We see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light—a process. Similarly, what we ‘see’ is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow. If you walk toward the rainbow you will never get there.
David Bohm, Thought as a System
I had posted this wonderful quote from Bohm several years ago; I now feel I have understood something new about it.
A whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. To this, Bohm would probably add, there are a whole lot of feelings floating around too. On top of which there is a subtle sense of self fleetingly dancing in there somewhere; and it is this sense of self, which is in essence a thought/feeling, that somehow seems to anchor all the other stuff that floats around in consciousness.
Try as we might, we cannot pin it down; the rainbow simply cannot be found, for it is ultimately an optical illusion. For this reason, probably, Ramana insisted that we try to find out the “I” thought. Seek and ye shall not find, for it is fundamentally illusory.
I absolutely love this metaphor: drops of rain and light posing as a solid self. Drops of thoughts and emotions. Can we merely see them as drops of light, sun, rain? Nothing else is required.
When we say we are “aware” of our minds and bodies, can this really be so? Are we not merely aware of a subtle master-image that has arisen in the mind that represents our current body-mind state? How, indeed, could it be otherwise?
In other words, one subtle representation–the sense of “me”–is aware of another subtle representation–the body-mind state. And both representations take themselves as “real” in a very basic sense.
To add to the mind-boggling-ness, neither of these representations is in “my” control. Both spontaneously arise and die down in the neurological storm that is reality.
I think this applies to awareness of the so-called external world as well. When we see a leaf or a chair, we are seeing something that is a massive construct of the brain. The brain fools us into thinking that we are seeing something as it is. But consider this:
- a different organism, with a different brain and different sensorial structures, will perceive a leaf very differently from me
- the appearance of richness in the visual field is illusory. We perceive in detail what is in focus in front of us; at our peripheral vision, we cannot make out colour changes
- we all have a blind spot that the brain is masking, and it is filling in details from the surroundings, rather like Photoshop
This list can go on. I guess the question in my mind is: when we say we are aware of reality, what exactly do we mean?
I have just begun a very exciting book, Nonduality, by David Loy. It is a philosophical analysis of three major non-dual philosophical systems: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism. It explores notions such as nondual perception and action in a rigorous and yet readable manner. Though is is primarily an academic work, it has already in a couple of chapters opened up some “real-life” philosophical puzzles that have haunted me for some time now!
I came across it in Joan Tollifson’s reading list, which is a rich source for books in the non-duality ballpark.
Very excitingly, the author himself has uploaded the book as a scanned copy here. Please read for a sophisticated and exciting glimpse into the most profound philosophical traditions on the planet!
M: The dreams are not equal, but the dreamer is one. I am the
insect. I am the poet — in dream. But in reality I am neither. I am
beyond all dreams. I am the light in which all dreams appear
and disappear. I am both inside and outside the dream. Just as
a man having headache knows the ache and also knows that he
is not the ache, so do I know the dream, myself dreaming and
myself not dreaming — all at the same time. I am what I am be-
fore, during and after the dream. But what I see in dream, I am
Q: It is all a matter of imagination. One imagines that one is
dreaming, another imagines one is not dreaming. Are not both
M: The same and not the same. Not dreaming, as an interval
between two dreams, is of course, a part of dreaming. Not
dreaming as a steady hold on, and timeless abidance in reality
has nothing to do with dreaming. In that sense I never dream,
nor ever shall.
Q: If both dream and escape from dream are imaginings, what
is the way out?
M: There is no need of a way out! Don’t you see that a way out
is also a part of the dream? All you have to do is to see the
dream as dream.
Q: If I start the practice of dismissing everything as a dream,
where will it lead me?
M: Wherever it leads you, it will be a dream. The very idea of
going beyond the dream is illusory. Why go anywhere? Just
realize that you are dreaming a dream you call the world, and
stop looking for ways out. The dream is not your problem. Your
problem is that you like one part of your dream and not another.
Love all, or none of it, and stop complaining. When you have
seen the dream as a dream, you have done all that needs be
Nisargadatta on dreaming and reality
If you pay attention to your inner life, you will see that the emergence of choices, efforts, and intentions is a fundamentally mysterious process. Yes, you can decide to go on a diet—and we know a lot about the variables that will enable you to stick to it—but you cannot know why you were finally able to adhere to this discipline when all your previous attempts failed. You might have a story to tell about why things were different this time around, but it would be nothing more than a post hoc description of events that you did not control. Yes, you can do what you want—but you cannot account for the fact that your wants are effective in one case and not in another (and you certainly can’t choose your wants in advance). You wanted to lose weight for years. Then you really wanted to. What’s the difference? Whatever it is, it’s not a difference that you brought into being.
You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts. You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do. Of course, you can create a framework in which certain decisions are more likely than others—you can, for instance, purge your house of all sweets, making it very unlikely that you will eat dessert later in the evening—but you cannot know why you were able to submit to such a framework today when you weren’t yesterday.
So it’s not that willpower isn’t important or that it is destined to be undermined by biology. Willpower is itself a biological phenomenon. You can change your life, and yourself, through effort and discipline—but you have whatever capacity for effort and discipline you have in this moment, and not a scintilla more (or less). You are either lucky in this department or you aren’t—and you cannot make your own luck.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
One of my favourite poems; it captures so well the intersection between mortality and eternity, in a flash of words.
There is a musical rendering of this poem by the group Salamander Crossing which is stunning. Click here.
On Meditating, Sort Of
Mary Oliver (From Blue Horses)
Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place — half asleep — where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter —
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints —
all that glorious, temporary stuff.