The Fatal Flaw: The Problem with Eastern Spiritual Philosophy – Part 1 of 3


It’s time to move on from what is simply false in Eastern philosophy (Buddhism, Advaita/nonduality, and some Taoism). Jesus said the truth will set you free and the whole purpose of this blog is to identify the false, so that the ineffable truth of being and life can shine forth.

1. The basic tenant of Eastern spiritual philosophy is that we are not our thoughts and feelings. We are, therefore, not who we “think” we are. So far, so good.

2. Our thoughts and feelings change, but, as these philosophies point out, there is a part of us that doesn’t change. This part is that presence that observes our passing thoughts and feelings. We are, they say, this changeless entity. Now we’re getting on some shaky ground, but let’s continue.

3. This presence, which is our true self is separate from the body/mind. It is neither born nor will it ever die. It is eternal consciousness. Here the philosophies collapse. I will try to show this below.

My experience shows that Point 1 is partly correct. Clearly, we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts, do, indeed, change. One day we “think” we love our wife/husband, then something happens and then we discover to our shame and disbelief that we now are not the one who loves this wife/husband. Life has changed completely. But we can also observe that some of our thoughts change constantly, other thoughts change only occasionally, and still others are nearly constant in our life. Within this array of change, we can detect patterns of thought and feeling. These patterns suggest an individuality that is, in fact, real. For example, I know that I love to explore issues, that with all my heart and soul I stand up for those who have been victims of unjustice, I love the music of Brahms and Mozart, etc.

Our Eastern Philosopher will say that my seemingly consistent thoughts/feelings are merely an outcome of my conditioning. They are “mere” appearances on the utterly changeless and characterless ground of being. They will further assert that this is not a theory, but the the outcome of direct experience, it is therefore not an issue of philosophy, but of direct experience. I can respond that the same is true for me. I am able to employ the power of presence, that power that is central to Eastern spiritual tradition (EST), to detect and identify these patterns. I can, therefore, make the same experiential claim. It is something I can directly observe.

But more importantly, I can also experience what is pointed to in EST and assert that the ESTer is drawing a decisive line of separation between “presence” and thought/feeling/experience, in which it is posited that one’s true identity is exclusively on one side of the experiential dimension. Our ESTer posits that Reality is the ground of experience and sensed experience (thoughts/feelings/observations) itself is mere appearance. All objects (thoughts/feelings/sensed objects) are passing and insubstantial. It is highly ironic that a philosophy that eschews separation so depends on this division, that this Maginot Line of separation is posited between one’s true identity and what is mere passing appearance. I can see the mere passing appearance of that tree just outside my window. I can look away and the tree is no longer in view (the tree ceases to exist!), but when I look back – what do I see??? – it’s remarkable, but it appears to be that same tree. Yes, the direction of sunlight might have changed a bit, but I am very sure that it’s the same true – perhaps five seconds older.

Now before moving on, let’s take a deep breath. What is the EST person really doing? Is it not possible that by labeling all sensed objects (thoughts/feelings) as mere passing appearance, he is negating his own role in this sensed life? Consider that possibility. Is this any different from the substance abuser who is also seeking to avoid the challenges of life through booze and drugs? Is this any different from the depressed person who lifts himself out of the anguish of his psychological being by adopting a zealous faith-based attitude on this life? Is this any different from the religious fanatic who believes that this life is just a preparation for the real life that begins at death and he can avoid all of the messiness and unpredictability of everyday life and dream of living an eternity in heaven?

I do not seek to judge the ESTer, but it is possible to detect a pattern in human history that revolves around the negation of everyday life – because life can be challenging, it can be complex, it calls on us to make tough decisions, it brings to light all of the empty faith-based beliefs we might cling to out of fear of the unknown. This is what life is. Wake up to its fantastic messiness. Life calls on us to be challenged. Anyone who has parented a little baby into adulthood knows this is true. Anyone in touch with their heart senses the vapid emptiness of EST.

Welcome to the challenge of your life. Make the best of it, for time is passing.

This is just part one of a three part series. Tomorrow I will comment on Point 2.

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