Let’s start with a little Japanese Zen parable that I stumbled upon, and that I like a lot for some reason:
In China there was a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room.
“Don’t be like Seiko!” – Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) (source)
Why do I like this little parable so much?
Because it is a very good description of a human tendency to avoid Reality and run away in our own selfmade pictures, systems of thought and descriptions of reality of it, as if they are the real thing. And then live as if this is the real thing. This applies to all kinds of stuff: God, the natural world, human relationships, and so on…
We make our interpretation the real thing, until it leads its own life, and in the end our own version will be more important than the actual thing, the ‘dragon’ in our parable, and we might get rather disturbed if a real dragon would show up, like our friend Seiko did.
This doesn’t mean that we as humans live without our ‘scrolls of dragons’. We humans interpret and describe the world in language and systems of thought, and without this mediation we cannot see the world. That is a natural and necessary thing, but the danger is always there that our mental interpretations run away from us and from reality, and form a world on their own, unhindered by reality itself.
One version of this is scientism, where our modern scientific observations and interpretations of reality (and the consensus about them that we have at this present moment) become all there is, with nothing else. We squeeze all of reality into one interpretation of what can be observed with our 5 senses and our instruments, and then equate that with Reality. I’ve never understood how people could ever fall for such a thing, but it remains a popular outlook on the world, probably because it makes our world seem more controllable, and the uncontrollable forces like gods and devils are eradicated by just ignoring them…
It can gen more serious than that though: when the ‘dragon’ in question is God, the Creator of Reality and Ground of being ‘him’self, this becomes conceptual idolatry. Instead of believing in God and putting our trust in the Creator, we end up following a construct of our own making. Instead of making connection to the God behind all constructs, we end up worshipping a selfmade deity only existing in our head, since we think we can completely describe God, and that God is nothing but what we describe with our theological language.
None of our descriptions will even describe a natural thing for 100% though, let alone God.
The religious side of making our own dragons can get dark. When I posted this parable on facebook one of my friends noted that this is what Americans do with Christ. And I can see her point in these days of Trump I am afraid, any religion that could go along with Trumpism is opposite to what I read in the gospels and all of the New Testament, about humbleness, enemy-love, rejection of Mammon and power, and so on…
(There also might be the danger that a picture of God living in an enormous thoughtfield becomes a more potent entity and behaves like an egregore or ‘godform’, and this might be the case for Murikan Jeebus, the tribal war god that is completely unlike Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnated Son of God in almost every important detail except some cosmetic ones, but that is another story. It is the same with the supposed Allah of IS who wants most people dead by the way; who is a blasphemy compared to how the Muslim tradition and scriptures envision the God of Abraham and Creator.)
It’s also quite important in more mundane relationships by the way. If instead of letting people be who they are we make our own set of expectations for them, we will only have a friendship or even marriage with an illusion, not with a person. See also my post Do you love your wife or a picture in your head? for more about that idea. The weird thing is that even Christians seem to fall for this habit of making ideals and then trying to conform people to them.
(Which is the opposite of Platonism btw. Platonic ideals are a priori and can only be discovered, while these constructs are a posteriori and completely made up by us humans.)
So what is my point here?
I do think that it’s very important to learn to see what really is there. To not just follow the finger pointing to the moon, but look at the actual moon. And to let it be the moon without expecting it to be cheese or an alien base from the time before time.
It is very important to let reality be, and to interact with what is really there, not with illusions. To cultivate ‘first sight’, as it is called in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the words of the kelda of the Mac Nac feegle clan, who speaks almost normal English here:
‘First sight is when you can see what’s really there, not what you heid tells you ought to be there. […] Second sight is dull sight, it’s seeing only what you expect to see.’
(The Wee Free Men, P. 132)
Think also of the words of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)
How we do that depends on the subject or object, but a radical honesty with ourselves is always the beginning, and an openness to being wrong. But I don’t have all the answers here, and am only learning myself while stumbling along the way. I just know that this is extremely important, if we want to get anywhere at all.
What do you people think?