put book cover here Lila - An Inquiry into Morals


Robert M Pirsig


Finish and start?


Intellectualism and Morality


Stabilising Dynamic and Static


One-Hit Wonders


Priests and Shamen [pp112-121]


Lila - A reminder of judgementalism

Lila - A reminder of judgementalism
Lila is beginning to fascinate me, and so has become a book blog. I am becoming more and more aware of my judgementalism. First and obvious was that I judged that Pirsig had become stuck in a rut, because Lila was not innovative and full of fire like ZMM. But is that true?

I start reading Lila again, and it is not. It is not pacey, there is a gentle consolidation about it and this I suspect is where Pirsig was going. But now that I have made the mistake I must stop judging. What I am talking about is not Pirsig, it is my interaction with Pirsig or even less than that, my interaction with two of his books and now one interview. So if I refer to understanding Pirsig again - an if, I will use ZPirsig meaning my "interaction with two of his books and now one interview".

This gentle consolidation leads to a broader conception, what am I really talking about with one-hit wonders such as Eckhart Tolle? I am sure judging me has claimed that Tolle was a one-hit wonder - Power of Now, Now meditations, Now is the Truth, Now-Now is more True, Now and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But is he a one-hit wonder? Or better is he a one hit wonder who is stuck?

This needs more careful consolidation, and placed in the context of rebirth. Suppose Tolle is the concept of Now, and Pirsig is the concept of Quality. Then they die and move on to develop their understanding - maybe improve Now or Quality. Then the first rush of understanding has to be immensely powerful - Pirsig's Zen Enlightenment, the depression Tolle describes though I cannot remember the details. A powerful rush that is a breakdown, it has to be to get rid of the system miseducation that tries to educate out soul. But then consolidation of Now and Quality become life's works and meaning, yet this is slow and plodding - not buzz, buzz, buzz ....

I mention soul again for the first in a long time. In meditation soul has now become important, and it is necessary to clarify my position on soul. As a Buddhist I moved away from using the word "soul". This is sound dogma, but is it a sound practice for me? At present I think no.

The Buddha talks of a soul as being an unanswered question - perhaps like Kamma a question we are not meant to ask. Soul in Buddhism has an Eastern context, the soul as a reincarnating ego moving from life to life. Yet the Buddha clearly states that there is no reincarnating ego, and that it is unresolved conditions that become the essence of the new life.

Accepting this, why have I moved back to the use of soul?

It is not a Christian soul either. I am not trying to suggest that there is an aspect of incarnation, conditions that ascends to heaven - Nibbana.

So again why use soul?

Because soul has a meaning in creativity, and this soul-creativity is substantive and meaningful. What words does this soul comprise of? OK, creativity. Once we have gone beyond the intellectual chattering mind we reach a mind that can be creative. Once we go beyond the intellectual chattering mind we can reach a mind that has insight. We create a channel through the intellectual chattering mind in meditation or otherwise, and there is insight - note insight is not sourced from beyond the individual any more than any thought is - thanks PP. Insight or Wisdom is personal, it comes from our individual incarnation, our conditions.

And then there are the 4 Braham-Viharas - metta, karuna, muditta and upekkha. These aspects of metta, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity also come as personal characteristics of the soul which is beyond the intellectual chattering mind.

So I am using soul as a term which includes all of the above - creativity, insight, wisdom, 4 Brahma-Viharas. I had started using soul as sila, as soul has such a personal strength and security. But my use is more than sila although it includes sila - integrity - right honesty, right speech, right livelihood.

Soul is an important term that needs to move beyond the dogmatic approach that is Buddhism. Soul is a term that relates to many people - Buddhist, Hindus, Christians, Muslims? - expect so, artists, etc. I want to use the word to build bridges and help move along understanding.

Priests and Shamen
This strictly is not a bookjourney blog but as the thinking was inspired by Pirsig I am including it in the bookjourney as well as in Nature Insight. It was inspired by the discussion of the shaman and the priest [pp112-121], and discussions I am having with a friend on religious transcendence.

[pp112-121] Pirsig started with a priest who was overzealous and killed a "witch", and as a result the law punished the priest. After release he didn't feel right in returning to the priesthood. He began learning stories of mythology, ritual and cult songs. He became so successful that he was made governor.

Simplistically Pirsig interpreted this as initially the priest had a static quality by enforcing the religious code of the society. Following this the priest found another function, became invaluable to the society and moved the goalposts, dynamic quality in Pirsig's terms.

For me it is the interpretation of the process of change that is so interesting, and made me want to draw a parallel with religion and creativity. Religion by the nature of institution tends towards a static code - static quality. Its priests present a dogma and are the guardians of this dogma. Dogma need not necessarily be bad but it does restrict. Why? Sometimes because of the guardians and sometimes because people follow the dogma like sheep. These are the static qualities of a religious code. By people following the religion society gains a static quality, for those that follow the code produce a good society generally. However for these people this "sheep" characteristic is a limitation. They can only follow the dogma within the limits of their understanding of the dogma. Dogma is not an exact code of conduct, it requires interpretation. The following-of-sheep does not lend to such interpretation, and where do the people turn? Instead of turning inwards they turn to the guardians, the priests.

Now the priests can be static or dynamic but in general because they are guardians of the institution they are static. Especially if these priests are higher in the hierarchy of the institution. Together the sheep nature of the followers and the static quality of the priest gives religion an inertia - a lack of natural change.

This is where creativity comes in. Creativity moves the static institutional boundaries. Nature recognises the inertia in institution and wants to help it move. Its agents are the creative. Through creativity individuals question the nature of the institution and bring to it a dynamic quality. This is the function of the artist's soul - to bring the dynamic quality to the existing static quality of a religion.

Whilst Buddhism has much to offer it has a fundamental static quality, Buddhism is about "What the Buddha said" 2500 years ago. It is static per se. Now Theravada makes stasis a complete virtue by only holding to Dhamma as the Buddha spoke. Mahayana, including Vajrayana and Zen, brings to Buddhism a dynamic quality - a sense of revision. But the question is how legitimate is this dynamic change. What is important is the soul that is underneath the Theravada and Mahayana traditions, the quality that combines both static and dynamic in Buddhism. But it is the soul and not the dogma that is important, it is the soul that is understanding.

Creativity is essential to this soul as creativity takes one outside the dogma. Buddhism does this institutionally through Vipassana, by adopting a meditational approach to creating Insight. But a creative writer can also bring such understanding in the search for their own soul. Right concentration produces Insight, this is part of Magga - the 8-fold Path. Insight is not mindfulness but it is Understanding. It is a dynamic quality of the soul that is actually part of the Buddhist dogma. But is it part of the dogma of the guardians? If a guardian of the dogma were to eschew creativity because it is not mindfulness, does that not question the advice of the guardian? There is only one way forward in these matters and that is to value one's own experience - search for one's own soul.

It is important to recognise that all institutions can become static. In Buddhism there is an obvious example of such stasis - food. At the time of the Buddha food was natural. In ascribing the almsround as part of the vinaya the Buddha was feeding the monks with gratitude, it required a relationship between the monk and the lay people. An unwritten assumption of the time was that the food would fulfil a function of food - to provide health for the body. This situation has now fundamentally changed in contemporary society. Food is not now natural and in general does not fulfil the function of keeping the body healthy. Food needs to return to the natural content it had at the time of the Buddha, moving away from the processing that has been introduced for profiteering. Some Buddhist monks recognise that the food they eat is a limitation and can cause disease; other monks disrobe because the disease the food brings to their body can only be fought by leaving the monastery. I am no person to judge the quality of the vinaya as a whole but recognising the profiteering element in food production today and asking for change in this way is dynamic quality. Sadly the Theravada institution is mostly stuck in their stasis. If institutional stasis is evident in one obvious example, can it not occur elsewhere? For example is the situation in Thailand where women are treated differently to men in the way they can become monks an example of this stasis? That is not a question for me to answer as I am not Thai Buddhist.

But in some ways it is a question for me to consider with my affiliation to Harnham. I remember an incident that occurred when I was staying there one time. There was an Australian Nun (I don't remember her designation as at the time I was not aware of the issue) visiting Ajahn Munindo. She was sat at the front next to the Ajahn preparing to give what was a knowledgeable talk. For some reason I had to go up to them, it might have been to pass something to the Nun. Anyway as I came up I saw a huge look of fear on the face of the Ajahn, fortunately my intention had been to give the item to the Ajahn - although in truth it was only an unconscious "sensitivity" that made me do that. I interpret - never discussed - that I would have committed a huge error in protocol if I, as a man, had directly passed it to the Nun, and it was this fear that had shown in the Ajahn's face. Whilst an ignorant lay person can break protocol, why should this induce fear in an Ajahn?

I believe Richard Gombrich mentioned that women should not touch monks. I believe he inferred that this made women second-class citizens. But is this the case? I am no person to talk of control of my sexual urges but surely a monk needs to control those urges. Why should contact with a woman present an issue? Admittedly physical contact or women dressed in a way that a man interprets as sexually provocative are issues that all men have to deal with on the Path. Making rules which ease this process on the Path is good, but the look of fear? I do not understand.

However the issue of Thai Buddhism is connected with Harnham as Harnham is Forest Sangha and Forest Sangha Central is Wat Pah Nanachat in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. My Buddhist allegiance is towards the Forest Sangha although the way I follow Buddhism makes any such allegiance nominal, do I therefore have a stake in Thai Buddhism?

The issue I am presenting is that of dynamic vs static quality. All institutions have their stasis. I have touched on one such that is obvious, maybe a second? Religious stasis needs to be counterbalanced with a creative influx, that is the theme of this blogentry.

Theme - religion, Soul, Creativity, Institution
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One-Hit wonders
Is this again judgementalism? YES

What was my reaction to Pirsig? I enjoyed the style of Zen, and missed the quality in Lila. Have I done this with others who I felt have got stuck?

There is no stuckness in Lila, how did I not see it? Unfortunately I cannot remember why I dismissed Lila, it never grabbed me like Zen did, like Lila is now. I could imagine baulking at Metaphysics of Quality, yet how much more am I gaining because Pirsig academicised Quality. Even this time when I read his dismissal of the Mystic approach ([pp65-68]) I didn't want to. "The only person who doesn't pollute the mystic reality of the world with fixed metaphysical meanings is a person who hasn't yet been born .... The rest of us have to settle for something less pure. .... That was all he had to say about the mystic objections ...." [pp67-68]. I read this as an apology yet it is so much more than apology, it is a complete justification. The mystic approach is a pure investigation but that can only occur on the stool (or similar), and even then its investigation uses language to recognise insight. Exploring the meaning through the less pure and then moving deeper this is not a compromise but valid exploration. All this I missed first time with Lila.

Time and my impatience also has a relation to this judgementalism. What was I expecting Pirsig to achieve? The Buddha? He is one person who takes many journeys, this life's journey is to consider quality and attempt to break into academia through this recognition of quality. Life as such an achievement must give him great satisfaction with MOQ at Liverpool, shamefully on academia it is only Liverpool - although his site has a conference at Oxford as well.

Tolle's one-hit wonder is also a great achievement. I did not follow it but his development of the theme Now has been Oprahed. How wonderful is that. No matter how little was understood, to popularise the Path to such an extent has great Kamma attached to it. What more can be achieved in one lifetime?

How much was this judgementalism my arrogance? Or even worse my jealousy?

Theme - Judgementalism, Quality
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Stabilising Dynamic and Static
Pirsig's ideas have been disturbing meditation so this time the writing is just for clarity.

The limited understanding of dynamic quality has brought into question some of my approaches to static notions such as intellect. At the same time a friend pointed out that my approach to intellect might be limited. I am now moving towards intellect being the bastion of static quality. The intellect is that part of the mind which collects ideas, it has a static collection of ideas. Reason can develop these ideas thus providing different ideas which can then be added to the collection. At the same time insight can create ideas, and once created these ideas become part of the intellect. The label intellectual would perhaps best be described as the person who is satisfied with the collection of ideas and who is satisfied with reason as the process by which ideas can change. The intellectual is static.

As a static person an intellectual is not all bad. It is necessary to have static quality for those whose approach does not seek to question deeper. There are people who are comfortable following moral codes and social laws. They bring up their families, perform their jobs, and enjoy some free time; moral codes and social laws give these people structure and give society stability. However the 60s generation brought many of these laws and codes into question, laws and codes which had been followed by what might be termed Victorian mentality. As a result many people did not continue to follow these codes, unfortunately most of those people did not replace it with something better. What is better? The dynamic understanding that comes from meditation or similar quality processes. Instead of following codes ego broke out, and this led to such an entrenchment of greed in the West that even the current economic catastrophe is not altering the mindset. It is not insignificant that the source of this catastrophe is the US where there is no tradition to speak of, sadly western countries with a tradition have chosen to follow the US rather than their tradition.

In terms of dynamic and static what is happening in meditation? The soul is the vehicle of the dynamic and in meditation I am trying to return to the soul. In meditation we let go of ideas that have been collecting and blocking the dynamic movement of the soul. Once these blocks have been cleared insight is free to create new ideas. What is the source of these new ideas? Quality. Ethics. Sila. Creativity is the process by which quality comes into being through insight, when the blocks have been cleared and when we are able to focus on the fundamental dynamic that is underneath - the Tao. This is right concentration. It is also very significant that sila is part of the 8-fold Path, there has to be an underlying morality for people to follow the Path. By attempting to be moral people are aligning their daily lives with the underlying fundamental Good or Ethics - the Path of Life, this alignment brings with the reward of enjoyment of a Life on the Path, and the eventual enlightenment at the end of the Path.

What is significant in viewing this analysis is that the battle between insight and intellect still rages but has taken on different terms - dynamic vs static. Our souls need to follow the dynamic Path, what prevents us from doing so - blocks of ideas. Whilst ideas are essential in daily life they need to be eschewed in meditation, thus allowing the natural free flow of dynamic ethic that is fundamental to life. An intellectual who holds onto ideas cannot hope to touch this dynamic as they are holding to the very blocks that prevent the free flow. Once there is free flow we have insight, and so the previous battle has just been clarified rather than altered.

One person described an intellectual as a person who loves ideas. This definition practically illustrates the problem although in fact as a definition it could be fine. The knub of it lies in the understanding of love. Is love free-flowing or is love a process of attachment. If the love attaches to the ideas they become blocks thus preventing effective meditation - effective alignment to Good.

Theme - Dynamic
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Intellectualism and Morality
Reading Pirsig on the Victorians reminded me of an episode in my life. I remember having long walks on the South Downs and getting furious, not just angry but furious, at a friend who would talk about morality as being the underlying purpose. At that time I was arguing about soul, and that soul was essential. This soul at the time was a great strength and conviction that had grown out of my breakdown. This soul had rightness all about it but it was not the rightness of intellectuals - human rights; it was a soul that came from being on the Path.

Why was I so furious? I don't really know. Maybe it was the relationship I was in, the school I was teaching in, but the fury only elicited stubbornness and the arguments strained our friendship - that friendship still exists thankfully. But the fury was not the discussion. There was however value in my position in negating morality, and despite what I have just said this position does not negate Pirsig's discussion. At the time I was arguing - early 80's and in the UK prevails more so now - intellectuals were using morality as a justification. This was not a deep morality but a rationalisation based on a set of morals. Why does that matter? Because there was not a deep prevailing conviction in the morality. It was intellectual rationalisation and sophistry.

That could be hair-splitting if it wasn't for one thing. How does one measure the quality of these rationalisations? The result. In teaching there was much rationalisation of what was going on, were the teaching institutions successful? The labour party under Blair and then Brown have taken moral lie-speak to a peak, and it has generally become acceptable to justify whatever you want around morality. Paraphrasing and simplifying I am a caring teacher and I can do whatever I want because I say that including screw the kids and fellow staff whilst I make my career. This was prevalent before I left the UK end of 1992 but it is now common practice - teaching in 2003-4.

And what factor allows this moral lie-speak to continue and prevail? Power. And fundamentally where does this power come from? The police back up laws to absurdity, and lurking in the background there is the hammer of the armed forces whose global actions demonstrate a complete lack of morality. Both act as a reinforcement of the neo-colonial economy, and the global and local status quo. The justification of these global actions is the hegemony, and locally the propagation of existing society. Around pp310-318 discusses this power structure.

Pirsig discussed a good example of the emptiness of intellectual argument per se, when the professor [pp315-6] was unable to persuade his neighbours to be decent. The professor was deeply frustrated when his intellectual arguments did not prevail but he did not understand that in his situation he had no power. Yet his intellectual arguments prevailed (presumably) in his faculty because there the system gave him power. Now UK (and elsewhere) government moral lie-speak is just accepted as a fact of life, people hear the political justifications and ignore them. It is not that the arguments are flawed it is just the speakers have no heart, no soul; the arguments simply come from political expediency and the desire to maintain the status quo - usually the politician's job.

Back to the South Downs, and it is this I was trying to convey. In truth with the emotions flying around, my own fury and the ensuing perceived stubbornness I am not sure whether my friend actually accepted what I said or not. I was hung up on words, and because of my anger unwilling to go past them. Morality has soul - sila, and moral lie-speak is not morality but intellectual rationalisation (without conviction). There is so obviously agreement here it was a crazy argument. The issue is not our discussion, it is the force that empowers the moral lie-speak. It is the lack of soul, the lack of search for soul, the lack of recognition that within intellectualism justification is empty unless the fundamental axiom of good is prevalent within the being of the arguer.

Sadly intellectuals do not see the hidden agenda of the power that is given to academia. Academia is fundamentally driven by research, and research is funded by business and government. The power in academia is the money, the direction of the intellect and research is financed. This is the foundation that academia is built on. Of course there are money good people who make their living in academia. As with life as a whole these people are forced to compromise to make a living, this is understood, is a fact of life, and is not a criticism. But what might be a legitimate criticism is the unwillingness of many academics to accept the underlying power and direction of their institution. In the same way as teaching is taught as "educare" - bringing out, academics are taught that their institutions are the places of learning in contemporary society. But both are cons. The teacher is a childminder, a protector of business, a purveyor of the status quo, and occasionally passes on learning. The academic provides the justification that business wants (research that cigarettes were safe for many years), it provides think tanks and experts that the establishment can bring forth to present a public rationalisation to justify the status quo, and even occasionally there are people who work in academia as places of learning. In teaching the moral lie-speak brigade purvey the rationale that the school is for learning as do the same brigade of the academics, and both build a career. The real teachers and learners end up fighting with the establishment.

Pirsig's structure of biological, social and intellectual helps clarify the above arguments as he examines the intellectual in response to the Victorians. He brings the intellectuals in before I do in my 60s generation warning. But this might well because he is in America and I am British. Whilst there were upheavals in the UK between the wars, the social establishment was still based more on a social moral code. The Hippies were fighting this social moral code as much as having intellectual development with their mind-blowing. But as Pirsig points out, even in the UK the Hippies were trying to attack the pseudo-power of the intellectual by exposing them for the establishment heroes their actions made them.

But what they did not do is replace the social codes and intellectualism with a moral power, not moral lie-speak which has become common parlance, but an actual moral power, a conviction that comes from soul. This is significant in understanding the value of Buddhism. This moral power comes from sila but that is not enough if sila exists only in the intellectual. It has to be a deep power, a conviction, and this comes in Buddhists from meditation, finding that sila is substantive as soul, and that sila has strength to withstand the power that moral lie-speak throws against it.

It is also good to note the role of the biological, here I am basically taking Pirsig's argument [pp317-8] and developing it for reference. The biological might be considered instinctual, the instinct for survival and procreation. The social codes held these in place but the intellectual began to question the codes. Questioning is an important intellectual tool but if it is not used as purposive enquiry it can just create doubt and insecurity. Early intellectual enquiry into the moral codes brought in sexual hedonism, for example, and how much has breakdown in the home contributed to social breakdown. What was missing in this questioning was the underlying morality that the questioning needed to have been based on. Instead biological drives used the ensuing doubt and insecurity to re-establish themselves. And with the introduction of drugs the intellect is used to justify the use of drugs and the increasing biological hedonism. What the drugs do is effectively destroy the conviction of the soul. The drugs destroy the state of mind that would encourage meditation, an important source of such conviction. How many artists had their conviction of their art but allowed that conviction to be destroyed through the use of drugs - the sexual lifestyle being a concomitant.

How does the intellectual and social combine in terms of this moral code? The fundamental axioms of morality and consideration can be combined through the use of the intellect to provide a better basis for society and a social code. Consider the law and the way that power has corrupted it. Every person has a right to defence - a good right in general, but is it good in every case? Should obvious criminals be allowed to escape because of police procedure? There are limits to the right of defence and that limit is governed by discerning use of moral understanding through the intellect. Instead the intellect is used by the defence to find loopholes to allow criminals to escape. This is not a flaw in the system but a fundamental acceptance by those in power because they can use their finances to pervert justice. This is not a by-product of the legal system in the same way as the flaws of compromise in schools and academia; this misuse of the legal system is needed to ensure the status quo of society. Big business can continue to exploit because big business can tie up legitimate complaints in courts with the use of finance.

There is only one way to fight this control by finance and that is by raising morality as a code to be higher than that which can be bought by finance. If the morality is recognised as the higher code then financial attempts at hijacking the process can be circumvented. But this requires such a level of conviction on the part of the judges and the officers of the court it is unlikely to happen. The powers-that-be do not want that conviction. But that conviction is needed, soul and sila is the way forward.

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Finish and Start
Have finished Lila and continue to be amazed that I rejected the book initially.

Towards the end of the book Pirsig briefly discusses meditation. Whilst I still see it as important to the integrity of his work there is no evidence in his books that it is.

I wanted to mention two quotes from his book that place his studies in context, and the context is that he is trying to academicise the mystical. Whilst it is not a compromise I am comfortable with it is something that he wants. There is a quote early in the book in which he says the mystics might reject MOQ but he wanted to go there, and that was the end of the discussion. I took that to mean that he was accepting compromise.

At the end of the book [p408] "Strictly speaking the creation of any metaphysics is an immoral act since it's a lower form of evolution, intellect, trying to devour a higher mystic one. .... It attempts to capture the Dynamic within a static pattern."

Whether it was Pirsig's intention or not, these quotes contextualise the two books for me.

I now need to study Lila to note my understandings in this blog.

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