In the 18th century the German philosopher Immanuel Kant caused a big shift in philosophical thinking – so much so that people have called it a “philosophical revolution.”
Philosophers before Kant were trying to find the truth either by analysis of experience with the rational mind (empiricists) or by logical deduction with the mind (rationalists), assuming reality was, somehow, intrinsically rational.
One way of telling the history of Western philosophy is to say that Kant took the middle road. Our experience is already affected by the mind, he said, before we do any analysis. Our perception is affected by a ‘mind filter,’ if you will, such that we see things as happening in sequence and such that the world has a spatial layout. Space and time, in other words, are not “out there” but rather ‘projected’ by the mind onto experience – the mind “in here.”
[ Unfiltered world → “mind filter” → Your Experience ]
Kant’s logic makes a lot of sense. Would anyone deny that their mind is absent for any experience? Would anyone deny that they constantly perceive space and time? So it’s quite possible that the (ever-present) mind ‘projects’ (ever-present) space and time.
. . . Yet I don’t present Kant’s philosophy to argue for it, but to contrast it with other perspectives that are appealing for very different reasons.
What’s really fascinating about all the Western philosophical canon—pretty much from Ancient Greece to the present day—is that you’ll hardly ever find a firm distinction between witness-awareness and the (thinking) mind which is so crucial to Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, for example, and so often implied in contemporary ‘non-dual’ talks.
This is bizarre, considering how important that distinction is in the philosophies (or just “teachings”) where it’s found. Yet it’s absent in most of Western philosophy. It’s there for some of the ancient philosophers, and maybe for Hegel and a few others, but for the most part it’s missing.
Another way of putting the point is to say that most of the Western philosophers weren’t (& aren’t) familiar with mindfulness. (Ironic, since they talk about the mind so much!) If being mindful involves watching thought from the point of view of a silent, witnessing awareness, then most of the thinkers in the West weren’t being mindful, it seems, but were experiencing thoughts from the point of view of… other thoughts. Hence the phrase, “lost in thought.”
It just doesn’t seem plausible, to me, that many of these philosophers could’ve invested so much time in writing their tomes of philosophy, if they had previously made this distinction in their experience; that is, forayed into mindfulness. . . . Why? Because thought seems generally less important from the point of view of witness-awareness. It’s like, for the Western philosophers, thoughts were arbiters of truth. For them, you could say what’s true in a sentence! However, from the point of view of witness-awareness, a thought is just something that happens. It comes and goes like a bird chirps.
To introduce mindfulness to philosophy changes the whole game. It changes the game because with mindfulness comes the possibility of experiencing amazingly different states of consciousness. Such an introduction could be the beginning of a whole new field of inquiry, where what state of consciousness we’re talking about is of chief importance, and the specific concepts and language we use are secondary.
It’s a wild claim, but someday, perhaps, we’ll look back on the Western philosophical tradition, and someone will say, “Ah, yes, so many of them were taking as their starting point a primarily rational state of consciousness; hence their confusions and difficulties. Now we can see that that is one particular manifestation of consciousness, yet there are so many more to talk about, to take as a starting point!” (William James may have been hinting at this in his Varieties of Religious Experience.)
Moreover, to make mindfulness and states of consciousness more of a factor—much more—in contemporary philosophy, would be to, simultaneously, align philosophy more with the ancient conception of “philosophy as a way of life,” rather than the current notion of philosophy in the popular mind, where it’s impractical, boring, and irrelevant.
For the ancients, philosophy was something lived. It had to do with action, experience, aspiration… transformation of the soul. That was real philosophy. And by my stars the version we’ve inherited is, in large part, an empty shell of what it once was.
What if philosophy was, once again, an art form? Something with which you co-created, by the powers within you, a much deeper and richer experience of reality?—full of wonder, wisdom, love, fulfillment, peace, connectivity, magnanimity, true enthusiasm?—everything we yearn for in our heart of hearts?
That idea of philosophy has been lost, for the most part. We owe it to ourselves to reclaim it.
. . . So, to circle back, Kant’s problem was that he was too much in his head. (We philosophers can sense this about ourselves, but we try to ignore it.) His philosophy’s logical structure is exquisite, yet, it only serves rational consciousness, in the end.
A new philosophical revolution would ‘go beyond’ rationality altogether. Thus, it would be a re-invention of philosophy, drawing on the inspiration of the ancients, but not being limited by them, either. . . If Kant’s logic was to infer how a mind, present for all experience, filters and synthesizes experiences, then this new philosophy would notice how experience is filtered and synthesized by the state which consciousness inhabits—even the experience of a “mind.” (Not to mention space and time.)
Philosophy’s field of inquiry would become, not merely the bodies of information uncovered by science and logical analysis, but all experiential information available to consciousness in the different states and “worlds” (realms & planes) it can enter. Once again, all our truth claims would be called into question, as no perspective can be ultimate, so long as there are more experiences available to consciousness.
The invitation, then, is to lay down one’s identity as a thinker and opt, instead, to be an explorer of consciousness. The words of the poet Rumi come to mind:
Out beyond ideas of wrong and right,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.