Monday, July 20, 2009

The World of Make-Believe

"The World of Make-Believe" number 111 of 200 from Robert Aitken's book Miniatures of a Zen Master.

How to cope with the question of the world of make believe? Robert Aitken points out that "we don't know we are making believe" and these made up believes "encroach on our world and actually endanger it."

This is one of the hopeful signs of Zen practice, this waking up from making believe. Each one of us makes a difference. Someday there will be a tipping point and our world will be a little less endangered.

This 'make believe' occurs on both the gross and subtle levels. Whole cultural genres are grossly make believe. Some are so easy to see how they "encroach on our world and actually endanger it." Violent computer games. pornography, horror movies, patriotism, war mongering, Santa Claus, etc.

Subtler forms of make believe are so much more, well subtle. If we pay attention to our thinking we cannot help but notice all the make believe.

I feel like I've held back here. It is easy for me to say that "such and such" out in the world is make believe. The examples like those above seem outside of me. First we identify those notions that are make believe that are in us. This is some hard work. 

Any error or confusion created by my commentary on
Miniatures of a Zen Master
is solely a reflection of my own delusion and ignorance.
Any merit generated by this activity is solely the result of
Aitken Roshi's clear teaching and is dedicated to
all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time.


  1. I agree with you that "this is some hard work." If you've held back, could it be with the realization that it is unkind and unwise to shatter another's make believe world? It is something we have to each discover, as we are able. Those who are not ready simply will not understand; those who are ready will discover it on their own. I think you did just right.

  2. Yes, I am torn between the understanding of how the make believe needlessly threatens our world and the trouble and actual violence stored up in those make believe notions. To expose them is to unleash there wrath.

    Yet, on a much more subtle level, I have to carefully examine the notions I hold and critically examine their 'make-believeness'.

    Am I the good lover and friend I think myself to be? Am I the smart and wise person I think myself to be?

    I can see how my notions about life are keeping me separate from it.

    This has been the most challenging miniature so far because it asks us to acknowledge that we don't know when we are making believe. It ask us to question endlessly.

    This is some hard work.

  3. Interestingly, this very morning I am reading the beginning of the Surangama Sutra. My translation is by Charles Luk and I've taken it from Anyway, on p 37 there is a note: "Since Ananada always treasured his Ego he would suffer shock and alarm if it was suddenly crushed."

    It is important to remember that we are on a path, that no matter how much we understand, we are not there. Along this path, I think it is natural to gain deeper and deeper understanding of how our own notions shape our own world, and then to see beyond the notions. I believe that is the essence of the path.

  4. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. I try and look beyond my notions of the world. This becomes easier and more subtle as practice progresses.

    I keep coming back to practice. I notice how I deviate, then I just come back. This is the path. Continuously coming back.