Saturday, December 8, 2012

be here now

It’s pretty common to read that the main thing separating humans and other animals is language. Many people acknowledge that many animals communicate, but argue that the communicative ability of normal humans is so much greater that it amounts to something wholly different than the basic communication we have been able to identify in other animals.

I tend to agree with this argument, but expect that there is more going on when other animals communicate with each other than we have yet discovered. I also don’t see how a greater communicative ability translates into higher moral standing, which is one of the implications that some make when pointing to other animals’ communication abilities.

But all our hyper-communication abilities aside, I’m struck by the irony in the claims about our communication ability and our society-wide effort to experience life in the absence of language.

This effort is a common and often central goal of religious/spiritual traditions around the world. It’s particularly ironic that Buddhists frequently refer to our inner chatter as monkey mind. Even though many people argue that monkeys can’t experience this inner stream of “verbalized” thought because they don’t possess language.

The interesting thing to me is the fact that the mental state achieve by stilling one’s inner chatter is perceived by many of those who have attained it as the highest mental state; some say it allows one to experience or even merge with the Cosmic Consciousness or God directly. Names for this state vary, but they include being "filled with the Spirit of the Lord", samadhi, satori, nirvana, enlightenment, kemal, etc. Yet animals, who apparently are in this state naturally are claimed not to have the same moral standing as the yogis, priests, nuns, sadhus, sages, saints, lamas, mystics, and everyone else striving to silence their monkey mind and experience things the way most other animals apparently do all the time.

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