Bion the Mystic


Bion was a psychoanalyst. He trained in psychoanalysis and he worked as a psychoanalyst. From his clinical descriptions it is obvious that he was a clinician of acute sensitivity. He understood and described his clinical experiences psychoanalytically initially in a way that any psychoanalyst would be able to understand. However he increasingly thought about psychoanalysis philosophically, treating psychoanalytic experiences and observations with increasing abstraction. He hoped psychoanalytic propositions could one day be defined and cross indexed, perhaps akin to Spinozas Ethics. Further he seemed to have a wish for mathematical abstraction akin to Leibnizs Characteristica Universalis such that psychoanalytical propositions could be stated and tested dispassionately to determine their truth content. The Grid was his contribution to these aspirations. These developments made his later work increasingly more difficult to understand. Many psychoanalysts that had been inspired with his early psychoanalytical work, in good faith, struggled to keep up with his abstractions but when he moved beyond them, destroying the whole conceptual framework of psychoanalysis with no memory and desire, they threw up their hands in despair. Some of his more determined followers perhaps accepted them as charmingly eccentric ideas, but clearly not ones that he ever intended to be taken seriously. However, perhaps because of my previous connection with him, mentioned in the last lecture, I take his ideas very seriously, including the ones that produce such consternation. I hope to show that Bion did indeed mean what he said and that this was a natural and perhaps inevitable development of his thinking.


I propose in todays lecture to show first how undermining Bions no memory and desire is to psychoanalysis and then to how similar this is to ancient mystical conceptual frameworks. Then I will integrate these ancient non-psychoanalytic ideas with Bions later psychoanalytic thinking.

The question must be asked at this point, why did Bion go off on this tangent? I think the answer is that he was in search of that elusive thing called ultimate truth. If the answers were not to be found within the confines of psychoanalysis, he was prepared to extend those confines in his quest. In doing so, he says _ ....The religious mystics have probably approximated most closely to expression of (the) experience of .. (_ultimate truth or reality). That is why this presentation is called Bion the Mystic.


A major problem of accepting Bions NO memory and desire is that memory and desire are the cornerstones of psychoanalysis. The very first major psychoanalytical work was The Interpretation of Dreams. This is a very complex work but a central concept is the idea of wish fulfilment which runs through the whole work. In Freuds opinion, wish fulfilment is the driver of dreams and indeed of all unconscious mental life. Yet wish fulfilment is itself driven by something and that something is desire. If there was no desire, there would be no wishes to fulfil and if there were no wishes to fulfil, there would be no dreams, no unconscious and no psychoanalysis. Therefore desire is the very foundation, the corner stone of psychoanalysis.

The idea of memory, in psychoanalysis has also been there right from the start. By memory we dont of course limit ourselves to conscious memories, but include unconscious and infantile memories such as those associated with the Oedipus complex. This is what led Freud to state that neurotic patients suffered from reminiscences. Painful and unacceptable memories are the drivers of so much of our everyday mental life. They drive us to overcome them in all kinds of unconscious compensatory ways. They lie at the heart of so many of our inspirations and artistic creations. When we are unable to deal effectively, productively or defensively with them, they also serve to maim and limit us.

So you can see that virtually the whole edifice of psychoanalysis has been built on memory and desire, used in the widest possible way. From this point of view how can you possible talk about psychoanalysis and not in some way also simultaneously and implicitly also talk about memory and desire? Yet here we have a very prominent psychoanalyst not only talking about the possibility of there being no memory and desire in the mental domain, but actually advocating their absence, if effective psychoanalytic work is to be done. It seems such a contradiction, such an oxymoron. How can psychoanalysis deal with something that undermines its very conceptual framework? I think it is for this reason, that psychoanalysts are unable to deal with some of Bions ideas. The psychoanalytic tools for understanding such concepts, are lacking. I think it is for this reason, that this aspect of Bions work is either met with incredulity, or derision. Or perhaps these ideas are one of those things that seem important, but since they are beyond comprehension, they are kept somewhere in the family alter of ideas, safely and securely locked in a very decorative casket.

So if we are to understand the absence of memory and desire, we might have to look elsewhere, at least initially. Later we might be able to understand this concept from a psychoanalytic point of view.


The aspiration for a state of mind where there is an absence, or restriction, of memory and desire has a very long and respected history on the Indian subcontinent. These states of mind are essentially meditative states of mind, achieved through the practice of yoga. Formal meditation in the lotus position is merely an offshoot of yoga. These states of mind are described in yoga manuals and the writings of all Indian schools whether they be Vedic, Buddhist or Jain. Although they may be talked about in conceptual terms, they are not really concepts, for what they are talking about are experiential states of mind. These mental states are not to be understood as ends in themselves, though for many they become so. These states of mind are achieved for a purpose and that purpose is two fold. First, being able to live as fully as possibly in the present moment, instead of being preoccupied with the past as in memory or the future as in desire. It is only by being able relinquish, to some extent at least, both the past and the future, that we can live in the present. Second, by relinquishing memory and desire we are able to experience the truth of our lives as they actually are. It is believed that we find it hard to understand the truth of ourselves and the world around us, because our perceptions are so heavily soaked and coloured by our memories of what has gone before or our desires of how we want things to be. These memories and desires make is virtually impossible to understand the truth of ourselves and our world. Most of the time we are so absolutely preoccupied with ourselves, how we have been hurt or how we wish to distinguish ourselves or how memories of us can survive our extinction. Our whole mental landscape is suffused with ourselves and our travails. If we can let this fade a bit, then it is possible that the truth of the world and ourselves, might become a bit more apparent. This is what is at the heart of an aspiration for the absence of memory and desire, so that we can perceive our existential truth in the fullness of the present moment a bit more accurately. If we can understand this then we might be a bit closer to being able to understand what Bion means he says that an absence of memory and desire are essential to being able to understand, what he calls ultimate reality. I will say a bit more about Bions definition of ultimate reality but for now let us merely note that there is a very close approximation to what the ancients aspired and practised and what Bion also taught, aspired to and practised.

Having now made friends, albeit in a very limited way, with the ancient Indians, we could perhaps become a bit bolder and examine another very strange and mysterious idea called nirvana as it is closely related to what we have been talking about and it is related to another of Bions ideas - his mysterious symbol O which stands for ultimate reality.


Nirvana is a term that is much misunderstood. In the West it is generally understood as a kind of ecstatic state of mind, perhaps closely related to an acid trip that went well! The historic roots of this misunderstanding can probably be traced to the Beat Generation that rebelled against traditional western values and travelled East to discover other worlds and other ideas. They were heavily into psychedelic substances and heavily into equally mysterious cults and beliefs. The fusion was probably aided and abetted by sanyasis (meaning renunciants) who were often meditators and who quite liberally used marihuana as an aid to meditation. So the fusion of the two (meditation and marihuana) was too good to pass up, especially as the use of these substances in India, was liberated from the pejorative connotation in the West.

There is another reason for the equation of nirvana with bliss. This is because it is not uncommon for people that have experienced nirvana to describe the mental state as being joyful or even ecstatic. We tend to concentrate on the blissfulness of the experience and dont take the time to discover the reason for this bliss. If we took the trouble to find out we would discover that the joy was not about something being acquired, including a mental state, but because something had been relinquished. The term nirvana in Sanskrit literally means to extinguish. So what is it that is relinquished or extinguished? Initially it is just memory and desire, for it is memory and desire that anchor us to our individual existence, through our senses that reach out for fulfilment both to the past and the future. It is the attachment to these memories and desires, which from a Buddhist perspective, causes us so much pain. This is the pain of existence that we talked about in the last lecture. Once these attachments have significantly diminished, pain too is diminished and the way is open to experience the world, not as an individual that suffuses the whole universe, but as a minute part of a much larger and infinitely complex whole, called appropriately ultimate reality. It can be called ultimate reality, simply because it is the truth of ourselves and our world, exactly as it is, minimally coloured by our perceptions. It is the relinquishing of the burdens and pains of our individual self and our individual existence with all its individual aspirations and its individual pains, that is part of the reason for the joy. The other part of the joy comes from the fact that freed of our individual preoccupation we are free to appreciate the infinite complexity and beauty of the world around us. Every drop of dew, every leaf, every insect can be seen and appreciated as it truly is, a wonderful dimension of our world, just as it is in its own right, not more because it has some personal magical connotation and not less because it is insignificant compared to us.

At this point it might be worth saying something about Bions ideas about lies and truth. These terms have a special meaning in Bion, that is quite unique, but which can only be touched upon here. Bion says _Provisionally, we may consider that the difference between a true thought and a lie consists in the fact that a thinker is logically necessary for the lie but not for the true thought. Nobody need think the true thought: it awaits the advent of the thinker ...[i] _

This is true of what we have been saying about ultimate reality. It doesnt need to be stated, but merely waits to be discovered. Bion then goes on to say The only thoughts to which a thinker is absolutely essential are lies. What he means by this is that the moment we start describing anything, including ultimate reality, some degree of lies enters, for our description inevitably carry something of ourselves, our understanding, our vocabulary. Or to put in another way, any description is inevitably contaminated by memory and desire and so becomes a species of lies in Bions vocabulary. Ultimate reality on the other hand just exists and can be experienced, but any description of it is bound to be fictitious. The more necessary the personality, descriptions, memory or desire of the person is to the description, the greater is the degree of the lie. The undermining consequences of this for any conceptual framework, including psychoanalysis and Bions own ideas, is huge, for it effectively destroys all such frameworks. Little survives the devastation.

Since we have braved the relinquishing of memory and desire, we might be ready to examine another mysterious Indian concept, shunya before we return to Bion and his use of these terms.


Shunya in Sansksrit means, zero, so shunyata, describes what might be called emptiness. The concept of zero is again a very ancient Indian idea. When you come to think of it, it is rather strange to have a numeral that signifies nothing, for nothing is nothing, how can you have a numeral that signifies nothing? Yet that is precisely what the ancients did. They also did another rather strange thing and that was that they had only ten numerals, including this zero, and from these ten, virtually every number in the universe could be signified. The Romans had numerals that were progressive in enumeration, as they added or subtracted to what already existed. The Indians, like in everything else it seems, repetitively returned again and again, perhaps rather introspectively, to the same basic facts but combined in ways that yielded greater and greater meaning! Our Western numerals as you know are derived from so called Arab numerals, which had been imbibed by the Arabs trading with the Indian subcontinent. However, what neither the Arabs or the West imbibed were the further developments of the number zero. This development did not take place in mathematics or astronomy or astrology, that the original mathematics had evolved to deal with, but in the meditative schools. Meditation has a long history in India, but it was probably only after the arrival of Buddhism that it took on such a central place, specially in the Buddhist schools, at least in part, because the Buddha found enlightenment through a very deep meditative state. In the later Mahayana Buddhist schools, meditation became increasingly central and along with this shunya became a central and determining concept. The Buddha taught that all things, including humans, have no self-nature but are complex conglomerates, that come together creating form and that pass away, breaking into their individual components without residue. It is the absence of residue, or self-nature, that the zero refers to and is contrasted with, for instance the Vedic soul or the Platonic forms or ideas, which suggest something more, over and beyond what is existentially present. Shunyata thus became increasingly a defining Mahayana idea and it is not coincidence that this idea, along with the increasing institutionalisation of meditation, became central to Buddhist practice. For instance Zen Buddhist practice is centred around meditation. The term Zen is a corruption of the older Chinese term Cha-an which in turn is a corruption of the Sanskrit term dhyaan which means meditation.

Now what does all this have to do with the experience and perception of ultimate reality that we digressed from? The link goes something like this - through the experience of meditation we can achieve a state of mind where there is minimal memory or desire, such that we are able to live in the present. The reduction of memory and desire attenuates our awareness of ourselves as separate individual beings. If we are not separate individual beings that have their own enduring separate individual existence, then our individual self is nothing or zero. By this I do not mean we dont exist as individuals. Of course we do, but we exist as an interrelated and integral part of a much larger whole, which is infinitely complex and which too has no self-existence, so it too is zero or lacking in any beyond. This is not just a philosophical point of view, but is probably as close an approximation to that elusive thing called ultimate reality as one is likely to get. If one can experience this, not as an idea, or as a description, but as an actual experience, then that experience is liberating and joyous. This is the meaning of nirvana.

Those that are psychoanalytically inclined might at this point be thinking that this description of a loss of individual self is also to be found in the psychoanalytic literature, where it is described as oceanic feelings. Further, psychoanalysts would say that this oceanic feeling is related to the blissful experience of returning to the womb and merging with the mother. As a psychoanalyst I have a couple of problems with this formulation. First, while I can accept that living in the world is at times so painful that one longs to return to the comfort of the womb, there is no reason to suppose that ones life in the womb is necessarily blissful. In fact there is much recent research to suggest that the foetus can and does respond to maternal states, both emotional and physical, some of which can be quite noxious, so why should we assume that womb is necessarily a blissful place? Second, given that it takes a long time for the infant, after birth, to even co-ordinate perceptions, let along function as an integrated whole, it seems extremely unlikely that there would be the perception of a whole body lying in an encompassing warm and comforting liquid. However, what I do not discount is the wish to return to the womb, fantasised as a safe and comfortable place. But this is a fantasy, that is a mental creation, not an unconscious memory.

A second set of reasons tend to make me distinguish the experience of nirvana from oceanic feeling. These reasons have to do with the fact that nirvana is actually a state of sharpened and acute perception, which is somehow not conveyed by whatever oceanic feeling describes. Oceanic feeling suggests blissful passivity, but people that have experienced nirvana are characteristically very actively engaged with the world and other people, for experiencing the lack of personal significance, they are much more engaged with trying to alleviate the sufferings of others, that are trapped as they had been, and whom they can thus identify with.


Now that we have some conceptual tools to examine what Bion might mean, we can examine what Bion says.

First what does he mean by an absence of memory and desire? What this means, he says is _ ... a positive discipline of eschewing memory and desire. I do not mean that forgetting is enough: what is required is a positive act of refraining from memory and desire.[ii]_ He clarifies a bit later (page 41) _A bad memory is not enough: what is ordinarily forgetting is as bad as remembering. _ So what he is advocating is not the absence of a capacity to remember, but the presence of a capacity to deliberately not remember. Likewise it is not an absence of desire, but the presence of choosing not to be suffused with desire. The obvious question is, what is the point of this deliberate act? Bion thinks it is necessary for the success of any analysis and his reasons for it are four fold, the problems of 1. saturation, 2. of being open to non-sensual elements, 3. greed and 4. feeling possessed by the analysts mind. I will take each of them in turn.

First the problem with saturation. Although memory and desire are very different, what they share is the fact that they are both based on sense impressions. The major difference between them is _one is in the past tense and the other the future.[iii] _ If we can picture memory and desire as being containers, then we can understand what the problem could be, for if they are containers then they can be said to contain _sensually satisfying objects. _(p. 41). The consequence of this is that if these containers are full of, or saturated with, sensually satisfying memory and desire, there is little capacity for anything else to be thought about. In Bions words An analyst with such a mind is one who is incapable of learning because he is satisfied. (p. 29)

Second the problem of not leaving room for non sensual elements. _If the mind is preoccupied with elements perceptible to sense, it will be that much less able to perceive elements that cannot be sensed. _(p. 41) This means that elements such a anxiety, with which any analysis is concerned, and which are basically non sensual experiences, cannot be easily experienced.

Third is the problem of greed. Since memory and desire are sensually satisfying objects, they can generate _impulses of possessiveness and sensual greed: the impulses generate memory and desire; memory and desire generate sensuous greed. _(p. 33). It is important to understand that Bion is not taking a moral position on greed. What he means is that the greed to have more and more memories and more and more desires, tends to obscure other important elements which might become more apparent, if this greed were a bit less.

Fourth is the problem of feeling possessed by the analysts mind. If the analysts mind is full of memories and desires about the analysands experiences, then there is danger of the analysand feeling possessed by the analysts memories and desires. These desires might be quite benign, such a wish for the analysands welfare or they might be not so benign as when the analyst wants the analysand to believe what the analyst believes. The analysis then becomes a place for the analysts mind in which the analysand is trapped.

Finally, to complicate matters, Bion does not think that all memory and desire are harmful, but he makes a distinction between memories and desires which are harmful and which are not. The ways in which they are not harmful is when certain memories and desires are evoked during an experience. So the distinction is that they are not sought for, but arise spontaneously and their evocation often results in other memories and desires being evoked, expanding the ever widening richness of the experience. (p. 33) If they are sought out they constrict, but if they occur spontaneously they enhance There is a second way in which memory and desire are not only useful, but essential and that is in the process of transformation. We will have to leave this to one side till we come to understand something about O, because memory and desire are necessary for the transformation of O to K. But before we do that we need to understand what state of mind does Bion envisage when he talks about resisting memory and desire. This state of mind he calls faith which reveals O. So we will next talk about faith and O.

**FAITH & O **

It may be wondered what state of mind is welcome if desires and memories are not. A term that would express approximately what I need to express is faith - faith that there is an ultimate reality and truth - the unknown, unknowable, formless infinite. This must be believed of every object of which the personality can be aware: the evolution of ultimate reality (signified by O) ... [iv] So what he is saying is that we need to have faith that we can understand the truth of something, without relying on any previous knowledge, or indeed believing that when known, it will exist in this or that form. We just need to trust that though unknown, it will reveal itself to us and this requires faith that it will. If we did not have this faith, then we would be looking for something that we already knew, thus defeating the purpose of the search. In talking about this state of mind Bion likens it to a something that Freud once said in a letter. Freud talked about blinding himself artificially so that he could investigate better something peculiarly obscure. So we can see that this artificial blinding, this act of faith, hopefully reveals something and that something is the truth of the matter being investigated. Bions shorthand for this truth is O. This is how he defines O.

It stands for the absolute truth in and of any object; it is assumed that this cannot be known by any human being; it can be known about, its presence can be recognised and felt, but it cannot be known. It is possible to be at one with it. That it exists is an essential postulate of science but it cannot be scientifically discovered. No psycho-analytic discovery is possible without recognition of its existence, at-one-ment with it and evolution. The religious mystics have probably approximated most closely to expression of experience of it. Its existence is as essential to science as to religion. Conversely, the scientific approach is as essential to religion as it is to science and is as ineffectual until a transformation from K -> O takes place.[v]

So now that we understand what he means by O what is the relationship of faith to O? He says the relationship is analogous to the relationship of a priori knowledge to knowledge. What he is referring to is Kant and his formulations about a priori knowledge. Put very simply, Kant investigated the factors in the mind, that allowed it to know anything. So Bion is saying that the necessary factors in the mind that allow it to know about a truth that does not exist, is a state of mind called faith. Faith in the belief that this truth can be known, without resorting to formulations about how it might. To develop the argument a bit further, we can say that knowledge or K does not facilitate our knowing the truth about something that is not known. However, once we have experienced the truth of something, we then need to formulate that experience in ways that are comprehensible to others. This requires a transformation from O to K and this transformation requires memory and desire and often a narrative. This distinction is important. Stories, no matter how holy and memories and desires, no matter how important, do not reveal the truth about anything. Once the truth has been experienced, then memories, desires and stories are useful means of communication, both within oneself and with other people.

There is another kind of transformation, which is central to our understanding something about O. We have seen that memory, desire and knowledge do not lead to O but that O can be transformed to knowledge, memory and desire. The second kind of transformation that is truer to O is transformation within O. So how is it possible for there to be a transformation that is not translated into some other domain? Bion says that this transformation takes place by becoming it, or in his words by become at one with it. This is a huge statement that cannot be easily unpacked, but one can try and approximate it in various ways. For instance we all know how we tend to believe something, such as the term faith, but we act in ways that seem innocent of any such belief. So the knowledge that we have of faith is just a piece of knowledge that we carry around with us. It is not really an experiential part of us. To know about faith is very different from having faith. No memory or desire means nothing. For these terms to be meaningful we must experience their absence. To know about O maybe useful, but to become O is quite another matter.


Having teased out so many different strands from the ancients and from Bion, we now need to braid them together into a coherent whole.

The first thing that we need to understand is that Bion at this point in his life, was not particularly interested in the theory of psychoanalysis, but much more about the practice of it. This does not mean that theory is not important or even central to what we do, for it is and indeed Bion has contributed significantly to the theory of psychoanalysis. The analogy is that it is essential to learn how to play a musical instrument, before one can play it. Once the basic skills are learnt one can play from the heart, which means being one with the music - no instrument, no notes, no audience, no self. Just music. Only music. It is with this kind of practice that Bion is here concerned.

The practice of psychoanalysis requires a state of mind that can be learnt about and cultivated, but at some point it has to become an experiential thing in its own right. It can be described and talked about, but that is not the same as experiencing it or being one with it. This state of mind is interfered with by our knowledge of psychoanalysis, just as it is interfered with by our knowledge of the analysand and her history. Equally it is interfered with how we would like things to be in the future. Both prevent us from giving ourselves over completely to the present moment. The present moment is the truth as it exists, not as a wish for something that might happen or a fear of something that has happened, though they are both dynamically present at this very moment. Since it is only this present moment that exists, all transformation must take place at this point, not in the past and not in the future. This is only place, the only moment, where transformation can take place. This is not an idea that can be learnt, but an experience that must be entered into repeatedly to appreciate the truth of it.

As I said, Bion was a significant contributor to the theory of psychoanalysis. Now he has gone a step further talking about the experience of psychoanalysis. It turns out that what he describes about the experience of psychoanalysis approximates the experience of meditative states of mind which recommend extinguishing memory and desire. I do not think Bion ever meditated as such, nor do I think he was aware that what he described was very similar to what the ancients had described. I am however impressed by the confluence of these ideas from very different and disparate sources, the convergence of which gives one a sense of confidence. Whenever there is such a convergence of vertices (in Bions terms) there is an experience of greater depth and a closer approximation to the truth.

Likewise there is a similarity between Bions formulations about O and the formulations that the ancients made about emptiness. Various people interpret Bions use of the letter O in various ways, claiming it stands for this or that. I make no claim other than the claim of a previous incarnation, on the basis of which I pour ghee over this idea. Having poured ghee, I ignite it with my imagination. As I do so I watch it disappear without residue, leaving nothing, absolutely nothing, zero, shunya, O.

I do not know how significant the influence was of Bions first eight years of life in India, not just as conscious memories, but by him possibly imbibing the spiritual ethos that surrounded him. Those that believe in re-birth might venture to suggest that Bions consciousness had really evolved over many previous lives, such that his birth was a continuation of that evolution and development. They would say this was likely because re-birth seems to take place in places of geographical proximity and Bions ideas closely resemble existent Indian ideas without him ever being taught them. I do not have an opinion on this, for as his humble bearer, I merely watch and listen.

I did preface these two lectures with an incident from Bions childhood about the toy train. I did say then that I would attempt to bring it to life. I have tried in the span of these two hours to do just that. Now that we have come to the end, I find it satisfying that my story returns to where it started. My narrative comes round full circle, completing the 0 that I am sure, like me, you are still struggling with. To complete the circle I return to the train, but this time it is to effect a transformation in 0 as Bion would call it. This means, in his terminology, not to know about it, but to experience it by becoming one with it or at-one-ment with it as he prefers to call it. Some people might find these terms obscure and mystical. So please allow me to conclude this presentation with a beautiful, but totally unintentional, description of what he means, with another description from his childhood in India, that distant and mystical land.

_... I loved India. The blazing, intolerable sun - how wonderful it was! The mid-day silence, the great trees with leaves hanging motionless in the breathless air, the brain-fever bird with its rising reiterated call, Brain-fever, brain-fever, brain-fever ..., then silence again. _

_ _

_I discovered it was a marvellous place to play trains. The intense heat conspired to produce masses of fine white dust. Nonchalantly I kicked it up and was rewarded by a great cloud that rose into the air. It did again. Before I had time to think I was racing around kicking up huge clouds of ... Steam ... In front of me like a huge Ee Ay Ah locomotive. The Devil had entered into me (who) was a great friend of mine. Go on! Do it again, he said. Temptation, unlike heaven, was such fun. The immense speed at which I was travelling, the intoxicating sulphurous fumes of smoke which belched out from the pistons in front of me - glorious! And much superior to electric city with its old slug of buttered locomotive. _

_ _

What have you been doing? my mother asked. Just look at you! White ... From top to toe!

_ _

I couldnt look at me but I saw what she meant. I was a bit dusty. She, poor woman, thought I had come in for a drink, but in fact it was the great E.I.R express locomotive come to have its tank filled in its record-making run across India and there was not a moment to lose. I tried to make her understand that I had to go at once. It took her some time to make me understand - even now I can hardly believe it - that I was never to do it again. Never!

_ _

_The idea! And you have been racing around in that hot sun. _

_ _

What sun? I was impelled to ask dully. I hadnt noticed any sun.[vi]

It is possible to read about trains or psychoanalysis. It is possible to study in great detail trains or psychoanalysis. Yet is quite another thing to embody a train or psychoanalysis. In Bions words O does not fall in the domain of knowledge or learning save incidentally; it can be become, but it cannot be known.[vii] What he means is that truth or ultimate reality cannot be put into words or described. We must have the experience of being a self aware part of ultimate reality exactly as it exists, where we are a part of it and it is a part of us. This means experiencing the pain of sansara and it is also means opening the way to release from that pain when we can see it and ourselves as being an inherent part of sansara and not different from it by an iota, as Nagarjuna said. Sansara and nirvana are dimensions of the same reality. If we can experience this, we experience ultimate reality. This is what the ancient mystics said and this is inherently what Bion is suggesting. Hence Bion the Mystic.

Now all that remains is for you to judge whether we got some movement out of that train or whether it remained a greasy mess!


[i] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P102-3.

[ii] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P31.

[iii] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P45.

[iv] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P31.

[v] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P30.

[vi] Bion W. 1982 The Long Week-End 1897-1919. Part of a Life Fleetwood Press. Abingdon. P29-30.

[vii] Bion W. 1977 Attention and Interpretation in Seven Servants Jason Aronson. P26.