This is a photo of an illusion; the table and cards are reflected in an old mirror. The objects may be real, which as you will see is debatable, but the reflected image does not exist.
In an attempt to understand what is and what is not real, I give you The Eight Similes of Illusion by Patrul Rinpoche. These should be taken seriously, and with careful contemplation, you may be able to use your illusion.
“As in a dream, all the external objects perceived with the five senses are not there, but appear through delusion.” This explains all those times I couldn’t find my car.
“As in a magic show, things are made to appear by a temporary conjunction of causes, circumstances and connections.” It’s an illusion Michael; a trick is something a whore does for money.
“As in a visual aberration, things appear to be there, yet there is nothing.” I can easily observe this by looking deeply into my checking account.
“As in a mirage, things appear but are not real.” If you have an illusory royal flush you may want to bluff.
“As in an echo, things can be perceived but there is nothing there, either outside or inside.” Note to self-test for echo.
“As in a city of Gandharvas, there is neither a dwelling nor anyone to dwell.” Fun fact: while Gandharva literally means smell eater, it’s also a term for singers in Indian classical music.
“As in a reflection, things appear but have no reality of their own.” See mirror image.
“As in a city created by magic, there are all sorts of appearances but they are not really there.” This is Disneyland in a nutshell, but you don’t have to tell the kids until they get older.
The Buddha said: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”
You may have heard it said that our thoughts are not real, and you may have thought about it until you became as confused as Schrodinger’s cat. In Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck said that a thought in itself is just pure sensory input, an energy fragment. But wait, there’s more.
Eckhart Tolle spent almost two years sitting on park benches in what he says was a state of intense joy. So what was he thinking about all that time, and did he realize that his thoughts weren’t real?
Eventually he ran out of bird food or whatever and wrote an excellent book called The Power of Now, which began with a chapter called you are not your mind. He wrote: “To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”
But there is a difference between knowing that you are not your thoughts and knowing that thoughts are not real. A good example is when you see what looks like water on a hot road and you know that it’s not real, yet you still see it. You’re seeing an illusion; you can even take a photo of it, but it’s only an illusion.
The Buddha said: “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” Yes, so tell me again about the imaginary cat in the box Erwin.
Maybe Albert Einstein had it figured out when he said: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
So are some thoughts real and others only partially real? Are there good thoughts and bad thoughts? What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Who’s on first?
Lao Tzu said: “Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!”
Sometimes you find yourself in a strange place, and then try to figure out if there’s a deeper meaning to be found in the experience. So it was when I found myself in the motorcycle charnel grounds on the second floor of The Cycle Den in Columbia.
It was a depressing place, as I imagine the charnel grounds in Tibet are with the giant vultures, but depressing in a different way. I looked at those old machines and saw the people that once owned and loved them.
These now decaying bikes represented freedom, adventure and escape. I remembered the quote by Hafiz: “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”
It is said that the Buddha encouraged his students to meditate in the charnel grounds as a way of releasing the ultimate attachment: the attachment to one’s body and to this life itself. So despite the overwhelming sadness, I stayed to reflect on the impermanence of all things, and how the pursuit of pleasure is a paradox.
Dan Aykroyd once said: “You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” This may or may not be true, but having sold mine last fall I am now back in therapy.
I drive there in my SUV with the radio on and the feeling of safety that comes with four wheels and airbags. It’s as close to feeling alive as playing virtual golf, with a virtual caddie and drinking a virtual martini.
Be a lamp unto yourself were the last words and final teaching that the Buddha gave to his monks. This often-repeated saying of the Buddha is well known but not well understood, and rarely is it put into actual practice.
This quote is by Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho:
“Be a light unto yourself. Do not follow others, do not imitate, because imitation, following, creates stupidity. You are born with a tremendous possibility of intelligence. You are born with a light within you. Listen to the still, small voice within, and that will guide you.
Nobody else can guide you, nobody else can become a model for your life, because you are unique. Nobody has there been ever who was exactly like you, and nobody is ever going to be there again who will be exactly like you. This is your glory, your grandeur – that you are utterly irreplaceable, that you are just yourself and nobody else.”