Perception vs Reality

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This Axe advertisement shows Perception vs Reality in multiple layers. First layer is the ad’s message: that wearing a certain scent will change the perceived sexual appeal of a person. Second layer is that an advertisement is all about perception – the brand wants to be perceived as something cool and sexy.

Still continuing with the topic of seeing the world as it is.

Previous posts:

In the previous posts we discussed about how everything is perception and it is us that project exaggerated qualities to an object. Because of our perception, the same object can cause both pleasant and unpleasant emotions to arise, and it’s a subjective experience (no two people experience exactly the same thing out of the same object).

Now that we know everything is perception & everything is in the mind, we should be able to operate with a more clear filter, yes? We should be able to become less attached (less like-dislike, clinging-reject, raga-dvesha), yes? Not quite. We are so used to equating perception with reality, that it has become an ingrained habit. It’s like when we’re wearing eyeglasses, because we are so used to wearing it, we forgot we are wearing it. We’re so used in seeing the world through filters, we forgot there are filters.

How do we remember that we have this filter of perception?

Just like when we forgot we’re wearing eyeglasses, when we saw our reflection in the mirror, we saw that we are wearing eyeglasses. When we take time to reflect, we realize that we have perception. We remember through reflection & contemplation. The mirror can be something that can provide a true and honest snapshot of our self, for example a journal or diary. Or listening to our self talking – I think this is what psychiatrists do – facilitate & enable one to verbalize, and this is a form of reflection & contemplation. One important thing, the listener has to be able to stay neutral and non-judging – otherwise the reflection will be distorted.

In order to reflect, there has to be stillness. Without stillness we can’t reflect. The more still, the more clear the reflection become, then the more often we remember that it’s all perception. As we remember more and more often that it’s all perception, the weaker the filter would be – the less coloring – and we start to see glimpses of things as they are, reality as it is.

How to develop stillness?

We can start from the body – physical stillness. When the body is still, then the mind can become still too. Spend some time to be still. This is meditation. No need to sit in a perfect lotus position, even sitting on a chair will do, as long as the spine is straight and upright. Sitting is too difficult? Try lying down. Preferable not in the bed as we will probably immediately drift to sleep. Lying down on the floor, place a blanket underneath if its cold, make sure the spine is straight and aligned. Let the feet fall outwards, hands besides the body with palms facing up, and relax everything. But try not to sleep. Just be still.

At the beginning stillness may feel strange. We were always active and moving since we were born. The mind, never have the experience of stillness before, will either:

  1. Get caught up in its own train of thoughts
  2. Interpret this as time to catch some ZZZs and fall asleep

How to overcome these? In my next post.

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Perception & Emptiness

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This post is still on the topic of seeing the world as it is.

Previous posts:

We discussed that the first step towards seeing the reality as it is, is to acknowledge that it’s all perception. Things in themselves don’t have inherent value independently. We assign value and meaning to the external world.

In Buddhism there’s this concept called ’emptiness’, and that the correct understanding of emptiness will lead towards Buddha-realization. When we forgot that it’s all perception, when we don’t understand that things are empty of inherent existence, we think things as fully solidly exist on their own, independent and regardless of anything other than themselves.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you would like to buy wrist watch. You go to an online shop and browse for watches. At the beginning they all look the same – most have round face, some are square, most have numbers on them, some have two hands to show hours and minutes, some have more than two hands, some are digital, some display dates on it, some are water resistant up to certain depth, some are made of metal, leather, plastic, fancy strong lightweight materials, etc.

As you start to look more, depending on your existing idea of a wrist watch, you’ll start to have preference towards a particular watch. You like the shape, the material, the color, the price, and also the brand. Maybe you like the person on that particular watch advertisement (sporty? strong? glamorous? masculine? feminine?). Maybe you like the values conveyed by this brand (lasts for generations? elegance? tough? independent?) The other watches recede to the background and this particular watch starts to dominate. Oh and there’s a special offer for a limited time too! You decided to purchase that watch. Even before the watch is physically in your hand, it has become YOUR watch.

When the watch finally arrived, you feel happy. “What a beautiful watch” you think. You put the watch on and admire it on your wrist. Maybe you look at yourself in the mirror too. You think how nice the watch is, how good the brand of the watch is, and so on and so forth.You think this watch enhance your being. Someone saw your new watch and want to try it on, and you say “Be careful of MY new watch”.

The next day, as you are browsing, you happen to saw an ad for another online watch shop, featuring similar watch with the one you purchased. You followed the link and found out that the one you purchased is slightly outdated, there’s a newer and more sophisticated model out, and the current market price for the type of watch you bought is actually lower than what you’ve paid.

How would you feel?

Take a moment here to really think how would you feel. And maybe recall a similar experience.

If things have inherent value on their own, the ‘quality’ of the thing doesn’t change. If the watch has independent quality on its own, it will stay in that quality, regardless of who view the watch and when the watch is viewed. But in reality, like the above scenario, the one same watch can be a source of happiness but also a source of disappointment for a person. Someone else may have a totally different experience of that same watch.

That’s because it’s all in our mind. It’s all in our perception. We project ‘qualities’ to the watch. Beautiful, good value watch. Overpriced, outdated watch. It’s all in our own mind. It is us that assign quality and meaning to the watch. And this projection makes us like-dislike, attracted-repulsed, clinging-reject, raga-dvesha. The watch itself is just a watch.

How to keep remembering that it’s all in our mind, that it’s all perception? On next post.

Picture: Sunrise over the Ganges, Rishikesh, February 2015

Uncoloring the Filters

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This is a continuation of the previous post Seeing the World Through Filters.

We discussed about how we perceive the world through the mind lens and we have some filters in front of the lens that provides meaning and context that affect on how we interact with the outside world.

We touched on how some of these filters were products of human evolution. Having a stand of either liking or disliking to something was crucial to survival. Humans survived by knowing what to like, or attracted to, and what to dislike, or repulsed to. Attraction towards sweet food – because it is a source of energy (important during hunter-gatherer times). Repulsion towards decaying things – because it potentially could bring disease.

This like-dislike, attraction-repulsion is called raga & dvesha and is two of the five kleshas. Klesha is often translated as mental afflictions, is described in Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2:3. The other three kleshas are ignorance – lack of awareness (avidya), I-am-ness (asmita), and clinging to life (abhinivesha). Kleshas prevent us to see things as they really are, and bound us to endless cycle of suffering (samsara). They are like filter in front of the mind lens, afflicting the way we understand the world.

Attempting to end this endless cycle of suffering can be done by reducing the intensity and eventually destroying raga & dvesha. It’s like reducing the coloring of the filter until it’s clear. How?

The first step is by acknowledging them, realizing that it’s all perception. It is us that attach value to things in order to understand the outside world. Things in themselves don’t have inherent value. Good/evil, beautiful/ugly – they all are, literally, in our head. Like the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – change the word ‘beauty’ with other adjectives and ‘eye’ with ‘mind’.

Everything has two extremes – negative/positive, too much/too little, black/white, yin/yang, light/dark, hot/cold, heaven/earth, good/evil, and so on.

But is that true? Is that reality? Or is it perception? Our perception? They way we perceive things?

The weather is just the weather… We attach our perception to the weather. When we say “The weather is hot today” – actually it is more correct to say “I’m perceiving the weather as hot today”. I may perceive the weather as hot, but someone from different environment may perceive the same weather as cool. So it’s all in the experiencer’s perception. And the weather is just the weather.

Because we forgot about the “we perceive” part – we are making a shortcut. Because of this shortcut we forgot that it is us that perceive… and then we forgot that we always have the option how to react on that perception… and then we play victim. This is difficult to explain…

I remember one scene from the movie Instinct – Anthony Hopkins’ character were sitting in the rain with the gorilla. The gorillas were just sitting there, Anthony Hopkins was using a big leaf as umbrella. Then he realized that he doesn’t need the umbrella. So he put down the big leaf and sat there getting wet just like the other gorillas. That’s when the gorillas accepted him as part of the family. In the context of what I’ve been trying to say here, when he uses umbrella he was still thinking in the duality mode.. eg rain is bad for me so I should take shelter. When he let go the umbrella he no longer think about rain as negative. Rain is just is.

From my personal blog post Duality & Perception (2012)

With understanding that it is all perception, we stopped reacting and start responding to the outside world. This is crucial in the uncoloring process. If we keep on reacting, the color of the filter gets more and more intensified.

To be continued with more on how to reduce the coloring.

Picture: Orange sky as it is (no coloring nor editing) – Pelabuhan Ratu, 2005

Seeing the World Through Filters

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We function like a black box. There are inputs from the external world, get processed, and there’s an output. Example: I saw a something long, coiled, on the ground (input). In my mind (manas) I compared this image with thousands of images stored in my memory (chitta) and concludes this is potentially a snake (process), recalling that snake is potentially dangerous (process). I steer clear of that long, coiled thing (output).

Mind takes input from the outside world through the senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste – also called the jnanendriyas). Imagine the mind like a camera, the lens is the input receiver.

If the lens is clear without anything in front of it, the mind will see the world as it is. With the snake example above, there is a filter of aversion to snake and filter of survival that may have prevent me to see the long coiled thing as it is – probably a rope. This filter color the way we interpret the world.

The snake/rope example above is an oversimplified example and relates to survival. The point is we receive input from the world the world through the mind lens, with many many filters in front of it. These filters color our understanding of the external world, and make us not see things as they are.

The mind often err on the side of caution because evolution favors those who are paranoid and steer clear from potential danger. The ancestors who weren’t so paranoid may got bitten by poisonous snake before finding a mate, have children and passing on the genes. These filters are part of evolution and survival in the past, and humans can become as they are now because of the filters.

Another example of how this filter works. I meet a person from a certain race. Growing up with parents that went through times where they were strongly discriminated by people of this certain race, I have a filter of race preference installed. This made me not act the same way to this person. Of course it is subtle as I have to consider my social status as well – I don’t want to be called racist. But there are internal processes that are different – eg more cautious, less trusting, less friendly, and so on.

This filter of race preference color my view of the world – not seeing every person, every human being, as what they are, another human being.

Yoga is a process of reducing the intensity of the filter – until it becomes clear – and then the mind lens can see things as they really are. In Yoga philosophy, this filters are called kleshas. How to make it clear? To be continued in my next post.

Image source: Color through lens filter by Ryan Haddad