Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Snowflakes, Vulcans and Revelations

No two snowflakes are exactly alike. Or so the saying goes. Now what about people and other objects. Each moment is unique, and the person who was typing this when I first sat down at the computer is now different than the one who is still typing. Each person, each object, each moment, no two exactly alike. And all interconnected through emptiness, sunyata, which both allows for their existence and insures their impermanence.

People often like to compare experiences and benefit from the descriptions, even though one person's experiences is never quite like someone elses. But if we have enough similar experiences, we can try to estimate or extrapolate from previous differences of opinion or taste based on the attitude of people we know. Yet their are some experiences for which we have no common frame of reference. Their are some insights that can only be shared with someone else who has had the same type of experience or revelation. In such cases the best they can do is advise us to "see for ourselves. It reminds me of some dialogue from the fourth Star Trek motion picture. Spock has in a sense been resurrected affter dying in the third film of the series:

McCoy: Perhaps we could cover a little philosophical ground?, things of that nature?

Spock: I did not have time on Vulcan to review the Philosophical disciplines.

McCoy: Come on, Spock. It’s me, McCoy! You really have gone where no man has gone before. Can’t you tell me what it felt like?

Spock: It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference.

McCoy: You’re joking!

Spock: A joke is a story with a humorous climax.

McCoy: You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death?

Spock: Forgive me, Doctor, I’m receiving numerous distress calls.

McCoy: (Sardonically) I don’t doubt it...

This illustrates two problems that seem to frequently vex practioners of Buddhism and related types of spiritual engagement/mysticism. For one thing, our own relationship to the universe is constantly changing, yet we often expect each meditation or insight to be the same as the last. Each one will be unique because each one is a view on the ultimate nature of reality from a different set of circumstances. It's like expecting the view to remain constant while driving from New York to Los Angeles.

The second problem is that we want to somehow confirm the validity of our understanding by comparing it to what other people think or how they describe their own spiritual experience. This is somewhat valid for people who have the same depth of practice, but often a more advanced practioner will refrain from such direct discussions with novices for fear of setting up expectations, in effect, poisoning the well, by being so specific about what it was like for *her* or *him* that this description becomes the goal for the novice. Instead the teacher tries simply to assist the novice to develop their practice to the point where they can see for themselves. In the end, that's the only way one truly understands...

Besides, as Spock said, any such discussion would be pointless without a common frame of reference...

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