Bee In My Bonnet
For a little while now, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet.
It has to do with this argument that the perception of change, in and of itself, establishes the existence of an unchanging Absolute – as the point of view from which, and only from which, such change could possibly be observed. Or, stated a bit differently: If it weren’t for the fact of an unchanging Absolute, change could not be observed. Therefore, the perception of change implies an unchanging Absolute.
Something about this has always seemed a bit off – or, rather, my understanding still a bit murky — so recently I set out to explore it more deeply.
Reflection & Perception
Part of the issue has to do with the difference between reflection and perception – the former being (to my ear) a more passive function, and the latter a more active one.
An example of the former is how a mirror reflects images. This is often used as a metaphor for the appearance of phenomena within the “mirror” of the Absolute.
An example of the latter is how the sensory apparatus of a human bodymind processes sensory data – which is just as much an inter-active construction/cognizing as it is a passive reflection (at least according to current scientific understandings of sensory perception).
Archimedes & Einstein
If we bring on board relatively recent scientific models of how change is perceived, the two main perspectives come to us compliments of Archimedes and Albert Einstein.
A so-called Archimedian point is a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can, with total objectivity, perceive the subject of his/her inquiry. It’s a point of view from which movements among things can be observed – without the point of view, the Archimedian platform, itself in any way being affected, i.e. “moved.” This corresponds to Cartesian certainty.
The notion of an Archimedean point pretty much bit the dust, with the advent of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity — which expanded/collapsed points (Archimedean and otherwise) to frames of reference.
Suddenly, there was no unmoving point from which the entire universe could be observed (or, with a long enough lever, moved) – only relative frames of reference. The appearance of change could never imply an unchanging point of view – only the existence of frames of reference moving relative to one another.
If I look out my window, and perceive a train moving by at 30 miles per hour, this doesn’t necessarily imply that I am a stationary observer (i.e. that my frame of reference is traveling at zero miles per hour). It could just as easily be the case that I’m seated on another train that’s moving at 15 miles per hour, and the train that I’m observing is (from the point of view of a third frame of reference traveling at zero miles per hour) moving in the same direction as my train is, but at 45 miles per hour – creating the perception — relative to my frame of reference — of its moving at 30 miles per hour.
Given this aspect of how the physical universe seems to work, I would then wonder: If the perception of change within the physical universe doesn’t imply an Archimedean point – a frame of reference at absolute rest – an absolutely unmoving point of view – then why should it be the case that we can use the perception of changing phenomena as (metaphoric, inferential or experiential) evidence of an unchanging Absolute?
And, a related question: is it not the case that registering change requires that the medium through which the change is registered, also changes? An instrument that measures change, measures it by itself changing. A thermometer registers a change of temperature via a change in the position of mercury within its chamber. How else could change possibly be registered, if not by a changing measurement device?
Is “registering” (i.e. measuring) change in this way an aspect of “reflection” (a la a mirror)? Or is it an aspect of “perception” (a la a human bodymind cognitive/perceptual apparatus)? A little of both? Something entirely different?
Something just wasn’t computing ….
Oh—Change Isn’t Real
And then, several days ago, it clicked: change isn’t real. There is no change, in reality. Which pretty much takes care of the problem of how it is that an unchanging Absolute can perceive change. Because there is no change, the question simply dissolves — and the problem ceases to be a problem.
Why is it that change isn’t real? Because change depends upon objects – upon defined “things” – along with space and time, in relation to which these defined “things” are perceived to move (magically retaining their “thingness” i.e. “sameness” throughout the journey). Such “things” – objects, space & time, frames of reference and measuring devices — are never anything other than conceptual constructions, mental projections, names/labels that mind assigns.
In the absence of things and movement, there can be no actual coming/going and hence no actual birth/death.
(I’ve said, and seemingly understood, similar things before — It’s funny how one forgets.)
So all the questions about mechanisms of change vis-à-vis reflection and perception, within the dualistic dream, are moot – in relation to the larger issue.
To restate, a bit differently — The perception of change requires:
(1) The projection/perception of objects; PLUS (2) the simultaneous projection of a “me” as a (supposed) subject occupying an Archimedian point – or at least an Einsteinian frame of reference.
Frames of reference belong to projected subjects
In the way that space and time belong to projected objects:
The former provides the (frequently ignored or taken for granted) contrast which grants illusory “reality” to the latter.
This subject/object dualistic projection is what conceptual mind does for a living. It’s how mind creates the stage for dualistic perception.
The dualistic perception of change, per se, does not require – nor does it establish the existence of — an eternally changeless point (or frame of reference) from which change is observed. In other words, the perception of change, in and of itself, does not imply a changeless Absolute — because the “perception of change” happens only from within a Maya frame of reference.
In other words, the dualistic perception of change is downstream from the projection of dualistic subject/object. It’s something that happens – and is perceived — only within the dream.
The perception of change as such – i.e. as being actual, real change happening to actual, real objects, observed by an actual, real “me” – is Maya.
The recognition of apparent change – i.e. of the illusion or appearance of change, and of illusory beings believing that this illusory change is real – belongs to a mind that has become fully transparent to the Absolute – that has undergone the kind of “turning-about” or “revolution” spoken of in the Lankavatara Sutra. This recognition of the illusion of change is Lila.
The Absolute – beyond the change/unchanging polarity — does not perceive (i.e. is not “aware of”) change – it only observes (i.e. is “aware of”a la “being”) its Self, though perhaps at “times” with modulation, in the manner of a dog feeling himself shiver and shake: ripples of luminous, empty appearances.
An aspect of this “shivering and shaking” or “tremoring” is the projection of subject/object in the mode of dualistic human perception.
The remaining question: Can we say that the Absolute is aware of the projection of the dream, the projection of Maya, the creation of the movie?
Yes to the extent that, ultimately, it is the Absolute and the Absolute alone that is (nondualistically) aware of everything/nothing. But the portion of the perception that even just appears to be dualistic would seem to belong only to a human bodymind cognitive/perceptual apparatus: in either its Maya or Lila functioning.
Imagine a beautiful scene: mountains, rivers, flower-filled meadows, with bees (including the one just recently liberated from my bonnet) gathering honey.
Imagine creating a puzzle out of this scene: breaking it into pieces, mixing the pieces up, putting them into a box.
Ignorance renders reality as the pieces of a puzzle: creating a “me” and the “puzzle” which we believe it is our job to piece together.
Re-membering who we are – seeing the scene sans pieces – as the seamlessly quivering fabric that it has always, in reality, been — we have a good chuckle, that’s all.
And then perhaps continue to create puzzles, and solve them, just because playing games is fun (and it gives us an excuse to invite our friends over for tea and an almond croissant).