To ourselves, we are consciousness. And the world, as it appears to us, happens within and is consciousness. (When we look, we can find this independent of whatever worldview we have or philosophy we subscribe to.)
At the same time, we undeniably experience matter, and we may even experience it as solid and substantial.
So how does our mind create its experience of matter?
We can explore this through some forms of inquiry, for instance traditional Buddhist inquiry (exploring what’s happening in each sense field and how they combine to create an experience) and modern variations like Living Inquiries.
What do we find through these inquiries?
In general, we find that our mind makes sense of the world through an overlay of mental images and words, and it also associates sensations with some of these images and words. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and even truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give meaning to the sensations.
I feel that something is true because of the sensations associated with the thoughts, and the sensations means something to me because of the thoughts associated with the sensations.
And that’s how our experience of matter is created as well. As I type of this computer, I see the screen and the keyboard, I heard the sound of the keys, and I feel the sensations of my fingers touching the keys. There is a mental overlay that makes sense of it all – screen, keys, hands, words, meaning. And one of the thoughts – and underlying assumptions – is of matter. The computer is matter, my fingers and hands are matter.
When I examine this specific experience of matter – for instance the sight and feel of the computer, I find sight, sound, sensations, and mental images and words making sense of it. That’s all I can find. I cannot find something called matter outside of this, or a computer, or hands, or anything else. It’s all made of up of these components in my mind.
My mind is creating its experience out of these very simple components.
I may also notice that all of this – sights, sounds, sensations, mental images and words – happen within and as consciousness. My experience of matter is made up of these components, and it all happens within and as what I am. I find myself as capacity for all of it.
This examination – especially when done over time and from different angles – changes our experience of…. our experience. Yes, matter is matter as it’s conventionally seen. And yet, it’s also not. It’s all made up of these components and it’s all happening within and as consciousness. It’s not as real or substantial as I initially assumed.
After we see through this, how do we experience matter?
I take it as we all do in a conventional sense. I walk, pick up things, my toe hurts when I stub it. But I also notice it’s happening within and as what I am, or within and as consciousness. One does not preclude the other.
Why is it useful to explore this?
This, in itself, is perhaps not directly useful. It’s interesting to see how our mind creates its own reality. And it is useful in exploring anything stressful in this way, whether it’s a thought or belief, an identity, a compulsion, or something else.
As we keep exploring it, we see that these stressful surface thoughts and identities rest on underlying assumptions, so it’s useful to examine these too. And one of these underlying assumptions is matter. (Along with body, doer, observer, consciousness, capacity, and so on, and taking ourselves as any of these.)
How can I explore this for myself?
What I wrote here is just a description of what I have found, and it’s similar to what other report finding. It’s a kind of very general travel description in case you’d like to visit or explore this for yourself. It gives you a starting point.
To actually explore it for yourself, traditional Buddhist inquiry can be helpful, and I have found Living Inquiries to be the most effective. You can ask a trained facilitator to facilitate you through this, and over time you can learn to do it for yourself.