In What Is Self? BR distinguishes between no-ego and no-self (pp. 49–53).
By "self" or "Self" -- her capitalization is inconsistent -- she means "consciousness" (p. 49), or the totality of experience. "Without self, human beings could not exist" (p. 51).
This is already an odd thing to say, since the whole thrust of her books is toward no-self. Assuming she is using her own definition of self, what she means is that human beings do not really exist. What BR implies, in a long-winded way, is that the whole problem is il-lusion rather than de-lusion. In other words, nihilism. Yet she contradicts herself by talking about the no-self experience -- which, since it is an experience, must by her definition of "self" be part of "self"!
Then she goes on to say that one day she "came upon the Five Skandhas" (p. 114). As we know from Wikipedia, the five skandhas (portentous capitalization unnecessary) are matter, sensation, apperception, volitional formations, and consciousness. Buddhist doctrine has it that the totality of experience can be accounted for by these five skandhas, and that hence there is no self.
BR correctly notes that "Buddhists do no believe 'no-self' means the falling away or permanent cessation of the Five Skandhas." Confusingly, what Buddhists call realization of no-self, BR calls the "no-ego experience" (p. 115). As for no-self, "the true articulation of the no-self event would be 'NO-Five Skandhas'" (p. 116, italics in the original).
Again, this is nihilism. If there are no five skandhas, then there are no bodies and no minds to know this. So the knowingness is itself an illusion. And in that case, why write books about it?
Derek, this is similar to discussions we've had on nonduality, and we've even had some on BR. But you bring up a specific aspect of her work, here, and a good one.
As I've mentioned in other threads, she and I once carried on a correspondence and even spent a week together where we were presenting on different topics at a series of workshops in Wichita. She was quite fun to dialogue with -- punchy, but engaging. I was raising the kinds of points you're making here but it went nowhere. In the end, it did seem that human life and individual existence was pretty much an illusion, which is similar to what some Eastern systems seem to be saying.
I think she might have been saying that Christ is the enduring witness or subject-of-attention through her journey, but her anthropology was so foggy as it was difficult to know just what she attributed to the human and what to Christ. There are also contradictions in her view of consciousness, as you have noted. In some places she speaks of it as reflexive awarness/knowing, in others it is our experiential self, in others, simply self. Yet when this supposedly all falls away, she is still able to chart the process in detail and write books about her journey, whatever the "her" part might mean.
BR's writings came recommended by Thomas Keating and highly regarded by Ken Wilber. She is still considered by many to be one of the most enlightened beings on the planet. Perhaps she is. But don't expect to find much resonance with traditional Christian teaching on the theotic transformation of the soul in her writings. You'll just be left scratching your head. . .
I'm coming to the conclusion that the problem with BR is that she assigns idiosyncratic meanings to words. What she means by "self" is not what everyone else means by "self." What she means by "Christ" is not what everyone else means by "Christ."
Given her non-standard use of words, it's not surprising that she ends up feeling misunderstood and that other people are left scratching their heads. Moreover, her unwillingness to come out of her "I'm right, you're wrong" position means that no one can ever enter into dialogue with her. She remains isolated in her world of private meanings.
I agree, Derek. Still, she is quite good at describing her experiences, and one can situate those in other interpretive paradigms that have more widespread recognition. That's pretty much what I've ended up doing with much of her writings.
I have read B R's books and I thought that what she meant by 'no-self' was loss of the ego self i.e what Thomas Keating would call False self and discovery of real self. Georgina
and discovering the real self
In What Is Self? she talks about the loss of the "ego" as one stage and the loss of (what she calls) the "self" as a second stage, years later. She says that by "self" she means "consciousness," yet she later maintains that it's possible "for the senses to stay awake or function without consciousness" (p. 70). So perhaps by "consciousness" she also means something different from everyone else! And what does anyone make of this: "not only is the body eternal, but its true nature is the Trinitarian Christ" (p. 70). Does that actually mean anything?
To clarify the terminology, I prefer to think of it now in terms of developmental psychology. There is a verbal self -- the word "I" and all the thoughts associated with it -- which develops from about the age of 18 months upward. Then there is a preverbal self, which is purely a configuration of muscle tensings and attention, which has formed before the age of 18 months. I sketched out this process in The Phenomenon of Awakening.
Somewhere in her writings she also refers to Ego as a kind of energy or intentionality -- usually willfulness, or self-seeking, though not always in a negative sense. This isn't quite the same as Fr. Keatings's idea of False Self, and it's not what psychology usually means by Ego. She certainly is meaning to say that what happened to her was far more than becoming free of False Self influence.
Derek, I'm not sure what she means by the body being eternal and "its true nature the Trinitarian Christ." It might mean that the soul, which is the immortal form of the body, issues from the Word in each moment, only she so seldom refers to the soul that one can only guess.
Derek, I'm not sure I follow where you're going with that. I understand how "I" is a concept used in the interest of verbal communication, but that doesn't address the philosophical implications of "I." Like all other concepts, "I" points to something, in this case an implied agent of experience, action, etc. "I" in that sense is all over the place in BR's book; she uses the term profusely.
Before the child says "I," they usually use their own name instead. I have seen my 3 grandkids go through this recently. "Caleb want cake" gets the message across, then, gradually, "Caleb" is replaced by "I" as he makes a connection between this concept and the fact of his subjectivity. "I" points to that subjectivity; it doesn't create it. "I" also enables a more intelligent and volitional grasp of one's subjectivity -- a two-edged sword, for sure. For now one can build up a story or fiction around "I" and attempt to perpetuate that, or one can learn to be content with the mystery of "I" and not over-define it or promote it. Life usually proceeds between these tensions.
I'm not seeing any evidence whatsoever that BR or any other no-selfer/nondualist out there has no subjective dimension to their experience. Even to speak of "no-self" is to describe (in three volumes!!!!) a journey that is recounted by a human subject, or person. How one accounts for this philosophically or even theologically is another matter (I use Lonergan, who built on Thomas Aquinas), and there can be various positions around that. BR was unable/unwilling to engage in philosophical discussion about this. So was Buddha, of course. But the absence of such reflection and discussion leaves a vacuum of understanding, which allows for the likes of Wilber to fill it in with pantheistic teachings (the subjective consciousness = the divine). BR shouldn't really complain that Wilber has, in a sense, adopted her testimony as an example of Christian nonduality in the service of his panetheistic perspective. She left herself wide open for this kind of reframe.
That's the key to it. If you can crack that one, you'll wake up.
I read one of Bernadette Roberts' books only recently (Path to No Self, I think). I found it strange. Some parts resonated, but much of it seemed to be very personal to her, and perhaps reflects her own discomfort/difficulties in relating to the lack of support she got for the experiences she had when she was still a nun, and some estrangement from the faith that was supposed to have been a home for her, but ended up not feeling like home?
Personal interpretations and accounts of awakening are not uncommon, and can be inspiring (or not!), but it's always helpful (I think) to keep in mind they are one individual's experience and contextualization of what happened, and not necessarily useful as guides to practice or maps of the territory. Certainly not as dogma.
Yes, that's one of my conclusions about BR, too. She's presents her ideas as though they represented a general theory of the progress of the spiritual life, yet it's clear her work is based on a survey where the sample size was just 1. Oddly, she herself critiqued this approach in her interview with Stephan Bodian, where she said: "I don't think we should get locked into any stage theory: it is always someone else's retrospective view of his or her own journey."
I'm more likely to value a "stage theory" written by someone with years of experience as a spiritual director, or one that comes from a long history of the tradition. That said, I recall Adolphe Tanquerey mentioning he was aware of at least sixteen different "maps" for the Christian spiritual process, from various ancient saints and spiritual directors. I'll see if I can find the reference.
I swore to myself (not God ) sometime back that I would never write another post about Bernadette Roberts. Why? Because:
I think one or both of those is closed, but if you find anything that hasn't already been discussed there, I'll participate in this one.
You might also do a search for "nonduality" as we have some discussion of her works on those as well.
Yeah, I've skimmed most of that. I'm not sure I'm interested in beating a dead horse too thoroughly. For me, she's documenting personal experience, which I have no reason to doubt, but framing it in a rather odd way, which doesn't really resonate with me.
(Just re: using "I" - God forbid everyone start talking like some gurus who avoid the first person... there are times when it may be correct and relevant in explaining something, but it's really pretentious and annoying to talk like that all the time, imo. "Sleepiness arises" rather than "I'm tired"... oy vey.)
I would have no objection to closing the BR threads, if that's something that's technically possible.
Derek, I think one of them is closed. You gus carry on if you'd like.
Right, and that's fine, only she's also reinterpreting the Catholic mystical tradition in those terms and placing her experience above everyone else's. That's where I took exception.
Yeah, I'd agree on that front.
I think I've said all I have to say about BR. Any more and I'd just start repeating myself.
|Powered by Social Strata|