maya

Dali_imagination

Constructs of the Imagination

The human mind is constructive. We create our world, inside of our own heads. To understand the way that we as individuals think, the way that we construct reality, we have to examine some of the moving parts of the consciousness system that are involved. Some of these parts are cognitive, some emotional; things like abstract reasoning, probability prediction, sampling,  grouping, chunking, compartmentalization, and relationship architectures are all necessary to understand how we construct the world around us.

The first and easiest places to examine when talking about the functioning of consciousness are the senses. Foremost is sight, simply because we have more built-in equipment for sight than any of the other sense. We fill in the blanks with out eyes, sometimes seeing things that aren’t there to make sense of patterns. Then sound, which is continually processed; touch, which is a pressure system that is built to feel things outside, but simultaneously internalize them as part of ourselves, such as hugs, touching which releases oxytocin, kissing, etc. The senses construct the mental world inside of our brains and allow us to interact with it.

We also construct socially. We imagine what others may think about us, or even what others may be doing in comparison to our own activities. There is also a an imagined hierarchy that normally forms due to various reasons; usually strength is a deciding factor. We have groups of people that we consider to be part of us, clicks, friend groups, religious communities, etc. This helps to give us a sense of worth by belonging to something, which is why community is such an important aspect of healthy living.

Humans also have a sometimes tragic flaw, called hubris, or pride. We believe ourselves to have accomplished something when we put forth great effort and achieve desired results, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment. This is most certainly a constructive process where we place a sense of value on ourselves for something that has been completed or finished with our participation. This also provides us with a sense of worth and accomplishment.

Humans also project our judgements onto the things around us, sometimes in terms of morals, sometimes in terms of positive or negative. This gives the object a perceived value and allows us to make judgement calls for very important things (i.e. the quality of food that you eat). This also allows us to manipulate the environment in a positive way for our own circumstances, in a similar way to a bird building a nest. It helps us to survive in a very real way.

Humans also have an ability to reason abstractly to plan. It allows us to save food and other resources during harder times and to effectively project ourselves into the future to deal with our environment. This is probably the reason for our massive success on the planet; we have the ability to forego now for later. This is tremendously valuable in social situations, especially those involving trade and bartering, because we can amass specific resources in an efficient manner to trade them for other valuables. This concept is what originally allowed humans to begin agriculture, which then provided us with free time and the ability to work less because we don’t have to always be focused on survival.

However, this amazing ability to plan also has a dark side; fear, anxiety, and idealization. We always want to hope for the best, even if it is an unreasonable outcome of our current situation. We sometimes create false realities because of our own fears and idealizations which then can cause negative effects. We get anxiety for future situations because of past situations that we have already experienced, or we think we know the outcome of a given situation simply because we have experienced a similar one. Fear is the epitome of this dark side, sometimes leading us to create false realities known as neurosis. But in judgement for survival, fear is absolutely necessary.

Fear is possibly the most constructive aspect of the human mind. It gives us the ability to avoid things we have experienced, to efficiently escape certain environments, and to react effectively when faced with danger. However, in social situations, fear has almost no value and can completely degrade relationships. Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person is overly jealous, or protective? This is a perfect example of a fear that degrades a relationship and that is completely unnecessary until some kind of evidence appears.

Humans can construct completely different realities. You can see this in cultural and religious values, where some people believe that the “right” way to live is what they have been taught; or when someone goes into neurosis because of over-stress, or simply genetic factors combined with the environment. In the modern world, stress is almost always the result of imagined or projected fears, which is why it is such a powerful force in our lives. Our ability to deal with the stress physiologically is almost always dependent upon our beliefs about the stress. Sometimes, this can force us to construct completely different realities to allow us to cope with the stress from the environment.

There are a few other things that we make up to deal with the environment; time, measurements, communities, languages, mathematics, mythologies, religion, and stories. Stories are incredibly fascinating, because they allow us to ‘tap in’ to the experiences of another consciousness through communication with our ability to reason and construct abstractly. This can allow us to learn, without really experiencing anything significant in the environment (of course you are reading a book, which is a part of the environment).

These are some of the different ways that we construct reality within our minds. This is why the concept Maya exists in eastern religions. Fear is an extremely interesting phenomenon in humans, almost certainly one to be avoided in social situations. So while you are out there, remember that YOU are constructing the subjective world that you live in and that it is specific to each individual.

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Sigmund_Freud

Letting Ego Go

The ego is a concept used to describe consciousness, made famous by Sigmund Freud and used consistently in religion to talk about the principles of “reality” and the functioning of the mind. The ego is an illusion, ultimately it does not exist outside of your own head.

There are three primary reasons for the existence of an ego, the first and most important is survival. This includes sex, feeding, and unavoidable needs (excretion, water consumption, regular movement). The secondary purpose of the ego is regulation of social hierarchy, which is more important and prominent in pack mammals such as monkeys or dogs.

The ego can also be examined as the internal dialogue, though aspects of the internal dialogue can certainly transcend the ego. The real key to understanding the ego is considering that the ego cannot exist outside of a subjective mind. This is what makes an ego so necessary for survival, it allows the do-er to differentiate itself from its environment to act upon it. So in many ways, birds must have at least a small ego because an ego provides a sense of worth to a being. A sense of purpose in survival.

Do-ers can also transcend their ego, acting as a part of the whole of their surroundings and not considering their own survival as more necessary than that of others. It is possible to unify with the self, therefore transcending ego and simply being, rather than doing. The difference between being and doing is pacificity, surrender, letting go of the ego’s need to feel gratified by actions or thoughts.

The unification with the environment allows for the do-er to become the receiver, outlet, and observer, rather than the one who is acting. With this realization comes a tremendous amount of freedom in existence, the do-er becomes an illusion, part of Maya, of Samsara. Oneness is understood.

However, ego is still necessary in many situations, it must be renounced as false and an entity that does not truly exist except in the mind. At a certain point, your ego will stop serving your self and this is the situation you should be looking for in renouncing the ego, that you simply do not need it as much any more. This is why transcending the ego takes a serious amount of time in stillness, meditation, and peace. The only way to renounce the ego is through both thought and action and there are many spiritual traditions that teach about various aspects of the paths to the renounced state, where the individual is able to see past the illusion into the oneness of the Brahman and live in a state of togetherness with nature.

Freud liked to talk about the ego and Id together, but I think that we should give ourselves a better identification; ego can be looked at as the internal dialogue or at least a piece of this. In Freud’s terms, some of this is powered by the ID (the instinct drive), but we can do away with this idea for modern neuroscience and talk about the lower level functions of cognition. We humans have very basic cognition that fuels us in social situations and teaches us how to react when in groups, on teams, in the classroom, etc that can be considered Freud’s ID. This is what we are looking to renounce, the part of the mind that “overthinks” social situations in whatever way this manifests itself. Most of the time, it occurs in hubris, or excess pride.

The Ego is something that was once completely necessary for survival, but with the technological and societal advancements in the 21st century, many people are finding that their egos hamper their work. Art is one of these professions that is a constant battle against ego, trying to express self and the soul rather than the be side-tracked by the ego. But with the proper mindfulness, you can let go of that voice inside your head that is always talking shit in your head. (or maybe it is just talking)

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the Buddha teaches the Lotus Sutra

Upaya | उपाय

Upaya is a term that is used in Mahayana Buddhism as a reference to a method of teaching liberation through conscious and voluntary action without reasoning the direction. In other words, they are short cuts that are created for students to expedite them along the path to enlightenment. It is essentially adaptations of certain teachings to bring the practitioner closer to the goal of enlightenment, even though the teachings may be untrue. The use of skill is extremely important here because one needs to adapt teaching to the audience that is receiving the message and teachings.

The concept was revolutionary for Buddhism and has some powerful implications. It essentially allows for skillful teachers to show the student half-truths to reach further into the path of awareness and enlightenment. In Buddhist tradition, it was later understood that the Buddha had given his followers various upayas, rather than whole truths, because they were not ready for the ultimate truth. This allowed for many of the prior doctrines of buddhism to be disregarded in favor of higher ones.

This allowed buddhist practitioners to build a kinda of step system from the elementary teachings of Buddhism into the most advanced and profound. The most important aspects of teaching this way are through skillful means guided by compassion and wisdom. This means treating each person as a different potential, because of their different capacities and ability to comprehend the lessons.

This is used to explain some of the crazy wisdom that buddhist monks and practitioners use when teaching, including an example where a monk slammed a door shut on a disciples leg and in the process gave him a deep insight. There are two primary examples or metaphors that are used to explain the concept in Buddhism: an empty fist and a burning house. In the example of the burning house, a man uses white lies to get his sons out of a building that is on fire and to get them to safety, because he knows that they will not pay attention if he tells them the truth. The empty fist is used as a metaphor to grab the attention of children, but really it is a teaching to allow the student to understand the emptiness and to focus on the essence of mind rather than the distractions of it. Both teachings are understandably adapted to each situation and each student. The teachings are quite powerful and you can read about them in Lotus Sutra, a Chinese buddhist text from around 300CE.

These teachings are powerful for the modern world, showing teachers to meet students where they are and to teach with compassion in a system that is optimal for the aspirant. Modern yoga does a very good job of doing this.

 

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gita battle

Purusartha | पुरुषार्थ

The Goals of Life

Purusha and Artha are two very complex Sanskrit words that represent a Hindu ideal of life’s purpose[Purusha (पुरुष) and Artha (अर्थ)].Together, the words mean purpose of being, the objective of human pursuit, or the meaning of life. Purusha means human being, soul, or the universal principle and soul of the universe. Artha means purpose, objects of desire, or meaning.

The goals of man, the aims of human life, purpose of being, four goals and virtues that lead to a happy life:

  1. Dharma – Dharma is a key concept in Indian religion that has multiple meanings. Dharma is said to be in harmony with the forces of the cosmos, Brahman, or rta which denotes the “right way” of living. In Buddhism it means “cosmic law and order” and refers to phenomenon and the path and teachings of the buddha. These can be considered virtues.
  2. Artha – can be defined as the means of life, sense, purpose, meaning, goal, or essence. Essentially, it is the activities or resources required to live in the desired state for the individual. How you make a living and feed yourself.
  3. Kama – means desire, wish, or longing in Hinduism. Kama most often denotes a sexual desire, but also can mean longing for pleasure, desires, wishes, passions, aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love with or without sexual connotations. This goals are considered healthy and essential when balanced with the other three goals.
  4. Moksha – means emancipation, liberation, or release more specifically from Samsara and the Maya of this world. It connotes self-realization, self-knowledge, and ultimate freedom.

Together, these form the goals of human life according to the Hindu tradition, however these aspects need to be balanced. Together these turn the wheel that leads towards Moksha, or liberation from the cycles of death and rebirth, ultimately suffering.

It’s nice to think about life as having a need to balance between different pursuits. Too much focus on one, and you become imbalanced and therefore unhappy.

The Hindu traditions recognize certain necessities in life, that all pleasure cannot be avoided. Very different from the Puritan influenced american spiritual traditions such as the quakers or amish. There are nights of indulgence, days of fasting, all kinds of different traditions to allow the body to fluctuate and process the world in the way that it tends to do naturally rather than forcing it to do things in order to conquer the mind. If you are interested in learning more about balancing as your strive forward successfully, Nishkam Karma will be a great guide for you, which is a central message in the Bhagavad Gita.

Hinduism also has answers for those who do understand the tensions between pursuing wealth and virtue simultaneously and provide answers in terms of pursuit with renunciation, craving-free dharma-driven action. In cases of conflict, Dharma is said to be the most important because it leads to Moksha more so than the other two do and Moksha is the main ideal of human life. It is also the foundation for pursuing wealth and sexual pleasure, or whatever it is that you desire.

So this is a method for you to go after the things that you want in life, granted that you remain detached from the end states, because desire for an “end-state” or “product” will only lead to suffering because such things are temporary. Remember that you are a process, that you are happening, right now, processing the world around you in various different ways that you couldn’t possibly be aware of. So enjoy the ride, as they say.

 

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