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Journal: Maybe Bishop Berkeley was right!

Note: This Journal entry was written on September 18th, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


Back in my school days, we used to have some fun at the expense of old Bishop Berkeley.

Berkeley was a philosopher who lived around the turn of the 18th century. Whatever the good Bishop really taught, this is what we thought he said: things only exist if they are perceived. If no one sees, hears, smells, tastes, or feels a material thing, that thing does not have any reality. He wiggled out of the obvious problems with this by saying God is someone, and is always perceiving everything; so even if no one is in a room where a table is located, the table still exists because God perceives it. (What he was really addressing was the question of whether things have an independent reality, or only exist as ideas.)

We used to do stuff like plug our ears and turn our backs on our friends and say "I can't perceive you! You don't exist!" and other mature philosophical gambits like that.

The Bishop, then, would say that if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it--or perceives it in any other way--than the tree doesn't exist!

Why was I thinking about this today? Well, as I walk, I read. I'm reading a small book now called The Pocket Buddha Reader, edited by Anne Bancroft. It's simply a selection from the Sutras, the Buddha's own words. And it's mind expanding.

Today I read this:
...everything, including ourselves, depends on everything else and has no permanent self-existence.
Pause and think about it. Are you permanently self-existent? No way. What brought you to where you are today? Ancestry, genetics, social structures, education, nutrition, etc. What is necessary to sustain you? At the very least, water, which has been in millions of other living beings in its time. You cannot exist without an entire universe of supporting players.

Back to Berkeley. An old song occurs to me: "You're nobody 'til somebody loves you." Without connection, without relationship, without everything else, can I be said to truly exist?

Posted September 25, 2019

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