What Is Seen Is Temporary

If our self is an illusion, nothing more than the sum of the collection of neural networks in our physical brain, how can we face this type of nihilistic self-recognition? All of us are nothing more than the random result of billions of years of evolution. Perhaps if we focus on the physical part of ourselves, we can’t avoid this kind of somewhat pessimistic perspective. Everything and everyone seems like mere phenomenal bubbles popping up in the randomness of the vast universe.

In the midst of such a random universe, is it possible for us to find the so-called meaning of life? Once again, we can’t avoid this classic, fundamental question: “Who am I?”

If we focus on the physical, observable universe, the logical, scientific answer would lie within the ghost and machine duality. That is to say, we are mere machines, with a ghost within us that is extremely elusive; hence, we tend to think that our self-consciousness is a mirage in the desert. We feel it, but can never physically grasp it. And if that is the case, we must conclude that anything physically observable should fall within the mental and spiritual domain.

If we worship this extreme materialistic, reductionist scientism, as some do, we have no choice but to proclaim:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche

The phrase in question suggests the end of the pre-modern traditional, mythical world, as the modern secular world continues to transform us. Metaphorically, our lives are a part of collective human history, just as we progress from childhood to adulthood and our rational mind dominates and overwrites the values we used to hold in the spiritual domain.

As children, we were so naive, afraid of the dark, and unable to even use the restroom at midnight without waking our mothers for company. Walking down dark streets, we couldn’t resist the belief that there must be something hiding behind bushes and piled boxes. We were naively superstitious.

Once we become adults, these things no longer bother or scare us. Often, our problems are more related to observable things, such as the people around us and how we should look and behave. The pink elephants in our childhood dreams have vanished into thin air. Darkness is no longer a place that scares us, but simply a place where there is no light. We often tend to forget or take for granted the symbolic meaning of the light that shines in the darkness. For many secular adults, we can no longer take Bible verses seriously.

And we have no choice but to proclaim as if misquoting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince on purpose:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential SHOULD BE VISIBLE to the eye.

Seeing is believing. We can’t believe and value anything that is invisible anymore. We only trust what we can see and what is visible to the eye. God is dead. We killed God.

And in the same manner, we are about to kill ourselves – the invisible part of ourselves. How do you understand yourself? What about other people? Do you only see their external appearance? Can’t you see the rich inner world of yourself and others? We become slaves of materialistic scientism and sheer lookism. Our external status is the most important concern in our lives. What do we look like? How do others see us externally? Consciously or unconsciously, we keep shouting:

What is essential SHOULD BE VISIBLE to the eye.

Of course, the correct phrase should be as follows:

Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

That is the cause of suffering. When the Buddha said our self was an illusion, it was to point out our obsession with something visible. All three – the Buddha, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and even Nietzsche – pointed out the common theme:

  • Our visible ego is an illusion.
  • We killed God as we stopped believing in the invisible.
  • What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Our life journey starts from pre-rational to rational to post-rational. We tend to think that anything outside of rationality is irrational and dangerous, which is true to some extent. However, we should never forget the truth that our rational mind is also a prison that keeps us in the shallow, visible world – the modern flatland.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Image by Michaela

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