Vipassana for philosophers

Vipassana. We begin with breath. Because everyone says it? Because we are an idiot yoga studio “yoga” instructor? Because racecar?

No—because it is self-action that happens by physical necessity after all contingent (fiat) action has been switched off.

We begin with breath. Gay?

No—profound. And here is why.

The method and principle of vipassana is this: that truth is important, and that seeing truth will (and we grok a priori that it ought to) blink us out of existence. The method: stop all compulsive acting, thinking, world-making. Drop all the lenses that you can. What remains—that is real. All action drops except the breathing, which is always half-tethered to free volition. Then we see: there is a physical necessity in play that boils on and on of its own accord. This is reality—process that happens of necessity. By law. This is “pure dhamma.”

Dharma means “necessary existent.” It is like the Chinese Tao—an Urgrund full of logos. The ground of being is fixed in its shape. This fixity arises in becoming as law. The regularity, fixity, lawfulness, repetition, symmetry, predictability, knowability—everything rests on fixed definitions. All laws-in-time rest on A = A. A = A is the formal schema of lawfulness as such. Without identity—nothing follows, or is thought. A = A is a Law of Thought, and that is a ring-pass-not, or something we cannot peer beyond in principle due to the self-reinstating fact that peering requires peering, and invokes all the dharma of peering.

Pure dharma is the phrase that started this post. I was listening, as I often do during moments of terror or despair, to Goenka Lecture One. The part that triggered me:

Awareness of natural breath

Breath. Pure dharma. It hit me—if you want to know what is going on, you have to stop adding to it with habit-based noise-making. 99% of action is accident that has become strengthened into habit and, then, real self. Thinking is painting, and painting expresses God-knows-what. What is real is the canvas, the brush, the act of painting. We are lulled into adding to this all the random crap we paint. Anything based on fiat is known to be merely contingent. In fact, the standard of contingency is volition, freedom, the negative of necessity.

So the method of Vipassana is to stop compulsive thinking (making) as far as possible. Then you pull the Kantian experiment, which is a special use of the Cartesian methodological doubt, and Hume’s contingency test. If you cannot think it away (doubt it, negate it), then it counts. The presentation that is left after this act of cleaning is pure. Everything contingent has been removed.

Vipassana applies the Cartesian method of out-clearing to volition. Because breathing is half-volitional, and half-necessary, it is what we are left with—like Kant’s space and time. Physics is doing something that overlaps self-volition. This is a startling fact, and a gateway to identifying with necessary process, or Dharma, and in this way being liberated, by annihilating the difference on which the subject depends. Annihilating an epistemic difference to effect an ontological one—real liberation.

Philosophy is the concern with the relation of subject and object. Period. Concern. What pops up naturally just from sitting there? (Cf. Anthony Appiah).

Something is happening, even without an “I” present.

Do the Kantian “try to stop the X” experiment. Kant tries to erase (intuition of) space and time, to “think them away.” This tells you something straight off—thinking is a force, self-directed, and can is prior to some things. Who would be so outrageous as to say that my willing could alter or even annihilate any object worthy of the name.

Hume reveres the power of the subject. (It is our power to separate that provides the “enough” for real ontological separability. If I can separate to objects, which means give two objects over to different acts of (my) apprehending them, then the objects “were always really and fundamentally” different.

Leibniz certainly extracts ontological status from acts of thinking.

Kant made the issue itself the object of his inquiry. (This is the meaning of critique. It’s really funny and clever but no one except I know of besides Rick Roderick delighted in the humor of it. It is a tremendous victory of consciousness to see that it has limits. One happy upshot—we know that our knowing apparatus is limited only if reason is in the background to provide the known’s dissimilarity from something higher, even perfect. For example, and something I find endlessly fascinating, is the fact that that special and important act of thinking, which is apprehension of truth, of identity of subject and object, is constrained to living inside a certain metaphysical force, an a priori content that forces its way into truth, and so being (since being is what qualifies truth). This odd and otherworldly content is the compulsive enforcement and realization of grammatical form on being that, by all rights, ought to be nothing but sensation. This is why Hume falls into sensation all the way: the objective reality (as Kant would say) of grammar is discarded. What exists is the physical stuff that stimulates that brilliant and overwhelming content of sensation arises. Why? Take an internal inventory (by the way, we are firmly in the Order of Discovery, the premise of representationalism, here) and you will see that reality can only be (and has only been all along) tied to ‘forcefulness’ and ‘vivacity’; impressions are forced from necessity, which is external to self, and are heavy, being linked to feeling and sensing that give self the quality of being fallen (Christian sense) into physical matter. Ideas have the same sense-like stuff (in representationalism all presentations are, qua content, ideal) as impressions. The only difference is that impressions are ‘forcible and lively.’ Force, power, necessity, un-away-thinkability—these are the original qualia from which all of “reality” is derived. When all contents are ideal, the real can only be distinguished by non-content—by the mode of the presentation of the content. Reality, for representers, has its objective reality not in presentational content, but in presentational generation.

So the method is to be as honest (self-effacing, thinking-effacing) as possible. Similar to the Cartesian method of doubt. The benefit of the method is improved access to truth, and a chance to align (the) one(/)self with it.

Don’t try to regulate your breath. (4:38)

This sounds easier than pranayama. You mean: just … breathe normally? Yes—but while being so totally attentive that you exhaust all energy available for possible compulsive reaction.

This is nearly impossible.