Category Archives: Nature of Reality

Are You Aware of Your Assumptions?

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In life we are making assumptions of all kinds all the time. We assume that the milkman will come on time, the product you bought online will turn out to be good, the traffic will be as usual on the way to the office, and the spouse’s mood will be normal in the evening. And because on most days, these things turn out to be according to what we assumed, we tend to take these assumptions for granted.

So when, the next time we are caught in an unexpected traffic jam, we either curse ourselves or wonder how the city life is deteriorating. Next time when the maid does not come on time, we pick up an argument. Next time your boss overlooks your report, you become uneasy and start to worry about your impression.

Assumptions in themselves are not a problem. We need to make assumptions to keep our life running. If we had to live our life without any assumptions, then we would be living in a constant state of panic and fear, not trusting anyone around us.

The mistake we make is that we are not aware that we are making assumptions.

When you sit in a cab, you make an assumption that the driver will take you to the destination you told him. It is possible that the driver will take you somewhere else. The possibility, however small, does exist. And when that happens, you panic, you begin to shout, become angry and later start to wonder why it happens to you only.

There is another assumption at work here – your assumption that the world moves according to how you think it is supposed to work. The truth is that the world moves in mysterious ways and despite all the patterns and laws we have superimposed on reality to make it more predictable, we encounter situations where our assumptions turn out to be false.

To stop taking reality for granted, we need to develop awareness of our assumptions, even when they seem to be serving the purpose.

Reality is not following our assumptions but it is the way it is.

If we observe reality keenly and accept whatever it presents to us, we will be in a better position to navigate through life.

Whenever you are in a situation which makes you suffer, try to discover what assumptions you made about something or someone and instead of blaming the situation or another person, realize that it was merely your assumption.

Alternatively, ask, clarify, investigate and inquire about the cause of the situation. This will help you to update your assumptions. For instance, if you notice that your spouse is in a bad mood, ask what is the problem instead of reacting to the mood. You might think this is difficult to do but who knows it might be another assumption you are nurturing.

The ability to become aware of our own assumptions is a skill that can be developed with some practice. You will realize that your experience of life moves several notches up when you are more aware of what assumptions you are making about your life and are able to realize them as assumptions and not laws of nature. You will then be able to learn every moment and enjoy life every moment.

Does Rain Have A Brain?

It is rainy season. It rains, sometimes continuously for days and sometimes intermittently through the day. The news channels are busy reporting the havoc caused by incessant rains in different parts of the country where normal life is seriously disrupted.

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Is the rain doing it on purpose? Does it have a brain so to say? Does it decide where to rain and how much to rain? Does it see from high above the clouds, as it surveys the landscape, and then does it decide on its target audience or target city and then with great precision, commences its attack on unsuspecting people, vehicles, animals, roads and buildings and only stops when it is satisfied that the planned damage has been accomplished?

It seems childish to credit rain with this kind of intentional activity but every now and then we do speak or hear others speak of the rain in this manner. For example, it happens to many of us that we start from home to go to our place of work and we note that it is not raining when we start. But as soon as we are on the road, it rains heavily as if the rain wants to get at us, especially me. And this thought is reinforced by the observation that the rain stops as soon as you reach your destination. Even if you are the most rational person, you might want to credit the rain with a devious brain when you see it doing this the third time in a row.

So does the rain really have a brain that is somehow tracking you and all other millions of people across the country, calculating all the permutations and combinations about how much to rain and on whom to rain; which roads to convert to potholes and which cars to drown? Obviously not. We all know that the rain is a function of the elements of the ecosystem. The hotter the summer, the stronger the rains – because the sun would have evaporated a lot of water from the water bodies and now all of that cannot remain in the clouds so it comes down. Where the rain hits is a function of the wind systems around the world and the tree cover on the land. So without going into the mathematics of the climate and weather systems, it would suffice to say that these are pure elements at work and rain does not care whether it is raining on bare land or on people or on cities or on forests.

Rains simply happen because that’s the way it is. It could not be any other way on that day at that time. If you are frustrated or angry because you got wet, it is not the rain’s fault. And in the same vein, it is not your fault either. Your brain reacts to the rain depending on your mind’s ecosystem – where the wind of your thoughts is blowing when it rains, how much the summer of being lost in activities of daily life evaporated your energy, and how much forest cover you have of your own self-awareness.

When it rains, you see adults taking cover while children coming out to play and dance. Simply a difference in the ecosystems of your mind.

Rains are an invitation to experience the senses – the smell of the earth, the feel of the water on your body, the sight of the clouds, intermittent sun and the occasional rainbow, the musical sound of the raindrops falling on the ground or even on the tin shed nearby and the taste of the hot tea or hot pakodas during the rains – everything about the rainy season is deeply sensual.

The rainy season stimulates the senses like no other season, if you care to pay attention and not get caught in news reports and thoughts about how the rain is scheming to upset your plans.

Rains are nature’s way of asking you to stop and observe the beauty of creation, the impermanence of everything around us that is continuously ending something and creating something new from that – the greenery with all the flowers that come up after rains, the crops that grow from rains and supply us with food and the rivers that nourish the land until the next rainy season – the power of nature.

So while I have argued from the point that rains do not have brains, I still am crediting nature with an intention in the above paragraph. That’s the way the mind works. Can’t help it!

 

 

 

Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

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Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!

 

Seeking For The Truth

Where Can I Find Truth

Lot of people seek for the truth.

But truth is not something that can be seen as some image.

It is not something that can be heard as some sound.

It is not something that can be smelled or tasted.

It is not something that can be touched.

So in what way do people expect to find the truth?

Is it an idea?

Is it some thought that is considered as the truth?

Is it an experience?

Note that in order to be sure that one has found the truth, one must be in a position to recognize it.

How can one recognize the truth if one has never had an experience of it before, when one does not know what it is?

Some say that truth is to be found within

True we can search for it within but what does one expect to find.

When the search begins one does not know what one is searching for & there are many falsities masquerading as the truth. So how does one differentiate ?

What if truth is right there in front of us but we miss it & go on seeking somewhere else ?

These are some questions that every sincere seeker of truth must investigate.  He or she must not accept or discard anything without proper investigation.

 

Alice in Fleetingland

If we look at the world around us minutely, we will notice that things are happening at different speeds. Vehicles on the road are moving at around 60 km/hour. A plane in the sky must be moving at 800 km/hour. People on the streets are walking at their own pace, some are running, some are ambling. If you watch the sun during sunset, you will be amazed at how fast it moves, which actually means how fast the earth is rotating on its axis.

There are some things which change rapidly like the scene on the road and there are other things that change slowly. We usually do not notice those and assume they are permanently there. For example a tree or a bench in the garden seem static. Everyday, you can see them there and we do not notice the gradual changes taking place.

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We can see changes in the tree only when the season changes and we can see the changes in the bench only if it broken or gets disfigured due to constant use. However, we do not appreciate how they are changing even while we are looking at them.

The tree is actually like an extremely slow moving fountain. As sunlight falls on the leaves and water escapes, the branches pull up more water and nutrients from the trunk and roots. We cannot see this happening yet it is happening.

As people sit on the bench, there is wear and tear every moment. Even the flow of wind over the bench, the falling of leaves on the bench will keep affecting the bench very gradually. We all know how the waves created sandy beaches over millions of years.

Everything around us is constantly changing, fleeting every moment. We are also changing. We might see the same face and body in the mirror everyday. Yet we are changing – every cell, every organ is undergoing change. At the microscopic level, the changes are very rapid and mind boggling, if only we could notice or feel.

We usually get fooled by the illusion that things are permanent, as if they are existing in themselves and not as a process of happening. Our senses fool us into believing that the chair we are sitting on is solid and is not changing. Same is true about the people in our life. We start thinking he or she is the same individual everyday, every moment.

But armed with the knowledge about transience, We can become aware of the whole illusion. This does not mean that we get scared because the world is falling apart. On the contrary, you learn to love this creation, the beauty and the mystery of it.

So the wise way to live in this Wonderland is as if Alice.

 

Two Realities

There are two realities going on simultaneously. One is the reality of which we cannot speak and EVERYTHING happens in THAT reality. Actually it is the only reality. However, there is the second reality which is the superimposed reality – the one created by thought, name, concept and description. It attempts to describe and understand the first underlying reality. However, the second reality is made of the same substance as the first one. It is the second reality only from the perspective of the second reality. From the perspective of the first reality, the second superimposed reality does not exist.

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For example, a chair or a tree exists in the first reality as atoms, molecules and process. This cannot be described. It is a mystery, just nameless BEING. In the second reality, we call it the tree, the mango tree, the wooden chair and so on.

Now we must understand the overlap between the two realities. The tools used by the second reality – sounds, letters, names, images – are all expressions of the first reality. That means that the second reality cannot exist independently of the first one. It is made of the first reality.

Here is the funny thing. The first reality can only be known through the medium of the second. It is not right to say that the first and the second do not intermingle. From the very beginning, it is only the first reality and will always be. The second exists only to know the first.

People do not realize that the second reality, the superimposed reality, is nothing but the original source reality. They think the superimposition is a separate reality and by constantly forgetting that, they only live in the second reality R2.

Sometimes, R2 is in sync with R1. It can describe it well and goes together with it. At other times, it is not in sync, does not overlap and is incapable of describing whats going on. At this time, for a person, who is only living in R2, there is stress, conflict, anguish and suffering.

The nature of R1 is impermanence, change, dynamic while the nature of R2 is permanence, static, same. Again, this distinction is only from the perspective of R2, not from R1.

Remember R2 is nothing but R1 and has always been so. If a person realizes that, he comes back in sync. In other words, he accepts R2 … whatever description he has of R1 … and stays with it. The effort to modify R1 to meet R2 or R2 to meet R1 causes suffering.

A wise man, or one with this insight, knows both R1 and R2 and can distinguish R2 from R1 or know the limitations of R2 to describe R1 and at the same time accept that R2 fully as R1 itself and not run away from R2.

Worldly Knowledge vs. Ultimate Knowledge

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Human beings have the unique privilege of being born with the capacity to learn. Using signs, symbols, language and science, we have gathered a lot of knowledge over the centuries. This knowledge has transformed our lives through its application in technology, medicine and engineering.

​As we know more and more, we realize there is always something more to know. In every theoretical discipline – physics, chemistry, mathematics and so on – the search for more knowledge continues. There does not seem to be an end to knowledge. Although many scientists are diligently seeking a unified theory which will be the mother of all theories and will answer all the questions, their quest has not been successful so far. This does not mean that one day they will be successful. Scientific discoveries in the field of Quantum dynamics tend to point to the conclusion that there might be fundamental limits to knowledge.

Despite such limits, knowledge can always increase endlessly. Such is the nature of worldly knowledge. The increase in the amount of this worldly knowledge has also increased the number of years young human beings have to spend in school. There is ever increasing amount of knowledge we need to imbibe before we are ready for working in the world. Beyond a point, one must choose a specialization and literally know a lot about very little.

One must observe this carefully in the world.

Realizing this some people go in search of spiritual knowledge – the knowledge of God. The case is the same in this field also. There is endless knowledge of meditation, consciousness, soul, higher energy and so on. It is crucial for one to realize that such knowledge is equally worldly. It has the same nature of being never ending.

​As one understands this, one begins to investigate how knowledge is created. One sees clearly how simple sensory inputs are concretized, symbolized, given a name and then woven to form the fabric of knowledge. Much of this is done by one person and then later just informed to others through the process of education, without the actual sensory experience.

By investigating deeper into this, the grip of knowledge on oneself weakens. Everything one knows is put under the microscope of the mind, questioned and understood in its entirety. Knowledge literally falls away and there is freedom from all that is known. All that remains is bare experience – the experience of the air on the skin, the sound on the ear, the object on the eye, and the taste on the tongue. The mind will still name the experience but not in the same way as before. There is a certain knowing of the knowing – a constant moving knowing state not an accumulating process. This is ultimate knowledge.

Seeing Clearly vs. Clear Seeing

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There is a difference between Seeing Clearly and Clear Seeing.

Seeing clearly means being able to see the differences between things, being able to distinguish between one and the other. This depends on sensory inputs. If your eyes have cataract, you will not be able to see clearly. What is true of the eye is true of the other sense organs including the ears, nose, tongue, skin and brain. When you understand a concept well, you can say that you see clearly.

Clear seeing is seeing the sameness in everything, despite apparent differences. This does not depend on sensory input. While sense organs provide you information to the contrary, there is the knowing that it is not as it appears to be. It is possible that a person with cataract may not be able to see clearly but he may be able to clearly see.

Clear seeing is an insight into the nature of things, into the nature of senses, into the differences, into the nature of seeing clearly.

What is better? Seeing clearly or Clear seeing? That depends.

In day to day life, people, schools, organizations and society gives more importance to seeing clearly. However, it need not be so always.

A close analogy is like the Necker cube which can be seen in two ways. There are some people who have difficulty in seeing the other perspective.

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Seeing clearly can mean being able to see one or both of the perspectives. This may sometimes lead to arguments between those those who see one perspective and those who see the other.

​Clear seeing can mean being able to flip between the two at will and empathize with the person who is unable to see the other perspective.

The Word is Not The Thing

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Our language can be considered to be a mutual agreement between all people to use certain symbols and associated sounds to represent various things found in nature or to represent various abstract notions developed by the mind. The invention of language gives tremendous power to human beings. All advances in science and technology, engineering and medicine would not have been possible without the foundation of language.

As much as language helps in changing our environment, it is also the source of much misery, misunderstanding and suffering. Words can deceive and words can hurt. Words can influence masses of people and words can make people fight with each other. The root cause of all the problems caused by our language can be traced to Alfred Korzybski’s famous statement – The Word is not the Thing.

Let me explain with an example. The word “bulb” stands for the physical object, which is spherical in form made out of glass and contains a filament made of tungsten. When connected to an electrical outlet, it glows and gives off light. You, me and everyone else has agreed to call it a bulb. We could have agreed to call it by any other name but for some historical reason we have called it the bulb.

The physical bulb is not a static object because it is undergoing change all the time. The filament is wearing off and the glass is getting weaker. But the name remains the same. The word “bulb” does not change. Now most people when shown a bulb will say that it is a bulb whereas in reality there is only the agreement to call it a bulb. The physical object can break when dropped on the floor but the word “bulb” does not break.

In the case of the bulb, there is no problem. Most people would agree wholeheartedly that the word, which is the symbol, is not the real thing. But in many other instances, all of us confuse the two. We fuse the word and the thing together as if they were never separate. And this confusion leads to all the troubles.

Let me explain with another example. The word “communist” stands for a person who believes in a certain way of thinking, who has a certain ideology and has certain political convictions. Communism is generally associated with negative connotations. Now, suppose you come to know that Mr. X, your friendly neighbor, is a communist. You will automatically forget all the excellent qualities of Mr. X and starting being cautious in interacting with him.

This reaction is common in many other cases where the symbol is confused to be the thing. We salute the flag (a symbol) to show our respect to our country. We offer flowers to a statue (a symbol) in order to pray to God. We give a birthday card (a symbol) to express our love. We attach a lot of emotion to our symbols. So if someone burns the flag, we consider it as an attack on the country and if someone throws away the card, we consider it as an insult.

If we think about our reactions with a calm mind, we will discover that they are not warranted. However because of our habit, we continue to confuse the word for the thing.

It is X Only Because it is Not X

X is a name. It can be a name of a person or thing or event or process. We all use names to identify things and people. But in the process we forget that they are simply names, not the things themselves.

There are different shades of identification. Some identification is stronger than others. One’s own name is the strongest identification. My name is Y but I start believing that I AM Y. Similarly I believe that my friend is A, my wife is B and my dog is D.

Other strong identification is with time. We actually believe that today is 9th of AUgust 2015, Sunday. The fact is that a date is only a convenient means to have order in our activities and planning.

The fact is that the name is not the person or the name is not the thing. We might say Hurricane Katrina, but that is just a name. The hurricane did not have a name. It was nameless all the time. Therefore, the truth is that it was not Hurricane Katrina. In other words, it was Hurricane Katrina only because it was NOT Hurricane Katrina.

This statement must be understood carefully. X is X only because it is NOT X. A name can be given to something which is nameless. If it already had a name, why give it one?

The Hurricane does not say that its name is Katrina. Similarly the dog does not say that its name is D. In the same spirit, even if I say that I am Y, you should not believe me because I am fundamentally nameless. So are you. That is why your name is P or S or K.

So look around you. In actual fact, nothing has a name. Everything is nameless from the beginning – all the chairs, tables, walls, people, are chairs, tables, walls and people only because they are NOT chairs, tables, walls, and people.

It is more true to say that it is not a chair than it is to say that it is a chair. Both statements are true but one is really true and the other is only conventionally true.

So if you can look at things and people as nameless which is not recognizing anything by its name – whether it is a tree, a bird, a flower, the sun and so on, you will attain the original mind, untainted and pure. After all, isn’t this what you want?