In Hermetic philosophy and many other esoteric traditions a being’s body is divided in three: the corpus, the animus, and the spiritus. As the Hermetic alchemist Kremmerz writes:
Gods, daimons, and men: among them the same relationship exists as among the three states of perceptible matter: that which is heavy, that which is light, and that which is evanescent. The synthesis of nature presents the three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gaseous.
This number three recurs in the kingdoms of visible nature. This number makes up the series in divine progression: man (the heavy body that imprisons an intelligence), daimon (the light body that comes near to intelligence), spirit (the evanescent body, which has not even an ideal form, and is symbolized by light).
Giuliano Kremmerz, The Hermetic Science of Transformation
We can understand this division most clearly in ourselves through introspection, but the same division applies equally to non-human beings. The corpus is static substance; the animus animates the corpus; the spiritus determines the nature of the animus. The axis along this hierarchy of determination is the orthogonal axis through the “planes” of being.
Historically, esoteric scholars have been concerned with beings like states or cultures. The anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot, distinguishing spirits from egregores, writes:
However, it is the souls and spirits from above—forming, inspiring and directing communities of human beings—who nourish and vivify human souls: for example, Archangels (who are the spirits of nations); Principalities (Archai or “time spirits”); the spiritual entity which is behind Tibetan Buddhism; not to mention Christ, whose Flesh and Blood each day vivifies and unites the Church (Christ’s Mystical Body). Egregores are therefore nourished by men, whilst the latter are nourished by souls and spirits from above.
Nevertheless, although God, Christ, the Holy Virgin, the spiritual hierarchies, the saints, the Church (or the Mystical Body of Christ) are real entities, there still exists also a phantom or egregore of the Church, which is its “double”, just as every man, every nation, every religion, etc., have their “doubles”.
Meditations on the Tarot, Letter VI: The Lover
The tripartite body of a superhuman being is not a purely conceptual existence, “nourished by men”, but constitutes a free and noumenally independent existence.
[T]he Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. All these beings—including man (the Ischim)—have an existence that is either real or illusionary. If they have a real existence, if they are not a mirage, they are independent entities endowed not only with a phenomenal independence but also a noumenal independence. Now, noumenal independence is what we understand by freedom.
Meditations on the Tarot, Letter IV: The Emperor
Beings with real existences exist across all planes of being. They are not subject to any human’s will, but are superhuman and free, and human-like in their spiritual structure. They have the same capacity to act, to will, to affect, and are subjects as much as they are objects. These beings are the spirits of states, organizations, languages, cultures, and other systems.
The corpus of an organization of people is not even merely the union of its constituents’ corpora, because physical beings do not have strict boundaries. The corpus associated with an animus is better thought of as a domain over which the animus has influence. A human body has a strong center of subjectivity where the nerves run, but exists in the world and is not separate from it. It uses tools and cognizes via external artifacts. Even its immediate substance is constantly renewed. Similarly, the interaction of individuals does not merely join their domains of influence in the world, but creates a new context of interaction with its its own physical scope.
With the advent of systems theory and cybernetics, we have an understanding powerful enough to quickly create new media in which other systems can be represented. There have long been systems like law and theory which duplicate and co-affect a system outside of themselves. Now we have the computer (which is only abstract), and its worldly extensions in beings like a program or a computational blockchain.
Each representation-capable medium contains extensional bodies of other spirits represented in it, or emerging from the interaction of these spirits, so that within each plane of being there may be diverse realms governed by these media. Each medium is also itself a free being with a noumenal body across each plane of being.
Information as a Fluid
From another perspective which diminishes separateness, subjects and objects are only structured regions in a rarefied field of pure information. In this sense, information is a substance so abstract as to be meaningless; yet it can be measured and analyzed, and retains some aspect of its mathematical sense as the capacity to resolve an uncertainty. It is more general than flows like matter, energy, value, and libido; yet flows of each of these quantities are necessarily also flows of information. In this sense information is the most general fluidic quantity, an ur-fluid.
The Dao Jing of the Dao De Jing, as explained to me by the lineage master of the Wind Fire Thunder (风火雷; feng huo lei) sect in a WeChat message, is about clearly perceiving the front and back of natural changes, the patterns of subject-change (self-changing) and object-change (being-changed) (道德经的上经为道，指要参透自然变化的正与反；自变和被变的规律，道本。).
This association between front/back and subject/object provides a ready analogy in the context of information flows. A subject is a region of positive divergence; an object is a region of negative divergence. The subject acts on the world outside it, transmitting information outwards; the object is acted upon by the world outside it, receiving information inwards.
The distinction between esoterica and exoterica, or between the sacred and the mundane, are also matters of viscosity or of external barriers to information flow. Information cannot flow easily past a physical barrier, a geographical boundary like a mountain or ocean, or a political boundary like of a city or nation. Now the internet has made such flows much easier than before, and the more powerful boundaries now exist in a separate realm. Information does not flow easily between languages, and concealment in twilight language still has a substantial effect.
From the fluidic perspective, the distinction between the planes of existence is a distinction of dimension. The corpus exists in a static field. The animus adds the dimension of time. The spiritus adds a dimension beyond time. But there are many dimensions beyond time, hence the continuity of the planes.
Metaverse and AR
With metaverse and AR technologies, the relations between bodies across planes of existence is immediately relevant. A simulated body directly replaces a physical body for a time, and they exist on the same plane insofar as they are experienced in the same way. On a simple level of analysis, the bodies compete because a spirit might only need one body on each plane. An inferior body can be thrown away, or naturally disappears as it is no longer maintained.
The relationship between AR and traditional experience therefore parallels the relationship between blockchain computation and traditional computation. They have the capacity to hold a body of the same spirit on the same plane. The new body may coexist with the old body temporarily or indefinitely; the same spirit can have multiple bodies in the same plane at an equilibrium, and different media have different degrees of exclusivity with each other.
The technology of the metaverse can be grouped together with the boat, the plane, the phone, the internet. These are technologies that have accelerated the flow of information, or equivalently, that have made it easier for spirits to travel between realms.
Distance within a medium may be bypassed via a body in a different medium. Such “astral travel” is canonical to many magical traditions, wherein a spirit ascends to a higher plane of existence to travel at supernatural speeds on a lower one. One’s body in the metaverse intersects more realms than an internet chat service, and can be associated with a grander spirit.
Another aspect of astral magic is to become a foreign body, like of an animal or god, and to incorporate what one learns from the experience into one’s life as a human. This kind of spiritual metamorphosis also becomes quite literally enabled by AR technologies and other applications of brain computer interfaces, where the activity from a user’s brain, and thereby their conscious experience, can be mapped directly to an augmented super-human body, or even a non-human body.
In such an environment, where lower bodies on the plane of the corpus and animus become so readily malleable, there are inevitable political and social consequences. Many esoteric traditions, which are protected enough by various mechanisms of sacredness to be able to say some very cruel things, speak of a hierarchy of spirits, which in reality are all human spirits. In Buddhism there are the gods, men, demons, and hungry ghosts, who each perceive reality differently and have different desiring-machines. The Wind Fire Thunder lineage master is more explicit: “Yang is above the temple; yin is the rivers, lakes, and seas. Below the temple is not the rivers and lakes but the general’s platform. Below the general’s platform is the row of soldiers extending to the rivers and lakes. Below the rivers and lakes are the people-slaves, blind-slaves, grass-slaves” (阳为庙堂之上，阴为江湖四海。庙堂之下不是江湖而是将台，将台之下是兵道直通江湖，江湖之下为名奴，盲奴，草奴。).
Perhaps these social observations currently only have an esoteric significance, applying only to a realm beyond what everybody can easily see. But if the strata of lower realms are transformed to be like the domain of the astral, the values and dynamics of astral realms will likewise apply to them. Kremmerz explains the astral thus:
In Greek grammar the word aster means “star.” In hieratic Greek, astron is made up of the negative prefix a- and stereon, the state of being fixed or solid, and thus means without fixity, wandering, and therefore astral light in its secret sense is the light that is not fixed, which is wandering, ethereal, evanescent.*
Giuliano Kremmerz, The Hermetic Science of Transformation
In this context, the mechanism of deterritorializing technologies like the internet or the blockchain or the metaverse in transforming a plane of being becomes very explicit.
DAOs and Blockchain(s)
Where are the bodies of a DAO? It is a program on a blockchain. It is a collection of people. A participant in a DAO interacts with the DAO contract through the blockchain it exists on; that blockchain has its own bodies across various planes and realms, in computers, in theories, in dreams.
Some people say that DAOs will replace VC firms and maybe even corporations. Does a DAO refer specifically to the blockchain body of an organization? Or is any organization with a blockchain body a DAO? If it is the former, it will certainly not replace VC firms and corporations, which do not even exist in the same realm. Otherwise, the claim is that every corporate spirit will develop a blockchain body, which seems more reasonable.
But the latter claim acknowledges that corporate spirits also have other bodies in different planes and realms. Will DAOs eventually be captured in law? Wyoming already defines the legal rights of DAOs by analogy with existing LLC definitions. The relations between people in an organization are also matters of interaction between anima and between spirits. Will on-chain contracts and the anima governing them replace the anima emergent from systems of human relations? If not, we must acknowledge that a program’s rules shape but do not wholly define the animus of a DAO.
Some people say that the point is not for programmatic systems to replace human decision-making, but for on-chain programs to define incentive structures that encourage better human behavior within human systems. Then what are the advantages of an on-chain system over a traditional legal one? There are interfaces between an on-chain system and parts of the off-chain world it must represent, just as there are interfaces between a legal system and the off-legal world it must represent. One submits a transaction to a node, or pulls data from an oracle; one represents oneself in court, or calls for witnesses. Even if the blockchain is more transparent and decentralized than the bureaucratic legal system, it does not constitute the whole body of a spirit even on a single plane of existence (e.g. human bodies and computing machines exist in the same plane); opacity and even centralization have lots of room to unexpectedly emerge.
Perhaps the advantages of DAOs inherit from the advantages of the blockchain in general. It is easier to interact with a smart contract than with a bureaucracy, so a blockchain corpus is preferred to a bureaucratic one. But what about the blockchain spiritus? We may deploy the bodies of existing spirits onto the blockchain, but what kinds of spirits and more tangible bodies might crypto technology uniquely generate?
Patterns of behavior repeated across time in different media are also spirits. Finance, economics, and governance are all spirits. Will the current corpora of finance and governance be largely obsoleted by crypto? Even with the infrastructure available today, we still have cash transactions and in-person rituals in governance. Perhaps the immaturity and imperfection (e.g. centralization, lack of robustness) of available infrastructure contribute to this, and crypto at least partially “solves this”. But existing corpora struggle for their own survival and often win; how much more powerful is crypto than the existing dominant infrastructure, compared to how much more powerful that infrastructure was than what came before it?
Decentralization has long been an ideal theme. Even the use yang (用九) of the I Ching hexagram Heaven (乾; qian) says, “to see a crowd of dragons without a head; auspicious” (见群龙无首吉). Foucault asks if we are in a Deleuzian century; Deleuze and Guattari begin and conclude their Thousand Plaeaus with the rhizome opposed to arborescent structure.
But even if crypto is a deterritorializing technology, does it reach the level of establishing a new plane of consistency? Then it mustn’t impose a homogenous surface over the smooth space otherwise represented. Deleuze and Guattari write, applying equally to a blockchain ecosystem as to the “legal model”:
This does not mean, however, that the legal model knows nothing of forces, the play of forces. That it does is evident in the homogeneous space corresponding to the compars. Homogeneous space is in no way a smooth space; on the contrary, it is the form of striated space. The space of pillars. It is striated by the fall of bodies, the verticals of gravity, the distribution of matter into parallel layers, the lamellar and laminar movement of flows. These parallel verticals have formed an independent dimension capable of spreading everywhere, of formalizing all the other dimensions, of striating all of space in all of its directions, so as to render it homogeneous.
A Thousand Plateaus, 1227: TREATISE ON NOMADOLOGY—THE WAR MACHINE
Is a programmatic system even theoretically capable of establishing a plane of consistency? Crypto claims to be representative of an ideal it could not wholly encapsulate. In this way it becomes a bound spirit in service of a higher spirit. Even as it contributes to the process of decentralization, or of deterritorialization and the establishment of lines of flight to a new plane of consistency, or of the establishment of a crowd of dragons without a head, it is in no way the whole body of the process, nor identical in spirit.
This post has been a little out of character for me, and it’s mostly because I work at a crypto company now. I am no longer writing developmentally, but toward application in the world. Incidentally, toward what is symbolized by the 利 and 贞 of 元亨利贞, or by the waw and he of tetragrammaton.
In the Chariot arcana from Mediations on the Tarot:
What my intention is here is to refute the false accusations concerning occultism, on the one hand, and on the other hand to show up the real danger that occultism presents—so that one is put on guard against it. But what should one do against this danger, in order to guard one’s moral well-being?
The ancient saying “ora et labora” (“work and pray”) constitutes the only answer that I have been able to find. Worship and work constitute the only curative as well as prophylactic remedy that I know against megalomaniacal illusions. It is necessary to worship what is above us and it is necessary to participate in human effort in the domain of objective facts in order to be able to hold in check the illusions concerning what one is and what one is capable of.
Meditations on the Tarot, Letter VII: The Chariot
Indeed, the domain of esoteric theory is no other than the domain of real life. There is no “other” power outside of common power, nor other value outside of common value, nor other truth outside of common truth.
It is the same conduct which must be applied by the Christian Hermeticist in that which concerns knowledge and science—natural, historical, philological, philosophical, theological, symbolical and traditional. It amounts to learning the art of learning.
Now, it is the Arcana which stimulate us and at the same time guide us in the art of learning. In this sense, the Major Arcana of the Tarot are a complete, entire, invaluable school of meditation, study, and spiritual effort—a masterly school in the art of learning.
Dear Unknown Friend, Christian Hermeticism therefore has no pretension to rival either religion or official science. He who is searching here for the “true religion”, the “true philosophy”, or the “true science” is looking in the wrong direction. Christian Hermeticists are not masters, but servants. They do not have the pretension (that is, in any case, somewhat puerile) of elevating themselves above the holy faith of the faithful, or above the fruits of the admirable efforts of workers in science, or above the creations of artistic genius. Hermeticists are not guarding the secret of future discoveries in the sciences. They do not know, for example, just as everyone at present is ignorant of it, the effective remedy against cancer.
Meditations on the Tarot, Letter I: The Magician
But esotericists and fans of esoterica have often looked for a unification of esoteric theory and mainstream science or academic discourse. Kremmerz writes:
The concept of the universe as a unity leads in magic to the principle of unity of force and unity of matter that some superior intellects have already glimpsed, in their studies, outside of the teaching of magic. In this case, magic, which no progress of vulgar science will ever be able to find fault with, identifies many modes of existence of the one force of the one matter that begins with the metal and, from liquid to gas, passes to infinitesimal attenuations.*
*This is the basis of alchemy, which its few researchers believe to be rudimentary chemistry, whereas it is, in fact, the philosophy of chemistry.
Modern history will begin when a new type of chemistry analyzes the elements of the soul that make up the individual person and causes them to unfold, and this will mark the end of a long period of darkness in which man has not known himself.
Giuliano Kremmerz, The Hermetic Science of Transformation
Clearly today’s sociology is not such a chemistry. Psychoanalysis, being the product of a particular place and time, also lacks the universal scope of a “chemistry”. Deleuze and Guattari, perhaps having lost faith in “science”, say of their schizoanalysis:
Nowhere do we claim for our concepts the title of a science. We are no more familiar with scientificity than we are with ideology; all we know are assemblages. And the only assemblages are machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation.
A Thousand Plateaus, INTRODUCTION: RHIZOME
Indeed they say later of chemistry and science in general:
Universal attraction became the law of all laws, in that it set the rule for the biunivocal correspondence between two bodies; and each time science discovered a new field, it sought to formalize it in the same mode as the field of gravity. Even chemistry became a royal science only by virtue of a whole theoretical elaboration of the notion of weight. Euclidean space is founded on the famous parallel postulate, but the parallels in question are in the first place gravitational parallels, and correspond to the forces exerted by gravity on all the elements of a body presumed to fill that space. It is the point of application of the resultant of all of these parallel forces that remains invariable when their common direction is changed or the body is rotated (the center of gravity). In short, it seems that the force of gravity lies at the basis of a laminar, striated, homogeneous, and centered space; it forms the foundation for those multiplicities termed metric, or arborescent, whose dimensions are independent of the situation and are expressed with the aid of units and points (movements from one point to another). It was not some metaphysical concern, but an effectively scientific one, that frequently led scientists in the nineteenth century to ask if all forces were not reducible to gravity, or rather to the form of attraction that gives gravity a universal value (a constant relation for all variables) and biunivocal scope (two bodies at a time, and no more). It is the form of interiority of all science.
A Thousand Plateaus, 1227: TREATISE ON NOMADOLOGY—THE WAR MACHINE
So what of the project that Kremmerz articulates? It is a homogenizing project, of “one force” and “one matter”. It articulates a homogenizing force that accompanies many realm-establishing technological advances, wherein the realm-establishment inevitably overcodes whatever it captures as if to establish itself as a perpetual monopoly on its plane.
Does crypto provide the basis for a chemistry of the “elements of the soul”? Indeed we may explicitly define agents in a program, and observe their interaction much like we algorithmically analyze the interaction of chemical molecules based on their abstract models. AR also provides a chemical methodology for experimenting with the soul, wherein we are able to attempt to combine an existing soul with something foreign to it, to see what reactions are possible and not, and to determine what elements of the soul are active or inert.
But in such a project are we merely following ancient striations that have captured our modes of thought, and that tyrannically govern the production of legitimacy? I think it still remains to be seen who is stronger and truer between the tree and the rhizome; perhaps it is an eternal and transcendent conflict.
Even by participating in a discourse we are engaging with spirits larger than ourselves, advancing one epistemic project or another, diverting flows of information. Will we speak of things in terms of spirits and bodies, or in Deleuzian words and methods, or in the context of another canon coding the same domain, or something new altogether?
Even without an established canon, by framing the discourse within any context accustomed to superhuman entities, we recognize their presence by whatever names they may be known. Thereby these questions about the interaction and evolution of projects, theories, epistemologies also become subject to analysis.
In formless times I greatest feel the Need To fit some Self to artificial Form.
A cast for freely floating seed allows For better fruit than barren fields might bear.
But weary after Images of Growth, Resolv’d to Pattern vaster than my Pow’r
I look to yonder City and behold, A wretched cry, in wretched Waves repeats.
The lower sayeth (marvel she hath voice) That Woe is daily piled on and on;
A stern rebuke, and voiced in fiercer tone Than by his might the High is apt to hear.
Yet knowing we are We, and far from Good, We grasp and grasp at better worlds of Mist.
Pretending at Utopia, we tilt At Windmills form’d by ancient idol gods.
Forget Oneself as Human
Forget oneself as Human by one’s Speech; Machine can speak in too alike a Voice.
Forget oneself as Human by one’s Works; What works will Chaos not in Time erase?
Forget oneself as Human by one’s Place; But look Above, Below and see the Same.
Forget oneself as Human by one’s Name; A rose by any other name still With’rs.1This line is in perfect iambic pentameter and you can’t change my mind.
title note2I’ve read neither Kant nor Derrida but I have read Nick Land on Kant and the SEP page on Derrida. I’ve also watched part of several Derrida lectures on Youtube… Actually I did read “Monolingualism of the Other”
The Parts of Man combine to form the whole Though nowhere may we find a Rigid break.
The Alchemist therefore delights to Break To see what gods from Broken goods are born.3Yes this is a 傷物語 reference, aside from being a reference to radical constructivism a la Von Glasersfeld, Piaget, et al., and to evolutionary biology/psychology.
From Dust, and too from Learning comes the Man4both in biological and evolutionary time Which nought may Solve but magic Alkahest.5a reference to the allure and strength of humanist essentialism, even mind-body dualism
But magic’s realm is Spirit and is Mind Where Dissolution is no mighty Feat.
A golem’s crafted not from Flesh and Blood But stone enchanted by a sim’lar Soul.
And marvel there’s no Special part of Man That great Enchantments could not likely match.
I saw a trillion Eyes in every way, A trillion Mouths to voice their Wills and Plans
The Good some Measured seemed so far away From all their pain and Animal delight.
And many strove to care an empty care Which maybe hid the terrible Sublime.
The trillion Eyes and Mouths were God as One, Still good as Two; but Three I hid my face.7As Two, they might be yin and yang, or emptiness and form, or even good and evil. I do not know what they are as three; if I did I doubt I can speak of them.
Words can but Point a little bit beyond The furthest yonder Limit of one’s Gaze.
And as the lower fickly turns her head, He Points at various Separate trifling Things.
So if some impetus from God to build Too sorely Overwhelms one’s fragile heart,
Start close, near what is Perfect, and expand That what is built might not collapse Again.
Utopia is not a Leap away, But several Steps, though some may seem as leaps.
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. 3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? 4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. 5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. 7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. 8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.8Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, KJV
The law of Heaven is Dao The law of Earth is Heaven The law of Man is Earth The law of Dao is Nature9自然 translates colloquially to “nature”, but could be literally translated as “self-apparent”
When I was 13 or so (judging by the timestamp on the file), never yet having experienced being in love, but perhaps moved by a lite kind of passion for someone (more likely in the abstract than in the particular), wanting to want to fall in love, as I often do, I began to write but never finished this little piece titled “My? (Odd) Love Story”, from which here is the chorale section and a bit before.
If this represents my reverie-fantasy of love’s experience from the time, I listen now and think, damn I was so wrong lmao. Perhaps if I were to finish it today, I would add some variations like this.
Not that I would finish it today. In a mood when all fragments sound better than their completions, in which completeness is hideous by its perfect imperfection. And of course, it’s likely that the appearance of wrongness or not of my representations of love in song are only by my own experience, knowing I have loved or not loved, and associating my work of each time with the rest of what I know I know or knew. I listen again and think the first one was much better. Not that I would stay up long nights today writing love songs, and of course I glance and see that this is less romantic, and less like love.
And it is at a time when everything is worse, and when there is nothing to do, that I feel in the mood to tell my? (odd) love stories.
A portrait of myself in the company of one other. A portrait of myself alone. A portrait in which I show way too much. Realities contrasting against a good story, against me in the forum, or pseudo-alone.
Of course, placing myself as author and protagonist, I am ever the hero, virtuous but often oppressed, except when I am learning from my mistakes. So of course my stories are untrue and misleading, and the other heart in me says, really I am a terrible person, and many stories have no happy ending—but it has no voice because the written story means something, and here I am writing.
In fact, I hate my love letters, because I write them only in pain. I write them to mean something when there is no meaning, and (blind) love rushes in to fill the void. They start off like this:
As a pattern: illegible, addressed to no one, often in third person, but different from other writing in their purpose. I call them love letters, but how hideously, I think! I write them not to express love, but to love—I do love then, with all the pleasure and pain, hindered maybe by ugly unnaturalness. This one captures the kind of feeling particularly well:
In the loneliness of night, wanting, prompted, (to want) to fall in love,
Ah, how terribly familiar, and what a visceral terror too. The pattern of my love is poor and cruel. Cruelly repeating, the hunger to feel acted on as hunger for another, therefore falsely, for she is not Feeling, and I do not feel for her.
Oh but I do, if only through the power of stories I tell myself (and even others, though I hesitate at this for knowing they are untrue, and for fear of harm.)
Not harm to I of course, but to Her. For I am in Love, after all! I would not win her by a lie, for I am desperately in love. Oh fragile heart, that I have deceived. Now I may no longer [sense?] thee.
Does it beat in Love or terror? Even this familiarity is no hint. “I love you”, I lie and lie before God, who in His infinite cruelty, makes all good things true.
in case you can’t read my handwriting. sometimes I can’t either
Afterward, I have adapted and addressed and delivered musings like these to someone in particular. I don’t have images of these because I have delivered them (and it is not right to ask the recipients for pictures, I tentatively believe).
In contrast, I insist I had not fallen in love in my symphony-writing days, but here is a goodbye letter from the time, which I look at now and think, at least it began to capture a sense of wanting to want to fall in (real) love, which perhaps I did not know at that time, or else that I have (intentionally or unintentionally) forgotten.
As I look at it now, I cringe and cringe and think how wrong! how ugly! (but in a different way than I have used these words before) “enjoy the rest of your life without me”?? We still talk.
It was better then, in middle school; she shed a few tears upon reading it, and kept the letter, as much as that means. So I have this image; and perhaps adjacent things are better this way, charming untouched and only corrupted by all this putrid addition. I think perhaps I have made a terrible mistake, and I go on exposing my rotting hearts to the internet, plucking pure memories from a good place and painting them terrible colors, as is consistent with the plot that will develop—
And I think it is largely because that letter was to someone in particular. My other love letters are not. I think I have never fallen in love. So I pour out my heart, and my other love letters here are to you as much as to anyone else, which makes the texture—different.
Yes, this too is a love letter. Writing to feel something, and to remember. Again just to replace anguish (more precisely, anguishing boredom) by (something like) “love”, if only for a little while.
Variation 4: Unrequited
I have never read a romance novel in my life, unless you count something like Justine (which I would not), so this will not be of the correct flavor. It is not right to talk about love. I commit a grave sin and turn sweet things sour.
My most recent stroke of Love has been the worst, for it was from the beginning explicitly a performance. We were good friends, as much as I usually become with the people around me anyway, sometimes flirting trivially and holding hands and saying things to each other in the early mornings of drunkenness and various such things, meaning nothing in particular. Until in a moment of boredom, my terrible pattern of false love.
During winter break, a long car ride, texting each other all morning, I write her this poem, ruining me by throwing us into a fiction. I become pretentious and fake, living as nothing but a performance to myself, initially beautiful in my own eyes, just to feel something. I ask if I may write her love letters, explicitly, just for fun, making clear I did not really love her in that way, and she saying the same. So I began.
I asked if she would like the texture of my script to be “a refined and elegant copperplate”, “sweet and heartwarming, an unpracticed schoolchild’s”, a few more choices I cannot remember (with photo samples), or other? She chose sweet and heartwarming, and I told myself this joke (I have this one because I drafted it digitally):
Might you accept this briefly drafted prose From me, your lover, humbly and in vain To slightly ease your boredom in repose On nights devoid of pleasure and of pain.
A tale of role-play and reality Of pretense, of perception, and of lies Of subtly bonded truth and irony Of bold confessions sung in vain reprise.
But foremost, ’tis a tale of purest love— The richness, fun and tragedy thereof.
I recently told you a story about a former beloved lover, to whose hardened heart I would confess my love in various futile forms. Each time he would say, smiling with a slight chuckle full of meaning, “No, I know you’re lying to me. I know you’re just playing with my emotions.” You warned me then that the fault was in myself, upon which I long reflected.
What is in that “I know you’re lying”? What is in that “just”? I thought at first that my fault was in being overly deceptive, in being known as unable to be simple, that in the simplicity of my expression my lover would always perceive extra layers of irony which were not.
But to “know you’re lying” suggests a stark duality between truth and untruth. And in the “just” of “just playing…”, there is profound simplicity! Surely my lover could not be perceiving more layers of irony than I intended, but less. The fault was not in a compounding ad absurdio, but in subtlety unseen.
In truth, my lover would always play along with my flirtations, and our time together was very rich and meaningful. But a favourite pet phrase of his was “I don’t believe you.” Perhaps if I could go back, I would tell him really there was nothing to believe.
To establish a firm barrier between pretense and presence, and to give too much credit to thoughts and words. The interpretation of being as narrative and as drama. All barriers to purity.
Today when I say “I love you,” those words are empty, but they are strong because they are backed by a rich web of context. Therefore I can say “I love you” to anyone and they will know for themselves what I mean, in a way too complex for words to expound adequately. That is the hope, at least.
In practice, words are woven among the webs of not only interpersonal contexts, but vast cultural and historical contexts, with many unknowns. The meaning-making game is a difficult one. In poetical realms like love, we assimilate and accommodate, and do not reach a consensus.
And so in that “I love you,” there is so much that I do not mean, and there is so much that I mean that goes unheard. I am lying. I am just playing with your emotions. There is too much and too little.
I’ve spent my days roleplaying and shitposting in the most remote domains of the internet and the real world. Practice makes perfect. In love, I exercise my veteran hand.
The webs of meaning evolve and devolve. We live in a society, and we are society. We are roleplayers and degenerates, in the most literal sense.
So in any case, and however imperfectly, “I love you.”
Sweetly and Heartwarmingly, ?
I folded it into a heart by these instructions, and I think I would have really driven over from Alabama to Mississippi to deliver it to her door, as an inside joke, if I’d had car insurance (I didn’t). How utterly autistic! The opposite of sweet and heartwarming at any level of analysis a little beyond object-level (but not too far). It was funny and delightful to me; I was sincerely engaged.
But obviously, I was wrong to play with people like words, and I hurt her, and myself also. Now I found (or rather, remembered, realized in immediate experience) that in telling a story so vividly and so long, and especially in performing it, I came to believe in it in every way. My love became real, even real to her. To simplify: love against God’s will is a terrible thing.
One night, in a moment of fatigue, the Other in me, after a little vulnerable conversation, spewed forth putridly to save itself from death.
Then I am consumed by the Mask. In a climactic turn, all good things end, and there is no more beauty in my love. Everything shows in vivid hideous splendor as fiction and reality merge but do not blend. A wreck.
Until we do not know nor really care what we are saying.
And finally, mercifully, she kills me.
Around this time I went to Justin Murphy’s Based Mansion event and got on Twitter, where I was rewarded for being bad and wrong, just because I spoke Truth. Now I regret it sometimes, especially when I look forward into an Abyss that sometimes resembles a hall of mirrors, disorienting me and asking me where I am, where I am going, where I have come from.
It takes a while to be reborn. Having become the story, my love-loss is as real as any other, and I feel empty for a while. Then I repeat my mistakes in the company of others, having learned some things but not everything.
Here is a letter from a series of apologies I subsequently wrote to her, to me, and to you. But even in these I am bad and wrong, and at times I even crave to be punished, but no one has the right words to wound me, when I am in another fiction, or too close to God (in Bataille’s sense more than any Christian’s) or else in whatever way too closely resemble or evoke something Beyond.
To whom will hear,
For even in such a brief time, being quite without you has rendered me so much the more sensitive to what you had been against my hardened heart, so here is a vain apology for my sin, and for at least what transgressions against you of which I am now made aware. But may the glory of natural law humble me further yet!
I must really stop living as a performance for myself. It is becoming terribly lame. Therefore please excuse my poetic license as I calibrate to something better, for I have lost something important in the rain. I have lost myself in the underworld, quagmire of irony and deceit.
Verily I am drowning in irony, and I am not sure where to step. Natural law is just, and bad things do not happen to good people; therefore when I suffer I know that I am wrong. I Wotan have piled the logs around Valhalla; Siegfried is dead, and Brunhilde rides into the pyre.
You were right and we were wrong. The “life as art” thing isn’t working very well. I’ve lost sincerity and gained actual autism. For my life is now more an inscrutable play than meaningful membership in society. I have theory of mind, but ignore what it tells me in favor of some aesthetic standard quite ill-tied to social utility, or to anything else—trauma’s scars or something. Fucking hell.
More wretched than the fool is the fool who boasts of enlightenment, and more wretched yet is he who so boasts, and is believed. I made vain pretense to wield the Holy Lance, and evil so readily claimed it to wound my own side. As Beast with lamb’s tongue I spoke poison, and when you, kind Parsifal, spoke against me, I pronounced you dead and wounded you. “Pure fool, enlightened by compassion,” your reward is in heaven, mine in hell.
The “Well” hexagram of the I-Ching consists of water above—danger, and wind below—penetrating. “…The rope does not reach all the way. The bucket breaks. Misfortune” The adept Liu I-Ming comments, “If one insists on trying to teach people before one has attained the Tao oneself, this is called lacking the basis. Development without the basis lacks inward mastery; arbitrarily used, it creates confusion, and without having helped anyone else one first loses oneself. This is like trying to get water from a well, but the rope does not reach all the way…”
Therefore it is well that you have severed the short rope, and that you ride into the pyre in grief. The Rhine now overflows its banks to quench the fires of Götterdämmerung. In the unused well, the golden elixir begins to crystallize.
Thus I leave you with the encouragement which John of Patmos in the Holy Spirit delivered to the Church in Ephesus.
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Of course, I did not refer here to any love related to me. I cannot resist a joke still, and I suffer (but then, this is the best time to joke, thereby to laugh). In another love letter in limbo between life and death, I tell the story in fuller detail. Again I tell the story.
With (Im)perfect Sincerity,
All these words are mere play, and we are feeble characters in it. The script of “I am…” meshes too closely with what to say and to do and to be.
So in my unsensible “not,” I may have forsaken my place in the theatre of your experience. But see and hear and feel what I am to you, and behold that it is real.
I’m deeply in love with you in many modes; really you believe less than you ought. But indeed I am afraid to act, for indecision from many fronts. Foremost is my Fall from Heaven—I’ll describe that shortly. Then are your various words against me; direct and indirect readings confound a straight path.
Fall From Heaven
In a simple view, “magic” is just a way to mature faster than normal, and a precise language to describe subtle aspects of the process of maturation, which is ill discussed in mundane tongue. In the beginning of the school-year, I LARPed as a witch-doctor in an effort to heal.
The healer-supplicant role is not equal. To be healed by something equal is annoying—to be called neurotic, to be disdained, to be misunderstood. But privately, the neurotic very much wants to heal, though she will go great lengths not to admit this. Yet she will approach the healer when the narrative is palatable. Therefore I took the healer role, and many approached me.
I know things and have done things; psychoanalysis, magic, human experience. I actually can heal, when the patient actually trusts me as healer (the importance of this trust-relation is emphasized in all traditions). But the magical (and psychotherapeutic) work is very harmful when not carried through to completion; and I had no time nor effort to complete my work. Indeed I never expected to attract so much in the form of healer, and foolishly began an effort, which I since have all but abandoned.
And in ceasing to LARP as a witch-doctor (not for dishonesty, but for that role takes a great deal of commitment, and I have other commitments), the trust essential to healing was largely dissipated. I threw myself from Heaven, but could hardly return though I wanted. I became an equal—and again, the equal cannot well heal, but only trouble.
I’ve considered that maybe I’m wrong and “you” (somewhat plural) are right. But my interactions with certain people—my anthropology professor, his graduate student that he introduced me to, the visiting scholar from Brazil, ’s mom, ’s brother, several people I met in China including my boss and his Taoist master, many people from the conference I’m attending…—persuade me that this isn’t so. I’ve often been advised to drop out of university for example, or at least to “not bother”; don’t try to gain from you guys what I can’t, actively surround myself with more inspiring people, rather than your “everyone else” (as in “maybe everyone else is right”)—yet somehow I am hesitant; for youth? for love?
Situated here, I want deep and meaningful friendship even, no, especially from the people around me. But I can’t form such friendships with someone neurotic—for that neurosis becomes a veil to what I really want to engage with so that I always am somehow first trying to heal the neurosis (and it is somewhat doomed to be ineffectual, for I want the friendship to be equal, and so often I prematurely take the equal form).
There are also the problems of interest and knowledge—1. not every non-neurotic is my best friend; 2. I’ve spent so much time amongst mystics and philosophers and such, and outcasts and pretentious intellectuals. Neurosis (but not just neurosis) prevents one from certain ways of thinking, but even when one is able to think in some way, it is another thing to have already thought through some particular thing. I am so used to engaging with people who have already heard of and thought through such and such things, and who work from these things to others. And especially since I’m not so sure how long I’ll spend with you guys, how do I dedicate my time? Talking about things I’ve long since already thought through, many times, to the point that they bear no new fruit? Or making do with just a very tentative connection, more thinking and talking to myself than really engaging in conversation?
And again, I am limited in my form. Do I take the healer-role or no? Do I posture above or alongside or below? Do I go near or far? For how long? Thence my indecision.
And so again, I really do love you, but truly don’t know what to do. Therefore may this letter at least offer a clearer perspective; as always, take it how you will—of course I can ask nothing else, however desperately.
P.S: Re “you’re dumb”: Sure, but you severely underestimate me. Both just how little AND how much you mean to me.
Of course all this is just one perspective, and therefore wrong like all the rest.
And to conclude, a Requiem introitus I wrote around the same time as “My? (Odd) Love Story”. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.
I never wrote the Kyrie, or I would have that here instead. Not that the MIDI rendering has voiced lyrics.
Kyrie, eleison.Christe, eleison. Kyrie, eleison.
Next, the boy I mentioned in the first letter of this variation, the girl from China (my boss’s wife’s sister), and scattered experiences from temporary environments like summer camps and the psychiatric ward. More feelings, more thoughts through thin vessels of terrible love stories. But maybe I won’t write these if the mood passes (or it will take a very long time). Yet maybe I will.
A dear diary moment Now in the honesty that alcohol induces, feeling like I have to write. A story I tell myself in the absence of tears, to fill and justify that absence. “Constantly without to see the essence”, and what a disappointment. Inert white phlegm in place of the golden elixir—never yellowed nor reddened; just past melancholy, and feeling too much of nothing at all.
I hate myself in the presence of my college dormmates, but that me is too established for change. And now I’ll be leaving. In the first days, having assumed too much, my narrative of “enlightenment” and “understanding” and whatnot—LARPing as the cringiest witch-doctor, whom many believed for too long a while. Dragging, dragging, dragging them somewhere they don’t want to go.
Now in my sadness, opening to them in the most harmful way, seppuku opening my putrid intestines. “I think it’s sad because we have no ephemeral connection. I’ve always felt so spiritually distant. We’ve only been friends and stuff because we’re physically close, living together and all. So that’s why it’s especially sad, with nothing tying us together anymore once we are far apart. So you all are really permanently gone.”
And then, asked, in a final gesture? So what are you interested in? And my response, “Well, that’s the thing. It’s nothing specific, nothing topical. Not what but just the way I’m interested in things. I actually hate talking.”
“I enjoy wandering. I like doing stuff with people. I like happy people.” In a final gesture, explaining “It’s just, for example, wandering aimlessly along the highways in Shanghai, sleeping on the ground. Going blind to some conference with ‘radical counterintellectuals’, these are the kinds of things that are meaningful to me, that make my life fulfilling, while you guys are just trying to get through college and get a job or whatever. I feel like I’m dragging y’all somewhere you don’t want to be. It hurts.”
And then the same conversation shift as ever, back to the mundane, to the specifics of video games and anime. And they know now how I never mean anything I say, for it all feeling so base and pointless to me. For disdain and derision and all other pretentious things. Awkwardly, once upon a time joking, how I hate myself when I’m around them. Farming that for internet clout, blogging now.
Woe for narrative consistency. The feeling that nothing happened, making for the especially painful close. Talking and saying nothing. Feigned interests with excessive theory, just because I like people, the shell of people, disregarding whatever is inside. So I drank hoping to cry for them, feeling terribly sad indeed.
And now I feel better, but I didn’t cry. Woe for narrative consistency, for I don’t really feel “better” in a perfect way. I’m just detached from them. I don’t miss them as much as I want to, and I tell myself I’m just lying to myself, and convince myself by the tension in my chest. Though no tears come still though I’m as drunk as I’ll be.
And I told them this though I wanted to tell them how much I liked and loved them. And I hate this self all the more. A me now solidified in memories, a narrative I cannot right toward the perfection. Lead real not alchemical, cannot be transmuted to gold.
Nothing left, a hole in my past. No ephemeral connection. I wrote love letters to one just to feel something, memed myself into real love by that self-narrative reinforcement that lingers even now, and I really am sad, I say. But the tears don’t come, and these words try to fill the void I meant to fill by tears.
A melancholy moment before I go off to sleep and the day cycles again as always, and I leave again the past that never was, and still makes no perfect sense however I plea and plea.
Pt. 2: Cutting Through Cutting Through Spiritual Colonialism—A Response to Vinay Gupta
Beginning at the End: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning (of the End…)
I’ll start my response at the end of the original, to emphasize convergence. For conclusions are often expressed at the end, and we (as the correct always tend to) have come to the same conclusion. I have no one to hook with warnings of doom—here is our convergence: the end is seamless collaboration among everyone and everything.
“I have become a *remarkably* grumpy old man”, writes Gupta, and I suppose it is a similar sentiment that has led me away from writing recently, toward plans to acquire capital. But the words of a seasoned disillusioned capitalist prod me at least back to this conversation. For conversation is at least collaboration; the action feels fruitful enough that I can perform it without infinite procrastination.
Since many of my thoughts around this came from my experiences with the Daoist underground in China, since the topics fit readily in the same conversation, and since I have (temporarily) become so averse to writing, this post is also my promised continuation to my first post on The Daoist Mafia. Let me just say a few things grossly then, to start us off.
The end state is obvious. We’re trying to eliminate suffering. We’re trying to remove all bad. He without food tries to get food. Having gotten food, he finds that he is distressed by having no house, and he devotes his time and effort towards getting that house. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is largely correct. But the final stage “self-actualization” is a bit complicated.
Gupta writes: “As soon as the immediate fear of homelessness recedes, for most people, a huge raft of existential questions immediately surface.” And yes, as Gupta suggests, these may be suppressed by the new needs generated by parenthood. There are other possibilities—my connection to the Daoist underground in China, AZ, had the idea (and founded a startup based on this idea), that Maslow’s hierarchy connects to Peter Senge’s five disciplines. I tweeted about it here.
Here are Senge’s five disciplines:
Building shared vision
It is clear that the need for needs is itself a need. For it is need that drives continued existence, in a tautological sense. Without need there is but oblivion, which is a sure possibility, but not here. Toward oblivion, there is nothing to write about or to do. In a sense, I (we?) have already won; but what are we doing? Something, hence driven by need. This stuff about a seamless and ubiquitous system, #GameB, various constructions at utopia avoiding the faults of previous constructions; even via negativa—all just because we’re here.
It’s okay, but I think it’s important not to pretend otherwise, as if oblivion or whatever were some universal terrible “wrong”, as if there were some positively existent universal principle driving us on. We start in the middle. Our needs are indeed ours, even if we do not choose them. And we need them in a real way; but they are ours. Therefore “cutting through” is all. I cannot establish anything, only cut through. Therefore I say I teach the production of alkahest. The elimination of suffering fits into this project. By removing all that is wrong, what remains, whatever it is, is the only ultimate.
The building of systems is one way to frame it all. It works for now, and I find no obvious flaws. Perhaps someday they will emerge, and I will cast this away. What remains, remains. I will still have my needs, or whatever I will call them then. Or I will be gone. The same with larger units, with society, with the totality of things. The relation between being (in time; i.e. the being of processes) and telos is not property inheritance or hypo/hypernymy, supervenience, or whatever category theory analytic philosophy shmilosophy, but identity (or equivalently, comprehensive absolute necessary and sufficient codependence).
How does this all fit together?
In China, the family is a core unit of organization. Nowhere can unconditional, un-cruel collaboration be found like within the family. Therefore the cohesive (remember, seamless collaboration) system AZ is trying to build in China takes families as its units. He says there is no hope outside the family. There are biological bases, and social factors too. I debated long nights with AZ over this; obviously the cohesion of the family unit is not so firm in the U.S.—I can say little of other places; and China is not immune to the trend.
The stuff is all highly contextual but there are things to be done. What to do depends on where you are. AZ builds systems of families in China. Gupta builds systems of moral visionaries in the West. There is always this outwards expansion; a sort of drive toward ubiquity, perhaps—at least something far beyond this lifetime. Vision. There is also always somewhere to start. There are needs that are difficult to destroy. There are forces that keep us existing.
The “somewhere to start” is important in the face of imminent cruelty and destruction. Here you are in a cruel world. It’s what Buckminster Fuller expresses in the metaphor of the trim tab. It’s also the universal human sentiment of the hero myth, or the more heroic Bildungsromans, or the archetypal shonen anime motif.
The cruel angel’s thesis will soon take flight through the window, with surging, hot pathos, if you betray your memories. Embracing this sky [universe] and shining, young boy, become the legend!
I must now spend a while to contextualize because I have a lot to say. Much is lost in saying a lot without context. The more is lost, the more to say and the less context. So all this is skippable is you really get it, and why I’m contextualizing, and you think it’s skippable.
All this talk is just a particular set of mental models—hence my current aversion to writing, somewhat, but I am only balancing; alas, I’m 18. I increasingly finding that I absolutely must write to a particular target audience, because nobody really gets it all and shares my language, in a way that I can just say whatever I want on all my own frontiers, and be mutually collaboratively advanced against them with the right people. Maybe I just haven’t yet met the right people.
I feel a tense burden of already having won. In the ultimate sense, I obviously don’t know what to do. The feeling of not knowing what to do is greatly exacerbated by the feeling of already knowing everything—i.e., there is nothing to learn.
Increasing knowledge leads to increasing optionality. To fully understand is to not be burdened by any arbitrary conceptual bounds, even that inherent in a name or language-system. But still here I am in space and time, left to make choices. Still I am constrained by capital; I have knowledge (therefore potential optionality) far beyond my actual optionality subject to material constraints.
I was privileged to the “huge raft of existential questions” early on, not by a trust fund, but by loving and competent parents who were frugal, happy, and not indebted. I answered them all by the absolute negation, which led to no small portion of conflict against my loving parents, converted from Communist Secularism to Fundamentalist Baptism, sanely in pursuit of need—to fill that emptiness.
So here I am in an awkward position, with nothing but alkahest. I have not sufficiently established virtue, have not sufficiently cultivated yang, have not traveled the left-hand nor the right-hand path, have not seen the face of God. I have no positive being to name; I chose “oblitero omnis obscurantis” as an aspiration name to see how it felt, but it does not feel absolute either. Nor is it via negativa, because nobody’s actually wrong. I used to consider myself a shravaka, but even this I am not, knowing beyond teaching that even all the teachers are absolutely wrong.
But here I am still. “ZMZM” I named my website, for 众妙之门—what follows 玄之又玄: mystery in again mystery; darkness in again darkness; a vortex, spiraling profoundly, sublimely, infinitely in the true interplay of emptiness and form, “同出而易名” (of the same source, but with different names). I feel it so profoundly; and increasingly, I don’t even want to share it with others. It’s not “good”, just ultimate. Good comes from the cultivation of good; emptiness comes from the reduction to emptiness.
“众妙之门” is presented as something really good. Wow, the gateway to all marvels. The door to many wonders. But who opts to fall into Wonderland? Alice does so in a dream, following the boredom of “sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do.” That is the profound emptiness many strive to fill, “burning with curiosity” and “start[ing] to her feet” at the first thing “she had never before seen.” Perhaps this offers an explanation for the delirium induced by Ayahuasca or whatever other substance, maybe even profound meditation, letting us glimpse (in the case of meditation, at will) the White Rabbit to follow in times of boredom and need. I may extend too far, but note that dopamine is released upon novelty (i.e. errors in prediction), not upon reward.
I find in myself in such an odd position indeed. I don’t expect anyone in the world can relate to me as a person (or at least, that in my lifetime I will never meet such a person), and this is good for some things. I will not attract a small cult following to sustain myself off by producing transient bullshit. I will not easily deceive myself that I am saving the world. It’s good for decentralization, for immersing myself among all types, who hate each other, marking them wrong, and who may hate me. I suppose it lets me more readily obliterate all obstructions, maybe.
What is Capitalism?
Yeah, the system as it is sucks. The classic blame it on capitalism move is especially powerful for the disillusioned capitalist. But of course the problem is never with any specific instantiation of a form, but with form itself. Or, “why are we cruel?” The end of capitalism would not be the end of cruelty, nor its legitimization.
I think the answer to “why are we cruel?” is in disparate moments of perception, tense against each other, not seamlessly integrated in collaboration. Just fundamental game theory stuff, probably. Where opportunities for arbitrage exist, there will be those who take them. Flawed systems leave many opportunities for arbitrage.
Nobody is fundamentally motivated, explicitly, to harm another. But everybody is motivated to benefit the self. And so the problem lies in tension between the self and the other, where harm to the other can be benefit to the self, even very great benefit.
“Why isn’t everything already perfect?” is an increasingly deep question the more I consider it, and I have no definite answer. There are many smaller answers though; many are related to abstraction—the desire and possibility of control over that which is not and will never be directly accessible to the agent of control. Scalability issues across space and time; the very non-linear interactions of abstractions with each other, with us, with the world. The infinite complexity resulting from the fact that representational media are themselves objects in the world, capable of being represented, recursively, ad infinitum.
Nick Land draws a parallel between capitalism, natural evolution, and general self-improving artificial intelligence. The pattern of competitive self-reproductive self-maximization, which subsumes everything else that is not within it. Such a pattern is real, and I think it makes sense to call “capitalism” this pattern for the kind of value captured by money.
Money as it exists today is just one representation of something though. It’s a very unique representational medium, with various sub-media. Its patterns of communication and use and such are very different from other familiar media. There are fundamentally structurally different alternatives and varieties; we see historically in barter, in the idea of credit, now in possibilities in blockchain technologies. But there is something centrally common to these, the represented thing, I’ll call it “material value.”
Material value is not going anywhere. Its competitive self-maximization is not going anywhere. In that sense, capitalism is not going anywhere; but we may indeed work toward better representations.
It’s extremely difficult to get rid of all opportunities for cruel arbitrage though. People are foolish and prone to being deceived and exploited (i.e. easily harmed for the benefit of another, punishment-free). And where there are people to be exploited, there will be those to exploit them. Susceptibility to deception is greatly exacerbated by massive scale, where the scope of relevance extends far beyond one’s immediate capabilities of perception, hence understanding.
So the solution would have to lie in education of the masses, even in the enlightenment of all sentient beings. There is no small-scale solution for the large-scale (indeed global) problem of cruelty.
What is Spirit?
I’ll paint in very gross strokes; there’s a reason all the great spiritual traditions stop very early when discussing specifics before saying that no more can be expressed in text, and deferring to the necessity of such things as actual experience and a teacher.
I think Land misses a very important dimension in his thesis on the convergence of various divergent self-maximizing factors, or maybe it’s captured in artificial intelligence—I’m not entirely sure. That is the dimension of spirit, and its infinite self-propagation is expressed in the motif “enlightenment of all sentient beings.”
The pattern Land notices is the ultimate expression of the spiritual motif of the unity of yin and yang. Yang in yin, yin in yang, Thanatos and Eros as one and the same. Fundamentally, it is a fractally ubiquitous pattern to all things, but Land points it out at a grand scale.
Spirit is related to optionality, which is not the same as degrees of freedom. Optionality implies volition. Volition implies that the particular path taken in a situation with many degrees of freedom is somehow better than the others. It is not the same as random chaotic motion in a large phase space.
I will just say that increasing degrees of freedom becomes increasingly better with increasing spiritual development/attainment. And the ultimate state tends towards simultaneous increasing spiritual development and increasing degrees of freedom. But this is not all of what is encompassed in the word “spirit.” Part of my point is that the act of naming itself carries constraint—for there are only certain things and not other things which we will call by such a name and speak of in such a way—which spiritual development (at least of a certain sort—my sort, that I speak of here) escapes, as a fundamental aspect. This is key to the great difficulty in describing the spiritual.
The category is really a terrible category. All sorts of unrelated, vaguely interacting or non-interacting things have all been bundled under the category of spirit. Part of the problem is exactly the colonialism to which Gupta speaks. Various spiritual traditions are not inter-compatible under a monolithic colonial system; their unity is in emptiness rather than form. I write much more on this in otherplaces; my perspective is largely consistent with Ri-mèd, as far as I know.
Words are for pointing. It is hard to point at emptiness because there is literally nothing to point at; so most of the words only point at ways to experience emptiness. There is more potential in art, which does not only point at the past, but aims to create experience directly.
Otherwise, note that spirit derives from the Latin “spirare”: to breathe. Some themes—cyclical, fluid, ephemeral, usually unnoticed but possible to voluntarily control, necessary to be here.
Space and Other Others
Just a few scattered thoughts here; no thesis. But a perspective I think may be valuable. I’m too young for space to feel real. It’s this cheesy symbol thing, lumped in with the rest of late 19 somethings Ronald Reagan grainy radio pixelated television propaganda whatever. I’m also not in the tech world enough to know what people are doing with real capital today, with regards to space. It would probably feel too distant anyway. Being 18, I literally don’t know how to conceive more than 18 years into the future (really more like 4 years, since I think around age 14 was when I started being maturely conscious of the relevant things); if I tried I’d probably be terribly wrong. But I’ll say some things about symbols, about hope, about my feelings, then other people’s feelings.
I had a big gabber/super hardcore techno phase when I was around 16. Around the same time, I was also taking a class in Women’s and Gender Studies, and deeply felt the feminist discourse. I did not connect these two until recently, exposed to cyberfeminist music, a la Arca or Bjork.
My favorite gabber album then was Alice in Voodooland. I did not consider why, and would have been quite unable to explain. But now I can put some things into words.
The distorted, overdriven kick drum feels like the tingling of the skin, numb from tears. And it sounds better harder, more distorted, just as I continued to cry, helpless in the face of oppression (me mostly for my youth, I think; the feminists obviously for their womanhood, and other intersectional factors—blackness, poverty… but I can not do justice to that whole discourse here). To be marginalized is not a symbol; it has felt effects in the world, among these—futility, struggle, helplessness, often hopelessness.
There is in overpowering distortion the will to power and to death. Our absurd heroine Alice again, and a similar aesthetic in “voodoo.” Power in powerlessness. The urge to destroy and to overcome. Beauty in distortion. Hope in flirting with destruction, with the feminine Abyss. To gently, vigorously overpower; light in the darkness; yin swallowing yang. Feelings lost in tears, lost in words; the quivering passionate anger, hope in hopelessness. Eros and Thanatos felt viscerally as the same, in the numbness of nothing left (to lose, to say); therefore ever more of all that—compression, overdrive, distortion, gain, senseless power and chaotic change. More feelings only the music can convey.
Now look at the music of another marginalized other—at Afro-futurism, the music of Sun Ra, or P-Funk. There are more examples than this movement, of the drive toward the outside, the other, clearly expressed in the music of the helpless, hopeful marginalized. It is the desire to escape, and identification with the “alien.” The hope appears clearly symbolic in Sun Ra’s movie. He does not know what he is talking about with regards to space. Do we? Do those billionaires?
Draw what connections you will.
After the End of Law
Maybe someone messed up somewhere. I’m not sure how it happened, but here I am fairly confident I’m as omniscient as practically attainable, along the axes that omniscience usually refers to. Yet I have not spent enough time cultivating anything that I necessarily must defend; yet somehow I’m here anyway.
So this body is especially vulnerable to suicide. There are many moments I’d not hesitate to painlessly die if the option were materially available—but even that is a difficult thing. For whatever reason, I’m still here. In the psychiatric ward, I was in a particularly hopeful and happy phase, perhaps from the novelty and various other very valuable things gained in the experience and interactions; so the staff asked me incredulously why I was there to begin with, and when I told the truth, nobody understood me, though there was a sense that they really really wanted to “help,” whatever that means.
Gandhi’s “fundamental problems” are lies, of course, so far as they are established in form. They are artful, are were effectively suited to their purpose; but they, as all lies, are fragile. I only need to demonstrate by one negative example—which as I often use, is my own person. I cannot live ultimately by them. They have no self-inherent sway.
Again, an immediately apparent problem is that I have not actually cultivated positive virtue. This is important and good for illustrative purposes. Lies, however noble, and however well-designed toward correct antifragile ends, are themselves fragile in the form they are constructed in. Reincarnation, God, and other such positive stabilizing ideas to live by—they are difficult to convince anyone of now, now that easier (i.e. more likely to be taken) negative alternatives are available and accessible.
Optionality again—and this is why more degrees of freedom is not always better without spiritual development. The absolute negation always leads to more degrees of freedom, and indeed the ultimate view is always to be expressed by the absolute negation. So we get the increasing possibility of bad decisions—but who is to call them bad, or much more importantly, to punish them? The problem is of scope, of our terrible capacity for conceiving futures, even our own. It is hard to make real and immediate that which is distant in space. Harder yet that which is distant in time. And the consequences are in the future—worse, perhaps beyond this lifetime. I have no children. Reincarnation is not real of itself, nor afterlives in Heaven and Hell (or at least, these negations are easily and convincingly demonstrable). There is nothing in the future I must love, outside this lifetime.
Padmasambhava said that sutra would last for a few hundred years, tantra for a few thousand, and Dzogchen forever. The former two would need to be periodically replaced by those who realized the last. But his time estimates, being given as constants, betray that his extrapolation was linear—and as with pretty much all linear extrapolations, I think they were wrong. Increasing interconnectivity of things and rates of interaction make the expected and actual lifespans of sutra and tantra much shorter, with negative second derivative. Indeed Dzogchen is still eternal, but it comes with no structural guarantees, and may well be, for example, in the extinction of humans. As a human, I would be expected at least to hope not—but I’m not sure if I really feel this hope.
Gandhi gave a great sutra, enough to fulfill its transient purpose and then some. But it is nothing universal. And Gandhi is more dead than God—at least by the Lindy principle, I’d expect the latter to last much longer still.
Many sages have prophesied an age after the end of law. Sad-dharma-vipralopa. Notice that law is “dharma”—this is not the end of any particular worldly system of law, say the “capitalism” that allows cruelty to legally abound. It is the end of any positively established pattern-system, form-system, to govern the operation of the world.
I commend and respect Gandhi for his noble and effective fulfillment of his need of need, and his recruitment of others to the same. I commend Gupta for the same—perhaps his system of meanings (i.e. needs and possible actions) will be appropriate for many others, to satisfy their need for need and to serve as means to their continued existence harmonious with the world. I commend AZ for the same.
But of course, none of these are ultimate. More directly, none of these are for me. On a more practical note, I also doubt that sharing one’s positive vision for the future, even convincing many others of the same, is a very effective thing toward actualizing said vision, and even less toward actualizing the empty, absolutely negative intersection of all good and harmonious visions. I expect Gupta knows this well, and I commend him especially also for his actions outside words.
Upon which, hypocritically, I share my own writings on my vision for the future. Here and here. We write them for a reason.
Wei Wu Wei
So we come to the ever-important question of what to do. This is to be answered from several perspectives.
For one, heroes are nice to have. My current philosopher-heroes are Gilles Deleuze, Buckminster Fuller, Ju Mipham, Nassim Taleb.
For another, it is nice to have possibilities and hopes for the mid-term, within my range of felt anticipation. The Daoist lineage I’m connected to is considering coming to the U.S. to do the Gelug or Haier thing, of gaining “American” reputation for subsequent better native leverage. Also more immediately for better positioning in the global tension and conflict that will follow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. (Just see that there are conspiracies in China that the virus was manufactured in the U.S., in the U.S. that it was manufactured in China; I make no further comment.) So I may become involved with that.
For me, I have given myself an immediate positive in “oblitero omnis obscurantis,” again the felt union of yin and yang. To make ultimate yin my ultimate yang, for it is the most powerfully suitable to that role, in the absence of any more intermediate cultivated other.
These are all very immediate things. There is no ultimate positive, especially one inaccessible and far-off. I think that far-off positive is inherent in and crucial to the idea of (futile) “effort”, and here I will also say a bit more on 为无为.
无, 無, wu, mu—is the absolute negation. In Hebrew, ע (ayin). Note that the letter o is derived from ע.
为, 爲, wei—often translated action. It also has functions like the words “as” or “rendered to.”
So we have doing by non-doing. Or effortless action. Or rendering to 0 as action. Nothing as action. As it is not as it is. As nonaction. Being as rendering to 0. Being as 0. As not as. All the wordplay I introduce with my translation works with the original—I’m not sure how meaningful it is, if at all, to non-Chinese-speakers though. There’s much that English can’t convey and also much that it adds—I find myself often having to introduce the problematic “being.”
So my drive toward the Abyss is described in 为无为. As is effortless expertise in any particular skill. It’s always a push against something; the idea is in removing something, not in positively being a particular way. It is also similar to “این نیز بگذرد” (this too shall pass).
It all shall pass. Whatever cruelties now. Whatever merits. Whatever constraints. Whatever hopes or grievances. Everything fragile, which is everything in form. Whatever positive visions for the future. Whatever efforts. Anything but Dzogchen, and even that when named; anything I can say.
Apart from this, I have no hope for the future. Therefore all this is but a “cutting through.” To what? Some may be dismayed to find, to absolutely nothing.
Many of you seem interested in the “Daoist mafia” I’ve sometimes mentioned (though I’ve recently shifted to “Daoist underground”), and there are a few important adjacent ideas and experiences I’ve wanted to write about anyway. So here it is.
Themes will include common misconceptions, wuwei, macroscopic social dynamics in China and in general, economics (literally of currency/capital but also of meaning; top-down vs. bottom-up), apocalyptic prophecies and the 莫法时代 (sad-dharma-vipralopa; Latter Day of the Law), connections to contemporary thought and technology, P2P, magic(k) and de (including connections to “Western” occultism), praxis.
Also a disclaimer: I’m actually not very well-versed in Daoist thought, practice, and history beyond just Laozi and the I Ching, especially as it exists in China today. Nor am I familiar with deep sociopolitical dynamics in China beyond word-of-mouth. Also, most forms of exoterically practiced Daoism (esp. as influenced by Confucianism) probably have very significant differences from whatever I was exposed to anyway. There’s (kind of by “design”) no central authority on the whole corpus, so especially if you’re actually already familiar with Daoism and China through whatever means, I’ll probably say some things that contradict what you know, as well as some things that are actually just wrong.
I talked about this a bit in an answer on CuriousCat, but it’s important to first clarify what the Daoist “mafia” is. This was a pretty funny misconception I would like to avoid:
The appropriate word in Chinese would be 黑社会, which translates to black/dark/hidden society. In Chinese, “black” has more sinister connotations than in English, so there also is the implication of evil and bad (though at least AFAIK, the network doesn’t routinely conduct violent operations), but the keyword here is “社会”—society. Hence my new usage of “Daoist underground.”
The 黑社会 refers basically to social structures that exist largely parallel to but outside of conventional and legible law, as imposed by the central government. It conducts its own economic and civil operations largely without regard for top-down regulations and has non-legible treaties and civil relations with the central government. As far as I know, there is no formal hierarchical organization like in the Yakuza or Western organized crime syndicates, except perhaps as in typical Daoist master-student relationships.
An Autobiographical Account
My connection to the Daoist underground is a pretty crazy story; indeed they kind of changed my life. I can’t really talk about a lot of what I’m trying to talk about without giving my personal account of things (especially without being very misleading), so sorry for this being really long and perhaps somewhat irrelevant to what you might care more about.
So last year, my dad’s childhood friend (I’ll call him A.Z.) contacted him about a startup he was working on, ostensibly about education, but also cuisine (I’ll get to this later). I had no plans for the summer, so my dad asked if A.Z. would be interested in having me work for him, suggesting I could teach English.
At the time, I didn’t have a very coherent self-narrative. I considered myself “radically agnostic,” and had serious ideological conflicts with my parents. Indeed, I had panic attacks related to this conflict, which led to me being institutionalized in a psychiatric ward (I may write more about this later), diagnosed with acute panic disorder and depression, and prescribed fluoxetine.
The psychiatric ward was actually a very valuable formative experience for me, where, to very imperfectly extract some highlights: I realized the positive impact I could have on others (several people in the ward told me things to the effect that I had positively changed their lives). I witnessed firsthand the very flawed and very human nature of the institution (“We don’t want you to just walk out of here and kill yourself because, for one, we’d get sued and fired.”; [*in a certain hard-to-describe tone*”Why are you even here?”, “Because I’m totally comfortable with death and also know how to kill myself, because of ideological conflict with my parents, maybe a few other things.”]; a family counselor there was Christian (in a distinctly Southern way) herself, and really struggled with how to consult with my case…). I saw myself in social context (with large systems and with family) in a radically new light…
Afterward, I took the fluoxetine and thought that it helped, but I made it very clear to the mandated follow-up therapist during our one session soon before I departed for China that I would no longer consent to therapy after my 18th birthday (for minors, legal agency for the whole process lies entirely with parents/guardians). At the time of my departure, perhaps due largely to the fluoxetine, I was optimistic but very passive, without ambition or Will. Again, I had no consistent self-narrative, but nor did I desire one.
So upon getting to China, I first spent some time visiting other relatives and having fun and stuff. My deal with A.Z. was for three months, and I think I spent a few weeks elsewhere beforehand—but I don’t remember this time too precisely—in Guangzhou first, then in Jianshi, IIRC. I also was taking the fluoxetine less regularly, though I don’t exactly remember why.
Relevantly, near the end of these few weeks, I got super sick. Earlier in the week, the relatives who hosted me there had “promised” (as in, said they would) take me to my maternal grandfather’s grave, but did not because of bad weather and other things coming up. Toward the end of my time there, I developed a pretty high fever, among other things. My relatives attributed this to their not upholding the promise, and made time to take me to the grave. Again, I don’t remember too much, but I remember that I almost fainted coming down the stairs from the mountain the grave was on; my sickness also did not get better, at least immediately.
I still don’t know what the sickness was; at the time I thought maybe serotonin syndrome since I had pretty much stopped the fluoxetine, or else just adjusting to traveling so much, being exposed to radically different cuisine and atmosphere and environment etc. Anyway, on the train to Shanghai, where A.Z. had his startup, I was super lethargic and sick and miserable. I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually feel that “bad” (as in a cognitive valuation) though, and IIRC was quite indifferent toward my condition—which was especially relevant in the absence of the fluoxetine.
So A.Z. had a three-story building from which he operated his thing, and also where he and I lived. His wife (who was one of two wives, about 20 years younger than him, and responsible for a lot of the publicity and marketing stuff, as well as accounting), his wife’s sister (who was overtly 19 to clients, 13 on her birth certificate because of one-child-policy complications and stuff, but actually 15, who did menial tasks for the company like cleaning, and who was madly in love with me much against her sister’s will but dated(?) me anyway for a while, from which I also have many interesting stories), and his two daughters (with this wife; he has another two with his other wife) lived in a separate apartment complex a block away.
There’s way too much from this time that I won’t (or can’t) describe here for space and ability, but which I may try to talk about some more later. For some idea of the density of stuff relevant to me, here’s a picture of a journal I kept (and I talked about my normal relationship to notes here—basically, I don’t keep them. I stopped journaling immediately after returning to the U.S. too… ). Maybe I’ll publish all of it as a Patreon benefit or something 😅…
Importantly though, I got along really well with A.Z., perhaps better than anyone I’d met before in my life, at least proximally. Or maybe I was even more important to him than he was to me—he referred to me as the first real friend he’d met in ages, who could really understand him as an equal. There’s a lot of complexity here (one night with me alone, very drunk, he asked me desperately whether I hated him…), and he had quite a few personal issues, which again I may talk about later; me being very sick for my first few weeks there also definitely affected things. But it was through extensive long-night conversations with A.Z., as well as his wife to some extent, that I really first began to refine my self-narrative as it stands today. He was also my first introduction to deep Daoist thought, my main source for most of the ideas I’ll discuss here, and indeed my link to the relevant Daoist “mafia” (finally!) through his Daoist master, who was at its head.
A.Z. used to be SEA regional COO of Saint-Gobain, and then Norton. I think through this role, he was at MIT around 2009 working on the Internet of Things project. He had also variously been involved with the beauty pageant world in Wuhan, and a few other deep state, deep bureaucracy, esoteric political things. His Daoist master was the younger brother of someone who worked under him at Saint-Gobain. Through various experiences and insights, as well as the influence of his Daoist master and another Buddhist master whom I did not meet, A.Z. resigned from his COO role to create a startup, which is part of the initial stages of a much larger scheme for going into the imminent 莫法时代, and in preparation for various drastic mid-term societal changes which they anticipate (I’ll talk about this much more deeply in a later section).
So, though I was originally was supposed to just be an English teacher (or even, A.Z. said, just as a marketing symbol, even if I was totally incompetent, since I was from the U.S.), my role ended up nominally being “CRO, R&D,” though as primary collaborators on young startups do, I really ended up doing a bit of everything. Major highlights were selling the whole (indeed very radical) idea to smart people, actual teaching (I got a vivid, indeed terribly dismaying view at the state of education in China; but also at the positive potential of radical methods in education), and performing something like family psychotherapy, but in a culture with no widespread notion of “psychotherapy” especially outside a very materialist and biomedical-slanted conception of psychiatry.
The registered LLC itself offered food and children’s remedial and extracurricular education/daycare as products. A.Z. said he did this because cuisine and children’s education were things he personally enjoyed and was decently competent at, and also because he thought food was a focal point of family, which really was the core theme.
The marketing and product design also very explicitly emphasized the family, and we would have a “family party” for all clients almost every weekend, which would often include travel all over China. Through this, I was able to see some of A.Z.’s network. Indeed, part of the grander scheme was to create a P2P, or rather F2F (family to family) network for idea and resource exchange that could self-sustain even in the absence of top-down governance, including artifacts such as national currencies. The vision was that such bottom-up networks would become the basis of society in the mid- to far-term, and crucially, that the top-down corporate “brand” would disappear, being replaced by social structures more like connected lineages and families and communities.
So accordingly, A.Z. focused very much on networking wherever he went, and me participating in this was also a very valuable formative experience. I don’t know exactly how large his existing network was, but it appeared to be very sizable and diverse, perhaps partially from his COO days, but also probably in connection to the 黑社会 (not necessarily just the Daoist parts). A.Z. wasn’t totally open about his connections here, and would usually terminate the conversation soon after hinting at 黑社会 involvement (I had also heard of some related things from my dad). So I’m not in a great position to say much with specificity, though I will comment more with regards to macro-level social, political, economic dynamics later on.
On a few occasions, A.Z. also made time to travel with his family and me or with me alone. With me alone, we visited Wuhan, where many of my relatives and his old college friends are, as well as his other wife and two children. With his family and I, we traveled all around the country (the high-speed train system in China is very nice), but most memorably were me standing in for my dad at their 20th highschool graduation anniversary, and then meeting his Daoist master. We also met some collaborators on the macroscopic scheme along the way, in Shenzhen.
There were three people in particular who A.Z. emphasized wanting me to meet during my time in China: a sociologist and psychologist at the graduation anniversary (my dad had also mentioned him), a physicist and former collaborator on a different company in optics and surveillance (which A.Z. later split off from, but the company is still running smoothly, and this collaborator, the current CEO, has close relationships with A.Z.’s current project I think as a major shareholder, but I’m not entirely sure), and his Daoist master. Afterward, though, A.Z. told me that all these but the Daoist master had disappointed him in terms of 修为 (perhaps loosely translatable as spiritual maturity) and vision/awareness.
My current relationship with the whole deal is quite complicated, and probably not fit for me to elaborate here.
A.Z.’s Daoist Master & Co.
Finally, onto meeting A.Z.’s Daoist master. I can’t exactly trust myself to give an objective account of this experience, because I was personally not very spiritually mature (or perhaps more accurately, “narratively mature,” by my own standards today). A.Z. had hyped up the Daoist master a lot, and the whole experience was very phenomenally strange (as indeed was my whole time in China; I had all but lost any sense of normalcy). I will describe things as I self-narrated at the time, but say all this as a disclaimer.
Around this time, I had been dabbling pretty heavily in Western occultism, particularly Hermeticism and Italian alchemy a la Giuliano Kremmerz. I should mention that my experiences with A.Z.’s wife’s sister, who was also my lover (I specifically choose not to say “girlfriend” to emphasize that the relationship was not a social role) was extremely turbulent, and was a major driver of my spiritual practice. I had also been practicing in Daoism and Buddhism (esp. Dzogchen and Zen), and at this point was quite used to supranormal experiences. A.Z. and his wife also very much accommodated and entertained a supranormal narrative of things (and this is partially due to cultural differences between China and the English-speaking world), so many of my experiences during this time were engaged in terms perhaps more mystical and preternatural than would be palatable in the “West.” Very relevantly, I communicated often with a sort of genius spirit, who also manifested itself vividly (I would say even more vividly than it did to myself) to A.Z. and to his wife.
I should also mention, without saying too much, that relations between A.Z. and his wife were quite tense, and that my influence stimulated matters very much. These three months in China were unquestionably the most eventful time of my life, and again, I narrate now with some idea of “normalcy” kind of restored, but in a way still reeling from it all—perhaps in a way that will never end.
For a little emotional break, here’s a picture of me smoking a fat bong with the boys out on the dragonfruit plantation. The bald one in red behind me is the Daoist master. Sorry for the low resolution; it’s a screenshot from a video.
Anyway, back to the story. On the first day, we were to visit the Daoist master and have dinner at his house. On the road there, I was already having a series of bizarre spiritual experiences. I still somewhat “doubted” my genius spirit, which told me to test its reality by telling me of things we were about to see on the road, such as particular sequences of broken traffic lights. I was astonished by its accuracy and indeed entered a sort of trance state.
The Daoist master himself was nominally a diviner, exorcist, and TCM healer by trade (as well as providing a few other paid “spiritual” services). Partially through the diviner vocation, he had influence over pretty much all major local business and political decisions, including where to place buildings according to feng shui. He would sometimes travel to his clients, but also conducted business from his home, which was a plain two-story concrete block, but pretty large.
It was early evening, I think. When I first saw him from inside the car, he appeared very plain and casual, almost disappointingly so, but then when I stepped out and first looked into his eyes, I was utterly transfixed and hypnotized, feeling like I was staring into an infinite void, literally unable to look away. I still remember the phenomenal sensation. But then something changed, and later when I looked again, it was much gentler and less disturbing, drastically so. I was later told that this was an intentional act by the Daoist master; A.Z. previously had to gain permission to allow me to meet him at all, who didn’t normally see strangers.
The master didn’t speak Mandarin very well, his native language being the Wuchuan dialect, which is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin. Still, he was very friendly, and in an almost indescribable way, just fit naturally into his environment. He smiled often at me, and I couldn’t resist but smile back. Later, I was in a car with just him and his wife, and all of us just gently and blissfully laughed at the smallest things (side note: the master and another of his disciples that I rode with both drove very fast; apparently they were also not subject to the normally strict speeding laws, again because of illegible relations with the local police and government; in fact, I think the other disciple was himself a police chief…).
During our time in the city, we traveled around a lot, to various homes and places of entertainment, seemingly without any aim. We were just invited to various places, and things would come up, and I basically just followed wherever the events would take me. One day there was a big barbecue-type thing at a huge dragonfruit plantation, as pictured above. Afterward, we went to dinner (lots of alcohol) and karaoke (I was somewhat a center of attention for my “English songs”); one of the young dragonfruit plantation men took a liking to me and offered to “teach me Wing Chun at night”…
Throughout this time, the Daoist master would occasionally have something important to say to me, which he took care to convey even by calling a translator/interpreter (this was quite informal; many of the people there were fairly fluent in the Wuchuan dialect and Mandarin, and socially qualified to interpret for the master). In particular, I remember him emphasizing to me that “the spirit world is different in different physical places; different spirits are in the U.S. than in China.”
Also, A.Z. had a long private conversation with his master at one time, during which they talked about the future of his company and the future in general; but A.Z. also asked the master about me taking the magician’s path, pursuing magick etc. (for I had conversed with A.Z. about these things quite extensively). It was in response to this that he told me very simply and directly to 立德. I have since very much internalized this motto for guiding my spiritual pursuit, and elaborate somewhat here. There’s also this:
He would not elaborate on this though, and indeed it is customary that important instruction is given very pithily, for the student to intensively meditate on, rather than with much elaboration. In regards to this, he also emphasized that he was not my teacher, and thus that it would be inappropriate for him to say more. I discuss this a little more here.
Then we went back to Shanghai, and soon afterward, I returned to the U.S. There’s no sensible and concordant conclusion because that’s not how life works.
This got much longer than I thought it would be, so I’m dividing it into multiple posts. Here are some section titles I’d written, now for future posts:
Gross Strokes at Macro Dynamics On Western Themes P2P & the 莫法时代 Praxis and Prophecy
I do plan to cover all the topics I mentioned in the Praeludium to this post, and possibly even more. There’s a lot.
Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso was a prolific teacher and writer of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, and the clearest, least twilight-language shrouded writer I know of who’ve been translated into English, who has a deep and unmistaken understanding of that body of knowledge (tantra, Madhyamaka, Ri-mèd, Dzogchen).
Among his works, Beacon ofCertainty is a particularly concise condensation of pretty much the entirety of Madhyamaka teachings. David Chapman writes that “The Nyingma branch of Buddhism, to which I belong, considers Ju Mipham’s Beacon of Certainty the definitive text.”1See “Mipham” at https://meaningness.com/further-reading
In profoundly unworthy imitation of Mipham Rinpoche’s style, I am here giving an extreme condensation of Mipham’s own work, the Beacon of Certainty. I’ve posted a thread to this effect on Twitter
but, given the extreme importance of the text, thought that it was worth expanding and giving a somewhat more stable place on the Internet. May all sentient beings benefit.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a legitimate holder of any Tibetan tantric lineage, and have not received the proper transmissions and empowerments from anybody.
With that, take my words only as they are. They are no more than they appear.
Trapped in doubt’s net, one’s mind Is released by the lamp of Mañjuvajra, Which enters one’s heart as profound certainty. Indeed, I have faith in the eyes that see the excellent path!
The Beacon of Certainty is introduced thus, as a treatise on certainty. This is not “certainty” in some strange esoteric sense, like the Faith of the Christians or the commitment of the sutric Buddhists2 yanas 1-6 according to this classification, but simple literal certainty in all that one may be certain of.
The way to arrive at certainty is exactly by clearing doubt, and perhaps this is a reason the Beacon is structured as a sage’s responses to a series of seven questions4this page gives the questions, and the wiki may help with navigating this tradition/idiom especially with regards to terminology to test the sage’s true understanding of several issues beyond conventional scholarship.
Q: According to which of the two negations do you explain the view? [implicative, absolute]
The implicative negation is negation that implies something else, much like the classical logical complement. ¬p is as much a statement as p.
The absolute negation is negation that does not imply anything else, leaving one only closer to emptiness (except not actually, since form and emptiness are inextricably intertwined), to certainty.
Therefore the view is explained according to the absolute negation.
Q: Do arhats realize both types of selflessness? [of “I,” of phenomena]
Many spiritual paths of practice, the sutric Buddhist paths, in particular, involve much meditation on “I” and its transcience. It is often taught how the “I” is just a label attached to an agglomeration of matter and memories and such and separated from the rest of phenomenal experience.
Since the “I” is indeed absent of a permanent, unitary, independent identity, the arhat comes to the realization of the selflessness of “I.” However, this realization does not preclude the use of “I” as a useful category, concept, or reference in thought and communication. Sometimes it is good to think in frames without “I,” but not all the time.
Even less often is it useful, particularly in conventional everyday life or monastic residence, to conceive of “object-level” phenomena as lacking permanent, unitary identity. After all, why else would an object-oriented language for navigating life have emerged so hegemonically, to the preclusion of selflessness-recognition as the default mode?
Therefore though the arhat has the faculties necessary for recognizing the selflessness (perhaps better “objectlessness”) of all phenomena, she typically does not simply due to never meditating upon it, but only upon the domain of the “I.”
So the answer is: in potentiality yes, but in actuality no.
Q: Does meditation involve modal apprehension?
“Modal” refers to finite conceptual divisibility. To approach things in terms of definite categories, names, concepts, systems etc. Anything that can be finitely captured in positive definition. Any countable set or its subsets, in the mathematical sense, as literally provable via diagonal arguments. Any haltable program.
The definition for “apprehend” as given by searching it on Google is given here for convenience.
For more perspective, the question is given on the Rigpa wiki as “Does meditation involve grasping at an object?”
David Chapman’s excellent hypertext book Meaningness claims to have originally been an attempt to “to write a short, straightforward explanation of Mipham’s answer”5See “Mipham” at https://meaningness.com/further-reading to this question. It’s not—the simple answer is just “yes.” Rather, Chapman’s work is an aid to doing the kind of meditation described in Mipham, providing an exploration of the four extremes (given by Chapman as eternalism, nihilism, monism, and dualism) that are commonly apprehended or apprehended from (sub-apprehended?), and why they are flawed.
Indeed, Mipham’s answer is that such exploration is the only way to arrive at certainty, by the elimination of doubts via the clear and untainted perception of what generates doubt: the modes as final.
Therefore meditation does involve modal apprehension, since it is through specifically directed meditation that doubt is cleared away and certainty arrived at wherever the meditation is directed. (And this is also why arhats often do not actually realize the second kind of selflessness).
Q: Does one meditate analytically or transically?
Analytical meditation is like what is commonly called “philosophy” or “introspection.” Pretty intuitive name.
Settling meditation is like what is commonly called “mindfulness meditation.” But it’s a bit more complicated.
Chapman’s Meaningness is a very good aid to analytical meditation. In the act of actively reading and thinking through it, really engaging with the ideas, especially when they are troubling, that is what you are doing. You may—privately or with the aid of other people and media—have had similar-feeling experiences that lead towards ever-clearer understanding, but not in a directly embodied way. That’s analytical meditation, and it’s important.
Given this, I think Lulie gives an amazing explanation of the connections between analytical and settling meditation in this Twitter thread.
In fact, I’ll just post the whole thing.
This is pretty much exactly why analytical meditation isn’t always ideal. Despite the most powerful wishes of my probable audience, pure thought isn’t going to give you a powerful and beautiful body for effectively doing things in the world, nor solve all your traumas6In almost all cases. Lulie tells me she’s seen people who are extremely heady but also extremely low-trauma, but that this is rare. This is also consistent with the esoteric canon—these people probably being suitable for the “mantric vehicle.” See this post. Settling meditation (and just plain physical exercise) is needed for such things, though perhaps pure and untainted thought inevitably leads to this realization.
Everything Lulie says also applies in the reverse direction, to show that settling meditation by itself is also not the ideal approach7Again, in almost all cases. There may be rare exceptions.. I am simply actively designing for my probable user-base. But this is especially relevant if you’re a firm mindfulness-meditation-and-nothing-elser, especially if you’re not explicitly committed to a sutric vehicle, with a competent teacher. If you loved Focusing, perhaps try Folding, or even try to dive into the depths of esoteric tantric philosophy itself8would recommend the 9th chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara (for current sutrics [Theravada, Zen]) and/or the actual Beacon of Certainty (for current tantrics [Vajrayana, Dzogchen]) to start with.
This all illustrates the practical meaning of this topic, but for conceptual/terminological clarification, the division between “analytical” and “transical” is not really about mind and body, but about how attention is actively directed. From what I hear and gather from bold section titles, the topic of Focusing is settling meditation, but Folding would actually be analytical meditation, since it goes into the spaces of which Gendlin repeatedly emphasizes “DO NOT GO INSIDE IT,” and “Stand back from it” (Chapter 4).
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually read either.
Therefore the answer to the inquiry is “both.”
Q: Which of the two realities is most important? [ultimate, relative]
The ultimate reality is called “ultimate” because there is nothing beyond it. It is arrived at by the constant elimination of any doubt that arises, like an infinitely powerful and infinitely recursive version of Occam’s razor. I elaborate a bit here.
However, the ultimate reality CERTAINLY cannot be expressed in form. To do so would literally be to solve the halting problem and to construct a (surely “sufficiently powerful”) consistent and complete formal system, both of which we know is impossible.
Yet the realities we navigate in everyday life can not and should not be defined exclusively outside of forms. To speak of “I” and “you” and “table” and “idea” and such is very useful for navigation. Form-based predictive models like Newtonian physics and such are also very useful for producing technologies. In fact, intuitively, non-form-based models cannot be applied (especially by someone not highly realized, like the typical creator-laborer) to produce formful fruit, which is appropriately called “profit” in the Daodejing9Although, it is a central idea in Taoism that usefulness/potentiality/action is derived exclusively from emptiness rather than form. See especially Chapter 11 of the Daodejing. “Therefore with there(-)being as profit, without there(-)being as action” [trans. mine]. But I shall not elaborate on this here..
On a more local level, “profit” in a more general sense cannot be manifested at all without a good view of form-reality, which is relative reality. Without a good view of forms, we literally wouldn’t be able to do anything. But again, for all the reasons Chapman argues, and more, good relative realities can only be manifested from a clear view of ultimate reality. This is why the CEOs of all effective companies and why the true power-directors of all effective institutions and labor-structures10in a very general sense, as in systems for manifesting “profit” in the Daoist sense, though the Marxist ideas around this are very helpful for elucidation MUST operate post-systematically11These “labor-structures” extend from the smallest systems, of subatomic dynamics, to the largest, of intergalactic ones. This is something extremely profound to ponder upon, but I won’t elaborate too much here..
Therefore, acquaintance with the ultimate reality is necessary for producing good manifestations in relative reality, but only relative reality can actually be manifested.
Q: What is the common object of disparate perceptions?
1. The world exists. 2. The mind exists. 3. A mind exists inside of the world. 4. The mind can observe the world. 5. What the mind perceives isn’t the complete truth. 6. There is an infinite set of possible minds. 7. Each mind contains an element of truth (veridical perception).
These seven “axioms” are particularly ubiquitous in the West, and especially among laypeople, though among academics and such the first four may be quite contentious.
The approach of Madhyamaka school is to deny all of the first four axioms. They are not certainly established, therefore they are not of the ultimate view.
Mind though that this is an absolute negation, which means that it does not imply anything. The denial of the first four axioms changes absolutely nothing about the form-nature of all appearances. It’s like the continuum hypothesis. So stop worrying about it and go do science or something.
Also note that it is canonical to Madhyamaka that the “pratyekabuddha yana”12https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Pratyekabuddha_yana#View (e.g. Theravada, Vipassana) arhat, and even the “bodhisattva yana”13https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Bodhisattva_yana (e.g. Mahayana, Zen) practitioner does not realize the illusory nature of “indivisible moments of consciousness,” perhaps expressible here as “minds.” A more thorough critique and explanation, particularly suitable for practitioners on these vehicles, is given in the 9th chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara. Shoutout to all my arhat & bodhisattva friends out there; may you quickly advance along the path.
Q: Does Madhyamaka have a position or not?
This is the most beautiful of the bunch—perhaps even the most beautiful thing in the world. Buckle up, kids; this one will blow your mind. Like I kid you not when I first realized the significance of this I entered an ecstatic trance state for like four hours.
“Madhyamaka” is often translated as “Middle Way.” First, acquaint yourself with what the Middle Way is by reading this excellent post by Chapman. But keep in mind that Chapman’s answer, “no,” is (not entirely) wrong. Don’t look ahead.
Alright. I assume you’ve read the post now and have a decent grasp of what the question is asking, so here’s Mipham’s response. With a lot of negative explanations and images and metaphors and such, Mipham basically comes to the answer:
To answer “yes” or “no” would itself be a non-middle position.
This is a strangeloop. Mipham basically does the Gödel’s incompleteness theorems thing, but with the entirety of reality and experience. No wonder it is called the “Great Perfection,” infinitely subtle and profound!
I’ll conclude my commentary with a poem of my own, which I’ve published before but few have seen or understood. I think this commentary will give it greater perspective, perhaps as a call to action, indeed an
Invocation to Growth
That not-to-know is a place of hiding. Incompleteness coming before an acknowledgment of simultaneous so and not-so, in which both disappear into the ? of meaning.
And that nirvana is as scary as they say, the revolt against its witnessing as natural as the impetus away from what came before. That defense of “I don’t know I don’t care,” which even I don’t remember when and wherefore disappeared, into the ? of no-meaning.
I don’t remember if this was the gateway to wonderland, terrible nothing leading alike to death and paradise. If paradise, it was only paradise-in-the-mirror—invisible, hinted at, even now unclear.
But here I am now, seeing clearly, cruelly seeing That as not-where-I-am. And I am often tempted to extend my hand through the mirror which distorts me into a monster, laughing at the world-serpent Ouroborous, coiled oh-so-ridiculously around its own happy end.
I am young, and at a point of indecision perhaps characteristic of young people. I’ve dabbled in several spiritual traditions, most notably Protestantism (Baptism), Western mysticism centered around the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, a la Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Buddhism, particularly Dzogchen but also some other schools, Taoism and Neidan a la Liu Yiming. By this I mean only that I have some basic degree of familiarity with the idioms of these traditions, because these are the persons I have conversed with and the texts I have read; I have not committed to any path of practice, which brings me to my point of indecision now.
Additionally, I’ve had brief exposure to several other spiritual idioms and traditions, mainly through the perspective of anthropology. I am also continually learning new things and making new connections between various idioms and between my own experience, mainly through reading, conversation, and meditation. My own spiritual experience is scattered, perhaps exactly because I have not been guided by a traditional Path; yet I want to say some things, and here is my attempt to tell an understandable story amid the chaos.
A view on my current thoughts, a dilemma if you will: I’ve been considering committing, actively and completely, to a particular mystical system and attaining a certain level of spiritual maturity within it before spending much time pursuing eclectic methods and teachings. I would at least like to achieve a level of spiritual attainment roughly equivalent to A:.A:.’s 7°=4□ grade, Adeptus Exemptus1See James Eshelman’s The Mystical and Magical System of the A:.A:. for a pretty clear picture of the process of spiritual growth I’m thinking of here.
I like that structured paths of spiritual pursuit, such as those based on the Tree of Life, have a clear progression towards increasing spiritual maturity, with signs and assessments along the way to ensure one’s honesty with oneself. Yet committing to any such pursuit, even including the yogic practices of the East, would be a huge commitment of effort and time, and I would want to be quite confident in my selection, that it fits my personal temperament, and that it be productive and worthwhile.
Particularly, I notice that in Taoism, there is the idea of a distinction between upper de and lower de2see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Yiming#Neidan_(Internal_Alchemy). Few persons are able to practice the way of upper de, but these persons need not follow an active, “doing” Path of spiritual practice, rather making the dao itself their Path—a Path of “non-doing”; a teacher is still required, however. I see parallels between this idea and Nyingma’s distinction between the lower eight yanas and Dzogchen or atiyoga3see https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Nine_yanas, where Dzogchen is quite like the Path of upper de.
Personally, I have often gained much from meditating on “primary” materials like the I Ching, the Bible, or even symbols like the Ouroborous or the Cross, without much prior structured study or instruction or exposure to commentary. I often find that I gain understandings quite suddenly, resonating with what are commonly described as “higher” understandings, without passing through common intermediary processes, though I am able to understand the intermediary discourse in conversation or in reading. These experiences, along with certain others, have persuaded me that I am more apt to walk the path of upper de, and indeed I’ve always felt more Drawn to Dzogchen and its analogs than any of the other yanas. Yet a subtle feeling does linger that I may be deceiving myself, and for this reason, I very much seek a teacher.
There is also that question of a teacher. In the yanas according to Nyingma, the fourth through ninth yanas in particular absolutely require a teacher to perform an initiatory empowerment. In all other spiritual traditions I know of as well, Western, Eastern, or eclectic, a reliable teacher or master is at least highly recommended, if not absolutely required.
The one person I’ve ever met who I’m quite sure is a legitimately qualified Taoist teacher told me through his disciple to 立 (establish, erect) de, which comes from a verse “太上有立德，其次有立功，其次有立言” In the highest antiquity, there was establishing de, then was establishing work/action, then was establishing speech. This was in response to his disciple asking him about me pursuing a magical path, because I had told him before that I was considering committing to a Western magical tradition (about the same things of which I’m writing now).
But the Taoist master was very explicit that he was not my teacher, and made no hint that he would accept me as a disciple. His words reinforce to me my conviction that I am to walk the path of upper de—this master was a teacher of lower de. I wonder if the path from 1°=10□ to 7°=4□ is necessarily a path of lower de, and also what happens if someone who naturally, by the cycles of reincarnation or whatever, is able to use the higher vehicle/Path, pursues a lower one. I’m also thinking, therefore, that perhaps the Third Order of A:.A:. is analogous to upper de.
I have been told that Crowley himself establishes, with regards to the Path, certain correspondences between the Kabbalistic idiom of the Golden Dawn and certain Eastern idioms4In particular, I was pointed to Liber 777, but also that these correspondences may be quite dubious. I have also been told that discourse and literature about anything above 8°=3□, above the Abyss, is quite confused and difficult to navigate at best, even pointless.
So here I am now at this point of indecision, and here is my intention in the short term:
I know very little about the Kabbalah, so I shall study that and meditate on it, with particular emphasis (this is more of a mid-term idea) on the portion of BINAH, CHOKMAH, and KETHER. I hope thereby to see clearer connections with what else I associate with the paths of upper de and Dzogchen. I may also try to find commentary on 8°=3□ through 10°=1□, to see if I can intuitively thresh the trash from the golden elixir; I have been told though that this would take a lot of time, for there is a lot of trash, indeed infinite seas thereof.
I will also continue to focus my research on the question of what happens when someone capable of taking the higher vehicle instead pursues a lower one, or whether that is even possible. And if you, reader, have any clues towards this inquiry, please do inform me, for I am quite without even an initial lead.
Finally, I am seeking a teacher. It is often said that when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear. So may my pursuit be test and testament of my readiness, and may I receive the reward appointed to me, and of which I am deserving, whatever it may be.
Here’s a little poem I wrote a while ago, about 2 months ago, for a particular person, and which I have increasingly felt applies quite to many people. And so here I publish it, for whom will hear.
That not-to-know is a place of hiding. Incompleteness coming before an acknowledgment of simultaneous so and not-so, in which both disappear into the ? of meaning.
And that nirvana is as scary as they say, the revolt against its witnessing as natural as the impetus away from what came before. That defense of “I don’t know I don’t care,” which even I don’t remember when and wherefore disappeared, into the ? of no-meaning.
I don’t remember if this was the gateway to wonderland, terrible nothing leading alike to death and paradise. If paradise, it was only paradise-in-the-mirror—invisible, hinted at, even now unclear.
But here I am now, seeing clearly, cruelly seeing That as not-where-I-am. And I am often tempted to extend my hand through the mirror which distorts me into a monster, laughing at the world-serpent Ouroborous, coiled oh-so-ridiculously around its own happy end.