The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. -Thomas Traherne
David Loy explores the nature of reality, and ourselves, when we experience the world as it really is.
How does an enlightened person perceive the world?
Obviously, that’s an important question for non-dualists including Advaitins and Buddhists. ‘Waking up’ – attaining moksha or nirvana, experiencing satori, realizing your true nature, etc. – is the ultimate goal for both, and we naturally want to know what difference that makes to one’s perceptions. In what ways is the experience of someone who is Awake (the literal meaning of ‘a Buddha’) transformed?
Curiously, the best description I know is not from a tradition that we normally think of as nondualist. It’s in Centuries of Meditations, by a seventeenth-century English clergyman and poet named Thomas Traherne. His book was not published until 1908 but has since become widely regarded as a mystical masterpiece – and for good reason. The fact that Traherne was a Christian cleric, and apparently unaware of Buddhism, Vedanta, Taoism, Sufism, and so forth, is important because it reminds us yet again that no religious tradition has a monopoly on spiritual insight.
The passage below is one of the classic passages of world mysticism. It employs some old-fashioned language and requires some reflection in order to appreciate its deeper meaning. In particular, two words in the first sentence need some explaining. An outdated meaning of ‘corn’ is ‘grain’, which is why Traherne can say that the corn he saw was wheat. And ‘orient’ is used in its old meaning of ‘iridescent’ or ‘lustrous’, one of several references to the luminosity of the world he describes so wonderfully.
“The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold; the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die. But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared; which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it… So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.”
I first read this description many years ago, but reflecting on it from a nondualist perspective has unlocked treasures unappreciated earlier. I am eager to share it because it is so similar to basic Advaitic and Buddhist claims about the nature of reality, when we experience the world (including ourselves) as it really is. Here are the main aspects that stand out for me: Light and Ecstacy, Time, Emptiness, non-duality.
Written by David Loy and originally published as How does an Awakened Person Perceive the World in Science and Non-duality, February 2015.