In discussing Buddhism and the subjectivity of perspective, one of my students mentioned Magritte’s Son of Man, the famous painting of an apple concealing a man’s face. The apple, an object we desire, conceals the subject, the idea that lies behind this painting. Reality appears to us as simply there, bare and objective, which conceals that our reality is also our own individual perspective, which we learn through investigation and reflection. Much of human experience and the history of philosophy across the globe is concerned with either separating the objective from the subjective or describing how the two are intertwined. One couldn’t ask for a more perfect illustration than Magritte’s painting, whose title suggests that this has been the simple problem in the faces of all the descendants of Adam and Eve ever since the apple.
On Friday with the Asian Philosophy class, I was discussing apocalyptic Buddhists, such as the followers of Shoko Asahara who attacked Japanese subway passengers with poison gas in an attempt to bring about the apocalypse. I have a friend who repeatedly mentions that some individuals in Israel have been trying to breed an all red calf for just the same reason in accord with the Book of Revelation. It later dawned on me that, whether or not we believe in religious prophecy or the apocalypse, that the dream in the Book of Revelation may simply be revealing a possibility, and not a certainty. It could be argued that the dream is a warning of what may happen, but need not, if we clean up our act. Perhaps those who wish to bring about the apocalypse and those who think it is an inevitability should be presented with this possibility.