floating mountains

DHPbackPOSTCARD #173: Dhammapala Monastery, Switzerland: I cannot seem to get a good photograph of it – as the sun appears over the mountain and lights up our small valley. Maybe a better photographer than me can try; there is a strange illusion on walks around the monastery. Mountains appear to be travelling through the landscape like great ships. Looking from a position high up on a steep incline, with tree tops near enough so you can follow their trunks down to the forest floor below, then looking up at the mountain top that appears above the tree line, which is still in the same frame of vision – and suddenly it looks like the mountain behind the trees has disconnected itself from the earth below, drifted away from its moorings; a gigantic gravity-free mass of rocky earth and vegetation suspended in the sky. I’m reminded of the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the Avatar movie; based on the Huang Shan mountains in China.

There’s a simple light-headedness about it, seeing these massive mountains drifting around in the air, I have that gravity-free feeling about everything I was formerly attached to in the mind. This is how it is; maybe all beings tend to be in a permanent state of ‘on hold’ because we’re earth-bound creatures attached by gravity to a spinning planet. Born with the received, deeply built-in default mindset that there is this holding-on thing we have to live with; it cannot be explained, it cannot be questioned – we can’t let go whatever happens. But today this usual uneasiness about letting go has vanished for me… just slipped away, the heavy pull of gravity is absent, missing, I feel released from a tremendous pressure; stepping easily over the snowy mountains of the mind. Leaping over the precipices, this freedom has always been here; I just didn’t notice it before. The mountains are liberated from their roots, groundlessness… it’s like this because everything we see, feel, smell, touch taste and hear is a perception, saññā . Things feel solid and appear to be real but they’re not ‘real’, there’s nothing to prove that there’s anything out there at all.

I came here once and spoke with a man who was experienced in hill walking and had been climbing for some years. He went into these mountains alone and started running and jumping over dangerous ravines to small footholds and making all kinds of joyful leaps but taking crazy risks and he got lost for most of the day. When he found his way back to the monastery he had a major epiphany about it all – realized he’d lost all normal sense of control. Gravity had gone from him for a while. I wondered how many mountain climbers really have a tendency to want to fly that they have to be rational about…

IMG_2441Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]

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Lower photo showing the sun leaving the valley. In the middle of winter there is sunshine on the monastery for only a few hours per day

unforeseen

IMG_0126aPOSTCARD #14: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I just had eye surgery for cataracts and there’s a protective eye shield with cotton wadding taped over my right eye, but I don’t remember anything about it. I remember lying on a gurney in the operating room, and recall chatting with the anesthetist as he’s putting the needle in my arm – then suddenly I’m back in my hospital room with the eye shield taped over the eye and no memory of it at all. I feel normal, the only difference is I know that a newer version of part of the eye mechanism has just been installed; I’ve had an upgrade. But the eye has to stay covered today, so I can’t see anything, except when the nurses take off the shield every hour and I get a brief glimpse; they give me eye-drops then it’s covered again. A great flood of liquid in the eye, slight taste in the mouth as it drains through the tear duct into the back of the throat; swallowing my tears, gulp, gulp…

They take the eye shield off next morning. I get dressed, go downstairs to the outpatients department and through to the exit. The décor in the waiting area is in shades of lime green and ice blue, colours are amazing. Unexpected. There’s a completely clear perception of distance for the first time in many years. Fascinating. I’m distracted by colour and movement at the edge of vision, face turns in that direction, curiosity – an involuntary response. Head spinning like a child or a small animal, noticing all kinds of things. Sense organs filter incoming information. In my case, visual data enters through implanted intraocular lenses (IOLs). I see the world and assume it exists exactly as I perceive it, but I know the lens implant has, to some extent, created my version of the world; perception is subjective, reality is a construct in the mind. I can see a wide range of colours where insects see ultraviolet, reptiles see infrared, and cats and dogs see the world in only two colours. Viewed in this way, the world is suddenly endowed with great mystery; ask the question: ‘what is reality?’ and it takes you to a different place entirely.

Out of the exit, wait for a taxi, on to the highway system and step into a world that looks like it’s been Photo-shopped, high resolution, multi-pixel display. If there comes a time in the future when I’m no longer able to see it in this way because the novelty of it has gone and consciousness doesn’t regard it as special anymore, then I can return here, read this post and remember how wonderful it was…

‘Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]

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Note: Claude Monet had treatment for cataracts that left him with poor vision. He agreed at age 82 to have the lens of his left eye completely removed. Light could now stream through the opening unimpeded and he began to see – and to paint – in ultraviolet (Water Lilies series). [Link]