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I made the appropriate preparations for meditation and then began contemplating how I appear normally.
It sounds an odd question but I asked – how do I exist?
My answer is that I normally seem very real – beyond question in fact! There is nothing more real than me!
I focused on my normal certainty and feeling of myself existing. How could I not!?!?
Then I thought – when a key opens a lock, it is the key that opens the lock. Quite clearly a key. And when a car parks in a space it is the car that parks.
I mentally separated the parts that go to the shops and I could find nothing that met my feeling of I. Nothing. I stayed looking at this absence of I for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings fail to find their I.
As I sit here waiting to return something in IKEA, I look at my hand.
But the me that owns the hand cannot be found. The hand that I appear to own also cannot be found. All there is is the thought ‘hand’ and ‘mine’ and ‘me’. Other than these thoughts there is nothing to find.
Imagine you are walking at twilight and you see a figure in the distance. They are standing stock still, staring right at you. You feel uncomfortable. Worried.
Now imagine two separate timelines from this point.
In the first, you screw up your courage and walk towards the figure. Quite quickly you realise that this ‘person’ is actually a stack of stones. The concern you felt immediately lifts from you. You return home and get on with your life.
In the second timeline, you walk straight home, wondering who the person was, what they might want, and whether you will see them again. The initial viewing of the figure is like our normal view of the world. Objects appear to us and – without further investigation – we accept them as they appear. We then react accordingly.
In the first timeline we carry out a more in depth investigation of the object, to establish its true nature. We discover that the object was quite different from what we first conceived, and our concerns disappear.
In the second timeline, we simply carry on accepting the appearance as real. For us, the figure is still real and remains real.
Unless we analyse objects actively, they will continue to provoke reactions within is which appear to be coming from the object. We need to start to recognise the true nature of the things that we normally see, to achieve peace of mind.
If I stop naming things… Everything dissolves into emptiness.
Our normal view of our mode of existence is that we are ‘in here’ and the world is ‘out there’. There seems to be a person (us) living in a body, and this body exists in a world with other bodies and things moving around without any connection at all. We could call this the ‘external world view’.
The Buddhist view of our mode of existence is quite different. Instead of believing that there is an external world from which we are separate, the Buddhist view is that the things we see are actually simply appearances, like things in a dream, and they are all held within our mind. Everything happens in our mind.
One way to think of this is that ‘external objects’ manifest for us in the same way as visual images are brought into focus as we adjust a camera lens. See the video clip below…
The object is, in fact, always present, but because the causes to bring it into focus are not present, it does not appear clearly to us.
It follows that all objects are actually present in our mind all the time, but out of focus and therefore not perceived by our attention.
Instead of walking around an external world, experiencing ‘other people’ and ‘external objects’ etc. we are in fact remaining firmly within our own mind, and different parts of our mind are coming into focus, and going out of focus.
This means that all the objects and experiences we normally think of as ‘out there’ or ‘in the future’ are actually present here, now, in our mind – just not in focus.
It’s been extremely foggy today. On a long train journey I had plenty of time to gaze out across the fog shrouded countryside and it reminded me of the obstructions in my mind
May we all develop the pure mind of clear light and see things as they really are.
Photo courtesy of Jenny Joel.
Imagine you are shown a box full of balls which are identical except for their colour. In a moment, you are informed, you will be asked to pick out all the balls of your favourite colour. You can’t help but naturally like some colours more than others, and of those, let’s say that you like the nice golden yellow balls the best. By contrast you really don’t like the muddy green/brown balls at all.
Just before you start to pick out the yellow balls, another person joins you, and is told the same – choose their favourite colour in the box.
You can’t help but consider this person to be a rival for your nice yellow balls. You develop some negative feelings towards the person as a result some fear, resentment and competitiveness perhaps. Your wish to possess your balls of choice grows.
The balls are all identical except for the colour, but somehow those different colours have had an effect on you. They seem to have created an unbalanced attitude towards them which in turn has affected your feelings towards another person.
Now imagine you are blindfolded and told to pick your favourite balls. The question is almost meaningless. They are all identical in this context. You have no favourites or least favourites. They all feel the same and your mind is quite balanced towards them all.
If another blindfolded person is told to pick their favourites, the question will be equally meaningless to them too. If you both absolutely have to pick out your favourites, you’ll probably just share them out equally between you both – after all, there’s nothing to distinguish them for each other. They are all equal.
When we perceive objects, they appear to have real, existing qualities which we are instinctively drawn towards or repelled by. We desire the objects which appear pleasant and dislike the objects we feel are unpleasant. The appearance of the objects creates an imbalance and discomfort in our minds. As we want the pleasant objects for ourselves, we naturally view others are competitors for them, and we develop fear, anger and competitiveness towards them.
But – if we understand that the true nature of these objects is their lack of inherent existence, we can put on a metaphorical blindfold to their conventional characteristics. We can understand that despite their appearance, their true nature is emptiness, and the nature of that emptiness is the same as the nature of the emptiness of all other phenomena.
In this context, there are no desired or despised objects. Our mind is not knocked off balance by their appearances because they are all, essentially, identical in their emptiness.
This is how a realisation of emptiness bestows inner peace and undermines the basis for all delusions.
The purpose of this meditation is to generate the feeling of emptiness of all phenomena – beginning with a contemplation of the emptiness of a song.
I find some songs very meaningful. Simply the melody and its interaction with the chords and harmonies. There is definitely something there which appears to be more than just the sum of its parts.
I thought about this and developed a clear understanding of how a song appears to exist ‘out there’ within the sounds of the piano.
I then contemplated:
There is nothing about these sounds that makes the song I hear. The individual notes are not the song and my response is completely dependent upon my conscious mind. There is no song ‘out there’. There IS a song, which moves me to tears, but it is simply my imputation upon sound. It has to be this way, otherwise other people would feel the same way about a few keys being hit on a piano.
I focused on the idea that this song – so moving and meaningful – is completely empty of the inherent existence it appears to have. I felt like the song and its meaning dissolved into clear light, and I was left with all the richness and meaning of the song while seeing only its emptiness. I rested in this feeling for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings see the true nature of phenomena.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will practise my tune on the piano – All my Loving – and enjoy its simple, aching beauty while remembering that it is completely empty of inherent existence.