THE PRACTICE OF “AS IF”. FAKING IT TILL YOU MAKE IT?

Today’s “post-modern” society is characterized by a dwindling confidence in any authority (religious, political scientific etc.) purporting to offer “the truth” on some topic.  Since the term “author” is derived from the word “authority”, writers, such as myself, are also suspect.  I recently read an article called “Beyond Postmodernism? Towards a Philosophy of Play” by Robert Miller, who points out that it should be understood that what authors (including himself) have to say should be best understood as something to be “played with” rather than some statement of truth.  Further he suggests that this is exactly what is encouraged through Zen practice.  Accordingly, I see my posts as being more like an art pieces than articles, where whatever is said is hopefully seen as fodder for “mind play”.  Even though I’m not sure whether or not there is any validity to what I am thinking,  I continue to write as if  I know what I am doing; as if  I was an real author.

———————————————————————————————————————————An essential characteristic of

child’s play is a dimension of pretend—that is, an action

and interaction in an imaginary, “as if” situation.

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In the past several posts I have been playing with the concept of “as if” and have tried to connect it to both art and spiritual practices.  The extent to which I can mine the idea of “as if” may be coming to an end but want to provide readers with one final “play date” on this topic.  This will take the form of a series of entries or cases, written by others, that relate to the concept of “as if”.  Rather than try to tie these together for you, (as if I was an authority with the truth), I’ll let you play with them relatively unfettered by my commentaries.

1. The first case is a review of the documentary movie KUMARE. by Roger Ebert    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kumare-2012  A number of members of The Vista Zen Center watched this film and it has been the object of a great deal of discussion afterwards.

“Growing up in New Jersey, Vikram Gandhi was a typical American kid who resented the way his family tried to enforce Hindu beliefs and practices. He found it ironic that Americans began to popularize gurus and yoga just at the time he was growing away from such things. On a trip to India, he says, he found that “real” gurus were no more real than the American frauds who copied them.

That led him into the deliberate deception that he filmed in “Kumare.” He grew a long beard and a pony-tail, exchanged his shoes for sandals, switched his slacks and suits to flowing orange robes, and started carrying an ornate walking stick. Then he moved toArizona, hired an expert to teach him yoga and a PR woman to promote him as a guru, and began to attract followers in meetings at shopping malls, community centers and around the swimming pools of his affluent clients. His accent was modeled on the way his grandmother spoke English. His teachings were deliberate gibberish: talk of inner blue lights, “finding the guru within,” and chants of fabricated mantras.

At this point in the film, it takes an odd turn. Kumare’s followers believe him without question. They share their deepest secrets with him and visibly appear to benefit from him. These people are not dummies. Mostly middle-aged, they take their health seriously, are somewhat skilled at yoga and follow schedules of meditation. “Kumare” seems to establish that a guru can be a complete fraud and nevertheless do a certain amount of good, because what matters is not the sincerity of the guru but that of his followers.

Gandhi narrates the documentary (in an ordinary American voice), introduces us to followers he’s grown close to, and begins to believe he may have started something that was out of his control.  He tells his followers the time has come for him to leave them. Now they are on their own. He returns toNew Jersey, cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and begins to practice a speech in the mirror: “I am not who you think I am.” Whether he ever says this, and how the movie ends, I will leave for you to discover.

It seems to me that “Kumare” reflects a truth that is often expressed in three words: “Act as if.” If you can act as if something is true, in a sense that makes it true. It doesn’t matter if a teacher’s spiritual teachings have any basis. It doesn’t matter if the supernatural even exists (Gandhi believes it does not). His followers benefit by acting ‘as if’.”

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2.  I discovered that a number of research and therapists in psychology have incorporated the ideas put forth by Hans Vaihinger in his book The Philosophy of “As If”.   Below is an excerpt from  a blog called “Mindfulness Muse” which provides a description of this approach in psychology:

“Most of us have some aspect of our lives or ourselves that we would like to change. Perhaps you have a clear vision in your mind of how you would like to be “different” in some way, yet all of the facts and positive self-talk in the world doesn’t seem to be enough to turn your vision into reality. It is not uncommon to know what we could do to be “better” in regards to some aspect of who we believe/wish ourselves to be, yet knowledge and piles of self-help books don’t seem to be enough. These are the times when it is more important take a step back and try a different approach. The first step is to get out of your mind and take action.

Do you really want to change? Attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors are so closely intertwined that the truth about change is that in many ways you can become different when you start acting as if you are different. This concept is at the heart of Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) principle of opposite action.

How to Change Your Life by Choosing New Behaviors

Take a moment to reflect on an aspect of yourself that you deeply wish to change. This type of self-transformation is one that is positive in nature and intended to move you closer toward living your life in accordance with your true values. Consider the person that you believe yourself to be today – in this very moment. Now reflect on the aspects of your core identity that you wish to materialize in your life. Do you wish you were more [.....]? You can be. Stop thinking about it and starting acting as if you already are.

(1) Happiness: Smile

Do you wish that you felt happier? Less depressed? You have indirect control over your emotions through consciously choosing new ways of behaving. Research has found that the simple behavioral choice to activate your facial muscles into a smile is enough to genuinely make you feel happier. Even if you feel a bit silly the first time you give this exercise a try, do it anyway! That’s what making actual changes through behavioral choices is all about.”

This is one of 10 examples of this approach.  You can read more by clicking here.

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 A while back an artist friend showed me her business card which had “Aspiring Artist” after her name.  I told her that I felt that she was doing herself a disservice by not billing herself as an artist, but had no convincing rationale for my response.  Since learning about “as if”, I think that my response to her made some sense.  Below are a couple of online articles that have to do with becoming an artist.  The first (A) is from The Daily Painter Blog .  The second (B) is from a site called Lateral Action.

(A)

How to Become an Artist, “Fake It”

Tuesday/08/2012 August Filed in: Art Marketing

Becoming an artist is easy. You just proclaim you are. You can not do this if you want to be a Brain Surgeon. You do not need a degree to be an artist. Heck, the best artist are children until a sibling or some bully says their art stinks. Some stop and never return until they realize what happened. That’s what I like about my job. Getting people hooked on art, again. I’m sort of a art pusher, I lurk in the back of art stores looking for people to turn on to art who gave up the dream.

(B)

How to Fake It As an Artist

Have you ever walked into an art gallery and thought “I could do better than that!”?

Or are you a contemporary art enthusiast, tired of hearing people criticize things they don’t understand?

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’re bound to have an opinion on the story of Paul O’Hare, a painter and decorator fromLiverpool,UK, who was given just four weeks to transform himself into a fine artist and attempt to fool the critics at aLondon art gallery.

Paul’s story was featured in one of my all-time favorite documentary series, Faking It. In each program, a member of the public was given a month’s intensive training at an improbably difficult profession – and then put through a competitive test alongside experienced pros, to see if they could ‘fake it’ by convincing the judges they were the real deal.

The final test was an exhibition at a London gallery, where Paul’s work was displayed alongside three artists who had been exhibiting and selling work for several years. The work was judged by three respected critics, who also interviewed each of the artists, to see how convincingly they could discuss their work.

 

Paul was clearly feeling the pressure as he was grilled by the judges, and his performance wasn’t perfect. But in the event, one of the genuine artists did an even worse job of explaining his own work – it just goes to show you can’t always tell from appearances. And neither could the judges – out of three of them, only one spotted Paul as the fake.

Takeaway: There comes a point where you have to step out confidently and present yourself to the world as the person you want to be – even though you’re feeling terrified inside. And there are no guarantees that the world will buy your bluff.

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4. The last case is based on an article entitled “Zazen as Enactment Ritual” (by Taigen Dan Leighton) which is published in Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice by Steve Heine and Dale Wright .  The rest of this post presents a series of excerpts from Leighton’s article and Editor Wright’s comments on the article.

Leighton’s article is about Zazen, the practice often referred to as “just sitting”.  Most people, including practioners, tend  to see “just sitting” as a technique that is practiced in order to become awakened.  Eihei Dogen, one of the most influential Zen philosophers and writing in the 1200s, vigorously argued against this view.  Leighton points out that “the zazen practice, espoused by Dogen “is not one of the traditional meditations programs that one can study and learn step-by-step” (170 ).  but rather, “zazen is seen as the expression and function of buddhas, rather than buddhahood being a function, or consequence, of zazen”. (172)  Awakening is not some one time future event attained through zazen but rather the expression of whatever enlightenment is at hand.

Wright, commenting on Leighton’s article, points out that Leighton builds upon and elaborates on Dogen’s views by treating zazen as a ritual. Here is how Wright interprets Leighton’s main point:

” As Taigen Dan Leighton (Chaper 5) puts it, Zazen practitioners understand this ritual as one that ‘enacts’ the enlightenment of the Buddha already resident within the pracitioner.  When you ‘enact’ something, you act it out as if it (italics are Wright’s) were already the case.  If you act out that pattern attentively and long enough, then, to some extent at least, it becomes true of your mind through the pattern we can see clearly in Stanley Tambiah’s sophisticated work on Buddhist ritual. (pg. 12)……The practices of Zen ritual are forms of practical understanding and knowledge.  They constitute a particular way of acting  and being in the world that defines Zen.” (pg. 13)

Based on all of this evidence it certain does seem as if……………………  Ooops! I forgot that I promised no interpretation or commentary.

 

 

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BEING PRESENT: ZEN AND TRANSUBSTANTIATION

In my last post, “Art, Zen and Transubstantiation: It’s Like Kind of Crazy”  I discussed Marcel Duchamp’s fascination with “transubstantiation” and provided an interpretation concerning the meaning/impact of “Fountain”.  To quote a little known authority on not much of anything, (i.e. myself):

When Duchamp entered the urinal in a art show, he was obviously raising the question “What is it?”, or more to the point, “Is it art?” His point seems to be that it all depends on how “it” is seen by the spectators. If it is defined and perceived as art, (as if it were art) by viewers, then it will be perceived and responded to differently than if it is seen as “just a urinal”. If something is seen as “art” it brings forth a special mode of attention that is different from something seen as part of “everyday life”.

What is the special kind of attention associated with art? Those of you who have been reading my previous post know that is what I have been calling being “present/awake/alive”. (From “Art, Zen and Transubstantiation: It’s Like Kind of Crazy”)

I ended the last blog post with the assertion that Buddhist and more specifically Zen philosophers had been making similar proclamations for thousands of years; not specifically about “art” but life in general.  So I want to play some more with the concept of “transubstantiation” focusing on spiritual practices.

 

Let me start first with Christianity, since this is where the term “transubstantiation” was first developed. As I said in the previous post, the term refers to the idea that in Communion, the bread and wine are not just symbols of Christ’s body and blood but are his body and blood, although in another form. I went on to suggest that, later interpretations allow that the bread and body are symbols or metaphors for Christ consciousness and that what makes this real or true is the faith of the participants in Communion. In other words it is as if the wine was Christ’s blood.

 

The general idea of my last post was that by shifting our perception so that everyday life is seen “as if” it is ”art”, we are more likely to be “present/awake/alive” with it.  Similarly, spiritual traditions can help foster this “as if” attitude and help practitioners develop a more comprehensive shift in consciousness.

However, It seems to me that the teachings in all spiritual traditions often foster a tendency to view a particular event or phenomenon as “fact” rather than as a metaphor/similie  (i.e. “as if”).  I can imagine that a great deal of confusion might have been spared, if over the years, Christ was seen “as if” he were the son of god” or that it was understood that that his teaching could lead to one’s transformation “as if” one was being “reborn” or “resurrected”.  It is my opinion that most enlightened Christians have discovered this “as if” perspective on their own and understand that their aim is to live their lives “as if ” they were Christ; in other words to develop “Christ Consciousness”.

I think the same kind of confusion can be found in some varieties of Buddhism as well, and much of this might be due to what the historical Buddha said or was said to have said.  For instance,let us look again at the Sutra, I mentioned in the last blog, where Buddha supposedly said the following to his student Subhuti, :

And why not? Subhuti, a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a being cannot be called a ‘bodhisattva’. And why not? Subhuti, no one can be called a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a self or who creates the perception of a being, a life, or a soul.  I agree with my fellow student’s reaction to this when he said it “sounds insane”(see previous post and Discussion #3 in FORUMS).

The historic Buddha would often not answer questions such as “Is there a Self?”, presumably because he understood that by answering either “yes” or “no”, the interlocker could misunderstand the true nature of things…  I wonder whether if Buddha’s advice to his student Subhuti would seem less “insane” if he had said something like “a Bodhisattava should act as if both he or she, and all others, have no perception of a self………?”  My guess is that, if the words above is truly what the Buddha said to Subhuti, he was using language fitting for his students advanced understanding at the time and perhaps did not feel the need to signal that he was talking metaphorically.

I am currently reading “The Embodied Mind” which was suggested to me by fellow blogger Sean Voisen (The Koan).  This fascinating book draws on elements of Buddhist philosophy to solve several theoretical dead ends that current scientist’s working in the area of Cognitive Science have run into.  Their main point is  similar to that made by Buddha in the Sutra above; i.e. there is no scientific evidence pointing to anything substantial that we could call a “self”.  Their careful review of research and theory in the Cognitive Sciences leads to the same conclusion that is summed up by the authors in a quote from Tsultrim Gyamtso:

 Buddhism is not telling anyone that he should believe that he has a self or that he does not have a self.  It is saying that when one looks at the way one suffers and the way one thinks and responds emotionally to life, it as if one believed that there were a self  (Underline is mine) that was lasting, single and independent and yet on closer analysis no such self can be found.  ” (The Embodied Mind, pg 72)

Note the use of the term “as if”. What I have taken away from The Embodied Mind  is that we all tend to ignore the moment to moment variations in our thoughts, feelings, experiences etc. because of our need to have something stable to provide a sense of meaning.  It is this grasping which is the cause of suffering that Buddha said that we can overcome.  It is through meditation that we slowly come to see and accept then fact that our notion of being a Self is just a convenient fiction. And, when we begin to see this in ourselves we realize that this is also  the case for so called other “selves” as well, which seems to be what Subhuti was being taught by Buddha in the Sutra in queston.

 

Now even if one were to come to this understanding about the nature of the Self, he or she would still need to act, in some cases, as if selves exist.  This is why, I am guessing that the historic Buddha frequently refused to answer one way or the other when asked whether there was or was not a Self.  However, all of this suggests that we are  capable of holding both of these perspectives (the “self exists” and “does not exist”) and can become free to shift our perceptions regarding selfhood depending upon what is required by the current situation.

For instance, if you and I are together and I am fully present/awake/alive with you, I am not concerned about our past or our present and so, for all practicable purposes, neither you or I have or are “selves” in that moment.  I think that Buddha’s advice to Subhuti could be easily translated to simply say “to be a Bodhistava, “be present/awake/alive.” (Be sure to read “The Artist is Present“)

In the next post, I plan to look once more at the concept of transubstantiation and explore the possibilities more of incorporating the attitude of “as if” into our daily lives.

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