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What does reality mean?

By Matthieu Ricard on August 02, 2009

In Buddhism the word reality connotes the true nature of things, unmodified by mental constructs superimposed upon them.

Fabricated concepts open up a gap between our perception and reality, and create a never-ending conflict with the world. ‟We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us,” wrote Rabindranath Tagore. We take for permanent that which is ephemeral and for happiness that which is but a source of suffering: the desire for wealth, for power, for fame, and for deceptive pleasures.

Understanding reality is a characteristic of wisdom. The latter does not entail mastering masses of information, but an understanding of the true nature of things. Out of habit, we perceive the outer world as a collection of distinct, autonomous entities to which we attribute characteristics that we believe belong inherently to them. Our day-to-day experience tells us that things are good or bad, desirable or undesirable. The ‟self” that perceives them seems to be equally concrete and real. This error, which Buddhism calls ignorance, gives rise to powerful impulses of attraction and aversion that eventually lead to suffering.