As children, cognitive development centers around constructing tools that allow us to effectively navigate our physical world. The world Buddhists would call Samsara, the world of things and concepts, the relative world. Concepts like a like a tree or chair, or more importantly the sense of self, the ego, the concept of self. I like the ‘self-symbol’.
A good way to start considering our conceptualized perception is in terms of our bodies, our muscle memory. When I move my hand I don’t have to consider the dozens of muscles all interacting fluidly and seamlessly. I don’t have to tell each muscle to move and coordinate, if I had too, moving as I do would be nearly impossible. I would have to devote pretty much all my concentration to performing the simplest of actions. Think of a baby learning to move for the first time. Over years of use I create this muscle memory, a hand-symbol.
It’s a way to move without having to think too much about it. But here in lies the dilemma, even if I wanted to move one of these individual muscles I couldn’t, for the most part I’m not even aware of what or how many their are. You might say I’ve lost touch with the reality of my hand. It’s now a concept, a symbol, a mental shortcut.
The mind works in the same manner as it creates the world of things around itself, even as it creates itself. The necessary shortcuts to understand the relationships between phenomenon and ourselves. It is why humanity has become so successful, we create concepts and even their relationships so that we can then put to future use.
“When this habitually erroneous perception of reality is broken the self-symbol has the opportunity to expand.”
When it comes to the realm of thought-concepts, the most important is obviously the sense of self. The ego. That thing which I am in relation to the world.
The self-symbol is key and having a fluent understanding of this idea is key to begin understanding the spiritual experiences of the worlds profits.
The religious experience occurs when the meditator is able to break down the conception of self that has governed there interactions with the world. When this habitually erroneous perception of reality is broken the self-symbol has the opportunity to expand.
Its something we observe every day. Whether its nationalism, ethnocentrism, a sense of family or community. When we see people willing to die for their country or their tribe. It is the self-symbol expanding behind the confines of their body. A good way to point to the self-symbol is what you view as most important, what you are willing to die for.
Of course this is not a static phenomenon. A good way to think about it is the center of gravity of conciseness, assuming it will be swinging to expansion and contraction throughout the day. Check out Considering Tantra for a few thoughts on what creates these shifts.
When the self-symbol grows immensely the sensation can become even more dramatic, and the religious experience is born. It’s not uncommon either, especially when it comes to the natural world. When people speak of feeling one with nature, with the woods, the trees, or the mountains. The sense of oneness an unity of all things. The self-symbol expands to the natural world.
All of our worldly concerns collapse into the experience, sometimes even time and space, let alone petty conceptual concerns of good or bad, moral or immoral, happy or sad. There only is, and just being, just experiencing, is the profits realization.