I read this great analogy in one of the essays from Nagarjuna:
“When you go to the shore and look out, you see the edge of the world, six miles out. You see a ship get too close to the edge of the world; it falls off. That’s terrible; all those people die. It happens far too often. If you go to the beach, you’ve probably seen it once or twice. You are trapped in an illusion!
So let’s say someone sticks you in the space shuttle, blasts you into orbit. You look down, you see it’s a sphere. They explain gravity. You go back to the beach. It looks just like it did before, but you no longer can see to the edge of the world. You no longer get engaged in discussions about “when you fall off the edge of the world, does it hurt immediately, or does it hurt only when you hit the bottom?” That doesn’t make any sense; you understand the illusion.
This is what the Buddha’s saying about the self. Don’t get caught in discussions about the self–does the self exist, does the self not exist. That’s like trying to decide if it hurts when you fall off the edge of the world or not. Look at the world in terms of dependently originated phenomena. That’s all that’s happening.”
This analogy was so deep, it got me thinking.
I started to see other related metaphors that demonstrate a similar point.
I’ll cover two of them below.
Mountain climbing analogy:
Suppose you decide to climb a mountain.
As you gaze at it from a distance, it stands like a large mysterious awe inspiring object in front of you.
It beckons you to explore, tread and conquer it by reaching its peak.
The peak is usually covered in snow with a foggy haze around it, which stimulates the feeling of mystery and attainment even more.
From this point of view, you resolve to reach the peak and keep walking.
Now as you walk through all the various camps, at each place you see different worlds.
Initially, there is the forest portion, then there are the grasslands, then there is the harsh hostile terrain, and then finally you hit the tall patch of snow as you race to the top.
Various realms/worlds/points of view are traversed as you move along.
Finally when you do reach the peak, doesn’t it look quite different from your conception of it which you had when you were far off on the ground?
You are seeing from a brand new point of view, but at the same time, you are still there, and this feeling of you was not different when you were on the ground, nor was it different as you passed through all the intermediate terrain.
My experience of life has been that way since my earliest memory.
At one level I am moving through stages, goals, progressing, but at another level I am still the same innocence moving from place and place.
The innocence stays untouched, but the scenery keeps morphing.
Staring at a fractal:
Have you ever played a video of a fractal zoom on YouTube and just stared at it for a while?
Notice how you see a destination, and you see the fractal moving towards it, but at the same time, as the destination becomes larger and clearer, your whole view is replaced by that, and the earlier view fades.
And in this way, there is a kind of endless renewal and an endless movement at the same time.
I think this clearly illustrates the symbol ‘Ouroboros’.
It also reveals the paradox of there being ‘change’ and yet ‘no change’ at the same time.