Transformation of the Wolf Man1
Eleanor Rosch

In J. Pickering (ed.)
The Authority of Experience:
Essays on Buddhism and Psychology

Surrey: Curzon Press, 1997

From the Tibetan Buddhist tradition comes the following story:

    Shalipa was a low-caste woodcutter who lived near the charnel ground of Bighapur. Packs of wolves came by night to eat the corpses (in a charnel ground, corpses are simply deposited on the ground to decay or be eaten by wild animals). The wolves howled all night long, and Shalipa became more and more afraid of them until he could neither eat by day nor sleep by night for fear of the howling of wolves. One evening a wandering yogin stopped by his cottage asking for food. Shalipa gave him food and drink, and, well pleased, the yogin repaid him with a discourse on the virtues of fearing samsara (conditioned existence) and practicing the dharma. Shalipa thanked him but said, 'Everyone fears samsara. But I have a specific fear. Wolves come to the charnel ground and howl all night, and I am so afraid of them that I can neither eat nor sleep nor practice the dharma. Please can't you give me a spell so that I can stop the howling of the wolves?' The yogin laughed and said, 'Foolish man. What good will it do you to eat the food of greed when you do not know what food is? What good will it do you to sleep the corpse-like sleep of ignorance when you do not know what rest is? What good will it do you to destroy the howling of the wolves with the spells or anger when you do not know what hearing or any other sense is? If you will follow my instructions, I will teach you to destroy all fear.' Shalipa accepted the yogin as his teacher, gave him all that he had, and begged him for instruction. After giving him initiation, the yogin told him to move into the charnel ground with the wolves and to mediate ceaselessly upon all sound as identical to the howling of wolves. Shalipa obeyed him. Gradually he came to understand the nature of all sound and of all reality. He meditated for nine years, overcame all obscurations of his mind and body, lost all fear, and attained great realization. Thereafter, he wore a wolf skin around his shoulders and was know as Shalipa (the wolf yogin). He taught his disciples many different practices about the nature of appearances and reality. He taught the unity of appearance, emptiness, wisdom, and skillful means. Finally, in that very body, he went to the realm of the Heroes. 2
If ever there was an ancient portrait of the alienated modern (or postmodern) man, it is Shalipa as we first see him. He has societal problems, being poor, low caste and powerless; environmental problems, being forced to live beside a charnel ground in which wolves roam and howl; medical problems since he can neither eat nor sleep properly; psychological problems, a rampantly spreading wolf phobia; and spiritual problems, for he says he is too upset to practice the dharma. We can readily understand and empathize with him when we first meet him, shivering in his hut and complaining to his visitor.

But then the story shifts, becoming less readily available to the modern sensibility. Shalipa's mentor does not advise him to move away, to sue the owners of the charnel ground, to delve into the meaning of wolf howls in his personal history, or to endure his fate as a means of religious salvation. Rather he is instructed to use his own experience in meditation to undergo a radical transformation in how he senses, knows, and feels. He emerges with freedom from his problems and the power to act on and for others. What is this transformation in knowing, feeling, acting, and relating and how it is achieved? What might this story have to tell us about how we view the world in our present psychology and how it may be alternatively viewed through the eyes of the meditative traditions?

In this chapter, I will first delineate our present understanding or portrait of a human as it appears in the cognitive sciences and in folk psychology, arguing that this portrait precisely fits Shalipa's initial status and condition. Second, I will attempt to show that this portrait is not a modern anomaly but matches the description of samsara in ancient Buddhism (and other meditative traditions) and that it has a universal experiential basis which is discovered by self observing beginning meditators. (The material on mediators is based on observations, participations, conversations, and interviews with meditators from various groups.) Finally, I will seek to show how continued experiential examination in the meditative traditions reveals an alternative mode of knowing, feeling, acting, and being which offers a radically different human portrait. Might this latter mode of knowing provide a possible basis for a future (post post modern perhaps) science of psychology?


What is a human being? What is the human mind? When we hear such questions, what do we think? What images come to mind? Cultures, religions, and the various sciences offer differing portraits of the human being; these are crucially important to the ways in which we may then seek to study, help, instruct, regulate (or perhaps enjoy) those humans. What portrait of the human do we have that leads the scientist to feel that experience is not a proper approach to the study of minds, that the mind must be treated as though it is an external object to be examined objectively according to the canons of natural science? What portrait of the human do we have that led to modernism and to it's present breakdown as described elsewhere in this volume? The information processing view of the mind held by present experimental psychology (and the cognitive sciences as a whole) may be our most concise formulation, a pinpointing, of the principles underlying such a portrait.

Let us begin, therefore, with the model of the mind provided by the modern cognitive sciences. The mind is seen as an information processing system.3 Outside of the mind is an objective world, such as is studied by physics. Information from that world enters the mind through the sense organs where it proceeds through various stages of short term memory and is finally stored in long term memory.  In this process the information is transformed into cognitive representations (re-representations) of the external world and of one's self in that world. One also develops causal theories about the world and one's self and habits of actions based on these. Information from the representations and theories in long term storage also go back to the sense organs so that one knows how to interpret and appraise (in accordance with one's expectations and goals) incoming stimuli, and it goes out along the motor pathways so that one can act.

Now let's look at the implications of this portrait of the mind for the issues raised by the Shalipa story. For the sake of organization we can divide these implications into the three classical divisions of knowing (cognition), feeling (conation), and action, and add to it a fourth category, implications for relationships with other people.

In terms of knowing, the information processor is inside of the information processing system and is separate from its objects. This separated knower constructs its cognitive representations out of bits of information that come its way, and it sees everything in terms of these representations. As to the feeling, appetitive, wanting part of the person: just as objects of knowledge are outside of the system, so are objects of desire, while the independent, separated wanter of objects is inside of the system. Perhaps the most clear cut rendition of this separated wanter appears in classical utility theory in economics.4 Inside the information processing system is a rational wanter who computes the utilities and probabilities possessed by external objects of desire and then acts rationally on the world to try to obtain these objects ... and then more objects and more objects. And what is action in the cognitive science mode of thinking? It is based on rules. How can someone catch a baseball? We can work out a rather elaborate set of rules of motion based on vectors and trajectories from physics and then attempt to program a robot to catch a baseball based on those rules. How can a person make a moral decision? Now we need an explicit set of moral rules and a program for weighting and combining them to make moral judgements.

Finally how does the information processor so described relate to other people? In a certain sense, (s)he never does. Isolated inside the information processing system, all (s)he ever sees or knows or wants or can act from is his/her cognitive representations which are related only indirectly (perhaps in the long run only by evolution) to anything or anyone in the autonomous outside world. Popular psychiatry says we have intimacy problems with other people. Of course! From this point of view, I do not actually see this hand which is in front of my eyes or feel this table I am touching, so we have intimacy problems with everything sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, actions, much less with anything as global and awesome as another person.

This model of the human mind is not confined to the single discipline of academic psychology. A major theme of modern philosophy since Brentano and then Husserl has been how it is possible for mental states to be always about something other than and separate from themselves (see, for example, Dreyfus5), an issue misleadingly called the problem of intentionality. In linguistics, it has generally been assumed since antiquity that language can only get its meaning by means of reference to independent objects and states of the world.6 Psychoanalysis, one might think, is sufficiently intimate and internal to be an exception to the model, but if we actually look at Freud, his system is a perfect portrait of cognitivism.7 The mind is made of mental representations which are about something external, even in the unconscious. Objects of desire are always outside: the id wants to grab them right away; the superego generates rules that say no; and the best that the beleaguered ego can do is make some compromises, while the person remains ever unsatisfied. On the more societal level8, the popular social exchange theory in sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and economics views the psychological motives behind social interaction as the attempt of each individual to bring as many good things as possible within his/her boundaries while paying out as little as possible of his/her scarce resources. It isn't just professionals who think in these ways; as surveys how, the (wo)man in the street largely agrees.

Such an alienated portrait of the human has not gone unnoticed by thinkers in our culture, and it is popular to attribute it to some aspect or fault in modern civilization. In fact you may be saying to yourself right now, 'Ah-hah! That's Cartesianism! That's our modern western dualistic portrait of the mind, and that should be contrasted with all the rest of the world which doesn't see things that way.' Or you might think that such a model is the product of post-industrial-revolution alienation which is now spreading around the world but that it does not apply to peoples in pre-industrial or ancient times. Or that it is the result of secularization, patriarchy, or any number of particular causes without which it did not or would not operate.

But what about Shalipa as we originally meet him? Here is a pre-Cartesian, pre-industrial revolution, pre-secularization, nonwestern man as alienated from his world and his feelings as ever you might wish. We have no trouble at all understanding and identifying with his state of mind as he sits huddled in his hut, terrified of the howling wolves; our difficulties or questions have to do with what happens to him after that when his understanding and experience start to change.

I wish to argue that the dualistic and alienated understanding of a human being which prevails today in the social and cognitive sciences is not a historical or social accident; rather, it is a representation of a deep and universal aspect of folk psychology, an aspect which in the Buddhist (and to some extent Hindu) traditions is called samsara. Samsara is where humans will, it is said, discover themselves to be as, though training in meditation, they become mindful, instead of mindless, of their mental processes and actions in everyday life.

So let us turn now to the issue of meditation, of experience, and of experimental method. Western scientific psychology explicitly seeks to study mind from the outside as though it were an object of the natural sciences. The meditative traditions provide an alternative route, methodologies for learning about the mind/consciousness/living being from the inside, paths for gaining knowledge about the living being as that being itself.

A. Meditation as a Means to Knowledge

It is common for western experimental psychologists to equate any use of the mind for self investigation with introspection, a mode of inquiry to which we are understandably allergic. Introspectionism as a school of psychology, made popular by the nineteenth-century psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, failed definitively to provide a basis for experimental psychology. The reader has probably discovered the problem with what we call introspection for him or herself many times. When one simply tries to introspect, to look inward, about a problem for example, the chances are that one finds one's thoughts going round and round, and the best one can hope for is to think some additional, hopefully satisfying, thought about one's thoughts. Without a proper method we are caught in our conceptual systems. It is precisely to cut through such introspection that various meditative techniques were discovered.

A second misleading picture of meditation held by westerners involves dissociation of mind and body: trance, hypnotism, 'mystical' experiences, and altered states of consciousness. While such states must be included in any psychology of the whole of human capacity, they are no more central to what the meditative traditions have to tell us about knowing than any other human state or activity.

Perhaps the simplest contrast to both introspection and dissociation is the meditative methods called mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used in some of the Buddhist traditions, particularly Theravada, some Zen, and by some Tibetan teachers9. Mindfulness is described as experiencing what mind and body are doing as they are doing it, being present with one's mind, body, and energy in their ordinary states of occurrence. A related concept from the more bodily oriented practices, such as the martial arts, is integration in which body, energy, mind, intention, awareness, and action come to form one nonfragmented, integrated whole.10 Whatever the terminology or school of meditation, in my observations, meditative techniques of concentration, calming, alert observation, and integration render people more viable instruments of self-observation. What then is the portrait of the human that emerges from the meditative traditions? I will trace the evolution of this portrait and what it has to tell us about modes of knowing though several stages of development.

B. Discoveries of the Beginning Mediator

Attention. Beginning meditators are usually shocked. Their first and immediate discovery is often about the nature of attention. Mental contents change rapidly and continuously: thoughts, sensations, feelings, worries, daydreams, inner conversations, sleepiness, fantasies, plans, memories, theories, emotions, self-instructions about the techniques, judgements about thoughts and feelings, judgements about judgements. All meditators who sit still and use a mental technique, regardless of their tradition, purpose, or technique report these kinds of experiences. This is a point easily discoverable also by the nonmeditating reader; simply notice what the mind is doing as one tries to keep attention on some simple mental, or even physical, task.

Even more pointed than noticing the constant shifting of attention is the discovery that attention is, for the most part, indirect. That is, the mind is not sharply present with its experiences as they are happening but rather drifts about not noticing that it has left its assigned object or task until the meditator or task oriented person 'comes back' with a 'jerk' to the present. Then the meditator realizes, not only that he had been 'away', but that while he was wandering, he was not really aware of what he was thinking or feeling; he now only remembers what had been going on in his mind through a haze of summarizing concepts and judgements. This is not merely the case for unpleasant experiences from which one might expect a person to want to dissociate. Even the simplest or most pleasurable of daily activities eating, walking, talking with a friend tend to pass rapidly in a blur of commentary as one hastens to the next mental occupation. (just notice what your mind does at the next meal).

In the cognitive science portrait of the mind, knowing was indirect. Now we see one experiential basis for modelling it in this way. However, meditators (or anyone else) can only discover the indirectness of attention by contrast, that is, by experiencing moments of being present which are less indirect than the moments of wandering. Thus an alternative experience, one of directness, has its birth at the same time as the experiental discovery of indirectness.

The self. When meditators begin to notice themselves, even if they are being explicitly taught about nonself in the Buddhist tradition, what they tend to report is amazement at the power and ubiquitousness of their self-concern. Thoughts, memories, plans, goals, hopes, fears, judgements, etc., all are about oneself or others important to oneself. The constantly shifting emotive tone of experience centres on judgements of whether events are good, bad, or irrelevant to oneself.

And who or what is this self? Leaving theories aside, let us contemplate a given moment of experience. We ordinarily take experience to be composed of at least two aspects: subject and object, perceiver and thing perceived. And, as the discovery of self-referencing has shown, the object of perception is normally seen as either desirable or threatening or boring to the perceiver who then has impulses to get the desirable and avoid or destroy the undesirable. This is a relatively simple point (William James11, for example, noticed it), which can be readily verified by the reader: just look at something, say the wall in front of you. Isn't there some sense of a looker, perhaps located in the head behind the eyes, looking at an object spatially located outside yourself? Now try looking at an emotionally relevant object such as your relationship, favorite food, enemy, or an irritating appliance.

Thus in the ordinary experience of the self, we see the basis for the separated knower and wanter of cognitive science models. However, any meditator who gets close enough to experience to begin seeing this knower and wanter in action also begins to feel a kind of vertigo of the knower and curiosity about the wanter. Who is it who is seeing that see-er who is looking at the wall - a second see-er? Beginning mindfulness meditators may try to become such a second looker, a stance which is quite awkward. But if I am not such a second separate and temporally continuous knower, then who is it about whose fate I am so emotionally concerned? What is knowing and wanting? Again, as with attention, the very discovery in experience of the cognitive sciences' separated knower and wanter brings with it a sense of the limitations of this approach to understanding.

The body and emotions. Experience of the body and experience of emotions are aspects of the knowing and feeling self so pointedly confusing to beginning meditators that these areas deserve special comment. Is my body a part of myself as subject or is it an other, a separated object of experience? Where is the mind when I am 'spaced out' and not 'in' the body? Isn't it odd that I can feel alienated from something as much part of me as my own body? What do all of the mind/body issues of philosophy actually mean experientially?

Even more puzzling is the relation of a person to his or her emotions. At the same time that people identify themselves with an emotion they may also be seeing that emotion as an other, as something outside of themselves of whose 'attack' they can be afraid. Both the body and emotions are boundary areas where the model of the separated knower and wanter is still in operation but is strained. Such issues become matters of living contemplation for meditators, especially Buddhist meditators whose tradition may point them toward these conundrums.

Goal-directedness and action. The mind becomes acutely uncomfortable without goals, without something toward which the cognitive and emotional system is aiming. That is why satisfied desires no longer please, and new desires constantly spring up. Meditators discover this as, sooner or later, their peace-providing meditation technique becomes irritating or boring and the mind reaches out, over and over again, for something else, some goal, something to do.

This constant activity of mind appears directly related to action. In fact, some Theravada Buddhist mindfulness techniques direct the meditator to slow all actions to a crawl and carefully observe the impulses and intentions preceding the smallest movement. Thus observed, action in general begins to show up as a complex matter engendered by self-referring goals, intentions, plans, evaluations, reasoning, strategies, doubts, and efforts. Is this not the very picture of the cognitive scientist's models of action? 'Yet is all this required for actions?' the meditator may begin to wonder? Does the popping up of a thought in the mind require preceding plans and efforts to think that thought? Does one get out of bed in the morning by means of thinking about it? Thus, as with the knower and the wanter, the beginning meditator both discovers and comes to question the cognitive scientist's rule-based view of action.

Interpersonal relationships. Self-referentiality applies to interpersonal relationships. Other people, like any other object of the external world, are the objects of desires, aversions and indifference depending on whether they are seen as good, bad, or irrelevant to the self's goals. How saddening it is for decent meditators who had thought themselves as altruistic as anyone else to begin to notice the subtle and devious ways in which self-referentiality may manifest. For a mind in its egocentric mode there is no way out of this cocoon of self-reference.

This then is the portrait of the alienated information processor assumed by the cognitive sciences, decried by the humanities, and discovered in experience by the beginning meditator. It is where we first meet Shalipa, cowering in his hut wishing to sleep the sleep of ignorance, eat the food of greed, and terrified of the threatening wolves. It is the mode of knowing, feeling, and acting called samsara in Buddhist terminology, the wheel of existence to which sentient beings are bound by their habits unless they do something to break those habits. Other meditative traditions bear similar descriptions. Most Hindu schools speak of gross or lower levels of consciousness which replicate this picture. The beginning Taoist meditator discovers his Monkey who lives 'alone in the branches of his small tree world ... his environment a blur of the frantic activity created by unchecked desire.' 12 And western religions speak of sin or distance from God.

As indicated previously, what all this suggests is that the cognitivist model of modern psychology actually has its roots in our basic folk psychology, a psychology which is not a product of the modern (or postmodern) world, nor of contemporary philosophy, nor of social changes, nor of particular customs or cultural values. Does that mean that humans are in a hopeless situation with respect to these matters? To be sure, the cognitivist and folk psychological models stop here with the isolated information processor. However, the meditative traditions do not stop here. What is to come is the portrait of the full human being which is uncovered by pursuing the further discoveries of meditation. Our beginning meditator may have discovered the alienated samsaric information processor experientially, but (s)he did so in a context in which that disconnected and needy self did not make complete experiential sense. Indeed, each time the meditator finds himself as the dualistic information processor, (s)he does so against a background of intuition that there might be an entirely different way of knowing and being. Must not we suppose something like this to have happened to Shalipa if we are to make sense of his perseverance and eventual realizations? Let us look at these further developments in the meditative traditions.

C. Further Meditative Discoveries: The Process View

Attention can be trained. The ceaseless ungrounded activity of the mind can be pacified and the mind can be taught to hold an object of attention. All meditation traditions acknowledge and sometimes use this. Almost any object of attention can be used: a sight, a mental image, the breath, a mantra, sensations, the body in motion, space. The technique is usually to return again and again to the object of meditation. The mind can be taught not only to cease wandering away from its object, at least temporarily, but also to remain alert while holding it. But then attention has to be further trained, or perhaps untrained, to let go. Holding a particular mental content is not the goal of any meditative tradition, and some traditions teach letting go in other ways. The goal is to develop (discover, click into) a different mode of knowing and being which is available to humans. The attentional aspect of this mode is that the mind appears to have the natural ability to be present with the flux of experience, the knowing and the not knowing aspects of experience, in a relaxed and natural way. From the vantage point of this kind of attention, the self and the other aspects of experience which we have discussed, begin to take on a rather different appearance.

The self is unreflectively assumed to be a thing which abides through time, is independent of other things, and needs to be nurtured and protected by the person who has it. As meditators become more in touch with the reality of their experience, a view of the world in terms of unitary things and events tends to shift to an experience of ongoing processes. For example, experiences that were once assumed unitary wholes (e.g. 'I was angry all morning' or 'I spent the whole night afraid of the howling of the wolves') are seen to be a sequence of particular, ever-changing sensations and concepts. Traits once seen as part of an independent self are noticed to arise interdependently with circumstances, and those circumstances to arise interdependently with increasingly more extensive arenas of world events.

Such shifts in view are very useful but are not quite the essence of the shift into a new mode of knowing. Who is it that is perceiving these interdependent processes? As previously stated, we ordinarily take experience to be composed of at least two aspects: subject and object, knower and known, perceiver and thing perceived. Initial forms of meditation instruction and of meditation may sound as though they are intended to exaggerate the sense of a constant perceiver, a homunculus who watches and comments on the passing flux of experience. Buddhist instructions often stress watchfulness, and some forms of Hinduism teach a witness consciousness. In order to counteract self-identification with passing experiences or with the personality, meditators might be taught to say to themselves: 'I am not my thoughts,' 'I am not my emotions,' etc. But this sense of an exaggerated separate perceiver is limited, temporary, and somewhat artificial. Eventually meditators come to see, suspect, or at least have a glimmering that the subject or perceiver is only the subject side of a momentary experience, an aspect of the perception or thought itself.,

This is an extremely important point in the meditation process. None of the traditions teach that meditation is a means of separating oneself from one's experience -- a contradiction in terms at best. Each tradition, at some point, directs the meditator to be in experience but with the broader sense of knowing engendered by the training and then relaxation of attention. A panoply of techniques exist in all the traditions for challenging or pacifying the sense of separateness and for an intelligent destruction of the artificial sense of an observer. The meditator may be told to be the object of meditation (the image, breath, howling of wolves, etc.), or perhaps to try hard to 'catch' the watcher, or perhaps to relax and trust completely, or perhaps to perform daily work tasks very very rapidly -- the possibilities are limitless. This is a point where, when such teachings are explicit, meditators are likely to feel pushed. An analytic approach to no self can be interesting, but the precise experiencing of the lack of a separate observer is something from which the mind recoils like putting a finger on a hot stove. With perseverance, however, new possibilities for knowing, feeling, and relating can open from this way of experiencing.

The body. In western psychology, physiology, medicine, theology, and common sense, body and mind are generally considered separate things. The body is seen as undebatably material and solid while the mind is a something else, a something whose nature and relationship to the body has long been the subject of much speculative debate. There are several ways in which meditative experiences challenge our notions of the body and of the body/mind experience.

1. The body can be experienced as patterns of energy and space rather than solely as solid matter. To get a sense of this vision the reader might try the following contemplation13: imagine your body as a giant and your mind as a tiny traveler inside the body. Progressively increase the size of the body so that the traveler is exploring at increasingly micro levels of structure; then turn the contemplation onto the traveller who is doing the exploring.

2. Body and mind can be experienced in a meaningful way as actually not separate. In that case, the body is described as a part of knowing, as self-knowing, rather than as an inert thing that can be known only from the outside.

3. Bodily energy is experienced as moving in certain channels (as in acupuncture meridians in Chinese medicine). These are experientially quite real, and manipulating them has notable effects (as you may have experienced if you have ever undergone an acupuncture treatment). These channels do not correspond to western neurological maps. When observer and observed are experienced as not separate, the energy flows can be self manipulated without medical assistance14.

4. There are certain energy centres within the body (the chakras) which have particular characteristics. Most of the meditative traditions acknowledge the existence of these, but by no means all techniques or all meditators work with them. For those who do, the centres can be of central importance. When perceived or approached with our usual restricted, dualistic mode of knowing, the centres themselves appear constricted or closed, and each centre appears to form the nexus of its own type of neurotic energy. When approached with a non-dualistic openness, each centre can be experienced as the seat of its corresponding broader knowing or wisdom. For example, the head centre, normally the basis of intellectualization and criticism, is said to open to a pure mirror-like seeing, and the heart centre, in which feelings of sadness and grief are often experienced, is said to give rise to the experiences of inclusive, accepting, timeless space and of connectedness to the world.

Emotions. As was previously pointed out, for a mind in its egocentric mode of knowing, emotions are the monitoring of duality, of how the subject is doing in relation to its objects, to its desires and goals, to others, to its world. The slightest threat to the self's territory (a cut finger, a disobedient child) arouses fear or anger. The slightest hope of self enhancement (money, praise, pleasure) arouses excitement, desire or greed. The first hint that a situation may be irrelevant to the self (waiting in line, meditating) produces boredom. In Buddhism, these three motivational factors, aggression, passion, and ignorance, are what keep samsara operating. They are said to be what keep humans, such as Shalipa, bound to the habitual mode of knowing and feeling.

But in many of the meditative schools, emotions, like other phenomena, are Janus faced. When they are experienced in a non-dualistic, open mode of knowing, they can be seen, it is said, not as problems but as the basic energies of the universe. Some meditative traditions talk of coming to see, tuning into, riding on, being with, or becoming one with the energy level of the emotion and thereby achieving wisdom. Taoism talks of seeing the energy of the different emotions as the very elements out of which nature is composed (how could it be otherwise?) and thereby achieving harmony. For example, anger might be recognized as the element fire which can be used appropriately. In Tibetan Buddhism, basic emotions, when seen in their totality, are the very stuff of the basic wisdoms. For example, the energy of pride is (transmutable into) the wisdom of equanimity. In short, emotions can function as egocentric obstacles or as potent catalysts for wisdom.

Goal directedness and action. The constant discontent of habitual desires and goal orientation obscures the broader, more open sense of knowing of which we have been speaking. Meditation techniques abound to relax, outwit, stun, or perhaps utilize the energy of desire and goal directness of the apparently separated knower and wanter. We ordinarily think of freedom as being able to do, what we want to do following our desires and goals. But meditators begin to see that their goals and sense of choice are determined by habits, conditioning, and circumstances and are anything but free. With great delight people report an occasional experience of what feels like real freedom - precisely when they have done what they describe as letting go of desires, goal directedness and choice.

But without desires and goals, how can there by action? Would one lie in bed unable to get up, even for growing physical necessities? Would one randomly and affectlessly murder respectable people? These are our fantasies about freedom. What meditators, artists (and many ordinary people) say is that it is precisely when they are, even very briefly, without the usual sense of goal directedness that they can act spontaneously in ways appropriate to the situation at hand. For example, it is well documented that people who act heroically in times of emergency (plunge into icy water to save a drowning child and so on) often report that they did not think, decide, or choose but simply did it. Furthermore, such actions may involve skills which the rescuer says he did not know he possessed. Action is not necessarily what we assume it is.

Interpersonal relations. From the point of view of the limited, dualistic, samsaric information processor; relating with other people is a dismal business, which, just like relations with the rest of nature, can only consist (with varying degrees of refinement) of separation, ignorance, aggression, and greed. Meditators say that meditation affects their view of interpersonal relationships. Glimpses of a state in which there is neither separation of the knower nor desire for future goals also reveals the possibility of an open and receptive relationship to people beyond the manipulative streetfighter mentality. I have never spoken with a meditator who was pleased with his progress (an important caveat) who did not mention something about feeling more at ease, more understanding, or more kindness towards other people. Many, including the dissatisfied, have experienced glimpses described as non-separateness, open-heartedness, or compassion. A few individuals appear to undergo a marked change in their orientation to people.

D. A New Mode of Knowing and Being

Some meditators in all traditions find or glimpse a truly new mode of knowing and being. They variously attribute their ability to do this to factors such as perseverance, relaxation, or special attunement to realized teachers (or deities). The glimpse is generally described, not as a new experience, but as a finding, or tapping into, a mode of knowing and being which was there all along within ordinary experience but which they had hitherto ignored.15 These glimpses, they often say, are what keep them going. Various characteristics (or noncharacteristics) are ascribed to this mode of knowing and being:

1. It is not a subject/object form of knowing, not located in a knowing subject who knows objects. There is just the knowing; experiences are 'self known.'

2. There is no desire in it, no reaching beyond the experience itself. It is contented, relaxed, adequate, doesn't care about the concerns of passion and aggression.

3. It has a spacelike or spacious aspect. This experience can be evoked by experiences of ordinary space. (Perhaps that is why humans are so enamored of views and sweeping vistas.)

4. It is nontemporal, not located in time, not localizable in the past, future, or even present, timeless. (For this nontemporality, some traditions use the word permanent.)

5. It has no limits or boundaries. It is not a limited capacity system; capacity is not a relevant descriptive dimension.

6. It is not graspable, describable, conceptualizable, formulatable or modelable; it is a nonconceptual knowing. It is said to be beyond words, beyond concepts, and not an object of the conceptual mind. It is violated somewhat by any description of it including all that is said here.

(It should be noted that the Buddhist term emptiness can be, and has been, used with respect to any or all of these first six aspects.)

7. It accommodates/includes/accepts everything, all content, unconditionally.

8. It is of supreme value, worth everything. When meditators speak of their actual experience, this is the most important aspect, the sine qua non, the reason why anyone would want to bother with boring meditations, arcane retreats, humbling mindfulness, frustrating spiritual groups, or cantankerous gurus in the first place. Our culture and our psychology separate the knowing dimension from the value/emotive dimension16 as I have been doing hitherto in this chapter. But the experience here is that at the very basis of experience, the two are not separate.

9. Knowledge of the ordinary subject/object, space/time limited world can be from this broader, unlimited, accommodating, unconditionally valued perspective. The more limited known world is seen as not separate from the broader view. This can be expressed as a new epistemological vision of the origin of experience - that relative experience is born afresh each instant out of the ground of this nonconceptual, primordial knowing. Or it can be expressed as an ontological statement - that nothing is ever born or separated from that ground when viewed from the perspective of the broader experience of totality. But perhaps foremost it is a very personal, transformative, deeply therapeutic vision of the inherent value of the world and of experience.

10. When actions 'come from' this mode of knowing and being, they happen with felt spontaneity, and turn out to be situationally appropriate, of benefit to others, and sometimes shockingly skillful. This is perhaps the state which is called nonaction.

E. Integration and Wholeness

In the final vision, all of the aspects of experience which we have treated as separate are seen to form an integrated whole. Cognition is not separate from emotion. Mind and body are not separate. The perceiver is not separate from the perception. Action is not separate from knowing in its broadest sense. Time is not separate from the timeless, desires, from the desireless, nor emotions from the sense of unconditional accommodation. The self is not separate from the rest of the world, from others, or from inherent value. Fundamental value is not separate from knowing, from emotion, from anything. And this very vision of integration is not separate from the fragmented world which does not see but does need it.

This is finally the vision of Shalipa who came to see all sound as not separate from the howling of wolves, the hearer and fearer of the howling of wolves as not separate from the sound, and the sounds and their fearer as not separate from the limitless, timeless, spacious, ungraspable, unconditionally valued mode of knowing and being which the meditative traditions claim is the heritage of all people.


There are two kinds of implications for psychology. For psychology as it is presently constituted, a few specific suggestions come to mind which might affect various content areas. The more general implication, however, concerns the building of a new psychology from the point of view of the meditative mode of knowing and being. Let us begin with the specific suggestions.

Attention. What is even more remarkable than that the contents of mind are continually shifting is how little interest researchers in attention have shown in this phenomenon. William James 17 speculated about the stream of consciousness at the turn of the century, and the portrayal of stream of consciousness has had various literary vogues, but experimental psychology has remained mute on this point, the very building block of phenomenological awareness.

Psychology has been likewise mute about the training of attention -- other than to classify some extreme problems as attention deficit disorders for which drugs are prescribed. Meditators who have actually succeeded in some form of attention training and stabilization report benefits in other aspects of their lives such as work and school. It is interesting that we have no methods for training attention and do not teach such matters in school despite the great prevalence of attention problems among students at all levels.

The indirect or post hoc quality of attention has not gone totally unnoticed by western psychology. A classical debate exists between the bottom up and top down approaches to processing models with top down models emphasizing the role that concepts, memory, theories, goals, and intentions play in determining attention and perception. In the present era of computer modeling, top down theorizing has gained ascendancy, and it is often asserted that perception is inherently abstract and theory laden. What both approaches miss is the distinction between the usual indirect, conceptualized state of mind and a mind directly present with its perceptions and thoughts.

Finally, while the relaxation industry has some awareness that changes in attention can lead to relaxation, there is little popular exploration of the idea that the training and then letting go of attention can lead to wisdom.

Emotion. Since the Greeks, western psychology has treated affect and cognition as separate faculties, states, or processes, and through history cognition has been valued more positively than affect. Emotion tends to be seen as irrational and reason as affectless. The meditation traditions offer a direct challenge to this model. In the first place affect and cognition are not separate. It takes only a little mindfulness to realize that emotive tone, a feeling quality, is universal in experience.

Emotion is an area in which interesting congruences exist between reports of meditators and some laboratory experimental work. Contrary to folk psychology, both meditators and laboratory studies show that emotions occur in momentary bursts rather than in continuous sequences18 and that actual affect is quickly replaced in memory by conceptual summaries19. A number of other interesting parallels are outlined by Pickering20. The meditator's discovery that for the samsaric mind, emotions are the monitoring of how well the self is doing in relation to its desires and goals in the world is strongly reminiscent of a number of self monitoring and appraisal accounts of emotion21. What the psychological paradigms lack, however, and could well use, is the account contributed by the meditative traditions of how people can go beyond the self monitoring and appraisal mode of feeling and acting to tap into their more integrated 'wisdom' mode.

The body. The body could be a fertile ground for interaction between meditative and scientific approaches. Practical interest in the relationship between body and mind is growing in the west - as witnessed by numerous new body oriented psychotherapies,22 by programs in somatic psychology which are appearing on college campuses, and by private and government funding of research on eastern medical systems. At this time, actual research tends to be still largely oriented toward proving whether particular nonwestern treatments cure particular diseases. At some point, researchers will need to address a potential revolution in our understanding of the body: what new view of psychology and physiology might we need that can encompass phenomena such as space, energy, channels, chi, and chakras as well as the phenomena of western medicine?

The self. Many aspects of the analysis of the self in the meditative traditions could provide grist for western psychology23. Researchers on the self might well notice that their subjects think, feel, and act as though they, personally, are dealing with a real and supremely important self and not merely with a hierarchy of concepts. The interdependence of the so-called self with the rest of the world is addressed most explicitly in psychology by the use of dynamical systems theory modeling24, but this global system is not of use for most issues and needs to be augmented.

In regard to the self's relation to other people, given the current interest in altruism research in psychology, not to mention the state of the world, any leads which the meditative traditions can provide concerning the transformation of an attitude of passion, aggression, and ignoring into an attitude of compassion are surely not to be neglected. Likewise, the world is certainly in need of spontaneous, surprisingly skillful actions, and research on spontaneous actions (as in 'impossibly' well handled emergencies) is surely to be supported.

In our culture, societal problems are dealt with by governments, medical problems by doctors, psychological problems by clinicians, and questions about perception, bodily processes, and emotions by the burgeoning technical experimental literature modeled after the physical sciences. The Shalipa story shows how, from the point of view of one meditative tradition, all of these issues are dealt with in an integrated fashion based on experience. Virtually any aspect of the meditative path by which the separated and needy information processor is transformed into the integrated knower with which we ended our account should be of great interest to clinical psychology. Such work is beginning25 but rather tentatively, with the tendency to keep western clinical models relatively intact (but see Henderson26; Pransky & Mills 27)28. It should be obvious that from the point of view of the meditative traditions in their original context, (from the point of view, let us say, of Shalipa after he attained realization), what passes for clinical practice in the west is little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Which is to say that the contact between our clinical theories and the meditative traditions has far reaching, as yet undeveloped, potential.

All this said, what psychology may really need is a major paradigm shift to take into account the broader portrait of what a human being is and can do provided by the meditative traditions. The only way to do this is to rely on the authority of individual experience; quibbling about established usages and the so-called canons of science at this point is simply blindness. Perhaps such a shift requires a body of psychologists who have personal experience themselves of that broader mode of knowing and being; perhaps it is such a community which will eventually rewrite psychology.

Actually coming to see and realize any of the aspects of that new mode of knowing and being is immensely transformative to individuals personally. Hopefully, it can likewise be transformative to our science.


1. Portions of this chapter have been previously published in Rosch, E. (in press a). Mindfulness meditation and the private(?), self. In U. Neisser & D. Jopling (Eds.) Culture, experience, and the conceptual self. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press; and Rosch, E. (in press b). Portraits of the mind in cognitive science and meditation. In S.S. Bahulkar & N. Samten (Eds.) The doctrine of universal responsibility: A festschrift for H.H. the Dalai Lama. Varanasi, India: Inst. of Higher Tibetan Studies.

2. This version of the Shalipa story is from an oral account by the late Jamgon Kongtrul. Variant written version can be found in Dowman, K. (1985). Masters of mahamudra. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press; and Robinson, J.B. (1979). Buddha's lions: The lives of the eigbty-four siddhas. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing

3. Anderson, J.R. (1980). Cognitive psychology and its implications. San Franciso: W.H. Freeman & Co.; Lindsay, P.H. & Norman, D.A. (1977). Human information processing: An introduction to psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Academic Press; Matlin, M. (1994), Cognition (3rd Edition). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace.

4. Fishurn, P. (1970). Utility theory for decision making. New York: Wiley; Sen, A. (1987). On ethics and economics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

5. Dreyfus, H.L. (Ed.) (1982). Husserl: Intentionality and cognitive science. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

6. Rosch, E. (1987). Wittgenstein and categorization research in cognitive psychology. In M. Chapman & R. Dixon (Eds.) Meaning and the growth of understanding. Wittgenstein's significance for developmental Psycbology. Hillsdale, NJ.: Erlbaum.

7. Turkle, S. (1988). Artificial intelligence and psychoanalysis: A new alliance. Daedalus (Winter): 241-268.

8. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.

9. For examples see: Goldstein, J. & Kornfield, J. (1987). Seeking the heart of wisdom. Boston: Shambhala; Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress. New York: Delacorte; Nhat Hahn, T. (1975). Miracle of mindfulness: A manual on meditation. Boston: Beacon Press; Trungpa, C. (1976). Myth of freedom. Boston: Shambhala.

10. See for example Ralston, P. (1989). Cheng hsin: The principles of effortless power. Berkeley, CA.: North Atlantic Books.

11. James, W. (1890 reprinted 1950). Principles of psychology. New York: Dover

12. Belyea, C. & Tainer, S. (1991). Dragon's play. Berkeley, CA.: Great Circle Books, p. 11.

13. Tulku, T. (1977). Time, space, and knowledge. Berkeley, CA.: Dharma Publishing

14. See for example Chia, M. & Chia, M. (1993). Awaken healing light of the tao. Huntington, N.Y.: Healing Tao Books.

15. Note how different this description is from from the model of meditative 'achievement' as an advanced developmental stage, as suggested, for example, in Wilber, K., Engler, J. and Brown, D. (1987) Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development. New Science Library.

16. For a review see Donaldson, M. (1992). Human minds: An exploration. New York: The Penguin Press.

17. op.cit James, 1890.

18. Ekman, P., Levenson, R.W., & Friesen, W.V. (1983). Autonomic nervous system activity distinguishes among emotions. Science, 221, 1208-1210.

19. Fredrickson, B.L. & Kahneman, D. (1993). Duration neglect in retrospective evaluations of affective episodes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6S,45-SS.

20. Pickering, J. (1995). Buddhism and cognitivism: A postmodern appraisal. Asian Philosophy, 5, 23-38.

21. Frijda, N.H. (1986). The emotions. Camblidge, Eng: Cambridge University Press; Lazarus, R.S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press; Scherer, K.R. & Ekman, P. (Eds.) (1984). Approaches to emotion. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaurn

22. For example Mindell, A. (1982). Dreambody: The body's role in revealing the self. Santa Monica, CA.: Sigo Press.

23. See for example Varela, F., Thompson, E. & Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind. Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

24. See Thelen, E. & Smith, L.B. (Eds.) (1993). A dynamic systems approach to development. Applications. Cambridge, MA- MIT Press/Bradford Books; Thelen, E. & Smith, L.B. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/ Bradford Books.

25. See for example Epstein, M. (1998). Thoughts without a thinker. New York: Basic Books; Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress. New York: Delacorte; Kornfield, J. (1993). A path with heart. New York: Bantam Books.

26. Henderson, J. (1986). The lover within. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill Press.

27. Pransky, G.S. & Mills, R.C. (1995). Psychology of mind: The basis for health realization: The founders' monograph. La Conner, WA: The Psychology of Mind Training Institute.

28. Henderson (1986) offers an energy based account of psychological functioning. Pransky & Mill (1995) trace the development of a remarkable new indigenous western clinical psychology called Psychology of Mind (POM). Based on the insights of its founders concerning the psychology of well functioning people, it (at least appears) to replicate many of the insights offered by the meditative traditions outlined in this chapter.





Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles