This meditation is an exercise in dividing things into parts, and then parts of parts, in order to try to find some sort of solid, self-existent essence that an object is made of. You take the mind down layer by layer, until you come to understand that what you are looking for simply doesn’t exist.
Example of an Onion Skin Meditation, Using a Neutral Object
I picture a table in front of me. Thinking about it, I see that it is only five pieces of wood, which my mind is labeling “table”. There is no table out there coming from its own side.
When I look closer, I realize I can’t even see the other pieces of wood – I can only see the one piece on top, and my mind is adding on the other four pieces that it “knows” must be there.
Further, the very identification of this rectangular object as a piece of wood is something which my mind has constructed, not something coming from the object itself.
And if I am really honest about it, my eyes can’t see the bottom or the sides of this rectangular object – it is my mind that is superimposing a threedimensional object onto this brown colored rectangle.
So the actual sense data which my eye perceives is really only a brown rectangle. But if I watch my eyes carefully and think about what they are actually doing, I see that they move from one side of this rectangle to the other. Actually the eyes can’t see a whole rectangle all at once; they first see the left side and then the right, and then the mind pieces that data together.
The eyes see, for example, two square pieces and assemble them into a rectangle.
So there are two brown square pieces. But even focusing on of those squares, I realize it still takes the eyes time to move across it, and up and down. The eye is really sequentially seeing even smaller squarish patches, which my mind remembers and synthesizes into a larger square.
But can my eye even take in one of those smaller squares in a single instant?
In actuality, taking this line of thought even further, every millisecond would produce in the eye only a tiny dot of brown color, which my mind then synthesizes into a shape, like a square or a circle. My eye is not actually seeing shapes at all!
But what about the dot of brown? If I think about it carefully, I realize that the eye could never think to identify anything as a particular color; that brown also is a concept which must be coming from my mind, projected onto the space in front of me. And the dot as well could be divided, infinitely.
And the very space in front of me, this too is only an idea of the mind, called into being by my thought of it.
So in fact, every single detail of every single object that I ever see is all a projection of my mind – there is no raw data “out there”. And that means that it is infinitely changeable. This ordinary, neutral table that I see in front of me could have been something altogether different, some holy object which produced in my mind incredible bliss, with every millisecond of the eye’s “experience” of it.
Example of an Onion Skin meditation, Using an Attractive Object
I call to mind the face of someone I like. Immediately this image brings to mind a pleasant feeling. But what is it about this image itself that is so pleasant from its own side?
I think this face is beautiful, but is this beauty contained somewhere in theshape of the nose, or within the pores of the skin? If that were the case, then everyone who saw this face would have the same feeling about it. The idea of this beauty must be coming from my own mind.
So without my projection of pleasant or unpleasant, this object I am seeing is simply an image of the face of a certain person. But what about the recognition – the very identification of this face as belonging to a certain person?
It seems like this image contains information about who this person is – I look at the face and immediately think of a name, and all sorts of other information about a “person” that my mind connects to this image. But none of this information could be contained within the face itself; my mind is super-imposing all of that information onto this image.
And even the “face” is just a concept of my own mind. M mind is linking together the different parts like eye, nose, mouth, and then combining them into a whole image of a face. My eye as it travels could never actually see a whole face all at once, it can only see fragments – shapes and colors which the mind then labels. In actuality, there is no face out there.
My eye can’t even think to identify the parts of this “face”. For instance, the “eye” I am seeing is really just a couple of circular things (pupil, iris, etc.), and then my mind comes along and labels that an “eye”. There is no eye without my mind constructing it.
And even these circles are a whole idea that my mind has put together, based on the fragments my eye picks up as it moves from millisecond to millisecond – first a speck of blue here, then another speck of blue, then a speck of black, and so on.
So all that there is out there, really, are different specks of color and light which my mind creates into these huge elaborate concepts, starting from a simple shape and ending up with a person I like.
What about color? Is it really out there? If I think about it, the very
identification of any particular color must be coming from my mind. The fact that I am able to see and understand the concept of what “blue” is, is its own separate projection itself. And if I wasn’t able to understand this concept, “blue” would cease to exist, for me.
So what is my eye really seeing? It is watching pictures in my mind.
What does this mean? It means that everything about my experience is infinitely changeable: the fact that I associate this object with something pleasant; the fact that I can identify this object as someone I know; the very fact that I can understand what a human face is – all could change in an instant, into something much better or much worse, depending upon the seeds I have collected in my mind.