Thursday, March 5, 2015

Buddhist "perception" and that dress (video)

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Seth Auberon, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Hank Green (SciShow)
(SciShow) The science of the multicolored dress, as explained by science and psychology.

Buddhist "perception" (saññā)
The round of samsara, cycling existence
"I am the color I see this dress," one may feel or think. This self-view would derive from the fact that who we feel we are falls under what the Buddha called the "Five Aggregates."

Ultimately, there is no self. But conventionally most of us most of the time cling to one or more of these five groups as self:
  1. form (body)
  2. feeling
  3. perception
  4. mental formations
  5. consciousness.
We may say that we have these, or stand apart from these, as they belong to us, or we manifest these, or we experience these coming in from the outside. Whatever the case, many of us actually feel we "are" these:

I am my body, this body. I am this feeling (sensation). I am this perception, and that dress is clearly blue and black and can't be anything else to normal eyes! I am my impulses, volitions, (and/or 49 other discrete mental processes). No, but that's silly, clearly all "I" am is the watcher, the experiencer of experience, the feeler of feelings, perceiver of perceptions, thinker of thoughts and generator of will, which is to say I AM consciousness.

"Self" is like a patchwork of crumbling replaceable parts.
All of these common sense, fundamental, everyday, Cartesian views are in error.

We are caught up in an all-embracing nets of views which will be very difficult to break free from to see things as they really are, which would be enlightenment and a glimpse of nirvana. Escape to reality! But all we do all day long, and most of the night, is try to escape from reality, or at least what we think and fear is reality.

It's like transformational comedian and guru Kyle Cease says, "What is fear? We think a thought, it scares us, and we seem to forget that we created it. Taking it as real, we continue to be afraid of it." That's a very good explanation of what is going on, so good that we bet Eckhart Tolle and Pema Chodron are slapping their foreheads wondering, "Why didn't I say that?"!
Size matters but is easy to misperceive. In our minds the Statue of Liberty is bigger than the Buddha. China has the largest Buddha figure at Leshan, the size of mountain. India will have the largest when the Relics Tour completes its goal in Kushinagar. (
The Buddha said many things like that, specifically on one occasion giving the example of a length of rope laying on the road. In dim light one comes upon it and (mis-)perceives it as a "snake," and due to one's knowledge, bias, or opinions of snakes (all those mental formations associated with what we think we recognize or perceive, our prejudiced reactions, the primed pump), one is gripped with fear and dread. This is usually how we treat life, fearing death, fearing life, fearing loss but somehow failing to fear the actually dreadful things like unskillful karma, rebirth, lost wandering in samsara, greed, aversion/fear, delusion, and so on.

What did the Buddha define as "perception"? The greatest German Buddhist scholar-monk Ven. Nyanaponika Thera gives examines the ancient texts:

What color is dress that broke the Internet, what actual, objective color? (
"Perception" (saññā) is one of the Five Aggregates (khandha) and one of the seven mental factors (cetasika) that are inseparably bound up with all consciousness (cetanā). 

Perception is sixfold: perceiving (apperception) associated with the five sense-objects and mental-objects. It is the awareness of an object's distinctive marks ("one perceives blue, yellow, etc.," S. XXII, 79).

If, in repeated perception of an object, these marks are recognized, saññā functions as "memory" (see the Higher Teachings, Abhidhamma Studies, by Nyanaponika Thera (BPS), p. 68-forward).

2. Saññā sometimes stands for "consciousness" (vinanna) in its entirety, for example, when describing a very rarefied world beyond the sensual and fine-material worlds known paradoxically as n'eva-saññā-n'āsaññāyatana, "the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception." [The paradox is resolved by the Commentaries and is verifiable as a sphere of consciousness, with a corresponding objective space world, that is so refined that perception there can neither quite be defined as "perception" nor, however, can it be called "non-perception" because one is definitely conscious.]

There are countless worlds in 31 categories.
Furthermore, in another world [as described in early Buddhist cosmology, the 31 Planes of Existence, there are beings without perception called] asaññā-satta, "unconscious beings" [classified within the Fine Material Sphere or Rupa Loka.] In both cases, reference is not to "perception" alone, but also to all of the other constituents of consciousness. Compare with the ninth sutra in the Longer Discourses (Digha Nikaya 9).
3. Saññā may also refer to the "ideas," which are objects of meditation, for example, in a group of seven ideas of impermanence (anicca-saññā), and so on (AN VII, 46); of ten: impurity (asubha-saññā), etc. (AN X, 56), and another set of ten in AN X. 60; or to wrong notions, as in nicca-, subha-saññā ("the notion of permanence, beauty"), and so on.

While the good monk, the teacher of our teacher (Bhikkhu Bodhi), is definitive here, he goes into the nitty gritty, the Higher Teachings only in Abhidhamma Studies. Why? The Buddha taught in a way we describe as "packed." The the Dharma or Buddha's Teachings, often need to be "unpacked" or accusations of tautology and/or misunderstandings are likely to occur.

Who am I if not my perceptions?
Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily... (Valerie_Sauve_in_Vancouver)
What color is this dress? Wrong!
The Five Aggregates of Clinging, the elements of separate or conditioned existence, all hang together and with very few exceptions are always coordinated together.

(What exceptions? For example, that there exists an Immaterial Sphere means there is a portion of the universe that is not physical; for another, the realm or plane of unconscious beings means there is a world without perception/consciousness where the beings seem to be asleep but have bodies and other mental functions). Body and mind are interdependent and rarely independent. They are conditioned phenomena.

Native American dress
That is, they are not really solid things but only composite and temporary phenomena. The Five Aggregates are called "aggregates," "heaps," or "groups" not because there are five of them but because there are uncountable numbers of them: countless feelings constantly falling away (a heap of them, nearly identical from one moment to the next, like a roll of film from a movie where each frame looks no different until it is rolled at high speed and then gives the illusion of continuity of motion).

This non-identity means we cannot possibly be our feelings, nor can we be these disintegrating bodies, nor these flickering perceptions, nor these mental formations, such as volition/will, and certainly not the impersonal process of "consciousness" we take so very  personally. But that is the Higher Teaching (Abhidharma), and conventionally, in Buddhist psychology, has explained physical and mental processes in exquisite detail for personal verification.
Kalapas and cittas as concepts (
Otherwise, it's just theory liable to inspire doubt and argument. There is nothing to argue. Sit. Calm down. Concentrate (collect the mind to the level of absorption), which temporarily purifies it. This will intensify perception. Now look. Look down to the level of particles (kalapas) and mind-moments (cittas), as detailed in Buddhist physics and Buddhist psychology, and note how both in physical terms and more so in perceptual terms, the elements are radically impermanent, disappointing, and impersonal.
They are not subject to our "will" but come and go according to their own nature. What is their nature? It has three characteristics. Why would we ever cling to things if we always saw them as they truly are? We would not; the mind/heart would immediately let go. But there's the rub! We do not see things as they really are. We see them almost exactly as they are not: we take for granted that they are, of course, lasting over time, able to satisfy us, and actually what they seem so as to be able to be possessed.

The magician creates reality like the mind.
But really they are more like dreams, like a magician's tricks, like foam bubbles on the Ganges river, like sand particles formed into a body with sand falling away like that scene in "Altered States." Say it with us, say it with the great sages of the past and future, say it with the arhats (the fully enlightened), "Things are not what they seem." Perception is not what it seems. Whatever color that dress is, it really isn't. For an object is a color, we have heard, because it is every color but that color.
What color are my Asian eyes? Wrong! Blue.
Light waves getting absorbed fail to absorb that frequency and so reflect it back for us to see/perceive it as "red," "blue," "yellow," or whatever. (Is this certain? We better ask a physicist at one of our regularly scheduled weekly meetings). For many this may be bad news. Ah, the world is not what it seems! But for attentive auditors of the Buddha's Teachings, it is just possible to see an escape, liberation, emancipation, a means of waking up from this dream-like state of ignorance. Enlightenment and nirvana are this very life.

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