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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
45 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly these are personal experiences. They’re not something that every single person in a room, or hundreds of thousands of people in a sta- dium, are all going to experience in exactly the same way. That never happens anyway. The teachings on the view tell us that each individual has their own perspective. There is no objective reality. What’s perceived is based on someone’s habitual tendencies of perception. When certain causes and conditions come together, such as a meeting of a teacher and a student in a proper way, a particular student may perceive something extraordinary. That’s a miracle. For somebody else, it’s not. They don’t see anything. Yes, that’s contradictory, but reality is contradictory. What I’ve called “manipulation of reality” can be demystified. It’s just a method on the path, but it can be very important in terms of showing a student the potential of mind. The enlight- ened nature that is the true nature of mind can display itself in a variety of ways. The potential of buddhanature is limitless. Judy lief: I would like to come at this from the perspective of respecting the time and place, the milieu, that stories emerge from. The older Buddhist stories come to us from the con- text of cultures that saw things very differently from the way we do. One has to ask why so many of the ancient cultures saw many more of what we would consider supernatural events. We live within a particular web of defined reality, which in some ways has become more and more narrow and one-dimensional. Whatever does not fit within that web of narrowly defined reality is considered either not to exist, to be impossible, or to be so extraordinary that it becomes an object of fascination and strangeness—an inspiration for bizarre behavior, perhaps. By contrast, in certain cultures, miracles seem to have been a part of what people perceived all of the time. For our own time and place, we can indeed have a sense of the miraculous, leaving aside supernatural experience and dramatic miracles like walking on water or healing the sick. Quite simply, if you look at reality closely and directly from the meditative perspective, ordinary reality becomes more and more strange and miraculous. Buddhadharma: When you say that miracles were a part of what people perceived all of the time in older cultures, did you mean that more of what we would call miraculous events were actually occurring, or that their worldview encompassed a more miraculous perception of ordinary events? Judy lief: In many cultures not so based on scientific material- ism, people perceive a much thinner veil between different modes of reality. In the modern world, we have much stronger borders around our defined reality. Spirits, unusual energies, magic and black magic, and so forth are just part of the web of ordinary reality in many cultures and have been for a very long time. So you have to wonder whether all those people are out of their minds, or if there is possibly a different reality happening. Glenn Wallis: Or is it possible that we’re just talking about figures of speech, ways of speaking? Is it possible that talking about gods and so forth is just an indispensable element in people’s vocabulary? We have lots of these in our own lan- guage. “God bless you,” for example, does not necessarily profess any belief in God and the conveying of blessing. Or when we talk about having love in our heart, it is more poetic in function. It would be a mistake for some future historian to look back and say that we believed that love dwells in the actual physical heart. In the literature of ancient India, it was necessary to adver- tise supernatural possibility. I just listened to a swami give a talk last week, and she started out talking about the clairvoy- ance and clairaudience of her teacher and how she herself also had such capacity. It occurred to me that her talk followed the rhetorical structure of an ancient text. It began by lay- ing out supernatural wonders. I’m supposed to feel there’s tremendous power in these teachings and that she therefore deserves my patronage and participation. But it never seems to come down to actually working with what’s being posed in the claim. It ends with the claim itself, and that’s what makes me wonder if ancient peoples just tended to talk in these terms, as more poetic, evocative ways of expressing themselves, rather than that they actually saw spirits and experienced miracles. Judy lief: There is clearly plenty of what we could simply call superstition. There is also a use of stories to try to explain our world, which is so very hard to explain in all its many Spirits, unusual energies, and magic are part of the web of ordinary reality in many cultures and have been for a very long time. You have to wonder whether all those people are out of their minds, or if there is possibly a different reality happening. —Judy Lief (Facing page) The yogi Ghantapa, pictured in the sky with consort, causes a flood in order to punish the king Devapala (bottom center). The king appeals to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara for refuge, who, shown below with one arm raised, stops the flow of water. Ghantapa with Consort Artist unknown Tibet, 19th century (itemno.514)collectionofruBinmuSeumofart(acc.#f1996.29.5)