Transcending Our Perceptions

words by Brian Thompson, photo by Jennifer Picard Photography.

Have you ever stopped to think how inaccurate and foolish many of our words and ideas actually are?

Everyday we drown ourselves in our delusions.

When we say something like, “The moon is bright tonight,” we convince ourselves of a false perception of reality. This phrase, while seemingly harmless, is just an example of how we fool ourselves each and every day.

“The moon is bright” is only a mental conceptualization. The moon itself does not shine. It emits no light of its own, therefore it cannot be bright. While we might understand what a person infers when they say such a phrase, most people take the words at face value and believe them as absolute truth, thereby deluding themselves from its actual reality.

This is the danger of our words and concepts, and so too with all of our views, knowledge, and beliefs — we are unable to see past the surface of the truth they only point to.

The truth of our reality is that everything is only a creation of the mind. Everything is a perception, a mental formation. In fact, when it comes to our awareness itself, there is nothing beyond the mind.

When we say “the moon is bright”, what we’re really trying to say is that the sky is clear, that there are no clouds obscuring the sunlight that’s bouncing off the moon. But even that seemingly more precise statement only offers a minuscule sliver of the actual truth. There are infinite other factors involved that give us the perception the moon is bright. In fact, “the moon is bright" is only a concept, an incomplete expression of a greater and more complex whole.

No experience can be be properly defined by words. The truth lies beyond what our language and mental concepts are capable of.

Such are the Zen teachings found in the Buddhist text the Diamond Sutra (which is also the world's earliest dated printed book).

Our words and conceptualizations will never be able to explain the true nature of anything, for all things are unable to be captured and held in such a linguistic or logical way. Only when we are able to see the truth-of-being beyond our perceptions are we able to use our words without falling into the sticky trap of their illusions.

Every concept we hold onto contains deception.

We unknowingly use our views and concepts to separate things from the inter-being that exists between everything. If we can’t see beyond such distinctions as only the objects-of-mind that they truly are, then we fall further into delusion by believing we are separate from everything else, rather than being one with all things, which we undoubtedly are.

For instance, when we say that someone is dumb, we separate them from us. We think we are somehow better. We infer they are unlike us. But in reality, “better” is a concept that doesn’t even exist. It is an illusion. Is a tree dumb too? How about a rock? The universe has no such distinctions. All things simply are as they are.

Words and definitions, opinions and discriminations, concepts and facts; they are all intended to draw lines of distinction and discrimination between things, to separate this from that.

This is a tree. But, is it not also wood? And what about its branches and leaves? What about all of the insects and birds that consider it home? What about the sunshine that gave the tree its energy to grow? And what of the soil in which its roots are entrenched? Is the tree not also carbon, oxygen and hydrogen? What of the empty space between all of its molecules? If we look deeper down into its quantum level, we see that in fact the tree is actually filled with more empty space than anything else.

In such a way, we see that the tree is not a tree. It is emptiness. It is empty of definition. So the word tree is only an attempt to express the infinite array of the entire universe and cosmos.

Our concepts are relative to our individual perceptions, and yet we tend to believe them as the fundamental truth. But our beliefs contradict the inherent truth of all things, and they cause us to suffer when we attach ourselves to such things that are so fundamentally impermanent and un-real. We suffer when we believe these fabrications from our mind, for they are merely delusions that try to separate reality from itself.

Our concepts, what we call knowledge, are not the ultimate truth because at their very core they are dualistic — they try to tear things into two.

After all, what is long, and what is short? In relation to what? To what yardstick is such a discrimination subject to? What is near, and what is far? Am I near you? Are you far from the moon? To understand this, a person only needs to go beyond his own neighbourhood and venture down the highways of the country, and then look up to the infinity of space, and then back down into the life of the micro-cosms to observe the life of an ant. Now ask yourself, what is near, and what is far? To whom and what is such a statement subject to?

Our words can be use to point to things, but we must not rely upon them, for they offer only fuzzy concepts — to believe in them is to cover yourself in darkness.

“We have to use words in a way that they do not enslave us." —Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not be confined by our words and concepts! We must use language of non-attachment and non-duality.

We must transcend our perceptions.

When we allow ourselves to see beyond the dualities of our language, perceptions, and concepts, we free ourselves from such delusions. Only then will we be able to use words without being burdened by their false assumptions.

If we understand this, only then can we happily say, "The moon sure is bright tonight."