Dualistic appearance – What you see, and what you think you see

Dear Integral Meditators,

What you think you see and what you actually see are two separate things, often going on simultaneously. The article below explores how this happens in our life, why its important, and how we can start to work with it mindfully.

In the spirit of clear vision,


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Dualistic Appearance – What you see, and what you think you see

One of the most useful distinctions I learned from my time as a Buddhist monk was that there is often a difference between what you think you are seeing and what is actually there. This was called in Buddhist-speak ‘dualistic appearance’. The technical definition of dualistic appearance is:
 ‘The appearance of an object to our mind together with our generic, or conceptual image of that object’.
Essentially this means let’s say you see for example a person. In the first instant of seeing that person you see them literally, physically as they are in front of you. In the next instant your mind will then project your idea or concept of what you think they are upon that person. So from that point on you are seeing two things as you look at them:

  • The person as they literally appear in front of you
  • Your idea of what you think they are, that you project (often unconsciously) upon them

Some examples:

  1. I’m feeling angry after a day at work. Someone unintentionally obstructs me on the pavement as I walk home. What literally happens is someone obstructing me physically. A moment after I experience this I project the image of a complete idiot blocking my way who is intensely annoying. The person literally blocking me is what’s actually there. The image of the ‘idiot’ that I project onto them is a conceptual image of my own creation. Two appearances in the same moment; one is ‘real’ and one is a projection of my mind.
  2. Let’s say I’m feeling anxious and insecure. I’m having a normal day, but because I’m feeling anxious and insecure I project it upon the people around me in the office. They are basically saying and doing ordinary things, but I am projecting that they may not like me, that they are judging my work and so on. Again we see what is ‘actually happening’ appearing at the same time as what we think and project is happening.
  3. I’m feeling unusually positive, but I’m with someone who is upset and negative. Literally what is appearing to me is a person behaving in a negative manner, but I’m feeling so good and so strong inside that I project a positive image upon them; ‘nice guy really, just temporarily upset(!)’

The essential point here is that in each moment there are two things appearing to us:

  • What we see
  • And what we think or project we see

The first is relatively fixed, the second is flexible, mutable, changeable. If you can change what you project, you can change what you experience!

Things you can mindfully start doing with dualistic appearance

1. In any situation ask yourself the questions:

  • What literally, observably happened here?
  • What ideas and images am I projecting upon what is happening / being experienced?

2. Spend time consciously observing and witnessing your life, projecting as little of your own personal content as possible on the situation. See what this reveals to you.
3. Be aware when you are projecting negative ideas and images on your world. Don’t buy into it. Project less!
4. Practice imprinting positive, kind, benevolent images and ideas upon your reality, see how you can change it for the better by doing so.
5. Be aware when other people around you are projecting too, be discerning what you buy into!

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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