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Schouborg, Gary (2003). "Soma: A Naturalistic Theory of Enlightenment".

 

Soma: A Naturalistic Theory of Enlightenment

 

Gary Schouborg

 

Correspondence: Gary Schouborg, GaryNini.com, 1947 Everidge Court, Walnut Creek, CA 94597-2952, USA. E-mail: gary@garynini.com

 

Abstract: This article provides a naturalistic account of enlightenment as soma. I use 'soma', which derives from the Greek word for body, to mean being somatically awake: having a felt sense of our body as anchoring us in the present and providing our deepest satisfaction in life. Compared to soma, we experience all our other satisfactions as secondary. Enlightenment is said to have four attributes: transcends time and change, transcends a sense of self, has unconditional value, and transforms everyday living. To understand in what sense we can properly attribute those characteristics to enlightenment, we do better to assume that enlightenment is the naturalistic state of soma rather than a metaphysical, non-natural state that transports us beyond the natural world.

 

Introduction

 

This article provides a naturalistic account of enlightenment as soma. I use 'soma', which derives from the Greek word for body, to mean being somatically awake: having a felt sense of our body as anchoring us in the present and providing our deepest satisfaction in life. Compared to soma, we experience all our other satisfactions as secondary. Enlightenment is said to have four attributes: transcends time and change, transcends a sense of self, has unconditional value, and transforms everyday living. To understand in what sense we can properly attribute those characteristics to enlightenment, we do better to assume that enlightenment is the naturalistic state of soma rather than a metaphysical, non-natural state that transports us beyond the natural world.

 

The following account of enlightenment relies on three key distinctions: metaphysical versus naturalistic transcendence, absolute versus relative pure consciousness experience (PCE), and partial versus whole mind. Something whose transcendence is metaphysical falls completely outside categories that apply to our natural world. Something whose transcendence is naturalistic falls outside ordinary experience but not completely outside categories that apply to our natural world. An absolute PCE is completely devoid of all features, whereas a relative PCE has minimal features to which we do not directly attend. (I am using 'feature' as a general term to include object of consciousness or anything else about or in consciousness of which we can be said to be aware.) Partial mind is consciousness devoid of soma, whereas whole mind includes it. Both partial and whole mind include all our ordinary, everyday activities from the mundane to the heroic. The difference is that partial mind gets overly caught up in them, overly identifying its happiness with particular experiences other than soma. However, in whole mind soma emerges as being of unconditional value, compared to which all other satisfactions are of secondary importance. Soma thus provides a liberating distance from the joys and sufferings of everyday life.

 

Whole mind's integration of soma into everyday living allows of degrees. In the most primitive form of whole mind, in meditation, we allow soma to emerge by withdrawing our focus on the specifics of any thoughts or feelings that may come and go. Not focusing on specifics allows soma to emerge as a unique positive feeling which various traditions call an "inner peace" that is "the pearl of great price". It provides a feeling of "being at home", because we feel no need to search further for some greater happiness. As whole mind develops, we increasingly bring the inner peace of soma to our everyday life. We then experience the satisfactions that we derive from achieving our everyday desires, as well as the disappointments that result from our failing to do so. But we experience them as — we don't just believe them to be — secondary to the deeper, unqualified happiness that we experience in soma.

 

The preceding three distinctions are at the heart of the difficulty in understanding enlightenment. Failing to distinguish between metaphysical and naturalistic transcendence, we mistakenly take reports of enlightenment's transcendence to mean that enlightenment is superior to anything our body can provide. Failing to distinguish between absolute and relative PCE, we mistakenly take PCEs to be evidence of consciousness unrelated to our body. And even when we recognize that our body plays a role in enlightenment, the fact that soma usually first arises from processes in which we withdraw our attention from everyday details makes us wonder how we could ever experience its inner peace in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

 

This article argues that soma has the first three characteristics of enlightenment: transcends time and change, transcends a sense of self, and has unconditional value. As to the fourth characteristic of transforming everyday living, aside from the rare spiritual genius who has a sudden integrating illumination, the rest of us develop spiritually by progressively integrating the inner peace of soma with increasingly complex everyday experience. Because of limitations of space, I will lay only the groundwork for understanding how this progressive integration is possible.

 

Section II: Identifies enlightenment's four characteristics: transcends time and change, transcends a sense of self, has unconditional value, and transforms everyday living. Raises the question of how the first three are compatible with the fourth, since everyday living requires attention to time and change, a sense of self, and finding value in everyday experience.

 

Section III:            Shows that reports of absolute PCEs are problematic, rendering problematic any accounts of enlightenment as metaphysically transcendent. This opens the door for an alternative, naturalistic account of enlightenment as a relative PCE that is only naturalistically transcendent.

 

Section IV:            Shows how soma has the first three characteristics of enlightenment.

 

Section V:  Shows how distinguishing between partial mind (devoid of soma) and whole mind (includes soma) more clearly differentiates between unenlightened and enlightened awareness  than do  traditional contrasts such as  ego and non-ego, self and no-self.  Shows how the distinction clarifies the ambiguous and often inconsistently employed traditional concepts of emptiness, mindfulness, non-clinging, lovingkindness, surrender, and spontaneity.

 

Section VI:            Shows how explaining enlightenment as soma enables us to identify the precise relationship between enlightenment, clinging, and living in the present (being somatically awake).

 

Conclusion: Identifies what remains in order to explain soma's role in enlightened everyday living: show how we can be somatically awake in the midst of everyday activity; and show how a developmental theory and a neuropsychology of enlightenment help explain soma's role.

To the extent to which soma explains the four characteristics of enlightenment, the burden of proof shifts to proponents of other accounts (whether metaphysical or naturalistic) to show why they are more adequate. At the very least, this article aims to promote precision in discussions of enlightenment, where the language has been remarkably loose and ambiguous.