How to awaken from a movie by remembering to cut barley

I am sitting in a movie theater. But I don’t know.

I am lost in the story in front of my eyes, around my ears.

I am immersed, completely engulfed in the story of the movie. I don’t know where I am – I believe I am … in the movie, part of the movie, belong to the movie. This is me, right there, in the movie. I see nothing else, I hear nothing else.

Some character in the story talks to me. He says, remember this: Whatever you see is not you. Remember it! Concentrate and look closely! You will see it too. Don’t forget, remember to look.

This character is strange, his voice is almost as mesmerizing as the movie story, the never ending, tear provoking ever ongoing story. I watch him. He seems out-of-this world. Should I give it a try?

With fascination I want to see if he is right… Where am I really?

So, I remember to remember.

“This story-image is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This story-sound is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This story-thought is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This sound is impermanent. That sound is impermanent. That movie color, that movie image, this movie noise”.

Oh, so strange.

Something strange starts to happen.

The spell – the mesmerizing spell and fascination for the movie starts to fade away. Why?

Well, I made myself not follow the story any longer as close as before. Fair enough, but why would that make things different?

I forgot to remember, again. I try to remember even more. Remember to focus on my experience of the movie instead of the storyline.

Instead of the racing car, the crashing plane, the sobbing wife, the frightened child, the dying friend … –

Now I see, I see… an image, oh no, this was an image. A frame!

“This is not me. This is not myself. This does not belong to me.”

And I start to see the framework of this movie. There is light and shadows. And colors and echoes.

I am sitting! In a chair! How weird!

It is dark around me, and a screen in front.

Now, aware of more of my reality, I feel a strange distance towards the pictures and sounds of the story. I still see everything, hear it all … but what is this… distance? Is it because I now know better what is really going on? I feel lighter, released of the pressure of the serious nature of the movie, not as much bound as before to the emotion provoking impact the story had over me.

How did I realize that I am just in a movie?

Yes, there was this one character in the story who told me that I should not focus on the story (including him, how strange) but on my experience of the movie instead. He told me to continuously remember and concentrate on the experience itself, not its content.

That was all. But it was so hard.

Now I am here, but I am not.

I am bound, but free too.

One day, could I be so released from the sway this story has over me that I could just get up and leave? – not having to watch another version of this movie anymore, which, somehow, are all variations of the same ingredients. In any case, it seems I cannot stop this process of awakening anymore. More and more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Yaṃ kiñci chinditabbaṃ, But whatever can be divided; sabbaṃ taṃ paññāya chindati, that can wisdom divide;  natthi dutiyaṃ and there is no other quality; paññāya chedana’’nti. which can divide wisdom.’


‘‘Kathaṃ ūhanalakkhaṇo manasikāro, ‘But how is comprehension the characteristic of direct attention;  kathaṃ chedanalakkhaṇā paññā, and cutting off of wisdom? opammaṃ karohī’’ti. Give me an illustration.’
‘‘Jānāsi, tvaṃ mahārāja, yavalāvake’’ti. ‘You remember the barley reapers?’
‘‘Āma, bhante, jānāmī’’ti.’ Yes, certainly.’
‘‘Kathaṃ, mahārāja, yavalāvakā yavaṃ lunantī’’ti? ‘How do they reap the barley?’
‘‘Vāmena, bhante, hatthena ‘With the left hand yavakalāpaṃ gahetvā they grasp the barley into a bunch,  dakkhiṇena hatthena dāttaṃ gahetvā and taking the sickle into the right hand, dāttena chindantī’’ti. they cut it off with that.’


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    • theravadin

      Hi James,
      Yes, there is a number of metaphors of a similar nature intra et extra muros. For instance, similes given by the Buddha include the following, where the mind and the world are depicted as painter and painting (Samyutta-Nikaya 22.100):

      Monks, a painter drawing pictures with white, red, orange paint or lacquer on a smooth surface, a wall or a fine cloth would create the image of a woman or man with all limbs and details, in the same manner the not learned ordinary man, creating creates with matter, creating creates with feelings, creating creates with perceptions, creating creates with intentions and creating creates with consciousness.

      …which is quite famous of course, as is Buddha’s simile of the magic show in SN 22, 95:

      Monks, a magician or his apprentice exhibits his magic on the crossroads. A wise man seeing it penetrates and wisely concludes that it’s without essence. Monks, what essence do you see in magic? In the same manner monks, whatever consciousness in the past, future or at present, seized or not, far or near, rough or fine, unexalted or exalted a wise man examines and wisely concludes that it’s without essence. Monks, what essence do you see, in consciousness?

      Modern movies could be considered a combination of both – “magic paintings” – and especially when compared to the interplay of the five groups of grasping there is a surprising amount of similarity. The same is true, when we think about the process of awakening or how we “get disillusioned” from such a magic painting and “wake up”.

      Thanks for the pointer to our Western counterpart. Just in case someone needs a link:

      Who knows, maybe Plato & friends were reborn Buddhists 🙂

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