This is an extract from Contemplating Illusion Through Loving All Life, a new booklet from one of my precious Noble Mentors, Lama Mark Webber.
Meet the Great Illusionists – fast-talking clusters of brain cells that map out a ‘me’ and its entire experience of time and space – and just for a moment contemplate the utter unreality of your entire mental and physical landscape. It will change you forever.
Down the rabbit-hole we go … spinning, whirling whiffs of emptiness …
The illusion that one can hold any fixed mental position even for a millisecond is untrue. All mental objects, thoughts, and sensations are fabricated. Don’t believe me, take a close look. To do so will take pellucid, naked mindfulness and inquiry, unbroken by thoughts and distractions. No amount of intellectual certainty will be enough. Reading a modern neuro-cognitive textbook that says the same thing will not be enough. Yet the illusion of permanency and constancy, formed by a lifetime of talking brain cell clusters makes this fabrication appear to be very real. In modern neuro-cognitive terms, these fabrications are ‘maps’ in the mind. Our images and concepts of body, feelings, self and other, are but maps. The tree you see, the bell you hear are not out there; however something is, but ‘it’ is fantastically vast in scope.
Ordinary experience, even most profound meditation and visionary experiences, are not what is. Experiences appear solid only by conditioning. Knock out those brain cells, those patterns or maps formed by normal conditioning, through physical-mental trauma or temporarily through insight meditation, and it all goes. Deeply relax the rigidity via deep meditation and the illusion vanishes. It only takes a small needle in a small part of the brain, and a human cannot recognize him or her-self, even when looking in a mirror. Or use the sharp needle of penetrative insight, while looking in a mirror: “Is that Uncle Fred or perhaps… it is familiar… yes, hummm, Aunt Marge perhaps in that mirror? And, more precisely, what do you call that thing I am looking at!”
Many illusions, really delusions, appear to exist, veils upon veils. There’s the illusion that heaps of information are the same as meaningful content. The illusion of not needing a Noble Mentor. The illusion of permanency. The illusion of concreteness. The illusion that one can hold any fixed mental position. The illusion of self. The illusion of not-self. The illusion of separate entities. The illusion of happiness. The illusion of unhappiness. The illusion that objects are bad or good. The illusion that we can Google our way out of this thicket. The illusion that all thoughts are bad. The illusion that thought is ultimately bad. The illusion of speech as an inferior way of communicating. The illusion of everlasting peace. The illusion of space and light. Even the illusion of some-body to become enlightened. The illusion of a mind! Cut through them all! Cessation of clinging means cessation of clinging!
How many nice Buddhists keep forgetting the Four Noble Truths? Far too many! Practitioners are often looking for some higher, deeper, more esoteric instructions. Finding something better than “Cease clinging (tanha) and dukkha ceases?” Trying to negotiate out of the truth?
St. John of the Cross, a Spanish saint of the 16th century, declared the vital point of non-clinging in his famous and glorious poem, The Ascent of Mount Carmel:
When you turn toward something
you cease to cast
your self upon the all
For to go from the all to the all
you must leave your self in all
And when you come to the
possession of all
you must possess it
without wanting anything
In this nakedness the spirit
finds its rest, for when it
covets nothing, nothing
raises it up, and nothing
weighs it down, because it is
in the centre of its humility
When it covets something
in this very desire it is wearied
In a similar vein: