Hsu Yun Chan Yuen
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Masters of Maya

A commentary on Chuan Yuan Shakya's
Heisenberg, Zen, and the Images of Death
by Fa Shen, January 1998

He calls all creatures to this light,
and of this water they drink, though in the dark,
Though it is night!
                              - St. Juan de la Cruz

Some thoughts have been bouncing around my brain since I read Heisenberg's quotation, "...we have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning."

The tools with which we are born and with which we come to know the world are our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and touch. All of these senses are really our method of questioning and of observing the world around us -- the world of Maya. We often say that our eyes look out upon the world. But what intrigues me is that it isn't so much our eyes looking out as what is projected onto us, followed by our interpretation of what we think we have just sensed.

For example, letís take our simple observation of a house plant. Light photons of varying frequencies emanate from the sun and bombard the leaf of the plant. Many of the photons pass through its surface and are absorbed by molecules such as chlorophyll. In the process, the energy of the photons are converted into energy-rich chemical bonds that can be used by the plant to generate nutrients and to maintain various functions within the plant. The frequencies of light which the leaf does not absorb bounce off, and if we are present into our eyes. The lens of our eyes receive this information and project it onto the retina. A cascade of electrochemical events soon follow which translate these incoming signals into a format which allows our mind to come up with the color green and a contrasted image of the leaf. We want to know more about this leaf and so we access information from our other senses. We gently touch the leaf to find that its top surface is smooth, and its bottom rough. We hear how the leaf sounds when a breeze comes by causing the leaves to rub against each other. We use all our faculties, and so we "create" a fuller image of it in our mind. This Maya-leaf seems so real.

Our first impulse is that what we sense exists as an external, independent and fixed reality. But our senses never evolved so that we could know the truth of "what is". They seem to have evolved only to allow us to survive, procreate and to help our offspring do the same. We build microscopes to "see" near and we build telescopes to "see" far. We have spectrometers that can "smell" and "taste" the contents of gas vapors and liquids, allowing us to identify these substances. We have devices that can "feel" surfaces for temperature and pressure, and we have sound meters that can "hear" loudness and pitch. Now we are on a scientific "path" to the discovery of Maya in its totality. We think that by creating more tools of increasing sensitivity that we will come to know "what is".

What we eventually find on our "path" is that the sub-atomic world does not behave in a way that our mind can fathom. It appears that fixed points of reality do not exist in the pre-observational external world, only quantum probabilities everywhere. Upon observation, these energy potentialities collapse. Flash! -- we affect the "nature" of things simply by our awareness of them. Particles seem to scintillate in and out of existence before our "eyes". From all appearances, it seems as though we are creating the world as we go, as we experience it. Each of us seems to carry our own version of a Star Trek holographic unit in our heads, and we use our subjective programming, brain and senses to activate and access it. And what is a hologram but something that takes input data and creates a model or illusion of reality? The assumption that the world exists as an external reality seems to be at odds with our understanding of quantum science.

It appears that all observers are much more like artists than objective scientists. We dip our mind's brush in the bucket of quantum probabilities around us to create our world, and like an artist we are responsible for that creation. It would seem that we are masters of Maya from the very beginning.

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Last modified: July 11, 2004
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