Sunday, March 18, 2007

Swan Reflection

Swan Reflection, Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 75mm, Exposure 1/250 sec @ f5.3, ISO 200, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Which is real -- the swan or its reflection? Of course, they both are "real", right? But you cannot have the reflection without the swan, so perhaps the swan is "more real"? Or perhaps I have to ask instead about the water, since without the water, there is no medium for reflection?

Step back further and ask about the observer. If there is no one to see the reflection, does it exist? Depending on the angle of the observer, and the sun, one may or may not see a reflection. Or one observer may see it, and one in another location, may not.

I think the answer is that the only thing which is real is the observer-swan-water-sun-reflection-etc... combination. Remove any one of this endless chain of being, and what you see here will not have ever existed. It is that level of dependency, that cocreativity, which really defines being.

So what does that mean? Well, it means, essentially, that you cannot "really" cut up the world into separate subjects and objects. The swan does not exist in isolation. Just like its reflection. Nor do you.

Think of the swan as a energy perturbation in a continuum known (for the moment) as the universe. That energy perturbation will be perceived differently by different observers (and their sensory organs). So the only correct explanation is the subject-object combination itself. And this continues ad infinitum, until it engulfs the entire universe. No subjects. No objects. Only being.

Enough of the physics (or metaphysics). What of the beauty? Is it inate? Inherent in the swan? Or its reflection? Or the photograph?

I don't think so -- the beauty is in you, the viewer. Either it is beautiful to you, or it is not. This is a purely subjecive aspect -- yes, one that can be shaped by convention and norms -- but subjective, nonetheless.

So is the beauty "real"? Surely someone can tell you they know beauty when they see it -- it is not a random occurance. It could be tested and is repeatable. And I hope this particular image represents something beautiful to you ;-)

And yet, some people say they see beauty everywhere. Even in what other people "typically" think of as ugly. In death. In squalor. In war. Why do these people see so much more beauty than the "average" person? And is that "real"? Can one be "trained" to see more beauty? Will it come about from other personal changes? From what some call enlightenment?

I don't know. But I do know that depending on my outlook, my perspective, my attention, my intention ... I will see more or less beauty. And I'm always happiest when I'm surrounded by beauty. Wherever and whenever I am.


Grasshopper said...

Well Bodisatva, a few comments. One is that my belief is that "a reality exits" whether you are there or not. You participate in the reality if the concentration of energy which is "you" are present for it. Reality in its most tradtional sense is a consensus ... a series of agreed upon models from the observers (who are really one in the same with each other and the swan).

That being said, you have created this reality with us. Through your words you have helped build a model. Through your actions in creating the camera angle.

Consider if you had flipped the swan over and taken the photo. I imagine most, including myself would not have participated in creating the consensus beauty. Consider if the swan were being hunted to extinction, and that was your discusssion. I doubt many would have participated in the beauty.

Regarding beauty and the ability to see it everywhere. It is surely something which can be cultivated. I find this particularly when I am running. Even in the faces of desperation and pain , inherent in the human condition. For myself, only through freeing myself from paid employment was I abale to create enough time-space to begin to noticeably cultivate it. To begin to get the slightest peak at shedding 44 years of brain washing.

The path to cultivating beauty for me has been the Buddhist Path, which I began to follow, and aspire to internalize.

Thank you for sharing in the consensus of your Swan.


Steven Crisp said...

Grasshopper, thanks as usual for your thoughtful comments.

I find it fascinating just how immersed we are in the "illusion" that we see to be "reality". To extricate ourselves enough to see what is essential, and what is just part of the illusion is a great challenge indeed.

It is like asking a fish to imagine living in a world without water. (What's a fish?)

It is like asking that age-old queston: "if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?" (What's a sound?)

It is like the Zen koan, "what is the sound of one-hand clapping." (What's clapping?)

The beauty in each of these is that they are not possible in our "real" world. They are instead mental constructs, which we try to imagine, and then try to remove the essential piece (be it water, ourself, or a hand).

Hopefully they help to illustrate just how intertwined our "real" world is. There is no such thing as a fish, without water. No such thing as a sound without someone to hear it. No such thing as a clap without two hands. And more basically, no such thing as an object without a subject.

So every "reality" is but a subject-object combination. But since that is true, everything else must be similarly connected. Nothing stands in isolation. The mental exercises are what is not real.

For me, this awareness stopped my previous physics-trained mind from continuing to "cut up" the world. Which, BTW, is what Western science tends to do. To "measure" things -- by separating them from their environment, and treating them as a just an object.

Well, the world doesn't work that way. Really.

And yet we must communicate, and duality is built into our language and our mental image processing. It is therefore essential that we remember reality, and not be fooled by the illusion.

As for beauty, yes, it really is in the eye of the beholder. Things will be just as beautiful as you want/realize them to be. And yes, time to realize this, and to practice this, is a great help. I'm glad for you (and for me) it is working.

Namaste my friend.

Avantika said...

I liked this discussion on the nature of reality.
Having lived in India,where the concept of 'maya' or 'illusion' is ingrained in most people,I feel it has some distressing consequences.
People sometimes ignore the suffering of those right in front of them , dismissing everything as maya.I think when Truth is understood,the gap between the observer and the observed is closed,and then it is realised that the 'illusion' is really one of seperateness.

Steven Crisp said...


This is a very important point, and thank you for making it. Yes, to imagine everything is just "illusion" is perhaps to conclude that nothing matters. A form of nihlism when taken to an extreme.

But instead to realize that the basis of the illusion, of maya, is the duality of subject and object -- of separation -- then we begin to see the basis for compassion and love in every encounter.

For then we can say that your suffering is my suffering, and together we should work to alleviate it.