An activity of the Primer Group


A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.






Wholeness and Enlightenment

by Terry Murphy

Q: What does Wholeness mean to me?

A: *Wholeness*, *meaning*, and *me* are indistinguishable from each other, thus identical. It is a Truth which cannot be said, because truth is nondual, and language/thinking is dualistic. Thus *any* answer to this question is false (including this one).

Q: How can this best be imparted to others?

Ahh...this, *this* is The Question.


Let me open with a Zen quote from the Record of Rinzai (which I got from Thomas Cleary's introduction to Koun Yamadi's translation of 'The Gateless Gate.')

"The Master went to Horin (Feng-lin). Horin asked, 'I've something to ask; may I?" Rinzai said, 'Why gouge out flesh and make a wound?' Horin said, 'The moon on the ocean is clear, without shadows, but the wandering fish gets lost by itself alone.' Rinzai said, 'Since the moon on the ocean is shadowless, how can the wandering fish get lost?' Horin said, 'Seeing the wind, you know waves are rising; gazing at the water, a crude sail wafts in the wind.' Rinzai said, 'The solitary disk shines alone, mountains and rivers are quiet, at the sound of my own laugh, heaven and earth are startled.' Horin said, 'You may illumine heaven and earth with your tongue, but try to say a single phrase appropriate to the situation.' Rinzai said, 'If you meet a swordsman on the road, show your sword; do not offer poetry to one who is not a poet.' Horin then stopped. Rinzai chanted a verse:

*The Great Way is beyond all similitude, Whether you turn East or West, Sparks cannot overtake it, Lightning cannot reach it.*

Isan asked Kyozan, 'Since "Sparks cannot overtake it and lightning cannot reach it," what have the sages since time immemorial used to help people?" Kyozan said, 'What is your idea, Teacher?' Isan said, 'There is only verbal explanation, no real meaning at all.' Kyozan said, 'I don't concur.' Isan said, 'What do you mean?' Kyozan said, 'Officially not even a needle can get in; privately, even a horse and carriage can go through.'"

Grasping any sort of genuine idea of wholeness is impossible on the face of it. We ourselves are a part of that wholeness, so how could the part be greater than the whole, so as to comprehend it? The Whole cannot be an object of consciousness. Nonetheless, can wholeness be somehow known, if not comprehended and expressed? I think so: Kyozan says, "Privately, even a horse and carriage can go through." We may not be able to express 'The Great Way' in any objective sense, but perhaps by talking around the subject we can come to some idea that helps someone.


The problem with any discussion of philosophy, of first principles, is that we willy-nilly start right in the middle. We aren't generating a philosophy from scratch, we already have a philosophy. We aren't creating consciousness, we already are conscious. Accepting this, lets start by turning our consciousness in on itself, and determining what our philosophy is.

We are Westerners, scientists. Western philosophy inherits the great themes from the Greeks, from Plato and the pre-Socratics. Philosophy emerged from myth and superstition into principles tested by reason. Plato was a, philosophically, a rationalist to whom the highest form of knowledge was revealed and expressed by the dialectic, by the give and take of reasoned discussion. Plato was also an idealist, which means that he believed that our understanding of 'the world' comes from within our minds, and is imposed on (or composes) external reality. As early as Aristotle, Plato's jealous pupil, we see a counter to this view. For Plato, phenomena are organized by principles inherent in the human mind; for Aristotle, abstractions are arrived at from an accumulation of data which organize themselves into natural groupings. For rationalists, there are two basic explanations for reality, the idealism which sees all knowledge as coming from within, and the materialism which sees all knowledge as coming from without.

Rationalism, after the Greeks, has been favored in the West, up until the time of the empiricists, who began challenging the assumptions of the rationalists. Descartes was the ultimate rationalist, establishing his 'Cogito,' but he was also attacked for his dualism. Descartes asserted that there were two 'substances,' differing completely, mental substances and material substances. Spinoza managed to eliminate the dualism by denying that there were any substances, but not the rationalism.

Then came the British empiricists, Locke, Berkely, and Hume, who manage to undermine rationalism, idealism, and materialism all at once. The basic question empiricism brought to philosophy is 'how do you know?' This is the same method Socrates used so effectively to demonstrate that what people think they know is invariably based on what they like to believe for various subjective reasons.

So, here is where we truly start, empirically: 'How do we know?' Hume brings it down to basics: all we have is sense impressions. There are two sorts of 'impressions,' he goes on, direct impressions in sensory experience, and simple or complex representations of those impressions, 'ideas.' Impressions tend to associate, which is what all reason or knowledge amounts to. Hume has a simple test for all 'knowledge' (from Hume's "Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding," quoted in "From Socrates to Sartre" by T. Z. Levine): "When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is all too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived? And if it be impossible to assign any, this will serve to confirm our suspicion." Hume applies this proposition to such 'self-evident' (but false) ideas as causality. No idea is more taken for granted than that of cause and effect, this is the essence of learning; but to Hume, looking empirically, all we have is some associative principles of spatial and temporal association, and similarity. If one sort of impression consistently follows another, we will assign the term 'cause' to the prior and the term 'effect' to the posterior. All science amounts to is the observation of conjunctions in sense impressions. While this has obvious practical benefits, it does not establish any sort of 'truth.'

Hume is followed, in Western philosphy, by the German turn back to Idealism, but I think this was essentially a reaction by people who couldn't bear to see their precious ideas rendered meaningless by Hume's 'wrecking ball.' Not until William James' Pragmatism do we have a coherent empirical argument for adopting any sort of ideals.

From "Pragmatism," William James (1907): "It is astonishing to see how many philosophical diputes collapse into insignificance the moment you subject them to...[the] simple test of tracing a concrete consequence. There can *be* no difference anywhere that doesn't *make* a difference elsewhere - no difference in abstract truth that doesn't express itself in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere, and somewhen. The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it will make to you and me, at definite instants of our life, if this world-formula or that world-formula be the true one.

"There is absolutely nothing new in the pragmatic method. Socrates was an adept at it. Aristotle used it methodically. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume made momentous contributions to truth by its means...

"Pragmatism represents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the empiricist attitude, but it represents it, as it seems to me, both in a more radical and in a less objectionable form than it has ever yet assumed. A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad *a priori* reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns toward concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth."

Provided with this pragmatic view, a belief in wholeness, despite the impossibility of having any true idea of it, is made practicable. Perhaps some idea of wholeness can be demonstrated to have some pragmatic value.

This brings us to *values*. Now the question is not, 'how do you know' but 'what good is it?' It doesn't matter if God, or wholeness - and make no mistake, the search for wholeness is no different from a search for God - is real, only if (and while) a philosophy of wholeness has demonstrable value.

What is value? By value we mean what feels good to us, what doesn't feel bad. Since, empirically, all we have to refer to is primary and secondary sense impressions (with the secondary naturally depending on the primary), then it is those feelings of 'good' and 'bad' which must guide us. Even worms turn toward what they like and avoid what they don't like. It is important to observe, at this point, that questions of value are subjective, that I can only know what is good by reference to how *I* feel.

Goodness, as a sense impression, is observable, and its desirability is beyond question as it is itself the satisfaction of desire. And, in practice (James points out that pragmatism and practice share the same Greek root), we determine what is good in a general sense, by associating good things together. These associations basically can only tell us what makes us feel good, though: not what is true, or what may be good for others.

In fact, empirically we have no real knowledge of others, or self. Everything we can focus on is completely unique, there is no identifiable continuity, only the flux of impressions. Since all we have are impressions, we can never know where they come from or what causes them, and neither God nor self can be found in the endless flow of phenomena. So now we can apply our second question, 'What good is it?' to both selfness and wholeness, and begin to focus in on our subject.

Wholeness as a concept implies 'partness.' Partness cannot be demonstrated any more than wholeness can, it's an artificial distinction. We imagine ourselves to be individuals, but this is not based on any observable truth, only on ignorance and convention. The only observable truth we have is our own sense impressions, that's all there is. We have only a subjective viewpoint. Objectivity is another imaginary construct which cannot be demonstrated. There are no objects 'out there' separate from our impressions, only primary here-and-now impressions, and secondary traces of them. While it may be useful to behave 'as though' we are individuals and 'as though' repeatedly observed associations were 'facts,' in truth there are only impressions and apparent regularities in them.

In other words, empirically there is only subject, there are no objects. When Socrates said, 'Know Thyself' he was implying that a) that is all we can know, all there is, and b) by knowing ourselves we know 'the world.' There is no material, there is no ideal, there is no reason that makes sense of it all. Only a subjective impression of goodness, a basic sense of direction; that's all we have.


If I were a typical philosopher, I would reason from first principles on to the conclusion that I want you to accept. But I'm not: like Hume, like Socrates, I want to destroy your preconceived ideas which are based on wishful thinking. Philosophers, by starting at the beginning and reasoning on to a conclusion, imply that they arrived at their insight into reality by reasoning, and imply that, if you follow their reasoning, you will arrive at their understanding. Nearly always, it appears, these philosophers have had an intuitive insight (or their teachers had one and they adopted it second hand) which made it all clear to them, and they began to rationalize after the realization. Plato's 'Seventh Letter' describes philosophic insight thusly:

"... it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself..."


"After much effort, as names, definitions, sights, and other data of sense, are brought into contact and friction one with another, in the course of scrutiny and kindly testing by men who proceed by question and answer without ill will, with a sudden flash there shines forth understanding about every problem, and an intelligence whose efforts reach the furthest limits of human powers."

What is this great insight? This insight of Plato's, of which he says: "there is no risk of forgetting it, if a man's soul has once laid hold of it; for it is expressed in the shortest of statements," is the same insight as that of the Zen Patriarchs, or of Buddha, or of the Sages of the Upanishads. It is the same insight which drives the worm to turn toward food. The 'basic sense of direction' is Enlightenment. Every being already has it, built in. Since the Subjective is all there is (or all we can determine, which is *the same thing*), our basic sense of the 'right thing to do' is *the* Enlightenment, it is Buddha's Enlightenment, it is The Kingdom of God. No need to think, no need to act, no need to ponder beset by care and worry, just do the best you can, using instinct and intuition and reason altogether.

This is so obvious, every animal knows it, every child. People are way too smart for their own good. Let me state it as an imperative, quoting Spike Lee: "Do the right thing." The 'right thing' is only: the best we can do at the moment, given all the circumstances of our life. We have limited knowledge, limited understanding; we can't even conceive of what the 'right thing' is: all we can do is the best we can. It doesn't matter if it makes us happy, it doesn't matter if it was 'right' in retrospect, by hindsight; all that matters is that we do our best, because we can't do any better than that. At some point decisions have to be made, and no amount of worry and effort can improve on our best judgment, so just do it, and accept the consequences as the current given reality, not as 'consequences.'

Why do I feel that something so obvious is relevant? Because we constantly ignore the obvious, and make ourselves (and 'others') miserable, by being unwilling to accept our best efforts as being the ultimate in goodness. If we were to realize this, we would be Buddha, we would be as perfect as Jesus. We are no different from them: like them, we are all Subject, there are no objects, the whole world is our body, all beings are our Being. Like all Being, we are naturally unfolding and evolving in the best way we can. Maybe we condemn ourselves, we hate others, we resent the conditions we find ourselves in; we are still making the best sense we can of our impressions, trying to be happy. Even if we are causing our own suffering through misunderstanding, we can do nothing else but the best we can, it is the way things are constituted, the direction of evolution.

Again: empirically, there is no self, no wholeness, only impressions. The subjective view is the only one we know, we know Being only because we *are*; thus what is good for us is good for All, because the two are ultimately indistinguishable. Just because self and All are indistinguishable doesn't make them real, in fact, it means the opposite: self and All are not real as such, *because* they are indistinguishable. Fundamentally, impressions may be perceived as bad or good, and we naturally prefer the good. If thought and philosophy has any value, it is to promote the good and diminish the bad. We naturally *are* good, however we see ourselves, and couldn't be otherwise; if we were to seek 'the bad' it could only be because we thought it were somehow good.

All Being seeks it's highest good, including everything we could possibly regard as self. Thus, there is no need for guilt or dissatisfaction, everything simply does what it must do. Since things naturally do the best they can, everything is cooperating together with everything else, all the time. There are no mistakes, no imperfections that are not part of the process. If Life, for example, adapts to an environment by trial and error, the best possible trial may be an error, but it is not a *mistake*, it is not imperfect. It is Goodness, personified, life doing its best. Everywhere you look, always.

Enlightenment is no big deal, it is the nature of things, the birthright of us all, our basic sense of direction, of goodness. Why then does Enlightenment always seem to come as such a surprise to the newly Enlightened, and seem so elusive to the unenlightened? Because in Enlightenment we truly know the Whole, and God, and Self; we know the Truth of every matter. All problems are dissolved, all aspirations achieved: Meister Eckhardt's falling rock has reached Repose. There is nothing left to *consciously* strive for, all our striving is effortless, natural, thoughtless, perfect. We no longer have to worry, or think, or contrive, or reflect, or remember, because we are right here, right now, doing our best, bringing eveything we have to bear on the current problem, with no wasted effort. And this *is* a shocking development in the life of a man; a giving up, an arrival, a freedom from burdens, an ecstatic, blissful event.

In Enlightenment, we know Truth because we *are* Truth. This cannot be wrestled into a dualistic concept: 'we' are not separate from the truth we realize, we cannot show or display this truth, we cannot understand or use it in any way, we *are* it. Plato was obsessed with Socrates because he recognized that Socrates *was* Truth, that as an individual Socrates knew nothing, as he said: he *was* Knowledge, the Living God, as was Jesus, Buddha, me, and you.

If we don't have an impression of Enlightenment, then, empirically, 'how do we know' it exists? If it were as simple as following my (or anyone's) reasoning, we'd all be Enlightened, wouldn't we?

Generally speaking, the Enlightened don't go around telling people, "I'm Enlightened." As we discussed at the beginning, as Plato says, we cannot express in dualistic language what is ultimately beyond dualism. If I were to say, 'Buddha was Enlightened,' without direct insight into the true meaning of the words, you will necessarily interpret Buddha as an individual being, and Enlightenment as as some sort of experience or achievement. Yet Buddha indeed said exactly that, that he was Enlightened, and he offered a Path that he said anyone could take to the end of suffering, to Enlightenment. There was a man, Gotama Siddhartha, but he was called Buddha, which means Enlightened One. Jesus, one carpenter from Nazareth, was called the Christ: same thing. Ever since, people have been talking about Buddha-nature, or Christ-nature, and referring to these guys; but the great Holy men of all times just dramatized the inherent nature of the Subjective, that is, of every sentient being, every 'I' that knows itself as such.

Enlightened people may be observed. It can be seen that they are happy, satisfied, content; and we are not. They preach love and respect for everyone, they preach non-harming and compassion, they preach of the perfection of Enlightenment, or Conversion; and they are what they preach. They say every man can be saved, and be freed from suffering.

Pragmatically, we can only be motivated by our own happiness, as these impressions, subjective ones, are all we have. If the ultimate happiness is Enlightenment, then we want it, *of course*. If we don't have a sense impression of Enlightenment, how can it then be known? Maybe it can't; if we are as relentless as Hume in following our rule that if it isn't based on sense impression, it cannot be known, then we won't even seek it. But pragmatically, perhaps such seeking may be worthwhile, perhaps a *belief* in enlightenment can be justified, for several reasons.

Firstly, the examples of the saints show us people who appear in every way exemplary of the happiness and virtue we feel would be desirable for ourselves. The contentment and wisdom they display to us inspire a desire to emulate them.

Secondly, the prize is highly desirable. Many people would buy a lottery ticket for a huge payout even if the odds of success were infinitesimal. What would you give for a chance to be Wholeness?

Thirdly, the practices recommended for spiritual advancement are harmless at least, and even a small amount of practice demonstrates that such efforts do increase our happiness and contentment. Practice validates itself by being efficacious.

Lastly, we may know someone who is Enlightened, and through experiencing the impact of their personality (or lack of it) we may become convinced that whatever they say is truer than anything we think we know.

It must be emphasized, though, that a belief in Enlightenment is not Enlightenment, all you are doing is taking someone else's word. Pragmatically, we must always be prepared to discard any belief when we no longer need it. A belief in Enlightenment may be a bridge from the confusion of commonly held but incompatible views and the Truth; which Truth is no views at all, just Being and doing the best you can, free of the delusion that things could be otherwise.


In conclusion, I feel that Wholeness can only be known through Enlightenment, through direct experience, without intermediary consciousness. Without such direct knowledge, the idea of wholeness is meaningless, and even with it, such knowledge can't be expressed. Thus any 'science of wholeness' had better involve methods of realizing enlightenment. It reminds me of Xenobotany or Xenozoology, the sciences of extraterrestrial life; so far they are completely speculative, having no subject matter.

It will be argued that any science of wholeness is better than none, that some 'wholeness'-directed social engineering projects are justified because 'it is better than nothing.' I don't agree. I think real social progress *must* be based on each individual's personal 'working out' of their Enlightenment, their own spiritual odyssey. If we recognize that our own ultimate happiness is discovered through such practices as lovingkindness and compassion, we will work together, each for his own subjective perception of happiness gained, to achieve a common unselfishness fulfilling to all.

Terry Murphy

Send e-mail to

Return to home page

Return to map page