WHY SHOULD WE BE MINDFUL OF THE PRESENT WHEN THE PHENOMENAL WORLD IS AN ILLUSION?
Given that many Buddhists feel that the phenomenal realm is an illusion, why is there also emphasis on mindfulness in Zen? What benefit comes from being so keenly aware of an illusion?- Chiahua
By "illusion" we do not mean we imagine something to be there when it is actually not there. Illusion means appearance. The same thing appears differently to different beings.
If you look at your hand, you see your hand. But a scientist looking at your hand through a gigantic electron-microscope will not see your hand; he sees a pattern of sub-atomic particles. A fairy passing by may not see your hand or you at all.
Your hand is an illusion. All the other things, living and non-living, in our phenomenal world are illusions. They appear differently to different beings.
To be gently mindful of the present, which is an important aspect of Zen training, brings us a lot of benefits. Instead of lamenting over the past or worrying about the future, we live our present as best as we can, wholesomely enjoying every moment of it.
This does not mean we do not care about our past or future, we just do not lament or worry over them. If you realize that you have done something wrong in the past, which can be manifested in the present, correct the mistake if you can and don't repeat it. If you are doubtful about your future, which can also be manifested in the present, make appropriate changes in the present so that your future will unfold the way you would like it to be, taking care that whatever you do will not bring any harm to yourself and others.
But why should we be mindful of the present, despite the many benefits it brings, when the present (as well as the past and future) is an illusion? Unless you are enlightened or in moments of spiritual awakening, describing the present as illusory is a process of intellectualization.
In practical terms, as long as you live in the phenomenal world, the present (as well as the past and future) is real -- subjectively real, subjected to how universal energy, the stuff that makes up the universe, enters your six entries, i.e. how you perceive everything around you and beyond through your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin and mind.
When you look at your hand, no matter how you intellectualize that it is just a mass of energy not separated from all the energy around, which is actually true, you will still perceive your hand as your hand and not something else.
If you wrote a cheque, no matter how you intellectualize about it now as being an illusion, the reality remains that you wrote a cheque. If you do not have enough money in the bank to honour the cheque, no matter how you intellectualize about the bank being an illusion, the reality remains that your cheque will bounce.
The reality is subjective -- subject to the types of six entries of the people involved with the cheque and the bank. Millions of micro-organisms in the ink of your pen would perceive the same interaction of energy differently. They may perceive reality -- subjected to their six entries -- as being transport from (what we call) your pen to a cheque to a distant land for vacation.
Living in the phenomenal world, being mindful of the present enables you to live your life to the full. If you are ready, being mindful may help you to break through the illusion and have a glimpse of Ultimate Reality, even for a momentless moment, to attain a spiritual awakening.
- Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit
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The above is reproduced from the thread 10 Questions for Grandmaster: Legacy of Bodhdharma in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.