Each to his own reality

By Matthieu Ricard on November 13, 2010

Our perception of an object as desirable or undesirable doesn't reside in the object itself, but in the way we perceive it. There's no inherent quality in a beautiful object that does the mind any good, nor anything in an ugly object that might harm it. If human beings were to disappear, the phenomenal world wouldn't necessarily disappear along with them—but the world as it's perceived by humans would no longer have any basis for its existence. ‟Worlds” as they're perceived by other sorts of beings would continue to exist, for them. There's a sutra which says, ‟To her lover, a beautiful woman is a delight; to an ascetic, a distraction; to a tiger, a good meal.”

Although they're triggered by objects, our perceptions are, in the end, built up by the mind. When we see a mountain, the first image that comes to us is a pure, unfabricated perception. But from the second instant onwards, some people will think, ‟Oh, that mountain looks dangerous and inhospitable,” while others might think, ‟That would be a good place to do a retreat.” Numerous different thoughts will then follow. If objects were defined by themselves and possessed intrinsic qualities, independent of the subject observing them, everyone ought to perceive them in the same way.