From my earliest instruction in Buddhist meditation, this phrase, “As it is,” has been used in numerous contexts to describe a way of interpreting experience. It implies that all overlays, story, judgment, speculation about the future and interpretation of the past, the endless chatter of discursive mind be stripped from experience, laying bare, as it were, the true nature of “mind,”– reality. The implication is that being able to detach oneself from all the drama and conceptual noise would reveal another even more compelling drama occurring underneath. Virtually all ensuing practice and study has been about discerning the nature of what is usually invisible to “relative consciousness” and bringing it into view.
In a recent Guardian UK article, Yuval Noah Harari, the brilliant young Israeli historian was interviewed. Harari has written two global bestselling books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015) and Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017). Harare meditates two hours a day. In the interview, he was asked, “What does meditation do for you?”
Above all it enables me to try and see reality as it is. When we try to observe the world, and when we try to observe ourselves, the mind constantly generates stories and fictions and explanations and imposes them on reality, and we cannot see what is really happening because we are blinded by [sic] them. Meditation for me is just to see reality as it is – don’t get entangled in any story, in any fiction.
The list of fictions created by discursive mind is virtually endless. In meditative practice, their increasing subtlety is gradually or, for some, suddenly unveiled. Recognising and unwinding from our personal fictions alone is difficult enough, never mind the collective fictions Harari is contemplating–such as nations, religions and money. At whatever scale, however, the intention is to see the world as it is, stripped of all adornments created by habit, even genetic programming.
If we were seeing the world as it is, what would that look like? For me, it looks like the Dzogchen view: the true nature of mind, like rest, is an indivisible, imperturbable, comprehensive, deep and blissful condition, a ceaseless evenness, uncreated, naturally arising without cause and without effort or achievement, being neither clarity nor dullness. It has no attributes whatsoever. Indeed, its reality is nothing at all.
It is not mere lucidity, but the realm of supreme lucidity.
It is not mental laxity, and mental agitation
is absent as a matter of course.
It has never wavered, does not waver and will never waver.
It has never varied, does not vary, and is beyond all variation.
Do not complicate it or simplify it.
—–The Tantra Without Letters (in The Way of Abiding—Longchenpa)
Here, space is a universal metaphor. All phenomena arise as space, and are only space itself in essence; they manifest as supremely spacious, are ever returning to space, can only ever be supreme spaciousness and nothing else. Why? Because spaciousness is another way of saying empty, meaning there is nothing there that intrinsically exists–completely on its own. There is nothing that is not dependent on something else. And when you get down to that something else, the most minute components, there is nothing at all but energy. Every material form or concept dissected to its foundations reveals nothing except space, space without qualities, space without cause, space without a source.
Everything we think of as reality is appearing from nothing, a spontaneous and infinitely creative source. Hah! And if we weren’t so quick to (unconsciously) believe what our sense-memory tells us, we would notice that is is all disappearing just as quickly. The most difficult piece of this picture to comprehend is that reality isn’t merely what’s “out there,” it’s us, the body, the biology, the imagination, this story I’m telling now. All is nothing at all, coming from no place that can be found and instantaneously returning where it came from–a dynamic source without beginning or end. Nearly impossible to grasp, right? Except in fleeting instants. And it’s in the grasping itself that the knowing dissolves.
If you’ve read this far, bless you. Because there’s more. The New York Review of Books has published a series of six conversations about consciousness between Riccardo Manicotti, a philosopher and robotics engineer, and Tim Parks, a journalist. In the most recent one, not only does Manzotti assert that there is no such thing as “out there,” but that we actually become what we perceive. There is no object of consciousness. Non-duality is the law, not some fantasy or topic of conceptual speculation. And he goes to considerable lengths to say so. Most surprisingly, in doing so he cites scientific, philosophical and literary sources, yet none is east of Gallileo. As I’m reading, I’m thinking here’s a guy who is synthesising a western conviction that non-dual reality is the true nature of existence without ever cracking a Buddhist text. Or maybe not. But he never alludes to having done so.
A crucial point he does make, also completely consistent with the Buddhist view, is that there is no such thing as time. Our understanding of time is integral to our flawed belief in all the rest of our senses. Just as any phenomena, material or otherwise, may be infinitely dissected until any notion of its causal “existence” completely collapses, so too can any moment of time be infinitely divided to a point at which there can only be one conclusion–there is no such thing as a durable “present moment.” Anything presumed to be a fixed moment of time dissolves upon examination. Time does not truly exist any more than matter can be said to exist. So “presence” and “being here now” are convenient fallacies that serve only to reinforce our predisposition to reify our experience.
Emptiness is form;
Form is emptiness.
So here we all are, constantly (another reference to time) arising and disappearing in an ongoing flux of phenomena that are essentially equal in nature yet which appear in infinite variety and to which we ascribe an infinite variety of values, in response to which we make an infinite variety of decisions. Sure, there’s a great deal about “reality” on which we agree, but let’s not allow that agreement to presume that we are having the same experience. What, then, accounts for my experience being different from yours? Oh, I don’t know, maybe something called karma?
What’s the point? Even if you don’t happen to be in perpetual blissful absorption, you can certainly be mindful of at least one thing: Don’t let your reality define your reality.