They say that when you look at the stars you are seeing them as they were long, long ago (in a galaxy far, far away) because it takes time for the light to travel before it meets your eyes and becomes an image in your mind. Intriguingly, some of the stars you see may no longer even be there.

HyadesBut consider this: the light that reflected off of your coffee mug (teacup for you Brits) also took time to reach your eyes. A short enough delay to be safely ignored, but none the less the fact remains that you are not seeing the cup as it is, but as it was. Same thing applies to all our senses if you consider it takes time for nerves to conduct impulses to the brain.

None of this matters of course in a practical sense. Nothing could possibly move the cup quickly enough that you would end up grasping empty air where you swear you see a stein of warm delicious beverage.

*steps away from desk to warm up coffee*

We call it reality, but the way we experience it is through our mental model, elaborately constructed and maintained in the mind. Everyday experience supports the validity of the model through constant feedback so we have no reason to doubt it. But it is a model, not the reality. It is a map, not the territory. Even extrasensory inputs are still sensory inputs.

“I know the meaning of life. It doesn’t help me a bit.”—Howard Devoto

What this means is that the world as we know it is actually a bit of a dodge. Not only do we rely on the senses to report on a world already vanished into the sinkhole of time past, but there are emotions and states of mind which influence how the model appears to us, and how we react to it and interact with it. When you’re in a good mood you can stub your toe and laugh about it; in a bad mood scowl at a stranger for saying, “excuse me.” Consider how your lover appeared to you when you first met, and again after everything went south and you’ve broken up. What a transformation! You may claim they’ve changed, or admit that you failed to see how they really were but the influences that inform and shape our models are subtle, some of them maybe even impossible to detect.

If we consider that the fidelity of the model is in question it really ought to be a little unnerving, considering the enormous investment we have in it. Fortunately we don’t really even think about it, until some Buddhist-leaning nitwit with a blog starts poking around and making annoying suggestions. Nobody wants the rug of familiarity snatched from beneath their feet.

Or do we?

How can one experience reality directly?

Who (or what) is it doing all the modeling, all this map making?

Is there not a capacity for awareness that precedes the mental staging of our world?

If so, what is it? Where does it reside? Do I possess it, or does it possess me?

Time itself is the most suspicious aspect of reality. It takes a piece of existence (the one called YOU) and stretches it between two pegs, plays a silly little jig or two, a love song, then a sad song and then a funeral dirge, then POP! the string busts and it’s all over. Bye bye. And we’ve no choice but to put up with it, it seems like. Isn’t it really all like a dream from which we should simply wake up? Well, all the great Buddhist Lamas have said yes, that is exactly what it is. The subject/object duality of experience and experiencer are like the play of light on the surface of a mirror. Whatever appears before a mirror is reflected instantly without interpretation or judgement by the mirror. The mirror is the analogy they give for Buddha Nature or Buddha Mind. A field of spacious, timeless emptiness with the potentiality of endless magical display of the cyclic self-perpetuating chore of birth, vitality, decrescendo, and death.

The Buddhist teaching is essentially that no, you really don’t have to put up with it. But the project, it turns out, is really, really tricky to complete. There’s always a catch, isn’t there?

We are deeply caught up in a web of our own making and through ignorance of this fact perpetuate further entanglement and create more and more binds of webbing. This web-making activity and resulting experience is called karma. This is the plight of sentient beings. The Buddhist teachings are medicine for the disease of this ignorance.

They say that this Buddha Nature is your essential nature and to arrive at its realization you must follow the prescriptions and accomplish the project yourself. No one else can do this. If Shakyamuni Buddha could wave a wand and enlighten us all He would have done this already. You do not have to believe in Buddha to discover your own real condition. I want to somewhat differentiate the project from the Judeo-Christian practice of faith in God. That kind of faith is essential for those following a Christian path and they should embrace that whole-heartedly. The kind of faith I mean here is the kind that you might have in your professor at school whom you have decided to trust in guiding your education. Or the kind of faith you have in your doctor. If you thought he was a quack you would be nuts to take his medicine! Or the kind of faith that a detective might have in pursuing leads in solving a crime. He knows a crime has been committed but not who did it. So in a state of ignorance he applies method, poking around, investigating, all with a faith that the desired outcome will be arrived at.

You could say that to believe that Gautama Siddartha discovered his own Buddha Nature and became Shakyamuni Buddha, the Teacher of Buddhadharma of this Era, might be a kind of blind faith. I can understand that. That is a leap of sorts. But most every decision making process ends with a leap. We are not omniscient. We cannot truly take in every factor when we decide something. We consider things until we decide we have considered enough and then we decide. That’s a kind of leap and we do it all the time. So not such a big deal maybe, taking a leap in a direction that seems promising.

Homage to the Peerless Lions of Buddhadarma. May all beings under the sky find peace and happiness.

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