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A marriage of paradigms: autonomy – heteronomy; Mind – mind

John Heron

From Heron, J., Paradigm Papers, published by British Postgraduate Medical Federation, University of London, in association with Human Potential Research Project, University of Surrey, December 1981.

I use the terms autonomy-heteronomy in a very updated, very neo-Kantian sense. Autonomy is a concept I apply to a person acting outside the compulsive constraints of denied distress feelings. The person is functioning freely and flexibly, sensitive to and aware of what is going on in the present situation, and making choices appropriate to what is going on. Feelings are positive, they don’t pressurize behaviour; there is intelligent discrimination of what is actually happening; creative, imaginative and adaptive choices are made. The person is acting rationally and sensitively, expressing norms and values to which he or she is internally committed in a way that is fitting to the present situation.

Heteronomy is a concept I apply to a person who is unawarely acting out old denied distress feelings. The behaviour is maladaptive and compulsive, driven by hidden distress and interrupted, frozen needs; the situation is seen stereotypically in terms of old inhibiting conditioning without aware discrimination of what is actually happening and what the possibilities of the situation are. The person is acting irrationally and insensitively, expressing distorted norms and values that have been scripted in from outside and that are not fitting to the real needs of the situation. Heteronomous behaviour covers not simply actions which our culture would call neurotic, deviant, disturbed, maladjusted; it also covers a good deal of conventionally legitimated behaviour:- what goes on in committees, meetings and conferences: a lot of standard teaching and educational practice; some research activity; how parents and other adults relate to children; how the sexes relate to each other; political activity; and so on, and so on. In my view, we live in a mixed autonomous-heteronomous society, but one which is in so many areas cripplingly heteronomous.

I think it is important to compare, at this point, the autonomy-heteronomy paradigm just defined with the enormously influential (in the East and increasingly nowadays in the West) Mind-mind paradigm of the East, especially in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. “Mind” with a capital “M” is consciousness as such, not the consciousness of this or that person or entity, but that universal awareness that transcends any particular local eddy or focus within in. Whereas “mind” with a small “m” is the everyday, idiosyncratic consciousness of the individual: the apparent empirical ego with its ideas, images, feelings, moods, wishes, wants, goals, choices, and so on.

The classic doctrine, e.g.: in Nyingma Buddhism, in Tantra, is that mind by its very nature, antecedent to any human intention or action, is a confusion and distraction, precipitating deluded pursuits. The fundamental delusion of the human condition is inappropriately and blindly to seek through mind and its restless goal-oriented activity what can only be known through openness to Mind and the transcendence of mind. The mind, desiring this or that, finds only subtle dissatisfaction in its achievements and fulfilments, as long as it is unaware that its pursuits are a misbegotten attempt to achieve through its own activity the bliss of Mind that transcends and is other than such activity. The Mind-mind model, then, points to unfinished business not of the past but of the present.

What is displaced into mental activity now is not past distress, but the unacknowledged discomfort of present alienation from Mind.

The classic oriental route for transcendence, for the consciousness shift from mind to Mind, is self-remembering, disidentification, noticing, witnessing, satipatthana, Mindfulness: never being fully engrossed in the pursuits of mind, but whatever one is thinking; feeling or doing, having an extra margin of awareness that is wider than and embraces these pursuits. In this way the activities of mind become transformed and transcended by openness to Mind.

There are certain tensions between the Mind-mind paradigm and the autonomy-heteronomy paradigm. The Mind-mind paradigm is traditionally associated with what in Buddhism is called the doctrine of anatta or no-self: the view that there is no permanent or detectable or actual centre of everyday consciousness, no self that is the focus or reference point for thought, imagery, desire, choice and so on. The perturbations of mind become hypostatized as the experience of a self: but this on the ancient Buddhist analysis is a delusion – no such self exists. To imagine that it does exist and does have legitimate aspirations, needs and interests, is only to get further locked into the illusions of mind. For the doctrine of anatta, illusory selves become addicted to looking back with longing, pain or regret and to looking forward with fear, hope or expectation, and thus simply miss out on the ever presence of Mind.

By contrast, the autonomy-heteronomy paradigm is very much associated with a philosophy of the person. It presupposes there is a distinctive entity, the person, with real human capacities, the frustration of which can lead to hurt and behaviour distortion. On this view, the autonomous person is not an illusion but a being who makes authentic choices and exercises intelligent discrimination. The person is significantly self-determining and self-creating: coming into being in every situation through the exercise of choice here and now; and in relation with other persons. The person has fundamental human rights, has responsibility, is accountable to self and others. And the person is enquiring, creative, expressive, celebratory, delighting in unique, idiosyncratic ways of symbolizing his or her experience. This philosophy of the person that underlies the autonomy-heteronomy paradigm is clearly at odds with the doctrine of anatta that underlies the Mind-mind paradigm. For the doctrine of anatta is also the doctrine of no person.

But the two basic paradigms, of autonomy-heteronomy and Mind-mind, are not themselves incompatible. The difficulty lies with the ancient doctrine of anatta or no self: it fails to make a crucial distinction between separateness of being and distinctness of being. To say that from the standpoint of the reality of Mind there is no separate self, is not also to say that from this standpoint there is no distinct person. What is separate, cut off, closed on itself, certainly cannot interact with and be part of a greater whole. But what is distinct can interact with and be part of a greater whole: like the distinct colours and forms simultaneously apprehended by someone appreciating a painting; or like the different distinct sounds simultaneously experienced by some one enjoying a moment of orchestration. As Plotinus brings out magnificently in the eighth book of the Enneads, distinctness of individual beings and unity of Being are mutually enhancing. In stressing the via negativa, the transcendence of mind and openness to Mind, through the doctrine of anatta, no separate self, Eastern approaches have lost sight of the complementary pole: the via expressiva, the immanence of Mind within mind, the philosophy of distinctness of personal being within an orchestrated whole.

A person caught up in the perturbations of mind can at the same time suffer the illusion of being a separate self cut off from Mind.

By contrast, a person can be open to Mind and achieve distinctness of being without the illusion of separateness of being, moreover a distinctness that is unfolding and developing. Reality is One and Many. To see only the Many as innumerable separates and discount the One is an illusion. To see only the One and discount the Many as phantasms is also an illusion. To act within a bipolar reality we may ofttimes need a disjunctive, unipolar logic that stresses one pole or the other, this or that, part or whole, one or many, here or there. To comprehend a bipolar reality we need a conjunctive, bipolar logic, which replaces analytic disjunction with synthetic conjunction: One and Many. We need to think in simultaneous bipolar terms.

The human relationship that has been the vehicle for transmitting the doctrine of no-self has been the ancient hierarchical one of master-disciple, guru-chela. The master’s role, through the alchemy of his presence and teaching and prescriptions, is lovingly to break up the disciple’s empirical ego, to dismantle the illusory parameters of the everyday self, so that the disciple can enter the heritage that has always been there unnoticed – Mind as bliss. The method is that of surrender, obedience, satsang, meditative transcendence. It is the passive, quietest path, the via negativa, the flight to God from the works of God: the disciple, through attunement to the master, simply transcends, dissociates from tension, distress and the phenomenal world. Moksha, release, is the goal. It is not a method of inquiry but a method of salvation and the master is the infallible guide. The master already knows all that counts as real knowledge: what is called for is surrender to him, not the spirit of autonomous inquiry which considers him the subject of appropriate sorts of inquiry as much as anyone or anything else.

The human relationship which in my view is the best vehicle for developing the via expressiva and increasing distinctness of personal being is the peer relation: persons in reciprocal and co-operating interaction, emerging from heteronomy to autonomy. The approach is that of cooperative inquiry, of personal growth through mutual aid, of social and political self-determination. The human condition is fully owned, entered into and worked through. Humanity is celebrated, affirmed. The phenomenal world is a field of inquiry, expression and creation. Persons through processes of parity and mutuality generate a culture which has overtones of the transcendental, yet which is an autonomous creation in its own right.

If in the oriental master-disciple arrangements there is no complementary and polar emphasis on parity, autonomy, inquiry, expressiveness and distinctness of personal being, then the result is likely to be a very subtle oppression of persons, leading to spiritual conformity and pseudo or induced enlightenment, contingent upon sustained proximity and subordination to the master. Conversely, in purely peer interactions for emerging from heteronomy to autonomy, there may be only minimal openness to Mind. For no human presence or activity may be representative of that transcendent Presence to which the master traditionally bears witness.

Again, there is no ultimate incompatibility between these two ostensibly very different models of a facilitating relationship. For those who are in a peer relationship system can rotate amongst themselves the symbolic role of Transcendental Witness. Such a Transcendental Witness would have a range of symbolic and ritual functions, bearing witness for and on behalf of others to the presence of Mind. In such a relationship system, persons are concerned both with emergence from heteronomy and with openness to Mind. They seek to explore distinctness of being, without separateness of being.

The following diagram brings the autonomy-heteronomy and the Mind-mind paradigms to bear upon each other: Mind is the top row, mind the bottom row; autonomy is the left column and heteronomy the right column.

 peer relationship rotating the role ofTranscendental Witness; peer ritualslearning from co-operative inquiry intoaltered states of consciousnessencounter with the transpersonalphilosophy of the persontaking creative awareness into lifeVIA EXPRESSIVA(bipolar) traditional master-disciple relationshipsurrender, obedience, satsanglearning from authoritiesmoksha: release, salvationanatta: no selfliving with non-attachmentVIA NEGATIVA(unipolar)
research on persons through cooperative inquiryphysical sciencepersonal growthhuman rights and political self-determinationself-generating cultureorganizational developmentexercise of aware intelligent judgment and discriminationautonomous norms and values conventionalism, rigid societysocializationdistress-determined behaviour and normsconformityemotional trauma of infancy and birthinnate distracting perturbations of mind

The shift from heteronomy to autonomy is a shift from dependence on teachers, inspirers, spiritual directors, masters (at the level of Mind), and on parents, socialisers, teachers, educators (at the level of mind), and on the associated hierarchical concept of knowledge (and of routes to knowledge) imparted by an authority, to independent co-operative inquiry and the associated concept of knowledge acquired by a method evolved among peers. It is also a shift from simply trying to rise above the distresses of mind, to evolving a method for dealing with them and resolving them in part at their own level, e.g. through personal growth and organizational change.

The heteronomous approach to Mind disregards the claims of human autonomy. It is not concerned to deal with human distress at the human level by appropriate human means in order to achieve a truly distinct style of personal being.

It is a transcendental approach still under the sway of unresolved human distress. It sidesteps the claims of inquiry, of personal growth at the human level, of political and organizational restructuring. It has a one-sided distress-determined doctrine of anatta or no self thus suppressing the possibility of distinct and developing personal expression. And it has an associated distress-determined doctrine of moksha or release: the sole direction is toward salvation, bliss, enlightenment, delivery from the wheel of rebirth – for the achievement of which the whole process of inquiry becomes redundant. But where there is no autonomous inquiry into Mind and the routes to Mind, the result is a chronic distress-determined dependence on and undiscriminating allegiance to a master, the pathological nature of which it is difficult to spot precisely because the master seems to give so much in the way of subtle energy, uplift, challenge and spiritual release. Human beings in so many cultures have always been uncritically susceptible to a combination of charismatic domination and uplift. But the charge remains: “enlightenment”, spiritualization, attained by abandoning exercise of that inalienable human endowment of intelligent, discriminating inquiry, is but pseudo-enlightenment. Charismatic influence is not self-justifying. Its very potent ability to penetrate, dominate, refine, energize and sway souls is the very reason why the filter of suitably defined discriminating inquiry is so important.

The use of the doctrines of anatta, no self, inevitably leads to the attempt, unwittingly, to suppress the inalienable reality of distinctness of personal being. As in all such endeavours, what is denied reasserts itself in distorted form. So in no self ashrams, the self reappears, subtly aggrandized as the deus inflatus of the guru, a pseudo-divinity feeding off the suppressed distinctness and autonomy of the devotee. Since the devotees are repaid for the sacrifice of their projected autonomy by a flood of energizing, refining and conscious-raising charisma, the whole dynamic becomes self-locking and apparently self-justifying – and remarkably impervious to accurate diagnosis.

But the pathology is not difficult to spot:

  1. The exclusive and special claims made for each master, without regard for similar claims made for other masters.
  2. The resultant tacit but clear competition in the market place between masters for potential devotees.
  3. The implied or often quite explicit dismissal by one master of the claims, status and validity of other masters.
  4. The almost complete isolation of one master and his devotees from all
    other masters and their devotees. There is no ecumenical movement
    among masters: each rules a totally separatist spiritual kingdom.
  5. The primitive, autocratic model of decision-making made within the ashram and the outposts of the kingdom; the absence of open, consultative and participative government; the internal inhibition of inquiry into how the organization runs, both politically in terms of decision-making and economically in terms of finance.
  6. The internal proscription of discriminating inquiry into gurudom as a deluded preoccupation of the illusory separate self. And a similar dismissal of the whole idea of peer inquiry into altered states of consciousness.
  7. The often chaotic, contradictory statements, teachings, prescriptions given by the master, always rationalized out and explained away by devotees as special aids to enlightenment.
  8. The continuous, subtle invalidation by the master of his devotees as being lost in the illusion of a separate self.
  9. The oppressive and necessary exclusion of devotees from enlightenment since there is only room for one master at a time. The absolute hierarchical, spiritual dominance of the master guarantees that the very enlightenment which the master purports to offer his devotees will never be attained by them. The devotees thus sell their souls to the master to sustain his “enlightenment” at the expense of achieving their own.
  10. The subtle, coercive pressure exercised by devotees on visitors to the kingdom to surrender, join, follow the master.
  11. The patriarchal, sexist norms sometimes found operative in the internal arrangements of the kingdom. And so on.

There is of course a profound, creative tension between charismatic potency and discriminating inquiry. The former tends to disperse and scatter the sort of conceptual coherence that is necessary for the latter. A lot of charismatic energy empties the mind. A lot of close conceptual concentration shuts off charismatic input. The challenge is not to be unipolar and make a great virtue of a charismatically emptied mind; but to be bipolar and create a balance between true charismatic openness and a suitably subtle grid or mesh of concepts. This needs working at. The balance is between Mind and mind; between the transpersonal and the discriminating, distinctive person.

The autonomous approach to Mind is the approach of co-operative inquiry among peers into the transpersonal and altered states of consciousness. Transcendental aspiration, openness, commitment and encounter are balanced by the exercise of a suitably subtle discriminatory intelligence and inquiry. The focus for such inquiry is distinctness of personal being achieved through autonomous development within the domain of mind. Such development involves personal growth and unfoldment including the human resolution of distress-determined attitudes and behaviour. It involves the creation of appropriate paradigms of inquiry for the domains of both mind and Mind. And it involves creating appropriate decision-making procedures, social structures and processes so that persons can work with and for each other: a society clarified in mind and open to Mind.

Whereas the heteronomous approach to Mind tends to put down mind, invalidate it, see it only as something to get out of and be delivered from, the autonomous approach to Mind seesmind as potentially artefactual, as that which can be shaped into a domain of beauty in its own right, and as that which can become a highly tuned instrument for inquiry into Mind. Persons can emerge distinctly and autonomously within mind and then shine resplendently within Mind. The via expressiva is bipolar, conjunctive, distinguishing poles only to have them enhance each other with ever greater brilliance.

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