I am going
to quote a rather large portion of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality
which is probably
the single most influential book in the way I view and experience the world.
Let me be quite honest—reading Whitehead is not easy and occasionally brings
about no consequence, his terming of common ideas throws much of Western
thought right out the window and supposes and very, very different “structure”
to this world. I have read this book and only “understood” certain chapters and
even maybe only certain parts of certain chapters. What he coined is called
“process philosophy” which I will discuss in this post and expound upon in my
own interpretation of this world which is also (and obviously) influenced
greatly by Zen Buddhism (Masao Abe and Dogen specifically for those who are
interested in discovering more of my influences).
(I hate to deviate for a moment but I must say something
about Dogen—his writing and views are certainly just as difficult to understand
as Whitehead’s but his importance to Buddhism and Zen specifically cannot be
ignored. I believe strongly that a “process perspective” reading of Dogen does
him great justice and illuminates greatly what he said and how he acted.)
Without further ado, let us begin.
This quotation is taken from Section V of the chapter called
“Process” from Process and Reality
was edited and put together by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. I
will give a precise citation to the book at the end of this post.
To sum up:
There are two species of process, macroscopic process and microscopic process.
The macroscopic is the transition from attained actuality in attainment; while
the microscopic process is the conversion of conditions where are merely real
into determinate actuality. The former process effects the transition from the
‘actual’ to the actual. The former process is efficient; the latter process is
teleological. The future is merely real, without being actual; where as the past
is a nexus of actualities. The actualities are constituted by their real
genetic phases. The present is the immediacy of teleological process whereby
really govern attainment; where as the latter process provides the ends
actually attained. The notion of ‘organism’ is combined with that of ‘process’
in a twofold manner. The community of actual things is an organism; but it is
not a static organism. It is an incompletion in process of production. Thus the
expansion of the universe in respect to actual things is the first meaning of
‘process’; and the universe in any stage of its expansion is the first meaning
of ‘organism.’ In this sense, an organism is a nexus.
each actual entity itself only describable as an organic process. It repeats in
microcosm what the universe is in macrocosm. It is a process proceeding from
phase to phase, each phase being the real basis in question. Each actual entity
bears in its constitution the ‘reasons’ why its conditions are what they are.
These ‘reasons’ are the other actual interties objectified for it.
is a transcendent element characterizing that definiteness to which our
‘experience’ has to conform. In this sense, the future has objective reality in
the present, but no formal actuality. For it is inherent in the constitution of
the immediate, present actuality that a future will supersede it. Also
conditions to which future must conform, including real relationships to the
present, are really objective in the immediate actuality.
actual entity, although complete so far as concerns its microscopic process, is
yet incomplete by reason of its objective inclusion of the macroscopic process.
It really experiences a future which must be actual, although the completed
actualities of that future are undermined. In this sense, each actual occasion
experiences its own immortality.
Okay! I would like to congratulate you on finishing that
quote and I am also extremely sorry that of all books, quotes, thinkers, etc. I
chose this damn near unreadable one.
If you were somewhat moved by this or are even more curious
to what this means here are a few links that will help you (even though I will
certainly explain it to my best ability):
Rev. Dr. Charles W. Allen’s website:
The first power-point presentation, “Process thought: A very
basic introduction” is extremely helpful.
The Wikipedia page on process philosophy:
I know that wiki pages are occasionally full of total
misinterpretations but after scanning the sources and giving the post a good
read, it is comprehensive, understandable and helpful as well.
Whitehead very adamantly rejected the idea that “objects”
and “substances” existed at all and believed that everything was event. “All
things flow” is a quote from Heraclitus which Whitehead claims (and I agree) is
the most basic and fundamental aspect of reality. This goes well with the
Buddhist doctrine that change is constant and effects all things constantly.
Since all things are events and things are in constant
movement “moments” push themselves forward, perpetuating their existence and
continually seek a ‘reason’ to exist at all. Their fulfillment is in the future
but that also becomes an infinite loop making Time immortal, constantly wanting
to Become more and more.
My writing this post began with the idea that popped into my
mind which moved into an outline which moved into my beginning to write this
which will move onto a completion and an influence to myself and to you—and
then on and on and on unto the ages of ages. No rock, no human, no dog, deer,
insect, star, no anomaly is “safe” from this. Buddhism rejects a view of the
future and says that is unreal, which it is, but only in certain ways. We
continue to become whether we want to or not and things are constantly moving,
fulfilling themselves and undermining each other, the past, present and future.
What does this have to do with Buddhism? Delusion and
are of importance
here because delusion, as understood in Buddhism, is something that I have
trouble with. Delusion is viewed as a way of life, a view of reality, and
something unreal even though it participates constantly with the real,
influences the real, is influenced by the real. This is a dualism which I’d
like to say is a delusion itself.
Yes, I did just say that the understanding of delusion that Buddhism has is a
This is where I shall begin, in a way, again. How do we
judge the experiences of others? Western philosophy in a totality can be
understood as a delusion according to some more intensive interpretations of
delusion in Buddhism and that, frankly, just isn’t fair to the billions of people
who have lived their life in this way. I am not saying that they were in
“complete” understanding of reality because a “complete” understanding is
impossible since, as Whitehead (a Western thinker after all) stated himself
that reality perpetuates and undermines itself constantly. I agree with him and
so delusion can be undermined with experience and experience undermined with
A man may live a billionaire, honestly believe he made it
there on his very own and also believes that morality doesn’t exist and that
sympathy and emotion are in the way of a good life for him (and for others?) He
believes that things don’t change; reality was the same when it began as it is
now, that rocks are solid and the sun will forever rise in the East and set in
The sun will not always exist and it moves in degrees
somewhat North and South each day and each year, changing and only appearing to
us to be in the same location.
This is a “wrong” view according to an insurmountable amount
of people yet he lives like this until he meets his final resting place. Was he
completely unaware of the reality around him? Was he just off in his “own
little world” and just spewing hate, inequality, etc? Will this “delusion” come
to an end ever? Will this view of the world just evolve into the “right” view
as more and more people become aware of how “reality really is.”
First of all—the phrase “how the world really works,” “the
way reality really is” etc makes no sense to me; it is not comprehensive, it is
not common to all people and it certainly does not accept the idea of change. I
must give credit to this man for at the very least being alive and attempting
to live and respond to what experience has given him and what experiences he
had on his own. The “delusion” he is living in is the real world to him so
simply stating, even with argument, that he is having fake experiences is not a
Buddhist thing, or a nice thing to say. Delusion “exists” (oxymoron and
paradox) in this real world and is the experience of many.
How do we give credit to humanity in this experience and how
do we correct the man who has given his entire life to this view?
We acknowledge his reality as a participant in what “reality
really is:” a flux, a river, a movement. He is wrong and right at the same
time! He lived therefore he is correct. But he lived in constant opposition to
what most Buddhists and many other religious and non-religious people believe.
His life was a nexus for the life that I and you live that perpetuates and
brings this world even closer. I am giving him credit as so far as he made it
possible to see the other side of his life, one that incorporates all, seems
more consistent with experience of all and one that continues on after his
death, our death, everything’s death. This is not delusion—it is distinction.
Separation and distinction are very, very important to understand. I am a
particular human being in this world but I am not separate from this world. A
letter in an essay, a word in an essay, a paragraph in an essay can all be
distinguished from the totality but the totality still is there, as a whole.
Parts and “microcosms” are important to analyze and understand in our pursuit
of a mindful existence and participation in this world.
Buddhism has a lot of trouble understanding History and the
significance it brings when looking at the future and the present moment.
Without the particular occurrence of events the possibility of this moment
would not exist. Understood in macro-terms Time can be flipped around, moved,
reciprocated etc but can never be replaced in micro-terms because love, mercy, compassion and justice
here, in the present and cannot simply be flipped around, moved, reciprocated
etc. They, and their antitheses, can only be viewed from the micro-perspective.
I will agree with Buddhism and state that must of our efforts have been
analyzing these micro-perspectives and then assumed to be exactly the same in
the macro-perspective. I will also agree with Western thought that Buddhism
focuses too much on the macro-perspective, assuming that the way the universe
works and “ought” to work is the exact same way that we work and “ought to
work.” These perspectives are distinctions and not separations and we must be
very careful in understanding this because we may fall into the belief that
most of experience has been a delusion whereas no experience is a delusion,
can be inconsistent, illogical,
unethical and so forth but never unreal. Plato stated that anything that has
power has a reality and everything has power (therefore nothing has power)
therefore everything is real. Here comes another distinction: being real and
I am implying a pragmatic view of Truth here. Truth is in
the future and consequentially in the present and partially in the past (since
truth moves with time, it must undergo the same change that we all do). I do
not change much from the last word I wrote to this one and thus truth, too,
moves slowly but it certainly does. Delusion cannot be understood to be
Absolute and an Arch reigning over our experiences and our minds cannot
constantly be battling this world of delusion and expect to attain or Become
anything at all except anxious and lost.
Delusion, experience and the processes of the reality we
participate in is all in an infinite loop:
and that is not to state that it repeats itself: but
undermines and participates with itself constantly perpetuating itself forward.
This is everything’s experience in a nutshell which means a person across the
world may be undermining this post at this very moment but if they weren’t,
this post wouldn’t be possible. A solidarity of Belief is not possible but only
a solidarity of a pragmatic, plural perspective.
History matters because it has brought us here—atrocities
from the past must be learned and analyzed just as much as the bliss that the
past experienced as well. To believe in a world where Delusion reigns over
peoples’ lives is hateful because it takes away the dignity and respect that
Buddhism fundamentally offers to all sentient beings, claiming that their right of experience
is at the very
least, real, and therefore worthy of Becoming something more beautiful, a lotus, and a laughter that brings about an attainment of the Way.
Masao, and William R. LaFleur. Zen and Western thought. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1985. Print
John B.. The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian conversation.
Ltd. ed. Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2005. Print.
John B., and David Ray Griffin. Process theology: an introductory exposition.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976. Print.
John, and John J. McDermott. The philosophy of John Dewey. Phoenix ed.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Print.
Zenji. Shōbōgenzō: the true Dharma-eye treasury. Berkeley, Calif.:
Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. Print.
Alfred North, and David Ray Griffin. "Process." Process and
reality: an essay in cosmology. Corrected ed. New York: Free Press, 1978. .
II: Meditation and Art will be coming soon!