Real Life or Second Hand Life- Which do you want?

June 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

When my daughter Cleo was very young, I was reading about quantum physics, and was interested in the question of what the universe is made of. So I asked her the question, ‘What is the world made of?’ and she gave me the answer, ‘The world is made of feelings, like happy and sad.“ A good answer, very direct and absolutely correct. The world we experience is ours, it is within our consciousness, and what we are intensely aware of above all else is our own feelings. We inhabit a universe of feelings, and this is first hand experience.

The following extract from How To Cook Your Life, with a commentary from Zen master Kosho Uchiyama Roshi (1912-1998) goes into similar territory.

The Zen practice called shikan-taza, which is translated as ‘just sitting zazen’ or ‘just sitting’, is the same as the Taoist meditation called Zuowang – ‘sitting and forgetting’. Both are sitting meditations where you do not concentrate or meditate on anything in particular, other than the reality and presence that is revealed to you as you sit. This means going beyond (or below or past) the level of thoughts and sensations and feelings and emotions and images that assail you while you sit. Once all these have come and gone, what is left is the basic awareness of being or of mind. The mind that we are talking of here is not the psychological or conscious mind but a more cosmic sense of mind in which ‘mind and environment are one’. It is a non-dualistic view.

Uchiyama Roshi quotes Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) to clarify this meaning of mind,

‘The meaning and scope of mind that has been directly transmitted from buddha to buddha is that mind extends throughout all phenomena, and all phenomena are inseparable from mind.’

So mind extends through all things, and all things are included within mind, which is what my daughter also understood. Uchiyama then puts this meaning through his own interpretation of how we view the universe (he means all phenomena),

‘To talk of our being alive implies at the same time that there is also a world of phenomena in which we live. We usually assume that the world existed long before we were born and that our birth is our entrance onto the stage of an already existing world. At the same time, we often assume that our death means our departure from this world, and that after our death this world continues to exist. Within this way of thinking a fabrication is taking shape which is not the actualisation of reality itself. The actuality of the world I live in and experience is not merely a conglomeration of ideas or abstractions.

We assume that there exists a world which you and I experience in common with all other human beings, that this world existed prior to our births, and that it will continue to exist even after our deaths. But again, this is nothing more than an idea. Not only that, we wind up thinking that we live and die within this world of fabrication. This is an utterly inverted way of looking at one’s life. My True self lives in reality, and the world I experience is one I alone can experience, and not one that anyone else can experience along with me.

To express this as precisely as possible: as I am born, I simultaneously give birth to the world I experience; I live out my life along with that world, and at my death the world I experience also dies. From the standpoint of reality, my own life experience (which in Buddhist terminology equals mind) and reality (which means the phenomena I encounter in life) can never be abstractly separated from each other. They must be identical.’

It is not that everything is ‘in the mind’ or that reality is only the physical and material environment. Both of these two extreme views are incomplete. The correct view is that mind (my daughter’s ‘feelings’) extends throughout all phenomena, and all phenomena are inseparable from mind. So your personal life experience is at the same time the world of reality, and the world of reality constitutes your mind.

If we fall into abstractions, or live through concepts (the fabrication Uchiyama was talking about), then we are cutting ourselves off from the direct experience of reality, and instead are living a kind of second-hand existence, not really rooted on the ground, but somehow floating above it, not really making contact. As Uchiyama says,

‘All too often we while away our lives, creating general assumptions and ideologies out of the thoughts that arise in our minds, and after having fabricated those ideas we finally dissipate our life energy by living in the world we have abstracted from them.’

Is this really the way you want to live?

Entry filed under: Thoughts. Tags: .

A Spiritual Almanack – June Transforming fear into courage

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Sudhir  |  April 14, 2011 at 1:17 am

    You are very close to the real truth
    Except that our conscious is part of a super conscious which exists everywhere and the whole world is his experience

    I’m not qualified to explain more but NirAnkari baba hardev singh in Delhi india is the guy who has all your answers

    Good luck


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Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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