Timothy Morton’s essay from 2009 “Thinking the Charnel Ground (the charnel ground thinking): auto-commentary and death in esoteric Buddhism” suggests that contemplative practice is for becoming more object-like. He repeatedly points to Zen writings that compare enlightenment to the interiority of a stone.
I’m thinking: how about the subtle energy channels as fault lines? It’s a better, more object-like image than the Zen stone. It also brings out the sense in which contemplative practice is actually for becoming more hyperobject-like. In an ecological age, becoming a stone is not enough. The world does not need stones, for one; and we should want what the world needs. If not fault lines — which are earth-like and actively engaged in complexity — then perhaps some stellar imagery would work as an active image of enlightened energy, e.g. interpersonal field concepts.
For me it’s all about “the constant composition of consciousness” — which is the title of an essay I’m drafting that explores themes from a recent laboratory ethnography I conducted in Japan these past months. A dominant theme in that venue was investigating how pattern-based energy transfer self-organizes the cellular cytoskeleton. Basically it’s a continuous process where simultaneity and synchronization are key explanatory concepts. From birth to death, I was told, my organism is experiencing a constant computational stream of self-organizing arguments and perceptual gestalts.
By day 2 in the laboratory we were already talking about the empirical status of claims about Rainbow Body transformation from the eastern traditions of Dzogchen. The conversation emerged from fluent discussions of Jagadish Chandra Bose, the early pioneer of plant biophysics and microwave science. According to my lab director, Bose believed the laboratory itself should be experienced like a temple where nectar of wisdom is manufactured. From questions about the role of the scientist’s body in the production of truth, I was referred to the writings of “Rishi Aravind” — known as Sri Aurobindo to western audiences. Specifically, we discussed the importance of continuous concentration as a key criterion for experiencing enlightenment. “If someone can focus continuously on a single object for 12 cycles of 12 seconds, Rishi Aravind calls this enlightenment,” said the senior scientist at the world’s greatest materials science institute.
[Note: these are recollections of early conversations that were unfortunately not recorded (I started recording on day 3), and thus may not be 100% accurate.]
“But what about physiological transformation,” I asked? “As a materials scientist studying neurons and cellular cytoskeletons, you are surely aware of the piezoelectric properties of these biological structures. Pressure translates into electrical energy, right? Well, think of it — the banda exercises in esoteric yoga are intense prolonged muscle contractions. What if someone could train themselves to generate an absolutely immense pressure through such exercises?”
He was sceptical. “I am a physicist at heart,” he said. “I cannot just believe these things.”
I let it go — it was only day 2, after all. (By day 14 he mentioned to me over tea that after considering it further he did in fact think Rainbow Body transformation is likely possible.)
Note: not just any kind of pressure will do. For example, the best explanation I can think of for spontaneous human combustion is the untrained application of immense pressure to piezoelectric cellular materials. This is a hypothesis, actually — it could be studied. The electro-mechanical properties of the cellular cytoskeleton should permit calculation and testing of what level of generative force is required to ignite tissue.
My thesis is that spiritual traditions hold anatomical codes for turning human bodies into hyperobjects.
Although Timothy Morton practices Dzogchen, he has yet to take the leap to the other shore and discuss the physiological transformations discussed so intensely by the great masters. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu writes:
Of all possible rebirths…birth in a human body is the most favourable for working towards Total Realization; and to be truly human, to fulfil truly one’s humanity, such realization must be one’s goal. Otherwise, one lives one’s life, as the Buddha pointed out, like a preoccupied child playing with toys in a house that is burning to the ground.” (The Crystal and the Way of Light, p 164)
Morton’s continuous meditation on a flat object-oriented ontology is not consistent with what I consider the real heart of Dzogchen. To think the thought of bodily enlightenment without ever acknowledging the epistemic and ontological status of empirical claims about esoterically transformed bodies is to roam a flat ontology with no care for the potency and potential of the human hyperobject. And that’s a shame!
Now, aside from viewing the nadis as fault lines, I also suggest thinking about duration as weathering and erosion. Duration is a category of philosophical thought that goes back a long way. It is concerned with perception and causality and touches adjacent notions of temporal flow, tempo, memory, repetition, etc. Weathering is a concept that evokes many sizes and scales of interacting objects. Erosion sculpts distinct features that have character and history. These are thus two concepts that are useful for ecological thinking.
Nadis as fault lines, and duration as weathering and erosion. Those are my big ideas.
And coming to terms with the actual possibility of becoming a hyperobject.