For whatever reason some folks on the internet seem to be talking about frames again; so strange how this keeps happening every year or so. I confess that I haven’t kept up with the discourse personally — hard to gather the motivation, when there’s so much to build, and so many mystics left to read — but I thought I’d take the opportunity to lay out a frame I strive to live by.
I was at Urbit Assembly recently. Assembly was amazing — it is difficult to convey how amazing, not because it’s difficult to describe, but because any accurate description will sound hyperbolic. For present purposes, suffice it to say that you could expect anyone you were talking to to be practicing, and studying, something real; that is, to have a non-fake version of whatever they had. You didn’t even care so much specifically what they had; you just wanted to know their perspective on it. “Oh sweet, you’re an X? Finally! I get to have the mystical initiation into the true essence of X!” For basically any X. (Within reason; I didn’t meet any true Satanists there…)
So I was at Assembly, and at some point started talking with a based Orthodox Christian woman. The conversation started something like this:
Me: “Nice to meet you!”
Her, looking at my sash: “likewise! Are you religious?”
Me: “Yep! Buddhist.”
Her, visibly crestfallen: “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m Christian.”
I have had this conversation a number of times up until this point. But this was Assembly, so the conversation continued:
Me: “Ah yeah, so there’s cultural Buddhism, but then there’s what the Buddha actually taught.”
Her: “Yeah sure, but I think what the Buddha taught is also wrong.”
Me: “What do you think the Buddha taught?”
Her: “Well for instance, as I understand it, he taught that all is one.”
Me: “Nope! He actually ridiculed that view and ripped it apart. There’s a passage in the Pali Canon where he lays out that view, and then says something like: ‘monks, would this not be a ridiculous, stupid, and idiotic view?’ And the monks said: ‘yes, this would be a ridiculous, stupid, and idiotic view.’ And he said: ‘so indeed, this is a ridiculous, stupid, and idiotic view.’”
(I at the time couldn’t find the sutra in question; I’ve since learned that it’s MN 22.)
Her: “Oh! Huh. Then what worldview did the Buddha teach?”
Me: “Well it’s difficult to summarize. But he taught that there is a right way to see things, and a wrong or mistaken way to see things.”
And now we get into the frame.
To defer from here to a better source than me:
“And what, bhikkhus, is right view? Right view, I say, is twofold: there is right view that is affected by taints, partaking of merit, ripening in the acquisitions; and there is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path.
“And what, bhikkhus, is right view that is affected by the taints, partaking of merit, ripening in the acquisitions? ‘There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are in the world good and virtuous śramaṇas and brahmins who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ This is right view affected by taints, partaking of merit, ripening in the acquisitions.
“And what, bhikkhus, is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path? The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, the path factor of right view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path: this is right view that is noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path.
Or as I summed up for her, in more modern language: if you give a gift, that matters. That really happened. That’s a real thing. What you gave up, you really gave up. The person who received it really received it. Moreover, your actions have consequences — if you do bad things, they will have bad results, and if you do good things, they will have good results. And further, you yourself will face the consequences of your actions — during this life, and not limited to the end of this life; death is not an escape from you facing the consequences of your actions. And further, there is such a thing as love. It is a real thing — it is not made up, it is not mere chemicals in the brain, it is not mere group selection, it is real, and it really matters. And further, there are true teachers, people in this world who are good and upright virtuous guides.
My conversation partner said after this that that all sounded very Christ-like.
Buddhism, of course, does not claim that its map is complete. (It’s a map, yo!) The right view described as a view is not the purest form of right view: the true right view is to be found directly through investigation, wisdom, and humility; through the development of ethical behavior, and through the blamelessly purified states of mind that result from that.
But right view is clearly contrasted with wrong view. Buddhism is not some wishy-washy, vague, feel-good philosophy where everyone’s views are all equal and you can believe whatever you want — no, that’s just California and the aftereffects of the LSD. We’re all still coming down off the acid hangover of the ’60s…
Wrong view in a nutshell:
“And what, bhikkhus, is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed; no fruit or result of good and bad actions; no this world, no other world; no mother, no father; no beings who are reborn spontaneously; no good and virtuous śramaṇas and brahmins in the world who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ This is wrong view.
Wrong view is simply the negation of each of the tenets of what you’d call mundane right view. (Mundane right view being the right view that is a view; in other words, right view that is affected by the taints of mind that trap us in delusive views; it is the map leading out of prison that you can pick up and read while you’re still in prison.)
You can certainly say that mundane right view is not freedom: metaphorically, it’s a map out of prison, in prison. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Yes, in some deep sense the markings on the map are completely arbitrary; but if you change the markings on the map out of prison so it no longer reflects the path out of prison, then you’re now holding onto a different kind of thing altogether. And there is no simpler trick for a clever prison warden to play than to convince you, while you remain imprisoned, that the map leading out of prison is arbitrary and meaningless.
If there is one thing I have seen in my years of training, in my own investigation, and in my various relationships, it’s this: people with something like right view are trustworthy; people with wrong view are not. Communities that empower people with right view are healthy; communities that empower people with wrong view are not. And from my study of history and current events, civilizations that are governed according to right view are functional and just; civilizations that are governed according to wrong view are not.
And, neighbor, have I seen some wrong view.
Let me unwrap the esoteric language and let’s see how we’re doing, shall we?
“And what, bhikkhus, is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed; …
Nothing is given. Everything is a transaction. If you’re donating, you’re purchasing something. By default, you’re purchasing an identity as someone who donated that thing. And anyway, giving doesn’t have as high an ROI as investing. This is the doctrine of Silicon Valley millionaires, and quite frankly I have never seen a class of people make worse use of their wealth than Silicon Valley millionaires. Crackheads, maybe, but crackheads are at least purchasing temporary relief.
This is even the doctrine of effective altruism, at the end of the day. Their claim is straightforward: what giving is is the purchase of the realization of an idea about how the world should be. You should already know and understand the product going in. The idea is on sale; your donation makes it incrementally more realized. Can you imagine if startups were run that way? You come to the VCs with an already built product, and they give you some cash to do exactly that thing and nothing else; this is a fantastic way to hire slaves; it’s a terrible way to empower trustworthy people.
On this front Urbit has been an enormous breath of fresh air. The result of their distribution of address space, alongside address space coincidentally being an NFT, has meant that a bunch of people have found themselves wealthy all of a sudden; and these people have gotten broken out of the modern religion at much higher rates than most. They’re Catholic, or Orthodox Christian, or Taoist tantric shamanic Buddhist, or else they believe in something besides their own delusional minds; and hence, they are much more open with their money. For all the complaining about who owns the stars, this is a class of sophisticated investors who will happily fund you if you seem to be trustworthy. (Is there further to go? Of course there is further to go; new money is money that sucks at having money; but we’ll get there, and we’ll learn how to give more fully.)
… “‘no fruit or result of good and bad actions; …
In other words, what you do doesn’t matter.
Because there’s really no one there.
Because it’s all just atoms and molecules. If someone is happy, it’s because there are happy chemicals in their brain. If someone is sad, it’s because there are sad chemicals in their brain. The cure for their state of mind is to mess with the chemicals in their brain — certainly not, for instance, to live in a less terrible world, or to believe less awful things…
Or maybe you’ve heard this one before: “so-and-so is a victim. Because they are a victim, they are helpless and powerless. Because they are helpless and powerless, they are not accountable for their actions.” Yes — we love victim mentality in the modern world. Everyone’s a victim. We all have so much trauma. Killing people, looting, burning down cities? Well it’s understandable given the people’s material circumstances. It sure is too bad that their methods are so harsh, but here we are…
And besides, the planet is going to get engulfed by the sun in five billion years! And after that, the universe is going to have a heat death! So nothing that happens in the meantime is that big a deal. (If I had a nickel for every time a Silicon Valley millionaire said something like this about why they weren’t using their money to solve the problems they believed were most important to solve, I might be a Silicon Valley millionaire.)
… “‘no this world, no other world; …
There’s definitely no other world. Ask materialists about the afterlife if you want to see some religious fervor! Death is the end: certainly it’s the end of your brain, of that lump of fat in your skull; and we know, through methods unspecified, that that brain is you and there’s nothing beyond it; ergo, nothing. Ever again. If you can outrun the consequences of your evil actions until the lump of fat in your skull liquidates, then you never have to worry about them again.
Besides that, even this world isn’t real. It’s just a simulation. It’s fake. It’s meaningless. The only meaning there is is the meaning you feel like there is. You make it yourself. The world is your oyster; you can paint it any color you like.
… “‘no mother, no father; …
Again, as covered. The love that a mother or father has for their child is fake. It’s just chemicals in your brain. It’s a hack by evolution.
… “‘no beings who are reborn spontaneously; …
After you die, you will be nowhere. Before you were born, you were nowhere. What you face in this life is the result of systemic injustice or privilege or whatever. If you have a bad life, that’s other people’s fault. If you have a good life, that’s other people’s credit. Hence the right thing to do, if you are facing adverse circumstances, is to blame other people about them. And the right thing to do if you are facing good circumstances is of course to feel bad about your privilege.
… “‘no good and virtuous śramaṇas and brahmins in the world who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’ This is wrong view.”
(A śramaṇa is something that doesn’t really exist in the modern world. Think like, wandering ascetic philosopher or teacher or practitioner. Imagine living in a world where there was a whole class of people who were going around hacking their minds and their reality and trying to teach others how to do it; a culture where you could go and find a Leverage Research all sitting on a street corner, in tattered clothes, with begging bowls, and learn about their framework on the spot in exchange for offering them a meal.)
At the end of the day, this last piece is simply the claim that nobody has gotten out: that there is no out to get; that all of the masters of every tradition are liars and frauds. Jesus was just a guy who got heat stroke and woke up later; the saints were all ideologically captured fools; the Zen masters were rubes with poor epistemics. Obvious miracles like the establishment of organizations that continue to exist and function according to their mission for two thousand or more years are simply chalked up to coincidence.
And we haven’t even gotten started on the way wrong view manifests in the world. But neighbor, that will have to wait for next time.