I had to go to the cash machine to get my rent ready, so I saddled my bike and headed to the mall. It was a beautiful morning, fresh and clear, filled with vivacious bird songs and fields were adorned with perfect lines of abundantly growing crops. Then I smelled soup. Traditional Sunday soup, to be precise. “How could there be a smell of soup in the middle of the fields and it's not even Sunday?” I wondered. I smelled to the left, I smelled to the right and there it was: distinctive smell of freshly made Sunday soup. Still inhaling the soup smell, entertaining myself with pondering how far can a soup smell travel, I found the source: a group of farmers picking up celery, parsley and other tasty ingredients of a nourishing Sunday soup.
“Aha!” I've thought, “This is how we project!“ We find a small fragment of reality, like a physical sense or mental concept, associate it with a larger context that we have experienced before, without even noticing that we've added something to our perception, and then we believe that this combined perception is the reality that we have encountered.
All kinds of similar examples opened in front of my mind like a fan, exposing how often we add our interpretations to the reality, not noticing that something was added or changed. Hearing something new and “repeating” what the person has said with something added or changed; recalling a memory through a colored lens of some other experiences or beliefs; interpreting a statement differently depending who said it; etc. It reminds me of a children game where a person whispers something to another person’s ear, who whispers it to another person etc., which ends in a completely different message after a couple of whispers.
Most of the time we are not precise about what we perceive, and we do not notice how often “vegetables are turned into soup”. Perceiving that something has been added, changed or projected requires long-term training and Tibetan Buddhist debates are incredibly helpful. They have very precise structure making sure that we do not divert from the track and they train us in mental discipline, precision, attention to details, sharpness and flexibility of mind.
This is useful for correct comprehension of subtle topics in Buddhist philosophy. Without study and precise understanding of fundamental concepts, it can easily happen that a familiar term becomes a basis of projections of what it means, not even realizing that its actual meaning has not been understood in accordance to the Buddha’s intent, but has been instead twisted into our personal ideas of reality. Then it becomes clear why study is so often rejected – we already know all the fundamental concepts, don’t we, we just have to meditate on them, and we’ll become Buddhas. According to my experiences, only through study we start to realize that we do not understand the most fundamental terms in their entirety and with laser-sharp precision. This requires training. Only then we have suitable building blocks for effective
contemplation of reality.