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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
buddhadharma| 45 |fall 2006 jhana, is seldom the truth. It is not the way things are; it is only the way things seem. We should have enough life experience to know this by now. When you men see a beautiful woman, what do you see? Most people, even monks, do not see what is really there – just muscle, sinew, skin, and hair – they see, instead, an attractive woman. Where did that come from? Our sexual desire added it on, distorting the reality. When you see the recently deceased body of your mother, what do you see? Again, you do not see what is truly there – just muscle, sinew, skin, and hair. Instead you see a tragedy, because your attachment added on grief, distorting the reality. In northeast Thailand many years ago, in poor and remote jungle monasteries, I had to eat grass- hoppers, frogs, ants, and other crawling insects. That was all there was to eat. A regular dish was ant-egg curry. When you read this just now, were you practicing “in the seen will be merely the seen” or did you add on your own disgust? Fried grasshoppers were actually quite delicious. How much of our own likes and dislikes do we add on to the seen? Twenty-five centuries before modern psychol- ogy, the Buddha identified the process that distorts cognition and called it the vipallasa.3 He explained this essentially circular process starting from view. Our views bend our perceptions to agree with the view. The perceptions then form the evidence for our thoughts. Then the thoughts argue in support of our view. It is a self-justifying cycle. Views gen- erate perceptions that make thoughts that support the views. This is the very process of delusion. For example, someone believes in God. They hold a theist view. That view will deny access to the mind any perceptions that challenge that view. Scientific facts, such as those in the fields of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, geology, and biochemistry, become “no-fly” perceptions. They are rejected before they even register in the consciousness, because they are antithetical to the view. Only perceptions that support and conform to the God view survive the subconscious sifting process. These pro-God perceptions then form the data for our thoughts to work on. The data is convincing; it supports our view. We become convinced that there is a God, and our view grows ever more resistant to challenge. Such is the origin and progress of many religions, which are all con- vinced that they are right. They are mistaking the way things seem for the way things are. Or take the abortion debate. Are you “pro- life” or “pro-choice”? Whichever one of these two views you hold on to, it will corrupt your percep- tion by selecting perceptions in support of your view and blinding your consciousness to any per- ceptions that challenge your view. Your thinking will be built up from your perceptions, in the same way that a house is built out of bricks. Such misin- formed thinking justifies your view so strongly that you simply cannot understand why everyone else doesn’t see it the right way, which is your way! One last example: Ask yourself, is meditation easy for you? If you hold the view that meditation is difficult, and you are very attached to that idea, then meditation will seem difficult. Where did that view come from? Maybe, a long time ago, someone with authority told you that meditation was dif- ficult, and you believed them. Unfortunately, that view has stuck. Or perhaps you began meditation without clear and accurate instructions, and you found it difficult then. On the basis of such limited experience, you formed the solid view that medita- tion is always difficult. However that view arose, once it is there, it makes meditation difficult! Your attachment to this view twists your perceptions. The only perceptions that make it into full con- sciousness are those that perceive the difficulties in meditation. Based on those negative perceptions, you think meditation is, in fact, difficult. You, and only you, have just made meditation difficult! When we have some understanding of what is going on, we might be able to change such a view of meditation. Allow me to brainwash you! Let me convince you that, in spite of who said what, in spite of all your previous lack of success, MEDITA- TION IS EASY! MEDITATION IS EASY! MEDI- TATION IS EASY! Let me coach you into believing that you can meditate well. Help me recondition you into believing in your innate ability to meditate well. You have been reborn into a precious human body and are now reading the priceless teachings of Buddhism. You are alive when the dhamma is thriving and you have met that amazing dhamma. You are such a rare being. You have worked for lifetimes for such an opportunity as this. With so much going for you already, of course you will be able to meditate well. The fact that you are read- ing this proves that you have got a huge store of good kamma supporting you. Other people, much less able than you, have attained jhana, so why not you! Once you have concocted a positive view of your ability in meditation – presto – you perceive only success in meditation, and you think only suc- cess in meditation. You have just made meditation easy! You have opened the door to tranquillity, inner bliss, and the jhanas. Try it! Discovering Truth The point is that the view that meditation is diffi- cult for you and the view that meditation is easy Our views bend our perceptions to agree with the view. The perceptions then form the evidence for our thoughts. Then the thoughts argue in support of our view. It is a self-justifying cycle. 3 Vipallasa: Perversion or distortion of perception, thought, and view – taking what is impermanent to be permanent; what is suffering to be happiness; what is empty of self to be a self; and what is not beautiful (asubha) to be beautiful (cognitive distortion).