Most of us were good at playing games of pretend as children. As adults, that skill can be harnessed to take powerful leaps in consciousness. Just as we can suspend our disbelief as we watch a movie and enter the lives of characters as real people, we can suspend our disbelief by putting on hold our view of a sullied world full of bad people and enter a new "movie" filled with pure beings. The "game" I describe here is the Buddhist practice of pure view in which we use all of our imaginative faculties to help us let go of distorted thinking and perceive something closer to the truth of how things actually exist. In a sense, we "pretend" the truth until we can fully live it.
Normally we see the world through our false projections. These feel true because they are familiar, but they are actually distortions born of conditioning and negative habits of mind. Such projections are not indications of anything fundamentally wrong with us — they are just part of being human. We have survival instincts that bring up fear and confusion, and this gets in the way of clear seeing.
Especially when things seem ominous and frightening either personally or collectively, our fear can drain us of our power to shift things in a more wholesome, satisfying direction. Practicing pure view is a way of investigating the truth of our fearful projections and trying on another way of seeing the world.
So what exactly is pure view? In it's simplest form, pure view means seeing the world as populated with compassionate wisdom beings. To practice, we take this attitude while doing ordinary activities:
• All beings are Buddhas, here to guide us to our fullest spiritual potential.
• All situations and environments are pure in that they are perfectly set up to awaken our hearts and our wisdom.
If you are uncomfortable with perceiving beings as Buddhas, it's fine to use whatever symbol of purity touches you. For example, you can think of all beings as saints. Those who are obviously loving and wise are easy to see this way. But pure view means we also see those who are difficult or even violent as Buddhas and saints: They present fierce, distorted faces in order to awaken our wisdom and compassion. They also help us develop skillful means for dealing with all the energies of creation.
One great example of pure view was demonstrated by Julio Diaz when he was mugged in a New York subway station. When a young man pulled a knife and demanded his wallet, Julio offered his coat as well, and then offered to take the mugger to dinner. What allowed Julio to see through his fear to the purity and potential for goodness behind the mugger's behavior?
It's clear that he had been practicing such an attitude for a long time and under stress, it was automatic for him. His attitude alone turned the subway incident from just another case of violence into a profound moment of change for a confused young man. It also gave Julio a power more potent than weapons and the instinctive reactions born of fear: He turned this situation around using nothing but his compassionate attitude.
Julio's action was advanced, so please don't think you have to start with a mugger. Rather, begin by trying this attitude on in a situation when your fear isn't triggered and you're feeling relatively neutral. You can play this game in line at the grocery store, while you're at work, or in your own home:
• Look at those around you as Buddhas or saints disguised as ordinary humans, here to guide you and bring you to Buddhahood (or sainthood).
• Now play it out. How do you treat them when you think of them this way? What happens when you open to them, when you are receptive to what they can teach you, when you recognize and let go of your judgments and assumptions through this game of pretend?
Begin with neutral people, with those you respect, those you love, and finally with those who are difficult for you. Pretend the way you did as a child using all of your imaginative faculties until you truly see them as saints in disguise. Remember that it is not necessary to believe any of this to be true, but only to pretend it is true and use it as a lens through which to look at the world. To be effective practice, your pretend can't be lukewarm: You need to suspend your disbelief as thoroughly as you do when watching a good movie and really let your imagination do its work.
Muggers or saints? It's up to each of us to choose the movie we want to live.