Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Do Hermits Say?

My passing interest in hermits led me to watch this documentary called Amongst White Clouds. If you have 5 minutes watch from minute 20 to 25  This hermit talks about reality and nature and though he does not use the words of science like in the article below, I think the message is the same. Let me know what you think.

Reality doesn't exist; at least not in the way that we usually think of it. Dr. Jorge Martins de Oliveira writes,
 “Our perception does not identify the outside world as it really is, but the way that we are allowed to recognize it, as a consequence of transformations performed by our senses.  We experience electromagnetic waves, not as waves, but as images and colors. We experience vibrating objects, not as vibrations, but as sounds. We experience chemical compounds dissolved in air or water, not as chemicals, but as specific smells and tastes. Colors, sounds, smells and tastes are products of our minds, built from sensory experiences. They do not exist, as such, outside our brain. Actually, the universe is colorless, odorless, insipid and silent."  
Dr. Oliveira isn't a touchy-feely philosopher, a halfwit existentialist or the delusional leader of a religious cult. He's the Director of the Department of Neurosciences at an institute in Rio de Janeiro. According to Oliveira, each of us lives in a private world of our own perceptions. Speaking of this perceptual reality he writes, 
"Although you and I share the same biological architecture and function, perhaps what I perceive as a distinct color and smell is not exactly equal to the color and smell you perceive. We may give the same name to similar perceptions, but we cannot know how they relate to the reality of the outside world. Perhaps we never will."


Paul said...

I certainly long for a simpler life. I have a certain desire for the hermit’s lifestyle as well. I understand a little what he was trying to get at but the facts are if you want to enjoy this planet and you want to have some freedom to do so you need some type of material wealth. To abandon all ties to society and live totally natural life as he says maybe food will miraculously fill your belly and clothes will crawl on your body but I think it takes a little more participation from us with the world as we made it. I think reality is living in harmony with nature. Nature is real and we are meant to exist within its flows and seasons. Such as the American Indian used to. The wandering Mountain man type existence is a little more appealing to me but today’s society has made that impossible. I don’t want to be stuck in one place in a dirty little shack wearing rags like this guy was. He says he has found what life means (I guess to him) but he looks and lives more like a bum. I completely understand where you are going and what you are implying but this guys place in the scheme of life is not the best example. I want a little more freedom to express myself, discover nature, have the ability to satisfy any small wanderings I may get. And live in solace, peace and harmony at the same time. That dude looked like he had made a fine prison for himself to me and through madness had grown to accept it or fool himself into liking it. A cabin in the far north somewhere where long excursions are possible appeals to me. Living in the everglades where one could take daily or weekly travels by boat would appeal to me if not for the heat, bugs, sickness, hurricanes etc that could shatter your world at any time. Finding the right venue for this existence would be a challenge in itself but one I am not completely opposed to trying. I could see myself realistically pursuing this type of life some day.

As far as our perception of reality goes I don’t doubt that we all see, smell, and feel things differently from one another. While we may identify it and describe it the same how do we really see it. I mean does a circle in my mind really look square to you and square in your mind look like a circle to me in mine yet we identify it the same. An extreme example I grant you but that is what the implication is below. How does my brain process information and then relate or transmit it to my inner person or soul? Certainly not the same as you or Keith or Jeff’s does to you. It’s all interesting stuff to speculate on, study, and explore.

Paul said...

I especially liked the old man right after him that went to the mountains to become a monk. His insights and words were much more interesting and meaningful to me. Now on a lighter note he seemed to have a little more respect for himself as well. The first guy washed his head after putting his feet in the bowl. And teeth were not a high priority in his reality either. Sorry my having an eye for detail makes me notice little things like that. An interesting vid though. I look forward to watching it all.

Sojka's Call said...

What I started to understand after watching the whole movie once and parts of it maybe 2 or 3x is that the 4 walled hut can easily be viewed as a prison of your own making. Learning to transcend the expectations we all have been culturally programmed to have is what these Chinese Buddhist hermits are trying to do.

I think the movie is attempting to show that the gentle nature of these hermits demonstrates they are succeeding in their quest to shed the normal human predisposition of doing stuff all the time for our definition of "Me". They are looking for an expanded sense of "Me" that is the Buddha mind. The Buddha mind can be defined and described in multitudes of ways and you can look it up and read about it. It could be called cosmos, universe, all that is, etc. All those labels, of course, cannot describe it but only talk around a concept too big for words.

Like the hermit said, why wait until you don't breath anymore to let go of the whole universe as we understand it. Let go now.

Some people call that death and in one way it is. Then there are the sayings like through death you are reborn. Is that what happens? By learning to let go of our clinging to the material world in every way - not just money, but the extreme letting go the hermits are exemplifying, do you then find a rebirth?

Paul said...

I think with extreme letting go you find filth. All kidding aside I know what you’re driving at but only so much of this is right for us. They were raised different right from the beginning of their life. Essentially we have been ruined to totally accept where they are at and vice versa for them. There is certainly some beneficial information and advice here we can take from them but they are at (especially the first guy) at a place I don’t believe we can go. You saw my response regarding the older monk immediately after the first guy you had us look at?? He seemed to have found what he was looking for and in a manner that seemed to me was little more stable or grounded. I enjoyed what he said. He certainly expressed himself in a manner where he did not come off as just a little, well, crazy!

Keith said...

Entirely correct. However, what a boring world it would be if not for our creative sensory transponders translating the world into delicious, colorful, and pleasurable experiences. I'll take my reality vs the colorless, odorless, insipid and silent one. Good to know the mechanics however.

Sojka's Call said...

Somewhere in the movie it was mentioned that most of the hermits/monks lasted up there around 4 or 5 years. From my understanding they do it long enough to attain the level of understanding they are looking for and then the lifestyle becomes superfluous. In fact, some then go back to the cities to see if they can maintain the equanimity and understanding they have achieved in the hustle and bustle world where there are more activities out of their control taking place.

Once you lose the desire for enlightenment, then you have a chance to attain it. So, once you lose the desire for the lifestyle of an ascetic then you will have a better chance of attaining what they were seeking originally. Back to the city.

Like the Zen story...... before I had studied Zen, I saw the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers. Later, when I had personally seen a Zen teacher and had attained initiatory experience, I saw that the mountains are not mountains and the rivers are not rivers. But now that I had attained peace, I see the mountains simply as mountains, and see the rivers simply as rivers.

Keith said...

Interesting video and a topic that requires my delving into at least every 2-3 years or so. I first got into Zen Buddhism when I was in my twenties. Not the immersion form, but what the one monk termed "talking zen". I think it was Allan Watts who presented a Sunday topic on KSAN, a rock station that had a 60's/ 70's rock format except on Sunday's. It was pretty interesting and presented an alternative view on "reality". At the time I was all about trying to find the key to this "enlightenment" having already peered through the veil through alternative reality inducements, leftovers from the 60s. However, as I have aged and experienced the "ME" side of the world, I tend to agree with Paul that we are just not geared to such a radical change in our being. I mean "why must we let go of the world"? After all if the purpose of our physical experience is to see the world through our "sensory realities" why would we turn away from it? Other than to dabble in the yang of the yin or the otherside of reality even if only in a temporary manner. Another way of looking at it is that these monks are looking for an escape. Why not engage vs disengage? Or at least meet somewhere in the middle. Seems a bit reactionary going from one extreme to another. At least that would be the case for most of us Westerners.

I tried living in the woods for a summer, my wife and I in Idaho. A tent next to a stream with no one around. After about 2 months of getting into a routine that I must admit included hiking marked trails and bushwacking it, and lots of fishing, we were actually satiated. We even thought about buying some "cheap" acreage, but thought once a cabin was built and the initial work done, what do you do after the 3rd month. Although I would go back and do it again every year I think we are more geared to be "temporary monks" calling our escapes from sensory reality, "vacations". Works for me anyway.

In many of the eastern cultures, becoming a monk was a temporary occupational existence, usually while still young and before 'entering the world". A brief exposure to an alternative extreme, a nonmaterial world and then a return providing a balance which in the mind lies somewhere between the "me" world and that of these hermit aescetics. I worked with a fellow from Burma who did just that living as a shaved head monk in the robes. Returning to Burma he committed himself to a 4 month stint at a request from his mother. He also returned to work content with his total existence.

There was a statement that one "cannot escape birth and death" in this world. From a Buddhist perspective it is believed that until we achieve enlightenment we must be reborn again and again, acquiring new knowledge during each lifetime until we achieve enlightenment. They speak of the 99,000 lifetimes for some. The ultimate goal is enlightenment and the escape from rebirth (phew! glad that is over.). So most of us cannot or do not want to live like a hermit, would like to experience life from a sensory perspective, and would hope for a rebirth because we have not attained enough knowledge to achieve enlightenment. And that is alright. I mean what's the hurry anyway. Perhaps some westerners are gaming the system and trying to take a shortcut, as usual, for that immediate-self-gratification thing we are used to having. In this cas in the achievement of enlightenment. Which would be counter to enlightenment if you think about it. Forcing enlightenment so to speak. There is also something about "the moment you think you have it, you have lost it" and when you don't think about it you may have it. Buddhism doesn't have a hell or purgatory so there is no penalty and nearly unlimited opportunities to get there. Just let it take its natural course and all will be well. I think.

Jeff Sr said...

I am really glad your last sentence was, "I think."

Keith said...

Well, that's because I have not yet reached that stage of enlightenment. An enlightened Buddhist knows.