THE NATURE OF EXPERIENCE

A series of nine lectures by Eido Michael Luetchford

The following files contain transcripts of a series of nine lectures given by Eido Michael Luetchford at the Tokyo Young Buddhists Association in Spring 1999. While each talk is complete in itself, the talks all follow the theme of "The Nature of Experience," with the word experience meaning "to participate in or undergo something, to be part of something," which describes something that is at the heart of Buddhism.

 

Lecture 1

Talks about the very simple kind of experiences that we have when we do something active, where the experience we have is so simple that we tend not to notice it. Then goes on to look at the few assertions Buddhism makes about the world around us, and suggests that the assertions Buddhism makes and the very simple experiences that we don't usually notice are in fact rather similar.

"...the very simple state which Buddhism is talking about is present in all activity, but it's overlaid by our feelings and our impressions and social conventions, so that we don't notice it. But although we don't notice it, it's still present."

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Lecture 2

Talks about the experience of a baby when it's very small and has not yet been subjected to the conditions of society. Then talks about the kind of conditioning that society places on the baby as it gets older, and how this relates to Buddhist theory and Zazen.

"We're members of society, and because we're members of society we receive social training. We put on pairs of coloured spectacles and we see the world through our education and social training. But when we practice Zazen we glimpse the real world that exists always here and now. And that world is separate from what we think about it, and separate from the so-called "social constructions" that we use in our daily life."

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Lecture 3

Talks about language and the effect it has on the way we perceive the world, and how we sometimes mistake the view that language gives us for what is really here. Then goes on to look at the difficulty in Buddhism about trying to use words to try to describe reality.

"But in Buddhism, what we have to try and do is describe reality in words, and because of the almost impossibility of this it has been said that Buddhist theory is like a finger pointing at the moon, but only we can touch the moon. In other words, language points us towards something, but what it's pointing towards is not the same as what is pointing."

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Lecture 4

Talks about the material view of the world represented by science and how it's closely connected with language. Then looks at how people's view of the world has gradually changed from a spiritual to a scientific view, and what Buddhism says about this view.

"Science is something which is so widespread in modern times that we don't notice, but if we look back into history, before the fifteenth century, we can catch a glimpse of a very, very different way of viewing the world. "

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Lecture 5

Talks about the fundamental difference between Buddhism and all of the social training that we're used to. Then looks at this difference in relation to Zazen and what Buddhism says about reality.

"And when we practice Zazen, instead of solving problems by absorbing knowledge, we let go of all that. We let go of our thinking, we let go of our worries, we let go of our pain, and we sit in something very simple, very immediate and very real. And if we sit in that very simple state everyday, after a while we notice the flavour of reality, the taste of reality, and then we notice that what society says is reality has a different quality. "

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Lecture 6

Talks about how the world view based on science is so pervasive in the modern world that we don't notice it. Then looks at how Buddhism insists that the actual reality in front of us is beyond science, although it includes science.

"Buddhism has a different view to the view of science, but it does not exclude science. Buddhism says that reality is not what we learned or what we saw on the television, but what we actually experience here and now."

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Lecture 7

Looks at how science depends on language to create an objective model of the world that is as close as possible to our actual experience. Then talks about another area which is outside of this objective model of the world, where what is in front of us becomes whole and undivided and nameless.

"...we usually think that when we look at the external world we see objects, but in one of his verses Master Nagarjuna says that when the external world appears in front of us, it appears in front of us nameless, and the objects, the objectification, comes afterwards. "

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Lecture 8

Looks at the difference between science and religion from the aspect of "doubt," and at how doubt is fundamental to the scientific view while absolute belief is fundamental to the religious view. Then goes on to look at what Buddhism says about these views.

"But the central belief in Buddhism is only what is here and now, which we call reality. If it's not here and now, we don't believe it; we say it may be true. So the only thing which we can be sure of is whatever is here and now. That which appears here and now is what we can be sure of, and that which appears here and now is what Buddhism believes in."

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Lecture 9

Reviews some of the themes discussed in the series of talks, and goes on to describe what Buddhism says about our experience of reality.

"When we sit in Zazen, the strange thing is there is no sensation of perception of separate objects. Of course, we may suddenly notice someone coming into the room and we may notice a spot on the wall or our foot and so on, so we drift in and out of objective and subjective states in Zazen, but the essential state does not separate the world into objects. And the same is true of action."

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