Buddhist Cartography: Dependent Origination.

February 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Word gives form to the formless 0188

In Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “My Stroke of Insight,” we learn that the right side of the brain experiences the physical world as a sea of light and sound.  It is not difficult to imagine how a newborn upon first encountering this world, must give this energetic sea boundaries and edges if it is to make sense of the world into which it was born. The left side of the brain, the language side, provides this as the infant gains mastery of language and the word.  And it is through the word that the infant comes to know the world as stable and solid.

The certainty of the adult world comes from the inner maps drawn in childhood. Names placed on our inner maps make the world seem fixed.  Lines drawn around primal sensations make the world seem solid.   However, not all adults perceive the world as rigid and solid.  The artist owes much of her ability to create new forms and new works of art because of her ability to see the world with both sides of the brain.

A Buddhist phrase for the fluidic world is dependent origination or dependent arising.

Dependent origination, as used here, refers to the notion that there is no independent or permanent self, and that everything exists in relation to everything else.  To quote Dr. Bolte Talyor, “the energy of everything blends together.”  It does not take much to see the parallels between dependent origination and how the right side of the brain perceives the world, as described by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.

Meditation allows us to deconstruct our maps so we can see the world of dependent origination.  However, one does not have to spend years in meditation to begin to see this world and how words have limited our perceptions.

Try this exercise.  Take a moment to investigate the rooms where you live.  Notice the color of the walls in particular.  Then, when you get up in the night, go back into these rooms and find one that is dimly lit.   A room with a night-light is most favorable for this exercise.

In the darkness, walls take on many shades of grey but notice that in your mind you still think of them as colored.  Yellow walls, for example, take on the appearance of light greys but you still imagine them as yellow. Notice how other items that are nothing more than blobs of grey and black are also identified and given form by your words.

This exercise shows how the left side of your brain has so organized the world that you no longer see its endless variety.  It shows that the sea of energy you perceived as a child has taken on permanent form with permanent colors.  Your world has become fixed and solid because of your words.

You can extrapolate this exercise to see other ways that the left side of the brain uses words to limit your world and your self.  Note, however, that this is a two edged sword as positive words are just as limiting as negative ones.  And many a person, from the artist, to the saint, to the “free-thinker,” has found that the world does not want us to give up our words and the false sense of security they bestow.  Yet, the door to freedom lies in putting aside our inner maps and transcending the word.


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