No, really. It is all about me. How could it be otherwise when we each make contact with the world through our own sense doors, and then process that input through our individual and unique perceptual filters? For us worldlings, everything we experience is experienced from the reference point of self.
Acknowledging this is a step towards working skillfully with self/not-self. We are able to see at least a little that life as we experience it is real–and not real. The effect is similar to being so engrossed in a movie that we forget that we have become part of an illusion–until the credits roll and the lights come up. Then we remember that we have been entertained and are now firmly back to “reality.” Except that “reality” is also an illusion. When we see the picture of the man standing on the bottle, we know it is an optical illusion, a trick of photography. We do not usually think of our every day experience as being illusory. Henry David Thoreau describes the conceptual difficulty we face: “I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life we imagine we are?”
People who have deeply understood the nature of conditioned experience have described this epiphany as being like “awakening from a dream.”
This is not an easy teaching to understand, although it can be known. It isn’t intuitive and contradicts some very deep rooted instincts. The world appears to be solid and I see things “my way.” I not only see things my way, I am distressed when they are not the way I want them to be.
In the Dvayatanupassana Sutta: The Contemplation of Dualities (Snp 3.12)*, the Buddha gives a discourse to the sangha about this problem and how to contemplate the dualism inherent in every facet of our experience. He examines how we make contact with the external world and immediately a feeling about that contact arises. Based on the feeling, we either chase after pleasure or push away that which is painful–the basic problem of human existence. The Buddha explains that we cannot be at ease until we see the truth; until we understand what is happening we will be caught in the self-perpetuating torment that is the wheel of samsara.
Andrew Olendzki writes about this sutta:
These verses from the Sutta Nipata aptly state the paradox of illusion. Our six senses spin threads of perception, which we weave into a tapestry called “myself and the world.” We then take this handiwork to be more solid and meaningful than it is, and get caught in its intricate patterns and colors.
For those who are able to see through this illusory construction (an ability that comes in part from meditation), ordinary pleasures are seen as a snare that catches and reinforces the ego — that view we have of self as separate, from which so much suffering arises. The moderation or even renunciation of these pleasures, on the other hand, can be viewed as a powerful tool for gaining freedom from our self-created suffering.**
When we can acknowledge that the world we perceive is always “all about me,” paradoxically we make it less so.
*For the complete text of the sutta, see “Dvayatanupassana Sutta: The Contemplation of Dualities” (Snp 3.12), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 8 August 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.3.12.than.html .
**”Dvayatanupassana Sutta: A Teaching Hard to Know” (Snp 3.12), translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki. Access to Insight, 8 August 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.3.12.olen.html .