Recently, something I heard raised a question about what is authentic in terms of sexuality. This essay is the result of my contemplation of this question about sexuality and authenticity. To begin I want to make clear what I refer to by the term “sexuality.” In my view, one’s introceptively perceived states, feelings, thoughts and impulses are generally the basis for what becomes one’s sexual identity. Further, these states, feelings, thoughts and impulses can vary in clarity and intensity. As I’ve made clear in another piece on this site, I think that sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and gender are four separate variables that have a range of independent outcomes. The speaker that I heard made it clear that authenticity should be conferred only when all four of these variables were consistent with one another relative to one of the two biological sexes.
I have framed the essay in the language of dualism largely because the dominant worldview and the structure of language make it difficult to do otherwise. I have broken the phenomenon of sexuality up into categories and given them labels, for the same reasons just stated. I also suspect most readers are likely to be dualistic thinkers and subscribe to materialism and naive realism as their ontology or worldview. Personally, I subscribe to a nondual worldview in which the entire universe is an organic whole. The universe, as I see it, is an indivisible ecology that includes humanity. Most people, especially in the west, see the universe as a vast collection of separate, independent and at times interdependent parts that include living organisms such as ourselves. Nondualism in Western philosophy is known as monistic idealism. Links to the work of a contemporary advocate for monistic idealism can be found here.
As I considered the question raised, my thoughts went back to the early history of life on this planet when sex evolved as a reproductive strategy. Biological evolution, as a process, produced two reproductively distinct sexes. The strategy has endured because it improved the odds of successful reproduction of viable members of any species using it. Sexes exist for a biologically functional purpose and only for that reason. Remove the biological advantages from sexual reproduction and sexes never would have evolved. Any fundamental differences between the two reproductive sexes, whether in anatomy, physiology, affect, cognition or behavior appear of necessity to be tied to reproductive functions.
Therefore, a male is capable of successfully fulfilling one part of the two-part process of reproduction and a female is capable of successfully fulfilling the other part of the reproductive process. To meet this criterion, one must not only have the requisite biological characteristics but must be either of an age suitable for reproduction or to have been able to meet it when of a suitable age. This describes in its most fundamental sense male and female or functional sexes (FS). The majority of individuals are male or female in the functional meaning of the labels. I think the speaker alluded to above would argue that this and only this is natural and therefore authentic. However, anything that is a product of nature is natural. There are a number of variations on the functional theme described above. These variations to a greater or lesser degree are socially influenced.
How might one understand the labels “boy/man” and “girl/woman”? Here it is necessary to shift focus from a functional biological frame-of-reference to a sociocultural frame-of-reference. Man and woman are labels applied in a sociocultural context and are typically based largely on observable characteristics related to physical appearance and behavior. Behavior characteristics are more closely related to gendered dress, speech, affect, language, attitudes, and mannerisms, etc. These characteristics are grouped to socioculturally (SC) define men and women. Any characteristic attributed to the SC categories of man or woman said to have a biological rather than a social basis must be shown to be linked to characteristics required by functional reproduction. The defining characteristics of men and women have varied somewhat both across cultures and history. Thus, there appears to be some purely sociocultural dimension to such definitions. While there is a high probability that a sociocultural classification (SC) of boy/man or girl/woman will prove to be strongly correlated with matching FS classifications of male or female, it is not a one-to-one correlation.
For example, a child who at birth is labeled as a girl and who identifies as a girl and is socialized as a girl can, as an adult, be classified as a woman. She will be so recognized in the sociocultural context as a girl/woman though she might not meet the definition for a FS classification. Under this analysis, for example, a person who is genetically XY and has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) could be socially classified as a woman. In such a case, the individual looks female, has been socialized in the feminine gender role and identifies as a woman. However, she would not be functionally female under the reproductive definition. This analysis could also be argued to apply to someone who is genetically XX but congenitally sterile for whatever reason.
Evolution is not an invariant process and a minority of births result in atypical outcomes. Some atypical outcomes are more easily identified than others. There are variations in anatomical outcomes such as in the structure of the genitalia. There are also physiological variations such as CAIS, mentioned earlier, which result in a female-appearing individual who internally has no female reproductive organs. There also appear to be a range of atypical outcomes, possibly related to physiological processes, that aren’t well understood. These are usually only identifiable through overt behavior and/or reports of covert psychological states such as thoughts, feelings and behavioral impulses arising in awareness, which may or may not be overtly acted upon. These, for example, can be outcomes such as variations in sexual orientation, e.g., homosexuality and/or sexual identity, e.g., cross-sex identification. These atypical variations can be manifest to varying degrees and will be stronger and more intense in some individuals than in others. There also exists the possibility that some individuals might adopt what I’ve referred to as atypical sexuality by choice. Probably, a choice influenced by temperament, personality and experience. I suspect that if such individuals exist, they comprise a very small portion of the atypical population.
The most ambiguous group of outcomes are generally thought to arise from variations in physiology, such as atypical hormone exposure during development that is hypothesized to occur at the wrong time or persist for too long or too brief of a period or to involve the wrong hormone altogether. There exists some evidence in support of this hypothesis, but the actual mechanisms have not been clearly identified and verified as the cause of these outcomes. Such individuals, strictly speaking, are classifiable as FS if they are capable of carrying out the reproductive function for which their body type evolved. Even a person with a strong sense of being in a wrongly sexed body but who has not undergone alteration of physiology and anatomy and is capable of reproduction could still be classified as FS. If they do reproduce, they are clearly FS.
A person may have engaged in reproductive behavior and produced progeny in the past and then undertaken physiological and/or anatomical alterations that now prevent carrying out a reproductive function. Such an individual has, in effect, chosen to remove her/himself from their previous FS classification. However, removing yourself from one FS classification (e.g., female) does not and cannot qualify you for the alternate FS classification (e.g., male). Such an individual now presents as a man or woman and lives through a masculine or feminine gender role. Clearly, on the basis of the above argument, they are not what has been termed female or male and have no FS status. I would also suggest that they are not what has been socially defined as a man or a woman and usually don’t achieve a SC status. Of course, the labels trans man or trans woman claim neither functional status nor sociocultural status but make a claim to have transitioned to a cross-sex status. This appears to constitutes a third category; i.e., transsexual (TS), which could also be argued to be a variant on the SC category.
A TS person has altered their body and adopted the social role that contrasts with the body they were born into and the gender role into which they were socialized. Thus, we have persons who have undergone a cross-sex transition and identify as trans women or trans men. Also, in recent years, there have been children who cross identify and are socialized in that cross role and make an early transition through hormone therapy and later surgical alteration. These children become trans women and trans men, though they may in some respects be more difficult to classify. They will usually represent a close approximation to someone in a SC classification. It could be argued that they should be classified in the SC category under the same reasoning that someone with CAIS can be classified as SC; i.e., for all practical purposes they are indistinguishable from SC men and women.
It could be argued that transsexualism as described above is not natural on the grounds that it requires human intervention through medical procedures. However, the underlying impetus for the medical procedures appears to occur as a natural variation of reproductive biology. Such individuals have existed and lived cross sexed lives long before there were any medical interventions available. Thus, the ability to reconfigure the body didn’t create TS individuals but merely gave them an option that wasn’t previously available. In other words, radical reconfiguration of the body has become possible through the evolution of human culture, especially through the expansion of medical science during the past one hundred years or so.
In my opinion, gender is part of a socially constructed role. I think that we can legitimately talk about feminine gender and masculine gender in terms of a range of presentations, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and so forth. All of these can be and probably are commonly learned through developmental socialization. One could acquire such gender characteristics through more formal learning methods later in life, but they may not be as complete or as deeply programmed as when acquired developmentally through socialization. Some would argue that gender characteristics are biologically based but my opinion is that many of them arise from social convention and for social purposes. Making a biological connection for a gender characteristic requires showing a derivative relationship to a reproductive function. While gender is often employed as a stereotype, there is actually a fair amount of variability within a gender role in any given sociocultural context. In other words, it is possible for there to be some overlap in gender characteristics, so they aren’t as exclusive as some stereotypes seem to suggest.
There are many individuals with atypical sexuality who are not transsexuals in the sense of having reconfigured their bodies to conform in appearance to the anatomy of a man or woman. Such an individual may conform partially, e.g., is only on hormone therapy. It could be argued that partial conformity should qualify as TS and perhaps it should. It seems to me, however, that there should be a significant degree of irreversibility in whatever modifications are used to so qualify as TS.
Cross-identified individuals, who forego the option of body reconfiguration, simply limit their modification to cosmetic efforts. An individual who is not TS but is cross-gendered may identify with and learn the cross-gender role and socially present through cosmetic changes combined with gender role behaviors. Any individual who makes an effort to change their social presentation to that of a man or a woman and live through that gender role but who is not transsexual, as defined earlier, I would classify as cross-gendered (CG). Thus, providing a fourth category, which also could be argued to be a variation of the SC category. Cross-gender must also be considered as natural, if one accepts, as I do, that CG is highly likely to have its origins in developmental biology.
There still remains the possibility of someone who identifies, at least in part, with a gender role different from the one in which they were socialized but who continues to conduct their life through the role in which they were socialized. These individuals have not transitioned physically and socially nor do they make a social transition. I do not count, as social transitions, social presentations such as limited events like costume parties, special interest club events and presentations limited to the home. I would not classify such individuals as CG. However, I think for most such individuals their decision not to transition is due to a weaker impetus, though in some cases it may simply be social pressures that prevent them from transitioning. Nevertheless, I would again suggest that the impetus likely has its roots in developmental biology and is therefore natural.
I suppose one could think of these non-transitioning individuals as gender explorers (GE). A GE can be as limited as someone who sometimes engages in cross-gender fantasies and/or sometimes identifies with cross-gender characters in novels, television programs, movies, public personalities or acquaintances. A GE can further make a study of and learn parts of a cross-gender presentation such as dress, speech, mannerisms and so on. This group too could be argued to be a variation on the SC category since gender role appears to be heavily influenced by sociocultural factors.
However, the sociocultural factors in SC, as initially defined, are more fundamental and widespread in their application and acceptance for that classification relative to those classifications that follow it in this discussion. I am aware that there are many who would disagree with my choice of labels and their definition, but they make sense to me. I also tend to think about the “categories” described above as positions along a spectrum or dimension that represents a range of natural diversity. In another piece on this site, I have argued that male and female represent a complimentary pair that anchor the points at either end of a spectrum lying between the pair.
Based on the line of thought above, I would argue that all variations of sexual identity are natural and, if natural, must be authentic. The remarks made by the individual mentioned at the beginning of this piece expressed the opinion that most of the variations described above are not natural but are choices made by persons who suffer from psychological disorders. I have heard a number of such people expound this opinion and find in them two common characteristics. First, they live from a narrative about how the world should be or, as someone else has said, “are lost in their minds.” These people can’t or won’t make a distinction between their mental narrative about the world and reality as it presents to those who have eyes with which to see clearly. Second, the mental constructs from which their narrative is built are impervious to change and seldom susceptible to explanations or evidence that contradict their beliefs. In short, they tend to have rigid personalities and a need for certainty even if they are certainly wrong.
I would further argue that authenticity is a concept and not a part of the natural world. Concepts are the brick and mortar from which narratives are constructed. Thus, when an argument is made about someone not being authentic, what the argument entails is comparing the individual to an idea or set of ideas forming a belief integral to a narrative and finding them wanting. To put the matter differently, it is as if I were to compare someone to a fictional hero in a novel and find them unauthentic because they don’t meet the ideal set by the fictional hero. The concept of authenticity might be useful as in determining that a painting is an authentic Dali but it is useless for judging the inherent characteristics of people.
To fully understand human sexuality requires that one not focus on the end points but also take into account all the transitions along the spectrum, which no doubt are more varied than it was possible to cover in this piece. True understanding comes not from the parts but from the whole. I have also argued in another piece on this site that identifying fully with either end point limits one’s ability to gain an understanding of the whole. Those who fall onto the spectrum between the anchors are in the best position to blend the duality into an understanding of the whole. This, however, is only possible if one can rise above the motivation to make oneself conform as close as possible to one of the dimensional anchor points.
One way to approach the task of “rising above” is to consider the task from the point of view of monistic idealism. If asked who you are, you mostly likely will begin with a litany of role descriptions; e.g., I am a woman, a wife, a teacher, a Swede, an amateur athlete and so on. This is not who you are. This is a shorthand account of the narrative that you have created to establish an identity. You are not your identity. Your identity in and of itself does nothing and knows nothing. It is just a story, a story that depends entirely upon the conceptual mind and memory. This is not to say that an identity doesn’t have its uses especially as an interface with the web of the world.
What I mean by the mind is that scaffold of mental constructs that might be called ideas, concepts, beliefs, information, language, etc. The mind, in my view, might be thought of as a cognitive structure existing within awareness. By way of illustration, imagine a large grassy field (awareness) with a complex set of “monkey” bars (mind) set up on part of it. Most of us spend most of our time “playing” on the monkey bars and give scant attention to the field (awareness). When an experience occurs, we usually interpret it through the structures comprising the mind. This is what is known as top-down perception. Looking at an experience from the perspective of the field and excluding the monkey bars is called bottom-up perception and is typical of young children.
Our experiences are encoded through images and language and are therefore linked to the scaffold. The development of mind is supported by the experiences of the body in the physical world. Experience is a critical contributor to the development of mind. The complimentary pairs mentioned earlier exist because they make experience possible through the tensions produced by the contrast between the anchor points – if no contrasts, then no experience and no mind.
In nondual philosophy, the body exists to support our individuated awareness, which is but one “frequency” of awareness. Your frequency is generated by the Source field of awareness, which is the ground of all being. Think of Source as a carpet and your personal awareness is like a single thread running through the carpet. Further, the body comes equipped with many basic programs that drive its functions, and these are added to, expanded and extended through experience. Many of these programs are what I have called in other pieces on this site APs or automatic programs. These programs run outside of awareness and make a huge contribution to what you do both covertly and overtly. In fact, many of the beliefs that we hold are acquired as a means of explaining some of the automatic outcomes from our APs. In short, we spend a lot of time making up explanations for why we think, feel and behave in certain ways. This gives us the illusion of being causal actors in the world when in fact we may be much more like zombies than we’re willing to admit.
Thus, the body/mind moves us through the world according to its own programs and patterns. If you think that you are your thoughts, memories, impulses, feelings, sensations, etc., just sit quietly and experience them arising and subsiding (one objective of meditation). Are they coming and going of their own accord? Are you making them come and go? If you think that they are part of you and you are instigating them, I suggest you command them to stop and see what happens. If, as I suspect, you have little success in giving effective commands, consider this question: who is doing the observing of the body/mind and its activities? I would suggest that you consider that observer to be the much neglected and scaffold-free awareness. In other words, the large, flat, green field that you give little or no attention to as you swing happily through the maze of monkey bars.
I suggest that you adopt the perspective that you are pure awareness (what I’ve called the natural mind in another piece on this site) and not the body/mind. This is not as easy as it might seem because you have a great deal of practice in identifying with the body/mind. If you succeed in making this perceptual shift, you will find that identifying with pure awareness puts everything in a different light. Be aware that a perceptual shift is not the same thing as understanding a new concept but is rather a direct, intuitive knowing. One difference you will perceive is that pure awareness has no sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender. It is unencumbered being. You will have risen above the duality of sex (among other things) and are now in a position to understand the whole without being confused by attachment to some part of the whole.
This expansion in perspective does not remove you from planet earth. You still have a body/mind and you still have to get along in the everyday dualistic world (a.k.a. living life). You still need a body and you still need to take care of it. However, you will come to see and treat your body as a vehicle that has a lot of useful features, not unlike your car. You don’t confuse your identity with your car and should not confuse your identity with your body. The same applies to your mind, which can be a very useful tool, but one must be careful not to get so engrossed in thinking and thoughts that you become lost in your memories, stories about them, explanatory narratives and imagined future events. More on the above can be learned from various teachers and guides. A partial list of teachers is located at this link.
The late Franklin Merrill-Wolff was an American mystic who lived from awareness. There is a short piece on Merrell-Wolff on this site. He described his perspective as “the high indifference.” He was not using the word “indifference” in its common meaning of not caring. What he was trying to indicate was that one deals with life and the world as needed and with as much loving kindness as possible. In doing this, one acts without attachment to the outcome of the action. This requires avoiding emotional entanglement in the endless flux of the world of human creation or what I have called, in another piece on this site, “the web of the world.” Thus, one lives and acts from high indifference. From the perspective of pure awareness, a question about authenticity never arises.
The nature of evil will be addressed from a perspective consistent with with panentheism (see Definitions). Panentheism is a philosophy that was first articulated in 1828 by the German philosopher Karl Krause. More recently, this position has been reflected in the works of writers such as Franklin Merrell Wolff, Lynne McTaggart, Amit Goswami, Robert Lanza, and Menas Kafatos. The central feature of these views is the primacy of consciousness. Consciousness is construed as a unified field of consciousness, the primal quantum field or as an indivisible whole in which we and the universe are entangled (hereafter simply the Field). Some might equate this Field with God or Unity Consciousness. Everything material is a manifestation of the Field, which creates an apparent dualism between matter and spirit or consciousness. Life plays an important role in this apparent dualism, which depends on subject /object relationships that require a perceiving organism.
The question naturally arises as to why are the material universe and subject/object relations exists. One perspective is that they exists to provide the Field with an experiential context. Creation of an experiential context suggests that the Field is engaged in self-development. The material universe then is an artifact of Consciousness that has rendered a portion of itself ignorant of the rest so that dualistic representations of itself can interact. One might think of the material universe as a canvas created by an artist for the development of his or her creative talents. In short, the dynamic interactions that we think of as life are permutations of subject/object relations grounded in the Field. Ultimately speaking, subject and object are ONE and the material universe is an illusion.
Human beings represent an important component of the material world simply because their capabilities greatly expand the range of experience possible. The key psychological component governing most subject/object interactions involving human beings is ego. Ego is the identity cloaking that portion of the Field manifest in human form. The development of ego draws a veil between self and the Field, thereby creating the dualistic illusion of me and not me. Everything animate and non-animate beyond one’s self-awareness is not me.
Good and evil, therefore, represent a dualistic pair of categories that can be applied to intentional actions by ego in the material world. This dichotomy is like all dichotomies is ultimately an illusion because the Field is beyond dichotomies. It is a spiritual singularity or indivisible whole. However, it is a very “real” dichotomy for individuals lacking direct experience of the Field and therefore awareness of the illusion. If the Field created the material universe in order to impose a counterpoint to itself for the purpose of gaining experience, then the “struggle” between good and evil would appear to be an important and necessary dimension of experience.
In other terms, good and evil can be thought of as the difference between enlightened actions and actions grounded in ignorance. When construed this way, actions grounded in ignorance blind one to one’s true nature, that is, as an aspect of the Field or God. Thus, evil arises out of spiritual ignorance that leads one to invest one’s sense of being in ego. Life then consists of each individual’s struggle to overcome ignorance and thereby achieve enlightenment. This dichotomy between enlightenment and ignorance might be thought of as a bipolar construct where one end is anchored by selflessness (loving/kindness) and the other end is anchored by selfishness (egotism). The further one’s identity falls toward the selfishness or egotism end of the scale the greater one’s ignorance and the potential for evil actions.
An interviewer at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals was asked if he had learned anything from his interviews. He replied that what he had learned was that evil was the total absence of empathy. Empathy can be construed as the ability to expand one’s sense of “me” to include others. Carried to its logical conclusion, this inclusive expansion submerges ego and becomes selflessness, which is the antithesis of “me” or ego. True selflessness requires the evolution of consciousness which requires the expansion of empathy that leads to a life grounded in compassion and love.
Evil then in this scheme of reasoning arises from attempts to gratify ego desires. Desire is what one wants as distinct from what one needs. One needs shelter but wants a penthouse apartment on Affluence Avenue. Desires are rooted in status seeking, righteousness, jealousy, lust, pride, power, honor, envy, fame and fortune along with many other similar obstacles to the expansion of empathy, spiritual development and enlightenment. When objects are perceived by ego as merely means to satisfy desire, they have no inherent value independent of one’s use of them. People, animals, plants, physical elements are all treated as objects for satisfying one’s desires. The desires of ego are an expression of ignorance and the source of evil in the world. Satan, in Christian theology, might be thought of as the personification of ego desire. Thus, to be consumed by the fires of ego desire is, metaphorically speaking, to be in Hell.
Equating self with ego is the initial step leading to treating others as objects. Think of this initial step as ego becoming an image manager. We are almost all image managers to some degree. The greater the degree to which we engage in image management the greater the extent of our self-absorption. An image manager desires ego to be viewed by others in a particular persona. Sometimes one has an intentionally constructed public persona and a private persona that differ from one another. Both will involve some degree of deception. A public persona deceives others while the private persona deceives self. Self-deception perpetuates ignorance, which can only be avoided by not equating self with ego.
The ego, as image manager, makes choices that are believed to maintain or enhance ego’s self-image or self-conception. A self-image can embody a positive or negative persona depending upon the purposes that it serves. Ego affects choices about things that include but aren’t limited to one’s personal narrative, physical appearance, possessions, public behavior, employment, social and intimate relationships. Image management is about “ME” (ego). I’m an important person, I have authority, I’m no good, I’m a victim, I’m beautiful, I’m handsome, I’m entitled, I’m helpless, I’m popular or even I’m spiritual, among many others. Once one has a “ME” narrative, then that narrative begins to control much of what one does. Ego becomes fully self-absorbed and to be self-absorbed implies that one has a selfish identity. A selfish identity means one acts from ignorance, which makes one highly susceptibility to engaging in what might be perceived as evil.
Evil is not dependent upon any particular act but rather on the intent of the actor. To do harm to another individual unintentionally is not evil. The same harm resulting from an intentional act committed in the service of ego desire is evil. Graduations of evil or ignorant actions depend upon the degree of damage to “objects” that result from the satisfaction of the ego’s desires. The nature of the harm whether physical, psychological, social or economic is less important than the degree of damage knowingly caused. Evil of whatever degree is subject to escalation through the power of an egoist to impose his or her desire broadly. Given someone with power willing to cause damage in the service of ego desire and the evil will be multiplied. Acts affecting groups of people are greater evils than comparable solitary acts simply due to the multiplicative effect of power in the service of ego desire. Another consideration is complicity in evil through support for or ignoring the action of others, the outcomes of which serve one’s own ego desires. Bystanders are not necessarily innocent but may be passive partners in evil actions and thereby bear part of the burden of such evil. A final consideration are acts that take on the appearance of being motivated by good intentions. Surely, there are selfless acts motivated by good intentions. However, the criterion for evil offered herein pertains to acts motivated by ego desire. A benefit that accrues as a result of actions motivated by ego does not justify the actions or neutralize the evil. The point is simply that there is in some manner of speaking a continuum of sorts along which one might arrange acts of evil with varying degrees of precision. While all actions in the service of ego desire are, by definition, evil there are lesser and greater evils among them.
A question can also be raised about evil and the satisfaction of needs. This poses a fundamental question about natural rights. When a mountain lion kills a deer for food, we would not describe this action as evil. It is the natural right of the lion to acquire sustenance from its environment. In the case of human beings, it might also be argued that they have a natural right to meet their life sustaining needs. One could argue that a human animal has the same natural rights as a lion and taking its sustenance by force is no more evil than the taking by the lion. Evil would be avoided, however, only by using no more force than is necessary, taking only the minimum that is needed or a fair apportionment whichever is less and engaging in no retribution. Even so, an enlightened individual would recognize that the situation is simply one “act” in an evolving human drama intended to provide opportunities to overcome ignorance. Thus, such an enlightened individual might refuse to participate in the drama and accept starvation. By doing so, the enlightened individual maintains detachment from the drama of the material world while serving as an example to others and possibly contributing to their spiritual advancement.
Finally, there is the general question of how should one respond to evil action? This will depend upon the development of one’s sense of selflessness. Someone operating from the selfish side of the identity scale will respond in-kind and strike back in anger with a desire for revenge and thereby perpetuating ignorance. This is the morality of retribution. If a direct response isn’t possible or avoided out of fear, the object of the evil action may at least harbor ill will (hatred) toward the perpetrator, which will also serve to perpetuate ignorance. In the case of a response to an unprovoked action engaged in for defensive reasons even if the defensive actions are in-kind, they are not evil. A purely reflexive defensive action may be grounded in ignorance but it isn’t an intentional attempt to satisfy ego desire. Ignorant because the defender has not learned the negative moral implications of emotionally motivated in-kind, counter-aggression. This is, of course, the way the majority of human beings can be expected to act, which often leads to an escalating cycle of response and counter-response. Ignorance follows the path of least resistance and ignorance is the soil in which evil takes root.
A person operating from the middle of the scale will probably engage in defensive counter-aggression but without emotional content. In other words, an emotionally detached response is more likely to be a constrained response. Someone operating from the selflessness side of the identity scale will recognize the evil nature of the “attack” and the need for a measured response. Such an individual will engage in counter-aggression as a last resort and will then only do so with emotional detachment. This is not unlike the concept of warrior-priests embodied in the Chinese Shaolin whom legend has it used moral authority, paradoxical responses, persuasion and acceptance when the object of evil action. Direct action was only taken to protect life. These priests were alleged to have the skills necessary to respond in a graduated manner that never employed more counter force than was necessary. This graduated and minimal defense was made possible by complete emotional detachment and thereby without investment of ego. Such an individual would have a well developed understanding of the nature of evil and how to make a humane response to it. Finally, a fully selfless and enlightened person who is the object of evil action might embrace and absorb the action to the point of physical annihilation knowing that the action cannot do any real injury and recognizing that such a response to evil may serve as an instructional demonstration.
In conclusion, an undeveloped or under-developed sense of empathy is clearly an obstacle to spiritual growth. Thus, being ruled by ego desire and thereby satisfying one’s wants through treating everything that is “not me” as an object with no purpose but to serve one’s desires blocks the path to spiritual development. To open the path to spiritual development requires a freely made choice to let go of attachments to wants and expand one’s sense of empathy through identification and perspective taking until ignorance and selfishness are crowded out by love and compassion. When the spiritual path is freely embraced one has taken one giant step in the evolution of consciousness, selflessness and enlightenment.
This essay is in large part grounded in two earlier essays: The Nature of Evil and The Natural Mind. A brief summary of those two essays is included but reading the essays could also be helpful.
In the Nature of Evil essay it was posited that within relative reality, which is subsumed by absolute reality, there is a bipolar conception of behavior that ranges from ignorant at one end to enlightened at the other end. Of course, as with any bipolar construct one might define a number of intermediate positions between the anchor points at either end of the dimension. In the earlier essay, ignorant behavior was defined as including what is generally thought of as “evil” but went on to include many types of behavior that probably would not generally be thought of as evil, though they might still be considered wrong. The core defining characteristic of ignorant behavior is perceiving everything external to oneself (subject) as an “object” suitable to be used in anyway one sees fit to meet one’s needs and especially wants (egocentric). Wants in this case being something that one has no objective need for but has acquired a desire to possess or consume in some manner. Objects external to the self can be anything, including material objects, social structures and biological organisms, especially other people. The core defining characteristic of enlightenment is Self-realization or recognition that one’s consciousness is in fact not an individual phenomenon but is a localized manifestation of a unified and universal Consciousness, which becomes the operative form of Consciousness within enlightenment (Oneness). Some residual subject/object functioning remains a necessity even for an enlightened person, due to the necessity of operating in a relativistic context. However, egocentric wants will no longer drive the motivational state of such a person, and thus such a person will not view objects in the world to be simple means to an end.
In The Natural Mind essay, a state of functioning that might be thought of a ego-free but without unity with universal Consciousness was described. A state of child-like innocence was offered as a state analogous to the natural mind. The Natural Mind is a follow-up to a discussion of ways in which one can work to eliminate or modify conditioned programs that govern much of our emotional/behavioral functioning. Methods for working on conditioned, automatic programs (APs) [see sub-section in Part I). These conditioned programs are acquired largely through our socialization and come to be organized around and understood through a narrative, which may consist of multiple related stories, constructed from our memories. In the essay, this narrative was called the fictive-self. Neutralizing many of our conditioned ways of interpreting the physical and social environment facilitates becoming free of ego-driven thinking, feeling and acting; i.e., deconstructing and ending our identification with the fictive-self. Once operating from the natural mind, one is available for (i.e., not resisting) a transformation of consciousness through an opening to universal Consciousness. This is not, however, something that one can “make” happen but must allow to take one (see the brief essay Taken).
The question then arises as to how one functions in the relative world when no longer motivated by the fictive-self (egocentric self) and is not yet an open channel for universal Consciousness. As long as one lives in the relative, there will be choices arising out of the dualistic underpinnings of relative reality. Jon Marc Hammer in one of his books makes an interesting distinction. Hammer referred to the earth and the world as being distinct. The former is Gaia-like, which according to Wikipedia, refers to a hypothesis proposing that “…organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.” Hammer would go one step further and say that this complex system is an organism and that all components of it arise out of Consciousness and to varying degrees possess consciousness. The world according to Hammer is a complex of ideas, concepts, beliefs and expectations that govern a drama called “human culture and civilization” performed on a stage called earth. Hammer’s drama recalls to mind some lines from a poem (Outlaw) I wrote many years ago in an effort to capture a truth revealed to me during a noetic event (see note at end)*. Several lines from that poem: :
And the man knew God
And he was made free.
All history and tradition
Culture and words
Rescinded — Grace.
Freedom from the past
And from the future.
Eckhart Tolle makes a similar distinction albeit on a smaller scale. He speaks of one’s life-situation versus one’s life. Your life-situation is analogous to how you “stand” in relation to the world. Your life is related to your role as one of the biological organisms of which the earth is partially comprised. The world and life-situations are governed by the mind while the earth and life are governed by natural processes.
Consider the world to be a large web spun around the earth. The strands comprising this web can, for example, be thought of, but not limited to: political systems and ideologies, systems of law and concepts of justice, economic and financial systems, occupations, art, music, fashion, religions, philosophies, moral systems, science and technology, social mores, educational systems, systems of kinship and social classes based on racial, ethnic, wealth, gender and various other characteristics. One’s life-situation results from the strands one identifies with and uses to define oneself through. Now, imagine that all human life were eliminated from the earth. What would happen to this web comprising the world that most of us think of as reality? It would vanish instantly, clearly showing that it was not real at all but simply the product of the mind. What would happen to the earth and life? They would continue on following the natural processes that have always ordered them.
A person acting from a conditioned mind is entangled in the world and cannot see beyond it. When one is functioning from a conditioned mind or ego, choices are ruled by APs, which are conditioned programs, many of which reflect beliefs, opinions and expectations that we have adopted about the world. Such choices are often described as judgments or prejudices. Someone who has regained their natural mind acts through the application of refined thought or discernment. Thus, the natural mind functions in the world through the development and practice of discernment. Discernment means seeing the “unfiltered” nature of things or seeing through the web. Thus, the natural mind must weave its way through the world distinguishing between essential and superficial characteristics when choices must be made.
Do understand that the web comprising the world is not an illusion and has real consequences that one must take into account. However, the natural mind helps give one a perspective on the web that opens the possibility of navigating it without becoming lost in it. The American mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolff spoke of what he called the “high indifference,” by which he seemed to be referring to this ability to rise above the web and gain some perspective on it. This does not mean one is indifferent to the real needs of the living but only that one responds to them independent of egoistic influences. While Merrill-Wolff recognized that it is virtually impossible to completely disengage from the world, he thought that one could function in the world without being of the world. The natural mind is grounded in life and being not in the world of the mind or as Leonard Jacobson prefers, “…in the world of time.”
Some choices involve simple preferences and do not require discernment. For example, given a choice between several flavors of creamer for your coffee, personal preferences are adequate for making a choice. However, having found your way back to the natural mind, one no longer has beliefs and opinions (prejudgments) to rely upon in making most choices. One is left with discernment as the basis for making these choices. This means carefully considering the worldly context for a choice and then determining the best course of action, which minimizes any potential harm that might result from the choice to yourself or others and making choices that could potentially be life enhancing. This seems to be close to what the Buddhist mean by right action. There are no hard and fast rules for right action. However, if one approaches decision points without being entangled in and identified with the world, one will usually intuitively understand what to do. For those who have freed themselves from the conditioned mind, right action arises from the heart, not the mind.
* A noetic event, in my experience, is a shift in consciousness that, while it may not always be permanent, one nevertheless never fully returns from it. You can read more about noetic events in my life here: A Personal Odyssey. The term “noetic” was popularized by the moon astronaut Edgar Mitchel who used the term to describe something that happened to him on the way back from the moon. He subsequently founded the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS) to study noetic events.