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Existential and Meta-Existential Philosophy

Elias Capriles
University of The Andes (Mérida, Venezuela)
elicap@cantv.net

Abstract:
In existential thought the thinking subject includes itself in its own thinking; this
subject is not conceived as a substance that may be objectively determined, for its
being lies in a making or constituting itself. Choice is thus the crucial concept of
existential thought. Since choice involves awareness of the uncertainty of its
possible outcomes, anguish is inherent in it. Hence anguish in the face of our own
freedom is essential to the human reality, and authenticity lies in facing anguish
rather than fleeing it. The term metaexistential refers, (1) to those systems that
acknowledge absolute authenticity and truth to consist in going beyond existence
in all its manifestations—those which are more unauthentic and less conflictive and
distressful, as well as those which are less unauthentic and more conflictive and
distressful—and (2) to those Paths of Awakening possessing the means for
effectively going beyond existence and thus achieving absolute authenticity and
truth. In fact, (1) only the Contemplation state of higher bodhisattvas and the state
of Buddhahood, which are free from the subject-object duality and thus beyond the
bounds of existence and of the human reality, constitute a genuine surpassing of
alienation and delusion, and hence only these conditions are true to our innermost
nature; and (2) only a really effective practice of metaexistential methods such as
Buddhist Paths can be conducive to these realizations.

Søren Kierkegaard (Chestov, 1998) defined his thought as one in which the
thinking subject includes itself in its own thinking, and which does not conceive this
subject as a substance that may be objectively determined, for its being lies in a
making or constituting itself. Jean-Paul Sartre (1946) defined existentialism as the
doctrine in which existence precedes essence, for the determinations constituting

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an individual’s essence result from the choices made by the human existent in its
absolute freedom. The view expounded here is metaexistential because, though it
agrees with existential thinking in that the human existent’s choices give rise to that
existent’s essence—which these very choices cause to be repressive and
repressed—it does not accept that the existent possesses absolute freedom, for
the mental subject’s decisions and actions are the illusory, ultimately nonexistent
play of basic, nondual awareness—or, in terms of Heraclitus’ Fr. 2 DK, of the λόγος
that is the true agent of all that sentient beings believe to be choices and actions of
their own separate, particular and private intellect (and, moreover, the mental
subject’s decisions are to a great extent conditioned by the interaction of past
karma as primary cause [Skt. hetu; Tib. rgyu], with the pressure or influence of
others—originally “external” to our psyche and then, as we internalize them, “inside
or our own psyche”—as a determinant contributory condition [Skt. pratyaya; Tib.
rkyen]). Therefore, metaexistential systems posit neither the precedence of
existence over essence nor that of essence over existence; on the contrary, they
explain essence and existence as co-emergent, illusory developments. In its
rejection of the precedence of any of these factors over the other, metaexistential
thought coincides with the view in Heidegger (1947)—even though the reasons for
this rejection in metaexistential thought are quite different from the German
philosopher’s.
However, the basic reason for coining the term “metaexistential” is neither
that ultimately we are not a separate source-of-thought-and-action / receiver-of-
sensa, nor that our actions are to a great extent conditioned. We have seen that
choice was the crucial, defining concept of existential thinking in general. Most
representatives of this trend of thought were keenly aware that each and every
human choice involves awareness of the uncertainty of its possible outcomes; that
therefore anguish (which the “first Sartre” [1980] defined as fear of the possible
unwanted consequences of our actions, as different from plain fear, the object of
which is whichever unfortunate events may fortuitously occur to us) is inherent in
choice; and that this implies that anguish in the face of our own freedom is
essential to the human reality. In fact, Sartre went so far as to assert our being to

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be anguish and as such to reveal itself in the experience of anguish—and in other
distressful experiences, including boredom, uneasiness and nausea—and to
declare the human reality to be in its being suffering (thus agreeing with Buddhism
in that existence is characterized by duhkha). Kierkegaard viewed Angst, despair,
dread, fear and trembling, and so on, as central to the human reality. The “first
Heidegger” (1996) deemed the Angst inherent in being toward the end to be a
constitutive element of the Dasein or human existent, and in general
Existenzphilosophie (in the ampler sense of the term in which it is not confined to
Jaspers’ philosophy) viewed Angst as a pivotal element of our reality.
The basic reason for coining the term metaexistential is that most of the
existential thought that asserts the human reality to be marked by Angst, anguish
and, in general, suffering, also emphasizes the fact that we have the choice of
either facing this distressful reality and, by doing this consistently, giving rise to an
“authentic” life-project and essence, or eluding it through self-deceit and, by doing
this consistently, begetting an unauthentic life-project and essence marked by
make-believe and self-deceit. The systems I call metaexistential agree with
existential philosophy in categorizing the human reality (at least that of the late
periods of the time cycle) in terms of suffering, and in negating the essentialists’
postulate of an immutable human essence that would be previous to existence and
that would be actualized as the latter. Furthermore, the systems in question agree
with existential philosophy in viewing our successive choices and the life-project
they conform as unauthentic if they aim at concealing the suffering inherent in the
human reality through make-believe and self-deceit, and regarding them as
authentic if they are intended to undo make-believe and self-deceit so as to come
to terms with true character of the human reality and face the suffering inherent in
it. Thus metaexistential systems view the being of the human individual that
according to Sartre is anguish and the human reality that in his view is in its being
suffering, and in general the experiences that Kierkegaard, the first Heidegger and
the first Sartre deemed authentic, as being in fact far more authentic, in the sense
of being far less alienated and deceitful, than whatever may be achieved by
eluding them. However, they clearly recognize these “more authentic experiences”

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to be spurious appearances concealing what we are in truth and therefore to be
instances of the delusion Buddhism calls avidya, which alienate our conscious
experience from this truth (roughly in the sense of Entäusserung as Hegel defined
the term, though certainly not as he understood it).
In fact, the “authentic” experience of pure anguish is a bare experience of
Sartre’s (1980) being-for-Self—the conditioned “floor” of delusion, alienation and
falsehood that is the most basic instance of samsara and that serves as the
foundation on which all higher samsaric states are built. Driven by the drive to flee
unpleasant experiences, we are compelled to elude the bare experience of being-
for-Self by building experiential edifices of unauthenticity, make-believe and self-
deceit—which are doubly spurious and conditioned, for they are spurious,
conditioned appearances we produce in order to cover up the more basic spurious,
conditioned appearances which existentialists deem authentic (which thereby are
mistakenly confirmed as true—this being one reason why few philosophers realize
their spurious, conditioned character). Once we have built this edifice and
established ourselves in an upper floor, the distressful experiences in question,
which are the ground on which the edifice rests, lie in the way to the direct,
nondual, non-conceptual unconcealment of the Buddha nature (i.e., of our true
condition)—which in terms of this metaphor lies underground. Furthermore, in the
upper floors of this building, delusion feels so comfortable that we irreflectively
stick to it, whereas in the ground floor it is extremely uncomfortable. Therefore,
practitioners of systems such as rdzogs-chen1 deem it ideal to remain in the
ground where delusion is experienced as discomfort, because, provided they have
the necessary capacity and conditions, they can use this discomfort as an alarm
reminding them to apply the pith instructions that result in the spontaneous
liberation of delusion and discomfort—and since each instance of spontaneous
liberation of states of deep anguish neutralizes delusion to a far greater extent than
the spontaneous liberation of less conflictive conditions, if a practitioner of rdzogs-
chen manages to stay in the ground floor, delusion can be neutralized in record
time.

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Thus the term metaexistential refers, (1) to those systems that acknowledge
absolute authenticity and truth to consist in going beyond existence in all of its
manifestations—those manifestations which are more unauthentic and less
conflictive and distressful, and those which are less unauthentic and more
conflictive and distressful—and (2) to those Paths of Awakening possessing the
means for turning the delusion the Buddha called avidya, which is the basic human
contradiction, into anguish and conflict as soon as it arises; knowing how to use
anguish and conflict as an alarm that reminds practitioners to apply the pith
instructions of the practice; and transmitting the pith instructions which induce the
spontaneous liberation of delusion (and hence of anguish and conflict) that takes
practitioners beyond existence into absolute authenticity and Truth. In fact, (1) only
the Contemplation state of higher bodhisattvas and the state of Buddhahood,
which are free from the subject-object duality and thus beyond the bounds of
existence and of human reality, constitute a genuine surpassing of alienation and
delusion, and hence only these conditions are true to our innermost nature; and (2)
only a really effective practice of metaexistential Paths such as rdzogs-chen,
Ch’an / Zen, the Inner Vajrayana Tantras of Transformation2 and the like can be
conducive to these realizations.
In my book Beyond Being, Beyond Mind, Beyond History, and in particular
in vol. II, Beyond Mind: Metaexistential Philosophy and Metatranspersonal
Psychology (containing roughly 146,000 words), I produced a Metaexistential
system on the basis of my own rdzogs-chen practice. The purpose of the present
paper is to invite the listener or reader to examine that book, which, until I complete
the third volume of the series, will be provisionally posted at the URL
http://www.webdelprofesor.ula.ve/humanidades/elicap/

REFERENCES
Capriles, E. (2003). Buddhism and Dzogchen. At the URL
http://www.webdelprofesor.ula.ve/humanidades/elicap/

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Chestov, L. (1998). Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle: vox clamantis in
deserto. Paris: Vrin.
Heidegger, M. (1947). Letter on Humanism. In Heidegger, M. (1978). Basic
Writings (Ed. D. F. Krell). London: Routledge.
Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and Time (trans. Joan Stambaugh). Albany, NY: SUNY
Press.
Sartre, J.-P. (1946). L’existentialisme est un humanisme. Paris: Éditions Nagel.

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1
Supreme Buddhist vehicle according to rnying-ma-pa Tibetan Buddhism.
2
rDzogs-chen is an Inner Vajrayana Tantra based on spontaneous liberation rather than transformation. Cf.
Capriles (2003).