If your looking for some simplistic explanation of my philosophy that you can get in soundbite form, I belong to an obscure Bhuddist sect of which there is only one member.
If you have the fortitude to ponder and not get sucked into preprogrammed reaction, please read on.
The books that have most influenced my beliefs are: The Book
(on the taboo against knowing who you are), Alan Watts; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
, Robert Pirsig; Be Here Now
, Ram Das; and The Tao Te Ching
, Lao-Tzu. I was raised protestant, in the Church of the Brethren. I did the ritual of accepting Jesus as my personal savior, and I cried when I did. Very interesting. I tried to devote myself to the Bible and Christianity, but as I grew, I couldn't reconcile the paradoxes inherent in that belief system. I began to ponder life through a goofy little idea called biorhythms
. I've since grown out of such silliness and now say that it's like trying to predict the minute behavior of a chaotic system--give it up. But it was a turning point in my thinking. I began to perceive the world as a pulsating energy mass of never quite the same but repeating patterns. The above books gave form to these perceptions, allowed me to articulate them as a belief system.
First and foremost in my beliefs is, to paraphrase Alan Watts (or whoever he stole it from) "the thought that I am thinking is just another thought." The sensation of separateness is an illusion, an incredibly wonderfully real illusion, but it is an illusion. One way to understand this to explore the biological nature of consciousness. Thought, awareness, perception, are all created by the interaction of chemicals, receptor sites, pathways, and other mechanisms of the nervous system. In the mind of the schizophrenic, realities can be perceived, and they are real, but only to the mind of the schizophrenic because of some imbalance of chemicals produced by the body. Take it even deeper, to the atomic level. All of these mechanisms of consciousness, and of the world consciousness perceives, are in turn the product of the interplay of neutrons, protons, electrons, energy fields, probability patterns, and other terms from quantum physics. You think that you are this being perceiving an external reality, and please continue to do so. But also try to realize that it's all a vibrating dance of energy, and your sense of being separate from what you perceive is just a trick of the light. The space between your fingers is as much a part of your hand as the fingers are.
Exploring the mechanisms of self awareness can leave me feeling cold and detached. This is where Pirsig's model comes in to play. In ZATAOMM (I think you can figure it out) he describes classical and romantic knowledge using a train metaphor. Classical knowledge is the train itself, the track the train is on, all the cargo on the train, all the parts, fuel, oil, and all the principals and laws that make those things work. Romantic knowledge is two milliseconds in front of the splash guard as the train races down the track. Classical knowledge is taught in school, studied in libraries, preached from pulpits, explored in laboratories, is in the realm of reason and logic. Romantic knowledge is intuition, excitement, it is Bhudda nature, bliss, orgasm, the Tao, experienced in the perfect guitar solo, the brush strokes that separates Van Gogh's work from mine. Romantic knowledge is difficult to quantify, and is perhaps the antithesis of quantification. You have to sense it pre-thought, an anxious free anticipation of the reality that's about to manifest. To maximize your potential, be a perpetual student of both classical and romantic knowledge. To make music with programmable equipment, one must have an understanding of the equipment and it's programming language, classical knowledge. One must also have an "ear" an "feel" for "it," that which separates quality music from the mediocre and worse, romantic knowledge. Classical and romantic knowledge are two complimentary models of understanding the nature of existence.
If you become aware that existence is an illusion, then you risk the danger of existential despair, or worse, post modernism. Actually what is worse is the development of amoral behaviors. If it's an illusion, does it matter if you rob, cheat, steal, lie, kill, rape? Yes, obviously there is something the matter with these and other anti-social behaviors. We form social contracts and pass laws against them and maintain systems of justice to deal with them. Moral sense is built into the illusion. It's important to accept that it is a very real illusion. It's a live interactive play in which you are a performer, and so is everybody and everything else. It is not being filmed for later viewing, nor will it play again. For the individual you, what you refer to as me, it's a one time deal, and the only way to exit the theater in which it's playing is to shut down the mechanisms of perception, commonly referred to as death. Until you die, consider the illusion real. So why develop awareness of the illusion at all? Because of an incredibly complex process called choice.
"But we already know what you are going to do, don't we? Already I can see the chain reaction: the chemical precursors that signal the onset of an emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic and reason. An emotion that is already blinding you to the simple and obvious truth..." The Architect (Matrix Reloaded)
I believe that we do have choice, but that choice is limited by many influences including "...the onset of an emotion...". You are a boat on the river of life, and fate is the current of the river and the wind. Choice is the rudder, the boom, the oars. In order to have choice in life, you must manifest as a being that can trim the sail or turn the rudder or pull the oars of your boat. Choice is a limited activity. You can't choose what happens, but you can choose how you react. Choice is an attitude. Another way to discuss choice is by exploring the nature v. nurture debate. What choice you have is dictated in part by your biochemical makeup. If you have a mental illness, your choices are different than if you are a gifted prodigy. The blind have different choices than the deaf. Whatever the nature, it's the nurture we must focus on if we're to have any influence on the illusion. You have to believe that you can change, or you will sabotage any effort you make in order to change. To manifest the being that can steer the boat of your life, that is an important purpose of having a belief system. Get in touch with the true nature of the character that you are in the unfolding story of life.
Some closing thoughts. For the simple dogmatic approach, which is often handy, I use a Bhuddist model. Life is suffering, (but also blissful). Desire is the root of suffering (but also of bliss). Releasing attachment to desire reduces suffering (cultivating healthy desire increases bliss). The way to release attachment to desire (and cultivate healthy desire) is the eightfold path. But being rather lazy, I have a one step eightfold path: do the right thing. If you pay attention, you know what's right. I recommend a scientific method approach to paying attention.
For the less dogmatic approach, don't oversimplify anything. Moral certitude is as dangerous as amorality. You really don't know much of anything for certain, but you must usually act as if you do. It's a high-wire balancing act. Proceed as if you won't fall off, but constantly, and as automatically as possible, adjust your balance. Read, write, talk, think, explore, experiment. Be willing to discard anything and equally willing to hold onto it with fervor, whatever the need may be to the best of your present ability.