Wednesday, July 23, 2014

To see ourselves truly.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns coined the phrase, “Ahh, to see ourselves as others see us...” and this way of seeing is indeed valuable. However, there is a more valuable way: to see ourselves as we truly are beyond the ordinary lens of perception. What is this strange way?

The Lankavatara was allegedly the sutra most revered by Bodhidharma: the father of Zen. Among the myriad sutras, the Lankavatara lays out the essential challenge inherent in the human dilemma. Here we see how the matter of perception leads us into error. The problem is that the world (including our thoughts) is perceived in discriminate form and we remain oblivious to the one doing the perceiving (ourselves). We see shapes and forms configured in different ways before us. We hear sounds tinkling or loud. We smell different aromas, and through this manner of distinguishing differences, we form judgments of like and dislike, clinging to the first and resisting the latter.

This process is essential and can’t be avoided but unless we become aware—deeply aware—of the indiscriminate perceiver (who is beyond all color and form) we become mesmerized and enslaved by the dance of discrimination, all the while creating havoc for ourselves and others. The sutra says, the result of this ignorance are minds which “burn with the fires of greed, anger and folly, finding delight in a world of multitudinous forms, their thoughts obsessed with ideas of birth, growth and destruction, not well understanding what is meant by existence and non-existence, and being impressed by erroneous discriminations and speculations since beginningless time, fall into the habit of grasping this and that and thereby becoming attached to them.”

This unavoidable process leads to clinging to an evanescent world of objects. And as we cling, we oppose the truth of our unknowing, and therefore are trapped in karma born of greed, anger and folly. The accumulation of karma then goes on and we become imprisoned in a cocoon of discrimination and are unable to free ourselves from the rounds of birth and death.

The Buddha said that it is like seeing one’s own image in a mirror and taking the image as real, or seeing the moon reflected on the surface of water and taking it to be the actual moon. To see in this way is dualistic whereas to see truly is a matter of Oneness revealed within innermost consciousness. The unavoidable conclusion of seeing beyond the biased lens of perception is all of us are the same at the deepest level, none better or worse. It is all too easy to become trapped by the constant flow of tidal forces and forget that each of us is the master of our very own sea.
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