Tuesday, February 14, 2012


In ordinary life I tend to think of now as ever receding, always streaming into then. But when I pay attention I realize, with the help of a great many teachers, that now isn’t receding at all: it never stops being now. Things change. Now doesn't.

Similarly, I tend to think of me as distinct from everything else. But when I pay attention I realize that I am not so discrete. What I refer to as me is a product of relations with the world – what I call not-me – so all those things that are not-me are me, because they are caught up in the loop to which I refer when I say me. That which is me, what I refer to when I say me, is also them, and therefore not-me. I am that; that is me.

Likewise, I tend to think of things as always changing: a Heraclitian view of the world – one which I embrace. All is process and relation. Yet from another view, the view when I sit and pay attention, there is really no change – all things being caught up in each other, nothing essentially changes. The parts move around, and the whole remains intact.

So what in everyday life I call reality, the material reality around me, the world that I touch and taste and smell – the aspect of reality that seems most real to object-oriented westerners – is in fact an assemblage, an arrangement of parts, which are themselves arrangements of smaller parts, and so on down to the point where the parts aren’t parts at all but energy and relation.

What we most want to call reality is in fact not real, not in that substantive sense we usually rely on. Put another way, we use substantiality, or objectivity, as the basis for what is real. But what we regard as real fails, upon scrutiny, to meet that standard.

Each of these points (and the collection) is a commonplace in some circles. Physics comes to mind. Zen Buddhism, too. What interests me is the homology that seems to run through these points, the simultaneity of now and then, this and that, one and many, fixed and moving, solid and ethereal.

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