Just listened to a very nice introduction to Tibetan Pure Land practice, compliments of Andrew Holecek. Two points stood out: (1) how it is the recognition of emptiness which prevents us from misunderstanding this practice as a form of theism; and (2) that it's a recognition of emptiness which can purify our perception in a way that allows our current environment to arise as a Pure Land.
In other words, Pure Land practice has application in relation not only to the transition between lifetimes, but also (and perhaps most importantly) to the transition from moment to moment. The Pure Lands "exist" as "dimensions of experience" which are no less (and no more) "real" than the samsaric dimension we currently inhabit, and we can -- as a practice -- train our mental patterns (the contours of our mindstream, if you will) in such a way as to increase the probability of experiencing a Pure Land, in the period following the death of the physical body. But with a deep realization of emptiness, we don't have to wait until the death of the body to find ourselves within a Pure Land.
Having never engaged in such practices, I can claim no experiential authority whatsoever. Just know that I'm now more than ever interested in the possibilities of purifying perception -- something I've written about a number of times on this site, perhaps most recently in Doors Of Perception.
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So what does it mean to "purify perception" -- and in what ways is it currently "impure"?
If you haven't already, or for a review, you might like to check out:
In the first of the above-listed essays, I link to Tai Situ Rinpoche's Everything Is A Moment -- which points to the fact that what we are perceiving, in any given moment -- via the sensory/cognitive apparatus of our human bodymind -- is, quite literally, already in the past: already gone.
Why is this? Because of the time-lag which is built into the "hardware," so to speak, of the human bodymind as a recording device. By the time our bodymind processes the "raw data" of "what is happening now" in its environment -- to create, say, a visual image of it -- by this time the "original raw data" is already in the past. So, in a very literal sense, what we are "seeing" (and hearing, smelling, tasting, touching) via our human bodymind is not the "real world as it exists now" but rather a movie we've just recently created about it.
In Posthumous Pieces, Buddhist/Taoist sage Wei Wu Wei writes of this phenomena, and suggests the following thought-experiment, to help us really grok the full significance of it. The time-lag, as it actually manifests, is relatively tiny -- but to help us clearly grasp its implications, let's assume that it's much longer: say ten minutes.
In this scenario, if I walked out onto my back porch at noon, and gazed in the direction of the little pond -- i.e. pointed my eyes in that direction -- it wouldn't be until 12:10 pm (ten minutes later!) that the image of the pond would first appear, to be cognized by my bodymind as "actually being there." So the pond that I was "seeing" at 12:10 pm would be the pond not as it actually existed at 12:10 pm -- but rather as it existed at noon, i.e. ten minutes earlier.
If -- at some time in the interim between noon and 12:10 pm -- a flock of geese had landed on the previously bird-less pond, I would still "perceive" -- at 12:10 pm -- the pond as being without geese, because my image would be based upon the noon version of the pond.
So: in a very real sense, moment by moment, we're actually abiding (as human bodyminds) already in what -- from the point of view of the scenarios that we're currently perceiving -- would be known as "the future." While the objects, people and situations that we're currently perceiving are, in reality, already part of "the past." Wowsa .....
So now what? And what does this have to do with pure perception (which would seem, based only on what we've discussed thus far, to be a technical impossibility).
As Tai Situ Rinpoche points out, the inherently conditioned and hence "illusory" nature of perception is not necessarily a problem -- if we can stay relaxed, and somehow simply enjoy, without grasping, its necessary ephemerality.
Does this mean, however, that "direct perception" or "perceiving nakedly" -- becoming truly intimate with what is arising as self and world -- is destined to remain perpetually out of reach, at best a pleasant myth? Not exactly ....
If the "bad news" is that so-called "direct perception" or "pure perception" is utterly impossible, via the dualistic mechanics of the human sensory/cognitive system -- the "good news" is that there are other modes of perceiving, not as strictly (or at all) dependent upon the gross functioning of the human bodymind.
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Which brings us back to Pure Lands. One way of understanding what a Pure Land is, is as what arises within our perceptual fields when we've knowingly connected with -- via a "sixth sense" referred to variously as "intuition" or "apperception" -- and realized our true identity as Pure Awareness, the Tao, Dharmakaya: the light/intelligence of the perfectly existent nature. Somehow, this activates what might be called nondual sensory capacities ... as we learn to identify with the light flowing through the projector, more than with the film or the images thus projected.
More to come, on this topic, in future posts .....