View from Nowhere

Reflecting on today’s call, and going in to this week’s inquiry, I’m finding myself challenged already.  (Not that that’s a bad thing!).  But in recent years, in other contexts, I’ve reflected a lot on the notion of a “view from nowhere,” and have come to believe that that is an untenable holdover from various systems of metaphysics.  I think we can possibly have an insight into the co-arising and co-determination of subject and object, but I am not comfortable calling that a “view from nowhere” — if by that we mean a “direct contact” with “reality itself,” a context-free apprehension of “what is.”  For instance, is this sort of insight into the co-arising and co-determination of subject and object, of the givenness of “self” or observer along with what is observed, available to a seven-year-old child?  If not, why not?  If this sort of knowing transcends all contextuality, it should be available to anyone, at any time, but I haven’t found this to be the case.  I have found it takes a lot of “work” to even begin to glimpse something like the co-arising of subject and object, and I read this as a developmental (not-context-free) attainment. I am open to being “wrong” about this, but at present it appears to me that the idea that we can actually assume a view from nowhere, and have immediate, context-free awareness of what is, is an out-moded metaphysical view, a myth.

I would welcome anyone’s thoughts on this — or questions, challenges, suggested inquiries or investigations…

Best wishes,


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13 Responses to View from Nowhere

  1. Christopher says:

    So glad you’re studying Levin’s work. They’re my favourite books. I can’t have enough of ‘The Opening of Vision.’ – Christopher.

  2. michaelg says:

    What an interesting discussion! I wonder if the many points of view expressed from different somewhere’s, all harmonizing and mutually respectful, don’t add up to something beyond the usual “now here” viewpoint. “Now here” and “No where” have the same letters, and perhaps anything that lets us move beyond the usual tightly circumscribed here and now, experienced by an individual self, is a step in the right direction. The meditative experiences that I think some of you are able to call upon provides impressive and direct insight into how the mind grounds itself and how central and necessary some kind of viewpoint appears to be. An exercise that has enriched my “view” of the future is the one where you place the mind five or tens years in the future and from that “viewpoint” ask what you’ve done and how you feel about it. This can really light up the opportunities that still exist right now and inspire you to act on ones that you might be glad to look back on later (in five or ten years, or on your death). There is certainly a view at work here. But it has a kind of “no where” quality to it. Something similar seems to be at work when we feel real empathy for another. In the striving to find a foothold and nexus of feeling anywhere that is not in our own conditioned self, is it possible that we thereby embrace a “no where” in which a wider perspective can be born? Similarly could we say that from the second level of Time, we adopt a view that we could call “No when”? –Michael

  3. Karin says:

    Hi Bruce, Tina, Christopher
    thank you for this discussion.
    it is difficult for me to describe in English, what I hardly can explain in German. I like the german word “Gelassenheit”. For me it refers to an experience of sometimes joyful flowing in what a situation is presenting orto a sometimes peaceful acceptance. In the moment I notice and label it, the view is getting more narrow – may be because I want to stay with it (grasping quality).

  4. Bruce says:

    Thank you, Tina, Christopher. I’m enjoying this conversation and really appreciate your insights.

    I resonate with your suggestion, Christopher, that ‘view from nowhere’ might be taken to refer to those moments of spontaneous, open, seemingly self-accomplishing activity or behavior, when there appears to be no (self-centered) ‘where’ there. That is a different meaning from the more well-known meaning of the phrase that I was discussing, but it’s perfectly appropriate for our TSK inquiry here. In that context, I take Jack’s comment, “view from everywhere,” to refer to certain qualities or modes of experience that I can recall experiencing, in which the sense of being a directing entity at the “center” of the field of time and space is released, and the whole experiential gestalt is de-centered or multi-centered, everything seeming to arise together (including thinking or talking). I am not sure if this is what Jack (or Rinpoche) actually means, but it’s where I go when I reflect on his phrase after reading your post.

    Your post also reminded me of a slow, meditative study I’m currently doing of David Michael Levin’s work — in this case, specifically of his books, “The Opening of Vision” and “The Listening Self,” in which he explores the “closure” of our normal modes of sense experience (seeing, hearing) and our possibilities for opening them up to a new relationship to time and space. In “The Listening Self,” discussing Heidegger’s notion of Gelassenheit (letting-go and letting-be), he writes: “The way of thinking we are exploring here in terms of listening is a way of thinking which attempts to avoid the metaphysical grasp of ‘presence’ and learn how to be ‘with’ the presencing of Being in a way that opens up instead of shutting off — a way that lets go, lets move and change, instead of reifying.”

    Warm wishes,


  5. tinac says:

    maybe it should be called…a view from every~nowhere…gol

  6. Christopher says:

    I”m wondering if there might be a possible way in which a ‘view’ can be from no-where. Maybe those words could point to (not describe) a kind of experience different than what we have so far discussed.

    The conditions supporting consideration of this view are 1) an understanding that words don’t say what is happening; but that they resonate in some way with whatever it is that is happening here, the more-than-we-can-say, AND in resonating, they do something); and 2), we allow that what I say, about the ‘view from no-where,’ complements – does not negate – the validity of the objections beautifully presented in this discussion, regarding situatedness, contextuality, languaged bodies, etc). I think the whole thing about contextuality needs to stay in place. Having said that:

    There are definitely regular times when my speaking, my self and my saying, are palpably, not just ‘ungrasped,’ but ‘ungraspable.’ If an astute person were to ask me at such a moment, who is talking, I’d have to say I don’t know, and that I don’t know to whom, and that I don’t know what talking is (in its own-nature). (And the same goes for listening. I wouldn’t say these things, of course, unless I were talking to someone who was interested in a view from no-where/no-one.)

    I can’t explain this, except to say that this ‘no-where’ manifests as a mysterious source of support tor the saying (and thinking). Iit’s not a nihilistic no-where. It’s just that the word ‘where’ doesn’t apply to this quality of being that directly knows itself to be myself talking.

    (Oh, my God, this sounds so dissociated, doesn’t it, but it’s only problem has ever been: my puzzlement over it.) When I relax and accept that everything is happening with this no-thing/no-where quaity as support for the on-goingness aspect, then there is just peace in action. (Feeling some gratitude welling up in me at present.)

    So, yes… there does happen from time to time the experience of nothing and something ‘occuring’ at the same time. Is that the kind of experience that a phrase like ‘the view from no-where’ could point to?

    Some thoughts – from Christopher.

  7. tinac says:

    Hey Bruce, I get exactly what you are saying! This idea of ‘what is’ being understood is questionable. What I was more or less pointing to, was that we learn not to experience the unimaginable, and so, while we might experience it, we have no way of expressing that experience, except within our frame of reference or our usual interpretations…new knowledge might flicker in like flashes of lightening, but it lost before it is ever remembered, b/c we are not conditioned to be aware of it…I would think a child’s experience would be no different, although they have even less structures and memories to draw from, or so it would seem, they have no way of articulating it…so it would also seem for us, and so, a phrase like ‘what is’ is born as a ‘catch all’ for everything we cannot explain.

    I watched a documentary concerning the visions portrayed in the Bible. Maybe, their visions could only be explained by what they had experience with up to that time…and so, we hear a lot about chariots of fire, death on a horse, temples and streets of gold, etc.

    Bruce said: “I would submit that a view which (rightly) takes nowhere into account is not itself a view from nowhere. :-)”

    I totally agree.

    Jack mentioned, that he likes the phrase ‘a view from everywhere’ better, but I would think the same thing applies…

    Maybe these words can open us up beyond their meaning, but I am still finding it quiet impossible to interpret and articulate beyond our limited structures…however, if history has told us anything, it has told us that from the wealth of imagination…new experience can be born…but how will we be able to interpret it successfully without losing the aliveness that Time presents within this new knowing?

    Great discussion…

  8. Bruce says:

    Thank you, Tina, David, Christopher, and Karin, for your responses! I’ll try to take them in order.

    Tina, yes, I agree that it’s hard to say for sure what a child is experiencing. There’s a rather subtle question that arises here, concerning whether we can experience something that is beyond our ability to comprehend or appreciate or possibly even recognize. I say this is “subtle” because I don’t reject the idea altogether — I’ve personally had visionary and other sorts of experiences which were “mind-blowing” or surprising in their unexpectedness and difficulty to fully comprehend — but it gets tricky if we try to identify what we experienced apart from all interpretation, or if we take our interpretation as simply “what is” and assume it’s the same “thing,” the same essential “experience,” for everyone, regardless of context. That’s where we bump up into the problems with “the view from nowhere” that I brought up in my post.

    David, that’s a good point. On the level of metaphor, I can appreciate it as a kind of invitation to let go of or open up fixed focal settings, conventional thing-thinking, etc. I raised the question I did, however, because Jack specifically mentioned Thomas Nagel’s book, The View from Nowhere, and in the context of that book :-) , the “view from nowhere” refers to objective descriptions of reality that are taken to be essentially context-free representations of “what is.”

    Christopher, thank you for taking the time to take the question up in inquiry. I like your amendment and reframing of that phrase. If by the “no-where experience” you mean something like nirodha — a subtle “experience” of the dissolution or cessation of form, perception, conception, etc — then I agree: I do not mean to rule out such an “experience.” But it does seem that such experiences, to become meaningful and life-transformative for us, then do need to be “situated.” In other words, I would submit that a view which (rightly) takes nowhere into account is not itself a view from nowhere. :-)

    Karin, I would like to know what you are meaning by “view from nowhere.” I might agree with what you are saying, but I am not certain.

    Best wishes,


  9. Christopher says:

    I found some time to contemplate, experientially, this one. Thanks for the opportunity. I’ll leave the childhood question, for now, and just say something about the “view from no-where.”

    I couldn’t agree more, that there is no ‘view from no-where,’ unless it is dependently-arisen. So clear. But – and I’m not sure you’re saying this, Bruce, so forgive me if I travel beyond the borders of your text – it would be another thing to say that there is no dimension where speaking in terms of dependent arising (contexts) doesn’t apply. I’d have trouble with that, because it would discount a certain category of ‘experiences,’ for which I have no other satisfactory designation than: the cessation of relationality; the cessation of ‘things’; the experience of ‘no-where.’

    So, what I’ve come to, in thinking about what you say, is that in the phrase “the view from no-where,” the word ‘from’ might be used lightly. It might mean the ‘view which takes no-where into account.’

    – Christopher

  10. Karin says:

    Hi Bruce.
    May be it is not possible to get a concept of “View from nowhere” or understanding, but may be we all have an experience of it. Even as a child.

  11. Christopher says:

    I enjoyed your post, Bruce. I intend to let it sit in me a while, or until I can do some focusing ‘work’ with it. ‘View from No-where’ is certainly problematic. On the other hand, there is a certain category of life-chaning ‘experiences’ (problems with that word, there) that don’t quite seem to fit into the way you’re seeing it (in your short letter), either. I have to take my time with this one. :-) Thanks for the offering.
    – Christopher.

  12. David says:

    Hi Brother Bruce,
    Interesting question you raise about “a view from nowhere”. Not being a scholar or a meta-physician, but searching my own experience at this point, I agree about it being an unlikely “context-free apprehension of “what is”. But it does seem a useful visual metaphor to describe an opening focal setting “by degree” on individual experience, an ever widening and more encompassing perspective, or at least the realization of such wider views amongst the more narrow conventional ones. Or perhaps reaching a realization that a thing perspective can be seen through to one that might include ratios or relationships. In meditation a thing perspective can give way to subtle felt awareness, for instance, and objective and subjective focus may merge, and keeping track of subjectivity may cease. Could that be a kind of “view from nowhere”, if not strictly so, since the visual metaphor no longer applies?
    Love to see what others think.
    Best wishes,

  13. tinac says:

    Hey Bruce, I missed the call this week, and have not listened to it as of yet, but I would tend to agree with you. However, it would seem that the ‘work’ we have to do, is in relation to our structures of belief including this solid idea of the ‘self’ and what has been given, so in that sense, it would seem, that a 7 year old would be better equipt and have the advantage on us, but without, as you alluded to, the psychological development to do so…if I am understanding you correctly.

    Then again, I am not certain that we can understand it from the pov of a 7 year old child anymore. How do we know exactly what they can and cannot or do and do not experience? They are not able to interpret or articulate it in the ways that we can, so maybe, they do experience it, but cannot understand or explain it.

    I’m not certain that we can have a context-free attainment. Just calling it a ‘view from nowhere’ is contextual.

    Much love*

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