This book argues for the central role played by absorption in the functioning of the human mind. The importance of absorption makes itself felt in different ways; the two studies combined in this book concentrate on two of them. The first study, The Symbolic Mind, argues that, largely as a result of language acquisition, humans have two levels of cognition, which in normal circumstances are simultaneously active. Absorption is a (or the) means to circumvent some, perhaps all, of the associations that characterize one of these two levels of cognition, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as mystical experience, but which is not confined to mysticism and plays a role in various "religious" phenomena, and elsewhere. In the second study, The Psychology of the Buddha, Prof. Bronkhorst provides a theoretical context for the observation that absorption is a source of pleasure, grapples with Freud, and illustrates his observations through translations of ancient Buddhist texts from the Pali and Sanskrit languages along with his psychological commentary.
Through debating on Internet forums, I have formed the view that modern culture has become so enmeshed in the 'symbolic/representational' mode of being, that it appears as the only reality for us. This is vastly amplified by computers and the internet. We only think in terms of symbols and in terms of the way that the mind represents reality. But in doing that, we overlook the fact that this 'representation' is also a 'construction' (vikalpa). We become convinced that this representational mode is reality itself, instead of it being a constructive mental activity.
Through meditation you learn to open up to the non-representational 'felt' mode of being characterized by empathy and relatedness. This is the import of the Zen teaching of 'direct pointing'. But if we try and understand this non-representatonal mode, we will usually do it verbally and symbolically, which undermines the very point.
I have had many debates on Internet forums about 'idealism', but really what they're about is this very topic - the way the mind 'constructs' reality. I think that yogacara and Zen both understand and communicate this very clearly, but if you haven't had that 'aha!' moment where you really see for yourself how the mind is doing that, it is impossible to understand.
Anyway I wonder if anyone has read this Bronkhurst book? It is sitting in my Amazon cart (along with Norman Fischer's Zen Training on Lojong) - I'm about to go 'click'.