In my previous post I mentioned briefly the concept of Maya- illusionary world created through our senses. I explained that what we see around us is not the reality but a mental projection created in our minds. We are not able to focus on everything that happens around. Because of that our minds memorise only a small fraction of our surrounding reality. This way we create its distorted image inside our heads. We are so used to living inside these mental projections that we mistake them for the actual reality. Everything we know we perceive through our senses and these get registered and processed by our nervous system and our brains. We are somewhat trapped inside our bodies. It is as though we were living in cages.
This “cage” of the physical body limits range of our possibilities in life. This is something we all need to accept and there is no point thinking about it too much. Every animal has a “cage” of their own. What makes our world even more limited is the world of social constructions, In Buddhism known as Samsara .Whilst illusion of Maya reflects our perception of the physical world, illusion of Samsara is the meanings we prescribe to that world. Common understanding of Samsara (often translated as a “cycle of existence” is that of the reincarnation cycle. However if we look closer we will see that the term Samsara defines features of the human mind. In this context it can be applied to one lifetime. The word ‘samsara’ translates as ‘moving in circles’. It seems to me that samsara is an illusionary world of “self” and its relationship with rest of the world.
Most things I read on the topic of Samsara don’t explain well how this world is constructed but instead they focus on how it manifests. The world of Samsara is the landscape of our emotions, desires, passions, conflicts and dreams. In many was it brings flavour to our existence. It gives us our drive for action, our need for creativity and many other things we consider so important in our lives. It helps us to define who we are and it defines what our place in the world is. It creates basis for all social relationships and larger social structures we live in. As a principle it seems like it was created in order to help us function on a higher, more complicated plan of existence. Without it we would spend our days on eating and sleeping with no much else to do. Unfortunately in a long term it has a very negative effect on us. It turns us into restless, aimless and uncontrolled lunatics constantly shaken and torn by our own desires, moving from place to place without goal and never being able to reach fulfillment and satisfaction. This is the world we all live in and I guess we all know too well how tiring it is…
According to the Buddhist philosophy main suffering of Samsara comes from our longing for things to last infinitely. The inevitable end of everything is dictated by the laws of nature. Our will to make things last longer creates a tension, a conflict inside our heads. The desire to make things last longer could be described as us getting ‘attached’ to something. Our attachments hurt us because by forming them we try to stop changes that occur in the world around us. In the natural world everything is in movement. In the abstract world of mind we are trying to stop it.
When people talk about Buddhist idea of having “no attachments” they usually mean attachments to physical objects, people etc. They seem to overlook that the same principle should be applied to ideas, opinions and habits as well. The moment we define something as part of our “self” we form an attachment to this thing. When our circumstances change in a way that forces us to break this attachment we reply with resistance and we end up in suffering. As a principle the less attachments we have the less suffering we experience. With no attachments we can smoothly adopt to all kinds of changes.
When looking closely at the world of mind we may notice that even there lots of things change almost effortlessly, for example our thoughts. Other things like desires, dreams, or fears may last longer but they too tend to change eventually. However some things in our minds remain unchanged for so long that they almost seem static- these are our beliefs about the world. Beliefs are the strongest form of attachment that a human mind can form. When we once form a belief about something we are very unwilling to change it. Usually some sort of force is needed to change our beliefs and even then more stubborn individuals resist. Unlike most our thoughts which are usually very short-lived beliefs tend to inhabit our heads for years or even a lifetime. In conclusion to what has been mentioned before I dare to say that our beliefs are responsible for most of our suffering. All human conflicts starting from simple everyday disputes between family members and ending in religious and political opposites are based on differences in belief systems. We spend most our lives trying to defend our beliefs in one way or another and we turn our minds into a battlefield.
In a long term our beliefs blind us and restrain us from learning since we spend too much time trying to preserve them. In all this we forget that our beliefs have no base in the physical world, that they are an abstract created in our heads and fueled with emotions. In a long term our beliefs form type of a “lens” that severely distorts our perception of reality. This “lens” creates a constant need for comparison, definition and judgment of everything around us. We analyse and segregate every bit of information received from the outside world and we try to fit it into our belief system.
I used the world “lens” here as an allegory. This lens absorbs only chunks of surrounding reality and it will never allow us to see the full spectrum of the surrounding events. Wilson used another allegory-he called this tendency of mind a “reality tunnel”*. A tunnel is a good allegory since it represents the extend to which our beliefs limit our perception. Beliefs are like walls that separate us from the rest of the world.
Everyone has their own reality tunnel and each of them in its own way is a prison. Since we are only able to see a fraction of reality, certain things will always remain inaccessible and invisible to us. In consequence we are guaranteed to overlook many possibilities that we simply fail to recognise.We can only see as far as our beliefs allow us. Even our fears and desires can be controlled with the power of our beliefs. I would say that the moment we form a belief about something we form a mental blockage that stops our personal development on some level. On that level we become stuck.
We will never be able to form perfectly harmonious relationships with other people and the world around us since the differences in our belief systems lead to conflicts .Unfortunately most people are unable to realise why or even whether they got stuck. This is because just like in case of our sensual memories we confuse our reality tunnels with the outside reality. Reality tunnel creates the world of Samsara, world full of conflicts and suffering.
The main problem with our beliefs is that we’re not fully aware of what they are. Some of them are so deeply rooted in our subconscious that we simply never question them; especially if they’re commonly shared in our surrounding environment**. This is why I believe (ha ha another belief) that enlightenment can be reached only by the silenced mind and no human language is able to express it. As long as we talk, think and analyse we are bound to get trapped in the illusion of some kind.
*To be more precise I think that reality tunnel is a combination of our sensual, emotional and cognitive experiences of reality.
**An example of such is is the vision of the world as based on two opposites- like black and white, good and evil, feminine and masculine etc. Our whole perception is based on the logic of two opposites. Their objective existence is questionable although most people will disagree with me in this