Herb's Notes for Tuesday January 17 2012
Although I have taught this before, it may be helpful to present the eight consciousnesses again. There is a tendency for us to think of mind as being only the thoughts and emotions we have, our mental events. Emotions are painful and we are bothered by the repetitive nature of some thoughts. We might say my mind is driving me nuts. So we concentrate on thoughts and emotions in an effort to get what we want, to increase pleasure and avoid pain.
From a Buddhist point of view, mind is much, much more than thoughts and emotions. Many traditions realize that, as Joseph Campbell said, pointing to his head, "This is a minor organ." If we are interested in experiencing our life fully and completely, and being free, we need to expand what we are paying attention to.
In the Mahayana Buddhist systems, there are eight consciousnesses. The first five are the sense consciousnesses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The sixth is called mind consciousness and is our capacity to organize and coordinate the first five so that we can experience them together.
The seventh consciousness is sometimes called the instigator of the kleshas. Kleshas are conflicting emotions. The seventh consciousness is what we call ego. It relates all of our experience to an "I" or "me". That relationship seems instantaneous but, by practicing sitting meditation and being exposed to what meditation masters have taught, we find that the thought that you are reading these words is separate from reading these words. The thought is a little late. That thought that you are reading these words can be what we mean by ego. For most of us, ego has a very specific agenda.
The constant chatter of internal dialogue is similar to the commentary that goes along with a sporting event. It is of course what pundits do. It can seem to be more "real" than what is happening. We sometimes refer to this narrative as providing ground for our sense of identity. It is constantly reacting to experience in order to confirm our hopes and fears.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, "The ordinary ego approach is that you hate yourself and you love your ground." It is a slick trick, very much associated with self deception, because it seems to be honest while it is shoring up some theory or other of who we are.
We are developing what is called prajna or clear seeing. It is often compared to a sword that can cut through bullshit. "One doesn't cut oneself. One cuts one's ground." "Ego doesn't cut its own ground. Ego nurses its ground. An egoless experience like prajna cuts its own ground." (These quotes are all from "Illusion's Game")
Ego thrives on confusion. What about this? What about that? "I don't get it." It often hides in intellectual speculation that uses a completely theoretical logic, either speeding up, or becoming dull. Meditation, on the other hand, cuts speed.
Ego is also dependent on believing in emotions as truly real, solid references. We point to our experience of emotion and say, "This is what is real." Ego depends on shutting down. Prajna depends on opening, opening to what is.
In "The Wisdom of No Escape" Pema Chodron writes, " Sometimes among Buddhists the word ego is used in a derogatory sense, which is a different connotation than the Freudian term. As Buddhists, we might say, 'My ego causes me so many problems.' Then we might think, ' Well, then we're supposed to get rid of it right? Then there would be no problem.' On the contrary, the idea is not to get rid of ego but actually to begin to take an interest in ourselves, to investigate and be inquisitive about ourselves."
Sitting meditation is a technique for doing that investigation, allowing thoughts and emotions to come and go with as little judgment as possible. This process is a bit different than identifying with a watcher. Just as you can see that you have already read these words before you have thoughts about them, we can become accustomed to mind's inherent flexibility. The watcher gradually becomes less fascinating. As a chant says, "Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization, to this meditator who rests simply without altering it." There is nothing wrong with thoughts. By meditating we are not trying not to have thoughts. What we are doing is seeing that the thoughts don't have to be at the service of creating an identity.
The way to see the difference between experience and the commentary that seeks confirmation is to sit. As far as I know, it is the only way because it is not theoretical. The process of sitting is trustworthy. We can see that thoughts and emotions have no reference point. The real me is just an idea.
Buddhist teachings are about the nature of mind. There are many very sophisticated methods of investigating mind and various Tibetan terms are used in recognition that mind is a big subject. There is a tendency to think of mind as a vague, amorphous subject, or out of frustration to think of it only as a mechanical process, like the workings of the brain, which can be seen as objects doing things. For now we can use a definition that mind "fundamentally is that which can associate with an 'other', any 'something' perceived as different from the perceiver." The direct translation from Tibetan is, "That which can think of the other, the projection, is mind." (Garuda IV)
As you can see, mind then includes everything. In fact, what isn't mind? And if there is anything that isn't mind, how would we be able to experience it?
The eighth consciousness is the so-called storehouse consciousness. This gets taught differently by different teachers and can get very profound as we cut through whatever concept we have developed. It is sometimes compared to peeling an onion, revealing layer after layer. In order to look into these various ways of seeing mind we have to first cut through our attachment to ego. Otherwise it will just become an ego game. When we say "I get it", the "I" is extra.