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Lions Roar : March 2017
Note that these perceptual judgments are all from my point of view, from the perspective of a gradually solidifying “me.” (A moth’s experience of the sweater would be very different.) We perceive this as “a really good light-blue wool sweater” because, for the moment at least, it seems to be “on my side,” on the side of a central “me.” There is a dawning sense that this sweater ful- fills and completes me, so I grasp to hold on to it. It’s as though by holding on tightly to the sweater (substitute whatever fits for you), I am also holding on to a self. The self-centeredness of this “perceiving” comes home to roost in the psychological payoff: that this sweater makes me good, “good to go,” slightly better than I was without it—and a lot more solid in a fast-changing world. It’s as though the skandha of perception were an old-fash- ioned central switchboard operator fearfully screening our telephone calls according to one simple criterion: for me or against me? As a result, our experience of the world arrives con- veniently packaged into things we perceive are good for us and things that aren’t. What’s wrong with that? The problem is that the switchboard operator acts in anxious haste, barely pausing to ask the name of the caller or the nature of the call. The operator quickly—too quickly—decides to let some calls through as “friends” and to deny access to others as “enemies.” This would be tremendously helpful and efficient if it were accurate. Unfortunately, it’s all too frequently a comic series of painful errors, just a prejudiced guess based on habitual patterns: “Oh, I remember you from the pleasing sound of your voice yesterday, Mr. Smith, you’re a very good friend, let me put you through immediately.” Or “No, I don’t remember you, Mr. Jones, never heard of you, but your ugly voice reminds me of a crank caller yesterday, so please go away, good-bye!” As we see from this analogy, perception adds names and labels of “recognition” based on past experience. We also see corresponding impulses developing to actively grasp or push away our experience. Our hyper-busy perceptual switchboard operator also fails to take into account the crucial fact of change. We have all had the experience of discovering that the person we were uncertain about yesterday turns out to be a close ally and friend tomor- row—and vice versa. This enlivening discovery of the new is what the “downloading” of past perceptions blocks. Starting with form and ending with consciousness, the five skandhas describe the mental process by which we build an increasingly solid sense of self. Above: Building 1-5, 2013, cast iron, by Antony Gormley. Photograph by Stephen White. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 53