Meta Enlightenment

IV. The Power Of Imagination

By Alex Bunard, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Worshipping the power of imagination is so ingrained in today's western culture that we can barely notice it. Still, the belief in this power forms the basis for almost all of our actions. Many of us firmly believe that we are basically pitiful, pathetic beings who are capable of guarding themselves from the hostile or indifferent forces of the Universe only by employing our imagination to the maximum. Our imagination enables us to break free from the slavery, from the necessity to conform to the natural forces.

Examples that illustrate this belief system abound -- it would be sufficient to just superficially cast a look at some of the scientific and technological achievements of modern humanity in order to be fully convinced that this belief is based on solid facts. We are especially proud of our technology, which has given us many marvelous powers.

And of course, all of these achievements have only one source -- human imagination. Perhaps the strongest, most convincing example of the power of imagination is the case of Albert Einstein's revolutionary Theory of Relativity. This ground breaking theory has opened so many doors for contemporary humans, and yet it has been originally conjured up within the confines of young Einstein's imagination. He has completely devised this amazing theory in his head. Such was the power of his unwavering concentration.

It is difficult to challenge this modern conviction, equally shared by many humans. One is reminded at this point of the famous slogan, endorsed by the Amnesty International: "No one can hurt you in your imagination". Simply stated, the sentiments of this conviction are as follows: regrettably, we are endowed with frail, feeble bodies, but on the other hand, we have been blessed to possess strong powers of imagination. Yet, shocking as it may seem, the world of spiritual discipline reveals to us that the exact opposite is true: there is nothing more fragile and brittle than our imagination, and there is nothing more powerful and resilient than our bodies.

The conventional, everyday wisdom teaches that it is harmful to rely on our body, and that it is only useful to focus on our imagination. The radical, unconventional spiritual wisdom teaches that it is harmful to rely on our imagination, and that a spiritual life is based in our body. This utterly radical approach seems to be declaring that "no one can hurt you in your body (and yet you can only be hurt in your imagination)". This is a complete opposite of the message the Amnesty International is fostering.

It is impossible to reconcile these two views; still, it is important to note that both views hold that human imagination is very powerful. The only difference is that one view (the conventional view) asserts that our imagination is the only means by which we can reach the salvation, while the other view (the radical view) reveals that our imagination is the sole reason that is causing us to ruin ourselves.

Both views, therefore, place their focus on human imagination. The important difference is in the positive or negative qualifier assigned to it. But the problem is not that simple, actually. While the positive qualifier assigned to the power of imagination by the conventional wisdom is an absolute one, the negative qualifier coming from the spiritual revelation is a relative one. The argument goes like this:

The conventional and the radical views both agree that human beings are superior to other living beings on account of their imaginative capabilities. We are, therefore, in a very favorable position to have a human body, and all the human capabilities. Conventionally speaking, we should then strive to maximize these capabilities (i.e. to "overdo" things). Spiritually speaking, this is utterly harmful. Many spiritual doctrines warn us that to seek a relief from the toils of our lives by escaping into our imagination is to alienate ourselves from our true nature, and consequently to be expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Anyone can witness the truth of this viewpoint: it is sufficient to recall that, although the fruits of our imagination (the technological, artistic and scientific achievements) are abundantly available to most of us, we don't feel a bit happier than we were before we could enjoy those fruits. We may imagine that getting some of these products will improve our lives (like, getting a TV set is suddenly going to make us much more fulfilled). However, soon after we get what we want, the euphoria subsides, and the old anguish, anxiety etc. return, sometimes with increased intensity.

It is important to realize how feeble our imagination actually is. True, our imagination is ruling our lives, it is running the whole show, so to speak, but it is precisely because the imagination is so unreliable and brittle that our lives feel so jittery and unsettled. But instead of seeing this simple connection, we always manage to blame the outside circumstances for making our lives so miserable. The powers of imagination that we possess are very dear to us.

On the other hand, the body that we are, which is a marvelous thing in itself, somehow doesn't manage to impress us at all. Anybody who's been studying the biological principles and mechanisms even for a short period cannot evade the insight that these processes are so sophisticated, so immensely complicated and refined, that they surpass by far even the most lavish imagination. Anything that we could imagine appears pale, flat and lifeless when compared to even the simplest of life's manifestations.

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