The complete stance

Dramatic cloudscape over Sydney opera house
Image courtesy Trey Ratcliff

This page introduces the central chapter of Meaningness, explaining the complete stance. The complete stance recognizes that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. Put another way, it neither fixates nor denies meanings. Or, equivalently: it enables the realistic and creative possibilities that emerge when you let go of eternalism and nihilism simultaneously.

If you arrived here unfamiliar with the term “complete stance”: postpone this page! It will seem boring and technical. Instead, read “Preview: eternalism and nihilism” for an introduction to the topic.

You are already in the complete stance

Maintaining confused stances—such as eternalism and nihilism—is actually impossible, because they frequently contradict experience. We are aware, subliminally at least, that they require extensive make-believe.

Because we know eternalism and nihilism are wrong, we are all always already almost in the complete stance. It’s obvious that meaningness is both nebulous and patterned. This should make the complete stance obvious. Unfortunately, it’s often not obvious at all, because it is not a well-known concept.

It also looks unattractive from a distance. Unlike eternalism and nihilism, it does not claim to be The Ultimate Answer. Unlike eternalism and nihilism, it makes no comforting promises of certainty, understanding, control, or non-responsibility.

Further, the complete stance looks dauntingly complicated from a distance, because it works with both pattern and nebulosity, plus their intricate interrelationships. From its own point of view, it is simpler than either eternalism or nihilism. It sees only one thing (meaningness) not two (meaning and meaninglessness). It does not attempt to divide pattern from nebulosity—an artificial and impossible separation that causes endless complications.

Pretending not to be in the complete stance, we are usually somewhat effective at pulling the wool over our own eyes, using the eternalist ploys and nihilist justifications. So we often act as if we were genuinely eternalists or nihilists, and this has awful consequences.

The complete stance looks boring from a distance

The road to the complete stance appears dull, at first, because it is obvious. The way is deflationary: it strips away the enticing dramas of confused stances:

“You are on a Mission from God to fulfill the Ultimate Meaning of the Universe!”
“You have seen through the illusion of meaning and joined the intellectual elite who recognize the hard and cold reality of Ultimate Meaninglessness!”
“You have thrown off the fetters of mindless social conformity, and have the courage to create your own meanings out of raw nothingness!”

We manufacture these dramas because we fear that actually-existing meanings are inadequate. But—exciting, colorful, and appealing as fantasy-meanings may be—they are imposed, delusional, and noxious. We are better off without them.

Freedom from metaphysical delusions

The negative definition of the complete stance, as not fixating or denying meaning, is unappealing. However, it points to the main promise: freedom. Freedom from metaphysical delusions, and their propensity to limit action.

The shared metaphysical mistake underlying eternalism and nihilism is that the only meaningful kind of meaning would be non-nebulous: objective, eternal, distinct, changeless, and unambiguous. Recognizing that meanings are never that way, yet real all the same, is a more positive definition of the complete stance.

We might begin by asking:

What is creative, but not eternalistic?
What is realistic, but not nihilistic?

Dropping attractive delusions is the antidote to eternalism. Allowing meanings to be as they are is the antidote to nihilism. Then you discover that meaningness is adequate after all—more than adequate—wondrous, delicious, and vivid!

If we are always already in the complete stance, are we already done? No. The aim is to stabilize the complete stance, so we fall back into confused stances less often; and to gain skill in working with fluid meaningness.

Curiosity, playfulness, and creativity are three aspects of that skill.1 These are not separate; just three different ways of talking about the same art. I will say something about each in this chapter; and more throughout Meaningness.

Because this whole book is about finding, stabilizing, and accomplishing the complete stance; and because the stance is—from its own point of view—so simple and obvious, the chapter is relatively short.

  1. 1.Vajrayanists will recognize these—along with “wondrous, delicious, and vivid”—as structural equivalents of “coemergent emptiness, bliss, and clarity,” respectively. Equivalently, these are parallel to the trikaya.