On Reality

Everyone models the universe in their mind. The model differs from reality, leading to conflicts the model and perceived reality. These can be resolved by changing the model, or disbelieving the perception. Changing the model can help for a while, but is a never-ending process, since we cannot create a fully accurate model. Disbelieving the perception is called cognitive dissonance, and is very common.

People often alter their perception of reality to fit their own internal model. This often takes the form of ignoring facts which do not support the model and seeking out facts which do. This can only cause more suffering, because the model diverges from reality and the conflict between them becomes more profound. The process is usually quite unconscious -- the subconscious is protecting the ego, because the ego does not want to be hurt by being "wrong".

According to Buddhism, the deepest cause of suffering is change. Possessions wear out, relationships change, no happy situation lasts forever. We gain desired things only to lose them later. The getting and the holding on bring pleasure, and loss brings pain. We like to believe that obtaining a desired object will bring happiness, that it will make us fulfilled, and that it will last. When the reality forces itself on us we are disappointed.

We can't live without any model, and we can't live with a model without suffering. Is there a solution?

The approach of Buddhism is to eliminate the ego, and with it the clinging to a model. Models are taken up to live, but not held on to. Desires are discarded, and with them go disappointment and loss. A deep internal peace is found. No truth, no evil, no mind.

An Example

Statements such as "reality is nothing" or "reality is emptiness" are not the logical statements "reality = nothing" or "reality has the property of being empty". To interpret them as such is to miss the point they are trying to make. These statements are merely "fingers pointing at the moon". What you need to do is stop looking at the finger and try to see the moon.

The problem is that it's not very easy to state the insight. It's not easy to set it down in language. Translating it to English doesn't help it along either.

Placing an interpretation on the senses requires one to take up a frame of reference. It's not possible to judge the relative "value" of two frames of reference without a third. Therefore frames of reference cannot be assigned an absolute value. The choice of an interpretation of the senses is therefore an arbitrary one. That is to say, the choice of definition of "reality" is arbitrary. In other words, "reality is illusion".

Communicating No-System

The problem of communicating the state of no-system is a tough one. If you try to express it in language it is immediately changed by being coerced into the system of that language. Words are loaded with meaning, and every individual places interpretation on those words. How can insights be communicated effectively? Zen attempts to find a way around this problem by communicating insights "directly" through practice, and mostly through meditation.

The koans attempt to communicate no-system by using the paradoxes to shake the mind out of assumptions. Hence, the phrase "finger pointing at the moon". They don't contain a secret message, but they do contain information about the system in that they are paradoxes within it.

Liberating Yourself

Don't get stuck in the trap of requiring insights to fit inside your current model of reality. You will be limiting what you can understand. You're not required to accept new insights as "true" (for whatever definition) but that need not prevent you from gaining them.