Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our upside down world.

If you can grasp that everything we perceive and process—whether internal or external, is only discernible as the result of illusive images projected in our brain then you can begin to appreciate the incredible miracle represented by the Buddha’s enlightenment. His understanding occurred 2,500 years before tools were developed which allow us to validate his teachings from a neurological perspective. Of course the language used that long ago may seem arcane to us today but by transcending these barriers of time and culture we are able to understand the true nature of ourselves and the world in which we have always existed.

Buddhism, by any measure, from the normal western perspective, seems strange only because we have been conditioned to see life in a particular way, which as it turns out is upside down. What we regard as “real” is not, and what we regard as not even perceptibly present turns out to be real. And because of this error, our understanding causes us to identify with illusions which are in fact simple mental projections. Not realizing this, we end up clinging to vapor and then suffering as it slides away. What is the solution?

First, as the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says, we must become aware of what is happening. Without this first step there is no hope of ever being set free from a never ending dream—a nightmare of suffering which keeps on repeating endlessly. When the illusions of our lives begin to break down (which they inevitably do) we are faced with a problem to solve. We suffer and don’t like that, so we search for relief which unfortunately may come in the form of further addictions that bring temporary relief but never last. It is like suffering from thirst and drinking salt water which just makes us thirstier.

If we are fortunate we discover the Dharma [the truth as revealed by the Buddha] and begin to fathom the source of our dilemma. It may start by taking a class or reading a book. Slowly our eyes become opened to what is genuinely real and our hunger grows. What begins as an intellectual snack holds the potential of becoming a full-blown meal. What fills the belly of one who has savored true awakening won’t do someone else any good. Ideas don’t fill the emptiness in our guts. Only our own awakening to our own true nature can satisfy that craving for substance.

This sutra hits the nail on the head. Of course the prime motivator is anyone’s own state of mind. As Master Sheng-yen pointed out, “Generally, unless a sleeping person is having a nightmare, he or she will not want to wake up. The dreamer prefers to remain in the dream. In the same way, if your daily life is relatively pleasant, you probably won’t care to practice in order to realize that your life is illusory. No one likes to be wakened from nice dreams.”

This is a bit like the story of a salesman who came across a man sitting on his front porch smoking a pipe. The salesman noticed a large hole in the roof of his house and asked the man why he didn’t fix it. The man responded, “If it ain’t raining there’s no need and when it is raining it’s too late.” Such is life!

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