What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

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What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Takoda » Wed Apr 11, 2012 3:24 am

Many years ago I had a very interesting conversation with a young man who identified himself as a Buddhist. The conversation revolved around the meaning of “reality” in terms of what “is real”. After discussing the issue for quite some time, he said that everything was an illusion, in fact I was an illusion, the conversation was an illusion, and finally that he was an illusion. According to his point of view, reality as we perceive it is created by our mind and is actually “not real”.

To be completely honest I found what he was saying quite difficult to grasp. The whole idea of viewing everything in life as “not real” or as just mere illusion seemed kind of hard to swallow. At the moment I thought about my parents, my girlfriend, my job and even my 1973 “beat-up” Volkswagen Beetle sitting in my driveway. Was all of this… just an illusion?

The funny thing is that whenever Buddhism was mentioned I would always remember that one single conversation I had so many years ago. The concept of “everything being an illusion” would leave me perplexed.

But now when I look back at the whole issue I kind of wonder if I really understood what he was trying to say? Did I actually grasp what he tried to convey to me? Was it an issue of semantics? Was he really familiar with Buddhist teaching?

These questions have lingered in my mind. :thinking:

What is the concept of “reality” according to Buddhist teaching?

Is everything just a product of the mind/ego?


With kind regards from a newbie...

Cheers

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby maybay » Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:58 pm

The most orthodox response is to avoid the metaphysical questions, the next is to answer the question of reality through elimination. What is reality not? When you consistently find that what you thought was reality is merely appearance then you are disillusioned.

So what do you think is real. Or rather, what is your definition of reality? In Buddhism there are many.
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:05 pm

The way I understand it is; this "reality" has sustance and is also "empty" (sunyata). What is illusion is our interpretation of this reality.
For more information, read up about sunyata http://www.buddhanet.net/cbp2_f6.htm

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Wed Apr 11, 2012 3:34 pm

When you die, you cannot bring anything with you. Real in the sense that you can touch, feel, smell, taste, and see. The purpose of Buddhism is to liberate from suffering so that people don't become attached. The more attached you are, the more suffering you will endure.
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Jesse » Wed Apr 11, 2012 3:36 pm

The whole idea of viewing everything in life as “not real” or as just mere illusion seemed kind of hard to swallow. At the moment I thought about my parents, my girlfriend, my job and even my 1973 “beat-up” Volkswagen Beetle sitting in my driveway. Was all of this… just an illusion?


Our perceptions of things are illusory, not things themselves,

here's a quote from understanding our mind by thich nhat hanh

"When seeds in our store consciousness manifest themselves in our mind consciousness, either we perceive them directly or we do not perceive them directly. There are three modes, or fields of perception: direct, as representation and as mere images. According to the manifestation only teachings the way we perceive reality has everything to do with our happiness or suffering.

The first field of perception is the perception of things-in-themselves, perceiving directly without distortion or delusions. This is the only one of the three modes of perception that is direct. This way of perceiving is in the real of noumena, or suchness, Suchness (tathata) means "reality as it is" Another name for the buddha is Tathagata, which means "the one who has come from suchness, and goes to suchness". Everything--A leaf, a pebble, you & me -- comes from suchness. Suchness is the ground of our being, just as water is the ground of being a wave"


When we fall in love, for example, we usually fall in love with an image we have our our beloved. We cannot eat sleep, or do anything because this image in us is so strong. Our beloved is beautiful to us, but our image of him may actually be far from reality. We don't realize that the object of our perception is not the reality-in-itself, but an image we have created. After we marry and live with our beloved for two or three years, we realize that the image that we held onto and stayed awake nights thinking about was largely false. The object of our perception, our image of our beloved belongs to the second mode of perception, the mode of representation.

Our consciousness manifests an image of the object, and we love that image. The image may have nothing to do with the person-in-himself. It is like taking a photograph of a photograph.


The third mode of perception is the field of mere images. In this mode of perception, what we perceive are purely images. If while walking in the street you see a dog, your perception of it belongs to the realm of representations. If you go home and dream of the dog, your dream-image is in the field of mere images.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Wesley1982 » Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:41 pm

Ultimately, reality depends on the individual (or group) discussing it.
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby KeithBC » Wed Apr 11, 2012 10:26 pm

We apply the term reality to mean things that exist independently of the mind.

We find it convenient to imagine that houses, cars, even our own bodies exist independently of the mind. This is "conventional" reality, because it is a convention (agreement) that we adhere to in daily activities, and because it is convenient to do so. The Buddhist viewpoint is that nothing exists independently of the mind. Not that nothing exists at all, just that it exists depending on the mind.

But since existing independently of the mind is what we use the word "reality" for, it means that nothing is real.

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Takoda » Wed Apr 11, 2012 11:26 pm

Thanks to all for the great "feedback".

There is a lot of "food for thought" here.

For a person that is not a Buddhist, such as myself, many concepts can be quite confusing. I also realize that there can be various viewpoints concerning this topic among Buddhists.

Something that maybe has helped me understand the concept of “reality” from a Buddhist perspective a "little better" is the teaching of impermanence. This means that nothing is permanent and that everything changes. What seems “real” is really "not real" in the sense of being permanent, stable or self standing.

Maybe in that sense what seems ”real” is actually an illusion of being real.

The very thought of this can be very humbling indeed. I think of the world that existed a century ago. Most lifeforms that existed back then have passed away in the flow of time, while others have taken their place. Dreams, aspirations and even the most intimate of relationships have faded away. Even nature itself including the cosmos is in a state of never-ending change.


Thanks once again.

Namaste,

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby 5heaps » Thu Apr 12, 2012 1:32 am

how the world appears to exist may not be how it actually exists. therefore there is a kind of unreality to it. however it is still an it, so it cannot be an outright illusion ie. not an it

for example when we look at things they seem to possess a quality of lasting endurance. "the fridge will still be around in 5 minutes, it aint going anywhere". in truth though the fridge completely lacks the ability to perpetuate itself even into the next moment, let alone for 5 minutes.

the fridge 5 minutes from now depends only on the causes and conditions from the previous moment. since the causes and conditions that produced the first moment of the fridge have finished by the end of the first moment of the fridge, the fridge will never quite be as stable as when it was first produced, since the causes and conditions will never be the same ever again. therefore with each subsequent moment the fridge is getting closer to its end. furthermore its end will not be caused by being engulfed in flame, exploding, falling, rusting, etc. its end is caused by its having been produced. there is no enduring fridge upon which rust comes to act upon. the rusting away is a characteristic of its having been produced in the first place
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby justsit » Thu Apr 12, 2012 2:40 am

"Well, just goes to show, things are not what they seem..."
- Rolling Stones, 1971
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Huifeng » Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:02 am

"What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?"

Depends on who you ask. While many make the claim, no Buddhist individual or group has any undisputable claim on doctrinal notions for the whole of "Buddhism" (a term which itself is a rather modern creation).

So, whatever answers you get, best to just ascribe that to the position of whatever general tradition the poster is from, and not extend it much further than that.

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Apr 12, 2012 2:22 pm

Takoda wrote:Many years ago I had a very interesting conversation with a young man who identified himself as a Buddhist. The conversation revolved around the meaning of “reality” in terms of what “is real”. After discussing the issue for quite some time, he said that everything was an illusion, in fact I was an illusion, the conversation was an illusion, and finally that he was an illusion. According to his point of view, reality as we perceive it is created by our mind and is actually “not real”.


Generally speaking in presently extant Mahāyāna traditions, or at least the intellectual spheres of them, people will agree that the world and all phenomena is illusory. People, material phenomena, astronomical events and your mental apparatus are all like dreams and phantoms. In some lines of thought the idea is that, specifically, all "things" are reifications and "projected" as existent phenomena. That means these things only exist from your side, but not from their own side. When dealing with other beings it is by mutual agreement that things or people exist, but the perception of these phenomena will differ according to the individual.

This is quite difficult to swallow as our sensory input and nervous system feel and seem so authoritative and real, though under analysis all these things are revealed to be perceptions which exist by virtue of mental imputation.

One consequence of this insight is seeing oneself as a dream-like or phantom-like empty phenomenon, which requires a kind of "tolerance" to live with which is developed over time with appropriate practice and realizations.

Such a worldview is not without its therapeutic value. In short, by seeing things as illusory, they lose their ability to cause anguish and suffering. That might seem difficult to imagine as physical harm and disease are still experienced, but in the case of an advanced yogi, such anguish would presumably be perceived quite differently.
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby White Lotus » Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:45 pm

is your computer working well today? mine is fine.
in any matters of importance. dont rely on me. i may not know what i am talking about. take what i say as mere speculation. i am not ordained. nor do i have a formal training. i do believe though that if i am wrong on any point. there are those on this site who i hope will quickly point out my mistakes.
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby acarefreeman » Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:47 pm

Dear Takoda,

You have raised some very interesting yet also very profound questions. Each of these questions has a clear and justifiable answer, as I promised before, even if it does take time, and even trouble, to fully digest them. But before presenting the answers themselves, I want to remind you that whatever the concept of reality in Buddhism is and whatever reason explains why reality is an illusion in Buddhism, we should keep in mind that they reflect how the Buddha and other Buddhist Saints see and perceive the outside world, not the general people, and this is so fundamental, and important, a principle that if we neglect it we would frequently make fatal mistakes in understanding either Buddhism or ‘reality’. Please remember, even if within the sphere of daily experiences different people do perceive things differently; for example, imagine how a skillful swimmer perceives water differently from someone who never knows swimming at all AND who has had a terrible experience of getting drowned in the past. Then, how much more difference would exist between the world of a commoner and that of a Buddhist Saint whose achievement generally takes many, many aeons of time to complete? This seems to be a plain and simple point, but in reality it is a point which proves to be subtle and which also provides the key to many of our troubling questions. In short, if you find it hard to grasp the concept of Buddhist ‘reality’, it is almost certain because you have a mind that differs fundamentally from that of the Buddha or other Buddhist Saints. I hope this has relieved much, if not all, of your mental difficulty regarding the concept of reality even if before I formally formulate below the answers to your questions.

(To be continued)

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Ogyen » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:49 am

scientists tell me that flesh and matter is mostly empty space... the construct of the atom itself is a lot of 'empty space' - but does this stop me from feeling and thinking and experiencing the matter that occupies space in relation to empty space? Hey, I feel pretty real here - pregnant and bloated, I have heartburn right now, I'm quite certain that is not an illusion. Dinner is barely staying down. That's quite 'real'. What your friend seemed to be discussing was the illusory nature of things in having solid identity. Like I'm composed of millions/billions of atoms, I'm not just a person-thing. I'm many things. Many parts. Am I this heartburn? Or am I just experiencing this heartburn? Right this second... I can barely tell from my senses, the sensation is pretty overwhelming.. This "ME" I attribute is the illusion composed of all the bits that if you were to break down, are composed of infinitely more little bits. In that sense, sure, it's all an illusion. But in the experience of the mind where it's at, it's only as illusory as you can keep present. When you see some construct work like a horror movie and you're not scared of it because you know what it's made of, that's an example of seeing through the illusion. You see the movie, you see the horror, but you know it's stage make-up, puppets and therefore the power and hold of the fear don't really have any grip on you.

In the same way I find the grip of 'self' is the same - in essence if you are realized to where you can see your own illusory grasping then you know what you're experiencing is not what it seems. But if you feel it's solid, hey, that's just where you are. It takes time to bake the truth in the thickness of the human solidification of phenomena into 'things'... i've found..

When I see myself go through emotional states, I think of all the components that compose those states, they are come and gone before I know them, so what actually stays of 'me'? Who is this me who thinks there is something happening?

Sorry - I don't know the actual answer - it just came to me this in the past year, the illusion is simply what we impute as solid, like if we were believing the horror moving to be really happening, but really it's a convergence of millions of factors that put together create this elaborate appearance, a picture of conditions in which we experience pain, joy, elation, despair through ALL of our senses so that the 'illusion' feels very complete... but the 'thing' itself is not positive/negative in nature and is everchanging. It's a convergence we meet and then react to... just my two cents - probably somewhat incorrect, I think in broadstrokes with the limited understanding I have of the nature of 'things' that are illusory.

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby maybay » Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:26 am

Show me a scripture that says reality is an illusion. You will not find it.
The difference is subtle but important:

Subhuti, someone might fill innumerable worlds with the seven treasures and give all away in gifts of alms, but if any good man or any good woman awakens the thought of Enlightenment and takes even only four lines from this Discourse, reciting, using, receiving, retaining and spreading them abroad and explaining them for the benefit of others, it will be far more meritorious. Now in what manner may he explain them to others? By detachment from appearances-abiding in Real Truth. -So I tell you-

Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Apr 13, 2012 5:27 am

maybay wrote:Show me a scripture that says reality is an illusion. You will not find it.




Because of dwelling in the equivalence of all phenomena with illusions, mirages, dreams, water moons, echoes and double vision, the Dharma free of affliction is perfectly realized.
-- ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

Further, sister, the five aggregates are illusory. They do not exist. There is no arising of erroneous action. It is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, though awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Therefore, sister, because illusions are the same, the aggregates are the same. Because the aggregates are the same, illusion is the same. Since illusion is the same, awakening is the same. Since awakening is the same, illusion is the same. Sister, therefore, I call you "awakened".

-- ārya-mañjuśrīvikurvāṇaparivarta-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Apr 13, 2012 6:06 am

Greetings Takoda,

You might find William L. Ames' "The Spiritual Significance of Emptiness In Nagarjuna's Malamadhyamakakarika" to be of interest. It's one of the chapters in this book - http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j ... TkXqKiIYog

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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby maybay » Fri Apr 13, 2012 11:56 am

Namdrol wrote:
maybay wrote:Show me a scripture that says reality is an illusion. You will not find it.

Because of dwelling in the equivalence of all phenomena with illusions, mirages, dreams, water moons, echoes and double vision, the Dharma free of affliction is perfectly realized.
-- ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

Further, sister, the five aggregates are illusory. They do not exist. There is no arising of erroneous action. It is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, though awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Therefore, sister, because illusions are the same, the aggregates are the same. Because the aggregates are the same, illusion is the same. Since illusion is the same, awakening is the same. Since awakening is the same, illusion is the same. Sister, therefore, I call you "awakened".

-- ārya-mañjuśrīvikurvāṇaparivarta-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The search continues...
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Re: What is the concept of "reality" in Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Fri Apr 13, 2012 1:38 pm

maybay wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
maybay wrote:Show me a scripture that says reality is an illusion. You will not find it.

Because of dwelling in the equivalence of all phenomena with illusions, mirages, dreams, water moons, echoes and double vision, the Dharma free of affliction is perfectly realized.
-- ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

Further, sister, the five aggregates are illusory. They do not exist. There is no arising of erroneous action. It is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Sister, though awakening is like an illusion, it does not exist, it is conventionally designated through an error. Therefore, sister, because illusions are the same, the aggregates are the same. Because the aggregates are the same, illusion is the same. Since illusion is the same, awakening is the same. Since awakening is the same, illusion is the same. Sister, therefore, I call you "awakened".

-- ārya-mañjuśrīvikurvāṇaparivarta-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The search continues...


Nope, these are very clear. "the five aggregates are illusory. They do not exist" could not be clearer. The meaning of the illusion metaphor is very clear and is summed up in the tibetan term med par gsal snang i.e. clearly apparent non-existent.
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