Imagine it is the end of a beautiful summer day. The air is clear and the sun will set soon. The rays of sun come from low on the horizon, and everything you see is apparent in high contrast. The shadows are deep, but where the light strikes the reflection is brilliant. You are standing near a great old tree. You can see its ancient trunk with the sunlight creating deep shadows in the patterns of the bark. The limbs of the tree spread out in a canopy overhead. The leaves, moving gently in a light breeze vibrate slightly. You can see in this light that some of them brightly reflect the light in hues of green. Others are dark in shadow. You know at this moment that your image of this tree is dependent on this reflected sunlight. You are not seeing the tree. You are seeing the light reflected off parts of the thing your mind perceives as a tree.
Your image of this tree is happening in your eyes and in your brain/mind. You believe the tree is there, but if not for your mind's response to the patterns of light hitting your retina how would you know it is there? You believe the leaves are there, even those you can't see in the darkening shadows. You believe that the back side of the tree is there, even though you cannot see it. You understand that the "out there" is happening "in here." The entire phenomena of this tree that you experience is occuring within the confines of your nervous system.
How is the experience of seeing a tree different from dreaming it, except that the light bounced off the tree "out there" is the stimulus for the image in your mind?
How did you create the image of the tree that you just visualized? You constructed it out of your thoughts of "treeness" based on some symbols you read here. Amazing really. You can dream the tree. You can create it out of symbolic instructions, or you can create it out of light impulses striking your optical system. In any case, your conception of the tree does not exist independent of your mind.
We constantly make judgments based on our assumptions about reality. We believe that if we reach out and touch a tree that we see with our eyes it will be there, and our touch will confirm it. We normally live our lives completely convinced that our sensory experiences are real. It works so well that we assume that what we perceive is reality.
This is a characteristic of the Sanscrit concept of "maya." Maya, sometimes described as illusion or ignorance, is the way we measure off the world separating things into categories. We think the world is out there and I am in here. Yet our world and our perception of it are mutually arising. We are in it, of it, and creating it as we go along. There is no there there. It is you and the world happening together.
Imagine that you lived your life always aware of the ephemeral nature of your experience. How would that be different? From the point of view of the ego it might be terrifying, since suddenly you become alone in the great void. But with a little more understanding, your perception of your own ego would become clear as a manifestation of maya. You would know that the boundary between what you perceive as the limits of your own personal identity and the rest of creation is false. You would attend to your direct experience of the world as immediately sensed. You would not be misled by labels. You would know that you and everything else are not separate, and in that knowing you would find an immeasurable and profound sense of peace.
This week, and perhaps every week, develop the habit of spending some time experiencing clear awareness. Use a simple meditation practice that will allow you the tranquility of mind to perceive the world in its pure essence unmarred by labels, limits, and conceptions. Allow yourself to give up boundaries between what is inside and what is outside your thinking mind. Allow the peace of understanding to fulfill you.
© 2000 Tom Barrett