Namo Tassa Bagawato Arahato Sammasambuddhasa
Dedicated with gratitude, reverence and supplication to the meditations that have enabled the investigations and in-depth, personal experience of the matrix of my own mind.
When I first saw them at the turn of the century, the Matrix trology left a very deep impression on my mind. The Wachowski brothers incorporated several striking philosophical precedents for the Matrix trilogy. These include Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, Plato’s allegory of the cave, Socrates’ visit to the Oracle of Delphi, the work of Descartes, and certain aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism. The movie though has a real life component and this weblog is the first in the trilogy where I will attempt to explore my understanding of the nature of mind, the interconnection between the mind and matter, and how that enables us to live in an illusionary Matrix.
That we live in a Matrix may seem a very laughable and far fetched idea unless we attempt to become aware the nature of reality. I am not a very learned person, or an expert on anything. This series is my attempt to sort out the cobwebs of my own mind, and to organize my own experiences, and confusions into rational thought that can possibly form the basis on which further learning can cohere. The writings are based on my own experiences, inferences, and deductions from insights gleaned in deep meditative states. I do not profess to know much about theories Buddhism, or Hinduism, and the writings do not support or oppose any particular ideology or religion.
The fundamental question of the movie remains valid in life – Do you know what is happening to you in the here and now? Can you make out what the state of your body, and mind is at this very moment? Would it come as a surprise if I said most of us don’t have a clue about what is going on with us at any given time.
There is a rational ground to assert a hypothesis that our minds are slowly losing the capacity to exist in a real world. We are increasingly losing the capacity to discern between the real and the illusory. All our education, technology, knowhow and so called evolution, instead of removing, or even decreasing our ignorance, is creating a veil of maya that makes us more and more ignorant, dumb and stupid. This statement may seem strange and unrealistic, but bear with me for now.
Before the discussions goes further, you, the reader, will need a contextual personal experience for reference. So lets do a small experiment. Read the next few paragraphs, and follow the instructions. Then go to the next section.
In this experiment, we examine a 5 minute slice of your mind. Just close your eyes for 5 minutes and observe the contents of your mind. Then write down the thoughts that arise in your mind to the best of your ability. There is no right or wrong thought.
- Get a few blank sheets of paper, a pen, and two markers – one yellow, and one pink (colored pens or pencils would also do).
- On your cellphone, set two alarms 5 minute apart.
- Having set up these two alarms, close your eyes, and wait for the first alarm to go off.
- When the first alarm goes off, try to witness what thoughts arise in your mind. Don’t try to think of anything particular, just be a silent, unobtrusive witness who is merely watching what passes by.
- All thoughts are ok. It is all right if you think no thought, have one thought, or have many thoughts, or if your mind jumps from thought to another thought. We’re not trying to discipline your mind, we’re simply trying to make an inquiry into the mind processes, and to observe the contents of the mind. Whatever is in the mind, or wherever mind goes, just go with it, and remember.
- Five minutes is not a long time in a lived life, but it can seem quite a lot when your eyes are closed. But don’t be stressed out trying to remember – just make a general mental note of what you are thinking while you are thinking it.
- When the second alarm goes off, stop thinking, and write down the thoughts that you were thinking during this time using a black pen. Again, you may not remember everything, but thats ok, just write whatever your can remember.
- Read aloud what you have written to crystalize the thoughts.
- Now highlight with yellow all thoughts related to the events that are in the past.
- Highlight with pink all thoughts related to future.
- Underline those parts of the writing that represents your thoughts of the present moment.
By the end of the above exercise, all the thoughts must be either highlighted, or underlined. Be careful in your selections. Some thoughts may seem to be of present but may actually belong to the past, or to the future.
So as an example of your thinking patterns, you may remember that your daughter wanted something at the last moment, which made you late for work this morning, and then your thoughts may turn to the meeting at office, working lunch, the food that you spilled on your dress during lunch and how your mom always told you to chew your food and never gulp your food down. And your thoughts fondly turn to your mom. You feel sad that she passed away when she did. Suddenly you experience a sense of loss and you miss her….etc etc etc.
However, the thoughts about the past do not occur in isolation. Thoughts about the future arise intermittently. There is rarely any chronological sequence to thought processes. In between these thoughts about the past there will arise thoughts about future – which include thoughts like :
“what am I going to cook today”
“I have to call the plumber to get that leak fixed”
“I wish the traffic would move faster”
“My son was disrespectful to me this morning, I need to talk to him”
“I hope the neighbor’s dog has not pee’d in my garden today”
“I am looking forward to our vacation to Italy next month”
“Next year, we must plan to trip to Rome”
Or if you are like me who loves her phantasy world, you may imagine yourself in a sailboat, and will almost be feeling the ecstasy of the cool breeze that sweeps your face. Or you may remind yourself to meditate more, or exercise more, or feel guilty about not meditating enough, or exercising enough. Etcetra, etcetra.
Some of these thoughts appear to be of the present – like “I wish the traffic would move faster” – but it is actually not based on the present reality. It is simply a wish about the next few moments. So it belongs to the classification “future”.
Only the thoughts like “My head is hurting right now”…or “I am hungry right now”….or “I am unable to see clearly” are rooted in the present moment. These are thoughts of the present.
If you peruse your sheet of paper, you will see that over 90% of your thoughts are highlighted in yellow or pink, being about the past or about the future. A very small proportion will represent thoughts pertaining to the present – if any at all. In a rare case, someone may have something cooking on the stove and may suddenly become conscious of the smell, or someone may feel a sudden shiver of cold, someone else may experience a sudden jolt of pain, but barring these extremely strong physical interventions, all thoughts you may have written would be either related to the past – of time that has gone by – or of future – of time that has not yet come.
The Matrix : Past Is Unreal
The thoughts of time that has gone by are perceptive thoughts. They do not represent reality. The past does not exist anymore, and further, our thoughts about past are mostly based on our perception of reality, and in that sense these thoughts point to an illusion of reality. Someone else witnessing the same events may not reach the same conclusions about the facts that we are thinking about.
So when you are in these thoughts of the past, you are in a dream like state, you are living in a dream where the world you are engrossed in, and are experiencing, is not real. It does not exist anymore. In these 5 minutes you have clung to, and given so much importance to something that simply does not exist.
Further, even your memories of the past are not true representation of facts, being clouded and colored by your perception of events. Hence, even your memories are deceptive. You have no way of knowing what it really was like. You simply attempt to grasp at the truth.
In this way, thoughts about the past are merely pointers to an illusion. This is the first set of experience of emptiness, or shunya.
Further, the thoughts of the past allow we to experience a continuity of life. If we existed in the past, and if we exist in the present, then the psyche assumes we will exist in the future. This increases the predictive validity, thereby reducing the existential anxiety. Our survival in the future, seems to be more assured if we can remember that we successfully negotiated our past. Again, this is an illusion. Just because we survived the last moment is not really indicative of our ability to survive the current or the next moment.
The Matrix : Future Is An Illusion
And those thoughts about the future, those instructions to yourself how you are going to handle things tomorrow, those hopes, dreams, wants, desires for next moment, or tomorrow, or next year – those are second sets of experiences of emptiness or shunya as well, because we all know future is a non existent entity. It only exist in our imagination.
The part of mind that images the future, is part of mind that is psychotic portion in its functioning. Children’s imagination is unbounded and unburdened by reality. As children mature and grow, they learn to adhere to the rules of the society and attempt to ascribe some rational basis for their imaginations, hopes and dreams. Their failure to ascribe to structured imagination is labelled as psychosis. You see – a sane person is not that different from a schizophrenic. There is a schizophrenic in each one of one, we just have learnt to hide that schizophrenic well but the veneer sometimes breaks down. The flashes of temper, acts of domestic violence, narcissism – all represent these psychotic breaks. (For more details, click here ). What is acceptable, and what is labelled as a disorder, is simply a consensus of the majority. In one society, venturing out without wearing clothes in the body may not be acceptable, and a person who does that would be labelled as psychotic. In another society, it may be perfectly acceptable to paint your body and venture around wearing only a loin cloth. A person who refuses to do that, could be labelled as being disordered.
Even if we leave mental disorders aside, what people can and cannot imagine is guided by a set of rules that are arrived at by consensus or by people who are in power. In one society, a woman may be able to imagine that she has certain rights, while in another society the permission to imagine those women’s rights may be severely restricted by consensus. The consensus changes with time as well. For example, my grandmother may not have been able to imagine women could work, whereas with passage of time, I cannot imagine not being able to work. Women could not dream of equality 200 years ago. Today women cannot dream of being unequal.
Therefore the imaginations, dreams, aspirations, plans, strategies, schedules, and any and all thoughts of acts that have not happened yet, and may happen in future, are also unreal.
Further, the future may never unfold the way we envisage it. All these thoughts about the future are based on the basic, fundamental assumption that we will live thru this moment, and that there will be a next moment, and that we will live thru the next moment. In other words, the thoughts about the future, our imagination, also seeks predictive validity so that the existential anxiety may be reduced. But the underlying fact remains that thoughts point to a link that does not exist. The thoughts are empty, shunya. The future is empty yet we grasp and cling.
So when you are in these thoughts of the future, you are again in a dream like state of mind, you are living in a dream where the world you are engrossed in, and are experiencing, is not real. It hasnt unfolded yet and it may never unfold the way you envisaged it. In these 5 minutes you have been grasping at, or grasping for something that does not exist.
So in thinking about your future, just like in thinking about past, you spent part of your 5 minutes on thoughts that were not representative of reality, thinking about something that does not exist.
Present As the Only Reality
It may be appropriate to say that until we engage our minds consciously, and train ourselves to pay attention to the present moment, our mind simply randomly jumps between delusions (since they are non existent), spending most of our resources on contemplating these two unreal, non existent times periods.
The present – here and now – is the only concrete reality there is. And isn’t it interesting that most of the thoughts that you thought in the 5 minute experiment, were unrelated to this reality? How remarkable that actually, events in this moment, and in this moment only, are real, and happening, but we close off our awareness of this moment, and instead engage our minds with the unreal, the delusion, the illusionary !
This jumping between two non-existent illusionary realities was the theme of the Matrix trilogy. In reality, humans existed merely as a heat source embodied in a capsule, but they were blissfully unaware of their real existence and were forced to imagine themselves as part of one illusion – the Matrix, or another illusion – the perceived real world, which itself was an illusion. It wasn’t till the end of the movie that one came to the realisation along with Neo that both the worlds were an illusion anyway.
This Gap Is Ignorance
As we see, most of us do not really knows what is going on in the present. Few really witness the here and now – the moment in time zero M(t). And when this moment passes away, everyone just imagines what “most likely must have happened” (perception) and stores that experience as a memory of the past, the Moment in time zero minus 1, M(t-1). Not only is that memory non existent state of mind, it is also perceptually tainted. And yet we roll in thoughts of past.
Then, based on that (flawed/tainted) memory, everyone also assumes what is “most likely to happen” in time zero plus 1, M(t+1), and rolls in these thoughts about the future, gets transported into the future, and bases their prospective decisions on such (flawed/tainted) anticipation of future.
Due to our inattention to the present, we are never able to have a true picture of our world as it is. Instead we see it as we want to see it (future), or as we remember it (past). Further, because each one of us is a unique individual with a unique upbringing and background (samskara), our perceptions – based on our upbringing – further cloud our understanding of the real world.
This difference – the gap between that what is, and that what we perceive and remember and base our understanding of future on – constitutes human ignorance. It is the proverbial veil that Maya casts over us.
Some people – thru training, education, culture or other reasons – are more attuned to reality than others. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who are unaware that the gap even exists. They believe their lives – lived jumping back and forth between the past and the future – are all that there is to life. The veil of Maya is strongest when the gap is larger.
This gap, between what is, and what we perceive to be – is responsible for lack of true knowledge in the world. It creates our lack of understanding of the reality, the nature of being, and creates differences between justified belief and opinion. This gap, and its causal influences leads to difference of opinions, epistemology, ontology. It would not be wrong to say that the gap – our ignorance of ultimate truth – forms the basis for all learning, knowledge, of which divergent sciences, scientific theories, competing philosophical thought and discourse arise.
I used to wonder why ancient cultures had so much wisdom, acquired such precise knowledge that exceeds the current, and how they did it without any advances that we see today, and how that wisdom ceased to exist in this day and age. It was only in deep reflective stated of meditation that I realised the importance of living in the moment. It frees the mind from the gap, and allows knowledge – that is inherently contained within a human mind – to unfold. They did not need much. They only needed to learn how to calm the monkey mind, and focus on the present. The knowledge and wisdom naturally unfolded.
Origins of Thought
It is this flaw – in how the real world is, versus how we perceive the world – that gives rise to mental contents, or what is called “thought.” Thought is a bridge between the past and the future. As evolution unfolded, and human minds became more and more disconnected from the reality of the present, there arose a need to permit passage between these unreal states – just the way the machines of matrix perceived there was a need for the Matrix. The origin and nature of thought is the subject of the next weblog in the series. Watch this space.
With metta to all. May all the ignorance in the world reduce.