Wherever we find an object or develop a concept, there is perception. When we examine a thing or a thought we arrive closer to the reality or detoured by falseness of what we had previously believed about it. When we examine the thing or idea as objectively as we can, we become less tricked by it’s superficial appearance.
While contemplating the thing or thought, we can take a mental step back and examine if we like it, dislike it, or feel meh about it. Is it something our emotions tell us we should acquire or dismiss? We can further examine our emotional impressions and opinions about the object or idea and try to understand the how and why we feel this way.
Often times we become so attached to our perception of a concept that we refuse to accept the objective reality of it. The Buddha once gave a sermon about a widowed merchant who traveled away from his city to engage in some trading. He left his son behind to guard over his home. While the merchant was gone, thieves came to steal the merchant’s valuables, then burned down the home.
When the merchant returned, he saw the ash-heap that used to be his home and the charred body of a boy. The merchant went into mourning, had the boy’s body cremated, then placed the boy’s ashes into a special pouch so the merchant could carry the cremains wherever he went.
Meantime, what had actually happened in the merchant’s absence, was that the thieves stole valuable objects and kidnapped the merchant’s son. The boy, whose body had been found by the merchant, was that of a poor, unfortunate bystander. Three years later, the merchant’s son escaped from the clutches of the kidnapping thieves and ran back home.
The son arrived at his father’s rebuilt home late at night. He entered the house, only to find his father laying on the floor, holding the special pouch of cremains, sobbing and suffering. The father asked who was in the room. The son replied he was the merchant’s long-lost son. The merchant refused to believe the young man; explaining that he had cremated the son’s body and carries the ashes with him wherever he goes. He told the young man that he must be a trickster who only wants to take advantage of the merchant. The merchant then expelled the young man and forbade him from ever returning. Thus, the merchant ended up losing his real son forever.
Among other interpretations, the parable demonstrates how easy it is for reality to be distorted by our emotional state and that we can make unwise decisions because our perceptions are flawed. What we see is not necessarily what others see. We live parallel lives with others who have not exactly shared our experiences, interests, and traumas.
What is obvious to others is not obvious to us and vice versa. As outside observers, we see that the merchant suffered great trauma and closed himself off from the reality of his son’s existance despite the boy’s very presence in the merchant’s room. The merchant’s refusal to accept reality only led to more suffering–his own and that of his son.
The parable also demonstrates that it is unwise to become too attached to our perceptions and opinions. It is good to consider other viewpoints and examine them with objective discernment to avoid going down a dead-end alley and wasting our precious time on our own and other’s opinions. It’s better to calmly seek out the core reality of things and ideas with the tool of objectivity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Maltese author, inventor, philosopher, physician, and psychologist, the late Edward de Bono. “Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.”