Reality: too obvious to be true

Banksy and Baudrillard

untitled (Banksy and Baudrillard) (detail)

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true. (Jean Baudrillard)

In hand, a bunch of diverse quotations, most of them having at least some bearing on the nature of reality. The Baudrillard piece seems to have appointed itself chief amongst them, but Einstein can be heard muttering in the background.

Not unexpectedly – given the two words, ‘obvious’ and ‘enigmatic’ – Google Images quickly finds a picture/text version of the Baudrillard quote. But more interesting by far, I think, is this Banksy art piece with which it is teamed up on the Particulate Matters blog.

Clearly, both Banksy and “cosmicdebris” (proprietor of Particulate Matters) are saying something about the teachings of the Christian Church – particularly, it seems, in relation to the indoctrination of children. Look elsewhere on the Particulate Matters blog and you will find links to other ‘indoctrination’ stories: for example, Monsanto indoctrinating kids at the zoo.

Actually, I’m inclined to suspect that indoctrination is integral to every aspect of living – and that everyone is routinely doing it and/or having it done to them. And it wouldn’t necessarily qualify as either brainwashing or catechism. Let’s put it more simply: we’re all inclined to push our ideas on others – and we call it marketing, persuasion, instruction, education, or teaching.

Be that all as it may, it is not really the main point of my post.

A few months ago, on |cross-ties| – the blog of “The Other” – there was a bit of back-and-forth about the nature of reality. A piece titled Taking a cycle trip led one reader to discuss Derrida’s ideas, noting that in language there is a gap between words and things. I would take this further, asserting that there is a gap between what we perceive and what is actually the case.

A similar gap yawns between the words of every witness and the occurrences they describe – what we thought we saw, the way it seems to us, what we believe to be true, and everything that is ‘obvious’. (And, by the way, since it’s that obvious, why can’t everyone see it our way?)

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus begins with the proposition that “the world is everything that is the case” and ends by reminding us that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein isn’t saying there’s stuff we can choose not to talk about; he’s actually pointing out that there are some things nobody can put into words.

Albert Einstein asserts that “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Elsewhere, he declares, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.” He is not saying that nothing is real; what he means is that everything we experience as real is invented. “The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.” (Albert Einstein Essays in Science (1934), p27)

The way science talks about reality and truth is sounding more and more like the words of the ancient religions. For example, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, a notable teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, says: “The ultimate truth of all conventional truths is their being void of inherent existence. Conventional truths, ie empirical phenomena, exist dependently upon causal conditions, parts and imputation; they have absolutely no existence apart from these conditioning factors.”

But “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true,” wrote Francis Bacon (1560-1626). Called the creator of empiricism, “[Bacon] established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method.” (GoodReads)

Ultimately, then, as Baudrillard says, whatever seems obvious is, in reality, the superficial manifestation of a profound mystery: the deeper you go into it, the less you are able to say about it.

In Poetry: This Death Is Incomplete (part one of an essay on poetry and death), Amy King talks about “spinning yarns to name things and claim power over them” – which, she reminds us, is not a new concept. In explication, King points us to Alice Notley’s The Book of Lies. The opening lines are especially apt: “Do you believe this stuff or is it a story? I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.”


An ever-changing draft of this piece has been in my editor for months. There’s so much more I want to say, but it is long past time I got something posted. 


Lili Boulanger 1893-1918

Lili Boulanger

Lili Boulanger

Lili Boulanger was born on this day in 1893.

Here is a recording of her Vieille Priére Bouddhique (Old Buddhist Prayer) performed by Orchestre de L’Association Des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Igor Markevitch.

Que toute chose qui respire
– que toutes les créatures et partout,
tous les esprits et tous ceux qui sont nés,
que toutes les femmes, que tous les hommes,
les Aryens, et les non-Aryens,
tous les dieux et tous les humains
et ceux qui sont déchus,
en Orient et en Occident, au Nord et au Sud,
que tous les êtres qui existent –
sans ennemis, sans obstacles, surmontant la douleur
et atteignant le bonheur, puisse se mouvoir librement,
chacun dans la voie qui lui est destinée.

Laughing at the sky

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ([fake] Buddha)

Sky over Washington Monument

Sky over Washington Monument

Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist teacher and author living in New Hampshire, considers that this now widely-known and popular saying “bears no resemblance to anything the Buddha’s recorded as having said.”

Bodhipaksa subsequently remarks that “Gautama doesn’t seem to have been big on laughter!”

To me, this fake Buddha quote certainly sounds like authentic Zen!

Commenting on the quote, Choying Lhundrap writes about the Tibetan teacher Minling Khandro Rinpoche, who, in her 2012 New Year address, combined it with words from Jean Houston:

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back
and laugh at the sky. At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.”

Which, for me, gets right to the heart of the matter.

But let’s give the last word to Albert Einstein: “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.”


George Draffan, responding to Bodhipaksa’s remarks, says it sounds like a stanza from a Tibetan Dzoghcen text that translates as:

Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!

(from chapter 1 of The Great Perfection’s Self-Liberation in the Nature of Mind, by Longchenpa, 1308-1364)

Living on the lip

"Mewlānā" – Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273)

"Mewlānā" – Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273)

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī)

Empty-headed, I have no idea what I have to say today … but I do know there’s something waiting to pop out from between these blog-lips of mine. I knew it, in fact, the instant I spotted the Rūmī quote, on another blog.

On that blog, I noticed the word simplify … and I called to mind the years of complexity, the years of depression, the years of fear.

That’s all a long time ago. Life is so much simpler these days.

Creating the world

Dōgen watching the moon. Hōkyōji monastery, Fukui prefecture, circa 1250.

Dōgen watching the moon. Hōkyōji monastery, Fukui prefecture, circa 1250.

You are what you think about all day long. (Robert H Schuller)

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive. (Howard Thurman)

When your mind doesn’t stir inside, the world doesn’t arise outside. (Bodhidharma)

I come to realize that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and stars. (Dōgen)

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. (Henry David Thoreau)

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. (Albert Einstein)

The inseparable view

If we do not take the truths in union, but associate ultimate reality with wisdom and conventional reality with delusion, the inseparable view will be divided. If we separate the nature of appearance and emptiness, we have strayed far from realization of the nature of mind. (Anyen Rinpoche, from The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhicitta)

Nothing special

I’ve been behaving like an eleven-year-old. And now it’s time for me to grow up.

Perhaps I should explain …

Just four days after my eleventh birthday, I fell onto a broken milk bottle and sustained a life-threatening injury to my left leg. The physical trauma, however, was overmastered by an horrific realisation that continued to impact me from that day forward: my guardian angels had let me down!

Having considered myself “special, gifted, holy, beloved of God” — and thus worthy of the care and attention of the angels — I began to wonder where I’d failed. What had I done wrong? What could I do to make sure nothing like that ever happened to me again? How could I be good enough?

In time it began to dawn on me that I could never be good enough to escape the risks and rigours of everyday life. And then, threaded through those thoughts, was relief that my life had been spared, coupled with the bitter-sweet belief that “Only the good die young.”

In recent weeks I’ve had to deal with a string of stuff which at first I wished I’d been spared. But now, emerging from the situation (and allowing the sense of relief to subside), I’m seeing how much I’ve learned. And my soul is ablaze with gratitude and compassion.

When Bodhidharma was asked, “What is the first principle of the holy teaching”, he didn’t say suffering. He said, “Vast emptiness. Nothing holy.” (John Tarrant, in Poison and Joy

Grey tower block

grey tower block (11 Apr 2011)

grey tower block (11 Apr 2011)


In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon, by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. The ‘anything whatever’ then becomes the sophisticated acme of value. (Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography)

Things are not what they appear to be: nor are they otherwise.
(Surangama Sutra)

In light inaccessible

It seems perfectly clear to me that the truth, the ancient truth, the eternal truth, the universal truth — whatever it may be — remains, to all intents and purposes, undiscovered. Which tempts me to posit that truth hides itself (deliberately or not) in much the same God remains “in light inaccessible hid from our eyes” (Walter Chalmers Smith).

All philosophies are mental fabrications. There has never been a single doctrine by which one could enter the true essence of things. (Nagarjuna)