John Myrdhin Reynolds on What You See Is What You Are

Book coverWhether we see the world as chaos or as a divine mandala depends on the states of our minds, says John Myrdhin Reynolds in this adaptation from Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness.

All of us here in this lifetime are experiencing human karmic vision because we all possess in common the cause for such a vision. Therefore, we share this common vision. But this is not so with beings in other destinies of rebirth whose vision possesses different causes. For example, when we humans look at a river in summer, it appears to us to consist of cool and refreshing water. But to a Deva, who possesses a different kind of vision, the river seems to consist of fragrant sweet-tasting divine nectar. On the other hand, to a Preta or hungry ghost it seems to be a sluggish stream of foul-smelling excrement, and to a denizen in hell it seems to be a river of molten lava. In this way, external appearances are perceived by living beings in such a way as is determined by internal karmic causes. The same river is perceived quite differently by beings in different dimensions of existence.

But when our mind is transformed, all external appearances are transformed. If these two, Samsãra and Nirvana, arise to us as reflections of our mind, then when our mind is transformed, when impure karmic vision is transformed into pure vision, the one will seem to change into the other. Instead of the usual chaotic mess which is the world around us, we perceive everything as the pure mandala of the Buddha. This is the principle of tantra: transformation. This, of course, indicates something much more radical and profound than a superficial visualization of a wish-fulfillment fantasy: it is a radical transformation at the very root of the mind. But here in this context, the meaning is a bit different. In the Tantras a great deal of diligence and effort in meditation is required, a great deal of practice in clear visualization. But in Dzogchen, there is nothing to be transformed, nothing to be visualized such as beautiful mandalas and magnificent deities, nothing at all to be constructed by the mind, because all appearances are already spontaneously self-perfected from the very beginning.

All this is very easy to say. But external appearances seem to us to be very much real, very solid and substantial. It seems that there must be something actually out there and not just empty space, incredibly cluttered up with phantom projections of the mind. Why do appearances seem to be so solid and real? We must understand that it is the mind that grasps at appearances, at their reality and their substantiality. But these seemingly solid appearances are empty, being only space; they are nothing in themselves, save in the context of their relations to everything else. As distinct concrete isolated entities with their own individual reality they are nothing. And in terms of this, there is no error in them; rather the error lies in our grasping at them as real. It is this grasping that leads to attachments and aversions; this is the problem and not the things in themselves. But if we can come to understand that no matter how long we search, no matter how far we wander in this quest, we will not find anyone there who is doing the grasping, then we will discover liberation in that very fact. Whatever arises and whatever is liberated are only appearances of mind (sems kyi snangba).

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