Experience and reality

The mirrormirror 2

Another example for helping us shift our perspective from the perceived to the perceiver in the meditation on our own mind is the mirror. When we look in a mirror, normally we are very interested in the spinach stuck in our teeth or whatever – but imagine if we shifted perspective from the object in the mirror to the mirror itself, from the reflected to the reflector. It is similar with this meditation – we shift focus from the object of awareness to the awareness itself. We are watching the watcher, or observing the observer. That awareness is clarity – formless awareness that has the actual power to perceive. Our mind understands, remembers, creates.

meeting hermit in mountainSpace

I recently did a retreat on Mahamudra in Rocky Mountain National Park. The air quality is amazing there, so clear, you can see for miles, you can reach out and touch the distant mountains. In fact according to the Denver Botannical Gardens science museum, Colorado has similar topography, air quality, and climate to Mongolia! I didn’t find it hard to see how the great Yogis and Yoginis of yore, including my teacher Geshe Kelsang, experienced blissful retreats in the Himalayas. Geshe-la was on solitary retreat there for 18 years.

Our minds are far clearer than the clearest sky. A whole different dimension of clear. Still, when we rise from this meditation, it can help while wandering from A to B to look at the sky, especially on a clear day. Also, rather than just honing in on objects, looking at the space between them can remind us of how clear our mind actually is.

Clarity is amazing

Your mind is hands down the most amazing thing in your life. The fact that someone can say or write words to you and you can understand them is incredible. The fact that we can see each other. The fact that this whole world is appearing. The fact that within our mind we have the capacity for peace, joy, transcendence, love etc, and that the deeper we go the better it gets. The fact that we can commune with enlightened beings. Plus our mind is naturally peaceful — indeed naturally blissful. It is all quite unbelievable, really, and we are walking around with this treasure all the time. But what do we use it for?! Live tweeting. A global expression of nonsense. “Yes, I’m really alive!”watching stupid shit

Only kidding, Twitter has its uses. However, it is too easy for us (me) to stay entirely occupied with the most superficial of appearances and neglect to step back and recognize that there is this inner light, inner luminosity, that is allowing us to experience all the various things we are experiencing, which is always present, always accessible.

I would rather live my life inside the experience of the actual nature of things, which are all the nature of the mind, and therefore experience everything in a non-dualistic fashion. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his amazing Mahamudra teachings in 2000:

Using the root mind as our object of meditation — always trying to perceive the general image of our mind – means that we realize the subject mind very well, and understand the relationship between mind and its objects. The huge mistaken understanding that objects are there and the subject mind is here – that between them there is a large gap – will cease, and we will gain the correct understanding of how things really exist. If we clearly understand the real nature and function of mind, then we also understand how things really exist.

We are in fact deeply connected to everyone and everything. It is not my mind over here and everything else out there – the appearances are inside my mind, to my mind, of my mind.

Ocean and waves

oceanOne traditional example to help us understand that everything is the nature of the mind is the ocean and waves. Just as waves stirred up on an ocean by the wind are not separate from the ocean — we cannot draw a line between the ocean and its waves as it were — so all our thoughts and their objects such as forms, sounds, etc arise like waves from the ocean of the root mind. Which appearances and experiences arise like waves depends on which karmic potentialities are ripening. Everything is the nature of the mind; nothing exists outside the mind. As the Chittamatrins says in Ocean of Nectar page 228:

Just as waves arise from a great ocean
When it is stirred by the wind,
Likewise, because of it potentials a mere consciousness arises
From the seed of all, which is called ‘basis-of-all’.

(In the Tantric Prasangika view, it is also held that all objects are the nature of mind, arising simultaneously with the minds apprehending them from the same karmic potentialities on the root mind; except, unlike the Chittamatrins, they do not assert the mind is truly existent. However, I won’t get into that here.)

Geshe Kelsang said in his Mahamudra teachings in 2000:

The reality is that everything – our subject mind and all object things – came from this root consciousness. ‘Appearance’ means all objects such as the world, its beings, its environments, and all objects of enjoyment, including our body and our self. All the many different types of subject mind or conceptual thought to which things appear are like waves of an ocean, and our root consciousness is like the ocean itself. The waves of the ocean come from the ocean itself, and similarly the waves of appearance and all the different types of mind come from the ocean of our consciousness.

If we check, we can see that we cannot in fact separate out the objects of our thoughts from the thoughts or awarenesses holding them, any more than we can separate out a wave from an ocean or a reflection in a mirror from the mirror itself. There is no such thing as an object not known by mind, which is the definition of object, “known by mind”.

Can you even think of an object that is not known by mind? There is no world outside of our experience of the world. What is going on for you right now, for example, is your experience of what is going on – if you go looking, you cannot find anything going on out there. Your whole world cannot be separated out from your experience of the world – you cannot point to any world outside of your experience of it. As soon as you do, you’re experiencing it.

Waves are the nature of the ocean, not outside the ocean. Appearances are the nature of the mind, not outside the mind.

More about this here … meanwhile, your comments are most welcome.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

12 thoughts on “Experience and reality”

  1. Beautiful article as usual, thank you so much. I still cannot understand something, though. A deaf person isn’t experiencing any sound at all, so in his or her experience sound does not exist. Would he be right affirming that, because there is no world beyond his experience of the world, sound does not exist at all? Everyone is pretending to talk while there is no sound in this world? I’m a bit confused 🙂
    Thank you for your work by the way, it’s really appreciated.


    1. Many objects are hidden from our sense awarenesses, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I can’t see atoms, for example, but they still exist. And we do not hold to the solipsist view where the deaf person’s mind, for example, is the only mind there is. People in his world, who are aspects of his mind, are experiencing sound, so although it exists as mere imputation, it does still exist.


      1. I thought about your answer with little success :). You said that “Your whole world cannot be separated out from your experience of the world – you cannot point to any world outside of your experience of it.”, so what does this imply with respect to the things outside of my perception? Can I event talk about such things? In the dream I had tonight, what was happening to the elephant I wasn’t dreaming of? In this case it looks obvious to me that the answer is nothing, there was no elephant at all. Why should sound be different? Only because other people seem to create/perceive it? How can the deaf person be sure that others are talking?


        1. Yes, because sound has some function in the waking world — for example if someone yells fire and everyone around you runs, even though you couldn’t hear the sound “fire” you are still affected by it, it is still part of your reality, even if you cannot perceive it directly. Have you read New Heart of Wisdom about hidden objects and manifest objects. It’s a helpful section 🙂


  2. This is great stuff, & I’m very excited that there’s more to come.
    “My mind & the mind of you, O Father,
    Through your blessings, may they become inseparably one.” (probably a slight mis-quote!!)


  3. VERY beautiful ‘ring’ from the bell of the dakini today!!!!! Like Luz I really enjoyed your challenge to find an object not known by mind, it reminds me of the child of a childless woman analogy. Leonard Cohen, who you know I have great respect for, once said “If you don’t become the ocean you’ll be seasick every day”. He didn’t put this in a song, but I loved it so much I created a lyric:
    SEASICK (written by Sean Hunt)

    If you [A] don’t become the ocean
    You’ll be [E7] seasick every [A] day
    If you [A] don’t become the ocean
    You’ll be [E7] seasick every [A] day
    [D] Sick from the sea, [A] Sick from the waves
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day /
    [D] Sick from the sea, [A] Sick from the waves
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day /
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day /

    If you [A] don’t become the ocean,
    A [E7] wave is what you’ll [A] be
    [A] You can be a wave
    Or you [E7] can be the [A] sea
    A [D] wave can be you, A [A] wave can be me
    You can [E7] choose what you want to [A] be
    A [D] wave can be you, A [A] wave can be me
    [E7] Remember the Tsunam[A]i /
    [E7] Remember the Tsunami[A]

    If you [A] don’t become the ocean
    You’ll be [E7] seasick every [A] day
    [A] Ebbin’ ‘n flowing
    Like [E7] last night’s [A] dream
    [D] Sick of the sea, [A] Sick of the waves
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day
    [D] Sick of the sea, [A] Sick of the waves
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day
    [E7] Seasick every [A] day


  4. I love this: “Can you even think of an object that is not known by mind?” The answer’s in the question! Brilliant.


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