It is necessary to point out from the start of these observations that the basis of all perceptions of ‘reality,’ and what it means is ‘experience’. By experience I refer to that central act of consciousness by which we cognise existence. All understandings and philosophies concerning the nature of reality are interpretations of experience.
‘To experience’ suggests ‘to be conscious’. In practise this means ‘to be conscious of’. As soon as consciousness is described in this way an object of experience is implicit, and correspondingly an experiencer is also implied. This is the basis of the ‘subject/object’ relationship, while the perception of this distinction resides entirely within the cognition of the experiencer.
When we think of ‘reality’ usually in western culture the term is used with a strong emphasis on the ‘objective’ aspect of this relationship for practical and functional reasons, with the implicit and largely unconscious assumption that ‘reality’ exists independently of the experiencer. This briefly is the central underlying philosophic assumption of the western approach to knowledge.
Viewed from this perspective the experiencer is also regarded as an object of perception rather than the source of perception.
This emphasis on the object aspect of experience, while important and practical, is one-sided and leads to a fundamentally erroneous understanding of ‘reality’. It seems crucial to understand that the essence of reality is experience, not objectivity per se, and that experience is both object and subject. In exploring truth, or reality, it may be that there are two cardinal sins. One is the well known ‘subjectivity’ while the other, much less recognised in our culture, is ‘objectivity’, which as I have suggested has become erroneously identified with reality and placed on a pedestal. It may be worth removing it from its pedestal and standing it on the ground.
It would seem that an understanding of reality requires equal recognition of both aspects of experience, and not just intellectually, within a conceptual model, which necessarily falls into the objective domain, but at a more fundamental level prior to the exercise of the faculty of conception in the cognitive process.
Can this be done? Yes, it is possible to establish awareness at earlier stages of cognition and thereby place the attention much more in touch with reality, that is, experience unprocessed by conceptual interpretation. Correct practice of meditation can achieve this though it should be introduced and guided by an experienced practitioner. The cultures from which the practice originates have long experience of this and their deep traditions embody important practical knowledge in this respect, regarding the relationship between those established in ‘reality’ and those aspiring.
After all anyone can claim expertise but not all such people actually know what they are doing and a guide can’t take you if he doesn’t know the way, regardless of what they may say. There are signs that help but for the most part these reside in the discrimination of the aspirant who must use them and trust them, to recognise truth in his/her search.
Written by Mark Callaghan.