The world is not a problem – Iain McGilchrist and Dougald Hine

  • The world is not a problem – Iain McGilchrist and Dougald Hine

    Posted by Zak Safra on April 30, 2023 at 3:09 pm

    hi everyone,

    just bringing your attention (hopefully the good kind 😆) to a recent conversation online.. there are some real gems here, including references to Paradise Lost, some in depth discussion of the importance of attention, humor, and much more.

    Don Salmon replied 1 year ago 5 Members · 17 Replies
  • 17 Replies
  • Don Salmon

    April 30, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    Just one thought. I think it’s around 38′ where Iain suggests that God (or Tao) creates because it/He/She is only “fulfilled” by engaging in this creation.

    It’s long been understood that if God is Absolute, there can’t possibly be a motive or reason in the human sense.

    Jung and Whitehead and other moderns don’t have a problem with this because they don’t truly take seriously the idea of a transcendental absolute.

    But the Indian tradition, less left brained that most moderns, has insisted always the only possible “reason” for creation is not a reason at all but sheer spontaneous non-motivated Delight.

    Since there is no creation apart from the Absolute (how could anything be apart from the Absolute) even this is a poor human way of saying it. And the usual objections to the idea of the Absolute are perfectly fine, since no idea of anything Absolute could possibly be correct!

    Better to say that the morning stars and evening sun just delight in singing together and leave it at that.

    Too bad there’s not more emphasis on practice in Iain’s writings and discussions. The world is not going to change one bit even if every school and every workplace and every person knew every word of his writings.

    • Zak Safra

      April 30, 2023 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Don

      I haven’t gotten to Iain’s chapter on the Sacred. But I have (I should say I think I have heard him say that panentheism allows for both an immanent and transcendent deity). I am not sure I fully understand the meaning of these words, and I certainly want to understand panentheism better.

      A deity that is both separate and connected. Surely this would depend on our mind’s ability to conceive of this deity. And this would depend on what kind of comprehending or conceiving we were doing. Which would come down to the kind attention we bring the question. I really love Iain’s discussions on this, and how he comes back to Escher’s drawing hands. One thing that isn’t clear to me is what this means vis a vis objectivity. Is such a concept a falacy?

      • Don Salmon

        April 30, 2023 at 6:30 pm

        Hmmm… the world of philosophy. Hmmm.

        I’m not a trained philosopher; amateur – but started studying at 14 (over 5 decades ago) so I have a little glimpse of it.

        Ah, I have an idea.

        Several hundred years ago, (once upon a time>) God started having a tough time. The American founders wanted to mention God but were worried about religious wars AND about giving science a wider degree of freedom.

        So God was taken out of everyday life and sent to a far off galaxy. Somewhere in the vast blue yonder, He had created this universe, and then settled off to admire his creation. ‘

        Well, it hadn’t occurred to them, if you banish God from the cosmos, pretty soon, you’re going to think He’s not needed at all. Darwin was actually quite upset about this (he had initially trained to be a theologian, after all) but couldn’t avoid that conclusion.

        So, now we get to the 20th century. Some folks were starting to see that maybe the idea of a dead, disenchanted de-Godified cosmos was not only not such a great idea, but my gosh, might even be wrong,.

        But – and this is where the Absolute comes in – they couldn’t quite get comfortable with the idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent, God, so they made him a bit smaller:

        Kind of a lonely, pathetic guy, can’t quite get it together, so he has to create the cosmos to fulfill himself.

        Well, neither any traditional panentheist view, nor theist, nor Vedantic, Buddhist, etc notion EVER came up with this. It’s a stark contradiction.

        Either the word “GOD” means omnipotent (there is no God but God, La Illah ha ill lahla (or something like that). Or even more powerful – All is Brahman. Or as Paul said, We live and move and have our Being in Him.

        There is only One.

        From this view, there never was a creation. There is no world and no universe.


        Ok, I’ve just taken you from a fairy tale to a seeming impossibility. Let’s see if I can do one more thing and make a little sense of the idea that there is no creation.

        What do you know, with absolute certainty, at this moment?

        Not Descartes pale “I think therefore I am.”

        There is awareness and this field of awareness (it’s not located anywhere, if you look closely – you might think it’s in your head but if you look a bit more carefully your head is within this awareness – look closely and you’ll see this awareness is all permeating (in other words, omnipresent)

        Anything that’s omnipresent is obviously “doing” everything – hence, omnipotent (this doesn’t mean “all powerful” in the sense that there’s some subject – awareness – that can do anything – it means the only “thing” that’s doing anything is awareness, which is everywhere and everywhen all at once.

        And it’s all “good” because it is doing only awareness.

        I don’t know that any of this can make sense without practice.

        When you see this, it’s the most obvious thing in the world that what we cal “moon” and “stars” and “earth” and “banks” and “cars” are images of awareness appearing to awareness.

        And there was no beginning. It has “always” (timelessly, eternally) been this way – the silence of Siva and the ever ecstatic coming forth and dance of Shakti.

        So the whole question of some God “needing” something actually makes no sense. It has nothing to do with “God” as the omnipresent Reality in which we/it live and move and have our/its being.

        Better not to think about these things and just rest into the silence.

        Try putting aside all reading and try my favorite meditation instruction of all time:

        Do nothing.

        It may come up that the hardest thing in the world is to understand what it means to do nothing.

        Don’t even close your eyes. just sit. And don’t make any effort. Thoughts will come. Don’t do anything. Emotions will rise and fall. Don’t do anything.

        At some point, you will experience directly that all is arising and falling away on its own, all as One Reality. If you continue doing nothing, you may also find that all thoughts fall away, and you’ll have a clearer glimpse of what this “universe” really is than any scientist ever had.

        • Don Salmon

          April 30, 2023 at 6:31 pm

          regarding the history of how we lost God, this is one of my favorite lines:

          If, in seeking to create a purely objective science, you persist in eliminating all that is human in your scientific studies, you are likely to create a world in which no human will want to live.

          Even more so, if you persist in trying to eliminate all that is Divine.

      • Don Salmon

        May 1, 2023 at 2:09 pm

        The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao.

    • Whit Blauvelt

      April 30, 2023 at 10:05 pm

      “God” does not equal “Tao.” It’s just sloppy to read other philosophic/religious traditions as if they were about the same universal structure as Christianity. “Tao” means “way(s)” in Chinese (same word for plural or singular). Taoism is about the paths we can take, and how they differ from our descriptions. In other words, the “path” of Taoism is to keep clear vision and feeling of the actual paths we may take, and get beyond what of those paths can be “told in words,” which is — and this is the central Taoist insight — not the same as the paths eternally are themselves.

      McGilchrist should welcome this, since it’s precisely about the relation of LH’s verbal fluency to the RH’s greater capacity for engaging in the fullness of the paths before us — and their junctures. Trying to turn “Taoism” into “Godism” misses this central point, which is so close to McGilchrist’s own. A great book on this is Chad Hansen’s A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought.

      • Don Salmon

        April 30, 2023 at 11:04 pm

        Interesting. You might read Jon Blofeld’s “Secret and Sublime.”

        It is very far from the scholar’s version of spirituality.

        Blofeld had spent a lifetime practicing Buddhist meditation. He already understood that what Meister Eckhart meant by “the Godhead” was no different from the Buddhist Nirvana.

        Funny, I’ll add as an aside, that just today a friend sent me a comment by Thomas Merton that the 3rd Century Desert Fathers’ understanding of God was much closer to that of the Zen tradition than most theology or scholarly understanding of it.

        And perhaps you know of David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God: “Existence Consciousness Bliss,” in which he claims that the Sat-Chit-Ananda of the Indian tradition (the translation of which is existence consciousness bliss) is the underlying common grand of all spiritual traditions, including the Taoist – and remember, Hart may be among the greatest Orthodox theologians alive.

        Anyway, back to Blofeld. He looked far and wide in 1930s China for someone who could speak to him of the very roots of the Taoist tradition and was referred to ‘an old sage”who lived atop a mountain. He climbed very high in very cold weather and when he got there, the sage was in the midst of meditation. he was quite irritable and exhausted, and sat somewhat stressed out waiting.

        As he continued to wait, he became aware of strange but deeply blissful sensations and at some point felt he was expanding out to infinity.

        Suddenly the experience came to an end and he was back to his irritable self. He realized just at that moment, the sage’s meditation had ended.

        They had a long talk, and the sage dissuaded him from trying to connect Buddhist philosophic concepts with Taoist ones. He said there is only one Tao – some call it God, some Nirvana, some Allah. He added that he knew scholars would quibble, but then as long as one is caught up in verbal thought one can never understand this Oneness which is beyond Oneness

        Toward the end of their conversation, Blofeld quoted the 19th century life of Buddha by Sir Edwin Arnold, where Nirvana is described as “the dewdrop slipping into the shining sea.”

        The sage was impressed but added, “There is one limitation to your simile. Indeed, the dewdrop does merge with the ocean and become the infinite, but though this is inconceivable logical, though becoming the infinite, no individuality is lost – in fact, individuality is multiplied infinitely.

        Final thought. Krishnaprem (a British man who was the first ever accepted into the Indian devotional order of Vaishnavas – a man who was a science prodigy as a child) writes about words and symbols in a fascinating essay. He recalled theologian Rudolf Otto’s discussion of whether Meister Eckhart’s Godhead, Shankara’s Nirguna Brahman, and the Buddhist Nirvana are the “same” or “different.”

        What is the same and different, he goes on to ask. obviously, the words are different, and to some extent, the concepts are different, since Reality is Infinite and there are infinite aspects to it. But there is only one Reality, and there are not even a half dozen Absolutes floating around in the sky.

        When you look at the extreme apophatic tradition going back to Dionysus, where you cannot say ANYTHING about God, it’s quite hard to argue THAT is the same or different that the Tao. For me, Paul said it best, quoting a secular Greek poet who lived several centuries prior to him, that the Reality the Jews referred to as “G-d” is that “in which we live and move and have our being.” Not just a “way” (the dharma, in Buddhism) but the dharmakaya – the whole universe being, in a way, a way – a way we live and move and have our being.

        But if you completely eliminate all verbal thought – everything I just wrote, as Thomas Aquinas noted of his own lifetime of writing – turns to dust, and then all is clear.

      • Don Salmon

        April 30, 2023 at 11:06 pm

        Two more I forgot to put in.

        David Loy has written a wonderful book on nonduality, in which he explains the apparent differences and conflicts between nonduality in Buddhism, Vedanta, Christianity and Taoism. It’s a radically different understanding of “God” than you’ll get from almost any scholar or theologian. Personally, it took me at least 3 years of searching, starting at age 17, to come to the shocking realization that there were almost no rabbis, pastors, ministers or priests who were actually interested in the underlying contemplative teachings of their traditions. It took me many more years to realize this was true of almost all scholars as well.

        Finally –

        Father Martin Laird has written what I think is the best manual on Christian contemplative meditation in the past 50 years: “Into the Silent Land.”

        B. Alan Wallace, who has studied and taught Tibetan Buddhism for over 50 years, and who since the early 1990s has focused on the Dzogchen tradition (which many have compared to Zen, Vedanta, Meister Eckhart’s teaching AND Taoist nondualism), has jokingly referred to Father Laird’s book as “the best Christian writing on Dzogchen I’ve ever come across.”

        • Don Salmon

          April 30, 2023 at 11:29 pm

          Looks like I can no longer edit the previous note so here’s Thomas himself (as much a rebel against any limited idea of a “structure of Christianity” as just about any other 20th century monk)


          Here, the Catholic monk Thomas Merton describes an awakening experience he had one day in an ordinary shopping district in Louisville:

          MERTON’S SATORI:

          “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.

          “It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.…This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: ‘Thank God, thank God that I am like others, that I am only one person among others.’

          “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: …A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained.

          “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. They are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers! Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

        • Zak Safra

          May 1, 2023 at 1:02 pm

          Hi Don,

          lots of gems in what you wrote. Don’t laugh, but I asked ChatGPT to summarize all the books you mentioned, they look really good:

          The author mentions several books throughout the text. Here is a list of the books mentioned:

          1. “Secret and Sublime” by Jon Blofeld
          2. “The Experience of God: “Existence Consciousness Bliss”” by David Bentley Hart
          3. “Into the Silent Land” by Father Martin Laird
          4. A book on nonduality by David Loy (no specific title mentioned)
          5. A book on Dzogchen by B. Alan Wallace (no specific title mentioned)


          • Don Salmon

            May 1, 2023 at 2:11 pm

            I love it.

            You know, there’s an episode of Seinfeld (do folks in England watch this, or even get the Jewish New York humor??) where Jerry and George (2 of the main characters) are pitching a comedy to the executive staff at NBC.

            George insists that there’s no plot, the infamous “Show about nothing” (which is how the real Seinfeld show as panned for several years). He refuses to back down, and later, Jerry is worried that their show will be turned down as a result.

            Giving George a hard time about it, George responds by saying “I refuse to compromise my artistic integrity.”

            Jerry immediately shoots back, “you’re not artistic and you have no integrity” (you probably have to see it to appreciate the humor.)

            Whenever I read about AI, I always think of that, and imagine someone responding, “you’re not intelligent and you have no integrity!”


  • Julie Bush

    April 30, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    I loved this discussion (will watch it again to really digest) I love (and totally agree) with what Iain says about death and that it isn’t a problem or a predicament – the frame of our 80yrs or so is the very thing that gives it meaning and shape. It, strangely, reminds me of test cricket – which sounds a bit odd – but the frame of the 5 days of a test match actually make the story and narrative and beauty of cricket work. They tried a ‘timeless’ test that had no frame or end and it ruined the theatre and story and elegance of the game.

    Also agree with how changing attention can quickly and hugely impact us. I recently have started mindful eating and thought it would be a slight shift and have some element of gratitude involved, yet I have been astonished at its impact and how transformational a thing it is becoming for me.

    • Zak Safra

      April 30, 2023 at 5:29 pm

      Hi Julie,

      I love the thought about cricket matches. Very insightful. Gosh to take 5 days to watch a match. It seems like its from a lost world (for me).

      I was interesting to hear more about your mindful eating. From my side, I just wanted to share… I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for a while, and I’ve been very pleased with the general mindset I find myself in during the day. Contrary to what many think, focus improves, and calm is easier to maintain in pressured situations.

      One area that I found myself struggling in was breaking the fast. The time (around 5 pm) usually coincides with a high level of pressure both at home and at work and the result is anything but mindful eating(!).

      I tried a meditation today (well — reading some sacred texts before breaking the fast). It helped. I feel it was the right direction. But I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet.

      All the best,


      • Don Salmon

        April 30, 2023 at 5:43 pm

        HI Zak, I’ve done 16/8 IF for a long time, and for some months last year was alternating that with 20/4 (one meal a day!).

        I don’t quite get what you mean by breaking the fast. Do you only start eating at 5 PM? What’s your schedule?

        And speaking of meditation/reading – I’ve been a member of this channel since it started in September and so far, except for one member (Lucy Fleetwood, 16 years a Tibetan Buddhist) I can’t find anyone else interested in practice. Iain rarely talks about it and seems to have quite a limited knowledge of it – but it seems to me, if this understanding of different modes of attention is to have any real impact on the world at all, it’s going to be through practice, not through intellectual (whether LH OR RH) knowledge.

        I’ll get to your other comment in a moment.

    • Don Salmon

      May 1, 2023 at 2:12 pm

      Interesting thought about death.

      There’s also the observation that we’ve never been born.

      Ramana Maharshi has a great line about this.

      He says, “you say you are here and then you go into town. But where is coming and going for the unborn, ineffable all pervading Awareness which you are in Truth?”

  • Tom Huntington

    May 1, 2023 at 3:30 am

    Thank you Zak. I too found/find Iain’s conversation with Dougald Hine very stimulating and worth my time and attention and intriguing enough for me to buy his book At Work in the Ruins and to find out more about him. I was very happy to catch this conversation at The Stoa with Stephen Jenkinson, Bayo Akamolafe, and Vanessa Adreotti together expanding on the themes Dougald and Iain discussed. I think you will find it worth your time and attention too. I was only a lttile familiar with Stephen Jenkinson before watching their conversation. I’d really enjoy/recommend a conversation between Iain and Stephen Jenkinson.

    • Don Salmon

      May 1, 2023 at 2:17 pm

      what a fascinating discussion. It’s unfortunate – from the bit I saw – that there seems to be no distinction between left hemisphere religious beliefs and integrated hemisphere/mind-body-world contemplative awareness.

      The idea that someone can go through life believing in religion in a way that doesn’t take into account the realities of death is astonishing. It reinforces my sense, since the early 1970s. that the last people I’d ever want to talk with about spirituality are people involved in religion or academia!!!

      Imagine Buddhist or Christian monk never contemplating death! “I die daily,” Paul said (I think it was Paul)

      The Buddhist teaching of impermanence.

      There’s a point, when your mind is absolutely quiet, when you actually feel, viscerally, as a sensation more real than the feeling of your body, that the whole universe is utterly dissolving at every moment. Death is occurring always, and rebirth always.

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