Thursday, September 29, 2016

Referencing stuff outside the mind

It is not possible to reference anything outside the mind.

This means that anything you call real -- anything you CAN call real -- is a reference to mind. "Time," "space," "the REAL time," "the REAL space," "yeah but the REAL time outside my mind" etc. Also, actual time. Yes, that one. Omitting the quotation marks changes nothing.

This is hard to understand properly, but meditation can make it clear. Until then it can seem quite certain that you're referencing, and even experiencing, things other than mind.

Maybe even after all that meditation, nothing will have changed. Or maybe it will open up doors you've never dreamed of.

Why not find out?

"When you start to dream, the dream begins as a thought, like one you would have in the daytime. But you’re asleep, so the thought intensifies and becomes something like talk or gossip, and then the gossip intensifies or solidifies into images, and then you really think that you’re seeing people, seeing places, going places, and so on. And that is how it works with conventional appearances as well." 
-- Thrangu Rinpoche

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reconstructing the universe

Having swallowed a considerable amount of psychedelic substance, it is possible (I am told) to having the following kind of experience.

You know fully well that the effects wear off in say, six hours. That means that no matter how bad things get, this will at least be over soon-ish. You can just wait it out.

The only trouble is, in this state, normal time no longer applies. You are in fact trapped for millions of years, until you solve a puzzle. For the first few million years don't even know what the puzzle is... perhaps you haven't even yet noticed that you're not in Kansas any more. Then, bit by bit, you remember: you came from somewhere else, and you want to one day go back. But where? How could that crazy other place exist?

Bit by bit your memory fills in details. Actually, it occurs to you: you're not filling in details from memory, you're actually rebuilding the universe using your mind. Perhaps with enough meditation practice you can even discover the magical property by which the mind is presently rebuilding what you will soon remember (or assume?) to be the same place you left.

But building a universe is exhausting. So you have a seat for a few thousand years, get up, and continue. At some point during this process you start describing the process as "sobering up." What an inadequate description of such a Sisphyean task, you think.

So who's to say what really happened? Well, given the rules of the dream you and I are presently dreaming, there's no option but to conclude that it didn't really last millions of years. It was just neurotransmitters messing with your brain. You almost certainly believe this quite deeply, don't you?

Such beliefs are excellent at keeping you anchored firmly to reality. Which is a great thing. Unless, of course, you're on some kind of spiritual path that aims to transcend all of what you are normally so sure is reality.

Knowing all this, would you willingly visit that place again? Limbo, the unconstructed dreamspace?

From a Buddhist perspective, the description of reality provided by quantum mechanics offers a degree of freedom to which most people are not accustomed, and that may at first seem strange and even a little frightening.  
It is a state that literally includes all possibilities, beyond space and time. 
While doing so may open up possibilities we might never before have imagined, it’s still hard to give up the familiar habit of being a victim. 
-- Mingyur Rinpoche

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stockholm Syndrome

A common reading of Buddhism is that it's about learning to give up desire, and coming to appreciate things as they are. While I can't say that this interpretation is wrong, exactly, I can say that it strikes me as terribly uninspiring. If life really is as mundane as it feels, then coming to appreciate it feels like attempting to develop Stockholm Syndrome (a condition in which a prisoner comes to feel affection for his captor).

The key lies in the phrase "things as they are." Commonly understood, it seems to indicate that there is a real, objective reality; a way that things "really are." But a fundamental tenet of Buddhism is that there ultimately is no way that things "really are."

It's hard to appreciate what this means without significant meditation practice.

Normally, things seem to operate this way: there's an experiencer "in here" that we call the mind, and its job is to experience a pre-existing world that continually comes into contact with it. But when your faculty of awareness becomes calm and sharp enough, you might begin to recognize the distinct phases that go into generating this illusion:

(1) The mind gives rise to an experience
(2) It labels that experience
(3) It projects the experience as being something outside itself and other than itself
(4) It uses this as evidence that the mind and the experience are fundamentally different things
(5) It infers that the thing causing the experience was already there, and the mind just happened to notice it

Of course, the question remains: even if you were to see this all clearly, why would you infer that there is not an external reality? Why can't all of the above be incorporated into a framework in which there still is an objective reality that the brain is merely reconstructing?

Nobody will be able to answer that question to your satisfaction. All that can be said is this: the more clearly you see that process, the more it begins to strike you as funny that you've been going out of your way to deny the most liberating insight of all: that changing how you perceive things may be fundamentally indistinguishable from changing the "things" themselves. The two were never separate.

You've never actually been a victim to an essentially alien, foreign, and thus ultimately threatening external reality. But the fundamental creativity of mind -- the freedom to generate anything at all -- ironically also permits you to feel like one, and thus become one, for as many eons as you like.

Circling back to the start of this post: what happens when you love reality exactly as it seems? Here's an intriguing possibility: maybe this allows the mind to feel less threatened and start accepting responsibility for whatever role it has in generating said reality.

That's an interpretation I can get on board with.

The essence of [Buddhism] can be reduced to a single point: The mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind, we can change the quality of everything we experience. When you transform your mind, everything you experience is transformed.
There are truly no limits to the creativity of your mind.
To the extent that you can acknowledge the true power of your mind, you can begin to exercise more control over your experience.
If our perceptions really are mental constructs conditioned by past experiences and present expectations, then what we focus on and how we focus become important factors in determining our experience. And the more deeply we believe something is true, the more likely it will become true in terms of our experience.
What happens when you begin to recognize your experiences as your own projections? What happens when you begin to lose your fear of the people around you and conditions you used to dread? Well, from one point of view -- nothing. From another point of view -- everything.
-- Mingyur Rinpoche

Monday, September 5, 2016

Evidence, evidence

Sometimes people advance the idea that the world is infinitely malleable, limited only by what you can conceive. This idea is easy to reject: where are all the people who have figured this out and put it to use? Shouldn't we expect there to be lots of real-life examples of Neo and Doctor Strange?

Well, there aren't. QED. The world is as objective and mundane as it appears.

But not so fast. Let's view this bit of evidence from the "infinitely malleable" hypothesis. It says: the mind (not the brain, mind you, but the sheer wondrous capacity for experience itself) is infinitely permissive. In its infinite patience, it has allowed you to dream up a reality in which you explain this capacity away as the mere byproduct of a "physical" organ; one that is subject to arbitrary external forces ("physical reality"). Ironically, you have used this infinite freedom to build a prison for yourself; one where you can not only be a victim, but one where you can prove that you are a victim.

From this perspective, you have designed this dream to disallow "glitches in the Matrix," or anything that might expose your role as the warden of your ridiculous prison. That's why you don't see anyone who's done it.

So the evidence does not favor one conclusion over the other, much to your dismay. The lack of other free people does not support the conclusion of an objective universe any more than the conclusion of an utterly free one.

You can go on looking for bits of evidence that will support your victim hypothesis (the "objective reality" one), but one day you will grow some cojones and set off on an adventure for the truth hidden in plain sight.

Look at the unfathomable spinelessness of man: all the means he's been given to stay alert he uses, in the end, to ornament his sleep. – Rene Daumal

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Wanting what you have

You must have heard this saying:
“Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have.”
To me it's always sounded like self-help. Like, great, maybe one day I'll be wise like that. But maybe I can sit up and take notice when it comes from a mystic I respect?

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“You never want what’s true. You want what you don’t have and don’t want what you already have, and so you suffer. It’s so perplexing! Why not simply reverse it? Why not want what you have, and not want what you don’t have? It’s so simple! You can be happy; it’s here for the taking. You want little things when you could have the entire universe and eternity.”