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My teacher has been talking about how each person's reality (including the body) is in fact an illusion generated by the mind in each moment. As an extension of this, she teaches that there are no "good" or "bad" people, things or circumstances - the way things appear and the qualities they have are all coming from my own mind.

I think I kind of understand this as a metaphor, but I don't understand how she can seem to literally believe this: for example, during the teaching session I was very hungry. I thought, "I can meditate and come to ignore how hungry I am- but if I did that every time, one day I would die of starvation, whether I was aware of that in my mind or not. So surely hunger is actually "real" and not just in my mind - because it will lead to me dying unnecessarily unless I react to it?"

Another example I thought of was murder. I can believe everyone is neither good nor bad, and via compassion, everyone will seem good. But surely it doesn't matter how I imagine a situation is going in my mind - if I meet someone who tries to murder me, for example, they will kill me, regardless of how loving I believe them to be. My death would occur regardless of my mind (but if I had listened to my mind, I might have been able to avoid the death that would result from interacting with that person).

I understand that death isn't "good" or "bad" either - but how does the dharma explain the division between "mind reality" and actual physical reality that can kill me no matter what my mind does? Another quick example: medication for mental illness. I had a teacher once who endorsed mentally ill people stopping all medication, because it was only a placebo - but if that's true then why is it that an unmedicated schizophrenic (for example) would be physically unable to meditate (and cure themselves, as my teacher suggested) most of the time, as they would be too ill to concentrate? Isnt that an example of physical chemicals (drugs) being "stronger" than the mind (calming the mind so that it can begin to meditate)?

Apologies if I'm being ignorant, or if I sound critical. I feel like I'm missing some vocabulary that would help me explain better. Thanks for reading :)

(Edit: I also have a very similar question/example: why does it result in good karma when you feed starving people, if the food, the pain of starvation, and even your good deed is just an illusion in the minds of you and the starving person? Obviously if I had a sandwich, and I saw a child who was hungry, I'd give them all of the sandwich. But then isnt the child receiving negative karma for causing ME to go hungry, even though it was my choice? And why bother at all if only karma is real - the child's hunger isn't "real", so why end it?)

  • What buddhist sect does your teacher teach ? – breath Apr 9 '17 at 12:05
  • Both teachers I mentioned are part of the New Kadampa organisation, as this is the only one I have access to. I don't know if the part about medication is part of their beliefs (as to me it seemed like it could be harmful message & not one that I've heard associated with Buddhism before.) – user11124 Apr 9 '17 at 13:59
  • Google suggests there are controversies associated with NKT. This page claims that "no medication" is or was part of what some of their teachers teach/taught. – ChrisW Apr 9 '17 at 14:31
  • Being New Kadampa, should this be tagged as mahayana and/or tibetan buddhism? – Thiago Apr 11 '17 at 22:20
  • @ThiagoSilva It may be too late to do that: the tag would invalidate existing answers, which were posted before that tag was added to the question. When the OP posted their question and people answered, it was not apparent that the OP was asking for an answer specific to any particular tradition. – ChrisW Apr 12 '17 at 4:20

10 Answers 10

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an illusion generated by the mind in each moment

Hunger is a complex phenomenon:

  • "Name" and "form" (an absence of so-called food in the so-called stomach, with associated changes to the metabolism and sensory nerves)
  • Consciousness of the sensations (probably a series of moments of consciousness, not a continuous consciousness)
  • Feeling (how you feel about or perceive that sensation, for example, "this feels unpleasant")
  • Craving ("I want the feeling and sensation to be gone, I want my craving to be satisfied")
  • Attachment (deciding that "Food is the stuff which would satisfy this craving: I want food!")

Most of this is "mental", including your naming the components (hunger, stomach, food, etc.). An analogy might be, watching a movie: the movie might be 'based on a true story' and even have 'real' actors, but by the time it's been turned into a movie there's a large illusory or mind-made component.

I think it isn't only an illusion though. Before he became enlightened the Buddha tried not eating: it's said he found that interfered with meditation, and he therefore chose the doctrine of the "middle way" (neither the extreme of asceticism nor the extreme of hedonism). Buddhism has a lot to say to people about food (e.g. right behaviours and right attitudes to have, about food), and especially to monks.

why do we need to eat?

One theory is that human life is a good opportunity to experience dharma e.g. that things aren't permanent nor permanently satisfactory. Allegedly there are other, formless being in higher planes of existence, who don't need to "eat" as such, on the other hand it's hard or impossible for them to learn dharma.

So surely hunger is actually "real" and not just in my mind - because it will lead to me dying unnecessarily unless I react to it?

Consider the opposite side of that story too, though: people over-eat because they think they're hungry. Or they crave for the repetition of any number of other experiences.

The word "real" comes from the Latin word for "thing". I think that hunger has a real component, but also many mental components.

"My death" (i.e. "me" and "dying") are both concepts, too.

it doesn't matter how I imagine a situation is going in my mind

On the other hand it does matter: because most people aren't trying to kill you; if you go around thinking "this person may want to kill me" that has consequences (for example in how you behave, how you see yourself, and how people react).

why is it that an unmedicated schizophrenic would be physically unable to meditate

My experience is that an unmedicated schizophrenic may well be able to meditate; but they may have trouble communicating with other people, and/or other people have trouble communicating with them; and various social activities (wanting and keeping a job for example) may be difficult.

It depends on the person, and the situation, who's with them and how they react; depends on the medication too.

It's complicated, and psychiatric medications are simplistic, sometimes effective, sometimes not, often with undesirable physical side-effects but sometimes (depending) better than nothing. So I don't agree with the teacher if they said "mentally ill people stopping all medication, because it was only a placebo" -- some medications aren't "only a placebo" and some patients benefit from them.

I also don't agree with your statement: it may be true that some people can't or don't meditate, it just isn't always true, in my experience.

I feel like I'm missing some vocabulary that would help me explain better

Two useful bits of vocabulary are "middle way" and "two truths".

"Middle way" has a specific historical meaning,

There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

That historic meaning is especially relevant to food. I think "middle way" might also be used more generally, to mean avoiding other extremes: for example, "the world is just an illusion" is one extreme, and "thoughts are real" is maybe another extreme, and we're supposed to learn to avoid both these extremes, and to see each view in a proper context. There's a kind of nihilism that's explicitly defines as a "wrong view":

And what is wrong view?

'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.'

This is wrong view.

There's a lot written about "two truths" and I think that different schools of Buddhism may have said different things about it. I think that an example of "two truths" might be that, "I exist and I am Chris" is a so-called conventional truth, whereas "there is no thing which can be called Chris, Chris is a name applied to an assemblage of parts" is a so-called ultimate truth ... and they are both true, they are both truths (but perhaps also both untruths if they're merely concepts).

Then there's a non-duality doctrine (perhaps from later schools of Buddhism) which says that these two truths (conventional and ultimate) are one.

Another concept that may be worth remembering is that of "attachment to a view". A "view" is something fairly fixed or permanent (see e.g. the answers to this question). And having a fixed view, being attached to a specific view, may be unwise. Again it's a balancing act, i.e. Buddhism does define a set of views as "right" (i.e. "right view"), but also warns e.g. here or here or even here not to grasp at, not to argue about, not to be imprisoned by dogma.

why does it result in good karma when you feed starving people

A couple of reasons, one is that compassion and so on are meant to be the right way to behave socially:

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind, and in that they are akin to Brahma, the divine but transient ruler of the higher heavens in the traditional Buddhist picture of the universe.

Another reason is, I think, that we may tend to be selfish, to have thoughts like, "this is my hunger, this is my food, I am more important than they are" ... and that kind of egoism is a cause of suffering. See also Dana.

Within a lay context (i.e. if you're not a monk who has nothing) perhaps you're supposed to find some balance (i.e. non-extreme) in your giving too.

But then isnt the child receiving negative karma for causing ME to go hungry, even though it was my choice?

No: the giving is your choice, your intention, your karma.

And why bother at all if only karma is real - the child's hunger isn't "real", so why end it?)

I like this Zen story:

  1. Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

I think the point of the doctrines of emptiness and non-self is to avoid unwise attachment (e.g. "this is me! this is mine!"), which would cause suffering (e.g. "this is changing, this is being lost, so woe is me!").

And anger (and probably hurt pride) and so on is a prime example of an afflictive emotion (see e.g. "unwholesome factors" listed on this page; or "poisons" listed on this page).

There are other examples of Zen stories which I think are intended to inform us how we ought to be behave -- this one, for example, is relevant to feeding a hungry child:

  1. Is That So?

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

  • Reminds me of Byron Katie's question, "Is it true?" – user2341 Apr 11 '17 at 1:24
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"Illusion" and "reality" mean specific things in Buddhism. "Illusion" means attaching to the mental baggage we add to our experience -- the cause of our suffering. "Reality" is our experience devoid of this attachment. If you keep this in mind, you won't go astray. So either you misunderstood your teacher and her message was more subtle, or your teacher has missed the point and you should ignore her.

So if you don't eat food, you will starve. The illusion here is when you cling to the mental baggage that accompanies this experience. For instance, with the hunger, you start to think things like the following...

  • I shouldn't be hungry
  • I wish I was eating X
  • Why did I skip lunch?

Now as long as you are mindful of these thoughts as simply thoughts arising, you're ok. But when you cling to them, then you are under the spell of the illusion, and you suffer

Likewise, if you help those in need, you will make their lives better. The illusion happens when you cling to the mental baggage that arises in this situation. For instance, you see people in need. Fine. But now you might start adding to this feeling thoughts like the following...

  • Why must we live in a world where this happens?
  • Why won't anyone help them?
  • X is responsible for this!

Again, to the extent that you recognize these as simply thoughts arising, you are ok. But when you cling to them, you are under the spell of illusion and you suffer.

Even an apparently positive thought can be a problem. For instance, when you help someone, you might experience this thought arising...

  • I am a great person for helping

You may cling to it, and it may make you feel good. But it can sow the seeds of suffering because now you might get attached to this image of yourself as a good person and when it's challenged down the road, you can suffer.

Again, the issue here isn't thought, it's attachment to thought. Some thoughts are good guidelines for actions, while others simply cause you to suffer. Some do a bit of both. But in all cases, don't attach to them -- recognize them as thoughts and choose what to do about them -- if anything.

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"My teacher has been talking about how each person's reality (including the body) is in fact an illusion generated by the mind in each moment."

I don't know much about New Kadampa, but other Buddhist traditions don't really mean that reality is a creation of the mind. But rather that, because of a lack of understanding, we come to regard things as being or having characteristics that are really not there. For instance, to regard anything that is part of our individuality, or experience as something permanent, or something we have absolute and complete control over.

"for example, during the teaching session I was very hungry. I thought, "I can meditate and come to ignore how hungry I am- but if I did that every time, one day I would die of starvation, whether I was aware of that in my mind or not. So surely hunger is actually "real" and not just in my mind - because it will lead to me dying unnecessarily unless I react to it?""

This reflection is in accord with the words of the Buddha in the sutras. A similar analysis is used by Buddha to justify the conclusion that, say, "hunger" is not under one's complete and absolute control -- i.e., one cannot decide to not be hungry anymore, and have the wish granted.

  • Form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’ But because form is nonself, form leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’

  • Feeling is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, feeling were self, this feeling would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of feeling: ‘Let my feeling be thus; let my feeling not be thus.’

  • Perception is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, perception were self, this perception would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of perception: ‘Let my perception be thus; let my perception not be thus.’ [...]

  • Volitional formations are nonself. For if, bhikkhus, volitional formations were self, these volitional formations would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of volitional formations: ‘Let my volitional formations be thus; let my volitional formations not be thus.’ [...]

  • Consciousness is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, consciousness were self, this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of consciousness: ‘Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus.’ [...]

The above are taken from SN 22.59.

"Another example I thought of was murder. I can believe everyone is neither good nor bad, and via compassion, everyone will seem good. But surely it doesn't matter how I imagine a situation is going in my mind - if I meet someone who tries to murder me, for example, they will kill me, regardless of how loving I believe them to be. My death would occur regardless of my mind (but if I had listened to my mind, I might have been able to avoid the death that would result from interacting with that person)."

Because of impermanence, it's fair to say that no one is good nor bad -- someone who was a "bad person" in the past might now be "a good person", and vice-versa. Or even, a person might have both inclinations.

The same statement about no one being good nor bad might have a deeper meaning -- when it is a statement about anatta (not self).

But no amount of compassion is sufficient to guarantee safety from physical harm. At least, the buddhist traditions I'm familiar with are in accord with this. I don't know about New Kadampa.

"I understand that death isn't "good" or "bad" either - but how does the dharma explain the division between "mind reality" and actual physical reality that can kill me no matter what my mind does?"

In the suttas, the Buddha says:

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma (action). Intending, one does kamma (action) by way of body, speech, & mind.

-- AN 6.63

So, by means of intention that "you" or "your mind" starts an act to affect "actual" reality.

And, in the words of the Buddha, how does actual reality affects "you" or "your mind"?

“[...] In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, [pleasant, painful, neither] feeling comes to be; [...]"

-- SN 12.43

This is only an example of a process of cognition of something or an event in the actual reality, but the same applies to all of the senses.

In other words, because of the functioning of the sense organs (eye, ear, nose, etc) and the presence of what can be perceived by those (forms, sounds, tastes, temperature, pressure etc), it's possible to have cognition of an event in reality.

That's how, say, the perception of being killed in the actual reality becomes present.

"I also have a very similar question/example: why does it result in good karma when you feed starving people, if the food, the pain of starvation, and even your good deed is just an illusion in the minds of you and the starving person? Obviously if I had a sandwich, and I saw a child who was hungry, I'd give them all of the sandwich. But then isnt the child receiving negative karma for causing ME to go hungry, even though it was my choice? And why bother at all if only karma is real - the child's hunger isn't "real", so why end it?)"

Again, I don't where New Kadampa stands on this. Some buddhist traditions reject Idealism and some traditions accuse other traditions of the "mind only" view.

In any case, I think these questions that you raise are very significant to be asked to anyone before you decide to take their teachings.

Having said that, I'll take the liberty to answer the above from other buddhist perspectives.

First, a deed in many buddhist traditions is not completely evaluated by it's results (e.g. the food given satisfied someone's hunger, or money given was used to buy drugs). To a certain extent, it's evaluated by one's intention, motivation and attitude when performing it. To that extent, the deeds transforms one's inner habits, transforms one's minds (thoughts, reflexes, inclinations, tastes).

Thus, regardless of the actual results of the deeds, the performance of good deeds naturally turns one into a "good person", one who is inclined to have good thoughts (thoughts associated with non-hatred and non-greed), to associate with good people, inclined to do good. And bad deeds turns one into a "bad person", one inclined to do bad things, to take pleasure associating with bad people, to have bad thoughts associated with hatred and greed, etc.

So, an action, in this sense, is a way of transforming one's character, or one's mind. This is straightforward, and not really an understanding exclusive to Buddhism. Apparently, the following remarks come from Christians, but it's not at all far from what the Buddha taught:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.

On the other hand, the effect of the deed and also to whom it benefits (or hurts) also comes into play in the theories of buddhist karma. But I think it's the perspective of transforming one's mind that gains more emphasis on the buddhist training.

The importance of doing good deeds in Buddhism is two-fold:

  • It affects the suffering one is subject to encounter in the future. In this current life, it makes one tolerate pain and unfortunate events easier. In future lives (if one takes it as true), it may lead one to more peaceful destinations, with less suffering.

  • It's transformative effect prepares the mind to take on deeper practices to understand the most subtle laws of reality.

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My teacher has been talking about how each person's reality (including the body) is in fact an illusion generated by the mind in each moment

Your 'teacher' is wrong, with ideas that are not Buddhist.

As an extension of this, she teaches that there are no "good" or "bad" people

There are sets of aggregates with mental dispositions that predominantly perform harmless or violent actions, which are conventionally known as 'good & bad people'.

The ideas of 'good', 'bad' & 'person' are created by the mind however this does not change the nature of violence or harmlessness.

things or circumstances - the way things appear and the qualities they have are all coming from my own mind.

In Buddhism, actions based in greed, hatred & delusion are 'bad' or 'unwholesome' because they are destuctive. They do not come from your own mind but are universal realities.

I think I kind of understand this as a metaphor, but I don't understand how she can seem to literally believe this: for example, during the teaching session I was very hungry. I thought, "I can meditate and come to ignore how hungry I am- but if I did that every time, one day I would die of starvation, whether I was aware of that in my mind or not. So surely hunger is actually "real" and not just in my mind - because it will lead to me dying unnecessarily unless I react to it?"

Hunger is created by the biological mechanisms of the physical body, which creates hunger pain. If the mind chooses to starve to death, the hunger pain will exist until death. Thus, the hunger is not created by the mind. It is created by the body.

Another example I thought of was murder. I can believe everyone is neither good nor bad, and via compassion, everyone will seem good. But surely it doesn't matter how I imagine a situation is going in my mind - if I meet someone who tries to murder me, for example, they will kill me, regardless of how loving I believe them to be. My death would occur regardless of my mind (but if I had listened to my mind, I might have been able to avoid the death that would result from interacting with that person).

The Buddha taught greed, hatred & delusion are 'the unwholesome', i.e., 'destructive'. If the mind is enlightened, it will not have the view of "I am dying". However, the murderous actions remain destructive.

I understand that death isn't "good" or "bad" either - but how does the dharma explain the division between "mind reality" and actual physical reality that can kill me no matter what my mind does?

The dharma states all conditioned things are impermanent & this impermanence is unrelated to mental cognition. This is why your teacher is wrong.

Another quick example: medication for mental illness. I had a teacher once who endorsed mentally ill people stopping all medication, because it was only a placebo - but if that's true then why is it that an unmedicated schizophrenic (for example) would be physically unable to meditate (and cure themselves, as my teacher suggested) most of the time, as they would be too ill to concentrate? Isnt that an example of physical chemicals (drugs) being "stronger" than the mind (calming the mind so that it can begin to meditate)?

Yes. What you wrote is correct. That chemicals have powerful effects upon the mind shows the mind does not create the entire reality.

(Edit: I also have a very similar question/example: why does it result in good karma when you feed starving people, if the food, the pain of starvation, and even your good deed is just an illusion in the minds of you and the starving person?

A good deed may be an illusion but doing good deeds develops virtue. The path is threefold, namely, virtue, meditation, wisdom.

Obviously if I had a sandwich, and I saw a child who was hungry, I'd give them all of the sandwich. But then isnt the child receiving negative karma for causing ME to go hungry, even though it was my choice?

No. Karma is intention. It was your intention to give your sandwich away therefore it was your intention that causes your own hunger.

And why bother at all if only karma is real - the child's hunger isn't "real", so why end it?)

There are two-levels of dharma. Karma is the moral level & the foundation for the higher level. For example, doing bad karma creates hindrances to concentration, which will be a hindrance to realising the 'illusory' nature of the 'self' fabrication. To reach the higher level of enlightenment, bad karma must be avoided.

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We don't need to eat, we assume we need to eat. All concepts words, ideas, reason, logic are all human assumptions. Real experiential reality doesn't admit of any person's concepts. We don't have to ponder anything but naked reality. Just witness what arises and falls through your eyes, ears, tongue, body sensation, partiality, emotions and thoughts(just the thought not it's conceptual contents) and insights will come subtly and grossly. Naked reality, naked truth, naked experience, empty experience and many more sayings mean reality without our categorization of everything. It's experiencing what is in our awareness on a moment to moment basis.

  • @no comprende The practice of not practicing and just staying in our comfort zones is how we are like animals. – Lowbrow Apr 13 '17 at 18:31
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My teacher has been talking about how each person's reality ... the way things appear and the qualities they have are all coming from my own mind.

What decides wholesome and unwholesome is why and how we react when we experience the result. Generally you receive what you give. For this reason, give what you want to expect.

... food ...

To sustain life you need 4 inputs

Edible food, coarse and fine;
secondly, sense-impression;
thirdly, volitional thought;
fourthly, consciousness.

Puttamansa Sutta

If you were to "fast" or "starve" at all, you should starve yourself of new Karma producing activity (volitional thought) by being equanimous [and seeing impermanence], rather than reduce edible food to unhealthy levels.

As for edible food you should take timely and adequate amount of food to sustain life and you meditation practice.

... I understand that death isn't "good" or "bad" either ...

Death is not good or bad. It is the intention. If you intend to harm this is unwholesome and then you experience the results you will not like it.

Say a surgeon does a operation to save a life but the patient dies the intention was good hence this is good.

If a mugger kills to snatch a purse, then the intention is bad so the karmic result will be unfavorable.

Finally what you practice and believe in should lead to the benefit of oneself and that of others. Always see if it is this belief or practice is to my benefit and that of others and embrace it. If not, leave it aside. The benefits should be tangible which you experience here and now.

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How does what your teacher is telling you help you? Does it help you to live your life better? To let go? To experience more freedom and happiness? To show up more for others with generosity and compassion? Is what they are teaching you useful? Or is it all just a bunch of meaningless mystical jargon that leads to confusion and has no real practical bearing on your reality? This is what you might ask yourself.

It's true that everything that happens we experience through a filter of our own conditioning and history etc. for example when we see an animal such as a lion kill another animal we accept that it's just normal because this is what they must do to survive. However when we see a human take another human life we see it through a whole bunch of concepts that have been fed into our minds by our culture.

Also we seem to have no problem with mass factory farming animals in the most abhorrent conditions so that we can have a nice piece of flesh to eat all packed cleanly and neatly on the supermarket shelf. When you think about what actually happens to those animals it's nothing short of a horrifying tragedy yet we can just compartmentalise and deny it all while we eat our meat in a detached way around the bbq with friends. Surely killing millions of animals cruelly and unnecessarily, because after all we don't need to eat meat, is far worse than one person killing one other person? But we do not believe this so for us it is not true. If a woman kills her abusive husband to save her own life and or her children's lives we would have no problem with it.

Another example is the way terrorism is viewed in Western cultures. As horrifying as it is, we are manipulated by our politicians who feed us a very biased narrative about it on one hand and on the other are waging war and killing millions of innocent people. So in the end it's always about your beliefs and concepts that make something good or bad, right or wrong.

If you think about your mentioned thoughts on hunger. Hunger itself does not exist. What exists is a naked sensation in the body. We add the idea or concept called "hunger" to it. We have been conditioned that when I feel this it means I must eat. When you were a baby it didn't mean the same thing, it was just discomfort and you reacted to it by crying then your mother fed you. So in this sense hunger does not exist. It's not that things don't exist, it's that they are not what you believe them to be.

  • Very true. Whether illusion or real, what gives out what comes back, it's the law. The Buddhist teaching said, the wars are the (karmic) response to killing, whether killing animals or humans. Mahayanist doctrine is to abstain from meat. – Mishu 米殊 Apr 12 '17 at 15:10
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It is not that each person's ego is making the reality but that the Mind is creating the reality.

Hence, the rules that have come out of that are in effect.

Even without Enlightenment though there are ways to go beyond hunger e.g. eating chi.

But once Enlightened, one can change those rules--not that one would really care to doctor reality.

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It's dangerous and the beginning of suffering when our mind and our intellect goes in split, our prime evil in the 12 Nidanas begin with Ignorance. That's why when our intellect knew reality is mind created, but our mind can't see the real reality. Thus the rest of your analogies in your questions are the declarations of the intellect, but the mind doesn't agree to see the same. So they are fallacies, but correct in terms of clauses written on the human laws books. Your teacher taught a very dangerous teaching. The battle between Emptiness空 and Beingness有 was quite bloody in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Some Bhikkhus committed gravely sins when caught up by the notion of Emptiness, with only their intellectual understanding.

If we need to eat "food" to survive or not for reality is mind created. In fact, what do you think that is "food"? When broken down into smaller and smaller units, food is just energy. A grain of rice is full of carbon, so is charcoal, diamond, but you can't eat diamond can you? The Buddha said all are combinations of the 4 Greats (attributions): fire water earth wind, plus 3 more totaled 7 Greats but they are not directly involved in forming "matter". In real there are no such things as apple, potato, cabbage... etc. If your mind and intellect are "coherent", yes, eating is no longer corresponding to human food only. In Chinese self-cultivation practice 辟谷, abstain of human food, is a very common practice. This is also likely known in traditional Indian yogis. Practicing meditation there are ways to intake energy directly from the surrounding. In fact, to a deeper level, this intake-release of energy is also an illusion. However, if your mind can't directly see the illusion, only your intellect is babbling, this won't have any effect on actual feeling the hunger, and eventual starve to death. :\

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Nine other answers have directly addressed your question, so I will take a different route: explaining that the premise is incorrect, as you have already suspected. Perhaps this will be useful to you.

Ideas of the kind you say your teachers are putting forth amount to this core concept: There is something beyond the material reality that we see.

  1. This is not a Buddhist idea, so these people are not teaching Buddhism, they are teaching something that they have added on to it.

  2. All such claims are subjective and completely unverifiable, so they are not knowledge.

  3. Whether right or wrong, they are not teachable information. It is not reliably possible to induce awareness or an experience in another person.

There might be more that I could add, but it is sufficient to be able to dismiss such ideas as not necessary to the path (any path). They can only be seen as one person's impression. If they are disseminated as teaching, they must be regarded as dogma.

I would hand them a copy of the Heart Sutra and move on. As Gary Zukav summarized: "That which is, is that which is." We are all individually responsible for holding fast to this and to not accept teachings of alternative realities.

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