Cup of Nirvana Philosophical and Contemplative Explorations

Survivalists in the Crosshairs


Palgrave Macmillan has scheduled a tentative publication date for October this year for my Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Post-mortem Survival.  Although the book is now in the production phase, I plan on writing further on the topic. I’d like to elaborate more on aspects of the arguments in my book, as well as cover material and issues that, due to constraints of space and time, I was not able to include in my book.

One of the things I’d like to do is provide further commentary on some recent writers on survival. 

As some of you know, I discussed David Lund’s work in one of my 2013 publications in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. I might revisit my earlier critique of Lund in the light of my subsequent and more refined reflections, as well as some detailed correspondence I’ve had with David over the past two years.  One particularly interesting part of the personal correspondence has been David’s response to my challenge to show how he arrives at a judgment of favorable posterior probability for the survival hypothesis, namely that the survival hypothesis is more probable than not given all the relevant evidence and background knowledge.  Unlike his book Persons, Souls, and Death, Lund did try to show this using probability theory. Naturally, I don’t think he succeeded, in part because his argument is, like the arguments in his book, blind to the problem of auxiliaries. But I thought his response was interesting nonetheless.  It would be nice to get Lund to do a round table with me on this, which would be published on my website. We’ll see.

Robert Almeder is another philosopher whose work on survival I’d also like to single out for critical scrutiny, though I do provide critical comments on his arguments in several places in my book.  While Lund at least exhibits an appreciation of the complexity of the survival debate, I don’t think Almeder does. This is what strikes me about his dialectical maneuvers in debate with both Steven Hales (unfavorable to survival) and Stephen Braude (favorable to survival), and it is transparently obvious when anyone claims, as Almeder has for years, that the evidence for survival is so compelling that we would be irrational to reject the survival hypothesis.

Almeder’s argument for survival fails for very much the same general reason that all the classical arguments fail.  His argument is blind to the problem of auxiliaries.  This is particularly acute in his critique of appeals to living-agent psychic function as a rival explanation of the data.  As Almeder argues, this counter-explanation cannot account for the data unless it’s amplified into a “super-psi” hypothesis, which posits a degree/kind of psychic functioning for which we have no independent evidence.  The lack of independent support allegedly rules out “the super-psi” hypothesis as a legitimate explanatory competitor.  But the objection applies mutatis mutandis to the survival hypothesis since it cannot account for the data unless it’s amplified into a “super-survival” hypothesis (or what I more neutrally call a “robust” survival hypothesis) for which there is no independent support.  

Almeder’s objection to the so-called super-psi hypothesis is, more carefully and neutrally stated, an objection to a reliance on a hypothesis whose explanatory power depends on the hypothesis being amplified by auxiliary assumptions for which there is no independent support.  Almeder is correct in principle, but what he fails to see is that this objection defeats the argument for survival since there is no independent support for the kind of auxiliary assumptions required for the survival hypothesis to have explanatory efficacy.  The only reason why this would not be utterly apparent is if one were utterly unaware of the extent to which the simple supposition of personal survival carries no predictive consequences unless amplified by further assumptions which do not satisfy the very epistemic requirements survivalists impose on rival hypotheses.  I plan to focus on Almeder in connection with this issue in my next blog.

And then there’s Chris Carter.  I’ve commented on Carter’s pro-survival arguments in a 2011 review, my January 2014 interview with Jime Sayaka, and in my May 14, 2014 blog.  I have more to say about Carter, not because I think his arguments are particularly good but because so many parapsychologists and survivalists seem to think otherwise.  In fact, Michael Prescott has said of Carter’s most recent book Science and the Afterlife Experience that it is “perhaps the best book I’ve read on evidence for life after death, and I’ve read quite a few. I recommend it highly.”  Now blurbs can be misleading, but I think, knowing Prescott as I do, that his comment was intended as genuine praise of Carter, rather than an indirect statement about how utterly crappy the rest of literary field is on the topic. (Being the best of a poor lot is a fairly underwhelming achievement.)  While I hold Michael Prescott in high regard, and he has been a wonderful interlocutor, I could not more strongly disagree with his assessment of Carter’s work.  No, Carter’s work is not even “perhaps” one of the best; it’s quite probably one of the worst. And yes, this means that I also disagree with the “distinguished” contingent of researchers who have praised Carter’s work in their review blurbs (including Pim van Lommel, Charles Tart, Guy Lyon Playfair, Larry Dossey, and Neal Grossman). I gladly part company with these gentlemen.  They are simply incorrect.

To be quite frank, I have no interest in saving parapsychologists and survival researchers from the deplorable reputation they have on the whole rightly merited, for example because they continue to endorse shoddy scholarship and perpetuate philosophically unsophisticated treatments of psi and survival. However, since I have devoted part of my project to wheeling away the rubbish that has buried empirical inquiry into survival, expect some further commentary on Carter.

Let me repeat a point I’ve made in this blog, and which I also make in my book.  We need to return to the kind of empirical inquiry into the survival question that C.D. Broad, C.J. Ducasse, and H.H. Price had in view and modeled for us.  Apart from the empirically-informed and conceptually-elevated critical discussions by writers like Alan Gauld, Stephen Braude, and David Ray Griffin, the current debate is simply the most recent in a series of bad sequels to what was once an intriguing and promising plot.

Michael Sudduth

Website Announcements


I wanted to announce some general news and my plans for my website for 2015.

(1) Although my forthcoming book on survival is due out in the fall, and I will continue to write on the topic, I intend to announce my next book project on May 2.

(2) This coming summer I plan on finally developing a section of my website I had designed for resources on postmortem survival. There will be several subpages with articles, books, and videos on different aspects of the philosophy of postmortem survival.

(3) I would like also to make available to the general public a version of one of the classes I teach, either Philosophy of Religion or the Nature of Religious Experience. I may do a Podcast in connection with this.

(4) I’m in the process of putting all my previous paper publications online, going back to my earlier work in religious epistemology and Christian philosophy.  These are located under “Articles” under “Writing” in the main menu, I list the new additions below (from most recent to oldest) with links for your convenience.  Some of these were previously available in the form of paper drafts, so in some cases files have been updated to reflect the actual published version of the paper.


Concise Overview of Survival Book

9781137440938A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival

Michael Sudduth

In A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) Michael Sudduth provides a critical exploration of classical empirical arguments for postmortem survival—arguments that purport to show that data collected from ostensibly paranormal phenomena constitute good evidence for the survival of the self or individual consciousness after death.  Focusing specifically on arguments based on the data of out-of-body/near-death experiences, mediumship, and cases of the reincarnation type, he aims to revive the tradition of empirical inquiry into life after death associated with philosophers William James, C.D. Broad, H.H. Price, and C.J. Ducasse. Sudduth proposes to advance the debate with a novel approach.  For the first time, the traditional arguments are formalized using the tools of formal epistemology.  Sudduth shows that this procedure exposes the Achilles Heel of the classical arguments, a self-defeating dependence on auxiliary assumptions. He further argues that when reformulated in the light of the “problem of auxiliaries,” long-standing skeptical objections to survival arguments are immune to traditional survivalist counter-arguments.


CHAPTER 1:  Introduction: The Classical Empirical Survival Debate

In this introductory chapter Sudduth provides an overview of the empirical debate concerning life after death, a debate focused on whether there are observational data that constitute (good) evidence for life after death.  The salient data are drawn from three kinds of unusual or ostensibly paranormal phenomena: out-of-body/near-death experiences, mediumistic communications, and cases of the reincarnation type.  Sudduth outlines the relevant data, as well as the views of prominent researchers and philosophers regarding the interpretation of these data.  The classical arguments for survival based on these data are sketched and traditional objections noted.  After identifying some of the deficiencies in the current literature, Sudduth outlines his own approach and argument for supposing that the classical arguments fail to show that the salient data are good evidence for personal survival. 

CHAPTER 2:  Exploring the Hypothesis of Personal Survival 

As a conceptual preliminary to the subsequent discussion, in this chapter Sudduth explores conceivable models of survival that might inform the content of the survival hypothesis and thereby bear on what sort of observational data would confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis.  Since the empirical debate has traditionally focused on the prospects for personal survival, Sudduth limits his attention to this widespread view of survival.  In the tradition of C.D. Broad and C.J. Ducasse, Sudduth outlines various models of personal survival, with particular emphasis on the thesis of psychological survival, the postmortem persistence of some significant aspect of our present psychology, usually an important feature of hypotheses of personal survival and especially important to survival arguments.  Sudduth distinguishes between stronger and weaker conceptions of psychological survival based on how strongly our postmortem psychological make-up resembles our antemortem psychology. 

CHAPTER 3:  Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences 

This chapter begins with a general description of the empirical approach to survival, which is contrasted with religious and philosophical approaches to survival.  Sudduth goes on to review widely discussed out-of-body and near-death experiences as providing one kind of ostensible empirical evidence for survival. Drawing on data from spontaneous and experimental cases, the chapter includes discussion of the phenomenology of such experiences (i.e., their subjective characteristics) and their apparent veridical features (i.e., their involving apparent accurate perceptions of the world), despite subjects being sensorily isolated from the happenings they describe. Sudduth considers how such experiences might provide indirect evidence for survival under an extrasomatic interpretation, that is, postulating the separation or independence of consciousness from the body.  The chapter concludes with a summary description of six key points of evidence. 

CHAPTER 4:  Mediumistic Communications

Chapter 4 provides an overview of the evidentially salient data from mental and trance mediumship, with emphasis on cases investigated by researchers associated with the British and American societies of psychical research.  Cases include the mediumship of Mrs. Leonora Piper and Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard.  Sudduth illustrates and outlines important features of proxy sittings, drop-in communicators, and cross correspondences as distinct kinds of mediumistic phenomena that allegedly provide the best evidence for survival.  In the final section he provides a summary description of the most relevant kinds of evidence.  These include the qualitative and quantitative aspects of accurate information the medium conveys about the deceased, the independent verification of mediumistic claims, and the manner in which the medium conveys the information in trance mediumship, namely by way of convincing personations of the deceased. 

CHAPTER 5:  Cases of the Reincarnation Type

This chapter provides an overview of data collected from cases in which human persons, especially children, claim to have past life memories and exhibit other behavioral and physical features characteristic of some identifiable formerly living person.  Over against a hypothetical ideal case, Sudduth provides an account of six actual cases of these “cases of the reincarnation type” (so named by researcher Ian Stevenson), and also compares and contrasts them with cases of ostensible possession. In the final section he provides a summary description of the most relevant kinds of evidence, including the qualitative and quantitative aspects of accurate information subjects convey about an identifiable deceased person, the independent verification of the subject’s claims, and the subjects exhibiting other personality/behavioral and physical characteristics of the identifiable deceased person. 

CHAPTER 6:  Classical Explanatory Arguments for Survival

Sudduth examines two paradigmatic forms of survival argument construed as explanatory arguments, specifically as inferences to best explanation. Based on an examination of the work of several prominent empirical survivalists, Sudduth distinguishes between “modest” and “strengthened” explanatory arguments. According to the former, explanatory salience is parsed solely in terms of the extent to which a hypothesis leads us to expect the relevant data (so-called predictive power).  According to the latter, the survival inference is mediated by predictive power together with additional plausibility factors interpreted as explanatory virtues. The chapter concludes with an initial attempt to bring confirmation theory to bear on survival arguments. Sudduth proposes the formalization of explanatory survival arguments as Likelihood arguments. He concludes, though, that Likelihoodism does not adequately handle the strong form of explanatory argument. 

CHAPTER 7:  Bayesian Explanatory Arguments

In this chapter Sudduth focuses on important Bayesian analyses of the empirical arguments by philosopher C.D. Broad and classical scholar E.R. Dodds.  Their arguments highlight important features of Bayesian confirmation theory, specifically how likelihoods and prior probabilities jointly determine the net plausibility of a hypothesis. Sudduth explores this by formalizing each of their analyses in the language of Bayesian confirmation theory.  The analysis highlights two points of significant vulnerability for survival arguments: the survival hypothesis’s initial degree of initial plausibility (which might be low) and its explanatory power (which might be low because of effective counter-explanations of the data), each of which influences judgments of net plausibility.  Sudduth shows how Broad and Dodds each interpreted these salient issues and concluded that the case for survival fails to show that relevant evidence, largely from mediumship, renders the survival hypothesis more probable than not. 

CHAPTER 8:  Bayesian Defenses of the Survival Hypothesis

Sudduth considers two Bayesian survivalist defenses of the empirical case for survival, each of which is designed as a response to the Broadian-Doddsian critique.  He first critically explores philosopher Curt Ducasse’s defense of the survival hypothesis, followed by a critical analysis of contemporary philosopher R.W.K. Paterson’s cumulative case argument for survival.  Inasmuch as Ducasse and Paterson each develop their case for survival on the basis of the explanatory power of the survival hypothesis together with judgments about its prior probability, their arguments are Bayesian in structure.  Sudduth formalizes the arguments of Ducasse and Paterson and shows why they fail to show that the survival hypothesis is more probable than not. Sudduth draws particular attention to how an inadequately acknowledged dependence on auxiliary assumptions undercuts their arguments by affecting both judgments of explanatory power and prior probability. 

CHAPTER 9:  The Problem of Auxiliary Assumptions 

In Chapter 9 Sudduth examines how survival arguments are dependent on a range of auxiliary assumptions, without which the survival hypothesis would not lead us to expect the relevant evidence.  Sudduth shows how this “auxiliary assumption requirement,” introduced in Chapter 8, generates the “problem of auxiliaries.” He argues that the auxiliary assumptions needed for the classical arguments are claims that lack independent support. Sudduth shows how this generates an initial problem for survival arguments since it prevents the survival hypothesis from being an empirically testable hypothesis.  Among the wide range of survival-friendly auxiliaries only a small subset would lead us to expect the relevant evidence. The inability to determine which set of auxiliaries is the correct one entails that we really do not know how the world should look if survival is true. This undermines the empirical survivalist contention that survival is an empirically testable hypothesis. 

CHAPTER 10:  Exotic Counter-Explanations 

Chapter 10 explores the nearest explanatory competitor to survival—the appeal to living-agent psychic functioning (psi) in the form of extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis.  Sudduth shows how this living-agent psi hypothesis poses a challenge to the explanatory power of the survival hypothesis, even if it is itself not a particularly good explanation of the data. After considering traditional survivalist criticisms of simple appeals to living-agent psi, Sudduth explores a more robust version of this hypothesis based on Stephen Braude’s motivated psi model.  On this model, psi is construed as guided by the interests or needs of persons, and is linked to important features of abnormal psychology, e.g. dissociative phenomena and the sudden manifestation of latent skills.  Sudduth shows how such a counter-explanation substantially weakens Likelihood and Bayesian survival arguments. 

CHAPTER 11:  Conclusion: The Classical Arguments Defeated

In this chapter Sudduth begins by providing a defense of robust living-agent psi hypothesis of Chapter 10 against a widespread survivalist objection, namely that it involves an unwarranted extension of psychic abilities in the form of “super-psi.” Drawing on the arguments of chapters 8 through 10, Sudduth argues that this objection is implausible and self-defeating. The second half of the chapter is devoted to a summary of Sudduth’s complete argument against Bayesian, Likelihood, and explanatory arguments for survival.  He highlights the way in which the defeating considerations for the first two kinds of arguments become defeaters for all classical explanatory arguments.  In this way, he concludes that the classical empirical arguments for survival, in their explanatory and confirmation-style forms, fail to show that there is good evidence for personal survival.

The Deepest Silence

Lady lover

you closed your eyes

and entered the starless night

in this infinite space we call “here”

where moonlight falls on tranquil streams

and a poet’s voice dissolves the tear

that fell from your half-naked eyes

in which darkness played and danced

like ink against a night sky


If I could speak to you of the darkness in this hour,

I would let my love be the silence upon the wind.


Lady wonder,

we give our child

yet unborn to the blowing wind 

that carries it over the sea and land

in the valleys, on mountain tops 

where it falls in the lover’s hand

that gently brushed against your face

where beauty danced with God

like birds against the sky.


If with a kiss I could wake you from your sacred sleep,

My tears would become words flowing from your trembling lips.


Dancing deva,

come dance with me,

on the beach of tomorrow’s dream

covered in tiny grains of you and me

scattered memories of your life

are now sacrificed to the sea

that forcefully pulled you under

where we became the one

like breath against a kiss.


If I could come to you now as a flickering flame

my light would awaken you from your deepest sleep.


Awaken, lady dreamer,

open those transparent eyes

breathe in again your soul

which we have carried in our hearts

while you have conversed with silence


The silence of our birth

The silence of our death

The silence of our now

The silence of our love


Book Completion

Dear Friends,

I’m happy to announce that I have now completed my book on empirical arguments for postmortem survival. I submitted the manuscript to my editor at Palgrave Macmillan last night.  We should move along very quickly at this stage towards publication this year. Currently there is a link to the Contents on my Work in Progress page.  I hope in the coming weeks to post a sample chapter or chapter abstracts, pending permission from the publisher.  The book’s official title is A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival.

The book moved in some unanticipated but welcomed directions, especially since January of this year.  One of these was a far more extensive discussion of Bayesian survival arguments, including very detailed critical analyses of the arguments of C.D. Broad, E.R. Dodds, C.D. Ducasse, and R.W.K. Paterson. It would be fair to say that half of the book is concerned with Bayesian-style arguments.  In early 2014 I had promised that I would utilize confirmation theory to formalize the classical explanatory arguments, something that had not previously been done.  One of my long-standing criticisms of the existing literature is that on the whole it lacks logical rigor. In this respect it’s about five or six decades behind the quality of arguments we find in Anglo-American philosophy of religion. Well, I have made good on this promise. Not only do I offer my own Bayesian arguments, I formalize the Bayesian approach taken by Broad, Dodds, Ducasse, and Paterson.  
Another feature that developed last fall was a more extensive treatment of the evidence (from near-death experiences, mediumship, and cases of the reincarnation type), in which the data from various prominent case investigations were discussed in detail.  There is a chapter devoted to each of these, with a summary of the salient strands of evidence at the end of each of these chapters. Although these chapters mainly focus on getting clear about the relevant data, I offer some critical remarks about how survivalists have sometimes mishandled the statement of the evidence. As a result of the more elaborate discussion of the evidence, the the book ended up being longer than anticipated, eleven chapters instead of nine, and also took me longer to complete than anticipated.  
Due to the work on the book, which included 90 hours in the past week, it’s been awhile since I last blogged. I’m hoping to return now to regular blogging on various topics, including  Zen, chocolate, heavy metal music, relationships, and postmortem survival. I also have plans to blog on some unexpected and fascinating experiences I had in Windsor, Connecticut last January, some of which are related at least indirectly to the topic of my book and which have provided further inspiration for the novel I started writing several years ago.  Stay tuned.


If you can stand with me in the fire, everything we take ourselves to be will melt away and be dissolved into the light of the sun.

If everything we take ourselves to be should melt away, only one thing can possibly remain and be revealed, everything we are but could not believe ourselves to be.

If you can stop your mind for a brief moment, your will see yourself for the first time.

If you can watch a cat for three hours, you will be a Zen master.

If you can open yourself to the fear of rejection, you will have embraced the part of you that longs to be held by that greater darkness in the silence of your lonely nights.

If you can sit with the painful feelings that arise in you, your most faithful partner will meet you along your path.

If you can bear your sadness long enough, you will see that it is not your sadness you carry, but the sadness of the world.

If you can run away from beauty, you will find it chasing after you.

If you can drop the burden of proving yourself, you will have finally found yourself.

If you can resist the temptation of giving another peace, you will realize that you were seeking to give yourself what is already your most precious possession.

If you can see your lover like tomorrow’s sunrise, you will fall into the moon.

If you can take the backwards step, you will see that there is more present in “your” experience that you.

If you can fall into the space between two thoughts, you will have experienced the origin of the Universe, which in Zen is called nothingness.

If you can dissolve the I, only the I remains.

If you seek to dissolve your suffering, you will only perpetuate it.

If you can truly observe your suffering, it will be seen that it has already accepted it by the I at the root of your individual experience.

If you can walk with your suffering, it will wither under the influence of your love.

If you can treat the present moment as your meditation, you will realize that the peace you are seeking is already your present reality.

If you can eat a jar of cashew butter without attachment, you will understand nirvana.

If you can watch a bird flying and forget that you are watching it, you will have experienced no-self.

If you can let go of your practice, you will know that its goal has eternally been realized.

If you could thank the other for the thorns, your suffering would free all souls trapped in hell.

If you can be in silence when your mind wishes to speak, your deeper fears and pain will be revealed to you, perhaps for the very first time.

If you can kiss the sleeping beauty, she will awaken what remains half asleep within you.

If you can kiss the lips of your beloved, knowing nothing in that moment but her touch, you will understand that her love has neither beginning nor end.


Book Update (1/13/15)

Cup of Nirvana subscribers:

I am now in the accelerated final phase of completing my book on postmortem survival, due February 16. I have just completed chapter 5 and will be rapidly completing the remaining five chapters in the next month.  Below I have posted the CONTENTS for the first five chapters.  If you’re interested in receiving chapter drafts, please let me know by email.

Michael Sudduth




Series Editors’ Preface



1   Introduction:  The Empirical Survival Debate                                   1

1.1   Psychical phenomena as ostensible evidence for survival

1.2   The classical empirical arguments for survival

1.3  Deficiencies in the existing literature

1.3.1.  Deficiencies in evidence assessment

1.3.2  Three important conceptual issues

1.3.2.  Deficiencies in the formulation of the survival hypothesis

1.4  Recalibrating the empirical survival debate

1.4.1    The auxiliary hypothesis requirement (AHR)

1.4.2    The problem of auxiliary hypotheses (PAH)

1.4.3    Resurrecting the prior probability and explanatory competitor challenges

1.5.  Concluding remarks


2   Exploring the Hypothesis of Personal Survival                                 39

2.1   Personal survival: core conceptual issues

        2.1.1   Personal identity: soul survival vs. embodied survival

        2.1.2   Psychological survival

        2.1.3   Religious and philosophical considerations

2.2   A strong personal survival hypothesis

        2.2.1   The strong psychological survival hypothesis

        2.2.2   The interactionist survival hypothesis

2.3   Conceptions of attenuated personal survival

        2.3.1   The relevance of attenuated personal survival

        2.3.2   Exploring attenuated forms of personal survival

2.4   Concluding remarks


3   Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences                                         74                                                                   

3.1   The empirical approach to survival

        3.1.1   Philosophical and religious grounds for belief in survival

        3.1.2   Characterizing the empirical approach to survival

        3.1.3   Empirical data that might confirm survival

3.2   Out-of-body experiences

       3.2.1   The relevance of OBEs to survival

       3.2.2   The Martha Johnson case

       3.2.3   Experiments designed to confirm veridical OBEs

3.3   Near-death experiences: general features

3.4   Some widely discussed NDE cases

       3.4.1   The “man with the dentures” case

       3.4.2   The Pam Reynolds case

       3.4.3   NDEs involving apparitions of the deceased

3.5   Analytical description of the salient data

       3.5.1   Descriptions of the OBE data

       3.5.2   Descriptions of NDE-specific data


4   Mediumistic Communications                                                            113

4.1   Mediumship: types and general features

4.1.1   Basic types of mediumship

 4.1.2   An “ideal case” of mediumship

4.2   The mediumship of Mrs. Leonora Piper

        4.2.1   Background to Mrs. Leonora Piper

 4.2.2   The George Pellew sittings

 4.2.3   The Kakie Sutton sittings

4.3   Proxy sittings and the cross-correspondences

        4.3.1   Proxy sittings and their relevance

        4.3.2   Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard: the Bobbie Newlove case

        4.3.3   The cross-correspondences

4.4   Drop-in communicators

        4.4.1   A drop-in communicator in Iceland

        4.4.2   The verification of Runki’s claims

        4.4.3   Observations on the Runki drop-in

4.5   Rev. David Kennedy’s narrative

4.6   Analytical description of the salient data


5    Cases of the Reincarnation Type                                                    163                                        

5.1  Cases of the reincarnation type: general features

 5.1.1   Core evidential features of CORTs

 5.1.2   An ideal reincarnation case

5.2  The Bishen Chand case

        5.2.1   Background to the Bishen Chand case

        5.2.2   Bishen Chand’s claims

        5.2.3   Bishen Chand’s behavior and skills

5.3  Three recent cases

        5.3.1   The Kemal Atasoy case

        5.3.2   The Purnima Ekanayake case

        5.3.3   The Chatura Karunaratne case

5.4  CORTs and possession phenomena

       5.4.1    The Sumitra-Shiva case

       5.4.2    The Uttara-Sharada case

5.5  Analytical description of the salient data


Recent circumstances have brought to my remembrance a poem I wrote on May 14, 2011. It’s called Presence.  It was at the time the first “optimistic” poem I had written in over 15 years, and I wrote it during a powerfully transformative period. While I consciously wrote this piece about my former fiancee, in retrospect it’s clear that I was in fact unconsicously speaking of myself, specifically my inner feminine (anima) which had been externalized in the other through “projection.”  It’s not that none of what is expressed here was true about the outer feminine, but the truth there (as far as it reached) was only a manifestation of the deeper, abiding truth concerning the inner feminine.  I’m reminded here of the extent to which our conscious understanding of our present situation doesn’t quite penetrate the actual situation in its completeness, is only half the story at best.  As I’ve explored in Dancing Lovers, if we should become conscious of how what attracts us to the external other is a reflection of an aspect of ourselves awaiting recognition and development, we would withdraw our projections and see the other more clearly for the person he or she is.  Consequently, one’s love moves from fullness, not from perceived emptiness or incompleteness; love as a giver, not a taker.  So I now dedicate this poem to Sarah (my anima) and to the other, outer feminine who will be loved with deeper clarity and self understanding. Selah.


The mid-day sun is silent,

Enlarged with adoration.

My beloved and I walk,

Hand in hand,

Footprints in the sand.


Face to Face – heart to heart,

Her words enter me.

They become my thoughts,

My innermost desire.


When I look into her eyes

I see myself more clearly.

When I look within myself

I find her there.

So when she’s gone

She still remains.

Inescapable presence,

Filling me with joy.


She smiles and I am embraced

By her longing soul.

She laughs and I am filled

With an inner peace.


Through her eyes I see the

Beauty of the world.

Two souls – one eye,

Ever moving, ever still

In this precious moment

Of passing time.


Time moves forward, but

Nothing is in the past.

Even the seasons merge into one,

Winter to Spring,

Summer to Autumn,

Ever present.


She is the new born freedom

Found within my soul,

When time is forever

And I am now complete.


Her kiss is on the wind

That blows against my face.

Her breath is on my words

When they pass through these lips.


She is the inner self

Lying hidden in the night.

Moment of surrender

Passage into light.


She is the gentleness

Carried by the clouds.

The raindrops that fall

As tears upon my face.


She is the love of God

Lodged within my heart.

I surrender myself

Totally, completely.


And when I think I can

Enter her no more deeply,

She passes into me.

Inescapable presence,

I melt away,

And we are one.



Interview on Postmortem Survival (Part 3) – repost

In January 2013 Jime Sayaka interviewed me on the topic of postmortem survival for his now defunct blog Subversive Thinking.  In what turned out to be a lengthy interview (and preview of arguments in my forthcoming book), I outlined in considerable detail my critique of empirical arguments for survival, as well as explained why common survivalist defenses of these arguments lack cogency.  Below I repost my responses to questions #5 through #8. Question #5 concerns Chris Carter’s contention that the survival hypothesis is the most natural inference from the relevant data.  Question #6 concerns the strength of counter-explanations of the data in terms of psychic functioning among living persons. Question #7 concerns Chris Carter’s “silver bullet” objection to appeals to living-agent psi to explain the relevant data.  Question #8 addresses the alleged ad hoc nature of appeals to living-agent psi as a counter-explanation.  Note that in my responses I rely on symbolism used in confirmation theory to provide a formal account of various logical relations between evidence and hypotheses.


5 – Sayaka: Survivalists like Chris Carter and others suggest that survival of consciousness is the most natural, obvious and straightforward inference from the empirical data from mediumship, near-death experiences and reincarnation type cases. What do you think of this argument?
Sudduth: I’m not inclined to dispute the claim.  I think the claim is entirely compatible with my central thesis and the premises of my central argument.  Many theists say that the existence of God is the most natural, obvious, and straightforward inference from the fine-tuning of the universe.  And it is . . . to them.  I’m quite sure that for Carter and many other survivalists the survival inference is natural, obvious, and straightforward. However, as in the case of proposed theistic explanations of the existence and regularities of the universe, the obviousness of the inference lies in the (often unspoken and unconscious) adoption of a whole array of background assumptions. As a philosopher, I’m interested in identifying these assumptions and assessing their role in the inference to survival, and this is in the interest of ultimately evaluating the cogency and strength of survival arguments.  That the survival inference is natural, obvious, and straightforward to lots of people is a psychological truth that really isn’t relevant to the kind of question that is central in the empirical survival debate.
6 – Sayaka: You have argued that the super-PSI explanation of the data is adequate, if not most adequate, than the survival hypothesis. Can you explain briefly the super-PSI hypothesis and why is it so good as an alternative explanation for the data?
Sudduth: I don’t believe I’ve argued that the super-psi explanation is adequate, much less most adequate or good.  In fact, I’ve explicitly stated in a few publications now that we should dispense with talk of “super-psi” altogether and simply utilize the language of “living-agent psi,” with the further caveat that such a hypothesis may appear in more or less robust forms depending on the range of auxiliary hypotheses added to it.  My view is that appeals to robust living-agent psi hypotheses are no less adequate or no less plausible than the survival hypothesis, at least when these hypotheses are compared in their robust forms and we’re considering a maximal data set, not just narrow strands of data.  It’s quite another matter to say that either explanation is adequate, much less good.
I suppose I should say something here about strategies for critiquing arguments, as there seems to be confusion in some of the literature as to what it takes to defeat survival arguments.  If the argument for survival depends on the premise that the survival hypothesis is the best explanation of the data, to defeat the argument I only need to show that the survivalist is not justified in asserting the premise. One way to accomplish this is to show that the premise is false, to show that survival is not the best explanation of the data.  Of course, to do this it’s not necessary to show that there is some rival hypothesis that better explains the data.  It would suffice to show that there is some rival hypothesis that is at least as good as the survival hypothesis in leading us to expect the data.  However, another way to show that the survivalist is not justified in claiming superior explanatory power on behalf of the survival hypothesis is simply to show that the survivalist is not justified in supposing that this premise is true, which is different from showing that the premise is false.  There are defeaters that constitute overriding reasons for supposing that a statement is false (rebutting defeaters) and there are defeaters that remove or otherwise neutralize reasons for supposing that a statement is true (undercutting defeaters).  This distinction is frequently lost sight of in the debate.
I maintain that empirical survivalists are not justified in claiming that the survival hypothesis is the best explanation of the data.  More precisely stated, I maintain that empirical survivalists are not justified in claiming that the survival hypothesis leads us to expect data that are otherwise unlikely, or even less likely given the nearest robust competitors.  Now I do believe that there are reasons for supposing that there are nearby explanatory competitors that are at least as adequate at survival, or no less adequate if you will.  My position involves a parity thesis, and the argument is a parity argument. And this is one way to show that the survival hypothesis is not the best explanation of the data.  However, I also maintain, more modestly, that survivalists have not presented good enough reasons for supposing that the survival hypothesis is the superior explanation of the data.  If we’re comparing robust versions of the survival hypothesis and living-agent psi hypothesis, then I don’t think survivalists have effectively argued that the data are more to be expected given robust survival than given the nearest robust competitors, for example something like Stephen Braude’s motivated living-agent psi hypothesis.
But let me give a more technical elaboration here. Let C = the nearest robust competitor, S = robust survival hypothesis, and DMAX = a maximal data set.  In that case, I argue:
(1)    Survivalists have not presented good enough reasons to believe that Pr(DMAX/S) > Pr(DMAX/C), much less that Pr(DMAX/S) >> Pr(DMAX/C).
[Editorial Comment: Pr(DMAX/S) means “the probability of the maximal data set given the survival hypothesis.” Hence, the whole expression states “the probability of the maximal data set given the survival hypothesis is greater than the probability of the maximal data set given the nearest robust competitor.  Since  “>>” means much greater, the second expression is a stronger one.]
(2)    There are overriding reasons for supposing that Pr(DMAX/S) ≤ Pr(DMAX/C).
[Editorial Comment: this expression says “the probability of the maximal data set given the survival hypothesis is less than or equal to  the probability of the maximal data set given the nearest robust competitor.]
To be clear, we are here concerned with a comparative probability of the data given each of the competing hypotheses.  This is the posterior probability of the evidence [Pr(e/h)], not to be confused with the posterior probability of the hypothesis [Pr(h/e)].  Following the common practice in confirmation theory I’ll refer to such posterior probabilities as “likelihoods,” and by extension the “likelihood of a hypothesis” will refer to the extent to which a hypothesis renders the evidence or data probable.  (The likelihood of a hypothesis is distinct from the probability of a hypothesis, as the latter refers to the extent to which the evidence renders the hypothesis probable).  So my view with respect to the living-agent psi hypothesis is that I don’t think survivalists have really shown that the survival hypothesis has a likelihood superior to a sufficiently robust living-agent psi hypothesis, at least not if the data set has sufficiently broad parameters.  More strongly stated, my view is that the likelihood of the survival hypothesis is less than or equal to the likelihood of the nearest robust competitor.
It’s important to underscore here that the argument for supposing that Pr(DMAX/S) ≤ Pr(DMAX/C) does not require the stronger claim that Pr(DMAX/C) > Pr(DMAX/S).  My position is also compatible with the following survivalist claim: Pr(DMIN/S) > Pr(DMIN/C), where DMIN = a more restricted data set.  So I work out my position in a way that is actually sensitive to the evidence-parameters problem.  Nonetheless, as I see it, (1) and (2) severally suffice to defeat the empirical argument for survival, at least to the extent to which the empirical argument depends on attributing to the survival hypothesis a superior likelihood over competitors.  So this will apply to Bayesian survival arguments that make use of likelihoods for the purposes of showing that the survival hypothesis is more probable than not.  It will also apply to Likelihoodist versions of the empirical argument for survival that are more modest in their pretensions, aiming only to show that the evidence (strongly) favors the survival hypothesis over the competitors solely on the grounds that the survival hypothesis has a superior likelihood.
It should be clear that the kind of comparative “adequacy” I’ve been focusing on here concerns “likelihoods” but of course many survivalists regard counter-explanations, such as the robust versions of the living-agent psi hypothesis, as (comparatively) inadequate for reasons other than those that bear on likelihoods.  For instance, many survivalists reject robust versions of the living-agent psi hypothesis because of its lack of independent testability and increased complexity. Since I regard these issues as determinants of prior probability (rather than explanatory power), I would parse the frequently encountered survivalist objection as maintaining that robust living-agent psi hypotheses have a lower prior probability than the survival hypothesis.  So the survivalist would presumably be claiming that Pr(S/K) > Pr(C/K) because C is more complex than S, fits less well with background knowledge, and we have no independent evidence for C (or some auxiliary contained in C).  Of course, on my analysis of priors, I think that Pr(S/K) ≤ Pr(C/K), at least if S and C refer to robust versions of survival and the nearest competitor and the background knowledge is what interlocutors in the debate typically include, e.g., scientific knowledge.
7 – Sayaka: Chris Carter has argued forcefully against the super-PSI hypothesis (or super-ESP, as some calls it). For example, he says “Evidence for the existence of ESP of the required power and range is practically nonexistent. Defenders of the super-ESP hypothesis are hard-pressed to find any such examples – outside of cases of apparent communication from the deceased.” According to Carter, no defender of super-PSI has ever been able to challenge this objection. What do you think of this objection?
Sudduth: It’s the stock in trade of empirical survivalists to reject appeals to super-psi on the grounds that this hypothesis lacks “independent support.”  Stephen Braude has challenged this objection for a number of years, and I present an argument against it in a forthcoming paper in The Survival Hypothesis: Essays on Mediumship, ed. Adam Rock (McFarland, 2014).  An earlier draft of the paper in question, “Is Survival the Best Explanation of Mediumship?”, is available on my professional website  Let me outline some of the salient points that I think significantly weaken the force of this objection.
First, from a Likelihoodist approach to confirmation theory, whether evidence favors hypothesis h1 over h2 depends solely on whether e is more to be expected given h1 than given h2, technically stated, whether Pr(e/h1) > Pr(e/h2).  A student walking down the hall from the Philosophy Department with three philosophy books in his hand favors the hypothesis that the student is a philosophy major over the hypothesis that the student is a biology major because the observational evidence is more likely given the former hypothesis than given the latter hypothesis.  Whether there is independent support for either hypothesis is not relevant to deciding which hypothesis the evidence favors, confirms, or supports.  Now of course, the Likelihoodist approach doesn’t tell us which hypothesis is likely to be true, and therefore it doesn’t tell us which hypothesis to accept or believe.  It only tells us which of two or more hypotheses a body of evidence favors or supports.  But the point here is that if I’m a Likelihoodist, I can make sense of the relevant data favoring the super-psi hypothesis over the survival hypothesis, even if super-psi lacks independent support.
Now the apparent shortcoming of my proposed Likelihoodist defense of the super-psi hypothesis is that lack of independent support may nonetheless be salient to our overall assessment of a hypothesis, and if we want to compare the survival hypothesis and its competitors, we might want to inquire about more than their comparative likelihoods. For example, the hypothesis that a very powerful demon intended me to pick the ace of spades has a higher likelihood than the hypothesis that my selection of the card was random, for the former hypothesis makes the selection of the card very probable and the latter makes it very improbable.  But the fact that the evidence favors the demon hypothesis here does not make the hypothesis very probable all things considered, and the crucial issue here, if we don’t have good evidence against the existence of such an entity, is quite plausibly that the demon hypothesis lacks independent support.  More generally stated, the demon hypothesis has a very low prior probability, and this is due in large part to the fact that it lacks independent support.
Now this point is significant from the vantage point of a possible defense of the empirical argument for survival.  Let’s suppose that Pr(DMAX/S&K) = Pr(DMAX/C&K).  That is, the predictive power or likelihoods of S and C are equivalent. The survival hypothesis might still have a greater posterior probability than C (maybe even be more probable than not) if its prior probability is greater, especially if the prior probability is much greater.  From a Bayesian viewpoint, if Pr(e/h1&k) = Pr(e/h2&k), then Pr(h1/e&k) > Pr(h2/e&k) just if Pr(h1/k) > Pr(h2/k).  That is to say, if two hypotheses have equal predictive power (or likelihoods), then the evidence and background knowledge confers a greater probability on h1 than h2 just if h1’s prior probability is greater than h2’s prior probability.  So a survivalist might simply argue that, worst case scenario, Pr(DMAX/S&K) = Pr(DMAX/C&K), but since Pr(S/K) >> Pr(C/K), the survival hypothesis has a greater posterior probability, maybe it’s still more probable than not.  To put this otherwise, a survivalist might argue that the net effect of deflating the explanatory power of the survival hypothesis on the grounds of co-equal likelihoods is negligible since the prior probability of the survival hypothesis is much greater.
I think this counter-argument would work if we were comparing the priors of “C” and a simple survival hypothesis, but as I’ve already argued, the explanatory candidates must be compared in their robust forms because simple survival has no explanatory power.  If the survivalist tries to shift to a simple survival hypothesis to inflate the prior probability of the survival hypothesis, this will deflate the explanatory power of the survival hypothesis. It will follow that Pr(DMAX/C&K) >> Pr(DMAX/S&K).  But, unfortunately for the survivalist, if “lack of independent support” drives down the prior probability of the appeal to so-called super-psi, it will also drive down the prior probability of the robust survival hypothesis since it also depends on a broad range of auxiliary hypotheses for which there is no independent support.  More generally, if “lack of independent support” is a defect of robust living-agent psi hypotheses, it will also be a defect of the robust living agent psi hypothesis.  So there’s no advantage to be had here for the survival hypothesis.  As I noted above, on my analysis, Pr(S/K) ≤ Pr(C/K), if “S” refers to a robust survival hypothesis.
Finally, the problem for the survivalist is exacerbated since the auxiliary assumptions required by the survival hypothesis (to have predictive power) includes an auxiliary hypothesis that attributes super-psi to discarnate persons (and possibly also living agents).  As Gauld, Braude, Emily Williams Kelly, and I have each argued, the survival hypothesis itself is committed to the existence of ESP of a required power and range examples of which survivalists would be hard pressed to find outside cases of apparent communications from the deceased.  As I argued my 2009 paper “Super-Psi and the Survivalist Interpretation of Mediumship,” if the communications attributed to the deceased in paradigmatic cases of mediumship are really from the deceased, they too have extraordinary powers of knowledge acquisition, often requiring that they telepathically or clairvoyantly mine information from multiple sources.  It’s only the unwarranted assumption that death increases the potency of psi, or some such other speculative assumption, that allows survivalists to think that they are immune from this objection to super-psi.  But of course, they’re merely taking refuge in a further assumption for which there is no independent evidence.
But there’s another part of Carter’s objection of which I’m suspicious, namely the demand to produce examples of ESP of the “required” power and range outside cases of survival.
First, why is there a requirement that psi be super-psi in order to deflate the explanatory superiority of the survival hypothesis? Empirical survivalists routinely assert this, but Braude has shown that the assertion rests on various implausible assumptions.  Moreover, I’ve discussed in detail why appeals to living-agent psi challenge the survival hypothesis without requiring an appeal to super-psi.  See my the previously mentioned forthcoming “Is Survival the Best Explanation of Mediumship?” and my “A Critical Response to David Lund’s Argument for Postmortem Survival” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013, 27: 277-316).
Second, I don’t know what kind of evidence would count as clear evidence for super-psi but not be capable of being construed as evidence for survival by empirical survivalists.  You may recall that back in the 1970s the Philip Group produced ostensible living-agent psychokinetic effects that resembled the phenomena of physical mediumship, complete with messages from a “deceased personality” named Philip.  Philip was a fictional person created by the group of experimenters, and his ostensible communications through raps and knocks corresponded to the details of the fictional biography created by members of the group. Yet David Fontana gave the Philip Group phenomena a survivalist interpretation by positing an earthbound spirit intent on fooling the group by masquerading as their fictional character Philip. (See Fontana, Is There An Afterlife? 2005, p. 112).  Well, of course.  If there were some earthbound spirit with such an intention and the power to carry out his deception, we would expect to find the evidence associated with the Philip Group experiments. By parity of reasoning, the hypothesis that a malicious and powerful demon wanted me to select the ace of spades I drew from the deck of cards renders my draw quite probable, certainly more probable than the alternative hypothesis that my draw was completely random.  You see, you can select any datum and adopt a hypothesis that renders the datum very probable or more probable than it would be given competing hypotheses.  The difficulty in meeting the survivalist challenge to produce evidence for super-psi outside cases of survival may not be the absence of such evidence, but the survivalist proclivity to see such evidence where it arises as evidence for survival.  Since what counts as a case of survival is precisely what’s in dispute by the parties in the debate, the challenge begs the question.
And of course the previous point highlights the final problem with Carter’s objection. Although it’s not clear what would count as unambiguous evidence for living-agent super-psi (vs. survival), what is clear is that no empirical survivalist has met the challenge to provide independent support for the dozen or so required auxiliary hypotheses required for survival to have predictive efficacy.  And this request does not beg the question.  It’s simply another instance of the general requirement imposed by Carter himself with respect to the super-psi hypothesis.  What Carter and other survivalists who take his position need to do is (i) explicitly acknowledge the content or range of the assumptions required for survival to yield likelihoods (of the evidence) that exceed the likelihoods (of the evidence) given rival hypotheses and (ii) provide independent support for as many of these auxiliary hypotheses as they can.  Until this can be done, the empirical case for survival has not been worked out with adequate logical rigor, and it certainly does not deserve to be considered a genuine scientific or even quasi-scientific hypothesis.
8 – Sayaka: In connection with the above objection, survivalists suggest that the super-PSI hypothesis is ad hoc, because of the lack of any independent evidence for super-PSI, besides the putative cases of survival. (It’s like arguing that the reincarnation type cases are best explained by extraterrestials implanting false memories, without having any independent evidence for the existence of aliens, a point pressed by philosopher Robert Almeder in his response to atheist philosopher Steven Hales). Some survivalist consider this to be the most crushing objection against super-PSI. What’s your reply?
Sudduth: Given what I have argued above, if this objection is a crushing objection against the super-psi hypothesis, it’s also a crushing objection to the survival hypothesis, in which case the survivalist is hoisted by his own petard.  As I’ve already noted, the simple supposition of survival makes no specific predictions, much less does it predict any of the fine-grained features of the actual data, unless it’s supplemented by auxiliary assumptions of a wide-ranging sort. Hence, the lack of independent support objection is just as applicable to the robust survival hypothesis as it is to the super-psi hypothesis. Even if we assume that there is independent evidence for survival, there would also have to be independent evidence for the range of auxiliary assumptions needed for the survival hypothesis to have predictive power. Almeder has not provided this independent support, nor have other survivalists.
So why aren’t the auxiliary hypotheses employed by the survivalist ad hoc in nature?  I noted above that among such auxiliary hypotheses would be the attribution of super-psi to discarnate persons.  Well, then, if the super-psi hypothesis is ad hoc, so also is the survival hypothesis since it must rely on super-psi assumptions, or further assumptions whose only purpose for being invoked is that they would lead us to expect discarnate persons to have greatly enhanced cognitive and causal powers.  But take another example, this time from Almeder. He argues that if reincarnation is true, then we would expect to find people with past life memories, which Almeder says is confirmed by the fact that people claim to have past life memories.  Setting aside that this is not a specific prediction, Almeder makes it clear that what sanctions the prediction here is the psychological criterion of personal identity.  So here’s an admission of an auxiliary hypothesis, but clearly more needs to be assumed because we would have to account for a potentially disconfirming datum, to wit, many people appear to have no past life memories.
There are, of course, many auxiliary hypotheses we could introduce here so that the reincarnation hypothesis was consistent with the facts:  people remember past lives but claim they don’t, people don’t recall their past lives because they possess them in the form of repressed memories, their last reincarnation was as a non-human and their memories were erased (perhaps memories only pass from human to human incarnations), they will eventually recall their past life at some point in their present life, or people with no past life memories are living their first life.  It doesn’t matter which of these we select, or none. The point here is that a reincarnation hypothesis requires that we build into it assumptions that are no less ad hoc than the ones needed by an extra-terrestrial hypothesis.  And here it seems to me that living-agent psi hypotheses have a plausible advantage.  As Braude has shown, whatever we might say about so-called super-psi, to the extent that survivalists take seriously the evidence for living-agent psi, there is at least independent evidence for “dandy psi,” as exemplified, for example, in the more impressive remote viewing experiments in the Stargate Project.  In my paper critiquing David Lund’s argument for survival (referenced above), I argued that ordinary psi, which includes “dandy psi,” is sufficient to pose an explanatory challenge to the survival hypothesis.  I’d say this advantage would extend to their comparative prior probabilities, at least to the extent to which independent support is being invoked as a determinant of prior probability.  I think it’s plausible to construct a robust living-agent psi hypothesis with reference to dandy psi.

The Boundless Ocean of Experience

It has now been since six months since I moved into Jikoji Zen Center.  People often ask me what I’ve learned since being here. I prefer to speak of what I’ve experienced. Yes, there is an experiential understanding, but it often resists being neatly articulated.  Everything comes back to experience, and while the contemplative engagement with experience is wonderful, it remains difficult to fully articulate.
The past sixth months have been a powerful period of transition for me on multiple levels, precipitated by the collapse of life as I had known it for the prior three years. I came to Jikoji for healing, to cultivate what I called “compassionate knowing,” and to find the openness where I could believe in love if she should ever speak to me again, though, as Kahlil Gibran so eloquently wrote, her voice had once shattered my dreams.  But love takes many forms, and it’s the one you weren’t seeking that reveals itself and sets you free, allows you to fall joyfully and with surrender into the Boundless Ocean of Experience. . .
The experience of just observing, which tends to illuminate the inner compulsion or need to do something with a situation.  What is watched here in both the outer and inner aspect of experience. On the inside, it’s a watching of thoughts, images, feelings, and sensations, including observing the “inner compulsion” to do something with what arises in the mind, e.g., creating a narrative, rendering a judgment, and so forth.  On the outside, it’s the observation of what is happening “out there,” e.g., a leaf falling, car moving, dog barking, etc.  Everything is seen as it is happening, distinguished from mental story telling about what is happening.  If I could only see the apple as it is, my self conception would shatter into a million pieces.  Of course, the idea here isn’t to end mental phenomena, to cease story telling and seeking, much less to retreat from action.  The thing is just to see it clearly and to understand that there is more present here, in this moment of my experience, than me, than this body, than this mind, that is, these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
The experience of being OK with myself as I am, and the inevitable corollary of this, namely being OK with whatever feelings or thoughts arise in me.  Perhaps anger arises in me.  Perhaps blissful feeling.  Or maybe there is sadness present. No need or compulsion to get rid of what is unpleasant, nor to cling to what is pleasant.  Just to let everything be as it is, this is to treat everything you are in this moment as an expression of the Absolute.  Any consciousness that can hold all the opposites is inconceivably vast, and it’s clearly seen that this “I” is, in the words of Gibran, a “boundless drop to a boundless sea.” This is why acceptance is always a revelation of our largeness.  And by “acceptance” I do not mean something the mind does or may not do. Whatever is experienced has already been accepted, otherwise it would be no part of your experience. The deepest acceptance is just the abiding presence of awareness that conditions each moment of any experience.
The experience of silence, not just verbal silence but the silence that is experienced inwardly when one falls into the nothingness that separates the rising and falling of one thought, feeling, or sensation. This is the collapse of mental phenomena into the nothingness from which they emerged, just as waves collapse into the sea that gave them birth.  Beneath the anger, there is fear. Beneath the fear, there is pain.  Beneath the pain there is tranquility. Beneath the tranquility, if you’re lucky to get that far, there is nothing at all.  This nothing is awakening. This awakening is wherever silence is. And wherever you find the silence, you find your most faithful lover and kiss the face of God.
The experience of nothing “special” happening at all: just watching a deer eat plants outside, listening to a Blue Jay’s screeching voice, mopping the resident kitchen floor, lighting incense in my room, striking a slab of wood hanging outside the zendo in the pouring rain at 5:45am, making an egg and cheese scramble for breakfast, listening to Black Sabbath, driving my car down a dirt road, playing guitar, remembering my pain, watching rain fall, recalling a blissful moment, buying a shirt, writing a blog post. These are truly the moments to live for because ultimately there is nothing happening but this, and this is love all around us.  Dive into this boundless ocean of experience.  Realize with each blink of your eye, whether you open to the height of bliss or the depth of despair, this is as good as it gets. This moment now is the home to which you return again and again, and it’s the greatest gift of all.