We can only see what is true when we stop saying what is true, but we’re too afraid to do that. We’re too afraid to do that because we wouldn’t know what’s going on then. We would be disorientated, we would be ‘lost in uncertainty’, we’d be ‘all at sea’, we wouldn’t know ‘what the story is’…
What this means is that we’d rather have a definite picture or narrative of what’s going on even if that picture or narrative isn’t true. We’d rather opt for that than end up in the intensely vulnerable situation where we ‘know that we know nothing’ (as Plato puts it). We would rather be falsely confident (or falsely sure of ourselves) that we ‘know what we’re doing’; if we want to avoid the wide-open situation of being ‘fundamentally unsure about everything’ then we have to live in a made-up or artificial version of the world therefore – we have to live in a version of the world which just isn’t true.
This is what we have to do when we are averse to radical uncertainty it’s the only option on the table and so we just have to make the most of it. Living in a ‘made-up reality’ is what we are all doing, just about all of the time! This initially comes across as a distinctly strange notion – that we would rather live in a false or misleading world which we can be sure about than give up the stultifying security of this spurious confidence and live in the real world instead (which is always immaculately inscrutable to us). This is what the mystics have been telling us for thousands of years – that we’re sleepwalkers in a dream, that we are hopelessly deluded, that we are perpetually ruled over by absurd illusions.
This is why we live in a state of ongoing conflict – because we have such belief in our own particular way of understanding the world, which necessarily which are necessarily going to conflict with each other. As Krishnamurti says, thought fragments reality, and this deep-rooted fragmentation gives rise to endless aggression and violence. Each one of us fervently believes that our own stance is ‘the right one’ and that all other views are reprehensibly false and need to be corrected. There are no true beliefs however – there are no ‘correct viewpoints’, only the fragmentation of reality that occurs whenever we believe what our thoughts are telling us is true.
There is comfort in our clunky absolutist (or black & white) picture of the world and this conflict comes about purely because we don’t have to question (or revisit) our most deep-rooted convictions, which are the result of thought fragmenting the world and aggressively denying anything that is not this fragment. There is comfort in the short term, we might say, but this comes at the price of an awful lot of unresolvable problems in the future. We’ll never find peace through comfort-seeking, through ‘obedience to the rule’, through the continual renewal of our commitment to the official story-line – all we’re ever going to find is pain, pain that we are going to do our best to ignore (both individually and collectively.
What we can’t see when we’re in our regular type of consciousness is the way in which radical uncertainty (which, as we have said, is where we fundamentally don’t know anything about anything is profoundly creative. As Ngakpa Chogyam says,
Learning to trust Intrinsic Space, the space between ‘known’ areas of experience, is the basis of growth – without it we stagnate.
Radical uncertainty means that there isn’t an official way to see things, which means that all other way are no longer denied or blocked. The oppressive yoke of regulation has been lifted from our shoulders, meaning that we are now free to ‘go our own way’, as the Fleetwood Mac song has it. It’s no longer ‘one way for everybody’, ‘one road which were all bullied into going down despite the fact that it doesn’t actually lead anywhere’. It’s no longer a case of ‘one size shoe fits all’ (which is never going to work out for us since when there is only ‘the one officially approved size of shoe’ then it doesn’t fit anybody). In the Generic World which is produced by thought we have to conform to an unyielding (or tyrannical) template rather than the template giving way to us; this is why Adyashanti says,
When we believe what we think, when we take our thinking to be reality, we will suffer.
There is an immediate difficulty however, as we started off by saying, and this is the difficulty of ‘having to let go of what we think we already know’, and becoming aware instead of the absolute absence of anything we could ever hope to understand. This is what Kierkegaard meant when he talked about ‘the vertigo of freedom’ (or the ‘dizziness-inducing quality of freedom’, so to speak) – when we’re released from the bondage of our false ideas about the world we feel dizzy, we feel exposed, we feel radically disorientated. Our minds are blown and we don’t know what anything is anymore – we don’t know who we are.
There is an immediate difficulty however, as we started off by saying, and this is the difficulty of ‘having to let go of what we think we already know’, and becoming aware instead of the absolute absence of anything we could ever hope to understand. This is what Soren Kierkegard meant when he talked about ‘the vertigo of freedom’ (or the ‘dizziness-inducing quality of freedom’, as we might also say) – when we’re released from the bondage of our false ideas about the world we feel dizzy, we feel exposed, we feel radically disorientated. We don’t know what anything is anymore – we don’t know who we are.
When we talk about being released from the bondage of our false ideas, our misleading views of the world, this sounds great and amazing and everything but the point is that this release (as we keep saying) takes us into a world which is absolutely incomprehensible to us. It’s not just that we ‘no longer know what things are anymore’ but that we no longer know who we are. As Jean Baudrillard says, ‘It’s always the same, once you are liberated you are forced to ask who you are’. It turns out that this sort of freedom – the freedom of not having to be who or what the thinking mind says we are – is a very fearful thing however and in practise we don’t even want to catch the slightest glimpse of such a possibility. We can quite happily do without this, we say…
The situation of not knowing who we are turns out to be our secret fear, our greatest fear; if it wasn’t our greatest fear then why would we be seeking refuge in the ‘false but authoritatively definite worlds that thought has created for us’? It isn’t hard to see where this fear, this intense state of antipathy, comes from – in our everyday modality of existence we are addicted to the certainty which thought is so very good at producing. We’re so habituated to it that we couldn’t even imagine ‘making the break’ and going it alone. We can’t imagine ‘flying solo’. We aren’t even able to entertain the concept of such a thing because we are unable to conceive of the possibility where they might be such a thing (or rather such a ‘non-thing’) as radical uncertainty. Certainty about ‘this, that was the other’ is the solid ground upon which we walk and so the notion that this ground might turn out to be no more than ‘an arbitrary construct of thought’ is something that’s never going to occur to us.
What we’re addicted to (i.e., certainty) isn’t wholesome, isn’t nutritious for the soul (or anything like that), but we need it all the same. It’s a poison we have become dependent upon. We can say that the certainty which thought manufactures isn’t wholesome because  It’s nature is fundamentally uncreative and  It is brutally forced upon us whether we like it or not. The false reality that is imposed upon us by the runaway machine of thought is utterly oppressive (just like a regime created by a power-hungry dictator is utterly oppressive) – it’s nothing more than a toxic bureaucracy that we can’t see through, a deadly exercise in ‘time-wasting’. It’s a bureaucracy that keeps demanding more and more of us, but which gives us less and less in return (in accordance with the famous Law of Diminishing Returns). It’s a situation that is simply not ever going to work out for us, in other words, but at the same time we are obliged, by our addiction, to go along with it…
Image – playgroundai.com