Koan, Meditation, Truth, Zen

Q42. Why can’t we see things as they are?

A. It is not because things don’t show themselves as they are, but our eyes and ears are veiled by illusions that have been accumulated since our birth.

I remember reading an article about implanting false memories. It said it is possible to manipulate and create false happy memories in mice during sleep, adding that they succeeded in creating false and happy memories in mice. The fact is that numerous information or knowledge has been implanted in us and the process is ongoing even at this moment; it will continue to our death and remain in us in the name of memory.

Memories become verbalised or are turned into languages for expression and conveyance, which makes languages essential to our life. Over time, we are so used to our languages that we can’t stop identifying words with our memories. A word always reminds us of a set memory associated with the word, which we are so accustomed to that we take words for reality. For example, a lady was so shocked to hear the terrible news that her daughter, studying abroad, had been killed by a car accident that she passed out and got sick in bed. A few days later, the news turned out to be wrong and she found that her daughter was in fact alive and could be around as usual soon. The lady was shocked and fainted because she took the words about her daughter for reality regardless of the truth. This is a good instance that shows how we mistake words for reality. In short, to identify words with reality is called ‘illusion,’ ‘form,’ or ‘boundary’ in Zen.


In our life, we not only get illusions implanted in ourselves but also implant them in others, and we often manipulate them in order that we may implant the ones that seem favourable to us. What counts here is that, when making our decisions, or choices, like whether a certain illusion is favourable to us or not, we depend on the illusions implanted in us. In a word, illusions create illusions, and we are so addicted to illusions that we cannot tell them apart from our reality, that is to say, we are trapped in the world of illusion. The purpose of Zen is to free people from the trap of illusion.

Of course, our life requires a lot of illusions and our education might mean to provide students with illusions that are thought to be necessary and useful in their future. Who dares to deny the fact that all the civilisations modern people enjoy rest on illusions? However, languages can be an obstacle in seeing things as they are, and conveying memories as they are, just as water gets in the way of a ship’s speeding up – though it is essential in the ship’s moving.

The purpose of Zen, it can be said, is to enable people to enjoy both the world of illusion and the world free of illusion at once.

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway.