(Prologue: I’ve got first-hand experience that a real understanding of the laws of karma can substantially change our lives for the better. I created this weblog to share information and personal experience with others. May it be of benefit!)
Ultimately, the good news is that we don’t exist in a permanent, solid, important way. The bad news is we act as if we do. This misunderstanding creates harm to ourselves and others.
[We must be very clear that only the self that is being grasped as intrinsically real needs to be negated. The self as a conventional phenomenon is not rejected. from book by HH Dalai Lama XIV]
When we look at a television that has been turned on, we see pictures. But the pictures aren’t solid or real, as they appear. They are made up of dots. So is ego, the “I,” “me.” It is made up of tendencies, habitual patterns, imprints, emotions etc. that, when we link them together, appear solid. We mistakenly think that this is who we are.
The self is not made of any substance at all: it is just a kaleidoscopid display of empty imagery, intangible, like a self in a dream……This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event, which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous. (Contemplating Reality)
Ingorance does not mean stupidity here. It is vital to understand this first link because this is where ego is born. And our suffering and confusion with it. I use the word “ego” to describe a manufactured, constructed“self” vis-a-vis who we are in an unfabricated, primordial way.
This point is important. So I don’t hesitate to repeat it. We have manufactured cars, boats, houses, airplanes etc. etc. etc. We have also manufactured a “self.”
By the time I was 22, I could sum up how I felt by a line from a song by The Rolling Stones — “I think I’m on a losing streak.” I was walking along St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto when I realized that all the intellectual explanations I had created to explain why I was suffering so much were not helping. Then I came across the idea that we suffer because of how we, in our ignorance, have created a self that we think is real in a permanent, ongoing, solid way. It is important to say that this is not a nihilistic view.
In a word, we are deluded. We’re missing something. We somehow “don’t get it.” We’ve been caught up in some major mistake. But not the kind of mistake where we show up at somebody’s house for a party on the wrong day.
This misunderstanding is much more fundamental — our belief that we are “real” and that life is “real.” Real in the sense of having a permanent existence apart from the causes and conditions that created it.
Dr. David Loy described this fundamental misunderstanding this way:
Our basic frustration is due most of all to the fact that our sense of being a separate self, set apart form the world we are in, is an illusion.
Andy Karr, author and teacher of Contemplating Reality,puts it this way:
Think of watching a movie. There is light on the screen and sound coming from speakers. While we are watching, we think we see people and places. There are no people and places in the movie, they are just our projections.The same is true for dreams. We might dream of our friend, but the friend does not exist in the dream. While we are dreaming, an image arises in our mind and we project our friend onto that image.You might think that there WERE actors in the film, and there WAS a real friend from waking life that caused the dream, but these are just your thoughts, which are further projections. While you watch the film, there are no actors. While you dream of your friend, there is no one there.Waking life is like this as well.
Seems that physicists have now discovered that matter itself is not solid after all. As Eckhart Tolle puts it, “the apparent solidity of matter is an illusion created by our senses including the body.” Ninety-nine point nine percent (99.9%) of our body is actually empty space.
When the Buddha taught this 2,500 years ago as described in the Heart Sutra,100 monks died of heart attacks on the spot!
Like I was saying, in my twenties I first began to try to understand why I was suffering so much. I’d go to hear teachers who were presenting philosophies like the following from the Lankavatara Sutrawhere the Buddha compared life to a dream when he taught someone called Mahamati in Ceylon :
It is as if some man, asleep, dreams of a country, full of women and men, elephants, horses…..In his dream he enters the women’s apartments of the king’s palace, and then he wakes up. Awake, his memory runs back over the country and the women’s apartments. It would not be an intelligent thing to do for this man, to go in his memory through the various unreal experiences which he had in his dream….In the same way, [we who are] bitten by false views….do not realize that what is seen by their own mind is like a dream, and they rely on notions of oneness and otherness….
I’d say to my dharma teacher: “Would you put that in Plain English, please? I’m at the level of what I call dharma-for-dummies!”
Years later, I remembered that when I was a child we used to sing a popular British nursery rhyme that went like this:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is [like] a dream.
Like a drowning person, I finally had something I could hang onto — even if it was a “dream” from which I would be happy to wake up. It gave me some hope that my confusion (about who I really was) was based on a fundamental misunderstanding.
But I had only part of the answer to this cosmic puzzle. For the time being, I was quite happy to ignore the fact that the nursery rhyme didn’t explain why “Life is [like] a dream.”
But the Buddha’s story does.
…..another piece to the cosmic puzzle coming up in March 08’09 post.
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