Awareness and Delusion: A Case Study


I watch YouTube a lot. I find a lot of interesting interviews and lectures. One person I have become fascinated with is Daniel Ingram, not the musician, but the ER doctor. Daniel has practiced Theravadan Buddhism for years and claims to be an arhat. In other words, he claims to be enlightened. I am not qualified to judge his claim. However, there are things he has said that convinces me that he has reached some subtle state of awareness.

What fascinates me so, is he is the only person I know of who describes these subtle states of mind. I found his talk about anatman (no-self) particularly interesting, because it is one of the teachings of the Buddha that is very difficult to understand.

Daniel makes it clear that the idea of no-self points to an experience. However, the proper experience is really poised between the dissociation that can come about by taking no-self to the extreme and the tiny spec of identity that is left when taking the true Self of Hinduism too far. He advocates using both the concepts of no-self and true Self to guide the student to this midpoint.

My understanding of this midpoint is that although we perceive object outside of ourselves, what we actually experience is our perception of them. In this way they are objects in the mind of the perceiver. From the point of view of no-self, they are simply objects of mind.

There are experiences inside of us like thoughts and feelings that when our awareness is properly directed are also seen as objects of mind. If you continue to view everything you experience as objects of mind, the only thing that isn’t an object of mind is the mind itself. That is, the mind cannot perceive itself.

I guess this means I am philosophically part of the Mind Only School of Buddhism (Yogachara–scholars please correct me if I am wrong about this). Of course at anytime, one can return to the ordinary perception of life as inside and outside and even identifying with thoughts and feelings. These are just two different views of reality.

Case Study

When I try to direct my attention so that everything I experience is an object, that is I perceive it as not me, but as an experience, my state changes. I don’t currently have a teacher, so I don’t know if it changes in the right way. In other words, it is taking me towards awakening or is it a diversion.

After watching the interview with Daniel, I grabbed a bunch of things I needed and went upstairs, all the while trying to maintain this experience of no-self. Occasionally it would be interrupted by a thought like, “Yoo hoo! I’m doing it” or “I am at a new level in my practice.”

When I got to where I was going, I realized I had brought the TV remote upstairs. HAHAHAW. A spontaneous belly laugh came out of me. I had thought I was so being so conscious, yet I accidently picked up the remote control. The laughter at my own delusion was genuine, authentic and in the moment. If I had never made that effort to be conscious of everything, I wouldn’t have experienced the joy of laughing at myself.

Painting: Vassily Kandinsky, Heavy Circles

©2016 Stephen L. Martin


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