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How Real Are People?
Seeker: Dear James, I hope you are well. I wanted to run this by you; I’m curious what you think.
I was doing a meditation session while lying on my bed, eyes closed. It occurred to me that the only thing I perceived about this bed is that it is a series of pressure points along my back and legs. I couldn’t even tell if it was on solid ground or flying through the air. When I finished meditating, I got up and looked at the bed. Now I perceived it as a rectangular object, with certain measurements of length, height and width.
Now the question arises: How real can this object be, if it is perceived as totally different things depending on the sense-instrument I am using? (Using the precise definition of real, “that which is always true and cannot be negated.”)
It’s interesting to note that when my eyes are closed, I can only imagine what a bed looks like and this is just a thought or memory, as unreal as any other object.
Another question that occurred to me: How could one apply this little lesson (if indeed it is a lesson) to objects that seem to cause me more problems, such as people, situations and desires?
James: This interesting inquiry illustrates one of the most important Vedantic teachings – the objects of the senses, which we believe to be independent and have their own natures – are only what we imagine them to be based on an interpretation of sense data. In short, the bed is only in your mind as the thought/idea of the bed and, if you apply the same inquiry to your mind, you will see that the mind too is just a thought – “mind” – which appears in you, awareness. To repeat, the object is a thought and the mind is a thought – there is no mind unless you think the mind thought – known to you, the conscious principle – awareness. The next stage of the inquiry is: If the substance of material objects is thoughts, what is the substance of thoughts? It is me, consciousness. The thoughts do not float in from the externally-perceived world, because there is no externally-perceived world, apart from your thoughts of it. The thoughts arise in the mind, which can only be made out of you. So the content of the material objects is just consciousness, you. At the same time you are not the thoughts. They are inert, known to you. But you are not known by them. The location of all objects is consciousness and all objects are consciousness even though they seem – by the power of maya – to be independent of the knower.
Obviously, from our definition of reality, objects are not real.
And it applies to every object, including a person. People are only what you think they are. They are you appearing as objects. Desires are you, but you are not “your” desires. Situations are only what you think they are. They are not real.
~ Love, James