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By Ven. Chönyi Taylor
I have decided my dog is actually a horse. After all, he has four legs and runs along the beach and he likes eating carrots. Unfortunately, since I started feeding him hay, he has lost weight; he resents being saddled. Anyway, the saddle is too big and I cannot find a blacksmith to make shoes for him. He also has this unusual habit of chasing seagulls. I haven’t seen horses doing that before. I think you would agree that Merlin is a nice name for a horse. Other people insist he is a dog. I don’t know why.
Now that I believe Merlin is a horse, then there are things to do and ways of relating to him that do not apply if he is a dog. I have to change the way I feed and groom him. He will need a stable instead of a kennel – although, he is a small horse, so his kennel may do as a stable. I wonder if hay is cheaper than dog food?
You do not agree? No matter how much you try, if I absolutely insist he is a horse, then nothing you can say would make me change my mind. I would just rationalize away the inconsistencies. I could, like any one of the three Messiahs in the psychiatric hospital1, pretend you are not there, say are a mental case, or say you are simply wrong.
In fact, every appearance in our daily lives is a false projection of our own mind. Our own mind makes it up and it becomes an obstacle to touching reality. My projection, or delusion, that Merlin is a horse becomes an obstacle to looking after him. My delusion that I inherently exist is an obstacle to being in touch with reality as it actually exists.
You have to see that your attitudes, your view of the world, of your experiences, of your girlfriend or boyfriend, of your own self, are all the interpretation of your own mind, your own imagination. They are your own projection, your mind literally made them up. If you don’t understand this then you have very little chance of understanding emptiness. – Lama Yeshe
Which brings me to the important part of the story. We firmly and habitually believe that we exist as an inherent entity. Because we believe this, we act accordingly. We experience fear that we might not exist after death. We hang on to whatever we believe will prevent this from happening. If teachers present us with the facts about reality, we either ignore them or think they are mad. If we are lucky, we will begin to see reality as they do.
Merlin is definitely not an illusion. He is sitting at my feet right now wondering when I will get up and feed him. If, say through hypnosis, I see a horse in front of me then the trance has affected my eyesight. When I am no longer trapped by the hypnotic effect, then I see his actual dependently-arising shaggy face. If I still think that this shaggy face is a horse’s head, then I am definitely deluded.
Actually, Merlin prefers me to consider him as a dog. That way he gets doggy type meals, a bed inside near the fire, soft toys to play with. He is a much happier horse.
Realizing emptiness is like this. Firstly, we need to one see though the delusion. We can do this through logic. You can prove to me that Merlin cannot be a horse. We can prove that inherent existence is impossible. It is more difficult to get rid of the habits which accompanied the deluded thought. Once I understand he is really a dog, then I stop giving him hay, which in terms of the metaphor means to stop creating negative karma through delusions. Don’t give him hay (negative outcome of delusion), give him dog food (positive outcome of being in touch with reality).
When we investigate our own psychology, we can remove our afflictive obscurations2 or negative outcomes which arise from our deluded thoughts. This is a bit like me agreeing (to satisfy you, because I trust you) to feed my horse dog food because it is better for this horse. But it is only when I see the truth, when I see through my delusion, that I really understand why giving him dog food really is best for him. It is only when we know what we are refuting when we talk about emptiness that we can see the truth of the teachings on emptiness. There really is no point in grasping on to something that does not inherently exist just because we believe it inherently exists.
One day it suddenly hits me. Merlin is not a horse, he is a dog. My whole view of Merlin-reality is changed and with it all the problems and paradoxes that arose through my false beliefs. They are simply irrelevant.
With thanks to the DB@H forum!
2. Afflictive obscurations: attachment, anger, pride, afflictive ignorance, afflictive doubt, transitory view, wrong view, holding these views as superior, holding ritual and ethics as supreme.
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