July  2008
(Continued from essay, “Reality”, see IDEAS)
As the official rector of the outside world and championed by its king–The Brain, “physical reality” commands today the elite, hands-off, status of gold bullion, pure oxygen, or Laura Bush. Say what you will about the Iraq fiasco, The Church and The Corporation, the price of oil or the depleted ozone layer, but PLEASE…leave our “reality” alone. It is no longer open for discussion in the civilized world. Case closed, so-called reality wins. Reality, the one constant we still depend upon (unimpressive though it may be), is now the negative matter of an invisible framework of gluons holding the world-edifice upright. No one enjoys marinating the steaks of sacred cows, especially today beneath the “resistance-squads” of the academy like sniper guards in the prison towers “at-the-ready” to respond to any threats posed by an army of witches. The evidence-based guard dogs and gate-keepers of practical reason and laboratory science will not go gently into that good night of non-empirical reality, “should it exist.”
Of course under the great stress of Reason one weakens at times to embrace “reality” poetically, as the French have tried. “Art must take reality by surprise” wrote one such playwright. But here again, reality is taken off the hook. We assume It exists independently like a chocolate eclair, having measurable proportions, or filling space beyond our tentacles of perception, in some cases. Existentialism, like a weak stand-up comic, has even tried construing reality’s worst hollowness to contain some stark sensual realm of alienated beauty, a kind of “tough-love” for the self-absorbed and sado-masochistic. On the other hand, the literary French giant Marcel Proust wisely allows: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Semantically-speaking (as happens automatically, whenever we open our traps), one soon discovers ‘reality’the term depends upon how the word ‘real’ is technically defined. Actually, in fact, there are (at least) two realities to consider. One is real reality, the other unreal “reality,” what I prefer to call ‘the reality thing’– or simply, as we have done here, “reality” [or ‘quote reality’]. Below I’ve listed three modern dictionary definitions of ‘real’ (upon which true reality is based) followed by three definitions of what I believe more accurately connote ‘unreal’ reality or “reality” or perhaps less awkwardly, ‘the reality thing’ (biased as it is in modern thingism):
1. genuine and original, and so not artificial or synthetic;
2. of basic, or critical importance;
3. fundamental or essential
1. having actual physical existence;
2. verifiable as actual fact…rather than as a product of dreams or imagination;
3. everything that exists in the actual world.
Notice how “conventional wisdom,” and common sense are loaded to the gill in unreal “reality.” Thingism,as I call it, reflecting the Western attachment to the sensorium, has ascended to the sine qua non of modernist reality. Its buzzword currently is “evidence” (rhymes with “schmev-idence”). Evidence “helps somebody to come to a particular conclusion.” To this I have four easy words to remember: “weapons of mass destruction.”
Evidence surely has an important place in the scheme of reality, but like statistics it is also easily manipulated. Nevertheless, it’s become the bottom-line rite of passage for today’s “candidates of reality.” Obviously, Santa Claus and extra-terrestrials are still waiting to be seen. Evidently, new candidates must be constructed, researched, tested, validated, legitimized, and legislated evidentially, that is, minimally they must leave some footprint or reindeer-dropping. For legitimate citizenship in reality, one need demonstrate “sub-atomic particle evidence” vis-a-vis material reality existence, “energy exchangeevidence” vis-a-vis causal reality existence, “tangible (or microscopic) physical evidence” vis-a-vis legal reality existence, “neural pathway evidence” vis-a-vis pathologic reality existence, and “behavioral change evidence” vis-a-vis therapeutic reality existence–yes, you will need a stamped current VISA–BEFORE real existence IS ACHIEVED, recognized as such, credited as substantial, actual, or essential. Reality 2.0, one must conclude, shows real limitations with respect to its universal applications.
Reification (the bias of Thingism) collides like skateboards into granite walls with so-called ‘Mind’ schools of reality. Western Platonism and Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Qabalah, Magic, Depth Psychology, Esoteric Christianity, etc., as well as many Eastern Nondual/Essentialist traditions like Zen, Vajrayana, Madhyamika and Dzogchen (Buddhism), Taoism, Advaita etc., to say nothing of Native American and other shamanic traditions around the world, which posit to the contrary, true Reality is ultimately metaphysical, transcendent, intangible, essential, invisible, mental, and empty. Wrote the Indian Mahamudra master, Tilopa (988-1069 CE):
“As the darkness of the night, even were it to last a thousand years, could not conceal the rising sun, so countless ages of conflict and suffering cannot conceal the innate radiance of Mind.”
“Make It So”
“Reality” isn’t intrinsically real, we just make it so (like a command from Star Trek Captain Picard) with our words. It is no more real than “vacation consultants,” Tom Cruise marriages, tanning salons, or Sandwich Spread. This is also the dirty little secret of ‘The Secret’: reality is a construction of mind. The Buddhists have a phrase for things of this nature, namely, “not existing from their own side.” Things are dependents, that is, they are inherently “dependent-upon” other things–an observer’s perception, physiology, mental status, language, belief systems, cultural filters and so forth to mutually “co-arise,” and BEYOND that, they are ultimately “unfindable” in themselves. This holds true even for the lab-coated “physical evidence” junkies living the high life from the illusory “reality sandwiches” of modernism. Perhaps Buddhist interdependency is illustrated in the elusive and understated landmark American poem of the great 20th century American poet, William Carlos Williams, entitled:
The Red Wheel Barrow:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The poem tells us that “things are what they are,” beautiful, momentary, local, inter-connected. Nowhere is there a hard and fast distinction made regarding thingness. They share simultaneous factors and conditions, including the mind moments of the perceiver. Williams awakens this essential fact in the poem’s disarming opening: “So much depends/upon…” depends upon what? The answer for me is the vast web of particulars that coarise within single event, existing “synchronistically” in THIS present moment, timelessly like white chickens, co-arise in experience by way of perceiver(s). Indeed, so very much is mutually dependent.