Earlier this week I asked people on my Facebook page what I should write my next post about. I had a few good replies and I’ll deal with all of them in coming posts.
The first suggestion was “The obstructed nature of Perception, how it is warped by mind, and how it is purified.”
Yikes! Here goes…
This kind of language comes out of the Tibetan style of Buddhist training. The same concepts are there in early Buddhism, but when the later phase of Buddhism (Mahayana) got its hands on earlier Buddhist philosophy (essentially the ‘abhidharma’ or ‘further teachings’ of a school of early Buddhism called the Sarvastivada with a bit of other stuff thrown in) they really went to town.
There’s a tradition of debate in Tibetan Buddhism that’s designed to sharpen the mind of the student. I watched them do it many years ago when I was in Dharmsala, but I’ve never tried it myself – at least not formally. It seems like a good way to get clear about what the various positions of different Buddhist schools are on different subjects. This is designed to help you practice effectively.
The positions are extremely precise. This precision rarely finds its way over to Buddhism in the west (apart from the Tibetan schools that are of course still into it).
That’s one of the reasons I decided to do an MA in Buddhist Studies. I’d heard so many ‘Buddhist teachers’ call so many things ‘the Dharma’ or ‘what the Buddha said’ and there were such significant discrepancies that I wanted to make sure I had ‘the real deal’. Without that I was worried that firstly I’d be learning and practising the wrong stuff, and secondly that I’d be communicating the wrong stuff to others.
I found there are a bunch of ‘real deals’ and in fact the ‘Buddhist tradition’ is more like ‘Buddhist traditions’. There’s a lot of difference, but there are some underlying principles that hold the whole lot together.
All this precision and detail is fine and dandy if you’re a geek like me, but what if you just want some pointers to make your life work better?
That’s what this blog is all about. I do my geeky stuff on my own time.
So from that perspective, how do we make sense of concepts like ‘the obstructed nature of perception’?
In the words of psychedelic rock band Gong:
The more you know you get to know you don’t know what you know.
This is, in Buddhist terms, because of the obstructed nature of perception.
Firstly, we can only perceive what our senses let us perceive. Other stuff is there, but we don’t have the kit to allow us to perceive it (e.g. ultraviolet light or very high frequency sound waves).
Secondly, our mind gets in the way.
We all have biases in the way we see things. We don’t see reality. Hence all the excitement on reality TV shows, politics, war, arguments down the pub, the plethora of religions and philosophies.
We shouldn’t need any of this. There’s only one reality. But we manage to have different views on it because of the way we see things. That is, because our perceptions of reality are different.
Our perceptions are different because of a whole bunch of stuff. Different philosophies of course have different views on this. Different Buddhist philosophies have different views on it too!
The theory of karma is significant here.
We perceive things as we do because of our karma.
We can’t perceive the same frequency range as bats because we were born human. We were born human because of karma. (This is the Buddhist view at least).
We have a bunch of experiences in our childhood. This shapes our view of the world. Some Buddhist schools argue that this is entirely because of karma. Some Buddhist schools say karma is one factor among others.
The bottom line is that our mind shuts us down to so much of life. This is useful and necessary for some things and a pain in the butt for others.
How to to get closer to directly perceiving reality
The bottom line is, you can’t. It’s important to realise this because it keeps you humble. It helps you to listen to other people’s point of view. It teaches you tolerance. If you think you’ve cracked it and everyone else is wrong, look deeper!
Of course the ‘goal’ of Buddhism is to perceive reality directly. That’s what being a Buddha means. So me saying ‘you can’t’ is me, in a sense, saying you can’t become a Buddha. Now that’s not quite what I mean, but to get into that will take a whole other blog post. So for now, just trust me on this!
While you may not be able to perceive reality directly, there are a number of ways to reduce the level of delusion in your perception.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do in your life.
It makes your life easier for a start – because you’re not making decisions based on your own delusions instead of how the world actually is.
It also makes it easier to get on with a wider variety of people. In England we have a newspaper called the Daily Mail. What we’re after is the opposite of that 😉
In the end, living more in accordance with reality means more peace. You aren’t battling the way things are anymore. It’s like spending 30 years trying to smash through a brick wall, then eventually realising that the wall is only 10 feet wide. If you stand back and take a breath, you can simply walk around it.
How do you get there?
1. Develop a deep mindfulness. Mindfulness practice is key. Both formal mindfulness practice on the meditation cushion and paying attention to mindful awareness while you’re getting on with your day.
2. Go on retreat. This allows you to develop some serious mindfulness and then use it to look at how you operate. It’s an amazing thing to do.
3. Get out of your bubble. Travel. Meet different kinds of people. Listen to people of all ages, all cultures, all beliefs. Try to work out why they believe all that crazy stuff!