Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fish Bowl

An old Buddhist story about the semantics of naming things, but also the limits of our perception goes something like this....

The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not reach a conclusion. The Sixth Ancestor, Hui-neng, said, “It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves.” The two monks were dumb-struck.

For me the take-away is that what we think we are seeing/experiencing is not what is really "out there", or perhaps more correctly, what we think we are experiencing is highly, or completely, colored by the mind. Colored by our past experiences, our karma. Colored by what has happened to us before. Colored by our ignorance.

We are like fish in a bowl who can only see things through the distortions imposed by the bowl and water, not aware that we are in the bowl and water.

This is not my own idea, but one that comes from 'standing on the shoulders of giants' whom I can't recall who introduced the idea to me, and to the world.

This is a very liberating and perhaps also disturbing idea. We give so much credence to our perception of things, but it is an inherently false perception.

 I find the book "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow, to be a very lucid and convincing demonstration and discussion of this fact.

We structure stories about ourselves and our surroundings, and our place in them, based on our fishbowl view. We cannot see this ignorance in operation. There is no meter that tells us how much 'gap-filling' we are bringing into an experience. It seems real, but we must always appreciate that it is not.

We can use some off the practical exercises in Mr. Mlodinow's book to see it is going on for various sense organs (eyes, ears, etc...). But it also plays out in what we call 'feelings' in the West, arising from how past experiences have impressed the subconscious circuits of our brains.

Zazen can help us be more present, and therefore more liberated from some of this subconscious influence. But even in moments of apparently perfect here-and-now living, perfect 'mindfulness', we cannot escape our fish bowls.

Embrace this not-knowing. There is no other way.

Embrace this subconscious karmic ox and the tenth picture may arise.

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