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The Samsaric Situation

Samsaric existence is a situation in which we are postponing seeing the truth on an indefinite basis. We could therefore say that in this form of existence the truth (whatever that is) is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with what we believe it to be. We are allowed to perceive anything at all in this realm, just so long as what we see has no bearing on the truth! We are allowed to believe anything at all in this realm, just so long as what we believe has the covert function of keeping us from seeing the truth…



Samsaric existence is, then, a situation in which we use all apparent truths as a means of indefinitely postponing our seeing of the genuine truth, our awareness of the genuine truth. We can’t postpone this seeing, this awareness, for ever, but we can have a very good try! We are playing a game we can’t ever win, but the one thing that we can do is to drag it out for an awful long time! We are doomed to lose this game of ‘avoiding seeing the truth’, but we can do an astonishingly effective job of fooling ourselves in this regard! We can play a very good ‘delaying game’.



This is such an extraordinary thing to be aware of. It is in fact a good deal more than just ‘an extraordinary thing’ – it is a bombshell. It blows everything sky-high, it blows the whole game away. To be aware that the samsaric situation is one in which we indefinitely postpone seeing the truth is itself a perception of the truth, so this means that our ‘postponing’ is at an end. To see that I am indefinitely postponing seeing the truth is itself not a postponement. If I see that I am continuously distracting myself then this perception is itself not a distraction; if I realize that what I am doing all of the time is merely time-wasting then this realization is not time-wasting…



When we see that the samsaric realm is all about ‘postponing seeing the truth’ then this causes us to see everything in a very different light. All of our attachments, all of our ‘mental objects’, are immediately shown up as being very flat and shallow. The whole samsaric world is immediately shown up as being very flat and shallow. It is shown up as being abysmally flat and shallow! Distractions, when we realize that they are distractions, become very hollow. Time-wasting, when it is known to be time-wasting, becomes very empty. Samsara, when it is seen to be samsara, is shown up to be very ugly and sterile – it is shown up as being barren.



The other side of the coin is that distractions, when they are not seen to be distractions, become endlessly fascinating! Time-wasting, when it is not seen as time-wasting, become vitally, compulsively important! Distractions and time-wasting, when they are not known for what they are, make up the very fabric of samsara.  Or we could equivalently say that ‘apparent truths’, when we don’t question them, when we take them at face value, when we buy into them without giving the matter a second thought, make up the very fabric of samsara. After all, when we buy into apparent truths it goes without saying that we are going to get very effectively distracted and waste a unending amount of time on them!



We get very, very passionate about these apparent truths. We get passionate about them either one way or the other – we either become ‘pro’ or we become ‘anti’. We’re always for stuff or against it, tediously so really, and it doesn’t actually matter what that stuff is when it comes right down to it. It doesn’t matter at all because the game is all about postponing seeing the truth, not seeing what the truth is. Seeing what the truth is is the last thing we want to do.



Samsaric existence is all about being ‘pro’ stuff or ‘anti’ stuff. It’s all about having preferences, having opinions, having beliefs, having attitudes, having judgements. It’s all about having thoughts about this, that and the other, regardless of how much sense those thoughts actually make. We have to make a comment, no matter how dumb that comment might be! Whatever happens we have thoughts about it, whatever happens we have to make judgements on it. We have to have an opinion one way or another – we have to see it as being either good or bad. Our thoughts cause us to like stuff or dislike it, to be either ‘for’ it or ‘against’ it, and once we get caught up in all this then it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re never going to see what it is that we’re liking or disliking, what we’re either ‘for’ or ‘against’. We can, after all, only see reality for what it is when we have no preferences, when we aren’t bringing the personal element into it the whole time, so to speak. Otherwise, all we are seeing is our own selves, reflected back at ourselves in disguised form – which is another good way of talking about the ‘samsaric situation’. When all we see is our own selves reflected back at us in disguised form (as ‘unowned projections’) then there is no chance that we will see the truth about what is going on, and this is what samsaric existence is all about.



Like and dislike take us away from reality, they take us off on a protracted wild goose chase, which is of course exactly what we want. ‘Going off on a wild goose chase’ is the name of the game, though it goes without saying that we mustn’t see it as such! Being given over to like and dislike is the same thing as ‘being passionate about illusions’ and being ‘intensely passionate about illusions’ is what samsaric existence is all about. As we have already said, it is the passion (either ‘for’ or ‘against’) that is all-important, not what we are being passionate about. It doesn’t really matter what side we cheer, as long as we do cheer…



In order to be able to exercise like and dislike (in order for us to have preferences, which we need before we can get into the business of being passionate about things) it is necessary for us to be definite about stuff, it is necessary for us to see the world from a definite standpoint. For us to be definite about stuff we have to look at the world from a very particular and specific position, and it is this that causes us to ‘paint ourselves into a corner’ in the way that we almost always do in life. The tendency to paint ourselves into a corner is the ‘Number One Tendency’ operating in the samsaric situation – it is the ‘killer tendency’, it is the one with teeth. Row upon row of sharp white triangular teeth such as one would see in the wide-open mouth of a great white shark!



It could be said that having to give ourselves over totally to this tendency to paint ourselves into a tight and airless corner is the price we pay for being able to keep on postponing the moment when we finally see the truth about our situation. This is because (as we have said) it is only through painting ourselves further and further into a corner that we are able to be definite about stuff, and it is only by being definite about stuff that we are able to exercise like and dislike. Unless I can be very definite, very unambiguous, very concrete about something, how can I possibly either like it or dislike it?



The necessity to paint ourselves into a corner is a very severe price to have to pay because it means that we are progressively giving away our freedom. Painting ourselves into a corner means that we are progressively giving away our spaciousness, our sense of perspective, our possibility of making a compassionate or creative response to the world. This eventually puts in a position that is frankly unbearable, frankly untenable. It puts us in a situation that is characterized by extreme suffering. What has actually happened here is that we have painted ourselves right out of reality – the need to have an absolutely definite, ‘black-and-white’ picture or view of the world means that we have identified with an absolutely definite position or viewpoint and a definite viewpoint or position is necessarily an abstract one. This means that it doesn’t actually exist in reality at all – reality is ‘spacious’ and an abstract viewpoint is one that doesn’t have any space in it at all… Or we could say – reality is infinitely generous and the definite viewpoint is as mean as mean can be



Essentially, the corner that we have painted ourselves into is that of the concrete or literal self. The tight corner that is so devoid of freedom, so devoid of spaciousness and perspective, so lacking in the possibility of making a compassionate or creative response is nothing other than the everyday self! It’s who we are on a regular basis.



At the end of this discussion we might of course want to know what exactly the ‘truth’ is that we are postponing seeing in the samsaric situation. We might be curious about this. The answer is very simple – the truth that we are postponing seeing in the samsaric situation is that there is no such thing as the concrete or literal self…



Image credit: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 









  • james maclean

    too many words!!

    July 29, 2014 at 6:02 pm Reply

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