Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Ways of Knowing and Unknowing

"Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness.", says the legendary Bodhidharma.

Jesus puts it like this: “"I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants...” (Matthew 11:25)

With infants he means those who keep their minds free from conceptual thoughts and judgment – those who manage to enter every day and moment as if they had just been born. Here follows an attempt to demonstrate the weakness and limitations of conventional knowledge, and an invitation to un-know the world in our minds, which is the world of separation, and the world of yesterday.

Imagine for a while that the gray area above represents the “empty” Universe. In this example it is all that exists. Even the beholder of this unknown reality is part of the grayness. There is nothing we can say about this Universe. There is nothing to make out, no context, no nothing. We do not even understand it as gray, because this is all we “know”.

Now we add something for the sake of perspective. Looking at the Universe this way we suddenly have a world of form - a world of concepts. The gray area in the middle remains untouched and unchanged, but the surroundings are different. Looking at this we now understand the unknown grayness as bright. This is how we perceive it. The surroundings we understand as dark. Observe that these two definitions appear together. By separating one from the other, two identities emerge. Brightness and darkness can only be understood when they exist together. They are dependent on each other.

What if we had added something else? While the gray area in the middle is still unchanged, we now understand it as dark. Dark, is how we perceive it, but what is its true nature? Is it bright or dark? We can point to it and call it dark, but do we now actually know this unknown “stuff” of our Universe? Its character seems to change with the alterations of its surroundings.

What about this? Another context and a new number of descriptions are suddenly possible. Our non-changing grayness can now be understood as calm, pale, boring, sharp, uniform etc, and yet it remains completely unchanged. This is something we can experience in real life too. We walk along, feeling fine, and comfortably dressed, when we happen to enter a fancy store or restaurant. Suddenly we become very aware of our clothes, and how bland or sloppy they feel. As the context changes so does our self image.

Observe that the noisy, vivid background in this example needs the straight grey to be understood as such. If our entire Universe was noisy and vivid, we would never know it. It would simple be, as it is. (It is not the case that it would truly be noisy and vivid beyond our understanding of it. Without any other element to inter-exist with, such characteristics as noisy and vivid simply do not exist.)

Exploring the world through our senses and understanding it through our minds, we are confined to this domain of relative conclusions. We are limited to a dualistic image of the world and life in general. We do not make our verdicts about the objects we encounter based on the immidiate surroundings alone. We compare also with of our entire culture of memories, and so we can relax our experience in the fancy boutique with memories of the bums in the street and our circle of similarly dressed friends. In such a way we get a wider perspective - a bigger picture, but it is still based on the same relative understanding.

(There are also the actual illusions of vision to take into account. Do the many grey discs in the image above have the same value and color?)

So, what is the true nature of this stuff, which we cannot truly see? Is there a way to understand this unknown grayness of our symbolic Universe in a more Absolute fashion? Can we know at all without the help of dualistic comparison?

Well, there are those who say we can. By spending time with stillness and silence, one can become aquainted with it. By beholding the world without prejudice, criticism, and labelling, and accepting what IS, one can ”see” beyond the concepts of the mind. This is the way of Unknowing, which has been advocated by Mystics in the East and West for millenia. It is the way of mindfulness and meditation, and holistic communion with reality itself. It is a completely wordless way of penetrating into the core and mystery of Being itself.

Look again. What do you perceive? If you cannot go to your mind, memories or feelings to tell you what you are, then what ARE you?

I'll end this post with a suggestion, or perhaps it is only some questions: What if the essence (grayness) of God is so dynamic in its nature, that it can be perceived in a multitude of different ways? What if no actual change is required to bring variation/creation about? What if the entire Universe is only a matter of perspective?... one's set of mind.

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