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Saturday, January 7, 2023

Apparent Reality and Absolute Reality

 The words parikalpita svabhava in Thich Naht Hanh’s book on Transformation at the Base triggered several related words in my mind. The words parikalpita svabhava mean “constructed nature”. In other words, they are thoughts constructed by the mind to understand the object as perceived and not the object “as is”. The object “as is” is svabhava.

Human mind is made so it can understand the world in which the carrier of the mind, be he or she, lives. It does so by abstracting the messages received through different sensory modalities, categorize them to suit its needs and make sense of it. It is the way it is made to function. It cannot help doing so. It needs training to function differently, and it can be trained.

Scientific thinking takes this process to the extreme. It defines everything it sees, makes subsections of the object, and categorize those parts, and studies each part. As Anil Seth points out in his book on Being you, the goal of science is to Explain, Predict and Control. In the process, science divides the whole into parts, gives us a whole lot of rose petals but the rose is gone. Science finds it difficult to make a whole out of the parts.

To understand the whole is to understand the svabhava. Reason cannot get there. As Professor Nagel pointed out, you have to be a bat to know what it feels like to be a bat. That requires going beyond dualities and multiplicities with humility, intuition, and imagination.

If this phenomenal world of multiplicities is called mithya (apparent reality) as Adi Sankara did, the spiritual world of wholeness is the nithya (reality as is). What we see is sathyam, truth as we see it or parivikalpa svabhava and we need to see the rhytam or nibbana svabhava. Some spiritual texts, particularly advaita and Zen, say that it is possible to relate to the “truth as is” through meditation.

As I understand, the Advaita method suggests meditation on the oneness of atman (individual, apparent) and brahman (universal, real) and merging with the One. To me, this means letting go of this phenomenal world.

Buddhism suggests the method of meditation on their interdependence (paratantra). To me, this means living in this phenomenal world with full awakening and awareness.



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