mind standing against an external world and receiving its impressions through the various sense-channels. Not only a mind but a world has yet to come into existence.

It occurred to me, reading that page, that this doctrine can be expressed in phenomenological terms. The phenomenological stance consists in just experiencing, i.e. in taking appearance as such, before any evaluations or theories concerning it are attempted – i.e. before it is classed as reality or illusion, matter or mind, or whatever. We could well say, as does Zen, that the subject-object dichotomy also occurs after this primary phenomenological experience – i.e. that it too is a rational rather than experiential belief.

Our ordinary response to experience (whether inner or outer seeming) is to immediately say “I am experiencing these appearances” – whence the Subject of experience seems to us inevitably implied by the very fact of appearance. Thus given a subject experiencing it, the content of experience becomes an Object. And since subject and object are distinct, a relation between them, which we call Consciousness, has to be assumed. Zen tells us that we can (and should) merely experience appearance as such, without bringing a self into the picture as the one experiencing.

Even if we must, to construct a coherent and credible epistemology, admit that we each routinely experience our self and its functions (cognition, volition and valuation) directly through intuition, we can still make this consistent with the said Zen insight by including all such intuitions of self, consciousness, will and value as elements within the field of appearance. They should not be regarded as standing outside the totality of experience looking in, but as parts of it. In that case, the interposition of a subject experiencing, the consequent objectification of the content of experience, and thirdly the assumption of an intermediary of consciousness to link these two together, can reasonably be avoided.

Thus, the phenomenological stance, properly understood, is not only prior to the reality-illusion distinction, or to the matter-mind distinction, but even to the subject-object distinction. The latter is rational construction, a hypothesis, a supposition of reason with a view to explain things, and not as we ordinarily think of it a primary experience, not a brute incontrovertible fact. To momentarily experience the field of appearance in such neutral fashion ordinarily requires an effort, but it is not too difficult. We stick to appearance as such (including any sense of self and consciousness we might have as part of it), and abstain from ratiocination as to whether someone is experiencing this appearance and through what medium that is made possible.

Of course, such momentary effort of purely phenomenological experience is very far from the Zen satori, which is supposed to be a permanent change in our way of being, experiencing and thinking. The latter cannot be obtained by a mere effort of will, but requires some sort of complex exercise, which is presumably what the koan meditation consists in. But we can still convincingly philosophically assimilate the Zen idea of non-separation between subject, consciousness and object, as here done.


Addenda to Zen Judaism

1. Concerning chapter 2. To my mind, whenever I read the Bible, the greatest obstacles to easy belief are the obscurity and confusion in many parts of the text. This puts the Divine origin of the text as a whole in doubt, although parts of it may well still have Divine origin. Even if the latter supposition is true, it is difficult to ascertain which parts are indeed to be trusted. Nevertheless, as already argued by me in some specific cases, it is often obvious enough which parts are not of such exalted origin, though their human source may well be exceptionally wise and spiritually high.

Such reflections are not new. One of the oldest Bible critics is Chiwi al-Balkhi (9th Cent., Bactria)[3]. Some of his assumed criticisms are described by Solomon Schechter, as follows[4]:

…to give some summary of the nature of our author’s arguments. As it would seem his Scripture difficulties were suggested by the following considerations: (1) That the style of the Scriptures is lacking in clearness, being constantly in need of explanation, which is not always forthcoming. (2) That they are wanting in consistency of phraseology and diction. (3) That they contain needless details and repetitions. These are of course more or less mere linguistic or philological difficulties; but the medieval Jews apparently considered such obscurities and inconsistencies in the diction and in the spelling as incompatible with the divine nature of a book, which is expected to be clear, concise, and free from ambiguities. Of a more serious nature are the considerations: (4) That they are full of chronological difficulties. (5) That the various books constituting the Scriptures are either directly contradictory to each other or ignore laws and ceremonies in the one portion which are considered as of the greatest import in the other. (6) That their ethics are inferior and in no way compatible with the moral nature of God.

While I would not necessarily endorse all of the man’s criticisms (he is said to have written some two hundred), and I am aware that the Rabbis (notably Saadia Gaon) have proposed credible answers to some of them, I think it is fair to say that many of them are very pertinent even today. He was a modern reader, centuries early.

Of course, people may ask me, and I ask myself: why be so negative? Why seek to find fault with every little thing? What is the utility and purpose of so much criticality? The only answer I can give is: love of truth. Truth is capable of withstanding all tests. If a belief can’t take the prodding, it may not be true. One has to have the courage to face reality, and not let oneself be deflected from it by hopes and fears. The important thing is to ask the questions with respect and love, and to make the effort not to be more destructive than the answers allow.

2. Concerning chapter 3. I mention the frequent appeal to miracles for the purposes of explanation as characteristic of Rashi. Another or subsidiary characteristic of his is appeal to prophecy and frequent indulgence in anachronism. The latter two are related to each other as well as to the former. Note that I am not denying miracle or prophecy (they are explicitly mentioned in many stories of the Tanakh), but merely marking Rashi’s tendency to appeal to them even when it is not necessary (i.e. when a more naturalistic explanation is conceivable). I am, of course, aware that Rashi draws heavily on Talmudic and Midrashic accounts, but the fact remains that he draws on explanations with such miraculous tendencies more than other commentators (like the Ramban, say) do[5].

Samples of Rashi’s commentary. To buttress his idea that the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people knew and practiced the whole Torah, and so were anachronistically already Jews before the Gift of Torah at Sinai, he must attribute to them knowledge of the laws by prophetic powers (e.g. Rashi to Gen 26:5). Similarly, Rachel’s burial at Bethlehem, instead of Hebron, is explained as necessary in anticipation of the Babylonian exile (a millennium later), so that the matriarch could pray for the captives en route (Rashi to Gen. 48:7). Or again, to explain whence the Israelites had the wood necessary for the desert Sanctuary, Rashi claims that Yaacov had cedar trees planted in Egypt over two hundred years earlier for just this purpose, which the Israelites cut them down and prepared for transportation prior to the exodus (Rashi to Ex. 26:15).

Philosophically, Rashi’s implied worldview – the ubiquity of miracles, the routine interference of Providence in human affairs – is conceivable; religiously, it is commendable, showing great faith and consciousness of God’s presence. But in a more rationalist perspective, it is too easy, an explanatory shortcut and copout; it is not as demanding and credible as a detailed naturalistic analysis.

Furthermore, I wonder whether apologetics (those of Rashi or any other commentator) are as commendable as they seem. They seem based on the belief that one pleases God by manipulating the truth in His favor, or in favor of the religion. But surely, from a rational point of view, a 100% respect for truth (including admitting areas of doubt) is a higher service to God.

3. Concerning chapter 4. I there mention vegetarianism as a possible alternative to the traditional kosher diet. I should have said that I am personally a vegetarian, though I have in the past not been one. I abstained from saying it so as not to seem to be peddling a particular opinion. But upon reflection, I should have argued the point. I gave up meat many years ago, essentially out of pity for the animals subjected to industrial methods of production, transportation and slaughter[6]. A couple of years ago I also stopped eating fish, having read that mankind is truly destroying the world’s fish stocks, both directly and indirectly[7]. I still, however, eat dairy products.

I do not buy the traditional argument that “we should not try to be more merciful than God asks us to be in the Torah”. Even if the Torah permits eating of meat and fish, we must take into consideration that this refers to small populations using small-scale farming and slaughter. The animal then had some dignity. This is no longer true today, when it is treated as a mere thing, when meat and fish are by most people purchased off the supermarket stall without any awareness or respect for its living source. Even eggs and cheese are tainted in this regard, though a little less so. Therefore, yes, I do recommend vegetarianism.

Speaking of slaughter, let us also mention animal sacrifices in the Temple. I agree with the Rambam’s (Maimonides’) assessment that these were vestiges of the past. This is partly suggested in the Torah itself (Lev. 17:7). It is all the more obvious today, when we know the history of mankind so much more fully and can well see how widespread the practice of sacrifice has been. I cannot imagine why God would have any interest in such practices; I cannot either see how it could possibly be of any benefit to the human beings engaged in them. Even if they believe the sacrificed animal’s suffering and death replaces their own, there is no conceivable way this might objectively occur. The conceivable (illusory) psychological relief hardly justifies such violent behavior. The objective “karmic” effect is likely to be more guilt rather than less.

But let us suppose, as the Ramban (Nachmanides) for his part assumes, that God has chosen to create a mystical (invisible, underlying) connection between man and God justifying animal sacrifice. This is a conceivable hypothesis if we imagine a few sacrifices a year performed in the name of the whole nation. But when we start computing all the obligatory and voluntary sacrifices that according to the Torah would have to be performed per annum for all the individuals in the nation, as well as for the nation as a whole, not to mention for foreigners, we have to admit perplexity. This means hundreds of thousands or even millions of animals killed every year, year after year[8]. Blood would flow constantly, ad nauseam. So much suffering – for what?

I do hope and pray for the restoration of the Temple on its ancient site, soon in our days. But I personally do not look forward to such daily massacres of poor, innocent beasts. Considered in abstraction, in small quantities, the practice seems innocuous, almost natural. But when actual numbers are brought to mind, it is clearly inhumane and unacceptable. I cannot see any spirituality in it – quite the contrary, it is bound to reduce our sensitivity, kindness and goodness. Animals do not deserve such harsh treatment, and human beings are better off without this outdated ‘mitzva’. It is difficult to believe God would actually have ever demanded this of us. More likely, an existing priestly caste justified it ex post facto as Divinely commanded.

4. I mention in chapter 6 and in appendix 1 that there are ‘difficult questions’ concerning the Torah narrative that the Rabbis have not sufficiently asked and not successfully answered. One such question or set of questions is the following.

What did the Israelites eat and drink during their desert wanderings (and indeed what did their animals eat and drink)? This eating question is partially answered by assuming that during the month that elapsed until they got the gift of manna, they may have carried food (and fodder), and that after the manna ceased they supposedly bought what they need from the people(s) living in their vicinity. There is no mention of what the animals (required for sacrificial purposes) ate during the years of manna. As for drink, while at times the narrative mentions specific natural and miraculous water sources (presumably used for animals as well as humans), at other times the issue is not clarified. Consequently, the oral tradition refers to ‘Myriam’s well’ – a sort of miraculously mobile well – having accompanied them for most of their journey.

At first glance, the given explanations seem convincing even if incomplete, but upon reflection, when the quantities involved are considered they seem rather incredible. For, granting Torah population figures, we are here talking about some two million people (i.e. Israelite men, women and children, not to mention the ‘mixed multitude’ accompanying them), and a large herd of animals (presumably hundreds of thousands of them). This means over four times the current Jewish population of Jerusalem. Imagine the quantities of food and drink such a large number of people need daily! Then add on the needs of the animals for good measure. Then multiply this figure by 365 per year and again by 40 for the years of wandering.

If we assume just half a liter of water per human per day, that would be 1’000’000 liters or 1’000 tonnes of water per day. Over 365 days, this means 365’000 tonnes of water. And over 40 years, the quantity would be 14.6 million tonnes. Similarly, for periods when the manna was not yet or no longer granted, if we assume (for the sake of argument) a food ration of only a quarter kilo per person on average, they would have needed 500 tonnes per day, and so on. Similarly for animals, only more so – though their types and numbers are unknown, so it is no use making any calculations.[9][10]

Now, consider the logistics needed to supply a population of that size. Not only are the quantities enormous, but the question is how were these quantities distributed? Did two million people daily come to a central spot (like Myriam’s well) with their recipients and collect their portions, or were these brought to them on animals or on carts? How was the water drawn out from eventual wells, considering the quantities involved? They had no pumps or canals; someone had to do the work using tools of some sort. Compare life in a modern city, to get an idea of the magnitude of the task.

In some commentaries, the people are presented as carrying with them the food and drink needed for an extended period of time (e.g. from the departure from Egypt till the manna started appearing). But when we thus calculate the quantities involved, it seems absurd to propose this. Each adult would have to be a superman to carry so much. Animals might transport a large part of the human burden, but then what of the burden of the animals’ fodder and water?

Similarly, some commentaries refer to purchase of food, fodder and drink from surrounding populations. This explanation seems relevant if we imagine a small group of nomads – but when we take into consideration a market of two million people, it becomes very difficult to conceive. The surrounding populations would have to be assumed themselves very large to have cultivated or drawn, and brought for sale, such massive quantities of food, fodder and water.

Even if the region was more fertile than it is today, large areas would have had to be cultivated, and a one year advance notice of the need for such large scale agriculture would have been called for or the peasants would have had to be prescient. Large water sources (a lake, a flowing river, gushing wells or intense rains) would have been required to produce the food and fodder, as well as to quench the thirst of the producers, the consumers and their animals. So this relatively naturalistic explanation is not very credible.

Even the collection of manna raises questions of logistics. Assuming that it was not deposited at their doorstep, but they had to range out beyond the camp to collect it, imagine hundreds of thousands of manna collectors going out every day of the week to pick up their families’ portions. How long did the trip there and back take? Traffic would have had to be organized, to avoid jams. Add to this work the drawing and transportation of water, and you can see that many people were kept busy.

All this means that there is ample room for doubt in both the Torah narrative and Rabbinic attempts to make it more credible. We must assume that the Exodus population was much smaller than the written text claims – or we must suppose that there were many more miracles than those explicitly mentioned in it. For instance, perhaps Myriam’s moving well was a gushing jet that poured water to every family’s tent. Maybe people miraculously needed very little water (for drink and other purposes), and maybe animals none at all. And so on.

A more skeptical commentator would suggest that the written story is largely exaggerated, and its very human writer(s) did not take the time to make it quite consistent and convincing. If one reads it inattentively it may sound feasible – but if one asks some difficult questions it seems less conceivable.

5. Concerning the import of meditation to Judaism (chapter 7). The psychological value of meditation is that it increases one’s control over one’s thoughts, words and actions. By clarifying one’s mental field enormously, one is able to pinpoint problems precisely and resolve with them in a micro-surgical manner.

How meditation works can be understood through the following metaphor. Imagine you are standing in waters in which you have dropped a precious stone. If the water is too troubled, you cannot see through it to the seabed and so cannot retrieve your jewel. You cannot calm and clear the waters by mechanical interference. You must just be patient and let them settle naturally. Then, when they do, you can easily see and pick up the jewel. Similarly, meditation allows your mental activity to calm down, after which you can more readily intuit your soul and perhaps better make contact with God.

Moreover, when you see your soul more clearly, you can better control it, because you do not confuse it with the mental phenomena that surround it. Regular meditation facilitates resolving past problems and avoiding future problems. It permits one to deal with problems in the present tense, in a more precise manner. When one is less mentally confused and in the dark, one is more logical in one’s attitudes and less hesitant in one’s actions. It is better not to sin at all than to sin and have to regret and repent thereafter. Prevention is better than cure. This is simple logic or economy.

On a more ‘metaphysical’ level, meditation consists in preparing oneself to return to one’s spiritual Source. Our soul is a tiny spark of the grand Soul which is God. Sent in this material world to help redeem it, our soul is momentarily cut-off from its Source and weighed down by materiality. Through meditation, we can recover our original spiritual purity, calm and emptiness – we can thus ready our soul to merge seamlessly again with God. Just as He is free of the burdens of substantiality and entanglement, so do we try to become. Just as He is peaceful and transparent, so do we strive to be. When death comes, we can thus hope our soul to more easily recover its natural place in Him.

6. Logic in defense of Zionism.

You can download a .pdf file of this essay here.

7. The Chanukah lights miracle: a new, more logical solution to the problem.


[1] Likewise, if we cannot prove both that P and not-Q cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then P and Q cannot be assumed to be implicants. If we cannot prove that P and not-Q cannot both be true, then P cannot be assumed to subalternate Q. If we cannot prove that P and not-Q cannot both be false, then P cannot be assumed to be subalternated by Q. If we cannot prove both that P and Q cannot both be true and cannot both be false, then they cannot be assumed contradictory. If we cannot prove that P and Q cannot both be true, then they cannot be assumed contrary. If we cannot prove that P and Q cannot both be false, then they cannot be assumed subcontrary. If none of these underlying relations can be proved, the two propositions must be taken as unconnected.

[2] See for instance: Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), chapter 21.

[4] The oldest collection of bible difficulties, by a Jew (1901), The Jewish Quarterly Review XIII: 345–374.

[5] For him it is lehatchila (opening assumption), for them it is bedieved (the last resort).

[6] Check out various texts and videos starting at http://www.peta.org/

[8] Just think: 100 a day equals 36,500 a year; 1000 a day equals 365,000 a year. How many sacrifices would a nation of several million bring per annum? Once numbers are considered the whole proposition becomes much more doubtful.

[9] Rashi suggests the matza they carried with them on the day they left Egypt was miraculously replenished. He does not clarify just how this occurred – did a matza grow back when a piece of it was broken off, or did a matza reappear in the pile after it was eaten? The thing is to try to visualize the alleged miracle more clearly, rather than to deny it outright. If such miracle did occur for a month, why did the manna seem so miraculous? And why was manna necessary instead of the matza? (To the latter question, one Rabbi answered me credibly by saying that perhaps the manna was the food spiritually needed to receive Torah.)

[10] The Torah text does mention some grazing to have occurred, since it warns against allowing cattle to graze at the foot of Mount Sinai during the giving of the Torah. But there is no indication that the desert was capable of sustaining a large animal population for 40 years entirely by grazing, and it does not seem reasonable to suppose it.