alan wrote:Sure, that's a nice way to put it, but I'm still left slightly unsatisfied.
Reality is a relative notion? Seems to contradict suttas that proclaim the Dhamma as timeless.
The dhamma is indeed timeless. There's no contradiction whatsoever. Let's take a look at what Ven. Ñāṇananda has to say about "reality." In The Magic of the Mind he offers the following insight:
- The question of 'seeing what-is-shown', brings us to the relationship between sign and significance. Sense-perception at all levels relies largely on signs. This statement might even appear as a truism since the Pāli word saññā denotes perception as well as 'sign', 'symbol', 'mark' or 'token.' It is due to the processes of grasping and recognition implicit in sense-perception that the sign has come to play such an important part in it. Grasping -- be it physical or mental -- can at best be merely a symbolical affair. The actual point of contact is superficial and localized, but it somehow props up the conceit of grasping. Recognition too, is possible only within arbitrarily circumscribed limits. The law of impermanence is persistently undermining it, but still a conceit of recognition is maintained by progressively ignoring the fact of change....
Furthermore, as the Suttas often make it clear, all percepts as such are to be regarded as mere signs (saññā, nimitta). Hence while the worldling says that he perceives 'things' with the help of signs, the Tathāgata says that all we perceive are mere signs. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and ideas are, all of them, signs which consciousness pursues. But still the question may be asked: "What do these signs signify?" "Things, of course" -- the Tathāgata would reply. 'Things', however, are not those that the worldling has in mind when he seeks an answer to this question. Lust, hatred and delusion are the 'things' which, according to the teaching of the Tathāgata, are signified by all sense-percepts. "Lust, friend, is a something; hatred is a something; delusion is a something." (M I 298, Mahāvedalla S.) "Lust, friends, is something significative, hatred is something significative, delusion is something significative" (ibid).
And then the part which deserves repeated consideration:
- It is a fact often overlooked by the metaphysician that the reality attributed to sense-data is necessarily connected with their evocative power, that is, their ability to produce effects. The reality of a thing is usually registered in terms of its impact on the experiential side. This is the acid-test which an object is required to undergo to prove its existence in the Court of Reality. In the reference to materiality as 'manifestative and offering resistance' (D III 217, Sangiti S.) the validity of this test seems to have been hinted at. Now, the 'objects' of sense which we grasp and recognize as existing out-there, derive their object-status from their impact or evocative power. Their ability to produce effects in the form of sense-reaction is generally taken to be the criterion of their reality. Sense-objects are therefore signs which have become significant in themselves owing to our ignorance that their significance depends on the psychological mainsprings of lust, hatred and delusion. This, in other words, is a result of reasoning from the wrong end (ayoniso manasikāra) which leads both the philosopher and the scientist alike into a topsy-turvydom of endless theorising.
What most worldlings unquestioningly take to be "real," due to ascribing significance to the contents of deluded cognition, is nothing more than deluded cognition. Learners and arahants have understood deluded cognition to be false and have abandoned it (or are in the process of abandoning it in the case of learners). In this way they develop a "measureless mind." Seeing through the limitations of signs and symbols and language, they realize that there is no need -- and no possible way -- of trying to pin down this measureless freedom of absence by using signs and language. There is no point in attempting to construct and systematize a valid "reality." They've done what was needed to be done. The teachings they offer diagnose the problems of deluded cognition and point out the ways to unravel and eventually abandon passion, aggression, and delusion. And this path is as relevant today as it was 2500 years ago. It's quite amazing -- awe inspiring.
All the best,