Consider this. Yesterday, I am returning home from an appointment in town, and I notice that the car ahead of me is boldly marked “Park Ranger”. That piques my interest because the nearest National Park (Acadia) is some fifty miles from where I am at the time, and so, ever curious, I wonder why he has wandered some little bit from his domain. I say “he” and “his” because I also notice that the car’s lone occupant, the driver, is male.
Catching myself observing this Park Ranger, I remind myself of Ibn ‘Arabi’s dictum “thou art not thou, thou art He without thou”, and apply it to the relationship that is developing in my mind between me and the Ranger by restating Ibn ‘Arabi suchly: “We are not we, we are He without we”.
As I do that, I hear myself wondering whether the “we” in that sentence is intended to refer to the two human beings alone or also to everything else in my range of vision, all the objects animate and inanimate. And at that moment, there leaps into my head the following query: “If it’s all an illusion, what is an inanimate object?”
Naturally, I spent the rest of my drive home chewing on that question.
All of the Teachers I have come across along my way seem to agree that, in one way or another, what I call “reality” or “the world” or “my life” – what is “out there” – is an illusion. Nisargadatta, one of my favorites, compares it to the images on a movie screen. That is, what we see on the screen in a movie theater certainly seems like people and animals and plants and buildings and cars and so on, but in fact none of it is any of that. Rather, it is all just light and shadow on cloth (or whatever movie screens are made of). It is all the same, and none of it is alive. On a movie screen, there is no such thing as an animate object and an inanimate object. It is all inanimate.
Well, if “my life” is an illusion like the images on a movie screen, then it too – all of it, all of its characters and events and experiences and memories and expectations and so on – are (1) identical (“light and shadow”) and (2) inanimate. Including “me”.
So, driving along, I observe the cars on the highway, their occupants, the trees and grasses and road-kill along the shoulders, the farms and homes and businesses off to the sides, the road’s surface below, the sky above, me and my car, my destination ahead in my mind, my memory of where I have just been and what I have just done there, and on and on and on. I realize that they are all the same, light and shadow. What’s more, I realize that they are all a single image, one single undifferentiated image.
On a movie screen, the light and shadow image is all one single entirety. All the differentiations which the theater-goer perceives are imposed upon the image by the viewer. I go to a theater, and see Bogart and Bacall. But that’s only because my mind draws lines on the screen image.
Just so, “my life” consists of a single undifferentiated image, an image which is being projected in its entirety right this very instant, now. My mind perceives that image, and cuts it up into bits and pieces: you, me, them; here, there; yesterday, today, tomorrow; up, down; good, bad; tall, short; happy, sad; spiritual, worldly; and so on. Animate and inanimate.
But if it’s all an illusion, it is all inanimate.
Almost anything, from alpha to omega.
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