Christopher Munson Jr
Look around. Smell around. Feel around. If we engage all of our senses, tuning into each with
full capacity, do we grasp reality? Perhaps… if we could engage all of our senses
simultaneously. Unfortunately, human beings do not currently find themselves with that
capacity. The mind gets in the way as well. So, we have some questions, and some modes of
exploring the answer to that question without a clear way of orienting ourselves such that we
may understand. I can make it even more complicated by asking why do you ask the question to
begin with?! What a doozy.
Socrates straight up logicked himself out of the fear of death. The clever man he was, he
understood that, “Wherever I am, death is not and wherever death is, I am not.” This is a great
way to approach the problem of reality, I think. After all, why would we be asking what is reality
if we did not have a fear of not having it?… that we would somehow miss it? …or that it is
muddled? Pick whichever anxiety you wish; each represents a fear of not knowing that which
cannot be known.
I attended a Dharma Talk presented by Sensei Tsendua at the Great Mountain Zen
Center over Skype (I was at the Great Mountain Zen Center and he was over Skype) where he
addressed many ideas, two of them included that of reality and the fear of death. He painted a
metaphor where we see a child laying on their bed. Underneath their bed, the child believes a
monster lives. We, as the parent, know that the monster is just an old sock, or some crayons
that rolled there accidentally, or a pile of dust that collected over many months. The child would
know this if they looked underneath the bed, but the fear grips them. Thus, they lie in the bed,
rigid from head to toe. We explain to the child, calmly and encouragingly, that they should peak
under and see for themselves: what lies underneath the bed? But they will not do it! The mere
thought of looking underneath the bed engulfs the poor child in sweat.
What do we do then? We have an irrationally afraid child, who cannot be logicked out of their
fear. Drawing back to Socrates, the death he speaks of need not be a physical death. I see no
reason as to why this death could not be a death to the understanding of the world. It would
certainly change the child’s view of things if they looked and found out there existed no monster
after all! If they looked, who knows what they could accomplish. The child’s fear, however, is
real — thus, real is the monster.
The one who knows, can only hold the child. There is no ridding the child of their fear: not by
holding, talking, or forcing. The one who knows, sits with the child while they tremble in fear.
Comforting the child, letting the child know that it is alright to feel afraid. In a way, we must sit in
the child’s shoes and think the monster is real for the child’s sake so that the child may
experience fully what their fear means, yet also hold onto the understanding that the monster is
not real. This represents no easy task.
Eventually, the child will come to look underneath the bed… whether in this life or their next.
Eventually, they will find out that there are no monsters. Hooray! But not quite. Upon looking,
the child exposes the potential monster and the world in which the child thought that there were
monsters hiding underneath the bed disappears. It dies. By taking a leap and observing, the
child successfully applies Socrates’ logic and understands that they will not find themselves in
death… the thought that originally paralyzed them. Through this experience, the child begins
learning that monsters often only exist in their dreams. The only stipulation here, I suppose, is
that the monster could in fact be carnivorous and aggressive and the act of looking triggers the
monster to attack and swallow the child. Even in their physical death, the child had nothing to
lose as the child could not know that it had died. But, for the scope of this exploration, let us
assume that the carnivorous-aggressive monster does not exist but on the inside where it
cannot physically swallow us. Let us also assume that this child is not living in the forest where
tigers or other animals exist and even if they were, they would probably not be hiding
underneath their beds’. I would prefer to live in a world where the monsters that I may find
underneath my bed are not carnivorous-aggressive monsters. Nor do I wish to find tigers
underneath my bed. If I am wrong… then I hope I am better at scouting out locations for beds in
the next round.
Armed with a new understanding, the child sees that their original conception of the monster
was not accurate and thus the world transforms, slightly. Along with the transformation, the child
transforms into an adult — a bit at least. But the child is still a child and thus they find more
monsters underneath other beds. The logic that the adult employs works well from the adult’s
perspective but is still useless to the kid! So, despite the adult’s victory over the monster under
the bed, the adult still must hold and be with the child.
Despite the child’s difficulty in looking at the monster, it is no small matter that the adult took the
leap and looked for the monster. Whatever the inspiration that forced the transition, it carries the
adult forward to look at other monsters. Which beds are worth looking underneath for monsters?
Which beds are more likely to have monsters underneath than others? Will the adult ever see all
the monsters? It is not likely. Past seeing, there is hearing the monsters, smelling the monsters,
feeling the monsters. Who wants to know what a monster smells like! As the child encounters
more monsters and the adult continually returns to hold the child, it will behoove the adult to
remember that the monsters are, perhaps, just a bunch of dust bunnies.