Understanding Reality

by Nina van Gorkom

Updated 16/7/10

$Id: ur.texi,v 1.1 2010/07/17 10:49:27 alan Exp alan $

Understanding Reality

Can we find true happiness in life? There are moments of happiness in our life but these do not last. Pleasant things we enjoy are susceptible to change, they do not last. We do not really see the impermanence of what is in ourselves and around ourselves, we always cling to what is actually impermanent. The pleasant and unpleasant events of our lives condition very much our feelings. We are slaves of the vicissitudes of life. One day we are praised and then we are glad. The next day we are treated unjustly and we are humiliated, and then we are sad. There are in our life. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (Book of Eights, Ch I, par. 6) that the Buddha spoke to the monks about the eight worldly conditions which obsess the world. He spoke with regard to those who have not attained enlightenment as follows:

 ...monks, gain comes to the unlearned common average folk, who
 reflect not thus:"This gain which has come is impermanent, painful
 and subject to change." They know it not as it really is. Loss
 pain...They reflect not that such are impermanent, painful and
 subject to change, nor do they know these conditions as they
 really are.  Gain, loss and so forth take possession of their
 minds and hold sway there.  they welcome the gain which has
 arisen; they rebel against obscurity.  They welcome the praise
 which has arisen; they rebel against blame.  They welcome the
 contentment which has arisen; they rebel against pain.  Thus given
 over to compliance and hostility, they are not freed from birth,
 old age, death, sorrows, lamentations, pains, miseries and
 tribulations. I say such folk are not free from ill.

We then read that for the "ariyan disciple," who has attained enlightenment, the opposite is the case. We may wonder what the secret is of the ariyan disciple. He sees things as they really are and is not enslaved to the worldly conditions. Could we also become an ariyan disciple? At this moment we are still "unlearned, common, average folk." From the Buddha's teachings we learn that seeing realities as they are can make us less enslaved to the worldly conditions. Seeing things as they are, that is true wisdom. Do we see realities as they are or do we live in dreams and fantasies? In our life there are realities and there are imaginations or ideas which we form up in our mind. We do not even know the difference between reality and imagination. However, in order to see things as they really are we must know the difference between what is real and what is not real. We may wonder whether the Buddha's teaching is not a philosophical system which deals with abstractions. On the contrary, the Buddha's teaching helps us to know ourselves, to know our different moments of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness. He taught the way to eradicate attachment, aversion and ignorance.

Our thinking about reality is conditioned by many ideas we acquired through our education an through the culture in which we are rooted. If we want to understand what the Buddha taught we should not hold on to our own ideas about reality and we should be open-minded to his teaching. Then we will notice that his teaching is completely different from our ideas about reality. The Buddha taught about everything which appears no and which can be directly experienced. He did not teach abstract ideas. What appears no? Is it attachment, aversion or ignorance? Or is it generosity or compassion? In our life there are wholesome moments and unwholesome moments and these change very rapidly. We do not have one consciousness or mimd, but many different moments of consciousness. Moments of consciousness are realities, not imagination, and we can know them now, at this moment, when they appear. Then we will notice that there are many different moments of consciousness (cittas). When we, for example, perform a good deed there are wholesome moments of consciousness, but also unwholesome moments of consciousness may arise. Some slight stinginess may arise, which we only know ourselves and which nobody else may notice. There may be attachment to the person to whom we give a gift, or there may be conceit. If we do not know when there is an unwholesome moment of consciousness (akusala citta) how could we develop wholesomeness? Through the development of right understanding of the different moments of consciousness we will better know our defilements and then we will see that the cause of all sadness and misery is within ourselves and not outside ourselves.

What are realities and what are imaginations? We use in our language words in order to make ourselves understood. sometimes a word represents something which is real, which can be directly experienced, and sometimes a word denotes an abstract idea. We must find out what the Buddha taught about reality, otherwise we will continue to be ignorant of what occurs in ourselves and around ourselves. then it will be impossible to eradicate our faults and vices and we will not be freed from our enslavement to the worldly conditions. Moments of consciousness are not imagination, they are realities which can be directly experienced, now, at this moment. We can come to know our good and bad qualities when they appear. We have attachment and aversion with regard to what we experience through the eyes, the ears and through the other senses. Before attachment or aversion with regard to what we see can arise, there must be a moment of just seeing. Is there seeing at this moment? It can be experienced, it is a reality. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiences through the bodysense and through the mind are realities, they are not imaginations. They are different moments of consciousness which can be directly experienced with they appear. The Buddha spoke about realities which can be directly experienced and there are different from abstract ideas and imaginations. Seeing is the experience of what presents itself through the eyes, of what is visible. Seeing is different from thinking about what we see, different from attachment. Seeing just sees. Hearing is the experience of what presents itself through the ears, of sound. Hearing is different from thinking about what we hear such as someone's voice or the barking of a dog. Sound is a reality, it can be directly experienced; but sound itself does not experience anything, it is different from hearing. Tasting experiences flavour. Flavour can be directly experienced when it presents itself. Flavour itself does not experience anything, it is different from tasting. In our life there are two kinds of realities: