7. Reprogramming

When discussing the concept of karma I mentioned that karma manifest itself in our actions. I mentioned that our actions are the effects of our learned behaviours, and I mentioned that these behaviours tend to be repetitive. I have explained how a decision making process interrelates with our beliefs. I’ve arrived to conclusion that as soon as we change our beliefs we will change our actions. Unfortunately the whole process is not all that easy.

In reality we have very little control over our decisions and we rarely understand our own actions. Our personality forms over the course of many years and most of it is rooted in our subconscious. Every minute of our lives we are bombarded by thousands of different stimuli from the outside environment. Our brain learns how to filter through this information. Only its tiny fraction makes its way to our conscious memory. We rely on the so called “common knowledge” and we usually never bother to verify it. As soon as you learn to tie your shoes you tend to do it the same way for years to come. We form many life long habits and we rarely feel the need to change them even if they’re not practical.

We form habits in the way we talk, walk, eat and in many other areas of our lives. We even form habits in our emotional reactions. Modern neuro- science teaches us about neural paths created in our brains. Each time we take a new action, something we have never tried before, we create a new connection between neurons inside our brains. The next time we repeat the same action our brain follows a preexisting path/connection of neurons to conduct it. The more times we repeat a task the stronger this connection becomes. Eventually the action becomes automatic. In a similar way if we repeat a certain reaction/behavior many times over and over it becomes a habit. We don’t think about it, we just do it. This is why change of one’s karma is so difficult. The only way to change an automatic reaction is by overwriting it with something else. Those of you who ever tried to make corrections to the way you walk, smile or speak will surely now how difficult it is. As soon as you loose concentration and forget about your intentions you immediately come back to your old way. Changing the old habits takes hell lot of work.

Similar process can be observed when trying to overwrite our perception of reality. Even the most powerful illumination is not going to cause a permanent change unless we make a conscious effort to do so. When looking back at my personal path I notice many such illuminations that never lead to a permanent change. Thanks to my habit of writing a diary I can “move” back in time to see what I was thinking and doing many years ago without having to rely on my memory. Very often I find notes about things that I completely forgot about even though they were very important to me back then. I also tend to find thoughts and reflections about things that haven’t really changed still despite my constant effort to do so. One of them is my life long tendency to low moods. My moods even seem to follow certain patterns during each year. What amuses me is the fact that my outside circumstances changed a lot during these years. If it was the outside circumstances that influenced my moods I should have seen more variety. It becomes kind of obvious that their source is inside and not outside of me.

Realisation that I have stuck on some level is an illumination of its own, even though it is perhaps not an ecstatic one… This struggle with low moods is the main reason why I started researching on the topic of karma. I realised that even though I wanted to change, some powerful force was holding me back and I needed to identify it. This search helped me to understand just how complicated beings we are. My own struggle made me more compassionate towards other people since I realised how difficult it is to change who we are. Changing old habits is way more difficult than learning new things. When you do something for the first time your brain doesn’t have a preexisting connection to follow. When learning a new thing you give it your full attention and concentration. To over-write the old habits we need to learn how to be alert and focused at all times. This is itself is a huge challenge as it goes against one of our most common habits of switching off and drifting away.

In our culture we get conditioned to boredom. Most of our lives we spend on performing routine tasks like school or work related activities. Most of us don’t enjoy them so we condition our minds to switch off and submerge in a stream of thoughts. We fantasize about our future actions, think about things we already did or are planing to do. If possible we distract ourselves with the internet, TV and the radio. We pay little attention to the actions we currently do. The art of life in a present moment becomes a skill of its own. Since a few of years I have been training myself to live in the present and so far I have failed. It usually takes only a few minutes before my mind starts to create thoughts. It can start from an innocent observation. For example when looking at the sky, I will say to myself “nice sunshine” and soon afterward the other thought follows”I wonder if it is going to last”. From there I can easily drift off thinking about plans for the rest of the day trying to decide what to do in case if it rains. Before I know it I depart the present and spend whole ten minutes imagining what my evening will look like. If by any chance my plans involve other people I might even consider topics of our potential conversions. This will lead onto memories of our past conversions and maybe even arguments we had recently. At this point I can start feeling irritated or tense or maybe even angry. And then I catch myself- “I did it again!” I have just spent a the whole fifteen minute walk completely unaware of what was happening around me.

Our streams of thoughts have the life of their own too and they too follow certain patterns. If you ever try to observe your thoughts as though you were an outside observer of your own mind you will notice how your thoughts jump suddenly from one subject to the other without any apparent connection between the two. When looking deeper you will see that the connection might have been really subtle. Jump might have come from some outside trigger like a smell or sound that reminded you of something but it might also been an effect of arsing emotion. If someone made you angry you’re very likely to think of other times when they made you feel in a similar way. In this case your emotional reaction is likely to follow a preexisting neural path and it can become very exaggerated. Arguments between family members often follow such pattern. The outcome of such an argument can be painfully predictable and for as long as people don’t learn how to redirect their reactions they will continue fighting for years to come. The only way to reprogram an old habit is by rewriting it with something new. A change of circumstances might be helpful but in the end it is the inside not the outside of you where the change needs to occur.

I mentioned that enlightenment can be a painful process for many people but what I want to add now is that not everyone is afraid of pain. Pain has always been associated with the learning process and in most cases it’s unavoidable. On the other hand learning on its own is also exiting. It seems to me that most people forget about that. When you learn how to walk you will fall many times. And yet somehow we all did it. Children never seem scared or tired o learning no matter how difficult it is. On occasions when they hurt themselves they can become upset for a while but it never lasts for too long*. By the time we’re adults we try to avoid effort at all costs. We’re no longer interested in learning unless we can see some immediate gain in it. We grow impatient. Why and how this happens I don’t know.

 

*This is not always true in case if learning is forced upon them by somebody- like learning at school. Plus I’m sure some people are naturally more lazy than others.

6. Expansion of a reality tunnel

In last chapter I discussed briefly the death of ego in its relation to the enlightenment process. I explained that ego is deeply connected with samsara, cause of most human suffering. Most people are not willing to give up on their egos but sometimes the reality forces the change upon us. Every time we are faced with events that “break” us and make us feel as though our lives were ruined what we really face is a powerful resistance of our ego. Our egos demand that things would stay the way they were before and it refuses to accept changes. Events like death of a loved person, loss of precious property, natural disaster etc. are examples of how the outside forces can disturb our lives. We can not control these things and very often we can not prevent them from happening. When something like that happens many people suddenly feel as though all their pride and self- boost were wiped away. They can not pretend to be in control any more. These are the moment when human ego gives up. Pain of the loss is so severe that the only way to deal with it is by acceptance.

How much we learn from what happened to us is another thing all together. Some people prefer to believe that every event in our life is directed by higher forces, others prefer to believe that everything happens randomly. None of these attitudes bring many advantages on its own. As long as we passively wait for what the life brings us and we don’t make effort to move forward we will feel hopeless and powerless. Only thing that makes a real difference to our perceived quality of life is our reaction to the unpredictable or undesired events that we face.

Death of ego can be a very slow and painful process but it is unavoidable. Physical death of a person completes this process. No matter how powerful someone’s ego is during their lifetime its existence is linked directly to the lifespan of the physical body it inhabits. Buddhist mystics believe that because of that death is a terrifying experience for most people. Last seconds of an average person’s life are spent in the agony when their mind finds itself slowly drifting away from everything it has always been connected with. All their belongings, achievements, even memories are falling away from them and there is no way of stopping it from happening*. This is why Buddhist mystics spend all their lives training preparing themselves for the conscious dying. They believe that physical death is the final and biggest initiation of a person’s life. When properly prepared one may experience death as a journey- similar to the shamanic journeys. Although unlike with all previous journeys time traveling consciousness never comes back to its physical body but instead it moves on to the higher forms of existence.

Since none of us can avoid physical death it seems prudent to try being prepared for it. Unfortunately our culture not only denies such a need, it also treats the very topic of death as a taboo. Death is always seen as a tragedy and never as a positive thing. Our culture is based in the reality of human egos. The realisation that the world of ego is just an illusion brings realisation that death itself is also illusionary. Our perceived separation from the surrounding world makes us feel as though we were an individual being born at some time and place and living independently of its surrounding world. If we manage to make our consciousness shift onto a “higher” planes of existence we experience ourselves as part of the great whole- part of never ending movement of energy within the universe.

Matter and energy constantly move and shift from one shape onto the other. We are no more than one of those shapes. When you think of yourself as an element of universal movement you perceive yourself as limitless, infinite being. In my opinion this vision is a lot more beautiful than Christian concept of heaven as a static world that allows our egos to live indefinitely in their present forms. Personally I consider such an option as incredibly boring.

If you think of death as merely another CHANGE it becomes more apparent why it is so difficult for us to accept. As I mentioned previously we usually don’t like any changes that we can not control. Mental preparation for death could therefore start by conscious training towards more flexibility and tolerance of all changes that come our way. To make this process more pleasurable we can start practicing what I would call “expansion of a reality tunnel”. The more ego-less states we experience every year/month/day the easier this process becomes. Strong meditative or ecstatic states, powerful trances and other mind-altering techniques help us to detach from our everyday egotic self. They help us to break out from our attachments and awaken more open child-like attitude to life. Altered states of mind help us to break out of our everyday life mode of thinking and help us to see ourselves and things around us from a different perspective. Intentional inducing of such states can help us to speed up the process that could take us years to achieve otherwise. In many ways it is a sort of spiritual short-cut.

It is worth pointing out that these techniques aren’t always as successful as we would wish them to be. That’s because each time we recover from a trance/mediation we immediately come back to our egotic self. If our ego/our belief system are very strong it can take a lot of reprogramming before they finally give up.

 

 

*Although that doesn’t match many reports of the close to death experiences when people report traveling through a light tunnel and are filled with the feeling of bliss

5. Enlightenment and Death of Ego

Enlightenment

In my previous articles I mentioned idea of enlightenment/awakening* which I defined as breaking out from the “wheel of karma”. Wheel of karma was defined as a repetition of certain actions and habits that eventually limit our ability to learn new things in life. Karma traps us inside our reality tunnels defined as mental constructs of our belief systems. Karma is both the cause and the effect of our suffering in life and it is our main obstacle we need to overcome if we seek for the spiritual awakening. Overcoming/ overwriting a preexisting karma is very difficult. From the scientific point of view that’s because neural connections once created in our brains are always present and the more we repeat certain action the stronger this connection becomes. (For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts- you might need to do so if you want to understand my line of thought.)

In order to to understand why it is so difficult to break out of karma we need to first have a look at the concept of awakening and enlightenment. According to the Buddhist philosophy full enlightenment manifests in the state of nirvana -”the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished”. This state is not easy to describe since only people who understand it are those who have already experienced it. They always say it’s a blissful and liberating experience. I personally never met a person who achieved a full permanent state of nirvana (although having said that I don’t know if I would be able to recognise them). I definitely wouldn’t trust any such claim and every person who names themselves a “spiritual master” is suspicious to me.

Anyway even if we haven’t reached the full elightenment yet I believe that most of us have experienced what I would call a “micro- enlightenments” many times through our life time. If enlightenment could be described as an “ultimate disillusionment” I believe that it is preceded by the moment of awakening/ illumination. Illumination is a moment when illusion dissolves in front of us and we stand face to face with a new revelation of some kind. I have experienced many such illuminations during my life time and I am sure that you have as well. These micro-illuminations are the moments when we realise something very profound for the first time in our life. It can be as simple as reading about scientific discovery that changed our vision of reality. It can be also something more dramatic like for example close encounter with UFO or OBE.

Even in case of a really “mind blowing” illuminations the depth of this experience is only recognisable to ourselves. People around us are not be able to share it with us. To us every such moment feels almost as if suddenly everything around us smashed into pieces (in a good or bad way). To everyone else things are just as they used to be and they don’t understand what we make so much fuss about. Coming back to the concept of reality tunnels I would say that every such illumination is the moment when our reality tunnel expands and reveals part of reality we have never noticed before. This is a personal experience and other people are excluded from it unless they happen to experience a similar thing at the same time when we do.

Other people may seem unimpressed with our awakening for a few reasons: It is possible that they have already experienced it and that they don’t find it exiting anymore. (A bit like when teenagers who only just discovered sex don’t understand why their parents gave up on it). The other possibility is that other people have never had a chance to share a given experience (like someone who never had sex before) or it’s even possible that they did but they forgot about it somehow.**

Those of you who have experienced such an illuminated states before (and I’m guessing that’s everyone) will surely agree that it has an enormously refreshing effect on us. In case it was a positive experience (down to earth example-like learning that you have passed the exam ) it fills you with joy and fulfillment. In case it was a painful experience (eg. like learning that you have failed the exam) it fills you with anger and despair but even then it can bring sensation of catharsis- purification which has a sense of inner beauty in it. Either of the two states is preferable to the state of not knowing (like the moment when you approach the notice boards to see the results). Illumination (either as pleasant or painful experience) gives us an “knock out” effect. After initial shock when we get back to our senses we feel as though we gained some important lesson. We feel wiser. This is a micro-enlightenment. Path towards the “final” enlightenment is built out of many such micro- illuminations and micro- enlightenments. The faster you move through them the quicker you get there. Unfortunately quite often we move on very slowly and we need to repeat the same lesson many times before we remember it.

Those who follow this path in big “jumps” experience bits of both “heaven” and “hell”. They climb the highest heights and fall into the lowest lows. I can’ think of a more exiting way to live even though I admit that it can be tiring.

For me personally path towards enlightenment is what gives meaning to my life. Every moment of illumination even if it is painful is more meaningful to me that any so called “achievements”. I’ d rather spend all my life getting nowhere in terms of possessions and social recognition than having to sacrifice the excitement of learning I gain from new experiences. Having said that, simply chasing the state of excitement is not going to bring you to the enlightenment. Moment of illumination can bring excitement but the enlightenment itself is the quiet grounded phase that comes afterward. In my eyes an enlightened person is like a symbolic laughing Buddha or quiet Taoist master sitting under the tree with a smile on his face. This person doesn’t need any more excitement, they can simply enjoy every moment of their life and enjoy simple things that other people consider mundane. This is also why I believe the real “masters” are difficult to spot.

I’ve spend many years wondering why most people seem completely uninterested in following this path. I could list thousands of individual reasons here; the most obvious one being that people are to busy with other goals. One thing that all these goals/reasons have in common is their connection with the world of Samsara (illusion of the mind). This applies even to such noble goals like the world peace or fight with injustice. Peace and justice make sense only in the world of dialectic and they need their opposite- war and injustice in order to exits. In the world of nirvana there is no need for them anymore.

The path towards enlightenment is an inward process. Its effect becomes visible to the outside world as your karma/ your behaviours gradually changes and you become less demanding and less aggressive towards other people. Some people fall into another extreme and they become very detached and uncaring. I remember Crowley mentioning that mystics can be extremely cold and even cruel towards other people. If that’s the case with you it means they still have a long way to go. After all enlightened person knows their connection with everything else. As explained before our perceived separation from the surrounding environment is an illusion. Your environment is an extension of your own body. An enlightened person knows that they are interconnected with their environment and by hurting others they hurt themselves really.

Death of Ego

Process of enlightenment equals gradual abandoning of Samsara. Mystical teaching of all cultures (including gnosticism) describe this process as a gradual death of ego. Death of ego as a concept makes us feel uncomfortable since our culture glorifies ego. We are taught that a powerful ego is what creates a strong individual. We tend to think that death of ego equals death of a person. In fact that’s entirely untrue. Death of ego is a death of illusion. The stronger the ego the stronger illusion it creates and the stronger resistance it meets from the rest of the world. People with stronger egos often have the hardest lives, especially when it comes to relationships with others.

Ego is the very foundation of everyone’s reality tunnel. In my previous writing I partially explained that a belief is a form of attachment to a certain idea. What I haven’t explained properly is that our entire identity is based on these attachments. The moment I describe myself as eg. a woman I immediately become associated with a whole network of concepts that have been linked to the idea of a womanhood. This will affect the way I feel about myself and it will affect the way other people treat me. Depending on the circumstances I may develop a personal pride or complex built purely on my association with the idea of womanhood.

We all have many such associations built into our reality tunnels. They can relate to our nationality, class, gender, culture, religion etc. They can be also more personal, like associations with our social circle and our position in it. These associations are responsible for our norms of behaviour and in consequence they influence our actions. Each of these associations is the modern equivalent of tribalism where by associating with one thing we immediately separate ourselves from other things. Human ego is based on associations with things we feel familiar with but in order to define these associations we also need to define their “opposites”. These “opposites” may be easily turned into the “enemies”. Fight between two nations is a classical example of this process.

Humans ego is also a very territorial creature and it likes claiming ownership of the things. Statements like “my” body, “my” partner, “my” house is how human ego defines its positions within the physical world. In the ego perception things that are “mine” are not “yours” and if “you” try to take them away from “me” it will fight. That type of territorial-ism is a very basic animal instinct and it was needed there to guarantee our survival. However over time we managed to project it onto the abstract concepts like religions, opinions, habits etc. which aren’t vital for our physical bodies but instead they guarantee the survival of our egos. Without them we wouldn’t be able to define who we are and ego needs to be defined. It needs to be segregated, separated and solid. Its power over our lives can be so strong that some people allow themselves to be killed in its name. People who die in the name of their beliefs die in the name of their egos.

In order to reach enlightenment we need to lose our egos. This often means that we need to depart with things we consider very precious to us. This “departing” doesn’t need to be taken in a literal way- we don’t need to physically leave everything but we need to be ready to change ourselves and accept changes when they arrive. Most the time we don’t feel ready for this so when a sudden change arrives we are trying to stop it. We try to fight the reality***.

I believe that this tendency to fight changes makes enlightenment a painful process for most of us. Without the fight process of awakening would be mostly built out of pleasant illuminations. Liber al vel Legis claims that “ the existence is a pure joy”. Similar idea is present in zen. Zen uses parable of a lake where all our sadness is like a wave on the surface. Deep inside we’re always full of joy. I read these things years ago and I always found them more inspiring than Buddhist teaching of existence as a “constant pain”. However over the years I got more interested in Buddhism simply because my life was constantly full of suffering. I always wanted my existence to be joyful but I struggled to feel in that way. Now I know that my suffering was largely self inflicted. To stop suffering one needs to stop fighting with the flow of events. The moment you realise that is the moment you feel ready to abandon Samsara.

This is not an overnight process. In order to free from the power of the ego we need to break out of the Wheel of  Karma- the repetitive pattern of cause and effect we all create during our lives. Unfortunately this is way harder than it sounds… I will post the next chapter soon.

 

 
* Enlightenment in Buddhism is defined as a “pure and unqualified knowledge”. Awakening is a moment of realisation. They’re not exactly the same thing but they’re very connected and I used these terms interchangeably when I first wrote this article

**The mind’s power of denial is truly profound. I have on several occasions experienced highly ecstatic revelations which I then managed to push to the back of my head and I forgot about them for years to come…

***It’s worth pointing out that acceptance of changes is not the same thing as being passive towards them. This where I think some mystics get it wrong. If someone tries to rob you or hurt other people you’re fully in your right to oppose them. What acceptance of changes really means is an ability to let go of your anger and fear. The acceptance of changes restores your inner peace.

 

 

4. Karma and Reality Tunnels

In my previous post I’ve explained briefly what Karma is. Now I would like to explain its direct connection with Samsara/Reality Tunnels. Karma/action is present in everything we do. Even lack of action is an action of its own…When you make a decision to stay “out” of something (classic example with people who don’t vote) you still make an impact on your surrounding environment. Your decision still has consequences of some kind. Sometimes its a “better of two evils” kind of choice….

It is not always easy to decide what the best choices are in life. We are not able to see all the angles and all the factors involved. The less you know and understand from the surrounding world the more likely your decisions will be the “wrong” ones. Our perception is severely limited by our capacity to learn and take on new information. The stronger your beliefs and opinions are the less flexible your mind is.

Simple denial of what doesn’t fit in with our vision is the easiest way. For example when reading an article you will automatically pick up and memorise bits of information related to the subjects you already know. You will dismiss the bits you can not understand. Later when telling your friends about what your read you will repeat only the bits you managed to memorise. This way you immediately distort the original message. You’re not consciously aware that you do it. It is possible that the author’s message was completely different to your interpretation. Most likely you will never bother to verify it. Unless someone else confronts you about it or if you hear someone quoting bits you never even noticed in there.

Each reality tunnel poses limitations of their own. Most of us never understand that. Your mind rejects everything that denies its own vision of reality. As a principle in our everyday life we are looking for confirmation and appreciation of our views. We happily associate with people who share our beliefs and we avoid those who don’t. If taking part in a discussion we are more likely to support people we agree with even if their argument doesn’t hold. We can literally spend years expanding on the knowledge of what we already know. This will obviously make us experts in a given domain but it doesn’t bring us much closer to the enlightenment itself. This is because enlightenment comes from expansion of our realty tunnel, not from expansion of our knowledge. These two are not the same thing.

In most cases only way to break out of our reality tunnel is by experiencing something that literally shakes up our belief system and forces us to change it. Even then it may not happen automatically and after an initial “shake up” we usually end up in a state of crisis. Every crisis can be seen as a transition state during which time we try to restore our damaged vision of the world order and forget about the very thing that caused the “damage”.(Note that the world “damage”doesn’t need to be taken literally). Depending on how strong the “damage” was we either come back to our old reality tunnel with a bit of a “scar” on its “walls” or if the “damage” was profound we will be forced to accept a new version of reality. Complete change of reality tunnel might not be possible, I certainly never came across any writings suggesting otherwise. However the more variety we experience in life the more chance we have to expand our reality tunnel.

To understand just how difficult it is to change a reality tunnel one needs to understand that is it not our conscious opinions and thoughts we need to work with. In every single moment of our lives our subconscious filters out most information we receive from the outside and only tiny fraction of it makes its way to our conscious memory. Because of that we may spend most our lives without ever questioning what we see.

Even though each reality tunnel is different (we are all unique individuals) they overlap with each other just as our lives mix with other people’s lives.. Depending on how much variety you experience in your early years your reality tunnel will be more or less open to other possible explanations of reality. I guess modern psychology teaches lots about it. The older you get the more difficult it is to change your reality tunnel and you might need an extremely strong stimulus in order to do it.

This is where concept of reality tunnel resembles significantly concept of “wheel of karma”. According to reality tunnel theory our beliefs about the world are rooted in our experiences of the world and environment we live in. On the other hand when interpreting our experiences we refer to our preexisting belief system. It really is a vicious circle and in many ways it could be metaphorically explained as a “wheel of karma”. As long as we repeat our old patterns we don’t learn anything new about the world, therefore we will constantly move in circles; just like metaphorical circle of reincarnation. Even though each circle differs a bit from the previous one overall they represent the same pattern. However each time we avoid repetition we allow our reality tunnel to expand and we discover more possible versions of reality. Ideally we finally reach enlightenment and realise that there is no such thing as one fixed reality and with that we realise our endless possibilities. Until that point we are practically trapped in the “wheel of karma”.

Even though constant expansion of our consciousness brings clear benefits most people are totally unwilling to change they way they think or feel about the world. We convince ourselves that it’s our circumstances, not ourselves that need to change. Buddhists believe that only by constant repetition of the same mistakes and suffering carried with them human will start making a conscious effort to free themselves from the wheel of karma .Only when you’re dissatisfied with your life at some point you will finally ask yourself a question- “is there anything I could do differently?” Or “how do I always end up in a similar situation?” This is a starting point for a real change. However even then we are likely to search for solutions around us rather than inside us.

Sometimes change of environment may prove very inspiring and it can somewhat force the change of attitude upon us. If that happens we experience feeling of “awakening”. It seems to us that we suddenly discovered some “occult”, hidden part of reality. This is a direct experience of expansion in our reality tunnel. However sometimes even after moving to another place or changing our friends circle we somehow end up attracting people and places that resemble what we have just abandoned. Many people experience something similar with personal relationships -you have a new date and after couple of months you realise that they resemble your ex.

How does it happen? The answer is quite simple- we feel attracted to what we feel familiar with. The more variety you experience the wider your range of “familiar things“ will become. This is where concept of karma strikes really hard- the less flexible your mind is the more limited your possibilities for the change are. Most people feel scared of things that seem unknown/strange and they avoid them at all costs. If they move to the new town they’ll be subconsciously looking for people who resemble their old friends. If they meet a new date they’ll be attracted to someone who resembles their ex. You might not be consciously aware of this process, you might feel fed up with your old friends and partners. It’s just that your subconscious will filter out everything that is different to what you already know.

To accept a new possibility equals admitting that what we might have been wrong about something. Most people don’t like to admit that. So if you’re one of those rare people who likes “strangeness” and mystery you should consider yourself lucky- by definition your reality tunnel will make the world more interesting for you. If you grew up in a small tight environment surrounded by people who shared your life views you may spend all your life barely learning anything new. This is why I believe we shouldn’t resent closed minded people. Even though they can make our lives really difficult at times, they are already “punished” for who they are. The world of endless possibilities is inaccessible to them. All they will ever see is a tiny chunk of reality they believe to be the whole world.

Buddhists believe that we may need many incarnations before we finally realise how much correlation there is between our mind state and the outside world. Their final wisdom is that the world is a constant movement and therefore our mind should also be constantly in movement. Theoretically if we achieved this mind set we could change into something different every second of our life. Positive thinking mystics believe that we will all achieve that state at some point after many reincarnations. Since I am only dealing with Karma of one lifetime in here I predict that only tiny percent of us will manage to achieve this. For most people one life time is simply not long enough to allow such a vast evolution of mind. We might be able to speed up this process if we consciously dedicate our lives to the expansion of our reality tunnels. Some mystics, magicians, artists and scientists are in this group. If you feel like one of them/us- nice to meet you. We are probably less than 1% of the whole population!

 

 

3. Karma

Finally I arrive to the discussion of Karma. Concepts of karma and Samsara are very closely related and it is hard to mention one of them without touching the other. Karma seems to be a direct imprint of Samsara into the person’s life. It represents cycle of cause and effect present in the world of Samsara. The word Karma is often translated as “action”. Whilst Samsara relates to the world of social constructions Karma seems to represent our position within that world.

Buddhism and Hinduism connect the “wheel of karma” and cycle of rebirth as two aspects of the same process. The most popular understanding of karma is that it is some sort of a “load” we are born with and we need to work with it through our life time. If we manage to sort it out we can eventually free from its influence and reach enlightenment. If we mess up we produce even more Karma and our entanglement in Samsara gets deeper.  Just like Samsara is not only built of suffering Karma is not only built of the bad stuff even though it is often described in in terms of difficulties we face through our life time.

Common way of understanding karma in western culture is based in Christian morality and its punishment for sins. I heard people say things like “don’t do that or karma will get you”. It’s as though the universe was watching them and sending certain happenings down their way as a punishment. I don’t believe that this type of reasoning has anything to do with actual meaning of Karma. Karma in Buddhism is a blind force. It’s a simple cause and effect thing like Newtonian physics. Concepts of Maya and Samsara refer to the qualities of the human mind. In a similar way Karma is not concerned with any supernatural forces that rule our lives. Karma is the direct impact of our actions on our surrounding environment.* It is true that the outside circumstances have an impact on our lives but they do not determine our actions (remember that karma=action). What determines our actions is our reaction and interpretation of these circumstances. These are based on our beliefs about the world and our place in it.

In fact it is our beliefs, not the outside circumstances that severely limit our capability to achieve happiness. Only thing that makes a real difference to our perceived quality of life is our reaction to the unpredictable or undesired events. Two people faced by the same tragedy may react totally differently. Our attitude towards life and its twists is the only thing in the world we can truly change. Our minds is the only thing we can ever control.  As someone said somewhere “life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, life is about learning how to dance in the rain”.

 

*Obviously our lives are tangled up with the lives of others. We may not see or experience direct effects of our own actions. Good example of this is destruction of natural environment. It’s the future generations that suffer for this, not the people who performed the original damage. I think that this is why Buddhism teaches about Karma in the context of the reincarnation cycle. The very moment you are born some type of Karma affects your life- even the name you were given, place of your birth etc. Some aspects of your future are already predetermined for you from the day one.

 

2. Samsara and Reality Tunnels

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

1. All you see is inside of your head.

As far as I’m aware topic of human perception has been widely discussed by philosophers, scientists and mystics of all times. As a principle it is very simple and straightforward- our perception of reality is based on our interaction with the surrounding environment. We receive the messages from the outside world and we process them inside our heads creating a memory of what we have seen. Since received stimulus needs to make its way to the brain before we become conscious of it, in a way everything we perceive is the past, the memory. So what we really see and feel around us are our mental projections of the surrounding environment, not the environment itself. I believe that this is what Buddhist philosophy describes as the Maya- illusion of the world. We never know the world as it truly is, all we know are the mental images created in our heads.

If you think about the reality in terms of your own perception rather than in absolute terms you begin to realise that you have no right to claim anything as an ultimate truth. All you can be sure of is that this is how things seem to you. From this point of view every argument becomes useless since all we ever argue about are differences in our perceptions of reality. Your perception of reality is your reality and my perception of reality is my reality. There is no objective outsider we could refer to to arbitrate the conflict since everyone of us is limited by their own vision. Unfortunately most of us are not able to think about the world in terms of our mental projection. We spend great amounts of our time and energy on fighting one another opinions and searching for proof of what we believe to be the ultimate truth.

Understanding of the difference between “objective” reality and our perception of reality is not an easy task. Philosophers have been arguing this topic over the centuries and to this day some thinkers question whether such thing as an “objective” reality exists at all. Many people believe that scientific research brings a chance to proof or disprove things in an objective manner. What they forget about is that every scientist is limited by their own senses and their own mental projections of the world.

From what I understand modern science arrived to conclusion that observer and object of observation are very closely connected. Just by being there an observer affects an observed phenomenon. Whilst in the past scientists believed themselves to be the “outside” observers of studied phenomena, now it becomes apparent that for as long as we inhabit the same universe as an object of our observation there is no such thing as the “outside”. This in many ways resembles teachings of many ancient philosophies. In their vision everything in our universe is interconnected, “all things are one”.

I’ve been wondering if the great mystical revelation that “all things are one” refers to our role as an observer and creator of our own reality. As far as I’m concerned we have no way of knowing if everything in the universe is connected. But one thing is for sure- everything in our heads is connected. All of the world as we know is what we have experienced through our bodies. I could even say that physical world we live in forms an “extension” of our body. Until the point when something reaches our senses (when we can see it or touch it etc.) we’re not aware of this thing’s existence. All people, places and things we have seen and experienced we have seen and experienced through our bodies through, our senses. All of our mental projections of reality and memories gathered over the years have been created/processed by our brain and our nervous system.

So everything we know about the world comes from our body- one body. “All things are one” because they are all parts of one’s body experience. Everything in our body is connected, it all works together building our perception of reality and our place in it. So in in a way everything we know about the world is what we know about ourselves. All you have ever seen and experienced is inside of your head. Things we never physically experienced or never thought of are non- existent to us. There is no way out of it, at least not for as long as you live in your physical form.

I guess that’s why most esoteric schools teach us that when you want to learn something about the world you should look within. Every possible answer you’re searching for you will find in there. Many spiritual masters, philosophers and practitioners of “higher magic” tell us that at some point in our spiritual development we will come to realise that we are ONE with all of the existence. Boundaries between self and non-self will melt and then we will come to realise that we ARE the world and that the world IS us. From there also comes revelation that we’re all gods- each one of us is the creator of the universe we live in.

But there is also a trap awaiting those who get blinded by vision of having some truly “supernatural” powers- we can’t forget that even though we might be gods in our self-created micro universes we are in fact the gods of Maya. Whatever powers or gods created us in the first place have been there before we were born. These powers rule the actual universe, what we rule is the world of illusion. The purpose of enlightenment is to expose the world of illusion and acknowledge it for what it is. Those who fail to notice the difference can end up tangled up in the world of their own imagination until the point when they’re no longer able to process any new information from their surrounding environment. I am sure you all met such people- to us they seem mad. Unfortunately to some extend we all suffer from this type of madness. Our perception of being separate from our surrounding environment is one of the ways this “madness” manifests.