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Figure and Ground

By shifting the focus to the ground rather than the display one can encounter how they are actually non-dual.
Figure and Ground

Most of life and art is focused on the figures and forms that are presented to us. Even in meditation, we find that our attention is often drawn to objects, experiences, and perceptions.

Form, in all its variety, occupies the center of the lived experience.

There are certain forms of art the introduce a complementary experience by working with the figure and the ground.

The image above by the artist Maurits Cornelis Escher is one such example. In this piece, the artist uses the negative space or background in such a way that the viewer is not only interested in the positive space or figures that are appearing in white, but also the ground in black.

The ground plays an important role in the work.

In Dzogchen one is introduced to two different terms to describe the totality of rigpa, or pure awareness: rigpa-tsal and rigpa-zhi.

Rigpa-tsal means the energetic expression of awareness, or the manifest aspect of awareness in all its variety: forms, feelings, thoughts, sensations. Everything we experience is tsal, or the dynamic display of awareness.

Rigpa-zhi means the ground of awareness, which is really to say the empty, insubstantial nature of awareness. Dzogchen uses the term ground, but there is no ground, it's just the open, spacious field of awareness within which the apparent tsal aspect appears in all its variety.

Dzogchen is the only tradition to use these terms and it is significant. By shifting the focus to the ground rather than the display one can encounter how they are actually non-dual.

When we are wrapped up in mind and appearances all that we experience is the foreground, the forms and figures of lived experience. We don't even recognize that there is a ground.

By introducing the ground and learning to recognize it, one can encounter a way of being in which the tsal aspect, which is really to say all that appears and exists, is free in its own place. Phenomena in all their variety are naturally free as an expression of the ground, which is primordially stainless, pure, open presence.

This is rather subtle, but this is something that you can recognize in your own experience.

For a systematic approach to be introduced to the ground of awareness, I recommend Secret Path of the Siddhas by Younge Khachab Rinpoche.

Figure-ground illusions, as in this ...
Raven-Bear illusion by Alaska Geographic