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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 08 46 dimensions. The explanation can be done poetically, or imag- istically, as Glenn was saying. Or it could be done scientifi- cally. Once we are trying to explain why things happen the way they do, we find there are all sorts of explanations pos- sible for any event. That said, I do think that some people just see things that we don’t see. They assume that anyone should be able to perceive in that way, but in fact that’s not always the case. I don’t think it’s just stories. It’s also different ways of actually seeing the world. Glenn Wallis: That’s verifiable. Anthropologists have made a career of interviewing people and discovering that they have different perceptions. They also have ways of talking that can complicate matters, particularly when they are translated into another language. But if we think in Buddhist terms of a direct encounter with reality, if I see a spirit under a tree, that would be a form arising in my eye. In a sense, it wouldn’t make any difference whether it was a tree sprite or a nine- year-old child. It’s my reactions to it—my thoughts, speech, and actions that derive from those reactions, and my emo- tional responses—that matter. Whatever appears is just a phe- nomenal manifestation that arises and persists for a while, dissolves, and disappears. What do you do with it in the meantime? That’s the big question for the Buddha. What do we do with phenomena as they appear? How do we react to them? What kind of lives do we make for ourselves, for others, in the phenomenal realm? The question of what’s a phenomenon in one culture as opposed to another almost seems irrelevant in the light of the Buddha’s basic teachings. Judy lief: I agree completely with you there. We have an injunction not to be fascinated with extraordinary experience and not to flee from uncomfortable and painful experience, but to see whatever experience arises with equal taste. ari Goldfield: The main point is to work with the mind. The teachings talk about the common siddhis, or powers, and the extraordinary siddhis. The common siddhis are what we would call supernatural powers—flying, walking through walls, and so forth. The extraordinary siddhi is bodhichitta, to realize the true nature of mind and to practice love and compassion. That’s the real power we are looking for when we enter the dharma. The real miracle is when you can work with negative emo- tions by practicing on the path, and discover compassion and wisdom, the true nature of mind. Beyond that, it’s good not to pre-judge, because if you’re open to things and do not reject the possibility of other people having these experiences, one’s own experience becomes broader, and one becomes able to relate and connect with others with less judgment. What we perceive stems a lot more from how we think than we realize. It’s a mistake to come from the perspective of scientific materialism and have an idea of what is possible and what is not a priori, and project that back onto everything, and then go on to say that what someone in an ancient text was talking about wasn’t real, but merely allegory. But even within the scientific way of seeing the world, we are running into paradoxes of perception. People who study quantum physics are finding particles spinning both ways at once and communicating instantaneously over vast distances. They are seeing how much the observer affects things. Reality is inconceivable. And as Judy was saying, when you find miracles in everyday life, the whole distinction between what is and isn’t a miracle breaks down. Whatever might help someone to develop their love and their compassion and their wisdom, that’s a miracle. It might take the form of a simple conversation or the Buddha holding up a flower, or it might take another form that seems much more extraordinary, like Milarepa flying. Why not? Judy lief: One way of looking at the unexpected or the mirac- ulous is that it can crack the tendency to reduce our world and freeze it. It can make us wonder, do we really know what’s going on? Have our concepts encompassed what is reality? Glenn Wallis: What we’re doing here is speculative and going in the direction of view. We do know what’s going on. We have a direct perception of reality. We just have to open our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, the mind, and there it is. Judy lief: We very often don’t do that. We often don’t open our mind. To say that such miracles should be possible is speculative. I’ve been around Buddhists for thirty-five years, and I’ve never seen anything close to what we might call miraculous in the sense of manipulating reality. —Glenn Wallis