Sunday, October 19, 2008

Concept and reality

In practical terms, what is concept, and what is reality?

I am no expert in matters philosophical, and so I am not referring here to academic or theological definitions. I am talking about looking at concept and reality in a way that can be applied realistically to our spiritual quest.

First of all, why is it important to look at the terms concept and reality? - Because on the spiritual journey, we are apt to mistake one for the other, and this can create some confusion.

Secondly, I suggest that concept and reality are not mutually exclusive! What I mean, is that one person's concept may be another person's reality and vice versa.

When a spiritual master says 'There is nobody' or 'All is one', she speaks from her reality, and her direct experience in the moment. For the student listening to her, it may sound like the ultimate truth, but he would have to look and see if it is indeed the reality for him in the moment.

Then the teacher may say that all suffering is only a concept in the mind. Again he speaks from his direct reality in the moment. But the student listening to these words will have to investigate for herself whether her own experience of suffering is real or not.

In each case, the teaching is at best a pointer - a finger pointing to the moon, as they say. When we mistake the pointing finger for the moon, we become confused.

'There is nobody' - is a spectacularly clear reality, and a particularly confusing concept. Imagine the plight of the student who looks upon this statement as the ultimate truth, without directly experiencing it. Her mind is liable to take the words literally and to discount her own experience as somebody. She is not sure whether she can trust her body-mind or anything it experiences, because doing so would assert the somebodiness which she believes to be in contradiction to the truth. For this student, at this time, the ultimate truth is a concept. And simply seeing that can clear the confusion.

There is nothing wrong with a concept. There is great beauty in it. For even as a concept, the ultimate truth finds great resonance in the student, because deep within her she knows the truth of it. Then when this truth finds expression in her direct experience, concept is now reality.

A concept is a concept when it is not aligned with experience. Concept and reality collapse into one another in the miracle of experience.

No matter what the experience is - ecstatic, good, bad or ugly, - stay with it and you cannot stray from the truth. Negate or deny your experience and you fall into the false division of concept or reality.


Ron Marson said...

Reality / Experience / Concept

Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles labeled 'reality', 'experience' and 'concept' nested one inside the other, looking like a bull's-eye target with 3 rings. It seems to me like the largest outer circle would have to be labeled 'reality' since 'this-here-now' encompasses all 'experience' and 'concept'. The middle and inner circles would have to be labeled 'experience' and 'concept' respectively, suggesting that all 'concept' is 'experienced' within the larger 'reality'; but not all 'experience' is 'concept'. Indeed, 'experience' unmediated by thought or imagination feels more fresh, immediate and alive then any kind of daydreaming, past regretting, future worrying or any other concept-based experience.

With this Venn diagram in mind, can you comment on the outer circle, that part of 'reality' beyond both 'concept' AND 'experience'? In a sense this seems like 'mission impossible' since anything you say in words is framed conceptually. Still you can point, and you do point with great accuracy, in my opinion.

Outside of mystical circles, among scientists and psychologists, I hear no suggestion or hint of any human capacity to remain in timeless, changeless intelligence beyond mind; to gaze in wonder from 'there' at the spontaneous inner movements of one's own mind. Yet to me, remaining outside one's own mind (not landing mentally), is precisely 'where' our common wholeness is. I notice in writing these comments, for example, that 'concepts' come full-blown and complete out of 'seeming nowhere' (beyond mind). I AM the understanding I seek *before* I write. And my description is never IT.

Ameeta said...

Hello Ron,

Thanks for your incisive post.

First let me say that the specific reason I wrote this post, is because I have seen people on this path get confused when things are pointed to them as reality and as concept. The tendency is to take the words literally, without regard for one's own experience in the matter. I have seen people take the nobodiness teaching, and so revere the concept of it, that they are unable to contact their own somebodiness without sheepish apology. On the other hand, I have also seen people conceptualize the teaching of 'there is no suffering', so that they feel torn and divided inside, when suffering arises. They then take the suffering to be a reinforcing sign that they are 'not enlightened'. The suggestion in the post is to be where you are - to occupy your experience fully, - whether suffering arises or somebodiness arises - and everything simply happens from there.

Next, I might add that no pictorial can adequately depict what we are saying. Still, if depict we must, then I would have a slightly different pictorial representation than you do. I suspect this is not a content issue, but has more to do with how we are organizing our words and thoughts around this. In my post, I have used the word 'reality' more in terms of drawing a contrast with the the word 'concept'. Further, I have used these 2 terms in the specific context of an individual's experience.

I might have 2 intersecting circles, one representing 'individual concept', and the other representing 'individual reality'. I would represent the area of intersection as 'individual experience'. And this whole picture would reside within an undrawable totality - the ultimate truth, that manifests as each of concept, experience and individual reality! Again, these are simply the words I have chosen in this post. On occasion I have used the word 'reality' as being synonymous with the 'ultimate truth', as I believe you write about here.

The two circles only arise in the context of an individual, who may have a concept without the reality of experience. This individual may also have an unconscious reality, that is neither a conscious concept nor a conscious experience, in a given moment. The key thing here is that unlike a Venn diagram - which captures a certain constant, or reasonably constant, relationship between entities, - the diagram that we speak of, is highly dynamic, and fully subject to being reorganized and even erased, quite spontaneously! Right? :-)

Lastly - you invite me to comment on that part of reality which is beyond concept and experience. I am not so competent. The limited best I can do is to raise questions:

What is awake in deep sleep?

What is constantly changing form, and not dependent on any form?

What does not need to know itself as anything?

This last question holds itself in my heart.

Warm regards